Tag: grief

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle (InfoSoup)

Quinn has always dreamed of being a Hollywood screenwriter and creating films with his sister Annabeth directing. Then Annabeth died. Now Quinn spends a lot of time in his room alone, not looking for the phone that has Annabeth’s final text to him on it sent right before she ran a red light. As summer starts, Quinn longs for air conditioning and his best friend Geoff shows up with a solution. It means that Quinn has to finally leave the house. It also means heading to his first college party where Quinn meets a very hot guy. As Quinn works to see his life playing out as a screenplay, life as other ideas.

Wow. Federle has a gift with voice. He has created in Quinn a gay teen boy who does not fit into any stereotype at all. Quinn is very smart, very sarcastic and amazingly self-centered. He could have been completely unlikable, but Federle has also made Quinn one of the most stunningly human protagonists of all time. Riddled with grief and unable to voice or even think about his loss, he hides from everyone but most particularly himself.

This is a profound look at grief, but it is also a book about being a gay teenager. It’s a book that thinks deeply about coming out to friends and family, finding out other people’s secrets, exploring new love. It’s a book where there is sex, gay teenage boy sex, and it is wonderfully awkward and normal.

Thank you to Federle for creating a gay protagonist where the book is not driven by the angst of being gay, but where sexual orientation is also not ever ignored as the important piece of life that it is. Beautifully done. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Review: You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Cant See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller, translated by Elizabeth Gaffney (InfoSoup)

Mascha has been sent to spend the summer at her grandparent’s house. Their neighborhood is perfect in many ways with neat yards, gardens and neighborly gatherings. When Mascha meets Julia and Max at the playground, she is desperate for friends. There’s not a lot for a 13-year-old to do. Soon though Mascha realizes that something is wrong and then witnesses for herself Julia and Max being abused by their father. Mascha tells her grandparents and even other neighbors, but no one is willing to do anything. So Mascha decides to step in herself and stop the abuse.

This German novel has already won several international awards. The writing is haunting and beautiful. My quibble with the translation is that I wish it had maintained its German setting rather than being moved to the United States. It reads as a European book and I’m not sure the story works as well with an American setting. But that is a minor factor in such a powerhouse of a book.

First, the setting in an upper-class community focused on image rather than real warmth is a cunning choice. It reveals the thin veneer of neighborliness, the unwillingness to look deeper at what could be happening, and the ability to turn away from the ugly truth to see only the good. Mascha herself is a brilliant heroine. Facing the death of her mother and sent to stay long term with her grandparents, she is not connected to this community at all. She sees the truth, speaks the truth and then is forced to find her own solution. And what a solution it is. It is clever but flawed, a plan only a child could produce. It is entirely believable and therefore a truly riveting read.

A great book, this novel about abuse, friendship and the importance of protecting the vulnerable in our world is one of the best of the year. It is startling, provocative and timely. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Plan by Alison Paul

The Plan by Alison Paul

The Plan by Alison Paul, illustrated by Barbara Lehman (InfoSoup)

Told in words that shift by one letter from page to page, this picture book is a lesson in imagination from its structure to its subject matter. A little girl makes a plan to take a plane up into space to Saturn. She lives on a farm with her dog who accompanies her everywhere. As they work on the farm, she discovers a key that unlocks her father’s photo album. There she discovers that he and her mother were pilots on The Mighty Comet. So the girl shares her plan with her father. They all work together to restore the airplane, allowing themselves time to grieve for the loss of her mother, and then all take off into the air together.

Paul demonstrates incredible restraint and control in the text of this book. Changing just one letter from page to page could result in a book that is stagnant, but instead this book explores and the story develops in a natural way. The simple text allows readers to fill in the story, to discover the key and what it unlocks, and to participate in the shared adventure. The component of the mother’s death is deftly handled, subtle and quiet.

With such simple text, the illustrations by Lehman really tell the full story. Done in watercolor, gouache and ink, they too share the quiet wonder of the text. They are done in deep colors that shimmer on the page, inviting the reader to look closely and explore.

A brilliant picture book filled with word play that is easy to read and a story with beauty and depth. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (InfoSoup)

Suzy knows that things happen for a reason. She loves nature and all of the facts about it and the way that science makes sense. But when her best friend drowns, Suzy just can’t make sense of it. They had fought before Franny left on vacation and now there is no way for Suzy to fix that. Suzy retreats into silence, refusing to speak to her parents or to anyone at school. As Suzy searches for a reason, she discovers that Franny might have been stung by a jellyfish. It is up to Suzy to prove that that is what happened and to let everyone see that there was a cause for Franny’s death. Filled with natural wonder and tangible grief, this book is an elegant and powerful look at how one child copes with loss.

Benjamin writes about nature with such awe, sharing facts about animals as if they were precious jewels. The facts about jellyfish alone are profound and concerning, allowing readers to understand Suzy’s fascination with them. Yet though these facts are in the book, it is Suzy’s inability to cope with reality that shines. Her unwillingness to accept that death can be an accident without any reason at all will speak to all readers.

Suzy is a great character. Filled with a powerful and all-encompassing grief, she becomes silent and yet somehow does not withdraw from life. Instead her silence allows her time to be more creative, more thoughtful about the loss she has experienced even while she is in denial about what has happened. Benjamin also beautifully tackles the grieving process, mingling it with the difficulties of middle school. Filled with flashbacks about the changing friendship of Franny and Suzy, this book addresses the way that even best friends grow apart.

Beautiful and luminous, this book is a powerful look at grief, loss and the way that we process our lives. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (InfoSoup)

Giselle and Isabelle are identical teen twins on their way to Izzie’s concert at school when their car is crashed into and their lives changed forever. Giz wakes up in a hospital room, unable to speak or move. She can hear though and is in a semi-conscious state. That’s how she realizes that everyone thinks that she is Isabelle. People don’t mention her at all, avoiding the subject, but Giz is sure that she would know if Isabelle had died. Her parents eventually come to see her, both physically battered by the accident and with bruises, broken bones and casts. Trapped and unable to communicate, Giselle thinks about her past with her family, their strong ties to their Haitian heritage and the bond that she and her sister have always had.

Danticat is an award-winning author of several adult books. This is her debut YA title. Her writing is superb. Told in Giz’s voice, the prose lilts and dances like poetry. It weaves around the reader, creating moments of clarity and then as Giz reminisces about her family and sister lifting into pure emotion. Nothing is told, all is shown and there is a radiance to the entire novel that is sublime.

Giz is a strong heroine. Haitian-American, she is solidly connected to her heritage through her grandparents who still live in Haiti. It’s a joy to see a depiction of a family of color who are complex and far from stereotypical. Giz is a large part of this. Her voice is clearly her own, her upbringing affects everything around her, and being a person of color is at the core of this novel yet not at center stage. It is done with a delicate yet firm hand.

One of the most beautifully written teen novels of the year, this look at sisterhood, death, grief and family is hauntingly lovely. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.