Felix Yz

by Lisa Bunker
First sentence: “I almost talked to Hector today.”
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Release date: June 6, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s handling some more mature themes, so is probably not appropriate for the younger set (but you know your own kid). It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section, but it might do better in the YA (grades 6-8).

When Feliz was three, his father was doing experiments and, well, accidentally fused Feliz to a fourth-dimensional alien. Unfortunately, his father died in the process, but Felix and his alien, whom he ended up calling *zyxilef, or Zyx for short were left to figure out an existence together.

Which they have for ten years. But, things are getting harder for Felix, and he will die if they stay fused. So, his family — Mom, Grandy (his gender fluid grandparent), and sister Beatrix — has talked to researchers who have decided that the only way is to de-fuse Felix and Zyx. The only problem: Felix might die.

The book is Felix’s “secret” blog: a history of how he was fused, what life with Zyx is like (alternately good and kind of tough), and his hopes and fears for the future.

On the one hand, this gets bonus points for progressiveness: a genderfluid and a bisexual supporting character, plus a gay main character. I loved the new invented pronouns to talk about Grandy (“vo, ven, veirs, veinself”). I enjoyed Felix’s voice, even though he was often petulant. But then again, what 13 year old isn’t? It was lacking in the action department, and I didn’t feel Felix’s anxiety for his life as much as I thought I could. But it wasn’t a bad book, and I did enjoy many aspects of it. Even if it’s not perfect.

Amina’s Voice

by Hena Khan
First sentence: “Something sharp pokes me in the rib.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There is an act of vandalism (against the mosque) that is handled really well, but might be upsetting. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Amina is starting sixth grade, the one time that people associate with change. And Amina’s experiencing it. Her best friend Soonjin is becoming a U.S. citizen and is thinking about changing her name. She’s also becoming better friends with their former grade-school bully’s sidekick, Emily. Her uncle is coming from Pakistan to stay with them for three months, and his stricter interpretation of Islam has Amina wondering if her love of music (both playing the piano and singing) is against God’s wishes. And then there’s the fact that she has stage fright, and there’s a Quran competition that her parents are making her enter. Will she survive all this?

Such a delightful portrait of a 12-year-old trying to figure out her place in the world. Khan got pre-teen girls, their anxieties and insecurities, and how they are struggling to find their own, well, voice. I also appreciated the religion in the book; Khan give us a slice of Islam with faithful people, loving parents (and Imam), which is completely relatable to anyone who reads it. This is one of those important books: it’s a great window into an Islamic family and community, and it’s a great mirror not just for Muslim kids but anyone who is religious. But, it’s also a great story, well told.

Very, very good.

The Star Thief

by Lindsey Becker
First sentence: “Honorine realized it was going to be a difficult night when she stepped into the east parlor to do a bit of light dusting and found it on fire.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: April 11, 2017
Content: There’s some action-related violence, but nothing graphic. And some of the names might be tricky to pronounce for the younger kids. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Honorine has been a main in Lord Vidalia’s for as long as she can remember. Lord Vidalia took her in when she was orphaned, and then promptly disappeared. Honorine didn’t think there was anything unusual about her life — sure, she had a knack for inventing and she got along with Lord Vidalia’s son, Francis really well — until one night when a couple of steampunk-y airships arrived, weird creatures called Mordants appeared, and Honorine found out she wasn’t who she thought she was.

On the one hand, this hits all the middle grade fantasy buttons: magical creatures based on constellations, pirates, an evil overlord (of sorts), mythical creatures, action and adventure. And yet… well, it kind of felt that it was going through the paces. Maybe it was me, and where I was when I was reading this, but nothing stood out as, well, unique. I don’t know what I was hoping for, but it fell flat. Oh, I’m sure kids will eat this up, and I’m glad I read it.

But, I guess I was hoping for something… more.

Audiobook: Flying Lessons

flyinglessonsedited by Ellen Oh
Read by: An Ensemble of Narrators
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Content: The stories are all set in middle school, and some deal more explicitly with “older kid” problems. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’m considering moving it to the YA (grades 6-8) because I’m wondering if that’s more the audience.

I’m not a huge fan of short story collections, but when I saw the audio book of this one, I couldn’t resist. I’ve been neglecting reading books by non-whites this year (I shouldn’t be!) and I thought since diversity is the point of this collection, I’d give it a try.

And I loved it! Sure, I loved some stories more than others (The titular story, “Flying Lessons” was one of my favorites, as was “How to Transform an Everyday Hoop Court Into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” by Matt de la Pena, and “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents” by Kwame Alexander, and “”Sol Painting, Inc.,” written and read by Meg Medina), but that’s to be expected. I loved that there were different readers for each story, which helped me tell the stories apart as well as giving them their own, distinct voice. I loved hearing the diverse stories, from the inner city, from the suburbs, from rural people to rich people to poor people to disabled people. It really did embrace the diversity that’s out there. Which is really the best thing.

Now to make sure that kids read it!

Audiobook: Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince

woodenprinceby John Claude Bemis
Read by Ralph Lister
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some scary parts, but not many. I don’t know how it is as a book, but the story is good for 3rd grade and up.

In this magical steampunk retelling of Pinocchio set in a Renaissance-like Vienna, Pinochhio is an automaton, Geppetto is a alchemist, and there are chimera and a magical kingdom ruled by an immortal ruler. All the elements of the story (or at least the Disney movie; I’ve never actually read the story) are there — the blue fairy, the carnival master, the whale (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie) — but in an entirely new, and fantastical form.

I think this is one I would have liked better reading than listening to. The narrator was fantastic; it often sounded like an ensemble rather than just one person. But, there were sound effects added in, and they drove. me. nuts. They were super distracting and sometimes gross (really, do we need a sound effect for throwing up?), and sometimes made it hard for me to understand the dialogue.

And, to be fair, I kept fading in and out of the story, so I missed a bunch of the story line. Though, it didn’t really seem to matter. I was a bit disappointed it was a first, as well. I wanted it to be a wholly contained story, but it seems a stand-alone speculative fiction isn’t something that is often written anymore.

It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t the best experience, either.

Audiobook: The Inquisitor’s Tale

inquisitorstaleby Adam Gidwitz
Read by the author and Vikas Adam, Mark Bramhall, Jonathan Cowley, Kimberly Farr, Ann Marie Lee, Bruce Mann, John H. Mayer, and Arthur Morey
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: There’s a lot of poop and fart jokes, plus a bit of a running ass/donkey joke. It’s also a bit, well, long, and some violent moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but it’d probably be good up through the 8th grade or so.

I’ll be honest here: I tried reading this one and I didn’t make it through the third chapter. It just didn’t grab me.

The story is this: in the 13th century there are three children who can perform miracles. And someone is asking about them, collecting their story. Told in stages by several people over the course of a night, it follows the children — Jeanne, a peasant girl who has vision; William, a super strong oblate; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with healing powers — how they met, their run from the church and then the king, with a showdown outside of Mont-Saint-Michel.

It’s a very religious story (which shouldn’t have surprised me, considering when it was set), but it also deals with race relations and bigotry and just oppression in general. I think audio was the way to go for me on this one. I loved that the different tale tellers had different narrators reading the tale, each giving it their own spin. It made the tale come alive for me. (Maybe this is one that’s better read aloud?)

So, I’m glad I gave it a second chance. It was worth it.