Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Further Chronicles of Avonlea, by L. M. Montgomery

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Further Chronicles of Avonlea

by L. M. Montgomery

Seal Books, 1987. First published in 1920. 199 pages.
Review written September 17, 2019, from my own copy.

I feel guilty reading this book, because I know full well that it was published against the author’s wishes and without her getting any of the profits. She, in fact, sued her publisher to desist publication, and won that case. It’s kind of too bad to go against her wishes after her death.

And yet… stories by L. M. Montgomery!

Now, I was enjoying them thoroughly, marveling in her quirky, humorous characters and the wide variety of situations – until I got to the last two.

What happened when this book was published was that L. M. Montgomery had already split with the publisher of Anne of Green Gables, L. C. Page. So that publisher pulled out stories she had submitted for possible publication in the first volume — Chronicles of Avonlea — but that they had decided not to use.

In her lawsuit, Maud Montgomery claimed that the book damaged her reputation, because she had used some of the plots here in other places.

Well, I disagreed about it damaging her reputation – until I got to the last two stories. The next-to-the-last story uses the same plot as one of the subplots used in Anne’s House of Dreams. There may be other stories repeated, but I couldn’t pinpoint where. I was enjoying them greatly.

But the last story – the last story is completely, horribly, blatantly racist toward Indians and “half-breeds.” Just horribly so. It’s assumed that they are inferior and shouldn’t dare to aspire to fall in love with someone with a “good pedigree.” And things are said about their “natures” – which are simply despicable. It’s even worse than the racism in Kilmeny of the Orchard.

Now, she was a product of her time, and everyone around her thought that way – but that story, “Tannis of the Flats” – is still horrible. And yes, reading it damages her reputation for me – though I doubt that’s the story she was thinking of.

I would have been better off if I’d bowed to the author’s wishes and refused to read this book.

But I was enjoying some gems before I got to that point! L. M. Montgomery got her start writing stories, and she mastered the form. So let me just give my readers fair warning – you might want to stop before you get to the end.

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Source: This review is based on my own copy.

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 Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

Monday, September 16th, 2019

The Cruel Prince

by Holly Black

Little, Brown and Company, January 2018. 370 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in January 2018 from a library book.

Wow. Before reading this book, I’d read two children’s books with very clunky writing. Then I picked up The Cruel Prince at the library – the first published 2018 book I’ve read (instead of an advance reader copy) – and I was entranced, enthralled and pulled into the world.

I’m writing this review in 2018, before I’ve talked with anyone else about the book – so these opinions are entirely my own. I’m also not sure how much Newbery consideration I should give to a book so clearly written for young adults. The Newbery criteria say we’re looking at excellence in presentation for a child audience, and I’d say this book isn’t written for a child audience. But on the other hand, it then defines a “child” as someone between the ages of 0 and 14, and there are certainly 14-year-olds who will enjoy this book. Anyway, that’s something I’m going to ask about when our committee meets in February. Once I’ve gotten some more advice, I won’t discuss it in reviews.

Newbery consideration aside, one of the things that makes this book so wonderful to read is how completely Holly Black immerses the reader into the world of faerie. It’s a dark, dangerous, and scary world, but we feel like we understand what it’s like for Jude to live there.

The book opens with a Prologue – in which seven-year-old Jude sees both her parents killed by a tall man who comes to their door.

The man, Madoc, is a faerie. He tells her big sister Vivienne that he is her father. She was stolen from him, and he has come to take her to her true home, in Elfhame beneath the hill. He takes Jude and her twin sister Taryn as well. They are the children of his wife, so he takes responsibility for them. They are brought up in luxury – in Faerie.

Ten years later, Jude reflects:

The servants are overfond of telling me how fortunate I am, a bastard daughter of a faithless wife, a human without a drop of faerie blood, to be treated like a trueborn child of Faerie. They tell Taryn much the same thing.

I know it’s an honor to be raised alongside the Gentry’s own children. A terrifying honor, of which I will never be worthy.

It would be hard to forget it, with all the reminders I am given.

