All Summer Long

by Hope Larson
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 1, 2018
Content: There’s a little bit of romance, and just some themes of growing up in general. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but the sweet spot for this one is 6-7th graders, I think.

It’s the summer after 7th grade, and Bina’s not looking forward to it. Her best friend, Austin, is off to soccer camp for a month, and Bina’s afraid that summer will be boring without him. They’ve always spent the summer together, making their own fun, but they seem to be… growing up. And things aren’t the same.

Though, eventually Bina finds her own things to do: she makes friends with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, gets some babysitting gigs, and practices her guitar. It’s not the way it was with Austin, but it doesn’t suck.

The underlying conflict in the book is Austin and Bina’s friendship: they’ve been friends forever, but Austin’s been getting some grief from other boys (toxic masculinity is the worst!) for being friends with a girl, and so he attempts to push Bina away — which is part of the reason he’s been acting weird toward her. Larson treats all this with kindness and humor, and puts across a message that it’s okay to be friends with whomever you want to be with. Period. It’s wonderful.

And Larson also captures what it’s like to be young and faced with a long summer of doing… nothing. I like that the parents are concerned and responsible, but not hovering (they also change the Netflix password, so Bina can’t just watch TV all summer… that’s not a bad idea!) and Bina has some freedom to go out and find her own fun, but within reason.

It’s really a delightful graphic novel.

Summerlost

summerlostby Allie Condie
First sentence: “Our new house had a blue door.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a lot of talk of death, but nothing too sad. It’ll be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Cedar Lee didn’t expect much from her summer visiting her grandparents in Iron Creek. Her dad and brother died in a freak accident the hear before, and the rest of the family has been just barely managing. Then Cedar’s mother finds a house in Iron Creek and purchases it as a summer home, not something they can afford, but perhaps something that will help with healing.

Cedar’s not happy about it; she misses her dad and her brother, and doesn’t really want to move on. But between the new house, a summer taking care of her other brother, Miles, and her new friend, Leo, maybe she can heal.

This is a really difficult book to summarize, mostly because not much happens. It’s an incredibly introspective story, driven by characters — most notably the friendship (and just that, nothing more) between Leo and Cedar — rather than by plot. But it’s a lovely look at friendship and healing and enjoying the simpler things of life. There’s also is a love of Shakespeare and acting that weaves through the story which helps tie the whole story together.

An interesting aside: this is a very Mormon book. Oh, Condie does a lot to disguise it, but it’s really the Shakespeare festival in Utah (to which I’ve never been). And it — at least to a Mormon — just feels Mormon. But, that said, it’s something I noticed because I was tuned into the clues. And it’s not something I minded at all.

In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Honor Girl

by Maggie Thrash
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Content: There’s about a half-dozen f-bombs scattered throughout the book. It’s in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

It’s the summer of 2000, and Maggie is 15. She’s been going to the same summer camp in Kentucky — Camp Bellflower — since she was little, the same camp her mother and grandmother both went to. There was a lot of tradition in the camp, including that of Honor Girl: the one senior camper that was supposed to embody all the Tradition of the camp.

There are very few books, I think, that truly capture what a 15-year-old girl is really like, in all her angst and insecurity. And Thrash’s graphic memoir hits the nail on the head. It’s spot-on. From the drama between her and another girl over who will get their shooting D.E. (a mark of excellence) first to the rumors that fly around the camp about anyone and everyone. But, for Maggie, her summer is wrapped up in a crush she has on one of the counselors, Erin. Does she like Maggie back? Is Maggie even supposed to like one of the counselors? What does it all mean?

The answer is, ultimately and honestly, that she doesn’t know. There is no grand Coming Out moment. There are some moments when I wanted to smack those running the camp, when they discriminated against Maggie for exploring who she is. But, mostly, it was just one slice of a moment in time, when a girl fell in love and didn’t really know what to do about that. And that was something I found I could relate to.

I’m glad Thrash decided that her story needed to be told.

The Island of Dr. Libris

by Chris Grabenstein
First sentence: “Billy Gillfoyle’s dad shifted gears and gunned the engine.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It has a few big works, but there’s a lot of white space, short chapters, and quick pacing. Good for reluctant readers as well as the middle grade crowd. I’d give it to anyone 8 and up who’s interested. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I really REALLY loved Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library a couple of summers back. And so, I was really REALLY excited that Grabenstein was returning to a similar idea in this one. Anything that celebrates books and bookishness for kids (while making it kind of techy cool) is a win in my world.

