Rebound

by Kwame Alexander
First sentence: “It was the summer when Now and Laters cost a nickel and The Fantastic Four, a buck.
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Others in the series: Crossover
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some drug dealing and stealing, but it’s all incidental to the plot. There’s a wee bit of romance. Crossover is in the Newbery section, and so I might put this one next to Booked in the Middle grade (grades 3-5 section) or I might move it to the YA section (grades 6-8) where it feels like it should go.

Even though this one is a pre-quel to Crossover, you really should read that one first.

It’s 1988 and Charlie Bell, the father of the characters in the Crossover, has just lost his father to a major heart attack. It’s the end of his 7th grade year and the loss — and the subsequent grief of both him and his mother — has put Charlie at odds with the world. He doesn’t want to deal with school or friends or his mother, even though he tries to put his father’s death out of his head; all he wants to do is sit and read his comic books. But then, he gets mixed up a bit with his friends older brother, and gets caught stealing (nothing major though), so his mom ships him off to DC to his grandparents (his father’s parents) for the summer.

It’s there that he learns how to deal with his dad’s death, and finds a passion for basketball that stays with him the rest of his life.

I’ve become a fan of Alexander’s in the years since his Newbery win, and this is no exception. It’s a lot geekier than his other books — there are comic poems, to reflect Charlie’s love of the comic book, and he’s not a suave as his kids turn out to be. But, it still has Alexander’s signature poetic style, and it tells the story of a kid coming to terms with his grief extremely well. I loved the 1980s references (throwback to high school!) and I thought Alexander handled the girl characters much better in this one (in fact, Charlie’s cousin, Roxie, is pretty amazing!).

An excellent read.

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Ninth Ward

by Jewell Parker Rhodes
First sentence: “They say I was born with a caul, a skin netting covering my face like a glove.”
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Content: There are some intense moments, but it’s written very simply. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Lanesha lives in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, one of the poorest sections of the city, with her Mama Ya-Ya, who is the woman who delivered her, because Lanesha’s mother has passed on and her extended family doesn’t want her. But, even though they’re poor, Lanesha’s happy. That is, until a storm — Hurricane Katrina — comes riding in. Mama Ya-Ya passes on in the middle of the storm, and Lanesha is left to figure out how to ride out the flooding that came after the hurricane by herself.

I adore Rhodes, and the way she takes tough issues and makes them really accessible to younger readers. She knows her audience, knows how to talk to her audience, and knows how to make difficult subjects into a gripping, interesting, compelling story. This one is no exception (I hadn’t read it before!). The only difference with this one is that it has ghosts. Lanesha has the ability to see those who have passed on, and can even talk to them. (Which makes me wonder why this one ended up in the “realistic fiction” section of my children’s lit class…) Even so, the ghosts don’t seem out of place; it is New Orleans after all. And even though the ghosts play a role in resolving the ultimate conflict, I think Rhodes did an excellent job in making this a real middle grade novel, with the action being propelled forward by the children.

Excellent. But that’s no surprise.

The Cruel Prince

by Holly Black
First sentence: “On a drowsy Sunday afternoon, a man in a long coat hesitated in front of a house on a tree-lined street.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s violent. And dark. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a willing 7th grader.

Jude has lived in Faerie ever since she was 10, when her mother’s first husband, a faerie general named Madoc, came to the human world and slaughtered her parents, and spirited away her, her twin sister, Taryn, and her mother’s first child, Vivian. It’s not been a comfortable life, being a human in Faerie, but Jude had made do. In fact, she’s done better than that: in spite of her terror at everything (because her life is constantly in danger), she has learned to fight, to strategize, and to, well, thrive.

And so when, as Faerie prepares to crown a new High King, she gets involved in the Court drama, she feels capable of handling what’s thrown at her. Except, things don’t quite go the way she thinks.

I loved this one. I like faerie stories generally, and Holly Black’s are particularly gorgeously told. I loved the dark undertones, and I loved the way Jude worked with her limitations and made the best of her situations, the way she played the situation. And, since this is the first in a series, I can’t wait to see how it all will play out in the next one.

Penelope March is Melting

by Jeff Michael Ruby
First sentence: “Years ago, scientists spotted a strange iceberg floating a hundred miles off the coast of Antarctica.”
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Review copy sent by the author.
Content: There’s some bullying and a couple of intense situations. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Penelope March lives a quiet, ordinary life in Glacier Cove. Her brother leaves her riddles, her father goes and works as a turnip farmer (they’re the only food that grows on an iceberg). She goes to school, but doesn’t have many friends. She reads a lot though, and wishes for an adventure. Until, one day, she goes into the ramshackle house of  the town eccentric, and learns that an evil force is trying to take over the ocean, and is planning on melting Glacier Cove. And it’s up to Penelope (and a team of ice penguins) to stop it.

On the one hand, this was a unique premise. Not many middle grade fantasies being set on a town build on an iceberg. And, the penguins were truly amusing. There was the same old dead parent (mom this time) and the grieving remaining one (out of touch father). There was the Skeptical Boy (the brother, who didn’t really get on board until the last part of the book) and the Misunderstood Friend. And the buildup to the whole evil magic thing at the end just didn’t work for me. That said, it wasn’t a terribly written book, and I think there are kids — specifically ones who don’t mind a bit of magic with their adventure — who will enjoy this one. I just found it to be a bit… too basic and banal for my tastes.

Turtles all the Way Down

by John Green
First sentence: “At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time — between 12:37 p.m. and 1:14 p.m. — by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:  Lots and lots of swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

This is a book about OCD and anxiety. This is also a book, I think (having followed John Green for at least 7 years or so on YouTube/Podcasts/Social Media), that channels John Green the best out of all of them. The plot, really, is almost incidental: it’s about a girl, Aza, and her friend, Daisy, who decide that they’re going to find out what happened to this developer who was on the lamb. The catch: Aza knew the developer’s son, Davis, when they were eleven. Mostly, though, it’s a chance to be inside Aza’s head, to experience first-hand what it’s like to be someone with OCD, with anxiety, and how crippling it can sometimes be.

I’m not sure if it’s “good” or not; it made me cry at the end, and I think that it’s probably a more mature book than his other ones. (There really aren’t any pretentious, super-smart teenagers here; everyone, even Davis, seemed relatable and not annoying.) But there was also a disconnect to it that I hadn’t felt in his other books. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable; it was. Green knows how to craft a story, and throw in asides that don’t really feel like asides. But, I didn’t feel totally immersed in it (which may be me more than anything). Still, worth a read.

Pablo and Birdy

by Alison McGhee
First sentence: “‘Ready, Birdy?'”
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Content: It’s pretty simple text and there’s nothing objectionable. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Pablo has a happy life on this island, in the town called Isla, living with Emmanuel selling trinkets to tourists, with his bird, Birdy, to keep him company. But he wonders about where he came from, since he and Birdy drifted to shore in a inflatable swimming pool 10 years ago. And it seems this year, the year in which interest in the mythological Seafaring Parrot has reached an all-time high, is the year in which Pablo can get answers.

I wanted to like this one. But it just felt kind of flat. It was easy enough to read, it just didn’t have that extra spark that I hope for in a story.

Reread: The Scorpio Races

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s violent. But, if there’s a kid, say, 11 years old or so, who is interested in dark fairy-type tales, I’d give it to them. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up again after Maggie visited the store on her All the Crooked Saints tour, and I took pictures of fans for her, and listened to her chat them up. She said, over and over, that Scorpio Races was her favorite. And so, I decided that while I’d read it before, it had been a while, and I should revisit it.

And it was everything I thought about it and SO MUCH MORE. I don’t think, six years ago, that I was prepared for the awesomeness that is Maggie’s writing. Now, after Raven Cycle and Saints, I think I’m beginning to appreciate how wonderful a wordsmith she is. She captured a place — granted it doesn’t really exist — and a mythology so well, it could be real. And she made me FEEL so much that I cried during the last couple of chapters. Maybe this isn’t the best place to start with Maggie’s writing, but it’s definitely a truly breathtaking book.

She really is one of my favorite authors.