Accidental by Alex Richards (9781547603589)
Johanna lives with her maternal grandparents after her mother’s tragic death in a car accident when Johanna was a toddler. Now at age sixteen, she is starting to resent how dull and stifling her life is. Even worse, her grandparents don’t have any pictures of her mother out and never speak about her. So when Johanna gets contacted by her father for the first time, she decides to meet with him. He shares pictures of her mother, who looks like just like Johanna. More importantly, he shares the truth of how Joanna’s mother died, something that her grandparents lied to her about. As a toddler, Johanna found a gun in the house and accidentally shot and killed her mother. Now Johanna must find a way to cope with her grandparents’ lies, her relationship with her father, and her newfound guilt and responsibility around her mother’s death.
This timely novel deals with gun violence from a unique and fascinating perspective, that of an unsecured gun left to be found by a child. The novel wrestles with responsibility for the tragedy as well as the importance of truth to allow families to heal. Richards gives Johanna a robust support system that gives Johanna and the reader hope to move forward through the situation. The strain of discovering her own role in the tragedy is made worse by it being discovered by everyone at her school and online bullying.
Johanna is a strong and resilient protagonist navigating one of the most terrible situations. Richards doesn’t let up, putting her character through horrible times in the novel, revealing who truly loves her in the end but also showing Johanna’s incredible tenacity and growth along the way.
A gripping look at gun violence that is ultimately full of hope. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley (9780062908025)
This verse novel for teens tells the story of two families shattered by one gun shot. Jonah had always been a daredevil, but that ended one day at his best friend Clay’s house when he was playing around with a gun. Now Jonah is bedridden, unable to do anything for himself. Most people don’t believe that he can understand things, but his sister Liv knows that he’s still in there. She spends most of her nights awake with Jonah and his nurses, since she’s often the only one who can calm Jonah down. Meanwhile, there’s a trial unfolding to see who is at fault for Jonah’s injuries and if his ongoing care will be paid for. Liv tries to protect her mother from the editorials in the newspaper and finds herself also making an unlikely connection with Clay’s mother in the center of the road between their homes. Liv also speaks to Clay, who has left school after the accident and given up his phone. She is drawn to him as they avoid talking about Jonah and find both new and old ways to communicate together. As Jonah’s trial goes on, the town becomes divided over the case, but Liv becomes all the more focused on her brother and Clay.
Culley’s verse is written with the tautness of a violin string. Her words stretch and hum, resonant with meaning. She doesn’t use any extra words, her poetry spare and rich with emotion that goes unstated but fills the pages. Beautifully, she manages to reach beyond the arguments about gun control to tell a deep story about the impact of a single gun on two families. That alone is a feat while still not ignoring the politically charged atmosphere entirely.
Liv is the voice of the book, her feelings and struggles crossing the page with her actions speaking of so much more pain than she can express even to the reader. She is a protagonist caught in a river current of grief and loss that she can’t find a way to process other than to just go through it. Again, Culley gives her the space to just be on the page, speak in her voice, and experience what her family is going through.
Tragic and profoundly moving, this verse novel is something special. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.
The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie (9781534414464)
When Gwyn and her family move in with her Nana in rural Iowa, it’s a big change from living in New York City. It’s all to help her mother, Vienna, develop new memories. Vienna remembers nothing since she was thirteen, including Gwyn and her little sister Bitty. Gwyn and Bitty quickly befriend two boys from the neighborhood, Micah and Jimmy. They live with Micah’s mother, Gaysie Cutter, a woman who tries to bury Gwyn alive the first time they meet. So when a man goes missing, Gwyn knows that Gaysie had to have something to do with it. Now she just has to prove it and not damage her friendship with Jimmy and Micah along the way. But there are many secrets in their small town, ones that threaten to topple Gwyn’s theory of Gaysie’s guilt.
This is Makechnie’s first novel, and it is very impressive. Gwyn is a stellar character, who doesn’t shy away from being entirely herself and different from everyone else. She is a girl who will learn how to lift fingerprints, share her theories directly with the police, stand up to a group of bullies, and dare to speak up around Gaysie Cutter. All of the characters are well drawn and interesting, including Gwyn’s mother who is struggling with the limits of her memory, her father who could be a suspect too, and the two boys who are as different as possible but also brothers through and through.
This story has many layers, making it a very rich read for middle graders. One piece that really works well is the layering of the previous generation growing up in the same small Iowa town. As Gwyn learns of the connection between her mother, father and Gaysie during their childhood, she also finds out about a terrible accident that changed them all forever. That element is then echoed through to the present day with the new generation of children getting into trouble themselves.
