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

Historical middle-grade fiction: Snakes and Stones

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-1031-3

Recommended for readers 9-12

The year is 1921, and Chestnut Hill, a 12 year old girl, travels with her father and 7 year-old triplet siblings (also named after nuts) across the American south, putting on medicine shows so her daddy can sell his elixir. Daddy’s a snake oil merchant, and Chestnut is sick and tired of living in a cramped wagon, wearing clothes to rags, and going to bed with a rumbling stomach. She’s mad at Daddy from stealing her and her siblings away from their Mama, who must be out of her mind with grief right now. Even when the Hill family meets up with Abraham, a friend of her father’s, who tells her that there’s a lot Chestnut doesn’t know about her Daddy, she refuses to believe it and decides to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that will change her and her family.

I was happy to see a middle grade historical fiction piece take place in the early ’20s – it’s an interesting time that hasn’t seen a lot of middle grade storytelling just yet. Lisa Fowler has several strong characters here, most notably, Chestnut, who narrates the story. Her father is a seeming ne’er do well, a con man with a heart of gold, who just doesn’t know how to take care of his family; Abraham, an African-American character, allows for a look at the everyday racism and segregation in the South. Readers may get tired of Chestnut’s firm belief that her father’s the bad guy, especially when there’s clearly more to the story that Abraham knows but won’t discuss. While Abraham is a potentially strong character to highlight the racial issues in the Southern U.S., readers may be put off by the way his speech is written, which can be construed as negative stereotyping rather than striving for historical accuracy.

Overall, it’s a story that means well but gets caught up in melodrama and possibly troubling characterization.






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

Two teenagers take to the Canadian trails to work out their problems in Gone Wild

gone-wildGone Wild, by Jodi Lundgren (Sept. 2016, Lorimer), $27.99, ISBN: 9781459409897

Recommended for ages 14 and up

This is another selection from Canadian publisher James Lorimer & Company’s line for reluctant and struggling readers. The publisher’s ability to find and champion interesting, relevant realistic fiction that speaks to teens and the issues facing them these days is huge, and Lorimer has managed to find authors that provide diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and situations that will speak to teens.

Told in alternating third-person narratives, Gone Wild is the story of two teens who head to a wilderness park on Vancouver Island to work out the problems they each have going on. Seth is a teen who was bullied by his half-brother until he went to foster care; he was adopted, but his parents have split, leaving him open to verbal abuse by his mother and psychological bullying by his mother’s boyfriend. Fed up with it all, he storms out and finds himself on the trail.

Brooke’s a high school with a control freak mother, who never lets her feel like she measures up to Brooke’s older sister. When Brooke thinks she may be pregnant, she grabs her gear – she loves outdoor sports and hiking – and heads for the trail, to clear her head and work things out.

Eventually, the two teens meet and work together to get through the wilderness, to figure out the directions their lives are going, and to find the strength to take control back for themselves.

This was a good, quick read. The characters were well-developed and faced some big topics: life-changing topics. We’re dealing with teenage pregnancy, abuse, and adoption, for starters, so more conservative readers may shy away from this book. For teens who are living with their own struggles, though, the idea of finding a way to clear your head and walk it out may be soothing, a real help. You don’t have to find a hiking trail; urban kids can find a quiet place in a park, or work it out on the basketball court or track, for instance; it’s the idea of finding a constructive way to work through life and the curveballs it throws at us.

Because this is a book aimed at reluctant and struggling readers, the text gets to the point quickly and is matter-of-fact in its discussion. All readers will appreciate the candor that Jodi Lundgren uses to tell her story.

A good addition to realistic fiction collections, especially where grittier subjects find readers.