Moon has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful sister, Star. Now Star is a Fotogram influencer, making enough money to have bought their family a new house. Their mother is ecstatic with Star but has always had problems showing any sort of love to Moon. Star has been offered a seat on a tour bus of influencers traveling the nation for the summer, and Moon is sent along as her photographer, a role she has played for years. Moon will also be the tour’s “merch girl,” manning the booth that sells items for the influencers to all their fans. Moon has been planning her escape to college after the summer and pockets her money for the meal plan to help pay for board at college, deciding to live off peanut butter and grilled cheese on the bus. But she hadn’t planned on Santiago, an impossibly gorgeous guy who is the grumpy and rude brother of the owner of Fotogram. He’s also the other person doing merch sales. It’s hate at first sight, at least until Santiago starts to share his talent with food and Moon starts to question everything that her mother has ever told her.
Incredible writing, a fresh plot and lots of character growth make this teen novel a pure joy to read. Gilliland has real skill with dialogue, making all of the conversations seem natural and realistic but also clever and sharp-witted. Throughout the book there are wonderful slow reveals of information, such as how Moon actually got her scar (she did not fall out of a tree). The nature of Moon’s relationship with her sister and mother is honest and painful, each moment scalpel sharp and devastating, even when Moon herself doesn’t realize how bad it is.
Moon is a magnificent Latina protagonist. She is not waif-thin nor muscular, moving through her life with wobbly and jiggly bits that she struggles to love. She is herself a gifted earth artist and someone with a deep and meaningful connection to nature. One that often leaves her covered in insects like luna moths, ladybugs and dragonflies, something her mother considers a curse. Moon is complex, acerbic, funny and immensely vulnerable, just like the novel itself.
One of the best of the year, this is a book to fall for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
When the Big Bad Wolf came to the little girl’s house, he didn’t have to huff and puff at all. He was invited in by her mother. At first, he was nice to her mother but his eyes were always cold when he looked at the girl. When her mother was late coming home one day, he got mad and called her bad names. Her mother became quiet and smaller. The girl became silent and made sure to be tidy. The wolf threw things and didn’t apologize. Instead the mother and daughter apologized and cleaned it all up. The wolf would howl and create bruises. The little girl made a house of straw with blankets on her bed to protect her. She hoped the wood door would keep him out. Then she built bricks around her heart. Finally, one day, her mother told her to pack her bag and they fled to a home for women and children where the little girl could finally sleep in safety.
This frank and stark book is a French Canadian import. The use of the Big Bad Wolf image in the book clearly marks the wolf in the house as a bad person from the first page. Further into the book, the little girl tries to build protection around herself with different elements, turning at last to bricks around her heart. This is a particularly moving part of the story, as her defenses are not respected, just as her mother’s are not. The book does end in a hopeful place, as they leave to restart their lives without the wolf there.
The illustrations show the angry encounters, but not the physical assaults. The bruises on the little girl’s arm are shown as she explains that she has to wear long sleeves even when it’s hot out. The palette in the book is pale greens and dusty tans. The illustrations show the fear and the trauma of living with an abuser.
An important book that explains abuse to children in a way that shows the abuser in the “bad” wolf in the situation. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
The author of Eventown returns with another book showing how children can see beyond the social façade to what is actually happening. Rose is the daughter of the most famous and successful magic capturer in her town, which is the most magical in the world. She has grown up as “Little Luck” knowing that she is the one who will be the one to carry on her father’s legacy, unlike her older brother. She spends her days going barefoot despite the cold, practicing by catching fireflies, and wearing her father’s sweaters and scarves. But all is not quite right in her family, and deep down Rose knows it. The entire family tiptoes around her father’s expectations, making sure they are perfect and happy all of the time. So when New Year’s Day finally comes, Rose just knows she will be the best at finding the magic, but she isn’t. In fact, she just gets one little jar of magic. Now Rose’s father won’t speak to her, her previous friends mock her and ignore her, and everything has changed. Rose has a strange new freedom, accompanied by a new friend who doesn’t use magic, where she can start to see what is really going on not just with magic and her town, but in her family as well.
Haydu moves smoothly into full fantasy with this latest novel for middle grades. She laces magic throughout a world that looks much like our own, adding glitter, rainbows and wonder. She manages to take readers through the same process that Rose goes through, dazzled at first by the magic around them, then questioning it, and finally seeing beyond it to the marvels of the real world beneath.
