Tag Archives: fiction

Not seeing it does not mean it’s not there

hearts unbrokenWe connect with books in all kinds of ways.

You might think that today high schools would be less outwardly racist and more open to diversity, even in smaller towns, even in flyover country, where I have lived much of my life.  You might think that people would get that having the Indian or a brave be your mascot would finally be passé.  But I’m here to tell you, it’s still out there.  The high school I graduated from still has that mascot, even after multiple attempts to get it changed by groups which include the people it’s somehow now supposed to honor.  It periodically comes up in a Facebook alumni group I follow, mostly by people who are trying to deny that it could ever be taken as offensive or racist, because, you know, that would mean they are racist or offensive and didn’t realize it.  Which is really what this book highlights perfectly.

But — SURPRISE! — this book is not about me.  It’s about witnessing the daily stupidity, offensive behavior, and tiny reminders of other-ness thrown at Louise, as well as the love and support she gets from her family and her culture.   It’s a perfect book, really, because its story is one that’s familiar to everyone – a coming-of-age, trying-to-figure-out-where-you-fit kind of thing.  Because it’s about Louise, however, we see a character we need to see more of – a Native young person in today’s world.

Take a walk in her shoes.  You’ll be glad you did.

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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Light the world

BluecrowneAdventure is never in short supply in Kate Milford’s books.  Whether it’s ghosts and possible treasure (Greenglass House)  or immortal beings and magical powers here, there is always a lot going on, which is perfect for any middle grade reader.  In this fun outing set many, many years before Greenglass House, Lucy Bluecrowne and her half-brother Liao are supposed to be settling down in the newly-built Greenglass House, safe with Liao’s mother as her father heads out to sea again.

But then, bad guys with evil motives show up.  Well, darn it.  (Not really.)  Lucy must be a quick thinker and risk-taker in order to save Liao and herself.  It’s not all action, either.  You see some wonderful and caring relationships – feelings that bubble up and churn and stay constant – which are all nice reminders to kids that some of us find our families in unexpected places.

Bluecrowne:  A Greenglass House Story by Kate Milford

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Most electric-est

luLu sneaks up on you.  If you’ve read the others in the Track series by Jason Reynolds (Ghost, Patina, Sunny), you’ll know what I mean.  There you are, reading along, and then something real life unexpected happens and whooomp, you are surprised and yet not surprised, because that is how real life is.

I love this series, and Lu is lightning, light, most electric-est.

Lu by Jason Reynolds, #4 in the Track series

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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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Of doodlebugs, walruses, lying grannies and Louisiana Elefante

louisanas way homeLouisiana Elefante is the quirkiest of the quirky, but as we will find out, she’s not simply the daughter of flying trapeze artists who died tragically.  She’s not just a girl who can sing “Amazing Grace” and make mourners weep or the granddaughter of a woman who flees in the night with no explanations.  She is always so much more than any single emotion when she feels it, and her voice is crystal clear.

Kate DiCamillo is a genius of voice, and not just for Louisiana.  She creates the welcoming and the crabby equally well.  One of my favorites in this book is a small character – there are no small parts here, people! – her friend Burke Allen’s grandfather, also called Burke Allen.  He calls Louisiana “doodlebug” and accepts her as if she’s always been part of his life, offering to buy all the cakes in a raffle for her just because. “Holding on to his horse hoof gave me some comfort and courage,” Louisiana says in a difficult moment.

I keep going back to that line, because it highlights for me just how good the writing is in this book, although that maybe sounds a little crazy.  It’s a small thing, but the idea that Louisiana likes this person and simultaneously thinks of him as having horse hoof hands might not work with some characters.  But Louisiana is stating her reality, not throwing out criticism, and that’s what makes it perfect.  It jumps out at you, but then you think, “That’s SO her!” or maybe something less dated than that if you’re cooler or hipper than I am.  (I live with a teenager who is constantly reminding me how out of step with this moment I am.  Groovy,  I think.  I am just fine with that.)

Reading these characters, you know them.  They are alive in your head, even just two pages in.  Sometimes it’s the details that jump out at you; sometimes it’s the awkward thought a character shares.   Before long, though, I am always walking with the character, in the character – not as someone observing the story, but as someone living it.

Such a gift!  Dang, Kate DiCamillo, that’s a good book.

Lousiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

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On the joy of rereading

vango bseSometimes everything annoys me.  Another dystopian teen rebellion.  Erg.  Cozy mystery in a bookstore with a cat and maybe a ghost.  Blech.  Charming small town that comes together to change someone’s life.  Sigh.  Inspirational nonfiction.  No, thank you, no. Sometimes I just cannot read another of any kind of disappointment, and, really, everything is a disappointment.  What I might like on a sunny spring afternoon on my porch becomes a dull retread on a gloomy fall day.

But then there are the favorites.  Where is some Rainbow Rowell or Kathi Appelt?  How about Harry Potter in French or German?  (Yes, I do that FOR FUN.  I fly my book nerd flags, too.  Live with it.)  Or perhaps a little Vango?  Oh yes.  That’s it.vango pwk

What’s beautiful about my absolutely awful memory is that rereading my favorites is such a wonderful experience.  Did I forget about how much I loved Ethel?  Or that mysterious priest?  Or even the bell ringer and the abbess?  You bet!  It’s like a whole new book every time.   Either I find something I forgot about or some piece that didn’t stand out before is right there in neon this time.  It’s never a disappointment.  Delightful.

The two-book Vango series never gained the kind of popularity in the U.S. it deserved.  There’s action.  There’s history.  There are great characters with mysterious pasts.  Good. Evil.  All of that.  Perfect for a grumpy week in September.  Perfect.

Vango: Between Sky and Earth and Vango: A Prince Without a Kingdom by Timothée de Fombelle, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

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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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The wilderness for the unprepared

Whether you end up there because your parent has become a survivalist or maybe you’ve got some wrong-headed idea about redeeming yourself, heading into the wild without planning for it can be a really, really bad idea.

I am Still Here and The Other Side of Lost are completely different kinds of books.  One is full of suspense & menace; the other has cute boys & good tents.  (Not that I’m complaining about cute boys and good tents.  On a long trip, they are both nice to have around.) Both have blisters, bad choices, mistakes, and scary moments that thankfully turn out ok.

I read one after the other, because I was curious about how the theme of surviving the wilderness has kept popping up in the last six months or so on my TBR list.  Fortunately, these two are a good start if you’re going to go past reading Gary Paulsen’s classic, Hatchet.  I am Still Here was maybe a little darker than I was expecting, even though the book flap clearly lays out that Jess is in a crappy situation and wants revenge.  (That sounds like fun!) Mari in The Other Side of Lost is also grieving and in a self-created crappy place, but there are lighter moments with her.  It’s less about the actual trail than her personal journey, I guess.

Are we all just looking for a way to completely disconnect from our overwhelmed lives?  Perhaps, but let’s just hope you choose reading a book and not heading into the wilderness without a plan.

I am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall

The Other Side of Lost by Jessi Kirby

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Let’s talk about what it is and not what it’s not

city of islandsSo I’d put this book on hold before it was even published.  Then I checked it out, and it sat in my stack for a few days.  And I read the inside flap about four times.  Magical kids who don’t really know they’re magic.  Sigh.

I read a few chapters, and then half, and then three-fourths of the book.  I’m not sure I was 100% into this book until the last three chapters.  Does that mean it isn’t a good book?  It does not.

It is a good book, and I’d guess that’s even more true for kids who love fantasy for the chance to imagine themselves overcoming their struggles in another world.  There is a lot of world-building going on, uncovering secrets from the past, disappointment, betrayal, friendship.  Also creepy mages who want to combine people with lizards to get close to what seems like a mythical lost group of “founders.”

When all was said and done, I liked the book, even though I’d somehow not wanted to like it most of the way through.  There were surprises, and over time, the main character became someone I cared about.  I’m not always in the mood for magic and fantasy–so much is poorly done–but this one’s worth a look.

City of Islands by Kali Wallace


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Another win for the theater crowd

lucky little thingsThere is something unsettling about the fact that the “popular” kids are so often also the mean girls and horrible boys in fiction.  Why is that what qualifies as popular?

Emma sort of wishes she could be part of that crowd, after her best friend, Savannah, goes over the dark side.  But then the meanness turns really nasty, and Emma is fortunately doing other things like being in a play with a whole new group of friends who mostly turn out to be awesome.  Whew.  Bullet dodged.

Life is messy, sad, thrilling, and sometimes seems lucky.  Thank goodness for a heart open to trying something new and a welcoming theater crowd.

Lucky Little Things by Janice Erlbaum

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