by Kyle Lukoff
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. 188 pages.
Review written February 19, 2022, from a library book
2021 National Book Award Finalist
2021 Cybils Finalist, Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
2022 Stonewall Award Winner
2022 Newbery Honor Book
Too Bright to See is a ghost story, but I don’t have a Paranormal category in my Children’s Fiction page, so I think I’ll list it under “Contemporary” rather than under “Fantasy,” because it’s a Contemporary story that also has ghosts. This is the first Stonewall Award Winner (for LGBTQ-content books) to also receive Newbery recognition, and the first transgender author to receive Newbery recognition. When I was talking about the book to coworkers I said, sadly only half-joking, to read it before it gets banned. (The question is, how current are the book banners? Do they realize new children’s books are being published all the time?)
The story is simple and heart-warming. As it begins a kid called Bug is dealing with the recent loss of their uncle. They had lived with their mother and uncle in an old haunted house in Vermont. Bug has always been able to sense ghosts in the house — cold spots and unexplained winds and the like. But the ghosts had never paid any attention to Bug — until now.
Bug becomes convinced their uncle is trying to tell them something. But how can they figure out what? In the meantime, Bug’s best and only friend Mo wants to get ready for middle school. She asks to be called Moira and buys fancier clothes and starts practicing wearing makeup and nail polish. Bug wants no part of it, but wonders if something is wrong that they feel that way.
Knowing the author is trans, I was pretty sure where this plot was going, and I wasn’t wrong. But I did think it was handled in a nice way. And those around Bug handled it well, too, in a book about middle school approaching that was refreshingly free from bullying. This is how such a thing should go — and how nice to read such a book.
But all you need to tell kids is that this book is about “a kid being haunted by the ghost of their dead uncle into figuring out something important.” That’s how the author summarizes the plot. I’m not a big ghost story fan, but this book will work for kids who like very gentle hauntings. And of course any book about middle school approaching is going to deal with friendships and family and adjustments and about figuring out who you really are in the context of all that. This book does not disappoint.
Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/too_bright_to_see.html
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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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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