Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of Pride, by Ibi Zoboi

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

Pride

by Ibi Zoboi

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2018. 289 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 15, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 General Teen Fiction

This is a Pride and Prejudice “Remix,” set in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. I have lost count of how many Pride and Prejudice tributes I have read (Actually, that’s not quite true, since you can find links to all the ones I’ve reviewed on the page when I post this.) – and honestly, I’ve loved them all. This is no exception.

Zuri Benitez and her four sisters watch as a new family moves into the house across the street. It used to be run-down, but they’ve been renovating it for a year, and now it’s a mini-mansion. Ainsley and Darius Darcy are fine – but who are they to come strutting into the neighborhood thinking they’ll help it out? You guessed it – older sister Janae and Ainsley hit it off right away, but there are fireworks first between Zuri and Darius.

I got to thinking about Pride and Prejudice. It might seem obvious, because it’s right there in the title, but isn’t it all about respect? When someone smart, good-looking, and yes, rich, moves into town – who is he to think he’s better than the rest of us? The Elizabeth Bennets of the world – highly intelligent themselves and with a loving, close-knit family – deserve respect, too.

But maybe they’re a bit quick to believe they’re not getting it from the Mr. Darcys of the world.

The Pride and Prejudice story is universal because it’s about earning respect – and discovering that good-looking, rich man who has the world’s respect might actually be kind and sensitive and doing good things that go beyond the externals – he might actually deserve Elizabeth Bennet’s respect, too.

It’s also about culture clash. The guy who has made it in the predominant culture moving in near the metaphorical peasantry – and needing to learn to appreciate that their lives, too, have rich community around them.

Pride tells that universal story in a new setting, with a great big helping of delight. Zuri is an Elizabeth Bennet with attitude. She’s a poet, and I’m guessing she’s going to make it into Howard. Here’s a window into her process of discovering that Darius Darcy is more than externals, too.

ibizoboi.net
epicreads.com

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Review of The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett

HarperCollins, 2019. 337 pages.
Review written March 29, 2020, from an advance reader copy signed by the author
Starred Review

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book at the Public Library Association Member Welcome Breakfast at which I received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award. Ann Patchett spoke at the breakfast, and she did talk about the book. She said it was the book about one of her deepest fears – becoming a horrible stepmother. After her talk, she signed the advance reader copy to me, including “Congratulations!”

It took me almost a year to actually get around to reading the book. Not because I didn’t want to! Ann Patchett’s writing is amazing! Mainly it was because I owned a copy, so it wasn’t a library book and didn’t have a due date. I was trying to read all of L. M. Montgomery’s books last year, too.

But when I did read it – as always I was amazed by Ann Patchett’s writing ability. Yes, there is a terrible stepmother in this book. A lot of the book focuses on the Dutch House – a mansion on the outskirts of Philadelphia where the narrator and his sister grew up. Their father had bought it, with all its contents, after the VanHoebeeks had all died and it was sold off.

The VanHoebeeks weren’t the story, but in a sense the house was the story, and it was their house. They had made their fortune in the wholesale distribution of cigarettes, a lucky business Mr. VanHoebeek had entered into just before the start of the First World War. Cigarettes were given to soldiers in the field for purposes of morale, and the habit followed them home to celebrate a decade of prosperity. The VanHoebeeks, richer by the hour, commissioned a house to be built on what was then farmland outside of Philadelphia.

The stunning success of the house could be attributed to the architect, though by the time I thought to go looking I could find no other extant examples of his work. It could be that one or both of those dour VanHoebeeks had been some sort of aesthetic visionary, or that the property inspired a marvel beyond what any of them had imagined, or that America after the First World War was teeming with craftsmen who worked to standards long since abandoned. Whatever the explanation, the house they wound up with – the house we later wound up with – was a singular confluence of talent and luck. I can’t explain how a house that was three stories high could seem like just the right amount of space, but it did. Or maybe it would be better to say that it was too much of a house for anyone, an immense and ridiculous waste, but that we never wanted it to be different. The Dutch House, as it came to be known in Elkins Park and Jenkintown and Glenside and all the way to Philadelphia, referred not to the house’s architecture but to its inhabitants. The Dutch House was the place where those Dutch people with the unpronounceable name lived. Seen from certain vantage points of distance, it appeared to float several inches above the hill it sat on. The panes of glass that surrounded the glass front doors were as big as storefront windows and held in place by wrought-iron vines. The windows both took in the sun and reflected it back across the wide lawn. Maybe it was neoclassical, though with a simplicity in the lines that came closer to Mediterranean or French, and while it was not Dutch, the blue delft mantels in the drawing room, library, and master bedroom were said to have been pried out of a castle in Utrecht and sold to the VanHoebeeks to pay a prince’s gambling debts. The house, complete with mantels, had been finished in 1922.

