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.

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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.

Book review: All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson

Jamieson, Victoria. All’s Faire in Middle School. Dial, 2017. $20.99. 248p. ISBN 978-0-525-42998-2. Ages 10-13. P8Q8

The first graphic novel following this author’s Newbery Honor-winning Roller Girl deals with Imogen “Impy” Vega’s struggles in middle school after being homeschooled by immersion in Renaissance fair culture. Her parents focus on their participation in that world although her father has a job outside the fairs. During the 11-year-old girl’s early days at school she tries to understand how to make friends, dress, behave, and deal with an arrogant science teacher while she makes poor choices in all of these. Impy is a good-hearted person who has all the problems of her peers, including embarrassment about her father’s position as actor and her mother’s retail hut. The artwork uses medieval themes with faux illuminated manuscript beginning each chapter and borders using heraldic crests as well as dragons and bunnies.

Verdict: Throughout the book, Impy faces lessons—both academic and personal—with one of the best being her bad treatment of her young brother that she overcomes. Jamieson also communicates lessons from racist characters without being didactic. The large number of characters keeps the interest in all of Impy’s worlds—school, home, and the Renaissance fair. An enjoyable read.

January/February 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Swing It, Sunny, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Holm, Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm. Swing It, Sunny. Graphix/Scholastic, 2017. $12.99. 218p. ISBN 978-0-545-74172-9. Ages 9-12. P8Q9

In the graphic novel Sunny Side Up, Sunny visited her grandfather in Florida only to return home and discover that her beloved older brother, Dale, has been sent to a boarding school because of his drug use. His departure leaves a void in the family as Sunny copes with her new middle school. Even Dale’s visit doesn’t help Sunny because he is angry and hostile. The creators of Baby Mouse and Squish take a darker view of life in this perspective of growing up in 1976-77. the nuclear family has three children (Teddy is a toddler) and mother stays at home, but Dale’s problems overshadow the feeling of security.

Verdict: The sibling authors continue their excellent perceptions of growing up and struggling with friendship and family with simple, colorful cartoon art. Young readers may not understand references to television programs of the 1970s, but they are well described. Those who enjoyed the character of Gramps may miss the growth of relationship between him and Sunny, but the book is a solid read with a hopeful resolution. The book stands alone but would have a deeper understanding by reading the first one also. (Personally, I loved the incident with the pet rock: I still have mine!)

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir, by Maggie Thrash

Thrash, Maggie. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir. Candlewick, 2015. $14.99. 267p. ISBN 978-0-7636-8755-7. Ages 12-16. P6Q7

One summer at an all-girls Christian camp changes the life of the author, an Atlanta native, when she was 15. Her first love is Erin, a 19-year-old counselor, and Maggie struggles to conceal her emotions to avoid being exiled. Yet some friends seem understanding and encourage Maggie to pursue her passion. Thrash peoples her book with illustrations reminiscent of manga, complete with spare facial expressions that sometimes seemed roughed out. Camp Bellflower represents stereotypical white, upper middle class Southern society, frightening to a girl who is discovering her desire for women and forced to confront bullies. The simple watercolors with pencil and the handlettered words are so simple that the book seems juvenile, like the setting.

Verdict: As a memoir, this debut is less plot driven than a graphic novel and can sometimes seem slow. The characters are also so similar that it’s hard to differentiate among them. The book, however, depicts a slice of life in a time when the lesbian author experienced a coming-of-age romance.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.