A great read, a grand mystery, and a strong protagonist. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)
Accident! By Andrea Tsurumi (9780544944800)
Lola spills juice all over a chair and decides to run away and hide in the library until she’s a grownup. As she runs to the library, Lola meets a series of other animals having their own accidents and disasters. She takes them all with her to the library. But soon the disasters multiply as they run, turning the entire town into chaos. Even the library itself is soon a catastrophe. Then the little red bird explains that these are all just accidents and they should make it better. So each animal returns to the mess they have made and fixes things with apologies, help and towels. Throughout this picture book the pace gets faster and faster as the accidents build up and up. The illustrations are filled with small details and it’s worth slowing down and noticing all of the little touches of disaster as the pages get more chaotic. A book that celebrates taking responsibility even in the face of the ultimate mess. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Read the Book Lemmings by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (9780316343480)
Head out on an Arctic adventure aboard the S.S. Cliff with Foxy, Captain PB and three little lemmings. Foxy is trying to read a book about lemmings but the problem is that the lemmings themselves haven’t read it. As Foxy reads aloud that lemmings don’t actually jump off of cliffs, the three lemmings immediately jump overboard. Foxy tries again to show them the information, but still, the three lemmings jump overboard again. Eventually Foxy realizes why the lemmings won’t read the book, but they have one more trick for him! Dyckman has an impeccable sense of timing in this picture book, creating moments of true hilarity that are a pleasure to share aloud. The book is simply written which adds to its appeal. The illustrations have great sense of style to them with a pink sky, deep ocean-blue water, and lemmings that wear hats so you can tell them apart. Funny, deeply silly and heart warming, despite the cold water. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake (9781419726996)
A little boy declares that he can get ready for the bath by himself, but gets himself stuck in his shirt. He thinks about what would happen if he was permanently stuck in his shirt. It might be alright sometimes, but what about when he gets thirsty or wants to play with his cat? He realizes he could figure out inventive ways to solve those problems. Unfortunately, then he tries to take off his pants and manages to get entirely stuck. Luckily his mom appears and rescues him. Every child has gotten stuck in their clothes and will enjoy laughing along as this child figures out clever ways to live in a shirt. The (literal) twist of the pants at the end is cleverly done and offers just the right silly tone and a glimpse of a bare bottom too. Share this one after a bath. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock
Sarah knows that she is responsible for her little sister being hit by a car. Their entire summer has changed now with Robin in the hospital and her prognosis unclear. Sarah has moved to live with her grandparents on their remote farm, which is usually one of her favorite places but even that has changed. Her best friend, Ruby Lee, is changing too because the color of their skin has become all the more important in North Carolina as the school desegregate. When it looks like the girls will be going to school together, they struggle with their friendship under the rules of their parents and grandparents and their own high expectations. Sarah has a lot to navigate in this summer before middle school.
Based on the author’s family history with a car accident and a sibling, this book’s real heart is the family itself. The warmth of the grandparents’ love and care during the tragedy are palpable as they feed Sarah all sorts of good homemade cooking and teach her skills in the kitchen too. Sarah discovers that she is surrounded by people who care, but even that is not enough to assuage her guilt at what has happened to her sister as well as her guilt about how she treats Ruby Lee.
As this guilt builds, it becomes almost another character in the book, unspoken and real. It traps the real Sarah beneath it, unable to speak of what she needs to say most desperately. This is an honest depiction of what it is to feel this level of responsibility and not be able to communicate that at all. The book embraces these large feelings, gives them space to come out and be revealed, and also shows how these emotions play into civil rights in a larger scale where guilt, tradition and societal expectations come together and stop forward momentum.
A powerful mix of personal story and Civil Rights history, this book shows how important change is at every level. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
When I Am Happiest by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson (InfoSoup)
The third in the charming series about Dani, this book has school ending. Dani has now managed to finish the school year after her best friend moved away. She has a project to finish, a book about how happy she is. But then her father is hit by a car on his bicycle, and suddenly Dani is not happy at all. Dani is taken home by her grandparents where they wait for updates on her her father is doing. How can Dani ever finish her book now? And what will happen if her father never wakes up again?
Translated from the Swedish, this series is one of my favorites. Lagercrantz captures the emotions of having your best friend move away and then the long process of recovering from that. In this novel, she shows how a sudden accident can sweep the air out of your life as a child. Lagercrantz never lectures about being positive, but that’s exactly what her books embrace. Through Dani’s reactions to adversity, readers can see the power of positive thinking and how the good outweighs the bad even when you don’t realize it.
Eriksson’s art is done in line drawings that help break the text up, making this book just right for elementary readers who may still find large paragraphs overwhelming. The art is done with a sense of humor, such as the image of Dani getting her ears pierced with her father unable to look but bravely holding her hand anyway. When Dani is overwhelmed by the news of her father, you can see it in every bone of her body as it curves protectively inward.
