Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern (9780062463357)
When Jamie sees David in the hospital where she volunteers, she is surprised. She knows he won’t have a clue who she is, as she has become almost invisible at school. In a moment where David is curled up in pain, Jamie instinctively reaches out to him. The two of them begin to talk together, sharing texts, emails and IMs as David remains in the hospital. Jamie works out what is wrong with him based on his symptoms and learns that his cystic fibrosis will shorten his life. She shares her own knowledge of hospitals with him, but doesn’t explain her depression following her father’s death. The two of them become friends and soon David is asking Jamie to sneak him out of the hospital so that he can breathe fresh air. As their friendship becomes more intense, David asks her to befriend his sister too and help her find a new path away from destruction. But it may just be Jamie and David who are on the way to destroying their new relationship.
McGovern has written a book about mental health and physical health that doesn’t flinch from discussion suicide openly and also shows the harrowing aspects of having an intensifying physical illness. While their medical diagnoses serve as an important foundation in the novel, it is the interplay between the two main characters that makes this such a compelling read. The two of them are clever, funny and willing to debate their differences with humor and respect.
Readers will come to truly enjoy these two characters, who both struggle with friendship outside of the hospital. Their friendship becomes something precious to them both, building naturally to a romantic level. But it is complicated by health, girlfriends and much more. As the novel builds to its climax, readers will cringe at the inevitable choices that both characters make and wonder if they will ever recover from them.
A surprising and deep novel about health, friendship and breaking the rules. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller (9781524715700)
Lily, her mother and sister move in with her elderly Korean grandmother. In the small town, Lily soon discovers that everyone knows and loves her grandmother, who wears glamorous clothes and tries to offer advice and help to her community. Halmoni has always been special to Lily too, sharing stories of tigers, girls and stars with her and her sister. So when they are heading to Halmoni’s house and Lily sees a tiger out of the car window, she knows it’s from her grandmother’s tales and that tigers are tricksters. As Lily starts to understand that her grandmother is severely ill, she believes that she can help by working with the tiger to release the stories from her grandmother’s jars. The stories emerge and shine in the darkness, returning to the sky as stars and allowing Lily to hear some of the more difficult stories for the first time. Yet, Lily isn’t sure if the tiger is actually real and if the tiger is, can she be trusted to really help Halmoni?
Keller’s novel for middle grade readers explores the complexity of stories both in terms of folklore but also stories of previous generations in a family and the difficulties they faced in other countries and in traveling to the United States. The power of stories themselves is never in question here, shining through as each tale is shared. They connect, explain and inspire. But stories here are also hidden, carefully kept from others so that their pain need not be shared. This too speaks to their incredible power and the importance of them being told. So in the end, whether you believe in the tiger or not, you will believe in the stories themselves and their magic.
This novel is so beautifully written. Readers will experience it as a series of jars to be opened and released by them. The tales themselves are told in language and tones that really make them understood to be part of an oral tradition. The rest of the book, the story of Lily and her family, is layered and fascinating. All of the characters are complex and have multiple dimensions to their personalities. Lily is caught up in her own world of tiger traps and magical jars, but everyone else has their own perspectives on what is happening to Halmoni and their family.
A powerful book of stories, magic and tigers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz (9781640637320)
Isabel loves to ask everyone else their opinions. In fact, it’s what she does for her high school paper column. It helps her make sense of a world where her mother just walked out of their family a few months earlier, leaving Isabel with her father who works most of the time as a hospital administrator. Isabel also spends a lot of time at the hospital, both because it’s where she gets to see her father most, but also because it’s where she gets her treatments for her rheumatoid arthritis. While at the hospital one day, she meets Sasha, a boy who also has his own non-fatal illness. The two hit it off, not dating though because Isabel has rules about dating. Soon Sasha and Isabel are spending a lot of time together. They adventure in New York City but also take lots of naps, don’t walk too far in the cold, and handle a lot of nosebleeds. Now Isabel must figure out if she’s going to start dating for the first time, or stick to the rule.
