Twins by Varian Johnson

Cover image of Twins

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781338236132)

Maureen and Francine are twins who have always been in the same classes, participated in the same activities and had the same group of friends. But sixth grade is different. The girls are in different classes and don’t even spend a lot of time together after school any more. Maureen finds herself hanging out with their friends at the mall but not with Francine, who’d rather be called Fran now. Maureen is struggling with marching for the cadet troop she is part of, so in order get extra credit for her grade, she is encouraged to run for a class office. Fran too is planning to run for president. So the battle grounds are set when Maureen decides to run for president too to prove that she can be just as brave and outgoing as Fran. The problem is that she might not be after all!

In this graphic novel, Johnson, himself a twin, captures the dynamics of close siblings perfectly. The two sisters go back and forth between adoration, supportiveness, strife and anger. It makes for a dynamic book that really looks at the differences between twins, the way feelings get hurt and how that can play out in larger decisions. That difference between the two girls is explored throughout the book, giving it layers and eventually showing how differences can make them both stronger for each other too.

I reviewed this from an unfinished galley, so my copy did not have full-color images throughout. The art throughout the graphic novel shows the relationship between the two girls and their emotions clearly. The pages are filled with diverse characters.

Sure to be popular, this graphic novel appears light but has lots of depth to explore about sisterhood. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

The Montague Twins: The Witch’s Hand by Nathan Page

The Montague Twins The Witch's Hand by Nathan Page

The Montague Twins: The Witch’s Hand by Nathan Page and Drew Shannon (9780525646761)

Pete and Alastair make money solving mysteries along with their stepsister. When a magical storm appears near the lighthouse, elements of their skills are suddenly revealed. Despite being separated from one another during the storm, all three of the teens meet the witch behind the magic. Soon they are taking new lessons from a student of their guardian, magic power lessons! With three girls missing, including the daughter of the prominent Bradford family, there is a mystery to be solved that will require both their detective skills and their emerging magical powers.

This is the first graphic novel in a planned duology, which is good enough for readers to hope for even more than two! The book is set in the late 1960’s, giving it an engaging original Scooby Doo meets Sabrina vibe. Sprinkled liberally with humor, thanks to the twins, the book offers adults who stand back and let the teens solve mysteries but who also provide solid support and knowledge themselves. It also has a great villain, though untangling who that might be is a big part of the fun.

The art is engagingly 1960’s as well with apparel and cars clearly placing it in time. Using bold colors and classic cartoon boxing, the result is dynamic and engaging with clear nods to comics that have gone before.

A winning new series that offers magic and mystery. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

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.

 

 

Review: Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (InfoSoup)

Giselle and Isabelle are identical teen twins on their way to Izzie’s concert at school when their car is crashed into and their lives changed forever. Giz wakes up in a hospital room, unable to speak or move. She can hear though and is in a semi-conscious state. That’s how she realizes that everyone thinks that she is Isabelle. People don’t mention her at all, avoiding the subject, but Giz is sure that she would know if Isabelle had died. Her parents eventually come to see her, both physically battered by the accident and with bruises, broken bones and casts. Trapped and unable to communicate, Giselle thinks about her past with her family, their strong ties to their Haitian heritage and the bond that she and her sister have always had.

Danticat is an award-winning author of several adult books. This is her debut YA title. Her writing is superb. Told in Giz’s voice, the prose lilts and dances like poetry. It weaves around the reader, creating moments of clarity and then as Giz reminisces about her family and sister lifting into pure emotion. Nothing is told, all is shown and there is a radiance to the entire novel that is sublime.

Giz is a strong heroine. Haitian-American, she is solidly connected to her heritage through her grandparents who still live in Haiti. It’s a joy to see a depiction of a family of color who are complex and far from stereotypical. Giz is a large part of this. Her voice is clearly her own, her upbringing affects everything around her, and being a person of color is at the core of this novel yet not at center stage. It is done with a delicate yet firm hand.

One of the most beautifully written teen novels of the year, this look at sisterhood, death, grief and family is hauntingly lovely. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

Review: One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan (InfoSoup)

Tippi and Grace are conjoined twins. They have two arms each, but share two legs together. They have spent their childhood being homeschooled, but now the money has run out and they have to start school. It’s a private school, but still much more exposed than they have been before. The two of them literally do everything together. They go to therapy where one twin wears headphones while the other has private time with the doctor. They share dinner with one another but never desserts. Still, there are things you want to be private about, like what boys you like and how sick you are feeling. And Tippi and Grace are feeling sicker and sicker, leading to a decision that is impossible to make.

Told in verse, this novel is compellingly written entirely in Grace’s voice. She clearly tells a story of being an individual and a separate person, but also the meaning of being that close to someone your entire life.  The book celebrates the closeness of these sisters and their battles with one another but also their care too. While they are unique from one another, they are also a single one being too. This will resonate with teens growing up themselves and experiencing new things away from close family.

In the end though, this is Grace’s story and it is made fascinating by the details of being conjoined and the unique way that this impacts every day life. Grace’s voice is clear and vivid. She has a specific point of view that is all about the way she lives with Tippi alongside her. Crossan embraces the necessary optimism of a conjoined twin but also offer Grace skepticism and a healthy sense of humor that gets her through the day. Crossan is also not afraid to let these two twins be teenagers, giving them opportunity to drink and smoke with the friends they make. It’s touches like that that make this book really work.

