Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TTT: Books Set in Summer

Top Ten Tuesday is a Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This Week's TTT Topic: Freebie (I chose Books Set in Summer or with a Summery Feel.)


What books that take place in summer do you love?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Save Me a Seat

I always enjoy books by Sarah Weeks. She writes heartfelt, fun, quick MG reads. They are universally easy to book talk and sell. Whenever she has a new book out, I try to read it as soon as possible. I was even more excited by Save Me a Seat due to its synopsis and format. Sarah Weeks wrote this book with Gita Varadarajan and it follows two boys in their first week of fifth grade.

Ravi is newly arrived in America from India. He is excited about starting a new school. He was at the top of his class in India and an excellent cricket player. He knows he will impress all of his new classmates and teachers. He will begin to make friends and things will be wonderful. Things do not go as Ravi planned however. His teacher implies he may need help with English even though he speaks English just fine. His Math process is completely different. The one person he thought would be his friend turns on him.

Joe is not exited about starting school. After all, he's gone to this school since Kindergarten and knows exactly what to expect from class bully Dillon. It doesn't help that his only two friends moved over the summer and his mom has taken a job as a lunch monitor. Joe always has one eye on Dillon because he's learned from experience the unpleasant results of letting Dillon sneak up on him. Joe knows exactly what is in store for Ravi, and but Ravi doesn't seem to want his help.

Any one familiar with the tropes and stories of MG lit is not going to be surprised by the course this book takes. What makes it special and stand out is the strength of the voices and characterization of both of the boys. The story is told in first person perspective in alternating chapters from each boys' point of view. Individually each boy's story is strong. Through Ravi we get a brilliant picture of what it is like to try to navigate a completely foreign place that you now live. Even though the language barrier is not there because Ravi speaks English (as do many immigrants). Ravi is a bit over confident and grows a lot over the course of the book. Joe has a sensory disorder that makes school hard for him. He is smart but has a hard time focusing. This plus his size as the largest kid in the class makes him a target for the class bully. Joe also grows a lot over the course of the book learning to be more assertive and speak his mind. Eventually the two boys form an alliance with the potential to be a great friendship. Their individual stories are made stronger for being combined. Having both fills in gaps and shows a greater wider picture of the school culture. This is not only a brilliant story telling device abut also serves the larger theme of the story incredibly well.

Aside from the boys, my favorite part of this book is the adults. There are fantastic teachers in this book and I found how they worked with the kids to be incredibly accurate. Even better than that is the involvement and care of the parents. Both Ravi and Joe have parents who care deeply for them and want to help even as they come up agains misunderstanding and the boys' push for independence and desire to fix things themselves. As things that take place at school are influenced by home (and vice versa), it was important to see both environments balanced in both boys' stories.

I haven't seen much talk about this book and would love to see more. It is an excellent work of realistic fiction that will work as both a window and a mirror for almost any child. Like most of Weeks's other books, it is short and easy to book talk. I'm really hoping we see more from Varadarajan in the future too.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Shorter Musings: Realistic MG

Here are some shorter musings on recent reads.

As Brave as You  by Jason Reynolds
This is a quiet book about that centers on complicated family dynamics. It is the second book I've read this year where the protagonist spends the summer with grandparents they haven't met so that the parents can try and work on their marriage. (The other is Some Kind of Happiness.) As Brave as You is an excellent addition for any school or classroom library and a good book to recommend to kids looking for a summer read that truly feels like summer. It is not quite as good as Reynolds YA books, and it is also longer. I can not figure out why it needed to be this long either.

How to (Almost) Ruin Your Summer by Taryn Sounders
A cute, fun story about summer camp and branching out into things that challenge you. I think MG readers will laugh at a lot of the scenarios that arise. I felt the characterization was a little flat and the character's actions predictable, but most of the target audience won't have those quibbles. There is nothing ground breaking here, but it is fairly well written as a whole and does what it intends to well. It is a good short read for summer vacation.

Poison is Not Polite by Robin Stevens
I really enjoy how this series balances serious core problems of humanity with the fun of children outwitting adults and solving crimes. The racial issues that are a daily hardship for Hazel when she's not at school were brought a bit more in this book. But this is mostly a more in depth look at Daisy's life, which we see through Hazel's eyes but are given a clearer view of here. Poor Daisy who has philandering mother, a weak and sad father, and an angry brother. Daisy's Uncle Felix was everything I hoped for and I definitely want to see him again in future volumes. (I would also like to see another adult character who I adored again.)


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TTT: Favorite Reads of 2016 So Far

This Week's TTT Topic: Favorite Reads of First Half of 2016 (Links are to my reviews.)

The MG:

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

The YA:

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriary

When I Was the Greatest  by Jason Reynolds 

The Adult: 

Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis

Sleeping with her Enemy by Jenny Holiday 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dara Palmer's Major Drama

Emma Shevah's Dream on Amber was a gem of a book I discovered as a Round One Cybils panelist for MG Realistic fiction last year. It quickly became one of my favorite MG reads of the year. As such, I was excited to get to read her 2016 release, Dara Palmer's Major Drama, early.

Dara Palmer has one goal in life: She is going to be a famous actress. A superstar. She will live in Hollywood and everyone will know her name. For now, she is a school girl in England who can't seem to get a part in any of the school plays. It is an outrage. She and her best friend are clearly so much more talented than all of the people who are given starring roles. Aren't they? But the drama teacher says Dara needs work and would benefit from her Drama Class. Dara is horrified, but decides to give it a try. This comes at the same time Dara is beginning to think more about her life in Cambodia before her adoption. She notices that there are no famous actresses that look like her. It feels like all her plans are falling apart. She will have to come up with a way to make her dreams come true.

I was split in two.
I was English but I wasn't.
I was Cambodian but I wasn't.
I was in the family but I wasn't really part of the family.
And now my heart was hacked in half as well.

Dara's voice is unique and full of energy. Reading this book is almost exhausting for an introverted person like myself. Shevah did an excellent job of capturing the effervescent, always going, fully engaged with life voice of a dramatic middle grade student. Dara is loud and bright in all of her endeavors. She dresses to fit the part in life she wants to play. She is also incredibly self absorbed and oblivious. The events of the book cause her to open her eyes and start seeing herself and others better. Her conflicted feelings over her adoption and her identity ring true for someone in her situation with her personality. I particularly liked this aspect as we need more books that deal with the feeling of internationally adopted children.

One of the great strengths of Sheva's writing is the way she presents family dynamics. Dara has a wonderful family. Her parents are supportive and understanding. Her older brother Felix is smart and tries to make time for her when she needs it. Her younger sister Georgia (adopted from Russia) is the one member of her family Dara does not get along with. They are completely different people, but as the story progresses, Dara is forced to look at life through her sister's eyes and discovers a lot about both of them. In a lot of ways, the family situation here is very ideal, but it is also realistic. There are squabbles, misunderstandings, and heartache.

I think this will be an enjoyable book for anyone in the target age group. It is written in such a way that the reader falls right into the story. I think most MG readers will feel like they are hearing their own voice or the voice of a friend as they read the prose.

I received an ARC made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via Edelweiss. Dara Palmer's Major Drama is on sale July 5th.