Friday, July 31, 2015

Finding Someplace

Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick tells the story of a girl experiencing and recovering from Hurricane Katrina. It is one of several books to come out in the past couple years that tell a similar story, but it is my favorite that I've read so far.

Reesie is enjoying the days leading up to her 13th birthday, but as the day draws closer her beloved city of New Orleans seems to be under the growing threat of Hurricane Katrina. Her mother wants them to leave. Her father doesn't believe in leaving the city due to chances of a little high wind. However, he agrees that maybe Reesie should leave her party with her aunt and uncle for Baton Rouge. But then her parents decide to cancel her birthday party. As the storm draws ever closer, Reesie is increasing danger. Her mother, a nurse, and her father, a policeman, are both at work leaving Reesie alone. She goes to a neighbor's house to wait out the storm. But there is no waiting out the water when the levy breaks and the Ninth Ward begins to flood. Fortunately Reesie and Miss Martine have the clear headed help of one their friends and are able to make it to the roof of the house. Rescued and taken to the Superdome, Reesie must try to find her mom and dad. Reuniting with her parents is just the first in a long series of steps to Reesie's finding her way back to a safe secure place.

Reesie is an easy heroine to like. She is so full of life and enthusiasm. She is artistic and creative, designing and making her own clothes. The Boone family is a close one. Her brother spends his hard earned summer money on new shoes for Reesie just before returning to college for the year. Her parents are loving and supportive and work hard for their kids. Reesie's friends and neighbors show a true sense of community too. Patrick does an excellent job of establishing multiple characters and their connections to each other in a short amount of pages while making them all feel real. Miss Martine is a particularly wonderful character who gives Reesei more than just a place to fell safe and not alone during a hurricane. (I want to read a book all about her younger years.)

I enjoyed getting to see the neighborhood through Reesie's eyes. Patrick does an excellent job of bringing all of New Orleans with its unique sights and culture to life while also establishing the neighborhood feel needed to make the story specific to the Ninth Ward work. I liked how the story developed and how it had that heightened rushed feel of an actual disaster. Characters develop relationships quickly and are just as quickly separated. The portrayal is realistic without being emotionally manipulative. There are emotions abounding in Finding Someplace but they feel organic to the story and characters. I also enjoyed how the ending showed the hard road to recovery but was full of hope for the future.

A quick read through of the synopsis makes this sound a lot like last year's Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. It also centers around a protagonist surviving Katrina on her birthday. If I were told I had to choose one, I would choose Finding Someplace. The New Orleans Patrick presents feels more real and the characters just jumped off of the page for me. Finding Someplace is also shorter and easier to read, but covers far more. There is an actual real look at the recovery from the disaster, the psychological effects, and stress and strain both cause on a family unit.

Bonus: Unlike all the other Katrina books I've read there is no dog. Patrick is able to tell an emotional  tale without throwing potential of animal death in there to strike fear in the hearts of her readers. Thank you, Ms. Patrick.

I read an ARC made available via Edelweiss by the publisher, Henry Holt & Co. (BYR). Finding Someplace is available August 4th.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Most Likely to Succeed

Most Likely to Succeed is the final book in the Superlatives trilogy by Jennifer Echols. Though these books are not dependent on one another and you can read them individually, I think this one finishes out the themes and characters that all three books share very well.

Kaye is a planner, and she has her entire life planned out. For those plans to happen she needs her senior year to follow a certain path. That path does not include breaking up with her long time boyfriend and falling for the school's bad boy, Sawyer. Kaye knows she needs to focus on her grades, her work as student government vice president, and her position as head cheerleader. But Kaye and her boyfriend, Aidan, have been growing apart. When she dares to challenge him in a student government meeting and they break-up, it becomes harder and harder for her to deny her growing attraction to Sawyer. Ever since his first day in town, Sawyer has been battling the reputation that preceded him. Sometimes that has meant battling himself as he's made some admittedly bad decisions to feed that negative reputation. But Sawyer is not as careless as most people imagine him to be. There are some things he takes very seriously, and his feelings for Kaye included. Kaye and Sawyer both have to see beyond the lines that divide them if they're going to make a future together work.