Billy Gillfoyle’s parents are having issues and so he’s spending the summer out at a cabin by a lake with his mother that she has rented from a university colleague of hers. She’s going to write her dissertation, and he’s going to… explore the woods? Ugh. There’s no TV, no internet, and the next-door neighbor is a Mean Kid. This is going to be the Worst Summer Ever. Especially since there’s no cool books in the library of Dr. Libris (the colleague, whose first name is Xiang, so he can be X. Libris. Ha!), only old Classics. BORING.

But, when Billy begins reading, he hears weird things off in the distance, at the island in the middle of the lake. And when he goes to investigate, he discovers that the characters in the books have come to life! Not actors, not holograms, but real, live people who are interacting.

Cool so far, even though the “technology” behind the island is a bit squidgy and feels more like magic. (It’s supposed to be technology, but the science was so vague, I just considered it magic. I’ll be interested to see where it ends up during Cybils season.) I really liked seeing the classic characters come to life and I thought Grabenstein made them fresh and interesting for a new crowd. If I hadn’t already read The Three Musketeers or Robin Hood, I’d be tempted to pick them up.

But I didn’t utterly love the book, for one reason: there were no girls. Seriously. Maid Marion was there, a little tiny bit, being Robin Hood’s sidekick, but she really didn’t do anything. And Pollyanna was there, but she was mostly annoyingly cheerful (well, that’s to be expected) and served as a love interest. And Billy made a friend with his other next door neighbor (not the Mean Kid) and he had a younger sister, but her role was to 1) introduce Billy to her brother and 2) be annoying and mess up the island. And, yeah, there’s Billy’s mom, but she was barely there. It was a glaring hole. (As was the lack of diversity: all the classic characters were white, and the other characters were never really given physical features,  so I suppose they could have been diverse, but it was never really defined as such.) I wish there had been more girls, stronger girls, more interesting girls.

I’ll still recommend it to kids, but I do wish it had been… more.

Graphic Novel Roundup

The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
First sentence: “In 1911, the Ch’ing Dynasty collapsed ending two millenia of imperial rule over China.”
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Content: There’s some violence (graphic, obviously), but that’s about it. It’s a higher reading level, but I wouldn’t be adverse to giving this to the superhero loving 9- or 10-year-old. It’s in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the 1940s, the first Asian-American, Hing, was hired by a small comic press to draw a superhero. The producers/owners wanted The Green Turtle to be white but the way Hing drew The Green Turtle, you really couldn’t tell. It was a short-lived comic, and Hing never gave The Green Turtle’s backstory.

Which is where The Shadow Hero comes in: Yang and Liew imagine The Green Turtle’s origin story.

And what a story. Yes, this is a superhero comic: the kind of nerdy, unambitious boy who gets a super power, but not without great cost. Our hero is Hank Chu, the son of Chinese immigrants. All he really wants to do is run the grocery store in Chinatown with his father. But, Chinatown is run by the mob, people who extract “taxes” from the businesses. Hank’s dad forgets a payment once, and the mob comes down on him, hard, killing him in front of Hank. That spurs Hank (kind of; his mother had been pushing him to become a superhero for a while) into action: he’s going to take down the mob, going after the boss.

Like all of Yang’s work, this is wonderfully drawn, and the story is compelling. I’m not a huge superhero comic person, but I couldn’t put this one down. It’s definitely a story worth reading.

Mr. Pants: It’s Go Time!
by Scott McCormick and R. H. Lazzell
First sentence: “What are you laughing at, Mr. Pants?”
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Content: It’s a perfect beginning chapter graphic novel. Words are simple and large print, but the humor is abundant and the pages keep turning. It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

This is one that our Penguin children’s rep (who has the most delightful Irish accent) RAVED about. She said, “Seriously: you just have to read it. It’s hilarious!” I put it off for a while, until she came again (there’s a sequel coming out), and reminded me: “You HAVE  to read this.” So, I did. And she’s right: you have to read it. It’s hilarious.

It’s the last day of summer, and Mr. Pants — a cat with two cat sisters and a human mom. No, I don’t understand, either — wants to go play laser tag. Except his younger sisters — Foot Foot and Grommy — have other ideas. Foot Foot wants to play with her new toy. Grommy wants to go to the Fairy Princess Dream Factory. Mom has to go shopping. The deal is this: Mr. Pants goes along with all this stuff (he doesn’t want to do, obviously), and they can go play laser tag.

Much like Babymouse, this is a gold mine for hilarity. There’s also some gender-bending going on; Mr. Pants is your typical “boy”, but he’s also accepting of his sisters’ likes. (Which, I think, is typical for a boy with sisters. Ask me, sometime, about the summer I was into Little House on the Prairie. I was Laura, and my brother was Mary.) It’s everything a beginning chapter book needs to be: colorful, funny, interesting, and good.

