Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

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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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 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.

donnagephart.com
randomhousekids.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 Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do! by Daisy Hirst

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do!

by Daisy Hirst

Candlewick Press, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #12 Picture Books

This book about being a big sister of an annoying little brother charmed me with its specific details.

The drawings are simple, such as a child would do. Natalie and her little brother Alphonse are some sort of monster. Natalie is red and Alphonse is blue.

The story is also simple.

They both liked naming the pigeons, [Banana! Lorraine!]

bouncing things off the bunk beds,
and stories in the chair.

And they both loved making things.

Except that Alphonse did sometimes draw on the things that Natalie made,
or eat them, and Natalie hated that.

I like that the author doesn’t need to tell us that Alphonse is being aggravating.

One day when lunch was peas
and TV was awful
and Mom did not understand, [What a lovely dog! It is a HORSE.]
Natalie found Alphonse under the bunk beds . . .

eating her favorite book.

“ALPHONSE, THAT IS NOT OK TO DO!” said Natalie.

What follows is Alphonse trying to reconcile with Natalie, and Natalie needing some time first. She draws a picture of awful things happening to Alphonse. I especially like the touch of the “swarm of peas.” Then she shuts herself in the bathroom and takes a bath.

But while she’s in the bath, she thinks she hears things happening to Alphonse like what she drew.

When she comes out and learns that Alphonse just created disasters while trying to get the tape to fix Natalie’s book, she’s just glad that Alphonse is okay.

It’s a simple story, but it warms my heart. Sometimes little siblings are incredibly annoying – but sometimes they’re creative partners.

candlewick.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 Water Princess, by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

The Water Princess

Based on the childhood experience of Georgie Badiel

by Susan Verde

illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Picture Books

Here is a picture book with a message – but the creators wisely made telling a good story a higher priority than just getting the message across.

As the book opens, we are introduced to Princess Gie Gie. I’ve long been a fan of Peter H. Reynolds, and here his work is more detailed – and more beautiful – than ever before. We see Princess Gie Gie first looking up into a sky full of stars.

As we turn the page, we learn her location:

My kingdom . . .
the African sky, so wide and so close.
I can almost touch the sharp edges of the stars.

First, Gie Gie talks about the things she can do – taming the wild dogs, making the tall grass sway, and making the wind play hide-and-seek. But Gie Gie cannot make the water come closer or run clearer.

Each morning, when it is still dark, Gie Gie and her mother set off to collect the water. Most of the book is about that journey. I love the way Gie Gie is still dramatic and joyful, even though she doesn’t want to get up early and go for the long walk. Even though she wishes she could bring the water by magic.

I also love the way Gie Gie’s parents consistently address her as “princess.” I like the way, when she brings the water back, she celebrates the achievement.

At the water hole, Gie Gie plays with her friends while her mother holds their place in line. The water there is dusty and earth colored, but it is flowing, and they make the journey back with full pots on their heads.

I also love the page at the end of the day, after they have used the water:

Clothes and body clean,
I sing to the dogs.
I dance with the tall grass.
I hide from the wind.

At bedtime, Gie Gie asks her mother “Why is the water so far? Why is the water not clear? Where is our water?”

The final spread answers:

“Sleep,” she says.
“Dream,” she says.
“Someday you will find a way, my princess.
Someday.”

I am Princess Gie Gie.
My kingdom?
The African sky. The dusty earth.

And, someday,
the flowing cool, crystal-clear water.
Someday …

After that final page of the story, there is a spread with a note from the creators and photographs of children in Africa getting water. They explain that nearly one billion people around the world don’t have access to clean water.

This crisis is what motivated African model Georgie Badiel to work to make a difference and get clean water to those in need. As a young girl in Burkina Faso, Georgie spent her summers living with her grandmother. Every morning, Georgie and the other girls and women of the village walked for miles to fill pots with water and return it home to be used for the basics – drinking, bathing, cooking – only to wake up the next morning and make the journey again.

Georgie Badiel is now working with Ryan’s Well to bring clean water to people of Burkina Faso and beyond.

This book has a wonderful message – but they communicate that message by means of a lovely story. They manage to show a joyful, playful child who happens to face a difficult task every morning.

ryanswell.ca
georgiebadielfoundation.org
susanverde.com
peterhreynolds.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 Still Life with Tornado, by A. S. King

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Still Life with Tornado

by A. S. King

Dutton Books, 2016. 295 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Cybils Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Teen Fiction

Wow. This book is original.