Haydu’s depiction of Rose’s father is particularly haunting: a man who himself is all glitter with real issues not quite hidden by the magic that surrounds him. His anger, insistence and control are all revealed steadily through the book, alarm bells that grow louder and steadier as it progresses. Rose is a great protagonist, raised to believe herself the most special of all, fallen from that pedestal and able to lift herself to a new place based on reality and her own resilience.
A great fantasy read that asks deep questions about magic, control and freedom. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
Aniyah and her brother are new in the foster-care system. At ten-years-old, Aniyah grew up in a family where they worked hard to placate her father’s temper and eventually hid from him with her mother and little brother. Now her mother is gone, but Aniyah knows she isn’t gone forever. When Aniyah hears that a new star has been found in the sky, she knows that it is her mother transformed. But the international contest to name the star will get it wrong! Aniyah, her brother and two of the other foster kids in the house set out on a wild Halloween-night journey to London and the Royal Observatory to make sure that the star is named after Aniyah’s mother after all.
This is the second book by the author of the award-winning The Boy at the Back of the Class. It is a story of familial abuse and terror, but told through the eyes of a ten-year-old whose mother tried to shelter her from what was actually happening. Aniyah has stories built around all of the noises she heard, from “moving furniture” to “playing hide and seek.” It makes the truth of the matter all the more haunting for readers who will understand what happened to Aniyah’s mother long before the character does.
It creates a deep tenderness between the reader and the main protagonist. Aniyah and her little brother are voices of pure innocence in the book, accompanied by other children who have been warned not to reveal the truth to her. Their lengthy experience in foster care contrasts profoundly with Aniyah’s demonstrating to the reader how special their foster mother is and how traumatic many of the children’s lives are.
A fine weaving of grief, innocence and trauma. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Mila has aged out of the foster care system and has found a job teaching at a remote farm in Northern California. The farm is owned by a couple who have taken in over 40 foster children over the years as well as offering internships, like the one Mila has gotten. Mila finds herself on a beautiful farm and warmly welcomed by the owners. She only has one pupil, 9-year-old Lee, who comes from a traumatized background just as Mila does. But no one told Mila about the ghosts on the farm, about how they would fill dance across the fields and play games together at night. As Mila gets more involved with helping on the farm, learning about the flowers and crops, and helping Lee face his trauma, she finds that her own memories are threatening to overwhelm her as her past continues to haunt her.
This new book from the Printz-award winner is another dynamite read. It’s a novel with such an unusual setting, haunting and remote. It echoes with elements of Jane Eyre and Rebecca while standing completely modern and unique. It may not be classically gothic with its warm and sunny rooms, merry meals together, and companionship, but other moments are pure gothic with the sea, the cliffs, and the ghosts. It’s a tantalizing mixture of sun and shadow.
Mila is a character to fall hard for. She is clearly traumatized by what happened to her before she entered the foster care system, setting herself apart from others even as she longs to be closer to people. She is careful, conscientious, and amazingly kind, everything that her past has her thinking she is not. She is a marvel of layers that the novel reveals with gothic precision at just the right times.
Gorgeously written and filled with icy darkness and glowing warmth, this novel is a triumph. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
June Bug lives with her mother in the house on Trowbridge Road that everyone thinks is haunted. Her father died of AIDS, leaving June Bug with her mother who is scared of germs and obsessed with being clean. That means that she never leaves the house and food can be scarce. June Bug’s uncle brings her food once a week, limited because her mother won’t allow him to come more often, so she is often hungry as the supplies run out. Then Ziggy arrives to live with his grandmother down the road. June Bug watches them from a nearby tree, dreaming of being friends and sharing the food that his grandmother prepares for him throughout the day. Ziggy too has experienced his own troubles, immediately getting the attention of the local bullies. As June Bug and Ziggy meet and become friends, their troubles mount, but they have one another as a safe place to share and heal, because at times home is not that place at all.
Set in the mid-80’s, this novel for middle graders is written with such beauty. Pixley creates a neighborhood that is lovingly shown as a mix of safety, imaginative play and also reveals the harshness of reality too. From the foundations of a fallen house where magic blossoms to the shelter of a large tree that can be scrambled up and down, this is a neighborhood seen through the eyes of two creative children who create their own reality together to care for one another.
