Posts tagged ‘200-249 pages’

Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up.jpgTitle: Sunny Side Up
Author/Illustrator: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Colorist: Lark Pien
ISBN: 9780545741651
Pages: 217 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2015.

”Are we going shopping for new swimsuits for the beach today?”
“Sunny, I have some bad news. We won’t be going to the beach house after all. Your dad thinks it’s best that we cancel the trip.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“But what about Deb? What about all our BIG PLANS?”
“We thought of something even more fun for you to do instead! We’re going to have you visit Grampa in Florida. You’ll get to fly down all by yourself! A ‘big girl’ trip. Doesn’t that sound fun?” (191-192)

Ten-year-old Sunny Lewin will not be visiting the beach house with her family and best friend as planned, but instead has been sent to Florida by herself to spend the remaining weeks of her summer vacation with her grandfather in a 55+ community. The only other person even close to her age is a boy named Buzz, the son of the care-taker. He introduces Sunny to catching lost cats and fishing golf balls out of the ponds to earn spending money for comics. As Sunny learns about the secrets these superheroes keep, her thoughts keep returning to the secrets in her own family that have forced her into this position. Should she have said something sooner? Should she say something now?

I spoke with a colleague about the problem with problem novels recently. Problem novels need to have it as an aspect of the novel, and not have the problem monopolize the plot. An African American character does not always have to overcome racism, a transgender person does not always have to come out of the closet, and a disabled person does not have to always triumph over adversity. As I mentioned in my review of the Great Good Summer, it’s important to see kids dealing with all sorts of problems.

But there is very little action in the sleepy senior citizens community in Florida. The big mystery of the book is why Sunny was sent to Florida, and readers don’t even realize there was a specific reason for this until half way through the book. While revealing her concerns eases her internalized tensions, it doesn’t really solve the problems that caused them, and her struggles aren’t well represented in the visual format of a graphic novel. Multiple flashbacks allude to something sinister, but it is vague and takes too long to develop. The bright colors conflict with the subject matter, which I hesitate to call more mature but is definitely different than the lighter fare of Roller Girls or Smile, which I think is the audience that would be appealed by the cover. I wonder if Sunny’s talk with her grandfather could really make a lasting impact in her life. Even in the author’s note, Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm state that they wrote the book “so younger readers who are facing these same problems today don’t feel ashamed like we did” and encourage readers to “reach out to family members and teachers and school counselors,” but doing that will not solve the initial problems that caused these feelings. This is a very different book then Babymouse or Squish, and I think readers will be surprised.

Finding Someplace

Finding Someplace.jpgTitle: Finding Someplace
Author: Denise Lewis Patrick
ISBN: 9780805047165
Pages: 214 pages
Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, c2015.

”We’re trapped up here!” she shouted. […]
Reesie held her breath as first his feet disappeared, then his knees. Just as his face vanished, they heard loud splashing. His head popped up again. When he crawled off the ladder, he was wet from the waist down. Reesie saw his eyes and knew how scared he was. Her heart thumped.
“We gotta get on the roof,” he said, reaching for the crowbar. “Miss M, I’m sorry but we have to bust it up.”
”What?” both girls yelled at once.
“Calm it down, a’ight? Yeah, the roof. How else are we gonna get out of here?” (88-89)

Reesie (short for Theresa) Boone is looking forward to her thirteenth birthday party. Everyone else is looking at the upcoming storm, which the news forecasts is going to be the big one. Some neighbors and extended family members are evacuating, but Reesie’s father is on the police force and intent on staying at his post. When her mother gets stuck working at the hospital when the storm hits, Reesie must fend for herself during the storm. But after the storm hits and the water recedes, life does not return to normal, and Reesie wonders if it ever will.

Ressie is a realistic character who grows and changes as a result of the events and decisions she is forced to face. In the beginning she focuses on her birthday and party, and by the end she is thinking more about her family and world as a whole. She is bright, intelligent, and has a good head on her shoulders even while her actions are in line with what a teenager would do in those situations. Her family is equally realistically portrayed, with a variety of opinions expressed regarding responsibility to their community and their family, and what action should be taken. It was such a juxtaposition when her brother, who is away at college, calls before the storm to encourage her to evacuate, and then mentions in passing he has a date that evening. It reinforces the idea that life continues elsewhere in the world when a disaster hits, even as people impacted by the storm are hard-pressed to think of anything else and have priorities that are incomparable to anyone who didn’t experience them first hand.

It’s refreshing to see not just the time before and during the storm, but the story follows the family for months as they deal with the fallout and aftermath. Arguments arise, relationships change, and Ressie is faced with an unclear future, tensions at home and school, and nightmares. Readers are privy to all the uncertainties, rather than the glamorized survival instincts that a few other books focus on during their narrative. As we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the storm just months ago, it’s important to remember that even though the storm has passed, the work is just beginning and even 10 years later continues.

The Great Good Summer

Great Good Summer.jpgTitle: The Great Good Summer
Author: Liz Garton Scanlon
ISBN: 9781481411479
Pages: 218 pages
Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2015.

God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don’t know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.
Daddy says she went to get some of the sadness out of her system. He says it like it should be as easy as getting a soda stain out of a skirt. A little scrub, a little soak, one quick run through the machine—good as new and no big deal.
Every day since Mama left, Daddy’s been trying to convince me that things aren’t all that bad, even though Mama’s become a Holy Roller and has disappeared with a preacher who calls himself Hallelujah Dave. Meanwhile I’ve been trying to convince Daddy that things are truly and indeed all that bad. Hallelujah Dave, for goodness’ sake. (1)

Ivy Green’s mother has followed a charismatic preacher named Hallelujah Dave from Loomer, Texas to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle, Florida. Her father seems to think that eventually she will “get it out of her system,” whatever it is, and return to them in her own time. But that isn’t soon enough for Ivy, and with the encouragement of her friend Paul, whose dreams of becoming an astronaut have also been dashed with the closure of the space program. Getting to Florida sounds easy, but the trip is filled with trials and troubles, and it’s not so easy to get to Florida or to get back to Texas.

Every year seems to have its own trend in publishing that no one is able to guess until it’s almost passed. This year, it appears to be ultra-religious sects and communes. I don’t think any of the titles have become blockbuster best sellers, but here are some titles that have come to my attention recently. Liz Garton Scanlon’s first attempt at a novel is an exception to this list because it’s geared for a younger audience. It’s been said that children need these books because they need a variety of experiences to be able to empathize and sympathize with the rest of humanity. Some kids struggle to see themselves portrayed in publishing because they are a minority in some way compared to the majority of children. Ivy’s specific family situation is definitely one that only a small minority of children experience, but her insistence that her mother will return is probably typical of children who suffer from the absence, abandonment, or loss of a parent, regardless of how it happens. In this way, I may be able to convince children to read it, by book talking it as “Ivy’s mother has left, and Ivy is determined to find her and bring her back.”

Ivy’s voice is filled with old world, southern twang that sounds much older than her age. In a way, she is naïve and sheltered and frustrated with her failing faith in her father’s ability to set things right. In other ways, she and Paul are self-sufficient and street smart, having enough knowledge to research the trip, pay for a ticket, avoid detection from almost everyone, and maintain hope that things will work out. But they are also extremely lucky in their journey, and the ending is so pie in the sky happy that younger readers might think that all stories will end happily if you have enough hope and heart.

Act 1

Act One Jack and LouisaTitle: Jack & Louisa Act One
Author: Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead
ISBN: 9780448478395
Pages: 229 pages
Publisher/Date: Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2015.

”Listen,” I whispered. “As far as you are concerned, I’m not a Musical Theater anything. You saw how Tanner and those boys acted when they found out I was from New York. What do you think they’d do if they found out I took ballet every week?”
“My friend Jenny takes ballet!” Louisa chimed in.
“Good for her,” I replied. “I don’t do that anymore. For now I just need to keep quiet, go to class, remember where my locker is, and try not to get stuffed in one, okay?” (85)

Twelve-year-old Jack has just moved from New York to Shaker Heights, Ohio, and is attempting to blend in with the rest of the student population. But his neighbor Louisa knows his secret, that’s he’s acted in Broadway and got kicked off a debut show because his voice decided to change. Louisa disagrees with Jack’s decision to leave the theater completely, never to return. She’s going to make every effort to get him back on stage, starting with the community theater’s production of “Into the Woods”. If Jack is more interested in playing the role of a normal kid, Louisa might need some real stage magic to get him to cooperate. Or will her actions push him away for good?

