Kelly, Erin Entrada. Blackbird Fly
24 March 2015, Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Apple (aka Analyn) rails against her mother's insistence at embracing their Filipino culture in embarassing ways like insisting on calling her Apple. Apple's father has passed away and she doesn't have much information about him, only that he loved the Beatles. Apple is having a horrific year at school because she has been listed as number three on the "dog log", a list of ugly girls in her school. Her friends Alyssa and Gretchen are appalled that she is on the list and really want to cut ties with her, so she's glad that a new boy, Evan, seems to appreciate her for who she is. Apple really wants to buy a guitar in order to feel a connection with her late father, and thinks about stealing money from a teacher. She puts the money back, and the teacher offers to loan her a school guitar and teach her how to play. There are a variety of other school dramas, including a costume dance, and Apple learns to embrace her culture and starts to see her own worth after making friends who also have some social problems.
Strengths: This had good descriptions of cultural aspects of the Philippines that are very rare in middle grade fiction. Apple is a likable character who is trying her best to work through difficult situations, and Even is the kind of student we wish all of ours would be-- he sticks up for Apple even when he doesn't know her well. There are a few students who are still interested in the Beatles.
Weaknesses: It never really makes sense to me that Apple has so many social problems, except that she is "other" in Louisiana and subject to a lot of prejudice. She seems like a perfectly fine young lady. I wanted to see the boys who came up with the "dog log" soundly punished.
I was also a bit confused about the students very long lunch hour ( an hour?) and the fact that Apple was allowed to spend it in the library. This has come up in several books lately, but MY library is not a place that would be a quiet and safe retreat for students-- it's just too busy all day long, and during at least one lunch time, there is a study hall that meets in the library!
Harwell, Andrew. The Spider Ring
January 27th 2015 by Scholastic Press
When Maria's grandmother passes away suddenly, she leaves her spider ring for Maria, hidden in their special spot. Maria soon realizes that the ring has powers to summon spiders and make them do her bidding, such as making her a pretty dress. Her grandmother warned her not to abuse the spider's friendship, but that doesn't stop Maria from asking the spiders to make a scene at the evil Claire's birthday party. When a creepy older man shows up, Maria learns not only secrets about her grandmother's past, but a bit more about the danger that she is in because of the organization that had the spider rings-- and the threat that a "great aunt" of one of her friends might be to her!
Strengths:Decent mystery, lots of creepy spiders, good cover. The bullying was more realistic than in many books, and Maria wasn't obsessing about the death either of her grandmother or her father (in the war). Good information about spiders.
Weaknesses:This book seemed to have everything going for it, but as a whole, didn't succeed for me. This ended in a way that would leave it open for a sequel, but the plot never really gelled for me.
What I really thought: Looked good and creepy, but there were some holes in the plot that made this less than thrilling. Also bothered by the ages of the grandmother and her friend-- yes, they were later explained by magic, but it seemed like an afterthought.