Friday, June 30, 2023

June Statistics

That's 470 full reviews out of the 579 books I've read this year. 81% is a B-. I'm okay with that. 

Guy Friday- Food Fight and How to Stay Invisible

Davis, Linda B. Food Fight
June 27, 2023 by Fitzroy Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ben is excited about entering middle school with his friends Nick and Josh, especially since he has gotten on a travel soccer team. However, there are challenges when he enters the Wild West of middle school-- the lunchroom. Josh is usually a well liked kid, but he's determined to put together a "squad" of at least ten kids so that there is some social protection or cool factor attached to them. Ben would fit right in except for one thing; he only eats ten foods, and his lunch every single day is a plain bagel, mini pretzels, and piece of chocolate. When Darren, who is a dirty soccer player and didn't make the team, gives him a hard time about it, Ben tries to laugh it off, but Darren is relentless. It doesn't help that Ben's own father has given him problems for years. It's not that Ben just doesn't like food, he gags if he is even around certain strong smells like coffee. His father makes frequent comments that he needs to "snap out of it", and even tries to get Ben to eat a simple chicken and rice dish for dinner instead of buttered pasta. Ben's mother is more understanding, but very concerned about an upcoming school field trip to the historical Abner Farm. She makes a deal with Ben that if he attends two counseling sessions to try to find ways to cope with his food avoidance, she will try to get his father to back off. Ben finds out that he probably suffers from ARFID (avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder), but would rather just keep things under wraps instead of letting everyone at school know. The Abner Farm trip looms large. In addition to living in tents, students will be eating historical food like succotash, and there's no way that Ben can eat that. At first, he thinks he just won't go, but then there is Lauren. He has a huge crush on her, but so does Darren. Darren is constantly picking at Ben. When the kids hang out, he notices that Ben doesn't eat pizza. He makes fun of him and Olivia, Ben's lab partner and super smart student who has an unfortunate past. Olivia is kind to Ben, and even helps him take a "supertaster" test. He even causes a brief rift between Ben and Lauren when Ben decides to run for vice president and Lauren runs for president of the sixth grade. Deciding that he can't let Darren and Lauren go to Abner Farm without him, he decides to go, and even leaves the granola bars his mother wants him to take behind. He figures that the flapjacks on the menu are close enough to the pancakes he will eat, and plans to survive on those. It's harder than he thinks, although he manages to help out with meals and avoid most of the foods that trigger him. He manages to get by, and the wise Olivia even brings him a granola bar, but Darren keeps finding ways to bother him. When a bag of candy bars is found in Ben's duffle and he faces being thrown out of camp, he finally admits that he has a severely restrictive diet, thus the food cannot be his. Darren's antics come to light, and Ben's friends are able to be a little more understanding of his condition. 
Strengths: This was an excellent blend of realistic school concerns and a health problem, and contains the absolute finest writing about bullying I have ever seen. Bullying is not necessarily fights and swirlies and wedgies. It's kids picking at each other under their breath, "joking around" with nicknames, and manipulating people around them to also look askance at another student. The lunchroom and science class scenes are perfect, and we all know kids like Olivia who just don't quite understand students around them and don't temper their actions, and get treated poorly as a result even though they are good kids. There are some really excellent scenes, like Lauren oversalting fries to the point that Ben can't eat them, and then offering them to Darren saying "They're terrible. They would be perfect for you." Ben offers Lauren his travel soccer warm up when Darren bumps Ben and spills food on Lauren: there's SO MUCH in that scene! Modern children have a lot of anxiety about overnights with other children even if they don't have identified disorders, so the trip to Abner Farm is a great inclusion, even though I haven't seen an overnight trip (other than the 8th grade D.C. one) in a middle school in 30 years. The framework of this, with standard middle school circumstances that are completely impacted by how Ben is treated about his eating, is quite brilliant. The best part? Ben isn't really bothered by eating just ten things. He is bothered that other people are bothered. Isn't that most of middle school in a nutshell?
Weaknesses: This is only available in paperback. I'm hoping there will be a prebind available after publication, because paperbacks usually only last about three years in a school library, if that! 
What I really think: Having dealt with students who will only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chocolate chip granola bars, chocolate milk, and bananas, I know that Ben is an absolutely true to life character. I do sort of wish there had been more about the counselor, as well as some coping strategies (is Ben at least able to take vitamins?), but this is still very well done. I will purchase this in paperback and tape the heck out of it if I have to. 

Rudd, Maggie C. How to Stay Invisible
June 27, 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Raymond's parents have never been very reliable, and since moving to River Mill, North Carolina, they haven't improved. He's been in a children's home in the past, and they've certainly left him alone, but this time, they haven't even left him a place to live when they take off. They've turned in the keys to their trailer, so Raymond and his dog Rosie find a hollow tree in the woods behind the school that they live in. With a few changes of clothes and a bar of soap, Raymond tries to keep himself clean as best he can. He gets meals at school, and soon realizes that there is a lot of discarded packaged food in dumpsters that he can get to feed himself and Rosie. School work is a bit of a problem, and his grades do drop a little, but he does his best. He makes a friend in Harlin, whose mother has been in prison and whose father has left him with his grandmother. The two enjoy each other's company, and help each other out; when the two manage to get to a school carnival, Harlin wins tickets to an event, but trades them for a sleeping bag Raymond is eying, which helps make the winter more bearable. When school is out for winter break, survival becomes even harder, and when Rosie is attacked by a coyote and has an infected cut on her leg, Raymond takes her to town to try to find help. Nothing is open, but a kindly older man, Stigs, picks them up and takes them to his cabin, where he fixes Rosie's leg. He was an army surgeon who has had a hard life, and has lost both his wife and his son. He knows that Raymond needs help, and lets him wash up, eat, and sleep in comfort while Rosie is healing. Having survived a rough childhood himself, Stigs doesn't ask questions or make demands, but just offers what help he can. When school resumes and Rosie is better, he lets Raymond go with a bag of supplies and the offer to meet up on Saturdays to fish. The coyote seems sorry, and even brings Raymond a rabbit. Raymond names him Hank, and he watches over the boy and his dog. At school, Raymon develops a nice friendship with Lexi, with whom he is working on a project, and the two enjoy each other's company. Raymond even asks for Stig's help to borrow some of Stig's son's old clothes and get a hair cut so he can go to the school dance. When Raymond is bitten by a snake, however, his attempts to stay invisible fail, and he finally gets the help he needs. 
Strengths: There is something about being twelve that makes surviving on one's own seem really appealing. Frequent readers may remember that my own plan to run away involved living in the woods near my aunt's house, because I knew she kept food in an unlocked garage. My daughter liked to read about chidlren who were mistreated because it made her life seem more reasonable, and I think that's part of the appeal of Raymond's story. His life is awful, but he is resourceful and resilient, and manages to survive decently for a very long time. He takes good care of Rosie, keeps up in school, and learns new ways to take care of himself, like fishing and skinning small animals. Others have mentioned it, but there is a strong My Side of the Mountain feel to this one, although it's easier to be sympathetic to Raymond than to Sam Gribley! I adored Stigs, and felt that his character had good reason to steer clear of social services, even though I wanted them to be called right away. The ending was a bit of a twist, but very realistic and well done. 
Weaknesses: While the teachers are portrayed as helpful and kind, it was a bit surprising that no one tried to contact home. It's a small quibble with an excellent book, and it did make me feel better that a local charity, Neighborhood Bridges, keeps me supplied with toiletries so that my students can get toothpaste, soap, and hairbrushes if they need them. I will now be more attentive to anyone who constantly smells like wood smoke, however!
What I really think: Like Walter's The King of Jam Sandwiches, this was a hard but interesting look at the life of a child who hasn't received the care that he should. I'm definitely purchasing for fans of survival books like Wallace's The Wilder Boys or Hashimoto's The Trail

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Conjure Island

Royce, Eden. Conjure Island
June 27, 2023 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Delphinia, who would rather be called Del, is used to living with just her grandmother and her father, who is in the military, since her mother died giving birth to her. The family moves frequently, and while it isn't great, Del loves to be with her grandmother (who, byt the way, is 63 years old). The latest transition, however, happens when her father is deployed, so she and her grandmother have to make the move on their own. They have a system, and clean the house and unpack the needed boxes, but the grandmother is uncharacteristically tired. Del is concerned, and rightly so. Her grandmother collapses and ends up in the hospital. Her father can't come home, and since her grandmother needs surgery and will need time to recuperate, she is sent to South Carolina to her great grandmother Rose whom she has never met and didn't even know existed! Rose runs a school on a small island where she teaches conjure magic to kids Del's age who have family connections to powers. There are any number of unusual things, from a tame crocodile, to buildings that appear run down but are really palatial, to a ghost butler! Why was Del never told about all of this? Why has her grandmother never returned to the island? While Del makes friends with fellow student Eva, she keeps the fact that she has family connections to the school secret from her. Eventually, secrets are revealed and the girls find a hidden room with many clues to her grandmother's course of action. Will Del be able to repair hre family's rift and also embrace her family and cultural connection to magic?
Strengths: This had a good magical academy vibe, but for the summer, which seems more realistic than going to a Hogwarts type school! I enjoyed the quick peek at Del's life with her grandmother, and the information about the family's military life. Eva knows a lof more about how the magic works, and is a good friend to have, especially when she saves Del from quicksand. The island setting, especially the house and the library with the unseen librarian, were great fun. Fans of this author's Root Magic will be glad to see another magical book set in the South. 
Weaknesses: Did the mother have to be killed off? Such a common trope in middle grade books, especially fantasy, and it might have been more interesting if both women had just sworn off magic. Also, the grandmother seemed a bit young tobe incapacitated so long, although I did appreciate that it was a more minor health crisis and not, say, a heart attack. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who liked Scott's School of Charm or Dumas' Wildseed Witch.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Braid Girls

Winston, Sherri. The Braid Girls
June 13, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie and Deija are best friends. While Maggie has a father  and mother who are around to support her and her younger brother Taz (who likes to act like a robot), Daija's mother Kiki is raising her without as much involvement from her father. Deija is very interested in ballet, and knows that she will have to come up with money for private lessons on her own if she hopes to do well enough to make the cuts for an upcoming show. She has a plan to braid hair, which she and Maggie do very well, and raise the money over the summer. When Maggie gets a surprising new family member, Deija is jealous and is cautious about accepting her. Maggie's father had been in the navy and was in a relationship with Clover before he met Maggie's mom, and Callie is Clover and the father's daughter. Clover never told him about his child, but when she passes away, Callie's relatives contact him. Maggie's mother is understanding, and so Callie moves in. Maggie is welcoming, clearing out space in her room, and willing to hang out with her new sister. Deija is not at all happy when Callie comes to the summer camp where she and Maggie are supposed to be craft counselors. It makes perfect sense that they will try to get the children at the camp to get their hair braided after the camp is over, and earn money that way. Callie is also a talented braider, as well as a jewelry artist, and is more than happy to help. When the girls in charge of the Paradise Camp start to poach the girls' clients, they are not happy, especially since their braiding skills are substandard, and Lorilee and Angela are plain mean. With fellow counselor Keith's help, they manage to get some incriminating video of the Paradise Camp girls being rough with their customers' hair and post them on social media, where they go viral. There are some relationship hitches with Maggie, Deija, and Callie, but try to work through them. When they hit a particularly rough patch, will they be able to find a way to stay friends?
Strengths: I loved the supportive extended family, and the fact that there are family activities like going out for ice cream and having picnics portrayed. There are not enough of those in some middle grade books. The issue with Callie is addressed in a very age appropriate fashion, and it was nice that Maggie was very accepting of Callie, and that Callie, while she missed her mother, was glad to get to know her father and have a new family. The friend drama is completely on point; three can be a crowd in middle grade friendships. The addition of Keith as a light romantic interest for Maggie is fun. I would think that a lot of tweens are looking to earn money for various reasons, even though that is harder to do than it was when I was twelve and we were allowed to babysit infants for a dollar an hour!
Weaknesses: I never really felt that Deija was all that interested in ballet, and it seemed unlikely that the summer camp would be pleased with the girls trying to make money off campers; $25-$40 for hair styles seems a bit expensive. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked McDonald's Twists and Turns or Boles' Little Divas (that has a somewhat similar cover!), or who like Strong's other titles like President of the Whole Fifth Grade or Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Vivian Lantz's Second Chances

Ormsbee, Kathryn. Vivian Lantz's Second Chances
June 13, 2023 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Vivian has ALWAYS had bad first days of school. One of the worst ones was when she and her fathers and brother Arlo moved from Chicago to Texas in third grade, and she didn't know the song "Deep in the Heart of Texas". Now, everyone associates her with that day. In 7th grade, she got food poisoning from bad turkey bacon, but at least she had her best friend Cami to help her. Now, Cami has moved away, and Vivian has to start 8th grade all alone. She has a plan, though, that she's written in the hyacinth themed journal that Cami gave her; she's being more deliberate about her clothing choices, wants to get in with the popular Amberleigh's crowd, and wants cute Alex to notice her. Things don't start well. She wakes up to the sound of Arlo dealing with a leak in the roof (their dads run the Be Kind, Rewind resale shop, and the family lives above it), her dog makes a mess on the carpet, and she doesn't get breakfast. Arlo drives her to school and they get stuck in traffic, and she has a collision with Gemma that ends up with Vivian covered in mud. She's late for assembly, and later talks to her teacher about joining the school newspaper, only to them trip on a cord and destroy the teacher's aquarium. To make matters worse, she gets her period in school. She ends up, miserable, in the nurses office, and has her dads pick her up. Arlo decides that this is a good day to leave home to tour with his rock band. It's officially the worst day ever. The only good thing in her life is the Revelande book series, and for her birthday, her dads have gotten a taped message from the author, promising that Vivian can be in control of her own destiny. She's thinking about that as she goes to bed on that terrible day, wishing that she could relive it and make it right. When she wakes up the next morning, Arlo is once again dealing with a water leak. Realizing that she's in a time loop, Vivian tries to be more prepared. She takes supplies with her for her period, redirects Arlo through traffic, and manages to talk to Gemma rather than run into her. She even gets invited to a party at with the cool kids, but still there are plenty of things that are disatrous. Since she gets several more attempts at the day, she hopes that she can eventually fix everything. After six days, when things still aren't going right, she reaches out to Cami to see if they can figure out how to make 8th grade a success and avoid pitfalls like banana pudding and pockets full of dog poop. Will they succeed?
Strengths: Yep. We've all had those moments, which is why Seventeen Magazine ran a "Was My Face Red!" column for years. There's something about reading about other people's bad moments that is somehow comforting. So insecure about your outfit that you kept your sweater on the entire day and almost passed out from the heat? Tame compared to being covered in mud. The way that Vivian tried to rectify her mistakes was realistic, and her interactions with Gemma, Alex, and Amberleigh all changed in satisfactory ways. Alex turns out to be a bit of a jerk, Amberleigh is not nice, but Vivian eventually stands up to her, and Vivian realizes that she has a crush on Gemma. This works out because Gemma has come out to her friends as queer, and part of her problems with them is that they didn't accept that. I loved the vintage shop and wished we had seen more of it, and Vivian's connection with Cami was well done; now that kids have cell phones, they are able to keep in touch with friends in a way that wasn't possible even fifteen years ago. Throw in a little bit of fantasy fandom and fanfiction writing, and you've got a winner of a middle grade book. 
Weaknesses: At one point, Vivian toasts and butters a PopTart. Is that something people do? Also, a girl in the school clinic is given a cup of Pepto Bismal to drink; maybe clinics in Texas can give out medication, but here in Ohio the best the nurse can do is bandages and peppermint candy. The magic that made the day repeat was a tiny bit vague, but the execution was great, so I didn't mind. 
What I really think: I can only think of one other middle grade timeloop book, Bearce's Paris on Repeat, although Thayer's excellent The Double Life of Danny Day gives Danny one chance to repeat his days. This will be a big hit, although I wish the cover had looked a bit older. The cartoon style graphics on YA books are throwing me off, and I think this cover still reads a bit young. Definitely purchasing, though!                                                                         

Everett, Sarah. The Probability of Everything
June 27, 2023 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kemi has a good life and a very supportive family. Her little sister, Lo, is a handful but very endearing, her artist mother is tired because she is expecting, but still takes time to spend with Kemi, and her mother's sister and mother are close by to support the family and share their Nigerian background and culture. Kemi is especially fond of her father, who encourages her love of numbers and statistics, and has recently quit his office job to follow his dreams. While the family is at home on a Sunday morning watching television, startling news comes on-- there is an asteroid headed to earth, and the probability that it will hit the earth and destroy everything is almost 90%. Kemi and her sister are taken to her aunt's house while their parents make some plans. Kemi wants to go to school to keep her perfect attendance, but her mother says she needs to stay home. To pass the time until the asteroid hit, she starts a time capsule so that her family can be remembered. She manages to get something from everyone but her father, but he can't quite decide what he loves best and wants to include. As the time counts down, we find out that Kemi's story is really more like Reynold's Izzy at the End of the World or Malienko's This Appearing House. I don't want to ruin the twists and turns that this one takes. I love that it addresses serious racial issues and contemporary concerns about gun violence and loss, and Kemi is a great character, but the allegorical nature will make it hard for some young readers to understand. This might be good as a class read or literature circle. Read this for yourself and see if you think it would be a good fit for your library collection. 

Rissi, Anica Mrose. The Wishing Season
June 27, 2023 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's summer, and Lily would normally be spending all of her time outside, playing with her twin brother Anders. Sadly, Anders had gotten ill and passed away suddenly. Lily is struggling with this, and her mother is so submerged in her own grief that she is not much help. Lily can still communicate with Anders in "the overlap", but starts to realize that this area is becoming smaller and smaller, and she fears that soon she will not be able to talk to her brother at all. How will she be able to cope with this major loss yet again? 

Like McDunn's When Sea Becomes Sky, this addresses loss in a poetic and fantastical way, and will be a big hit with teachers and librarians who love books like The Thing About Jellyfish or Polisner and Baskin's Seven Clues to Home. This is very different from this author's Anna Banana series or her fantastic Hide and Don't Seek

Monday, June 26, 2023

MMGM-102 Days of Lying About Lauren

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Jortner, Maura. 102 Days of Lying About Lauren
June 20, 2023 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mouse works at the amusement park, sweeping up the mess that people makes on the grounds, and races Tanner to work every morning. She's always beaten him, and he suspects she has a secret parking space. She doesn't; she's been living at the park in an upper room in the Haunted Mansion since her mother abandoned her at there at the beginning of May. She has stolen an employee polo and gets breakfast left out by a bagel shop and gets a quesadilla every day from a shop that thinks the meal has been paid for, so is managing to survive. She worries a lot about being discovered, so has a set of rules for herself that she writes on a board in her room. There is an undercover security guard of whom she is especially wary. She tries not to think about her mother, but just continues to get up every morning, sweep the park, and hang out with Tanner. Tanner is the son of the CEO of the park, and seems like he is constantly making his father angry. As the summer winds down, he thinks that he won't see as much of Mouse, and asks her to help him pick out a gift at the park gift shop "for a friend". Mouse picks out a pin, but it reminds her of her mother. There isn't a lot of time to worry about this, since a girl at the park has recognized Mouse as Lauren Suszek, who has been reported missing. There's also a tornado approaching the park. Because of the girl following her, Cat, she doesn't make it into the storm shelter in time. Tanner shows up, having a massive panic attack, and the three try to weather the storm in the Haunted Mansion. Tanner calms down, but is badly injured, and the sad story of his life comes out. Cat tries to persuade Mouse that she can come and live with her and her mother. When help comes, there are more offers for Mouse to consider, and some surprising helpers come to light. Mouse won't be able to live with her mother, but she won't have to fend for herself in the park any more. 
Strengths: Who hasn't thought about running away from home? And wouldn't an amusement park be a great place to go? Granted, Mouse was abandoned, but this takes away the blame from her, which is a good move. Her friendship with Tanner is nice to see, and there certainly are 12 year olds who are tall and look older. While there is a lot of drama that goes on during the storm, it wasn't the "child goes missing as tornado approached" trope that we see a lot in middle grade. I liked that Cat was looking for her cousin, and the involvement of social workers at the end was realistic. There was a bit of a twist with how Mouse was getting her food that was nice, if a bit unrealistic. There should be a lot more books involving amusement parks!
Weaknesses: I would have much rather seen more details about how Mouse was living in the park (Where did she bathe? Wash her clothes? What did she do at night when the park was empty? Couldn't she have found a lot more in the lost and found that just a threadbare beach towel? I also would have thought she could have gotten a lot more food that people left behind, especially since she was always going around with a dust pan.) and less about Tanner's family grief. I'm never a fan of any book where a grief stricken mother "won't get out of bed" and neglects a surviving child. 
What I really think: I'll purchase this one because who DOESN'T want to live in an amusement park for the summer, even if it involves sweeping every day? This has some similarities to Kear's Foreverland and Newman's One Mixed-Up Nightwhere the children spend the night in an Ikea. Alexander's Escape is a good scary book, but not as good as a realistic look at what it would be like to live in an amusement park. This is a fun middle grade adventure that also has enough serious moments to make it a good book for the ever present Book Project. I'm interested to see what Jortner writes next.  

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Code Red

McCullough, Joy. Code Red
June 13, 2023 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Eden's mother is very busy with her company, MySecret, which produces period products, but makes time to come to Eden's school for career day. Unfortunately, after her visit, some kids in her school give her a hard time. Eden is already struggling since an injury ended her gymnastics career, so when Graham gives her a hard time in the hallway, there is a tussle. Another student, Maribel, steps in. Graham falls, and ends up in urgent care with a broken wrist. Maribel's mother comes to the school to meet with the principal, but Eden's mother is in a meeting. Because of the nature of the injury, both girls are suspended. Maribel's mother takes the girls to the drop in center she runs, Casa Esperanze, and puts the girls to work until Eden's mother comes to pick her up. Eden's mother doesn't say very much, but when Eden locks herself out of the house the next day while walking her dog Blizz, she decides that Eden can't stay home alone. Soon, she's hanging out with Maribel and helping out. She meets Raven, who runs a period equity charity, and her son Will. Eden has gotten her first period and was saved by one of Raven's reusable pads, so she is interested in sewing some herself. Her mother liked to sew back in the day and is glad to share an interest with Eden, so breaks out the old sewing machine and gets her started. Eden is looking for ways to fill her time since she isn't doing gymnastics, and helps out with the play that Maribel is doing at school. When Maribel's older sister mentions some political action groups she is working with, Eden is very interested in the initiative to tax corporations so that free period products can be stocked at schools and food pantries. Her mother is NOT happy with this idea and thinks it is embarassing that Eden is actively working against her. She grounds Eden, who sneaks out anyway to participate in a flash mob to raise awareness and get volunteers to help get petitions signed. Her mother is angry, but eventually the two come to an understanding, and her mother's business even supports some of the period equity initiatives. 

Eden's growth spurt led to difficulties with gymnastics and an injury; like Maisie in Day's The Sea in Winter, Eden has lost part of her identity as well as a way to spend her time. Adults tend to forget how integral a part of tweens identiy sports can be. It was good to see Eden making new friends as she pursued new interests, but also to see how she tried to maintain a relationship with her friends from gymnastics. The portrayal of a busy mother who has procedures for meals and care and even spends some time with her daughter but also isn't emotionally present as much as her daughter wants is interesting. 

This was on trend with many topics; Will is a trans boy, which leads to discussions that period products are not for girls and women, they are for "people who menstruate". Middle school students today are quite open about discussing menstruation, which is such a change from when I was growing up. There is also a lot of interest in social justice and equity, so this was an interesting look at period poverty and different initiatives to provide period products to a wider range of menstruators.

This is a great choice for readers who liked Evans' Grow Up, Tahlia Wilkins, Harrington's Revenge of the Red Club, Schneemann's and Williams' Go With the Flow or Salazar's The Moon Within or Calling the Moon: 16 Period Stories from BIPOC Authors

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Cartoon Saturday- Emma Hopper and Take a Hike

Spangler, Brie. Fox Point's Own Gemma Hopper
April 11, 2023 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by the publisher

Gemma, her older brother Teddy, and her younger twin brothers live with their father in Rhode Island. Teddy is a fantastic baseball player, and is looking to attend the prestigious All Atlantic training school in Florida if all goes well. Things are a bit  rough at home, since their mother has left. Gemma is left to pick up a lot of the slack, going to the laundromat to wash clothes, cooking dinner, and looking after her brothers after school. She even helps Teddy train, pitching to him so he can practice hitting. Their father works double shifts, so is rarely home. Gemma has a good friend, Bailey, but they have some difficulties when Bailey wants to get into the popular crowd, which thinks will happen if Gemma introduces Zoe to her brother. Gemma is reluctant to do that, since she doesn't see the point and doesn't care about the popular crowd. It doesn't help that she has a major project for Ms. Riggs that involves family geneaology. Since her mother isn't in touch with the family at all, she can't ask her questions, and her father isn't home much. Bailey has an idea that Gemma can just make things up, since Ms. Riggs won't know the difference. Teddy feels a lot of pressure to go to All Atlantic, and feels like he is carrying most of the burden at home, which puts him and Gemma at odds. When he has Gemma pitch to him in front of coaches, she strikes him out with her unerring pitches, and a video of this goes viral, further alienating the two. Eventually, the two realize that they need to work together, and Teddy gets Gemma the opportunity to try out for scouts from All Atlantic. She gets in to the school on the promise of her fast ball, even though she doesn't know much else about the game. Are things now looking up for the family, even though Gemma realizes that her mother will never return?
Strengths: There are so many family problems, and so many ways that young people can have their worlds unsettled. Teddy and Gemma, who are about 14 and 12, are doing the best they can to keep their household together, even though Teddy claims that "the whole family eats like racoons in a dumpster". Taking care of the twins is a concern, but there is a helpful neighbor. While their father is often absent, Teddy and Gemma generally get along... until they don't. Gemma's problems with Bailey are completely realistic, and neither really understands what the other is going through. Ms. Riggs is a sympathetic teacher, although geneaology projects are now such a landmine that we haven't had any assigned at my school for at least five years. There's plenty of baseball, and the drawings, mainly rendered in shades of teal, is attractive. 
Weaknesses: Since this is a graphic novel, there is a lot of background information that is lacking. What exactly is All American? How did Teddy get picked for it? What happened with Gemma's mother? There is a very dramatic scene where Gemma comes to terms with her mother's absence, but we still don't get a lot of explanation due ot the format. 
What I really think: This is a good graphic novel to add to a small but growing selection of sports titles, including Dawson's The Fifth Quarter, Wilson's Play Like a Girl, and Tavares' Hoops

Stromoski, Rick. Take a Hike (Schnozzer and Tatertoes)
June 27, 2023 by Union Square Kids
Copy provided by the Publisher
In this early reader graphic novel, we meet good pals Schnozzer and Tatertoes. They live together, which is a good thing, because the convivial and impetuous Tatertoes benefits from the calm and thoughtful practices of Schnozzer. After a rainy day game of "Mother May I", Tatertoes becomes obsessed with the idea of finding his mother, whom the two discover was last seen in Buzzard's Breath, which is only 11 inches away on the map. Without a car or funds to get a cab (or even a cell phone!), the two take off on their journey with Tatertoes' bike and Schnozzer on rollerskates being dragged behind. Their preparations also don't include food, money, or a tent, so they are involved in all manner of difficult situations, made worse by Tatertoes' tenuous grasp on basic instructions. At one point, he hears Schnozzer say "NO spiders" and hears "NOSE spiders", so spends the night sleeping with pinecones shoved up his nostrils. They come across a number of folks from whom they ask directions, and the answer is always the same. "Follow your nose". Will this be enough to get them to Tatertoes's mother?
Strengths: While elementary students love graphic novels, many of them have a lot of tiny, dense text that would challenge even strong readers, and are often on topics that don't quite appeal to first grade sensibilities. (Origami Yoda and Wimpy Kid books are good examples of this. Definitely middle grade content, but sold in so many elementary school book fairs!) Tatertoes' Amelia Bedelia-like personality will have young readers giggling and rolling their eyes along with Schnozzer. The illustrations are bright and clear, and filled with many good details. One of my favorite parts was Tatertoes' yoyo, which seems like an ill-considered thing to bring as your only supply, but which ends up saving the day. Guffaws abound, adventure is had, and Tatertoes gets a happy ending. 
Weaknesses: Wouldn't the spiders crawl in Tatertoes' mouth if he was sleeping with pine cones in his nose? Would that be better or worse? As a crabby adult, I sort of wanted to slap Tatertoes, but I would feel quite differently if I were reading this alongside a kindergartener. That would lead to some fun conversations, as well as attempts to put a handerchief wrapped bundle on a stick. 
What I really think: This is a fun addition to any elementary library where tales like Murphy's Cosmic Pizza Party, Braddock's Stinky Cecil, Vernon's Dragonbreath and Eaton's Flying Beaver Brothers are popular. 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Guy Friday- The Gray

