Book Review: Midnight Without A Moon by Linda Williams Jackson And Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Book: Midnight With A Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

Published January 2017 by HMH Books For Young Readers|320 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Rose Lee Carter #1

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

I liked Midnight Without A Moon, though I think I was expecting something that was more YA than middle grade when I first started reading it.  I still liked, and I definitely recommend it.

Something I was surprised by was how Rose Lee and her family lived.  It was hard to believe that the book took place in the 1950’s, because the conditions that they lived seemed so horrible and old.  It’s hard to imagine a time when voting as a minority could get you killed.  And that at 13, she was expected to not finish school to help out at home.  I can’t picture that either, especially since she seemed so smart.  It made me sad to see that because she was smart, and would find her own way, she couldn’t do the one thing she wanted more than anything.

Williams Jackson really paints a picture of what it was like to live in 1950’s rural Mississippi.  It was particularly interesting to see what her grandparents thought of things like the NAACP and race relations and the civil rights movement.  I was surprised to see that they didn’t want to rock the boat, and prior to this book, I would have assumed they wanted things to change.  They did seem okay with how things were, or maybe they just made their peace with how things were.  Maybe they just didn’t want something to happen to the people that they care about, which I can understand.

It definitely makes the book an important read, and while I only know the gist of what happened to Emmett Till, I do want to know more about what happened to him.  Does anyone have recommendations for books to read?  I’m definitely open to suggestions!

I did like her grandfather, and her grandmother was…really horrible actually.  Hopefully, we’ll see her grandmother open up a little bit, but it’s also possible her grandmother is just set in her ways and won’t change.  This is the first book in a series, and while I’m not sure if I want to continue on with the series, I might pick up the 2nd book one day. Maybe her grandma just needs some time.

It’s definitely an important book, and it’s so hard to believe that the history in it so recent.  And the book is still relevant, and I think it could be an interesting jumping point for a history class.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, and I especially liked Rose, but I think I was expecting something slightly older, particularly where Rose is concerned.

Book: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Published October 2017 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dloughy Books

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? 

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually used his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?

Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

This is one of those books that a lot of people love and think very highly of.  Unfortunately, I wanted to like it more than I did, and it would seem like I am in the minority.

The story itself was amazing.  I mean, you see why there’s a never-ending cycle of revenge-killing – someone dies, and then someone else kills to get revenge, and it just never ends.  I was sad to see how many people Will lost to guns, and I want a life for him where he doesn’t lose anyone else he knows and loves to guns.

The ending was pretty open-ended, but also a little confusing.  It had a “it was all a dream” feel to it, and you’re left wondering if it really happened, or if it was a dream or even if he wasn’t even alive.  I think it’s open to interpretation, which is good if you like that sort of thing.  If not, then keep that in mind if you pick this book up.  It does make you question what you know and what you thought you knew,

I have mixed feelings about the book being told in verse.  It did make the book a pretty quick read, and I feel like verse was a great way to tell this story because it somehow makes the book more powerful.  But I’m also not the biggest fan of books told in verse, and something about it didn’t quite work for me.  Jason Reynolds is very good with putting words together, and while I think I might have enjoyed this book a little more had I listened to it, I also would have missed out on some of the formatting.  It’s a trade-off, I suppose, though novels told in verse usually seem to work better for me when I listen versus reading.

Anyway, this seemed like a very long elevator ride, but I did like the concept of a different person getting on at every floor.  Now that I think about it, something about that makes me think of that one book, The 5 People You Meet In Heaven, and I’m not sure why.

Still, I think meeting each and every one of these people really affected Will, and got him to remember things and think about things and question things.  It’s really up to him what happens next, though you find yourself questioning what that is.  Given how quickly this book goes, you don’t really get a chance to completely digest what just happened.  Multiple readings might be a good thing for this book, and I feel like the more you re-read it, the more you pick up on.  I just don’t know that I want to re-read it.

