What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in
    from   

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Posts

(tagged with 'Reviews')

JacketFlap Sponsors

Spread the word about books.
Put this Widget on your blog!
  • Powered by JacketFlap.com

Are you a book Publisher?
Learn about Widgets now!

Advertise on JacketFlap

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 4,404
1. The Way to the Zoo: John Burningham

Book: The Way to the Zoo
Author: John Burningham
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham is a picture book about a little girl named Sylvie who discovers a secret doorway in her bedroom that leads to a zoo. The animals are friendly, and sometimes Sylvie brings some of them back into her house. The small bear is cozy to sleep with, but the penguins make a splashy mess in the bathroom. And when Sylvie forgets to close the door to the zoo one day, chaos ensues. 

The Way to the Zoo reminded me a bit of Barbara Lehman's Rainstorm, and a bit of Philip and Erin Stead's A Sick Day for Amos McGee. All three books feature implausible events related in a completely matter-of-fact manner. My four year old daughter thought that The Way to the Zoo was hilarious, and asked immediately that I read it again. 

Burningham takes his time with the story. Instead of jumping in to where the girl finds and opens the door, she first glimpses the door from her bed, decides to wait to check it out in the morning, and then forgets, and doesn't look inside until after school the next day. He uses a relatively basic vocabulary, and explains what's happening in detail. I think that The Way to the Zoo could function as an early reader for some kids. Here's an example (all on one page spread):

"It was getting late. Sylvie had to get back 
to her room and go to sleep because she
had school again in the morning.

Sylvie asked a little bear to come back
with her. He did and slept in her bed

She made sure the bear was back in the
zoo and the door in the wall was closed
before she left for school."

This passage is, of course, also good for teaching young readers about foreshadowing. 

Burningham's illustrations are in pen, pencil pastel, and watercolor. The are minimalist, with only the faintest suggestion of backgrounds, lots of white space, and the details left to the reader's imagination. This isn't my personal favorite style of illustration - I couldn't always tell what kind of animal was being represented, for instance. But the pictures made my daughter laugh, particularly one involving birds in the living room, and another in which a rhino lies on the floor covered up in towels for the night. 

The Way to the Zoo has a timeless feel, support in particular by the apparent freedom that Sylvie has from parental oversight. It would make a nice school or library read-aloud for K-2nd graders. Recommended for home or library use! 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Add a Comment
2. The Empathy Exams

What a marvelous book is The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. A collection of essays published by the local Graywolf Press, it actually spent time a little time on the bestseller lists. Now having read it I understand why. It is a beautiful and thoughtful book that examines empathy from a variety of angles and in some surprising places.

The first essay, “The Empathy Exams,” sets the tone. Jamison is working as an actor, playing patient for medical students who are being scored on not only how well they diagnose and treat a problem but on how well they treat the patient. Do they show empathy?

empathy isn’t just measured by checklist item 31 — voiced empathy for my situation/problem — but by every item that gauges how thoroughly me experience has been imagined. Empathy isn’t just remembering to say that must really be hard — it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.

Between her experience as an actor for med student exams, Jamison weaves a story of her own medical problems, when she had an abortion and then heart surgery not long after. She has difficulty getting what she needs, getting any sense of empathy or caring from her own doctors; they don’t want to deal with her guilt or her tears and are dismissive of her fear. As a result, she demands so much from her boyfriend that he can’t deliver what she wants either:

I needed something from the world I didn’t know how to ask for. I needed people — Dave, a doctor, anyone — to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible. Which is a superlative kind of empathy to seek, or to supply: an empathy that rearticulates more clearly what it is shown.

In the essay “Devil’s Bait” she attends a Morgellons Disease conference in Austin, Texas. People with this disease, seventy percent of whom are women, believe they have crawling, biting things under their skin as well as fibers growing through their skin. They end up picking at the “fibers” and scratching and itching themselves so much they cause very real sores that are sometimes so bad they become disfiguring. It is a delusional disease currently not recognized my the medical community. When treatment is given, it is generally an antipsychotic drug which many of the patients end up not taking because they reject their doctor’s diagnosis of delusional parasitosis. The question then becomes, one of “what kinds of reality are considered prerequisites for compassion”? Jamison wonders

is it wrong to call it empathy when you trust the fact of suffering but not the source? How do I inhabit someone’s pain without inhabiting their particular understanding of that pain?

She finds herself wishing she could

invent a verb tense full of open spaces — a tense that didn’t pretend to understand the precise mechanisms of which it spoke; a tense that could admit its own limits.

Jamison’s wide-ranging essays take us from a writer’s conference in Tijuana, Mexico, to Nicaragua when she was teaching kids and got punched in the face while walking down the street. The man took her wallet and broke her nose. We visit the silver mines of Potosí in Bolivia where the miners are doomed to be dead by the age of forty either from a mine accident or silicosis. It is big business for tourists to go to the mines and go down into them to see the miners are work. You are to bring gifts for the miners: sodas, sticks of dynamite, small bags of cocoa leaves. The gifts help you feel better when you get to leave and breathe fresh air again, knowing the men you just met will be underground for another five hours or more.

She goes on a guided tour of South Central Los Angeles and Watts. Run by former gang members the tour fee goes to help pay for the conflict mediation work they are also doing. As they drive around on an air conditioned bus, protected from the outside and being regaled with stories of gang violence, one of the guides talks of Rodney King and his beating by police. Jamison was only nine at the time and she remembers thinking that the police only would have hit him if he had done something wrong. The truth is far more difficult than that of course. So what good is taking such a tour?

The great shame of your privilege is a hot blush the whole time. The truth of this place is infinite and irreducible, and self-reflexive anguish might feel like the only thing you can offer in return. It might be hard to hear anything above the clattering machinery of your guilt. Try to listen anyway.

There is a wonderful essay on sentimentality and melodrama that tries to pinpoint just why we despise it so much yet desire it at the same time. And another in which she writes about three men who were wrongfully convicted as teens for murder and spent eighteen years in jail.

The book’s concluding essay, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” made me want to cry and cheer at the same time. Cry because a 2001 study revealed that women are less likely than men to be given pain medication. Instead, women are given sedatives. The essay discusses through literature and culture and personal experience the ways in which female pain is fetishized or dismissed. These days women are “post-wounded.” Instead of becoming an angel in our suffering we are supposed to pretend we aren’t suffering at all. But, Jamison asks,

How do we represent female pain without producing a culture in which this pain has been fetishized to the point of fantasy or imperative? Fetishize: to be excessively or irrationally devoted to. Here is the danger of our wounded womanhood: that its invocation will corroborate a pain cult that keeps legitimating, almost legislating, more of itself.

Jamison doesn’t come to any definite conclusion on how female pain might be represented, but she is certain that is should never be dismissed even at the risk of its being fetishized:

The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.

Empathy of course is the solution. An open heart allows one to be empathetic to the suffering of others whether their pain comes from a delusional disease or a source that cannot be pinned down, or from getting punched in the nose. As she says in an early essay in the book, empathy isn’t just something that happens to us it is also something we choose:

to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, the dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I am deep in my own

A beautiful book guaranteed to make you think. I highly recommend it.


Filed under: Books, Essays, Nonfiction, Reviews

Add a Comment
3. Nonfiction Detectives

Two librarians review the best nonfiction books for children. 

http://www.nonfictiondetectives.com/

0 Comments on Nonfiction Detectives as of 7/26/2014 3:08:00 PM
Add a Comment
4. Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

MadmanPineyWoods Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul CurtisThe Madman of Piney Woods
By Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0-545-63376-5
$16.99
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 30th

No author hits it out of the park every time. No matter how talented or clever a writer might be, if their heart isn’t in a project it shows. In the case of Christopher Paul Curtis, when he loves what he’s writing the sheets of paper on which he types practically set on fire. When he doesn’t? It’s like reading mold. There’s life there, but no energy. Now in the case of his Newbery Honor book Elijah of Buxton, Curtis was doing gangbuster work. His blend of history and humor is unparalleled and you need only look to Elijah to see Curtis at his best. With that in mind I approached the companion novel to Elijah titled The Madman of Piney Woods with some trepidation. A good companion book will add to the magic of the original. A poor one, detract. I needn’t have worried. While I wouldn’t quite put Madman on the same level as Elijah, what Curtis does here, with his theme of fear and what it can do to a human soul, is as profound and thought provoking as anything he’s written in the past. There is ample fodder here for young brains. The fact that it’s a hoot to read as well is just the icing on the cake.

