Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Guest Post: Sadie, Courtney Summers

Today, I’ve got a guest post from my colleague, Amber; she’s the teen librarian at my library, and we share a love of Marvel Comics and movies and good YA fiction. She recently read Sadie, by Courtney Summers, and was dying to talk about it. Take it away, Amber!

 

Sadie, by Courtney Summers, (Sept. 2018, Wednesday Books),
$17.99, ISBN: 978-1250105714
Ages 14+

Sadie Hunter, a 19-year-old girl, disappears after her 13-year-old sister is murdered. The girls’ surrogate grandmother contacts West McCray, an NPR-like radio host, to find her. Sadie, by Courtney Summers, flips between the script of McCray’s resulting podcast series and the POV of Sadie herself as she follows clues to track down the person she believes killed Mattie.
This is a dark story with few slivers of light to break the tension. You experience Sadie’s hungry, desperate, furious mindset firsthand. West McCray doesn’t want to get involved. “Girls go missing all the time.” But his producer pushes him, and soon he’s too involved to turn back. Sadie went through heavy things as a little girl. Be prepared for strong mentions of substance abuse (by mom) and parental abandonment. Child molestation is a heavy theme throughout. (Sadie is a survivor, and much of her actions are driven by her anger.)  Sadie intends to murder Mattie’s killer when she finds him. Along the way, her singular focus puts her into dangerous situations, made worse by her constant starving state and lack of sleep that affects her judgment and reactions. A scene when she goes “undercover” as a new teen in a town where she has a lead offers a view of the kind of popular teen she might have been if everything and everyone in her life wasn’t so messed up. In that short moment, she makes friends, but hours later destiny throws her another horrifying curveball.
There are many heartbreaking aspects of this story, but the idea that the sisters could have been saved if only someone had listened to Sadie when she was a young girl and taken her seriously is one that will keep readers up at night.
Sadie is a powerful book that teens who enjoyed Thirteen Reasons Why could get into easily. It doesn’t have a pat ending, and discerning readers may notice that some of the conclusions McCray reaches don’t line up with Sadie’s, which leaves the armchair detectives among us to draw their own answers. These moments help alleviate the few times it feels that McCray’s sections are repeating Sadie’s, especially as he gets closer to tracking her down.

Sadie has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. There’s also a chapter excerpt available on Bust Magazine’s website.

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Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Sarai: From viral video to chapter books!

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome, by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown/Illustrated by Christine Almeda, (Sept. 2018, Scholastic), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-29131-5

Ages 7-9

Fourth grader Sarai Gonzalez is awesome. She can bake, dance, and runs her own cupcake catering business, so when her grandparents learn that they have to move, because the home they’re renting is being sold, she takes action. She’s going to raise the money herself! Okay, with the help of her siblings, too, but they’re going to raise the money together and buy back her grandparents’ house! Sarai didn’t realize a few things, though: houses can be expensive, and younger siblings can test your patience! Sarai’s determined to make it all work, though, and she’s got a lot of support behind her.

Sarai Gonzalez is a real-life viral video star and social activist. This new chapter book series, starring Sarai and co-written with kidlit superstar Monica Brown (Lola Levine series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combina), is a fun new series starring a child of color and filled with positive messages about family and social activism. Sarai wants to make positive change and finds ways she can take action to affect change. There are black and white illustrations throughout that show fun family life: dancing with grandparents, pictures of crazy cousins having fun together, a neighborhood coming together for a good cause. I liked the sprinkles of Central and Latin American (Sarai’s family hails from Peru and Costa Rica – pura vida!) life and food; I would have really liked Sarai’s limonada and chicha morada recipes at the end of the book, and a little glossary of Spanish words. That said, my ARC is nowhere near a final copy, so that could be something in the works. Fingers crossed.

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome is a fun new chapter book that’s adding much-needed diversity to kids’ books. Don’t pass this one up.

Want to see Sarai in action, and dance to an infectious tune? Enjoy her appearance in Bomba Estéreo’s Soy Yo!

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Grief and conflict collide in The Girl with More Than One Heart

The Girl with More Than One Heart, by Laura Geringer Bass, (Apr. 2018, Amulet), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419728822

Ages 10+

Briana is starting her eighth grade year when her father dies of a sudden heart problem. Her mother spirals into grief, leaving Briana with the responsibility of caring for her 5-year-old brother, Aaron, who’s on the autism spectrum. Briana thought of her father as “her” parent and her mother as “Aaron’s parent”, which introduces frustration and resentment on top of her own grief. Briana feels a “second heart” form in her stomach, which communicates to her in her father’s voice, telling her to “find” her mother, and to “let go”.

