13 year old Aster wants nothing more than to be a witch. He comes from a family of witches and shapeshifters and he has been secretly learning to be a witch for years. The problem? Boys aren't witches. Boys are shapeshifters and that's just the way it is. Or is it? As Aster pushes the boundaries of what is possible versus what is supposed to be he, along with his friends and family, learn about love, acceptance and the dangers of forcing someone to be who they are not.
These graphic novels were quickly devoured in our house! My kids loved them and so did I. Each book tackles deep topics like conformity, gender norms and personal identity sensitively and without judgment, even when looking at some of the darker sides of the human psyche. The characters are well developed and relatable, wanting what most teens want - acceptance, belonging and a sense of self. Supported by gorgeous illustrations that beg as many questions as they answer, these books are a great jumping off point for a whole host of conversations about identity.
Recommended for Gr 3+
A fitting addition to the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, Paola Santiago & the River of Tears is an adventure story for lovers of ghost stories, magic and fantasy in the vein of Rick Riordan books and Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Paola and her friends, Emma and Dante, are average 12 year olds living in the small town of Silver Springs, AZ. But when Emma goes missing, Paola and Dante are determined to find her. As they venture into the unknown, Pao & Dante begin to discover that all is not quite as it seems in their sleepy town. As they slip through the barrier dividing the real world from the world of ghosts and demons, Paola is forced to admit that her mother's Latinx ghost stories, so frustrating and quaint to her scientifically-minded daughter, might just be true.
I love that this #ownvoices story brings traditional Latinx folktales and ghost stories to life. Pao is every teen with superstitious parents or grandparents, struggling to reconcile her love for the people with embarrassment at the silly stories they tell, while at the same time wondering if there might be some truth to the stories after all. (turns out, there is!).
Several subjects ripe for discussion are raised throughout the book, including systemic racism within the police force, class differences (and what that means for friendship) and Pao's changing feelings for Dante. These legitimate concerns, primarily on Pao's part, are all threads woven in to the fabric of the story, giving the reader food for thought without interrupting the flow of the story. Paola Santiago & The River of Tears could easily be included as a choice for a social justice book club or it could simply be an entertaining fantasy read for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Thanks to @NetGalley for the ARC.
Recommended for Gr 5 and up.
"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
"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.
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