Monday, July 11, 2022

MMGM- The Star That Always Stays and Stitched Up

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Are you ready for this Friday? I'll have the "starting line" up Friday morning, but you can chose your own 48 hour stretch for excessive reading this coming weekend. Since there are (EEP!) 43 more books coming out in September that I need to read, I will probably concentrate on books for which I might not write reviews. I only buy about 1/3 of the books I read, but I still like to have read as much as I can. Some things surprise me. Not writing full reviews will be a little vacation. 

Have to say that it's time to be wrapping up summer things and getting ready for school! Schedule pick up is August 2nd, and we're back on August 8th. This summer has been... uninspired. Need to concentrate on positive thoughts so the start of the school year has more energy to it!

Johnson, Anna Rose. The Star That Always Stays
July 12th 2022 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss
Norvia's family struggles in the early 1900s in Beaver Island. The father, who is Swedish, is very disappointed in his own life, and works on fishing boats. He is frequently gone, leaving Norvia's mother, who is of Ojibwe and Arcadian descent, to provide for her five children. After moving to Boyne City, Michigan, the parents divorce, and the family struggles to survive, with the older children as well as a grandmother and great-grandmother helping out. Norvia and her siblings are not happy when the mother meets Mr. Ward and agrees to marry him hastily. Mr. Ward is a widower and well-to-do blacksmith with two older daughters, Julia and Marquerite, as well as a sickly son, Vernon, who is Norvia's age. Norvia's brother Elton is especially concerned, since he is working and supporting the family, but younger Dicta thinks of it as an adventure, and Caleb is apprehensive. Mr. Ward seems very nice, as does Marguerite, and the children settle in fairly well. Norvia and Dicta have a very nice room, and Norvia is pleased that she will be able to go to high school, something girls could not automatically expect in 1914. Mr. Ward provides Norvia with books, and even lets her mother redecorate the house, since his wife has been gone for eight years. Vernon, who is taught at home, is not happy with all of the changes. The one difficult part of the family arrangement is that the children have been told to keep their Native American background secret from everyone. The fact that Norvia's mother is divorced also causes her a lot of problems; her best friend Helen's mother thinks that is will adversely affect her social standing to be seen with Norvia. After reading a Carolyn Wells Patty book, Norvia decides that she needs to be popular in order to be successful at school, so she tries to gain friends, take an interest in boys, and follow the fictional prescription for good social standing. This is difficult, because of the family's situation, but she tries. Mr. Ward ends up being extremely supportive and understanding, and soon even Vernon is enjoying their new family. 
Strengths: Johnson does an exquisite job channeling the structure and language of vintage girls' books while updating Norvia's story nicely. She is a character that would  be right at home in a Grace Livingston Hill book, except that her life is going pretty well. We do see some flashbacks to her life in Beaver Creek with her supportive grandfather who tries to tell her about her family's heritage despite her father's resistance to it. The updated twist is the fact that Norvia's mother is divorced; that can't have been too common at the time. (Although my children have a great-great-grandmother who divorced her husband in the 1860s because he was a drunkard. Of course, he then went into her millinery shop, shot and killed her, and their six children ended up on an orphan train from Wisconsin to Iowa. There's a middle grade novel in there somewhere!) I loved that Norvia was introduced to so many books; the Anne of Green Gables series would have been still coming out at this time! This was a fun, nostalgic tale that will make readers who enjoyed books like Albus' A Place to Hang the Moon really happy!
Weaknesses: While I was hoping for more information about Norvia's Native American heritage and possibly about her passing as white, I think the author did a good job at using the information she had about Norvia to craft a realistic portrayal of how Norvia's life played out. Being a huge historical fiction geek, I would have liked more details about daily life, product brands, etc., but there's plenty there for young readers who haven't spent as much time reading Project Gutenberg titles as I have.  
What I really think: There are relatively few historical fiction books set in the early 1900s, and this is a great story that might convince readers to pick up Anne of Green Gables or other contemporary titles, and it's always a happy day for me when that happens!

Cole, Steve. Stitched-Up
June 2nd 2022 by Barrington Stokes
E ARC provided by the author