“Yes,” I say instead, because she is trying to be kind. “It’s great.”

Faeries can’t lie, so they tend to concentrate on words and ignore tone, especially if they haven’t lived among humans. Tatterfell gives me an approving nod, her eyes like two wet beads of jet, neither pupil nor iris visible. “Perhaps someone will ask for your hand and you’ll be made a permanent member of the High Court.”

“I want to win my place,” I tell her.

Jude wants to compete in the upcoming tournament and be chosen to be a knight. But the rivals in the tournament, faeries her own age, despise her for being mortal. And Madoc has other plans, forbidding her to become a knight.

But then she gets an offer to be a spy for one of the princes of Elfhame.

The High King has chosen to retire soon, and he has chosen Prince Dain to be his successor. But there are intrigues and plots unfolding around the succession, and Jude gets caught in the middle of it.

That’s the beginning – and my summary doesn’t do the intricacies of the plot justice.

This is the story of a teen girl coming of age and trying to make her way in a world where she is utterly foreign, seen as a different species. There’s lots of danger and lots of on-stage death – but the look at the world of faerie – which Jude is accustomed to – is fascinating and exotic and intriguing. As the story develops, Jude must not only find a place and gain some power, but she also needs to stay alive.

This is the first of a series, and the book ends at a frustrating point – but at a place where readers will be eager to read on as soon as they get the chance.

The romance seems clichéd. I’m sure she’s going to end up with the person she hates most at the start of the book – for no good reason except that they hate each other at the start. But the author succeeds in making him very interesting by the end of the book – so I can at least understand that Jude would be interested as well.

This book has an elaborately portrayed world. It has an intricate plot, with twists and surprises and dangers. The characters are complex. The theme of coming of age – even if you have to kill and lie to gain power – is the part that doesn’t seem suitable for a child audience. But teens are going to love it.

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LBYR.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 Stars We Steal, by Alexa Donne

Friday, September 6th, 2019

The Stars We Steal

by Alexa Donne

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 2020. 389 pages.
Review written July 12, 2019, from an advance reader copy picked up at ALA Annual Conference

The Stars We Steal is a science fiction retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Because I love Persuasion so much, and because I love Diana Peterfreund’s science fiction retelling of it, For Darkness Shows the Stars, and because I loved Alexa Donne’s science fiction retelling of Jane Eyre, Brightly Burning, I picked this one up eagerly after I got the advance reader copy at ALA Annual Conference.

I’m afraid I was a little disappointed. It’s still a fun romance, with an interesting science fiction setting, but it’s not a terribly faithful retelling and doesn’t have the poignancy of the original.

Right off the bat, the difference in the age of the heroines made me less sympathetic. Anne Elliot in Persuasion, was nineteen years old when she was in love with Frederick Wentworth and was persuaded to reject him. The story takes place seven years later. She is twenty-six years old and has no prospects for marriage. In The Stars We Steal, Princess Leo Kolburg is nineteen years old. She was briefly engaged to Elliot Wentworth when she was sixteen, but her father and aunt opposed the engagement. I probably shouldn’t be less sympathetic to younger love, but Leo seems to have much more chance for finding someone new than Anne Elliot did.

Anyway, that aside, Leo is a princess living in a society centered in space – humans have taken to space while waiting for earth to warm up from a human-induced ice age. She’s a princess, and lives with her father and sister – but they are running out of money, so Leo has rented out their ship while they stay with their aunt on the Scandinavian and participate in the big once-every-five-years match event where all the eligible young royals and nobility get together to find matches.

Now, Leo needs to find a match with money to save her family’s ship. But she would rather get the money with her water filtration invention. Meanwhile, Elliot is now wealthy, captaining a ship of his own, and ready to find a match. He doesn’t seem to mind Leo becoming fully aware of what she lost.

I want to mention, without giving anything away, that this book has the first mention I’ve seen in a YA novel of an asexual character. It’s a nice answer to a marriage of convenience.