Two boys. Two lives. It’s 1901, forty years after the events in Elijah of Buxton and Benji Alston has only one dream: To be the world’s greatest reporter. He even gets an apprenticeship on a real paper, though he finds there’s more to writing stories than he initially thought. Meanwhile Alvin Stockard, nicknamed Red, is determined to be a scientist. That is, when he’s not dodging the blows of his bitter Irish granny, Mother O’Toole. When the two boys meet they have a lot in common, in spite of the fact that Benji’s black and Red’s Irish. They’ve also had separate encounters with the legendary Madman of Piney Woods. Is the man an ex-slave or a convict or part lion? The truth is more complicated than that, and when the Madman is in trouble these two boys come to his aid and learn what it truly means to face fear.

Let’s be plainspoken about what this book really is. Curtis has mastered the art of the Tom Sawyerish novel. Sometimes it feels like books containing mischievous boys have fallen out of favor. Thank goodness for Christopher Paul Curtis then. What we have here is a good old-fashioned 1901 buddy comedy. Two boys getting into and out of scrapes. Wreaking havoc. Revenging themselves on their enemies / siblings (or at least Benji does). It’s downright Mark Twainish (if that’s a term). Much of the charm comes from the fact that Curtis knows from funny. Benji’s a wry-hearted bigheaded, egotistical, lovable imp. He can be canny and completely wrong-headed within the space of just a few sentences. Red, in contrast, is book smart with a more regulation-sized ego but as gullible as they come. Put Red and Benji together and it’s little wonder they’re friends. They compliment one another’s faults. With Elijah of Buxton I felt no need to know more about Elijah and Cooter’s adventures. With Madman I wouldn’t mind following Benji and Red’s exploits for a little bit longer.

One of the characteristics of Curtis’s writing that sets him apart from the historical fiction pack is his humor. Making the past funny is a trick. Pranks help. An egotistical character getting their comeuppance helps too. In fact, at one point Curtis perfectly defines the miracle of funny writing. Benji is pondering words and wordplay and the magic of certain letter combinations. Says he, “How is it possible that one person can use only words to make another person laugh?” How indeed. The remarkable thing isn’t that Curtis is funny, though. Rather, it’s the fact that he knows how to balance tone so well. The book will garner honest belly laughs on one page, then manage to wrench real emotion out of you the next. The best funny authors are adept at this switch. The worst leave you feeling queasy. And Curtis never, not ever, gives a reader a queasy feeling.

Normally I have a problem with books where characters act out-of-step with the times without any outside influence. For example, I once read a Civil War middle grade novel that shall remain nameless where a girl, without anyone in her life offering her any guidance, independently came up with the idea that “corsets restrict the mind”. Ugh. Anachronisms make me itch. With that in mind, I watched Red very carefully in this book. Here you have a boy effectively raised by a racist grandmother who is almost wholly without so much as a racist thought in his little ginger noggin. How do we account for this? Thankfully, Red’s father gives us an “out”, as it were. A good man who struggles with the amount of influence his mother-in-law may or may not have over her redheaded grandchild, Mr. Stockard is the just force in his son’s life that guides his good nature.

The preferred writing style of Christopher Paul Curtis that can be found in most of his novels is also found here. It initially appears deceptively simple. There will be a series of seemingly unrelated stories with familiar characters. Little interstitial moments will resonate with larger themes, but the book won’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Then, in the third act, BLAMMO! Curtis will hit you with everything he’s got. Murder, desperation, the works. He’s done it so often you can set your watch by it, but it still works, man. Now to be fair, when Curtis wrote Elijah of Buxton he sort of peaked. It’s hard to compete with the desperation that filled Elijah’s encounter with an enslaved family near the end. In Madman Curtis doesn’t even attempt to top it. In fact, he comes to his book’s climax from another angle entirely. There is some desperation (and not a little blood) but even so this is a more thoughtful third act. If Elijah asked the reader to feel, Madman asks the reader to think. Nothing wrong with that. It just doesn’t sock you in the gut quite as hard.

For me, it all comes down to the quotable sentences. And fortunately, in this book the writing is just chock full of wonderful lines. Things like, “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and the same can be said of many an argument.” Or later, when talking about Red’s nickname, “It would be hard for even as good a debater as Spencer or the Holmely boy to disprove that a cardinal and a beet hadn’t been married and given birth to this boy. Then baptized him in a tub of red ink.” And I may have to conjure up this line in terms of discipline and kids: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, but you can sure make him stand there looking at the water for a long time.” Finally, on funerals: “Maybe it’s just me, but I always found it a little hard to celebrate when one of the folks in the room is dead.”

He also creates little moments that stay with you. Kissing a reflection only to have your lips stick to it. A girl’s teeth so rotted that her father has to turn his head when she kisses him to avoid the stench (kisses are treacherous things in Curtis novels). In this book I’ll probably long remember the boy who purposefully gets into fights to give himself a reason for the injuries wrought by his drunken father. And there’s even a moment near the end when the Madman’s identity is clarified that is a great example of Curtis playing with his audience. Before he gives anything away he makes it clear that the Madman could be one of two beloved characters from Elijah of Buxton. It’s agony waiting for him to clarify who exactly is who.

Character is king in the world of Mr. Curtis. A writer who manages to construct fully three-dimensional people out of mere words is one to watch. In this book, Curtis has the difficult task of making complete and whole a character through the eyes of two different-year-old boys. And when you consider that they’re working from the starting point of thinking that the guy’s insane, it’s going to be a tough slog to convince the reader otherwise. That said, once you get into the head of the “Madman” you get a profound sense not of his insanity but of his gentleness. His very existence reminded me of similar loners in literature like Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson or The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, but unlike the men in those books this guy had a heart and a mind and a very distinctive past. And fears. Terrible, awful fears.

It’s that fear that gives Madman its true purpose. Red’s grandmother, Mother O’Toole, shares with the Madman a horrific past. They’re very different horrors (one based in sheer mind-blowing violence and the other in death, betrayal, and disgust) but the effects are the same. Out of these moments both people are suffering a kind of PTSD. This makes them two sides of the same coin. Equally wracked by horrible memories, they chose to handle those memories in different ways. The Madman gives up society but retains his soul. Mother O’Toole, in contrast, retains her sanity but gives up her soul. Yet by the end of the book the supposed Madman has returned to society and reconnected with his friends while the Irishwoman is last seen with her hair down (a classic madwoman trope as old as Shakespeare himself) scrubbing dishes until she bleeds to rid them of any trace of the race she hates so much. They have effectively switched places.

Much of what The Madman of Piney Woods does is ask what fear does to people. The Madman speaks eloquently of all too human monsters and what they can do to a man. Meanwhile Grandmother has suffered as well but it’s made her bitter and angry. When Red asks, “Doesn’t it seem only logical that if a person has been through all of the grief she has, they’d have nothing but compassion for anyone else who’s been through the same?” His father responds that “given enough time, fear is the great killer of the human spirit.” In her case it has taken her spirit and “has so horribly scarred it, condensing and strengthening and dishing out the same hatred that it has experienced.” But for some the opposite is true, hence the Madman. Two humans who have seen the worst of humanity. Two different reactions. And as with Elijah, where Curtis tackled slavery not through a slave but through a slave’s freeborn child, we hear about these things through kids who are “close enough to hear the echoes of the screams in [the adults’] nightmarish memories.” Certainly it rubs off onto the younger characters in different ways. In one chapter Benji wonders why the original settlers of Buxton, all ex-slaves, can’t just relax. Fear has shaped them so distinctly that he figures a town of “nervous old people” has raised him. Adversity can either build or destroy character, Curtis says. This book is the story of precisely that.

Don’t be surprised if, after finishing this book, you find yourself reaching for your copy of Elijah of Buxton so as to remember some of these characters when they were young. Reaching deep, Curtis puts soul into the pages of its companion novel. In my more dreamy-eyed moments I fantasize about Curtis continuing the stories of Buxton every 40 years until he gets to the present day. It could be his equivalent of Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House chronicles. Imagine if we shot forward another 40 years to 1941 and encountered a grown Benji and Red with their own families and fears. I doubt Curtis is planning on going that route, but whether or not this is the end of Buxton’s tales or just the beginning, The Madman of Piney Woods will leave child readers questioning what true trauma can do to a soul, and what they would do if it happened to them. Heady stuff. Funny stuff. Smart stuff. Good stuff. Better get your hands on this stuff.

On shelves September 30th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

First Sentence: “The old soldiers say you never hear the bullet that kills you.”

Like This? Then Try:

Notes on the Cover:  As many of us are aware, in the past historical novels starring African-American boys have often consisted of silhouettes or dull brown sepia-toned tomes.  Christopher Paul Curtis’s books tend to be the exception to the rule, and this is clearly the most lively of his covers so far.  Two boys running in period clothing through the titular “piney woods”?  That kind of thing is rare as a peacock these days.  It’s still a little brown, but maybe I can sell it on the authors name and the fact that the books look like they’re running to/from trouble.  All in all, I like it.

