Posted in Teen

Wild Beauty – beauty can hide ugly secrets

Wild Beauty, by Anna Marie McLemore, (Oct. 2017, Macmillan), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250124555
Recommended for readers 13+

Teen Estrella Nomeolvides and her cousins live on the beautiful Californian garden property, La Pradera, for generations. Known as “las hijas del aire”, they are bound to the land, forming beautiful flowers that create breathtaking gardens, but the gift is a curse: every man loved by a Nomeolvides woman disappears. Just… dissipates. The cousins are all in love with the same woman, Bay Briar, and pray to the gardens to keep her safe from vanishing; instead, a young man they call Fel appears, thrust forth by the garden. Fel has choppy memories of his past, and Estrella takes it on herself to help him recover his memories. What none of them realize is that Fel’s memories – Fel’s past – is inextricably linked to the ugly truth behind a Pradera.

There is a lot going on in Wild Beauty. There are several subplots that intertwine with the main story, all moving toward the revelations at the end. Beautifully written, with fully realized characters, Wild Beauty can be confusing – there were characters and subplots that took me a few re-reads to fully get my head straight – and the story tends to meander, which may frustrate some readers. Readers familiar with magical realism will recognize this and press on. There’s beautiful imagery, gender identity and fluid sexuality, and a respect for Latinx heroines and matriarchal family structures.

Wild Beauty has starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Bust Magazine has a great write-up on the book and the author.

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Posted in Preschool Reads

Windows: A night time walk around your neighborhood

Windows, by Julia Denos/Illustrated by EB Goodale, (Oct. 2017, Candlewick Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9035-9

Recommended for readers 3-8

“At the end of each day, before the town goes to sleep, you can look out your window…” A child of color puts on a red hoodie sweatshirt and takes the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Each set of windows reveals a different story; the neighborhood holds its own sights to behold. As child and dog return home, mom is waiting at the window, ready for a cuddly storytime.

Windows is beautiful storytelling. EB Goodale’s ink, watercolor, letterpress and digital collage illustrations provide texture and warmth to Julia Denos’ gorgeous words: the windows look like “a neighborhood of paper lanterns”; windowpanes provide a bath of “squares of light” for a raccoon; an empty house waits to be filled with new stories. The child can be male or female; the red hooded sweatshirt evokes memories of Peter, the star of Ezra Jack Keats’ classic, The Snowy Day. The warmth of home brings child and dog back to a loving caregiver, a story, and a comfortable rug. I just want to wrap myself in the warmth of this book with my 5 year old and a mug of hot chocolate; I’m sure you will, too. Add this one to your bedtime rotation with Akiko Miyakoshi’s The Way Home in the Night.

Windows has multiple starred reviews: Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads

A boy deals with his grief in Cast No Shadow

Cast No Shadow, by Nick Tapalansky/Illustrated by Anissa Espinosa, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $16.99, ISBN: 9781596438774

Recommended for ages 12+

Greg and his friends live in Lancaster, in a town that’s lately become obsessed with tourist traps. This latest one is a giant hairball. No lie. Greg is kind of an attraction on his own: he was born without a shadow. He’s normal in every other way; he just doesn’t have a shadow, which just makes him one more quirky thing in a town full of quirks. When Greg explores an abandoned mansion just outside of town, he meets Eleanor, who could be the perfect girl for him – “smart, beautiful, funny, and man, she totally gets me” – if only she weren’t dead. Eleanor is a teenage ghost, living in her family’s old mansion, and chasing out the creepy living that go in and mess up her home, but she has a soft spot for Greg.

Greg’s got a lot going on in his home life, too: his dad’s girlfriend, Joyce, has just moved in, and Greg isn’t happy about it. He doesn’t want anyone taking his dead mother’s place. As he deals with the frustration of having a new person in the house, and a girlfriend who can’t leave her haunt, something is set in motion; Greg has unwittingly set a dangerous entity loose on his town. What are the chances he can save his town, smooth over his relationship with his father and Joyce, and have a happily ever after of his own?

