Figure it Out, Henri Weldon

by Tanita S. Davis
First sentence: “Fluorescent lights really, really sounded like bees, Henrietta decided, shifting in her seat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Disclaimer: Tanita and I are both on the Cybils board, but I purchased the book.
Content: There’s some mild bullying. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Henrietta – Henri for short – Weldon feels like she has a lot to figure out. She’s in 7th grade, but she’s just transferred to a public school, so the family could afford for her mother to get her Ph.D. It’s an adjustment, to say the least. On top of that, Henri and her older sister, Kat, are always arguing, though Henri feels like it’s always Kat picking on and nagging her. Kat has, especially, told Henri she is not to be friends with the Morgans – a group of foster kids living in the same home. Except the Morgans are nice to Henri. And then there’s math, which Henri just doesn’t get. As things start piling up, and she feels less and less like she has support at home, Henri wonders: Will she ever figure things out?

This was such a charming book. The sibling rivalry felt realistic, even though I felt bad for Henri – she was really trying her best, and her family just kept piling on. Families do that, though. And I can see how the youngest child would especially feel that. I liked the way Tanita depicted Henri’s learning disability; there are a lot of books out there on dyslexia and other reading disorders, but not much about dyscalculia, and I appreciated learning how Henri dealt with it. But, mostly it was a book about a girl trying to figure things out, which feels very 7th-grade. And I really really liked it.

EMG Graphic Novel Roundup 8

Last one!

Smaller Sister
by Maggie Edkins Willis
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of eating disorders and body dysmorphia. As well as a lot of talk about crushes. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Born close together, Livy and Lucy were super close as kids. They played together, building imaginary worlds. It seemed to Lucy that they would always be inseparable. But then, their parents moved them to a different school and Livy became… different. She hung out with the popular girls, started talking a lot about boys, stopped eating, and (worst of all) stopped talking to Lucy. As things got worse, and Livy developed an eating disorder, Lucy was left to unravel things all by herself.

This one was just so good. I loved all the aspects of sisterhood that Willis touched upon, how the girls were close, and then grew apart as the oldest one got older. (They did make up in the end, and find their way back to friendship.) I also liked the focus on eating disorders from the outside. There is one scene, later when Lucy is in 6th grade when she decides to control her food, and Livy is able to talk to her and tell her from experience what was going on. It was an incredibly touching scene. A very good book.

Wingbearer
by Marjorie Liu and Teny Issakhanian
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some intense/scary moments. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Zuli has been raised her whole life in the Great Tree, the place where the spirits of birds come to rest before being reborn. She is content there, communing with the birds, until the day that the spirits stop coming. Concerned, the birds send one of Zuli’s bird friends out to find out the cause, but when he doesn’t come back, Zuly and her companion Frowly set out into the wide world to find the problem. Once there, they find a world of danger, hardship, and a witch queen who wants to take over. On their journey, though, they find friendship and companionship, and most of all, Zuli finds out who she really is.

This is a really excellent hero’s journey tale. It has shades of Warrior Cats (there were at least a few pages that gave off strong Warriors vibes), but it’s still a solid tale. I love the world and the mythology that Liu has created and Issakhanian’s art is absolutely gorgeous. Definitely an excellent start to what could be a great series.

Play Like a Girl
by Misty Wilson and David Wilson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a bit of bullying and some friendship issues. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In this graphic memoir, Wilson recounts her seventh-grade year when she was on the football team. She was always an active girl, in sports, and not really terribly feminine. So when the boys tell her she “can’t” play football, she sets out to prove them wrong. On the way, she loses a best friend – Bree, who doesn’t want to be all sweaty with the boys, but instead befriends the mean girl in the school, shunning Misty – and gains some new ones, as well as the respect of some of the boys (but not all) on the team. She learns new skills and works hard to play the best and hardest she can.

I’m always down for a girl in a non-traditional sports book, and this is a good one. I loved Misty’s determination to do anything she puts her mind to, even in the face of opposition from her teammates. I’m glad she had the support of some of the adults in her life, and I appreciated that Wilson didn’t shy away from the costs Misty paid for being on the football team. The art is really good as well. An excellent graphic novel all around.

Audiobook: Yerba Buena

by Nina LaCour
Read by: Julia Whelan
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: there is some talk of drug use, some prostitution, off-screen sex, and swearing including f-bombs. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Emelie and Sara are two women, both at odds with their life. Emilie has been in college for seven years, changing her major five times, and has yet to graduate. Sara ran away from home at 16, without finishing high school when her best friend (and lover) was found dead in the river. She spent years working her way up from the bottom to become a respected bartender. When she and Emilie first meet, though, it’s an instant spark, but at the time, Emilie is having an affair with the owner of a restaurant. When they do connect, things don’t go well. In fact, that’s the whole point of the book, I think: Emilie and Sara have to become their own individuals before they can successfully become a couple.

I think that’s the whole point of the novel: it’s much less a love story than it is a growing-up story. Both Emilie and Sara have pasts they need to reconcile with and futures they need to figure out. Yes, they are ready for a relationship, but maybe not quite ready enough, which gives the whole book an air of the bittersweet to it. I adore LaCour’s writing and the way she makes characters come alive. It also helped that Whelan’s narration was incredibly engaging.

Definitely a good book.

Audiobook: Olga Dies Dreaming

by Xochitl Gonzalez
Read by: Almarie Guerra, Armando Riesco & Inés del Castillo
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of sex, on-screen and off, a lot of f-bombs and swearing, and one (implied) rape scene. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Oh, this one is a hard book to sum up. Olga is a 40-year-old, single, wedding planner whose mother left the family when Olga was 13. Her older brother, Prieto, is a congressman for their Brooklyn district, and a closeted gay man. They’re basically trying to survive and deal with both the gap and the shadow that their revolutionary mother has created. It’s a process – Olga dealing with latent trauma and working with the ultra-rich, and she hits a breaking point when Hurricane Maria hits. As does Prieto. It’s very much a sibling book, a growing up book, a making your own way out of the shadow of your parent’s expectations book.

That doesn’t begin to cover the book, or how it held me spellbound, especially on audio. It was smart, interesting, informative (I did learn a bunch about Puerto Rico’s history), and fascinating. The narrators were all excellent, and I was completely engrossed in the story. I had feelings about the characters, and I wanted to spend more time with them (Mateo is really the best). An excellent book and one I’m glad I took a chance on.

The Length of a String

by Elissa Brent Weissman
First sentence: “Dear Belle, All my life I’ve shared with you.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of death and the Holocaust, and some crushing on boys. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Imani is stuck on what to do for her bat mitzvah project until her great-grandma Anna passes on, and Imani finds an old diary of Anna’s. Anna came to America, by herself, in 1941, sent by her parents to live with “cousins” in New York City right before the Jews in Luxenburg were deported to ghettos and then to concentration camps. Imani is fascinated by Anna’s story not just because of their religious connection, but because Imani is adopted, and has been wondering about her birth family. Anna’s story is told through a series of letters she wrote in a journal. As Imani dives deeper into Anna’s story she has more and more questions about what makes a family.

This was pretty good. I liked the Jewish aspects of it; the preparing for a bat mitzvah, Hebrew school, and the connections made there. I didn’t mind the historical aspect, because it made the Holocaust relevant to today, as opposed to being stuck in the past. I didn’t mind the adoption story, but I did wonder why a white woman author felt this story needed to have a Black main character. I suppose it was good to let readers know that all Jewish people aren’t white presenting, but I don’t know if it was Weissman’s story to tell. That said, it wasn’t a bad book.

When Dimple Met Rishi

by Sandhya Menon
First sentence: “Dimple couldn’t stop smiling.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of sex, and a tasteful on-screen sex scene. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but it should probably be in the Teen section (grades 9+).

Dimple has one goal: go the the Insomnia Con, win, get her app idea out in the world, and go to college and be a successful developer. Her parents (her mother, really) has one goal: to get Dimple married to an Ideal Indian Husband. Rishi has one goal: to be a Good Son, and uphold the traditions of his family and culture. Therefore, he’s asked his parents to arrange a marriage for him (yes, he’s 18). The person they’ve picked? Dimple.

Rishi goes to Insomnia Con with the sole purpose of meeting Dimple and getting their relationship going. The problem? Dimple has no idea that her parents set this up. Needless to say: Dimple and Rishi don’t get started on the best foot. But, then, over the course of the six weeks of the con, they get to know each other, bring out the best in each other, and yes, fall in love.

It’s a silly Bollywood movie as a book: light, refreshing, fun (with musical numbers!), but with a serious underside that makes you think a little. I like how Menon is exploring and subverting Indian-American culture, all the the guise of a romcom. Both Rishi and Dimple are delightful characters, and their descent into love is a quick, but believable one. I’ve enjoyed Menon’s other books, and this one is no exception.

The Best We Could Do

by Thi Bui
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of violence. It’s in the Graphic Novels-Nonfiction section of the bookstore.

I fit this in among my reading for school, partially because we were reading books by Asian authors, and one that Bui illustrated (and won a Caldecott honor for), A Different Pond, was on the list. I figured it was a good opportunity to read her graphic memoir, which I’d been meaning to read for years. (This is a theme with this class: I’m catching up on ones I have meant to read!)

It’s mostly the story of her parents, their lives in Vietnam before and during the war. Bui is exploring their trauma and how it relates to her, especially after she gave birth to her son. Her family fled Vietnam and came to the United States when she was young, and her parents weren’t terribly demonstrative in their affection. Bui, as she got older, wanted to understand their stories, and where they came from, in order to understand them, and by extension, herself.

Her parents’ stories were fascinating, and I learned a lot about Vietnam, a country I sadly know very little about. Her art style was simple – mostly line drawing on a muted color background – but effectively portrayed emotion and the story she was trying to tell.

A very good graphic novel.

Merci Suarez Can’t Dance

by Meg Medina
First sentence: “It was Miss McDaniel’s idea for me and Wilson Bellevue to work together in the Ram Depot, a job that nobody wants.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of kissing, periods, and puberty. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I bet 6th graders would love this.
Others in the series: Merci Suarez Changes Gears

It’s halfway through seventh grade, and Merci is kind of (sort of) figuring things out. She’s not happy with her grandfather’s continuing descent, and her aunt isn’t around as much anymore, leaving Merci to babysit her terror twin cousins. And at school she’s trying to get along with Edna, but it doesn’t seem to be working well. And now, there’s the Heart Ball, the seventh grade fundraiser, which Edna is in charge of, and Merci is trying to avoid. But there’s Wilson, the boy she runs the Ram Depot with and maybe (?) may like-like. It’s all, well, a LOT.

This book had a ton of heart. I loved Merci trying to figure her way out, and I adore her family and the way they have each other’s backs. I loved the way Media wrote a character that was dealing with Alzheimer’s, and how the family worked to make his life easier. You could just tell how much the family loved each other. And I liked the middle school angst of it as well. Merci was delightfully awkward, making the best decisions she could, mostly, and terribly realistic. It was just a delight to read.

I know this book wasn’t really “necessary”, but I’ll take more Merci books any time.

Audio book: Once upon a Quinceañera

by Monica Gomez-Hira
Read by Frankie Corzo
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are a number of swear words, including multiple f-bombs, teenage drinking, and one off-screen sex scene. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+ of the bookstore)

Carmen Aguliar has one goal this summer: finish an internship so she can graduate high school. Except her internship is being an assistant for a woman who runs a knock-off Disney princess-for-hire outfit. And, she just hired Carmen’s ex-boyfriend from when she was 15. Who just happens to be behind the reason Carmen’s quinceañera got canceled and she and her mami fell out with her mami’s family. What was going to already be an unbearable summer gets even worse when the “Dreams” get hired to perform at Carme’s cousin’s quince. The same cousin that Carmen and her mami haven’t talked to in three years.

It’s a silly , light romance, one you can see coming from a mile off (lovers to enemies to lovers, gotta love tropes!) but it’s got some heart and soul to it. I liked the portrayal of Cuban-Americans in Miami. Spanish was effortlessly woven through, as was an exploration of stereotypes and expectations (or lack thereof) of Latine women. I adored the narrator; she made Carmen and her friends and family come alive in a way that made me want to keep listening.

Definitely a fun late-summer read.

Clean Getaway

by Nic Stone
First sentence: “It might sound silly, but to William “Scoob” Lamar, the Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful sign looks… well, beautiful.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some uncomfortable moments. It’s i the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

William “Scoob” Lamar is having a rough year at school. First, he got in trouble for beating up a bully who was making fun of Scoob’s st friends’ younger brother. Then, he figures out how to cheat on a programming quiz, and shows other kids how to do it. He doesn’t cheat, but ends up suspended because he was the “instigator” of it all. He’s at hoe, grounded, with the spring break trip canceled. But, just when all hope was lost, his G’ma sows up with an RV asking him to take a strip with her. So, he does. and leaves his phone at home, so his dad can’t stop him from going.

But, things aren’t what Scoob expected.. While the history of his (white) grandma and his (black) grandpa is interesting — his grandma kept the Green Book that helped them travel safely though the south during the Jim Crow era — things aren’t, well, right. His grandma keeps changing the plates on the RV. She won’t answer calls from Scoob’s dad. She is being super cagey. While Scoob enjoys the history, he’s not entirely sure this vacation is all it’s cracked up to be.

This is what I wrote for my class (spoilers): “Scoob’s grandfather was arrested for grand larceny and died in prison but in the end we find out that it was Scoob’s grandmother who had stolen the jewelry. She literally let a black man take the fall for her crimes. A person she was supposed to be in love with! That she had a son with! The ending didn’t provide a lot of resolution; instead of getting punished for her life of crime (she had been stealing jewelry for YEARS), she got cancer and died. And then Scoob found her stash and got his dad to drive it to Mexico to bury it. I have NO idea what to think about this. I get the underlying message is that white people are not to be trusted, even if you’re related. That a white person will always find a black person to blame things on.”

Someone in the class pushed back and said they thought the underlying message was more about how our actions can affect more than just ourselves, and maybe that’s a better way to look at the book. It does make it more age appropriate. At any rate, the book did give me a lot to think about.