This book is the story of the life of Danny Conroy – but perhaps more ends up being the story of the life of his older sister Maeve. And even though they get thrown out of the Dutch House by their stepmother after the death of their father, the Dutch House pervades their lives.

This is a story about a family, and a story about complicated relationships. This is no typical family at all, but somehow the emotions and relationships ring true. The people seem all the more real because, not in spite of, the fact that people with this particular life story surely never existed.

This is a book for people who like character-driven novels. There’s not a lot of dramatic action, and the story covers decades – but we get to know who these people are. There’s a mother who left her family to serve the poor, a father absorbed with work, a stepmother obsessed with getting the house, a little brother who does what he’s told, a big sister who misses her mother and hates her stepmother, and a dutiful wife who doesn’t realize what she’s getting into. Through all of it, the Dutch House represents all that Danny and Maeve lost.

In her talk, Ann Patchett said that when she told Kate DiCamillo what the book was about, Kate gave her the ending. I highly approve, for I especially loved the ending.

I finished the book happy for the time I’d spent with these people.

annpatchett.com
harpercollins.com

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Review of Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

Thank You, Omu!

by Oge Mora

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 3, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Picture Books – Silly Fun
2019 Caldecott Honor Book

Here’s a contemporary story with a folk tale feel about a friendly elderly lady who makes a delicious big fat pot of thick red stew and shares with everyone who asks. A note at the front tells us that “Omu” is the Igbo term for “queen.”

As the thick red stew simmered on the stove, its scrumptious scent wafted out the window and out the door, down the hall, toward the street, and around the block, until –

KNOCK!

Someone was at the door.

Here’s the first encounter, with a little boy:

“Little boy!” Omu exclaimed. “What brings you to my home?”

“I was playing with my race car down the hall when I smelled the most delicious smell,” the little boy replied. “What is it?”

“Thick red stew.”

“MMMMM, STEW!” He sighed. “That sure sounds yummy.”

Omu thought for a moment. She was saving her stew for dinner, but she had made quite a bit. It would not hurt to share. “Would you like some?”

The little boy nodded.

And so Omu spooned out some thick red stew from the big fat pot for her nice evening meal.

“THANK YOU, OMU!” the little boy said, and went on his way.

A progression of people show up at Omu’s door, smelling the delicious stew. She gives to all – and then when she’s ready for her delicious dinner, there is nothing left!

But that is not the end of the story. Everyone who received from Omu that day comes back in the evening with something in return – and there’s a happy celebration.

I’m going to try to use this one in storytime and get the kids to call out “Thank you, Omu!” every time a character says that. This is a happy story about the joy of sharing.

ogemora.com
lbyr.com

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Review of My Father’s Words, by Patricia MacLachlan

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

My Father’s Words

by Patricia MacLachlan

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 135 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 29, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

My Father’s Words is a stunningly beautiful book.

It’s a beginning chapter book about the death of a father. But it’s beautiful.

Fiona and Finn’s father Declan was a psychologist, gentle and wise. The book begins with him making omelets for his kids, and on page 7 he’s killed in a car accident.

The book is about dealing with his death.

Their mother and their friends gather round. Even one of their father’s patients helps Fiona. But the biggest help, especially for Finn, is when they go to an animal shelter and spend time with the rescue dogs.

Their father’s will said not to have a funeral, but to have a party.

The party for my father was somehow both joyful and sad, with laughter and tears all mixed up. Finn and I were confused at that. My grandparents were ill and far away and couldn’t come. My mother spoke to them every day on the phone. But cousins and aunts and uncles came. And friends.

The book is full of memories. Those are set apart in a different font. And from their father’s patients, we learn many wise things that their father said. And those wise things help them heal as well as show love and receive love from the rescue dogs.

It’s hard to explain how beautiful this little book is. But I was thoroughly blessed and uplifted by reading it.

It’s hard to recommend to young readers a book about a father dying. But this lovely book is about healing, and I think kids will respond to it. After all, they know more about sadness than we realize – so why not read about dealing with sadness?

Note: I ended up posting this review exactly six months after my own father died. When I read it, I had no idea it would so soon be so applicable. Yes, it’s good to read about dealing with deep sadness and appreciating those you’ve loved who are no longer here.

harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

First Second, 2019. 300 pages.
Review written February 11, 2020, from a library book
2020 Michael L. Printz Honor

This graphic novel won a Printz Honor, which doesn’t happen often for graphic novels, so I had to take a look. Unlike the Newbery, the Printz considers the art as well as the text, and a quick glance through the pages already told me this graphic novel is creative and innovative, using panel layouts and angles of view in interesting ways.

The story is about Freddy, writing to an online advice columnist after Laura Dean has broken up with her for the third time. The third time is extra bad when she finds Laura Dean making out with someone else at a Valentine’s Day party. But before long Laura Dean is back, and Freddy takes her back.

Meanwhile, things are going on in the lives of her other friends, but Freddy keeps thinking about Laura Dean.

This book is a quick read, but there are a lot of insights to be gained from watching other people mess up – and realize they’re messing up.

I like the point the advice columnist makes that breaking up and being in love have a lot in common, so questions about breaking up are also questions about the nature of the love between you.

And I like this line from her advice: “It’s true that giving can be a part of love. But, contrary to popular belief, love should never take from you, Freddy.”

Thinking about these questions in someone else’s love story can certainly help you think about them in your own.

hirosemary.com
firstsecondbooks.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 Nowhere Boy, by Katherine Marsh

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Nowhere Boy

by Katherine Marsh

Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 362 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 18, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Wow. This timely book shines a light on acting with compassion and asks when is it right to break rules for the sake of those in need.

The book opens in 2015 with Ahmed a refugee from Syria on an overcrowded dinghy in the Aegean Sea. His father is the only member of his family left alive, and when the boat is in danger of sinking, his father is the first one to jump into the water to pull the boat and keep it moving. This works for a long time until the wind picks up and the rope breaks and his father is lost.

The next chapter shows us Max Howard, whose family has moved to Brussels, Belgium, for his father to work at NATO Headquarters. Max has just learned that his parents are sending him to the local Belgian school to repeat sixth grade and focus on learning French. He is not happy about this decision, made without consulting him. His older sister is going to an American high school, but Max has to go to the school right around the corner.

The new school doesn’t go well. He doesn’t understand a lot of things, including writing with a fountain pen and spelling tests in French.

But the two stories collide after Ahmed, who has come to a refugee encampment in the middle of Brussels, tries to get a ride with a smuggler to Calais, but ends up needing to jump out of the van – without his phone or any money. He ends up hiding in the wine cellar in the back of the basement in Max’s family’s home. One thing leads to another… and he stays.

When Max eventually finds Ahmed, again one thing leads to another, and they develop a scheme to enroll Ahmed at the same school Max attends. I like the way that helping Ahmed means Max has to deal with the bully who’s been bothering him.

I love the way Max was inspired by Albert Jonnart, the man his street was named after – who lived there during World War II and ended up dying because he hid a Jewish boy. But the boy got away, fleeing across the rooftops. Now Max is hiding just one person himself.

The book is based on the author’s own experience living in Brussels on the same street as Max. The setting portrays the fear and mistrust of Muslim refugees and the terror attacks that happened in Paris and Brussels at that time. In that context, it’s all the harder to protect Ahmed, but Max and his new friends from school learn to see him as the kind person he is.

I love the message of this book and the gripping story. As unlikely as it sounds on the surface, the author made me believe this could have actually happened. I’m sure that the many details from her own and her children’s time in Brussels help give it the ring of truth. The fact that I have lived in Europe myself made it all sound very familiar. I also enjoy the way the book challenges your thinking and makes you ask what you would be willing to do in order to show kindness, even to just one person.

katherinemarsh.com
mackids.com

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Review of Stargazing, by Jen Wang

Sunday, March 8th, 2020

Stargazing

by Jen Wang
color by Lark Pien

First Second, 2019. 218 pages.
Review written January 11, 2020, from a library book
2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature Winner

Stargazing is a graphic novel about middle school friendship. As the book opens, we see Christine in her Chinese American family, performing in a concert, taking part in a big church activity. Her parents are told about a mother-and-daughter family that needs some financial help, and Christine’s parents decide to clean out her grandfather’s apartment behind their house and let this needy family live there.

The daughter of the family is Christine’s age. She’s also Chinese American, but very different from Christine. Her name is Moon, and she’s Buddhist, and doesn’t seem to follow as many rules as Christine does. Moon likes to make art and says she gets visions of celestial beings, that she doesn’t really belong on earth.

Christine and Moon become friends, but as Moon becomes more popular than Christine, some jealous feelings start creeping in.

This is a story of friendship and being yourself, as well as looking at what can happen when you let down your friend. And it’s all in a bright and colorful graphic novel format. The drawings of the kids dancing to K-Pop are especially fun.

jenwang.net
Firstsecondbooks.com

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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 Other Half of Happy, by Rebecca Balcárcel

Friday, March 6th, 2020

The Other Half of Happy

by Rebecca Balcárcel

Chronicle Books, 2019. 317 pages.
Review written January 9, 2020, from a library book
2020 Pura Belpré Author Honor

Quijana has a Guatemalan father and an American mother. Her parents never taught her Spanish because they said English was more important. But now Quijana is starting seventh grade and going to a new school without her sixth grade best friends. People think because of her name that she should speak Spanish. Then her Guatemalan cousins move to town, and Quijana feels even less like she belongs.

Meanwhile, her little brother isn’t talking like other kids his age, and her American grandmother is sick. Her father has started wanting her to embrace her Guatemalan heritage, but she feels like he’s taking over. And now the family is planning to take a trip to Guatemala, so Quijana will have to face two weeks where she doesn’t understand what anyone’s saying.

Meanwhile, at school Quijana does make some new friends, and she hopes one of those friends will end up being something special. Her friends might even help her figure out a way to escape the family trip to Guatemala.

The author navigates all these different issues, carrying us with Quijana as she figures out who she is and where she belongs and how she can make music that is all her own.

I especially like the list of Quijana’s grandmother’s sayings at the back of the book. Quijana has some good people in her life to help her get through the many confusing aspects of seventh grade.

chroniclekids.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 Frankly in Love, by David Yoon

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Frankly in Love

by David Yoon
read by Raymond J. Lee

Listening Library, 2019. 10 hours on 8 compact discs
Review written December 30, 2019, from a library audiobook
2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature Honor
2020 William C. Morris Award Finalist

2020 Capitol Choices Selection

Frank Li is a senior in high school whose parents came to America from Korea before he was born. His parents want him to marry a nice Korean girl, and they have someone in mind. They’ve stopped talking to Frank’s older sister because she married an African American man. Frank’s best friend Q is African American, and they don’t mind that, but they want their children to marry someone Korean.

This audiobook explores the expectations and assumptions Frank and his friends have to endure. I like the way Frank, who’s telling the story, describes white folks as “European Americans” – because that seems only fair.

Frank has grown up going to “Gatherings” – where his parents and other friends who came to America from Korea get together with their families. The kids call themselves the “Limbos” – because they’re not quite seen as American and not quite seen as Korean.

When Frank falls in love with a European American girl, he works out a fake dating arrangement with Joy Song, one of the Limbos who his parents are pushing him to spend time with. Joy has had a Chinese American boyfriend for years, but hasn’t told her parents. If she and Frank pretend to go on dates with each other, they have a cover for spending time with their own beloved.

The scheme seems simple, but neither one can quite bring themselves to tell their real date. And things rapidly get more complex.

This is a fun story with lots of poignant moments. This book makes you think about relationships, and not only romantic ones, but also relationships with friends and family.

DavidYoon.com
ListeningLibrary.com

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Review of Genesis Begins Again, by Alicia D. Williams

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Genesis Begins Again

by Alicia D. Williams

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum), 2019. 364 pages.
2020 Newbery Honor
2020 John Steptoe New Talent Author Award
2020 William C. Morris Award Finalist
Review written February 1, 2020, from a library book

This book begins as thirteen-year-old Genesis Anderson walks home with the popular girls – to see all her family’s possessions on the front lawn. They’ve been evicted from their apartment again.

But after dealing with that, her father takes them to a fancy new home in the suburbs. Genesis starts at a new school, and she wants things to go well there. She starts singing in the choir and even thinks about auditioning for the talent show. And has she finally made some real friends?

But her father isn’t exactly being honest about things. Her mother’s thinking about leaving, and Genesis isn’t ready to leave again. Time with Grandma confirms that everyone’s disappointed that Genesis ended up with dark skin like her father and not light skin like her mother. Genesis is willing to do anything to make her skin lighter. Then she’ll be beautiful and maybe her father can love her.

I’m going to be watching this author, because even in this debut novel she pulls us into Genesis’ world and all the different pressures surrounding her. It doesn’t all wrap up in a tidy bow, but Genesis is starting to learn to love herself, and the book ends with the reader reasonably hopeful that Genesis is going to deal with whatever the future holds.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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