Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘friendship

cover image for The Fly on the WallFly on the Wall by E. Lockhart

Gretchen Yee knows that the way to fit in at her alternative arts focused high school is to stand out, but she can’t quite manage to stop getting noticed for the wrong things.  In fact, her problems just keep piling up: Boys baffle her.  All of them, really – but especially Titus.  Her drawing teacher is less than appreciative of the comic book style art she favors.  Then there’s the news that her parents are getting a divorce, and her dad is moving out.

In a moment of frustration, Gretchen wishes that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys locker room, to see what they are like when they aren’t around girls. Maybe then she could at least figure boys out.  Then she gets her wish. Literally.

I can’t overemphasis how weird this book is.  Because yes, it’s a remake of metamorphosis, set in an alternative high school in New York City.  It’s also fun and quite brilliant, tackles bullying, friendship, and of course dealing with crushes, lust, and hormones.

Needless to say, Gretchen spying on the boys is hardly an appropriate thing to do, but she’s a fly o the wall and therefore has remarkable peripheral vision and she’s trapped in the room – not peeking through holes in the wall.  Most importantly, Lockhart handles the situation really well, both in terms of Gretchen’s decisions and how the boys are treated by the narrative.

cover image for Our Only May AmeiliaOur Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

May Amelia is the only girl in her family, and she just so happens to also be the only girl among the pioneers who have settled along the Nasel River in the new state of Washington.  Being the only girl isn’t always easy, especially when her mother keeps trying to turn her into a Proper Young Lady, and her grandmother finds fault in everything she does.  But no matter how many scrapes she gets into, she’s still the only May Ameilia they’ve got.

May Ameilia’s voice is really what makes this book work as well as it does. Her syntax, phrasing, and perspective transports readers to a different time and place.  Inspired by a journal Holm found that was kept by one of her own ancestors, the novel is told in first person and covers a year or so in May Amelia’s life.  Solid and entertaining, Our Only May Amelia isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it manages to be unique and memorable.

I also want to note that there’s not any significant discussion of the impact that pioneer settlement had on the people who were already living in the area when the settlers came, as it’s told from May Amelia’s point of view.  The narrative is respectful of the rare Native American characters in the book, but of course not everyone in the story is.  I didn’t see anything that makes the book inappropriate for youngsters (although I’m also hardly the best judge) but a follow-up discussion with readers would be appropriate if possible, especially considering how rare Native American voices are in most library collections.

cover image for Where Things Come BackWhere Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Nothing newsworthy happens in Lily, Arkansas. Families scrape by – or don’t, and leave their loved ones to grieve.  But reporters begin to descend upon the small town when someone claims to have spotted the Lazarus Woodpecker, previously thought extinct.  For seventeen year old Cullen the return of the Lazarus Woodecker is merely a source of irritation and occasional amusement.  Until his younger brother, Gabriel, disappears and Cullen is left wondering if Gabriel will ever manage to find his way back home as well.

Like a lot of coming of age stories of this type, Where Things Come Back felt like it was trying too hard to be clever and introspective.  Also, the split in narrators was confusing (I suspect it was partly meant to be) and the missionary’s point of view felt forced rather than authentic. I know a lot of people loved it (it did win the Printz award after all) but I was more than happy to send my copy back to the library.

cover image for Nikki and DejaNikki and Deja by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freeman

“Nikki and Deja are best friends.”  Neighbors and classmates, they spend as much time as they can together.  But when a new girl, Antonia, arrives and starts a club – one that only some people can join – Nikki and Deja’s friendship begins to look like it might not last, after all.

I feel guilty calling this merely a good chapter book, rather than using glowing superlatives to describe it.  The truth is that most chapter books are so awful that this novel is absolutely wonderful and amazingly written by comparison.  The characters have personality, with out feeling cartoonish, and their dilemmas are both realistic and age appropriate.  English does a wonderful job of including the right kind of details, ones that give the story life without being overwhelming to new readers.  The prose fails to be as memorable as the story, and I’d like better for new readers, but this is a chapter book after all – vocabulary limits make that incredibly difficult. It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it’s solid and I highly recommend it.

