Tag: grief

Not As We Know It by Tom Avery

Not as We Know It by Tom Avery

Not As We Know It by Tom Avery (InfoSoup)

Jamie and Ned are twins growing up together on a tiny island in the English Channel. They love to do things as a pair, from scouring the beaches for treasures that wash up from the sea to watching Star Trek on DVD. But Ned is not well. He is fighting cystic fibrosis and the most recent treatments don’t seem to be working. Then one day, the brothers find a strange creature on the beach. It is hurt and they carry it to their garage where they fill a tub with saltwater and care for it. It’s like nothing they have ever seen before with its scales and gills combined with arms and legs. As the boys care for the creature, their grandfather tells them tales of mermen and mermaids. Jamie starts to hope that the creature can work a miracle for Ned, though Ned sees it very differently.

This novel for middle grade readers is riddled with sorrow and the drain of watching a loved one slowly decline. Yet Ned is also a ray of light himself, refusing to let his disorder rule his life. Still, the book is clearly headed for Ned to go where Jamie can’t follow, a journey he has to take on his own. As the creature brings hope to Jamie, it also brings him distress as he recognizes that his hope may be futile and readers will see it as a natural way to keep from facing his brother’s approaching death.

Both boys are strongly written characters. Jamie is pure heart, trying to be there for his brother and leaving school to be homeschooled alongside his brother. Jamie is a source of adventure and normalcy for Ned, something that keeps them close and also buoys up Ned’s moods and health. Ned is unwilling to do anything but face the truth of his situation and yet that doesn’t limit his activities. Instead it seems to fuel his desire to be more than just a dying boy. The pair of them together are pure radiance.

A powerful, tragic and hopeful book about brotherhood and death with more than a touch of magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.


Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost

Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost

Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost, illustrated by Amy June Bates

Faith and Peter know that it is applesauce time when the first apple falls from the tree outside their house. It’s also the time of year when their Uncle Arthur comes to tell his stories about how he lost his finger. But this year is different, since Aunt Lucy died and Uncle Arthur just isn’t as twinkly as he once was. Faith though is sure that her uncle will come and he does, unsure of his welcome without Aunt Lucy. He sits on the bench under the apple tree with the children, warming up to telling his tales. Maybe this year they will finally learn the truth of his missing finger!

There is a beautiful delicacy in this book, spun together by the masterful poetry of Frost. She holds the hearts of her characters with such tenderness, showing the love of the children for their uncle and also the love of Arthur for his beloved Lucy. The stories all twine together, the family sitting under the tree, long-lasting love, Peter discovering his own first love, and then the remarkable stories that Arthur tells. The entire work is dazzling, moments of life held up and made amazing just for taking the time. This is real world writing at its very best and one of the best verse novels of the year so far.

The illustrations by Bates are filled with emotions. There is the hesitation of Arthur as he arrives. The bend of the back of Faith as she waits under the apple tree. The flow of breeze into her hair. They are filled with whimsy, the stoop of an old back, the twinkle of a storyteller starting to tell, the joy of apples in fall.

Beautiful and amazing, this very short verse novel is a celebration of autumn and families. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

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.