Tag: families

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (9780525429203)

This is a marvelous sequel to the award-winning The War That Saved My Life. Ada has just gotten her club foot surgically repaired in the beginning of this new novel. Due to their home being destroyed, Ada and her brother along with Susan, their guardian, must move into a small cottage on the land owned by Lady and Lord Thornton. As World War II continues, they face food shortages, hard work, and then are asked to house a German refugee while Susan teaches her math. Though her foot is fixed, Ada continues to wrestle with her disability and how it factored in to her mother’s abuse. Once again horses are on the scene to help with healing, both physical and mental, as unlikely friendships and bonds are formed in a small cottage.

Bradley writes books that don’t just draw you in, they captivate you. It was so wonderful to return to Ada’s story and find out what happens to beloved characters. In this sequel, more is shown of the stern Lady Thornton and Bradley demonstrates that with more knowledge comes more understanding. Ada continues to be a dynamic character, never easy with life or her own role in it. And yet as Ada is prickly and abrupt, she is also warm and inquisitive, looking for answers and asking questions.

Bradley wrestles with dark themes in both of the novels in this series. There is the physical and mental abuse that Ada suffered at the hands of her mother. There is the ongoing war that threatens everyone’s safety. There is the loss of beloved characters due to that war. Still, she also shines hope. Hope for progress forward, for learning more, for accepting differences and for building friendships. The tension between all of this is remarkably well-handled and creates a book that is riveting to read.

A sequel that is just as good as the first, get this into the hands of fans. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott (9780374305505)

Owen and his best friend Sean are looking forward to the perfect Cape Cod summer spent playing baseball, driving go-karts at Owen’s family’s business, and just messing around. But then Sean’s mother hires a babysitter for him for the summer even though he’s eleven years old, because she has a new job out of town and Sean has diabetes that she worries about. She also won’t let Sean head to the go-karts anymore. Owen tries to spend a lot of time with Sean anyway, but their summers steadily head in different directions. When Sean tells Owen that his babysitter is treating him strangely, Owen can’t tell how serious the problem is. Sean swears Owen to secrecy and seems fine a lot of the time. But other times, when Sean shares more of what is happening, Owen can’t tell if Sean is lying or not. When Owen realizes that it is all true, it may be too late to save his friend.

Abbott has created a book about the beauty of summer as a kid. That theme contrasts with the darkness of sexual abuse that is also central to the story. It’s a book about friendship and what it takes to be a best friend, break a confidence, and tell. It’s also a book about being a kid, the epic nature of summer break and growing up. Abbott beautifully contrasts Owen’s experiences with the trauma that Sean is going through.

This book simply because of its theme may be too mature for some readers. The way the abuse is dealt with offers just enough details for young readers to understand the seriousness of what is happening but not too much to overwhelm them. This is a book that demands to be discussed and will leave readers feeling shaken. There is no simple happy ending here, which speaks to the damage and complexities of sexual abuse.

Strong writing combines with a harrowing story to create a book about what it means to really be a best friend. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

3 Picture Books about Families

Bruces Big Move by Ryan Higgins

Bruce’s Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368003544)

Bruce the bear continues to be mother to his four goose children. But now three mice have also joined them in Bruce’s den and it’s getting very crowded, particularly for the grumpy bear. It was messy and loud. Bruce tried to get rid of the mice, but nothing worked. So he decided to move away with the geese instead, leaving the mice behind. Bruce built a house, just the right size along the water. Bruce was very happy there, but the geese were all sad. Soon though, the mice had a solution, one that Bruce wasn’t happy with but one that felt like home. Higgins once again takes a very grumpy bear and forces him to reluctantly appreciate the chaos around him. Higgins uses a big dollop of humor throughout the book, both in the text and the illustrations. Bruce trying to cheer up the geese is a wonderful twist on the book series and seeing Bruce smile is rather creepy in a good way. A moving book that is a nice twist on other picture book moving stories, this is another winning read-aloud featuring Bruce. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy supplied by Disney-Hyperion Books.)

