Review: Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova (9781534425644)

Leila isn’t sure she likes what she sees when she looks in the mirror, but her grandmother tells her how lovely the color saffron looks with her dark eyes. It makes Leila feel better, but she still sees her skinny arms and knobby knees in the mirror. As she joins her extended family for dinner, she realizes that she smiles the same as her aunt. Leila helps her grandmother make the curry. She heads out to the neighbor’s garden to ask for some cilantro. Everyone congratulates Leila on a wonderful dinner. Before Leila leaves that evening, her grandmother shows her a trunk of silk scarves. They are all the colors of the foods they just worked with, and Leila discovers a saffron one that makes her see herself clearly in the mirror.

Guidroz has created a book centered on a warm and loving Pakistani family. Leila’s concerns with her appearance are addressed by the family in a more holistic way, talking about beauty but also focusing on her skills and her talents. They never make her feel less for having concerns, instead surrounding her with options and choices to really feel more fully herself.

The illustrations are filled with oranges, yellows, reds and deep greens. They also have lots of patterns, filling the page with different textiles. Those colors pop against the simple white backgrounds.

Rich and warm, this book is just like a good curry. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.

Review: Mike by Andrew Norriss

Mike by Andrew Norriss

Mike by Andrew Norriss (9781338285369)

Floyd is a tennis star, destined to become one of the great British tennis players. At age thirteen though, something changes. He starts to see “Mike” a person whom only he can see. Mike first appears at tennis matches and gets steadily more involved, even stopping Floyd from playing physically at one point. Floyd’s parents, who are both very much supportive of his tennis, take him to a sports injury clinic where he is placed in therapy. Floyd learns that Mike is a projection of something that Floyd is repressing. To Floyd’s horror though, it seems that Mike won’t let him keep playing tennis and Floyd will need to admit his own deep desire to do something else. But what?

Norriss has created a short and focused novel that is entirely marvelous. He writes with a playful nature that allows readers to really cheer for Floyd as he navigates his own desires and figures out what will actually make him happy. Nicely, Norriss allows the entire story to be told and readers stay with Floyd and Mike for some time, experiencing all of the times that Mike appears in Floyd’s life. By the end, Mike is the hero of the story, or is it Floyd all along!

A great main character gives this teen novel real heart. Floyd is a tennis prodigy, but completely at the mercy of his destiny when we meet him. He isn’t questioning what he really wants to do, whether tennis is still fun, or why he works so very hard to be the best. The pace of his training is beautifully offset by the slow pace of Floyd’s therapy and navigating life afterwards. Still, that rich sense of humor keeps the book moving and the unique perspective of who Mike really is offers a refreshing take on life.

A fresh sports novel filled with fish, invisible friends, and frankness. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC provided by David Fickling Books.

Review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

beginning of everything

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

After finishing the galley for this book, I was surprised to find that the title has been changed.  I think it’s an unfortunate choice, since Severed Heads, Broken Hearts was a title that really reflected what the book is about.  I will also try to cope with the sunny yellow of the new cover, something that also jars me compared to the muted colors of the original cover.  But enough with my confusion, on to the real review!

Ezra was one of the popular kids at school.  Captain of the tennis team, he struggled to keep his sarcastic humor from confusing his teammates.  Then in one moment, his entire life changed.  Leaving a party after finding his girlfriend “entertaining” another boy, he was struck by a car and his entire athletic career disappeared in an instant.  Now he has to walk with a cane, has lost his girlfriend entirely, and also lost touch with his group of friends.  None of them came to visit him in the hospital or at home during his recovery.  So the first day of school after the accident has him wearing all black, pale from being indoors all summer, and sitting by himself in the front row of the bleachers since he can’t climb any higher without being a spectacle.  His childhood best friend sits next to him, someone who has also known tragedy, and who is no longer friends with Ezra.  But tragedies do strange things, close some options and open others.  The question is whether Ezra has the courage to reinvent himself.  The hot redhead doesn’t hurt things either.

Told in the voice of a John Green novel with intelligence and lots of humor, this book hooks you from the very first with its tale of a beheading at Disney World.  Schneider writes with a great deal of confidence here, taking readers on a journey of rediscovery that involves debate teams, rivalries, jealous ex-girlfriends, and lots of fun along the way.

Schneider has written teens who read like real people.  They are all complex, interesting and unexpectedly tangible.  Even the support characters are funny and intriguing, leading me to want to know more about them as well.  Though readers may see the ending coming, it is entirely satisfying to see it play out.  Schneider does not back away from tragedies, embracing them instead as moments of change and courage. 

Strong writing, great characters and plenty of puns make for a book that teens should love, no matter what the title is.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss.