The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

Cover image

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day (9780062872043)

All Maisie has ever wanted to do is ballet. All of her friends are in ballet with her, rather than attending her school. But Maisie hurt her leg a few months ago and has been unable to dance. She goes to school, spending all of her time alone there. She gets texts from her ballet friends, but often doesn’t feel like responding to them. Now her family is planning a trip to the coast, near the Makah community where her mother was raised. Maisie’s doctor has agreed that since she is healing so well, she can hike the wintry forest with her family, in fact, she may be able to start dancing soon! Spending the days together with her mother, little brother and stepfather though makes it tough. Maisie is optimistic that her leg will get better, but tired of being asked about it, especially as her leg starts to twinge more and more as the trip goes on. Maisie must face the question of what she is if she cannot be a dancer after all.

Day’s book is quiet and thoughtful. She builds a supportive family for Maisie, blended out of her mother and a loving stepfather who is unfailingly kind but also willing to set boundaries too. Her little brother serves a critical role in the book, often being the only person who can bring Maisie out of her sadness and focusing on her leg. The deep conversations Maisie has with her parents come naturally as part of the story and serve to reveal the adults’ backgrounds, Native history and give context to what Maisie is going through.

Maisie herself is a protagonist who is deeply focused on herself. She finds herself saying things to her parents that she regrets, treating her little brother poorly at times, and then trying to remedy it. She is full of a deep sadness and anger, even when she is optimistic about her future. The book is a study of a girl suffering a real loss of her dreams and coming to terms with that.

Wintry yet full of warmth and self discovery. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Heartdrum.

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

Cover image for Watch Over Me

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour (9780593108970)

Mila has aged out of the foster care system and has found a job teaching at a remote farm in Northern California. The farm is owned by a couple who have taken in over 40 foster children over the years as well as offering internships, like the one Mila has gotten. Mila finds herself on a beautiful farm and warmly welcomed by the owners. She only has one pupil, 9-year-old Lee, who comes from a traumatized background just as Mila does. But no one told Mila about the ghosts on the farm, about how they would fill dance across the fields and play games together at night. As Mila gets more involved with helping on the farm, learning about the flowers and crops, and helping Lee face his trauma, she finds that her own memories are threatening to overwhelm her as her past continues to haunt her.

This new book from the Printz-award winner is another dynamite read. It’s a novel with such an unusual setting, haunting and remote. It echoes with elements of Jane Eyre and Rebecca while standing completely modern and unique. It may not be classically gothic with its warm and sunny rooms, merry meals together, and companionship, but other moments are pure gothic with the sea, the cliffs, and the ghosts. It’s a tantalizing mixture of sun and shadow.

Mila is a character to fall hard for. She is clearly traumatized by what happened to her before she entered the foster care system, setting herself apart from others even as she longs to be closer to people. She is careful, conscientious, and amazingly kind, everything that her past has her thinking she is not. She is a marvel of layers that the novel reveals with gothic precision at just the right times.

Gorgeously written and filled with icy darkness and glowing warmth, this novel is a triumph. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal

Cover image for My Rainbow

My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (9781984814609)

A mother-daughter team tells this story of being a transgender Black girl. After playing dolls with her sister, Trinity started to think about the doll’s long hair. Trinity had short hair because due to her autism she struggled with how itchy it got as it grew longer. Trinity also knew though, that as a transgender girl she needed long hair. Her mother was at a loss until her older brother had an idea. Visiting a beauty parlor, they browsed the wigs, but none of them were quite right. That’s when they decided to create Trinity her own rainbow wig. Her mother spent the night creating the wig, the first one she had ever made. Using strands of purples, pinks and blues, she created a one-of-a-kind wig with lots of spring. It was a rainbow just for Trinity.

The creators of this book are advocates for black and transgender rights. This book is about a little girl who clearly knows who she is. I appreciate that it is not a coming out story, but instead continues the story of one child’s transition to who she is, giving her the space to speak for herself and also a way forward supported by her entire family. The book exudes acceptance, warmth and love.

Twink’s art is bold and bright. They have included a family pig, who joins the family in all of the brainstorming and shopping, even trying out some nail polish in the store. This added touch of whimsy joins a strong Black family depiction full of modern elements and a real sense of home.

