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
Werlin, N. (2017). And Then There Were Four. New York: Penguin Random House.
Five prep school kids are tossed together under mysterious circumstances. When one is murdered, they begin talking and piecing together what they know about their families, and a terrifying idea surfaces. What if they are all targets? The premise is classically entertaining, mimicking Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, when a group of strangers are assembled on a remote island only to be murdered one by one.
The chapters alternate between two of the five friends, Saralinda and Caleb, she speaking in the present tense, he in the past for some reason, but both pushing forward the pace of the story. Nancy Werlin knows how to create complex characters whose voices captivate us. We become swept up into the mystery as they go on the run from their cloistered, island-esqe school to an actual island, Fire Island in New York. Here there are no cars, only dirt paths through tall grass, and little Continue reading
Sáenz, B. (2017). The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. Boston: Clarion Books.
The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is a heart-wrenching, joyful, and tearful story all in one. In his senior year at high school, an orphaned boy named Salvador, or Sal, who is adopted by a gay, single
father. Sal likes to consider himself a good kid with good grades who stays in line. Until the first day of school that is, when he punches someone in the face. Suddenly Sal is questioning who he is and his place is the world, as an adopted part of a Mexican-American family. And when things start to tunnel downhill, Sal and his best friend, Samantha, will have to be prepared for the worst.
I first became aware of Benjamin Alire Sáenz when I chose Aristotle and Dante Explore the Universe from an LGBTQ+ display at the public library during Pride Week in Vancouver. It remains my favourite of Sáenz’s, but beware because
anyone I’ve spoken to who has read Aristotle first, favours it, while anyone who has read Inexplicable Logic considers that one superior! 🙂 I enjoyed the romantic component of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and still think of that story of two boys, both loners, but who serendipitously connect and form a beautiful friendship.
Kaneko , M. (2016). Are You An Echo? Seattle: Chin Music Press Inc.
edited by by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi
I’m going to start with the drawings so they don’t get lost. Toshikado Hajiri’s illustrations in the children’s picturebook, Are You An Echo? are beautiful and make me stop long enough to recognize the beauty not only in the pictures, but before me in my life. Fitting, for the poetry of Misuzu Kaneko is childlike, clear, and feels strong enough to stop time.
It was powerful enough to make Setsuo Yazaki research sixteen years for the Kaneko’s lost poetry. For all he could find was a poem that delighted him. How could someone understand how fish felt? Big Catch: Continue reading
Lin, G. (2016). When the Sea Turned to Silver. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Folk tales are told through the spine-tingling adventures of Pinmei and her trusted family friend, Yishan. When the Sea Turned to Silver opens with Pinmei and her grandmother, the village’s storyteller, talking at home one night. Her grandmother tells Pinmei that even though she is a very quiet child, when it is time for you to do something, you will do it. Later that night, soldiers burst into their hut to kidnap the grandmother! Pinmei and Yishan urgently set off for one escapade after the next in a venture to find and bring her home.
This instant classic holds so much substance; it begs to be read and reread, saved in a special spot up on the bookcase. Each chapter heading has an illustration relating to one of the fifteen Continue reading
Flanagan, J. (2005). The Ruins of Gorlan. New York: Philomel Books.
“An ordinary archer practices until he gets it right. A Ranger practices until he never gets it wrong.” -Halt, The Ruins of Gorlan.
The Ruins of Gorlan is the first in a witty and humorous series called Ranger’s Apprentice that takes place in the medieval times. The story follows a young orphan named Will and carries us through his apprenticeship to a grim Ranger named Halt during a very dangerous time. Rangers are an elite intelligence force that operates for the King in a country called Araluen. Their uncanny skill in archery, and their ability to become unseen whenever they want makes them a revered force among the country. If a criminal hears the words “King’s Ranger!” Continue reading
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