Review: Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (9780763694630)

Fans of Raymie Nightingale are in for a treat with this new novel that focuses on Louisiana Elefante. Louisiana is thrown into an adventure when her granny wakes her in the middle of the night and drives across the state line from Florida into Georgia. Along the way, she talks about feeling unwell and eventually is incapacitated by a toothache. Louisiana takes the wheel and drives them, with a few mishaps, to a small town to find a dentist. After granny’s teeth are all removed because of advanced decay, they find a place for her to recuperate. Louisiana longs to return to Florida and her friends, but with granny in no state to travel, she is stuck. She meets a boy with a crow for a best friend, discovers the sweetness of a pink house filled with cake, and learns that a minister may not have all the answers but can still help. Louisiana’s life has been filled with goodbyes, perhaps this small town can break that curse.

DiCamillo tells Louisiana’s story with a deft humor and a deep empathy. The book begins as a strange road trip in darkness, becomes a comedic romp of a kid driving a car, but then starts to ask big questions about honesty and family. As Louisiana learns more about her own personal history, she begins to question everything that her granny has told her over the years. Still, even the truth is hard to accept at times.

Louisiana herself is a wonderfully compelling character and one of the most interesting ones from Raymie Nightingale. Here readers get to know her better and will find her even more compelling. The book has a gentleness to it, a tenderness, that lifts it up. The supporting characters add to that, treating Louisiana with a care that her granny has been unable to provide her.

Beautifully written and filled with amazing characters, this one is a winner from a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.

Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

jess-chunk-and-the-road-trip-to-infinity-by-kristin-elizabeth-clark

Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (InfoSoup)

Jess hasn’t spoken with her father for years, ever since he refused to support her in getting the hormones she needed to start to transition from the male body she was born in. Now her father is getting married to her mother’s ex-best friend halfway across the country in Chicago and Jess decides to attend the wedding and confront her father. It’s going to be a surprise for her father, since she had already responded rather negatively to the RSVP in the invitation. Happily, Jess’ best friend Chunk has both a car and time, so the two of them make the road trip together. As the trip unwinds, they visit roadside attractions, pick up a passenger, and discover things about themselves, their friendship and one another.

This book joins many others this year in providing strong transgender characters in teen novels. Clark does a great job of showing how safety is a huge concern for people who are transgender, particularly in more conservative parts of the country. She also shows what a long-standing friendship looks like as it leaves high school and heads into the future. There is little angst about the future here in terms of college or school, and more of a focus on the approaching wedding and Jess’ feelings.

Happily, Jess as a character is far from perfect. She is often self-absorbed and lacks interest in others, particularly her best friend. Readers will be shocked at times by how internally focused she is and will cheer when her best friend finally stands up to her. Jess also ignores how she makes other people feel, like the nickname bullies gave Chunk that she continues to use.

However, even as I understand that the nickname and Jess’ behavior is both condemned and indicative of a complicated look at a character, I do have issues with how larger people are viewed in the book and how much emphasis is placed on how people look. There is a focus on hair and clothes that is near obsessive. But it’s the fat shaming that is problematic, particularly when it’s in the title itself. The fat shaming happens both for Chuck, the best friend, and for others throughout the book. People are referred to by their size, their looks and then their personality comes later.

A complex look at friendship, being transgender, self esteem and acceptance, this book tackles a lot of issues and fails to handle a major one with enough grace and attention. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

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

 

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

Are We There Yet by Dan Santat

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat (InfoSoup)

Caldecott Medalist Santat shows the beauty of a bored mind in his new picture book. On a long car ride to his grandmother’s house, a boy gazes out his window and his brain gets bored. Then time seems to stretch and slow down. The world shifts with the book turning entirely upside down! Suddenly the car is back in time. Next to a steam train with bandits and aboard a pirate ship. They make it to medieval times and then back to the building of the pyramids. Finally, they are all the way back to the time of the dinosaurs.Time can start to move again, too quickly and they find themselves in the future. Then suddenly, they are at Grandma’s house where the boy is all too willing to head back home.