Professional Reviews:

share save 171 16 Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

4 Comments on Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis, last added: 7/26/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
5. Friday Feature: Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick


16059938
Sometimes danger is hard to see... until it’s too late. 

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn't prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage. 

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there... and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target. 

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally? 

My thoughts:
It's no secret that I love the Hush, Hush series. Becca Fitzpatrick is one of my favorite authors, so when I found out this book was going to be given out at BEA, I had to have it. (Special thanks to Dan Cohen for making sure I got a copy since I missed the actual book drop.) This book is very different from the Hush, Hush series, but I was still sucked in.

Britt is an interesting character. At times she comes across as being very dependent on the men in her life. I didn't like this part of her personality. But there are other times when she's extremely strong and the men in her life depend heavily on her. Showing both sides helped the reader to see how Britt grows as a person throughout the book. I was really glad to see her moments of strength because without them, I would have had a hard time rooting for her.

I did love how Britt put totally set herself up for trouble, first agreeing on a trip with her ex-boyfriend, who happens to be her best friend's older brother, and then by claiming a total stranger is her new boyfriend just to save face and having her ex confirm her story. Luckily that stranger goes along with Britt's lie, and isn't she surprised when her truck gets stranded in a snow storm and she winds up on that very same stranger's doorstep. ;)

From there, trouble begins and Britt isn't sure who to trust, especially since there is a murderer on the loose. I admit, I figured out who the murderer was early on. *Sigh* I'm really cursed when it comes to figuring out plots before I'm supposed to. But anyway, I still really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.

Add a Comment
6. Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature: Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, Peter Sieruta

Book: Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature
Authors: Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta
Pages: 288
Age Range: Adult Nonfiction

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature is an insider's guide to the world of children's books and their creators, written by three well-known children's book bloggers. In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have known Betsy Bird and Julie Danielson since my earliest days of blogging. While we've only met face to face a few times, I've read their blogs for years, and been on shared mailing lists and the like. I also read the late Peter Sieruta's blog, though I don't believe I ever had any direct contact with him. So you should consider my discussion of Wild Things! more along the lines of a recommendation than a critical review. I very much enjoyed the book. 

Wild Things! reveals the authors' deep affection for and knowledge of the field of children's literature. They discuss everything from the history of subversive children's literature to book banning to the ways that the Harry Potter books have affected the industry. This is the first book I've seen that openly discusses gay and lesbian authors of children's books, and how the outsider status of some of these authors may have affected their work. Like this:

"Unique perspectives yield unique books. It is difficult to be gay and not see the world in a way that is slightly different from that of your straight peers." (Page 54, ARC)

I especially enjoyed chapters on "scandalous mysteries and mysterious scandals" and "some hidden delights of children's literature." There's also an interesting discussion of the books critics love vs. the books that kids love. 

Despite covering a lot of ground, Wild Things! is a quick, engaging read. Though there are extensive end-notes citing sources, and it's clear that much research has been done, the book itself reads like a series of chatty essays written by friends. Wild Things! is full of interesting tidbits, like the extra pupil shown on one page of Madeline, and a rather disturbing claim by Laura that Pa Ingalls may have once encountered a serial killer. There are some resources that may help those new to thinking about children's books, such as a list of publications that review children's books. But for the most part, Wild Things! is a book that's going to appeal most to people who already have a reasonably solid grasp of the industry, and at least a passing familiarity with the key players. 

Wild Things! is not, however, insider-y in terms of the book blogging world. Because I've read so many posts by Betsy and Jules, there were certainly places where I could hear their distinct voices coming through. There are some fun sidebars in which all three authors briefly take on some question or author. But there is scant mention in the book of the authors' blogs themselves. The authors do muse a bit in the final chapter about the impact of cozy relationships between bloggers and authors, but for the most part they keep their emphasis on books and authors, and other people who have been instrumental in the evolution of the larger children's book world (like Ursula Nordstrom). They do include snippets of interviews with many authors and publishers, frequently backing up their own opinions with remarks from leaders in the field. 

Wild Things! is strong on the defense of the importance of children's literature (and fairly strong against message-driven celebrity books). Like this:

"And with every doctor, librarian, and early childhood educator telling us that childhood's importance is without parallel, it is baffling to see their literature condescended to, romanticized, and generally misunderstood." (Page 5 of the ARC)

"Childhood is not a phase to be disregarded; the same should be said of the books children read. They deserve well-crafted tales from the people who have the talent to write and illustrate them and who take their craft seriously. Do they need heavy-handed sermons from the latest celebrity "It" girl's newest children's book? Not so much." (Page 6)

I also loved this quote from A. A. Milne:

"Whatever fears one has, one need not fear that one is writing too well for a child, any more than one need fear that one is becoming almost too lovable." (Page 192)

Wild Things! is a book about the joy and quirkiness that is the field of children's literature. It is a celebration of books and their authors, and a defense of the importance of putting the very best possible books into children's hands. Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta accomplish all of this by sharing stories and opinions, theirs and those of others, with the reader. Fans of children's books, be they authors, bloggers, teachers, librarians, parents, or just people who appreciate a good book, are sure to enjoy Wild Things! Recommended for adults and older teens (there is definitely content that is not for kids), and a must-purchase for libraries. Wild Things! is a keeper!

Publisher: Candlewick 
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Add a Comment
7. Review of Like No Other

lamarche like no other Review of Like No OtherLike No Other
by Una LaMarche
Middle School, High School    Razorbill/Penguin    347 pp.
7/14    978-1-59514-674-8    $17.99    g

How’s this for a meet cute? New York teens Devorah and Jaxon get stuck in a hospital elevator during a hurricane. Though their encounter is a fairly brief one, it’s also intense, and both come away with that love-at-first-sight feeling. Here’s where things get complicated. Devorah is a Hasidic Jew, and a frum one at that (“basically the Yiddish equivalent of ‘hopeless goody two-shoes’”). Jaxon is black. They live in present-day Crown Heights; and although, as Jaxon says, “the neighborhood has become so gentrified that I’m more likely to get hit by an artisanal gluten-free scone than a bullet, let’s be real,” tensions can still run high, especially within Devorah’s ultra-conservative family. Even though Devorah’s menacing brother-in-law, a member of the Shomrim (Orthodox neighborhood watch), is on to them, she still can’t resist accidentally-on-purpose bumping into Jax at his work and accepting the cell phone he sneaks (in a grand romantic gesture) into her yard. The story is told from the teens’ alternating perspectives. While Jax is a little too good to be true, Devorah, whether agonizing over her love life or sharing informative details about Hasidic daily life and religious philosophy, is believable and engaging. Her struggle between tradition and modernity, filial duty and personal fulfillment, is complicated and realistic; just because she doesn’t want an arranged marriage doesn’t mean she’s ready to turn her back on her family and her culture. This leads to a conclusion that, while bittersweet, is still hopeful.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

share save 171 16 Review of Like No Other

The post Review of Like No Other appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of Like No Other as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
8. The Gardener of Versailles

The Gardener of Versailles by Alain Baraton is a delightful book whether you are interested in gardening or Versailles. Baraton has been the Gardener in Chief at Versailles since 1982. Don’t you just love that title? He was the youngest ever installed in the position. He began working at Versailles in the 1970s with no intent on becoming a gardener. As a teen all he wanted was to have enough money to afford his scooter and the hobby of photography he decided to take up. He mowed lawns and weeded for cash. He had no real aspirations for anything so his parents enrolled him in horticulture school. Afterwards, he got a job at Versailles selling tickets at the gate and after a little while there was an opening for a novice gardener and he was given the job which he only took because the chief gardener at the time told him he would be able to live free in the gardens in one of the employee apartments.

As a young man who didn’t believe himself to be very attractive to women, he found that being a gardener at Versailles and living on the grounds had its perks. He was able to provide private tours to willing young women who suddenly found him very attractive. Heh. Years later he met his wife at Versailles. She was visiting the gardens alone and got caught in a downpour and he invited her into his house to dry off and warm up.

The Gardener of Versailles is an enjoyable mix of memoir, history, and personal opinion from an experienced gardener. I fell in love with Baraton at the start when he talks about the trees of Versailles:

I’m not an overly sentimental or nostalgic person; I don’t wring my hands in pity over a broken vase, and I don’t play Mozart for my hydrangeas. But a tree is a living thing. After living alongside my trees for more than thirty years, I’ve acquired more than simple know-how. I feel something like botanical sympathy; I can tell whether a tree needs attention, whether it is suffering or flourishing.

There was a severe and devastating storm that hit Versailles in 1999. The garden lost more than 18,000 trees that were either uprooted by the storm or were so damaged they had to be cut down. Baraton was heartbroken over the losses and it still haunts him all these years later. Throughout the book he keeps returning to the storm again and again; there was the garden before and the garden after and the garden after is just not the same.

