Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Learning to Fall and The Other Side of the River

Englefried Sally. Learning to Fall
September 6th 2022 by Little, Brown and Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Daphne lives with her mother, an aspiring actress, in Los Angeles, but when her mother gets a part in an important picture filming in Prague, she finds herself on a plane to the Oakland to stay with the father that she hasn't seen in two years. Her father had some problems with alcohol that lead to her parents' divorce, and he let her down very badly on her birthday a few years previously, not showing up to a skate park when he said he would, so he wasn't there when she tried to skate and broke her arm. She has decided that she will spend the summer being very aloof, but it is hard. With the help of his parents, her father has gotten a house he is fixing up. It's next door to his best friend, Gus, who has helped him through a lot of his problems and is also fixing up his house. Gus' girlfriend, Rusty, has a son, Arlo, who also likes to skate. At one point, Daphne's father skated for a living, but his alcoholism and bad choices brought that to an end. Now, he is looking for jobs in the tech field after going back to school, so often has job interviews. Daphne is fine to hang out with Arlo, or go to her grandparents' house. Her grandmother is very glad to see her again, since Daphne spent a lot of time with them when she was very young, even though she doesn't remember them. Her long range plan, however, is to ditch her father and go to Prague to be with her mother on the set. Her mother keeps putting her off, which doesn't improve her mood. Daphne was made fun of when she tried to skate at a park back in LA, and was traumatized by that and by breaking her arm, so is reluctant to do many tricks or "drop in" (See the cover. I think this is a realistic fear!), even though she is able to practice a bit in Gus' bowl in his backyard. Arlo is willing to teach her, as is her father, and she reluctantly takes help from both of them. Her father is very stressed by his job search, and at one point Daphne calls her grandmother because she is worried that her father might start drinking. He doesn't, but needs help from his AA sponsor. He does apologize to Daphne for his current frustration as well as for his past neglect. He even plans a camping and skating trip to make it up to her, but when he lands a new job and is given an opportunity to earn some extra money by filling in for someone else, he plans on sending Daphne with Gus, Arlo and Rusty while he stays in Oakland to work. This angers Daphne, who is all set to take off for Prague. Will Daphne be able to conquer her fears and learn to skate, and will she be able to navigate a new relationship with her father?
Strengths: There just are not enough skateboarding books, although I was glad to see Roe's Air earlier this year. Daphne's feelings about skateboarding are realistically complicated-- she likes to skate, but feel she can't do tricks, and she almost doesn't want to learn because her father likes to skate and she's mad at her father. At the same time, she craves his attention and approval, so wants to learn from him. Watching her cope with his job search and struggles not to drink was hard but something that many young readers may face from time to time with their own parents. Certainly, many tweens have to deal with spending the summer with a noncustodial parents and will understand Daphne's awkwardness. Arlo is a good friend, and I really enjoyed the grandparents, who tried so hard to be fair to both of Daphne's parents. The skating details are exquisite, and the Oakland setting is well described. This was a very fun book to read even if you aren't interested in skateboarding and reminded me a bit of Zarr's A Song Called Home
Weaknesses: While I really enjoyed this one, the first chapter or two seemed vaguely confusing. 
What I really think: It is a rare and wonderful occurrence to find a skateboarding book; I've been asking for more on this topic since I began blogging in 2006. In fact, it occurred to me that Daphne's father reminded me very strongly of one of my students who is probably now old enough to have a middle school aged daughter! Definitely purchasing a copy and am looking forward to seeing more books by this author. 
Dobbs, Alda P. The Other Side of the River (Petra Luna #2)
September 6th 2022 by Sourcebooks Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Petra, her younger sister and brother, and abuelita are in a refugee camp in the US, along with Dona Juanita in 1913, having come from Mexico, where the revolution made their lives untenable. Petra's mother has passed away, and she is hoping to find her father in the US, since her grandmother is 58 and not in the best health. (N.B. I'm 57!) The camp is going to close soon, so everyone needs to find a job. Petra is the only one in her family who can work, but the recruiters are not interested in her. She manages to buy tickets from another family that will take them to San Antonio. Once there, they go to Wesley House, where the nuns help them get cleaned up from their long journey and instruct them to go to see Mr. Bob to rent a shack in a very busy immigrant area. The rent is reasonable, especially when a neighbor helps Petra get a job helping a woman who sells chili. Petra works hard and is responsible, and the family thrives. Abuelita shells pecans while watching the younger children. When an incident causes Petra to lose her job, she is luck to be hired on to help Sister Nora with housekeeping at the church. She and the nun, who left Ireland with her sister to escape the potato famine there, bond when the nun helps Petra learn to read and shares her love of books with her. Petra has an opportunity to help a man named Mr. Knox with his new school, but when she stands up to some well to do young ladies who say disrespectful things about immigrants like Petra, she is worried that she will lose this chance. She runs into her cousin Pablo but is still looking for her father. Will Petra's hard work keep her family afloat until she can find him?
Strengths: I was always enthralled with how hard Francie Nolan had to work in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Petra certainly works even harder! It's important for young readers to understand that 100 years ago and more, children were expected to do a lot more work, especially when they were in difficult circumstances, like Petra is. The fact that this is based on the author's family history, and includes as a character the man after whom her school was named adds another layer of interest. I was particularly fond of Sister Nora and thought it was so charming how she and Petra were able to connect over their shared experiences of being immigrants. There are good details about San Antonio that are probably especially interesting for readers who are familiar with the city now. 
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a few more details about the place that the family lived, the clothing they wore, and how they cooked the food that they ate, since those would all have been so different from today's situation. There is a marvelous scene where Sister Nora gives Petra stockings and shoes, and Petra is so surprised-- she thinks that all shoes hurt! That's the sort of detail I would love to see more of.
What I really think: I will definitely purchase for fans of Behar's Letters from Cuba and Meltzer's Tough Times and will recommend to students who complain to me that they don't like their new cell phones!

No comments:

Post a Comment