Review of Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper’s Daughter

by Angeline Boulley
read by Isabella Star LaBlanc

Macmillan Audio, 2021. 14 hours.
Review written September 21, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Firekeeper’s Daughter is an amazingly good mystery/thriller for teens by an indigenous author. From the cover image, I mistakenly expected a fantasy, but got a lovely contemporary novel focusing on Daunis Fontaine, the daughter of a Native American Firekeeper and a non-Native woman. Only her mother is still alive, but Daunis has embraced Native American spirituality and the traditions of her people.

Since I listened to the audio version, I don’t trust myself with spelling the Native American terms freely used through this book in a natural way, but the narrator helped make their use seamless. As the book begins, Daunis has graduated from high school, but has not left for college because she doesn’t want to leave her grandmother, who recently had a stroke, and who is being cared for by Daunis’s mother. Daunis is also troubled by the recent death of her uncle, a chemistry teacher, which neither she nor her mother believes was really from an overdose of meth.

Daunis had been a star on the hockey team, but an injury has sidelined her, though she still supports the team with her brother the captain this year. An attractive new kid has come to town, but he turns out to have some secrets.

And before long, there are more deaths and more people using meth, and Daunis gets pulled into the investigation and mystery of who is behind the meth ring and how does that relate to her uncle’s death. It all seems tied up in the reservation and the hockey team, and Daunis has insider information on both.

This book is wonderful on many levels. Yes, it becomes suspenseful and yes, our main characters are in danger. But it also works as a richly emotional story before any suspense is present, about romance and family and belonging and caring for others and learning to trust. There are also underlying issues as to Native American people and their treatment by law enforcement, and citizenship issues on the border with Canada.

Something I loved about this book was the same thing I loved about Darcie Little Badger’s Native American fantasy, Elatsoe — Daunis is part of a community and gets help from the community. She respects and values her elders and gets important help from them, and it’s lovely how it works out.

angelineboulley.com

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Review of Every Little Kindness, by Marta Bartolj

Every Little Kindness

by Marta Bartolj

Chronicle Books, 2021. First published in Slovenia in 2018. 68 pages.
Review written October 2, 2021, from a book sent to me by the publisher
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely wordless picture book brought to us from Slovenia – and the pictures transcend culture.

As the book opens, a girl wakes up, but drooping. She puts on her red glasses and looks sadly at a pile of posters with a picture of a dog in a red collar.

She goes out to put up the posters, but on her way she sees a man playing a guitar with a cup out for donations, and she gives him her red apple.

A man carrying a red bag sees her kind act. On the next page, he does something kind for someone else. He is watched by someone else with something red, and then that person does something kind.

And so it goes. This book is full of a sequence of kind acts. People see a kindness, then do a kindness. And these are all highlighted with something red in an otherwise subdued-color scene.

The final act of kindness isn’t a surprise when someone finds the girl’s dog and gives her a call.

So we come full circle and end up with a scene including lots of happy people.

Because this is a wordless book, there are lots of things to notice, and I’m sure I didn’t catch everything. “Reading” this book with a child will give them lots to talk about. And besides that, this lovely book will leave you smiling.

chroniclekids.com

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Review of Here in the Real World, by Sara Pennypacker

Here in the Real World

by Sara Pennypacker

Balzer + Bray, 2020. 308 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 19, 2020, from a library book

I love Sara Pennypacker’s books. Her kid characters have agency. They don’t always ask permission, but they make their own choices – some choices better than others – and live with the results.

In this book, eleven-year-old Ware is planning to spend his summer at his grandmother’s house, when she has a fall and goes to the hospital with rehab to follow. But his parents are working extra that summer, so they need Ware to be in a safe place. They sign him up for all summer at the Rec Center, despite his objections.

Ware has spent lots of time at the Rec Center. He knows the drill. And he is not happy about being there again. When the leader has them march around the Rec Center, faster and faster each time, Ware realizes he won’t be noticed if he climbs the tree overlooking the parking lot. He can watch them go around several times and join them at the end.

But instead, once up in the tree, Ware notices that the church next door to the Rec Center has been demolished. In his new rebellious state, he gets down on the church side of the fence to look more closely.

But in the lot with the demolished church, there’s a girl named Jolene. She says the wrecked parking area is now her garden. She’s planting things in cans full of dirt. Ware says the lot can be her garden if the church can be his castle.

And that’s how Ware’s summer gets off to a much more interesting start than what his parents planned for him.

