Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (9780525647072)
Jam lives in Lucille, a place cleansed of monsters by the angels who still live among them. There are no monsters in Lucille any more. But just as Jam is learning about the original angels, who looked more like monsters than humans, she accidentally releases a creature from her mother’s painting. The creature is Pet, who has crossed dimensions to hunt a monster. Pet reveals that the monster is living in Jam’s best friend, Redemption’s house. Now Jam must figure out how to enlist Redemption’s help without accusing his family of doing something terrible and harboring a monster. Or perhaps Pet is the real monster as he hunts without remorse? Jam must learn the truth and then get others to believe her.
Wow. What a book! The voice here is what hits you first, unique and strong, it speaks in a Nigerian-laced rhythm that creates its own magic immediately. Add in the power of Jam herself, a black, trans girl who often chooses not to speak aloud but with sign language. Then you have the amazement of Pet, the nightmare creature who hunts for monsters but also explains the importance of not hiding from the truth. Surround it all with families who love and care and are wonderfully different from one another.
Emezi leads readers through this wonder of a book, filled with LGBTQIA+ moments that are so normal they become something very special. They insist that you understand what is meant by a monster and by an angel, that one can be disguised as another, that monsters are normal people, but must not be tolerated. It’s a book about abuse, about standing up, about angels and demons, and about humans.
An incredible middle-grade fantasy full of power, monsters and beauty. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Make Me a World.
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (9780062686206)
Boy has always been bullied and ignored in his village. He is different than the others with his humped back and ability to communicate with animals. When Secondus, a pilgrim searching for relics of Saint Peter, first notices Boy’s climbing ability, he decides to take him along on his journey for a few days. As Boy proves his usefulness and also realizes that he feels accepted for the first time in his life, Boy insists on continuing to help Secondus in his pilgrimage. But they aren’t really rescuing the relics of Saint Peter, they are stealing them in the hopes of getting Secondus into heaven. As their travels continue, they grow more and more perilous. Boy begins to figure out where he came from and realize that though he isn’t a regular boy he may be something all the more special.
I’ve heard so much glowing praise for this book and I thought I had tried to read it earlier in the year, but I got it mixed around with another book. So many books! When I started this, I was immediately swept into the medieval world that Murdock has created. She doesn’t shy away from the filth, the pestilence, and the violence of this world. Yet she also weaves a rich mystical Christianity into the novel that lifts it up out of the reality and into something more.
The two main characters could not be more different from one another, so their unique friendship is all the more rewarding as it emerges. Boy is open and honest to a fault, often failing to understand the nuances of what is happening around him. Secondus is filled with secrets and guilt. Both of their full stories are shared and they serve as two sides of a coin.
A fascinating look at medieval religion, pilgrimage and life, this book is rich and rewarding. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Greenwillow Books.
The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond, illustrated by Alex T. Smith (9780763695637)
When Bert, a bus driver, finds a tiny angel in his shirt pocket, he takes the little angel home with him. His wife Betty makes the angel some food, he mostly likes sweets, and then a bed in a box. They name him Angelino. She takes him with her to her job at a school the next day where Angelino discovers that he can talk and even fly! But some others have also seen him and soon they have created a plan to kidnap Angelino and sell him to the highest bidder. Along the way Angelino has made some friends, so they set out to save him even though they have no idea where he might be. It may just take a miracle to rescue their little angel.
Almond uses such a playful tone in this book! He makes jokes along the way, including the names of the various noxious adults that appear in the book. There is a Professor Smellie and a Mrs. Mole. Rather hard to take them seriously at all with those names. Even the other evil characters turn out to be a lot less dangerous than they seem at first. The book has a great fast pace and never lingers long in any one place before merrily swooping onward. The illustrations by Smith add to the lightness and humor.
Clever disguises, children lost and newly found, and one central angel make this a book that is great fun to read. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.
Devine Intervention by Martha Brockenbrough
When his best friend shot him in the head with an arrow, Jerome died instantly. Now he finds himself in between Heaven and Hell, given a second chance to save himself from eternal torment. He’s been appointed as Heidi’s guardian angel as part of soul rehabilitation. Jerome didn’t actually read the handbook for guardian angels, so he’s mostly just winging it. Heidi has heard Jerome’s voice in her head since she was small. When she got older, she started to realize that others don’t hear voices like that and that she may be crazy. So Heidi started to withdraw and kept more and more to herself. She doesn’t always listen to Jerome’s advice, though he tries to help. So when she and her best friend head on stage during Talentpalooza and there is a major wardrobe malfunction, Heidi has no one but herself to blame. But that’s not why she was out on the pond’s thin ice at all. Though her life (or death) will never be the same after falling through.
Brockenbrough strikes just the write tone in this novel. While deep issues are dealt with, she keeps the writing light and playful. It helps that she is a truly funny author, writing with a hilarity that makes reading the novel pure fun. At the same time, she does fully explore the meaning of life in the book, what death may hold for us, and the importance of family, even dysfunctional ones. Her lighter tone makes these deeper issues all the more reflective and powerful.
The two main characters are very successfully drawn. For me, Jerome is the voice of the book. It is his perspective on life and death that makes the book work so well. Heidi on the other hand is vital to the book, but doesn’t have the whiz and bang of Jerome. That said, a book only needs one star of a character. Heidi makes a grand secondary lead character, offering a different perspective and a lot of action to the book.
This funny teen novel about death and life features juvenile delinquents as guardian angels. I think that explains a lot about life. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang, illustrations by Thien Pham
As a child, Dennis was forbidden from playing video games. When his father died, he played them all the time. He was even good enough to consider playing on the professional circuit. But that was before THEY showed up. Four cute little angels with plenty of attitude and a lot of bossiness seemed to know exactly what Dennis should be doing with his life, and it certainly was not video games. Instead, they pushed and insisted in his father’s name that he start studying hard and then go to medical school. But will Dennis find happiness there? Or will he return to his love of gaming?
Yang captures the tension between following your own dreams and following those of your parents. The four angels serve as universal parental voices, insisting that the future path is set and that one must fulfill one’s destiny. The writing is infinitely readable, down-to-earth and yet striking. The book wrestles with important themes, using the graphic format to lighten things but still looking deeply at the choices that shape a life.
Pham’s illustrations are filled with simple lines, washes of color, and often have a play of light and dark backgrounds in different frames on a page. But if one looks at the illustrations, they are well rendered, interesting and far more than the simple lines may originally seem.
This book has teen and gamer appeal galore. Before I got to read it myself, my husband and two sons had to read it first. Both the theme of video games and the graphic format made it impossible for them to pass up. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by: