Saturday, May 29, 2021

Summer of Stolen Secrets

Sternberg, Julie. Summer of Stolen Secrets
May 18th 2021 by Viking
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Catarina, or Cat, is more than happy to spend the summer at home in Manhattan, but after her two good friends Ruthie and Amelia treat her badly at the end of seventh grade, she is fine with spending the summer in Baton Rouge with her aunt, uncle and older cousin Lexie whom she has visited with from tiem to time in New York. Also in the mix is her estranged grandmother, who has not spoken to her father because he married a Gentile woman. The grandmother, Safta, runs a posh department store, Gerta's, and Cat is interested in getting to now her grandmother and the store. Still stinging from the rejection of her best friends, Cat is in contact with another friend from school, Max, over the summer, but throws herself into trying to get to know her difficult grandmother. At one point, Cat finds a storage room she is not supposed to be in, and finds out secrets relating to Safta's past during World War II, as a German refugee searching for lost relatives. She makes an uneasy peace with her exacting grandmother, but both her grandmother's story and the book's story have a bittersweet, sad ending. 
Strengths: Books about estranged grandparents are always interesting, and this had a tiny bit of a Bauer's  Rules of the Road feel. The details about the department store are fascinating. Spending the summer away from family is another great premise for a middle grade novel, and it doesn't hurt to throw in an older cousin who isn't a great example. Friend drama is always a plus in a middle grade novel, and Max was a good, if new, friend. Cat's research into her grandmother's past is done with some sensitivity, and the ending is theatrically sad in a way that will appeal to readers who like a dramatic story. 
Weaknesses: Cat addresses her grandmother as "you" through the entire book as though talking to her while relating the story, which gave the book a strange, disconnected feel that I did not enjoy. 
What I really think: The seemed somewhat similar to Kacer and Walter's Broken Strings or Carelli's Skylark and Wallcreeper. It has a little bit about the Holocaust, but not as much as I would have liked. 

Jones, Kelly and Murphy, Kelly (Illus.) Happily for Now
May 4th 2021 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Fiona's mother has struggled with addiction on and off for quite some time, and has decided to go into rehab again. In order for her to do this, Fiona must go live with relatives. Luckily, she has Ms. Davis to support her. Fiona would like to be like Ms. Davis, and have her "fairy godmother" type powers, so she asks her mentor to give her tips on how to help her relatives. They are a sad lot, running a failing bakery in the town of Cold Hope. Aunt Becky makes a dispirited array of lackluster cookies and muffins that her mother, Alta, demands. Uncle Timothy really wants to draw and create art, but has been similarly shot down. Fiona starts helping at the bakery immediately, and encouraging Becky to make her favorites brings in new business. She also suggests that he aunt make up with her former best friend, who runs a bakery across town. In the library, Kevin the librarian is helpful, and Fiona meets Julia, who is the friend of her helpful contact person in Cold Hope, Mr. Rivera. The two become fast friends, and work to help Aunt Becky and her friend Annie by getting involved in a town festival where there will be a baking competition. Fiona finds that helping others can be complicated, and needing help from other people can be the most complicated thing of all. 
Strengths: Especially here in Ohio, we are seeing more and more children affected by various types of addiction. Fiona's adjustment to a new family is realistically portrayed, and her positive attitude is somewhat unusual to see. It makes sense that she would feel more in control if she can help others. It is good to see that she has a strong support network, and there is a lot of discussion on coping techniques that will be useful to young readers. Books involving baking are always in demand, and the description of the coconut lime cupcake made my mouth water. There aren't a lot of books where a tween gets to see friendships of adults run into difficulties, so this was a nice twist. I wouldn't have known that there were references to Gibbon's 1936 Cold Comfort Farm if the preface hadn't warned me. I picked that up to read before hand (thanks to the Ohio Digital Library), and was pleased that I knew enough about 1930s British literature to understand the original AND that I could then pick out references in Happily for Now! Kelly Murphy's black and white illustrations are delightful.
This is the slightest bit young for my readers because of the talk of becoming a fairy godmother, but this makes it even more appealing to the elementary school crowd. 
What I really think: This is an interesting look at a young tween who is trying to help her family through hard times. Fans of Lambert's Family Game Night, Roske's Kat Greene Comes Clean , Lenz' Stepmom Shake Up, and Swartz's Smart Cookie will appreciate this upbeat approach to working through problems. 

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