Monday, September 28, 2015

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart by Jane St. Anthony

Her new home in Minneapolis is a duplex, with nosy elderly landladies downstairs. A new school, a new town, and a different life - but all Isabelle really wants is the old life back.

It's a universal yearning when something bad has happened - I just want things the way they were before! - and St. Anthony does a lovely job addressing it for kids (Isabelle is in eighth grade, but this book could read younger with no problem.) You like Isabelle right away, and I rooted for her to make new friends and not get stalled in her grief.

And while the book is set in the 1960s, it feels contemporary and not stuck in history: A lack of technology is the only real giveaway, and perhaps that the events of the landlord sisters lives are so far back in time, now.

At 140 pages it's not an intimidating read for kids, and the short chapters make it easy to digest. You like the characters enough to keep reading, and the emotion is so real and relatable.

I really, really liked this one!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Luna by Julie Anne Peters

Being a teenager is tough enough, but imagine carrying a secret, too. And Regan's secret isn't even her own! It's that her older and only sibling is transsexual and wants to begin the physical transition to her true self.

Liam may be ready to truly become Luna, but that doesn't mean Regan's ready to let it happen. Plus, she's so used to not talking about big parts of her life that Regan's having a tough time connecting with a dreamy guy who REALLY wants to get to know her.

This book is an interesting twist on the transgender experience because it's told from a sibling's point of view. She and Liam have always been very close, but this is a different story when it's about Regan's fears and worries about Luna's emergence.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Romy Grey's life has been hell since she was raped by the sheriff's son: No one believes her, she's a target for bullies, and her whole family's reputation is as gutter trash.

Carefully, she's kept her diner job separate from everything else - it's out of town, and her coworkers are mostly from the next town over. She's even noticed the flirtatious friendship offered by the cute cook, Leon. But then, her two carefully separated worlds collide and everything gets jumbled - she almost loses her job, she's blacked out a critical night, an ex-friend is missing, and she can't explain the push-pull of her reactions to Leon. And who would believe her, even if she could explain?

I loved this book's dramatic pacing and the twisting alliances of the mystery. It's a realistic look at the tangle of high school relationships and the angry crush of unpopularity, where it's not always pretty or tidy. What a good book and a great thought-provoking novel.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Beneath the Bonfire by Nickolas Butler

In a series of brilliant, poignant short stories, Butler exposes the best and worst of rural America: in love, in trouble, making do, settling the score.

His first release, the novel Shotgun Lovesongs, was my absolute favorite book of 2014. So I was certainly going to pick up this book as soon as it arrived - and once I turned the first page, I couldn't put it down.

The stories range from sweet (a grandfather just quietly doing what's right in raising his grandson) to bitter (a former cop's revenge on a bad, bad man) but together form a fantastic collection that's beautifully diverse and wonderfully crafted.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Going into senior year, Tyler's hoping to just get through it and move on. But his court-ordered community service (helping the school janitors) and his summer landscaping job have left him buff and attractive, with a bad-boy reputation - much different than the nerdy kid everybody laughed at previously. All eyes on are on Tyler.

But for a kid who's not used to attention, having the school administration eagle eye his every move waiting for him to screw up, the girl of his dreams paying attention to him, his dad breathing fire about college acceptances, and his previous bullies warily circling just waiting for their big chance ... something's bound to crack.

This book is EXCELLENT. It's meaty and thought-provoking, and it has characters you really want to see come through it. The novel's themes include the challenges of growing up (maturity) and how you shape the perception other have of you (reputation) are relatable for anyone. Through Tyler's homework and even his favorite video game, a number of perspectives on hell presented - enough you may want to revisit some of your own high school reading.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to read my first Laurie Halse Anderson book - I've always heard they're good, but for some reason I never sought one out. Live and learn!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm

Spending the second half of the summer at Grandpa's in Florida isn't exactly what Sunny had planned. But that was before what happened on July 4th.

This bright, full-color graphic novel was authored by the same sibling pair who do the Babymouse and Squish books. It's still a kids' book, but it's a more realistic style and subject matter - a major theme is family secrets. Plus it's set in the 1970s, so adult readers will appreciate the cultural references (Dorothy Hamill hair, the bicentennial).

Sunny learns a lot in Florida - she makes friends (of all ages), evades an alligator, discovers comic books, and learns to trap lost cats. It's a great story, and it builds tension by flipping forward and backward in time.

I'll be curious to see if the 1970s timeframe makes it less interesting to 2010s kids, or if it doesn't matter because the story is still relatable.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

Inside and outside his urban Washington, D.C. grocery store, an Ethiopian refugee watches the neighborhood shift and change around him. Sepha is haunted by his past and frozen in place, unable to move or act in his ill-fitting, lonely American life.

In this literary novel by an Ethiopian-born American author, the themes of loss, friendship, and the American dream make for a rather sad, yearning tale. Nonetheless, it's beautifully done - filled with thoughtful characters and gorgeous prose.

Sepha's life, the store, and, in fact the whole city decay before his wise, analytical gaze, but he takes no actions to forestall their decline. He awkwardly makes friends with a young new neighbor and there's romantic tension with her mother, but again these interactions require actions - enthusiasm, even - that Sepha can't muster.

This would be an awesome book for discussion, and the more diverse the group, the richer: There's a lot to discuss in the way Sepha wanders his neighborhood and ponders its residents, and his African immigrant friends and their war-themed mind games could be quite a conversation in itself.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Witch Baby by Francesca Lia Block

Witch Baby doesn't fit in with the rest of her family: she's quieter (more introspective), her moods are darker, and she even looks different (also darker). She's determined to find her REAL family.

This is the second in the Dangerous Angels series, but definitely stands on its own.

Witch Baby pastes newspaper articles on her walls and absorbs the darkness of the world. She falls in love only to have it spoiled by her lighter, brighter sister. And she runs away from home to find her birth mother, only to discover things aren't always better somewhere else.

At about 100 pages, these books are fun diversions. They deal with serious topics in relatable ways, but also veer lightly into mystical realism and a fantastical version of Los Angeles.