Starfish by Lisa Fipps

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Starfish by Lisa Fipps (9781984814500)

Ellie loves to swim in the pool in her backyard. It makes her feel weightless and strong. It’s kind of ironic, since a swimming pool is where she was first bullied about her weight, earning her the enduring nicknames of “Splash” and “Whale.” Her mother has made it clear that she hates how Ellie looks, constantly posting articles on the fridge in the kitchen about calories and weight loss. She portions Ellie’s food, forces her to weigh herself every day, and is the source of all of Ellie’s Fat Girl Rules that Ellie tries to live by. Ellie is about the collapse under all of the expectations in middle school, from her mother, and from the entire society about how fat people should be invisible and yet easily mocked. When Ellie starts to see a therapist with the help of her supportive father, she begins to see that she has every right to take up space in this world. She may not be able to fix everything all at once, but she can start with what she says to herself and what she allows others to say about her.

In her verse novel, Fipps achingly captures the experience of being a fat person in today’s society, and even harder, a fat middle-school girl. She writes the bullying words from classmates, showing how each one takes aim and tries to hurt. Yet Fipps also shows beyond the bullies to the pain they are hiding too. Ellie’s family is beautifully contrasted with that of her new best friend, where no one tells Ellie to stop eating or to be ashamed. Her own family experience is one of drastic differences with her mother and older brother unable to even look at Ellie while her father adores her and supports her exactly the way she is.

Ellie is a great character, full doubts about herself and in need of real help to negotiate her family and society. Her internalization of all of the negative messages is deftly shown by the author and then transformed into a platform for advocacy and self respect. The entire book is full of truth about how fat people are treated and then an honest look at moving beyond that into fighting back.

A middle-grade novel that shows how self worth is created despite what others may think. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Review: Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty

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Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

In the fall, the congregation gave Rabbi Benjamin a vest in honor of the new year.  It was yellow with four bright silver buttons down the front and it was a perfect fit.  Rabbi Benjamin wore his vest to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which also involved a lot of food.  Each family offered their own special food for the holiday, and Rabbi Benjamin’s vest was a lot tighter by the end.  During Sukkot, Rabbi visited each of the families and again had lots of food and his vest grew even tighter.  Until on the last day of Sukkot, one of the silver buttons popped right off his vest.  Chanukah came and Rabbi Benjamin ate lots of latke, and he lost a second silver button.  Spring came along with Passover, and the rabbi lost the last two buttons that had tried to stretch across his growing belly.  He was very upset about how he had ruined his special vest.  So he changed a few things.  He got out and moved more along with his congregation.  And when he tried on the vest for Rosh Hashanah, it was far too big to wear.  But don’t worry, Rabbi Benjamin had a loving congregation ready to help him again.

This book has a wonderful radiance about it.  The heart of the book is really the love felt between the congregation and Rabbi Benjamin.  He is unfailingly kind and giving as are they, perhaps a bit too giving when it comes to the food!  At the same time, the story is a smart and very enjoyable way for readers to learn about the various Jewish holidays throughout the year and the traditions associated with them.  The book has an index of the holidays at the end, including recipes for each holiday.  There is also a glossary of Jewish words.

Reinhardt’s illustrations also capture the loving community on the page.  Rabbi Benjamin almost glows on each page, not only due to his shining yellow vest but also with his popping and vibrant personality.  The diverse ethnicities of the congregation is also appreciated.

A cheery look at Jewish holidays and the bounty of friendship and community, this book will be appreciated by people of all faiths.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Fat Angie by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo

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Fat Angie by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo

Angie has hit rock bottom.  She tried to kill herself in front of the entire school and now she just wants to make it through each day.  She numbs herself with lots of junk food, eating her way past the pain of her sister being held hostage in Iraq and her adopted brother being cruel to her both in public and at home.  Her mother is just anxious for Angie to be normal or at least to appear normal to everyone.  But Angie’s entire world changes when the new girl is nice to her.  KC Romance is not from Dryfalls, Ohio and it is obvious.  She is innately cool, something that Angie has never even tried to pretend to be.  Best of all, KC sees past the fat and the walls that Angie puts up to the real Angie, the one that Angie herself has never really known was there.  Now Angie is inspired to do more and that means big changes both inside and out.

This teen novel deals with all sorts of issues, all focused through Angie herself.  There is suicide, binge eating, being overweight, a sister missing in Iraq, cutting, and sexuality.  One might think that it all doesn’t fit into a single novel, but it does thanks to the incredible character of Angie.  The author writes with a wonderful snarky voice yet one that is ultimately human and smart.  She is entirely herself even though she isn’t sure who that is. 

I particularly enjoyed the snippets of therapy that are shared along with the therapist’s notes.  This is the sort of humor that pervades this book.  Yet there is incredible sadness within it as well.  There is grief that others don’t share, mean girls that are beyond cruel, and a family that doesn’t try any longer.  Angie has a lot to be angry and sad about, but somehow she rises beyond that.  Most remarkable of all though is that in this book, she does it herself.  And along the way, she helps others rise too.

Beautifully written, dark and wildly funny, this book will have you crying, raging and cheering.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.