Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin

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Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga (9781580899369)

Lily was traveling with her Gram to Gram’s house in Iowa where Lily was going to live now. Gram suggested that on the long drive they discover ten beautiful things. Lily looked out the window but couldn’t find a single beautiful thing. Just then, the sun broke the horizon, and Lily had found her first beautiful thing. As they traveled, Lily’s stomach would hurt and she would feel very sad, but before she could get too sad, another beautiful thing would appear. There was a wind farm, a creek, even a decaying old barn. The smell of the muddy earth was one that Lily discovered and picked. Towards the end of their journey, a thunderstorm broke over them, filling up the entire space, and definitely making itself number 9. Then they were at Gram’s house. What would be number 10? Gram knew just the thing.

Griffin’s writing is deeply empathetic to Lily and the changes happening in her life. Lily’s emotions about the change are right at the surface, causing her stomach to ache and for her to sometimes withdraw. Gram is the perfect response to that, feeding her crackers and carefully building a relationship as the miles went by. The structure of counting beautiful things creates a way for readers to experience the unique beauty of the Midwest and Iowa in particular. The use of a storm to both symbolize the turmoil of life and also the clearing of the air is especially well done.

The illustrations are done digitally and with watercolor textures. From the drama of the storm that takes over the pages, filling them with wind, rain and lightning to the dazzle of sun as they reach Gram’s house with a page that glows with hope, this book shows emotions on the page clearly and with real skill.

A quiet book where readers can experience the beauty of nature and the wonder of a new family being built. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (9781484728499)

Released February 6, 2018.

Camellia and her sisters were born Belles. They are children of the Goddess of Beauty and given talents that let them bestow beauty on other people. The people of Orleans are born with gray skin and red eyes and must be transformed by Belles. Each generation, one Belle is chosen to be the Queen’s favorite. Camellia knows that she is destined to be the favorite, just as her mother was. But it is not that simple as one of her sisters is selected over her, because Camellia has refused to be confined by the rules. When the favorite position is offered later, Camellia jumps at the chance to take her sister’s place. But behind all of the beauty and opulence there is darkness, hidden truths and poisonous hatred. Can Camellia survive in court? And if so, how will she be asked to break the rules now?

Clayton has written a stunning first book in a trilogy. She has crafted a claustrophobic world of glitter, dazzle and beauty that is conveyed with fine detail and a sense of wonder. Throughout though, she has laced the story with pain, intrigue, lies and a sense of foreboding of the darkness to come. There is a finely wrought sense of unease even as the Belles make people beautiful.

Camellia is a great heroine, complicated and naive. Seeing the court through her eyes allows readers first to see the beauty only and then steadily as Camellia comes to understand the power struggles in court, to see them along with her. The pacing of the novel is slow at first and then downright breakneck at the end. I look forward to the rest of the series showing us more of the world that Clayton has created.

A mesmerizing first novel from an incredible new talent. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Review: Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann

poisoned apples

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

Released September 23, 2014.

Filled with the stark, violent and frightening truths behind the fairy tales you loved as a child, this book of 50 poems is designed for teens ready to see beyond the beauty of a princess dress.  The poems bring the fairy tales into the modern day, introducing us to the dirty side of the entire princess and beauty myth.  Here are girls who are trapped in the stories society has sold them, girls who cannot eat, girls with no hope, girls who do as they are told, until they don’t.  You will find all of the princesses on the pages here, by they are not who you think they are.  There are poems told in their voices and others that are based on rhymes.  They are all caustic, brave and vary from tragic to hilarious.  I dare you to try to put this one down.

Brilliant.  I read the first poem in this book and knew that I had found something entirely unique and amazing.  Heppermann skewers the princess trope, firmly demanding that girls realize what is happening to them.  That they recognize that it is built on them not for them, that they are all beautiful no matter what the ads say, and that if you listen too much your life becomes a mockery or a tragedy.  This is satire at its very best, paying tribute to the fairy tales but savagely tearing them apart to form a new garment and march onward.

Get this one for your teen collections, hand it directly to girls who don’t like poetry because this will change their minds forever.  This book will speak to every girl, because we have all been sold the same stories.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.

Review: My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend

my life in black and white

My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend

Lexi has always been known as the beautiful girl.  Her sister Ruthie is the smart one.  Her best friend Taylor is the fun one.  But that all changes when Lexi and Taylor go to a high school party.  When Lexi sees her best friend together with her boyfriend, she thinks her world has ended.  But then she is in a car accident and her face goes through the windshield.  Now Lexi has to figure out how to go on after losing the one thing that defined her beyond everything else, her beauty.  Plus she has to face it all without her best friend or her boyfriend by her side.  It’s like she lost everything in one single night, and maybe she did.