Told in the first person in Briana’s voice, this novel is a touching, sensitive look at the complicated grief process: it’s messy, frustrating, and filled with mixed emotions, especially when thrown into the volatile mix of adolescent emotions. The writing is so believable, so real, that I felt overwhelmed by both Briana’s and her mother’s grief at points. Readers receive a wealth of information through Briana’s “Before Aaron” flashbacks, back to when her mother had as much time for her as her father; back when they were a cohesive, whole family. This process also helps Briana become a more present sibling to Aaron, and to reach out to new friends when the opportunities present themselves. We get a glimpse of what grief can do to a parent, and the effect of that grief on a child, and we see how the extended family – in this case, Briana’s grandfather – have to take on roles that they may be unprepared for.

The Girl with More Than One Heart is a must-add to your realistic fiction collections, and keep this one in your booktalking pocket for books on grief and loss.

 

Readalikes:

 

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams: Twelve-year-old Libby and her father work through their grief after her grandfather dies.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, by John David Anderson: Three school friends give their dying teacher the best day ever.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness: Thirteen-year-old Conor’s mother is fighting cancer and losing; at the same time, a yew tree tells Conor stories and expects him to tell his.

The Haunted House Project, by Tricia Clasen: Andie tries to hold onto her mother’s memory by having her “haunt” the family home.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan: Twelve-year-old Willow loses both parents in a car accident, leaving her to find her place in the world.

Teen Librarian Toolbox and Pragmatic Mom have additional choices, all excellent reading.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Fat Girl on a Plane is fab!

Fat Girl on a Plane, by Kelly DeVos, (June 2018, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 978-0373212538

Ages 14+

Cookie Vonn is an aspiring clothing designer who knows a heck of a lot about fashion and textiles. She also wants fashion that makes everyone feel good, including the plus-size curvy girls and women that seem to be left out of major clothing designers’ lines. You see, Cookie used to be one of those girls, until one slight too many – the title should give you the clue – sends her to NutriNation, a Weight Watchers-type program where she loses the weight, but gains even more baggage. Her parents – a renowned supermodel and a surgeon – leave a lot to be desired. Her supermodel mother left her to be raised by her grandmother, and if you think she’s throwing cash her way to give her daughter and mother a lavish lifestyle, you’d be wrong. Her heartbroken father ran away to Africa once her mother dumped him, and he’s nothing more than an occasional phone call to Cookie. Needless to say, Cookie knows she’s got one person to rely on: herself.

When things start happening for Cookie, including a relationship and internship with an older famous designer, she wonders whether she’s becoming just like her mother: Gareth Miller seems to want to run their relationship and her life. She struggles with staying true to herself while becoming part of the New York fashion set, and discovers that her bright future has attracted her mother’s – and sleazy stepfather’s – attentions.

This book just draws you right in. Written in Cookie’s voice, the story takes place in two alternating timelines: right before and through her NutriNation journey, and the “present”, some two years into her weight loss. Pre-NutriNation, we see how 300-lb-plus Cookie’s treated; obviously a radical difference from how size 6 Cookie moves through life. She strives to make accessible fashion for everyone, no matter what size, and discovers the fashion industry’s dirty little secrets on the way. In the end, she almost loses herself, but is grounded by her friends and family back home in Arizona. There were some high points: I loved that she could move on without caving in and embracing the people who treated her so awfully. (It’s a relief to not scream at a book when a protagonist kisses and makes up with her or his tormentors!) It’s a very smooth read that held my interest all the way through, with characters that are realistic: not all wonderful and light, not all mustache-twirling villain. Pair this with Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ for two great books about curvy heroines this summer.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

The Key to Everything: But will it cure?

The Key to Everything, by Pat Schmatz, (May 2018,  Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763695668

Ages 9-12

Eleven-year-old Tash is angry. She doesn’t want to go to camp, but her Uncle Kevin needs to travel to Australia, and she and Cap’n Jackie, their friend and neighbor, clashed over the whole business. Tash ends up having a pretty good time at camp, after all, but returns home to find Cap’n Jackie gone: she’s had a fall and is in the hospital, and Tash’s world turns upside down overnight. She’s determined to return a special key to Cap’n Jackie; one that opens up a magical world to her, and that’ll make it all better. Cap’n Jackie even said so, so it has to be true, right?

