Tag Archives: tough issues

ARC Review – Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby

Title: Hurricane Season

Author: Nicole Melleby

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.

Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.

Huge thank you to Thomas Allen & Sons for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Hurricane Season was a book I grabbed on a whim while I was at the OLA Super Conference early this year. It totally sounded like the kind of middle grade read I would love: a young girl trying to figure herself and her family out, while also learning to deal with large scale change. Fig is a sixth grader who at her tender age, is forced to become a caretaker to her father, a famous pianist, who has had a mental break down. In order to understand her father’s breakdown, Fig enlists in the help of her local library and begins to research Vincent Van Gogh, one of the world’s most well-known painter’s, but is equally known for his decent into madness.

This is a beautiful debut story, and Fig is such a kind, slow, quiet protagonist, making her very different from a lot of the characters you encounter in popular middle grade. She is placed in an uncomfortable position for a younger child, and yet she is determined to both support her father and understand his condition. This is not a fast paced story by any stretch of the imagination, it’s very quiet and thoughtful. Fig also has so much so support in this story, even if most of it comes from unlikely sources such as Hannah, who works at her local library.

I think what I love the most about Hurricane Season is that it’s a book all about taking risks, and how even if they don’t pay off or pay off unexpectedly, they are still worth attempting. There’s a positive message throughout this story that children can find and muster amazing and profound strength when they need to, and it’s very apparent in this story as Fig does this repeatedly, each time more difficult, but she in turn grows stronger for it.

Hurricane Season is beautiful and quiet, and it’s a book that offers so much to its reader, while being somewhat small in size. I highly recommend this book if you love tougher middle grade stories that offer opportunities to reflect on what it means to be a caretaker and how one’s life can easily be transformed in the blink of an eye.

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ARC Review – Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Title: Ruby in the Sky

Author: Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Ruby Moon Hayes, twelve, and her mother move to tiny Fortin, Vermont, Ruby is surprised to make friends at school and in the neighborhood, where a reclusive lady hides a huge secret.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Holy cow, this book is a punch in the feelings. Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo’s debut novel Ruby in the Sky is an amazing achievement in middle grade, as its a story that has so many layers in it, and each is done flawlessly.

This is the story of Ruby, a young girl who has had it rough and struggles to now find her voice. Her father is out of the picture, her mother has moved her to a new city in hopes for them to have a better life, until a situation at her job forces her into the court system. On top of being at a new school, Ruby is immediately ostracized by the female students in her class for being “weird” and she makes a wonderful friendship with a new Syrian immigrant named, Ahmed. On top of making friends with the town “Bird Lady,” Ruby’s journey of self-discovery is truly something special to read about.

Ruby in the Sky is one of those books where I was engaged from the first page. Ruby is a difficult character in that she doesn’t allow herself to truly be known by the reader. She provides bits of information as the story goes on, building to a larger picture. She has amazing growth in this story, something that had such a spark when I read this book. I loved her friendship with Ahmed, and when it fell on hard times, I was rooting for both of them to find each other again.

I loved this book so much. I cried, it left me thinking about the kinds of challenges that children face, and the way in which we as adults may not be as empathetic as we should. Ruby is a wonderful heroine and her story is one I know I won’t forget for a very long time.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani & Viviana Mazza

Title: Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Author:  Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani & Viviana Mazza

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls. Some managed to escape. Many are still missing. A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. A girl who works hard in school and to help her family. A girl with a future as bright as live coals in the dark. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach. Even if the voices on Papa’s radio tell more fearful news than tales to tell by moonlight.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a difficult book to discuss. It’s the story of young women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Our narrator, a young girl, tells the story of what life was life before the kidnapping, and what life became after she was forced to become a “wife.”

This book starts out very hopeful; the girl discusses her family, her desire to get an education and how she is supported by her father to do so, and then the kidnappings happen. Reading about the girls who were forced to become Boko Haram’s wives was terrible, uncomfortable and felt all too real.

This was an event I admit I didn’t really follow when it was in the news, but one I feel like I have a better understanding of having read this book. There’s many discussions in this book from cult mentality to rape culture, and it makes you feel a lot of anger for the women who had their lives completely stripped from them.

What’s crazy about this book is that it’s addictive. The writing is engaging, it’s disturbing, but there is shreds of hope that the girl and reader cling to. It’s frightening to think how current this event was and how aspects of this cult mentality to still exist within our world. I feel for those that suffered in this period. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a powerful look at those who survived Boko Haram, and a what it means to be a survivor.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Invisible Ghosts by Robyn Schneider

Title: Invisible Ghosts

Author: Robyn Schneider

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Rose Asher believes in ghosts. She should, since she has one for a best friend: Logan, her annoying, Netflix-addicted brother, who is forever stuck at fifteen. But Rose is growing up, and when an old friend moves back to Laguna Canyon and appears in her drama class, things get complicated.

Jamie Aldridge is charming, confident, and a painful reminder of the life Rose has been missing out on since her brother’s death. She watches as Jamie easily rejoins their former friends–a group of magnificently silly theater nerds–while avoiding her so intensely that it must be deliberate.

Yet when the two of them unexpectedly cross paths, Rose learns that Jamie has a secret of his own, one that changes everything. Rose finds herself drawn back into her old life–and to Jamie. But she quickly starts to suspect that he isn’t telling her the whole truth.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have loved all of Robyn Schneider’s books that she has published. I figured given her track record and my enjoyment, Invisible Ghostssurely was going to be a new favourite. I was expecting to love this, and it was just okay. Saying that it was just okay breaks my heart a little bit, but that is the truth.

When this book was being pitched to me, I was told it was an exploration of grief. That statement is true to an extent, given this is a story about Rose believing that she can see the ghost of her best friend and brother, Logan. The parts of the story where Rose and Logan interacted were easily some of the best parts of the story, and I really enjoyed those moments.

Where I struggled with this book was the romance between Jamie and Rose. I just couldn’t connect with it, I felt very hollow at times, and frankly, I was bored. I know part of Jamie’s story is that he is helping Rose through her grief, but I felt like at times the book made this element a bit too easy, undermining what it means to feel a sense of loss. I think what frustrated me more is that Robyn Schneider has explored the topic of grief before, and I think it was done much better in her other books than Invisible Ghosts.

While I love Robyn Schneider’s writing style, I found that this book and I just didn’t connect the way I was hoping. Perhaps I put too high an expectation on this book given past experiences, or maybe I just wanted something with a lot more depth on a topic that I connect with than this book provided. I think there will be plenty of readers who will love Invisible Ghosts and not much the surface level discussion of grief, but I won’t lie, my expectations were just a bit too high.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis

Title: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now

Author: Dana L. Davis

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mom to cancer has her a little bit traumatized and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known.

Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters—and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home—or get along with her standoffish sister London. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street. Marcus McKinney has had his own experiences with death, and the unexpected friendship that blossoms between them is the only thing that makes her feel grounded.

But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s Tiffany’s real dad—and she only has seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realizing that maybe family is in the bonds you make—and that life means sometimes taking risks.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I heard about the premise for Dana L. Davis’ Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now, I was intrigued. The focus on a girl with two potential fathers definitely means there is doing to be some drama, and I love stories that focus on unique familial circumstances. I may have hyped this book in my mind, and sadly it didn’t live up to the expectations I gave it. It’s a good book, but it’s not without some issues.

First off, this book took me awhile to get into. Like, I would pick up and read, then completely forget about it. The first hundred pages were not holding my attention. However, once I hit the latter half of the book, I was completely glued to the pages and needed to know what was happening. It’s weird for a book to do such a mad 180 degree turn, but that was my reading experience with this book. Sometimes I so invested in the story, and other times I was just bored because the story wasn’t engaging me.

I will say that I really did like Tiffany as a character. She’s got a good head on her shoulders, she’s smart, kind, and she means well. She’s also a girl questioning her family and her faith. This book is uncomfortable at times… especially Tiffany’s estranged father, who does some borderline abusive things to her. His treatment of her mental illness in particular disgusted me, as the idea of keeping medication away from someone who needs it is just revolting and wrong. But him being an uncomfortable person is what drives a lot of the story, especially given that before he and Tiffany met, they lived such different lives.

The way in which religion is portrayed in this book is also a difficult subject matter. It’s a weird kind of zealotry, and it’s no wonder why Tiffany fights it. Why she’s trying to protect her siblings from it. There’s so much complication in how Tiffany’s father is portrayed in this book, and some of it works, and some of it does not. I will say… I really disliked the treatment of the autistic character in this book. There was something about it that just screamed power-trip and again, it’s unnerving and disturbing.

I am all for tough subject matters in YA, and I liked how some issues were portrayed in this book. This is definitely a hard book to review because there’s a lot going on, and if I am being honest, this was just an okay ride for me. I wish the book had hooked me sooner, and I do think this book could have been a bit shorter. I think Tiffany as a story is interesting, I just think the execution left a lot to be desired.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tiny Infinities by J.H. Diehl

Title: Tiny Infinities

Author: J.H. Diehl

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Alice’s dad moves out, leaving her with her troubled mother, she does the only thing that feels right: she retreats to her family’s old Renaissance tent in the backyard, determined to live there until her dad comes home. In an attempt to keep at least one part of her summer from changing, Alice focuses on her quest to swim freestyle fast enough to get on her swim team’s record board. But summers contain multitudes, and soon Alice meets an odd new friend, Harriet, whose obsession with the school’s science fair is equal only to her conviction that Alice’s best stroke is backstroke, not freestyle. Most unexpected of all is an unusual babysitting charge, Piper, who is mute—until Alice hears her speak. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book was very much a slow burn for me as far as middle grade reads are concerned. This is a book about loss, change, friendships, and swimming. When Alice’s father leaves her family, she decides to take refuge in his old Renaissance tent in the backyard. Her summer is showing constant change, as she meets a new girl who loves science, but is a bit odd. She meets a girl who is a mute that she attempts to befriend, and she spends her days learning that perhaps difference and change isn’t such a bad thing.

Alice’s story is one I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to. She’s learning to deal with her family getting a divorce, she’s determined to try and stop her world for changing. Alice is lovable as a heroine — she’s stubborn, determined, and a bit shy. She’s a character I think a lot of readers will connect with because she goes through events in her life that are challenging, and there is such an unknown feeling to the changes she encounters.

I also really liked the writing in this book, even if the story was a tad slow. I did find Harriet, Alice’s newfound friend, to be a bit of a difficult character. At times she read very robotically, though that may stem from the fact that she is very intelligent and somewhat socially awkward. I think she’s a character kids may have some trouble with just because her vocabulary is so advanced compared to other children in the story, but I think given how she is portrayed, it makes a lot of sense.

I enjoyed my time with Tiny Infinities. I loved it’s message about how adapting to change can be wonderful and rewarding, and I loved that as a middle grade story, it had subject matters that kids could relate to, but they were still complex enough to be challenging. I definitely look forward to recommending this to more patient middle grade readers. I don’t recommend this for readers looking for a fast paced adventure, because that doesn’t exist here.

ARC Review – Breakout by Kate Messner

Title: Breakout

Author: Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics–a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project–Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Breakout wasn’t what I thought it would be for a middle grade novel. It is a mixed media novel filled with comics, letters, text messages, and documents that are collected. It’s also based on a jail breakout that occurred in 2015 and the grinding halt it put a town into.

This book took me awhile to read. The first half moved so quickly, to the point where I was pretty swept up in the story. Then I hit the middle and the book came to this weird, grinding halt for me. I mixed media style wasn’t engaging me anymore and if I am being honest, the main fault of this book is that it’s actually a bit too long for it’s own good, and I feel like parts of it could have easily been edited down.

That being said, I loved the social activism in this book. Nora, Elidee, and Lizzie, are very engaged young adults who are trying to understand fear mongering, depression, discomfort, and alienation. The Wolf Creek Community is shocked to its core when two inmates break out of the nearby prison. Nora, Elidee and Lizzie talk about how the adults project onto them, while also writing to a future generation who may not realize what this situation has done to the community.

What I like about Kate Messner’s novels is that they always have an element of excitement to them. They are engaging, exciting, and they have such a consistent flow for readers. This book has all that, but it’s interesting seeing the level of discomfort in the story, and that felt new here. I will also point out, I love the recommendations that Messner put into the back of the book and I definitely want to check out all the books on those lists that I haven’t read yet.

While I didn’t enjoy Breakout as much as The Exact Location of Home, I still think this is going to be a great middle grade novel for readers who love stories that are different. I think this book will kindle the interest of middle graders who are interested in social activism and understanding justice. I think it will spark great conversation as well, and I look forward to recommending it to many of my middle grade readers at the library!