See You in the Cosmos

seeyouinthecosmosby Jack Cheng
First sentence: “Who are you?”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some illusions to difficult situations, but they’re pretty vague. I’m waffling between putting this in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) or YA (grades 6-8) sections of the bookstore, because it could go either way. I’d definitely say it’s for 5th grade and up.

Alex, age 11 (but 13 in “responsibility years”), has a passion for science and rockets and Carl Sagan, the scientist. He wants to send his Golden iPod up into space in a rocket he built, which is why he’s headed out to SHARF (Southwest High Altitude Rocket Festival) in New Mexico. It’s where It’s All Going to Happen. And it does, though not in the way Alex thinks it will. He meets some broken and incredibly nice people, and that leads him to Las Vegas where he finds he has a half sister. Which leads him to LA before heading back home again. It’s part road trip, part family story, part musings on Life, the Universe, and Everything. And entirely delightful.

The best thing about this book was the voice. The chapters are a series of recordings that Alex does as he goes on his trip, talking to the aliens to whom he’s intending on sending the iPod. Cheng captures the uncertainty of being eleven, Alex’s passion for his family and his dog without much exposition at all. It was the perfect way to tell Alex’s story, to experience all the crazy serendipitous things that happen to Alex. (Seriously: he’s a magical being, Alex. It’s like he wills good things to happen to him, and they do.) Cheng captured the heart and soul of the book and reminded me that there are Good People out in the world.

And that, perhaps, is the best thing about this book.

Trouble Makes a Comeback

troublemakesby Stephanie Tromly
First sentence: “I don’t believe in Happily Ever After.”
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Others in the series: Trouble is a Friend of Mine
Content: There’s some drinking by other teens in the book, but it’s mostly off-screen. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Digby has been gone for six months and Zoe’s moved on. Popular friends at the school, dating a football player, living the “life”. And then, Digby shows back up. (Of course.) Still looking for his sister, he’s back in town to, well, stir up some more trouble. And, of course, he ropes Zoe into it. While the over-arching plot is trying to find out what happened to Digby’s sister nine years ago, there’s a nice little subplot involving a steroid ring on the football team. So, with two mysteries to solve (one of which they do, and the other they get closer to figuring out), Zoe and Digby are on the case again.

Much like the first book, this was a lot of fun. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud fun, but it was entertaining. I like the Zoe-Digby push and pull, and I like the way Tromly handles the situations she puts the two of them into. It’s nothing deep (though the unfolding story surrounding the sister’s disappearance is turning into a sad one), but it is entertaining.

Which is really all anyone can ask for. Right?

The Playbook

theplaybookby Kwame Alexander
First sentence: “In 1891, James Naismith invented the game of basketball with a soccer ball and two peach baskets to use as goals, he also had to create some rules; 13 of them in fact.”
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Release date: February 14, 2017
Review copy mysteriously appeared in my mail box at work.
Content: The biographical information and poems are written simply enough for a 9- or 10-year-old, but the content is interesting (and valuable) for everyone.

I don’t know what I was expecting from Alexander’s latest book: it’s sports, there’s poetry, pretty much what he’s delivered over the past few years. And yet, this was completely different. Springboarding from his own experiences with sports, Alexander has put together a guide book for, well, for succeeding in both sports and life. Divided up into four “quarters” (with a halftime) of thirteen “rules” each consisting of a short poem and a quote from an athlete (or some other notable person, many of whom are persons of color), this slim book packs a powerful punch.

In fact, the whole design of the book (if the ARC is reflective of the final package) is amazing. I loved the photography, the layout of the words on the page. And while it was inspirational — each of the sections was preceded by a short biographical sketch of an athlete — it never fell over into the maudlin. It’s perfect for sports fans, for kids, for those who are graduating and want a “guidebook” for succeeding — or at least wanting something to reflect on. It’s fun, gorgeous, and, ultimately, eloquent and inspiring.

Definitely one I’ll keep around for a while.

The Sun is Also a Star

sunalsostarby Nicola Yoon
First sentence: “Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: November 1, 2016
Content: It’s mostly swearing; there’s a lot of swear words, plus a handful of f-bombs. There’s some penis jokes as well, and references to wanting sex, but none actual. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Natasha is being deported. They came to NYC from Jamaica when she was eight so her father could pursue an acting career. It didn’t work out the way he envisioned and now (after a drunken night and several missteps) they’re being deported.

Daniel is being forced into a life he doesn’t really want. His parents, Korean immigrants, want him to go to Yale (“second best school”) and be a doctor, so he can have the life they never really had. He knows this, he wants to make his parents happy, but his life seems so… narrow.

Then on one fateful day, Natasha and Daniel are in NYC at the same time, and they just happen to bump into each other. And they just happen to connect. And, well, the  rest is history.