The two protagonists are children who have experience abuse of various kinds and find kindred spirits in one another. They have both been hungry, both been physically hurt, and both lived with emotional abuse. They are both survivors, using their imagination and the neighborhood itself as places to escape to together. The power of love soars through this book, in extended families who offer care and shelter, in neighbors who reach out and take action. It’s a book about being able to ask for help and the positive change that can come when aid arrives.
Wrenching, powerful and filled with hope, this book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Della has always been taken care of by her older sister, Suki. The two of them stayed together after their mother went to prison and they moved in with her mother’s boyfriend. That boyfriend did something horrible to Della, so the sisters fled. Now they are in foster care together, being really taken care of for the first time in their lives. Suki has always been Della’s protector so what happens when Suki suddenly is the one who needs help and caring for? Della is willing to talk in court about what happened to her, but Suki wants to be silent. Della is good at being loud, sometimes being too loud or swearing in class. It’s time for Della to use her voice to stand up for what they both need, but also to listen to her sister in a new way too.
This book is seriously one of the best of the year. Period. Written by an author who is consistently impressive, this is a book that is stunningly good. Bradley gives a voice to those who have experienced child abuse, showing them that they are more than the abuse, more than that trauma. It is a book that doesn’t duck what happened to these sisters, but builds towards the awful truth, warning readers that it is coming and then dealing with it when it happens. It removes the stigma of the trauma in a way that is full of compassion and empathy, giving space for assault and for the recovery from it.
Bradley’s writing is exceptional. She does so much with the voice of Della, making her both a clarion call to be heard and listened to, but also giving her a realistic vocabulary of swear words and a way to deal with them in a book for children. This book is beyond impressive. It is important and vital: a book to be shared with children and adults, an example of what children’s literature can be at its highest level.
Bravo! One of the best of the year, if not one of the best of all time. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Allison has run away from home without much of a plan. She finds herself sleeping in the garden shed behind what seems to be an abandoned house. But Marla lives there, an elderly woman with dementia. Marla thinks that Allison is her old friend Toffee. Allison manages to start living in the house with Marla. She meets a local girl who helps her get paid for doing homework for others. As the story continues, both Marla and Allison tell their complete stories, ones that they keep hidden from others. The two become closer, telling one another their dreams and secrets, until one day it all falls apart.
Crossan has created a verse novel for teens that is a vital mix of hope and found families. She grapples with difficult subjects like physical and emotional abuse and the loneliness of the elderly. The blend of darkness and hope makes for a compelling read that invites readers into Marla’s old house. The verse is a gorgeous mix of frank storytelling about abuse and wistful longing for a future that makes sense.
The friendship between Allison and Marla unfolds beautifully before the reader, starting in a place of doubt and questions and becoming a lifeline for them both. Marla is not prickly or doddering. Rather she is fully realized as a person, looking at times for a stiff drink and always willing to dance. Allison is a survivor, seeking her own way forward. Bright and strong, she figures out a path as unique as herself.
Another amazing novel from a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 13-16,
Sydney is the daughter of the famous Lila Shore, an actress who did an iconic sex scene. Sydney lives most of the year in Seattle attending a private school, living in a dorm, and visiting her grandmother. But over the summer, Sydney heads to San Francisco to spend months with her mother, who never seems to actually have time to spend with Sydney. Lila lives in Jake’s house, dating him and staying for free. It’s a house near the beach with cliff views, a house that is often fogged in, a house full of secrets and violence. Jake pays a lot of attention to Sydney, as does a construction worker at a neighboring house. Sydney is creeped out by the sudden attention to what she is wearing, how she looks and innuendos about what she does. However, she doesn’t mind the attention from Nicco, a sweet boy she meets on the beach, who captures lines and moments from each day in his journal. As the summer goes on though, the tension grows towards a foreshadowed tragedy that is almost inevitable.
In this slow burn of of thriller mystery, Caletti focuses on how unwanted male attention impacts teen girls, both in the way they act but even more importantly on the way they view themselves. With an even brighter light than our general society, Caletti uses the intensity of fame to capture society’s objectification of women and finding value in the physical rather than the internal.
The book works on several levels with the thriller being steadily foreshadowed by the court documents listed at the beginning of each chapter. The mystery of what happened, the steadily build of tension, and the intensity of the revealing scene. It also works as a deep work of feminist literature, insisting that the reader notice what is going on, notice the impact that male attention has, and notice that something must be done to change this.
An intense feminist novel for teens that insists on being noticed. Appropriate for ages 15-18.