Baron, Chris. The Gray
June 13, 2023 by Feiwel Friends
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sasha has been struggling with anxiety and with other kids in his class at school, and after an incident when he hurt someone who was giving him a hard time, his parents think that therapy and medication are not enough. He needs a break from screens, and a change of scenery, so they decide to send him to live with his Aunt Ruthie for the summer. Her husband, Sasha's favorite uncle, has died, and Sasha's parents would like her to leave her small, rural community and come live near them in the city. Ruthie has an active life near the closed Camp Akiva where she used to work, and still gives some dancing lessons to neighbor children like green haired Ivy. She encourages Sasha to get outside, and he meets a group of kids, including Ivy, at the abandoned camp. Unfortunately, his nerves get the best of him, and he ends up throwing up on the shoes of Boon, the local bully, who vows vengeance. He is saved by Eli, who is very quiet but has a history that has led the other children to leave him alone. Eventually, Sasha engages Eli to be his "bodyguard" and spends more time at Eli's family farm. Sasha's anxiety and depression sometimes descend upon him in very significant ways, and make the world around him seem to receed; he calls these episodes "the gray". His uncle suffered from them as well, so his aunt understands and is able to help. There is a horse Sasha would like to ride who is coincidentally called "the gray", but after being thrown, it's hard for him to get back up. His aunt enrolls him in a Krav Maga class. Ivy becomes friends with him, and claims that Boon and the rest are the only people in town to hang around, hence her involvement with them. Sasha learns a little about Eli's problems with his family, and after the two spend some time together, Eli confides in Sasha himself. Will getting away from screens and being outdoors with other people his own age help Sasha to deal with his mental health challenges?
Strengths: There are a lot of good details about how Sasha deals with his anxiety. His diagnosis is "heightened sensitivity with social anxiety", he has a doctor whom he sees, and he practices a lot of coping strategies like box breathing and 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. His aunt is a fun yet understanding character, and I'm glad that she is portrayed as having a full life of her own. The abandoned camp is a good touch, and reminded me of Matson's new The Firefly Summer. I imagine there are a lot of abandoned camps in the US, now that most parents don't necessarily get their children away from all of their screens! Sasha's parents are also very understanding and want the best for him. 
Weaknesses: The issues with Eli were important but seemed like a bit much to add to a story where a lot was already going on. Younger readers won't quite understand what happened to his brother. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like this author's other books(The Magical Imperfect and All of Me), LeGrand's Some Kind of Happiness or Haydu's One Jar of Magic. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

When Giants Burn and Camp Scare

Vrabel, Beth. Controlled Burn
June 13, 2023 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In a small, rural town of Rabbit, Utah, near Fishlake National Forest, Gerty and Hayes both have very difficult lives. After a famiky tragedy, Gerty's parents have embraced life "off the grid", demanded that she call them Alex and Jennifer, and have cut off ties with her grandmother, Nanny Pat. Gerty still talks to Nanny Pat, and the two share an interest in aviation and are building a plane. Hayes' mother was a firefighter in California, but became injured, addicted to pain mediciation, and spent time in jail for grand larceny. The two children meet in a support group at school, and Gerty soon brings Hayes into her plan to build an airplane. She also wants to travel to see Pando, a very old and massive tree with impressive roots, and join the same aviation watch organization that Nanny Pat had been in. Both children are fighting with their families for various reasons, and when Alex and Jennifer decide to move away, Gerty feels she needs to try out her plane and go to see Pando. She takes Hayes with her, but the flight is not successful, and soon the two of them are trying to survive not only a plane crash, but an encroaching fire. Will the two be able to survive, and to help put their families back together? 
Strengths: I loved Nanny Pat, and the details about Hayes' mother fighting fires was really interesting. I have a dedicated e reader, so why shouldn't Hayes' mother have her own Pulaski? There are lots of good information about forests, aviation, and forest fires set against Gerty and Hayes' problems. The pair are rather unlikely friends, but take to each other well. There's plenty of action and adventure after they try to fly the plane, and some decent survival skills demonstrated as well. It cannot be said enough that we all should have backpacks with protein bars, water, and complete first aid kits before going farther afield than the grocery store. 
Weaknesses: For some reason, I thought this was set during World War II. Gerty's name, perhaps, or the plane on the cover? It's set in the modern day. Also, while I am all for moving on past tragedies by ignoring them, parents have to be responsive to their children's reaction to loss, and Gerty's parents didn't take Gerty's emotions into consideration. They definitely fall into the category of dysfunctional, grieving middle grade parents, although Vrabel gets points for not just having them cower in bed. 
What I Really Think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed the friend relationship in this author's Caleb and Kit, liked the aviation aspects of Bowling's Across the Desert, or want a different look at forest fires Downing's Controlled Burn. Add this to the growing list of middle grade books about FIRE

Dawson, Delilah. Camp Scare
August 2, 2022 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the Ohio E Book Project
Parker is an awkward middle schooler who is very excited about topics that others aren't. She's the student who always has her hand waving in the air, and is an easy target for someone like Cassandra. Parker is thrilled to be invited to work on a poetry assignment with this popular girl at her posh house, and is bursting with tons of good ideas. The two settle in to work, then go to the kitchen for gourmet ice cream. Little does Parker know that Cassandra's friend KJ is going to get her journla out of her back pack and put her poetry and private thoughts on the internet. This, of course, goes viral and her classmates taunt her ceaselessly. In recompense, the school gives her a scholarship to go to Camp Care, a long time camp where children are protected from bullying. Parker arrives with a new wardrobe and hopes to reinvent herself, only to find that everyone has to wear the same boring uniform. That's not the worst of it: Cassandra is a camper there and has been coming for years, so is good friends with everyone in the Possum cabin. She tells the other girls that Parker is trouble, and after their possessions go missing and wind up in Parker's dresser, they believe everything Cassandra tells them. Even the counselors are mean, telling Parker that she won't ever make friends if she doesn't join in and always has a sour look on her face. When Parker meets Jennmy, she's glad to have a friend, but there is something not quite right about her new acquaintance. There is also a hazy and problematic past to the camp, dating to something that happened in 1988 and resulted in the camp being condemned and rebuilt. There are plenty of traditional camp activities for Parker to do; horse riding, fishing, archery, and foraging in the woods, but as the girls do these activities, many of them are gravely injured. Who is Jenny, really, and is there some connection between her and these horrible things? Will Parker be able to save the other campers from terrible fates and prove that she is not the one behind the accidents?
Strengths: Like Dawson's Mine, this has a solid premise, an atmospheric setting, and realistic interactions between tween girls. The details of summer camp are great, although I can't say I ever got to go foraging in the woods and told about wild mushrooms. Our conselours stuck with poison ivy, and there was a lot more badminton and canoeing. Jenny's portrayal is great, and there are just enough 1980s tells to make me realise that she wasn't all she claimed to be. Fairly gruesome things happen to the campers, but they aren't fatal. I don't want to spoil the ending, but it had some satisfying coincidences. 
Weaknesses: It was difficult to believe that a camp specifically marketed as being against bullying would have let Parker be treated the way she was. But then, it makes for a better story. 
What I really think: Summer camp is the perfect setting for a great horror novel, but other than Berk and Mitchell's Camp Murderface and some older R.L. Stine novels, I can't think of too many titles. I wished that this had been scarier and less involved with the bullying because the cover is fantastic. 

I'm still not convinced it's a good idea to encourage tweens that they are enough just the way they are. I am fortunate that my mother taught me to reign myself in, because I was a very odd child. It would have been impossible to keep friends if I had embraced my true self! The more other people know about you, the more ammunition they have to hurt you. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Call Me Adnan

Faruqi, Reem. Call Me Adnan 
June 13, 2023 by HarperCollins US
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, we meet Adnan, who lives with his mother and father in Atlanta, Georgia. He has an older sister, Aaliyah, and a two year old brother Riz. His mother is expecting. He has some quirks-- he will only eat pasta, popcorn, pizza, Pringles, pretzels, and parathas; he is colorblind; and he excels at table tennis. In addition to spending time at the masjid, he has a best friend, Sufian who likes to cook. School can be a challenge. His teacher Ms. Morgan doesn't really understand him and mispronounces his name, but the school custodian Ms. Darlene is a helpful ally. After much anxiety, Adnan wins the local level of table tennis and is set to play in the finals in Florida. Since it is Eid time, the whole family meet up for the tournament and celebration. They have a great time until a tragedy occurs and Riz drowns in the pool. The family is devastated, and in accordance with Muslim tradition, holds the funeral locally. When they return home, so many people drop by that they have a service at their place of worship. People say and do all of the things they do when people die; some helpful, others decidedly not. The whole family suffers, and try to get through the days. Sufian is understanding and helpful, bringing his special eggs over for Adnan every morning. When the new baby arrives, it is both happy and sad. There are constant reminders of Riz, but joy to be taken in Nusaybah as well. As the baby gets older, Adnan's mother becomes involved in water safety promotions, hoping to save other children from Riz's fate. Will Adnan be able to come to terms with the sad changes in his family. 
Strengths: On the bright side, no one in the family becomes incapacitated with grief as they usually do in middle grade novels. I enjoyed the first part of the story, and found the information about color blindness interesting; the friend with whom I coached cross country was color blind, and could never see the red box lines on the green grass at meets! The family's strong community was fantastic to read about, and the details about services and religious classes were interesting. Adnan has a lot of realistic middle grade emotions; he's worried about the tournament, slightly annoyed by Riz from time to time, and feels guilty because it was his job to look out for his brother. There are some good descriptions of how grief can sneak up at the weirdest of times; doing laundry, getting donuts, seeing airplanes flying. 
Weaknesses: A book about a boy who plays table tennis would have been great, but about half of this book is more involved with the grief after Riz's death. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who want more books like Stoddard's Right as Rain, O'Connor's Halfway to Harmony, or Warga's The Shape of Thunder