The plot itself is somewhat convoluted. I didn’t really believe some of the interactions and motivations.

However, that said, I did thoroughly enjoy reading this book. It may not be my new favorite, but it was a whole lot of fun, and I hope Alexa Donne has more retellings in store for readers in the future, with more insight into this future society in the stars where the glittering wealthy try to forget about those who are struggling for space and food and teens figure out their response to that.

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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.

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 Brightly Burning, by Alexa Donne

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

Brightly Burning

by Alexa Donne

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 394 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Teen Speculative Fiction

This book is a science fiction retelling of Jane Eyre, and is tremendously good. It reminded me of For Darkness Shows the Stars, a science fiction retelling of Persuasion, which I also loved.

However, the last time I reread Jane Eyre I was disappointed that now I can see a whole lot of things wrong with the relationship, so reading this book, I was somewhat upset with myself for finding it very romantic.

Now, they did clean up some of the more unsavory details. The ward of Captain Fairfax, in this book, is not his illegitimate daughter from a youthful indiscretion, and he doesn’t actually have an insane wife shut up in the attic. Nor is he many years older than our heroine.

However, he is Stella’s employer. She’s in a subordinate relationship to him, and he orders her to spend some time with him each evening, enjoying his library of actual paper books. And, similar to Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre, he tries to make her jealous, and succeeds abominably. He brings a woman to their spaceship along with her family, and Stella learns that the families have long planned to one day combine resources with a marriage. To make matters worse, Captain Fairfax (of the ship Rochester) requires Stella to be present when the groups socialize in the evenings – just as Mr. Rochester did to Jane Eyre.

The end of the book does have things play out somewhat differently than what happens in Jane Eyre – though the gist is quite similar.

Once again, I don’t really see why I want our heroine to end up with this guy. And yet I do find the story romantic.

Maybe it rings too true when I remember the pain of unrequited love as a teenager having crushes? Only in our book, it turns out the love is not unrequited.

Or maybe it’s seeing someone who thinks herself small and insignificant being noticed for her shining character? In this book, Stella won’t let things progress between them until Captain Fairfax acknowledges her as an equal. (I’m glad that point was made, but it doesn’t quite make up for the disparity in power between them.) The truth is that in this book, Stella is the only one who seems willing to stand up for what’s right. So I’m not sure she should have fallen for him. But it is lovely that he found her, despite the fact that she wasn’t seeking his attention.

All that aside, as a science fiction retelling, this is cleverly executed with much obvious love for the original. The story is wonderful.

Parents, you might want to read both Jane Eyre and this book before you hand them to your teenage daughter – but I promise you’ll have a whole lot of fun if you do that. As well as having lots to discuss.

alexadonne.com
hmhco.com

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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.

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 With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

With the Fire on High

by Elizabeth Acevedo
read by the author

HarperAudio, 2019. 7.5 hours on 6 discs.
Starred Review

Elizabeth Acevedo is the author of The Poet X, which won the 2019 Printz Award, Pura Belpré Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and National Book Award. This new book (also a stand-alone) is every bit as fiery and wonderful.

Emoni Santiago is a senior in high school with a two-year-old daughter to look after. Ever since she got pregnant her freshman year, her life has revolved around her Baby Girl. Emoni herself is looked after by her Abuela, since Emoni’s mother died giving birth to her and her father went back to his island, Puerto Rico. He visits every summer, but he has never stayed.

Now Emoni is a senior, and her high school is beginning a Culinary Arts elective with a real chef. Since she was very small, Emoni has loved to cook. She doesn’t necessarily follow recipes, but makes them her own. And when people eat her food, they are reminded of powerful memories. She has a magic touch.

But can Emoni handle the work of such an elective while she’s trying to work on the weekends and juggle her other classwork while taking care of Baby Girl? And the class is going to take a trip to learn about the food of southern Spain – but how can Emoni possibly pay for that? And why is the new boy in their grade paying attention to her? She doesn’t have time for boys.