Cast No Shadow is a touching exploration into grief and loss. Greg retreats from the world to cope with his mother’s loss and his father’s subsequent relationship; aside from his female best friend, the strongest relationship that emerges in the book is with a dead girl. Greg’s suppressed feelings find another way to emerge, causing destruction and danger for everyone around him. It’s a great story to put into older tweens’ and teens’ hands, helping them cope with feelings that may be too overwhelming to confront head-on. The black, white, and gray illustrations add a nice, ghostly feel to the story and come in handy when finer plot points fall into place.

A nice addition to middle school and teen graphic novel collections, and a good secondary reference for kids dealing with grief and loss. Find more of author Nick Tapalansky’s work at his website, and illustrator Anissa Espinosa’s work at her Tumblr.

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

Hispanic Heritage Reading: My Brigadista Year, by Katherine Paterson

My Bridgadista Year, by Katherine Paterson, (Oct. 2017, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9508-8

Recommended for readers 10-14

It’s 1961, and Lora is a 13 year-old girl who signs up to be one of Fidel Castro’s Brigadistas – groups of students, some as young as 8, most between the ages of 10 and 16 – who went into the rural areas of Cuba to spend a year with families, teaching them to read and write. Lora sees this as an opportunity to grow as a student and a person; she wants to be a doctor, and she wants the space to learn and discover on her own. Her parents protest: she’s lived a comfortable life in Havana, why would she want to live in poverty for a year? With some help from her grandmother, Lora’s parents relent, and she joins the Brigadistas, promising to come home if it gets too hard. Lora is placed with a family to teach, and before she knows it, is teaching a neighboring family, too. The group becomes an extended family as she takes part in the daily chores, taking as much encouragement as she gives, but all is not easy: not everyone is in favor of the Cuban Literacy Initiative. Counter-revolutionaries have martyred those who would lift Cuba out of illiteracy in the past, and the Brigadistas know that risk is part of what they’ve signed on for.

This was the first I’ve read about the Cuban Literacy Initiative. It’s a little-talked about moment in history, and it’s fascinating. Lora is a wonderful character who we see coming of age with each turn of the page, and her students consist of parents, grandparents, and children. Things don’t come easily to Lora, but she never gives up, her larger goals in mind, and her determination at her back. This is a short but powerful book that I’d love to see on summer reading lists next year. An overview of the Cuban Literacy Initiative fills provides more information for readers who want to learn more.

Katherine Paterson is the Newbery award-winning author of Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob I Have Loved. You can visit her website to find her bio, information about her books, and interviews with the author.

As our relations with Cuba continue to open, I’d love to read more first-hand accounts from brigadistas and the rural families with whom they lived. Until then, Tulane University’s Roger Thayer Stone’s Center for Latin American Studies has some information on the campaign, and Al-Jazeera posted an interview with a former brigadista.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Pashmina is an Indian-American girl’s journey of self-discovery

Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626720879

Recommended for ages 12+

Priyanka is an Indian-American young woman, living with her single mom, in California. She’s got so┬ámany questions: Why did her mother leave India to raise her daughter in the States? What’s India like? Why doesn’t she ever talk about India? And the big question: Who’s her father, and why hasn’t she ever met him? For Priyanka’s mom, though, the topic of India is closed. She will only say that things were different for women in India, and that’s that. Left with her questions, and feeling emotional after her uncle – her only father figure – becomes a new dad, Priyanka stumbles across one of her mother’s old suitcases, containing a beautiful pashmina shawl. She wraps it around herself and is transported to a magical, beautiful place: India. She also meets two guides: Kanta, an elephant, and Mayur, a peacock, who show her a breathtaking India. Priyanka gets the feeling she may not be getting the whole story – especially when the two guides keep shooing away a mysterious shadow that lurks by them – but she’s determined to find out more about her heritage and her birth.