This One Summer
by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
First sentence: “
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Content: There’s a half-dozen f-bombs as well as mild swearing, and one of the minor characters gets pregnant. It’s in the teen graphic novel section for those reasons.

Every summer since she was five, Rose and her family would go to their cabin by the beach. She has her best friend there, Windy, and enjoyed the days playing, exploring, hanging out. But this summer is different. Rose is 13 (I think; she seemed 13) and she and Windy are talking about growing up (boobs were a big topic). And her mother and father are fighting. Quite a bit. Rose gathers from eavesdropping that much of it surrounds their failed attempt to have another baby. Which just makes Rose feel unwanted.

Add on top of that their observance (mostly from sneaking around) of an unfolding drama in the little town where their cottages are: a boy who works at the convenience store got his girlfriend pregnant and doesn’t want to accept responsibility.

It’s an interesting graphic novel, one that I think I didn’t like as much as I could have, solely because I was not the right age. But the 12-to 14-year old crowd, especially girls, would relate. It’s about changing, and accepting the future, and figuring out friends, and understanding the world. And it’s perfect for its target audience.

Just not for me.

Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders

by Geoff Herbach
First sentence: “Shortly before midnight on June 15, Gabriel Johnson, a sixteen-year-old from Minnekota, MN, was apprehended outside Cub Foods by Officer Rex McCoy.”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s a lot of swearing, none of it strong. I put it in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore primarily because I like to keep the YA section toned down. Also, because that’s where all of Herbach’s other books are. I’d say, depending on your kid, it’s good for as young as 7th graders.

In high school, there are two types of people: the jocks and everyone else. Gabe is everyone else.  Actually, Gabe is a band geek, and a mostly friend-less loser. He’s been going downhill since his mom ran off with a Japanese guy a few years back, and his grandpa moved in. It’s not just that he has only two friends, it’s that he’s overweight. Massively so. In fact, everyone (including his friends) call him Chunk. And he’s okay with that.

Gabe spends his days chugging Code Red, primarily because the money in the school’s soda vending machine goes to support the band that is Gabe’s lifeline. He figures he can chug 5 bottles of the stuff, if the money goes to fund his program. Then he finds out that a Super Sekrit school board meeting took away the vending machine money from the band and gave it to the Brand Spanking New dance team. Which makes Gabe mad. Eventually.

There’s more to the plot, of course, but it’s more about Gabe gaining self-respect than any eventual result. You know from the start — the whole book is his confession; a one-sided conversation with a Mr. Rodriguez — that he’s gotten arrested for doing something. You assume it’s for stealing money out of the vending machine. But, things are more complex than that.

Part of the charm of this book is the format; I was entertained by hearing only one side of the conversation, and imagining what Mr. Rodriguez’s side was. But, it was also Gabe. He was such a loser to start with, and it’s empowering to see how he regains control over his life, in spite of the people — from his friends to his father — who are trying to hold him back. Everyone needs a summer in which they find their best selves, and this story of Gabe’s was a truly fun one.

Everything Leads to You

by Nina LaCorr
First sentence: “Five texts are waiting for me when I get out of my English final.”
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Content: There is some swearing, including a half-dozen f-bombs scattered throughout. And a mention of older teen drinking. Plus, it’s really a growing-up story. For those reasons, it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Emi Price is a golden California girl. (Except, for the record, she has a black grandfather and is NOT the blonde thing you see on the cover.) She as loving parents, a cool older brother who has a job as a site scout in a production company, and a fantastic best friend. She has a job as a set-design intern at the same production company as her brother (nepotism works).

She just broke up with her off-again/on-again girlfriend, though, and that’s getting her down. And so, when her brother leaves his posh Venice apartment to Emi and her best friend, Charlotte, for the summer with the one catch — do something amazing here! — she feels hopeless.

Then she and Charlotte discover an old letter written by a famous actor Clyde Jones (think John Wayne) that is a clue to a mystery: he had a daughter. And a grandchild. And so, Emi and Charlotte set out to find them and deliver the letter.

That’s really only the beginning of the book, and perhaps the least important part of it as well. It’s much more about Emi figuring herself out. The letter helps, but it’s also this job on an indie movie that she lands, thanks to her ex-girlfriend. And when they find Clyde’s long-lost granddaughter, that opens up a whole new avenue for Emi.

I loved this book. Wholeheartedly and unabashedly. I loved the peek into the way movies work, the facts behind the fantasy. I loved the way Emi thought about characters and set design. And I loved how sometimes she let fantasy overtake her reality. The characters were so real, so deep, so complex, that I couldn’t help but be drawn into their lives.

An absolutely perfect summer book.