Of course with any top position one finds that one no longer gets to spend as much time doing the things one loves most. Baraton discovered that as Gardener in Chief he spends most of his time worrying about budgets and filling out paperwork. Nonetheless, he still makes it out into the gardens and does he ever have some good stories!

You might think his greatest enemy would be drought or flood or pests but it turns out it is busloads of senior citizens. The elderly women are, more often than not, plant thieves, sometimes uprooting entire plants and stashing them in bags to take home!

On the other end of the spectrum are the young couples who think they will have an exciting and romantic time having sex in a secluded part of the garden. Only many times they only think they are out of the way and have been discovered by tour groups, almost run over by a lawn mower or suffered other indignities. Baraton feels for them though and offers some helpful suggestions for would-be lovers:

dress appropriately. Versailles is infested with mosquitoes, and I’ve seen more than one romantic idyll ruined by the impromptu arrival of a swarm of hostile insects. The destination should be the broad, green allées in the depths of the domain — the air is purer and the landscape will lend a charming country atmosphere to your lovemaking. There are also fewer passersby, and with luck, you might even see some wild animals…Above all else these distant destinations allow you the occasion for a long walk — the distance will allow you to get to know one another better, and as the case may be, fan the flames of your companion’s desires or reassure your companions of your good intentions.

Versailles is used to people making love. The various Louiss (Louis’s? Louisies? Louises?), especially the XIVth, had mistresses galore. The statues even tell tales. Louis XIV had a statue of himself as Eloquence made for the garden. His statue was placed so it looked directly at a statue of the nude huntress Diana, made in the likeness of his favorite mistress. When the statues were revealed the affair was made public. Louis’s wife was incensed and had a couple of yews planted to keep the two statues from looking at each other.

And mixed in with all of that is a dose of gardening advice:

But a good gardener should never lose sight of the fact that gardening is a perpetual balancing act of pleasure and necessity. The healthiest plants are obtained by those who know and respect the laws of nature.

And:

What makes a good gardener? The essential ingredient can be reduced to a single word: joy. Our work may be tiring but it is also extremely gratifying.

Baraton may not have started out wanting to be a gardener but he has grown to love the work and the garden he works in. His love for both shines throughout the book making me want to visit Versailles just to meet him and maybe if I am lucky he would show me some of his favorite trees and tell me their stories.


Filed under: Books, gardening, History, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews

Add a Comment
9. In the After: Demitria Lunetta

Book: In the After
Author: Demitria Lunetta
Pages: 464
Age Range: 13 and up

In the After is the first of a two-book series by Demitria Lunetta (the second book was just released, though I haven't read it yet). In the After is set in the wake of a world-wide apocalypse caused by an invasion of predatory, man-eating creatures. 17-year-old Amy has lived for three years in hiding, alone except for the company of Baby, a young girl she rescued from a grocery store. Amy and Baby live in silence, for fear of drawing Them. They use sign language to speak, and have never even heard one another's voices.

They actually have things pretty good, all things considered. Amy's mother held an important government position, and their house is surrounded by an electric fence that keeps the monsters out. Her dad was an environmentalist who kept their home as off the grid as possible. Amy and Baby have electricity and water. But they do have to venture out among the creatures to scavenge for food. An encounter with other survivors on one of their trips starts a process that changes Amy and Baby's lives forever. 

In the After is a compelling read, one that will keep the reader guessing. The first part of the book takes place in and around Amy and Baby's home in Chicago. Without giving too much away, I'll say that the second part of the book takes place elsewhere, among other people. This is where Lunetta's storytelling really starts making the reader think. In brief, italicized scenes, Amy is in a mental ward. The rest of the story is told in intermittent flashbacks, as a mentally foggy Amy tries to pieces together how she got there. Because of Amy's fragile state, the reader isn't always sure how to interpret the flashbacks, which makes the story even more thought-provoking. 

The characters apart from Amy are distinct, though not always highly nuanced. Basically, we get to know Amy very well, and the other characters not so well. But Amy is great. Here are a few snippets, to give you a feel for her voice:

"I only go out at night.

I walk along the empty street and pause, my muscles tense and ready. The breeze rustles the overgrown grass and I tilt my head slightly. I'm listening for them." (Page 1)

"So much of who I used to be was about being good in school and having friends who were also good in school. We were, to put it simply, arrogant little know-it-alls. But I miss that." (Page 78)

"The arts were probably pointless now that everyone was focused on survival. I thought back to all my time alone, reading, as the world crumbled around me. It was the only thing that gave me solace and hope." (Page 191)

In addition to keeping the reader wondering about plot points, Lunetta is good at creating atmosphere. She makes the reader feel the creepiness of walking down a dark street where silent monsters might be a only few feet, and the helplessness of being trapped in a mental ward. 

In the After grabs the reader from the first page, and doesn't let go. Recommend for fans of YA dystopias, particularly of the alien invasion variety. Particularly recommended for those who enjoyed Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave. Readers who have read many dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories will notice certain universal themes, but I don't think this takes away enjoyment of the story. I think that In the After is a book that will especially appeal to adult readers, actually, though I would expect teens to enjoy it, too. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: HarperTeen (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Add a Comment
10. Review of Pom and Pim

landstrom pom and pim Review of Pom and Pimstar2 Review of Pom and PimPom and Pim
by Lena Landström; illus. by 
Olof Landström; trans. from 
the Swedish by Julia Marshall
Preschool    Gecko    32 pp.
3/14    978-1-877579-66-0    $16.95

Pom is a small child with sparse orange curls, clad in a long purple sweater; Pim is Pom’s inanimate sidekick of indeterminate species: a dirty pink, with two eyes and four floppy appendages, the better to be dragged around by. “Pom and Pim are going out. It’s warm. The sun is shining. What luck!” But ahead, lying in wait, are a rock and a piece of paper. Pom trips over the rock (“Ouch! Bad luck”) and does a face-plant on the paper — which turns out to be “Money! What luck!” Small adventures ensue, alternating good and bad luck. Eating a huge ice-cream cone leads to a tummy ache — but lying down to recover leads to spying a pink balloon above the bed; taking the balloon outside for a walk (“The balloon bounces beautifully”) leads to it popping on a thorn bush. Pom is downcast but then, indomitable, comes up with the ideal use for the limp leftovers: “A raincoat for Pim!” And what luck: it’s now raining. In matching pink coats the two friends splash through a spare but joyful double-page spread of raindrops and puddles. The brief text and droll ink and watercolor illustrations keep the focus tightly on Pom and Pim, working together brilliantly to bring out the considerable situational humor; Pom’s facial expressions telegraph every fluctuating emotion. The good luck/bad luck progression will let readers predict events — and then allow them to (perhaps) be happily surprised by the closing twist. Quirkier and much smaller in scope than classics such as Remy Charlip’s Fortunately and Margery Cuyler’s That’s Good! That’s Bad! — but just as entrancing.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

share save 171 16 Review of Pom and Pim

The post Review of Pom and Pim appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of Pom and Pim as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
11. Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider

PrincessSparkleHeart Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderPrincess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover
By Josh Schneider
Clarion (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-544-14228-2
Ages 3-7
On shelves now

Sometimes I’ll just sit back and think about how the advent of the internet has affected literary culture. I don’t mean book promotion or reviews or any of that. I’m talking about the very content of books themselves. On the one hand, it accounts for the rise in Steampunk (a desire for tactile, hands-on technology, gears and all). On the other, it has led to a rise in books where characters make things. So why, you may be asking yourself, am I saying all this when ostensibly I’m supposed to be reviewing a picture book with the title Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover? Because, best beloved, Josh Schneider has created a picture book that provides solutions. If something terrible happens to something you love, do you sit on the floor and cry and bemoan your fate? NO! You go out and find the solution, even if it means getting your hands a little dirty. We’re seeing a nice uptick in books where kids make things and fix things on their own. Add in a jealous doggy and a twist ending that NO ONE will see coming and you have a book that could easily have been written in the past but contains a distinctly 21st century flavor through and through.

Amelia just couldn’t be happier. When she gets her new doll, Princess Sparkle-Heart, the two bond instantly. They do tea parties, royal weddings, share secrets, the works. Never mind that Amelia’s pet dog eyes their happiness with an envious glare. The minute the two are separated, it acts. One minute Princess Sparkle-Heart is reading a book to herself. The next, she’s a pile of well-chewed bits and pieces on the floor. At first Amelia is distraught, but when her mother proposes putting the doll back together Amelia provides direction and ideas. This is the all-new Princess Sparkle-Heart, ladies and gentlemen. One that is NOT going to be taken advantage of again.

