Tag: friendships

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (9781626724167, Amazon)

Newbery Honor winning author Hale tells the story of her own elementary-school years and the tensions of changing friendships. Shannon has been friends with Adrienne since they were little, but it all starts changing when Adrienne joins the popular kids, particularly Jen who leads The Group. The girls in the The Group vie for Jen’s attention and who will sit closest to her at lunch or at recess. Shannon loves to create stories but can’t seem to tell them without having someone with her. As the years pass, Shannon’s relationships with the other girls in The Group ebb and flow, with situations like bullying and sibling rivalry emerging as well. But what does it take to find real friends?

Hale takes all of the emotions and tensions of becoming a middle grader and honors them in her novel. By using her own personal experiences growing up, she has imbued the tale with personality and wit. It is filled with honesty and humor while not minimizing the drama of bad situations at all. This graphic novel is illustrated by award-winning illustrator Pham. The illustrations are friendly and bright. They reflect both the reality of Shannon’s life but also her rich imagination and the games and stories that emerge from it.

This is a book that will speak to all children in elementary school who are navigating the changes that come at that stage of life. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from First Second.

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson (9781481449663, Amazon)

Ozzie is the only one who remembers his boyfriend Tommy. He’s known Tommy since they were young children and they started dating in middle school. Now though, no one remembers that Tommy existed, including Ozzie’s family, his friends, and Tommy’s parents. Ozzie has figured out that the universe is shrinking around him, erasing people like Tommy from existence and rearranging history as if they were never there. Meanwhile, Ozzie’s world continues to change. His best friend Lua is becoming a rock star, his brother is headed to basic training, and his parents’ marriage is breaking up. One bright spot in Ozzie’s life is Cal, a confusing boy he is paired with for a physics project but the feelings developing between them complicate his ongoing search for Tommy.

This book sweeps you up, whisks you into Ozzie’s world and you believe, oh my, do you believe. Even though it’s impossible, questionable, and strange, you are along for the ride and the wonder of it all. This is because the emotions are so strong and real, the terror of life changing and the lack of control, the love between people that survives even though one is gone, the joy of new connections and friends. It’s all there, exactly what young readers are experiencing themselves but shown in a way that no one has seen before.

While Ozzie may believe the universe is shrinking, readers will question that right up to the end. What they won’t question is the world that Hutchinson has created here, filled with vibrant characters that you want to love and befriend. The LGBT themes are strongly written and beautifully presented. While the main character is gay, his friends are just as diverse. Lua is gender variant, striking and dramatic, changing pronouns with outfits. Other characters are asexual, presented in just the same frank and unquestioning way. LGBT characters in the book talk about sex, have sex, explore sex. It’s all brilliantly normal in a book that is anything but.

This is a book you must read to completely understand it. I hope you find it just as compelling and wondrous as I did. Enjoy! Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Braced by Alyson Gerber

Braced by Alyson Gerber

Braced by Alyson Gerber (9780545902144, Amazon)

Rachel is looking forward to a great year. She has two best friends and it’s looking like she may not just make the soccer team but may be playing forward. She even has a crush on a boy, Tate, in her class. Just as her plans start to take off though, she is hit with news about her scoliosis which has been being monitored for years. Rachel must wear a brace to correct the curve of her spine. She has to wear it 23 hours a day, every day. The brace changes how she can kick the soccer ball, how she breathes, how she runs and how she eats. Worse though, it changes how everyone sees her, including her best friends and Tate. What had been going to be the best year ever has become the worst year ever.

Gerber, who wore a brace herself for scoliosis, has created a piercingly clear look at life-changing events like wearing a brace. She takes the time to really look at the brace itself, the impact that it has on an athlete, and the changes it makes in self-perception. I haven’t read a book since Deenie by Judy Blume that tackles this subject and it was high time for a new take on it.

As the adults in Rachel’s life push her to quickly accept the brace, Rachel pushes back and insists on continuing to play soccer. Rachel appears to be coping well, but she is bottling so much up inside her. She is a great character, demonstrating with honesty and strength the importance of voicing aloud to those you love what you are experiencing and feeling. Once Rachel begins to do that, others can support her and help her through. It’s a lesson in vulnerability leading to better understanding that is gracefully presented.

Strong, human and timely, scoliosis impacts ten percent of teens. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Aminas Voice by Hena Khan

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (9781481492065, Amazon)

Amina doesn’t like the spotlight. Her best friend Soojin knows that Amina can really sing, but Amina just won’t even try for the solo for the upcoming concert. Amina’s life is changing now that they are in middle school. Soojin has started being friendly with Emily even though Emily had helped bully them in elementary school. Amina just isn’t ready to forgive Emily so quickly. Meanwhile, Amina’s uncle comes to visit from Pakistan, bringing new ideas about what it means to be Muslim. He causes Amina to start to question whether she should even be singing or playing music at all. Amina feels pressured to change but in multiple directions at once.