I love that he writes books so all teens can be heard and seen.  Isn’t that why we all read, to see ourselves reflected in the pages?  It’s sad that this is the reality for some teens, but authors like Jason Reynolds are so amazing at making teens feel seen and heard and more visible, even if the book isn’t one I personally loved.  Just because the book didn’t quite work for me doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

Long Way Down is a book that clearly speaks to a lot of people, and I really, really wish I were one of them.  I would still recommend this book to everyone, because I think Will’s story is one that should be read.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I hate giving this book 3 stars, I really do.  In fact, I almost gave it 2 stars, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Like I said, Will’s story is an important one, and while a lot of things didn’t work for me, there were some others things I did like.

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Book Review: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Book: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Published November 2016 by Disney-Hyperion|240 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: MG Contemporary

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family’s love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before.

I honestly don’t know what I think about this book!  I thought some things were confusing and strange but other things I really liked and thought were important to read about.

Let’s start with what I liked.  I liked the look at a detention center for refugees.  The conditions were horrible, and it makes me sad to think that anyone seeking asylum and fleeing their country may end up in similar conditions.  It’s horrible that they’re known by number, and not by name.  It’s sad and horrible the way they are treated, and all they want is a better life.  But they are treated horribly, all because of where they’re from or what they believe in.  People like Subhi and his family deserve so much better than that.

I felt for Subhi, but there were things that took me out of the book.  The Night Sea didn’t make sense to me, and Subhi’s talking duck didn’t make sense to me either.  It seemed like they were Subhi’s way of dealing with what was going on, and I get that, since the detention center was a horrible place.  But it took me out of what was going on, and was really distracting.  It was imaginative, but it did not work for me at all.

We really should question why they’re treated like criminals, and why they’re in detention centers for so long.  I’m not sure how old Subhi is, but it seemed like he was born in the detention center.  I’d say he’s around 10 or so, since this is a middle grade book, and I find insane and ridiculous that he’s been living there for so long.  The system is broken if refugees/those seeking asylum are living in detention centers for that long.  There has to be a better way to handle it.

I didn’t really care for Jimmie’s story.  It’s odd to me that she couldn’t read, and I found myself skimming over her mother’s book when she and Subhi would read it together.  Also, how on earth were they able to meet?  It seemed odd that she’d be able to walk up to the fence.  She sort of faded in the background (at least for me) but they did seem to have some sort of bond.  We see how she learns how horrible things are for Subhi, and all of those in the detention center, and for Subhi, he gets a connection to the outside world, and a way for people to see the horrible conditions he, and others like him, have to live in.

It was a hard book for me to get into, and it started off really slow.  It felt like things continued to move slowly, and while I knew it wasn’t going to be action-packed, I still wanted something to really capture my attention.  But nothing really did.

Still, I think it’s a book that EVERYONE should read.  It’s an important book, and the world does need more books like this one.

3 stars.  I liked it, but there were some things that took away from what Subhi experienced in the detention center.

Book Review: Braced by Alyson Gerber

Book: Braced by Alyson Gerber

Published March 2017 by Arthur A Levine Books|309 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Rachel Brooks is excited for the new school year. She’s finally earned a place as a forward on her soccer team. Her best friends make everything fun. And she really likes Tate, and she’s pretty sure he likes her back. After one last appointment with her scoliosis doctor, this will be her best year yet.

Then the doctor delivers some terrible news: The sideways curve in Rachel’s spine has gotten worse, and she needs to wear a back brace twenty-three hours a day. The brace wraps her in hard plastic from shoulder blades to hips. It changes how her clothes fit, how she kicks a ball, and how everyone sees her–even her friends and Tate. But as Rachel confronts all the challenges the brace presents, the biggest change of all may lie in how she sees herself. 

Written by a debut author who wore a brace of her own, Braced is the inspiring, heartfelt story of a girl learning to manage the many curves life throws her way.

I have mixed feelings about this book!  This is a book about a girl with scoliosis, and it’s not something that comes up a lot in books.

I did like that we see how much it changed her life, and how she had to adjust to pretty much everything because she wore a brace.  The author herself wore a brace for scoliosis, and that really came through when you’re reading it, because there was something very real about Rachel’s experience.  I could picture everything so clearly, particularly her resistance to wearing the brace but also her acceptance of it.  She learned to stand up for herself, and to tell her parents- especially her mother- how she felt.

