Saturday, February 26, 2022

Gallant and Why Is Everybody Yelling?

Schwab, V.E. Gallant
March 1st 2022 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Olivia Prior is being raised in the Merilance School for Independent Girls, a stereotypical orphange perhaps in the 1920s. (There are cars, but otherwise the setting is very Victorian.) Her parents are gone, and she has lost the ability to speak, so is made to go around with a small chalkboard around her neck so that she can communicate. It's a grim existence, so when word arrives that her uncle wants her to come to the family home, she is conflicted. She needs a place to belong, but her mother had warned her to stay away. No matter; the orphanage wants to get rid of her, so deliver her to Gallant, the family mansion. She is given a lukewarm welcome by caretakers Hannah and Edgar, but her cousin Matthew tells her to go away. Her uncle died a year ago and she is not wanted. Still, the elderly couple get her settled and try to make her welcome, despite Matthew's insistance that Gallant is cursed. Indeed, Olivia can tell this, since she starts to see ghosts and ghouls at every turn. There is a force of evil at work at Gallant, but Olivia seems to have some powers to fight it. When she finds out that Matthew had a brother who disappeared into the evil world of the house, she also finds that she may have a way to save him. What forces of evil are at play, and does Olivia actually have the power to put the evil to rest?
Strengths: This had a great, creepy vibe to it, sort of like Bell's Frozen Charlotte crossed with Alender's The Companion, with just a dash of The Secret Garden thrown in. Definitely a Gothic tour de force with a spooky mansion, kindly caretakers, cantankerous relatives, and a heroine fighting against the odds. It felt vaguely British, although there were few cups of tea. The forces of evil, who get their own say in ickily eerie short chapters, are quite frightening. Definitely made me want to sleep with the covers pulled up around my ears!
Weaknesses: The language was beautifully lush and the descriptions very rich, but this slows down the plot and makes it a bit of a challenge for the average middle grade reader. Certainly some will love this, but it's not a fast paced, easy to digest thriller like K.R. Alexander's or Lindsay Duga's books. 
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for a high school, but will pass for middle school. I'm definitely looking forward to another Cassidy Blake book by this author, though, and can see why her Young Adult books are so popular. 

Russo, Mirasabina. Why Is Everybody Yelling? Growing Up in My Immigrant Family
October 26th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Public library copy

This graphic novel memoir, by the author of House of Sports (2002), tells the fascinating story of growing up in the 1950s and 60s with a mother and extended family who were greatly affected by the Holocaust during WWII. Ms. Russo's mother managed to survive with her two young sons by being hidden by nuns in Italy, but her husband did not survive. Since she converted to Catholicism, her daughter is being sent to a Catholic school, where she has completely bought in to the ritual of the Catholic church and wants to be a nun. This is alarming to her mother, who eventually sends her to public school. A host of aunts and other relatives are decidedly Jewish, so it's an interesting mix of cultures. Russo's older brothers are struggling a bit, especially Piero, who drops out of Harvard to pursue a career in the arts, with mixed success, since he struggles with mental health issues. Russo's father is in Europe and rarely has any contact with her, although she and her mother do travel to visit. Her mother remarries, which is a difficult transition, and while her life seems, on the surface, to be a typical teen one during that time period, it is really a fragile veneer layered over her troubled family past. There are flashbacks to experiences different family members had during the war; if I had reviewed this when it came out, I might have drawn parallels to the now beleagured Maus (Russo is three years younger than Spiegleman), but now I wouldn't want anyone to think I was putting this forward as a "happier rendition of the Holocaust". 
Strengths: There was something very evocative about the art style, and the changes in colors between the brightly colored 1950s and 60s and the beige and gray of the war years was very effective. This was a fascinating look at what life could be like for children of Holocaust survivors, and there aren't a lot of books that cover this topic. Russo has a good eye for what interests young readers, and the story gives enough historical background to get readers who aren't as familiar with mid century history up to speed. While this covers Russo's life up to college, she does give us a bittersweet overview of what happened to the relatives mentioned in the memoir. Very interesting and moving. 
Weaknesses: The format feels more like an adult graphic novel, with smaller print and pictures, which may deter some readers who can't move beyond Raina Telgemeier's style. (And they are out there, unfortunately. Even picking up Copeland's fantastic Cub is a struggle for some of my readers.)
What I really think: I feel like I need to reread House of Sports, which I've always loved for some reason. I was fascinated by Russo's interest in becoming a nun, and the story had so many intriguing components, including the information about her brother Piero. I will purchase a copy. 

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read Schwab but this looks right up my alley! In fact, it reminds me of the Margaret K. McElderry books the library staff used to save for me when I was in 6th or 7th grade. The Boston library (which rarely gets anything in a timely manner) has it on order with quite a few holds already. I guess this is good because I have to finish my MLIS Capstone in March and should be disciplined about what I read! Or at least the quantity...