Saturday, April 10, 2021

Croissants and Doughnuts

Jouhanneau, Anne-Sophie. Kisses and Croissants
April 6th 2021 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mia is very excited to be traveling to Paris to take part in a prestigious six week summer ballet program, even when her rival in dance, Audrey is there as well. Of course, the two end up as roommates, but the other dancers are quick to befriend Mia. She is very serious about pursuing ballet as a career, and hopes that her success during the summer will translate into an offer from the American Ballet Theater in New York. Her mother, however, isn't thrilled with any part of her dance journey and lets her know. Mia's grandmother has long believed the family legend that an ancestor of Mia's was a ballerina in Paris at the time of Degas, and was painted by him, although there is no proof. There is an elderly relative in the outskirts of the city whom the grandmother would like Mia to contact. The dance lessons are strenuous, but M. Dabrowski thinks that Mia is advanced enough that he moves her into the fifth level with Audrey. While Audrey is technically perfect, she lacks emotion. Mia has that, but needs to focus more on her form and procedures. What doesn't help this focus is her romance with Louis, who happens to be the son of M. Dabrowski. The two take to each other quickly, and Louis embraces Mia's quest to find out if her ancestor was painted by Degas. This takes them, on his Vespa, to visit the relative, and two several art galleries, museums, and other places. It's an idyllic relationship against the glorious background of Paris, but the late nights and emotional connection do cause Mia problems with her dancing. She has been given the role of Odile, the Black Swan, in the school's production of Swan Lake. Audrey, of course, is the White Swan. She is irritated that Mia is enjoying Paris and not focusing solely on dance. When M. Dabrowski takes Mia to task, she has to reevaluate her relationship with Louis. Mia needs to decide what to do with her future when the summer program and her time in Paris is over. Will Louis be a part of that?
Strengths: Sigh. This is about as perfect as a Young Adult romance can be. Mia is 16, off on her own, but with the support and supervision of a school. Louis is somewhat of a known quality and not just a stranger from the streets of Paris. He admires her work, supports her interests, and understands that the ballet takes a lot of her time. Their adventures are all sweetly romantic, and never get hot and heavy, so this is also great for middle school readers. The back drop of Paris, a city I've never had any interest in visiting, is so appealing that I am half tempted to make travel plans myself. The mystery with the ancestor who might have been painted by Degas gives just enough additional structure to the narrative to make this feel a bit more serious. The brilliant part of the book, of course, is the ballet. I have many students who dance, and so many dance books are desperately sad-- think Porter's Dance of Sisters or Padian's Jersey Tomatoes are the Best. There's some rivalry, but mostly hard work and love of dance. It was particularly interesting that Mia and the other dancers are frequently portrayed eating heartily; so many ballet books deal with eating disorders and body image problems.  
Weaknesses: The whole point of having a youthful romance in another country is that you can always think wistfully of what "might have been" with that person. I would have written a different ending. Younger readers will think Mia's life is just perfect. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will never get back to the shelf. The cover is so attractive, the story swoon worthy with a bit more depth. Kisses and Croissants is really a croissant of a book. Done right, it's a butter filled, delicious treat that also has enough nutrition to take you through your morning, especially if there's a healthy dollop of Nutella. 

Moon, Sarah. Middletown
April 6th 2021 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Eli is in middle school, which is generally terrible but made bearable by her friend Meena, on whom she has a crush, and Javi, whose mother is the school principal. Her older sister Anna sticks with Eli as they try to survive despite their mother's alcoholism, which is bad enough that they are sometimes called to bars to pick her up, or visited by the local police officer who tells them she is in the drunk tank. When their mother is picked up twice for drunk driving, she ends up in rehab. Knowing that their position is tentative, Anna shows up at the hearing dressed as "Aunt Lisa" and convinces the judge that she will take care of the two. Luckily, Eli (short for Eliza) has been skimming money from her mother's paycheck for years, and has accumulated $900 that the girls are able to use to buy food. Things go along fairly well, but when the soccer coach who has given Anna trouble in the past finds out what the girls are up to, Eli gets in trouble at school, and Anna skips a week so that she can be with her boyfriend, social services shows up at their door. They take off, first to find Anna's dad, then to find Sam, Eli's dad, and then to visit their real life Aunt Lisa. There are some surprises along the way, and when they get to their aunt's, she helps connect them to AA and Alateen and lets them stay until their mother is released from rehab. She even helps get their mother settled back at home, and checks on the family more so that they have some support. 
Strengths: Anna and Eli are great characters who try their best to survive, but struggle because they are young and haven't had the best example. Anna's flirtation with alcohol herself is very telling, and it was very helpful to see the girls attend Alateen meetings, and see their aunt attend AA ones. I had an aunt who was alcoholic and have always been very conscious of the fact that this can run in families. It's a message we don't see nearly enough in tween literature. I believed that they were able to stay by themselves for as long as they did, and once they left, it was encouraging to see that they had some support. Eli's sexuality is a secondary plot, and was dealt with in a way that felt very natural to the plot. The story moved quickly, was interesting, and had a satisfactory ending.  
Weaknesses: This is an #ownvoices author, so I will trust her use of Anna calling Eli "homo" in a joking manner, but it felt odd to me. I am not in a good position to judge this kind of use. There are also several instances of the f-word being used. 
What I really think: This had a lot of elements that my students enjoy in problem novels, but the language and situations are slightly gritty. It seemed more like a high school book, due to things like the kids attending a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and just the general tone. Read this to determine if it is right for your collection, and add it to titles with problematic parents like Galante's Strays Like UsWilliams's Genesis Begins Again, and Sheinmel's All The Things You Are.

 Ms. Yingling

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