Spotswood J. (2016). Wild Swans. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks.
Wild Swans is a story a summer and about Ivy, a girl about to enter her senior year. After summers and summers of trying to live to her grandfather’s expectations through hours of clubs, Ivy has had enough. She has her summer all set up: no clubs that her grandad made her join, no extra credit, no nothing. Just pure fun. Bonfire parties, hanging out with friends, and the occasional volunteering. But when her mom comes back with two daughters, the whole summer turns into a downwards spiral. From dealing with flaring arguments with her irresponsible mom, to trying to get to know her new sisters, to her best friend, Alex, starting to take an unwanted interest in her, the summer’s shaping out badly. Ivy at first tries to deal with everything from far away but soon enough realizes that if she wants to enjoy her summer, she’s going to have to face her fears and try her hardest to accept her mom for who she is. This book is about a family just trying to come to grips with who they are and how to let go of tradition. It’s a book about a girl wondering who she really is and what she really wants to do.
Pennypacker S. (2016). Pax. New York: Balzer + Bray.
A beautifully crafted tale with incredible illustrations by Jon Klassen, Pax is a wonderful story that pulls you in and keeps you reading until the last page. Pax was an orphaned fox cub when his ‘boy,’ Peter, found him by the side of a road. Since then, they’ve been inseparable. Wherever Peter has gone Pax has gone; it feels like they’ve been together forever. Pax was there for Peter when his mom died, and Peter has always been there for Pax. Everything was perfect. Until one day. With the war coming, Peter’s father has signed up for the army. To Pax’s surprise, on the way to Peter’s grandfathers house they stop by the side of a large forest and get out of the car. Peter is crying and Pax can’t figure out what’s wrong. Then Pax is left behind on purpose in the wild and Peter is delivered to live at his grandfather’s house so his father can go to the war. But immediately, Peter is wracked with guilt over allowing his father to convince him to leave a tame fox in the woods, and he embarks on a long, challenging journey through the wild. This sparks two heart wrenching tales, one of a tame fox’s adventures in the wild and the other a story of a boy trying to find his fox.
LaCour N. (2017). We Are Okay. New York: Dutton Books for Young Readers.
We Are Okay‘s entrancing cover with a girl standing on her bed looking out into the ocean is perfect for this psychological mystery told through flashbacks. Marin is at university in upper state New York, having fled from California and the very people who love and want to support her following her Gramps’ death. Truly an orphan now, it’s turns out to be the secrets Marin encountered, slowly revealed to us, that made her abruptly leave home and cut off all ties.
When the story begins Marin is staying on an isolated college campus over winter break. Her roommate, Hannah, just left for Christmas, and now she is expecting a visit from her best friend, Mabel. As you may imagine, the December New York setting is stark, cold, and isolated, ready to match Marin’s depression. We aren’t privy to the background of Marin and Mabel’s relationship, yet like the rest of the story it Continue reading
Yoon, N. (2015). Everything, Everything. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
- School Library Journal, Best Book of 2015
- American Library Association, 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection
- American Library Association, 2016 Top 10 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers selection
Nicola Yoon busts out this young adult novel with hand-drawn sketches and short chapters that unravel the story of Madeline Whittier, an eighteen year old who watches the world from her bedroom window. Even when a new boy moves in next door, she can only spy because she hasn’t left her house for as long as she can remember. Madeline’s rare condition is that she is allergic to everything. Everything everything. Before entering the house, people need to go through a decontamination chamber that viciously blows air for almost an hour to rid them of outside allergens. It’s really only her mother and her nurse, Carla, though; Madeline’s father and brother were killed in a tragic car accident when she was an infant. This has made her mom wildly protective.
But what good is it to be alive if you’re not really living? This becomes Madeline’s mentality after somewhat predictably falling in love with Olly, the boy next door. They email and have secret visits organized by Carla. In spite of their unusual circumstances, these are believable characters who are faced with unexpected adversity and end up surprising themselves by what the are willing Continue reading
Mesmerized, I pulled my first Oliver Jeffers book closer to see, so close indeed that I never let his work out of my sight. The Boy series (will there be a fifth?) are some of the best examples of basic illustrations of adorable characters paired with a hopeful story. In the first book, How to Catch a Star, the boy wishes to catch a star and imagines all different ways to do so. In the second book, Lost and Found, a penguin shows up at the boy’s front step. This begins a delightful friendship that carries throughout the series with The Way Back Home and Up and Down.
As humorous, quick, and light Jeffers can be, his 2010 book, The Heart and the Bottle, departed and decided to explore grief. A difficult story of a girl losing her dear father at a young age is brilliantly approached. This is a special book. Mirroring his other picturebooks, this one slowly and deliberately turns itself around to face joy. Maria Popova recently published an article, The Heart and the Bottle: A Tender Illustrated Fable of What Happens When We Deny Our Difficult Emotions: A gentle reminder of what we stand to lose when we lock away loss.” As Popova points out, “the app version of the story is excellent beyond words”, and how true that is! It’s a forward-thinking and engaging experience.
Jeffers has an entertaining YouTube video where he explains his organic creative process, how he makes his ideas come to life and be strong, how much he likes to label things, and more.
Bondoux, A. (2010). A Time of Miracles. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Koumaïl’s story begins with the Terrible Accident. Gloria is picking peaches in the Republic of Georgia when she hears a screeching noise, looks up to see an explosion, and runs to discover a trainwreck. She unearths a French woman who is about to die, holding a baby to her chest, begging Gloria to care for him. That baby is Blaise Fortune, and Gloria takes him and calls him Koumaïl. Koumaïl loves Gloria, who is a giving, no-nonsense, strong woman. He often asks her to tell his story, and she does – “always in the right order” as she says. It’s actually these stories which end up helping him survive and which demonstrate that hope is fundamental.
They are desperately poor and life gets much more difficult and complex five years later when the Soviet Union collapses and Gloria decides she and Koumaïl, or Monsieur Blaise as she sometimes affectionately refers to him, must flee as refugees from the civil unrest, determinedly making their way westward toward France. This begins a five year journey on foot across the Caucasus (between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea) and Europe where they meet many unforgettable people and have many dangerous experiences. But there is a secret about Blaise’s past. The story he slowly learns about the truth of his family is entangled in the violence during the civil unrest, and revolves around Gloria’s love. She has been a good mother to him all these years, sacrificing and finding extraordinary means to give him the best she can. Continue reading