Friend excels at honesty in her teen novels.  Lexi starts out as a fairly vain young woman but after her series of disasters, readers are firmly on her side.  It is wonderful to see a book that takes the time to explore the process of grief, anger and finally acceptance so fully.  Lexi is a young woman who is strong, vital and much more than her face.  As the book proceeds, readers see beyond the beauty just as Lexi herself is discovering that there is more to her as well.

The writing here is clear and clean.  Friend explores not just Lexi’s relationship with her friends, but also how her sister is affected and how her parents cope.  There are no easy situations here, her father wants to fix everything and her relationship with her mother completely shatters.  There are sexual situations in this book, making it firmly a teen novel more appropriate for high school audiences.

There is plenty of pain in this novel, plenty of growth, but it is also smart and funny, just like Lexi herself.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Review: Seed Magic by Jane Buchanan

seed magic

Seed Magic by Jane Buchanan, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb

Rose and her brothers make fun of the old man who feeds the pigeons all day long from his wheelchair.  When Rose asks him why he likes pigeons so much, he tells her how beautiful they are.  But Rose can’t see it at all; she thinks that gardens are much more lovely than birds.  So Birdman gives her some seeds to put outside her window and grow a garden on her windowsill.  Rose knows that it won’t work, since there’s no dirt for them to grow in, but Birdman is insistent that they will grow a garden on her bare windowsill.  Her brothers make fun of her for even trying, but Rose starts to dream of the incredible flowers that could sprout there.  Then one day, something magical does happen, much to her surprise and delight.

Buchanan’s writing is poetic.  It has a strong rhythmic quality that beats to the heart of the urban setting perfectly.  She plays with imagery, describing the sunflower seeds as “black as tar, slick as oil” as Birdman share them with Rose.  This is a book that speaks to the power of making connections, rather than dismissing those around us.  It is also about beauty and seeing it in the most unlikely places.

The illustrations have a wonderful texture and thickness to them, the paint layered and deep.  Riley-Webb uses plenty of color to depict the urban park: greens, blues, and rich browns.  There is movement to her illustrations from the people, the birds and the gardens.  It is a fresh way to show a city, rather than the cold of concrete.

This book celebrates nature in an urban setting and the sharing of beauty.  Thanks to the rhythm of its writing, it’s a great read-aloud as well.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.  

Review: The List by Siobhan Vivian

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The List by Siobhan Vivian

At Mount Washington High School, the same thing always happens just before homecoming.  The List comes out.  It gives the names of two girls in each grade: one is named the prettiest in that grade, the other the ugliest.  Being on the list can change your life at Mount Washington, and it does for all of the eight girls on this year’s list.   Abby is ecstatic to be on the list as prettiest freshman, especially with her brainy older sister looking down at her all the time.  Danielle, the other side of the freshman pair, sees the list take a toll on her relationship with her boyfriend.  Lauren, prettiest sophomore, was previously homeschooled and finds that the list can help her make new friends.  Candace, named the ugliest sophomore, isn’t unattractive at all, instead it’s her attitude that is horrid.  Bridget, celebrated for losing so much weight, knows that she’s started something very dangerous.  Sarah is a rebel and immediately writes UGLY across her forehead in permanent ink.  And then there are the seniors, two girls who used to be best friends and who now are strangers, one whose path to homecoming queen seems clear and the other who has been on the list as ugliest all four years. 

Vivian sets the wheels of this story in motion and her characters take over.  It is a trick to create eight characters unique enough to read as individuals throughout an entire book, and Vivian does that very well.  She explores the relationship between beauty and self-esteem, beauty and popularity, and the perception of beauty and its impact.  Some of the girls are robbed of that feeling while others have never felt it.   But it’s not just about the “ugly” girls.  The perception of beauty haunts the “pretty” girls as well, creating rifts in friendships, questions about values, and eroding self-esteem in much the same way as being labeled ugly.

Vivian does not shy away from this complexity, instead she embraces it.  This is foreshadowed by the reaction of the principal to discovering the list where she warns the girls that they have all been hurt by being placed on the list. 

Here we have a book that is deep, complicated, and riveting reading.  It’s a book that takes on some “truths” of our society and turns them on their head, in a pretty beautiful way.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.