Sunday, May 31, 2020

Center of Gravity and Trowbridge Road

Grimes, Shaunta. Center of Gravity
March 24th 2020 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Netgalley

In 1985, Tessa is still dealing with her mother's death from cancer within the last year. Her mother had been a nurse in Vietnam, and her father, a history teacher, has been staying at work later and later since the mother's death. Tessa has taken to saving the pictures of missing children from milk cartons, and has a file of them that bring her comfort but also embarrasses her because she has a compulsion to go through all of the milk cartons at school until she finds one with a child she has not seen before. When it suddenly turns out that her father has been at school late because he has been seeing a literacy volunteer, Lila, Tessa is even more upset. But that's not all! Lila is pregnant, the two are getting married, and the family is going to be moving to a beach house in California that Lila's parents are giving her. Her father, who is afraid he could love his job in Denver because of Lila, is going to look for a new job. Tess actually settles in to the new place fairly well, making friends with the neighbor boys and going to the rec center to play foosball. The boys have a team and very much want to enter a contest with a large monetary prize to help out two of their group who are struggling with an abusive mother. Tessa is still collecting the milk cartons, and her new friends think it's a bit quirky but go along with it. Tessa tries to help the group make money by having a Kool-Aid stand and trying to take a babysitting job, but when Lila goes into labor while her father is out of town, many of her plans fall through. The boys are able to play foosball without her and manage to help the boys, and Tessa becomes less anxious about the missing children while she becomes more invested with her new family.
Strengths: I like the fact that Tessa was dealing with her mother's death, but the more pressing issue was dealing with a sudden move, a step mother, and a new sibling. There are far more students who has to deal with blended families than with death, and relatively few books on the topic. The milk cartons with the missing children were worked in in a very clever way, and in the 1980s, the father would not have sought help for this behavior. The neighborhood kids and their drama added an extra level of interest. I enjoyed this one.
Weaknesses: I wanted to know more about Lila's hoarding behavior. Also, there was a LOT of concern about cleaning the milk cartons so they didn't smell like sour milk, but as someone who used milk cartons for a ton of craft projects (I stapled a bunch of quart cartons together to keep letters from my pen pals in), I know they were super easy to get clean and never smelled sour.
What I really think: Debating. This moved along quickly and was interesting to me, but I'm not sure if the time period will appeal to my students.

Pixley, Marcella. Trowbridge Road. 
May 12th 2020 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

June Bug Jordan's life is complicated. It's 1983, and her musician father has recently passed away from complications of AIDS. Her mother, who mental health has always been fragile, has retreated to her upstairs bedroom because she is afraid of germs coming into the house. Her Uncle Toby stops by the house with groceries and supplies, but not often enough, and June Bug is hungry. Her mother is just not eating. When her uncle visits, they have to spend from two hours to the entire day disinfecting the house. When June Bug goes outside, her mother will occasionally feel that she is infected, and will make her take a scalding hot bath with bleach and a scrub brush, which causes painful skin damage. When Ziggy moves in next door to live with his Nana Jean because his mother Jenny is unstable, June Bug hopes that he will be her friend. She doesn't care that he has long hair and that the neighbor boys call him a fairy. The two start to hang out and support each other. As her mother's condition worsens, June start to carry a back pack with necessities like a vegetable peeler she uses to scrape infection from her hands and rubbing alcohol to pour over them. Even this is not enough, and luckily she has the support of Nana Jean and her uncle when everything comes crashing down.
Strengths: There are very few depictions of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, and it was certainly a very significant historical occurrence that has impact today. The current literary climate is showcasing more and more books with depictions of mental health struggles, and this has several; the mother, Jenny (who has relationship problems and feelings of self doubt), and Ziggy (who is gender nonconforming, but is not given a label). The father is show to be gay in a very short scene that describes him coming home from a gig with a man and kissing him, which will be fine for middle school audiences It's good to see that Nana Jean and Uncle Toby are supportive and helpful. This is an #ownvoices story; the author has written a good piece about the for Middle Grade Book Village.
Weaknesses: This is very, very sad. Sensitive readers might be upset by the depiction of "sanitizing"herself that June Bug does.
What I really think: I wish this had had more details about daily life in 1983, or more details about the AIDS virus and the discussions that arose at the time.

Ms. Yingling

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