The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg (9781338325034)

Two teens arrive at exactly the same time on the George Washington Bridge, planning to jump off. At the last minute, when he sees Tillie, Aaron decides not to jump, but Tillie does. Aaron now must find new ways to deal with his rising depression, struggles that he can’t admit to his father, even though his father is desperately to figure out what is going on with his son. Tillie’s family is devastated by their loss, particularly her little sister. Tillie, ignored by her adoptive father because she embarrassed him in one of her performances, is being cyberbullied by girls in her school, including one of her previous best friends. But wait, perhaps it was Aaron who jumped and Tillie survived. Or did they both jump? Or did they both stop themselves and find one another. This masterpiece of a novel looks at suicide, getting help, and the impact of loss.

Konigsberg takes one pivotal moment in the lives of two people and shows how it could be different given a slightly different reaction. How one person could be saved, or the other, or neither or both. He portrays two very different families, each struggling with loss or trying to help their teenage child. He shows glimpses of hope, the long slog of treatment, the lifesaving connections that can be made, and how one person can save another. In short, this is life on the page, captured with real empathy.

Konigsberg takes his young protagonists and builds their storylines fully, in one part even projecting us forward decades into what their loss meant for their families and how it continued to echo in their lives. He shares their deep sorrows, their reasons for contemplating suicide, their inability to put it into words themselves, and the powerful desire to have their pain just be over. He gives us the darkness and then the light, the ending portrayal of their stories are just what the reader needs, hope and unlikely friends.

Powerful, deeply impactful and masterful, this teen novel shows suicide in breathtaking complexity. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic Press.

Accidental by Alex Richards

Accidental by Alex Richards

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.

The Shared Room by Kao Kalia Yang

The Shared Room by Kao Kalia Yang, illustrated by Xee Reiter (9781517907945)

This picture book tackles what happens when a family loses a child. Set months after the death, the family is living in dim rooms with no fire lit. Shadows fill the rooms. There is a picture on the wall of their fourth child, who died by walking into water and drowning when she couldn’t swim. Her room is empty with her items still in place. Her parents visit the room every day and regularly watch a video of the little girl singing. The oldest boy was ten and shared a room with his brother. Then one day, his mother asked if he would like to move into his sister’s room. He agreed, then the emotions hit him and for the first time he is able to cry with the loss and the fact that she was never going to return. That night, he slept in his new room. A snowstorm blew in and the family lit the fire and gathered together in its warmth.

Yang’s prose is filled with poetic moments throughout this heartfelt story. Even introducing winter in St. Paul, Minnesota is done with imagery that opens this book with gray clouds and cracked ice. Yang’s depiction of a family in mourning is done with a delicacy and little drama. The sorrow soaks the pages, the shadows fill them, these moments are dramatic and terrible enough. The emotions ache in the prose, offering a Hmong family’s response to a tragedy.

Reiter’s paintings fill the pages with silence and shadow. She uses white space beautifully, positioning the family as a huddle at times and other times embracing the full page. She plays with shadows and light, using them to show the sorrow. The image of the older brother finally weeping is heart wrenching and very effective.

A quiet book of sorrow and loss. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by University of Minnesota Press.

All of a Sudden and Forever by Chris Barton

All of a Sudden and Forever by Chris Barton

All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing by Chris Barton, illustrated by Nicole Xu (9781541526693)

This nonfiction picture book takes the tremendous tragedy of April 19, 1995 and leads readers to hope and a way forward. It looks deeply at the loss of life, at how so many people were lost and so many more were impacted by the deaths. It looks at the many broken bones and also the broken minds that resulted from the bombing too. The book then moves to after the bombing and the one tree that remained standing nearby. That American elm tree was battered  and scorched by the blast, yet it remained upright. It survived and became a beacon of hope for those who were impacted by the bombing. In spring, someone collected its seeds which then became part of the annual memorial service for the victims. As new tragedies happen, and they did and will in the future, those seeds and seedlings from Oklahoma City start the healing process and show that survival is possible and hope can return.