PrincessSparkle2 300x191 Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderI’ll be the first to admit to you that I like a little weird with my children’s literature. The only question is whether or not kids like the same kind of weird that I like. There’s no question that some of them do have a taste for the unusual, after all. It’s adult selectors that grow disturbed by some of this author/illustrator’s choices. In the case of Princess Sparkle-Heart (can I tell you how much I love that her last name is hyphenated?) I’ve already seen a schism between some adults and others. Some adults find this book freakin’ hilarious. They love the odd way in which Schneider chooses to empower his heroine. Others aren’t amused in the least. For my part, I found it a wonderful new girl/doll story. I was particularly fond of the spread where Amelia looks at a wall of fashion magazines and zeroes in on the sole solitary superhero comic found there instead. So if Schneider is telling readers something, he’s being subtle about it.

I’ve also been noticing a rather nice trend recently in books starring young girls. There’s a real movement in the country right now to give girls the impetus to make and create and build. Books like The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires where the heroine not only builds but deals repeatedly with disappointment are really quite fabulous. In Princess Sparkle-Heart Amelia’s unseen mother is the one doing the construction of a new princess, but it’s Amelia who provides the number of parts and the specifications. If the new princess is completely different from her prior incarnation, that’s thanks to Amelia’s contributions. Meanwhile the Frankenstein connection that some have noted (and that I entirely missed the first time around) is clearly intentional. How else to explain the two screws that appear in the “M” of the front cover’s “Makeover”? No doubt Princess Sparkle-Heart’s conversion will strike some as monstrous. For others, it’ll be like your average everyday superhero origin story. Nothing wrong with that!

PrincessSparkle3 300x194 Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh SchneiderI’ve been oddly amused by dog books this year. I am not a dog person. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. But in 2014 we’ve seen some really spectacular canine picture books. Things like Shoe Dog by Megan McDonald, and I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein, and now this. The dog in this particular book is awfully similar to the one in Bears by Ruth Krauss as re-illustrated by Maurice Sendak, with its jealousy of a beloved toy. Cleverly Schneider has positioned the dog’s growls to serve as a running commentary behind the action. A low-key “GRRRRRRRRRR” runs both on and off the page, bleeding into the folds, falling off the sides. Schneider’s humans never have pupils (and combined with her red hair this gives Amelia a distant L’il Orphan Annie connection) but the dogs and stuffed animals do. As a result, the dog ends up oddly sympathetic in spite of its naughty ways (and indeed there is a happy ending for all characters at the story’s close).

Occasionally folks will ask me for “Princess Book” recommendations. Admittedly I’m far more partial to subversive princess tales (The Paperbag Princess, The Princess and the Pig, etc.) than those that adhere to the norm. Keeping that in mind, this is definitely going into my princess book bag of tricks. With its twist ending, strong female character, and princess that looks like she could take down twenty monsters without a blink, I’m a fan. I wouldn’t necessarily hand it to the kid looking for fluff and fairies and oogly goo, but for children with a wry sense of humor (and they do exist) this book is going to pack a wallop. Funny and surprising and a great read through and through. You ain’t never seen a makeover quite like THIS before.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

  • Dahlia by Barbara McClintock
  • Bears by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Other Blog Reviews: Sal’s Fiction Addiction,

Professional Reviews: A star from Publishers Weekly, A star from Kirkus,

Misc: There is a TON of stuff related to the book on the publisher’s website.  Everything from sewing patterns to a Q&A to early sketches to more more more!

share save 171 16 Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider

1 Comments on Review of the Day: Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider, last added: 7/22/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
12. Call for Submissions: Your Impossible Voice

Your Impossible Voice is now accepting submissions for issues five and six. We publish fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and more. We don't charge any reading fees and do pay our contributors.  

Contributors to our first four issues include: Arisa White, Jessica Hagedorn, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Gillian Conoley, Lewis Buzbee, Arielle Greenberg, Mary Burger, R. Zamora Linmark, Karen An-hwei Lee, David Bajo, and more.

To learn more about us and to submit, please visit our website.

Add a Comment
13. Call for Submissions: Saw Palm

Online submission deadline: October 1, 2014

Saw Palm is seeking submissions of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for Issue 9. We are an annual print magazine out of the University of South Florida. Our mission is to be the premier cultural barometer of Florida—to collect, publish, and review the best works of one of the most populous and diverse states in the U.S. We welcome writers and artists from across the globe as long as the work is somehow connected to Florida (via images, people, themes, etc.). 


We also welcome creative works from Floridians and former Floridians that are not obviously about someplace else.

Please visit our website for more details.

Add a Comment
14. Call for Submissions: cahoodaloodaling: The Animal Becomes Us

The Animal Becomes Us

Email submission deadline: September 30, 2014

Issue #14 of cahoodaloodaling—The Animal Becomes Us—is open for submissions. We’re leaving this wide open to interpretation. Consider this your open invitation to send anything from light verse about your animal companion to speculative were-animal stories. 


Submissions due 9/30/14. Guest editor TBA. Issue live 10/31/14. See more information on submitting and read past issues here.

Add a Comment
15. I Didn't Do My Homework Because... Davide Cali

Book: I Didn't Do My Homework Because ...
Authors: Davide Cali & Benjamin Chaud 
Pages: 44
Age Range: 6-9

I Didn't Do My Homework Because ... is a celebration of the ingenuity of childhood. On the first page, a teacher asks a child: "So why didn't you do your homework?" On subsequent pages, he shares a host of creative excuses, like:

"An airplane full of monkeys landed in our yard"; and

"Some escaped convicts from the local jail hid in my bedroom and wouldn't come out." 

Each excuse is accompanied by a humorous illustration. In the prior example, we see the boy surrounded by much larger prisoners in yellow-striped outfits. The boy is brining them pink lemonade, and they are looking at his books. Because why not? 

This is a small format book, about the size of an early reader. It's more like a picture book in format otherwise, though the target age range is probably solidly in elementary school. Preschoolers don't generally have much homework, after all. Nor are they likely to know what "carnivorous plants" are. There's a humorous ending in which the teacher doesn't believe the boy, because she has the same book. For me, this was just enough to make it feel a bit like a story, rather than solely a collection of excuses. The illustrations are full of detail, and include boy-friendly tidbits like giant lizards. 

Instructions on the back of the book read:

"WHEN TO USE THIS BOOK:
Whenever you haven't finished your homework.

CAUTION:
Each excuse may only be used once."

Like the excuses, I'm not sure how well this book will hold up to multiple reads. But it's definitely fun, and sure to make elementary school kids laugh. Recommended for classroom libraries, or any seven-year-old with an overactive imagination.  

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Add a Comment
16. Flashback June 2012

A look back at what I reviewed in June 2012



The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos. From my review: "Houston, 1968. Two stories are intertwined; the story of a white family and a black family. Jack Long is the race reporter for the evening news. Larry Thompson is a local activist and college professor. They reach out and develop a friendship, based in part because both realize that “men of conscience have got to get together . . . , or nothing is going to change."

Gilt by Katherine Longshore. From my review: "England, 1539. Kitty Tylney and Cat Howard are two teenage girls, living at the home of Cat’s grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk. The Duchess may be rich and powerful, but she is also old and absorbed in her own affairs. Kitty, Cat, and the other girls who live crowded together in the maiden’s chamber are there because they have no where else to go. No one is really interested in them. . . . . Young, pretty, bored. Dreaming of life at court, with dances and pretty clothes and handsome men. In the meanwhile, making their own fun, in ways not quite proper. Late night festivities that include dancing and drinking and boys. Kitty, abandoned by her family, values Cat and her friendship more than anything, because it’s the only thing Kitty has. She’ll do anything for Cat, follow her anywhere, help her with anything. All of Cat’s dreams come true when she captures the eye of the King, and she brings her friends along for the good fortune. Dreams sometimes turn to nightmares; how far will Kitty go to help her friend?"

My Sister's Stalker by Nancy Springer.From my review: "When sixteen-year-old Rig’s parent’s divorced, he went to live with his mother while his sister, Karma, stayed with their father. The two haven’t really kept in touch in the four years since, especially since she left for college. One day, Rig, missing her, searches the Internet for her rather distinct name. What he finds chills him: a website by someone obsessed with his sister. Photographs that could only be taken by someone watching his sister. Will Rig be able to convince his parents that his sister is in danger? Will he be able to save his sister?"

New Girl by Paige Harbison. From my review: "A re-imagining of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. When a space opens up in the prestigious Manderley Academy, the “new girl” from Florida finds herself in a complex situation. The reason for the opening? The disappearance of Rebecca Normandy the previous spring. Becca had herself been the “new girl” the year before; despite being at school just one year, Becca made an impact and impression on all she met: her grieving roommate, Dana, who resents being given a new roommate; Max Holloway, Becca’s boyfriend; Johnny, Max’s former best friend."

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) by Robin LaFevers. From my review: "You know, “nun assassins” is enough, isn’t it? (Or is it assassin nuns?)"

Summer and the City: A Carrie Diaries Novel by Candace Bushnell. From my review: "Seventeen year old Carrie Bradshaw is in New York City for a summer writing program. She’s just been mugged and has called the only number she has, a cousin of a semi-friend. Carrie goes with Samantha Jones to a party, and thus begins Carrie’s introduction to New York City in the 1980s."


Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

0 Comments on Flashback June 2012 as of 7/17/2014 2:59:00 PM
Add a Comment
17. Motherless Child by Glen Hirshberg


For Strange Horizons, I reviewed Glen Hirshberg's Motherless Child.
Motherless Child is a vampire novel that isn't much interested in vampires. Instead, as its title suggests, more than anything else it is a novel about motherhood. Most of the main characters are mothers, the primary themes are ones of parenthood and responsibility, and the basic storyline sends vampirized mothers running away from their children and then fighting against the urge to return, fearing that they will no longer see their kids as offspring but as prey.
First published by Earthling Publications in 2012, Motherless Child has now been reprinted by Tor. Glen Hirshberg has won a number of awards for his horror short stories (collected in The Two Sams [2003], American Morons [2006], and The Janus Tree [2012]), and Tor may see Motherless Child as a breakout book for him, one that will bring a wider audience for his fiction. It clearly displays some of the hallmarks of a tale that could be embraced by a wide audience, certainly more than his often subtle, enigmatic short stories do. Whether this is to its benefit as a novel depends entirely on what you want your novels to do, both in the prose itself and in the story that prose tells.
Continue reading at Strange Horizons.

0 Comments on Motherless Child by Glen Hirshberg as of 7/16/2014 12:03:00 PM
Add a Comment
18. The Young World: Chris Weitz

Book: The Young World
Author: Chris Weitz
Pages: 384
Age Range: 14 and up

The Young World by Chris Weitz is a post-apocalyptic survival story, this one featuring a mysterious illness that kills everyone except teens (they continue to catch it as they reach age 18 or so). The Young World ought to have felt like "been there - done that" to me. But it didn't, for some reason. Well, because of a combination of strong characterization, well-delineated settings, and intense action, I think. With bonus points for the inclusion of diverse characters, and for tackling race relations head on. I quite enjoyed it, and look forward to the sequel (the book ends with a cliffhanger). 

The Young World is set in New York City. Rival groups of teens have formed armed encampments. There's a considerable amount of rivalry, political maneuvering, and violence. In this, The Young World reminded me a bit of Charlie Higson's Enemy series, though without the zombie adults, and with considerably more three-dimensional characters. 

The story is told in alternating chapters by Jefferson and Donna, two kids who were friends before the Sickness came, and who seem destined to be more than friends in the aftermath. If they can survive that long, that is. Jefferson and Donna are very different from one another, and keeping track of their separate first-person voices is not a problem. (The publisher also helped in the digital version that I read by using different font sizes for the two narrators.) Jefferson is a half Japanese / half white younger son of an "oldie" father. He is introspective and hopeful, a self-declared "nerd philosopher king", genuinely trying to find a better way for the survivors. Donna is a "trigger-happy feminist sniper", and calls herself "the pixie-ish, wacky best friend". She's all tough talk, but she secretly cries while watching iPhone videos of her deceased baby brother. 

Jefferson and Donna live in a kind of commune in a protected Washington Square Park. However, they soon set out on a quest to help find a journal article that their resident evil genius (and apparently person with Asperger's), Brainbox, thinks may hold a key to understanding the Sickness. Jeff, Donna, and Brainbox are joined by Peter, a gay, Christian, African American boy who is a bit of a wise-ass, and SeeThrough, a tiny Chinese girl who excels at Martial Arts, but doesn't talk much. They make friends and enemies in the course of their journey, and even have to fight a bear. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to show you the difference between Jeff and Donna's voices:

"Taped to the pedestal, mementos of the dead. Snaps of moms, dads, little brothers and sisters, lost pets. What Mom used to call "real pictures," to distinguish them from digital files. Hard copies are where it's at now that millions and millions of memories are lost in the cloud. An ocean of ones and zeroes signifying nothing." (Jefferson, in his first chapter)

"Not enough hands or time to get rid of all the bodies, though. And they're still out there, millions of them, slowly turning to mulch, pulsing with maggots. It's been a banner year for carrion eaters. Hope I didn't spoil your appetite." (Donna, her first chapter)

In looking through my clippings, I find that I highlighted a ton of passages, mostly from Donna. She has a real flair for getting to the heart of things. Like this:

"But books--books are handy. You can keep ideas on paper for, like, centuries. And if you want to find stuff out, it's right there. You don't have to grab it out of the air, call it up from some data center in, like, New Jersey. So books had the last laugh. Nobody is going to know what the hell me and Jeff and the crew did five years from now. Unless Jefferson writes it down in one of his fancy notebooks or there's space aliens who can read things from people's bones or something. But Huck Finn is gonna be chillin' on the Mississippi forever." (Donna)

I love that last bit. The Young World is an adventure story that I could see reading again, even after I know how things turn out, just to enjoy hanging with the characters. On the first read, I did read pretty quickly, curious to know how things were going to turn out. There is plenty of suspense.

I also quite like the attention that Weitz pays to the details of New York. One of my favorite scenes is when Donna finds Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library. I don't know New York all that well, but there are plenty of other details that enhance the sense of place, without being too insider-y. Like details about the exhibits in the Met.  

One has to get past the contrived nature of the premise of The Young World, of course, but that's true of all post-apocalyptic stories, particularly ones that strive to leave the teens in charge. However, I found other aspects of Weitz's world-building are refreshingly realistic. The kids scrounge up generators and solar panels, so that they still have some access to gadgetry. They run around clutching their iPhones even if there's no cell service, and they can occasionally listen to music or watch movies, too. It's not all "technology is now dead" as in many stories.

The characters also maintain certain aspects of their pre-existing social structures. The rich, white kids band together, call themselves the Uptowners, and have a fully separate society from the kids from Harlem. The Harlem kids are strong fighters, and some of them believe that they are actually better off than they were before the apocalypse. The kids from the alternative school end up in Washington Square Park, and remain cool with alternative lifestyles. I found it all fascinating. 

Bottom line: even though this post-apocalyptic scenario of killer virus leaving only teens might seem on the face of it a bit tired, Weitz's execution made The Young World totally work for me. I can't wait for the next book, and I highly recommend The Young World to fans of near-term post-apocalyptic teen fiction. It's a bit violent, though, and has some cursing and sexual references, so I would call it a high school, rather than middle school, read. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids) 
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Source of Book: Advance digital review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Add a Comment
19. ONE AND DONE: The Trouble With First Issues [The Life After #1]

LIFEAFTER_1_GABO_VARIANT_-_4x6_COMP_SOLICIT_WEB_large

Sometimes, it’s just not fair to judge a book by its first issue. They’re just so different from what you’ll end up getting on a monthly basis. First issues have an incredible amount of work to do, work that’s extremely hard to do well in 22 pages–in fact, a lot of first issues are a longer than those that will follow.

I say this because, while The Life After #1–written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and illustrated by Gabo–is a well-executed comic book, with great art and deft storytelling that rewards multiple reads, I am far more interested in what might lie ahead than what actually happened. But more on that later.

The Life After #1 begins with Jude, a young man who leads a terribly monotonous life. It’s pretty standard sad-sack stuff, but really well depicted by Gabo, who chooses to convey Jude’s static life in a meticulously composed fifty-panel grid. It’s one of my favorite things about the book, and it’s the first double-page spread.

But something is off about Jude’s life, and we’re clued in right from the start. He’s being monitored. Everyone is. And when he finally decides to break his routine, to break everyone’s routine, he realizes the truth–he’s in purgatory, and so are the people around him. He lives in a mundane afterlife for people who committed suicide. And now that he’s awake, whoever’s in charge isn’t going to be happy.

At this point, my only real gripe with The Life After is all the comparisons I want to make–not to something like The Matrix, although it did come to mind–but to a little-seen 2006 film called Wristcutters: A Love Story. It’s a black comedy about purgatory for suicides that hits a lot of the same beats. Having seen that film, it sort of robbed me of that thrill you get when discovering something entirely new, and I was worried that The Life After wouldn’t be all I hoped it would.

That’s not to say it isn’t good–there is very deep, somber stuff being explored here, and it’s well worth your time. It just felt familiar to me, and I had trouble adjusting to that.

And then Ernest Hemingway showed up, and I think everything is going to be alright.