I’m curious to see if this becomes a series, based on the Act One written on the cover. Especially since there is enough material to mine for future books, like if Jack brought Louisa to New York for a visit, or if a classmate competed against one of them and earned the part. Jack and Louisa are both much more grounded character as compared to Tim Federle’s Nate in Better Nate Than Ever, and readers will be sympathetic to his plight as a new kid searching for a new identity. Louisa is a hyper, peppy kid who has a few friends her age but isn’t afraid to be different and follow her passion, even if it’s not the popular thing. She isn’t a manic pixie though, and knows how to keep a secret and doesn’t make herself or Jack stand out unnecessarily. An initial reluctance in becoming friends and teasing from Louisa’s friend that Louisa likes Jack thankfully doesn’t turn into a romance, although I could see it happening if there are future installments. They are supportive of each other’s decisions, and having that friend to turn to at all times is important. There’s enough tension in the “will he or won’t he” dilemmas that Jack faces to keep readers engaged without the romantic angle. The pros and cons of small town Ohio and community theatre receive just as much attention as those involving New York and professional shows, and the knowledge and first-hand experience of the authors shows in the easy inclusion of facts about both. Into the Woods, the play of choice by the community theatre, was incorporated into the plot both on and off stage, and was a smart choice considering the recent movie and audiences probable familiarity with the story, but prior knowledge isn’t necessary to understand the book. Bravo.

Act Two Jack and LouisaEdit: Just before I posted this, I attended a publisher’s book preview and discovered that I was right, there is a sequel! Coming to a book store near you February 16, 2016. Does anyone have an advanced copy they want to lend me?

The Nest

NestTitle: The Nest
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
ISBN: 9781481445474 (ARC), 9781481432320 (hardcover)
Pages: 244 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, c2015.
Publication Date: October 6, 2015 (TODAY!)

This review and quotes for this review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher.

With every rung I got angrier. My parents couldn’t even deal with the nest. I was allergic, but they were too busy. They were busy with the baby and would be for the rest of their lives, so I had to do it. I didn’t know if these wasps were really from my dreams, but I wanted them off my house. I wanted them out of my dreams. That nest was coming down. […]
First swing, and the bristles gently raked the bottom of the nest. The broom kept going. Grunting, I brought it back and tried again. It hit a little harder this time, and I saw some papery bits waft down.
The wasps came. In a rush they dropped from the bottom of the nest and swarmed around the bristles of the broom. I gripped the very tip of the handle and was preparing to give it a big upward shove, when I was suddenly aware of a single wasp on my left hand, then a second on the knuckles of my right. I froze. (90-92)

Steve’s parents are preoccupied by the health issues of their newborn baby, which doctors seem unable to diagnosis. Even Steve’s reaction to a wasp sting, which seem to be everywhere that summer, garners only minor attention. Steve dreams that the wasps can help the baby, so long as he agrees to help them. But are the wasps from his dream real, and if so, are their plans for his little brother really something he wants to happen?

This is a disturbing book, perfect for horror fans and those intrigued by Kafka’s metamorphosis. But really, how many middle school aged children are familiar with Kafka? It’s an unsettling story because readers, like Steve, are never quite sure what is real and what isn’t. Klassen’s black and white, blurry illustrations cast a further shadow over this dark story. Upon further review, instead of written numbers the chapters are designated by the number of wasps at the start of each chapter, with one of the final ones showcasing a swarm of undistinguishable quantity, a very subtle but ingenious design feature. I could possibly give this to kids who have outgrown Goosebumps, as it gave me goosebumps reading it. Not a story that you’ll easily forget, but also one that is not easy to recommend unless you are familiar with the reader. A definite departure from his previous title The Boundless, this one is sure to keep you up at night until you come to the somewhat predictable and thankfully happy conclusion.

West of the Moon

West of the MoonTitle: West of the Moon
Author: Margi Preus
ISBN: 9781419708961
Pages: 216 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, c2014.

<blockquote>”Astri!” Aunt yells up the stairs. “Don’t dawdle!”
I kiss the top of Greta’s head and place my hand on her face for just a moment—all I dare, or risk a broken heart.
Down the ladder I go to stand by the door, my bundle under my arm. I can’t help but notice there are now two shiny coins glinting on the table, along with a large, lumpy package. My cousins are eyeing the coins with the same intensity that the dog is sniffing the package. Now I know how much I’m worth: not as much as Jesus, who I’m told was sold for thirty pieces of silver. I am worth two silver coins and a haunch of goat.
Uncle comes and tucks a wisp of hair behind my ear, almost tenderly. “I’m sorry Astri,” he says. “It can’t be helped.”
That’s all there is for a good-bye, and then out the door I go. (6-7) </blockquote>

Thirteen-year-old Astri is sold by her aunt to the humped-back, filthy, ill-mannered and equally ill-tempered goat herder. Astri is intent on getting back to her aunt’s house, not out of kindness or love of her aunt, but concern for her little sister Greta who is still there. Her escape plan involves getting on a ship bound for America and meeting up with her father, who left some time ago and she hasn’t heard from since. In their escape attempt over the Norwegian mountains, they pick up among other things a book of dark magic and a silent Spinning Girl, blurring the lines of reality and fairy tale in the process.