Barton’s words ache on the page. They are impossible to read without a deep feeling of mourning and loss, without recognizing what happened and what will continue to happen. The weaving of the story of the elm tree into the book is masterfully done, offering a glimpse of green and a path to the future. Barton writes with such empathy here. He allows the story to be told in all of its anguish and pain, and yet makes sure that hope has its place there as well.

The art by Xu is extraordinary. She uses the roots of the tree to intertwine with and embrace those in mourning, to show how interconnected we all are to one another. Done in ink and digitally, the art is a strong mixture of ethereal colors and grounding tree roots, people and spaces.

A powerful and evocative book about tragedy that celebrates life. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story by Zeena M. Pliska

Hello, Little One A Monarch Butterfly Story by Zeena M. Pliska

Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story by Zeena M. Pliska, illustrated by Fiona Halliday (9781624149313)

Caterpillar’s entire world is filled with green after he leaves his egg. Then something orange arrives, soaring high above. Caterpillar calls out to the flying orange thing, but it doesn’t stop. Later, Orange lands nearby to sip nectar from a flower. Caterpillar is eating a leaf nearby. The two spend time together, Orange talking about how they used to feel as a caterpillar and Caterpillar longing to be more like Orange someday. Orange tells all sorts of stories of the things they have seen as they fly. Soon it is time for Caterpillar to form their chrysalis. Orange explains that they won’t be here when Caterpillar emerges. Once caterpillar emerges, they too are a monarch butterfly and are ready to inspire another tiny caterpillar on their journey.

Pliska writes with a tenderness in this picture book. Her words look at the wonder of a new world filled with green leaves and the promise of eventual flight. She creates a natural connection between the two characters who clearly enjoy their shared company. The beauty of the change from caterpillar to butterfly plays out against the sadness of Orange  not being there. These quiet and aching moments create quite a special book.

The illustrations in this book are done in traditional and digital mixed media. The colors are so vivid and deep. They are large enough to work well with a group, focusing on the bright colors of the caterpillar and butterfly and also the greens and blues of their surroundings.

A marvelous book about butterflies, their life cycle and the circle of life. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Page Street Kids.

 

An Ordinary Day by Elana K. Arnold

An Ordinary Day by Elana K. Arnold

An Ordinary Day by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic (9781481472623)

It was an ordinary day in an ordinary neighborhood, but two of the houses across the street were unusually quiet. A car pulled up to each of the houses. A doctor got out of each of the cars and each entered a different house. Outside, life in the neighborhood continued to be ordinary. Inside though, it was different. In the house on the left, a golden retriever was on a bed surrounded by her family. Soft music played. In the house on the right, a woman rested on a bed with her family around her and soft music playing. Both doctors say “She is ready” and start to help. One family says goodbye to a beloved pet while another greets a new member of their family. All part of an ordinary and extraordinary day.

This is a gentle and quiet book that looks deeply at both tragic and joyous moments in our regular everyday lives. The pairing of the two together is what makes this book truly sing. The two stories dance together, moving in concert with one another until they diverge in major and minor keys. Arnold’s writing is steady and strong, offering a foundation for these large emotions to build upon. Yet she also soars as appropriate with the moment.

Vukovic’s illustrations are light and airy, almost ready to float off the page. Done in charcoal, pastel,  watercolor, ink and digitally, the art is filled with soft colors that mist and cloud across the page. The diverse neighborhood shines here, on an ordinary day.

Beautifully illustrated and written, this quiet book about death and life is a gem. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (9781616208967)

San Antonio is not a comfortable place for the Torres sisters. Their mother died giving birth to Rosa, the youngest sister, and their father never recovered from her death, drowning his feelings in drink. When the oldest sister, Ana falls from her window and dies, it takes a great toll on the entire family. A year later, the cracks are beginning to become even larger. Their father is rarely home and when he is he is verbally abusive, demanding, and drunk. Jessica, who got Ana’s bedroom and clothes, mourns her sister by dating the same boy she did. The relationship is violent and controlling, but Jessica can’t seem to move on. Iridian has stopped going to school, reads the same book over and over again, and writes her own stories. She finds herself caught indoors, unwilling to leave their horrible house. Rosa seeks the hyena that is loose in their neighborhood, wondering what special gift she might have and searching for it outside and in religion. The girls all want to escape, and it may just take Ana returning as a ghost to get them free.

