Sunday, March 21, 2021

Summer of Brave, Violet and the Pie of Life

Parks, Amy Noelle. Summer of Brave
March 1st 2021 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lilla lives with her divorced parents, an art museum director father and an entomologist mother, in a duplex near the college campus where both work. While she doesn't have to travel far when moving between parents, she still has two separate rooms, and has to deal with her parents being overly concerned that their recent divorce doesn't "damage" her. It's better than her friend Knox's parents, who have a bitter relationship, but she still wishes that her parents wouldn't be so involved in her life. This is especially true when they are both hoping that she gets into a magnet high school. Knox and Vivi understand that Lilla is very shy about making her feelings known, which is why their summer challenge is to be brave and speak their minds. Lilla's father wants her in the arts track, her mother in the STEM one, and Lilla would rather just attend the regular public high school and be well rounded. Her friends Vivi and Knox are both thinking about the magnet school, and both hoping to get jobs as counselors in the museum's summer program. Lilla is hired right away, but not in the STEM area, as her mother hopes, and Vivi doesn't get hired at all. To complicate matters further, Lilla is starting to have a crush on Knox, although her parents are concerned that she is spending too much time with "bad boy" Colby, who is interested in Vivi. After an upsetting incident involving a college student cat calling her, Lilla becomes very worried about how she presents herself, but more angry that she has this worry. She and some friends interview woman and construct a chart of where cat calling is most prevalent in the neighborhood. Lilla uses this as her presentation for her magnet school application, and finally lets her parents know how she is feeling. 
Strengths: Like Murphy's Dear Sweet Pea, this has a very interesting depiction of shared parenting. There's just enough discussion of both Vivi and Knox's family situations that we can share Lilla's perspective on how her family's dynamics differ from her friends. I love the college town setting, and the fact that Lilla is working as a camp counselor. A lot of 8th graders work at Safety Cities or with Parks and Rec in the summer, and it's not shown a lot in middle grade literature. The cat calling and its aftermath are shown in a disturbingly real way, and Lilla does manage to find a voice to complain about it. 
Weaknesses: There's an interesting depiction of a librarian, Mrs. Wilder,  who is too interested in what Lilla is reading that had me worried-- while I always offer suggestions, I also try to give students plenty of room to make their own choices. Do I comment on them too much? It's a good reminder for self reflection. However, the librarian claims that Dash and Lily's Books of Dares is "so cute and nothing inappropriate for younger readers". They don't exactly say the title, but all clues point to this title, and Dash and Lily was chock full of f bombs! (Also, Lilla is grateful that the librarian introduced her to Anne of Green Gables?) I have so many questions, but obviously, the target demographic will NOT.
What I really think: While this has more of a YA level of angst, this had some good points about Lilla seeking autonomy from her parents, as well as a nice, light romance. Fans of Carter's How to Be a Girl in the World and Firestone's Dress Coded will enjoy this. 

Green, Debra. Violet and the Pie of Life 
March 9th 2021 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Violet life in middle school is complicated by her parents, who are fighting even more than usual. Violet and her best friend Mackenzie, who had been in scouts together, are interested in trying out for the school production of The Wizard of Oz, although Mackenzie is sure that the pretty and popular Ally will get the part of Dorothy. Violet does better than expected in the audition, and is cast as the lion, while Mackenzie isn't in the play. Violet's father moves out, and she isn't given a lot of information about where he is or what he is doing. Her mother, when asked, tells her to ask her father, who is not answering her texts. She's angry about this, and the play is taking so much of her time that she is getting behind in her homework. Things are difficult with Mackenzie, whose father has passed away a while ago and whose mother believes in "free range" parenting, which doesn't always work out well for Mackenzie. Ally is nicer than Violet had thought, and doesn't have an ideal life, either. The plays runs into difficulties of its own. Will Violet be able to construct a new family unit for herself that takes care of both her needs and the needs of her parents?
Strengths: I would much rather see books about parents who divorce than parents who die, since this is a much more prevalent occurrence, but one which isn't written about very much. I wouldn't have minded seeing the parents fighting more before the father moved out. The effect on Violet's life and her school work are important to see. It's interesting that her two best friends also have difficult lives, for other reasons, and nice that Violet's mother cares about Mackenzie enough to buy her clothes and make sure she is taken care of. Ally's background of being raised  by her grandparents is also something we need to see more in middle grade literature. 
Weaknesses: The blurb describes the book this way "Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie.", but there really isn't much about either pie or math. That's fine, but I found myself looking for math and pie references that weren't there!
What I really think: Divorcing parents and friend drama are always good bets for middle grade literature. I liked this better than King's The Year We Fell From Space but not as much as Vail's Unfriended or some of the Wish novels; it might have been the large part that the school play took in this book. Books about theatrical productions are a bit of a hard sell to my students. 

The acknowledgments mention a writing group that includes Marlene Perez, who had a great series, Dead is the New Black, back in the days when the Twilight books and all things vampire were popular. It's funny how books I no longer have are still firmly stuck in my mind!

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