Tag: friendship

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

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Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (9781681191058)

Jade attends a mostly-white private school on scholarship, riding the city bus to and from school as her mother works multiple jobs just to keep a roof over their head. Jade is one of the best students in Spanish class and she looks forward to being selected to travel abroad. But a different opportunity arises as Jade is placed in Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk African-American girls. Jade’s mentor, Maxine, is often distracted or late, seemingly more interested in her love life than in Jade. Sometimes though, she is wonderful, paying attention to Jade’s collage art, talking about ways to get her art seen. Still, Jade is the one with things to show and teach even as she is learning herself to find her own voice in life.

Watson’s writing is superb. She captures the conflicting issues of being poor and African-American in today’s America. There are opportunities, yes, particularly for talented students. Still, those opportunities can come at the cost of other decisions and choices. There is the tension of being the one leaving poverty to another place and not wanting to lose family and friends along the way. Even neighborhoods and ways of life are sources of pain and emotions.

Watson doesn’t shy away from directly addressing racism in the book. She gives Jade a new best friend who is white and who doesn’t understand the racism that Jade is experiencing and can’t support Jade in the way that she should. This is handled with sensitivity but also clarity, about what the role of white friends should be in our world. Jade herself is learning that she needs to speak up for herself, insist on fairness, and continue to push. Black Lives Matter is clear on the pages too, showing the violence of society, the murders by police and the impact that has on everyone in a community.

Powerful, strong and filled with writing that calls for action, this book is simply stellar. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

 

Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan

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Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Zoe Si (9781101918203)

Renata Wolfman doesn’t have friends, she’d much rather play all alone because then you don’t need to share or compromise with others. Even her parents can’t get her to go out with them, she’d rather stay home and read her factual books about sea life. When Renata is left alone at home one day, a boy comes over. Livingston Flott, known as Fly at school, wants to hide from his older brother. Renata, called Wolfie by Fly and others at school, reluctantly lets him in, interrupting her building of a submarine out of a refrigerator box. Soon the two of them are starting to play imaginary games together, something entirely new for Wolfie. But when real water starts to pour into the windows, can they imagine their way right into the sea?

This early chapter book features a girl who loves control and facts and a boy who wants to create songs and loves to imagine. The two together are a dynamic mix, creating just the right amount of tension between them and showing how opposites can actually make the best playmates as long as ideas are shared and there’s a willingness to try new things. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the water turns out not to be entirely imaginary, something that underlines that fact that imagination and reality mix to something entirely extraordinary.

Si’s illustrations are playful and add exactly the right amount of pictures to break up the text, making this a great pick for newer readers. Her art is playful, done in black and white and shows the submarine that Wolfie made and the adventures that the two have together with a jolly merriment.

A strong pick for early chapter book collections, fans of Ivy & Bean and Bink & Gollie will find another pair of playmates worth knowing here. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Tundra Books.

 

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

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A List of Cages by Robin Roe (9781484763803)

Julian just wants to get through high school without attracting anyone’s attention. He has a secret spot to hide during lunch where he feels safe, something he never feels anywhere else even at home. Julian’s parents died when he was a child and now he lives with his last remaining relative, an uncle by marriage. Adam is a popular kid in high school, bouncing with energy from his ADHD and full of smiles to brighten everyone’s day. When Adam is sent to find a freshman who is missing his sessions with the school counselor, he is surprised to discover it is Julian, who had once been his foster brother. But as the two get closer, it is clear that something awful is happening to Julian, something that may be too big for them to handle.

This teen novel is about grief, loss and pain. It’s about possibilities lost, other lives dashed. It’s gut-wrenching and powerful and devastating. And yet, it is also brimming with hope, with a gritty potential for change that just won’t stop, with the power of friendship and the deep abiding love of brotherhood. It’s complicated and not easy in any way. It’s wonderful.

The writing by Roe makes everything powerful and dense with meaning. Here is how she has Adam describe Julian on Page 170 of the book:

I used to think struggle was what aged you, but if that were the case, Julian should’ve been a hundred years old. Now I wonder if the opposite is true. Maybe instead of accelerating your age, pain won’t let you grow.

The characters here are brilliantly juxtaposed. She does not turn to the trope of the well-off teen being a bully or a jerk. Instead, Adam is a bright spot for everyone until he faces something he can’t deal with. It’s such a mix of tragedy, hope and fear. One that Roe has written with depth and care.

A stunning debut novel that is deeply moving and wondrously hopeful. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Released February 14, 2017.

Marin left her entire old life behind, arriving at college in New York two weeks ahead of schedule and with almost nothing with her. She tried to leave that life behind and start anew, but now her best friend Mabel is coming to see her. The best friend that Marin hasn’t spoken to in months, the best friend she hasn’t texted or called. Left alone in the deserted dorm as winter break arrives, Marin can only wait for Mabel to arrive. When she does, they are awkward together and the story of their relationship slowly reveals itself. Along the way, Marin’s unique relationship with her grandfather also emerges. Now it is up to Marin to face everything she has run from for the first time.

I knew on the very first page that this was a book that would consume me. LaCour writes with a precision and yet a naturalness that disarms and embraces the reader. She is delicate at times, allowing the reader to explore and learn. At other points she is direct, pointing out pain, tenderness and loss with care. The tone is uniquely hers, a voice that is beautiful to read, filled with poignancy, hesitation and wonder all the while it fights depression and despair.

This is a novel of hope, a novel that shows how difficult it can be to face loss and betrayal. It is a book that speaks of the power of bridging those gaps in our lives, of finding a person we love once again and allowing them back into our lives. It’s a story of slowly opening that door, the door to humanity and joy that had seemed locked forever. It’s a story of transformation that is simple and yet profound.

One of the best young adult books on loss and grief that I have ever read, this one will find a place in your heart. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.

 

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

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The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley (InfoSoup)

Released January 31, 2017.

Three children in Harlem set out to solve a mystery. Jin, who has grown up in her adopted grandparents bodega, longs for some adventure to spice up her days. Alex is a girl who won’t talk about her family or her circumstances. She spends her days doing good deeds and working to feed those less fortunate. Elvin isn’t from Harlem, but has been sent there to stay with his grandfather. Unfortunately, his grandfather was attacked and is now hospitalized. The three start to investigate what happened to him and along the way discover a mystery of the art scene in Harlem and the dangers of developers to the small businesses that make Harlem so special. Along the way, the three discover real friendship, learn about their community and make a personal difference themselves.

Tarpley’s writing offers just enough background to inform and keeps it brief enough that the pace never slows. She handles the pacing deftly throughout the novel, allowing just enough time to catch your breath before the speed picks up again. The setting of Harlem is brought fully to life, both today’s Harlem and the Harlem of the 1960s. The setting is vital to the story and readers get to fully explore the sights, sounds and vibrancy of this neighborhood.

Tarpley has cast her book with many diverse characters and I’m very pleased to see them shown on the cover. The three main characters are all individual and unique, bringing their own skills and knowledge to the quest to solve the mystery. I appreciated that they didn’t always get along and that their viewpoints were different enough to create issues that were addressed in the story. The villains of the story are also wonderfully evil, adding a great deal of satisfaction as their roles are made clear.

An incredible debut novel that offers a winning diverse cast and a rich look at Harlem. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh

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Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (InfoSoup)

This is a simply incredible collection of stories that feature middle-school children from a variety of diverse backgrounds. The authors of the stories are the best in the children’s book business, including Kwame Alexander, Tim Federle, Matt de la Pena, Tim Tingle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, and Jacqueline Woodson. The stories feed into one another, creating a quilt where the patches are of different colors and textures but the quilt is one unified structure. The stories feature children of color, children who are LGBT, and those who are differently-abled. It is a book about our differences and our similarities, a book about what makes each of us fly.

There are several stories that will stick with me. The one by Matt de la Pena has a gorgeous tone to it, almost oration where the reader is being spoken directly to about opportunities, hard work and taking risks. It’s all about basketball, the art of the game and the willingness to put yourself out there and play. Grace Lin’s is an wonderful mix of humor and drama, showing reading as a way forward into a life of adventure and individuality. Woodson’s story is spare and lovely, looking directly at racism and staring it down with friendship. The others are marvelous too, I could write about each of them in turn, each just as special and jeweled as the last.

This is a book that should be in all libraries, it speaks to the power of diverse books in our communities, their ability to transform all of us no matter what our background or color. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley.

 

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

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The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli (InfoSoup)

Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli tells the story of a girl who lost her mother as an infant and grew up as the daughter of a prison warden. Cammie isn’t a girl who is silly and lots of fun. In fact, she is fast moving and fast talking, exactly why she has the nickname Cannonball Cammie. Cammie is actually angry most of the time. Her best friend has developed faster and seems to be 17 instead of 13 sometimes. She wants to get on Bandstand and be famous. Cammie though is more interested in riding her bike around town and playing baseball. Cammie thinks that her life would be better with a motherly figure, so she begins to try to get the prisoner assigned as their housekeeper to be more like a mother to her. Then there’s Boo Boo, the prisoner who acts motherly towards Cammie but hides a dark secret. Her father too is a mystery, both present and not there, sometimes at the same time. It’s all a confusing mix of emotions for Cammie, who will need to deal with her own grief both past and present before she can do anything but be angry at the world.

Spinelli has written a completely captivating story in this middle grade novel. The setting is richly created with the prison, a full city and community, and one moment after another where Cammie sets it all ablaze with her anger and acting out. Throughout though, Cammie is far more than just as angry person, she is humanity personified, a girl in search of herself even as she spends her time looking for solutions in others. It’s a compelling story, one that is filled with moments of joy and despair.

Spinelli writes like a wizard, unveiling truths slowly and beautifully. As Cammie storms through her life, she also reveals the truths of others around her. And without revealing the entirely riveting and humbling ending, she creates opportunities where others become more than they have ever been before. It is a staggeringly rich novel that is written with such skill that it manages to read in an accessible way.

A masterful book about loss, childhood and recovery by a master of books for children, this is a must-read and a must-buy for libraries. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Alfred A. Knopf and Edelweiss.