Mabry’s novel is exceptional. Her writing is achingly beautiful, telling a story of profound grief and pain. Yet throughout, each of the sisters has bursts of hope, their own unique way forward potentially, if they could just take it. It’s tantalizing writing that creates its own unique emotional tug and writing that offers gem-like moments of clarity before succumbing under the weight of grief once more. The flashes of anger are like lightning on the page, bursts where one thinks things are about to change.

The sisters are all wonderfully crafted and unique from one another. The interplay of their relationships feels like sisterhood, lifting one another up unexpectedly, injuring each other inadvertently and fighting like hell to save the others.

A great teen novel about sisterhood, grief and ghosts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Algonquin.

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson

All the Dear Little Animals by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall (9781776572892)

Originally published in 2009, this award-winning Swedish import is written by the author of the Detective Gordon series. One summer day, Esther found a dead bumblebee and decided to give it a burial ceremony. The narrator of the story, a little boy, helps her by writing a poem about death. The two head out to the secret clearing to dig a grave and plant seeds. Then they set out to find more dead creatures with the help of Puttie, who was a very good crier. They form a business called Funerals, Ltd. and spend their day doing a variety of funerals for animals of all sorts, all in their secret clearing. The final funeral of their day comes when a blackbird hits a window and dies in front of them. They all felt the sadness of that death. And then the next day, they did something different.

I adore Nilsson’s approach to children’s book with his deep understanding of the way that children think and act. This book feels like my childhood, dealing with deep and serious thought one day and moving on. It offers a skillful balance of morose, serious sadness with a sunny summer day, a business idea, and time spent with friends. It’s that juxtaposition and the frank approach of the children toward death that makes this book work so well.

The illustrations by Eriksson really add to the mix of sorrow and sunshine. They are dappled green and gold. Children will appreciate that the dead animals are shown to the reader, tucked into their boxes or on their way to being buried. The final pages with all of the headstones and graves are both humorous and touching.

Funny and serious, just like childhood. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Gecko Press.

Layoverland by Gabby Noone

Layoverland by Gabby Noone

Layoverland by Gabby Noone (9781984836120)

Anyone who has ever taken an airplane can completely get behind purgatory being an airport. Still, it is surprising when Bea finds herself first in a car crash and then waking up in an airplane. When Bea discovers she is in purgatory, she wonders why she hasn’t gone straight to hell after the way she treated her sister just before Bea died. Unfortunately, Bea has been selected for a special program where she is removed from the lottery of names to make their way to Heaven and must help 5000 people find their way to Heaven before she can leave the airport. She gets to wear a hideous orange outfit and then is assigned to help the boy who killed her through to Heaven. Now she has to decide whether to help him or keep him in purgatory with her. The choice gets a lot more difficult when she finds out how much fun it is to kiss him and that she just might be falling for him. This may be Hell after all.

Noone’s writing is deft and exactly on the mark, making this novel’s tone just right. The entire purgatory experience is marvelous with showers that don’t have hot water, food encased in jello, and no Internet or real TV. Throw in a girl who can’t wash the mascara drips from her face or wash her dirty hair, and you have a great recipe for a book. When Caleb enters the novel, readers will respond like Bea, not sure whether to detest him or adore him. Their banter is right on, with Bea often offering her own large opinions on things like mansplaining and high school. 

With a concept and writing this good, it is great to have characters this well drawn too. Bea is angry in a way that will speak to all teenage girls. She cares deeply, yet also doesn’t give a crap a lot of the time too. She is manipulative, something which comes in handy with convincing people to open up to her so they can move on to Heaven. The added pressure of the 5,000 lives she must help is twisted and bizarre, giving her just enough room to both care and not care at the same time. 

Hilarious, romantic and never dull, this novel is heavenly. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.