Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (9781616208967)
San Antonio is not a comfortable place for the Torres sisters. Their mother died giving birth to Rosa, the youngest sister, and their father never recovered from her death, drowning his feelings in drink. When the oldest sister, Ana falls from her window and dies, it takes a great toll on the entire family. A year later, the cracks are beginning to become even larger. Their father is rarely home and when he is he is verbally abusive, demanding, and drunk. Jessica, who got Ana’s bedroom and clothes, mourns her sister by dating the same boy she did. The relationship is violent and controlling, but Jessica can’t seem to move on. Iridian has stopped going to school, reads the same book over and over again, and writes her own stories. She finds herself caught indoors, unwilling to leave their horrible house. Rosa seeks the hyena that is loose in their neighborhood, wondering what special gift she might have and searching for it outside and in religion. The girls all want to escape, and it may just take Ana returning as a ghost to get them free.
Mabry’s novel is exceptional. Her writing is achingly beautiful, telling a story of profound grief and pain. Yet throughout, each of the sisters has bursts of hope, their own unique way forward potentially, if they could just take it. It’s tantalizing writing that creates its own unique emotional tug and writing that offers gem-like moments of clarity before succumbing under the weight of grief once more. The flashes of anger are like lightning on the page, bursts where one thinks things are about to change.
The sisters are all wonderfully crafted and unique from one another. The interplay of their relationships feels like sisterhood, lifting one another up unexpectedly, injuring each other inadvertently and fighting like hell to save the others.
A great teen novel about sisterhood, grief and ghosts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Algonquin.
The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa (9780525555827)
A little boy lives with a bear, who sleeps in the room next door. The bear is big, with sharp teeth and strong arms. It runs really fast, is bossy and loud. When the boy tries to tell his family that they live with a bear, they tell him not to be silly and to go play outside. Outside on the swings, the boy is approached by some bullies. Luckily though, the strong, mean, big, fast bear is nearby. The bear also shows how it can be pretty fun to have a bear, or big sister, in the family after all.
Younger siblings will adore this book about living with a rather cranky older sibling. It shows both sides of having a bear in the family, from the disruption and orders to the fun games and protection they offer. The tone of the book is just right, using the bear analogy to show the sibling relationship as it becomes strained and then later when peace is made. The final little twist at the end adds to the fun.
The digital art in this picture book is done with handmade textures that add an organic appeal to the images. With a feel of watercolor complete with colors bleeding into one another, the illustrations are colorful and funny.
Missing this one might be unBEARable. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy (9780525518587)
Eva is a princess whose magick is tied to blood and marrow. She’s the first royal with that magick combination since Queen Raina, who massacred thousands of the native populations hundreds of years ago. Because her magick is so rare, Eva hasn’t learned how to use it yet, something that is particularly problematic when you are destined to fight your sister to the death in order to be the next Queen. Eva loves to travel incognito into the city at night to dance and forget her destiny for awhile. But when she is attacked by an assassin, she gets her first taste of her magick really working thanks to the blood she is drenched in. Eva now must find the key to her powers and discovers a legendary Fey warrior who just may have the answers for her. For the first time, she thinks she may just have a chance, but it won’t be easy as those around her become targets for her enemies too.
Joy’s fantasy novel has strong roots in North Africa. She has created a magical fantasy realm filled with several different races with their own powers. Humans are the interlopers, who killed many on their way to both the throne and coming into their own magick powers. There is a strong sense of justice in the novel, where it is clear that the current Queen and Eva’s sister have never questioned what brought them the lives they have. Eva on the other hand has many questions, mostly about the races of the land but also about her own powers and what they say about her as a potential Queen and the bloodshed that may follow.
This novel is at its best during the action sequences where Eva is battling enemies and trying out her new powers on allies. In these scenes, the writing is tight and weaves a clear image of what is happening with breathtaking speed. The romance scenes are well written and an important element in the overall storyline. Joy focuses on characters and action, not lingering overly long on descriptions of the setting, which makes this a fast and intense read.
