Book review: The Potter’s Boy, by Tony Mitton

Mitton, Tony. The Potter’s Boy. David Fickling Books, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781338285390. 246 pages. Ages 8-14+. P8 Q9

Have you ever had a moment that defined your future? Ryo, the potter’s son, had such a moment. While he was in his village, three brigands told the villagers to “bring them money or anything of value.” A quiet Stranger stood up for the villagers and said, “no.” He moved with grace, more like a dancer than a fighter. He told the brigands that the village was protected by the Hidden Ones. It was in that moment that Ryo knew instantly that he wanted to be a fighter like the Stranger. Ryo, with his dad’s blessing, leaves on an adventure to become like the Stranger. There are many lessons along the way. Unzen, the hermit who trains Ryo, teaches him to respond more than react. He also teaches him not to compare himself with others, but that “we each have your own center and your own being.” Unzen’s training style is similar to the training in The Karate Kid, but Ryo is teachable and knows that training will lead somewhere. As Ryo moves on to more training, other boys and girls are included, which provides balance or Yin and Yang. There are some unexpected events which made the adventure interesting and not predictable.

Verdict: I was engaged from the beginning all the way to the end. My son has 3 black belts in different martial arts, including a mixed martial arts black belt in the Marine Corp. He has studied martial arts for 18 years and I think he would enjoy the combination of defense, meditation, creativity, and mindfulness that this book intertwines. The picture on the front cover will draw readers of Harry Potter in, but while the story has nothing to do with magic, the reader will not be disappointed. I highly recommend this book.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Every Single Second, by Tricia Springstubb

Springstubb, Tricia.  Every Single Second.  Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins, 2016. 359 pages.  $16.99. Ages 8-12.  ISBN 978-0-06-236628-3. P8/Q8

Nella is 12 and has a happy life in her Italian-American neighborhood.  The story describes family and neighbor relationships, cultural events, growing up.   She has a good friend, but with time and circumstances they grow apart.  Then, in an unintentional situation, Angela’s big brother shoots and kills a nice young man who was just looking for help after a car crash.  Nella and Angela get caught in the middle of the community reaction.  This is an interesting, nuanced look at what might be behind a shooting that gets widespread attention because of the race of those involved and the history of the area.  It explores how the families might be feeling, how the crowds can swell without knowing the details of the situation, and the righteous need to make sure neither deliberate nor accidental shootings occur.  With all of the concern about unprovoked police shootings of black men, this could start some people thinking about deeper trends as well as mitigating circumstances, and urges people to look hard at a situation and not pre-judge either the shooter or the victim. Ultimately the two girls make up and say together, to the world, “We can’t change what happened.  But maybe what happened can change us.”

June 2019 review by Ann Goddard.

Book review: Bloom, by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau

Panetta, Kevin. Bloom. Illus. by Savanna Ganucheau. First Second. 2019. $17.99. 353p. ISBN 9781626726413. Ages 13-16. P9Q9

Frustrated with his father’s expectation that he go into the bakery business with him, Ari has plans to move to the city with other members of his band as soon as he graduates high school. His father’s demand that he find a replacement for the struggling business who will do Ari’s work temporarily blocks his plans, but Hector, a culinary student taking a break, walks into his life, both as a worker in the bakery and as a possible boyfriend. At the same time, Ari’s friends begin to change their relationships, and he learns that he may not like them as much as he thought.

Verdict: Author and illustrator believably present the small East Coast town, but sometimes the characters aren’t always well identified. The montages that begin each chapter move the action, but sometimes the action slows down. Even so, the caution that both boys feel in their growing responses to each other is well done and credible. The blue color helps black and white illustrations in the graphic novel. Fitting with its setting, this YA romance is an enjoyable summer read.