I am, however, slightly disappointed in the quality of the book design. With apologies to Freeman (whose interior illustrations are perfect) the cover just doesn’t work for me and I can’t see that it would be terribly appealing to kids either.  All of which I wanted to point out not because I dislike it that much but because covers sell books.  So I see passable but not brilliant covers as another weak link in the chain when it comes to promoting “diverse” authors and books, and I wanted to note that here for future conversations.

cover image for Eleanor and ParkEleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Moving back home means that Eleanor gets to see her siblings, that she can be there to take care of them.  It also means watching what she does and says around her stepfather, and starting a new high school.  Park doesn’t mean to take pity on the new – and very weird – girl on the bus, the last thing he needs is to commit social suicide.  Yet he does so anyway.  But he isn’t going to talk to her.  Until he notices her glancing over at his comics as he reads them on the bus, and Park starts to make sure that she’s done with the page before he turns it.  Soon, Park is making her mixed tapes and Eleanor is thinking that maybe some people can be trusted after all.

I devoured this book in one night, it was that good.  Rowell has crafted a lovely story, full of stolen moments and the kinds of secrets that need to be told.  It’s refreshing to see miscommunication in a romantic relationship that actually makes sense, and to see it being worked out rather than resolved by the plot.  It should be noted that there have been complaints about Park, whose mother is from Vietnam, and how he and his family are described and portrayed.  Rowell does an excellent job handling the Eleanor’s home life, however, and how she is affected by both poverty and abuse.

cover image for We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Candence spends every summer with her family on a private island off the coast of Masachusetts. And every summer she and her cousins run wild, unhampered by schoolwork or schedules or even neighbors.  Every summer except the last one, which Cady spent in Europe with her father, hating ever minute of it, desperate for emails and texts from her cousins, which never came. When Cady arrives at the island this summer, she and her cousins pick up where they left off, as if nothing had ever happened. Only Cady knows that something did happen, something their last summer together that caused the headaches she’s had ever since.  The problem is that Cady has no idea what it was; she’s been having trouble remembering things since that night as well.

I absolutely hated reading this book.

It’s not a terrible book, but my frustrations with it only increased with each page, making it not at all enjoyable to read.  Much of the suspense rests on the reveal of the twist at the end, which I’d figured out early on.  I think the book is supposed to work even if you know truth (much like Code Name Verity actually does) – that knowing the truth changes the experience rather than detracting from it .  But for me, it didn’t succeed in doing this.  Add to that the fact that it’s a book about privilege* which makes a really big mistake in terms of privilege, and I’m afraid to admit that the warmest response I can muster to this book is “meh.”

Which makes me sad because I usually love Lockhart’s books.

cover image for The Fox InheritanceThe Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

[The basic plot for this book is a spoiler for the entire first novel, so I’m putting it behind the cut.]

Read the rest of this entry »

cover image for The Lost SteersmanThe Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein

Following the devastating and tragic events of The Outskirter’s Secret, Rowan and Bel have temporarily parted ways.  Bel is staying behind with her own people, to do what she can to keep them safe, and to help maintain peace between the Outskirts and the  Inner Lands.  Rowan, after informing the Archives of what she has learned, has settled for a time in Alemeth, hoping to find some clues as to the location and identity of Slado in the disordered records there.  While there she runs into Janus, the lost Steersman, and is faced with the dilemma of wishing she could trade information with him while he remains under the Steerswomen’s ban.  When Outskirter demons begin attacking Alemeth, and it becomes clear that Janus is no stranger to dealing with them, Rowan knows that she must learn his secrets, no matter the cost.

There’s a definite shift in tone in this book, largely due to Bel’s absence.  As much as I missed the banter and teamwork between the two women, this is still an amazing book.  Kirstein’s ability to explain things scientifically and clearly, and with prose that remains imaginative and engaging, is used extensively here.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else writing scenes like the ones in which Rowan investigates the demons, especially while also maintaining such a clear point of view and tight but logical control over how much is being revealed.

cover image for The Language of PowerThe Language of Power by Rosemary Kirstein

Rowan continues her quest to track down Slado, and this time her investigation has brought her to the town of Donner.  Bel is with her once again, as is William, the magician’s apprentice the two women met and fought beside in The Steerswoman.  They are hoping that investigating the succession change from the current wizard, Jannik, and the one before him, Kieran – to whom Slado was once an apprentice, may yield some useful clues as to Slado’s identity and location.  But time is quickly running out for the trio, as the threat of the remaining Guidestars’ destructive power grows with every day that passes.

