Field Notes on Love

by Jennifer E. Smith
First sentence: “Mae wakes, as she does each morning, to the sound of a train.”
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Content: It’s a romance, but there’s really nothing objectionable. Some mild swearing and a lot of kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Hugo is one of a sextuplet, and so he’e never really been alone. He’s never done anything extraordinary (unless you count being born) and he’s never really had an adventure. So, when his girlfriend Margaret breaks up with him, and begs off of their planned American cross-country train trip, Hugo is left aimless. That is, until he hatches a plan: find another Margaret Campbell and still make the trip.

Mae (aka Margaret Campbell) has applied to the USC film school, but when they reject her, she’s left aimless. That is, until she sees Hugo’s advertisement for someone named Margaret Campbell to go on this train trip with him. She jumps at the chance: why not go on a bit of an adventure before school starts? Maybe, then, she can find her direction again.

Since this is a romance, of course Hugo and Mae fall in love. Of course there is a falling out moment. Of course they (kind of) (mostly) end up together in the end. Of course it’s sweet and wonderful and all that.

Smith is excellent at writing charming, sweet, lovely romances, though. And this hit all the notes. Hugo and Mae were endearing and sweet, and I loved the cross-country train trip, which was something a little different. It’s completely unobtrusive and utterly delightful.

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To Night Owl from Dogfish

by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
First sentence: “
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Content: There’s some frank talk about periods, so maybe for the older end of the spectrum? Still, it’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, though I think older readers would like it as well.

Bett and Avery are happy with their respective lives. Bett lives with her dad in Southern California, surfing and collecting feathers and shells. Avery lives in New York City with her dad and is happy with their super structured life. But when their dad’s meet, everything changes. They arrange for Bett and Avery to attend the same summer camp, hoping that they’ll become best friends. And Bett and Avery are determined to stop them.

Except… they do become best friends. (And have adventures!) But their dads? Well, it doesn’t work out. But don’t worry: Bett and Avery have a plan.

This was a super adorable book! Seriously. Written entirely in emails — between Bett and Avery with ones from the adults in their life every once in a while — it’s oozing charm and delight and just plain fun from every pore. Sure it’s a bit Parent Trap-y, but I think it manages that (it has a nice twist ending that’s quite sweet) without being too cloying. I adore both Bett and Avery, and I loved how their individual voices and personalities came through in the letters. It’s just a super charming book.

(I do have to note that Bett is a bi-racial character, though both the authors are white. Take that for what you will.)

At any rate, I did enjoy it a whole bunch.

The Poet X

by Elizabeth Acevedo
First sentence: “The summer is made for stoop-sitting and since it’s the last week before school starts, Harlem is opening its eyes to September.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, a tasteful almost-sex scene, and some talk of smoking weed. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Xiomara is many things: a daughter, a poet, a twin. But she feels like she doesn’t quite fit. It doesn’t help that her parents — both from the Dominican Republic — don’t really get along, or that her mother is super religious. Or that her twin, Xavier, is super smart, and goes to a magnet school, while Xiomara is stuck going to the not-really-great neighborhood one. And on top of everything, as she starts her sophomore year, her mother is insisting that she go to classes so that she can be confirmed (I think that’s how it is in Catholic churches?). But Xiomara has questions about God, and religion, and the way her parents treat her.

On the one hand, I can see where Xiomara’s mother is coming from. She wants her daughter to have all the things she didn’t have. She wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps, and to have the faith she did. What she doesn’t take into consideration — and this is the conflict at the heart of this elegant novel in verse — is that Xiomara’s feelings and desires might be different than her own. It’s often the conflict at the heart of young adult books: parents who believe they know better and don’t stop to listen to the desires of their kids. I loved getting to know Xiomara through her poetry, to understand her feelings and the tensions she perceived in her family. And I’m glad that, in the end, there was a resolution that didn’t involve someone dying. That Xiomara realized her parents loved her, even if they didn’t always show it in a way she could understand it.

Acevedo’s writing is gorgeous and her storytelling exquisite. This is definitely worth the hype.

Audiobook: Finding Yvonne

by Brandy Colbert
Read by Maya Barton
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Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, pot smoking by an adult, some teenage drinking and off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Yvonne is a senior at an LA prep school, and has been putting her heart and soul into her violin playing ever since her mother left when Yvonne was seven. Now, though, she’s at loose ends: her violin teacher dropped her because she wasn’t “good” enough, and she feels like she has lost her passion for playing. But, without playing, who is she?