An honest and awe-inspiring look at being a conjoined twin and also a devastating decision, this book is impossible to put down. Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Greenwillow Books.

Review: Lucy and Henry Are Twins by Elizabeth Winthrop

Lucy and Henry Are Twins by Elizabeth Winthrop

Lucy and Henry Are Twins by Elizabeth Winthrop, illustrated by Jane Massey (InfoSoup)

Lucy and Henry are toddler twins who spend a merry day together. From waking up where Lucy is wide awake and Henry is slower to move to the way they come downstairs, the personalities of the two children are completely individual. Riding in strollers, the two go to the park where they both explore the different slides, swings and other equipment. Then the two play with a ball. Finally, they head back home again. Their busy day is filled with activity, play and the two of them exploring the world together.

Winthrop keeps this book at just the right level for busy toddlers. The book moves at a brisk pace, showing the different things the children are doing and moving quickly on to the next thing. The text rhymes, which adds to the jaunty feel of the book. The two children are shown equally, sometimes having fun and other times not. Nicely, Winthrop makes sure that each child is brave at times and more skittish at others and happy at times and grumpy at others. Both children are well rounded and believable.

Massey’s illustrations are bright and bold. The children are featured very closely with only the legs and arms of the parents ever in view. This keeps the children at the heart of the story. Interestingly, because the parents are never named or fully seen, this book will work well for gay and lesbian parents and grandparents to share aloud with their little ones.

A particularly strong book for toddlers, this one is not overly sweet and feels like a real outing with toddlers to the park. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

ill give you the sun

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Jude and Noah are twins and they are so close.  Both of them are artists and Noah in particular sees the world as constant inspiration for his artwork.  Noah is withdrawn from others his age and bullied by other boys.  Jude though is being noticed by the same boys who bully her brother and as they turn thirteen, the two of them may be different but they are still close.  Jude is wearing lipstick and diving from cliffs.  Noah is starting to fall for the boy across the street.  Three years later though, the two of them are completely estranged from one another.  They barely speak.  Jude is the artist now and Noah no longer paints.  Jude has discovered a mentor for her art and a boy who is just as damaged as she is.  Noah is a normal straight teen who hangs out with those who once bullied him and now dives from cliffs himself.  How did two teens change so much in such a short period of time?  That’s the story here, and it involves grief, loss, betrayal, lies, love and truth.

Nelson tells the early part of the twins’ story in Noah’s voice.  We get to experience the joy he feels about art and the beauty of his emerging sexuality combined with his fear of being discovered.  Jude tells the story after their relationship is fractured.  Her story is one of passions and change.  They are both stories of trying to hide what you are, trying to become something new.  They are stories that veer swiftly, change often and shout with emotion and pain. 

Nelson writes with exquisite emotion on the page.  She shows the passion, the fear, the grief, the love vividly and with such heart.  It is her emotional honesty on the page that avoids sentimentality at all.  Rather this book is raw and aching in every way, from the new relationships that are filled with lust and longing to the destroyed sibling relationship that is one lost and hurt betrayal after another.  She also manages to somehow capture art and inspiration on the page, the power of art to express, the emotions that it creates and acknowledges, the joy of creation and the agony of being unable to make it. 

Powerful storytelling that is beautifully written and tells the story of two siblings and their journey through being teenagers.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

Review: The Twins’ Blanket by Hyewon Yum

twins blanket

The Twins’ Blanket by Hyewon Yum

Two twin girls look just alike and share everything, especially a blanket that they have had ever since they were born.  But now the blanket has gotten too small for them to share.  Neither girl wants to give it to the other though.  Their mother tells them that they are going to be moving to big kid beds and that she will make each of them a new blanket.  They each pick out a fabric, one yellow with flowers, the other pink with birds and flowers.  They wash the fabric, dry it on the line, and then their mother sews the blankets.  When they are done, they have two new blankets that each have a piece of the original as well as their own personality.  Then they have to see what sleeping apart for the first time is like!

Yum has created a charming story about twins that shows the sibling relationship in all of its complexity, yet remains accessible for small children.  The girls both want to be alike and together, yet yearn to be different and apart at the same time.  Down to their stuffed animals that are alike but different, the story is really about their relationship rather than the blanket which is more of a symbol.

Yum’s illustrations are done in deep, rich colors and strong lines.  They have hints of color in unexpected places, creating an additional richness.  The girls while identical are always seen separately and uniquely in the art.

Charming and honest, this book about twins has a clever storyline and lovely illustrations.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin

Twin sisters Ling and Ting are twins, but definitely not the same.  Sure, they look the same, up until the end of the first chapter when a sneeze on the barber’s chair changes that.  But they like different things, have different skills, and approach projects in different ways.  At the same time, the girls are obviously great friends as well as sisters despite their differences.  In short friendly chapters, readers get to know these young sisters and will be able to happily identify with both of them.  This is an early reader with depth and something to say.  It never loses its friendly, lightness and still offers an amazing amount of story. 

Lin excels at creating universal characters and these two twins are definitely that.  She also has woven Asian culture into the story in ways that make sense for the story.  Her superb choices in the book work very well.  Lin also did the art for the book, which has the same engaging style as the story itself.  The art is filled with bright, bold color and will serve new readers well as they read this book.

Highly recommended, this is an impressive easy reader.  Let’s hope that Ling & Ting return for many more adventures.  Appropriate for new readers, ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.