Tag: friendships

Review: A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova

A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova

A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova (InfoSoup)

Dasha is twelve when her mother leaves Moscow to go to school in America. Dasha is left in the care of her grandparents. It is the early 1990s and things are changing in Russia. Dasha though is more interested in her first crush on a boy, her friendships, and her trip to Germany for Christmas. She misses her mother terribly and has to figure out how to have a life without her there. Dasha’s life reaches a crisis when she fails an important test because she is having problems with the boy she likes and her friends. When spring comes, Dasha’s life changes again with her mother returning and deciding to take Dasha back to America with her.

This autobiographical graphic novel is something unique and very special. Tolstikova tells a story that is both universal and also very personal. She speaks of liking boys, struggling with friends who are changing, lives changing due to parents leaving, and the strength of family. She also tells her specific story of living with her grandparents, growing up in Moscow, and the self-imposed pressure of getting into a better school.

The graphic novel is illustrated with outstanding and quirky illustrations that are effortlessly modern. Done in primarily black and white line, subtle colors are also on the pages to lift it from any dreariness. Pages are dynamically different from one to the next both in size of the illustrations to using only words in large fonts when someone is yelling.

Beautiful and haunting, this graphic novel captures a time in the author’s life that is fleeting and special. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern

A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern

A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern (InfoSoup)

Emily prides herself on being a leader in a group at her high school that promotes good causes and explains larger issues. So she is very ashamed when she freezes in the middle of a crisis. When she witnesses Belinda, a developmentally disabled classmate, being assaulted at a football game, she does nothing to intervene. Now she and Lucas, a boy who also failed to come to Belinda’s rescue, have to do community service at a center for people with disabilities. As work at the center, they start to realize the damage that they did through their silence. They search for ways to also directly help Belinda, but Belinda is no longer at school. It will take one big idea that will stretch all of their abilities to start to see serious healing.

McGovern has written an amazing book here. The narration in the novel switches between Emily and Belinda, so readers are able to see the true impact of the assault on Belinda as well as the repercussions in Emily’s life. The book moves readers from the drama of the assault to focus much more on the aftermath and the need for understanding and advocacy.

Belinda is a great character. Her point of view is such an important piece of this novel, showing a bravery after taking time to simply disappear into Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth for awhile. Her disability is never hidden and yet also not exploited in any way. The way she is shown honors the way her brain works and the intelligence that she clearly has. I also appreciate that Belinda is far from perfect. She is demanding of others, often rudely criticizing them in public, and is not subtle at all. Again, this rings very true and honest. She is not a victim but a survivor.

An important teen novel about stepping up and taking action and responsibility but also about the lives of people with disabilities and the place they deserve in our communities. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.

Review: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Sophie lives above her parents’ bookstore that is actually much more than a place to sell books. Downstairs below the store is another shop, the dream shop, where her parents deal in dreams harvested from dreamcatchers and then bottled. Sophie never has dreams of her own and she has been forbidden from ever drinking a dream. One day though she tries one and discovers that she has the ability to bring things back from her dreams into real life. That’s how she gets her best friend, Monster, a creature from a nightmare. Dealing in dreams can be dangerous business since it is done on the black market. When the dream shop is robbed and Sophie’s parents are taken, Sophie has to figure out who is responsible and the find a way to free her family that will mean trusting outsiders and breaking family rules.

Durst is a master storyteller. Her flights of fancy here are intoxicatingly original and yet also pay homage to traditions too. Monster is one of my favorite characters, a wise-cracking, fuzzy and loveable creature who is ferociously loyal, brave and hungry. Then there is a snooty pegasus who has his own attitude and speaks harsh truths, not to mention the multicolored ninja bunnies. Durst builds a story that has room for all of them and remains wonderfully clear and focused on the real story going on.

Sophie is a character who is known by classmates as being prickly. It’s difficult to create a character who is embraced by the reader as a hero but faces real issues at school with making friends. Durst does it with real skill, giving Sophie a personality that is by necessity very private but also making her warm and loving to those in her inner circle. The use of that privacy is also used to isolate Sophie, making the adventure all the more harrowing and forcing her to open up to those she would not otherwise trust.

A strong fantasy for elementary readers, this book is filled with smart humor and great characters. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Clarion Books.

Review: Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer

Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer

Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (InfoSoup)

If you are lonely, you can’t just wish a friend to life. Or can you? Perhaps with a zing of electricity, some luck or even magic, you can! And it will be an imaginary friend like Fred. Fred worked hard to be the best imaginary friend a kid could have. But each time it ended the same way. The child made a real friend and Fred faded away. When Fred arrived in Sam’s life, Fred had never been happier. The two of them loved the same things like reading, figuring out how the toilet worked and listening to music. But then Sam made a new friend. Fred sat Sam down and explained that in a few days, Fred would disappear and move on and that it was not Sam’s fault. But Sam would not accept that and after making a scene showed Fred a solution that he’d never even considered possible.

Colfer’s text is pure bliss to read. While the book is wordier than many picture books, it maintains a balance that works very well. The text streams along, telling the story in a way that is robust and satisfying. It doesn’t slow the book, instead offering more detail and understanding of Fred and Sam, their dynamic together and how special it is.

As always, Jeffers’ art is very special. Fred is blue and made up of dots while the “real world” is drawn in lines. That makes Fred more colorful than the other characters and it also allows him to really fade away. The result is a shimmering combination of delicacy and graphic strength.

A winning collaboration between two masters, this book embraces imaginary friends for life. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (InfoSoup)

Simon has been exchanging emails with Blue for awhile. Simon doesn’t know who Blue is, just that he goes the same school. They have agreed not to try to find one another because they are both not out publicly yet. When Marty discovers Simon’s emails with Blue, he uses them to blackmail Simon by threatening to out not only him but Blue as well. Marty demands that Simon set him up with one of Simon’s best friends. Abby is a new part of Simon’s group of friends and the dynamics are getting more problematic as Leah seems to be more and more jealous of Abby, especially where Nick is concerned. Meanwhile Simon is starting to put together clues about whom Blue might be and keeps on dropping clues of his own accidentally about his own identity. But before Simon can fully figure it all out, Marty makes one final desperate move that outs Simon to the entire school in a very public way, one that might scare off Blue entirely.

I fell hard for this book. Simon is a delight of a character, a brilliant mix of teenage angst, intelligence, great taste in music, and a winning personality. Throughout the book, the writing is bright and sparkling with wit. Albertalli has worked with teens as a clinical psychologist, specifically those who are gender nonconforming and that expertise is reflected throughout this book. She understands teens at a deep psychological level that gives this book a solid foundation from which to build.

One element I have to mention is a spoiler, so look away if you need to. But this book allows two gay teens to actually fall in love, revel in their connection, flirt outrageously with one another, talk about sex, and yes eventually meet and be happy. There are kisses and making out, and both are happy and thrilled to be together. It’s pure bliss to find this in a novel for teens, since it is so affirming. All is not perfect in this world though, there is bullying from other kids at school, the blackmail over sexual identity and a parent who makes gay jokes. It’s complicated and that is the truth of life captured in this novel.

Funny, painful, and pure dynamite, this novel is one of the best teen reads of the year. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (InfoSoup)

Feo lives with her mother in the Russian wilderness, away from any civilization. They are the people who are sent the wolves who have been reared in luxury in Russian homes. It is bad luck to kill a wolf, so the wolves are given to Feo and her mother to release into the wild. Feo has three wolves who are very special to her, Black, White and Gray. The three live in a nearby chapel that is slowly decaying. They are fully wild, but love Feo too, accepting her as part of their pack. Things are changing in Russia and some people don’t like wolves and the damage they do to livestock. So soldiers come and threaten Feo and her mother, including a man named Rakov who is brutal and cruel. Feo and her mother get another pampered wolf and when she gives birth a young soldier of Rakov’s emerges from the tree and is enchanted by Feo and her wolves. Feo will need his help when her mother is taken to prison in a far-away city and Feo sets off on a quest to free her.

Rundell is one of my favorite authors writing today. Her books are so different from one another, set in completely different times and places. Yet the thing that binds them all together is Rundell’s exceptional story telling. All of her books have strong young heroines, girls who have been raised in unusual circumstances and have grown to be wild women of the very best kind. Feo is the epitome of a wild woman, a girl who raises wolves, who teaches them to be wild and free, who adores the cold and snow, and who is brave enough to cross Russia to save her mother. Feo is not perfect. She is prickly and often unable to express her emotions. Her hugs are brutally hard, her determination unshakeable even when leading her straight into danger, and yet she is loyal and immensely big hearted in a way that will have all readers cheering her on.

Rundell’s writing is exceptional. She writes with her own ferocity, words tumbling and creating such strong imagery and amazing juxtapositions. She creates an entire snowy world for Feo to inhabit, filled with wolves who love deeply, hills to ski down madly, and trees to climb to safety. Here is how Feo sees her snowy home:

Feo loved it. The land around the house shook and shone with life. She had seen people pass by her wood bewailing the sameness of the white landscape, but, Feo thought, they were just illiterate: They hadn’t learned how to read the world properly. The snow gossiped and hinted of storms and birds. It told a new story every morning. Feo grinned and sniffed the sharpness of the air. “It’s the most talkative weather there is…”

Another amazing read from Rundell, get this into the hands of any young wolf girls you know. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Simon and Schuster.

Review: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (InfoSoup)

Sunny has been sent to spend the summer with her grandfather in Florida. He lives in a retirement community where there are no children or pets allowed. Sunny tries to make the best of it despite the squeaky fold-out bed and her grandfather’s slow pace of life where an outing is a trip to the post office. Then Sunny meets Buzz, the son of the groundskeeper who teaches her about superheroes and comic books. Throughout the story, there are flashbacks to before Sunny came to Florida that involve her wild older brother. His behavior went from disobeying small rules to abusing drugs and alcohol. The tension builds until Sunny’s perfect beach vacation with her best friend has to be changed to sending her away to stay with her grandfather. This book explores the impact of having a family member who is an addict, the guilt children feel about it, and the shame they experience.

In the final pages of the book, Holm reveals that they grew up in a home where a close family member had addiction issues. You can see their first-hand experience in the book where Sunny’s deep emotions about what is happening to her family are held inside until they become too much. All of the emotions throughout this graphic novel are done superbly and communicated in a way that makes them easy to understand and relate to.

Sunny is a great lens to view addiction through, first naively and then as she starts to understand what is happening with a feeling of being part of the problem and contributing to her brother’s deteriorating situation. Even as she goes to Florida and fills her days with finding cats and collecting small rewards that she spends on comic books, she can’t escape what having a sibling with an addiction has done to her and her family.

A book that demonstrates that graphic novels with lighthearted illustrations can deal with big issues, this graphic novel is superb and belongs in every public library. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Graphix and Edelweiss.