Book review: Witchborn, by Nicholas Bowling

Bowling, Nicholas. Witchborn. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2018. $18.99. 209 pages. Ages 10 up.  ISBN 9781338277531. P8/Q8

Set in England in the days of Queen Elizabeth I, this story takes a different angle on the rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots.  Witches were being blamed for all kinds of things at the time, and who’s to say, posits the author, if there weren’t real witches that were being overlooked while innocents were being burned at the stake?   Taking the part of the witches, this story follows a girl being raised by an “aunt” in an isolated place, removed from all knowledge of the outside world, until they are attacked by two strange men.  The story has lots of detail of the age, along with some of the politics, yet remains a youthful story of identity-seeking, friendship, and rising to a challenge.  There is a minimum of gruesome detail, but still the story maintains an ominous  sense of how things will go.  The ending leaves room for a continuing saga.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

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Book review: Field Notes on Love, by Jennifer E. Smith

Smith, Jennifer E. Field Notes on Love.  Delacorte Press/Random House,  2019. $21.99. 274 pages.   ISBN 9780399559419. Ages 12 up.  P8/Q8

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve reviewed a YA book, so perhaps I’m less jaded, but I enjoyed reading this lighthearted romance.  Two recent high school graduates are taking their first steps on to college.  One, a New Yorker, aspires to be a filmmaker and is headed to L.A. to USC.  The other just wants to get away from a loving but all-encompassing family and doesn’t know yet what he wants to do.  They live in literally different hemispheres.  The plot artifice is that they both break up with their high school sweethearts, and the boy’s now-ex-girlfriend insists he uses the train tickets she’d purchased for them, but she wouldn’t go. Since they were non-transferable, he has to find another woman with her same name to go with him.  Two strangers on a cross-America train, and it’s no surprise when they fall in love.  The unique aspect of each others’ stories are their families: She has two gay dads and a grandmother, and he is one of sextuplets.  Exploring the hopes and fears of post-high school is a fair enough goal of a YA novel, but this is also a sweet romance that I could barely put down.  They don’t get sexually involved (just kiss), so the novel works for younger middle school.  The story is told alternatively from the girl’s point of view and the boy’s, so it also should appeal to both. And it rather normalizes nontraditional families, whether same sex or multiple births, without judgement or belaboring the point.  This would make a good addition to a library’s young romance section.  It’s light, upbeat reading.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, by Jaclyn Moriarty

Moriarty, Jaclyn.  The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. (Kingdoms and Empires, book 1).  Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2018.  $17.99. 377 pages.  ISBN 978-1-338-25584-3. Ages 8-14.  P8/Q8

This is a fantasy adventure featuring a 10-year-old girl who has just found out her parents have died.  She has to follow the directions of their will, which involve bringing some small gifts to each of her many aunts.  Bronte evolves during the story from a child to someone who is aware of her lineage, her duty to people, and her family.  The language is straightforward, doesn’t mince on ‘big words’, and has a cadence which has a hint of something foreign and timeless to it, suited to a story that takes place in a fantasy land.  The style is a bit like author Daniel Pinkwater’s.  Fans of Harry Potter will find some parallels in how Bronte discovers she has some hithereto unknown powers and has to discover who her parents were and what powers they had.  The ‘bad guys’ are suitably vanquished by the end of the story, and it has a happier than expected conclusion.

March 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: Imposters, by Scott Westerfeld

Westerfeld, Scott. Imposters. (Imposters, book 1). Scholastic Press, 2018. $18.99. ISBN 9781338151510. 405 pgs. Ages 12-18. P8Q7

This is a shoot-off of the Uglies series, but can be enjoyed without having read the others first. Frey has been raised as a killer, knowing that her only value is in protecting her identical twin sister Rafi (the heir to the political leadership of the city), and she must sacrifice her own life if necessary to save her sister’s life. Nobody outside the immediate family knows that Frey exists, so she can impersonate Rafi when needed. The girls’ cruel and ruthless father has many political enemies, but he doesn’t know just how much his own daughters hate him. When he sends Frey, impersonating Rafi, to a rival city as a hostage, the girls’ world changes. Frey’s father bombs the rival city, and she ends up on the run with a group of teen rebels.

VERDICT: The book is fast paced, action-packed and full of high tech gadgetry that will appeal to many teen readers. Frey’s character develops over the course of the story- she had never been away from her sister before, and now must rely on her intelligence and character to survive. It ends with a cliffhanger…

March 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: You Don’t Know everything, Jilly P!

Gino, Alex. You Don’t Know everything, Jilly P! Scholastic Press, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9780545956246. 247 pages. Ages 11+ P6 Q8

Jilly P realizes she has a lot of privileges as a White hearing girl. When her sister, Emma, is born deaf, Jilly learns sign language to communicate with her. A fantasy reader, Jilly connects online in the Young Vidalians chat room with Derek who is Deaf and Black. Jilly feels a connection with Derek because her sister is born deaf and she has Black relatives. Her Aunt Joanne is Black and has two children from a previous marriage. Aunt Alicia is White, which makes them a mix-raced couple. When Jilly notices her Uncle’s prejudice against Black people, she is bold and stands up for her Aunt and cousins, even when it causes conflict. When Derek’s friend is killed by a police officer, police brutality against Black people is brought to Jilly’s awareness. She realizes being Deaf and Black has its challenges. This well written novel shows the reader how they can be an ally and support their friends and family. With strong themes of Black rights, LGBTQ+, and Deaf culture, the author encourages people to talk and ask questions to bring awareness to prejudices. Strong proponent for Black Lives Matter and protect Black Deaf lives.

Verdict: I highly recommend this book for youth who are interested in social justice. After reading this book, it made me want to read Gino’s other book, George. It is a story about a transgender person and the challenges she goes through coming out.

Reviewer’s note: The whole book and even the cover refers to the family and friend as “black.” I was under the impression that “black” is not as socially acceptable as African American. Since the book referred to the characters as “black” I wanted the review to reflect the book. I did some research and this is what I found. “Today, some people view “black” and “African American” interchangeably. But many have strong opinions that “African American” is too restrictive for the current US population. In part, the term African American came into use to highlight that the experiences of the people here reflect both their origins in the African continent and their history on the American continent.

But recent immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean have different combinations of history and experience, so some have argued that the term “black” is more inclusive of the collective experiences of the US population.”

–Source:  Urban Wire :: Race and Ethnicity, the blog of the Urban Institute by Margaret Simms. February 8, 2018 edition.

February 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Way the Light Bends, by Cordelia Jensen

Jensen, Cordelia. The Way the Light Bends. Philomel Books, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9780399547447. 393 pages. Ages 12+ P7 Q7

Linc and Holly have grown up like twins, though Holly is adopted from Ghana and Linc is her parent’s biological daughter. When they were younger, Linc and Holly were very close, but now that they are teenagers, they have drifted apart. Linc desperately wants her parents to see her artistic talents, but they only have eyes for Holly, who does well academically. Linc pursues her dream of going to an art school, but she has to do it behind her parents’ backs. The story is written in verse-poem form and is from Linc’s perspective. This novel is a quick read, but will evoke deep emotions in the reader. It is often hard to find out where we fit in life and how to show others that our differences are assets. In the end, she has an honest talk with her mother and realizes that things are not as they seem. In the beginning of the book, Linc tried hard to get her parents approval, but she didn’t take the time to tell her parents how she felt. Once she talked to about her dreams and how she felt compared to Holly, then she was able to develop a closer relationship with her mother.

Verdict: Teens will relate to the struggle of figuring out where they fit in and hoping that others recognize their strengths. This book will help teens see situations from others perspective and realize that more may be going on then what it looks like on the surface. I recommend this book for middle school, high school and public libraries.

February 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Kristy’s Big Day, by Gale Galligan, based on the novel by Ann M. Martin

Galligan, Gale. Kristy’s Big Day. (The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels, #6). Based on the novel by Ann M. Martin. Graphix/Scholastic, 2018. $10.99. ISBN 9781338067613. 153 Pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8

Kristy’s life is about to change. Her mother is marrying Watson and due to the sale of their house, they only have two and a half weeks to plan a wedding. Kristy is excited because she gets to be a bridesmaid, but she has questions about what it means to be a step kid. It will require moving across town and blending into a family with other siblings. Her new siblings assure her that it may be a bit scary, but together they will work it out. With fourteen children coming to town for the wedding, the baby-sitter club is busy for a week providing care and activities for the children. This graphic novel includes 13 chapters. The illustrations show intricate details and the characters’ eyes are large and expressive. There is a journal entry in some of the chapters from members of the Baby-Sitters Club, which adds a bit of a personal touch to the graphic novel. This book is the 6th in the series, but can stand alone.

Verdict: Children who are entering into a blended family will be able to relate to Kristy and her new family. The adventures the Baby-Sitters Club will entertain readers. Being the sixth in the series, readers will enjoy the familiar characters as they have another adventure.

January 2019 review by Tami Harris.