Frequent readers know that I'm never a fan of books that delve this deeply into grief. I would argue with one line in the book "It's a lie when they say it gets easier with time... it gets harder." A friend told me that it would take three years to really get over a loss, and it took five, but having that number in my head really helped. I've definitely  moved on. After ten years, it's certainly a lot easier. Believing that it will get easier absolutely helps. I am possibly the only proponent of "moving on", although back in the day this was how most people treated death. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Lei and the Fire Goddess

Maunakea, Malia. Lei and the Fire Goddess
June 6, 2023 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Leilani tends to go by "Anna" at home in Colorado, where her parents moved when her mother was able to get a good job in Boulder. She is more concerned with fitting in at her middle school, and getting along with her best friend Ridley. Her tutu (grandmother) is determined that she won't forget her Hawaiian culture, and has her come every summer to spend time on the island, near the small village of Volcano. Her father has made her memorize that family tree back many generations, and now that she is twelve, Anna must work on memorizing stories about her ancestors' pasts. She generally likes visiting, but wants to have more of a tourist experience so she can post pictures on fancy resorts on her social media in order to be like the other girls in her class. She does look forward to being with Kaipo, her best-friend-in-Hawai'i, but even he thinks her grandmother is right in wanting her to embrace her cultural heritage. When she plans to pick a flower from the Ōhi'a Lehua tree, Kaipo warns against it, saying that it will anger Pele, the goddess of the volcano. Anna picks it out of spite, citing the superstition that picking one will bring rain, but instead sets off an earthquake. Not only that, but a huge hawk circles the children and picks up Kaipo, carrying him away! There is lava headed towards her grandmother's house, but Anna knows she hsa to save her friend. She is helped by a talking bat named Ilikea, who helps her travel underground through lava tubes to get to the top of the mountain. When this doesn't work, Anna heads back to her grandmother's house, and TuTu shows her another way up and tells her that she will help neighbors evacuate. Anna is also helped by Makani, the wind, and various other creatures like butterflies that talk to her. She even meets Pele in the incarnation of a young girl, and thinks that the two get along, but Pele is still angry. Anna travels to retrieve a scale that is supposed to have magical powers, and realizes that talking to Pele's companion Kamapua'a might help. She learns some secrets about her family's past, as well as about Kaipo, and ends up having to learn hula and to challenge Pele to a sled race down the mountain. All of these activities help Anna connect more to her culture and family past, and she returns from rescuing Kaipo with a new sense of mission to embrace her identity fully as Leilani. 
Strengths: This wove together strands of middle school identity and cultural identity nicely, and had enough friend drama to draw in readers who might not otherwise pick up a fantasy book. I really liked the idea of having a certain persona and friends in Boulder, and another at her grandmother's house. The action starts very quickly, and the problem and quest to solve it are clearly laid out and easy to follow. I didn't have to take notes to keep track of what was going on, which I frequently have to do with fantasy. There are lots of descriptions of the island, and a lot of cultural touchpoints that are essential to the plot. This was a very fun action/adventure fantasy. 
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a glossary at the end. There were a lot of Hawaiian words that my students won't know, and while they could use their phones to look them up more quickly than I could, I'd rather not have them use any more screen time than they have to. Also, some terms like "kuewa", which the bat calls Anna, seem to have more weight than just the meaning I can find online. Also, I wouldn't have minded seeing more of the grandmother. 
What I really think: This seems like it will be a stand alone, and it was different enough from other fantasy titles that I will purchase it. Sure, there's a quest that goes underground and involves talking to magical creatures when the main character turns twelve, but I can't think of any other fantasy involving Hawaiian culture. What I would really like to see is some realistic fiction about middle school students living in Hawaii! 

Monday, June 19, 2023

MMGM- North of Supernova

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Leavitt, Lindsey. North of Supernova 
June 6, 2023 by Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Co.)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Stella North has finally broken into the big time, with an invitation to the popular Talia's birthday party, where only five of her friends can go to a cake decorating shop. Things have been hard for Stella and her brother Ridge since their mother became addicted to pain killers and has left the family after unsuccessful attempts at rehab. Their father often has to work away from home, and they are lucky to have their mom's sister Maggie to watch out for them. Stella has a lot of anxiety, but sees a therapist and has several coping strategies including therapy dog Pog and a "panic room" with a weighted blanket. When her father comes home from his latest trip, he has big news-- he's getting married to his college girlfried, Whitney, whom he has run into in Las Vegas. Since she and her daughter Vivian live there, and his job is requiring him to stay in that town for a while, Stella and Ridge find themselves whisked away from their home in Tacoma for two weeks. This is devastating to Stella, who had planned to hang out with Talia and her friends. Whitney is nice, if overly upbeat and energetic, and even high school sophomore Vivian doesn't seem to begrudge sharing her room. Stella panicks a bit, however, at the thought of her father remarrying, and when she and Vivian talk, they decide to form a plan to break their parents up. Stella has met a local pyschic and convenience store clerk, gotten her palm read, and has a great idea; she and Vivian will use astrology, crystals, and even a consultation with a phone psychic to come up with a plan to break their parents apart. They call this porject "Supernova" and put a lot of effort into researching different things from tea leaves to zodiac signs. Whitney is planning a wedding, even though she and Stella's father haven't quite worked out whether they will all live in Tacoma or in Las Vegas. The adults have a couple of arguments, and Stella thinks her plan is working, but then she feels bad. She's actually enjoying Las Vegas, where she hangs out not only with Vivian but with some of her friends, including the very cute 8th grade Cooper, with whom she has a nascent romance. Complicating matters is a visit from her mother and Aunt Maggie. How will Stella find a way to figure out what is best for everyone involved?
Strengths: This was definitely on trend for so many things we are seeing in middle grade students; parents with opioid addiction who are doing their best to recover, parents who are getting remarried to people with children of their own, navigating moving to a new community, and dealing with the daily stress of feeling anxious. There's a good dose of friend drama, but most of the relationships are positive. Talia is kind even long distance, taking a call and giving Stella advice about Cooper. Vivian really enjoys thinking of Stella as a sister, even though the two are working together to stop their parents from marrying. Aunt Maggie is a steady presence, and Stella's mother is trying to repair her relationship and acknowledges her past  mistakes. Even the quirky fortune tellers and convenience store clerks have fun interactions. Not only that, but I now know that I never want to live in Las Vegas! I like being outside in the summer, and it's not a good idea to live in the desert. 
Weaknesses: I have to admit that all of the tarot card readings and crystals weren't quite my cup of loose leaf tea now, but when I was twelve, I would have LOVED these details. There was a book of "magic" at the public library that I had constantly checked out, and I really thought I could eventually get something to work. Did some palm reading as well, so I would have thought this was great. I feel like I need to find a book of magic to go along with this, but have looked before and not found anything that would really be right. 
What I really think: This is a great title about blended families that will please fans of Burke's An Occasionally Happy Family, Torres' The Do-Over, Zarr's A Song Called Home, Arlow's Almost Flying, or Draper's Blended, and is much more positive than Knisley's Stepping Stones. The ending was a bit of a surprise, but a very pleasant one. Enjoyed this a lot!

