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.

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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.

Book review: Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle, by Natasha Lowe

Lowe, Natasha. Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle. Simon & Schuster, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9781534401969. 231 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8

Lucy likes magic, nests, and her best friend Ella. When she comes home from summer vacation, life has changed. Her friend Ella has joined a dance troupe and no longer cares about magic. Lucy wants life to remain the same is not happy to find that her mother is expecting a baby. As Lucy adjusts to life in the fourth grade, with the help of her teenage neighbor, Chloe, she makes new friends and realizes change is not always a bad thing. Lowe’s use of descriptive words enhance the story. Describing the magic wands, she writes, “It was as if the magic had leaked out, and all Lucy could see now were two old sticks covered in glitter and bits of moss. Like a little kid’s art project.” This easy to read, engaging story will hold the interest of readers. There are a few twists and turns that keep the reader wondering how things will turn out. The relationships between the characters form and grow as the story develops. Friendships are found in unexpected places and it teaches one to not look at a person’s outward appearance, but to take the time to get to know people. This book is very well written.

Verdict: It is a fact that life changes and does not stay the same. This book explores the value of change and how it can add to one’s life, encouraging the reader to embrace life as it comes and find the good in situations they encounter. While this book is a good read for all children, it is especially helpful for children who do not like change or children who are an only child with a sibling on the way. I highly recommend it for elementary school, public, and home libraries.

March 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder

Snyder, Laurel.  Orphan Island.  Walden Pond Press, 2017.  ISBN 978-0-06-244341-0. $16.99.  269 pages.  Ages 10+.  Q7P6

An island where nine orphans, ranging roughly in ages from 4 to 13, raise themselves.  At 13ish the oldest has to leave the island.  Jinny is the oldest, therefore has the responsibility to raise/teach the newest orphan, Ess, but due to her empathic nature, struggles to put Ess through any ordeal which makes Ess uncomfortable.  Luckily, others on the island help her by taking over some of the responsibilities.  It appears everything will work out until Jinny decides she is not going to leave the island like she is supposed to when she turns 13.  The author does a great job capturing the insecurities and strength of the youngest and the emotional inner turmoil of the oldest with the onset of puberty and the knowledge she’ll have to leave the island.  I also like the unknown almost science fiction reason they are on the island, an experiment perhaps?  What I don’t like about the book is you never find out why these select children were put on the island, and how the island “works”.  The island “masters” seem to know all that is going on and change the island experience accordingly.  Although the book is filled with a beautiful setting and much soul searching, the book is flawed by the unknown.

Verdict:  The thought process I’ve spent on the “unknown” is similar to the exercise in futility of contemplating the meaning of life.  I don’t necessarily want to do that with my reading material.  Perhaps a bit philosophical for the target audience?

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.