I’m serious. Hemingway is going to be a big part of the book. Ask the author, he’ll tell you.

It’s not so much Hemingway’s inclusion that excites me, but what it represents. It was that spark I was looking for, that flash of something new and exciting and full of possibility. It suggests that this world, this story, is only going to get weirder and more whimsical, that there might be more afterlifes to explore than this one, that there are interesting questions and ideas to wrestle with here.

The Life After is off to a slow start, but I’m extremely hopeful for the ride that lies ahead. It could be a good one.

As always, support your local comic shop if you can, patronize your local library if you have one, and say hi on Twitter if you like.

2 Comments on ONE AND DONE: The Trouble With First Issues [The Life After #1], last added: 7/13/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
20. SIX-GUN GORILLA REVIEW: All That And More

BOOM_SIX-GUNGORILLA_001v1_A

Let’s start with that title, shall we?

Calling a story “Six-Gun Gorilla” is a bold and audacious decision, one that’s guaranteed to attract a specific kind of person and give many others pause. If you come to this book cold, you will very likely either somersault with glee or scratch your head and wonder, ‘huh?” And that’s fair.

But after you’re done scratching your head you should grab the book from the comic shop shelf and buy it, or snatch it from you friend’s desk and implore them to let you borrow it, or click on the button that takes a little bit of money out of your bank account and tells the mailman to bring you a copy.

No matter what you think it is, Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely’s Six-Gun Gorilla is more than that. It is a title that simultaneously obscures and illuminates, promising something very plainly while hiding something deeper, something emotional, something meaningful.

At this point, If you’re a culturally savvy purveyor of obscure fiction,  you might start to feel smug. You might be thinking of a certain fifteen-part serial published in a British adventure magazine in the 1930s. You might believe that such knowledge  gives you a leg up on what to expect, and better information on which to base your decision on whether to pick up or pass on this book.

You too, would be wrong. That’s not to say that such knowledge won’t be rewarded in reading Six-Gun Gorilla, it’s just belaboring the point: this book isn’t what you expect it to be. It’s so much better.

The story starts simply enough. Our hero is a librarian who lost everything: his job, his love, his home, his car.  With nothing else to lose, he signs up for a suicide mission to the Blister, a strange frontier where electricity and combustion doesn’t work and the high noon sun will burn you alive. Figuring out why he’s there, and what he’s supposed to do is part of the fun.

It’s a big reason why Ramón Pérez’s cover for the miniseries’ first issue (which doubles as the cover for the collected edition) is just as perfect as that title: it tells you exactly what’s inside the tin, but hints at something more.

Yes, there is a giant talking gorilla with huge freaking revolvers in this book. But what’s up with that there glowing blue face? And why do I need to ‘stand by?’ That’s not very Six-Gun. That’s not very Gorilla.

I can’t wait for you to find out. For you to be treated to Jeff Stokely’s art, which breathes hot, vibrant life into this neo-Western fable. For you to puzzle over this world as pieces are doled out to you in a manner that is spare but never frustrating. For you to be surprised at the depth of emotion hiding in plain sight.

Consider this line a spoiler warning if you’re already intrigued enough to give this book a chance. You don’t have to read anymore. This is for those that need the extra push.

Six-Gun Gorilla is a comic that knows you might think it silly. On the other hand, if it wore its true ambitions on its sleeve, you might think it pretentious. To come out and say that it is a story about stories might be intriguing, but it also does it a disservice, as does the word “meta.” The former denotes a certain self-importance, the latter a smug cleverness. The book is neither.

It’s about fiction and memory, relationships and honesty, pain and loss, beginnings and endings, media and meaning.

It’s also about a big-ass, gunslinging gorilla.

Give it a read.

When you’re done, let’s talk about all the stories we know, and why we know them. Let’s speak of the world’s we’ve been to that don’t exist, and why we keep them on our shelves. Let’s count all the lies we love because they make us feel, and why we need them.

0 Comments on SIX-GUN GORILLA REVIEW: All That And More as of 7/11/2014 6:25:00 PM
Add a Comment
21. Monday Mishmash: 7/14/14

Happy Monday! Here's my mishmash of thoughts:
  1. I have a roof!  Finally! The addition isn't finished yet but I have a roof, which means no more raining in my house. Yay!
  2. Beth Fred's Blurb Writing Class  Beth Fred is teaching another online blurb writing class in August. Beth is great at writing blurbs so you're going to want to sign up here.
  3. Revisions  I'm working on second round revisions of my MG novel this week. I still have more to trim off my word count.
  4. Kiss of Death  My Touch of Death prequel novella from Alex's POV will be ready soon, and it will be free! I can't wait to share it with you.
  5. Reviewing  I need to catch up on reviews. I have two waiting for me to write them. Hopefully they'll get taken care of this week.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

Add a Comment
22. Review of The Midnight Library

kohara midnight library Review of The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library
by Kazuno Kohara; illus. by the author
Preschool    Roaring Brook    32 pp.
6/14    978-1-59643-985-6    $16.99

Welcome to the Midnight Library, where a little-girl librarian and her three owl assistants provide a friendly spot for animals from “all over the town” to “find a perfect book.” Outside the windows, stars twinkle in a black sky; inside, the library glows with a warm golden light. The little librarian, braids flying, cheerfully bustles around the packed bookshelves, where small dramas are happily resolved alongside library business-as-usual. Kohara’s (Ghosts in the House!, rev. 9/08) gentle story and vibrant compositions have an old-fashioned sensibility and simplicity. The illustrations, which look like wood-block prints, feature just three colors: black, gold, and blue. With this limited (but not limiting) palette and strong, energetic lines, Kohara captures the magic of the middle-of-the-night goings on. This is a dream of a library, too, designed with lots of reading nooks (including top-of-bookshelf perches), comfy chairs, lanterns, and trees with ornaments on the branches, adding to the enchantment. There’s a lot to linger over on the pages, and the art varies from full- and double-page spreads to smaller panel illustrations. When the sky begins to lighten, it’s time for the library to close and for the little librarian and the owls to “find one last book.” Of course, that last book is a bedtime story, which is the perfect way to end this beguiling library visit.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

share save 171 16 Review of The Midnight Library

The post Review of The Midnight Library appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of The Midnight Library as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
23. Review of the Day: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

SeparateEqual1 300x300 Review of the Day: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan TonatiuhSeparate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegretation
By Duncan Tonatiuh
Harry N. Abrams
$18.95
ISBN: 978-1419710544
Ages 7-12
On shelves now

If I blame my childhood education for anything I suppose it would be for instilling in me the belief that the history worth learning consisted of a set of universally understood facts. One event would be more worthy of coverage than another. One person better positioned for a biography than another. It was only in adulthood that I started to understand that the history we know is more a set of decisions made decades and decades ago by educators than anything else. Why were weeks and weeks of my childhood spent learning about The American Revolution but only a day on the Vietnam War? Why did we all read biographies of Thomas Edison but never about Nicolas Tesla? And why did it take me 36 years before someone mentioned the name of Sylvia Mendez to me? Here we have a girl with a story practically tailor made for a work of children’s nonfiction. Her tale has everything. Villains and heroes (her own heroic parents, no less). Huge historical significance (there’d be no Brown v. Board of Education without Sylvia). And it stars Latino-Americans. With the possible exception of Cesar Chavez, my education was pretty much lacking in any and all experience with Latino heroes in America. I’m therefore pleased as punch that we’ve something quite as amazing as Separate is Never Equal to fill in not just my gaps but the gaps of kids all over our nation.

Sylvia is going home in tears. Faced with teasing at her new school she tells her mother she doesn’t want to go back. Gently, her mother reminds her that teasing or no, this is exactly what the family fought so hard for for three long years. In 1944 the Mendez family had moved to Westminster, California. When the first day of school approached their Aunt drove five of the kids to the nearby public school. Yet when they arrived she was told that her children, with their light skin and brown hair could attend but that Sylvia and her brothers would have to go to “the Mexican school”. Faced with hugely inferior conditions, the Mendez family decides to fight back. They are inspired by a lawsuit to integrate the public pools and so they hire the same lawyer to take on their case. In court they hear firsthand the prejudices that the superintendent of their district holds dear, but ultimately they win. When that decision is appealed they take it to the state court, and win once more. Remembering all this, Sylvia returns to school where, in time, she makes friends from a variety of different backgrounds. Backmatter consists of an extensive Author’s Note, a Glossary, a Bibliography, additional information About the Text, and an Index.