Full of bloody battles with a female protagonist who kicks ass, this book is a great read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nya’s Long Walk by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9781328781338)
This is a companion picture book to the author’s novel A Long Walk to Water. It shows the plight of people in the South Sudan as they search for clean and safe water sources within walking distance of their homes. The book focuses on Nya and her little sister Akeer. The two head out on a two-hour walk to get water for their family. But today, Akeer is not merry and active along the way. She drags behind and eventually is revealed to be sick and unable to walk any farther. It is a two-hour walk back home, and Nya has to dump much of the precious water back out to be able to also carry Akeer on her back. She finds that even when she thinks she can’t make it all the way back to the village, she can take one more step.
Park’s writing is captivating in picture book format, a lovely combination of pared down writing with dramatic content. Readers will believe that Akeer is simply going slowly at first, until her waterborne illness is revealed. The difficult decision to leave just enough water behind to make the walk possible is gut wrenching. The long and difficult walk is a gripping series of pages that show human resilience and strength vividly.
Pinkney’s art is full of movement and lines. They twirl around the characters who stand out on the page that has bright sunlight and brown dirt. The lines form halos around both of the girls, dancing on to mark their path and show the way.
A look at the impact of unclean water and the health crisis happening in South Sudan, this book also offers solutions. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (9780316519007)
This picture book by Olympic medalist Muhammad tells the story of two sisters going to the first day of school as the older sister wears a hijab for the first time. Faizah has a new backpack and new light-up shoes for her first day of school. Asiya looks like a princess though with her blue hijab as they walk to school together. When some of her classmates start asking questions about the hijab, Faizah gets worried and heads over to check on Asiya. Faizah watches her sister handle bullies with calmness and certainty, standing strong and continuing to inspire her little sister with her royal bearing.
There are several picture books about family members wearing hijabs, usually mothers. This one directly takes on the confusion and hurt of hateful reactions. Laced with quotes and insights from their mother, the book offers wells of strength, confidence and self-esteem to the girls that they carry with them.
The illustrations by Aly move from the straight-forward school images of the girls together to more dramatic depictions from Faizah’s imagination about the beauty of the blue of her sister’s hijab. The book also shows the determination and resilience of the girls in their facial expressions as well as sharing their special bond with one another clearly.
This is a book that clearly is both a window and a mirror and one that will offer opportunities for conversations too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh (9780062447814)
Plum could not be more different than her excitable sister, Ginny. Ginny has a group of friends at their private school, while Plum doesn’t have any at all. She’d much prefer to do advance reading for her classes than engage with others her age. Ginny is about to graduate from high school and longs to get accepted into her university of choice, but it’s not that simple. First, she has to be accepted and then she needs enough financial aid to attend. While they may live in a large home, it’s filled with clutter and day-to-day life rather than being a show piece. Feeling more and more distant from her ever-more-agitated sister, Plum finds herself in a position to help, but only because of a secret romance. Now Plum has her own life, but it may take her away from her family right when they need her.
This is a contemporary tale with a classic heart. Riffing on Sense and Sensibility, this novel for teens takes one rather old-fashioned young lady and her sister who is her opposite and flings at them the trials of modern life. There are the costs of living when their mother loses her royalty payments, the grueling college application and financial aid process, bullying, and of course, kissing too. It’s a book that offers two great female characters. Plum is introverted, wildly funny and wise. Ginny is anxiety-ridden, loud, dramatic and loving. The two together make an ideal look at sisterhood.
Thornburgh writes with a specific style here. It even more tightly ties the story to classic literature and also reveals Plum’s thoughts and her own way of thinking. The story never drags, instead it is filled with drama and disasters large and small. The writing is a delightful mix of classic and modern with plenty of humor too.
A deep look at sisterhood that is funny and rich. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.
Planet Earth Is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos (9780525646570)
Nova’s big sister, Bridget, taught her all about space exploration and the planets. She is the person who has protected and defended Nova all of her life, from when they entered foster care to when people at school think that Nova is not smart. Nova finds talking difficult, so she doesn’t speak much at all, something has has gotten her labeled by their social worker as not understanding anything at all. But Nova understands a lot. In her new foster home and new school, her sister is not with her. Bridget promised that the two of them would watch the launch of the space shuttle Challenger as it takes the first teacher into space. But as the countdown of days to the launch comes to a close, Bridget has not yet appeared.
