Tag Archives: contemporary

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Title: The Exact Location of Home

Author:  Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a delightful and heartwarming read! I have never read any of Kate Messner’s books, but I have only heard good things from sources I trust. With it being Fall, I was itching to read some middle grade and this one caught my eye in the pile of ARCs I had.

This book is about Kirby, a boy who loves circuits and creating. He’s intelligent, a little awkward, and he’s trying to see if he can both help his mother out because their finances isn’t so hot, and also find his father. What’s intriguing about the novel and Kirby’s desire to find his father, is that Kirby falls in love with geocaching, and uses all of his father’s clues to locate where he has gone. What’s fun about the novel is that Messner makes the reader feel like they are helping Kirby along the way in terms of finding his father through the puzzles and clues.

I also loved the friendship between Kirby and Gianna. Gianna really forces Kirby out of his shell throughout the story and she is such a supportive and kind best friend. It’s wonderful to see friendships between boys and girls in a story that is completely platonic. I also loved Kirby’s relationship with his mother and his desire to try and help her any way he could. He’s a great hero to follow.

The Exact Location of Home is a wonderful, heartfelt romp that balances humour with raw emotion. I can’t wait to check out other books by Kate Messner now, because this one made me a fan!

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ARC Review – Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Title: Wishtree

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Katherine Applegate is a household name in middle grade fiction when it comes to writing emotionally charged stories that linger with you long after reading. Much like The One and Only Ivan, Wishtree is one of those stories that seems simple on the surface, but offers so much more below the surface.

This story is about a tree named Red, who is the neighbourhood ‘wishtree.’ They are a large part of the community, with people in the area pinning their wishes on them, hoping they would come true. Not only does Applegate give us the stories of all the neighbourhood residents, but we see this all through Red’s perspective, with our tree offering their opinion, sympathy and kindness.

I also want to point out how much I learned about trees when reading this book. I didn’t realize that trees are multigendered! I also loved learning about their growth as well. It seems appropriate that Red doesn’t have a gender construct given how all-knowing they are. I also liked Red’s friendship with Bongo the crow, and how they would watch the neighbours, trying to understand their wishes.

This is a book was difference and a community coming together. Given the fear of ‘others’ that exists in the world right now, this story shows multiculturalism in a way that shows difference, but how people <i>should</i> be better to one another. The families in this story all want what is best for themselves, but they also wish to help others. It’s a good message, and for those who love stories from a more unique perspective, look no further than Wishtree.

ARC Review – Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: Moxie

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This is a book I want in the hands of every young girl. I wish I had this book when I was growing up. Moxie is a book about girl power, girl friendship and the need to band together to fight injustice. Once again, Jennifer Mathieu has written a damned winner with this book, and if this doesn’t become mandatory reading for young feminists, I may cry.

Vivian is an amazing heroine who gets fed up with the sexism that exists in her school. Girls being told to go home and “make a sandwich” to trying to deny the existence of sexual assault, Viv can’t take it anymore. What does she do? She channels her inner Riot Grrl and creates “Moxie” a zine that focuses on the importance of banding together against injustice and to fight the rampant sexism that exists at East Rockport High. Vivian begins to start a hidden movement, with girls being able to find their voice.

HOLY CRAP THIS BOOK. I read this book in two full sittings and was completely glued the story. Mathieu does an amazing job building every action and consequence in this story. There is this fantastic build in the story that makes you want to get to the climax and then see how everything falls into place. This is a girl friendship book and that is the larger focus in this story, and it’s amazing because you see supportive girls, you see them protecting each other, wanting to do what is right. Even the romance with Seth in this book is done well. I love how he makes such a huge mistake and Viv doesn’t just cave to it — she wants him to learn and wants him to build his understanding. She calls him out, and we need more of that. Women calling men out for their crap.

Moxie is an amazing read, and easily a favourite. I loved the characters, the friendship and the power of feminism that exists in this story. I can only hope this gets turned into a film or at least ending up in the hands of girls who need this understanding, this pick me up, this reminder that we need to stick together. Thank you, Jennifer Mathieu for continuing to write books that challenge, intrigue — if you keep writing, I’ll keep reading.

ARC Review – Spinning by Tillie Walden

Title: Spinning

Author: Tillie Walden

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point?

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I always love sports stories despite not enjoying playing sports. There’s something about watching a protagonist grow and transform through the use of sport. However, this is not entirely that story. This graphic memoir looks back on Tillie Walden’s relationship to figure skating, understanding her sexuality, and falling in love with art.

First off, I am a big fan of graphic memoirs. They are an interesting medium for telling personal stories, and Walden’s is one I think many readers can relate to, particular what it means to fall out of love with someone and in love with something (and someone else). You see throughout the course of the story that Walden’s passion for figure skating changes, that it doesn’t feel fulfilling. You also see what is keeping her there – her first love, a girl, whom she is over the moon for.

We learn in the story that Walden has known she was gay since she was quite young. We are told that she was afraid of coming out for so long, but because of how young she was it was easier to have girls come over for sleepovers and her parents think nothing of it. She talks about how living in Texas is was scary to be young and gay, especially when society pushes it’s agenda of marriage and kids. I felt for Walden, especially when she talked about her fears and how concerned she was if people found out she was gay. The book shows how she was bullied and tormented be it at school or at figure skating practice, and she never truly gets to feel satisfied in her own skin.

Spinning is a gentle story about growing up. Tillie Walden shares such a powerful narrative, and her artwork does an amazing job of showing the intense feeling of what happened in her life. I LOVED the artwork and chromatic colouring in this graphic memoir and I think it just adds such a beautiful layer to such an emotional story. I felt nothing but sympathy for Tillie, but I felt so proud towards the end when things finally came together.

ARC Review – Bubbles by Abby Cooper

Title: Bubbles

Author: Abby Cooper

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Sophie Mulvaney’s world has been turned upside down. Mom lost her job at the TV station and broke up with Pratik, whom Sophie adored. Her teacher is making them do a special project about risk-taking, so Sophie gets roped into doing a triathlon. And to top it all off, she’s started seeing bubbles above people’s heads that tell her what these people are thinking. Seeing other people’s thoughts seems like it should be cool, but it’s actually just stressful. What does it mean that Pratik wishes she and Mom were with him to eat dinner? Is her best friend Kaya really going out with their other best friend, Rafael, whom Sophie also has a crush on? And can Sophie’s mom ever go back to her old self? In this funny, heartwarming novel, Sophie comes to learn that people are more than what they seem—or what they think.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I will admit, I am unfamiliar with the works of Abby Cooper. She is well loved in the middle grade sphere for her first book Sticks & Stones (which after reading Bubbles I now want to read). I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with Bubbles, but what is presented is a very sweet story of friendship with a pinch of magical realism.

This is a book entirely looking at perceptions of others. Sophie, our heroine, can see thought bubbles over people’s heads and she is instantly given an impression of the people that surround her. It’s a pretty interesting concept for a middle grade novel, also given that this is a story about risk-taking and essentially trying to be the best version of yourself. There’s some wonderful messages in this book that I feel will appeal to middle grade readers, as well as adults who love middle grade.

My favourite aspects of this book were Sophie’s relationships. She is constantly given reasons to pre-judge people with her ‘bubbles’ ability, and it’s interesting to see her mind fight with the images that she sees. Sometimes she finds herself agree with what the bubbles show, and other times you see that she struggles to see the best in everyone. I think Abby Cooper does a good job of showing this balance, which I think can be hard to do given the novel concept of seeing thought bubbles.

Bubbles is a very genuine novel. It’s one of those stories where the author does a fantastic job of tapping into the insecurities and impressions that young children can often have as they are growing up. I definitely want to check out Cooper’s first novel, but Bubbles definitely left me thinking long after I had closed the book.