SeparateEqual2 300x258 Review of the Day: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan TonatiuhWhen I say that Sylvia’s story adapts perfectly to the nonfiction picture book form, I don’t want to downplay what Tonatiuh has done here. To tell Sylvia’s story accurately he didn’t have a single source to draw upon. Instead the book uses multiple sources, from court transcripts and films to books, websites, articles, and reports. Culling from all of this and then transferring it into something appropriate and interesting (that is key) for young readers is a worthy challenge. That Tonatiuh pulls it off is great, but I wonder if he could have done it if he hadn’t interviewed Sylvia Mendez herself in October 2012 and April 2013. Those who know me know that I’m a stickler for non-invented dialogue in my children’s works of nonfiction. If you can’t tell a real story without making up dialogue from real people then your book isn’t worth a lick. At first, it appears that Tonatiuh falls into the same trap, with Sylvia wondering some things and her family members saying other. Look at the backmatter, however, and you’ll see a note “About the Text”. It says that while the trial dialogue comes from court transcripts, the rest of the book came from conversations with Sylvia herself. So if she says her parents said one thing or she thought/pondered another, who are we to doubt her? Well played then.

Librarians like myself spend so much time gushing over content and format that often we forget one essential element of any book: child-friendliness. It’s all well and good to put great information on picture book sized pages, but will any kid willingly read what you have? In this light, framing this book as a flashback was a clever move. Right from the start Tonatiuh places his story within the context of a child’s experience with mean kids. It’s a position a great many children can identify with, so immediately he’s established sympathy for the main character. She’s just like kids today . . . except a hero. At the end of the book we have photographs of the real participants, both then and now. As for the text itself, it’s very readable, keeping to the facts but, aided by the design and the art, eclectic enough to maintain interest.

SeparateEqual3 300x182 Review of the Day: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan TonatiuhWhen we talk about Tonatiuh’s art it’s important to understand why he’s chosen the style that he has. In interviews the artist has discussed how his art is heavily influenced by ancient Mexican styles. As he said in an interview on the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, “My artwork is very much inspired by Pre-Columbian art, especially by Mixtec codices from the 14th century. That is why my art is very geometric, my characters are always in profile, and their ears look a bit like the number three. My intention is to celebrate that ancient art and keep it alive.” Heads of participants are always shown from the side. This is combined with the decision to digitally insert real hair, of a variety of shades and hues and colors, onto the heads of the characters. The end result looks like nothing else out there. There are mild problems with it, since the neutral expression of the faces can resemble dislike or distaste. This comes up when Sylvia’s cousins are accepted into the nearest public school and she is not. Their faces are neutral but read the wrong way you might think they were coolly unimpressed with their darker skinned cousin. Still, once you’ve grown used to the style it’s hardly an impediment to enjoying the story.

I think it’s important to stress for our children that when we talk about “integration”, we’re not just talking about African-American kids in the 1950s and 60s. Segregation includes Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and more. At one point in this book the Mendez family receives support from the NAACP, the Japanese American Citizens League, and the American Jewish Congress amongst others. Sylvia’s mother says, “When you fight for justice, others will follow”. For children to understand that freedom is never a done deal and that increased rights today means increased rights in the future is important. Books like Separate is Never Equal help drill the point home. There is absolutely nothing like this book on our shelves today. Pick it up when you want to hand a kid a book about Latino-American history that doesn’t involve Chavez for once. Required reading.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

share save 171 16 Review of the Day: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

6 Comments on Review of the Day: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh, last added: 7/18/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
24. Kiss of Deception: Remnant Chronicles, #1 -- Mary E. Pearson

Me, while reading The Kiss of Deception: Hey, this is so much fun! It's got the same feel as The Girl of Fire and Thorns books and since that series is over, it's so awesome to find another one that OH MY GOD I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING.

GOOD SHOW, MARY E. PEARSON.

Yeah, this one's got me all caps-happy.

Proof via the FB:

Kiss of deception FREAK OUT

Kiss of deception

Rather than be forced into an arranged marriage to a prince from another country who A) can't be bothered to even MEET her before getting hitched, let alone even CORRESPOND WITH HER, and B) expects her to have a magical ability that she DOESN'T HAVE, Princess Arabella Celestine Idris Jezelia, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, runs away with her maid.

They travel hundreds of miles, doubling back and leaving false trails and doing everything they can to avoid being followed—disobeying the king, after all, is an act of treason, and punishable by death—and eventually make their way to a small fishing village on the coast, where they settle down and get jobs as barmaids. It's hard work, and a very different life than either girl is used to, but they're both very happy there.

But despite their best efforts at avoiding detection, there are at least two men on their trail: one is the prince, who is partly angry about Lia's flight but MOSTLY curious about her, and the other is the assassin who has been ordered to kill her.

Pros:

  • EVERYTHINNNNNNNNNNG. There's action and romance and romantic complications; the characters are smart and strong and the emotions are palpable; the focus seamlessly shifts from Lia to the Prince to the Assassin and back again; the worldbuilding and creation of multiple cultures is super; the details about daily life are just as compelling as the action sequences. As you'd expect from a girl who's grown up a princess, Lia is capable of being QUITE imperious when roused as well as QUITE bossy, but she's also wonderfully stubborn and hugely empathetic and even if I didn't always AGREE with her decisions, I understood them. There are threads about family and duty and friendship, and OH MY STARS, IF YOU LIKE HIGH FANTASY, THEN JUST READ IT.

Cons:

  • Very occasionally, the dialogue would veer from Semi-Olde-Fashionedy-Formal-Fantasy ("You serve the Kingdom of Morrighan well on this day, Arabella.") to Modern-Day-American ("Pull your royal head out of your ass and get used to it!"), but that is a TOTALLY minor quibble in the face of SO MUCH AWESOME.

Nutshell:

OH MY GOD DO I SERIOUSLY HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL 2015 FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT?

*flails*

*flails some more, just for good measure*

___________________________________

Book source: Review copy via Netgalley.

Add a Comment
25. Review: And We Stay

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard. Delacorte Press, Random House. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: January, 1995, and Emily Beam has just started at the Amherst School for Girls to finish her junior year. Before this she went to her local high school, and she isn't going to talk about why she is now in this boarding school in Massachusetts.

It was because of a boy. Not just any boy, her boyfriend. And the gun he took to school. And what happened. And why.

The Good: "Before Boston, before ASG, Emily had wanted nothing more than to be loved by a boy. When she was fourteen, sixteen, she had watched girls on the cheerleading squad sprout wings with each boyfriend. They became more beautiful, the beauty of confidence. For four months, Emily had it, too."

Emily had it with Paul, a senior. Paul, who took his grandmother's gun to school one day and killed himself.

And now Emily is at boarding school.

Why the setting of 1995? Because what happened with Paul, with Emily, at the school is Emily's secret. Or, not so much secret, as thing she cannot talk about. In today's world of social media and easy Internet access, the "why" of Paul would remain hers but the facts of it would be known.

And why Amherst? Because Emily becomes fascinated with another Emily who lived in Amherst, Emily Dickinson. Emily writes poetry, and it's in these poems that she gradually comes to terms with the boy she loved and what happened.

OK, Spoilers. Sorry, but this is one of the times when I want to talk about those secrets and yes.... for an original read of the book, it is best to discover it on your own.

Paul and Emily's relationship is what the Emily at 14, at 16, had wanted. And at first, Paul is what she wants and she loves him. But as time goes by -- and yes, it's only a handful of months but it's still time -- Emily realizes she wants more. When she gets pregnant, she tells him she's getting an abortion. The scene, later in the book, is heart breaking. At first she tells him it's because her parents say she has to, even though they haven't, until she owns that she doesn't want a baby. And she breaks up with him.

Maybe today Paul's reactions, wanting to marry Emily, being against her having an abortion, would be different than in 1995. Or, given some recent news stories, maybe not.

But And We Stay is about Emily living with, and surviving, what happened: Paul, being in love, not being in love, and how quickly it all happened: the break up, his suicide, her abortion. She is sent to boarding school in part so she doesn't have to go back to the whispers and bad memories of her old high school, but also about giving her a blank slate against which to come to terms with what happened. It is only her memories, her emotions, she has to think about.

It's told in the here and now of Emily at ASG, and so it's not just about Emily coming to terms with her past. It's also about her connecting, despite herself, with those around her. It's about finding her voice through her poetry.

My favorite line in the book is practically the last one: "It does not have to define who Emily is, was, or will be." And this is the heart of the book -- deciding what does, or does not, define us.

Other things that I like: Emily's parents. They do their best for her; she is not "sent away" to boarding school but sent to, for herself, not as punishment. That while the story is told in present tense, it still creates a distance between the reader and Emily, reflecting the distance Emily keeps between herself and the world. The friends she meets at ASG. And that there is no new boy or new romance.



Other reviews: Wondrous Reads; Kirkus; Finding Bliss in Books; Stacked.




Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

0 Comments on Review: And We Stay as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts