Monday, May 31, 2021

MMGM- Everywhere Blue and The Kate In Between

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
1 June 2021 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maddie (aka Madrigal) lives in a musical family; her mother is a voice coach, and her father is a piano tuner and composer. Older sister Aria is in high school, and older brother Strum is away at college, which is why Maddie takes care of Strum's dog, Gizmo. She also takes oboe lessons, and is a whiz at math, going over to the high school for classes there. It's been a stressful few years for the family; Grandma Lovato died of cancer three years previously, and two years ago, Maman's parents died in a plane crash on their way back to France. In high school, Strum dedicated himself to all sort of social and environmental causes that put him at odds with their father. As a result, Maddie second guesses herself and finds herself being awkward with her friends, including Emma. When Strum walks away from his college dorm, the whole family, especially the mother, is rocked by the disappearance. As months pass, the tensions grow. Aria starts to stay out without permission, and doesn't talk as much to Maddie. The parents argue, and sometimes take less than optimal care of the girls. Maddie thinks she has figured out when Strum has gone, and makes plans to get a bus to a small town in Mexico to find him. She is found out, and she and Aria are left to fend for themselves while their parents go to retrieve him. Will the family be able to work through their differences and find a way forward?
Strengths: I can't think of any missing sibling books except for Pfeffer's 1987 The Year Without Michael, so it's good to see a fresh take on the topic. Thankfully, this didn't end the way that I suspected it would, so wasn't as sad as it could have been. The family dynamics are well delineated, and the pressures of dealing with Strum's disappearance manifest themselves differently for each family member. Aria, and her friend Nico, are nicely supportive of Maddie at a time when her parents aren't. Music is woven throughout the book, and since I played oboe through high school, it was good to see that represented! Holiday House covers have been improving over the last several years. Fritz is a long time, active member of the KidLit community and a loyal participant in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.
Weaknesses: I found it hard to connect with Maddie or Strum, and was sort of rooting for Aria to get away from her family. Guess I just identified with the parents too much! 
What I really think: This is an lyrical novel in verse about working through family problems and anxiety that readers will find to be a "heartprint" book. Hand to fans of Haydu's One Jar of Magic, King's The Year We Fell From SpaceGennari's Muffled and Mackler's Not if I Can Help It.

Swinarski, Claire. The Kate In Between 
May 18th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Kate's life isn't easy, but her family is hanging in there. Her parents were still in high school when she was born, so are much younger than her classmates' parents. They divorced when she was young, and she has lived with her mother, who is currently involved in selling True U cosmetics, an Amway or Lularoe type business which requires her to buy her own product and recruit others to sell as well.  She has just moved to be closer to the corporate headquarters so that she can make Diamond level, leaving Kate to live with her father, a police officer, is his cramped apartment, where she is sleeping on a pull out couch in his office. She's been friends with Haddie for years, but recently Haddie has begun to annoy her. She's loud, she wears weird clothes, and she doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. Kate has become friends with the popular Taylor, which she enjoys because she knows that if Taylor is talking TO her, she's not talking ABOUT her, since Taylor is often mean. When Kate is hanging out with Taylor and her friends and they give Haddie a hard time about a hat she is wearing, tossing it about and keeping it away from her, Kate reflexively steps in, grabs the hat, and takes it out of play... by tossing it out onto the ice. When Haddie goes to retrieve it, she falls through the ice and is saved by Kate. Taylor takes a video of it and shares it with the news media, who hail Kate as a hero. Kate's mom fans the flames of this, and Kate finds herself the center of much unwanted attention. She knows what she did and feels awful about it, but the situation is allowing her to reconnect with Haddie while she is still friends with Taylor, which seems like the best of both worlds. She and Haddie end up going to California to be interviewed by a popular celebrity, and for a while, Kate thinks that things will be okay. Of course, they aren't. Taylor gets angry and retaliates by showing the REST of the video, which clearly shows Kate throwing the hat on the ice. The backlash from Haddie and the community is hard to deal with, especially when Kate also finds out that her mother's business is failing, and she is back in town but hasn't told Kate about it. Will Kate, with the help of her loving and sensible father, be able to weather this storm and find a way forward?
Strengths: There are so many small things that make this book a stand out. I've had many students over the years with very young parents (You can have a 12 year old and be 28. It happens.), but I haven't really seen this reflected in the literature. Like Claire in Walker's Why Can't I Be You, Kate is a bit ashamed of her home, and feels bad that she can't have "nice" clothes. Her father drops her off at school in his police car, which is embarrassing, and her mother tries to recruit other mothers to sell Tru U, and causes Kate to move from apartment to apartment. Because of the instability in her home life, Kate is glad to have Taylor's positive attention, and is ready to sacrifice her relationship with Haddie to get it. Still, she likes Haddie, enjoys being with her, and feels bad about how she is treating her. Still, survival is key in middle school, and Kate feels that the only way to survive is to leave Haddie behind. The addition of a bout with celebrity will definitely appeal to tween readers as well. The emotions in this one are raw and real, and so much more common than students grieving the death of a parent/sibling/friend. While this author's What Happens Next, was interesting in a quiet way, The Kate in Between is a fresh and riveting slice of middle school life. 
Weaknesses: Not really a weakness, but a thought. This also put me in mind of Walker's Let's Pretend We Never Met, and made me think about Haddie's position. At the end of 7th grade, my friend Jenny completely ghosted me, but I sort of understood. I definitely marched to the beat of my own marimba in middle school, and I knew she was embarrassed by me. I would love to see a book from the point of view of a middle schooler who is left behind like Haddie, and Swinarski could do a great job with a book like that. I could have used a book like that to help me rein in my exuberant... differences.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing a copy, and the friend drama will make this immediately popular with my students. Love the cover as well! The paper ARC got passed around a lot in the past few weeks of school, and the readers loved it. 

Ms. Yingling


  1. I love how you connect books with other books and with potential kid readers. These sound like my kind of novels. Thanks!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed Everywhere Blue, and I am so excited to read it! Fritz has definitely been a very active blogger whose reviews I have enjoyed reading for a long time, so it is very exciting that her novel is debuting tomorrow! And I agree, the cover is beautiful.

    The Kate in Between sounds excellent as well! It sounds like an unflinching portrayal of middle school drama at its worst, and I am also intrigued by some of the aspects about Kate's family (the MLM company, the young parents, etc.). You make a good point in the Weaknesses section (and I love how you even adapted the phrase "marching to the beat of your own drum" to be unique!). Thanks so much for the great reviews!

  3. I haven't read either of these- but The Kate In Between sounds very intriguing. Sounds like it will be a hit with your students!

  4. Glad you liked Everywhere Blue. I'm super excited to read it and feature Joanne on my blog. She is one of my earliest blogger friends.

  5. I am very much looking forward to reading Everywhere Blue. Congrats to Joanne!! I come from a very musical family and my children are continuing with the musical tradition. I'll be reading this one for myself, but I hope my kiddos will enjoy it, too. Thanks for sharing, Karen!

  6. These both sound terrific. I really have to get Joanne's book soon. Thanks for telling me about both of these.