Ghosts

ghostsby Raina Telgemeier
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Release date: September 13, 2016
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s frank talk about death, so maybe it’s not for the younger kids (that depends on your kid). Otherwise, it will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Cat is resentful (and feels guilty about it). Her younger sister has cystic fibrosis and the climate in northern California is going to be better for her. Plus she’ll be closer to better doctors. But that means Cat has to upend her life and move. And she doesn’t want to have to start over. Especially since their new town seems to be a bit… obsessed… with ghosts.

But, as she settles in and makes friends, she discovers that maybe things aren’t always as they seem (and maybe sometimes they are), and that maybe she and her family can find a home here.

I love Telgemeier’s work. I love that she took something as series as a sibling with an incurable illness and made it not only accessible to kids but entertaining. She uses the Dia de los Muertos celebrations to talk about those we love who have died, and how we can honor and celebrate their lives. There’s also the usual pre-teen adjustments: making friends, handling school, boys… And it all balances out to an absolutely delightful graphic novel.

Highly, highly recommended.

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Everything Everything

by Nicola Yoon
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 1, 2015
Review copy picked up at CI3 and signed by the author.
Content: There is a few mild swear words, and one sort-of on-screen, sort-of-off-screen sex scene. The publisher has it listed for grades 7 and up, which puts it in the YA section, but I might move it to the Teen (grades 9+).

Madeline has spent her entire life inside. White furniture, white walls, filtered air, the whole deal. It’s because she has Severe Combined Immunodefiency (SCID), which basically means she’s allergic to the world. Any little disease, any little microorganism will kill her. So, she stays inside, reading, doing her online school.

And then Olly moves in next door.

Okay: yes, the plot is predictable. Boy moves in next door, they meet and have instalike, and suddenly the girl is questioning her Life Choices and Taking Risks.

But I ate this up. I don’t know if it was the short chapters, snippets of Madeline’s thoughts and observations, interspersed by some charming line drawings. Or the parallel worlds between her being trapped inside her house because she’s sick and Olly being trapped because of his abusive father. Or just the chemistry between Madeline and Olly, which was fantastic. Or the fact that Madeline was Afro-Asian, and yet it wasn’t really an issue. She just was. Her mother is suffenciently controlling (for good reason), and I adored Carla the Latina nurse, who was really more of a mother figure to Madeline.

And all of this added up to overcome the predictable plot and make me fall for this book. Another absolutely amazing debut.

Chime

by Franny Billingsley
ages: 14+
First sentence: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.”
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If I were being totally honest, I’d say that this book didn’t grab me from the beginning. I would admit to being completely confused for about the first third of the book, struggling with it, but still mesmerized by the way Billingsley was telling the story. It was tantalizing in its potential, which kept me going.

And I’m so happy I did.

In the Swampsea there are two kinds of people: those who can see the Old Ones — the spirits of nature and the monsters — and those who can’t. Generally speaking, those who can see the Old Ones are witches. Sure, there’s the Chime Child, a person who is born on the stroke of midnight and whose purpose is to sit in on the trials of the witches, who can see the Old Ones. But no one else. So, that must mean that Briony Larken, who can, is a witch. At least, that’s what Stepmother always said. There’s even proof: Briony called up the wind, which made her twin sister Rose fall and that’s why she’s not completely normal. And Briony called up Mucky Face, the spirit of the river, to injure Stepmother which made her sick, and would have killed her if the arsenic didn’t.

No, Briony isn’t happy. And she can’t love. Not even her sister. Not even her father, who has left his children alone for so long. But then Eldric comes along, bringing with him light, and laughter, and perhaps most importantly, change.

It’s a complex book, as Billingsly peels back the layers of not only the story but also Briony’s psyche. There’s mystery: about Stepmother’s death, about Briony, about Eldric, about Father. That doesn’t even mention the one that Rose carries and drops hints about all through the book. And there’s romance. It’s not a fiery one, full of sparks and swoons, but rather my favorite kind: one where the characters start slowly, are friends first, and then grow into something more.

And the ending? Let me say that I don’t cry easily at books, and this one made me weep.

Very much worth the accolades it’s getting.

Angel in My Pocket

by Ilene Cooper
ages: 10+
First sentence: “There was a pile of money on Bette Miller’s kitchen table.”
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Bette Miller is dealing with her mother’s sudden death. (Yes, at the outset this is another one of those mother-is-dead books.) However, once Bette finds an angel coin in a charity jar, her life takes a turn. A neighbor moves in downstairs to help keep an eye on Bette, and gradually Bette finds that while life without her mother is sad, it’s still liveable.

But the story doesn’t end there: the coin gets passed to others: Joe Garcia, whose mother is often sick and who is struggling to find a place at the prestigious art school he (and Bette and the other characters) attends; and twins Andy and Vivi who have been growing apart in the year since Vivi’s asthma became really crippling both get a turn with the angel coin. And their lives are invariably changed, though in small and subtle ways, for the better.

I was kind of lukewarm on the book; on the one hand, I thought it handled the whole overused dead parent thing well. It wasn’t heavy handed, and the fact that the book branched out to deal with other kids and their problems helped as well. In fact, my favorite thing about the book was the way it transitioned between one kid and the next seamlessly. No jerky stops and starts, no ending of sections, announcing “here comes the next problem”. It was seamless and effortless.

But it was also kind of predictable. I knew, and perhaps this is the way the author wanted it, that having the angel coin would somehow 1) bring an angel into the life of the person who has the coin and 2) help them get over their problems. There weren’t any surprises in the process, and the book fell flat because of that. It would have helped if one could connect to the characters (and maybe some will), but they came off as one-dimensional and flat. It was also a little on the message-y side for my taste: be yourself, find joy in your life, and don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not a bad message, but I would have liked it to be more about the characters and less about What They Learned.

But I’m nitpicking. It’s a sweet little story, one that I think kids will like.

A Wind in the Door

by Madeline L’Engle
ages: 9+
First sentence: “There are dragons in the twins’ vegetable garden.”
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I always remembered this one, from when I read it as a kid, as my “favorite”. Though, if you had asked me, I don’t think I could have pinpointed why. So, I was quite curious to reread the book: maybe I would love it as much as I remembered loving it. And maybe I could finally pinpoint the elusive why.

So. Charles Wallace is having problems. He’s not adapting to school particularly well, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the precocious child that he is. On top of that, something more fundamental is wrong: he’s sick, down in his very cells. Meg, Calvin and Mr. Jenkins (the school principal) together with the cheribum Proginoskes have to work together to battle the evil that’s invading the world and save Charles.

Honestly? I liked the book well enough, but I couldn’t pinpoint why it was my favorite. It was less overtly religious than Wrinkle in Time was, but there were still overtones of the Ultimate Battle. There was a lot about Hate and war and instant gratification versus Doing Ones’ Duty. Maybe that was it: the fact that Duty wins out over Fun and Frivolity. Perhaps I just wanted justification for my innate personality quirks?

I was disappointed in Meg; while she was still the heroine and she still did the most work, she just wasn’t as engaging a character as I felt she was in Wrinkle. That, and I just didn’t get much out of the plot: it seemed to be spinning in circles. Perhaps it was me, but I felt it just had too much narration and not enough action.

Then again, I may just be nitpicking. My 11-year-old self adored this book. And I might just be content to let it stay that way.