And that’s saying something. Here’s how the book begins:

Nothing ever really happens.

Or, more accurately, nothing new ever really happens.

My art teacher, Miss Smith, once said that there is no such thing as an original idea. We all think we’re having original ideas, but we aren’t. “You’re stuck on repeat. I’m stuck on repeat. We’re all stuck on repeat.” That’s what she said. Then she flipped her hair back over her shoulder like what she said didn’t mean anything and told us to spend the rest of class sorting through all the old broken shit she gets people to donate so we can make art. She held up half of a vinyl record. “Every single thing we think is original is like this. Just pieces of something else.”

Two weeks ago Carmen said she had an original idea, and then she drew a tornado, but tornadoes aren’t original. Tornadoes are so old that the sky made them before we were even here. Carmen said that the sketch was not of a tornado, but everything it contained. All I saw was flying, churning dust. She said there was a car in there. She said a family pet was in there. A wagon wheel. Broken pieces of a house. A quart of milk. Photo albums. A box of stale corn flakes.

All I could see was the funnel and that’s all anyone else could see and Carmen said that we weren’t looking hard enough. She said art wasn’t supposed to be literal. But that doesn’t erase the fact that the drawing was of a tornado and that’s it.

Sarah is having an existential crisis. She stops going to school. Her parents don’t know what to do, and they don’t know where she goes.

Sarah goes different places and tries different things. Nothing seems original. And she suddenly can’t do art.

In chapter two, she’s planning to go to City Hall and change her name to “Umbrella.” But this happens:

A woman walks up and sits down next to me in the bus shelter. She says hello and I say hello and that’s not original at all. When I look at her, I see that she is me. I am sitting next to myself. Except she looks older than me, and she has this look on her face like she just got a puppy — part in-love and part tired-from-paper-training. More in-love, though. She says, “You were right about the blind hand drawings. Who hasn’t done that, right?”

I don’t usually have hallucinations.

I say, “Are you a hallucination?”

She says no.

I say, “Are you — me?”

“Yes. I’m you,” she says. “In seven years.”

“I’m twenty-three?” I ask.

“I’m twenty-three. You’re just sixteen.”

“Why do you look so happy?”

“I stopped caring about things being original.”

Sarah later meets 10-year-old Sarah and 40-year-old Sarah as well. They keep popping up at odd times. When 10-year-old Sarah comes to the house, Sarah’s Dad doesn’t even recognize her, but Sarah’s Mom does.

They help Sarah — and the reader — piece together what happened to her and what that means. And what sort of tornado has taken over her life.

A lot hinges on that trip to Mexico that is still fresh in the mind of 10-year-old Sarah. That was the last Sarah saw her older brother Bruce.

16-year-old Sarah is piecing together and remembering what happened in Mexico, but also piecing together something that happened at school, at the art show, and what it means.

We also get a peek into the mind of Sarah’s mother, an E. R. nurse who doesn’t love her husband. They’re staying together for the sake of Sarah. And the effect is that Sarah is growing up surrounded by lies.

I haven’t been able to convey the power of this book. It’s a straight contemporary novel — except that 16-year-old Sarah converses with her 10-year-old, 23-year-old, and 40-year-old selves — and other people interact with them, too, so they are indeed not hallucinations.

This is a powerful story about what happens when a metaphorical tornado goes through a seemingly still life — that was really swimming in lies.

(Tip: If you believe a woman should stay in an abusive marriage for the sake of the kids, this book will not support your views.)

as-king.com
PenguinTeen.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 A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman

A Story About Knitting and Love

by Michelle Edwards
illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Picture Books
2017 Sydney Taylor Book Award Silver Medalist

Oh, here is a picture book for knitters to love!

Unlike many stories about knitting, it acknowledges that knitting is difficult and takes a long time. And this ends up being a beautiful story about showing love by knitting.

Mrs. Goldman knits hats for the whole neighborhood, including Sophia.

“Keeping keppies warm is our mitzvah,” says Mrs. Goldman, kissing the top of Sophia’s head. “This is your keppie, and a mitzvah is a good deed.

Sophia goes with Mrs. Goldman when she walks her dog Fifi, and Sophia notices that Mrs. Goldman doesn’t have a hat any more. She gave it to Mrs. Chen.

Sophia gets an idea.

Last year, Mrs. Goldman taught Sophia how to knit.
“I only like making pom-poms,” decided Sophia after a few days.
“Knitting is hard. And it takes too long.”

Now Sophia digs out the knitting bag Mrs. Goldman gave her. And the hat they started.
The stitches are straight and even. The soft wool smells like Mrs. Goldman’s chicken soup.

Sophia holds the needles and tries to remember what to do. She drops one stitch. She drops another.

Still Sophia knits on. She wants to make Mrs. Goldman the most special hat in the world.

Sophia works hard on that hat. For a long time. Finally she finishes knitting and sews it up.

I love that the hat doesn’t look very good. In fact, it looks like a monster hat.

But Sophia’s solution is wonderful, and fits with what went before. She covers the hat with red pom-poms. When she gives it to Mrs. Goldman, she says it reminds her of Mr. Goldman’s rosebushes.

And now her keppie is toasty warm. And that’s a mitzvah.

The book finishes up with instructions for knitting a simple hat and for making pom-poms.

(Hmmm. Now as I post this, I think it’s pretty much a Pussy hat. But you can cover it with pom-poms if you like. Or not.)

This is a beautiful story, as it says, about knitting and love.

michelledwards.com
gbriankaras.com
randomhousekids.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/hat_for_mrs_goldman.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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 Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, by John David Anderson

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day

by John David Anderson

Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2016. 300 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Children’s Fiction

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is both a middle grade boys’ caper novel and a heart-warming tearjerker. How did John David Anderson manage to pull that off?

We’ve got three viewpoint characters, best friends Topher, Steve, and Brand, sixth grade students in Ms. Bixby’s class. One day, Ms. Bixby tells them she’s got to take a leave of absence a month before school’s out. She has cancer. They’re planning a class party for her last Friday, next week.

Topher has a taxonomy of teachers.

There are six kinds of teachers in the world. I know because we classified them once during indoor recess. First you have your Zombies: those are the ones who have been doing it for a few centuries, since Roosevelt was president — the first Roosevelt, with the broomy mustache from those museum movies….

Then there are the Caff-Adds. Brand calls them Zuzzers. You can spot them by their jittery hands and bloodshot eyes and the insulated NPR travel mugs they carry around with them….

Then you have your Dungeon Masters. The red-pass-wielding ogres who wish paddling was still allowed in schools. The kind who insist on no talking, whether it’s reading time, work time, sharing time, lunchtime, after school, before school, the weekend, whatever. You are supposed to just sit still and shut up….

Then you’ve got your Spielbergs. They’re not nearly as cool as Steven Spielberg. We just call them that because they show movies all the time….

My personal favorites are the Noobs. The overachievers. Fresh picked from the teacher farm. With their bright eyes and their colorful posters recently purchased from a catalog and the way they clap like circus seals when you get the right answer. They don’t stay Noobs for long. They get burned out pretty quick. A year. Maybe two. I don’t think it’s the students’ fault, though. I blame the system.

The last kind we simply call the Good Ones. The ones who make the torture otherwise known as school somewhat bearable. You know when you have one of the Good Ones because you find yourself actually paying attention in class, even if it’s not art class. They’re the teachers you actually want to go back and say hi to the next year. The ones you don’t want to disappoint.

Like Ms. B.

But then on Monday, it turns out that Ms. Bixby is already out, with a substitute in her place. Brand, Steve, and Topher make a plan to go visit her on Saturday. But then they overhear some teachers saying that Ms. Bixby is getting moved to Boston on Saturday. They are going to have to skip school to visit her on Friday.

They devise a plan to sneak off the school grounds, ride buses, pick up the specific items they need, and make it to the hospital. Everything that can possibly go wrong with their plan does go wrong. That’s the middle school boys’ caper part of the book. Sadly, I found myself laughing quite hard at their bad luck and, in a few cases, poor judgment. Though how they deal with each setback approaches brilliance in places.

As they narrate their journey, each boy also gives the readers memories of Ms. Bixby. We find out how she noticed them and saw them for who they are. We learn why they chose these specific items they need to bring to her. We also learn each boy’s back story and how they really needed someone like her in their lives.

This book made me think of my first college roommate, Colleen Jenks. Colleen was teaching high school English before she died of brain cancer. Truly, teachers get to touch lives in ways that will never be forgotten.

This book is, as Brand would say, frawesome (freaking awesome)!

johndavidanderson.org
harpercollinschildrens.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/ms_bixbys_last_day.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?