Kaye is ambitious and driven, but she has reached that point in her senior year that many people hit. The moment when you suddenly start to question all the goals you've been working toward and whether or not you are the person you truly want to be. This has been the overarching theme in all three books, but Kaye's experience of it is slightly different. She is not only contending with her own plans for her future, which are not small, but also her mother's plans for her future. Kaye and her mother have a fraught relationship. Her mother came from an impoverished family in a crime ridden part of Tampa and worked her way out. She pushes Kaye constantly, and is often not a pleasant person. This is actually where the biggest conflict in the story lies and is, in my opinion, one of the best relationships developed in the three books as well. It just has so much depth to it. A relationship between a mother and daughter is always hard to navigate during this time in the child's life, but when the two personalities involved are more alike than they want to admit, it makes it even harder. There is a lot of fighting and consequences in Kaye's home life. She is rebelling a bit (a truly little bit) for the first time in her life. She feels a tremendous amount of pressure thinking she needs to be eight times better than everyone else because she is black, a girl, and her mother's daughter. Kaye and her mom are at odds often, but there is still a special bond there. Even when they are angry at each other, it is clear. There's a particularly great moment when Kaye's mom comes to help her roll hair before Homecoming. I enjoyed reading the interactions between Kaye and her father too. Both parental relationships shine a clear light on how Kaye became the girl she is and what motivates her.

In writing about Kaye I'm very conscious of being a white woman reviewing how another white woman wrote a black protagonist. From where I sit it was well done, but I acknowledge that I the place where I'm sitting is on the outside looking in. I do like Echols included some discussions of race (though I was a little uncomfortable at one point by Sawyer trying to tell Kaye that something she interpreted as racist wasn't). She also included Kaye's feelings of love for her hair and the intricacies of styling it.

Sawyer was a scene stealer in the first two books, and this book is sure to please all of the many fans I know he's accumulated with his crazy antics. He is not really a "bad" boy and not just because he has recently stopped drinking and smoking pot. He is incredibly hardworking and loyal to the people in his life he allows to get close enough. He is charming and compassionate. Other than telling Kaye how she should interpret certain remarks directed her way, he is all around fantastic. He has loved Kaye forever, and is prickly towards her in order to protect his heart. She has a lot of power to hurt him. I enjoyed the conversations between them and the development of their relationship. My one complaint about this is actually what I find to be the book's biggest weakness. They have a major confrontation in which Sawyer is incredibly hurt and anger. His flip afterwards was so fast I almost got whiplash. In many ways we got more of a resolution to Kaye and her ex Aidan's relationship than Kaye and Sawyer's relationship.

It was also lovely to get snapshots of all the other characters I've come to love from the other books. This is a wonderful group of friends. I particularly enjoyed Will. He is not my favorite romantic hero of the three, but in this book he is the ultimate friend to both Kaye and Sawyer.

I'm sad to say goodbye to this school and these characters.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Simon Pulse, via Edelweiss. Most Likely to Succeed is available for purchase on August 4th.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Favorite MG Realistic Fiction Heroines

Continuing in my celebration of my favorite heroines of all time, I want to spend some time focusing on the girls of MG Realistic Fiction. (I already talked about Anne Shirley in my original heroine post.)

Enola Holmes from the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer: She's Sherlock's little sister and she manages to outwit him regularly and does awesome stuff for Victorian girls while she's at it.

Juli from Flipped by Wendelin Van Drannen: Juli's journey in this book is just so real and heartwarming in so many ways. I love her heart and courage.

Claudia from From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: When you sit back and think about all the things Claudia accomplishes in this story, it is truly mind boggling. And every girl deserves the opportunity to imagine they are capable of getting away with something like this.