On top of that, Yvonne hardly sees her father, a successful chef. And she’s wanting to take the next step with Warren, who’s hesitant because of their age difference and because he works for her father. And so, when Yvonne meets a street musician, she explores a relationship there, mostly to see if it can help her figure things out.

I liked this one, but mostly because I think the narrator was really good. She kept me engaged in the story, and helped propel the narrative — which is super complicated, but then again, so are many senior kids’ lives — forward. I liked that Yvonne was a musician and a cook, and that she was looking for connection anywhere. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but it wasn’t terrible either.

Lety Out Loud

by Angela Cervantes
First sentence: “If Lety Muñoz could adopt any animal in the world, it would be Spike, the sweet black-and-white terrier mix sitting across from her on the lawn that very minute.”
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Release date: February 26, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s aimed at 3-5th graders (and it fits that), so it’ll be in the middle grade section of the bookstore.

Lety’s first language isn’t English. She’s been learning, since she arrived in Kansas City with her parents and younger brother a few years ago. She knows that she’s not the strongest English speaker, or even writer, but she loves the animals at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter so much that she wants to be the volunteer who writes animal profiles. Except Hunter, who’s a bit of a jerk, wants the job, too. So he creates a contest (that he’s probably sure to win) to see who will be the best profile writer.

But — and this was one of the things I really liked about this book — things didn’t quite go as planned. Hunter, while a bully, had a reason, and a personality and humanity. As do all of the kids Cervantes writes about (even Lety’s friend Kennedy, who could have been Generic White Kid). Cervantes gets kids, and gets their concerns, and knows how to write about hard things — like discrimination and racism and needing to belong — in ways that the readers she targets are able to understand and appreciate.

It’s a fun book, and a delightful story.

The Moon Within

by Aida Salazar
First sentence: “There is a locket in my heart that holds all of the questions that do cartwheels in my mind and gurgle up to the top of my brain like root beer fizz.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 26, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is frank talk of puberty and the way girls bodies change. It’ll probably be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, though it’s perfectly appropriate for younger kids, if parents don’t mind the subject matter.

Celi Rivera is many things: A bomba dancer. The daughter of a Mexican mother and an Afro-Puerto Rican father. A friend to Magda, who is transitioning and wants to go by Marco and use he/him pronouns. A girl who has a crush on Ivan. Except things aren’t as simple as they seem on paper: Ivan is a bit of a jerk to Magda, especially after he changes his name to Marco. Celi’s mother, whom she loves, has decided that she wants to have a moon ceremony when Celi gets her first period, something which her mother feels is honoring their ancestry, but Celi just feels is embarrassing. Being 11 almost 12 is tough, and Celi’s trying very hard to navigate the transition from childhood.

On the one hand, I loved the language and culture in this slim novel in verse. Salazar has a talent for poetry, and I loved how she effortlessly she worked the Xicana traditions in the book. It was a bit hippy-dippy for even me (a lot of moon lore and nature tradition), but I didn’t mind that. What I did mind was the mom. Chalk this up to years of reading middle grade and YA books, but I get really annoyed when parents just barrel ahead, not listening to the desires of their kids, and do what they want to do, thinking it’s the Best Thing. Sometimes it is (in this case, it turned out well), but often, it isn’t. And it frustrates me. Children, pre-teens, and teenagers have desires too. And wants. And they need to feel like they can talk to adults about them. And the mom, in this book, just didn’t listen. Which really annoyed me.

But that’s me. There is much to appreciate in this book, and perhaps there are kids out there who probably have parents like this who can relate to Celi and her struggles.

New Kid

by Jerry Craft
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 5, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some bullying, and it’s a bit on the longer side. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the letter that accompanied the ARC, Craft wrote that he wanted to draw a graphic novel that featured kids who looked like him because he didn’t find any when he (or his sons) were growing up. He wanted to feature a kid of color, having some of the experiences — that were not just “gritty” — that kids of color have. And I think, with this graphic novel, he succeeded.

It’s the story of a kid — Jordan Banks — who wants to draw and go to an art school but whose parents have decided that a fancy (white and rich) prep school will give him better opportunities in life. Problem is Jordan doesn’t want to go to a fancy prep school, especially one where he’s in the minority.

The book follows the school year — my favorite thing was the chapter titles that referenced movies (Upper, Upper West Side Story; Straight Out of South Uptown were a couple that made me smile) — as Jordan learns the ins and outs of making friends, standing up for himself and others, and the ways in which well-meaning white people just Don’t Get It.

It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s honest, and it’s eye-opening, and Craft is definitely a graphic novelist to keep an eye on.