It is no secret that we love Raina Telgemeier in our house. We own every single one of her books, so of course we had to buy her latest, Guts, as soon as it came out. As usual, I was blown away by Raina's ability to tell a story simply and straight from the heart, taking tough topics and introducing them in such a way as to be completely digestible for the kiddos that most need it.
Guts is the true story of Raina's struggles with a sensitive stomach and anxiety, which began in grade 4 and have continued throughout her life. The book also tackles the shifting landscape of friendships at this age, from friends moving away to the seemingly mysterious formation of new friendship groups. These big topics are handled with humor and sensitivity, from Raina's tummy troubles to her descriptions of what anxiety feels like to having to give oral presentations in front of the class. Guts provides a mirror for kiddos who are struggling with similar issues, allowing them to see that they are not alone and that there is a lot of support out there. It opens the door to conversations about anxiety, counselling and friendships in a gentle, age-appropriate way. As with Raina's other books, this one left me feeling like Raina could have been my friend in middle school; her experiences are unique but universal all at once. As with all of Raina Telgemeier's books, this one is definitely worth the read and deserves a spot on every middle school bookshelf.
Magic, time travel, long lost brothers, evil magicians, good magicians, even a magician who doesn't know he's a magician...the list of intriguing characters and events in The Greatest Magician is long. The story follows young Jack as he reluctantly attends his first magicians' convention. Jack, you see, is not particularly magically inclined, despite having a mother who is known as the Great Linda, a father who is a healer and a sister who can bend others to her will. Once at the magicians' convention, events quickly begin to slide out of control and Jack becomes embroiled in a battle of good versus evil (although he is never quite sure where everyone stands), learning a lot about his family and himself along the way.
I enjoyed this book more than I expected to, as I wasn't initially drawn to the premise. It moves along quickly and the characters are reasonably well-developed for the length of the book. I did find the plot line a bit "noisy", with so many twists and turns that at times it was hard to tell who and what were important details. There wasn't a lot of opportunity to predict coming events or the importance of certain characters or relationships, which might have slowed the storyline down but also given it more depth. As it was, I found that just as the author developed a sense of intrigue around a character she either abandoned that character (often temporarily) or quickly explained their raison d'etre, leaving little space for the reader to follow the tracks and make connections on their own. I would have preferred fewer characters, slightly less action and a little bit of time to draw some conclusions of my own. Nonetheless the book is a good, fast-paced read the will appeal to fans of Rick Riordan and Gordon Korman.
Thank you to Book Sirens for the free advance review copy. All opinions are my own and voluntarily given.
Recommended for Gr 4+.
"But who are we without our labels? Do our labels define us, or do we give definition to our labels? I think it's the latter. I'm still learning."
How to be Remy Cameron is the story of a teen struggling to find himself amidst the myriad labels placed on him by society - black, gay, adopted, older brother, friend. He seems confident, outgoing and self-assured but when asked to write an essay about who he is, he struggles. Thus begins a journey of self-discovery that has him learning about his past and reflecting upon his future. I enjoyed this book but I didn't love it. The beginning, where we learn about Remy, his friends and his family, took too long for me. Nothing happened - sure, we got to know Remy but it took so long that I began to wonder if this book was just going to be all about a gay guy hanging with his crew, which was going to get old fast. Then Remy gets assigned the "Essay of Doom" and bam, the book takes off. Confident, out-since-he-was-fourteen Remy doesn't know what to write and so he begins a process of self-discovery. Despite the fact that this process is a bit angsty and occasionally cliched for my tastes, it was nice that the book was finally going somewhere and exploring important topics such as identity, consent, adoption and more. I really enjoyed the relationship that Remy developed with his birth sister, heretofore unknown to him. It would have been easy to take this discovery down a saccharine path, with sappy "oh I'm so glad we found each other" scenes but Winters doesn't do that. He builds the relationship slowly and cautiously, allowing Remy and his sister to feel out who they are to one another and also allowing Remy to figure out how to fit the idea of his birth mother in to his life and identity. Similarly, Winters also gives Remy a realistic love interest, again slowly building the relationship between the two characters, with all of the awkwardness of teen romances. Finally, Remy's family is the perfect background to this process of self-discovery - a safe, supportive place to land with a cute little sister, a goofy dad and a mom with a shoulder to lean on. In the end, this book is not an action-driven novel but a character-driven one. If that's your jam, then you will love this book; Winters does a great job of developing the characters slowly and conscientiously. If you need a bit more action, then you will likely find How to be Remy Cameron too slow as the action scenes are few and far between.
Thanks to NetGalley and Duet Publishing for the ARC. All opinions are my own.
Recommended for: mature Gr 7 and up
I hesitated to even write this review, lest you think I in any way endorse this book. I don't. I realized, however, that by not publishing this review I was staying silent on a very real and very pervasive problem. I hope that you read the review, and others, and draw your own conclusions (and then I hope you never, ever buy books like this or recommend them to others, especially teens, but that's just me).
I am not a book abandoner; I usually hope until the bitter end that something about the book will be redeeming, that there will be some twist or turn that will have me going, "Yes! So glad I kept reading." This was not that book. This was the book that had me wondering why I wasted all that time on such misogynistic, women-as-accessories b.s. Oh, I can absolutely see how this 50 Shades of Grey for teens is a hit - steamy sex scenes, football players, cheerleaders, small town Friday nights - it checks all the boxes. I could not, however, get past the uncomfortable feeling that it left in the pit of my stomach every time I picked it up (or turned it on, really. I listened to the audiobook, which definitely didn't help. Read on.) The book takes place in small town southern USA, where football players are king and cheerleaders their arm candy. Where mamas stay home and cook grits and collard greens for their "men" and kids have field parties just outside the town lines so the cops don't bust them. And, really, if that had been the foundation for a great story with great characters this would be a very different review. It isn't though, and so we're left with this patriarchal world where the women serve the men and nothing more. Unfortunately, this book doesn't stop there. It works harder and harder to paint a picture of a small-town America where women are little more than accessories for the men, where they are regularly referred to as either "babe" or "bitch" and where, quite literally, their voices are silenced over and over again. The main character chooses not to speak for half of the book; by making her choose not to speak, Glines provides ample opportunity for the male characters to speak for her or about her, as if she were their property ("She's off-limits" declares her cousin on the very first day), and giving her no recourse to answer, except in her own head (where she should be swearing a blue streak at them. But she isn't, because swearing isn't lady-like). Of course, when she does decide to speak it isn't because she has worked through her demons and come out stronger; no, it's because the male main character needs her to soothe his pain. And then he takes and takes and takes until finally she calls it off (yes! She's finally standing up for herself. Oh, no, wait for it...) only to go running back the next day because he says he loves her (and now is apparently going to swear off blow jobs in the bathroom as the other way to soothe his pain. Seriously.). The toxic masculinity masquerading as chivalry in this book is appalling and never ends. The idea that a woman's worth is measured only by who she is in relation to men is pervasive - from the possessive, if-only-he-loved-me relationship of the two main characters, to the mom who doesn't know who she is after the dad dies, to the cheerleaders who live only to be the next piece of football player arm candy, there is not a single female in this book that I would hold up as a role model for my two daughters, that I would tell them "that girl, be strong and smart and kind like that girl". Unfortunately, the audiobook only makes this worse, as the female characters all have a breathless, high-pitched southern drawl that makes them sound a bit vapid, while the men vacillate between sounding angry and clueless. Added to all of this is a slut-shaming narrative, where the cheerleaders with the laquered nails give blow jobs in the bathroom and the new girl in town is so virginally beautiful she doesn't need makeup to have "perfectly pink lips". Where women only tear each other down, while the bros stick together and, oh yes, tear the women down.
It disturbs me deeply that young women and men are learning about their place in the world and how to interact with one another by reading books such as these. It bothers me that these would become New York Times bestsellers. Words cannot express how horrified I am that a woman is authoring these books and contributing to a culture where women are worth little more than the men they marry. Please, Abbi, although I highly doubt you'll ever read this, stop writing this garbage and put your pen to the job of building women up to be the strong, ass-kicking, independent characters they should be. Everyone else, don't waste your money on this one.
"Hate ricochets but kindness does too."
Julian and Adam could not be less alike. Julian is quiet, withdrawn, a loner. Adam is loud, boisterous and popular. Everyone is drawn to Adam's gregarious smile and upbeat nature, Julian is a target for bullies. As boys they were reading buddies and then, after Julian's parents died, they shared a bedroom for a few months, before he went to live with his uncle and they lost touch. Now at the same high school, Adam is drawn to Julian, at first because he is helping the school psychologist but then because he genuinely wants Julian back in his life. As Julian tries to make sense of this unexpected friendship, his home life begins to unravel, leading to consequences neither boy is prepared for.
*Massive Trigger Warnings* This book was one of those books that has you scrutinizing every quiet kid in your class, wondering if they're ok, hoping you're not missing the signs that they really are not. I loved Adam, the outgoing kid with ADHD who charms the socks off every adult and makes every kid feel seen, all while dropping his phone in the toilet and tripping over his own feet. But while Adam is important, this truly is Julian's story. Told in chapters alternating between Adam's perspective and Julian's, at first it seems that Julian is just a kid who struggles; struggles with reading, struggles with friendships, struggles with depression after his parents' tragic death in a car accident. As the relationship between Julian and Adam deepens, so too does the amount that we are let in to Julian's life at home. And this is where the trigger warnings come in. This is a story of child abuse, pure and simple. This is a story of a child placed in the care of an uncle who is deeply disturbed and who physically abuses a young boy. It is the story of how abusers can make their victims fall silent, of how abuse twists the minds of all involved. It is also a story of how small kindnesses can change one person's trajectory in life. It is not a story I would recommend for anyone who has experienced abuse or is in the foster care system. The depictions of the abuse are detailed and raw and real, told through Julian's eyes and lived over and over. It is a book I would recommend for teachers and others working with young people, to remind us to look for those kids that hide at lunch, those kids that miss multiple days in a row, those kids that seem to have no friends. It reminds us that we won't necessarily get answers from those kids but perhaps we can, through our words and actions, let them know that they are seen and valued. It reminds us that kindness matters and people do too.
I read this book with my 7 year old, who loves learning about our local Aboriginal culture. The book did a wonderful job of sharing the Gitxsan language and culture along with the story of a grizzly and her 2 cubs as they move through the seasons. The illustrations are beautiful, incorporating traditional artwork and peaceful colours. The interesting facts and vocabulary sprinkled throughout add dimension and interest to the book, as does the tracing of the seasons using traditional Gitxsan references to the phases of the moon. Of course I love that it is centered in our province and that my daughter and I were able to look at the map and talk about our local landscape and the many important natural features (rivers, the salmon, the forests). We also discussed some of the different First Nations in our province and talked about their languages and cultures (we live in the heart of syilx or Okanagan territory).
A must-have for elementary classrooms and libraries in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.
Recommended to me by my local children's bookstore owner and friend, The Scorpio Races might just be one of my top reads of this year.
Set on a fictional island seemingly located somewhere in the British Isles (sheep, perpetual drizzle, the ever-important pub...need I say more?), The Scorpio Races weaves its story around the mythical Capaill Uisce, or water horse. Based in both Celtic and Scandinavian mythology, the water horses in The Scorpio Races rise out of the sea every November to either be captured and ridden in the famed Scorpio Races or kill the men who try.
Young Sean Kendrick has won the Scorpio Races four times, riding a water horse named Corr. It is clear from the outset that Sean has a very uncommon bond with Corr, taming him in a way that most others cannot. He is also frequently called upon to rescue others from their foolish attempts to capture the wild creatures.
Puck Connolly and her brothers lost their parents to the water horses. Struggling to make ends meet, Puck decides to enter the Scorpio Races out of desperation. Little does she know how fateful this decision will be as not everyone on the island sees her participation favourably.
This book is a bit of a slow burn, building Puck and Sean's stories slowly and separately. The magic happens as the two stories begin to come together, twisting and twining around each other, as stories do on small, isolated islands. Maggie Stiefvater elegantly weaves the very realistic lives of the islanders with the mythological water horses, creating a story that you just can't put down.
Recommended for Gr. 7 +
,I was drawn to this book for a couple of reasons - first, the setting - my high school hometown, Toronto; second, I liked the idea of diving into the world of homeless teens. At first, the premise for how Harbour ends up in Toronto turned me off - what fourteen year old girl actually believes that her father would send her to camp out in a big city while he sails from Florida all the way to Toronto? As the book continues and Harbour begins to develop a relationship with a homeless teen named Lise, however, Kilbourne weaves a more and more believable explanation, slowly revealing bits and pieces of the whole story until you can see exactly how this could have come to be. This slow reveal is what really made this book for me; it kept me reading and it kept me guessing as to what the next little piece was going to be.
The look in to the lives of homeless teens is well done - revealing both the positives (the kind and caring shelter worker) and the negatives (predatory men, eating out of dumpsters, addiction, cold weather) with empathy and respect. The ending, while a little to coincidental for my taste, is not picture perfect and you are left with just enough questions to keep it from feeling like it was wrapped up with a tidy bow.
Safe Harbour is not a gritty look at the life of teens on the streets of Toronto as the flyleaf might lead you to believe; rather, it is an exploration of a young girl coming to terms with her family, friends and the harsh realities of life. Sure, the desperation of life camping out in a ravine in the middle of a big city, with no money and no lifelines underscores the story and provides the background for pivotal moments, but the true beauty of this book lies in the gradual unfolding of Harbour herself. As Harbour says at the very end of the book "I don't know everything about how I feel, or anything about how I should feel. I don't even know how I want to feel. But I know without a doubt that the ground is solid beneath my feet and it feels good."
Gr. 7 and up. Be aware of language and some content (drinking mouthwash, sexual predators - - implied). There is mention of a free downloadable teacher's guide but I was unable to find it on the Dundurn Press website (perhaps it will be available after the book is officially released Nov 2019).
I don't often read anthologies (or short stories for that matter). I prefer my books a little longer so I can really get in to the story. Right from the introduction though, Color Outside the Lines grabbed me and sucked me in -
"When people ask me what this anthology is about, I'm often tempted to give them the complicated answer: it's about race, about being different from the person you love - how it can matter and also not matter - and it's about Chinese pirate ghosts, and black girl vigilantes, and colonial India, and a flower festival, and a garden of poisons, and so, so much else. Honestly, though? I think the answer's much simpler than that. Color Outside the Lines is a collection of stories about young, fierce, brilliantly hopeful characters of all colors." (from the introduction by Sangu Mandanna).
I mean, how can you not want to read this book after that? What I loved the most was how different all of the stories were; it would have been easy to create an anthology of YA realistic fiction from the last couple of decades but that's exactly what this book isn't and why it's so wonderful. The stories run the gamut from realistic fiction to fantasy to historical fiction and they are so well curated that the transitions never seem jarring nor are they grouped in such a way that you feel the transition from genre to genre. The book flows smoothly from story to story, author to author.
Speaking of the stories - to go through each one individually would do the book a disservice. There is something here for everyone and that is part of the beauty of the book. I didn't love each and every story but there were some that left me breathless and wanting more. Some are blatant commentary on biracial relations and relationships and some are more subtle explorations of other types of differences. Some take place in the here and now, while others take place in the past or in a different world entirely. What links them together is the humanity of the characters - their strengths, their fears, their hopes, their love - and that's what kept me reading, story after story.
Appropriate for Gr. 6 and up. Some good choices to spark classroom discussions.
Saving Everest had a lot of potential - big, meaty subject matter (suicide, depression, gay teens), romance, the weight of expectation and more. There were parts of it, especially in the first half of the book, that I really enjoyed and that felt realistic; unfortunately, the second half of the book fell apart for me.
In the first half, the unexpected attempted suicide of the super-popular high school quarterback drives the storyline, underscoring the shallowness of some relationships (the protagonist's girlfriend and teammates who mock & vilify rather than supporting him), the harshness of others (his father) and the hidden potential in still others (Beverly, the "ghost girl" who takes it upon herself to rescue him). The difficulty Everest has recovering from depression is well-written and speaks to the realities of the ups and downs of mental illness. Beverly's attempts to befriend him, while awkward and perhaps a bit unlikely, are believable in their innocence and naivete. I enjoyed many of the interactions between the characters at this point in the story and felt like they fit the genre well. I particularly enjoyed the snippets from the uncle's journal and would have loved to see those established as an anchor for the chapters and the development of the main characters and their relationships.
As the story continues, however, consistency becomes an issue. Everest's father, who has loomed large in the background as an overbearing jerk set on controlling his son's future, simply disappears. Everest haphazardly attends his senior year of high school but no one seems to care; his budding career as a musician seems explanation enough for why school is no longer necessary. We know that Beverly's relationship with her mother is generally unhealthy, but opportunities are missed to explore this in any detail. It is often difficult to remember that these are teenagers in high school as they spend very little time actually at or concerned with school, especially for kids looking to go to college.
Basically the second half of the book tries to cram a teenage romance in beside every possible high school drama imaginable, the result being that none of them are explored with any depth or detail. You've got a caricature of every type - stoner, class president, pretty, popular mean girl, bookworm, football player, closeted gay football player, musician - and every scenario - homecoming, winter formal, birthday party, drinking in the basement, coffee shop, awkward Thanksgiving and on and on. By trying to include it all, Saving Everest merely floats on the surface of what could have been some pretty important and meaningful topics. For me, Saving Everest misses the mark; the early potential to explore the stressors of high expectations, family issues and depression gave way to a poorly developed teen romance that ended with a fizzle rather than a bang.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.