In this debut novel, Panteleakos gives readers insight into the mind of a non-verbal, autistic girl who struggles to express herself to the world though she is intelligent and full of potential. The author tells the story from Nova’s point of view which creates a real bond between protagonist and reader. Readers will find themselves wanting to protect Nova as she works through testing, new friends and a new family.
The novel is full of hope, offering a new sense of safety for Nova and potentially ways to communicate that she has never been taught before. The connection between the two sisters is also beautifully shown. The final scenes contain a revelation about what has prevented Bridget from coming to see Nova. These wrenching moments bring a new clarity to Nova’s experience in life and still result in a hope that she can move forward.
Beautifully written, this big-hearted story is a poignant tale of families and strength. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Wendy Lamb Books.
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (9780062275097)
The author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs returns with a new marvelous read for middle graders. Lark and Iris are twins. It’s the thing that everyone notices about them. They are very different underneath their physical similarities. Iris is rational, protective and always willing to argue. Lark is dreamy, creative and sensitive. When the two girls are separated for the first time into different classrooms at school, Lark retreats into herself. She has several humiliating experiences that Iris can’t find a way to help with. Meanwhile, Iris finds herself being quieter without Lark to speak up for and has difficulty finding her own way. She is drawn to a strange new antiques shop and begins to spend time there reading old books that belonged to a mysterious “Alice.” The man in the shop is extremely odd, talking about magic and collections. Other odd things are happening as well with art disappearing around the city and crows gathering in the trees. When Iris finds herself in real danger, the mysteries begin to make horrible sense, but she isn’t sure that anyone will even care she is gone.
Ursu once again weaves an incredible tale of magic. This one is set in Minneapolis and Ursu beautifully shares elements of the northern Midwest and the Twin Cities in the story. The setting of anchors this tale in reality which works particularly well as the reveal of the magical part of the book is so gradual. The book is nearly impossible to summarize well or concisely because there are so many elements to the story. As you read though, it is a cohesive whole, a world that Ursu builds for the reader with real skill where the elements click together by the end of the book.
While the book is about both Lark and Iris, the focus is primarily on Iris, the more prickly and outspoken sister. Lark is seen through the lens of Iris’ concern for her and Lark’s opinion of her own role with her sister isn’t shared until towards the end of the book. That reveal is one of the most powerful elements of the book, demonstrating how Iris has not been seeing things clearly at all. The narrator voice is just as well done, creating a feeling of a tale within a tale, where magic is real all along.
A grand adventure of a book full of magic and girl power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Walden Pond Press.
One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans (9781524718886)
Released January 29, 2019.
The award-winning author of the Al Capone series returns with a book for younger children. Liam is a fifth grader whose life has gotten complicated. He lives with his mother and two younger sisters in a basement apartment near San Francisco. Fifth grade isn’t the same as younger grades and Liam is concerned with appearing to not be as poor as his family actually is. Even worse, their dog, Cupcake, has started having a peeing problem and they don’t have the money to get her special tests done. Meanwhile, Dakota, one of Liam’s sisters is trying to make enough money to save Cupcake, since if she doesn’t stop peeing on things they will need to get rid of her. Unfortunately, it involves selling some of Liam’s favorite things and conducting some wild science experiments. Then you have the youngest in the family, Izzy a child with Down syndrome, who makes friends easily and gives great hugs. Can this family of nerds, jocks and friendliness come together and save Cupcake?
The writing here is just right for younger readers who will love the brisk pace mixed with with madcap humor. Liam is a strong protagonist who is starting to become more aware of social standing and how others perceive him, and being a big brother to the disruptive Dakota is not helping matters. Even when he is exasperated with his sister though, he tends to be calm and show a great deal of maturity in each situation.
I love that this book is not focused on big issues. There are several that could have been the focus in a more dramatic book, such as poverty, Down syndrome, and divorce. Instead Choldenko tells the story of a family facing a variety of challenges and weathering them together, several of the obvious challenges actually turn out to be strengths along the way. The light tone is also conveyed in the illustrations with their light touch and humorous takes on the scenes.
This funny wild romp will be enjoyed by elementary readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Wendy Lamb Books.