Moth’s family were all killed in a car accident that left her face scarred. Now she lives with her aunt, who barely acknowledges her presence. She goes to school where is also ignored. Moth used to be a dancer, movement was her way of expressing herself, but she can’t dance anymore. When Sani, a new boy, starts at her school, Moth is immediately drawn to him. Sani too is grappling with his own depression. He lives with his mother whose new boyfriend beats him. So when Moth’s aunt leaves her without even saying goodbye, Sani and Moth set off on a road trip together, heading across the country to Sani’s father’s home with the Diné people. The trip brings them closer together and they both discover the connections that were there all along.
It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, since it is done with such skill and confidence. Written in verse, so much is left implied and unsaid, unrevealed until McBride is ready for us to understand and the characters are ready to see it too. Combining Hoodoo Black traditions with Navajo/Diné, the book is filled with a deep sense of spirituality and connectivity to ancestors and those who have passed on.
The writing is exceptional, filled with moments that are breathtakingly and achingly gorgeous and others that are difficult and dark. The book is filled with wonder despite the difficulties both characters face. It’s a love story, of two people coming together through their families’ traditions, the way they are initially drawn to one another, and then a slow-building deeper connection they create together.
A book like a moth that will metamorphose right in front of you. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Feiwel and Friends.
This picture book explores the Covid lockdown in a creative and open way that also allows it to speak to other times of darkness that families experience. Covid is shown as a storm that hits and is unlike any other storm, one that forces you to be inside for an unknown length of time. The family struggles with their new time together in a house, going from feeling strange to people getting angry and staying apart from one another. That’s when the storm rumbled and lightning struck, knocking the power out. One candle lit against the darkness brought the family together. The next morning felt different with pancakes and board games and a new way forward even though they were still caught in the storm. Then one day, the sun came out again. It was possible to go outside and start cleaning up.
As I mentioned, this picture book speaks deeply to a variety of dark times felt by a family. The family goes through a complete grief cycle on the page, allowing the book to be about the loss of a parent just as easily as it is about Covid. It’s a beautiful accomplishment of writing, speaking to the universal rather than the specific and allowing us all to see the grieving process as part of Covid too.
Yaccarino often does light-hearted titles, but this one has a lot of emotions that flow across the page. He uses color and expressions to convey many emotions from the anger of being together to the loneliness of being together but separate to the relief of finding joy in one another once more.
A powerful look at Covid and loss that will speak to all of us. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Moon has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful sister, Star. Now Star is a Fotogram influencer, making enough money to have bought their family a new house. Their mother is ecstatic with Star but has always had problems showing any sort of love to Moon. Star has been offered a seat on a tour bus of influencers traveling the nation for the summer, and Moon is sent along as her photographer, a role she has played for years. Moon will also be the tour’s “merch girl,” manning the booth that sells items for the influencers to all their fans. Moon has been planning her escape to college after the summer and pockets her money for the meal plan to help pay for board at college, deciding to live off peanut butter and grilled cheese on the bus. But she hadn’t planned on Santiago, an impossibly gorgeous guy who is the grumpy and rude brother of the owner of Fotogram. He’s also the other person doing merch sales. It’s hate at first sight, at least until Santiago starts to share his talent with food and Moon starts to question everything that her mother has ever told her.
Incredible writing, a fresh plot and lots of character growth make this teen novel a pure joy to read. Gilliland has real skill with dialogue, making all of the conversations seem natural and realistic but also clever and sharp-witted. Throughout the book there are wonderful slow reveals of information, such as how Moon actually got her scar (she did not fall out of a tree). The nature of Moon’s relationship with her sister and mother is honest and painful, each moment scalpel sharp and devastating, even when Moon herself doesn’t realize how bad it is.
Moon is a magnificent Latina protagonist. She is not waif-thin nor muscular, moving through her life with wobbly and jiggly bits that she struggles to love. She is herself a gifted earth artist and someone with a deep and meaningful connection to nature. One that often leaves her covered in insects like luna moths, ladybugs and dragonflies, something her mother considers a curse. Moon is complex, acerbic, funny and immensely vulnerable, just like the novel itself.
