Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Small Mercies, Swish

Krone, Bridget. Small Mercies
Catalyst Press, 4 February 2020
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mercy has been raised by her great aunts Mary and Flora in South Africa since the death of her parents. They love her dearly, but have slightly different ideas about parenting, especially when it comes to school. They write a lot of excuse notes getting Mercy out of sports activities or anything that Mercy doesn't want to do and that they think is silly, like a project where the students have to do a dance from their culture. As the ladies age, caring for Mercy becomes harder and harder. Their house is falling into disrepair, and they've had to sell off many of their belongings to provide the meager diet they have. When Flora start to show alarming signs of dementia, Mary starts to think about selling the property to a developer. Neighbors help a bit, and eventually Mary takes in a lodger so that some repairs can be done on the house. Mr. Singh is a retired man who was tired of living with his children, so he is glad to feel useful. He teaches Mercy about Gandhi when she has a project on a role model, makes spiced chai for the group, and has his children do some of the minor repairs. Mercy is always worried that the school will alert the social worker to her increasingly precarious living conditions, so she tries to do what is expected and stay out of trouble. When the developer starts to sabotage Mercy's home, she and her neighbors form their own passive resistance movement with the help of Mercy's classmates so that Mercy and her aunts can continue to live on their own.
Strengths: This is a charming slice-of-life novel about a topic that I don't think I've ever seen covered; life in South Africa. Any book I've seen has been concerned more about Apartheid, but this is just one struggling family trying to survive. Children being raised by grandparents or older relatives is certainly increasingly common in the US. The details about school in South Africa are especially interesting, and the house and neighborhood were very well described. Mr. Singh was a very sympathetic and helpful character, and Aunt Mary and Flora were just doing their best for Mercy.
Weaknesses: Students in the US might benefit from some notes about life in South Africa, the structure of the school system, and how Apartheid affected the country. This would add another layer of meaning to a great story.
What I really think: I will certainly purchase this, and it makes an interesting companion to Trevor Noah: Born a Crime. The cover is very appealing, and stories of children in peril are always popular.

Delle Donne, Elena. Swish (Hoops #5)
March 17th 2020 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Elle has tried the volleyball team to escape the drama on the basketball team, but she has decided her real passion lies with basketball, and is glad when the coach and the team accept her back. She's worried because her presence seems to make Amanda have less playing time, and she doesn't want to upstage her friend. Elle is also involved in the school Buddy Club, and they decide to change the school Valentine's dance to a friend dance, and she helps work on the decoration and planning. She is also bothered by the inequities she sees between the way the boys' teams and girls' teams are treated, so starts a booster club with the girls she knows from both teams. They start to address issues like cheerleaders only at boys' games, less money going to the girls, and the perception that a team can be "good for a girls' team". Through all of this, she is careful to keep up with her homework, hanging out with her sister Beth and her dog Zobe, and figuring out the intricacies of crushes.
Strengths: These are fast paced, well constructed novels that always high light the sports aspect while maintaining a focus on life balance, which is important. Very solid series.
Weaknesses: The whole idea of a cotillion is still going to confuse my readers! This came up in a previous book. Also, Elle wearing jeans and a t shirt to a dance is not that odd.
What I really think: I'd love more novels about girls playing basketball for a slightly older audience. These are perfect for elementary girls who want to read about middle school students, and my 6th and 7th graders love them, but the 8th graders want something that feels older. Maybe Delle Donne will write a high school series? I'd love Alex Morgan to do the same!

Ms. Yingling

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