Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond (9781534421851)
Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, a neighborhood united by good food from many different cultures. Told in thirteen linked stories, this novel explores the power of food to connect, change, grow and even fall in love. There is the story of food that can give you courage and other dishes that can help you get revenge as long as it’s justified. There is the story of a food competition that unites a grandmother and her grandson. There is the quiet girl who knows just what pastry you need just then. There are haunting tales of sacrifice and pain. The stories bridge generations and cultures, they show a neighborhood brimming with new and old connections, and they fill the world with more than a little magic built on shared food.
More than a simple collection of short stories, these short stories are beautifully connected to one another. There are characters who appear across multiple stories long before they have their own tale told. There are restaurants glimpsed over the course of the entire novel, sharing their magic across many tales. Throughout the entire book, it is the neighborhood itself that is always consistent and full of details. Frankly, I’m not sure how this many authors managed to write such a cohesive and yet diverse set of stories. It is extraordinary!
One element of many of the stories is a sense of deep heritage that bridges generations. There are stories about grandparents and parents, about magic shared and taught, about food and the skill to make amazing meals together. Each story has mouthwatering descriptions of different foods, enough to make readers want to try something new and amazing immediately.
A remarkable short story collection about food and magic. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon Pulse.
Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno (9780062493644)
Georgina has grown up on the island of By-the-Sea where generations of the women in her family have lived. They are women of specific talents: her mother can brew useful potions, her sister can float slightly off the floor particularly when she’s not paying enough attention. But Georgina doesn’t have any powers at all. The sisters are getting ready for college and leaving the island for the first time in their lives. It’s an island with one special resident, a bird that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, a bird with a distinct family connection. But this year, the bird doesn’t arrive, much to the dismay of the entire island and the birding community who arrive each summer. As the search for the missing bird intensifies, tragedy strikes and soon the summer is filled with salt, magic and mystery.
This is one of those books that you fall for hard. It sweeps in with poetic language that invites readers to explore the island of By-the-Sea, breathe in the magic, taste beautifully-named ice cream flavors and linger in the autumnal graveyard for awhile. Leno lingers over the details, creating a world that is so specific, small and focused. It seeps into your pores, this story, invades you like tainted tea and asks you to believe. And you will.
The characters are all written with such care, each one unique and special. Georgina may feel like a side kick, but she is the full-on protagonist here. She is brave, smart and quite the leader when given the chance. She faces real evil on her island home, must find the perpetrator and meanwhile is in the throes of leaving her home for college while not getting any magical powers herself at all. She is complicated, exploring new romance with the hot girl who visited the island, solving a mystery, and coming into her own.
An amazing read, just right for summer. This is one that fans of magical realism are going to adore. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.
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.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi (9780062473042, Amazon)
This debut novel combines magical realism with the hard streets of modern Detroit. Fabiola and her mother are journeying to live with family in Detroit, leaving their native Haiti behind. But while Fabiola is allowed to continue on to Detroit, her mother is held in a detention center due to issues with her papers. Now Fabiola must get used to living with her American relatives, including three cousins who are loud, fierce and not to be messed with. Fabiola struggles with the food, the culture, and getting used to a new life and school while worrying about her mother. Just as it seems that she is finding a way forward with a new boyfriend and new friends, the dangerous life that supports her family comes crashing down threatening to sweep Fabiola along with it.
Zoboi’s writing is exceptional. She has drawn on her own experience as an immigrant from Haiti in this novel, infusing it with vodou religion and spirits that both guide and haunt. As Fabiola follows the spirits to the truth about what is really happening, she risks everything that she has found to hold onto and love. This is a book that doesn’t turn away from the violence of Detroit, the guns, drugs and power struggles happening even as children die.
There are many moments in this book that a situation is so fraught with danger that it sears into the reader’s brain. Against those moments, Fabiola and her three cousins stand strong and tall. They are four amazing characters who shine on the page each so different from one another and ferociously both independent and interdependent at the same time. This is family on the page, pushing against the dangers that surround them and include them.
Beautifully written with strong characters and danger, this book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand (InfoSoup)
When a boy goes missing on Whidbey Island, it’s expected that he’s hiding out at the Gray’s house. But Grant isn’t there. Pixie is one of the Gray quintuplets, large kids who seem to have special talents. When Pixie heads out with her scent dog, the best in the state, to find Grant, she discovers something else instead – the body of his mother. Henry, Grant’s half brother, is also part of the search. He knows the attention and problems that come with living in a very wealthy family. His family has staff that travel with them, and it could have been any of them who took Grant and killed his mother. Through the ensuing search, secrets are exposed and powers are discovered in this teen book filled with magical realism.