I have to mention that I worried I was in for a tear-jerker of a book and that it would be a lot like John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars. Those fears went away as I realized that Moskowitz was tackling invisible illnesses, the ones that people have but that don’t threaten their lives, just impact them in a variety of ways. This novel is so lovely, filled with first love, the pressures of whether to change for the other person, and the gorgeous connection that can happen again and again with another person. It’s a novel that balances beautifully the impact of being sick with the delight of being alive.
Isabel and Sasha are both great protagonists. Isabel is wonderfully prickly and sarcastic, unwilling to change for a boy but also worried about the sort of person she is inside. Sasha too is sarcastic but very different from Isabel. Their two families are different too, Isabel left behind by her mother to live mostly alone and Sasha surrounded by a loving family who boisterously support him and what he needs. Yet the two of them make sense, clicking in a way that only the best romantic couples in books do.
A great romance that grapples with illness alongside love. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Entangled.
Mommy Sayang by Rosana Sullivan (9781368015905)
Aleeya lives with her mother in their Malaysian village. She loves spending time with her Mommy, and the two of them do everything together. Mommy also features heavily in Aleeya’s dreams which are filled with flowers and dancing. The two of them plan to always be together like this. But then Mommy gets sick and has to stay in bed. Aleeya is lost without her, but steadily starts to realize that she can be at her mother’s side, just in a different way.
This picture book brings diversity in multiple ways. There is the Malaysian setting that is richly depicted with animals and activity. The family is Muslim and prayers and head-wear are depicted. Then you have the mother get ill. While she does recover by the end of the book, it is rare that you see a mother get bedridden in a picture book and the impact of that loss explored. Here it is fully shown and Aleeya’s response is brave and loving.
The illustrations are rich and filled with color and touching moments between mother and child. Their relationship is at the center of the text and the illustrations. It is not a surprise that the illustrations are captivating, since this is a book in the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase. The talent here really shines.
A lovely look at the impact of a mother, whether she can get out of bed or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781250140913)
When a little girl wakes up sick, she knows that her mother is going to take great care of her with a special brand of Mommy Medicine. There are kisses and hugs, massages and tickles. Then there are special treats like ice cream, tea, hot chocolate or soup. A bubbly bath is another form of medicine and then there are board games to play too. A quiet nap is a moment of quiet and then on to singing songs, silly dances, and playing pretend. Movies watched together and seeing stars before bed end the day spent together.
Danticat uses her own family as inspiration for this picture book using the phrase that her family used, “Mommy Medicine.” The book goes through each type of maternal love that can be shown on a sick day. Each one not only cares for the sick child but also builds the mother-child relationship stronger. Danticat also shares lots of details that bring the book fully to realization with lovely moments captured on each page.
Wright’s illustrations show a mother and daughter who shine with love for one another. They delight in their time together, coming up with ideas to share. Their home and time together is filled with warmth and visible joy, even on a day of illness.
A deep and comforting look at motherly love and how it can heal. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
A Story about Cancer (With a Happy Ending) by India Desjardins, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer, translated by Solange Ouellet (9781786039774)
As a teen heads to her doctor appointment to find out how much time she has left to live, she thinks about her path to this moment. Diagnosed with leukemia at age 10, she didn’t know anyone who had cancer. She thinks about the awful hospital decor done in colors meant to calm and soothe. She thinks about the hospital smell that seeps into her clothes and skin after a time there and how she begs for lavender to be sprayed all over when she gets back home. She thinks of her parents and their support for her, but also the difficult conversations she has had to have with them about losing her battle with cancer. As the book promises, it does have a happy ending, one that will be greatly appreciated by teens with cancer and those who love them.
