“White Bird” by R. J. Palacio

Image result for white bird palacioThe Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Sara’s life as a Jewish girl in a small French town is upended in 1940 when Germany invades her country.  As the precariousness of her new life under Nazi rule becomes undeniable, she is separated from her parents and hidden in a barn by a school acquaintance named Julian.  The war draws on and Sara realizes that she may have to endure life in the barn for quite some time. With this understanding comes the grief that she may never see her parents again but also gratitude for the enormous risk that Julian and his family are taking to keep her hidden.

My Take:  I was enormously impressed by this graphic novel.  Palacio has certainly proven that she has more in her artistic well than just the popular book Wonder.  I was gripped by the intensity of the story and the growing bonds between the characters as they suffer under Nazi cruelty.  Due to some violent content, librarians and teachers may consider treating this a Teen rather than a Juvenile read.  Highly recommended.

One Interesting Thing About The Author:  In addition to writing, Palacio also illustrated the graphic novel.

 

“My Jasper June” by Laurel Snyder

Image result for my jasper june"The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: The past year has been rough for Leah as her family deals with tragedy and her friendships are changing at school.  As the summer begins, she finds that she and her best friend Tess have drifted apart, leaving a hole in her life.  Luckily Leah soon meets a curly redhead girl her age named Jasper who is new in town.  The girls become instant best friends, but Leah discovers that Jasper’s life is full of  hurtful secrets. As each girl grapples with the broken parts of their lives, they realize that being a true friend is neither simple nor easy.

My Take:  This book convincingly portrays a friendship between two girls who are each grappling with pain.  The story is less of a thrill ride and more of an unfolding of the characters as the reader gets to know each of them.  I was most interested in the sense of co-dependency that forms within moments of the girls’ meeting.  Each senses in the other something that they are missing and that they desperately need and want. This urge is so powerful that at times they end up hurting the other person.  I knew from the start that the friendship between Leah and Jasper would not be smooth, but I definitely enjoyed the bumpy relationship between them.  Highly recommended to girls around the age of 11 – 13.

One Interesting Note About The Author: Ms. Snyder lives in Ormewood Park in Atlanta which is the setting for “My Jasper June.”

“The Book Of Boy” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Image result for the book of boyThe Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Boy lives a simple existence on a manor estate in 14th century France: he tends the goats, sleeps in his hut, and tries to hide his hunchback from those who tease and call him names.  His life is upended when a lone pilgrim named Secundus appropriates him for a trip to a local town to offer prayers to a holy relic.  Along the way, Boy learns that Secundus has a longer journey in mind and divulges that he is on a quest to collect seven relics and take them to Rome.  Boy finds himself swept up in an adventure that will open him up to the world beyond his manor home and learn extraordinary lesson about his true self.

My Take:  Murdock has written an excellent novel here and definitely deserves its place as a Newberry Honor. I found myself caught up in the rough characters of Secundus and Boy.  I marveled at Boy’s ability to rationalize his miserable existence at the manor and wondered how much grief was stored inside of him and how was he going to process it.  Secundus is a more mysterious character who leaves the reader guessing at his motivations until deep into the book.  I was touched by the convincing changes that both of these characters undergo and by the end was left feeling very close indeed to both of them. Mudrock deserves credit for weaving in supernatural elements in a seamless manner that almost makes them feel realistic.  I often found myself wondering if something was real, the perspective of an unreliable narrator, or perhaps just the general beliefs of a more superstitious time in history.  By keeping much back, Murdock kept me guessing, something that children’s literature rarely does. A highly recommended read for ages 12 +!

One Interesting Note About The Author: According to an interview with her, Catherine Gilbert Murdock prefers reading children’s literature to grown up books because she finds them “long-winded, depressing and lacking in resolution.”

“Beyond The Bright Sea” by Lauren Wolk

Image result for beyond the bright seaThe Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less:  When Crow was an infant, she washed ashore onto a tiny island located off of the coast of New England and a man named Osh found her and raised her as his own daughter.  Local rumor held that Crow had come from the leper colony on Penikese Island, but there was never any proof of this.  Now older, Crow has begun to question her origins and wants to know who her biological parents are.  She and Osh visit Penikese and there find the beginnings of a mystery that will bring great wealth but also great danger to their small island.

My Take: I greatly enjoyed Wolk’s novel Wolf Hollow and was excited about Beyond the Bright Sea.  I was impressed by Wolk’s description of  the Elizabeth Islands and I thought that she did an excellent job of situating the reader into the rhythms of Crow and Osh’s life on the ocean.  Wolk makes a good choice of framing the narrative around 3 characters, each with their own rough charm and simple decency.  Some of the mystery turns on events that are a little too neat and coincidental, and I believe that book would have been stronger with a twist along the way.  However, this remains a solid choice for young readers looking for a mystery or a historical fiction.

One Interesting Note About The Author: Lauren Wolk lives on Cape Cod and has visited many of the Elizabeth Islands.

 

“Eventown” by Corey Ann Haydu

Image result for eventown by corey ann hayduThe Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less:  Twin sisters Elodee and Naomi are moving with their mom and dad to a new place called Eventown. While the girls are ambivalent about leaving their old house and changing schools, they soon find that Eventown is an amazing place.  The weather is always perfect, the residents are inevitably cheerful, and school has never been more enjoyable.  Eldoee, however, soon begins to sense that something is off, that no risks are ever taken, and nothing much seems to change.  As she becomes more acquainted with Eventown, she decides that the price people pay to live there is too high for her family.

My Take:  I felt that this book worked well on a metaphoric level, so long as the reader does not think too much into it.  Haydu introduces some elements of magical realism into the narrative at certain points and the reader will need to accept these to enjoy the book.  The author asks that we not examine too critically such plot devices as the the cause of the collective psychological fog which embraces Eventown.  When I accept that this is not a book based strictly in realism, I can appreciate that the story does a pretty decent job of exploring the themes of how families deal with change and grief, of how the drive for safety forces people to sublimate other emotional needs, and how deeper meaning derives from the messiness of life.  Astute readers will notice clear parallels to Lois Lowry’s The Giver.  While I’m not crazy about the plot mechanics behind the book, I would recommend Eventown to young people looking for a more serious read.

One Interesting Note About The Author: According to the bio on her website, Corey lives in Brooklyn with her family and “a wide variety of cheese.”

“Last Meeting Of The Gorilla Club” by Sara Nickerson

Image result for last meeting of the gorilla club by sara nickersonThe Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less:  Josh has had his imaginary friend Big Brother since kindergarten.  They stayed close and played together until mom lost patience and forced Josh to perform a burial ceremony for Big Brother in the backyard.  He hasn’t seen Big Brother since then, but now, entering 5th grade at a new school, Josh’s imaginary friend has returned.  At the school a boy named Lucas has noticed Josh and also the strange shadow that follows him, even on cloudy days.  Lucas will play an important role as Josh grapples with his new life in 5th grade and the return of Big Brother.

My Take:  The strength of this book is how is takes the inner lives of young people seriously.  When Josh was younger, Big Brother was mostly a playmate with whom to build LEGO creations.  Now as Josh is entering 5th grade, Big Brother serves as that voice to push him out to football games, to go on bike rides with friends, and into the general social scene.  Clearly this imaginary friend serves partly as a vehicle for Josh’s growing psyche that is waking up to the world at large.  Without revealing any spoilers, Lucas’s imaginary friend serves more as a conduit for the grief and shame from an event many years prior.  Nickerson should be given credit for finding a way to explore the anxieties of young people without making it too overwrought or artificial. I found the author’s presentation of the imaginary friends convincing and I never found myself bothered by this narrative device.   Nickerson’s well crafted book asks the reader to consider and respect the complex inner lives of young people.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  According to her website, Sara works part time in a library (yaaay!) and advises that one of the best steps to becoming a writer is to be a reader first.

 

 

 

“My Life As A Book” by Janet Tashjian

Image result for my life as a bookThe Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: As the school year winds down, Derek Fallon finds a newspaper clipping in the attic about a girl who drowned 12 years ago off of Martha’s Vineyard.  Derek is curious to find out more about the girl but is stonewalled by his parents.  On top of that, because of his poor grades and general misbehavior, his parents decide to send him to Learning Camp over the summer.  Derek struggles through the daily lessons and math games at the camp and in his spare time investigates the mystery of the drowned girl.  When he convinces his parents to take a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Derek hopes that he will be able to get to the bottom of the mystery.

My Take:  I had difficulty enjoying the character of Derek Fallon.  In several instances throughout the book, he engages in behavior that is hurtful to others, but he never seems to have a full reckoning with it.  The author’s intent was probably for comic effect directed at younger readers, but I couldn’t get past that Derek has a side to him that was cruel and selfish.  The author showed little interest in exploring this side of Derek (which, honestly, would probably have made a more interesting read!) or the consequences of his actions.  His immature behavior subsides for several chapters near the end when he is finding out the truth behind the mystery.  Rather than it being a convincing character change, however, I found these chapters to be distinctly out of place with the rest of the book and I never believed Derek’s transformation to be earned.  I would be hesitant to recommend this book to young readers unless they enjoyed sarcasm and poor choices on the part of the main character.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  The My Life book series is illustrated by her son Jake.