I couldn't put this book down! Brittney Morris artfully weaves some very complex topics in to a story about regular suburban teens. A nuanced look at what it means to be Black in a primarily White community, to search for belonging, to grow apart from someone and closer to others, to create something that is both life-giving and controversial.
Kiera Johnson, a 17 year old honors student, is one of the few black students at a suburban, predominantly white high school. Sick of being the authority on all things "black", she creates a MMORPG game specifically for Black gamers. Played by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, it's her chance to just be her. When a teen is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, her creation is dubbed racist, exclusionary and violent. As Kiera's secret unravels she is forced to examine not only this world she has created but her place in the real world as well.
Even if you aren't a gamer (I'm not) this book is well worth the read. The descriptions of the game are so well done that you really don't need to "get it" to enjoy the game; I was almost more immersed in the sections that took place within the game because of how vividly Morris describes the characters and settings within it. I loved Kiera as a character but wanted some of the other characters to be a little bit better fleshed out as sometimes it felt like their sole role was to place Kiera in positions where she could ponder the meaning of being black in a primarily white suburb. That being said, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
As usual, I was not the first person in my house to read this graphic novel. My 10 year old snapped it up before I could even lay a hand on it; 2 hours later she turned to me and said "You should read this one, mom. You'll like it." She was right, I did like it. Robin Ha's memoir of moving from Korea to the United States as a teenager made me think of every immigrant student I've taught, new to English, new to the culture, struggling to make friends and fit in. Her descriptions of life at school tugged at my teacher heart strings, hating the kids who were mean to her, wanting to hug the teacher who was kind. Ha tells an immigrant story that will be familiar to many kids and their parents; at the same time, it is a story that will educate many who have never been in a place of leaving their home for something completely new and completely different.
Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8cuR1d_L-Y
Recommended for Gr 4 & up.
I have to admit, I haven't actually read the first book in this series. My mom got it and read it to my girls while they were camping this summer and they were hooked! We quickly picked up the next two books and I was lucky enough to be the one to read them to the girls.
The Menagerie, a secret refuge for mythical creatures, is a magical place that few know about. It is also a place of adventure, mystery, friendship and fun. Fans of (early) Harry Potter, Spiderwick, FableHaven, animals, unicorns, dragons, mermaids, griffins, wooly mammoths, giant hellhounds, yetis, even werechickens (who knew that was a thing?), will find something to love in this trilogy. Written right at that middle-grade sweet spot where the book appealed to both my 7 year old and 10 year old equally well; the adventures and mysteries are intriguing without being scary, the relationships between the characters are complex without being overly confusing and there is just enough magic and silliness to keep the whole thing light and fun. We laughed, we worried, we gasped, we cried. Most of all, we just couldn't put any of these books down. Logan, Zoe, Blue, Captain Fuzzbutt and the crew at the Menagerie had us hooked and kept us coming back for more. I highly recommend this one.
Recommended for Gr. 2+
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 +
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.