Those are a few of the things Emoni has to deal with in this book that takes us through the start of her senior year through graduation. It’s refreshing to hear the story of a single teen mother who kept her baby and is trying to take good care of her and also follow her own dreams.

When I heard Elizabeth Acevedo give her acceptance speech for the Printz Award, I loved listening to the soft accent of her musical voice. Listening to her narrate this book, I got to hear more. Emoni, given a voice by Elizabeth Acevedo, is a heroine you will enjoy spending time with and whom you won’t forget any time soon.

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harperaudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook 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 Curse So Dark and Lonely, by Brigid Kemmerer

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

by Brigid Kemmerer

Bloomsbury, 2019. 484 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 29, 2019, from a library book

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” but it’s an expansive retelling, only borrowing the barest outline of the fairy tale.

The book begins with a scene in the fantasy world of Emberfall, then a scene on the streets of Washington, DC. In Emberfall, we meet Rhen, a cursed prince. The only member of his guard left is the captain, Grey. His family, servants, and all the rest of his guard are dead, killed by the beast he becomes at the end of each season. The girl who was this season’s prospect for breaking the curse has fled, as all the rest before her. A new season is beginning, in a perpetual time loop.

In DC, Harper is a lookout for her brother Jake. He’s been coerced into doing bill collection work, to make up for what their father had owed and to try to afford medicine for their mother, who is dying of cancer. Jake is taking too long, but while Harper waits, she sees a man abducting a young woman. Even though she doesn’t want to attract attention, and even though she has a limp from her cerebral palsy, she can’t just let him do this right in front of her, so she attacks him with a rusty tire iron.

But he’s surprisingly good at defending himself. When Harper thinks he’s about to attack her in return, she ends up suddenly transported into a fantasy world. She’s not kindly disposed to the prince she meets, either. And she’s worried about her mother and brother. But when she tries to escape, it doesn’t take long to figure out that something magical is happening, since the world outside the castle grounds is covered in snow.

I wasn’t too impressed with the story as it began, but became more and more so as it continued. All the characters have lots of depth. Rhen isn’t just a shallow prince who’s won over by this girl. He’s actually learned much from his initial mistake and from the horror of knowing he’s killed his family. He’s taken steps to protect his people. Too bad the enchantress continues to return to torment him. In fact, she’s decided that Harper is his last chance.

Harper, too, is a character with depth. She has cerebral palsy, but doesn’t let that stop her. She does some learning during the course of the book. For one thing, she learns that impulsive promises she makes to the people of Emberfall will have consequences. I do like the way the author has thought of repercussions of the curse that aren’t in the original fairy tale. For example, a neighboring monarch is going to want to get a piece of the kingdom whose rulers seem to have disappeared.

There are some twists thrown into the ending – twists that are not resolved at all. I wish there’d been some evidence somewhere on the book jacket that this is only Book One. But the basic story of the fairy tale is indeed resolved in a satisfying way. I do want to know what happens next, though, so I’ll be watching for the sequel.

brigidkemmerer.com
bloomsbury.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 Lovely War, by Julie Berry

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

Lovely War

by Julie Berry

read by Jayne Entwistle, Allan Corduner, Dion Graham, Fiona Hardingham, John Lee, Nathaniel Parker, and Steve West, with a historical note read by the author
original music by Benjamin Salisbury

Reviewed August 1, 2019, from a library audiobook
Listening Library, 2019. 12 hours, 57 minutes, on 11 compact discs.
Starred Review

This audiobook is an epic novel and an astonishingly wonderful production. As you can tell by all the distinguished readers (including a couple of my favorite narrators), they use different readers for different people telling the story.

This book is told by the gods. You see, in 1942 Paris, the god Hephaestus has caught his wife Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, cheating with his brother Aries, the god of war. As her defense, Aphrodite tells the gods that mortals know more about love than gods do – and she gives an example, telling the story of two mortal couples who fell in love during the Great War, Hazel and James (both British), and Colette (Belgian) and Aubrey (African American).

The couples came together because of War and because of Music – so Aries and Apollo help tell the story. But Death also comes into the story, so Hades has parts to tell as well.