It may seem from the synopsis that Rowan’s search is going painstakingly slowly, but I assure you that’s only because discussing the extent of the progress she’s made would involve revealing major spoilers for all of the books. The overall search does take time, as such investigations almost always do, but that’s largely because each new bit of information Rowan finds prompts even more questions.  Rowan’s real progress is in learning to ask better questions, something that’s especially evident in this, the fourth book.  There’s much that Rowan is able to do and figure out in this book that she wouldn’t have been able to in the first, simply because what she has learned in the meantime about the jewels, the Guidestars, demons, magic, and the differences between the Inner Lands and the Outskirts.  All of her discoveries have fundamentally changed Rowan’s perceptions about the world around her, and her actions, decisions, and inner dialogue in The Language of Power makes that extremely clear.  This entire series is amazing for the ways that it shows how research, science, and logical thinking really work to change how we understand things, which is a big part of why I love it so.

cover image for How to Ditch Your FairyHow to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

Like everyone in New Avalon, Charlie has her own personal fairy. Charlie has never seen her fairy, but she knows her fairy is there because of all the little things her fairy does for her. But while most people are happy to have the extra help, Charlie is determined to ditch her fairy any way she can.

Some people (such as Charlie’s best friend Rochelle) get to have shopping fairies, and always find the best clothes. Other people (like Charlie’s nemesis Fiorenze) have fairies that make all the boys fall in love with them. But fourteen year old Charlie has a parking fairy, and what good is a parking fairy if you can’t even drive? All it means is that everyone always wants to drag Charlie along on all kinds of boring errands. So Charlie has spent the last sixty days walking everywhere – no riding in cars, buses, or any other vehicle that needs a parking space – in the hopes that it will convince her fairy to leave. Because there’s nothing Charlie won’t try in order to ditch her fairy and get a new one.

I’ve only read three of Larbalestier’s books, but I can already tell she doesn’t do typical. Which is fine by me.

How to Ditch Your Fairy is not quite the genius novel that Liar is (because what can really compare to Liar?) but it is a wonderful story. It’s not at all what one might expect from an urban fantasy novel, and that is definitely one of its biggest strengths. Not every single part of the novel works as well as it could, but it’s always very fresh and engaging.

I also appreciate how Larbalestier handles Fiorenze’s situation. As one might expect, having a fairy that makes all the boys around you be attracted to you isn’t quite the dream that it might sound like at first. It’s not just that it’s hard for Fiorenze to be sure which boys are sincere, it’s not just that it can be tedious and distracting, and it’s not even just that it creates a lot of jealousy among other girls and makes friendships impossible. Larbalestier makes it clear that the boys don’t really enjoy having their wishes overridden by fairy magic and, most importantly, that having a fairy like this is unsafe for Fiorenze – that it quite often places her in dangerous situations. And Larbalestier shows this by giving Charlie moments of understanding and growth that are logical and realistic and rooted in empathy rather than preachy and dogmatic.

I was very sad when my copy from Better World Books ended up being a library discard, because I really think this is a great addition to any young adult collection.

cover image for Ghost ShipGhost Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Theo Waitley is not who she was raised to believe she was.  Her mother may indeed be Kamale Waitley, a scholar from the Safe World of Delgado, but the father she’s always loved turns out to have a past she never suspected, and comes with a family that’s larger and more complicated than Theo may be ready for.  Pilot Waitley has more to deal with than just family politics, however. She has a friend to rescue, a mysterious sentient ship to find, and she’s still under contract as a courier pilot.

It’s always taken me longer than usual to lose myself in this series, but this particular book was especially hard.  I don’t know if it would have helped to have read the previous Liaden books first, as the first part of Ghost Ship involves characters that were new to me but I think perhaps not the series. (Several books were written in the Liaden universe before this particular series, but Theo Waitley’s story begins with Fledgling and – until now – her series works quite well on it’s own.)  As it was, parts of the book were compelling, while others left me wishing certain characters would talk less and do more.

cover image for Between Mom and JoBetween Mom and Jo by Julie Anne Peters

Nick’s life has never been perfect, but it has been full of love and laughter and parents who love him.  Coping with their divorce, with not being allowed to choose who he lives with, would be hard on any teenager.   But after their split, Nick isn’t even allowed to see Jo.  Since Jo never adopted Nick, and his mothers’ marriage was never legally recognized, neither he nor Jo have any legal rights to make sure the mother who gave birth to him allows Nick to spend time with the mother who raised him.  Can Nick convince his mother of what Jo means to him? Or will his enforced estrangement from one mother ruin his relationship with the other?

