Tag Archives: book review

Big feelings, big heart

dariusthegreatisnotokaySoulless minions of orthodoxy.  Ah, high school.  Middle school.  Incredibly toxic workplaces. We have them everywhere, even if we are supposed to be in bully-free zones.

Darius is really just trying to live life, doing his after school job with the corporate-mandated greetings, watching Star Trek with a dad who doesn’t understand him, being a Fractional Persian, taking his meds.  He doesn’t think going to Iran to see his dying grandfather will help with any of that, although he suspects there will be some good food and tea there.

There is that and so much more.  He makes a friend, a true friend, a best friend.  Watching him live his life in the new space, we see a whole different Darius unfurl, be tested, doubt himself, love, let go.  Sohrab is one of those friends of the soul we’re lucky to have maybe once or twice in life, and Darius sees that and knows, even in his worst moments, how much that matters.

Reading this book on a gloomy day, I was transported, not just to Iran with Darius and his family, but also through the tricky, painful edges of the way his brain works, back to friends of my youth whose laughter and support helped me through my own tough moments.  Though I can hardly watch the news without feeling despair these days, this sad, joyous, tender, beautiful book manages to end on a note of hope, and that is a gift indeed.

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

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Does it matter that they’re cheerleaders?

cheerleadersPopularity means so many different things.  Does being “popular” mean you are loved?  In high school, it might mean the opposite.  On social media, it can mean a whole range of things – you could be liked, loved, loathed, observed.

So when the people who have died are cheerleaders, who are often considered “popular” but just as often are stereotyped as mean girls… well, popularity can be a bad thing.  Being popular, beautiful, cheery– that might just get you some unwanted attention.

That’s really neither here nor there in this book, though.  the fact that the victims are cheerleaders adds layers to a twisty teen mystery – sometimes those layers are red herrings and sometimes they all tie beautifully into a bigger picture.

You might not want to relive high school, but I think adult mystery and thriller fans would enjoy this one just as much as teens.  Take a look.

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

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When fluorescent yellow-orange is exactly what you need

the-honeybee-9781481469975_lgI am all for any book about bees.  Bees are awesome.  Looking out across the wildflowers in my back yard a few weeks ago, I counted more than ten busy bees working away.  It made me so happy I had to go in and tell everyone in my house.

This book, like the bees, is awesome.  There is a nice, lilting, flowy kind of text – a poem! – and cheery illustrations that follow a bee’s life and work.  Super!  And there is a masterful use of fluorescent yellow-orange in these drawings, perfectly highlighting all the important stuff you want to follow.

The Honeybee by Kirsten Hall and Isabelle Arsenault


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Good thing, bad thing

loneliestgirlintheuniverse_01Romy Silvers is either the luckiest or unluckiest person in space.  She’s managed to survive for years on her own on a ship that was supposed to be full of space settlers going off to what NASA thinks will be a habitable planet.  She thinks she’ll be in her forties by the time she gets there until NASA launches another ship – a newer, faster one, full of updated tech – which just might change her whole future.

What starts off your basic sci-fi thing morphs into maybe something else – a romance?  A mystery?  A thriller?  However you want to look at it, it’s a whole lot of fun.  Just when you think you’ve figured one thing out, some new twist appears.  Romy is super smart and oh-so-clever when she needs to be, and she was just the character I needed to jolt me out of my reading slump.  Woo hoo!

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

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An orphan, a suffragette, some taxidermy

stitch in timeSometimes you have to take a chance on a book.  Maybe two of your favorite authors have written blurbs for it.  (Hello, Kathi Appelt and Rita Williams-Garcia!)  Maybe it’s not 400 pages long.  Maybe you just like the cover.

But there were still some barriers to buy-in for me.

Of course, both of Dorothy’s parents have died.   Of course, her idyllic life is about to be shattered by an aunt who wants to get back to her own world.  Of course, Dorothy has a very tall friend called Tiny.  Oh, and Dorothy’s nickname is Donut.  And she likes taxidermy.