Khan has created a book for middle schoolers that takes a quieter look at diversity, family and being true to oneself. It is a book that looks closely at what it means to be a Muslim girl in America and how to follow the values of your culture even as you are pressured to be more American. It is a book that looks at the power of voice, of music and of community to overcome hardship and to share emotions. It is a book that has a gorgeous warmth to it, a joy of family, friendship and diversity.

Amina is a very special protagonist. Rather than being the center of attention, she doesn’t seek it at all. Still, she is lonely or ignored. She has friends and is grappling with the normal changes that come during middle school. On top of that, she is also asking deeper questions about faith, culture and living in America that will ring true for all young readers. Amina’s quietness and thoughtfulness allow those questions to shine.

Filled with important questions for our modern world, this middle-grade novel sings with a voice all its own. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Salaam Reads.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062414151, Amazon)

Four middle schoolers start their summer vacation and steadily their lives begin to come together. There is Virgil, a quiet boy who lives in a family of loud, boisterous people. Except for his grandmother who understands him and tells him stories from her village in the Philippines. Valencia is a girl who is deaf and wears hearing aids to help her lip read. She used to have close friends but enjoys spending her days outside in the local woods where she takes care of a stray dog. Kaori believes that she has psychic powers and is helping Virgil gain the courage to speak with a girl he wants to be friends with. Finally, there is Chet who bullies Virgil and Valencia. He starts problems one day in the woods and Virgil finds himself in real danger. But can Kaori and Valencia figure out what has happened before it’s too late?

Kelly’s novel is rich and riveting. She writes about children who are lonely and interesting. The book speaks to children who don’t fit in, who are bullied, and who are unique in some way. It’s about staying true to yourself and not trying to be someone else. Important subjects weave throughout as well, including deafness and diversity. These enrich the novel even further, making it a book that grapples with important topics and yet stays entirely accessible and filled with plenty of action.

The characters are what make this book sing. Each of them is more than what could have been a stereotype. From the mystical Kaori to shy Virgil to Valencia and her hearing aids, each child has a full personality and plenty to offer the reader. Each is grappling with loneliness and unable to move forward though they know they need to. There is a beautiful theme of folktales and myth throughout the novel with the grandmother’s stories forming a basis for the coincidences and fate that brings our young heroes together.

An intelligent adventure of a book that is about friendships that seem impossible but happen anyway. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins Publishers.

Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond

harry-millers-run-by-david-almond

Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (9780763689759)

Developed from the short story that appeared in Half a Creature from the Sea, this children’s fiction version is illustrated in full color. Liam wants to be out with his friends practicing for the upcoming Junior Great North Run, but his mother wants him to come to help Harry clear out his home. As they visit with Harry, he shares the story of his own run as a boy when he and some friends ran from their town all the way to the sea. It’s a story of friendship, shared experience, a hot sunny day, and the wonder of ice cream at the end.

I enjoyed this short story immensely in the original short story collection and was very pleased to discover it again in this illustrated format. The story is immensely fun, beginning with the mistake of how far the boys were actually going to run and then their determination to finish anyway. Framed by the story of Harry as an old man telling the tale and Liam listening, the story within a story shines with the brightness of a summer day against the more somber tones of aging.

Rubbino’s illustrations make this version of the story accessible for younger audiences who will appreciate the text being broken up by bright-colored images. The illustrations reflect the story with the modern illustrations done in blacks and grays with a pop of blue provided by Harry’s cap. The illustrations for Harry’s memories suddenly turn into full color with Harry still in the same blue cap.

A lovely new version that makes this story available to more people, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan

the-friendship-experiment-by-erin-teagan

The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan (InfoSoup)

Maddie isn’t looking forward to middle school. Her grandfather died over the summer and they are clearing out his house to prep it for sale. Her best friend has changed schools too. Maddie enjoyed writing Standard Operating Procedures for her grandfather, helping him cope with his dementia as his Alzheimer’s progressed. So she continues to write SOPs in her lab notebook and carry it with her all the time. She brings it to middle school and starts to document ways to cope with middle school and with the kids she eats lunch with. Meanwhile, middle school becomes a mix of good and bad. Maddie is allowed to work in the college’s science lab with her father. But her blood clotting disorder starts to flare up more, though not as much as her older sister’s. Maddie gets into a serious fight with her best friend, and manages to anger the new kids she has just started to become friends with. It’s clear that middle school is going to take a lot more experimenting to get right.

Teagan writes with a solid and consistent tone in this middle grade novel. Her touch is light and filled with humor, offering a way to see past the disasters that Maddie is facing in middle school. She weaves Maddie’s interest in science throughout the story. It is more than a hobby for Maddie, it’s a way of life. From her swabs of bacteria to the way she looks at projects, Maddie faces it all as a scientist.

Maddie is a warm and wonderful protagonist, still she is also entirely human. She makes plenty of mistakes in this novel, managing to lose all of her friends at once through actions all her own. She can be angry, impulsive, and inflexible and still readers will enjoy the time they spend with her and her scientific mind. The topic of hemophilia and the way the disorder is used in the novel is intelligently done, creating yet another source of angst and separation for Maddie.

A strong STEM novel that deftly shows that girls and science mix very well. No experiments needed to prove that hypothesis. Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.