Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Nightvale for tweens: Welcome to Oddity

Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, (Nov. 2017, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250123282

Recommended for readers 10-13

A desert town where zombie rabbits roam freely, and a vague, yet menacing, government agency holds sway over the populace… Welcome to Oddity (said in Cecil’s Welcome to Nightvale voice). Okay, here’s the scoop: Ada is an 11 year-old rebel who loves to push the boundaries in her New Mexico hometown, Oddity. She’s flanked by her best friend, Raymond, and the new kid in town, Cayden; Cayden, who comes from Chicago and just wants to go back to normalcy, which Ada finds incredibly boring. After all, does Chicago come with a Blurmonster? Or zombie rabbits who fiend on marshmallows and play Punkball games with the aliens hanging around town? But see, Ada’s got some issues. Pearl, her twin sister, won the town’s annual Sweepstakes last year, and hasn’t been heard from since. Her mother’s all but withdrawn from life and her father buries himself in work, which leaves her aunt – who puts up with no foolishness – in charge. Ada and her friends are Nopesers (think Snopes, but with more danger) and go on the sneak to solve Oddity’s various mysteries, but when one sneak goes haywire, Ada finds something off about the Sweepstakes… one thing leads to another, and just like that, Ada’s leading a resistance and demanding to find out the truth about Pearl and about Oddity.

I LOVED this book. I love the Welcome to Nightvale podcast, and this book could be an episode on its own. Ada is a brilliant role model: smart, spunky, and willing to stand up for what’s right. She’s a child of color who takes pride in her braids, leading to a giggle-worthy moment when she crosses her aunt. Raymond is a Latinx character with two moms, one of whom he refers to as “jefa” – The Boss. I love the world Sarah Cannon’s created with Oddity: even seemingly peripheral characters leap off the page, coming to life as sentient mannequins and misunderstood monsters. There are countless great moments in this book, giving you endless amounts of talking points for a discussion (or writing exercises, for the English teachers in my life).

Do yourself a favor and pick up Oddity, and (for grownups and teens) check out the Welcome to Nightvale podcast. You know Tamika Flynn and Ada would be best friends.

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

Mari’s Hope brings Odin’s Promise to a beautiful close

Mari’s Hope, by Sandy Brehl (Sept. 2017, Crispin Books), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-89-8

Recommended for readers 9-12

The conclusion of Sandy Brehl’s Odin’s Promise trilogy is finally here! Mari’s Hope continues the story of Mari, a Norwegian girl living under the German occupation during World War II. Mari, who was 11 when the story began, is approaching age 14 when the latest book begins. Her family is active in the resistance, and Mari’s involvement increases as she is older now, willing and able to take greater risks. She works with the local doctor to care for the sick and elderly in her village, Ytres Arna; travels to the city of Bergen to procure more medicine – and information – for her village, and tries to stay out of the way of the Nazi officers who live in her home; particularly the one she calls Goatman, who is a drunk and a thief.

Written in third-person narrative with first-person journal entries from Mari to her brother, Bjorn, Mari’s Hope is written with the same gentle strength as the previous two entries in the series. We see Mari grow over the three books from girl to young woman – a change that has come too quickly under the occupation – and deal not only with being a member of the Norwegian resistance, but with the stress of worrying about her brother; grieving her dog, Odin, killed by Nazi soldiers in the first book; struggling with a former friend who threw in his lot with the NS – Nasjonal Samling – Norway’s version of Hitler Youth. The family and neighbors stick together, sharing what little they have to provide for one another, whether it’s to have a birthday party for Mari or a holiday dinner for Jul. There are tense moments that kept me turning pages, sometimes biting my lip with concern, and there are moments where I just needed a moment to process my relief. Sandy Brehl never whitewashes the German’s devastation; rather, she states it quietly, eloquently, and leaves it there for Mari – and us – to process and move on.

The Odin’s Promise trilogy is a gorgeously written series of books that take us into a part of World War II history we don’t often hear about. Hitler invaded Norway with the lie that he was sending soliders to “protect” his “Viking brothers”, but proceeded to strip all freedoms from them and tried to supersede his vision of Aryan superiority over their rich culture. Odin’s Promise, Bjorn’s Gift, and Mari’s Hope tell this story through the experiences of one village, one family, one girl, who pushed back. I love spending time with Mari and her family; while I’m sad to see this story end, the beauty of books lies in knowing I can meet them again whenever I want to.

Odin’s Promise received the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. It was also noted as one of A Mighty Girl’s Best Girl-Empowering Books of 2014 and one of Foreword Magazine’s Ten Best Indie Middle Grade Novels of 2014.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Fairy Tale Reform School’s seeing some changes in Tricked

Tricked, by Jen Calonita, (March 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $15.99, ISBN: 9781492637950

Recommended for ages 8-13

Gilly and friends return in Tricked, the third installment of Fairy Tale Reform School, but things are very, very different now. Gilly’s in school to be a cobbler, like her dad, but she really isn’t into it. Her sister, Anna, is falling in with a bad crowd: Hansel and Gretel are jerks, causing trouble all over town. They go too far with one prank that lands the three of them in – you guessed it – Fairy Tale Reform School, but the school has been through some big changes: Flora, Cinderella’s formerly wicked stepmother, is no longer headmistress; instead, the master dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin, is in charge now, and the classes seem to encourage the kids to be more villain than hero. Gilly, Jax, and Maxine need to get back on the inside to find out what’s going on in those hallowed halls, get to the bottom of Rump’s treachery, and save Anna while Gilly’s at it: if Anna even wants to be saved.

I’ve been a Fairy Tale Reform School fan from the beginning, and Tricked is every bit as good as the first two. I love the way Jen also manages to address some of the very real things going on in the news today through FTRS, with a trickster who excels in the art of the deal (ahem) pulling the strings and making everyone in that school either blindly follow him or disappear. When things came together for me as I read, I realized how brilliant Tricked is in every respect, and I admire Jen Calonita for taking such a timely message on and communicating it to the kids who need to understand that when something doesn’t seem normal, it really isn’t.

There are strong subplots, addressing the frustration of being in a sibling’s shadow, making your own dreams happen versus living up to others’ expectations.

Tricked is all-around fun reading with big messages for young readers.