Another winner in this great series, get these into the hands of fans of Clementine for another amazing young heroine. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (InfoSoup)
Giselle and Isabelle are identical teen twins on their way to Izzie’s concert at school when their car is crashed into and their lives changed forever. Giz wakes up in a hospital room, unable to speak or move. She can hear though and is in a semi-conscious state. That’s how she realizes that everyone thinks that she is Isabelle. People don’t mention her at all, avoiding the subject, but Giz is sure that she would know if Isabelle had died. Her parents eventually come to see her, both physically battered by the accident and with bruises, broken bones and casts. Trapped and unable to communicate, Giselle thinks about her past with her family, their strong ties to their Haitian heritage and the bond that she and her sister have always had.
Danticat is an award-winning author of several adult books. This is her debut YA title. Her writing is superb. Told in Giz’s voice, the prose lilts and dances like poetry. It weaves around the reader, creating moments of clarity and then as Giz reminisces about her family and sister lifting into pure emotion. Nothing is told, all is shown and there is a radiance to the entire novel that is sublime.
Giz is a strong heroine. Haitian-American, she is solidly connected to her heritage through her grandparents who still live in Haiti. It’s a joy to see a depiction of a family of color who are complex and far from stereotypical. Giz is a large part of this. Her voice is clearly her own, her upbringing affects everything around her, and being a person of color is at the core of this novel yet not at center stage. It is done with a delicate yet firm hand.
One of the most beautifully written teen novels of the year, this look at sisterhood, death, grief and family is hauntingly lovely. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.
Tiptop Cat by C. Roger Mader
When the cat comes to his new home, he sets out to explore. He looks around discovers that he can get outside to the balcony. And from there, he can head up and up to the rooftop where he finds a favorite spot on the top of a chimney. Then one morning as he is dozing on the balcony, a pigeon comes and lands on the railing. The cat turns into a hunter and starts stalking the bird, finally pouncing on it. But birds can fly, and cats cannot. So the cat fell, down, down, down. Falling right through an awning and into the arms of a man. No bones were broken, but the cat lost any desire to head outside. He hid in baskets, under rugs and behind curtains. But then, a crow came to the balcony and strutted up and down and once again the cat became interested in the outdoors and in his favorite high-up place.
Mader captures the essence of a domestic cat on the page. From the very first image of the cat with birthday ribbons, readers will know that this is an author who understands cats and the way they think. Mader uses very simple language in the book, letting the images tell much of the story. In fact, the illustrations are so very strong that the book could easily be wordless.
And the illustrations are stunning. They are detailed and realistic. The format switches from full page and double page spreads to panels that move the action forward in a wonderfully energetic way. As the cat moves to the fateful pounce, the panels show him edging forward, lengthening the time before the moment of movement. In the same way, the larger pages show the cat’s fall down and down, making it last and last, creating real drama on the way down.
This dazzlingly illustrated picture book will have cat lovers meowing with joy and even the smallest children leaned forward to see what befalls this fearless feline. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Blind by Rachel DeWoskin
When Emma was 14 watching fireworks with her family, a rocket backfired and hit the crowd, burning Emma across her eyes and leaving her blind. Emma has to learn how to live as a blind person, pitied by everyone but mostly by herself. She learns to walk with a cane after months of sitting on the family couch not doing anything at all. She is sent to a special school where she learns to read braille and yearns to be back with her best friend at normal high school. After working hard for a year, Emma manages to progress enough to be allowed to return to normal high school, but everything has changed. Not only is it difficult being blind there, but a classmate has been found dead. Now Emma has to figure out how to process the girl’s death without becoming the PBK – Poor Blind Kid again.
DeWoskin has written a complex book here. The heart of it, Emma’s blindness is brilliantly captured. Readers will learn about the limitations of being blind, but also how it makes to listen differently and with more attention than before. The small coping mechanisms are fascinating, such as always wearing a tan bra so that you know it won’t show through any of your shirts and the fact that blind girls still wear makeup, but theirs has to be labeled in a way you can touch.
Emma is a great heroine. Her grieving process is clearly shown as is her determination to return to normal. She is strong but not too strong, so that she is fully human on the page. When Emma creates a group of students who meet secretly to deal with the girl’s death, the book slows. While it is an interesting device to show how teens can come together to help one another grieve and heal, it is far less compelling than Emma’s own journey.
A book that will reach beyond those interested in visual impairment, this teen novel shows the resilience of a girl suddenly blinded but who discovers an inner strength she had never realized she had. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking.