Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Based on the author’s own childhood experiences, this graphic novel looks at the perils of summer camp. Vera has always wanted to go to summer camp like the other girls in her class. But she knows that her life is very different from theirs. Just look at her disaster of a sleepover birthday party and the way that her Russian family approach scared off the other girls. But then Vera finds the perfect summer camp, a Russian camp where the girls should be just like her! She drags her younger brother along too and just knows that this will be the best experience ever. But when she discovers that the girls she has to share a tent with are five years older that she is, that there is no electricity and no running water, Vera finds herself feeling just the way she always does, not fitting in and unsure she’s going to survive.

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. She has a wonderful twisted sense of humor in all of her work that marks it as uniquely hers. Here she beautifully creates a story that rings with truth, about not fitting in even in the place you should fit in the best, of not finding your place, and then eventually of finding it in an unlikely place but only after you accept that you are different. It’s a lovely package of a book, showing that being yourself is all you can do.

Brosgol’s art captures the humor as well. The book is done in a palette of green and black, mimicking the natural setting but also quickly moving from darkness to light. Vera herself is a great character, with her huge glasses and limitless hope that things will improve.

A wonderful middle grade graphic novel just right for summer. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (9781328778239)

Mara and her twin brother Owen have always been close. But when Owen gets drunk at a party and is accused of rape by his girlfriend Hannah, Mara is horrified. Though she doesn’t want to believe it, Mara sees signs that her brother isn’t telling the truth. Meanwhile Mara is dealing with Charlie, her ex-girlfriend, who seems to have quickly found a new girlfriend. Mara starts to find comfort with Owen’s best friend, Alex. At the same time, Mara is facing her own secrets about sexual assault and must decide who to trust with something she has never told anyone about for three years. As all of this collides in Mara’s life, she emerges as a fierce survivor but not before the book takes a deep look at perpetrators, lies and victim blaming.

Blake writes with a searing voice in this book. Some passages blaze on the page, ripping right through the reader with their honesty and their cry for justice. In other parts, the truth is just as present but is filled with grief and loss, a haunted realization that things will not be the same. Throughout though, there is the power of female friendships, of young women standing together and standing up for one another. It will never be enough to erase the trauma of rape, but it is enough to speak for hope and a future beyond the assault.

Blake beautifully portrays a bisexual protagonist who clearly is attracted to both men and women. Mara does not wear bisexuality as a label or as a token gesture, instead it is part of the heart of the book. Mara’s ex-girlfriend Charlie is genderqueer and exploring what that means in terms of pronouns and coming out to her parents. Charlie is a great genderqueer character, beautifully blending both genders at times, at others angry at her voice, and still others feeling like nothing fits. At the same time, she is Mara’s anchor and rock, the safe place that Mara returns to as chaos envelopes her.

Fierce and angry, this novel about sexual assault and the power of survivors. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty (9781524767587)

When Lucy was struck by lightning as a child, she gained the ability to do genius-level math problems. She has other impacts from the lightning strike, including some OCD that has her tapping her feet three times and sitting three times before she can settle. Lucy has been homeschooled by her grandmother since the incident but now she is twelve and her grandmother wants her to go to middle school rather than college (like Lucy would prefer.) They make a deal that Lucy has to try middle school for one year, make one friend, join one activity and read one book that is not about math. Lucy decides not to tell anyone about her math skills and lowers all of her grades to make herself seem more normal. Lucy’s new class has to do a service project and she has to work with two other people. But how can she help if all she has to offer is a love of numbers that she is trying to hide?

For being such an extraordinary girl, Lucy is someone that everyone in middle school will be able to relate to. Issues starting a new school, making new friends, and finding a way to be yourself all make this middle school novel classic. Add in the math skills, lightning strike and Lucy’s need for cleanliness and her other quirks and you have a book that is something special. Throughout McAnulty makes sure that readers deeply understand Lucy at a variety of levels. Lucy is a protagonist who discovers a lot about herself in the course the book. As Lucy grows and changes, it feels entirely organic and natural.

At its heart, this book encourages us all to be our unique and quirky selves in middle school and beyond. The writing is accessible and the novel is a joy to read. The book is written with all numbers in numerical format, a clue that Lucy sees the world a bit differently. As she counts and calculates her way through her day, Lucy shows everyone that there are ways forward where you don’t want to pretend to be normal.

A stellar read, this middle school book is a book that is hard to sum up, but one you can count on. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

Abby has always seen herself as more of a sidekick than the heroine of a story. She has a glamorous best friend who is clearly the lead. And after all, Abby is plus size, crazy about fashion and gay. Abby has landed a coveted summer internship at her favorite local boutique, but she has to share it with a girl from her class, Jordi, whom she barely knows. Abby has her eyes on landing some free dresses as well as a job at the boutique next year, but she didn’t plan on falling for Jordi along the way. In fact, her entire summer is entirely different than she had planned. Her best friend is absent thanks to her boyfriend and Abby finds herself helping a boy named Jax with his dad’s app by ranking the best burgers in LA. Abby lives her life in bright colors and pink hair, but when others compliment her she can’t see the truth in what she says, until her whole summer comes tumbling down.

Spalding’s writing is entirely fresh. She writes characters who are anything but stereotypical. She gives her characters zinging senses of humor. She makes eating a pleasure for her female characters rather than something to be ashamed of or avoided. Through all of this, she also tackles being a plus size girl, self-esteem issues, how to figure out if someone you like is also gay, and how eating burgers can lead to an unlikely friendship with a jock who drives a BMW.

It was the romance here that will sweep readers off their feet. From the initial moments of noticing someone else to the first kiss to the joy of continued kissing and being girlfriends. It is all presented as a traditional rom-com format, something that teen lesbian books need more of. Add in the wonderful cover and you have a book just right for rainbow-filled summers.

A joy of an LGBT read that will give you all the feels. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Sky Pony Press and Edelweiss.

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (9780316515467)

Ivy’s family is displaced from their home when it is destroyed by a tornado. Ivy manages to save her pillow and her book of drawings, which have pictures of girls holding hands and looking into one another’s eyes. But at the emergency shelter at the school, she loses her drawings. Her family moves into a room at a Bed and Breakfast, but there are six of them in that single room and there seems to be no room for Ivy with her busy older sister and infant twin brothers. Then at school, someone starts to return her drawings to her one-by-one in her locker. Could it be June, the girl that Ivy has a crush on? Or maybe her best friend’s boyfriend who has talked to Ivy about her art? The drawings come with notes encouraging Ivy to talk to someone about her feelings, but will Ivy have the courage to do that?

Blake has created a middle-grade book that is warm and beautifully supportive. She shows being gay as just a piece of who Ivy is and twists her feelings about her sexuality up with how she fits in her family in general and the struggles of middle school friendships. Using Ivy’s art as a platform for her self expression works very well, and her artistic vision is presented as the way she sees the world as a whole.

Ivy’s complicated relationship with her family is presented with honesty, showing a family struggling to handle the loss of their home, young babies, busy lives and still manage to care for everyone. Ivy is shown as a creative and thoughtful character who struggles with telling people the truth, not just about her sexuality but also about her feelings in general.

A strong middle-grade novel about sexuality, families and friendship. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (9781338129304)

Released March 27, 2018.

Caroline lives on Water Island near St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. At age twelve, she has had enough bad luck to last a lifetime. She sees things that no one else can see, everyone at her small school hates her, and her mother has left. When a new girl starts attending Caroline’s school, Caroline is surprised to discover that Kalinda is willing to be friends with her. Caroline believes that Kalinda can see the same spirits that she can, so there is hope when the two girls start to search for Caroline’s mother together. But when Caroline starts to have deeper feelings for Kalinda, their friendship may be doomed before they solve her mother’s mystery.

Callender beautifully wraps this book in the setting of the U.S. Virgin Islands, making sure that readers know exactly where they are. Caroline takes a boat to school and back, knows the history of her small island and how slaves escaped to freedom there, and sees her father’s abandoned boat as a symbol of their capsized life without her mother. Throughout the novel there is mysticism present with Caroline’s visions that appear out of nowhere, including a woman that she isn’t sure is good or bad. The book is layered and complex, about many things and about life itself at its heart.

Caroline is equally complex. Reader will identify and empathize with Caroline even while she is prickly toward others. Caroline is confused and hurt, rejected by most of those around her and wary of building trust with others only to be tricked. Yet she is engaging, smart and interesting. An important element to this book is the friendship between Caroline and Kalinda and the way that friendship turns into a crush on Caroline’s part. This is gently shown and then dramatically plays out when others discover how Caroline feels.

Brilliant writing, a unique and wonderful heroine and lots of turmoil make this a gem of a read. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (9781524715663)

With Mr. Neely as her very enthusiastic science teacher, Natalie can’t get out of asking a scientific question and exploring it using the scientific method. But Natalie would much rather get answers about her family, about why her mother won’t leave her bedroom anymore and how her father can stop being in therapist mode all the time. So when Mr. Neely encourages Natalie to compete in an egg drop competition, she knows that if they can win, things will change. Natalie’s best friend Twig is on their team, offering creative solutions for the egg drop and they also become friends with the new kid, Dari. As the three become closer, Natalie continues to try to figure out how to help her mother, putting together a plan for the prize money that they hope to win that will inspire her mother and get her back to normal. But life doesn’t always go to plan and neither do science experiments as Natalie soon discovers.

Keller writes with a lovely mix of humor and science throughout this novel. She looks directly at the subject of a parent’s chronic depression and shows the impact of that on a child and a family. Natalie steadily learns to find her voice in the novel and express her own pain about the situation. Science is used throughout the novel as a bridge between people, a way forward and a solution to problems.

Natalie as a character is beautifully conflicted. While she yearns to have her mother back she is also very angry about the situation, something that she has trouble expressing. Even with the friends she has, she worries about Dari joining her and Twig at various times particularly as Twig and Dari seem to have a special connection with one another. None of this is overly dramatized, but feels natural and emerges as convincing times of emotional stress.

Smartly written and filled with glowing characters living complicated lives, this middle grade novel unbreakable. Appropriate for ages 9-13.

(Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

3 New Friendly Picture Books

Adelaide_s Secret World by Elise Hurst

Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst (9781524714543)

Originally published in Australia, this picture book features a similar world to Hurst’s Imagine a City, a bustling urban setting filled with animals. Adelaide lives in the city and runs a quiet shop where she makes small models. She spent her days and nights alone, watching others rush past and noting those that were quieter like her. Caught in a sudden rainstorm one day, she sees a Fox that she has noticed earlier drop his book. When she returns the book, she hopes they will connect, but it doesn’t happen that day. Still, Adelaide does not give up and creates an art piece filled with connection and magic that may just make her a new friend. This picture book celebrates quiet people who still want friends and connection. Through the gorgeous glowing full-color paintings, Hurst creates a world for these two quiet animals to live in, one that invites readers in and holds them close. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler (9780062424334)

Crane, Dozer and Digger are three big trucks who work hard to build big buildings, roads and bridges. Then one day Digger discovered a tiny flower in the rubble. Digger took care of the flower, watering it, protecting it from the wind and singing to it just before he went to sleep nearby. Soon though, the empty lot that the flower grew in was needed for building. Before Digger could stop him, Dozer cut the flower down. Digger was so sad, but there on the ground were three little seeds. The illustrations have strong graphical elements with shots of color from the trucks and flower. A simple and lovely tale of death and birth, of caring for something you love, this picture book gives a big truck a huge heart. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon

Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Lee White (9781101934791)

A man lived all alone at the top of a very steep hill where winds blew constantly. The wind blew so much that eventually, the shutters banged and the boards bent, and the wind tipped things over and just kept on blowing. Kate was a little girl who lived below the steep hill. When the man cried out in despair, Kate heard him and had a plan. She thought and thought, realizing that she could not stop the wind from blowing. But she could bring new trees to the man. So up she went, pulling her wagon of trees. The two planted the trees together and time passed, the wind still blew, but eventually the trees softened the wind and their friendship grew along with the trees. This picture book is so delightful. Scanlon uses rhymes, rhythm and repetition to create a story that is jaunty and wonderful to read aloud. She plays with the forms, so it never becomes sing-songy and is constantly surprising. The art is just as sprightly and warm, with a stunningly steep hill and plenty of vexing wind. The solution, provided by a child, incorporates nature and science. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.)

Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Can I Touch Your Hair by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (9781512404425)

This book of poetry for children is written by two authors, Irene Latham who is white and Charles Waters who is African-American. The two create a fictional setting where they attended school with one another and were assigned to be partners in a poetry-writing assignment. The poems here explore hair, families, church, shoes, and hobbies but most of all they explore race in America. Told in alternating voices, the poems show  each of the authors as children and are based on real childhood experiences.

In this book, there is a feeling of safety to explore difficult subjects that the poetry itself creates. The characters are not perfect, sometimes saying the wrong thing or reacting the wrong way. Their trust in one another builds and readers can see that through their growing friendship they are learning to reach out to other children who are different from themselves too. The writing in each voice is exceptional, the two authors are clearly different but also work together to create a unified whole for readers to enjoy.

The illustrations by Alko and Qualls are wonderful, offering just the right details to support each of the poems and reflecting the emotional quality in the poem they accompany. Done in acrylic paint, colored pencil and collage, the illustrations are rich and organic, filled with dancing words and swirls.

A book that invites conversation, this one belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Carolrhoda Books.