Tag Archives: contemporary

Late to the Party ARC Review – Freeing Finch by Ginny Rorby

Title: Freeing Finch

Author: Ginny Rorby

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When her father leaves and her mother passes away soon afterward, Finch can’t help feeling abandoned. Now she’s stuck living with her stepfather and his new wife. They’re mostly nice, but they don’t believe the one true thing Finch knows about herself: that she’s a girl, even though she was born in a boy’s body.

Thankfully, she has Maddy, a neighbor and animal rescuer who accepts her for who she is. Finch helps Maddy care for a menagerie of lost and lonely creatures, including a scared, stray dog who needs a family and home as much as she does. As she earns the dog’s trust, Finch realizes she must also learn to trust the people in her life–even if they are the last people she expected to love her and help her to be true to herself. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Freeing Finch is an important story about a young trans-girl who has lost her mother, is forced to live with her step-father, and who is learning to come into her own. It’s the story of unlikely friendships, how to cope with being different, and there’s a lot of uncomfortable moments from bullying, to trans-shaming, to just uncomfortable dialogue.

I want to stress this is not a bad book, but it is a book that is written with very specific intentions. It concerns me that Finch is forced to stay with an abusive parent (and then is weirdly just okay with him later on), and there’s just a lot of disturbing instances in this story that I wondered a bit about. The bits with Finch and her dog were wonderful and I wanted to cry, but her interactions with other people outside of her neighbor Maddy were difficult to read about. There is a lot of misgendering in this story, and there’s so much tragedy in this story to the point where it felt like torture and it was too much at times. I think given the author was not writing from experience, there may have been instances where she missed the mark on the subjects she was trying to display in the story.

This was a quick read, regardless of my complaints. I read it in two sittings and there was moments that I did genuinely enjoy, mainly which were the interactions with Maddie and her step-mother actually admitting her failures of misgendering and standing up for Finch in the story. I just wish this story hadn’t entirely been all about abusing Finch as a character, because there is so little hope in this story, and for middle grade readers — we need some hope!

Late to the Party ARC Review – Taylor Before and After by Jennie Englund

Title: Taylor Before and After

Author: Jennie Englund

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Before, Taylor Harper is finally popular, sitting with the cool kids at lunch, and maybe, just maybe, getting invited to the biggest, most exclusive party of the year.

After, no one talks to her.

Before, she’s friends with Brielle Branson, the coolest girl in school.

After, Brielle has become a bully, and Taylor’s her favorite target.

Before, home isn’t perfect, but at least her family is together.

After, Mom won’t get out of bed, Dad won’t stop yelling, and Eli…

Eli’s gone.

Through everything, Taylor has her notebook, a diary of the year that one fatal accident tears her life apart. In entries alternating between the first and second semester of her eighth-grade year, she navigates joy and grief, gain and loss, hope and depression.

How can Taylor pick up the pieces of what used to be her social life? How can her house ever feel like home again after everything that’s happened? And how can she move forward if she can’t stop looking back?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Ho boy, this book. For a book that is considered middle grade, this actually feels like it should have been categorized in young adult. I want to stress that this book goes over a lot of difficult subject matters, and I am not saying a middle grader can’t comprehend them, but what I am saying is just be aware that this is a wonderful but difficult book with some hard conversations attached.

Taylor Before and After is told in a unique “before” and “after” style, alternating between two timelines. It’s a style that even with the journal entries will take a bit of getting used to. This is a story of friendships going wrong, family relationships crumbling at the seams, and one girl’s attempt to comprehend all of it as she compares her past to her present. Taylor is difficult, she’ not the most open of protagonists, and often the journal entries require a bit of detective work to get the whole story of why she is friendless or why her brother is missing. It’s done very well, might I add, and Taylor is a character you definitely can empathize with.

I want to add this book is very hopeful, and the style is inviting to say the least. I found myself constantly wanting to know what was happening between the timelines and piece together the large part of this story. It’s a bit of a mystery, which I appreciate, but it’s also a story that rings true I think for a lot of kids who may be coping with too much happening at once and are struggling to articulate it. Taylor Before and After is a very rewarding read, and one I’ll happily recommend to those who love difficult stories with complex kids at the heart of it.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Title: Don’t Read the Comments

Author: Eric Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

Huge thank you to the Dewey Divas for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved Don’t Read the Comments. As a person who has worked on and off in the gaming industry for over ten years, these are words you often have to remind yourself of, especially if you’re a woman with an opinion. Eric Smith’s book does a great job tackling issues women in particular often face such as harassment, doxing, and stalking, all which appear in this novel.

We follow two protagonists in this story: Divya, a popular streamer with a huge fanbase who has been receiving threatening messages about being in the wrong “space.” Then we have Aaron, a young man who wants to break into the industry by writing the next great RPG. Aaron starts to take an interest in Div when he realizes that she loves a lot of the same games he does, and soon he gets drawn into the drama of the Vox Popli, who are out to make Div and her fans disappear from the game’s sphere.

This novel is delightful! It does so much right in terms of understanding games and gaming culture, while also the pitfalls faced by women who are breaking into the hobby. Div receives so many threats, she and her friends are stalked, but Div is a great heroine for this story because she is one that builds upwards. She learns from her mistakes and constantly is willing to fight back for those she loves and cares about. Aaron is adorable, sensitive and kind, but he has to learn the hard way about being a knight-in-shining armor, in a female space where it’s not acceptable. Aaron befriends Div and her friends, and he starts to learn a lot about himself and what he wants from his life, versus what his parents want, which is for him to go into the medical field.

This book is chock with great writing, and even better banter. All the characters really jump off the page and there’s something truly fun about feeling gaming culture through the lens of someone else. My only complaint with this book is that Smith pieces a lot of very old gaming references, which I don’t know how many teens of today might necessarily know. Like I adored Remember Me, but it’s now a fifteen year old game that was met with mediocre reviews. Still, I applaud Smith for referencing games he’s clearly very passionate about, and who knows, maybe people will check some of those older gems out after reading this book!

Don’t Read the Comments is a love-letter to gamers and gamer culture, while also being a fun contemporary story about friendship. Part of me hopes that Smith revisits these characters at some point, because I’d love to have more stories featuring them!

ARC Review – The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

Title: The Only Black Girls in Town

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems. 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Want to read a wonderful book with great characters and a good mystery? The Only Black Girls in Town is Brandy Colbert’s middle grade debut, and my goodness was it a chef’s kiss of a story.

Albert and her family for the longest time, were the only black family in town. Her best friend, Laramie, though wonderful, cannot necessarily understand everything that Alberta goes through in terms of how differently at times she is treated by others. When Alberta learns that a new black girl has moved to town, she is elated. While Alberta is hoping that she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends, she starts to learn that Edie is struggling with being homesick for Brooklyn, New York. When the girls begin to explore Edie’s new home, they find old journals sharing painful secrets of someone’s life who was left behind.

I loved this book! I loved the distinct voices between Alberta and Edie. I love how genuine both girls are with each other and how they don’t shame others for not necessarily knowing what it’s like to be black — in fact this story has the characters doing a great job of educating others! The best parts of the story were the girls reading the journals that had been left behind and having the desire to find out who they in fact belonged to. There’s a really good mystery there, and I loved the end results of the story because the payoff was very good.

This is a great middle grade debut that offers a lot to younger readers. It’s a great story about being different and yet having your differences be complimented and wanted. I love how so many elements, such as Alberta having two dads, is very normalized in the story, and I loved and wanted to hug Edie when she felt homesick. Definitely check out this book if you love a good contemporary story!

Two Fantastic Graphic Novels

One o f my goals this year is to try and highlight more awesome, standalone graphic novels. Here are two recent reads I absolutely adored!


Title: The Okay Witch

Author: Emma Steinkellner

Published: September 3rd 2019 by Aladdin

Thoughts: I loved this graphic novel! There’s the right amount of magic and whimsy! There is also a fantastic message about loving the skin your in and building your self-confidence. Reminded me a bit of Kiki’s Delivery Service, aka my favourite Studio Ghibli movie! This graphic novel is great for anyone who loves a witchy tale or about personal growth (and magic usage!)

 

Title: Go With the Flow

Author: Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann

Published: January 14th 2020 by First Second

Thoughts: Essential reading that needs to be in every public and school library. This book is amazing! It is a fantastic friendship story, it’s also a great book that looks at how unique and different each woman’s period is. This book is all about ensuring equal access to feminine hygiene products in all schools with the hope of ensuring that girls everywhere can get the support they need. This book is funny, it is gorgeously illustrated, and it’s clever as all heck.


What are some great, recent graphic novels on your radar?

ARC Review – The Newspaper Club by Beth Vrabel

Title: The Newspaper Club

Author: Beth Vrabel

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Shortly after Nellie Murrow, named for one of the fiercest journalists who ever lived and daughter of two (former) newspaper reporters, move to sleepy Bear Creek, Maine, rumors of vandalism and attacks at the only park in town are keeping Nellie saddled to the house.

Some townspeople say the attacks are gang recruitments. Others blame a vagrant spotted on the hiking trails around town. But when Nellie thinks like a reporter, none of those explanations make sense. Something is happening at the park, but what? All of the fake online news and rumors are clouding the real news.

Nellie wants to break the story–and break free from the front yard-but she can’t do it alone. She needs a whole club if she’s going to start the town’s first independent newspaper–The Cub Report. Creating a newspaper from scratch is going to be tough; but for Nellie, making friends is even harder.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved and read Beth Vrabel’s The Humiliations of Pipi McGee last year, and thought it was such a fun and fantastic middle grade novel. Humour and character connection is definitely a strong point for Vrabel, so I was excited to dig into her latest book, The Newspaper Club.

The Newspaper Club focuses on Nellie Murrow, a talented and up-and-coming journalist, who comes from a long line of news writers and enthusiasts. With rumours of vandalism swirling around Bear Creek, townspeople have become concerned about the safety of their small town. Nellie decides that the larger newspapers aren’t going to look into this situation, she will!

This book is adorable and spunky. Nellie is such a fun heroine! She is inquisitive, clever, almost Harriet the Spy-esque in terms of her abilities. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and seek the truth, something she feels all good reporters should be able to do. When Nellie starts to realize that this story is bigger than her, she creates a club that encourages other children to be apart of.

This is a fantastic story about community engagement and loving your town. There is civic pride, and I love that Nellie is a character who chooses to ask for help because she recognizes that this story is bigger than she can handle on her own. There are strong themes of friendship and camaraderie. While the mystery element is core to the plot, I feel like this book is more about just building relationships and strengthening community.

The Newspaper Club is a fun and fast romp into media. It’s book that you can easily read in a day because it’s just so charming and entertaining.

ARC Review – Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed

Title: Yes No Maybe So

Author: Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: YES
Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state senate candidate—as long as he’s behind the scenes. When it comes to speaking to strangers (or, let’s face it, speaking at all to almost anyone), Jamie’s a choke artist. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.

NO
Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing—with some awkward dude she hardly knows—is beyond her.

MAYBE SO
Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer—and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural romance of the century is another thing entirely. 

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love me a cute and unlikely romance. I am not a huge romance reader per say, but I have enjoyed many stories by Becky Albertalli, though this book was my first real foray into Aisha Saeed’s works.

Yes No Maybe So is a book about voting, societal values, and political action. The friendship turned romance in this story is definitely one readers will root for. Jamie and Maya’s friendship is chockful of fun, humour, and it’s completely genuine from start to finish. While Jamie and Maya spend time going door-to-door to canvass in an upcoming election, both characters find commonality in their backgrounds — Jamie being Jewish, and Maya being Muslim.

What I loved about this story is how genuine both perspectives in the story feel. I feel like readers could easily be friends with either Jamie or Maya, and I feel like they are real people and more than just fictional characters. With this story being politically charged, it offers readers a glimpse into looking at issues of racism, prejudice, and even just how broken the American voting system is. I will say, I loved Maya’s chapters over Jamie’s, but I think it’s because Maya is a bit more closed off and the reader has to work a bit harder to feel like they know her. Saeed does an amazing job of making Maya into this onion who needs each layer to be peeled back until you get to her very kind core.

I think most readers will definitely enjoy Yes No Maybe So. It’s just such a fun story, and I think it handles the political elements very well to readers who may be unfamiliar. This book also makes me want to check out more by Aisha Saeed, as a feel like I’ve now discovered a new author to enjoy. Yes No Maybe So is charming, entertaining, and it will pull your heartstrings in such a wonderful, if predictable way.

ARC Review – A Galaxy of Sea Stars by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Title: A Galaxy of Sea Stars

Author: Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: At a time when everything in her small town of Seaside, Rhode Island, seems like it’s changing, eleven-year-old Izzy Vitale wants things to stay the same. She wants her dad to start acting like he did before he was deployed to Afghanistan, she wants her mom to move back to the marina where they live, but most of all, she wants best friends – Piper and Zelda (dubbed the Sea Star Posse by their kindergarten teacher) – to stay best friends as they begin sixth grade at the regional middle school.

Then, Izzy’s father invites his former Army interpreter from Afghanistan and his whole family – including eleven-year-old Sitara — to move into the upstairs apartment at the marina. Izzy doesn’t know what to make of Sitara with her hijab and refusal to eat cafeteria food. She does know that her constant presence has become like a rogue wave disrupting the normally easy flow of the Sea Star Posse. But as Izzy gets to know Sitara, she can’t help but admire her self-confidence and pride in her Muslim faith. Little by little, Izzy begins to realize there exists a world much larger than her safe but insulated harbor in Seaside.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Last year, I fell in love with Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo’s debut Ruby in the Sky — it was an emotional story about a girl whose mother was potential on her way to prison. It was touching, heart-breaking, and full of feelings. This year, she released A Galaxy of Sea Stars, and showed she is going to be a great new voice in middle grade.