I kept reading, though.  There wasn’t anything in particular happening, but the details were interesting, and I connected with the characters. There’s some adventure, some humor, developing relationships–all that stuff.  It didn’t shatter me or leave me laughing so hard my sides hurt.

It still might have been just what I needed.

A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar

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So much there there

there thereIf you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive not to find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger.  (p. 138-139)

I’m not a big one for direct quoting from books, mostly because it means I have to hunt down the quote.  This time I wisely bookmarked it right after I read it.  I kept going back to it and re-reading it as I finished the book.

Earlier on, Tommy Orange’s prologue points out the many ways American history has been revised to fit a benign image white people want to look back on fondly.  And while there is more history and more commentary on the state of American society, this book is also a fascinating human story about a group of urban Native Americans gathering for a powwow.

If you are white, it might make you rethink a few of your easy privileges, which is never a bad thing.  I could hope that people in power would read it, but given the state of our political world these days, I suspect the people who need to read it most would never read it – both because they seem to not be readers at all and because they are unlikely to seek out any criticism of a world where they are on top and feel like they deserve to be there.

But don’t miss it if you have a chance to pick it up.  The writing is beautiful, powerful, intense, and challenging, and the time you’ll spend on it will make you think differently about the world we live in and your place in it.

There There by Tommy Orange

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Beyond words

drawn togetherSome years ago, I took my then infant son with me to visit a friend and her mother for coffee.  They were both from Bosnia, and my friend’s mom spoke some English, but did not get much of a chance to practice it.  We all chatted for a while, and then my son woke up, happy and ready for attention.  My friend’s mom picked him up and toured him around the house, happily describing everything to him in Bosnian.  Did he care?  No.  Was he suddenly in love with my friend’s mom?  Yes.  She tickled his belly.  She made faces.  She was a dream.  Little ones really don’t care what language you speak as long as you are speaking to them.  Being the center of attention works in any language.

Once you’re a little older, having a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak the same language can be a little more challenging until you find the ways you can communicate beyond words.  And that’s pretty much this book.

It is a perfect and wonderful book.  The words are perfect; the art is perfect.  And there is so much love in it.  What a joyful reminder of the special relationships grandparents can have with their grandchildren, no matter what lives they’ve left behind.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

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Striped pants not required

almaAlma has one of those names that goes on and on.  Or maybe some of the names are not her favorites.  In any case, she is bopping around in awesome striped pants, not feeling like her name fits her.

Daddy can bring to life all the people whose names she shares, though, including a woman in really awesome striped pants.  (Nice touch.  Where can I get these pants?) There is more to us than our names, but it’s sure interesting to know how they came about, isn’t it?

The illustrations are light and sweet, and it’s perfect for any kid questioning their Edith or Jaquarian or Huong in a Jennifer and Sophie world.  Perfect for a quiet moment with a special little one who likes their name, too.  Maybe even the perfect way to talk about naming and how it works in different cultures.  Keep looking!  There might be more.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

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Future Batgirl wins the day

library on wheelsMary Lemist Titcomb – Miss Titcomb – was a fierce advocate of libraries, pushing aside those people who said working people and children weren’t interested in reading, charging forward to provide more varied library services to people who didn’t live close to physical libraries.  AND she thought up a plan which she put into action to get the first bookmobiles out into parts of the community that did not have access.  What a gem!

The pictures and documents are fascinating, and though Miss Titcomb is not a well-known figure today, learning about her is sure a treat.

Library on Wheels:  Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile by Sharlee Glenn


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Where’s my cowboy bus?

bus stop

Who knew that catching a bus was this complicated?  You miss your bus, but then the buses that follow include options for cowboys riding horses, bouncing clowns, sailors, and balloon fans?  Man, what neighborhood does this guy live in?

A seriously silly flight of fancy and a lot of fantastic fun.

Bus!  Stop! by James Yang

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