Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina

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Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina (9780763690502)

This sequel to the Newbery Award winning Merci Suárez Changes Gears continues the story of Merci, her large multigenerational family, and the difficulties of being a seventh grader. This year, Merci has been assigned to manage the small school store along with Wilson, a boy who is amazing at math. As the two reinvent what their school store can be, adding movie merchandise, they end up also being drawn into selling tickets for the Heart Ball, run by Edna, who has managed to become even bossier than usual. Merci has decided not to go to the dance, but is asked to take photographs and agrees as long as she doesn’t even have to enter the gym. When an accident happens, Merci makes a bad decision and covers up the damage, setting off a series of lies that will involve school and family. With no one to talk to, since her grandfather’s dementia is worsening, Merci has to figure out who to trust to help her.

Fans returning to reconnect with Merci will once again find Medina’s rich depiction of Merci’s extended family, her grandfather’s worsening mental abilities, and the gorgeous warmth and love that keeps them all connected. Medina put Merci in quite a horrible situation in this second novel, where she feels alone and unable to be honest. Medina writes it with such empathy and skill that it is almost painful to read, though that makes the resolution all the more marvelous to experience.

As always, Medina’s writing is skillful and detailed. She truly creates a middle school experience with burgeoning romantic feelings and the changes happening between long-time best friends. Medina doesn’t let this all be negative, instead focusing on the confusion but also on the deeper understanding that can result from going through strange middle school circumstances.

Another marvelous Merci novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. by David Levithan

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The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. by David Levithan (9781984848598)

When Aidan disappears one day, Lucas and his family spend all their time searching for him. The police and the entire community come out, looking for Aidan. After six days of being gone, Aidan suddenly reappears in the attic of their house. He tells an incredible story of entering a fantasy world through the cupboard in the attic. Lucas, his younger brother, desperately wants to believe him. The two spend the darkness before they fall asleep talking about where Aidan was. But their parents don’t believe him at all and the police, while not pushing for him to tell the truth, clearly see his tale as a coping mechanism. When his story is accidentally released by the police, the entire school begins mocking Aidan. Lucas sticks by his brother’s side, though underneath is still not sure what to believe.

Levithan has published books for teens primarily and this time turns his talent to a book for middle graders. It’s a book that asks a lot of questions and allows them to linger, hanging in the air without resolution for some time. It’s a book that forces readers to ask themselves what they believe in, what they would do, what choices they would make in this situation. As always, Levithan’s prose is engaging and his pacing is skillful, something that is particularly important in a book like this, not allowing it to drag but carrying the book forward.

The central question of believing his brother places Lucas in a precarious position. He finds himself knowing more than anyone else about Aidan’s claimed experience and then also in the public having to not reveal all that he knows. He is a great younger brother, standing with his older sibling despite the mockery they both face. Told from Lucas’ viewpoint, the book relies on his take on what is happening, what he himself witnesses and his love for his brother.

An enticing book of fantasy and mystery. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Alfred A. Knopf.

Love Is a Revolution by Renee Watson

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Love Is a Revolution by Renee Watson (9781547600601)

Nala plans to spend her summer sampling new ice cream flavors and bingeing on Netflix. Since it’s her cousin’s birthday, she agrees to go to an open mic night for Inspire Harlem, a local teen activist group that her cousin is part of. The MC at the event is Tye Brown, who is handsome and funny, just the type of person that Nala wants to have as a boyfriend. Unfortunately, Nala starts off by telling him a few small lies, like that she is an activist too, that she works at a nursing home and that she’s a vegetarian too. As Nala and Tye spend their summer together, growing closer together, Nala’s lies become larger. Tye tries to help Nala with her nonexistent job at the nursing home her grandmother lives in. He also tries to change her even further, giving her gifts to help with her presentation skills and a water bottle so that she can be more green. Can lies turn into love? Can Nala find a way to be herself before she loses everything?

Watson once again writes a book that reads beautifully and easily while grappling with real issues. Here she focuses on what happens when a girl is willing to not be herself for a guy. While Nala’s lies are concrete, young women will also recognize how they may have disguised their true selves for a boy to like them more. The book is about liking yourself enough to stand in your own truth, not hide, and to be that person no matter who you are with. And if it doesn’t start that way, how to get back to that strong center and let it guide you.

Beautifully, Nala is a plus-sized girl who is not ashamed of her size, who likes cheese, meat and ice cream, and who is able to gain the attention of the cutest guy in the group. Time is spent thinking about her makeup and hair, but not her weight. It’s vital for Nala to be a strong person in this book, a girl you would not think would lie to get a boyfriend. She must find her way back to pride in herself, love for who she is, and a sense that she deserves the best.

Big-hearted, this novel tells the deep truth to young Black women through a series of lies. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell

Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell

Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken (9780735230378)

Adrian Simcox is always talking at school about the horse that he owns. But Chloe knows he is lying, since he lives with his grandfather in a small house in town. There is no room there for a horse. She also knows that Adrian’s family isn’t wealthy and a horse costs a lot of money to keep. So Chloe complains to her friends, her mother and eventually to the entire class about Adrian lying. When Chloe’s mother takes her to Adrian’s house, Chloe knows she is going to be proven right. But she doesn’t bargain for what she is actually going to find there.

This beautifully told story will have readers siding with Chloe from the beginning, since her reasons for not believing Adrian are clear and logical. Still, as the story unfolds readers will start to understand what Adrian is doing long before Chloe does and will begin to feel for him and relate to Adrian. The book does this without becoming didactic at all, instead naturally leading children to an empathy before Chloe gets there. The prose is strong and the pacing is just right in this quiet book.