A Galaxy of Sea Stars tells the story of Izzy, a girl with many friends, but who wants life to stay the same. She wishes her dad would go back to normal, but he suffers from PTSD after being deployed in Afghanistan, her mom hasn’t been the same either, and she meet a new friend in Sitara, who’s father was an former Army interpreter from Afghanistan, and with him comes his daughter Sitara, who changes Izzy’s life forever.

This book is a hard read, but it depicts middle grade difficulties with gentleness and looks are issues in a very direct way. Izzy and Sitara’s relationship is amazing to read about, and the trials and tribulations of it feel very real. Izzy’s failures at being a good friend to Sitara are uncomfortable, but show great moments for growth and learning. The way in which Izzy’s friends treat Sitara are horrific and uncomfortable, and this book looks at how do you stand up to injustice when you’ve never had to before? Izzy learns so much in this story, and the wrongs that she has done are great learning points for this age group.

This is a story of becoming comfortable in your own skin, finding and championing social inequality, and speaking important truths. It’s about understanding that the world will never be stagnant, and that things always change, and that no person’s course in life stays the same. A Galaxy of Sea Stars offers so much to readers of all ages, and tackles these subject matters effortlessly. I even cried a few times!

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Crossover by Kwame Alexander & Dawud Anyabwile

Title: The Crossover

Author: Kwame Alexander & Dawud Anyabwile

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. ’Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood—he’s got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it’s all on the line.

See the Bell family in a whole new light through Dawud Anyabwile’s illustrations as the brothers’ winning season unfolds, and the world as they know it begins to change.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I adored Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover a few years back. As a person who has very little interest in sports, I loved the way Alexander wove sports and family together through his beautiful poems. I loved the Bell family, I loved Josh’s narration, and there was also something about the twists and turns in Alexander’s prose that just had me completely head-over-heels.

This graphic novel version of The Crossover may even be better than the original. Having Dawud Anyabwile’s gorgeous illustrations accompany Alexander’s poetry is phenomenal. I felt like Anyabwile’s artwork really showcased the heart and soul of the Bell family’s trials and tribulations in such a way where it connected to the text perfectly. I loved the artwork, and how Josh and Jordan were designed, and I loved the attention to detail throughout.

The Crossover is still a wonderful and powerful story about family. A lot of what Alexander’s words stated in 2014, are just as true in 2019. This edition boasts amazing artwork to accompany Alexander’s beautiful words, and is a great addition to anyone’s graphic novel collection or just for anyone who loves story about family and the turbulence than comes with being a part of one.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

Title: Heroine

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there. The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue. But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Oof. This is one of those books I knew I wasn’t going to be able to read when it came out because I knew it would hit too close to home. I admit, I have never been great with stories that focus on addiction, mainly because of my sibling’s former addiction problem. I always feel uncomfortable and touchy on the subject matter, despite also full well knowing how important the topic is. Heroine focuses on Mickey, a star player on a softball team, who ends up injured and becomes addicted to Oxycontin.

The title, Heroine, has a fantastic double meaning in this story, because not only is it about Mickey’s drug use, but it’s also about how she was the “heroine” of her softball team. There’s a lot of this book that is super hard to read, especially instances of Mickey spiraling in her need to “find the dragon,” how she loses to much of herself to her disease, and just the challenges she faces of feeling like things she just be the way they were when in actuality she destroyed who she once was. Some of the scenes in this book are graphic, and McGinnis does a great job of giving the reader a lot to think about in terms of Mickey’s choices.

I enjoyed the book, but I admit, I read it very slowly and there were times where the narrative wasn’t always holding my interest. There’s a bit of repetition in this story that I know is valuable, but I also didn’t care for. Mickey is an important character, and being inside her mind was interesting, but I didn’t always feel engaged in her inner narrative as much as I think I’d want to be.

I still think Female of the Species is still McGinnis’ best book to date, and I feel like Heroine tries to follow it, but doesn’t quite succeed. I think if you are someone who has an addiction or has dealt with someone who has/had one, there will be a lot in this story that you will be able to relate to. I appreciate that the ending has a hopeful tone, but otherwise this novel is fairly bleak and it’s definitely going to be one of those books that you’ll need to prepare your headspace for.