ARC Review – Get It Together, Delilah! by Erin Gough

Title: Get It Together, Delilah!

Author: Erin Gough

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Delilah Green wouldn’t have chosen to do her last year of school this way, but she figures it’s working fine. Her dad is on a trip to fix his broken heart after her mom left him for another man, so Del’s managing the family café in his absence. Easy, she thinks. But what about: homework and the nasty posse of mean girls making her life hell – or how one of Del’s best friends won’t stop guilt-tripping her – and her other best friend is so in love with his tutor he might go to jail for her if Del doesn’t do something

But who cares about any of that really, because above all else, she can’t stop thinking about beautiful Rosa who dances every night across the street until one day Rosa comes in the café door . . .

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was very excited for Get it Together, Delilah!, but I will admit this book felt a bit far-fetched at times. This is the story of Delilah, a young lesbian who is in love with a beautiful Latina who works across the street from her father’s cafe. Delilah ends up running her father’s cafe while he is away mending his wounded heart, and that’s when the chaos begins. She’s unable to “get it together” between the cafe and school, needing to figure out how to do it all at once.

I will say I really loved Delilah’s voice. Her voice felt very authentic to the story and I found the way in which she described the world around her to be very interesting. I was less huge on her friends, particularly Charlie who rubbed me the wrong way for a large chunk of the story until he was redeemed. I liked Rosa’s character, although she felt a little too perfect and too good to be true.

Which leads me to my largest issue with this book: everything that happens is easily resolved. Like, too easily resolved. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief when for every bad thing, it’s easily fixed without a lot of effort. Every conflict Delilah faced seemed so easily fixed, and her dislike towards her competitors seems a little one-sided. These were the moments where I had a bit of trouble connecting to the narrative. Also, what was the deal with Delilah’s dad? I feel like even int he ending he accepts things way too easily.

I will maintain that the writing was comforting and easy to get into, but for a contemporary novel that should have been filled with tougher issues, I just had a hard time getting behind how simple and trivial a lot of the issues felt in the story. While Delilah and Rosa’s romance is adorable, and Rosa’s family story is wonderfully portrayed, it’s hard for me to praise the book any further.

So I liked this book, but I feel like the over-simplification of things damped the story a lot for me. I feel like there should have been bigger consequences for specific moments in the story. The parts I liked just didn’t outweigh the things I didn’t like, making this a hard book to recommend in the end.

ARC Review – The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Title: The Names They Gave Us

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I absolutely adored this book. I find Emery Lord’s works have this way of capturing my attention and making me fall in love with the teens that she writes. They are flawed, imperfect, but lovable people. The Names They Gave Us may be her most powerful novel to date, and easily her most difficult in terms of subject matter as well.

Lucy is a great heroine. She’s devoted to her religious beliefs, has the perfect boyfriend, and loves her family deeply to the point of resentment at times. Her mother’s cancer reappears and she struggles to grasp that this could be the end for her mother, and ends up at a camp for teens dealing with tougher issues. There she makes wonderful, thoughtful friendships and grows into a stronger person. Lord does a fantastic job of showing Lucy’s growth in the story, and I think it shows when she learns about Anna, a trans girl at the camp. Their friendship was easily one of my favourites, and I enjoyed the way in which Anna educates Lucy about trans rights and issues transpeople face.

I also think how Lord deals with Lucy and her faith is very intriguing. It reminded me of my all time favourite novels, Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu, although they are coming at the topic in very different ways. Lucy trying to reconcile her feelings about the people she meets and what the Bible has taught her is played up very well in this story, and I think this is just another area where Lord shows magnificent growth for Lucy as a character.

The Names They Gave Us is a beautiful, smart, sensitive read that offers amazing and thoughtful character development. Lord continues to show readers that she can work with tough issues, make them accessible, and still write a heartbreaking and touching story. WhileWhen We Collided still remains my favourite of hers, this one is a close second.