This book is great fun to read. One never quite knows when something mythical and amazing is going to suddenly happen. Those are mixed in with more mundane happenings like murder and kidnapping to create quite the setting for mayhem. Still, there is a feeling of truth through it all, of teens rising up through difficulty to heroism. There is a sense of fate and of purpose too, of destiny combined with the wonder of magic and myth.
The writing is strong and direct. It is haunted with death and pays homage to the damage of abuse and the strength of family. This book is not simple or easy, it is strung with danger and traps. The entire feel of suspense and the claustrophobic island setting combine to create a feeling of doom laced beautifully with hope and love.
A teen novel that is a compelling and vastly enjoyable read, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (InfoSoup)
Best friends, Miel and Sam each have secrets that they wear both outside and inside themselves. Sam was the first person to approach Miel when she was dumped from the town’s water tower the day it was knocked down. She is a girl whose past is tied to the water, whose skirt hem is always damp. She fears pumpkins and was taken in by Aracely, a woman who can rescue people from their own heartache. Miel also has roses that grow out of one of her wrists, marking her a danger to her family. Sam has lived as a boy, serving as the son his mother never had even though his anatomy is that of a girl. At some point, he was expected to return to being a girl but Sam doesn’t know if he will ever be ready. Meanwhile the four sisters in town seek to control Miel and her roses and restore their power, but first they must discover the secret that will make her do their bidding.
Oh my word, this is a beautiful book. It is written in prose that is wildly lush, almost aromatic, so vivid that it remains in your head after you read it. From descriptions of pumpkins as a world of their own to the beautiful danger of the four redheaded sisters to the delicacy of the eggs and herbs that remove heartbreak from a person, each description is its own painting of magic. It creates a world that is ours and yet not, a world of moons and honey, roses and water, stained glass and blood.
To this beautiful and intense writing you add an understanding of the transgender experience and a willingness to write of sexuality and desire and lust for someone who is deciding how they will transition and what their terms will be. It is a book that captures that in-between moment, allows us to linger there with Miel and Sam as their love is just blooming and they are allowing themselves to explore each other in new ways.
Gorgeous, breathtaking and wise, this is one of the most magical and transcendent books I have ever experienced. Bravo for the courage it took to write this and the love that is expressed on each and every page. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan (InfoSoup)
Released September 13, 2016.
Newbery Medal winning author Patricia MacLachlan returns with a gorgeous little book. Two siblings, brother and sister, are trapped in a snowstorm. They had been left with the car when their mother went for help, but were warned that if the car was entirely covered with snow, it might be a dangerous place to stay. Nearby lives Teddy, a dog raised by a poet, so a dog who understands words and can even speak. However, only two kinds of people understand him, poets and children. Teddy discovers the children and brings them back to the poet’s home, a home that he hasn’t entered since his beloved human companion died. Soon the children are making the house into a different kind of home, but no less filled with the beauty of words and the feelings of love.
MacLachlan has created a lovely short book that wraps readers in warmth. It is as if readers too have been rescued from the cold and the dark, welcomed into a place of firelight and sustenance. It is an enchanting book that brings back the feelings of being at home during a storm and knowing you are safe and secure. MacLachlan’s writing is assured and masterful. She is so succinct and deft in her storytelling that she manages to offer a full story in less than fifty pages and even make it feel leisurely and special.
Throughout the book, Teddy the dog explores what it is to be special to someone, loved by someone and then to lose that person. Through his memories readers see how Sylvan, the poet, died and how Teddy has managed to stay on the property. As he works through his grief with the children near him, there is a strong sense of the importance of poetry and words and expression.
A very moving and noteworthy addition to MacLachlan’s exceptional body of work, this book is exquisite. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss.
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.
Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki (InfoSoup)
Montgomery has two best friends who are the reason that she can make it through high school at all. They have a Mystery Club at school where they are the only members and they explore the mysteries of the universe. Thomas loves to talk about superheroes and Naoki focuses on crystals. With Monty’s two moms and Thomas being bullied for being gay, Monty knows there is hate in the world, something made even clearer when a preacher arrives in town putting up signs against people who are gay. When Monty buys The Eye of Know online, she doesn’t expect it to work any better than their other experiments, but soon the Eye seems to be channeling Monty’s personal anger and exacting revenge.
Tamaki captures the anger of a teenager with precision here. It all feels deeply organic, often not being logical at all, lashing out at those she loves, and withdrawing into her room. The issues that Monty is furious about are so tangible both in her life and in her friendships, yet she goes much farther than those who love her would want her to. There is a sense of her reaching a cliff of anger and having to make a choice of how she is going to be in the world. It’s a powerful place to set a YA novel and works well.
The magical realism in the book is done well too. It strikes a balance between being entirely believable but also allowing readers to see it as something that could be unrelated too. Readers will get to see what their own opinions of mysteries of the universe are in this well-written novel.
A novel about anger and its positive and negative sides, this book will speak to young teens navigating their own issues. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.