Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 248 pages.
Starred Review

This graphic novel is every bit as delightful as the author’s earlier one, Roller Girl. In fact, I liked it a little better, since I’m more familiar with Renaissance faires than I am with roller derby.

Imogene and her family have always been involved in the Florida Renaissance Faire all her life. Her father is an actor who plays the evil lord of the dragons, and her mother runs a craft store. Impy has always been homeschooled at the faire, along with her annoying little brother – but now she’s ready to go to middle school.

The middle school part of the story doesn’t have any big surprises – making friends and figuring out how to fit in, tough teachers, and eventually Impy has to face some not-very-nice things she does to please the so-called friends. All that makes a delightful parallel to the Renaissance faire, where Impy has a more responsible role this year as an actual cast member – her father’s squire.

Of course, the two worlds intersect when the leader of the mean girls has her birthday party at the Renaissance faire.

I’ve read other books about homeschooled kids adjusting to school, but this one’s a graphic novel, so it’s extra colorful (literally), and all the Renaissance faire parts make for great images.

And make no mistake about it, starting middle school is a whole lot like going on a quest and fighting dragons.

victoriajamieson.com
penguin.com/kids

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Now, by Antoinette Portis

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Now

by Antoinette Portis

A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve said before that some of the best sermons are found in children’s books. This book speaks loads about contentment and joy and living in the present.

Here’s how it begins:

This is my favorite breeze.

This is my favorite leaf.

This is my favorite hole
(this one)
because it is the one
I am digging.

And that’s how it continues. The simple yet beautiful pictures (I love the way she draws the breeze!) show a girl with light brown skin enjoying each favorite thing on a double-page spread.

The one variation is when her boat goes into the storm drain, and we read, “That was my favorite boat.” No sadness or crying, just enjoying this moment.

The book winds up like this:

And this is my favorite
now
because it is the one I am having

with you.

The final picture is of the girl in her mother’s lap reading a book, so there’s a nice self-referential element.

This book just makes me smile!

And the next time I go for a walk around my lake, I’m going to be saying things to myself like:
This is my favorite breeze.
That is my favorite flower.
That is my favorite bird….

What a lovely concept to share with children!

mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Upside of Unrequited, by Becky Albertalli

Friday, September 8th, 2017

The Upside of Unrequited

by Becky Albertalli

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2017. 340 pages.

This is a nice solid contemporary teen romance – or teen not-romance. I related to Molly, the protagonist, because I was all about unrequited crushes when I was 17.

Okay, maybe I didn’t have as many as Molly, who’s had crushes on 26 different guys. But I know the feeling of watching seemingly everyone else pair up, and wondering if it will ever be your turn.

The book starts out when Molly meets Mina, of all places, in the restroom at a club. Mina is exactly the type of girl who Molly’s twin sister Cassie falls for.

Sure enough, Cassie and Mina hit it off. But though Cassie has plenty of experience, she’s never had an actual girlfriend before. When it happens, Molly starts feeling left out.

And Cassie decides she’s going to get Molly a boyfriend. And she’s chosen Mina’s good friend Will, who is admittedly hot. But meanwhile, there’s this sweet geeky guy working at Molly’s new summer job. Cassie points out that while Molly has never been kissed, she’s also never been rejected. Maybe she needs to put herself out there? Cassie will make sure it happens!

This is all set during the summer of 2015, when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal – and so Molly’s and Cassie’s two moms decide to get married. The family has a wedding to plan!

Like I said, I related to the plight of unrequited love. You don’t see it often enough in young adult books! Though my heart went out to Molly – because all of her friends were talking about sex – who had it and what it’s like, guys and girls both – just emphasizing that she seems to be the only one with no opportunity. It felt realistic for a modern teen – but I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that. So Dear Reader, be warned – this is a sweet teen romance, but there is a lot of talk about sex.

But this is indeed a sweet story. I loved the characters. I loved the joy of the girls’ moms when they could get married. (Living in Maryland, they drove past the White House to see it lit up with rainbow lights.) The twins had some other close friendships and I enjoyed the way those were portrayed, besides the pressure when everybody seems to have their own idea of who Molly should fall for.

And I do like the look at this question – Can anyone possibly fall for a girl whose own grandma calls her fat? Aren’t unrequited crushes much simpler?

beckyalbertalli.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of All the Way to Havana, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

All the Way to Havana

by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Mike Curato

Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

I fell for this book because of the wonderful, lilting use of language and onomatopoiea. The story is of a boy and his family going for a drive to Havana.

We have a gift, and we have a cake,
and today we’re going to drive all the way
to the big city to see my new baby cousin
on his zero-year birthday!

But before they set out on their drive, they need to figure out why their old blue car isn’t making its usual noises: “cara cara cara cara, cluck, cluck, cluck,” but instead sounds like “pio pio, pio pio, pfffft.”

Papá opens the trunk and lets me hand him
the heavy toolbox. Then he raises the hood
to show me all the rattling parts
that have been fixed with wire, tape,
and mixed-up scraps of dented metal.

The boy is involved in choosing tools and tinkering, twisting, and tightening – until “Cara Cara once again begins to sound like a chattering hen.”

The drive into town involves giving rides to neighbors – and a new set of noises. There’s a gorgeous and colorful spread as they come into town, driving on the curved road by the seawall, with many other old cars in all colors on the road along with them.

At the party, there fun and food with cousins, and then it’s time to come home again.

So we zoom and bump all the way back
to our little village, where we will soon
have a chance to
cara cara
taka taka
pio pio
clunk
sleep.

I love the Author’s Note at the back of the book. It adds depth to what is already such a lovely (for the eyes) and melodious (for the ears) story.

Due to a complex historical situation, many of the American cars on the island of Cuba are pre-1959 and so old that parts under the hood have been replaced many times, often with makeshift inventions. Despite more than half a century of poverty and hardship, the Cuban people remain so creative that they manage to keep machines of all sorts running long past the age when wealthier people would discard them. This simple poem about the island’s noisy old cars is intended as an expression of admiration for the everyday ingenuity of poor people everywhere who have to struggle, persevere, create, and invent on a daily basis, never losing hope. Undoubtedly, a boy like the one in this story would dream of modern cars and space-age inventions along with plans to keep his family’s antique car running smoothly.

margaritaengle.com
mikecurato.com
mackids.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Simplicity of Cider, by Amy E. Reichert

Monday, August 21st, 2017

The Simplicity of Cider

by Amy E. Reichert

Gallery Books, 2017. 309 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a nice romance for adults, with interesting story, setting, and characters to go along with the romance.

Sanna Lund has inherited a gift for making cider – she sees the juices of their family’s different apple varieties in different colors. She can mix them by color and know how the finished product will taste. They’ve owned the orchard for generations, but now it’s down to her and her father. They’re going to try to sell Sanna’s cider in larger batches.

But they hit financial snags – and then Sanna’s father gets injured. They have to hire help even in the off-season, but that still may not be enough to pay bills.

The help they hire is Isaac and his 10-year-old son Sebastian (Bass). Isaac is trying to give Bass one last summer to be a kid before he tells him the bad news about Bass’s mother. Sanna gets off to a prickly start with Bass, but Isaac may be exactly what their orchard needs. Meanwhile, Sanna’s brother is urging them to sell to a developer and someone’s harming the heirloom trees that Sanna loves.

Now, the evil developer plot line sometimes veered toward melodrama, but mostly things stayed interesting and realistic. I liked that Sanna is 6 feet 3 inches and as distinctive as that implies. I had to mentally adjust to her point of view in several scenes! All the characters are richly drawn.

The author blurb says she “likes to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner.” That sums up her books rather well – except that I would be sure her characters were the ones cooking the dinner! This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, and I feel like I have indeed had dinner in the friendly company of these characters.

SimonandSchuster.com
amyereichert.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books, 2016. 382 pages.
Starred Review

Perry Cook has grown up in prison at Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska. His mother is a resident, and Perry was born shortly after she came to the minimum security prison twelve years ago. Warden Daugherty is officially Perry’s foster parent, and Perry has his own room next to the warden’s office.

Perry goes to school in Butler County, and as the book starts, he’s getting ready to start middle school. He met his best friend, Zoey Samuels, when she moved there in the middle of fourth grade. Zoey moved to the area because of her stepdad’s job. The description of the stepdad rang true – always trying too hard with her and coming across like a big fake.

But then Zoey’s stepdad Tom VanLeer finds out about Perry. And Tom is the new district attorney. A boy living at a prison? He’s outraged. Without telling Zoey, he decides to Do the Right Thing and take Perry into his own home. What’s more, Warden Daugherty gets suspended, and Perry’s mother’s parole hearing gets postponed.

Tom also tries too hard with Perry. Tom thinks he’s saving him from a horrible life growing up in prison. Perry only knows that he’s been forced to leave his mom and his home.

Then their English teacher assigns the students a project to find out why their family came to Butler County. Perry decides to learn the stories of his Blue River family, including his mother’s full story.

I didn’t expect to even like this book much, but I loved it. Maybe it stretches plausibility just a tad, and things do tie up pretty neatly in the end – but the characters are so well-drawn, they’re a delight to spend time with, especially including Perry’s family at Blue River.

And while the overall situation of a boy growing up in prison may be a little hard to believe – if you accept the premise, it’s easy to believe this is how things would work out, including the residents and their quirky personalities, the comments Perry gets from kids at school, and the reaction of the self-righteous district attorney.

Most of the book is told from Perry’s perspective, with chapters here and there from his mother’s perspective. Personally, I think the book could do without his mother’s chapters – but they don’t harm the book. I just don’t think they’re necessarily needed. You can figure out how she feels about all of this.

Perry’s a great person to spend time with. As he learns the stories of the residents, the reader gets a chance to feel some empathy as well and see how easily lives can go off-course. But the big question: Can Perry do anything to help his mother get parole?

This story is filled with hope, compassion, love, and understanding. We see Perry get understandably angry with district attorney VanLeer – and figure out a way to rise above his anger. We see the power of learning people’s stories, even someone like VanLeer.

leslieconnor.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi

by Sandhya Menon

Simon Pulse, 2017. 380 pages.

When Dimple Met Rishi is an adorable teen romance. Dimple Shah has a passion for coding and web development. She has gotten accepted to Stanford and is super excited about attending – even though she’s sure about her parents that “the only reason they had agreed was because they were secretly hoping she’d meet the I.I.H. [Ideal Indian Husband] of her – no their — dreams at the prestigious school.”

For the summer, Dimple wants nothing more than to go to Insomnia Con, where participants “come up with a concept for the most groundbreaking app they could conceive during their month and a half at the SFSU campus.” It costs a thousand dollars, so she’s a little suspicious when her parents readily agree.

Meanwhile, Rishi Patel is looking at a picture of Dimple, a girl his parents have picked out for him to get to know. She is the daughter of their long-time friends who are from the same part of Mumbai as they are. And to get to know her, he can attend a summer program in San Francisco….

Rishi is very traditional and appreciates his parent’s loving concern for him. Naturally, he assumes Dimple’s parents have filled her in, too, and that she’s amenable to these plans.

So when Rishi sees Dimple at Starbucks as soon as he gets on campus, he tries to joke about their meeting:

“Hello, future wife,” he said, his voice bubbling with glee. “I can’t wait to get started on the rest of our lives!”

Dimple stared at him for the longest minute. The only word her brain was capable of producing, in various tonal permutations, was: What? What?

Dimple didn’t know what to think. Serial killer? Loony bin escapee? Strangely congenial mugger? Nothing made sense. So she did the only thing she could think to do in the moment – she flung her iced coffee at him and ran the other way.

Well, despite that inauspicious beginning, what follows is a sweet romance. I would have liked Dimple to resist a little longer, but the way things unfold is quite plausible and a lot of fun.

Now, I do have some skepticism regarding Insomnia Con. But I haven’t done any research – perhaps there does exist a web development program like that where a lot rides on a talent show (really?) in the middle of the program. Perhaps working in pairs never runs into trouble of two people both passionate about their app idea. Some of the subplots worked out a little too neatly as well.

Now, in case my readers need a warning, yes, they have sex – that’s pretty standard in teen romance any more, even when both participants are from families where they know their parents don’t want that for them. The book doesn’t dwell on it – or on any consequences of how it affects their relationship. (They give lip service to thinking about it before they do. And they think about it maybe a day.)

But make no mistake about it – I thoroughly enjoyed this book – enough that it kept me reading all through the night.

This is a sweet story about a girl with a passion and what happens when she finds herself falling in love, against all her plans. Combined with a story about a boy whose well-laid plans get shaken up when confronted with an actual person. Very fun.

sandhyamenon.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Shadow Land, by Elizabeth Kostova

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

The Shadow Land

by Elizabeth Kostova

Ballantine Books, 2017. 478 pages.
Starred Review

When Alexandra Boyd gets off the plane in Sofia, she’s jet lagged, exhausted, and not even thinking straight. She’s in Bulgaria to begin teaching English, but came a month early to do some sight-seeing. First, the taxi driver brings her to a nice hotel, instead of the hostel where she has a room booked – and drives off before she can fix it.

While she’s trying to figure out what to do, she sees an elderly couple and a younger man come out of the hotel. As the younger man is helping the older man in a wheelchair get into a taxi, the older lady stumbles. Alexandra catches her arm and helps her. And then she passes their bags to them and helps them settle in the cab.

The younger man thanks her, and chats with her about her travel plans. She asks if she can take their picture – the first people she’s spoken to in Bulgaria.

Then Alexandra gets into a taxi and heads for her hostel. But as they are driving away, she suddenly notices that she has the tall man’s satchel. When she opens it up, it contains an urn with ashes and a name on the urn, Stoyan Lazarov. She asks the taxi driver to stop and bursts into tears.

When Alexandra opened the urn, she began to cry not because she was afraid of human remains but because it was just too much, the last straw. She was in a strange country, she was exhausted, her plans had already gone awry, and in the dramatic way of the young she felt herself in the grip of something larger — destiny, or some plot that could as easily be evil as good.

Alexandra has the driver, who says she can call him Bobby, take her back to the hotel, but there’s no sign of the people who lost the urn. She goes to the police, which Bobby doesn’t think is a great idea. But the police give her an address to try. First, though, she and Bobby drive to the monastery where the tall man said they’d be traveling.

In the monastery, Alexandra and Bobby get locked into a room, but it turns out Bobby has lockpicking skills.

By now Bobby is interested in Alexandra’s quest, so they continue on the trail of the Lazarov family. Each place they go, they find the family is not there, but get another lead of a place where they might be found. Along the way, they find out more about Stoyan Lazarov as well. But at the same time, as they travel, Bobby’s car is vandalized and they get threatening notes. Someone besides the Lazarov family seems to want the urn.

This book has a chase saga and a mystery, as well as being a story of a young American woman traveling in Europe on her own for the first time. Just when I thought it was especially lovely, pleasant reading, the book starts delving into the history of Bulgaria – particularly Stoyan Lazarov’s time in a prison camp – particularly brutal and awful.

But the overall feeling of the book is hopeful and surviving through art and through love. The story is compelling, as Stoyan Lazarov’s past has repercussions in the present.

This is a very personal story, despite having large themes. Alexandra has some of her own issues to deal with, but she cares about the people she meets along the way, and the reader can’t help but care, too. The author weaves in flashbacks well, never interrupting Alexandra’s story long enough to make us impatient.

I still say it’s a lovely book, even though it has some very hard chapters. The author brings Bulgaria to life so vividly and so lovingly, I wasn’t surprised to read at the back that she’s married to a Bulgarian. The plot is gripping, yet she manages to weave in lots of background material without letting up on the tension. On top of all that, these characters – from Alexandra and Bobby all the way to the man in the urn – are people you come to love.

elizabethkostova.com

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Review of My Italian Bulldozer, by Alexander McCall Smith

Friday, May 5th, 2017

My Italian Bulldozer

by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon Books, 2017. Originally published in Great Britain in 2016. 232 pages.
Starred Review

I love Alexander McCall Smith’s books! This one has that same gentle philosophy, but I appreciated that, most of the time, the characters did not sound like Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi talking with each other. They were their own distinct people. Though this new main character also takes life as it happens.

Paul Stuart is a successful food writer. This is how we meet him at the beginning of the book:

It was the first time Paul had made duck à l’orange for friends since Becky left him for her personal trainer. Her departure — after four years of living together — had been a surprise, but not as great a shock as the discovery of her new lover’s identity. Looking back on it, Paul realized that all the signs had been there, and might so easily have been spotted. He felt a lingering, slightly reproachful regret: had he been less absorbed by his work, he might have noticed her indifference; had he given her more time, he might have been forewarned by her restlessness, by the occasional guilty, almost furtive look; but even had he picked this up, nothing could have prepared him for her choice of Tommy, the tattooed mesomorph with whom she suddenly went off to live.

“I didn’t want this,” he said to Gloria, his editor, trying as hard as he could to be stoical. “But it’s happened. That’s all there is to it, I suppose. People split up.”

His editor, Gloria, helps Paul make a plan to write his next book about the food of Tuscany – so of course he needs to make a trip there.

But when Paul arrives in Tuscany, there’s a problem with his rental car – a problem that puts him in jail temporarily. If he hadn’t met a helpful Italian on the airplane, things might have gone very badly. But then that new Italian friend puts him in touch with a friend who rents out construction equipment – and Paul ends up renting a bulldozer to drive from Pisa to the hill town of Montalcino.

I love the description as he begins driving the bulldozer.

Now, sitting in the cab of the bulldozer as it trundled along a quiet side road, Paul could enjoy the view that his elevated position afforded him. It had been a surprise to him to discover just how commanding that view was: as cars passed him, he saw only their tops; as he approached a corner, he was able to see around and beyond it; as he drove past walls, he saw into the farmyards or gardens beyond. A couple lying on a lawn in intimate embrace looked up to see Paul waving to them as he went past; a man pruning an apple tree near the roadside, high on his ladder, finding himself eye to eye with Paul as the bulldozer growled by, was able only to open his mouth in surprise. And beyond such unexpected human encounters, there stretched the Tuscan countryside, now plains sloping down to the coast, now rolling hills blue in the distance under the first shimmering of heat haze.

The bulldozer’s slow pace meant that a line of cars would build up behind it, but Paul, being able to see very clearly what was coming, could wave people past when it was safe for them to overtake. They signaled their appreciation by sounding their horns, pleased at the courtesy of this construction worker, bound, they assumed, for some pressing local task of earthmoving but still considerate of those with longer distances to cover. A police car went past, slowed down momentarily, but then sped off again. Nobody imagined that the bulldozer was on such a lengthy and inappropriate journey.

One thing quickly became clear to Paul. As a regular visitor to Italy he had experience of Italian driving. The Italians are not noted for their patience on the road and will make their displeasure known to any driver who holds them up by sticking to the speed limit. For the visitor, this can be alarming, as small and underpowered cars sweep past them at dangerous corners or on blind rises. But Paul noticed none of this now, and realized that the attitude of other drivers to a bulldozer was one of cautious respect. There was no point in driving too close to its rear in an attempt to get it to speed up; not only would the driver of the bulldozer not see you, but should he brake suddenly, he might not even notice the crumpling of metal as your car collided with the hardened steel outer provinces of his vehicle. In the pecking order of the Italian road, then, a bulldozer’s position was evidently not to be questioned.

Now, that’s not all there is to Paul’s adventures. While out driving with the bulldozer, he meets an attractive American woman whose car has gone off the road, and he is able to help. But then Becky wants to talk to him, and comes to Montalcino to do it. And Gloria comes to help him straighten that out. And meanwhile a few uses pop up for the bulldozer that he hadn’t anticipated.

As with Alexander McCall Smith’s other books, this one left me with a smile on my face. Delightful reading.

alexandermccallsmith.com
pantheonbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Lily and Dunkin

by Donna Gephart

Delacorte Press, 2016. 331 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #10 Children’s Fiction

Neither Lily nor Dunkin is happy with the name they were given at birth. Dunkin doesn’t like his name because it’s Norbert Dorfman, after his grandfather and great-grandfather. Lily doesn’t like her name because it’s Timothy. Lily knows she’s really a girl, and is trying to be brave enough to wear girl’s clothes to school when eighth grade starts, but she doesn’t quite manage it.

Dunkin met Lily before school started, and even saw her wearing a dress, but when he asks about it, Lily backs down and says it was just on a dare. Dunkin would like to be friends with Tim at school, but when the guys on the basketball team take an interest in him because he’s so tall, he can’t stay away — even though they’re the same guys who bully Tim.

On the surface, this is an issue book. Lily is dealing with being transgender and trying to get up the courage to go public with that. She also wants to go on hormone blockers before it’s too late, but her Dad’s having a hard time with it.

Meanwhile, Dunkin has his own issues. He’s got bipolar disorder. His mother decided to trust him to take his own medication this year. But if he takes his antipsychotic pills, he doesn’t have enough energy to play basketball. So he sneaks a pill into the trash each day.

As an issues book, I enjoyed this. It’s for a slightly older reader than George but I like the way both books help you understand how it would feel to be transgender and some of the many difficulties you’d face.

But the book does have more to it. There’s navigating friendships and eighth grade, and there’s an old tree in front of the library that’s scheduled to be cut down. It’s a tree that meant a lot to Lily and her grandfather who is now deceased. As for Dunkin, he’s the new kid. He’s just moved to Florida, leaving behind some kind of family disaster involving his Dad. He knows nothing about basketball, but now he has a chance to be somebody because he got his growth early. If he can learn enough about the game before it’s time to play.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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