This is an Epic Love Story for the ages. Seriously, people. It’s got fate, chemistry, romance, angst, second chances, near misses, and a whole lot of heart. I adored both Natasha and Daniel, and it was absolutely delightful watching the wonderfully messy way they fell in love. It’s not a simple love story, and it goes deeper than just fluff; Natasha and Daniel talk about the immigrant experience, how it’s hard being in this country, and the ways in which things are different, and sometimes difficult, for children of immigrants. There’s science and poetry and karaoke, and it’s absolutely wonderful.

And I loved that the ending wasn’t perfect. There was no magical save or happily-ever-after, but rather a peek and a hope. It made me cry honest tears, which are the best kind.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful story.

Another Brooklyn

anotherbrooklynby Jacqueline Woodson
First sentence: “For a long time, my mother wasn’t dead yet.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: August 9, 2016
Content: There’s some swearing, including a few f-bombs, and a lot of illusions to off-screen sex as well as drug use. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

The death of August’s father, and her return to Brooklyn for the first time in many years, sets off a chain of memories from her childhood. When she, her brother and father left the farm down South, soon after her mother committed suicide. The friendships she had with girls her age, and the different paths their lives eventually took. The way her father and brother turned to Islam and the hope and guidance their religion gave them. It all comes crashing down on her, in a series of reflective snippets, as she tries to make sense of her childhood.

I’m not sure I fully unpacked all that this novel had to offer. In fact, I know I didn’t. It’s deceptively short and it goes quick, and I know I missed things. Not only Big Things (not that there was much of a plot; it really was a series of short, almost poetic vignettes), but the Meaning behind those Things. It’s a harsh place, Brooklyn of the 1970s, a sexist one as well as a dangerous one. And August, through Woodson, tries to unpack what it all Means. And even though I enjoyed the lyrical flow of the book, and related to the women in it, I’m not sure I understood what Woodson was trying to do.

That said, I think it’s an Important book, and one that will be great for book groups to sit and hash over. (I’d love someone to talk to about it.) And, I can’t deny the beauty of the writing; Woodson is supremely talented. I just wish I were a better reader.

Towers Falling

towersfallingby Jewell Parker Rhodes
First sentence: “Pop groans.”
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Release date: July 12. 2016
Content: It’s simple enough that the younger set can understand it but complex enough that it won’t bore the older kids. It’ll be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Deja is starting over at a new school, but not by choice. Her family was evicted from their home in Brooklyn, and they’ve moved into a homeless shelter closer to Manhattan. It’s not a happy situation; her father suffers from headaches and can’t hold down a job, and her mother — an immigrant from Jamaica — can only work so many hours.

So, when Deja’s new school starts studying the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, Deja wonders what on earth it has to do with her. But, as the weeks and months go on — and she learns more about the attacks that happened before she was born — she and her friends Ben and Sabeen learn that no one is unaffected by history.

Rhodes is doing a couple of things here: first, she’s telling the story of the towers falling for kids who may not know anything about it. Sure, it’s not super distant history, but there are still kids who aren’t really familiar with it. And I’m not sure how much it’s being taught in schools (C got it a lot, A got a lesson or two in 5th grade, and I’m not sure anyone at school has brought it up for K) anymore. So, there definitely is a need for a reminder. But, Rhodes has gone bigger than just “hey kids, this happened” history. She’s encompassing issues of kids being homeless, of religious tolerance (Sabeen is Muslim, and she and her family face discrimination because of that), of diversity. She strikes a nice balance in the book between teaching the kids and preaching to them, and  manages to be diverse and moral-centric without being didactic and moralistic.

It’s definitely a book worth checking out.

Outrun the Moon

outrunthemoonby Stacy Lee
First sentence: “In my fifteen years, I have stuck my arm in a vat of slithering eels, climbed all the major hills of San Francisco, and tiptoed over the graves of a hundred souls.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some violence (done my Mother Nature) and some horrible people saying horrible things. Also, an illusion to sex (by minor adult characters). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Mercy Wong has Aspirations and Goals. She wants out of Chinatown, where the whole of San Francisco in 1906 wants to keep her and her family. She wants more than marriage (though she does like Tom, the son of a respected apothecary). She wants to Be Somebody. And, she’s decided that St. Clair’s School for Girls is the way to get it. She bargains her way in, and discovers that things aren’t always as simple as they seem. Then the earthquake hits, and when everything comes crashing down around Mercy, she discovers that perhaps the best things in life are friends and a bit of determination.

This really was a nice combination of historical — the dresses and rules of etiquette and restrictions on women — and modern, with Mercy’s progressive ideas and determination to do things without the permission of authority figures. Lee did a great job balancing the two, so it never felt too modern, nor too old-fashioned. I appreciated seeing San Francisco through a Chinese girl’s point of view, and Mercy really is one of those characters you just want to root for. I liked that while there was a romance, it didn’t dominate the story, and that Mercy was enough of her own person to make the romance believable rather than sappy.

I should go back and read Lee’s first book; I’ve heard good things about it. And if it’s anything like this one, it’s sure to be good.