The Call of the Swamp by Davide Cali.jpg

The Call of the Swamp by Davide Cali, illustrated by Marco Soma (9780802854865)

Boris was found as a newborn at the edge of the swamp by his parents. Boris had quite happy days growing up, though he was different than the people around him. His eyes were larger and he had tentacles rather than hair. Then one day, the wind blew the smell of salt air and Boris could smell the swamp. He eventually walked all the way back to the swamp and found himself in the water with animals that were a lot like him. It was his real family. But where did Boris truly belong? This picture book explores adoption through a human family adopting a water creature. It also explores what makes a place a home. The tone here is open and curious, exploring both the wonders of the swamp and the longing to return to the human house and his parents. The art is lovely and filled with details. The illustrations are filled with subtle colors that pay homage to the swamp throughout. A lovely book of nature and home. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

His Royal Highness, King Baby by Sally Lloyd-Jones

His Royal Highness, King Baby by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by David Roberts (9780763697938)

Told from the point of view of a little girl who is about to get a new baby brother, this picture book offers a great example of an unreliable narrator for small children. The little girl was in charge at first in a land where there was plenty of time for stories with both of her parents. Then the new baby arrived, King Baby, and everything turned into screaming, poop and attention for the baby. The princess had to share the bathroom, carry groceries, and soon became invisible to everyone. Then she came up with a new plan and turned into a Mysterious Fairy with a cunning plan that would break the spell of King Baby. But it didn’t quite turn out the way she planned.

I love the way that the text stays true to the little girl’s perspective entirely. But the illustrations show an entirely different thing.The narrator has a vivid imagination that she uses to turn a new sibling into a fairy tale. Still, her parents are around and attentive to both children and often looking on with knowing glances at their older child. Wise and funny, this picture book will give children a voice and parents a nod. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

Release by Patrick Ness

Release by Patrick Ness

Release by Patrick Ness (9780062403193)

Adam is facing one big day, but it’s about to get even stranger and more important than he can imagine. He can’t seem to get over his last boyfriend, Enzo, who treated him poorly and then dumped him. Tonight is Enzo’s going-away party, and Adam is taking his current boyfriend, Linus, who he can’t quite fall in love with. Meanwhile, Adam manages to find out his saintly brother has gotten his girlfriend pregnant, get groped by his horrible boss, and spend time with his best friend, Angela who has news of her own. Will Adam be brave enough to just let go?

Threaded throughout the realistic story is another more mythical tale of a murdered girl, an ancient queen, and a faun who guides and guards them both. Their tale starts out startlingly different but along the way weaves itself into Adam’s world and life too, offering a tangible link to the wonder of belief and the question of what reality really is.

Ness has created a fantastic novel that celebrates a day in the life of a teenage boy who is lost and yet also found on the same day. Ness deftly shows the impact on religion and beliefs, tearing Adam’s family into pieces. He also offers one of the best gay sex scenes in teen novels today. The entire book is gorgeously written and full of playful touches that make the book all the more real and deliciously fun.

A successful and sexy mix of LGBT realism and magic, this novel is a delight. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (9780374304904)

Mothers and daughters fill the pages of this novel for teens that focuses on three generations of a Bengali family. Tara and Sonia are sisters born in India and who are moving to the United States from England with their parents. The two girls are very different from one another. Tara loves to act and works to figure out who she can pretend to be in this new environment. Sonia enjoys debate and falls for a boy whom her mother cannot accept. When their father dies unexpectedly, their family fractures even farther. As both sisters find men to love them for the modern women they are, they too have daughters. Chantal is a skilled dancer and athlete, who falls for a wealthy all-American boy. Anna grew up in India primarily, and finds herself in high school in America. She is like her Aunt Sonia and always willing to debate. As the women in this family come to accept one another and their life choices, Ranee grows older but still remains involved in everyone’s life even as she becomes more American herself.

This book is simply stellar. Nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, this novel is exceptional in many ways. First, there is the writing by Perkins. It is writing of strength and knowledge, but amazingly unobtrusive too, allowing the story to unfold naturally for the reader. She ties repeating themes into the book: music and dance, diversity and romance. Perkins allows her characters to be racist and yet to learn, to change over the course of time, and to have their opinions and values change as well. This is a difficult thing to accomplish in a novel, giving characters a way forward rather than being villains or one-dimensional.

The five female characters are exceptionally well drawn. Readers will be enthralled with all of their stories, the tale of Ranee herself tying the entire book together in the end. The characteristics of family members are celebrated: passion, intelligence, caring and more. These create a wholeness for the family, a feeling of generations being different but also alike despite clothes, life styles and decisions they make. There is a solidity to this family, one that reads with clarity and honesty and feels like home.

A triumph of a novel for teens that celebrates family, diversity and love. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

(Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C Perez

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez (9780425290408, Amazon)

Malú doesn’t want to move with her mother to Chicago, even if it is only for a couple of years and not permanently. She knows her mother wants her to be much more of a proper Mexican young lady just like her. But Malú is much more into punk rock and creating zines. When they get to Chicago, Malú finds herself in a very diverse middle school where she manages to violate the dress code on the very first day. As she struggles with the rules of the new school, Malú starts a punk rock band of other kids who don’t fit in. They enter the school talent contest but don’t get any further than the audition and then are rejected for the performance. Now Malú has to channel her own punk attitude to stand up and be heard.

This is such a winning and cleverly built novel that one can’t really believe it’s a debut book. Pérez captures the push and pull of middle school and being a person with unique interests struggling to find friends. Pérez also weaves in the main character’s cultural heritage throughout the book, making it a vital part of the story and playing it against the rebellion of punk rock. That play of tradition and modern attitudes is a strength of the book, allowing readers to learn about Mexican culture and also about rock and roll.

Malú is a great protagonist, filled with lots of passion and energy. She has a natural leadership about her even as she is picked on by another girl at school. Still, Malú is not perfect and it’s her weak moments when she despairs or lashes out where she feels most real. Her zines are cleverly placed in the book, thanks to the skills of the author who also publishes zines.

A fresh and fun new read that blends Mexican Americans with punk rock in a winning formula. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

 

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick (9780545863209, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

Maverick knows that sixth grade is going to be his year. This year he’s going to make a difference. He’s going to help those smaller than him, if he can find anyone shorter than he is. He’s going to stand up to bullies, particularly Jamie and Bowen, who have tormented him for years. But being a hero is not as simple as carrying the plastic badge that his father left him. Every time that Maverick tries to help, things turn out worse, often for him. He can’t stand up to his mother’s abusive boyfriend, can’t get his mother to stop drinking so much, and can’t seem to stop ending up in the assistant principal’s office. Can you be a hero when your own life is endless trouble?

Sonnenblick’s take on sixth grade is wonderfully dark and funny. He looks straight at bullying in middle school and clearly understands it. This book grapples with serious subjects such as physical abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and the loss of a parent. Happily, Maverick is a character who somehow manages to look at these troubles with a sarcastic wit that allows readers to cope as well. When looked at without Maverick’s lens on things, his home life is not only terrible but dangerous as well. Sonnenblick manages to use humor not to minimize these issues but to allow readers to see them clearly without pity but with lots of empathy.

Sonnenblick’s take on school administration is equally successful. He creates a pair of horrors for students: The Bee who is the terrifying assistant principal and The Bird who is the awful school nurse. The Bee turns out to have a heart of gold and to be aware of what is happening in the halls almost before the students are. The Bird on the other hand wields Lysol spray as antiseptic for cuts.

A triumphant story of a young hero who finds help in unlikely places on his journey. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.