As with so many of Peters’ books, we need more of this kind of story, and I’m glad that we now at least have at least this one.  However, the writing just isn’t very good.  It’s arguably one of her better written novels, and she does some interesting things with telling the story in a not quite linear fashion, but the prose never manages to rise above acceptable.

(Both titles listed below are available separately as ebooks – they were also available at one time as a single volume titled: The Steerswoman’s Road.)

cover image for The SteerswomanThe Steerswoman
by Rosemary Kirstein

Some books are so unique and memorable and unexpected and so good that you wish you could read them again for the first time.

And then there are the stories that you want to reread over and over again like comfort food.   Because they have all the tropes and character types that you always love.  Including the kind that are depressingly hard to find.

Rosemary Kirstein’s The Steerswoman (and sequels) manages to be both of these at the same time, and has therefore ruined me for all other books. Ever.

Rowan is a Steerswoman. Wikipedia says this means that she’s a “traveling scholar” – but that’s not really doing her role in her culture justice. Because scholars, as much as I love them, tend to produce work that’s packaged in a way that’s hard for people outside of academia to access – and accessing academia often costs money.  Steerswomen, on the other hand, usually spend a large portion of their time traveling from town to town, sharing the knowledge they’ve gained, as well as acquiring new information.  One of their most sacred rules is that they have to truthfully  answer any question anyone poses to them.  In return, others must do the same, or be put under a ban and never have any Steerswoman answer any of their questions ever again.  This may seem trivial, but Steerswomen were originally navigators – thus their name – and much of the information they collect is practical.  Refusing to answer a Steerswoman’s question could mean they never warn you of the blight that’s spreading, and how to to guard against it.

There are, indeed, academies and halls where all the journals that Steerswomen keep on their journeys eventually go, and where some of the Steerswomen stay and maintain records and work on more theoretical pursuits.  But Steerswomen are like modern public librarians as much as they are like modern scholars – their purpose is to provide access to knowledge as much as it is to collect knowledge.

You can already see a big part of why I like this book, I’m sure.

I love not only that Rowan is a scholar/librarian but also that her role as librarian is more than just a nod and a wink about how awesome books and libraries are; The Steerswoman asks much deeper questions than that.  It repeatedly deals with the ethics of providing information – what it means to do so, or to withhold it – and how Steerwomen navigate issues like privacy, respect, and distrust.

AND – it gets even better.

Rowan isn’t simply wandering aimlessly about.  Like most Steerwomen, she has a particular topic that she’s researching.  In her case, she’s looking for the origins and purpose of some very strange jewels that have come into her possession.  Like any good interdisciplinary scholar, she’s using science – yes, SCIENCE – as well as interviews, research, and deductive reasoning in order to achieve her goal.

Very early on in the book, two things happen.   First, Rowan acquires a companion, the wonderfully competent and clever Bel. Who, unlike Rowan, does not come from the agricultural towns and villages of the Inner Lands, but rather from the harsh landscape of the Outskirts.  Secondly, someone tries to kill Rowan, and she suspects it’s because of the questions she’s been asking about the jewels.

In lesser hands, the mystery of the jewels could have been merely interesting, but what Kirstein does instead is nothing short of amazing.  Rowans’ scholarly search is as fundamental to the worldbuilding of the story as it is to our understanding of her as a character. Rather than just a princess in a tower to help move the plot along, Rowan’s search for answers leads her to bigger mysteries.  Even more than that, the gap between what Rowan doesn’t understand  but we do about science and the world around us means that every new clue that Rowan finds out about the jewels gives us new clues about the world she lives in.  Yet Kirstein does this all without Rowan (or Bel) ever coming across as stupid or incompetent; quite the opposite, in fact, as it’s often very clear just how clever and imaginative both need to be in order to make as much progress as they do.

Also, Bel is awesome and Rowan and Bel’s friendship and working relationship is so wonderful and fun and functional.

And that’s all just within the first few chapters. Did I mention it just gets even better from there?


cover image for The Steerswoman's RoadThe Outskirter’s Secret by Rosemary Kirstein

Explaining the set up for this novel in detail will reveal too much of the plot of the first book.  WHICH YOU SHOULD READ RIGHT NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY.

Suffice to say that Rowan and Bel are still as awesome as ever, and still traveling together.  This time their journey takes them out of the Inner Lands and into Bel’s home: the Outskirts.