The illustrations by Luyken are done with lots of white space around Chloe and then riotous plants and gardens around Adrian. Even on the playground, there is a sense that Adrian can create his own world out of imagination, filling the white space in a way that the others can’t. It’s an ideal analogy for the story line itself.

A great book to discuss lying and imagination, friendship and support. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.

Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault

Colette's Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault

Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault (9781101917596, Amazon)

Colette has moved to a new neighborhood and her parents won’t let her have a pet. She angrily kicks a box over the fence and meets some new kids. Colette wants to be friends but doesn’t have any good answer for them when they ask what she is doing, so she invents a pet that she has lost, a parakeet. The children take her to meet other neighbors who can help her find her pet. One after another the children help and then Colette adds to her fib. Her pet soon has specific colors, a name, a sound it makes, and a poster to help find it. Then Colette’s fib grows into a full-blown story. How will the others react when they realize she’s made the entire thing up?

Done in graphic novel style, this picture book is a delightful mix of a story about moving to a new place, the impact of telling lies and making new friends. Colette’s small fib grows far beyond what she had ever intended as she tries to cover up that she was frustrated and angry. With each new person involved, the lie builds to the find crescendo where it turns into something else entirely, something shared and wonderful despite how it all began.

The illustrations have a unique feel to them. They are done in blues and grays with pops of yellow in Colette’s jacket, small touches in the neighborhood and the color of her imaginary pet. This limited palette is beautifully done, the blues and yellows vibrant against the subtler grays.

A great graphic novel pick for young readers, this book looks at large themes with kindness and grace. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Tundra Books.

 

Review: Peanut by Ayun Halliday

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Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe

When Sadie heads to a new school once again, she comes up with a grand plan.  She orders a medical bracelet online and pretends to have a severe peanut allergy.  Using this strategy, she does make some friends, including finding a boyfriend.  However, the fake peanut allergy continues to be a problem, especially if she slips up and just eats a chip cooked in peanut oil.  As it becomes more and more a focus of her life, she thinks about telling the truth to her friends.  But it’s too late to come clean, because they would hate her for lying to them.  This graphic novel steadily counts down to the disaster that readers will know is coming, creating tension laced with humor.

Halliday has created a character that we can all relate to.  Sadie lies to make friends, her strange solution to being the new girl actually works.  Sadie is insecure and as she grows in self-esteem the trap she finds herself in starts to tighten.  She is a wonderful imperfect character, scolding her new boyfriend, lying to her mother, and of course lying to everyone at school.  But through it all, she is likeable and universal.

Hoppe’s illustrations are done in black and white lines with Sadie’s sweater being a pop of red against the more subtle coloring.  His drawings are fresh feeling and dynamic, often going for the laugh especially when the drama gets thick. 

Perfect for those teens who enjoy Raina Telgemeier’s books, this graphic novel is filled with humor and tension.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It by Michael B. Kaplan

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Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It by Michael B. Kaplan, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch

I’m a Betty Bunny fan, since I enjoy protagonists in children’s books who have a feel of being a real kid.  Betty Bunny in this third book in the series breaks a lamp when her siblings refuse to play with her.  When she is asked about it, she blames it on the Tooth Fairy.  Betty Bunny thinks this works so very well that she’s surprised it hadn’t occurred to her to try it before.  But things quickly unravel when her mother asks if she’s telling the truth.  Betty admits to telling an “honest lie” and is sent to her room.  Later, when a vase is broken, everyone in the family automatically blames Betty Bunny, but she really didn’t do it this time! 

Betty Bunny is precocious for a four year old.  I enjoy the way that Kaplan explains what Betty is thinking about her new ideas.  Also, the family dynamics ring very honest with older siblings unwilling to play but all too willing to offer witty advice. 

Jorisch’s illustrations have a great modern vibe to them.  The bunny family is active and they dynamic lives appear clearly on the page.  This has the trademark style of the earlier books with zingy writing and a naughty but quite charming little bunny at the center.

Fans of the earlier books in the series will find more to love here.  This series is not for every reader or family as some will find the naughtiness less funny and more problematic.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Accomplice

Accomplice by Eireann Corrigan

This book will be released in August 2010.

It was a perfect plan, but then it all went wrong.  When their college prep advisor tells them that it takes more than good grades and community service to get into the best schools, Finn and Chloe decide to make themselves and their college essays very special.  They stage Chloe’s kidnapping, hiding her in the basement of Finn’s grandmother’s house because she is out of town.  It was supposed to be simple, but their carefully staged deception starts to wear on Finn as she is forced to lie to everyone, carefully staging her emotions and reactions to not only keep the lie going but to make sure that they get enough attention from the media.  When CNN shows up to cover the kidnapping, Finn and Chloe know that it cannot end the way they had planned and are forced to make dreadful choices.  Don’t pick up this page turner without clearing your day first, it is impossible to put down!

With a great premise, the book opens with Finn in the midst of the situation already.  There is little time to draw breath as readers are immediately plunged into a faked kidnapping staged by two very smart but very naive girls.  The drive to have a bit of fame combined with the pressures of college applications make for a potent combination for a book. 

The story is told from Finn’s point of view as she deals with attending school and lying to everyone in her life, including Chloe’s parents and her own. Finn is in denial about a lot of things throughout the book, facing complicated feelings about her best friend.  This tension about their relationship and what is at the heart of it makes the book even more compelling as Finn tries to navigate a situation of her own making.

This riveting novel is tightly written.  The book builds tension as Finn struggles with her emotions and with the fallout from the kidnapping.  It is not breakneck paced, rather it is woven into an intense read. 

Ideal for booktalking to teens, this book will have everyone right from the premise.  It completely lives up to its promise as a thrilling look at lies and fame.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.