Hanh is being held in a clothing factory, where she is forced to work grueling hours and live in horrific conditions. She got there because a man and woman came to her family and told them that she was wanted for an internship in Hanoi, working as a shop assistant. Since she wants to be a fashion designer, she's willing to take a year off school to do this, especially since her parents are offered a large sum of money. She is going with Tuyet, whose familiy she knows, and meets Ping on the bus to Hanoi. Immediately upon arriving in the city, the girls are taken to a factory and told they would be working there. The factory makes clothing, and one of the jobs the girls have to do is to sand blast jeans so they are distressed. They do not have masks, and the sand particles cause breathing problems, especially for Tuyet, who has asthma. Ping uses a sander on details, but since Hanh helped her mother with sewing, she has a slightly easier job embroidering flowers on the jeans. When Tuyet falls and injures her hand, she is not given medical help but sent to another factory to pick up waste fabric off the floor. This makes her breathing problems worse. Yen, who is a supervisor, is cruel to the girls, because if quotas are not met, the overseers are cruel to her. After Tuyet is injured, Hanh starts to think of ways to escape, inspired by a quote from Ho Chi Minh. She saves bits of fabric to make a banner to hang out a window alerting the outside world to the fact that there are slaves in the building that need help. Someone picks it apart at night, but she is eventually able to finish it. Hanging out of a window is treacherous work, and when the girls are interrupted, Chau falls out of the window. The girls fear she is dead, and of course are given no news of their friend. Soon after, repairmen are in the building fixing the sand blaster, which they say has been tampered with. One of the men taunts Hanh with a stick of gum and then throws the wrapper at her face, but it has a message written in it. He says that help is on its way, and the girls should find a way to stay in their room so they can be rescued. Other workers, who are trying to ingratiate themselves to the bosses, find out about this, and the rescue attempt happens earlier. It doesn't go well, but the man tries several times and finally succeeds. He is working with an aid society that helps children who have been trafficked. They close down the factory and help the girls get back home. Hanh finds out that her parents were never paid any more money, and if she hadn't been rescued, she might never have made it home. She is able to go back to school and hope for a better life. N.B. I thought that the E ARC was letting me take notes, but when I went to retrieve them, it was glitchy. I apologize for any mistakes with plot details and names. 
Strengths: If you've read Thomas' Fashionopolis, you know that the fast fashion industry has become a huge problem in the last forty years. Distressed jeans have always seemed like a bad idea to me, and the fact that people are so grievously injured in making them is something that everyone needs to know about. Barington Stoke is a UK publisher of books for reluctant and dyslexic readers, and their layouts are great. The font is san serif, there's a lot of white space on the page, the book is short, and there are even illustrations that really capture the dark mood of the book. Hanh is a great character who is trying hard to improve her own circumstances, even when they are dire. She tries to soothe tensions between workers and make a difference in their lives. Most importantly, readers in developed countries who are purchasing fast fashion should know the human cost of these clothes! I've bought all of my clothes at the thrift store ("charity shop" for readers across the pond) for about 25 years and now am very glad that I have! Middle grade readers will appreciate the fast pace and suspense of Hanh's fight to be free of her horrible environment. 
Weaknesses: It seems unlikely that I will be able to get a copy that would last in my library. It's only available in paperback, and only in the UK. Also, while Cole researched this thoroughly, it seems unlikely that he has ever had to work in such an environment. This doesn't bother me at all, but some people may not be as pleased. 
What I Really Think: Steve Cole, whose Z-Rex (2009) and Thieves Like Us (2006) are still popular in my library (although the entire Wereling (2003) trilogy fell apart!) is a prolific UK writer! More of his work should come to our shores! There are four books in this series, all of which deal with various environmental and social justice issues: Tin Boy, World Burn Down, and Welcome to Trash Land. I would certainly buy all four of these if they were available in the US, and my readers would love them. 


  1. Both of these books sounds like very intense reads. I look forward to finding them. We don’t go back to school until August 29 (my last day was June 24). I’m sorry your summer has been uninspired. I hope you do something fun in your last weeks. I’m using mine for rest, recovery, reading, and writing.

  2. I've been compiling my list of books to read this weekend. A few classic re-reads but mostly new ones. Looking forward to it for sure! Thanks for putting it all together.

  3. Both stories seem interesting because of the underlying societal issues. Thanks for the reviews & your opinion about them.

  4. I'm looking forward to the #MGReadathon—I'm planning to cram in a bunch of picture books, since those are the only books I feel comfortable not reviewing (and there are way too many of them on my reading list right now)! And I hope you have a nice finish to your summer before your return to school.

    As for the books you've reviewed, The Star that Always Stays sounds like a really enjoyable modern take on the kind of classic books you mention, and Stitched Up sounds like a really impactful read—I had no idea distressed jeans in particular were so dangerous to make, and I think any book that puts a human face on a seemingly-nebulous problem is a valuable one. Thanks so much for the wonderful post, Karen!

  5. Thanks for sharing these books today. Today is a fascinating comparison between lives then and now! It's too bad that Stitched-Up won't work in your library. Do you offer digital books for your readers? I have heard rumours that this is now a thing where I used to work. I guess the positive side of it is that you don't have to worry about the books deteriorating.
    BTW, I recently read an article that thrift stores are in trouble because of fast fashion clothing. The kinds of quality items that used to make purchasing attire there are no longer available.

  6. I am going to do the readathon and am so excited for it, however I probably won't go as wild as I usually would because the WriteCon is that day and that is my priority. But, I know I'll be reading and look forward to meeting new readers and finding new books to read! Great reviews of these two reads.

  7. I'm looking forward to reading the Star that Always Stays! Thanks for featuring this week.

  8. Two interesting and different books. I hear what you are saying about Cole not working in that industry, but what are the odds of getting an own voices book from someone who was working in slavery? I am hoping he has documented some of his research for the book at the end for people to see and can draw attention to that. The girls in my house do not need another reason to hate distressed jeans (thank goodness, I don't have to be involved in that fashion statement). Good luck ramping up for the next school year. We are on very different schedules. I feel like my break just started.

  9. I have just put The Star That Always Stays on my TBR list. I do love historic fiction, and you make that one sound so good. Thanks for both reviews. Actually both sound good, but I only have so many hours in a day.

  10. Anonymous7:26 PM EDT

    Thanks for the detailed information for your reading this week.

  11. Really enjoyed your review of The Star That Always Stays. Adding it to my list. I like nostalgia. And I agree -- you have a story to write. Good luck with the reading challenge tomorrow.

  12. I enjoyed The Star That Always Stays but now I am wondering how to get a US publisher to take a look at Stitched-Up! I wish I still knew some juvenile editors.