“The camp was pitched against the edge of the forest, one side nestled beneath overhanging evergreens, the other open to a green, rolling meadow, where the tent shadows now stretched away from the vanishing sun, long fingers indicating the east.”

Since I can’t say much more than that without everything being full of spoilers, I want to instead talk about Kirstein’s prose.  It’s lovely and expertly done in all four books, but this novel in particular is excellent for highlighting just how talented Kirstein is at her craft.  While there were strange goings on in the first book, much of it still took place in a setting that was familiar to Rowan herself.  It was also a setting with a great many similarities to other fantasy novels, and to certain periods in Western history, so it’s familiar to readers as well, in a way.  But in Outskirter’s Secret, we enter into territory that is entirely new to Rowan, and less familiar to many readers as well, and we encounter creatures quite unlike any other we’ve seen before.

“The greengrass vanished.

It was a subtle process as Bel had first described…: first one noticed occasional patches of redgrass, then more, and eventually one realized that for indeterminate length of time no greengrass had been seen at all.”

All of this is told in Rowan’s scientific yet poetic voice, through which Kirstein is able to paint us pictures of the this new world that Rowan finds herself in – images that are as clear, accurate, and detailed as photographs but as lyrical and wistful as watercolors.

“The breeze was in her face, speeding wild lines of brown and red directly toward her; it was sinister, threatening. The colors seemed to hover, sourceless, ineffable.

…Rowan wished it would rain; wished the colors to gray, the grass to dampen and silence. She watched the grass tops dizzily and stumbled along behind the Outskirter.”

This series really deserves to be read and talked about and praised, rather than dwelling half-forgotten in obscurity.  So GO. Get yourself a copy and read it.  And tell other people about it.

cover image for Zora and MeZora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

Everyone in Eatonville, Florida knows there’s something special about Zora. But no one else in town knows her quite like her two best friends, Carrie and Teddy, do.  Together, the three spend all the spare time they have exploring, getting into one mischief or another, and – of course – listening to Zora’s stories.  When a man turns up dead on railroad tracks not long after Zora talks of seeing an alligator man in the swamp, no one believes her.  Except Carrie and Teddy, of course.  So it’s up to the young trio to get the bottom of the mystery before more people get hurt.

I was skeptical at first of the premise of the story: focusing on the childhood of a famous person; books like that can often be rather generic and present a very standardized and inaccurate view of history.  Instead this lovely, slim novel is full of detail and nuance, of complications and implications.  The language is just absolutely beautiful, a fitting tribute to Hurston’s work, and yet it’s still readable by the middle graders it’s marketed to.  Highly recommended.  This should be in every public library’s collection.

cover image for Pusheen the CatI Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton

Inside this book you will find Pusheen the Cat’s guide to petting, acquiring treats, sleeping, and much more. Round, silly, and adorable, Pusheen is a delightful teacher with personality and opinions to spare.

This is a bit of an odd book in that it doesn’t quite fit into normal categories – it’s the kind of book that would simply be labeled as a “gift” book in most bookstores.  Children may enjoy it, but much of the humor references adult experiences. Many adults may enjoy it too, but the format and illustration style makes it look more like a  children’s book.  Still, it’s entertaining and I’m glad I read – and it would, indeed, make a fun gift a great many cat lovers.

cover image for Cold FireCold Fire by Tamora Pierce

Daja, and her mentor Frostpine, have come to the northern city of Kugisko so that the latter may visit with old friends.  Their restful trip is soon interrupted, of course. In turns out that their hosts’ twin daughters are natural mages, and since it was Daja who discovered their gifts, it’s up to her to make sure that they are trained properly.  Frostpine has troubles of his own to take care of, as he’s asked by the governor to look into counterfeit coins – preferable before the public finds out and panic ensues.  And both mages are worried about the mysterious fires that appear to be accidents, but seem to keep happening more frequently than is normal.

This wasn’t a bad book, in fact I think I liked it best of this second quartet so far.  Daja’s characterization is a good mixture of older-than-before yet-still-very-young and this story has a nice mix of cultures and customs.  Unfortunately, it’s far from Pierce’s best.  Also, I was tired of the plot idea of our four friends discovering natural mages – and being required to become teachers themselves – before I was finished with the first book.


cover image for Keeping You A SecretKeeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters

As her senior year draws to a close, it looks as though Holland Jaeger has everything going for her.  Good grades, best friends, the perfect boyfriend, a job she loves, and a sometimes trying blended family that she nevertheless loves.  (Well, Holland loves her Mom and baby sister anyway – her stepdad is tolerable and her stepsister lives elsewhere, mostly.)  Then gorgeous, brilliant, and completely Out and Proud Cece shows at school up one morning and Holland begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself.