The Key to Everything can be a bit hard to follow. We have Tash, seemingly abandoned by her mother and living her with uncle while her father is in jail. Kevin, who takes care of Tash, Cap’n Jackie, a loving and cantankerous older woman, and Nathan, Cap’n Jackie’s nephew, who lives in New York, but comes back when Cap’n Jackie is hurt. We don’t get a lot of exposition in this story, but we do learn that family is who you make it. Two major characters, Jackie and Nathan, are gay; something that’s very lightly touched on, but it’s nicely done. Tash suffers from PTSD and a fear of being alone, while Jackie struggled with agoraphobia. Readers have to put in a bit of work to make all the lines connect, but it’s a solid read about family, grief, moving on, and growing up.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

My Year in the Middle: Relevant then, relevant now

My Year in the Middle, by Lila Quintero Weaver, (July 2018, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780763692315

Ages 8-11

Sixth-grader Lu Olivera and her Latin American family find themselves in the middle of a civil rights struggle in their Red Grove, Alabama neighborhood one hot summer in 1970. The tensions run high in her integrated school: black kids sit on one side of the room, white kids on the other; she sits in the middle row. She’s in the the middle child, smack dab between her older, activist sister and younger twin siblings; she’s in the middle when it comes to local politics: many of the white families want to re-elect segregationist governor George Wallace, while Lu and her family support incumbent Albert Brewer. Many of her classmates are leaving their school to go to a private, white school. When Lu befriends fellow track runner Belinda Gresham, an African-American girl, and her classmates turn on her, she decides it’s time to take a stand.

Inspired by the author’s Alabama childhood, My Year in the Middle is a story of civil rights and finding one’s voice. Lu puts up with the passive racism in her community, with remarks like, “she’s from South America, she doesn’t mind going to school with Negroes”. But seeing how her African-American friends are treated by her fellow classmates, and by the general public in her town, pushes her buttons. Lu is a character who stands out: she’s a character of color stuck in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, but because she’s not African-American, she’s tolerated: until she digs in her heels and says, “No more”. She gives and receives support from her black classmates and from Sam, her classmate and crush, a white preacher’s son who is bullied for his civil rights stance.

Lu is at once relatable and a mirror for our society today. We’re still divided, and more and more people are forced from the middle to take a stand. Readers may recognize recent political speeches and attitudes in George Wallace’s condescending stumping and the racial tension that permeates Lu’s classroom. My Year in the Middle is a solid work of historical fiction that provides excellent discussion topics for readers on civil rights, social justice, and where we’ve gone versus where we are.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Dollar Kids: Starting over, and fitting in

The Dollar Kids, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson/Illustrated by Ryan Andrews, (Aug. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763694746

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lowen Grover is a 12-year-old artist is using his comic book artwork to cope with the gun-related death of his young friend, Abe. He just wants to get away: away from the memories of Abe and the shooting; away from his neighborhood, where everyone knows. When he sees an article about a former mill town, Millville, holding a lottery of dollar homes to bring new life into the town, he mentions it to his parents, who apply and secure a home. It’s a chance for his family to own their own home, and a chance for his mother to start up a business, but rural life isn’t what Lowen expected, and the Millville families aren’t as welcoming to the new “Dollar Kids” and their families as he’d hoped. As the Grovers and the other new families try to make inroads into their new town, Lowen works through his grief and tries to rediscover friendship, his love for art, and his place in the community.

The Dollar Kids unpacks a lot of ideas and moments, and it’s beautifully done by author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and illustrator Ryan Andrews. It’s a book about grief and loss, and the guilt that comes with grief. It’s also about friendship, and accepting friendship, even when one doesn’t think he or she deserves it. It’s a book about family. Finally, it’s a book about acceptance. Lowen is grieving the loss of a kid who was somewhat of a friend; a younger kid who hung around him constantly; he embraces this chance to start a new life in a rural town, but he and his family discover that a dollar home takes a great emotional and financial toll; the families in Millville don’t like change much, even when it’s to benefit their town, and feel almost contemptuous toward the newcomers. The characters are realistic and relatable, with the author giving as much attention to her supporting characters as she does her main characters. The comic book artwork by Ryan Andrews is an outlet for Lowen, and helps readers work through his grief with him.

A great middle grade book for realistic fiction readers. Explain to readers that dollar homes do, in fact, exist, and what the stigmas associated with buying a foreclosed home could entail: how may the Millvillians see the families that purchase them, in light of the town’s history? I’d booktalk this with Beth Vrabel’s Blind Guide to Stinkville and The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz, both of which look at life in a rural community, and The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin and Lisa Graff’s Lost in the Sun for addressing grief.