Priya gets the opportunity when her aunt calls to reconnect with her estranged sister. She’s pregnant, and Priya’s mom agrees to let her fly to India to spend time with her. Thrilled, Priya embarks on a journey that will provide more answers than she expected, and learn more about her mother – and herself.

Pashmina is brilliant, bold, and beautiful storytelling. It’s the story of a child walking the line between two cultures, and it’s a story about the search for identity. It’s also a powerful story of feminism; the goddess Shakti guiding women to choose their own paths and the women who are brave enough to answer the call. Nidhi Chanani creates breathtaking, colorful vistas within the pashmina’s world, making Priya’s everyday black-and-white world even more stark and humdrum. This is a must-add to graphic novel collections, particularly for middle schoolers and teens. Booktalk and display with Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, Na Liu’s Little White Duck, and┬áSarah Garland’s Azzi in Between.

See more of Nidhi Chanani’s art at her website.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Victoria Jamieson’s Back! All’s Faire in Middle School

All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson, (Sept. 2017, Dial Books), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0525429999

Recommended for ages 9-13

Newbery Honor winner Victoria Jamieson’s newest graphic novel, All’s Faire in Middle School, introduces readers to Imogene (Impy), an 11 year-old who’s about to start middle school after being homeschooled. She’s also a knight-in-training at the Renaissance Faire that her parents and extended family – the other RenFest players – run. She’s got a different lifestyle, but never really thought anything of it; it’s all she’s known. Once she gets to public school, though, she finds herself embarrassed by her family and RenFest friends, her thrift store clothing, and her small apartment. But will she be a noble knight and rise above her challenges?

Victoria Jamieson’s got a gift for telling middle grade stories about quirky heroines who buck tradition. Roller Girl introduced us to Astrid, a girl who found herself in the roller derby arena; with All’s Faire, she gives us Imogene, who finds herself in the RenFaire. She’s got a different upbringing, which she’s embraced up until now – she meets kids who think she’s weird because she’s different; for a moment, she falls prey to the self-doubt and fear of standing out that plagues tweens. She meets the Mean Girls, and she has to draw on her internal strength and the love of the RenFest family around her to be her authentic self. There’s great storytelling here, with memorable characters and fun moments at the Faire.

This will appeal to everyone who loves realistic fiction, and all the Raina Telgemeier fans who love authors who get them. A must-add to bookshelves everywhere. Check out an excerpt from All’s Faire in Middle School at Entertainment Weekly.

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

Book Tour: The Tower, by Nicole Campbell

The Tower, by Nicole Campbell, (June 2017, CreateSpace), $13.50, ISBN: 978-1545411278

Recommended for readers 13+

Three lifelong friends get ready to start their junior year of high school. They live in Elizabethtown, Illinois, and tend to stand out because they’re witches. Not the Harry Potter type, and not the White Witch of Narnia, either: they’re pagans, in touch with nature and the energy around them, and they have no idea how things are going to change for them this year. There’s Rowyn, whose sharp tongue is rivaled only by her skill in reading tarot cards and auras; Reed, forever in love with Rowyn, who channels energy and practices reiki, and Rose, who puts love and little touches of her magic into her baked goods. There’s also Jared, a jock from school who’s dating Rose and seems to be the one person from school that’s willing to take the time to understand his new group of friends. When tragedy strikes, their worlds are upended, and each has to find his or her own way back to some form of balance.

Each chapter is told in the first person from one of our four main characters. This is not a paranormal novel; it’s not an urban fantasy novel. It’s a beautiful story of love and loss, addiction and depression, and a look into a group of friends that grew up on the outside, looking in. Diversity takes many forms, and the pagan belief system, stuck in the middle of Christian conservatism, serves as a powerful setting. Nicole Campbell writes characters that are fragile and strong; they’re dealing with things so many teens find themselves faced with today: divorced parents, bullying, and navigating relationships among them. The Tower is a strong piece of YA realistic fiction that will resonate with teens and young adults.