Peters writing is rather rough here, and while the rawness fits the subject matter there’s not enough depth to transform this from a Problem Novel into something more enduring.  It’s not so much the talk of Goths and CDs that date the book as it is the assumption that high school will always be a place where only the Brave are Out, and the accompanying lack of introspection that might help teens, a decade later, better understand Holland’s experience – and better recognize what much hasn’t changed.

cover image for Chasing ShadowsChasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi, illustrated by Craig Phillips

Savitri’s acceptance into Princeton should be good news, not a secret she’s afraid to share.    But attending Princeton means leaving Holly and Corey behind in Chicago.  It means a long distance relationship with Corey, no more hanging out with Holly, and an end to the time the three spend exploring the city as freerunners.  Yet before Sav can make her choice, Corey is taken from them in a random act of violence.  Now Holly’s the one with an impossible choice, and Sav may be the only person who can help her.

I stumbled a bit getting into this book; a trio of friends who do parkour seems to be an increasingly common trope, and while it’s one I would normally enjoy, the previous two books I read with this setup were less than stellar, so I cringed at bit at first to see it again.  Thankfully, this isn’t them.

Chasing Shadows is a book about grief and loyalty, friendship and betrayal.  It tackles often complicated topics: from survivor guilt to cultural appropriation, and it deals with all of them with grace and honesty.  There are no simple answers here, no easy way to make the pain go away.  Instead we get complicated relationships and heartbreaking decisions wrapped up in a deceptively simple story.  Highly recommended.

cover image for Marie Antoinette, Serial KillerMarie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender

A class trip to Paris is just the opportunity Colette Iselin needs.  A chance to meet new people, to get away from home, to escape her mother, to hang out with the popular girls, and to explore a new, fabulous city – and her family’s past.   But a serial killer is on the loose in Paris, murdering young men and women about the same age as Colette.  And Colette herself has been seeing strange things – including what may be the ghost of Marie Antoinette.

Needless to say, this particular novel requires a decent suspension of disbelief.  Not so much because of the ghosts, but rather because of the way it plays loose with history.  Still, while not quite as good as the other book by Alender that I’ve read, Bad Girls Don’t Die, this new novel is entertaining enough.

cover image for The Rule of ThirdsThe Rule of Thirds by Chantel Guertin

Preparing for Vantage Point, the photography competition for high school students that Pippa hopes will launch her career, is stressful enough by itself.  But now Pippa also has to deal with rocky friendships, cute boys, and rivals out to sabotage the entry she’s been working on for months.  And because that’s not enough to deal with, Pippa also been assigned to work at the hospital for her community service requirement.  The same hospital where she used to go to visit her Dad, and where she promised herself she’d never have to go to again.

The Rule of Thirds isn’t the type of book to make top ten lists, but it’s a nice, solid, entertaining novel with a good balance of humor and heartbreak and just enough surprises to keep you guessing.  I very much enjoyed reading it, and thought Guertin did a great job explaining the artistic process (when the subject came up) which isn’t something that’s always handled well in books like these.  I very much look forward to reading the sequels.

cover image for The Running DreamThe Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

At night, Jessica dreams of running.  She can feel herself taking her regular morning jog, or racing in another competition, always fast and strong and sure of every step.  But by day, Jessica can no longer walk. The accident that left a teammate dead also left Jessica missing the lower half of one leg.  She doesn’t mind the pain so much – there are drugs for that.  What she’s really afraid to face is the fact that she no longer knows where she’s going, or how she’s going to get there.

I was a little afraid that this book, based on the premise, was going to be maudlin and trite, full of Life Lessons and Inspiration From Unlikely Places.  Fortunately, this book is by the same author who gave us Flipped, so while the story does indeed end on a hopeful and triumphant note, there are no easy solutions here, no universal truths.  Just how one teen girl copes with a dramatic change in both mobility and identity.  Van Draanen does a wonderful job of crafting a nuanced story, and of not only showing us how Jessica changes, but also of letting the tone and mood of the book change along with Jessica.

