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.

Review: Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler

Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler

Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (9781452170909)

Rabbit is the sort of creature who stays close to home, never venturing far from his home in the wheat fields. He does dream of leaving at night, but never does. He also loves to hear about Dog’s adventures on his motorbike. Dog is older now and doesn’t ride any longer, but his stories are wonderful and carry Rabbit far from his home. When Dog dies, he leaves his motorbike to Rabbit. Rabbit tries to make it part of his life, leaving it in his garden, taking it inside his house, but never riding it. Then one day, he decides to just ride the bike to the end of the road. But roads are long, and soon Rabbit is off on his own adventure that echoes that of Dog, who he can feel riding along with him at times.

Hoefler’s skill at poetry is apparent on the pages of this picture book. Her words here loop the reader into the quiet of Rabbit’s wheat field, the beauty of his dreams at night, and the reluctant return to his regular life after listening to Dog’s stories. The longing in the story is beautifully drawn out, lingering across the wheatfield and whispering stories of the road as Rabbit weaves the motorbike into his everyday life.

That same emotional tug is shown in the illustrations as well, wheatfields in the sunshine and also wheatfields at night with the moon illuminating single blades. The drama of Dog (and later Rabbit) riding the motorbike is accompanied by swirls of color, showing the freedom and delight of the ride. The colors are a great mix of dramatic night and gentle colors in the daytime scenes that are airy and inviting to sink into.

A picture book about taking risks and finding freedom. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: What Riley Wore by Elana K. Arnold

What Riley Wore by Elana K. Arnold

What Riley Wore by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Linda Davick (9781481472609)

Riley loves to dress for every occasion. Riley wore a bunny costume on the first day of school, even though no one else worse a costume. At the dentist’s office Riley wore a superhero outfit for bravery. Riley wore a ballgown to dinner with Oma and Otto because they went to a fancy restaurant. Space pajamas were just right for Universe Day at school. A hard hat was ideal for a visit to the hardware store. Some days at home were perfect not to wear anything at all. When Riley wore a complicated outfit to the park, Riley was asked if they were a boy or a girl. Riley answered by talking about her outfit’s roles and joined in playing with everyone.

Arnold writes with such skill here that it is only partway through the book that readers may notice that there are no pronouns or genders shared about Riley. Every child can see themselves in Riley and be dazzled by Riley’s costumes and outfits along the way. There is a sense of merriment in all of the things Riley wears and a strong expression of identity as well.

Davick’s illustrations are filled with bright colors and a celebration of Riley’s sense of style. The mixed costumes are complicated and Davick captures them beautifully, showing exactly what Riley was trying to convey.

Ideal for kids of every gender and every way of expressing themselves through clothing. Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane.

Review: Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez

Where Are You From by Yamile Saied Mendez

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez, illustrated by Jaime Kim (9780062839930)

A little girl is always asked where she is from. She tries to answer by saying “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else,” but they simply insist that she tell them where she is really from. So the girl asks her Abuelo where she is from. He closes his eyes and gives her an unusual but important answer. He tells her of the varied places that her people come from. They come from wide open land in the Pampas, from brown rivers that give food, from high mountains where condors fly. She also comes from ocean waters, from hurricanes where rain makes tiny frogs sing. She comes from people who were enslaved for the color of their skin, from plazas filled with sadness. But most of all, she comes from love and from the dreams and hopes of her ancestors.

I must admit that I expected a book about the damage of asking that question of children of color. This book surprised and delighted me as it offers children being asked the question a positive way to see their ancestry whether it makes sense to others or not. The answer from the Abuelo in the book is pure poetry, taking readers on a journey through parts of the world and carrying self-acceptance along as an important theme. There is a sense of shared strength in all of the images of places that is embodied in that child.

The illustrations are beautifully rendered with deep colors that shine on the page. The varied landscapes carry readers forward into the story, inviting them to cool off on mountaintops and slow down to float on ocean waves. It is a book that celebrates our world, our cultures and our histories.

Powerful and poetic, this is one that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

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.