But how long can Ware and Jolene stay on the lot with the ruined church, planting things and turning the ruins into a castle? What will happen when Ware’s parents find out he’s not going to the Rec Center? Surely they’ll find out? And can Ware change himself into a Normal Kid – the kind of kid his parents want?

The title comes because when Ware says something isn’t fair, Jolene accuses him of living in Magic Fairness Land. But “here in the real world,” bad things happen. Can Ware, perhaps, even in the real world, find ways to fight injustice and unfairness?

sarapennypacker.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Parachutes, by Kelly Yang

Parachutes

by Kelly Yang

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 476 pages.
Review written November 23, 2020, from a library book

Parachutes is a story about a Chinese teen who’s been dropped by her wealthy parents into America to get an American education. Parachutes is the term used to describe these kids, many of whom end up on their own without any supervision, which comes with its own problems.

This book focuses on Claire, a junior in high school who’s sent to America from Shanghai, and Dani, also a junior in high school, whose single mother decided to get some much-needed cash by renting a room to a Chinese student, Claire. They both attend the same private school, but the parachutes are given separate classes from the American kids. Dani’s been working hard on the debate team, and with extra encouragement from her coach, she’s hoping to get to go to an elite debate competition and win a scholarship to Yale. Her after-school job is cleaning houses, where she gets a window into the lives of the rich, including some fellow students.

Meanwhile, Claire spends time with her fellow parachutes, who prioritize shopping and parties. She catches the interest of a boy whose father owns one of the largest corporations in China. Claire’s and Dani’s lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

There’s a content warning at the front of the book: “This book contains scenes depicting sexual harassment and rape.” So it’s not a spoiler for me to tell you that’s in there. My main reservations about the book have to do with how the book ended, so I’m not going to go into detail. This was colored by my recently having read Know My Name, by Chanel Miller, who was the victim in the famous Stanford rape case, and having read that book made me less enthusiastic about how this one ended than I would have been otherwise. (How’s that for vague?)

And I hate that it’s realistic that American teens – and international teens in America – have to deal with these things. The parachutes portrayed were at even more risk, being far from parental supervision and facing peer pressure to spend extravagantly and take advantage of their independence.

The story here was well-crafted, alternating between the two girls’ perspectives, so the reader was more aware than they were about how their lives were intertwining. The book kept me up late reading, and you will be rooting for both girls.

kellyyang.com
epicreads.com

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Review of Grown, by Tiffany D. Jackson

Grown

by Tiffany D. Jackson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 371 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book

There’s a Content Warning at the front of this book for “mentions of sexual abuse, rape, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, and addiction to opioids.” The book begins with the main character, Chanty (short for “Enchanted”) waking up covered with blood and surrounded by blood. I expected a gritty novel about living on the streets.

But then chapter two flashes back and shows us a seventeen-year-old girl attending private school and on the swim team, who’s got a clearly loving and involved family. She’s got a wonderful singing voice, and as the book opens, she goes to an audition for BET’s version of American Idol. She doesn’t win the audition, but she gets the attention of Korey Fields, a 28-year-old rock star. He gives Chanty and her family VIP tickets to his upcoming show.

At the show, Korey gets her phone number, but asks her not to tell anyone. They begin a secret texting exchange.

At this point, I was happy that the book started with blood. That was a distinct signal that this relationship isn’t a good thing, and it’s not going to end well. And it doesn’t. In the name of boosting Chanty’s singing career, Korey convinces her parents to let him give her private lessons and even go on the road with him. To Enchanted, he’s getting her more and more involved in a relationship with him. A relationship that’s more and more controlling.

Since the story is told from Chanty’s perspective as it happens, we see easily how she’s sucked in. How flattered she was to get attention from a big star. How she tells herself he’s not all that much older and it’s meant to be. By the time things start going wrong, she’s already hooked and only wants to please him.

So you know it’s going to end poorly, but the effect is desperately wanting to warn her as Chanty gets more and more sucked in. And then there’s the blood – we don’t end up knowing who is actually responsible for that.

There’s a list of Resources in the Author’s Note at the end. We end up with a thriller that is based on actual cases and may open eyes to what domestic abuse can look like.

And, oh yeah, it’s also a really gripping story.

writeinbk.com
EpicReads.com

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Review of Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr

Cloud Cuckoo Land

by Anthony Doerr

Scribner, September 28, 2021. 623 pages.
Review written September 14, 2021, based on an advance reader copy.
Starred Review

If you enjoyed Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, I think that Cloud Cuckoo Land is even better.

