The Size of the Truth

by Andrew Smith
First sentence: “This all starts with my first enormous truth, which was a hole.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: March 26, 2019
Content: It’s odd, and Smith’s reputation for edgy YA might turn some people off, but there’s really nothing in this that a 4/5-6/7th grader wouldn’t like. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Sam Abernathy is known for one thing: falling down a well when he was four and being trapped for three days. It’s not something you want to be remembered for, especially when you are 11 years old and just got pushed up to the 8th grade. No, it’s not something he wanted. He also doesn’t want to go on survival campout weekends with his dad. Or be a part of the Science Club. Or go to MIT to study science something. Or be in 8th grade PE.

What does he want? To cook. But no one seems to hear that.

Yes, this is a very Andrew Smith book: delightfully weird, slightly off-kilter, and yet completely full of heart and soul. There’s a talking armadillo (who may or may not be a figment of four year old Sam’s imagination). There’s another 8th grader, James Jenkins, who Sam’s sure is going to kill him. But what it is really, is a reflection on figuring out who YOU are (and not who your parents or community want you to be) and what YOU want to do with your life. And then sticking up for it.

And it’s absolutely perfect for those fourth-seventh graders who are just trying to figure things out.

I loved it.

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Freya & Zoose

by Emily Butler
First sentence: “There was no question in Freya’s mind that this was her last chance.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the author.
Content: It’s short and highly illustrated, but it contains some big(ish) words. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Freya is a rockhopper penguin who has always wanted (and feared) adventure. So, when she hears about an expedition to the North Pole (by hot air balloon!) she takes a deep breath and hops on board. There, she meets the intrepid (and somewhat annoying) mouse Zoose, who becomes her unwelcome (at first) traveling companion. Together they weather the ups and downs and the hardships and joys of traveling to the Arctic, and discover that perhaps friendship is the most important part.

Because I sell books, I tend (sometimes, not always) to read them looking for the person who will like the book. And this one, I think, will appeal to one of two sorts of people: those who like talking animals, and those who like quiet books that feel like classics. It’s a charming little book, with a quiet little adventure (Things do Happen, but it’s not a mile-a-minute page-turner) that I think would make a fantastic read-aloud to a younger child. I’m not sure how much an older kid would like it — it’s firmly geared toward the younger end of the middle grade range — but I really do think that reading it aloud to a 4-6 year old is the perfect thing to do with this book.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.

The Lost Girl

by Anne Ursu
First sentence: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters, alike in every way, except for all the ways they were different.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Iris and Lark are identical twins. And they’ve always been together, from the very start. They’re stronger together, and even though they are different, they help each other out. That is, until this year, their 5th grade year, when their parents (darn them!) decide that it would be better if Iris and Lark are in two different classes. That shakes both girls to their core, but Iris, who’s nominally our main character, is really having a tough time of it. And things get a lot more complicated when she starts frequenting a strange new antique store in town with an odd owner who says there is magic in the world.

I swear I read a tweet by Anne Ursu (who, if you don’t follow on Twitter, you should!) that this book was about girls and friendships and smashing the patriarchy, and I am totally here for all of that. It’s a seriously good book; the parents create conflict by being good parents (which is incredibly unusual) and by trying to stretch their twins in new ways. And it’s uncomfortable (do I really listen to my kids the way they want to be listened to?) and challenging and amazing and wonderful all at the same time. I adored Iris’s loud strength and courage and prickliness and Lark’s whimsical nature and quiet strength. But what I really loved was the way the girls banded together to overcome the conflict. Seriously. Usually in middle grade fiction, it’s the main character Facing the Challenge and Overcoming (maybe with a little help), but very rarely is it a group of kids who work together and are Awesome. Don’t underestimate the power of kids working together.

It’s such a fantastic, wonderful, gorgeous middle grade book.

To Night Owl from Dogfish

by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some frank talk about periods, so maybe for the older end of the spectrum? Still, it’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though I think older readers would like it as well.

Bett and Avery are happy with their respective lives. Bett lives with her dad in Southern California, surfing and collecting feathers and shells. Avery lives in New York City with her dad and is happy with their super structured life. But when their dad’s meet, everything changes. They arrange for Bett and Avery to attend the same summer camp, hoping that they’ll become best friends. And Bett and Avery are determined to stop them.