April 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America, edited by Amy Reed

Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America. Ed. by Amy Reed. Simon Pulse, 2018. $18.99. 288p. ISBN 978-1-5344-0899-9. Ages 13+. P7Q8

The non-fiction narratives from these women across the generations—many of them members of ethnic and sexual minorities—related their struggles to survive in a hostile environment, sometimes both within their own homes and within the communities where they lived when they were young. Each one ends with explanations of their survival processes and encouragement for their readers to move forward and fight back against oppression. Because, or perhaps in addition to, their minority status, many also discussed the devastation of the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president and how his position has changed their cultures for the worse. One of the most outstanding statements comes from Aisha Saeed, bullied and persecuted while she was growing up as a Muslim. Her mother-in-law taught her “that I am not defined by what others think of me.” As Saeed pointed out, the lesson is not a panacea against pain but it allows her to move on.

Verdict: Powerful and heartfelt yet diverse, these intersectional essays from authors of books that speak to young people give insight into the ways that youth can change the world. Recommended.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Lost Soul, Be at Peace: A Graphic Memoir, by Maggie Thrash

Thrash, Maggie. Lost Soul, Be at Peace: A Graphic Memoir. Candlewick, 2018. $18.99. 189p. ISBN 978-0-7636-9419-7. Ages 13+. P8Q10

The author of Honor Girl moves ahead 18 months to follow her junior year at an elite Atlanta prep school. Struggling with her lesbian identity, dropping grades, depression, and distant parents she seeks her lost cat, Tommi, in a huge house and enters a secret hallway where she meets a ghost named Tommy who seems to be from poverty. Their discussions make her realize how well-off she is when Tommy contrasts her life with his. Finding about Tommy’s past, she gradually connects it to her father’s childhood and understands that “Tommy” may be the ghost of her father, who she has always known as a workaholic judge.

Verdict: With humor and openness, Thrash discloses the frustrations, futility, and boredom of being a teenager when she decides to come out to others, only to be ignored. Showing Maggie’s experiences, soft colors in a freehand style of Maggie’s life are combined with maps of her house, websites, movie scenes, and newspaper articles. Although a sequel, this can also be a stand-alone read.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed

Saeed, Aisha. Amal Unbound. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018. 226 pgs. $17.9 ISBN: 978-0-399-54468-2. Gr. 6+. P8 Q9

Twelve year old Amal lives with her family in a small village in Pakistan. Amal dreams of becoming a teacher and studies hard to achieve this dream. Being the oldest in a family of girls comes with responsibilities. Her mother gives birth to a baby girl but does not rebound from the delivery. Amal must stay home taking on most of the household chores. A mishap in the streets with a local rich man puts her and her family in jeopardy. Amal’s dreams are dashed when she becomes a servant in the rich man’s home. She will be in service till he decides her debt is paid.  It is through Amal and those in service to the rich lord that the corruption is stopped and the War Lord is arrested.

Verdict: I loved this book which offers a window into the lives of the Pakistani people.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Relative Strangers, by Paula Garner

Garner, Paula. Relative Strangers. Candlewick Press, 2018. 17.99. ISBN 9780763694692. 359 pages. Ages 14 – Adult. P7Q8

Searching for a baby picture for the yearbook, eighteen year old Jules uncovers the shock of her life: finding a picture that reveals that as a baby, she spent a year with a foster family. In the pictures she looks so happy and so does the family she is with. Did they love her? Do they miss her? Who are they? With the help of her two best friends, Jules sets out on a quest to find them. The journey involves confronting her single mother, an ex-addict, who has built a life around attending support meetings and art to keep from relapsing. This has left little space and time for a daughter yearning for a family life. Perhaps finding this foster family will be the answer to all Jules has wished for. Finding her foster brother takes a few simple clicks of the internet, but that is where the simplicity stops. The joyous reunion spirals into uncontrolled feelings that put Jules on an emotional roller coaster. This story explores the complicated family relationships that Jules navigates as she finds her way in the world.

VERDICT: Young adults will enjoy reading this book; it is realistic in confronting the angst of growing up in an non-traditional household.

May 2018 review by Denyse Marsh.