Inspired by an entry in an ancestor’s diary, Margi Preus builds an entire story around farmer girl Astri. Karen Cushman said it best in her back cover blurb when she describes it as “an astounding blend of fiction and folklore that celebrates the important things in life—loyalty, devotion, courage, and the magic of stories.” Elizabeth Bird’s review is also extremely coherent and cohesive, probably much more so than mine ever could be.

It’s the blending that of fiction and folklore that Cushman mentions that is done so seamlessly and that captures the imagination, making you wonder if the collection of coins is really a troll’s stolen treasure, or if the hairbrush really is magic or just a clever con. I’m reminded of the movie Big Fish or Oh Brother Where Art Thou, to give a comparison of how effortless the stories within the story, featuring giant bears and magic and hope, meld and shift within the book’s central plot of Astri’s more realistic and painfully brutal world of childhood brides (and all that implies/entails), running away to an unknown country, and discovering that money doesn’t ever buy as much as you need or want. Do the spells and prayers work to keep the rain and Death away, or was it just time that was finally allowed to work a magic of its own? The world Astri lives in is interchangeable with the fairy tales, just as the beliefs are interchangeable between the “old ways” of keeping a rowan twig in your pocket for protection and quoting the Bible. Maybe that fluidity between customs and beliefs makes the fantastical elements of the story all the more believable, even if they can be easily explained as unremarkable. Readers will recognize at least some of the mixed-up fairy tales Astri mentions and makes her own, like Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and the seven-league boots, and may be intrigued by mentions of the lesser known ones to seek out the rest, which Preus helpfully provides in her Author’s Note.

Overall, Astri and Greta’s journey is somewhat fantastical, when you think of all they are able to accomplish, especially by themselves. Readers find themselves just as conflicted as the two girls when they are forced to steal their way to their destination. There is no ambiguity that what they are doing is wrong, as Astri identifies herself as a thief and a liar and a host of other things. However, there is some ambiguity in if these acts are ever justified, and what punishment will befall upon you if you are the only one who knows how much of your “sinning nature” you are responsible for. When she makes a slightly fantastical promise, she wholeheartedly believes that if she finishes her part of the deal, the other half will follow. (I don’t want to give too much away by saying what or who the deal involved, because it happens towards the end of the novel.)

It all ends happily for the girls, but just like in fairy tales you are left wondering about the minor characters briefly mentioned but never seen again after the “happily ever after”. Hopefully neither girl will lose that ability to see the magic in the world while keeping the street smarts they seemed to have gained through their Cinderella-like upbringing.

Roller Girl

Roller GirlTitle: Roller Girl
Author/Illustrator: Victoria Jamieson
ISBN: 9780803740167
Pages: 240 pages
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, c2015.

“By the way, did you see this in the program? There’s a junior roller derby camp, starting this summer.”
“What?! Let me see! Please!”
“It starts next month, right after school lets out.”
And just like that, my fate was decided. I was going to be a roller girl. (24-25)

Astrid’s mother periodically takes twelve-year-old Astrid and her friend Nicole to events for “evening of cultural enlightenment”. Usually they consist of concerts or museums, but this time around it’s a roller derby match. Astrid is hooked from the very beginning, even though she doesn’t own skates and doesn’t know how, and is eager to sign up for the upcoming junior roller derby camp. Nicole though, has not caught the bug, and Astrid worries about attending without her only friend. When she gets there, Astrid realizes that while it may look like fun, it’s also a lot of work, and she’s worried that while she might look like a roller girl with newly dyed hair, is she really ready to compete?

Fans of Raina Telgemeier will celebrate that there is another bold, brightly colored, friendship based, girl centered graphic novel for them to find and check out. Astrid is just a tiny bit clueless when it comes to her good friend Nicole and will just not accept that the two could have such drastically different interests. Her acts of rebelliousness — like dying her hair and lying to her mother — are realistic. This non-traditional sport has been gaining popularity and cultural presence, I think ever since the Drew Barrymore movie came out. Author/artist Jamieson is a competitor in real life, and takes the time to explain the game to readers in a way that allows them to learn along with Astrid. I loved that her single-parent family was presented in such a way that I didn’t even notice until the end that her father isn’t mentioned once. We don’t know what happened, and it doesn’t matter because it’s not central to the plot and Astrid has a loving, involved, and supportive parent who acts like a parent. Highly recommended.


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