The result is a wonderful tone-perfect book about coming out, suitable for young people who are aware enough of adult issues to begin YA, but needing the comfort of a middle reader. While this is an LGTBQ children's book, it moreover a book about learning how to say what you want, how to ask others for respect, and growing up in general. Brie's struggles with her mother over recognizing her homosexuality are heartbreaking, but credible and sensitively handled. Her struggle to be acknowledged and accepted by Mom and for her mother's difficulty in letting go is universal enough to be relatable to anyone. Brie's relationship with the girl she likes, Kennedy, has all of the sweetness and awkwardness that one expects from eighth grade budding romances. In sum, Melleby has a good ear and had produced an authentic, age-appropriate, and sensitive story about developing sexual identity.
Friday, January 15, 2021
She's developed a short temper with good reason. Having to leave her friends is frustrating. The way her sister won't stop bugging her about learning how to use a cane before she loses all of her sight makes her angry (even though the truth is she's scared at just how fast her vision is deteriorating). Her Mom calls every night to talk, but Hadley hates how her mother lied to her and won't pick up the phone. Hadley is so mad but she doesn't know what to do about it.
One day, when she's forced to accompany her sister to a local animal shelter where Beth works, she chances upon Lila, a shy pit bull. Something clicks between the two of them, much to the surprise of the staff who have had no luck in socializing and training the dog. But Hadley sees a kindred spirit in Lila (and Lila seemingly does as well in Hadley). Can the two of them -- both feeling abandoned, angry, and scared -- save each other?
A fairly predictable middle school animal novel with a lovable dog and a testy protagonist. Hadley is the weak point to this book. Keplinger puts a lot of effort into showing how angry she is and while it is understandable that she would be so with all the stuff she's dealing with, it gets wearisome to deal with Hadley's endless rudeness, meanness, and self-centeredness. The story is about Hadley's growth towards acceptance and inner peace, of course, but it's a story that is poorly plotted. It's not so much a gradual growth as much simply a sudden stop. A couple life lessons along the way are intended to provide the justification for change, but we don't see the lessons actually being learned as much as simply occurring. The narrator's poor grammar works fine in dialogue, but gets excessive and precious in the first-person narration and it actually hinders our ability to see her internalization. Animal stories work best with humor and hijinks, both of which are lacking for the most part from this story. More dog and less girl would have made this a better book.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
The world outside of the camp is dangerous. Not only are they in the middle of frozen Siberian steppe, but the land itself is full of spirits and sorcerers. Ghost wolves and Baba Yaga herself roam free. Constantly thrown from one danger to another, Lina and Bogdan navigate through a world that mixes Soviet reality and Russian folk tale in a magical quest.
The amalgam of historical fact and folktale is peculiar, and one that I never got used to. Despite the inspirations, there was nothing that really felt particularly Russian about this story. Names, places, and ideas were all there, but the characters were distinctly English. The story itself is wildly chaotic and hard to really follow. The bad guys (the Commandant and the witch Svetlana) are strange and inconsistent characters, and their motivations contradictory and obscure. The goals of the quest are constantly changing. By mid-point I gave on trying to keep track of why we were going places and doing things. The plot had more loose ends than a well-worn Central Asian rug! A colossal mess of a novel.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Saturday, January 09, 2021
The reality is that the scholarship solved little. It doesn't really cover her needs and it leaves her vulnerable. An unsympathetic teacher, cut- throat competition from the other students, and a past that she can't run away from fast enough put her in a precarious place. Worst of all, Sabine carries a chip on her shoulder. Resentful that she always has to work so hard and the world is ganging up on her, Sabine makes a tragic error of judgment that snowballs. As a result of her decision, she finds herself embroiled in a forgery scandal, the untangling of which will finish her career before it even starts.
After everything she has been through, Sabine can't imagine throwing it all away. Her mother always told her that "the only way out is through." For Sabine, finding the strength to bravely plow on through her mess may be the only way out.
A tense story, combined with a protagonist who makes all the worst decisions (with the best of intentions), creates a novel that engages from start to finish. You really want to root for this young woman, whose heart is truly in the right place, but her problems seem so insurmountable (and they keep on coming). Along the way, she travels a truly impressive growth, moving beyond anger and wrath towards acceptance and forgiveness.
Ending a story like this was always going to be challenging, but Linka does a great job of providing a conclusion that, while not particularly rosy, at least offers some hope. Given what Sabine has to endure, hope might be good enough. So that, even if she doesn't get what she wanted, she gains understanding and growth that is its own reward. That journey makes Sabine's hard slog a rewarding read.
Sunday, January 03, 2021
Nothing ever works out like one hopes and the Narrows have a way of defeating you just as you think you have won. Except now, Fable finds she has much more to lose, "Never, under any circumstance, reveal what or who matters to you," her father also warned. Far too late, Fable finds that more people are important to her than she have ever realized.
A breathtaking fantasy story set in a naval setting. Young creates a tense world, teetering unsteadily between order and chaos. Danger is ever present and haunts these young people's lives. There's never a restful moment in the story (Fair warning: as this book is the first of a duology, you won't even find rest at the end of this book!). The tense storyline is enhanced by the complex relationships between the five young people on the ship and the overlapping threads with their antagonists. There's rich drama here/
There is, in fact. much to love in this book: an immersive and plausible setting with a complex socio-political structure, vivid scenery, lots of naval action, and meaningful human interactions between Fable and the four members of the Marigold. Romance, a late arrival to this passionate story, almost seems like an unnecessary afterthought, but it certainly doesn't detract from the story. The focus though is the usual lifeblood of a great adventure: loyalty, betrayal, legacy, and destiny. A gripping page turner.
Saturday, January 02, 2021
But two years later, the numbers in the fan club are dwindling as Trudy's friends drift away to cheerleading, her father has less time for her, and even the Beatles are changing the sound of their music. With the world changing in both big and small ways, Trudy wants to find some way to bring everything back to the way it was. When she learns that the Beatles are coming to perform in Boston in August, she realizes that this is what could finally do it!
A sweet period piece that captures lots of atmosphere. The theme of learning to cope with change is tried and true material of course. With a focus on what would seem most striking to young readers, we've got everything from the advent of disposable diapers and the first Barbie doll to Betty Friedan and the Vietnam War. And then there's the Beatles themselves, which form an appropriately formidable place in Trudy's obsessed mind. The strength of the story of course rests on Trudy who carries the story with a mix of determination and insecurity that make her relatable to middle schoolers. The book's fantasy ending, which could have seemed overly contrived, works as it provides both payoff and a means for wrapping up a story that is more about friendship and loyalty than the music.