Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘grief

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 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 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.

cover image for Hocus Pocus Takes the TrainHocus Pocus Takes the Train by Sylvie Desrosiers and Remy Simard

When a magician and his dog stop to enjoy a treat before boarding their train, the magic rabbit in the magician’s hat peeks out and spies a friend.  While Rabbit is trying to talk to a baby’s stuffed bunny, the magician and his dog have already boarded the train! And so have the baby and mother!  Will Rabbit and the stuffed bunny get left behind, or will Rabbit save the day?

Clear and expressive illustrations make this graphic novel perfect for newer readers.  The humor should appeal to younger children, who will also find it easy to relate to Rabbit’s worries and adventures.  This clever but simple book has me eager to read more by these authors.

cover image for This is How I Find HerThis is How I find Her by Sara Polsky

Every day, when Sophie comes home from school, she immediately looks for her mother.  The days that Sophie finds her mother in her studio  – those are the good days.   Then there are the days that Sophie finds her just as she was when she left for school; the blinds still closed, the apartment dark and silent.  Until one day Sophie finds her mother in her bedroom, unconscious, an half empty bottle of pills beside her.

There was a lot that I liked about this book, particularly the way it explored the relationship between Sophie and her extended family (her mother’s sister, and her cousin, who she used to play with as a child, but hasn’t seen in years), how Sophie’s mother’s illness affected her, and how Sophie struggled to cope with her mother’s suicide attempt.  For some reason it never really clicked with me though, and I can’t really put my finger on why.

cover image for The Spy PrincessSpy Princess by Sherwood Smith

Twelve year old Lilah never gets to do anything or go anywhere.  Stuck in her father’s palace, friendless and frustrated, she sneaks out one night in borrowed clothes in search of adventure.  Instead, she finds a revolution against her own family brewing.  Even more surprising, Lilah begins to think the revolutionaries may be right.

I so wanted to like this book – I love Sherwood Smith’s novels!  But it just wasn’t very well done.   Or, at least, it wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from her.  It’s a rather long book considering how little happens, and at the same time, I felt like the presentation of what was going on was rather shallow.  I felt like she wasn’t trusting her middle graders readers like she should, and that was making everything more complicated and yet less nuanced than it needed to be. (I know, that sounds contradictory, but it’s the difference between running around without much important happening versus really examining the situation.)

cover image for MontmorencyMontmorency by Eleanor Updale

Montmorency is a thief. Not a particularly notable thief, but a competent one. Or at least, he was. Until an accident during a job not only landed him in jail, but also left him seriously injured.  His ailments caught the attention of a Doctor Farcett, who was eager to see if his new treatments could give Montmorency the mobility he once had.  When the doctor’s surgeries meet with the success, Montmorency is then dragged along to lectures for show and tell.  While his fellow inmates grow increasingly jealous of his supposed good fortune, Montmorency plots his escape.

This was a very odd book.  And I don’t mean that it was strange in thought-provoking ways, just that it was unusual and perplexing at times.  Although occasionally fascinating, I kept wondering just who it was meant for.  It’s written at middle grade level, and yet all of the characters are adults.  Including a very annoying and absurd woman who decides to pursue Montmorency at one point.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t really a good one either, and I really don’t know who I would suggest it to. Also, I’d hesitate to give it most middle grade readers simply because of how cliched all the female characters are, especially in light of how unique the main character is.

cover image for Along For the RideAlong for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

When solid, dependable Auden decides to spend the summer at the beach with her dad, stepmom, and new half sister, no one is more surprised than Auden herself.  She’s not sure she made the right choice, what with Thisbe crying at all hours and Heidi and her father fighting, but neither does she feel up to going back home for the summer and watching her mother flirt with – and then discard – yet another graduate student.  So when Heidi asks Auden if she might be willing to do the accounting for her boutique while she’s out on maternity leave, Auden jumps at the excuse to spend a few hours away from the house and alone in the quiet office in the back of the store instead.  Auden doesn’t plan on making friends with the girls who work there, or on spending her summer collecting the childhood experiences she never got – like learning to ride a bike.  But since when does life go according to plan?

Reviews of Dessen’s work (mine included) tend to make it sound like if you’ve read one Dessen novel, you’ve read them all. While there’s certainly some truth to that, I have to say that I like her more recent work much better than her earlier novels.  She may be telling variations on the same story over and over, but it’s a good story, and her writing has definitely improved with practice.  Along for the Ride has just the right mix of friendship, romance, and family; the characters are still unique and a little bit odd at times, but they feel more like actual humans and less like people playing parts; and while the ending is predictable, Auden’s path to that point is less so.  All of which makes Along for the Ride a fun, light, sweet novel.

cover image for King's ShieldKing’s Shield by Sherwood Smith

After years of exile, Inda has returned home to Iasca Leror.  His fears of being treated as a traitor are unfounded and Evred, his childhood friend and now king, not only welcomes him with open arms but also with a request that Inda serve him as King’s Shield – the king’s war leader.  Inda, still adjusting to being home, as well the tragic news of his brother’s death, is torn between wanting to serve his king and country, fear that he won’t measure up to expectations, and wanting to spend time with the family he hasn’t seen in years.

There’s always so much going on these books that I’m never quite sure where to begin.  King’s Shield felt a bit slower than the previous two books, I think because so much of the time was spent waiting for the war to begin, and having Inda find out things we already knew.  That said, I loved seeing how both Inda andTau adjusted to life in Iasca Leror and the scenes with the children hiding in the mountains from the Venn were incredibly well done.