Sometimes Brave

by Trista Wilson
First sentence: “It’s‌ ‌super‌ ‌duper‌ ‌helpful‌ ‌to‌ ‌have‌ ‌a‌ ‌good‌ ‌imagination‌ ‌when‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌homeless.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the author, who also happens to be one of my co-workers.
Content: There’s some talk of crushes. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Hazel is going into 5th grade, but her life has been upended: her dad, who is a government employee, is not getting paid due to a government shutdown. Because of this, money is tight enough that Hazel and her parents are evicted from their apartment and now are living in their car, trying to make that work. It’s a difficult thing, and Hazel feels isolated and alone. Until she makes a friend at school who is in a similar situation. That, and starting to volunteer at an animal shelter, reading to dogs, helps Hazel get the courage to face her family’s situation head-on.

i thoroughly enjoyed this little book. It’s a great look into something most of us don’t think about: homeless kids. And, the nice thing (okay, there’s nothing nice about homelessness) about this is that there didn’t have to be a tragic event to make it happen. (Which is probably more realistic.) The family was doing fine until 1) medical bills in the past probably made things tight and then 2) a lost income pushed them over the edge. The parents weren’t dead or sick (mom had cancer but had recovered years before), there wasn’t a storm or a war. It was just Something That Happened. But it was a Big Deal to Hazel and I appreciated that Trista (I feel weird writing Wilson, like I do with other authors) focused on the mundane reasons for becoming homeless.

She also focused on the stigma that’s attached to it: Hazel was embarrassed to tell people that she was sleeping in her car, and showering infrequently. And that it was hard to get homework done because of her living situation. This book goes a long way to showing kids that being homeless is not a failure of theirs (or their parents!), but rather something that happens and that there are ways to help.

I also really enjoyed Trista’s voice in the book. I think she captures a 5th grader quite well, from their early crushes to making and losing friends. It was a delight to read.

Mac B, Kid Spy: Mac Undercover

by Mac Barnett
First sentence: “This is the house I grew up in.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: September 11, 2018
Content: The chapters are short and pretty simple, with lots of illustrations. It will be in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

I think Mac Barnett is funny. I know humor is subjective, but I find Mac’s sense of humor hilarious. So, it’s not a surprise that I found this first book in a new series where the premise is that Mac, when he was a kid, was a spy for the Queen of England absolutely hilarious.

There’s not much to it. The Queen of England calls Mac to come to England and find a spoon that was supposedly stolen from the crown jewels by the president of France. Mac goes, gets a Corgi sidekick, and (of course) solves the mystery. But that’s beside the point (at least for me). What was the point was the silliness of it all. The way Mac talks directly to the reader (telling them to look it up when he drops a fact or two), or his silly asides. Add in the pictures and it’s just hilarious.

I hope kids will like this one. I sure did.

When Friendship Followed Me Home

whenfriendshipby Paul Griffin
First sentence: “You’d have to be nuts to trust a magician.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s not a difficult read, and there’s nothing objectionable, but the subject matter is probably more serious than your average 8- or 9-year-old will want. That said, if they’re interested, I’d give it to them. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Ben has had a rough life. He was dropped off at a group home when he was a baby, abandoned by his mother. He made friends, but one of them died after an accident. That lead to him meeting a social worker, an older woman whose partner had died, and him being adopted by her. Everything was looking up, especially after he found a stray dog (who ended up being the dog of a woman who had recently become homeless) and met a new friend, Halley, who is in remission from a rare cancer.

If you’ve read ANY middle grade/YA books, you know where this one is headed.

On some level, I wanted to be annoyed with this book. I felt like Griffin employed every single cliche out there: Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Dead Parents, Bad Parents, Cancer Book, it’s all in there. I wanted to be annoyed at it. I was a little frustrated when I realized the direction it was taken. But… I didn’t hate it. I didn’t.

Partially, it’s because it’s self-aware. There’s one quote, early on when Ben and Halley are talking about a story they’re writing, where Halley says, “Well, you have to get rid of [parents] somehow, and that is the most merciful yet expeditious way. Otherwise how do you turn her into an orphan? This is a middle grade story, for like ages ten to fourteen, and the rule is you need an orphan.”

I laughed, and as the book went on, I realized that Griffin knew what he was doing. He was Making Points, but subtly, and I didn’t hate him for his messages. I liked Ben and Halley and Flip the dog, among other characters, so I could get past the messages. And even though I wasn’t Moved by the book, I did enjoy reading the stories. And it was, in fact, written well.

So, I’m torn. I didn’t Love it like I wanted, but I didn’t loathe it either.