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: Stolen Secrets, by L.B. Schulman

Schulman, L. B. Stolen Secrets. Boyds Mills Press, 2017. 303 pgs. $17.95. ISBN: 978-1-62979-722-9. Gr. 9. P8 Q9

Livvy and her mother are living in Vermont when they suddenly make a move to San Francisco, California. A move that is made to help to care for Livvy’s grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s and harbors a very secret secret. This grandmother was unknown to Livvy till the move to San Francisco. Livvy’s mom returns to Vermont for alcohol treatment, leaving Livvy to help in the care of her grandmother. Livvy thinks that her grandmother’s secret is that she is really Anne Frank, a Jewish girl made famous through her book “Diary of Anne Frank,” who died in a concentration camp during World War II. The story becomes sinister when those who are seeking her grandmother come demanding the last pages written by Anne Frank.

Verdict: I loved the concept of this book, that Anne Frank lives. But the intrigue of the story was finding out the true identity of Livvy’s grandmother. There is romance, humor and a strong cast of characters who will appeal to readers.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: The Orphan Band of Springdale, by Anne Nesbet

Nesbet, Anne. The Orphan Band of Springdale. Candlewick Press, 2018. $18.99. ISBN 9780763688042. 435 Pages. Ages 9-14. P7 Q8

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an orphan back in 1941? With the Second World War looming and tough times in New York, Gusta’s mother is not able to keep her. Gusta is put on a bus by her German born, labor activist, fugitive father and sent to her grandmother who runs an orphanage in Maine. Gusta brings along a suitcase and a much-loved French horn. When she arrives at the orphanage, she meets Josie, the first and oldest orphan in the house. Gusta and Josie become friends and have adventures. Their grandmother values things that receive a gold ribbon, so Gusta and Josie decide to start a band so they can enter a contest and win a gold ribbon. This historical fiction is an easy read, full of adventure, family, secrets, bravery and standing up for others. Nesbet wrote this story based the stories her mother told about her life growing up. To make the fiction as true as possible, she spent some time at the Sanford-Springvale historical Society in Maine and read through old issues of the local paper. This book is true to life in the 1940’s.

Verdict: I recommend this book for public libraries. Readers will learn what life was like in the 1940’s along with teaching one to be brave, to include others, to stand up for themselves and the importance of kindness and family.

April 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: In Darkling Wood, by Emma Carroll

Carroll, Emma. In Darkling Wood. Delacorte Press, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9780399556012. 231 pages. Ages 10-14. P7Q8

In Darkling Wood is a cross-generational tale which intertwines family, grief, and English lore. It is told from the point of view of Alice, a middle-school-aged girl with a seriously ill younger brother and an estranged father. When her brother enters the hospital to receive a transplant, Alice is shuffled to her paternal grandmother’s rural cottage. Here, surrounded by Darkling Wood, an enchanted forest that her grandmother has threatened with destruction, Alice must discover the source of her family’s grief and save the Wood—her brother’s life may depend on it. The young girl’s account is supplemented by WW I era letters, written from a sister to a brother before and after he was killed in the War. These letters set the stage for the supernatural aspect of the story by referencing the Cottingley Fairies and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigations into the paranormal. The inclusion of paranormal themes can make this book subtly spooky at times. Illness, death, and their powerful affect on family relationships are principle threads in the narrative. Because In the Darkling Wood was written by British author Emma Carroll, readers will encounter some unfamiliar vocabulary associated with British English. This vocabulary is more quirky than challenging and further transports the reader to the English countryside.

Verdict: Young readers who appreciate fantasy or mysteries will enjoy In the Darkling Wood. Very sensitive readers may be triggered by certain themes in this book.

May 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: The Rise of Aurora West, by Paul Pope and JT Petty

Pope Rise  of Aurora WestPope, Paul and JT Petty. The Rise of Aurora West. Art by David Rubin. First Second/Roaring Brook. 2014. $9.99. 150p. 978-1-62672-009-1. Ages 10-14:

Before Battling Boy, set in the horrifying city of Acropolis, there was a teenage girl who learned fighting skills from her superhero father, Haggard West. Trained to patrol the streets with him, Aurora strikes out on her own to solve her mother’s murder ten years earlier and finds great danger from monsters in the secrets about her family. Black, white, and grayscale illustrations add to the terror of the 14-year-old Aurora’s violent experiences in killing the soulless monsters. The action will continue in the second volume of Pope’s story about a teenage female superhero. P8Q8 December 2014 review by Nel Ward.