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ARC Review – The Radium Girls: Young Readers’ Edition: The Scary but True Story of the Poison that Made People Glow in the Dark

Title: The Radium Girls: Young Readers’ Edition: The Scary but True Story of the Poison that Made People Glow in the Dark

Author: Kate Moore

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War. Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come. (From the adult edition)

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have been enjoying Young Reader’s editions of books as of late, if only because I am curious as to how an author transplants their content for a different age group. Radium Girls by Kate Moore was a very important and difficult book when it released in 2017, and I won’t lie when I was confused to have received a copy of a Young Readers edition for it in my mailbox. I never had the chance to read the original book, so I gave this version a go.

This is an amazing work on non-fiction that looks at the dial painters, all who were infected with radium, and were slowly transforming or dying because of it. It looks at the work conditions the women faced, as well as the court cases. Many of the women in this book died at very young ages due to radium poisoning, and it took many years later for legal action to have occurred. This YRE does an amazing job of telling the story of these women without dumbing it down or talking down at the reader. The language is very clear and direct, while also evoking a lot of empathy for women who lost their lives.

This book is gripping from the first page, and what happened to these women is horrific and unacceptable. The fact that there is still radium clean-up in this day and age in Ottawa, IL is problematic in itself. This book is uncomfortable, dark, and a little scary at times, but the information and the story being told is important and valuable. Definitely check out this book, YRE or otherwise, because the story is out of this world.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Title: Prairie Lotus

Author: Linda Sue Park

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Prairie Lotus is a book about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and making at least one friend. Hanna, a half-Asian girl in a small town in America’s heartland, lives in 1880. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, and the townspeople’s prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am not a big historical fiction fan, nor I am I a huge fan of Little House on the Prairie. What I am a fan of, is reimaginings or retellings of popular stories, which is what drew me to Linda Sue Park’s Prarie Lotus. This is the story of Hanna, a young Asian girl who dreams of getting an education during the 1880’s. Hanna must endure racism, prejudice, while also tackling what it means to have a dream that others who are privileged might not understand.

Hanna’s story is very powerful, and reading it, I felt so sad that she had to constantly deal with being labelled as different or strange. It’s heartbreaking to be a kid who constantly is being “othered” by those who choose not to educate themselves or even risk a conversation. In the Author’s Note, Linda Sue Park talks about how this novel is based off of actual experiences she faced growing up, and the frustrations of not seeing Asian representation in middle grade fiction that wasn’t racist in some way. She states that part of the reason Hanna has so much strength and courage to speak out about her situations, is because Park has stated she didn’t know how to do it when she was a kid.

I really loved this story, and Hanna’s strength really is admirable. She constantly defends herself and tries to educate others even though she shouldn’t have to. Hanna wants to show people her dressmaking skills, and she wants people to see in her little Dakota town how valuable she is as a person. Poor Hanna constantly has to justify her existence, which is so wrong! Since this is the story of new immigrants moving from their home in China where people were being murdered to America where their difference is seen as “othering.” Hanna and her family constantly show courage in this story, and they show that tenacity in a new place where they refuse to be mistreated.

Prairie Lotus is an intelligent, heartfelt story about finding strength and courage, but also dealing with issues such as racism head on. There are many difficult and powerful moments in this story, and it definitely has its place in being a very important story about loving yourself regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

Late to the Party Arc Review – We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya #1) by Hafsah Faizal

Title: We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya #1)

Author: Hafsah Faizal

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am super torn on We Hunt the Flame. On one hand, there is some fantastic world-building and some kick ass visual language at work here. There is an interesting premise, but then it goes to macguffin town (which is fine), and also just misses a spark for me in terms of its characters. I am a character reader, so while the plot had great peaks and valleys, the characters left a lot to be desired for me.

And really, that is just on Nasir. I don’t dig the passive assassin trope mainly because I find it to be such a weird oxymoron. Compassionate assassin is a neat idea, but given how this book is set up, it just didn’t gel with me. I think one of the other elements I struggled with was that both characters stories read a bit too similarly for me. I loved Zafira’s story and I think hers was easily the stronger of the two and I feel like she got to be a protagonist who gave a crap about her people, who was willing to sacrifice herself for her people, and her motivations just make so much more sense compared to Nasir.

