The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. by David Levithan

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The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. by David Levithan (9781984848598)

When Aidan disappears one day, Lucas and his family spend all their time searching for him. The police and the entire community come out, looking for Aidan. After six days of being gone, Aidan suddenly reappears in the attic of their house. He tells an incredible story of entering a fantasy world through the cupboard in the attic. Lucas, his younger brother, desperately wants to believe him. The two spend the darkness before they fall asleep talking about where Aidan was. But their parents don’t believe him at all and the police, while not pushing for him to tell the truth, clearly see his tale as a coping mechanism. When his story is accidentally released by the police, the entire school begins mocking Aidan. Lucas sticks by his brother’s side, though underneath is still not sure what to believe.

Levithan has published books for teens primarily and this time turns his talent to a book for middle graders. It’s a book that asks a lot of questions and allows them to linger, hanging in the air without resolution for some time. It’s a book that forces readers to ask themselves what they believe in, what they would do, what choices they would make in this situation. As always, Levithan’s prose is engaging and his pacing is skillful, something that is particularly important in a book like this, not allowing it to drag but carrying the book forward.

The central question of believing his brother places Lucas in a precarious position. He finds himself knowing more than anyone else about Aidan’s claimed experience and then also in the public having to not reveal all that he knows. He is a great younger brother, standing with his older sibling despite the mockery they both face. Told from Lucas’ viewpoint, the book relies on his take on what is happening, what he himself witnesses and his love for his brother.

An enticing book of fantasy and mystery. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Alfred A. Knopf.

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.

Review: Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell

Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell

Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken (9780735230378)

Adrian Simcox is always talking at school about the horse that he owns. But Chloe knows he is lying, since he lives with his grandfather in a small house in town. There is no room there for a horse. She also knows that Adrian’s family isn’t wealthy and a horse costs a lot of money to keep. So Chloe complains to her friends, her mother and eventually to the entire class about Adrian lying. When Chloe’s mother takes her to Adrian’s house, Chloe knows she is going to be proven right. But she doesn’t bargain for what she is actually going to find there.

This beautifully told story will have readers siding with Chloe from the beginning, since her reasons for not believing Adrian are clear and logical. Still, as the story unfolds readers will start to understand what Adrian is doing long before Chloe does and will begin to feel for him and relate to Adrian. The book does this without becoming didactic at all, instead naturally leading children to an empathy before Chloe gets there. The prose is strong and the pacing is just right in this quiet book.

The illustrations by Luyken are done with lots of white space around Chloe and then riotous plants and gardens around Adrian. Even on the playground, there is a sense that Adrian can create his own world out of imagination, filling the white space in a way that the others can’t. It’s an ideal analogy for the story line itself.

A great book to discuss lying and imagination, friendship and support. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.

Review: There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

there will be lies

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

Shelby is about to be hit by a car, in four hours.  She lives an isolated life with her mother, one where she is homeschooled and doesn’t really know anyone else outside of the online forums she visits without her mother knowing.  Every Friday they have a day out, one with ice cream for dinner, batting in the batting cage, and a visit to the library.  There’s a cute boy there that Shelby has seen, another thing that her mother doesn’t know about.  But the car is coming, and Shelby’s quiet life is about to change.  After she is hit by the car, a coyote appears to her, warning her that she will be told two lies and then she will know the truth.  Immediately after she is released from the hospital, her mother takes her away in a car, fleeing from dangers that only her mother understands.  As Shelby begins to see her mother in a new light, she also starts leaving real life and spending time with Coyote in The Dreaming, a place where she is responsible for saving the world.  And soon she will have to deal with the truth and that may be a lot harder than dealing with the lies along the way.

Lake has written a book that is a real page turner.  Readers will know immediately upon meeting Shelby that something is wrong with her living situation, though it is vague enough to be almost anything.  I don’t want to ruin at all that exploration of the lies and truth, because it is a large reason the book is so compelling to read.   Lake has also constructed the book so it’s a count down.  First readers know that the car accident is coming.  Then readers will see that the chapter numbers are counting down, one after another towards another impact, one that readers know is coming but can’t avoid or quite understand yet. 

One of the revelations that comes early in the book is Shelby’s deafness.  Written in the first chapters without any acknowledgement, readers will be stunned by the news that Shelby is 90% deaf.  Then they piece together the clues of it, the many gestures used as she communicates with her mother, the subtitles, the way her mother tells her to be careful because she is special.  I appreciated this treatment so much because Shelby is a person first and then her disability is revealed.  Exactly the way it should be. 