I certainly don’t blame Rachel for not wanting to wear the brace at first, but she does realize how important it is over time.  One of her friends really didn’t get why she had to wear it, and I wasn’t a big fan of that particular friend.  She seemed to drop both Rachel and their other friend once they all went to middle school, but at least that other friend was really supportive and understanding.  And it was great that the one friend would help her practice soccer.  Rachel was so determined to make it work, and I loved her dedication to soccer.

As much as I loved seeing how Rachel dealt with her scoliosis, there were a few things I didn’t like.  Her mom was one of them.  I know Rachel’s mom had scoliosis as well, and it seemed like her mom’s scoliosis was a lot more severe than Rachel’s was.  But I got really irritated with all of the stuff about how lucky Rachel is that all she has to do is wear a brace, and how much easier Rachel has it because she doesn’t need surgery.  But it didn’t seem to help Rachel, and it really seemed like her mom’s behavior made Rachel want to do the complete opposite.  I’m glad Rachel talked to her mom, and that they worked things out, but seeing her mom constantly talk about how lucky Rachel was did get frustrating.

I’m glad the book was very much about Rachel in middle school, and that scoliosis was a big part of her life (but not her whole life), I still wanted more about her scoliosis.  It seemed like a pretty short amount of time to have to wear a back brace, and for some reason, I had pictured her treatment as being longer.

I was surprised by some of the romantic relationships in the book- I would get having a crush, but it seems like dating was somewhat common.  I certainly wasn’t thinking about dating anyone in middle school (or high school), but is that a thing now?  I honestly have no idea, but it did surprise me, and there are a couple of things that come up that really should push this book into YA, and not middle grade.  But overall, it’s more middle grade than YA.

2 stars.  Braced was an okay read.  I wanted more with her scoliosis, but at the same time, I’m glad that it’s only a part of her life, and not her entire life.

Book Review: Zahrah The Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor

Book: Zahrah The Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor

Published September 2005 by HMH Books For Young Readers|308 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah Tsami feels like a normal girl — she grows her own flora computer, has mirrors sewn onto her clothes, and stays clear of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. But unlike other kids in the village of Kirki, Zahrah was born with the telling dadalocks. Only her best friend, Dari, isn’t afraid of her, even when something unusual begins happening — something that definitely makes Zahrah different. The two friends investigate, edging closer and closer to danger. When Dari’s life is threatened. Zahrah must face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different.

In this exciting debut novel by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, things aren’t always what they seem — monkeys tell fortunes, plants offer wisdom, and a teenage girl is the only one who stands a chance at saving her best friend’s life.

I’ve read a couple of Okorafor’s books, and thought I’d read this one.  It’s not my favorite book of hers, but I still liked it a lot.  Zahrah The Windseeker is this really cool middle grade that’s about learning how to accept yourself and overcoming your fears and overcoming fear of the unknown.  I really liked that about the book.

I also really liked how there’s this interesting blend of past and present- there’s something about Zahrah that feels really old, and yet there’s something very modern, especially where technology is concerned.  I think that’s something she does really well.  If you liked Akata Witch, this is a really good book to pick up.  Even if you haven’t, it’s still a really good read.

I loved the setting, especially the market and the jungle.  I thought the jungle was very vivid, and I could picture everything very clearly.  I really felt like I was with Zahrah in the jungle.  I really liked the market as well, but it didn’t have the life and vividness that the jungle had.

I also really liked that she came across another windseeker, and I wish we saw more of their relationship.  Even though Zahrah needs to take her own journey, and the other windseeker isn’t supposed to have a huge role in the book, I still wonder what sort of relationship they have once the book ends.  I thought her friendship with Dari was great, and how she kept going, even though she was scared, because she wanted to help him.  She really was willing to help him, no matter what.

I am curious about the ending.  I liked it, and it wrapped things up really well, but at the same time, I thought it left things open for a potential sequel.  As far as I can tell, it’s a stand-alone, which is fine, because it works really well on its own.  But there is part of me that wants to know how things turn out with Zahrah.

3 stars.  I liked it, and there are some things that I really liked (and even loved) about the book, but I didn’t love it the way I’ve loved her other books.

Book Review: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Book: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Published November 2015 by Clarion|384 Pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Sophie loves the hidden shop below her parents’ bookstore, where dreams are secretly bought and sold. When the dream shop is robbed and her parents go missing, Sophie must unravel the truth to save them. Together with her best friend—a wisecracking and fanatically loyal monster named Monster—she must decide whom to trust with her family’s carefully guarded secrets. Who will help them, and who will betray them?

I liked it!  This book is a really cute middle grade book about a girl who has to find her parents after they go missing.

I loved her friend Monster, and I really liked how her parents bottled and sold dreams.  And how she didn’t really have friends because she felt different, but ended up making new friends by trying to find her parents.

I thought the Night Guards, who were supposed to be really scary, weren’t all that scary.  In general, I have a lot of questions.  Most importantly, why doesn’t Sophie dream, and why are non-dreamers so bad?  We did get an explanation for the second part of my question, in the sense that we find out what would happen if they got their hands on the bottled dreams.  But not why they can’t, and that’s what I’m curious about.  Also, why does Sophie have the ability to make dreams come to life?

It is a stand-alone, which was a little surprising, because it seems like the sort of book that would be the first book in a series.  But things are wrapped up really well, even though there is the possibility for more books.

3 stars.  I wanted to like it more, but I don’t think I’m the right audience for this book.  I liked how cute it is and I think a lot of other people will like it, but it’s not for me.

What I’ve Been Reading: Part One!

I’m back…sort of!  I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog post, and I’m trying to get back into reviewing and blogging again.  I’ve been reading, but not up to reviewing.  But I still wanted to talk about the books I’ve been reading, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about the books I haven’t talked about yet.  I’m a bit fuzzy on some of them, since it’s been a while…but that’s not going to stop me from talking about them!

Book #1: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

Here’s what I thought:

  • It’s a middle grade contemporary about a kid who runs track, which I thought was cool.  I feel like track doesn’t come up a lot, as far as sports novels go.  Cross country, yes.  Track, not so much.
  • I don’t know that I remember enough to say anything else, but I remember thinking it was okay.  Then again, All-American Boys was such a great book that I had really high expectations.
  • I did like the parallels between running and what was going on in his life.  Especially with how running turned out to be a really good thing for him.
  • I don’t know that I’d read the rest of the books in the series- it looks like this is the first one of…I’m not sure how many.
  • It’s definitely a must read if you like stories about sports.  And also how to move on and deal with your past.
  • I think my rating would be 2 stars.  It’s okay, and not a lot stuck with me.

Book #2: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I borrowed the hardcover from the library.

My thoughts:

  • I really liked this book!  It’s a YA contemporary about Amanda, who transferred schools.  I felt for Amanda, who tried so hard to fit in, and who had to deal with a lot- bullying and transphobia are the first things that come to mind.
  • I really like that it’s not a coming out story- both are important, but I really liked seeing Amanda move to a new town and transition to a new phase in her life.
  • I liked the friendships she had too- people can be horrible, but I’m glad Amanda found some amazing people.
  • I can’t remember anything about the romance, other than I liked it…but that’s about it!
  • I loved the author’s note at the end of the book.  Don’t skip over it, because it really does add to an already awesome book.
  • I feel like I’m not doing this book any justice.  At all.  Mostly because it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I remember next to nothing.  But it’s such a great book and really important and I doubt I’d do it much justice regardless.  But waiting months to do some sort of half-hearted attempt isn’t helping.
  • Part of why it’s important is because of what the book is about, but it is worth mentioning that the author is also trans.
  • And I’m not sure if it’s true, but the cover model is trans as well.  For some reason, that feels really important as well.
  • I know I got really emotional and starting crying at one point.
  • My Rating: 4 stars.  Had I reviewed it right after finishing it, my rating probably would have been 5 stars.
    • But I may re-read it at some point so I can properly talk about it.
    • I still really liked it though.

Book #3: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is another hardcover from the library.

What I Thought:

  • I liked seeing how much Strayed changed during the hike.
  • She did seem ill-prepared for the hike, and I can see why some reviewers think she’s whiny and self-absorbed
    • and also why some people thought she made poor life decisions
    • There’s no judgement from me, though, because she did have a lot of things she had to work through, especially with the death of her mother
  • Hiking- especially since she was by herself for most of the hike- seemed to help her
    • there was a lot of opportunity for her to reflect on her life
    • she did randomly meet up with other people along the way, though
  • I think my favorite part was seeing her not give up, even when it would have been easy for her to do so
  • I can’t imagine doing such a big hike, especially with no hiking/backpacking experience whatsoever
  • It really felt like I was hiking with her, and it never felt boring or repetitive
    • I can’t imagine being alone with my thoughts for that long, but props to her for sticking with it
  • It’s a memoir of her experience hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, so if you’re looking for more information or history about the trail itself, this is not the book for you
  • I’ve heard of it before- because it was adapted into a movie, but I mostly picked it up because it was mentioned in one of the Gilmore Girls revival episodes
    • I’m glad I picked it up, though, because I really liked it
  • I think my rating would be 4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but it was an easy read, and there is something about the way she writes

Book #4: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad is a hardcover from the library.

And now, my thoughts:

  • This book deserves a lot more attention.  I feel like it didn’t get a lot of attention, despite the fact that it was an Oprah book club pick.  The publication date also got moved up because of it.  And I know it was recommended by Obama, so I had really high expectations.
    • It lived up to all of the hype…at least the hype that I heard.
    • It’s totally worth reading
  • I admit that I didn’t like it at first, and it took me a while to get into it.
    • I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because I really liked it
  • It is a hard read, because you see what it might have been like for slaves on the Underground Railroad
    • I’m not sure what to call them, but there are ads and wanted posters for runaway slaves, which really added to the journey Cora takes
  • The Underground Railroad is quite literal in this book but it was terrifying to see what it was like during that time period
    • so many people risked everything to be a part of it- whether they were a stop along the way, or the one trying to escape slavery
    • I know I said it already, but it really highlighted what it might have been like
  • It really is mind-blowing that people were willing to take a chance to have freedom than spend one more second as a slave
  • My rating: 4 stars.  It was hard to get into at first, but worth reading.

Top Ten Tuesday Holiday Gift Guide: Top Ten Books For The YA Lover

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely folks over at The Broke And The Bookish.  Every week, bloggers share their own bookish top ten lists based on the topic of the week.  You can check out Ten Tuesdays here.

Blog Graphic- Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Books For The YA Lover

I generally don’t do gift guides, but I thought it might be fun to do a gift guide for people who love YA!  I definitely tried to do a range of genres and ages- everything from middle grade to older teens, and fantasy to historical fiction to contemporary.

  1. Where The Streets Had No Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah. In general, I would recommend her books but this one made my list because it gives an interesting voice to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It’s more on the middle grade/younger end of YA spectrum, but still worth reading for people of all ages.
  2. All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. I’m pretty sure I recommend this book a lot, but it deserves the countless mentions! It’s such an important read because I feel like this is a story we see on the news a lot- and we see what it from two very different sides. Recommended for ages 14/15 and up.
  3. Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older. This book is perfect for the YA lover in your life. There’s art and Caribbean myths and yet I felt like it was all very normal to see magic and art coming to life. Recommended for ages 14 and up..
  4. George by Alex Gino. This is another book that’s middle grade than YA, but it’s still on my list because I loved Melissa’s story and how wanting to be Charlotte in her school play was the thing that she wanted the most!
  5. A Court Of Thorns And Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I really love this series, and if you’re looking for a great book for the YA Fantasy reader, this is my current choice. It’s fairies and different courts and it’s full of awesome. (I’d say 15/16 and up, age-wise).
  6. Ash by Malinda Lo. This Cinderella re-telling is so under-rated, and it’s great for people who love fairy tale re-tellings. If you’re considering getting this one for a teen in your life, I’d say 15 and up (maybe 14, depends on the teen).
  7. And I Darken by Kiersten White. I love this take on Vlad Dracula. It’s dark, and definitely recommended for 16+ (maybe 15 and up, depending on the teen), but it’s also really good.
  8. Under A Painted Sky by Stacy Lee. This historical fiction novel was one of my favorites from last year, and it’s a Western! And set on the Oregon Trail. I love the friendships that we see in the book, and I definitely recommend it for everyone 14 and up.
  9. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. This is another recommendation that’s middle grade or on the lower end of YA. I love the magic in the book, and it’s set in Nigeria, which works really well with the myths and magic we see in the book.
  10. An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. This Roman Empire inspired fantasy is really good! It’s definitely on the dark side, but so worth it. Recommended for ages 15 and up.

Book Review: George by Alex Gino

George CoverBook: George by Alex Gino

Published August 2015 by Scholastic Press|195 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part…because she’s a boy.  

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I’ve heard really good things about George, and I randomly picked it up from the library one day, figuring it was time to see what everyone was talking about.  If you haven’t read George yet, it’s definitely worth checking out!

What I liked most is that George is that it introduces transgender as an identity in a middle grade book- I don’t know of any other middle grade books, and I feel like we see transgender characters in YA, but not middle grade.

I found myself getting really angry at Melissa’s teacher (by the way, Melissa is the name George wants to go by, so I’ll be calling her Melissa), for not giving the role to Melissa, even though she auditioned for it, and she really wanted it. Her reasoning was that there were too many girls who wanted the part, and that’s why it couldn’t go to Melissa, but part of me thinks that part of why she didn’t want to give it to Melissa is because Melissa is a girl, even though the world sees her as a boy.  Maybe the teacher worried about what others would think, but it seemed like Melissa was the perfect person to play Charlotte.  When Melissa’s best friend let Melissa play Charlotte, everyone thought she was great in the role, and no one seemed to have a problem with it except for the teacher.  It made me sad to see that and yet, it wasn’t surprising.

I really felt for Melissa, who struggled to come out to both her mother and her best friend Kelly.  I loved Kelly, who was really accepting when Melissa came out to Kelly.  And even though Melissa’s mom had a different reaction (she seemed to think Melissa was gay, and not a transgender girl at first, before Melissa told her), she does seem to love Melissa a lot, even if she doesn’t seem to understand that Melissa is a girl.  I also felt for her because of the bullying that she has to deal with.  I can’t imagine dealing with everything that Melissa has to deal with.

I really liked how Melissa’s story is told- it’s simple, and right from the start, Melissa is a girl in a world who sees her as a boy.  She is not stuck in the wrong body, and she is not a boy wanting to be a girl.  She’s a girl in a world that does not see her a girl, which I think is an important distinction to make, because we see that Melissa is a girl right from the start, and that Melissa has known for a long time who she is.

George is one of those books everyone should read, no matter who they are.  It’s a book about accepting who you are, and it’s hopeful and heartwarming and lets the other Melissa’s in the world that they are not alone and that they have options.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

4 stars.  I really liked George, and it’s a book everyone should read.

Book Review: Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Bound Napoli CoverBook: Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Published November 2004 by Atheneum|184 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Fairy Tale Re-Telling

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Young Xing Xing is bound.  Bound to her father’s second wife and daughter after Xing Xing’s father has passed away. Bound to a life of servitude as a young girl in ancient China, where the life of a woman is valued less than that of livestock. Bound to be alone and unmarried, with no parents to arrange for a suitable husband. Dubbed “Lazy One” by her stepmother, Xing Xing spends her days taking care of her half sister, Wei Ping, who cannot walk because of her foot bindings, the painful but compulsory tradition for girls who are fit to be married. Even so, Xing Xing is content, for now, to practice her gift for poetry and calligraphy, to tend to the mysterious but beautiful carp in her garden, and to dream of a life unbound by the laws of family and society.

But all of this is about to change as the time for the village’s annual festival draws near, and Stepmother, who has spent nearly all of the family’s money, grows desperate to find a husband for Wei Ping. Xing Xing soon realizes that this greed and desperation may threaten not only her memories of the past, but also her dreams for the future.

In this searing story, Donna Jo Napoli, acclaimed author of “Beast and Breath,” delves into the roots of the Cinderella myth and unearths a tale as powerful as it is familiar.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I really like fairy tale re-tellings, and I was really intrigued by a Chinese re-telling of Cinderella.  Especially because I loved Cinder.  I liked it, but not as much as I liked Cinder.  However, if you want something a little more historical, and a little less dystopic, this is definitely a good book to check out.

It seems like it’s a pretty straightforward re-telling of Cinderella, and I like that it’s pretty similar to one of the Chinese variations on the Cinderella story.  I do wish the author had deviated from the original story a little more, just because I would have liked to see her do something different with her re-telling of Cinderella.  It’s very clear that it’s a Cinderella re-telling, which I liked, but…I still wanted something slightly different, because if I wanted something that mirrored the original pretty closely, I’d go read the original.

Because of the setting, it’s a slightly different take on the Cinderella story we’re familiar with, partly because of Disney and partly because of the different Roger’s & Hammerstein versions out there (of which the Whitney Houston one is my favorite, but probably because it’s the only one I’ve seen, not counting the Disney version).  It seems like there are more variations on the Cinderella story across different time periods and continents that any other fairy tale out there, and this episode of The History Chicks does a great job at going over all of the different variations.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  It’s a pretty straightforward re-telling of one of the many variations of the Cinderella story, and I love the setting.  I like that it re-tells a version most Americans probably aren’t familiar with, but at the same time, I wanted some sort of twist on the story we all know.

Book Review: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder CoverBook: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Published February 2012 by Knopf|320 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: Wonder #1

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Blog Graphic-What It's About

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

Wonder is one of those books I’ve heard a lot about, and knew that people really loved, but never got around to reading until now.  I liked Wonder, but not as much as I thought I would.

I really liked the family dynamic, and I really felt for his sister Via.  We don’t get a lot of her, but we see how the attention Auggie gets affects her, and I really liked seeing that.  I’m not sure if I could have handled an entire book from her perspective, but I did like the small bit that we do get in the book.

I also liked how real the characters felt.  How they acted- what with The Plague thing, and the stares and stuff, I can see that happening in real life.  How one of the moms acted was horrible- she photoshopped Auggie out of the class photo, and acted like he didn’t belong in school, just because of how he looks.  And it was really hard to read, because, theoretically, she should know better.  But clearly not, and it makes me wonder if her son acted the way he did because he learned it from her.  In the end, the other kids ended up being pretty okay, except for the one.

There is something I have mixed feelings about, though, and that’s Auggie himself.  I liked that he sees himself as a normal kid, and that he’s not special or extraordinary, just because of how he looks, even though people around him probably think he’s special because of how much he accomplished, and all of the surgeries he’s had to endure.  On the one hand, I liked that the book mentioned the fact that he was born with a cleft palate, which led to a lot of other health issues for Auggie, but didn’t focus too much on it.  But at the same time, I wanted a little more about it, because the book hardly goes into it.

Another issue I had was the fact that the characters seemed a lot older than 10.  The way they talked and acted…it didn’t mesh well with the fact that it’s middle grade.  It was really disorienting, and if 10 year-olds are, in real life, dating the way some of them seem to be dating in this book, I’m a little worried.

The book was also super-positive, which I get, considering the target audience, but it made the book feel too perfect, like nothing gets to Auggie (even though it must), and that everything will work out just fine, no matter what.  It felt too simple, for something that could have had even a little more complexity to it.  It’s not for me to say that Auggie is too well-adjusted, because I’ve never experienced what Auggie has, and I have no idea what it’s like to be in his position.  But it was also something that was a little off-putting, just because I wanted something that seemed a little more realistic.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  I get why people loved this book so much, and I do like the message of not judging people because of how they look, and that you should be kind to people.  But it was too simple, and too perfect, and I wanted something a little more complex and something that was a little less perfect.