Review: Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

An entire neighborhood of children steadily join together into one epic summer of fantasy fun built entirely out of cardboard. The book begins with The Sorceress, a boy who finds great power and identity in an evil sorceress character who uses magic and a sibling minions to try to take over the world. She is battled by the girl next door who dresses as a knight with a large sword to save the world. As more children join in, they take on characters who speak to what they need in their lives and to who they are deep inside. There are roaring creatures, a rogue, a prince, a huntress, and many more. Even the neighborhood bully ends up joining in as part of the epic final battle of summer.

Filled to the brim with diverse characters, this graphic novel is something very special. There are characters of different races and cultures, and LGBTQ characters. Written by several different authors who all drew on parts of their own childhood, the book speaks in a variety of voices that really feel like a neighborhood of children. There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening.

The art is bright and colorful, filled with family dynamics that are clearly felt deeply by the children in the book. Some stories like The Sorceress are told mostly in images while others have speech bubbles. This book embraces the fantasy motif and has a dynamic mix of superhero and classic fantasy elements that come together into one great adventure.

This one belongs in a every public library. Make sure to have some boxes on hand to build your own castles and creations. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (9781328778239)

Mara and her twin brother Owen have always been close. But when Owen gets drunk at a party and is accused of rape by his girlfriend Hannah, Mara is horrified. Though she doesn’t want to believe it, Mara sees signs that her brother isn’t telling the truth. Meanwhile Mara is dealing with Charlie, her ex-girlfriend, who seems to have quickly found a new girlfriend. Mara starts to find comfort with Owen’s best friend, Alex. At the same time, Mara is facing her own secrets about sexual assault and must decide who to trust with something she has never told anyone about for three years. As all of this collides in Mara’s life, she emerges as a fierce survivor but not before the book takes a deep look at perpetrators, lies and victim blaming.

Blake writes with a searing voice in this book. Some passages blaze on the page, ripping right through the reader with their honesty and their cry for justice. In other parts, the truth is just as present but is filled with grief and loss, a haunted realization that things will not be the same. Throughout though, there is the power of female friendships, of young women standing together and standing up for one another. It will never be enough to erase the trauma of rape, but it is enough to speak for hope and a future beyond the assault.

Blake beautifully portrays a bisexual protagonist who clearly is attracted to both men and women. Mara does not wear bisexuality as a label or as a token gesture, instead it is part of the heart of the book. Mara’s ex-girlfriend Charlie is genderqueer and exploring what that means in terms of pronouns and coming out to her parents. Charlie is a great genderqueer character, beautifully blending both genders at times, at others angry at her voice, and still others feeling like nothing fits. At the same time, she is Mara’s anchor and rock, the safe place that Mara returns to as chaos envelopes her.

Fierce and angry, this novel about sexual assault and the power of survivors. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding

Abby has always seen herself as more of a sidekick than the heroine of a story. She has a glamorous best friend who is clearly the lead. And after all, Abby is plus size, crazy about fashion and gay. Abby has landed a coveted summer internship at her favorite local boutique, but she has to share it with a girl from her class, Jordi, whom she barely knows. Abby has her eyes on landing some free dresses as well as a job at the boutique next year, but she didn’t plan on falling for Jordi along the way. In fact, her entire summer is entirely different than she had planned. Her best friend is absent thanks to her boyfriend and Abby finds herself helping a boy named Jax with his dad’s app by ranking the best burgers in LA. Abby lives her life in bright colors and pink hair, but when others compliment her she can’t see the truth in what she says, until her whole summer comes tumbling down.

Spalding’s writing is entirely fresh. She writes characters who are anything but stereotypical. She gives her characters zinging senses of humor. She makes eating a pleasure for her female characters rather than something to be ashamed of or avoided. Through all of this, she also tackles being a plus size girl, self-esteem issues, how to figure out if someone you like is also gay, and how eating burgers can lead to an unlikely friendship with a jock who drives a BMW.

It was the romance here that will sweep readers off their feet. From the initial moments of noticing someone else to the first kiss to the joy of continued kissing and being girlfriends. It is all presented as a traditional rom-com format, something that teen lesbian books need more of. Add in the wonderful cover and you have a book just right for rainbow-filled summers.

A joy of an LGBT read that will give you all the feels. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Sky Pony Press and Edelweiss.

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (9780316515467)

Ivy’s family is displaced from their home when it is destroyed by a tornado. Ivy manages to save her pillow and her book of drawings, which have pictures of girls holding hands and looking into one another’s eyes. But at the emergency shelter at the school, she loses her drawings. Her family moves into a room at a Bed and Breakfast, but there are six of them in that single room and there seems to be no room for Ivy with her busy older sister and infant twin brothers. Then at school, someone starts to return her drawings to her one-by-one in her locker. Could it be June, the girl that Ivy has a crush on? Or maybe her best friend’s boyfriend who has talked to Ivy about her art? The drawings come with notes encouraging Ivy to talk to someone about her feelings, but will Ivy have the courage to do that?

Blake has created a middle-grade book that is warm and beautifully supportive. She shows being gay as just a piece of who Ivy is and twists her feelings about her sexuality up with how she fits in her family in general and the struggles of middle school friendships. Using Ivy’s art as a platform for her self expression works very well, and her artistic vision is presented as the way she sees the world as a whole.

Ivy’s complicated relationship with her family is presented with honesty, showing a family struggling to handle the loss of their home, young babies, busy lives and still manage to care for everyone. Ivy is shown as a creative and thoughtful character who struggles with telling people the truth, not just about her sexuality but also about her feelings in general.

A strong middle-grade novel about sexuality, families and friendship. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (9781338129304)

Released March 27, 2018.

Caroline lives on Water Island near St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. At age twelve, she has had enough bad luck to last a lifetime. She sees things that no one else can see, everyone at her small school hates her, and her mother has left. When a new girl starts attending Caroline’s school, Caroline is surprised to discover that Kalinda is willing to be friends with her. Caroline believes that Kalinda can see the same spirits that she can, so there is hope when the two girls start to search for Caroline’s mother together. But when Caroline starts to have deeper feelings for Kalinda, their friendship may be doomed before they solve her mother’s mystery.

Callender beautifully wraps this book in the setting of the U.S. Virgin Islands, making sure that readers know exactly where they are. Caroline takes a boat to school and back, knows the history of her small island and how slaves escaped to freedom there, and sees her father’s abandoned boat as a symbol of their capsized life without her mother. Throughout the novel there is mysticism present with Caroline’s visions that appear out of nowhere, including a woman that she isn’t sure is good or bad. The book is layered and complex, about many things and about life itself at its heart.

Caroline is equally complex. Reader will identify and empathize with Caroline even while she is prickly toward others. Caroline is confused and hurt, rejected by most of those around her and wary of building trust with others only to be tricked. Yet she is engaging, smart and interesting. An important element to this book is the friendship between Caroline and Kalinda and the way that friendship turns into a crush on Caroline’s part. This is gently shown and then dramatically plays out when others discover how Caroline feels.

Brilliant writing, a unique and wonderful heroine and lots of turmoil make this a gem of a read. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis (9780062659002)

Evan Panos has been dealing with physical and emotional abuse from his mother since he was five years old. Now at almost 18, he is simply trying not to let his different worlds collide. At summer Bible Camp, he has his first kiss with a boy, who then comes to his small town to visit, something that makes Evan very nervous in case his mother discovers the kiss. Then there is his long time best friend, Henry who has suddenly become very hot over the summer. Evan pours his emotions into his art and his notebooks where he meticulously documents his mother’s abuse, his father’s inability to step in, and his own isolation and fear. As his mother becomes even more suffocating and cruel, Evan has to find a way forward that will allow him to survive and maybe even fall in love.

Surmelis grew up in a very similar strict Greek family as a gay boy who was shunned for being who he was from a very young age. The writing here is strong and powerful, particularly during the scenes of abuse, the way that time slows down and then rushes forward again, the terrifying switches from kindness to cruelty and violence, the warning signs far in advance that still don’t allow the abuse to be avoided. It is chilling, violent and gut wrenching.

The character of Evan is multidimensional and complex. The extensive secrets he is hiding and the horrible abuse could have defined him as a character, but instead they serve to show even more clearly his intelligence, artistic nature and ability to forgive. Even as his mother is hurling insults at him, readers will know who he really is and will never question him the way that he questions himself. He is a vital character, one who survives and moves forward despite being trapped for so long.

An important look at the abuse suffered by gay teens at the hands of their families, this teen novel is riveting. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.

 

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by EK Johnston

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston (9781101994979)

Set in a world slightly in the future, this teen novel explores what might have happened if the British Empire had continued to be in power. Canada is part of the empire and the United States is a struggling land of revolutionaries and poverty. When Victoria-Margaret is allowed to have one year of freedom and visit Canada incognito, she discovers new friends, plenty of balls and parties, and a new understanding of the empire she will one day govern. One of her new friends is Helena, who doesn’t know who Victoria-Margaret actually is and who is also keeping her own secrets from Margaret and her beau, August, who also has troubles to occupy his time. As the three of them head into the Canadian country to spend time at their families’ lake homes, the truth must eventually be shared in between newfound love, country dances and letter writing.

Johnston, author of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, has created a novel that could have been entirely frothy and filled with dresses, dances and divas. Instead it is a book that explores many aspects of life from honesty to family honor to the truth of who someone actually is, deep inside. Set in the near-future, the book also has a computer that finds genetically beneficial matches for people. For Helena, this computer reveals that she is actually intersex. That fact almost topples Helena, but as she lives with it for awhile she finds herself exploring new parts of her personality and of romance.

Written with grace, this novel for teens is a lovely introduction to alternative history science fiction. The flair of the debutante season, the touches of British life throughout the realm, and the pressure on all three teens to find proper matches create a whirl of a novel. The two female lead characters are refreshingly different from one another and yet make ideal friends. There is a quiet to them both, an introspective quality and also a merriment and delight in simple pleasures.

A great book for fans of The Crown and Victoria, get this into their hands. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton Books for Young Readers.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (9780374303235)

This nonfiction book for teens looks at two sides of a hate crime in Oakland, California. It took place on a bus where an asexual student, Sasha, was riding. They (the pronoun they use) were reading at first and then fell asleep on the public bus. A white teen, they went to a small private school in town and lived in a middle-class neighborhood. They were wearing a gauzy skirt at the time. It was a skirt that caught the eye of Richard and his friends. Richard, a black teen, attended a public high school and was newly back in the community after being in juvenile detention. Without even considering the impact of his actions, Richard set Sasha’s skirt on fire. What was meant to be a prank turned into a hate crime and potential life imprisonment.

This internationally known crime is given voice by the people who lived it in this nonfiction book. Written with such care and compassion for both sides, the book made me weep with both the fact that asexual and gender nonconforming teens and people face this type of attack and also the fact that African-American teens are charged as adults and face huge sentences as a result. Slater dances what seems at times to be an impossible line, showing the humanity on both sides of the story, explaining the facts that impact the lives of the people involved, and offering an opportunity to look deeply into a case rather than reading the headlines.

There is such humanity on these pages. It will remind everyone that there are different sides to incidents like these, that rushing to judgement is not helpful, that forgiveness has power, and that people, especially teenagers can learn from mistakes and grow from them if given a chance. Written like a novel, the book has dashingly short chapters and features the voices of the two teens whose lives changed in a moment.

The skill evident in this book is remarkable. This is the nonfiction book that teen readers today need. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Release by Patrick Ness

Release by Patrick Ness

Release by Patrick Ness (9780062403193)

Adam is facing one big day, but it’s about to get even stranger and more important than he can imagine. He can’t seem to get over his last boyfriend, Enzo, who treated him poorly and then dumped him. Tonight is Enzo’s going-away party, and Adam is taking his current boyfriend, Linus, who he can’t quite fall in love with. Meanwhile, Adam manages to find out his saintly brother has gotten his girlfriend pregnant, get groped by his horrible boss, and spend time with his best friend, Angela who has news of her own. Will Adam be brave enough to just let go?

Threaded throughout the realistic story is another more mythical tale of a murdered girl, an ancient queen, and a faun who guides and guards them both. Their tale starts out startlingly different but along the way weaves itself into Adam’s world and life too, offering a tangible link to the wonder of belief and the question of what reality really is.

Ness has created a fantastic novel that celebrates a day in the life of a teenage boy who is lost and yet also found on the same day. Ness deftly shows the impact on religion and beliefs, tearing Adam’s family into pieces. He also offers one of the best gay sex scenes in teen novels today. The entire book is gorgeously written and full of playful touches that make the book all the more real and deliciously fun.

A successful and sexy mix of LGBT realism and magic, this novel is a delight. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.