The story is epic. Hazel meets James a week before he ships out to fight. She volunteers with the YMCA and goes to France, where she meets Colette. Colette has already suffered the loss of her entire family and the boy she loved at the hands of the Germans. But Hazel plays piano and Colette sings, and while playing in the YMCA relief hut, they meet Aubrey, the king of ragtime.

There’s an extended author’s note at the end, because she did a lot of research. When she spoke about how moved she was viewing the World War I memorials in Europe, I was instantly reminded of my own visit to the museum at Verdun and how it utterly shook me. But she went even more places than I did.

The officers in the story were people who actually lived and battles are portrayed that they actually fought. Aubrey encounters horrible racism overseas from Americans but not much at all from the French – matching the actual experiences of American soldiers in World War I.

The story itself is lovely and will wind itself into your heart. I also enjoyed the playful and unusual frame of a story being told by gods. I’m already going to say that I hope this audiobook wins this year’s Odyssey Award for the best children’s or young adult audiobook production. It gives an amazing listening experience.

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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 audiobook 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 Chronicles of Avonlea, by L. M. Montgomery

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Chronicles of Avonlea

by L. M. Montgomery

Grosset & Dunlap, 1970. Originally published in 1912. 306 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 6, 2019, from my own copy

In preparation for a trip to Prince Edward Island in September, I’m rereading all my L. M. Montgomery books in the order they were published. Chronicles of Avonlea is number five in this endeavor.

Maud Montgomery honed her craft by writing stories and getting them published in magazines. She did this for years before her first novel was published. This collection of stories gives wonderful examples of her brilliance. The only I quibble I have with them is that she was being pressured to write more about Anne of Green Gables – and mention of Anne Shirley is shoehorned into almost every single one of these stories. The only one where it’s organic and Anne is an important part of the plot is the first one, “The Hurrying of Ludovic.”

The most brilliant story of all in this collection is probably my favorite short story ever. I’ve done readings of this story when I was in college to entertain my friends and, yes, when I came to this story this time through, I was compelled to read the whole thing out loud.

That Most Delightful Story Ever is “The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham’s,” the story of a woman who hates men and her cat trapped in the home of a man who hates women and his dog. The woman, who is the narrator, does come off best – and both change their attitudes by the end. The process is all the fun and reading it in the narrator’s voice saying, “I am noted for that” makes it utterly delightful.

Honestly, in this read-through, I’m constantly being shocked when I realize these older characters are now younger than me! Angelina Peter MacPherson is forty-eight years old in this story. In fact, many of the main characters in these stories are deep into adulthood. I’m going to file this book in with Teen Fiction, but really these are family stories. It’s all innocent and G-rated, about life and love, but there’s a lot of focus on older folks coming to understand whom they truly love, whether in romance or the love of a child.

This is a delightful collection, written by a master storyteller at the height of her powers.

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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.

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 Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

by Meg Medina

Candlewick Press, 2013. 260 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Pura Belpré Award Winner
Review written July 5, 2019, from my own copy obtained at 2019 ALA Annual Conference

A wonderful thing happened at ALA Annual Conference – as the exhibits were closing, I was able to grab free copies of two of our Newbery winner’s backlist titles. Then, with it in my bag, I did some reading later while waiting in line, so this was the first book I read after the conference.

The story is told in the voice of Piddy (short for Piedad) Sanchez. It begins with a bang:

“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”

A kid named Vanesa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield. She’s tall like me and caramel. I’ve seen her in the lunchroom, I think. Or maybe just in the halls. It’s hard to remember.

Then, just like that, Vanesa disappears into the swell of bodies all around.

Wait, I want to tell her as she’s swallowed up. Who is Yaqui Delgado? But instead, I stand there blinking as kids jostle for the doors. The bell has rung, and I’m not sure if it’s only the warning or if I’m late for first period. Not that it matters. I’ve been at this school for five weeks, and Mr. Fink hasn’t remembered to take attendance once. A girl near his desk just sort of scans the room and marks who’s out.

It turns out that Yaqui Delgado is a bully, and Piddy is in real trouble. It starts with small things that Piddy can’t pin on her, such as a chocolate milk thrown in her direction that explodes all over Piddy’s clothes. But Yaqui becomes hyperaware and starts living her life to avoid Yaqui Delgado. Her grades suffer. But she can’t tell her mother what’s really going on.

If only they could move back to their old neighborhood. But Aunt Lily teaching her to salsa dance may have been what got her into this mess. She’d been walking with a swing in her hips. That will certainly stop, as now she’s living in fear.

You might think this couldn’t fill a whole book, but it does, and does it well. If nothing else, I learned from this that bullying isn’t simple and doesn’t have simple solutions. And yet it can be overcome.

You’re with Piddy in her fears, frustrations, and gut-wrenching decisions. And ultimately, you’re with her as she figures out how to rise above the fear.

This is a lovely book that immersed me in a world I didn’t know. I was touched by the author’s note at the back:

Years ago, when I was in school, a girl in a rabbit-fur jacket cornered me in the school yard and announced that one of our school bullies was going to beat me up. What I remember most from that time was loneliness and all the risky choices I made as I embarked on the search for a tough-girl shell that could withstand any attack. But as I struggled against the dread of being in school, I became someone else entirely. I hid every talent and interest I had in the hope of appearing fierce and untouchable to the bully and the rest of the world. It was a struggle to find my identity and inner strength – as a student, as a young woman, as a Latina. I was in a fight for my dignity.

Meg Medina brings us into this fight for dignity in this beautiful book.

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candlewick.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 Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

by Adib Khorram

Dial Books, 2018. 316 pages
Starred Review
Review written September 18, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction
2019 Morris Award Winner
2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature

Darius the Great Is Not Okay is the story of Darius Kellner, who is a Fractional Persian – half Persian in his case, from his mother. Darius works in a tea store in Portland, and when we meet him, the kids who bully him walk in and give him a new degrading nickname and vandalize his bike.

His father, a German Übermensch, thinks he should just stand up to the bullies. Darius is sure he can never please him. Though at least they still have one thing they share – nightly time together watching Star Trek, Next Generation.

There’s a Skype visit with Darius’s grandparents in Iran, and his little sister, Laleh, speaks fluently with them in Farsi, but Darius never knows what to say. When they learn that his grandfather has a brain tumor and is not doing well, the family makes plans for an extended trip to Iran.

Most of the book is about that trip to Iran. But it’s also a book about friendship. Yes, I said friendship, not romance. I was delighted to read a book about genuine friendship between high school boys. Darius meets and makes friends with Sohrab in Iran, and right away they can be honest and open with each other. There are some bumps in their friendship – which makes it all the more authentic.

This is also a book about depression. Both Darius and his father take medication for depression, and Darius cries easily. He calls it “stress hormone secretion.” Darius does a lot of obsessing over what people think of him, and I like the way that’s honestly portrayed.

It’s also a book about family. Darius is meeting his Iranian family in person for the first time, and learning about his heritage – generations of his family have lived in the town of Yazd for centuries. They celebrate holidays together with extended family during the visit, and Darius realizes he loves these people.

But none of it is simple. His friend Sohrab is bullied for being Baha’i, and Sohrab’s father is in prison. Darius’s grandfather is dying, and his personality is changing – or so Darius is told, but he mourns that he never really knew his grandfather before, except on the computer screen. Laleh fits in so much better in Iran, since she speaks Farsi. And his father even lets Laleh replace Darius watching Star Trek, Next Generation.

I love Darius’s expressions throughout the book. There are multiple references to Lord of the Rings and Star Trek. I enjoyed that I got pretty much all the references. Will teens get those? Maybe some will. He calls the bullies “Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy” and his own mood swings “Mood Slingshot Maneuvers.”

Overall, it’s a beautiful story of a young man fighting his demons, finding his place in the world, and making and being a true friend.

adibkhorram.com

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