One of the best of the year, this is a book to fall for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Gran told Trixy stories from the time she was born. No one else believed Gran’s stories were true, but Trixy knew they were. After Gran’s death, Trixy holds on to her stories, particularly the one she promised to never tell. Gran told Trixy that stories weren’t meant for everyone, because sometimes they can’t be heard. When her teacher tells her that she needs to write down a true story, Trixy borrows one from Gran. It’s a story that is unbelievable, combining cake, theft and Liberace. Soon Trixy is telling lots of people Gran’s stories and submitting some for publication. Deep down she knows the stories are real, but can she prove it? It’s going to take telling some lies, doing some sneaking, and traveling across the state to meet people who knew Gran and can tell Trixy the real truth.
Vrabel has created a novel wrapped around a series of delightful short stories told in Gran’s voice. Through those stories and Trixy’s memories, readers gain a deep sense of who Gran was. The novel is an exploration of the power of stories that are shared, a question of what truth really is, and then an ending that will require a few tissues. The writing is marvelous with just the right amount of Southern charm. The play between the novel itself and the stories works amazingly well, combining richly together.
Trixy is a character who is holding not only stories but also secrets. Her relationships with others are difficult thanks to her prickly way with others. Trixy regularly believes that she is right, doesn’t listen to others, and in the process speaks hurtfully to them. At the same time, her pain over losing her beloved Gran is evident as is her need to connect with other people. She manages to transform those around her with her stories while at the same time also changing herself too.
A charming Southern novel about stories, loss, love and truth. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Golden knows that this is the year that he will become captain of his school soccer team. He’s been working toward a goal of practicing ten thousand times in order to master the sport. After all, his father was a pro soccer player, though now he is battling ALS, a progressive disease that is stealing his ability to use his muscles. Golden believes that as long as his father keeps on trying, he can prevent the disease from worsening. And sometimes it even seems like it is working. Golden tries to keep control of everything, making sure that his year is as perfect as possible, but there are so many things outside of his control. The soccer year doesn’t work quite as Golden planned, one of his best friends plans to move away, and his father continues to decline. Golden may need a different approach to all of these things if he is to look after his family and friends well.
Makechnie is the author of The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair. In this second book, she writes a heartfelt story about grief and denial. While the book has soccer as a major focus, she writes it in a way that allows the games to make sense for those of us who may not know the rules. Even in the games, the clear purpose is teamwork and supporting one another, things that Golden needs to figure out in the rest of his life too. She creates amazing moments throughout the book of deep connection with one another, wise choices and intangible joys that appear out of nowhere. It’s a book about loss but also about life.
Golden is a remarkable protagonist. He is so deeply in denial that at first his rationales make sense to both him and the reader. As the book and his father’s ALS progress though, the reader steadily realizes that Golden is struggling more profoundly. It’s beautifully done with grace and with a deep empathy for Golden and his family. The secondary characters in the book are all richly drawn, including Golden’s two best friends who have struggles of their own and his family members.
A heart-rending look at grief, this book embraces the joy of life too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
This picture book about friendship explores what happens when a best friend is grieving and angry. Told in the first person, the book draws readers directly into the tale. Two children are best friends, and they do everything together from hide-and-seek to joke books. No matter how well Marlo hides, his best friend can find him. But then one day, something was wrong and Marlo didn’t want to play. He told his friend to go away. Sharing a joke made it even worse and Marlo got angrier and angrier, until his anger took up all the space. But his friend remembered that no matter what they could always find Marlo. That’s when they found out what was going on and did just what a best friend should do, they cried together.
Arnold captures the beauty of a young friendship based on shared humor, a great dog and playing games together. He shows the richness of the friendship and how connected these two children are. That gives the platform for Marlo’s deep anger and anguish to appear. While it is confusing, his friend does just the right thing, staying around and offering comfort and empathy. Remarkably, the book is told in short and approachable sentences, allowing the images to tell a lot of the story too.
The illustrations are full of green grass, backyard spaces, and play. When Marlo’s anger appears, it is a black scribble of emotion that steadily grows to turning all of the pages to pitch black. It is in that moment that his friend finds him. That friend who speaks in first person is marvelously androgynous, able to be either girl or boy and it doesn’t matter at all.
