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+
"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 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.
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