I think there is great ideas in this book, but I wish there had been a bit more action and a little less angst. I found the angst didn’t help this story either. I really loved the world and the relationships that Zafira forges in the story, and I thought the writing was decent too! It’s just one of those fantasy novels where I don’t know if it will stick with me long term, sadly.

ARC Review – All Together Now (Eagle Rock #2) by Hope Larson

Title: All Together Now (Eagle Rock #2)

Author: Hope Larson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Middle-schooler Bina is having the best time playing in her new band with her friends, Darcy and Enzo. But both the band and her friendships begin to crumble when Darcy and Enzo start dating, effectively relegating Bina to third-wheel status.

To make matters worse, Bina’s best friend, Austin, starts developing a crush on her . . . one she is not sure she reciprocates. Now Bina must follow her heart. Can she navigate its twists and turns before the lights come up and the music starts playing?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed All Summer Long, but I think its sequel All Together Now might actually be the stronger of the two books in the series. In this sequel, Bina has definitely grown, her first are interested in romantic relationships and moving towards becoming “high schoolers.” Bina would rather continue to play music, and given all the changes within her friend group, she has to deal with writer’s block and overcoming creative differences with her friends and band-mates.

Bina grows so much in this story. From her best friend taking an “interest” in here, to Darcy leaving her band and getting a boyfriend, Larson tackles so many issues in this book and does with a lot of fineness. Bina still has frustrating moments in this story where her immaturity definitely shows, but her growing pains are also super apparent and you can’t help by feel for everything she seems to think she is losing.

All Together Now is a fun sequel to this great story about music and friendship. I’d be curious if Larson has another book up her sleeve for this series, as I’d be curious to see Bina grow even more. Definitely read the first book before considering read this one, as it’s a direct continuation. This has a great summer spirit and will make a fun outdoor read!

ARC Review – The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson & Jo Rioux

Title: The Daughters of Ys

Author: M.T. Anderson & Jo Rioux

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Ys, city of wealth and wonder, has a history of dark secrets. Queen Malgven used magic to raise the great walls that keep Ys safe from the tumultuous sea. But after the queen’s inexplicable death, her daughters drift apart. Rozenn, the heir to the throne, spends her time on the moors communing with wild animals, while Dahut, the youngest, enjoys the splendors of royal life and is eager to take part in palace intrigue.

When Rozenn and Dahut’s bond is irrevocably changed, the fate of Ys is sealed, exposing the monsters that lurk in plain view. M. T. Anderson and Jo Rioux reimagine this classic Breton folktale of love, loss, and rebirth, revealing the secrets that lie beneath the surface.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Daughter of Ys is one of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It’s art style is vivid, it’s powerful, and just sweeps you through a somewhat messy and convoluted story. I won’t deny the eye candy of this graphic novel, but I found myself a bit lost a times with the story.

The story is a fairy tale of Queen Malgven, who uses magic to keep out the sea from entering the world of Ys. After her death, her daughters Rozenn and Dahut begin their own quest for personal glories. Rozenn enjoys a life with natural despite being heir to the throne, while Dahut loves and gets lost in political intrigue. There is a lot of murder and uncertainty in the story, and it makes for an interesting tale.

I feel like if I knew what Daughters of Ys was based off of, I would have likely enjoyed it more. The writing is sharp, it’s elegant even at times, but I still found myself a bit lost and having to reread bits. I adored Jo Rioux art style, and felt it did a great job of conveying the discomfort and whimsical elements. I think if you are familiar with the tale its based off of, you’ll get more out of this story. I found it to be an enjoyable read, and perhaps one I’ll revisit with a bit more knowledge behind me.

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 – Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey by Magdalena & Nathaniel Newman

Title: Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey

Author: Magdalena & Nathaniel Newman

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Who is to say what this word means? For Magda Newman, it was a goal. She wanted her son Nathaniel to be able to play on the playground, swim at the beach, enjoy the moments his friends took for granted. But Nathaniel’s severe Treacher Collins syndrome–a craniofacial condition–meant that other concerns came first. Could he eat without the aid of a gastrointestinal tube? Could he hear? Would he ever be able to breathe effortlessly? But Nathaniel looks at “normal” from a completely different perspective.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Normal is a memoir by a boy who has Treacher Collins syndrom, a craniofacial condition that is very unique. Written from the dual perspective of Nathaniel and Magda Newman, this book follows Nathaniel’s life growing up with TC and being the inspiration for R.J Palacio’s “Auggie” in her famous book Wonder!

This was a fast and compulsive read. What I enjoyed about this book was the honest and difficultly that comes with talking about such a subject matter, and I loved particularly Nathaniel’s parts given he is very forthcoming about how he was treated by other kids, how he handles his condition, and ultimately how Wonder helped a generation of kids learn to accept people born with unique differences. There’s a lot of good conversation starters for kids in this book, and I think there’s a lot of value in learning about how someone survives given unique circumstances. This family clearly has had hardship, but they also show amazing resilience as well.

I think for younger readers who are curious about the inspiration for Wonder will definitely find some enjoyment here. I don’t know how much of a book there would have been given the importance of Wonder in this family’s life, but I think Normal is a good and accessible memoir for younger readers, and I think Nathaniel’s struggles and triumph’s will definitely resonate for many people.

ARC Review – Little Universes by Heather Demetrios

Title: Little Universes

Author: Heather Demetrios

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When a tsunami strikes the island where their parents are vacationing, it soon becomes clear that their mom and dad are never coming home. Forced to move to Boston from sunny California for the rest of their senior year, each girl struggles with secrets their parents’ death has brought to light, and with their uncertainty about the future. Instead of bringing them closer, it feels like the wave has torn the sisters apart.

Hannah is a secret poet who wants to be seen, but only knows how to hide. The pain pills she stole from her dead father hurl her onto the shores of an addiction she can’t shake and a dealer who turns her heart upside down. When it’s clear Hannah’s drowning, Mae, a budding astronaut suddenly launched into an existential crisis—and unexpected love—must choose between herself and the only family she has left.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had mighty feelings from start-to-finish reading Little Universes. Heather Demetrios knows how to craft a story that is focused on difficult subject matters and just punch readers in their feelings. This is the story of two sisters who lose their parents in a plane crash, they are forced to relocate with their aunt to Boston from sunny California. Both girls are grieving in very different ways, with Mae obsessing over space while having an existential crisis, while Hannah is fostering an addiction that is struggling to kick the habit of.

Ooof. This book is an emotional roller coaster, and for someone like me who has had a sibling struggling with addiction and has gone to rehab, too much of this book was hitting close to home. A lot of Mae’s crisis and her feelings were all emotions I wrestled with in the past, and seeing her spiral in feeling helpless when it comes to Hannah was so difficult to read about. It was like looking in a mirror. Hannah’s side of the story was equally heartbreaking and challenging to read, because you want her to pull through, but she at times doesn’t want to. That last bit is SCARY. The idea that someone doesn’t WANT to get better, and they are willing to be okay with their behavior. It’s a lot, and for anyone who has dealt with addiction in some shape or form, keep that in mind before you consider checking this book out.

I loved this book, and while it’s over 400 pages, I read it in two long sittings and cried through chunks of it. Little Universes is a difficult read, and even more challenging if you’ve lived through what Hannah and Mae have. Demetrios continues to amazing me with each book she publishes, and I don’t think my heart can handle another book like Little Universes for a long while!

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 – Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Blanca & Roja

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Can I just say how much I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s books? They are such a whirlwind of magic, curiosity, and discomfort. At least, that is definitely what reading Blanca & Roja was like. This story is a dark fairy tale about two sisters, swans, and familial expectations. There are four protagonists, each who get wrapped up into this weird, wild story about sisters, and how they all must face what demons posses them in order to feel a sense of freedom.

I read this book in a day as I was trapped in my car while waiting for my sick dog to be checked out at the vet. I was completely engrossed in the story from the first page, and totally loved the twists and turns of who the “liar” was between Blanca and Roja. In the end, I was more a Roja fan in that her anger and frustrations felt so real and something I could in a way, identify with. There is an amazing discussion in this book about being non-binary and gender-fluid, and they are done in a way that for those who are unfamiliar can understand it well.

Anna-Marie McLemore is one of those writers where they have an amazing grasp of the written language. Their books are beautifully written and they truly transport readers into worlds that are not familiar, but feel familiar, which is always a challenge when writing magical realism. I am sad it took me so long to finally read this book, and I cannot wait to read the other two books I have by them that are sitting on my shelf. If you want something dark, twisted, that will keep you guessing, then read Blanca & Roja as it will not disappoint.