Except… they do become best friends. (And have adventures!) But their dads? Well, it doesn’t work out. But don’t worry: Bett and Avery have a plan.

This was a super adorable book! Seriously. Written entirely in emails — between Bett and Avery with ones from the adults in their life every once in a while — it’s oozing charm and delight and just plain fun from every pore. Sure it’s a bit Parent Trap-y, but I think it manages that (it has a nice twist ending that’s quite sweet) without being too cloying. I adore both Bett and Avery, and I loved how their individual voices and personalities came through in the letters. It’s just a super charming book.

(I do have to note that Bett is a bi-racial character, though both the authors are white. Take that for what you will.)

At any rate, I did enjoy it a whole bunch.

Audio book: Where the Crawdad’s Sing

by Delia Owens
Read by Cassandra Campbell
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some talk about sex, as well as off-screen sex; domestic abuse, and an attempted rape scene. There is also some mild language. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

My co-workers have been raving about this for months, and I just hadn’t gotten around to reading it. A long drive home from Texas seemed just the time to give it ago.

It’s nominally the story of Kya, a girl who grew up in the marshes of North Carolina. Her father was an abusive drunk, and her mother and siblings all abandoned her to her father when she was seven. She basically raised herself, especially after her father left three years later. With some help from the African American community, she basically figured things out on her own. She did have one friend, Tate, who taught her to read and encouraged her in her scientific studies — she was basically self-educated, but also highly observant — of the marshlands. And then Tate left to go to college and didn’t come back.

It’s also a bit of a murder mystery. The bright young star in town, Chase Andrews, is found dead by the fire tower. And all signs point to Kya as the murderer. The question was: did she do it, or was she framed?

It’s a gorgeously written book, full of details about the natural world, and the narrator was marvelous. I was spellbound most of the way through the book. But I think I was more invested in the murder mystery part of that, because it was left without a tidy resolution. (Ah, adult fiction being so true to life.) I liked the characters, but it really was Owens’ storytelling that drew me in (and the narrator’s reading!) and kept me hooked in this book.

A really excellent read.

State of the #TBR Pile: February 2019

I’m trying (and being mostly good about it) to keep my TBR pile manageable. I’m not sure if it’s because there just isn’t a whole lot out there that I want to read right now (my “future read” ARC pile isn’t terribly out of control, though my “read on the elliptical pile” is getting a bit outrageous) or if it’s just because I’m not really much in the mood to read. I did read most of what was on my pile last month, though I did DNF a couple. Not too bad.

Here’s what I’ve got waiting for me right now:

Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith
Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton (for book group)
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe
The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer (I spent a day with Eliot — he’s super charming — and I figured the least I could do is read the book. Besides, after hearing three school presentations, I was interested in it!)

What’s on your TBR pile that you’re excited about?

The Poet X

by Elizabeth Acevedo
First sentence: “The summer is made for stoop-sitting and since it’s the last week before school starts, Harlem is opening its eyes to September.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing, a tasteful almost-sex scene, and some talk of smoking weed. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Xiomara is many things: a daughter, a poet, a twin. But she feels like she doesn’t quite fit. It doesn’t help that her parents — both from the Dominican Republic — don’t really get along, or that her mother is super religious. Or that her twin, Xavier, is super smart, and goes to a magnet school, while Xiomara is stuck going to the not-really-great neighborhood one. And on top of everything, as she starts her sophomore year, her mother is insisting that she go to classes so that she can be confirmed (I think that’s how it is in Catholic churches?). But Xiomara has questions about God, and religion, and the way her parents treat her.

On the one hand, I can see where Xiomara’s mother is coming from. She wants her daughter to have all the things she didn’t have. She wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps, and to have the faith she did. What she doesn’t take into consideration — and this is the conflict at the heart of this elegant novel in verse — is that Xiomara’s feelings and desires might be different than her own. It’s often the conflict at the heart of young adult books: parents who believe they know better and don’t stop to listen to the desires of their kids. I loved getting to know Xiomara through her poetry, to understand her feelings and the tensions she perceived in her family. And I’m glad that, in the end, there was a resolution that didn’t involve someone dying. That Xiomara realized her parents loved her, even if they didn’t always show it in a way she could understand it.

Acevedo’s writing is gorgeous and her storytelling exquisite. This is definitely worth the hype.