A great picture book that demonstrates intersectionality, acceptance and love on every page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila.

Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Lea Thomas

Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Lea Thomas, illustrated by Maya McKibbin (9781773214481)

Swift Fox is nervous. Her father is taking her on a long drive to meet her aunties, uncles and cousins. She will learn more about being Mi’kmaq. Her father assures her on the drive that she has all she needs already inside her; she is already Mi’kmaq. It’s how she walks, talks and thinks. Swift Fox just gets even more nervous. Swift Fox is greeted warmly by her family. They unwrap a red bundle, preparing to smudge, but she doesn’t know how to. They assure her that she does know, since it’s part of who she is. But it’s all overwhelming for Swift Fox, who bursts into tears and runs outside to hide. She keeps hidden until she starts to smell the familiar smell of the bread her father makes. Then another cousin arrives, he is just as scared as Swift Fox is. Suddenly Swift Fox can help someone else, and it gets her to go back inside with her cousin and show him things as she learns too.

Thomas has written a very personal book that reflects her own upbringing off of the reservation. In her Author’s Note, she explains the impact of the residential schools on Native cultures and languages. Still, their identity survived. Just like Swift Fox, Thomas continues to learn about her Mi’kmaq identity. Readers of all backgrounds will be inspired by Swift Fox and her transformation of her fear into an energy to help someone else.

McKibbin’s illustrations center on the warmth of Swift Fox’s two families, both her mother and sister and then her large extended family through her father. She captures the characters’ complex emotions on the page, allowing readers to really feel Swift Fox’s butterflies, her fear, and then her inspiration to move ahead.

A powerful book about identity and family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Annick Press.

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith (9780823445592)

Based on the author’s own childhood, this picture book explores the life of a boy with a stutter. The boy wakes every day surrounded by words, many of which he can’t say aloud. They tangle his tongue and stick in his throat. So every morning, he stays silent. He’s quiet at school too, hiding in the back of the class and hoping not to be asked to talk. After a particularly hard day, his father picks him up from school and takes him to the river. After seeing how upset his son is by his “bad speech day,” his father points to the river and says that how the water moves is how his son speaks. The river runs over rocks, bubbling and churning, but it also goes quiet and still after the rocks.

Scott is a poet and his skill with words is on full display here. He uses gorgeous metaphors throughout, including the connection to the river. The words around the boy in the morning connect with his inability to speak at times, the pine trees sticking out from his lips, the crow cawing from his throat, the moonlight shining from his mouth. Each of these gives readers a new way to experience a stutter, each beautiful and haunting.

Smith’s illustrations are done in watercolor, ink and gouache. They capture both the quiet of not being able to speak as well as the connection between father and son. When they go to the water of the river, the illustrations show the bubbling and crashing, taking the boy into the river as he swims to the calm open water. They are exquisite.

A marvel of a book that beams with empathy and understanding of stuttering. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.

Again Again by E. Lockhart

Again Again by E. Lockhart

Again Again by E. Lockhart (9780385744799)

This inventive book from the author of We Were Liars offers readers a way to look at the world as more than a single continuum but instead a landscape of possibilities. Adelaide is spending the summer on the empty campus of the private school that she attends and where her father teaches. The plan had been to spend the summer with her boyfriend, but just as summer was about to start, he abruptly broke up with her and headed off to an international study program. Now Adelaide spends her time walking dogs that she doesn’t own and avoiding dealing with her failing grade in a set design course. Then she meets a boy at the dog park and all sorts of options appear to fill her summer with new love, friendship, dogs, accidents, and art.

Lockhart is a constantly creative author who manages to continue to surprise and delight with her novels. Here she explores an entire world of parallel universes driven by small choices in daily lives. It’s a way without being preachy to show us all that we do not have one chosen monogamous relationship that is our destiny, but rather many options, parallel and fascinating, endlessly spiraling out from one another.

I particularly loved the characters that Lockhart creates here. They are maddening at times but also glorious individuals who are creative and interesting. Adelaide in particular is exceptionally drawn, particularly given the parallel choices she could make. This lets us explore her character more deeply, seeing the various options and the life she could have chosen.

A great read that will get you philosophically thinking of your own parallel universes. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Delacorte Press. 

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (9780062990297)

This award-winning teen verse novel deals with gender, identity and fabulous drag performances. Michael’s father is entirely absent in his life, leaving the room when they are in the same house together. Michael does have a connection with his father’s Jamaican family, receiving gifts from them and time spent together. He lives with his Greek-Cypriot mother in London; she accepts Michael entirely, from the time he was a small boy wanting to play with Barbies to college as a gay man. Along the way, Michael must deal with racism, of not being black enough and assumptions being made about him by society. He doesn’t know any other gay black people, forging a path on his own that leads him to university and a club that does drag where he finds his voice and a stage persona too.

Atta is a poet and this is his debut YA novel which has already won the Stonewall Book Award. Just starting reading, it is clear that the poems are done by a master storyteller. They allow readers to deeply understand the struggles of Michael from his family life to friendships that come and go to coming out and then performing. There is a valuable evolution on the page where Michael comes out and yet doesn’t quite become himself fully for several years, until he finds a place to belong.

Atta’s writing is beautiful. He mixes his own poetry with that of Michael the character, moving gracefully between the two. Somehow they are distinct from one another, the voices similar and still separate. The use of poetry to tell such a personal and deeply-felt story makes this really work, as poetry and verse are a fast way to allow readers to see the heart and soul of a character.

Brave, beautiful and deep, this teen novel is masterful. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Review: Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna

Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna

Child of Glass by Beatrice Alemagna (9781592703036)

This unusual French picture book is deep, questioning and modern. Giselle was born near Florence and Bilbao. She was born made entirely of glass, transparent and capturing the light of life around her. People could also see right into her head, viewing her thoughts as she had them. If she was fearful or worried, people would reassure her when they saw those thoughts. As she grew older though, her thoughts were sometimes very dark and sad. When people saw those things, they grew angry, asking how she could think that way and demanded that she stop. The tension of trying to change caused fractures in her glass body. Finally, Giselle decided to leave and find another place to live. But every place treated her exactly the same. Eventually, Giselle returned home, deciding to live as she is without trying to change, entirely transparent and whole.

This picture book wrestles with the very idea that children have dark thoughts, that they are worried and afraid at times, that their imaginations are not always light and playful. It’s a story about being different and being forced to conform uniquely to the crowd’s ideas. Yet it is also a story about finding oneself, living life on your own terms. The book is about reality, a lovely allegory to the importance put upon conforming and the necessity for us all to live our authentic lives, transparently.

The illustrations are complex and filled with different media. They include collage, different types of pens, markers, and pencils. They are layered and dramatic, capturing the mood of each part of the story. Some of the pages are transparent, looking through Giselle’s thoughts and emotions.

Unique and fascinating, this picture book embraces the dark side of our minds and the beauty of individuals. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo (9780763694647)

This is the third novel in the Raymie Nightingale series, focused this time on Beverly Tapinski. After her dog dies and is buried under the orange trees, Beverly just leaves town. She catches a ride to Tamaray Beach, not having any plans other than getting out. There she finds herself a job bussing tables in a fish restaurant, even though she hates fish. She also finds herself a place to live with Iola, a friendly woman who lives in a trailer near the ocean. Beverly spends her days working hard enough not to think anymore. She makes a new friend at Zoom City, a boy who gives children a dime to be able to ride the mechanical horse outside the store. Beverly seems to be building a new life, but it’s still connected to the one she left behind even as she celebrates Christmas in July in August, joins a labor dispute, and finds a boy to hold hands with.

There is something very special about DiCamillo’s writing. She writes with a purity and simplicity that is immensely inviting for young readers. In doing so though, she lays the entire world open in front of the reader, filled with longing, loss and finding yourself no matter how far you may run. She also writes amazing secondary characters, who are alive on the page, filled with their own struggles and humanity too. Deftly paced, this book takes place in a very focused setting that belongs specifically to Beverly.

It’s a great feat to have a trilogy of books, each just as strong as the next and each focused on a different character almost entirely. The stories are just as compelling as the writing, skillfully telling the story of a girl’s heart on the page, and allowing readers to fall deeply into that person’s world.

A third winner in a powerful trilogy. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.