Tag Archives: sourcebooks jabberwocky

ARC Review – After Zero by Christina Collins

Title: After Zero

Author: Christina Collins

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Elise carries a notebook full of tallies, each page marking a day spent at her new public school, each stroke of her pencil marking a word spoken. A word that can’t be taken back. Five tally marks isn’t so bad. Two is pretty good. But zero? Zero is perfect. Zero means no wrong answers called out in class, no secrets accidentally spilled, no conversations to agonize over at night when sleep is far away. But now months have passed, and Elise isn’t sure she could speak even if she wanted to―not to keep her only friend, Mel, from drifting further away―or to ask if anyone else has seen her English teacher’s stuffed raven come to life. Then, the discovery of a shocking family secret helps Elise realize that her silence might just be the key to unlocking everything she’s ever hoped for… 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

After Zero is a book with an interesting premise: Elise is a young girl with selective mutism and her school questions why this is the case. They are frustrated by her lack of speaking, but don’t necessarily go about things in the most positive of manners. This is a middle grade book that is very emotional, and one I flew through in nearly a day.

I loved Elise and I loved being in her mind. While this book doesn’t have a lot of dialogue or conversations, it’s interesting to see how a character with selective mutism interacts with their fellow classmates, family members and school faculty. Elise writes her feelings out, she is still emotionally a very expressive young girl, and the author makes Elise’s story all the more interesting because we are only given such a limited scope of details. As the reader, it’s like you have to build friendship and trust with Elise before she even opens up to you and I appreciate that tone of voice and distance in a story like this. In that regard, it creates a great mysterious atmosphere.

This book is a intriguing look at children’s mental health issues. This book is written with passion, tenderness, and and tons of empathy. This book shows how Elise’s actions affect others and those around her. I think this book will be a fantastic tool to teach kids about empathy and how mental illness affects children during traumatic and difficult times. This is a fantastic debut, and one I hope many will share with this kids.

ARC Review – The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

26828816Title: The Pants Project

Author: Cat Clarke

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A Transformer is a robot in disguise. Liv is a boy in disguise. It’s that simple. Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Live to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy- it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Pants Project is one of those books I knew I had to read when I first discovered it. It is the story of Liv who is transgendered, but goes to a uniformed school that has some strict policies regarding gender and the clothing that must be worn. Liv launches “The Pants Project” in an attempt to show that gender norms shouldn’t be the norm, and since Liv is a boy, he feels that he shouldn’t be subjected to wearing a skirt if he doesn’t identify as female.

This book is an amazing little gem that offers big discussion about being transgendered, as well as rights for those who are transgendered. Liv is a great hero who often discusses with the reader what his identity is like (he states it’s like a Transformer, which I can totally see), what people see on the surface and why people need to dig a bit deeper. Liv’s narration is a wonderful tour de force, showcasing in such simple but powerful ways the kinds of discussion that needs to be had at schools regarding students who are transgendered. Liv’s quest in providing this knowledge doesn’t come without challenges, but he has great support in Jakob, who is just an amazing and sharply written character. Seriously, he and Liv are a delight when they are on the page together.

Also I loved that Liv had two moms. In fact, if I am being honest, the moms were my favourite characters in the story because I love how different their personalities were, but the joke of the story is that they are called “The moms.” I love how their personalities differed on somethings, but they always come together. If anything I wish their had been more of them in the story because they were seriously delightful.

The Pants Project is a fantastic discussion about transgender identity told through a fantastic and clever hero. Much like George before it, Cat Clarke weaves a courageous tale about a young boy who wants to be treated properly, and at the end of the day isn’t that what anyone wants? If you loved George then The Pants Project should easily be your next go to book, as it is both touching as it is smart.

ARC Review – Just Like Me by Nancy Cavanaugh

27204775Title: Just Like Me

Author:  Nancy Cavanaugh

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Who eats Cheetos with chopsticks?! Avery and Becca, my “Chinese Sisters,” that’s who. We’re not really sisters—we were just adopted from the same orphanage. And we’re nothing alike. They sing Chinese love songs on the bus to summer camp, and I pretend like I don’t know them. To make everything worse, we have to journal about our time at camp so the adoption agency can do some kind of “where are they now” newsletter. I’ll tell you where I am: At Camp Little Big Woods in a cabin with five other girls who aren’t getting along, competing for a campout and losing (badly), wondering how I got here…and where I belong.

Huge thank you to Sourcebooks and Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure what I got myself into when I requested Just Like Me. I knew it was about adoption, culture and identity. What I didn’t know, was how much it would emotionally affect me in the end. Julia, Avery and Becca are all Chinese girls who have been adopted. While Becca and Avery still feel very close to their Chinese roots, Julia has other feelings.

In fact, Julia’s feelings are what emotionally got me. She’s adopted by parents who are Italian and Irish, and she recognizes that in no way does she look or act like them. She’s completely aware that they are not her birth parents, but she feels a closer connect to them then she does her birth family. When Becca and Avery attempt to immerse Julia into Chinese songs and games, she takes no part because she doesn’t feel that she is connected to her Chinese heritage.

Julia’s narration is both sassy as it is heartbreaking. She doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere, and no matter how hard she tries, she struggles to really feel connected to anyone, until she meets Gina at summer camp. While Avery and Becca choose to stick together, Julia struggles with her own personal and cultural identity because she feels as there isn’t anyone else “like her,” meanwhile she is afraid to embrace all the parts of her that exist that make up who she truly is. This is a beautiful story, and while I don’t suffer from Julia’s problems, I can empathize her desire to figure out who she is and her own self-worth.

Just Like Me definitely has it’s funny moments, but it’s certainly a very raw story of understanding and figuring out where you belong. It’s a great story on what it means to grow up when you’re already unsure of who you are. Julia is a fantastic protagonist to follow, and the message this story presents really broke my heart at times. This is a lovely summer contemporary read that will remind you that regardless of age, you are always worthy of someone’s love.

ARC Review – Ava XOX (Ava and Pip, #3) by Carol Weston

25679827Title: Ava XOX (Ava and Pip, #3)

Author:  Carol Weston

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: In Ava XOX, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and Ava couldn’t care less. That is, until a new girl, Kelli, asks out Ava’s friend Chuck…and he says yes! What?!? Ava is NOT okay with this. But since when does she think about boys? For the first time ever, words fail Ava. She isn’t sure what she’s feeling (Like? Love? Friendship? Frustration?), or what “going out” even means. After all, fifth graders aren’t allowed to go anywhere by themselves, are they? To top it off, Pip’s friend Tanya is being bullied for her size. Ava wants to help—but, it’s not as easy as she imagines.

Huge thank you to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

If there is a series I adore and hold close to my heart, it’s Ava and Pip. This series does an amazing job of being something middle graders can relate to, and isn’t written in a way that feels dumbed down. This time around, this third novel focuses on Ava having a secret crush and all the crazy surrounding that.

If I’m being honest, this was the book of the bunch that I connected with the most. I knew what it was like to be Ava’s age and having a crush on a boy who seemed off limits. Moreover, her feelings of inadequacy and jealousy were totally something I could relate to. That wanting to be the girl, but it not being in your favour. I equally love the reveal when she discovers that she does have a crush, and that sort of explosion that occurs in her mind because it’s something she struggles to articulate. I really just loved the portrayal of Ava’s emotions and found them to be done in such a realistic way.

If there was one part of the book that made me a bit uncomfortable, it’s what happened to Tanya and Pip. I get that that kind of bullying still very much exists, but it still made me uncomfortable. I also didn’t like Ava’s approach to helping Tanya either with her problem because while I get that she meant very well, it’s also none of her business. However, I was a bit more forgiving when the novel showed how Ava learns her lesson, and more specifically when she learns about issues with body types. I feel like applauding Weston for that just because it’s something that often goes undiscussed by parents.

With each installment I continue to fall in love with this series, simply because there’s a genuineness in Ava’s voice that just sucks you in. She’s a good kid, and the books do such a fantastic job of teaching morality, but also still having fun in its presentation. Ava XOX is a solid entry into this series, and I can only hope Carol Weston has more adventures in store for Ava very soon.


ARC Review – The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

25821928Title: The Night Parade

Author: Kathryn Tanquary

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked… and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth – or say good-bye to the world of the living forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

The Night Parade is one of those middle grade novels where the cover doesn’t tell you much. It’s beautiful, there’s creatures, darkness, but that’s only the tip of what this story is about. This is a book that explores Japanese culture and folklore, and it’s one of those stories that does a fantastic job of immersing the reader from beginning to end.

This novel focuses on a young girl named Saki who is forced to go on vacation to her grandmother’s remote village for the Obon ceremony. Leaving the glitz of Tokyo behind, Saki is forced to accept that she has no escape and no cellphone reception. She is told she had to make friends for the summer and suck it up. I have to say, I loved Saki. She’s a bit bratty at times, but her plight of a potentially boring vacation is completely understandable. While she seems like a bit of a snot at the beginning of the novel, Tanquary does this amazing job of showing Saki’s gradual growth and transformation in the story. She goes from being completely unappreciative of the world around her, to someone who begins to value it. Essentially this novel is about Saki proving her worth to both the human and spirit worlds.

When Saki defaces the her family’s ancestral shrine (shame on her!) that is when the fun of the novel really begins. A fox, tengu, and tanuki, creatures of folklore begin to appear, and they plan to make Saki’s life a bit more difficult. This novel is rich with beautiful descriptions and poses as a cautionary tale in a lot of ways. There are moments that feel dark and tense, and you get this huge sense that Saki has done so much wrong in defacing her ancestors, and yet you also see how remorseful she is as well. Her guides were cute, funny, and full of sass. I loved how they helped Saki in her journey and I thought how they were used in the story in terms of Japanese mythology was spot on.

This is one of those novels where I read it and adored it all the way through. The Night Parade is full of life and it’s engaging not only for middle grade readers, but adults as well. While the writing is a tad simplistic, I appreciate a lot of the messages shared throughout the story. There is so much fun and adventure to be had reading The Night Parade and I definitely encourage lovers of middle grade to check it out.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Ava and Taco Cat by Carol Weston

21991202Title: Ava and Taco Cat

Author: Carol Weston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ava desperately wants a pet for her eleventh birthday-but gets way more than she bargained for when she adopts T-A-C-O-C-A-T.

When Ava Wren hears about an injured yellow tabby with mismatched ears, she becomes obsessed and wants to rescue him. She even picks out a perfect palindromic name: T-A-C-O-C-A-T. But when Taco joins the family, he doesn’t snuggle or purr-all he does is hide. Worse, Ava’s best friend starts hanging out with Zara, a new girl in fifth grade. Ava feels alone and writes an acclaimed story, “The Cat Who Wouldn’t Purr.” What begins as exciting news turns into a disaster. How can Ava make things right? And what about sweet, scared little Taco?

Huge thank you to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was a huge fan of Carol Weston’s Ava and Pip last year. I thought it was just such a fantastic and humorous portrayal of sisterhood. Colour me surprised when I found out that Carol had wrote a sequel, this time about Ava and her new cat companion, Taco Cat.

Once again, Carol Weston does this amazing job of putting us in the mind of a young girl, and she keeps Ava in character. Sometimes it’s awkward to read first-person middle grade books because sometimes characters read slightly older than they should be, but I feel like book is spot on. A lot of this story revolves around Ava’s relationship with others, and a lot of the book just made me smile.

There’s one bit in the story that really hit close to home: when I was Ava’s age, there was a girl in my class who I felt was totally trying to take my best friend away from me. I remembered I ended up being bullied by that girl (she left me messages telling me how my bestfriend hated me, etc). Thankfully the book doesn’t go that far, but it’s interesting to see how Ava handles her jealousy and frustrations, and I loved that Maybelle doesn’t entirely let he get away with the behaviour either. Still, I knew full well how Ava felt, and I actually did feel sorry for her. But I also was pleased by the resolve for that situation.

And then there is Taco Cat. My goodness, he’s a wonderful feline companion. He has a lot of personality and spark. I love that he provides Ava and her family so much comfort, and it’s true that pets just have this magical way of brightening up your life and making you smile without effort. It’s also why losing a pet is so hard as well — the instant love and gratification is gone.

The only thing that disappointed me a bit, was the lack of Pip. She was there, but she didn’t have as much of a presence as I was hoping. We need more Pip!

Once again, I loved this book, and I love that Carol Weston gives younger readers lots to ponder as the book progresses. I am only imagine what Ava and Pip’s next adventure is going to be like. This book was fun, thoughtful, and just such a great read. If you have children or you like sweet middle grade, this book is for you.

ARC Review – Ava and Pip by Carol Weston

21463702Title:  Ava and Pip

Author: Carol Weston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Meet outgoing Ava Wren, a fun fifth grader who tries not to lose patience with her shy big sister. When Pip’s 13th birthday party turns into a disaster, Ava gets a story idea for a library contest. But uh-oh, Ava should never have written “Sting of the Queen Bee.” Can Ava and her new friend help Pip come out of her shell? And can Ava get out of the mess she has made?

Huge thank you to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I grabbed Ava and Pip on a whim because I absolutely fell in love with the cover. Turns out that this pretty cover wasn’t a fluke either! There’s a lot of charm to this novel told entirely through Avas journal entries. She wants to help her sister be social and more outgoing, but doesn’t entirely understand the sometimes consequences of being who you are in the process.

I think what I loved the most was how genuine the sisters relationship was written. They fight, make up, hug it out, and fight some more like sisters. Interestingly Pip has just as many flaws as her younger sister, and yet it’s interesting how the two characters grow and learn to accept that flaws are a part of who one is and ultimately, it’s part of the growing process.

Ava is interesting mostly because she can be malicious without understanding what’s entirely wrong with it. She’s not the nicest girl, but her position is one that any left out feeling girl would completely understand. We all want attention in different ways, and Ava feels that she is being neglected by her parents. One moment I loved is when Ava’s mother tells her “It’s not so much neglect as we have to worry about you less because you are so independent.” It’s funny how many times I’ve heard that in my own life, and when you’re born into a family with two kids, that always seems to be the case.

Ava and Pip is funny, charming, and completely something I think many children would easily relate to. Weston has a knack for writing characters who are both approachable but flawed, and that I can say is easily what I enjoyed the most about this book. This is a great contemporary middle grade read that I think even a picky reader could easily pick up and enjoy without fuss.