Originally published in French in Canada, this graphic novel for teens has a unique feel. Not done in panels, but in more of a free-flowing form, this novel is a quick read that speaks about the process of fighting cancer, the deep emotions that come with your life being at risk, and the importance of family and hope to keep you afloat in the dark times. The voice telling the story is written with a ringing clarity that cuts through any sentimentality and speaks honestly to the reader.
The art in the book is touching and emotional. It captures what the narrator is feeling and their view at the time, often making the words all the more powerful as it gives an image to the emotion. There is a beautiful translucent nature to the illustrations, an ethereal feeling made all the more effective given the subject.
A vital book filled with hope and a happy ending. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bob, Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon & Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Released February 14, 2017.
An awful cold can cause chaos, especially if you have a dog named Bob. Little Louie is big enough that he doesn’t need his mother all the time, but when he gets sick he needs her quite a bit more. As his cold grows, his congestion makes him talk differently. So when he calls for his Mom, it comes out as “Bob.” Unfortunately though, when he calls “Bob” his dog comes running. As his cold gets worse, he only wants his mom near him, confusing his sister with confusing sentences and continuing to call his dog accidentally. Luckily though, his mom knows just what he needs.
This book is seriously fun to read aloud. The cover instructs you to read it “as though you have the worst cold ever.” And it’s a delight. The phrases that seem confusing on the page pop into sense when read aloud. The book also delights by having a child who wants his mom around him when he’s not feeling well and who also manages to confuse everyone about what he actually wants and needs. The result of the confusion though is lovely motherly warmth and attention, so actually everyone gets exactly what they need.
Cordell’s illustrations add to the zingy energy of the book. He takes the confusing language that Louie uses and creates large words with them that show those reading aloud exactly what to say in that wonderful congested voice. The family shown are people of color, giving a nice touch of diversity to the book. Add in the huge dog that bounds on the page and you have pure joy on the page.
Perfect for anyone home sick in bed, this picture book will please any kid who has a terrible cold or a great sense of humor. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Disney Hyperion.
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.
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell (InfoSoup)
Sora has ALS, a disease that will slowly ravage his muscles and eventually kill him. There is no cure and no slowing the disease’s progression. Sora’s mother takes care of him and he spends his days at home, unwilling to leave and expose himself and his mother to the pitying gazes of strangers as she pushes him in his wheelchair. Then Sora joins an online chat room for Kyoto teens and after lurking for awhile, accidentally posts a very big scream to one of the rooms. Some people reach out to him and he becomes online friends with two of them, Mai and Kaito. His mother thinks they are friends from school, and she insists that she meet them too. But Sora hasn’t revealed his diagnosis to them at all, pretending instead to be a regular school-attending teen online. What will happen when they discover his illness? Will be begin to treat him differently just like everyone else?
Benwell has written a stunning read in this teen novel set in Kyoto, Japan. The setting is beautiful and a sense of Japan runs through the entire novel, making sure that western readers will never lose the sense of the setting. Benwell grapples with many issues here and yet the book is intently focused on Sora and his journey. Sora wants answers to questions that have none, like why people treat those with disabilities differently and what happens to you after you die. With those issues weaving throughout the book, Benwell also offers up a look at a devastating disease and its effect but also still reminds us all the it is each day that matters and the small things that delight.
The three teen characters are very well drawn. There is Sora, the central character and a boy who is serious and studious. He searches for deep answers and has lots of time alone to think. Yet he is still approachable, friendly and caring, never becoming a stereotype of any kind. Mai is a girl who loves art but is unable to explain to her mother that she’d rather be an artist than a lawyer. Through her reaction to meeting Sora for the first time, Benwell offers one view of courage and the willingness to try again. Kaito is a boy who loves coding and computers, but struggles to do it as well as he would like. He is impatient and clever. The two teens learn much from Sora, but not right away allowing them the time and space to be truly motivated by Sora.
This is a powerful novel that speaks to the beauty of life and calls teens to make the most of their dreams. Have your tissues ready! Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.