Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A Soft Place to Land, Paradise on Fire

Marks, Janae. A Soft Place to Land
September 14th 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Joy's family is moving into an apartment because her father is out of work and they could no longer afford their house. It's a difficult adjustment, especially since it also means that some things that really make Joy happy, like piano lessons, are also out of the question. She is enthralled by movie scores and wants to write music for them, so it's important that she keep up her skills. Luckily, one of the first people she meets in the building is Nora, who has her own family issues (her mother died when Nora was young) and shares Joy's love of movies, although she wants to be a film maker. Nora thinks the two could work together, and introduces Joy to the apartment building's big secret-- a hidden storage area that the kids in the building have furnished with cast offs and call "the Hideout", and don't tell ANY of the adults about. It's a great place to get a break from her kid sister, Malia, and from her parents' constant arguing. It's also good for meeting other kids in the building, and Joy finds some graffiti on the wall that makes her think another kid is struggling as much as she is, and she tries to get to know the other kids in order to help. In order to make some money to put towards their film making preparation, Nora and Joy start a dog walking business and get four neighbors whose dogs they walk. When Joy falls asleep in the Hideout and her mom finds her and blows the secret, she and Malia have a bit of a falling out, which leads to problems with their business. At the same time, Joy's dad is spending more and more time at his brother's because he needs "space", and Joy is worried that her parents will divorce. Will Joy be able to make things right with her new friend, and settle into life in the apartment, no matter what it brings?
Strengths: There are not as many books about children living in apartment buildings as I imagine there are children living in apartments! There are also a lot of children who, like Joy, have family lives that aren't horrible, but have some difficulties. It was nice that Joy made friends right away, and that she got along with many of the children in the building, as well as the adults! Don't we all need neighbors who make us snickerdoodles? The dog walking business had a lot of very good, realistic details, and the Hideout was a great place that the children used responsibly, even if the powers that be had, again, realistic concerns about. The best part was that Joy was able to look outside herself and be concerned for the other person leaving messages about struggling. Another good book from the author of From the Desk of Zoe Washington.
Weaknesses: I've never lived or worked anywhere with secret or unused rooms, so I am always suspicious of ones in books. Young readers won't share my skepticism and will just want a Hideout of their own.
What I really think: I'm definitely purchasing, since this is an easy to get into story that has a lot of universal appeal to it. It would be great to see books like this with kids who live in suburban apartment buildings and are interested in science and math related fields. While it's great to see kids with passions and interests, I wish that these were in areas that might lead to jobs, rather than usually being in sports, entertainment, or cooking. 

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Paradise on Fire
September 14th 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
ARC provided by Follett First Look

Addy lives in the Bronx with her grandmother, Bibi, who has moved from Nigeria to care for her after the devastating death of her parents in an apartment fire when she was four. She's still marked by the trauma of that event, and spends much of her time making maps, always knowing several possible ways out of every situation. Bibi has been understanding, but feels that Addy needs to live up to her full name, Adaugo, which means daughter of an eagle, and broaden her hoizons. Because of this, Addy finds herself flying to the Paradise region of California to take part in a program with other inner city students. She's leery of talking to others too much, but knows that the program requires her to work with the others; Jay, DeShon, Kelvin, and her cabin mate Nessa. Surprisingly, she finds herself enjoying the outdoor environment, and the owner of the camp, Leo, shows her how topographical maps work, helping her to understand her new environment so that she can be more comfortable with it. She still has moments where memories from the past haunt her, so she takes especial interest in how to properly put out camp fires, especially since California is experiencing a drought. She spends a lot of time hiking and exploring the area with Leo's dog, Ryder, and the others start to respect the feel that she has for the terrain. When a wildfire approaches an area where the students are camped with two counselors, they must try to figure out the best way to escape it, and they rely on Addy's skills to get them out, although not everyone makes it. 
Strengths: Paradise on Fire has several excellent and much needed themes. Topmost, certainly, is the environmental one. It's great to see Addy be introduced to the wilderness and to fall in love with it, and heart wrenching that she also has to see first hand how fragile this environment can be. Addressing the fact that many children, especially BIPOC ones from city environments, don't necessarily get out to parks or have swimming instruction, is something that I haven't seen done very much. Since I have a park and a pool directly in my back yard, this is easy for my to forget. Showing how Addy has dealt with the effects of trauma her whole life is in keeping with current trends; I had to be careful not to say she was trying to "move on". She is struggling just to move forward. Once again, Dr. Rhodes has done an excellent job of bringing together several different topics to make for a fascinating novel that would be good for high school and middle school readers. 
Weaknesses: I had trouble keeping the other participants straight, and they felt a bit flat to me. This might be because Addy herself kept herself at a distance and didn't connect with the others as much. It was easier for me to connect with Leo and even with the dog, Ryder.
What I really think: This is a great addition to books about wild fires, such as Davis' upcoming Partly Cloudy, Henry's recent Playing with Fire, Philbrick's Wildfire, Shotz' Firefighter, Garretson's 2010 Wildfire Run, and Cooney's 1995 Flash Fire, which shows that this environmental problem has been going on for far too long. 

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