Regas, Dean. 1,000 Facts About Space
December 6, 2022 by National Geographic Kids
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

There are kids like me, who love novels and don't really want to read things with pictures, and there are kids like my brother, who made it pretty much all the way to high school having only read the Guinness Book of World Records. This book literally has 1,000 facts about space, numbered and arranged by topics. There are facts about the first humans on the moon (#21- Alan Shepard played golf there!), 75 facts about twinking stars, and pages about weather in space, living in space, telescopes on earth and even information about UFOs and urban legends. If that isn't enough, there is even a timeline of space missions and a glossary in case one of the facts needs further explanation. Luckily, there is also a complete index in case you find a really cool fact and need help going back to it later to tell your friends! 

Illustrated with National Geographics rich collection of photographs, this is a well laid out book that organizes the facts visually with different colors of text boxes arranged on light or dark backgrounds. There are a lot of diffferent font styles and sizes used, but the text boxes help keep this from being overwhelming. Each two page spread has larger text giving the theme of the information on the page. I really liked the yellow, orange, and shades of blue color palette, which is shown on the cover as well.

While I personally would prefer a more narrative work, this is the perfect gift for a fact monster about to go on a car trip, as long as you can listen to several hours of having the book quoted to you! Like almanacs or the National Geographic collections of fun facts like Brain Candy: 500 Sweet Facts to Satisfy Your Curiosity, 1,000 Facts About Space has plenty of trivia to keep the most space obsessed reader gobbling up the pages. I would much rather give a book like this or Can't Get Enough Shark Stuff to readers who gravitate toward Ripley's Believe It Or Not books.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Rhythm & Muse and So, This is Love

Brown, India Hill. Rhythm & Muse
May 30, 2023 by Quill Tree Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Darren loves music, but in his junior year, he is pulling back a bit, since it doesn't seem to be a productive use of his time. He's dropped out of chorus and even his church choir, although his school counselor tells him he should stay with it if it gives him joy. What gives him the most joy is classmate Delia Dawson, who has a popular podcast, Dillie D. in the Place to Be. Since he thinks she is so fantastic, he gets tongue tied around her, although they do seem to share some interests and attend the same church. When she announces a contest for a theme song for her podcast, Darren makes one up, and when he is in a recording studio with his friend Justin and cousin Jerrod, he uses some of the time to record it. Of course, his friends send it in anonymously, and it gets a lot of attention, even being played on the radio by local DJs who note the local interest in it. Darren still doesn't want to tell Dillie how he feels, even though others are claiming that the song is theirs. Dillie seems to like it, and the two spend more and more time together. He almost asks her to the dance, and rumor has it that the mystery singer will reveal himself there, so he chickens out. Bouyed by his secret success, Darren rejoins chorus, and even sings a new song for Dillie at the dance. What are his chances of being number one on Dillie's charts?

This was a bit of a departure for Hill Brown, whose middle grade books The Forgotten Girl and The Girl in the Lake are horror novels with some history to them. It was great to see more of a middle grade sensibility applied to a young adult romance for several reasons. Young adult romances tend to be whinier and unhappier than middle grade ones, so I half expected Dillie to decide to hate Darren once she found out that he kept information from him. Also, YA often includes saltier language as well as alcohol drinking and more descriptive, interpersonal romantic encounters. These are fine for older students, but it was great to see a high school character in situations were younger students aren't necessarily going to learn any life lessons they have plenty of time for later!

Darren is a great character who is trying to balance his friendships, his future, and his family along with his overwhelming crush on Dillie. I loved his interactions with Justin, who is trying to push his friend a little bit, and Darren's parents were deliciously embarassing and in love. They were involved in what Darren was doing, but still in the background. Dillie is popular but truly interested in Darren, and they spend a lot of time together having coffee, hanging out, and texting, so they do have a real connection. A lot of young people's social lives depend heavily on church groups, so it was good to see that depicted. 

Social media is well handled, with Clip Message being used as a Snap Chat alternative. It's a hard balance, since some social media does disappear. Using a made up platform can protect books from being outdated when things like MySpace disappear. Of course, for the average 14 year old, MySpace might as well be a fictional platform! 

It's a bit harder to find romance books with male protagonists, although there are a growing number of YA and middle grade romances with gay male characters. It's even harder to find ones that don't spend half the book wallowing in a fight or misunderstaning. This reminded me a bit of Rigaud's Simone Breaks all the Rules, or Richardson's The Meet-Cute Project, since Darren and Dillie are friends, and treat each other as equals. I love that Hill Brown mentions that she saw a lack of stories with "a teenage, Black male protagonist" and wanted to write something joyful. Well done! 

Andreen, Tracy. So, This is Love
December 20, 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After spending winter break in her Oklahoma hometown in So, This is Christmas, Finley returns to her prestigious boarding school in Connecticut, bringing her best friend Ayisha with her. She's on the outs with Arthur over a perceived slight, and thinks that he is flirting with her nemesis, Bronwyn. She has a new roommate, Petra, who  never seems to leave the room, and makes a new friend in Gaines. Even though she was quite the mover and shaker at her school in Oklahoma, Finley still hasn't gotten the hang of dealing with fellow students with "law firm names", and is a bit envious that Ayisha has jumped in and made a lot of connections. She even tries to unseat Bronwyn as the head of the Valentine's dance committee, but the two end up co-chairing it. There is a school ski trip that Finley and Ayisha decide to go on, even though they don't ski. Ayisha is happy to stay in the lodge and socialize, but Finley takes ski lessons that end with Arthur having to save her and ending up in the hospital. Meeting his father doesn't go particularly well, as Lord Watercress is even more formal and uptight than his son. Finley is still obsessed with Arthur, so pays a lot of attention to what he is doing, and the two finally are able to talk about what happened and decide to stay friends. Because Arthur is turning 18, his father is planning a big party that coincides with the dance, and is expecting him to go back to England for college. This sends Finley into a tizzy, since she hadn't thought their time together would be so brief. It gets even briefer when Arthur is accepted into another school in England, and his father is expecting him to return to England in two weeks. Even though the school dance runs into problems after some sabotage, Finley is preoccupied with Arthur. Finley's grandmother and Arthur's aunt are still an item, so it's possible that the two will be able to see each other on occasion, but what does their future hold?

Finley is a fairly typical high school girl whose fascination with one particular boy colors everything she does. While this is very true to life, it's also a little alarming to read about as an adult! It's good to have some balance with Ayisha, who is interested in Caldwell but also pays attention to the rest of her social life, watches out for Finley, and also keeps academics in mind. Bronwyn is a good example of a student entitled by her family's local reputation and her history of being in charge. We don't see a lot of what Arthur is feeling, but this also seems true-- teen boys play their cards close to the vest, and don't necessarily let everyone around them know what's going on. 

The real appeal of this book is the Barrington Academy setting, with all of the posh students who assume that everyone has a cook and housekeeper, and the teachers who know how to deal with these students. There's plenty of friend drama and romance, and the ski trip was a nice touch. (There aren't a lot of books that deal with those, although Ellen and Ivison's The Never Evers does.)