Santat takes the classic dull car ride that every child has experienced and shows how imagination can change the entire trip, aided by a healthy dose of boredom. Told primarily in images, this story does have commentary by the boy and his parents as well as a framing narrative that speaks to the power of boredom. The flip of the book is cleverly done where you have to turn the pages backwards guided by the helpful arrows to remind you. It feels different and wild, adding to the experience.

It is the illustrations here that make the book so much fun. There are small touches like Beekle toys in the car that tie this to Santat’s other works. Watch the parents’ clothing change with each new time period as well as their over-the-top reactions to what they are seeing. The images change from comic-like frames to large double-page spreads. The space is used very intelligently, allowing for new reveals with page turns and creating tension as they move through time.

A great new picture book from a master author/illustrator, this picture book will have you looking forward to your next car ride. May it be filled with boredom. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

mosquitoland

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mim now lives in Mississippi with her father and his new wife. Her mother has been left behind in Ohio. When Mim finds out that her mother is sick and perhaps dying, she sets off to find her. Mim steals cash from her father and stepmother and buys herself a Greyhound bus ticket to Cleveland. She heads north, determined to reconnect with her real home and her real mother, remembering the days they spent together filled with energy and love. But things happen along the way that keep on slowing Mim’s epic trip down. There is a perverted man on the bus, a kind older woman who smells of cookies and has a mysterious box, and a boy with green eyes and plenty of sarcasm. There is also a bus crash, moments of heroism, another boy who melts Mim’s heart in a different way, and the discovery of a new kind of family and a new kind of home. This bus ride turns out to be completely and wonderfully epic, but for very different reasons indeed.

Arnold dances down the dotted yellow line of humor and tragedy with grace. He melds the immensely sad and harrowing together with the hilarious and strange into a mix that is beautiful and real. He bravely mocks the sort of romance story that this could have been, allowing Mim herself to see the movie that she could have been starring in, before reality comes back and takes over again. Yet along the way, Arnold is also creating a movie and a book that are so much more romantic and beautiful than those false films of the mind.

Mim is a magnificent protagonist. Struggling with mental illness, Mim starts out obediently taking her medication but discovers along the way that her demons may not be the ones she was diagnosed with thanks to her father’s interference. Mim finds her own way to sanity in her journey, connecting with people who speak to her deeply, allowing herself to feel deeply, and rejecting ways that seem false to her. This is a teen who is strong, passionate about life, and luminous on the page. Her voice is her own, a glorious mix of sarcasm, well-read references and humor.

A road trip across the United States that is wildly funny, deeply introspective and completely extraordinary. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking.

Review: Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf

why we took the car

 

Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf

Originally published in Germany, this is a gorgeous coming-of-age story that is dark and immensely funny.  It is the story of Mike who just doesn’t fit in.  He’s considered one of the most boring people in his school, ignored entirely by girls and laughed at when he reads his writing out loud.  He’s not even invited to the best party of the year though everyone else is.  Everyone but Andre, better known as Tschick, who comes to school drunk, looks like he’s been fighting, and wears outdated clothes.  Tschick and Mike have absolutely nothing in common, but when Tschick shows up unexpectedly in a stolen car when Mike has been left home alone for an extended time, they head on a road trip that no one will ever forget.

Winner of several awards in Germany, this book is much more than a standard teen road trip book.  What could have been cardboard stereotype characters instead blossom in the hands of Herrndorf to become much more complex and intriguing.  They get more and more interesting as the book progresses, steadily revealing themselves to one another and to the reader.  It turns out that Mike is far from boring in any way and Tschick is far from any sort of stereotype.

Readers know from the beginning how the road trip ends, but the joy is in getting to that point.  I guarantee it is not a straight line!  The setting of modern Germany is one that many teens may not have explored, especially through the eyes of native Germans.  The translation is done very well, leaving it particularly European, but also making it flow for English speakers.

I am usually not a fan of road trip stories, but this is definitely one trip worth taking.  Funny with a lightness but also depth, this is a wonderful teen read.  Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Arthur A. Levine Books and NetGalley.