The title comes from Aristophanes’ play, The Birds, talking about a utopian city for birds located in the clouds. This book is threaded through with a story, supposedly written by Antonius Diogenes and only recently recovered in a damaged copy, about a shepherd named Aethon who wishes to become a bird so he can travel to this mythical city. Along the way, he has unpleasant adventures, including being transformed into an ass, before he can reach his goal.

Small fragments of Diogenes’ story are threaded through the book, along with stories from five other times. One of those times is February 20, 2020 at the Lakeport Public Library. (I wonder if originally the date was during the pandemic when libraries were closed. This was sidestepped by making it just before that date.) Another time is inside and outside Constantinople in the 1400s. Another time is the future, on the ship Argos traveling to an exoplanet from earth. And then we get backgrounds of two characters who we’ve seen in the library. One of their stories begins in 1941, and another begins in 2002.

All these characters and times end up having a relationship with the story of Aethon, as well as parallels with his story. The weaving together of the stories is beautiful.

I’m now more accustomed to reading children’s books, so starting such a long book was daunting. But once I got off to a good start, the result was rewarding. I’d like to read it again, because even glancing at the Prologue, I see some details I’d missed the first time around.

It’s hard to even describe this book. Is it historical? Is it contemporary? Is it science fiction? What we do have is an epic tale about the power of story and the importance of dreamers. Read this book! You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s how the main part of the book opens:

He escorts five fifth graders from the elementary school to the public library through curtains of falling snow. He is an octogenarian in a canvas coat; his boots are fastened with Velcro; cartoon penguins skate across his necktie. All day, joy has steadily inflated inside his chest, and now, this afternoon, at 4:30 p.m. on a Thursday in February, watching the children run ahead down the sidewalk – Alex Hess wearing his papier-mâché donkey head, Rachel Wilson carrying a plastic torch, Natalie Hernandez lugging a portable speaker – the feeling threatens to capsize him.

And the first fragment of Aethon’s story, Antonius Diogenes relating the discovery to his niece, goes like this:

. . . how long had those tablets moldered inside that chest, waiting for eyes to read them? While I’m sure you will doubt the truth of the outlandish events they relate, dear niece, in my transcription, I do not leave out a word. Maybe in the old days men did walk the earth as beasts, and a city of birds floated in the heavens between the realms of men and gods. Or maybe, like all lunatics, the shepherd made his own truth, and so for him, true it was. But let us turn to his story now, and decide his sanity for ourselves.

The caption on the story of Aethon is a fitting introduction to the book:

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you.

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Review of Smashy Town, by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Smashy Town

by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha
illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Harper, 2020. 28 pages.
Review written July 11, 2020, from a library book

The next time I do a Toddler Storytime – Alas, there’s no telling when that will be – I’m going to grab this book. It’s a book about demolishing buildings! Of course! Perfect for toddlers!

And the authors and illustrator pull it off superbly. It’s a short picture book with a refrain. For each of brick, wood, glass, and stone, we’ve got a spread that goes like this:

GO!
Swing the ball, hit the wall!
Smash, smash, smash!
Swing the ball, hit the wall!
Crash, crash, crash!

Crumble, tumble,
down goes brick.
Is the demolition done?
NO!

Parents will be a little relieved that there’s even a spread about cleaning up the mess after everything is knocked down. And the endpapers show that what gets built in place of the old buildings that Mr. Gilly demolished is a public library and a city park.

This book is made to order for reading aloud to toddlers. I look forward to the day when I’ll get to try it out.

andreaanddavid.com
danyaccarino.com

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Review of The Girls I’ve Been, by Tess Sharpe

The Girls I’ve Been

by Tess Sharpe
read by the author

Listening Library, 2021. 9 hours, 48 minutes.
Review written August 12, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Wow! This thriller for teens doesn’t let up the tension for a second.

The book begins as Norah goes into a bank with her girlfriend and her best friend, Wes. We learn that Norah’s worried about Wes, who’s mad because he hadn’t known Norah and Iris were a couple and this is one more time Norah has lied to him.

Then the guy in the line behind them pulls out a gun.

The bank robbery clearly doesn’t go according to plan – the bank manager is not in his office – so the two would-be robbers take hostages. They have no idea who they’re dealing with in Norah. They’re going to be sorry they thought they could use her to their own advantage.