A resonant friendship story about empathy and grief. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Aniyah and her brother are new in the foster-care system. At ten-years-old, Aniyah grew up in a family where they worked hard to placate her father’s temper and eventually hid from him with her mother and little brother. Now her mother is gone, but Aniyah knows she isn’t gone forever. When Aniyah hears that a new star has been found in the sky, she knows that it is her mother transformed. But the international contest to name the star will get it wrong! Aniyah, her brother and two of the other foster kids in the house set out on a wild Halloween-night journey to London and the Royal Observatory to make sure that the star is named after Aniyah’s mother after all.
This is the second book by the author of the award-winning The Boy at the Back of the Class. It is a story of familial abuse and terror, but told through the eyes of a ten-year-old whose mother tried to shelter her from what was actually happening. Aniyah has stories built around all of the noises she heard, from “moving furniture” to “playing hide and seek.” It makes the truth of the matter all the more haunting for readers who will understand what happened to Aniyah’s mother long before the character does.
It creates a deep tenderness between the reader and the main protagonist. Aniyah and her little brother are voices of pure innocence in the book, accompanied by other children who have been warned not to reveal the truth to her. Their lengthy experience in foster care contrasts profoundly with Aniyah’s demonstrating to the reader how special their foster mother is and how traumatic many of the children’s lives are.
A fine weaving of grief, innocence and trauma. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
In the summer of 1968, Meryl Lee’s best friend died. Her parents decided to give her a fresh start at St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for girls, a boarding school in Maine. Meryl Lee doesn’t fit in with the wealthy girls around her, finding all of the rules and expectations stifling. Meanwhile, Matt Coffin is also on the Maine coast, except he is living in a decrepit shanty trying to survive. He is on the run from a criminal gang whose leader murdered his best friend. Matt works on the fishing boats, earning just enough to feed himself and heat his small shanty. After Matt is attacked and nearly killed, the headmistress of St. Elene’s takes him in. They start to form a family along with one of the fishermen who takes Matt out on the water. Meryl Lee is also finding that she can make friends in different ways, though the blank of grief is often waiting to overtake her. Soon the two will meet, discover one another and find that they are drawn together in grief and hope.
Every new book by Schmidt is a delight. This one is a heart stealer of a book where readers will adore both Meryl Lee and Matt as well as the adults who care for them both. As Meryl learns again and again, friendship starts in a variety of different ways, as long as you are open to it. Readers will leave this book more open to discovering amazing people in their lives who were there all along.
The historical setting works particularly well to keep Matt able to stay hidden as long as he does. It also plays a role in events at St. Elene’s with staff getting into trouble for publicly expressing their political beliefs and the Vietnam War taking the brother of one of the girls who works at the school. Schmidt explores grief with a deep empathy and kindness but also with a cracking sense of humor at times.
Deeply sad, often lonely but also full of hope and friendship. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
In a sad, gray world, a huge gorilla appears. He joins a boy out in his mother’s garden. The two talk about the death of his mother, about how you know when someone is dead. The two spend time together, coloring, flying kites on the beach. The beach was one of his mother’s favorite places. The boy misses his mother’s pancakes and her reading books at bedtime. Sometimes he just wants to be alone. Other times, he wants to climb high into trees to see if he can reach his mother. The gorilla stays at his side throughout, while baking Mom’s special cookies, picking daisies in her garden and playing baseball. Eventually, the boy reached out to his father about how much he misses his mother. After holding father and son close, the gorilla moved off, heading elsewhere.
Kramer tells a gentle and sorrowful story here, where sadness and loss is embodied in a huge, purple and black gorilla. That gorilla shows such tenderness and such attention to the boy, keeping silent when needed, dashing up trees together, sitting and lingering with one another. The gorilla becomes more than loss, he becomes care and healing without pressure or timetable. The book reads in a series of linked scenes, the process not linear but complex with motion forward and back. It is not until the boy connects more with his father that progress is made, a new team formed.
The art by Derby is instrumental here. Her huge and furry gorilla appears out of the gray, his black and purple dark against the fog of loss. Color tones are used very effectively through her watercolors in the book, moving from the initial grays to more blues, eventually having touches of red and yellow, sunshine nearby. Towards the end of the book, the pages are aglow with light and hope.
A lovely and touching look at loss. Appropriate for ages 4-6.