Finley is a bit self centered, but is also dealing with an unusual change of venue from her small Oklahoma home town. This will be a popular title among readers who love Kasie West, Sarah Dessen, Suzanne Colasanti, Emma Lord, and other young adult romance writers. 

There are sevearl f-bombs in this one as well. I still don't understand why YA writers feel a need to include these. Do high school students use this language? Absolutely. Should it be encouraged? No. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Saturday Morning Cartoons- The Love Report

BeKa and Maya. The Love Report (#1)
June 13, 2023 by Astra Publishing House
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Lola and Grace are best friends who have very different family lives; while Lola lives with just her mother, Grace has siblings and parents whom Lola thinks are close. The girls are obsessed with crushes, and are trying to understand the dynamics of how romance works among their peers, so start a scientific study. Why is Felicity Sunshine the object of all the boys' desires? Why is it so hard for Lola to talk to Noah? Why does gossipy Charlie know what all of the other girls are doing? Watching those around them and talking to new people at school, Lola and Grace try to find out how romance works through anecdotal evidence. While they are doing this, Lola finally talks to Noah, and the two start going out and kissing. Meanwhile, Grace's parents fight more and more, and she fears that they might get divorced. The girls grow apart, and make new friends. Lola finds herself talking more to Felicity, who isn't interested in all of the attention that she gets but would rather study astrophysics. Grace finds herself confiding in Adele, who is so prickly because she had a bad experience with a boy who went too far (he put his hand under her shirt, which is shown discreetly in a panel) and was afterwards labeled a "bimbo" and a "slut". When Noah breaks up with Lola because he is trying to befriend the "cool kids" at school and they tell him to drop her, Lola is heartbroken. She misses Grace and realizes that she hasn't been there for her friend. Will the two be able to start to understand both the nature of friendship and the nature of love as they try to survive their tween years?

I vividly remember having a crush on a boy in 7th grade and watching with fascination as he "dated" just about every girl in my class except me! Lola is an appealing Every Girl who is a bit quiet and mousy (she is portrayed with a bit of hair in her face that made me want to brush it back!) and thrilled to have a boyfriend. Noah is sweet until he gives in to peer pressure. Felicity is an interesting popular girl who isn't pleased with the superficial reasons that boys like her. There is some mention of romance beyond the heteronormative binary, but this is mostly boy-girl romance. 

The issue of reputation is dealt with, and Lola and Grace discuss talking to Felicity in terms of meeting a "bimbo". Adele's problems include someone writing the word "slut" on her backpack. This does have a particularly French feel to it, similar to Tessier's Chloe series and Simonson and Mason's Junior High Drama, that won't resonate with all US readers, since judging girls and women are their choices is no longer acceptable. 

Romance certainly is a very appealing topic to middle school students, and this book portrays the frenetic pace of breakups and makeups very well. The idea of studying classmates and trying to qualify and quantify emtions is an intriguing one. Graphic novel readers go through a lot of books, so this is one to have on hand for readers who have worked their way through other titles with lots of drama like Miller's Besties: Work it Out, Holms' Real Friends, Jamieson's Roller Girl, and the works of Raina Telgemeier. 

Melleby, Nicole. Sam Makes a Splash (Sunrise Lagoon #1)
May 9, 2023 by Algonquin Young Readers
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central 

The Ali-O'Connors live in New Jersey on a lagoon near the seaside. Mom repairs boats and takes people out in her boat, and Mama teaches and helps with the business' bookkeeping. Sam was adopted after being fostered by the family, and joins siblings Marina (who is also adopted and has Mexican heritage) and Harbor, as well as seven year old twins Cordelia and Lir who have Mama's Syrian ancestry. The children know that summer has started when the Badger brothers arrive to stay with their grandparents, and the summer activities begin. This is hard for Sam, because she hasn't learned to swim well, which is a problem given where they live. She is also concerned that she has caused the family financial difficulty, since her adoption was expensive, and the boat business isn't doing well. She is saving her  money from doing chores to help, especially when Mom sells boats to Joe Koch, and Sam thinks that Mom might sell the business and go work for him. Cordelia and Lir get involved and ask everyone in their community for help, which wasn't exactly what the grownups wanted! The Badger brothers entice the siblings into taking some risky chances, but things work out. Sam really wants to take over the boat business when she grows up, because it makes her feel like she is part of the family, but will the business still be there?

Children worry more about family finances than parents realize, so it was interesting that Sam was worried for the family. The mix of biological and adopted children is discussed freely, which is a bit of a change from a few years ago, and Sam visits her grandmother in an assisted living facility, and Marina talks about visiting with her father. The desire to be part of a large family still persists today, even though there are not nearly as many large families in the 2020s-- the suggested power of The Brady Bunch lingering on, perhaps?

I have noticed that many of my students don't know how to swim, and this seems particularly dangerous. Sam's attempts to learn, even though fraught with difficulty, were an especially good conclusion. I have to admit that I don't quite understand the topography of the New Jersey lagoon, but anyone living near water should certainly have this skill. 

The blurb for this compared it to Birdsall's The Penderwicks or Glaser's The Vanderbeekers, but this seems more like Levy's Misadventures of The Family Fletcher, especially The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island, and has a bit in common with Donoghue's The Lotterys

Melleby, Nicole. Marina in the  Middle (Sunrise Lagoon #2)
May 9, 2023 by Algonquin Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central 

Marina was adopted into the Ali-O'Connor family when she was very young, and lives with her two mothers in Sunrise Lagoon, New  Jersey. She gets along with sisters Harbor and the recently adopted Sam, as well as younger twin siblings Cordelia and Lir, but she is struggling with Mama. Marina doesn't like boats, and doesn't want to ride on the family one for the annual Parade of Lights before school starts. Mama says that if Marina doesn't improve her attitude, she will need to talk to a counselor to work through her issues with boats which are, after all, the family business. Marina doesn't feel that boats or the ocean are safe, and when the family goes to the beach and Cordelia wanders off even though the family specifically talks through a lot of safety issues, Marina is determined that she will not ride on the boat. She comes up with some schemes to disable the boat with her new friend Bernadette (called "Boom") that are decidedly NOT safe, and Mama talks to her about her own personal anxiety about a number of issues. Can Marina make peace with her fears and feel secure within her family?

Family structres have changed a lot in the last 30 years, and it's always good to see families with a blend of biological and adopted children. Both Mama and Mom are actively involved with the raising of the children, and the squabbles that the sisters (and Lir!) have are true to life. 

I especially enjoyed that the children's origins were all respected and considered. Marina is a bit troubled by the fact that Sam was adopted as an older child and is close to her own age; she was expecting her moms to adopt a baby. Because of the different levels of stress the children feel, talking to a counselor is always an option. In the previous book, Sam Makes a Splash, Sam was seeing a professional to work through her issues, and Marina is also given this opportunity. 

This is more lighthearted than Melleby's The Science of Being Angry, but shows similar sibling interactions. Smith's Code Name Serendipity has a similar family structure, and Callaghan's Saltwater Secrets has a similar setting. It's interesting to see that there has been a bit of progress made with the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ families: the whole plot of Gennari's 2012 My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer revolved around the fact that the family with two mothers is not accepted. Things aren't perfect, but there has been incremental progress. 

Because I was not familiar with the Jersey Shore, I admit to looking up some of the street views on Google Earth. Let me tell you: Marina has more to worry about than boats. Like the Florida Keys, the lagoons in New Jersey seem like a very bad place to live. One good storm, and the family would be up to its ears in water. However, having spent a great deal of her life living in a community that thinks it's a good idea to build roads over water, you would have thought she would have realized that with proper training and safety measures, a boat would be a decently safe option. (Apologies to people who think that living close to water is a good idea. Clearly, I have a fear of this!)
Ms. Yingling