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.

Peas and Carrots

peasandcarrotsby Tanita S. Davis
First sentence: “By the door,on the other side of the sheet that divides the room, Baby cries in his car seat.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 9, 2016
Disclaimer: I’ve met the author, working with her for KidlitCon in Sacramento and I find her an absolutely delightful person.
Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There are several instances of mild swearing, plus some illusions to adult drug and alcohol use. Because there are no f-bombs, it’ll be in the YA section (grades 6-8, though it might be better for the older end of that spectrum) of the bookstore.

Dess is a 15-year-old girl stuck in the foster care system. Her deadbeat dad’s finally in jail, as is her mom. Dess’s grandmother gave up trying to care for her and her baby brother years ago. Dess is determined: she doesn’t need anyone. And so when she gets placed in a new home, one of an affluent family, she figures it’s not going to last.

Hope’s parents are stable and happy and take in foster kids, including Dess’s brother Austin, to give back to the community. Hope’s used to the revolving door of kids, but there’s never been one close to her age. Until now. And since Dess is doing pretty much everything to keep people at arm’s length, Hope knows that living with Dess is going to be a challenge. She just doesn’t know if she’ll be able to adjust.

First test: which one of these girls is African American and which one is white? (Answer: Dess is white. Did you pass?) That’s actually one of the first things I liked about this: Davis takes your (my) assumptions about foster care, about the State of the Country, and turns it upside down. In this story, the white girl is the one who’s on the run from an abusive family and the black girl who has the stable life. And Davis doesn’t leave it there; there’s discussion about race and class and belonging, which I respect.

And, as an unofficial foster parent myself, I found myself nodding and agreeing and loving the entire book. Yes, the kids come with baggage and a backstory that usually isn’t pretty. Yes, their lives can be changed by living in a stable, more affluent (though we’re not nearly as well off as Hope’s parents) situation. But Davis also got the corollary to that: having a foster kid in your home is challenging, sometimes disruptive, but is also life-changing. And, if you let yourself — as Hope and Dess eventually find out — you will be better off for it.

Definitely worth reading.