The story is told beautifully, with little bits of Norah’s background slipping out as the tense situation in the bank keeps developing. We learn she’s escaped her mother, who is a con-artist. Her mother used to find a mark and play a con – and then get out, completely changing their identities. So Norah has been many different girls.

But can she use what she learned from those other girls to get herself and her friends out of the hostage situation alive? It’s for sure not going to be easy.

I wish I could say more – but it’s all revealed in perfectly small, tantalizing doses, and I don’t want to detract from that. Let me simply say that this is one of the best suspense novels I’ve ever read.

And it’s a big mistake for bad men to mess with Norah!

Besides the gratifying triumphs and clever, surprising escapes (I’m talking about the past, not necessarily the bank, because I don’t want to give that away), this book also shows the beautiful friendships Norah has during the present time of the story, after escaping the abusive childhood with her mother. So this book also gives the hope that people can recover and heal. They may still have scars, but they can rise above.

The author reads the audiobook, and it’s just as well I listened to it, because this is a book I don’t think I could have stopped reading if I didn’t have to turn off the sound.

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Review of Simon at the Art Museum, by Christina Soontornvat, art by Christine Davenier

Simon at the Art Museum

by Christina Soontornvat
art by Christine Davenier

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written July 2, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

I was happily disposed to Simon at the Art Museum as soon as I opened the cover and saw the Musée d’Orsay in Paris filling the end papers. (I’ve spent some happy hours there.) It isn’t named, and there’s an “Art Show” sign in English, but it’s enough for me. As the book begins, Simon and his parents enter the museum, and Simon shouts his greetings.

“Shhh,” whispered Simon’s mom.
“Sweetie, remember what we agreed about inside voices?”

Simon is still enjoying the big building with its slippery floors. This part had me won over:

Simon and his parents looked at the art together.
They looked at more art.
And then more.

So. Much. Art.

What IS it with this place? thought Simon,
before remembering that it was, in fact, an art museum.

“Is that a swimming pool?” asked Simon.

“It’s a reflecting pool,” whispered his dad.
“It’s a work of art too, just like the paintings.”

Simon casually suggested they could make the art even better if they chased the pigeons along its edge.

After that, his parents decided they wanted to hold his hands.

Of course, the pictures accompanying those words make them all the more delightful. Simon’s noticing things – maybe not the same things as his parents.

In another gallery, Simon sits while his parents look at the art, and I love the things he sees as he watches the people looking at the art.

Just when I wondered why they made the choice to portray Simon and his parents as white when the author (who won TWO Newbery Honor awards last year) is a person of color, I came across the probable reason why – when they found a child in a painting very like Simon. (I assume it’s a real painting and wish they had a note. Though I suppose even if it’s a generic Impressionist painting, it makes more sense having a white child in the picture.)

If I had small children and I was planning to visit a museum, I’d read this book together first. It’s a great jumping-off point for talking about what museums are like – but it also reminds parents to see things from their children’s eyes. And for older folks like me who don’t have young kids – this picture book simply makes me smile.

soontornvat.com

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Review of Flight of the Puffin, by Ann Braden

Flight of the Puffin

by Ann Braden

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House), 2021. 229 pages.
Review written July 8, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Flight of the Puffin follows four different kids, each of them a bit of a misfit. We’re only given the locations of two of the four, and they’re on opposite sides of the country, so we’re interested in finding out how the stories will connect.

I love the beginning. Libby is painting the best sunrise ever. And as she works on it, making it colorful and beautiful, the principal steps around the corner, and we discover she’s painting on a wall of the school.

Then there’s Jack, who goes to a small two-room school in Vermont. He’s good with the younger kids, and misses his brother, who was six when he died. Next we meet T. T has a shorter chapter, sleeping on a sidewalk with their dog. The fourth person we meet is Vincent, who’s decided he wants to be like a puffin. Instead of the t-shirts his mother buys for him, he finds an old button-down white shirt with a small puffin, and that represents him. But it doesn’t make him fit in at school.

The kids are all seventh graders. They’re on opposite ends of the country. Libby’s up against her parents not appreciating her need to make art and spread joy with it. Jack is up against the school board that wants to close their school. Vincent is up against bullies. And T is up against survival.

And Flora’s art – and puffins – end up connecting them. It’s a lovely book with some threads about trans kids without that taking up the whole book. Mostly, these four kids are deeply nuanced characters it’s a delight to spend time with.

annbradenbooks.com
penguin.com/kids

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