cover image for Peekaboo!Peekaboo! by Taro Gomi

In addition to Gomi’s always wonderful illustrations, this board book has special twist. There is a small hole cut the entire way through the book and, as the cover suggests, each two page spread features a different face, with the cut-outs situated where the eyes would be.  Thus allowing the books to double as a mask – perfect for playing peekaboo with your little one.  Altogether this will make a delightful addition to any child library, or any library’s children’s collection.

cover image for Each KindnessEach Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

When a new girl joins Chloe’s class, the first thing that Chloe notices about Maya is how old her clothes are, and how her spring clothes are for the snowy winter outside.  When Maya smiles at Chloe, and asks if she can play, Chloe and her friends don’t smile back, and don’t invite Maya to join them in their games.  No matter how many times Maya asks, their answer is the same, until she simply stops asking.  But when Maya stops coming to school, Chloe wonders if she made the right choice.

My favorite thing about this book is that it allows the story to have an unhappy ending.  Maya never comes back, and Chloe never gets a chance to apologize or become friends with her.  Chloe realized her mistake far too late and now must live with her regrets.  It’s not an easy book, but it’s exactly the right kind of difficult that children need.  It’s an experience that they can relate to, and one that’s not too complicated for them to understand.  Yet at the same time it asks questions that defy easy answers.

Lewis’ illustrations, always gorgeous and detailed, are especially effective here, giving the book a quality that is both realistic and yet etherial and contemplative.

cover image for Three Observations and a DialogThree Observations and a Dialogue: Round and About SF by Sylvia Kelso

As the title suggests, this volume contains of three papers/talks on science fiction.  More specifically women and feminism and science fiction. Also included is a series of written exchanges between Kelso and Lois McMaster Bujold, who is mentioned frequently in Kelso’s essays.

I began reading this volume about a year ago, then realized that I should possibly consider waiting until I had actually read some books by Lois McMaster Bujold first!  At which point I set it aside while I did just that, only finishing it early this year.  So my memory of the first parts are a bit hazy.  What I do remember is that all of it is extremely interesting and thought-provoking, particularly when she’s discussing Bujold’s work..

Also, it’s nice it is to see two real live women respectfully arguing (also, agreeing, quite often!) in print.  It’s a good antidote for all the rivalries between women that the media tries to dredge up and/or fabricate.

cover image for Icing on the CakeIcing on the Cake by Sheryl and Carrie Berk

Fourth in the Cupcake Club series, this volume tells the story from Jenna’s point of view as she juggles the demands of being the club’s taste tester and dealing with conflict at home at the same time.  When Jenna mother announces her engagement (news that does NOT make Jenna happy) and then hires the club to make cupcakes for the reception, Jenna’s worlds collide, much to her dismay.

I don’t actually expect chapter books to be very good, or to be realistic, but I prefer them to be a little bit less farfetched than this.  Or, at least, to be farfetched for more exciting reasons than cupcakes and weddings.  And I definitely expect the interpersonal conflicts to be realistic; it’s certainly realistic that Jenna is upset that her mom is dating and then getting remarried, but it’s not well depicted here.  The same goes for the little bits of “culture” that are sprinkled in to make sure we know that Jenna is Jenna Medina and that she’s hispanic.  #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but we don’t need culture that’s layered on top like icing on cupcakes.

cover image for The Dream ThievesThe Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

 Gansey, Adam, Ronan, Noah, and Blue have managed to awaken the ley lines around Cabeswater, but their search for Glendower continues, and not without frustrations and setbacks. To further complicate matters, strangers have come to Henrietta looking for them and Ronan has been keeping secrets – and going off the rails (even more than usual).

 Full of the unexpected, The Dream Thieves stays focused on the tangled friendships and class conflicts that made that The Raven Boys so great, but it also  adds in even more magic and “BOOM!”  What makes this book so incredibly wonderful isn’t just the fantastic, or even how the fantastic and the realism blend together so seamlessly, it’s above all the emotional and moral weight that Stiefvater gives to the power and choices presented to her characters.

The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi BarahalThe Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal by Kate Elliot, illustrated by Julie Dillon

A companion story to Elliot’s Spiritwalker trilogy, this slim volume recounts the events in those novels from the point of view of Cat’s cousin, Beatrice.  As Bea is an artist, the volume includes quite a few wonderful illustrations, which are well integrated into the story.

The journal is definitely meant to be read after the other three books, as it’s not so much a complete story, but a counterpoint.  Fans will love it (I certainly did) and appreciate Bea’s point of view, the bickering between the two cousins, and finally getting to see Bea’s much talked about sketches.

sketch of Cat from The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal