Review: No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis

no ordinary day

No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis

Valli picks up coal every day at her home town of Jharia, India.  But when she discovers that the family she is staying with is not her real family, she is free to leave their abuse and fend for herself.  She hops aboard a coal truck and ends up in Kolkata on the streets.  There she “borrows” items that she needs, giving them to others who need them more when she is finished with them.  She eats by begging for food and money or doesn’t eat much at all.  Valli has one super power, she has feet that feel no pain.  So she can stand on hot coals, run across glass, and never feel the wounds.  But this is not a real super power, it is leprosy.  A kind doctor discovers Valli and offers treatment, though it is some time before Valli is able to trust her.  This powerful read speaks to the horrors of poverty, the brutality of life on the streets, and one remarkable young girl who survives it all.

Ellis is known for her powerful writing and this book definitely has that.  The book could have become dark and depressing in less skilled hands, but Ellis through the spunky Valli keeps the book moving forward and keeps the viewpoint optimistic.  Yet Ellis does not shy away from harsh realities of life on the streets and being an unwanted child in a family.  It is Valli who makes this book work so well, her vitality shines on every page.

Ellis handles the subject of leprosy with a delicacy and honesty that is heartwarming.  Valli responds to the lepers she meets as “monsters,” but she and the reader learn that there is nothing to fear.  Valli sees the people behind their deformities and the reader will too. 

A powerful and outstanding book, this tough subject is written at a level that will invite young readers into a world they had never realized existed.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

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Review: Americus by MK Reed


Americus by MK Reed, illustrated by Jonathan Hill

Neal, a high school freshman, who finds himself in the middle of a fight to keep a popular series in the public library.  Danny, Neal’s best friend, gets into trouble with his mother when she discovers he is reading The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde.  His mother believes that books with witches corrupt young minds and she goes on a crusade to not just have her children not read them, but remove them from the library as well.  Danny is sent to military school, leaving Neal behind.  But Neal slowly comes out of his quiet shell in high school, finding new friends and discovering new interests like punk rock.  The book challenge plays itself out in front of the library board and inside families in town.  Neal starts working at the library and is asked to speak for the teens who love the series and how important it is to him.  This look at censorship and small town politics rings true, especially for those of us who live near West Bend, Wisconsin.

Reed’s text is a refreshing mix of teen angst and lightness.  There is plenty of humor to move the story along, though this is more of a dramatic graphic novel than a funny one.  Neal is a character who shows real growth through the book, just slow and steady enough to read as real.  He is not a hero, but a young man who breaks through his shyness to speak out for something that is important for him. 

Reed also has other characters who are complexly drawn.  The two girls in shop class alone break stereotypes.  The kindness of the rock and roll boyfriend, who is also desperate to escape a table full of girls and their gossip, is a moment that is just lovely.  Neal is exposed to new music in that scene in a way that is engagingly written.

Hill’s art is done entirely in black and white.  The scenes from The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde are done in a different style with more shadows and a darker palette of gray.  The contrast is striking and well done.  I appreciated the fact that the books are more realistic than the real world of the graphic novel.  As a reader, that really speaks to how vivid books can be.

A great pick for high school graphic novel fans, this book belongs in all public library collections.  It is engaging as well as empowering.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

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