Bridge, Tab, and Emily from Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead: These girls are from my most recent MG read. There is, I suppose, a chance my current boundlessness of my love for them will diminish over time but I doubt it. They are fabulous new additions to the family of wonderful MG girls.

The Penderwick Sisters from The Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall: All four of them are equally amazing in all their different strengths and flaws.

The Gaither Sisters from the Gaither Sisters trilogy by Rita Williams Garcia: I love the way these three girls stick together and the way they fight too. Another story about very different girls tied together by blood who stand against hardships together.


Mai from Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai: I love Mai in all of her snarky sarcastic hard to impress middle school glory.

Turtle Wexler from The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: I really wish I had room for Turtle on my original top ten list because she is so amazing. Strong, smart, temperamental, and a terrible yet perfect sister and friend. She's the whole package.

Who are some MG heroines in realistic fiction that stand out for you?

Other editions of Favorite Heroines:
MG Speculative Fiction
YA Speculative Fiction 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Goodbye Stranger

I've made no secret that I'm a huge fan of Rebecca Stead, and I firmly believe that her books get better and better with each release. Goodbye Stranger has only confirmed that belief.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. 

Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. 

Tabitha sees through everybody's games--or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade? 

This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl--as a friend? 

On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

First and foremost this is a book about friendship and community. Bridge, Emily, and Tab have an excellent friendship. Each of them have different interests, passions, and personalities, but they are also a cohesive well-functioning team who made an agreement long ago to never fight. You can imagine what 7th grade does to this pact. But the girls really do have a strong relationship, and the story of how they weather the ups and downs of the scandals, changes, betrayals, and tumultuous twists of the year makes for an emotional and engrossing read. The developing relationship between Bridge and Sherm is wonderful as well. They have a great rapport and they both need each other's friendship exactly as it is exactly in the place they're both in. I love how both of them are strong enough to hold on to it through all the peer pressure surrounding them to be a couple too. They are both independent and self-reliant and this helps. It's an interesting contrast to the relationship between Emily and her sort-of-boyfriend Patrick. Those two are both more vulnerable and far too open to the manipulative powers of the middle school collective brain. The friendship between the three girls and the developing friendship between Bridge and Sherm also contrasts the unnamed teen's struggle with her relationships in high school as she looks back on her own tumultuous year.

The story is told in a mixture of third person telling the story of the 7th graders, letters Sherm is writing to his grandfather, and the teen's story told in second person. Second person is usually a point of view that will have me throwing a book down and running as far away from it as I can possibly get. And I'm not going to lie and say that Stead's writing was such that she made me forget my deep and abiding hatred for the second person. I was still thrown out of the story and frustrated by the use of "you" in action and thoughts I was not having myself. (Seriously, second person is so frustrating. So. Frustrating. I'm not in the book. Artificial means of putting me there only succeed in doing the opposite.) BUT. It didn't make me hate the book like it usually does, and I can even see the literary argument for having those sections told from this perspective. I do think this is the book's one weakness though. However, they are short and fit into the rest of the narrative well enough. And the rest of the story is so strong from a characterization and thematic stand point that it makes up for it.

The books themes are incredibly strong too. It is a wonderful look at feminism, body shaming, the disparity in how boys and girls are treated by adults and by each other, and the unfairness inherent in all of that. It's also about friendship, community, family, and what one's purpose on earth is. I can not wait to read this book with my own daughter. The parents in this book make plenty of mistakes but love their kids and incredibly realistic. I like the way Stead was able to touch upon such timely themes and subject matter without being at all didactic about it. Goodbye Stranger is a story of realistic kids navigating school and life and each other. They make mistakes. They stand up for each other. They are figuring out life. Reading about their struggles and triumphs will be something many young readers will relate to and enjoy.

I read an ARC received via the publisher, Wendy Lamb Books, at ALA Midwinter. Goodbye Stranger  is on sale August 4th.