These are some shorter musings on recent reads: one contemporary realistic, four fantasies.
Foxheart by Claire Legrand
I like that there have been so many prickly heroines in MG this year that are chock full of flaws. Quicksilver is an excellent addition to these. Sassy, opinionated, and mostly out for her own benefit, she does a lot of growing over the course of the story and learns to be a little less self involved but also retains all of her bounce and verve. I like that. The rest of the characters didn't work for me quite as well. It's a good story that doesn't break a lot of new ground but is satisfying in what it does. It has quite a different feel from Legrand's other books and isn't my favorite, but its an excellent addition to MG fantasy shelves particularly in places where there are many fans of magic and animals together.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
I say this every time I review one of Jason Reynolds' books, but that man writes his characters' voices better than anyone. Ghost isn't just a character on a page, his words ring in your head like he is sitting right next to you telling his story. Reynolds just gets his characters on every level and that brings them to startling reality. The plot and themes of Ghost are simple but the way the story is told make them shine. There are scenes and reveals that are really well done. Overall it's just a really excellent story that has a timeless feel to it. Every library that serves middle schoolers needs this on their shelves.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
The sentence level writing of this book is beautiful. Barnhill is adept at stringing words together to create sentences that sing and beautiful imagery. The thematic treatment in the book is also excellent. The book is all about the power of love, how it can be unlimited, and the overcoming of fear. I also enjoyed the treatment of what constitutes a family. However, there are characterization and plot pacing issues for me that I can't ignore to completely love this book. There are so many characters. I really wanted to read the story of the titular character, but it's not really her story. This could have worked if Barnhill developed the characters a bit more, but there are so many of them and there is so much going on in the plot. The omniscient narration means we see several scenes over again from the perspectives of different characters making the book longer than is necessary and throwing off the pacing. It truly is a lovely story, it just feels fettered by all of that.
Grayling's Song by Karen Cushman
I always want to love Karen Cushman's books more than I actually do in reality. The concept for Grayling's Song is excellent. Grayling has to travel through the land trying to figure out why all the witches and wizards have been turned to trees (including her own mother) and by whom. It is a quest fantasy with an animal companion and a young girl who is scared but determined to be brave and do the right thing. It is short and may appeal to some kids on the younger yet precocious end of the MG spectrum. The language was troublesome to me as I read it. This is often the case with Cushman's books and part of why they tend not to work for me. Her awkward attempts at an old fashioned country dialect throw me out of the story every time.
The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary
Saki is egocentric and determined to think the world is out to target her. A common affliction when one is in middle school. Her parents drag her to the middle of nowhere Japan from Tokyo to spend a holiday honoring ancestors with her grandmother. After Saki makes several selfish choices, she ends up with a death curse hanging over her that she has three nights in the mythical Night Parade to undo. Each night she gets a different animal guide in the mysterious spirit realm. The story works really well and has all that is necessary to make an engrossing quest tale.