Strongly written, compellingly structured, with one strong and very human heroine, this book of family, lies and truths is a riveting read.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Bloomsbury and Edelweiss.

Review: The King and the Magician by Jorge Bucay

king and the magician

The King and the Magician by Jorge Bucay, illustrated by Gusti

There once was a powerful king who asked his subjects who the most powerful man in the kingdom was, and they replied that he was, of course.  The one day, the King heard about a man who had a different power than he had, a humble magician who had the power to predict the future.  Even worse, the King discovered that the magician was well respected and beloved.  So the King called the Magician before him after devising an evil plan.  He would ask the Magician if he could really tell the future.  If the Magician answered “No” then he proved he had no power.  If he answered “Yes” then the King would ask him to predict his own death.  Either way, the King would immediately kill him.  But then a strange thing happened and the Magician declared that he could see the future and that he would die at the same time as the King.  Suddenly, the King’s plan meant nothing.  He could not kill the Magician without hurting himself.  So instead he started protecting the Magician.  Still, the Magician had much more to teach him, if the King would listen.

Bucay has created a picture book that has depths to it.  It is a fairy tale of a king and a magician but it is also about creating one’s fate, listening to wisdom and being willing to change.  It is a book that continues even after some may have ended it with the Magician ensconced in luxury and being protected by the King.  Happily, it doesn’t end there, because the more profound part of the story follows when the relationship between the two men burgeons into friendship and deep caring for one another.  It is a story of how enemies become friends, how power can be used for good.  In a word, it’s exceptional.

Gusti’s illustrations add to that feeling of a very rich and amazing read.  Using paint and collage, the illustrations have a still regal bearing.  There is a strength and solidity to them that grounds this story, making it more realistic.  There are also touches of whimsy, like the teddy bear that accompanies the powerful king everywhere. 

Strong, enchanting and profound, this picture book will start discussions about power, enemies and truth.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Peanut by Ayun Halliday

peanut

Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe

When Sadie heads to a new school once again, she comes up with a grand plan.  She orders a medical bracelet online and pretends to have a severe peanut allergy.  Using this strategy, she does make some friends, including finding a boyfriend.  However, the fake peanut allergy continues to be a problem, especially if she slips up and just eats a chip cooked in peanut oil.  As it becomes more and more a focus of her life, she thinks about telling the truth to her friends.  But it’s too late to come clean, because they would hate her for lying to them.  This graphic novel steadily counts down to the disaster that readers will know is coming, creating tension laced with humor.

Halliday has created a character that we can all relate to.  Sadie lies to make friends, her strange solution to being the new girl actually works.  Sadie is insecure and as she grows in self-esteem the trap she finds herself in starts to tighten.  She is a wonderful imperfect character, scolding her new boyfriend, lying to her mother, and of course lying to everyone at school.  But through it all, she is likeable and universal.

Hoppe’s illustrations are done in black and white lines with Sadie’s sweater being a pop of red against the more subtle coloring.  His drawings are fresh feeling and dynamic, often going for the laugh especially when the drama gets thick. 

Perfect for those teens who enjoy Raina Telgemeier’s books, this graphic novel is filled with humor and tension.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

liar and spy

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

In the first book following her award-winning When You Reach Me, Stead again writes a clever book that slowly reveals its truths to the reader.  It is the story of Georges, named after Georges Seurat, whose family is forced to sell their home after his father loses his job.  Because of this, his mother is away all the time, picking up double shifts at the hospital to make ends meet.  It is at the new apartment that Georges meets Safer.  They first meet at a meeting of the Spy Club after Georges’ dad responds to a note in the laundry room.  As the boys become better and better friends, their spy games escalate too.  Soon the question becomes what it takes to be friends with a liar, and who that liar is.

Stead writes such layered books that they become almost more about exploring the layers than about the underlying story.  Here the story is Georges and his friendship, but it is also about denial, coping and fear.  Stead uses the pointillism of Seurat as a symbol that runs through the book.  Does one focus on one specific thing or on the larger picture or both at the same time.  Stead’s writing is careful and beautifully crafted.  Everything serves a purpose in the story, making it a delight to read.

Georges is a fascinating character.  Towards the beginning of the book, readers will understand that something else is happening with his mother other than double shifts.  Georges, though, is unwilling or unable to face whatever it is.  This gives the book a layer of doubt and even sadness that makes for an uncommon read.  This is magnified by his father’s absence as well and by the bullying he receives at school. 

A virtuoso novel for middle graders, this book is elegantly crafted, exceptionally written, and unforgettable.  Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley.