Book review: Captain Rosalie, by Timothée de Fombelle, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated by Sam Gordon

de Fombelle, Timothée. Captain Rosalie. Illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. Trans. by Sam Gordon. Candlewick, 2018. 60p. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-5362-0520-6. Ages 10+. P7Q10

As her father fights in World War I and her mother works in a factory, 5-year-old Rosalie believes she is on a secret mission spying on the enemy while disguised as a little girl. She goes to school early in her French village and sits in the back of the classroom with older children and listens to her mother read letters from her father in the evening. Rosalie’s life changes when her mother receives a blue envelope and the father’s letters stop coming. Determined to discover what has happened, she runs away from school to find the envelope and read the letters. Instead of the happy descriptions of life at home when her father returns her mother “read” from the letters, she finds the dirty, misery of her father’s life and the revelation that he has died. Watercolor and ink sketches accompany two-page spreads with dark backgrounds highlighted by Rosalie’s flame-colored hair or the blue ink of the letters.

Verdict: The grimness of war is relieved by the love of Rosalie’s mother for her daughter, the warm understanding by one of the older students for Rosalie, and Rosalie’s own resilience. A tremendously powerful story in quiet, spare tones.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Tamaki, Mariko. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me. Illus. by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second, 2019. 289p. $24.99. ISBN 978-1-250-31284-6. Ages 14+. P9Q9

The on-again, off-again relationship between selfish classmate Laura Dean who keeps cheating on Frederica (Freddy), 16, and then pulling her back has formed a toxic cycle that Freddy doesn’t know how to break, but her communication with an advice columnist and help from best friend Doodle to see a psychic gives her a way out. Black and white panels infused with pink display a diverse, mostly queer, cast of characters in Berkeley and high school who are close to adulthood and searching for answers in both romantic and platonic relationships. Verdict: The realistic depictions of different kinds of love will ring true with readers whether straight or queer, and the illustrations expand the painful story of growing up.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Supernova, by Kazu Kabuishi

Kabuishi, Kazu. Supernova. (Amulet series). Graphix/Scholastic, 2018. 197p. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-545-82860-4. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

After ten years, the epic Amulet series is one book away from its finale, and the eighth book sets the foundation for the culmination of Emily’s work to save worlds beyond the Earth. She returns to Alledia and frees the elves despite her lack of magic stone control and imprisonment in the Void throughout adventures showing personal growth, family, and courage. As in earlier books, brilliant color highlights the battles and fast-paced activity with strange creatures and vivid Gaboda trees. Kabuishi also transfers much of the plot to focus on Emily’s younger brother, Navin.

Verdict: Lovers of this series will continue to be fascinated with the ongoing saga; those who read this without the earlier books will return to pick them up.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: You Are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery, by Jen Petro-Roy

Petro-Roy. Jen. You Are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery. Feiwel and Friend,. 2019. 283p. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-250-15102-5. Ages 13+. P7Q8

This self-help book from an eating disorder survivor defines these disorders, explains types of treatments, and gives such assistance as cognitive reframing and relaxation. Petro-Roy provides personal experiences with research and interviews with both professionals and those who have experienced these problems.

Verdict: The style is conversational and accessible for people searching for solutions to personal problems in this area. Although the audience is teenagers, adults can also benefit from this guide, and professionals dealing with the subject can also find it useful.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You, by Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne, illustrated by Anne Passchier and Nyk Rayne

Gonzales, Kathryn and Karen Rayne. Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You. Illus. by Anne Passchier and Nyk Rayne. Magination Press/American Psychological Association, 2019. 278p. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4338-2983-3. Ages 14+. P7Q9

Hard questions about gender identity issues—including gender nonbinary, nonconforming, fluid, and questioning—are addressed with clarity and sensitivity in this compendium of topics such as developing bodies, reproduction and pregnancy, transitions (social, medical, and legal), dating, intimate relationships, and gender identity at home, school, and work. Information is supplemented with notes from the authors and responses from six different trans and nonbinary young people who write about their own experiences. Black and white illustrations primarily show a diversity of people and drawings for authors and responders, and anatomically correct expand the reproduction explanations. Each chapter is concluded with additional resources.

Verdict: The introduction accurately describes the book as “honest, all-inclusive, uncensored, real-world,” and the unintimidating format is inviting. From the question “What is gender?” to the final chapter, “Spirituality and Faith,” the book is useful in many arenas: counseling, schools, discussion groups, and personal interest. The “Dictionary” that defines terms also explains when some of these words are inappropriate. A must for all collections because of its educational value. [Note: this review was prepared from an ARC; it is to be assumed that typos and repetitions will be corrected in the final copy. Index not provided.]

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Kiss Number 8, by Colleen A.F. Venable, illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw

Venable, Colleen A.F. Kiss Number 8. Illus. by Ellen T. Crenshaw. First Second, 2019. $24.99. 299p. ISBN 978-1-250-19693-4. Ages 13-17. P7Q8

Black and white panels in this graphic novel follow a tightly connected family struggling with a secret and a teenage girl finding her way through romance seeking her questioning about sexual orientation. Raised in a Catholic family, Amanda (Mads) has two close friends and loving parents, especially her father who always takes her to the baseball games. Secrets emerge when Mads overhears her father with a woman on the phone and then discovers a check made out to her in the trash. Making her life even messier are the secret trips with one friend to a nightclub and a stolen kiss with her other friend that she enjoys. The discovery that her paternal grandmother had become a transgender lawyer and activist causes rejection from her father and greater closeness from her mother, and Mads is also rejected by her Catholic school classmates because of the possibility that she is a lesbian. Transferring to public school introduces to her a group of students active in the gay-straight alliance, and she is finally able to share the information about her “grandmother” with her father.

Verdict: The antagonism toward transgender people before the resolution is harsh and cruel, and the treatment of Mads can be uncomfortable reading. The three female friends also seem almost stereotyped—Cat the crazy flirt, Laura the plain girl, and Mads the beloved daughter. Yet the friendship and ultimate understanding give the novel warmth, and the revelation of the father’s twisted recollections about his mother provide an education in differing realities.

May 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Light the World, by Mike Winchell

Winchell, Mike. The Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Light the World. Holt, 2019. $19.99. 260p. ISBN: 9781250120168. Ages 12-15. P7Q9

The AC-DC wars between two famous inventors, Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla, highlighted the Gilded Age, the late 19th century of big business and booming entrepreneurship. The “electric” book begins with a man’s murder of his wife in Buffalo (NY), an unlikely event that leads to an epic episode toward the end of the book in which the man was the first person to be legally executed through electrocution. Told in graphic detail about the man’s suffering, the experience dramatizes Edison’s self-centered decision to preserve his direct-current approach by illustrating the dangers of alternating current in homes and businesses. The book shows the backstabbing of the major figures of invention in electronics during the time, their successes and sometimes later failures before the building of the huge power plant, at one time providing electricity for one-fourth of the people in the U.S., that ended the War of the Currents.

Verdict: Winchell’s exciting narrative will entice even readers not interested in the subject or the people involved through his writing and inclusion of quirky events such as the seven-year-old Edison burning down his family’s barn because he wanted to learn how straw burned. Edison’s stubbornness comes through his continued fight to win despite his understanding about the serious flaws of direct current for large commercial purposes as does Tesla’s willingness to give up his patents to ensure the success of alternating current. Highly recommended for both research and leisure reading.

May 2019 review by Nel Ward.