My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva

My Fate According to the Butterfly

Gail D. Villanueva, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Superstitions, Philippines, Sisters, Family relationships, Drug addiction, Diversity

Book Synopsis:

Sab Dulce is doomed!

When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows her fate is sealed. According to the legend her father used to tell her, she has a week before destiny catches up with her. Even worse, that week ends on her birthday! All she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her journalist sister, Ate Nadine, cut their father out of her life one year ago, and Sab has no idea why.

If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears — of her sister’s anger, leaving the bubble of her shelter community, her upcoming doom — and figure out the cause of their rift.

So with time running out, Sab and her best friend, Pepper, start spying on Ate Nadine and digging into their family’s past. Soon Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths more complicated, and more dangerous, than she ever anticipated.

Set in the Philippines, this is a moving coming-of-age story about family, reconciliation, and recovery. Readers will root fiercely for the irrepressible Sab as she steps out of her cocoon and takes her fate into her own hands.

Why I like this book:

My Fate According to the Butterfly is a compelling and mesmerizing story about culture, superstition, family secrets, substance abuse and forgiveness. This is the first novel I have reviewed about this beautiful country.

The author basis her story on many of her own real life experiences as a girl growing up in the Philippines. Readers will learn a lot about its rich culture, superstitions, traditions, subway systems, and cuisine — especially the mouthwatering descriptions that will tempt their senses.

Readers will learn about the colonial mentality in the Philippines that is a result of the colonization by Spain. Sab is brown and flat-nosed, something she is very conscious of, as opposed to her friend, Pepper, who is light-skinned, has blue eyes and has a bridge to her nose. It is a stigma of sorts for Sab and she doesn’t feel beautiful. And Sab is very aware how differently she’s treated in public — “white is beautiful, brown is not.”

When a giant black butterfly crosses Sab’s path, she sets out to get her father and older sister, Ate Nadine, to fix their relationship in case her time is running out. It is interesting to watch this wonderfully real protagonist work through this long-held superstition and come to her own conclusions.

Sab is planning her eleventh birthday, but ends up uncovering secrets about her father’s substance abuse. Many readers will identify with an addictive parent, which is a problem for Filipino families, both rich and poor, as it is worldwide. It has spit Sab’s family, but it is also an opportunity for the family to heal.

Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. She’s also a web designer, an entrepreneur, and a graphic artist. Gail and her husband live in the outskirts of Manila with their doges, ducks, turtle, cats on one friendly but lonesome chicken. Visit her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey

All the Impossible Things

Lindsay Lackey, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Foster Families, Separation, Addiction, Rescue Animals, Friendship, Magic

Book Synopsis:

Red’s inexplicable power over the wind comes from her mother. Whenever Ruby “Red” Byrd is scared or angry, the wind picks up. And being placed in foster care, moving from family to family, tends to keep her skies stormy. Red knows she has to learn to control it, but can’t figure out how.

This time, the wind blows Red into the home of the Grooves, a quirky couple who run a petting zoo, complete with a dancing donkey, a goat that climbs trees and a giant tortoise. With their own curious gifts, Celine and Jackson Groove seem to fit like a puzzle piece into Red’s heart.

But just when Red starts to settle into her new life, a fresh storm rolls in, one she knows all too well: her mother. For so long, Red has longed to have her mom back in her life, and she’s quickly swept up in the vortex of her mother’s chaos. Now Red must discover the possible in the impossible if she wants to overcome her own tornadoes and find the family she needs.

Why I like this book:

Lindsay Lackey’s debut novel speaks powerfully of Red’s deep anger and hurt, which takes the form of strong winds and tornadoes when she loses control of her emotional pain. Her story is as captivating and healing as it is heartbreaking. I

The plot is complex, realistic and skillfully executed. It digs deeply into many themes that include 10-year-old Red’s loss of her “Gamma” three years earlier, her mother’s drug addiction and inprisonment, and her unsuccessful placements in several foster homes. She has a fresh start when the Grooves, welcome her into their home. They have a farm and petting zoo full of rescue animals.

The characters are believable, vulnerable and memorable. Red is somewhat detached at first and finds a healing bond with Tuck, a 400-pound tortoise. She makes friends with a Hawaiian boy, Marvin, who is really into sharing his culture and helps Red with a special project. Red is surprised to find kindred spirits in Celine and Jackson, a middle-aged couple who immediately love her. They support Red in her desire to leave the foster care system and be reunited with her mother, Wanda. And they are there for her when she realizes that they are her forever family.

There is a tad of magic in this story. Both Red and her mother’s power stir up wind storms, has both a magical and emotional quality about it. And, Celine’s ability to make the stars sing when she and Red gaze into the heavens at night. Red hears their songs an finds they soothe her. It really isn’t explained, but I was okay with the wonder of it all. And the fabulous cover shouts magic and will attract readers.

Lindsay Lackey has trained as an opera singer, worked in children’s and teen services at a public library, and worked for a major publishing house in publicity and marketing. All the Impossible Things is her debut novel. Visit Lindsay at her website.
Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Dream Within a Dream by Patricia MacLachlan

Dream Within a Dream

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 128

Themes: Farm Life, Multigenerational relationships, Family, Adolescence, Island, Storms, Friendship, Love

Opening: My grandfather Jake’s Deer Island farm runs down to the sea – sweet grass slipping to water.

Book Synopsis

Louisa, short for Louisiana, is in for a long summer.

When her globe-trotting, bird-watching parents go abroad, they leave Louisa and her younger brother, Theo, on Deer Island with their grandparents, Jake and Boots, same as they always do.

Jake brings a library of books to read. Louisa would rather be off having adventures with their parents. She’s a secret writer, and there’s nothing on all of Deer Island to write about—right?

The difference is that this year, Jake’s eyesight if failing.

This year, Theo doesn’t want to go back to the mainland at the end of the summer.

This year, Louisa meets George, a boy who helps her see the world in a whole new light.

Why I like this book:

Patricia MacLachlan’s signature style showcases her talent to tell a heartwarming story that celebrates multigenerational family relationships, friendship and love — new and old — with beauty and simplicity. Her prose is lyrical, the narrative is gentle, the plot is engaging with the right amount of tension, and the ending is satisfying and uplifting.

The characters are memorable. Louisa is an adventuresome spirit with a large mass of curly red hair. Theo is an “old” soul, thoughtful, contemplative and kind. For Theo, the island is a dream. Grandmother Boots, is a lively, upbeat and strong force in the family. Her real name is Lily, but she loves and stomps around in colorful “wellies,” so her family call her Boots. Grandpa Jake, a farmer, is losing his eyesight. He remains positive and is secretly teaching a neighbor boy, George, how to drive, so he doesn’t lose his freedom and his prized 1938 Cord car. George and his family live on the island, but spend a lot of time in Africa.

This is a good story for readers moving into middle grade books. With short chapters, it can also be read out loud to young children. It is a lively summer read with dancing and tropical storms.

Favorite Quote:

Boots knows most everything. She knows, for instance, that her son — my father — and his wife — my mother — are “dense” about some things even though they’re “disturbingly intelligent,” as she puts it. Boots is my hero.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless novels for young readers, including Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall; Word After Word; Kindred Souls; The Truth of Me; The Poet’s Dog; and My Father’s Words. She is also the author of countless beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Finding Orion by John David Anderson

Finding Orion

John David Anderson, Author

Walden Pond Press, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 368

Themes: Death, Grandfather, Family relationships, Fathers and sons, Love, Humor

Book Synopsis:

Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jellybeans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always on stage, and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk.

He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially as his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his “Funneral” and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover. He doesn’t know how right he is.

Why I like this book:

This is one wacky story and it tops my list for the oddest book I’ve ever read. That being said, it’s also charming and funny, and heart-warming and downright bizarre. Anderson takes quirkiness to a new level when a singing clown shows up to tell them Rion’s grandfather, Frank, has died. Who does that? What a great “gotcha” opening for readers. You are compelled to read on.

The plot is hilarious and engaging. The “FUNNeral” is held in the Greensburg, Illinois town park, with speeches, a barbershop quartet, a marching band and food trucks to feed the guests. This is not your normal send-off, but it is original, fulfills Papa Kwirk’s final  wishes and allows the community to come together to share happy memories of “Jimmy,” a man they loved, with his family. Rion’s father is done with all of the untraditional nonsense and ready to head home when Aunt Gertie announces that there is a scavenger hunt to find Papa Kwirk’s ashes. The hunt is important journey in the story. It is an opportunity for everyone in the family to know Papa Kwirk better and to heal the divide between Rion’s father and grandfather.

Rion (Orion) is probably my favorite character because he is a smart and observant narrator, funny and awkward on his path to self-discovery. Rion may feel very ordinary among his odd parents and siblings, but he notices things that others don’t. The remainder of the characters are just plain fun and of course quirky. The sibling dynamics are delightfully normal with all the usual sibling pranks. And not to forget Cass’s pet python named Delilah.

I fell in love with the Kwirk family and their emotional journey as they explore the joy and pain, and regret and recovery of being a family. Readers will discover many laugh-out-loud and irreverent moments. I highly recommend this unforgettable book.

Favorite Quote:

“Seriously?” I shouted, my voice carrying through the amphitheater. “This freakin’ family can’t even die normally.”  Page 140

“One thing could be said for my grandfather, through: he was one of a kind. And there was a whole town full of people who would never forget him.” Page 335

John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Ms. Bixby’s Last Day as well as Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. Visit Anderson’s website for more information.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 24, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Pages: 256

Themes: Runaways, Loss, Family relationships, Friendship, Kindness

Opening: “Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off toward Lake Clara.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. Now that she’s fourteen years old, she figures it’s not running away. It’s leaving,

Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her alcoholic mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to herself through their eyes.

Why I like this book:

It is always a pleasure to read and review a new Kate DiCamillo book. Her imagery and vocabulary sparkle without weighty text. A gifted storyteller, DiCamillo challenges readers with big questions about the meaning of home, family, friendships, belonging, and self-discovery. There is so much to love about Beverly, Right Here and it’s heroine, Beverly Tapinski was first introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale.  It is the final book in the series about three friends. If you haven’t read the second book, Louisiana’s Way Home, make sure you grab a copy.

I love the voices DiCamillo creates for her main characters. Beverly’s voice is determined and defining because of her soul searching journey to embrace herself. She sees herself as an independent loner. She doesn’t want or need anyone. Or does she? Once she arrives in Tamaray, it doesn’t take Beverly long to land a job at a fish restaurant busing tables.  She finds a couch to sleep on at Iola Jenkins, an eccentric old woman who lives alone in a trailer park. Along the way she meets Elmer, who works at a convenience store before he heads to Dartmouth College in the fall. He’s shy and self-conscious, but has a generous heart. A colorful, humorous and engaging relationship unfolds between Beverly, Iola and Elmer.

Beverly, Right Here is an excellent middle grade discussion book. Once released, there will be a teacher’s guide and a book group discussion guide.

Favorite Quote:

“Imagine if you hadn’t found my trailer. Imagine if I didn’t need someone to drive the Pontiac. Then me and you wouldn’t have become friends, and you wouldn’t know how to dance. Oh, I’m glad I needed you. I’m glad you needed me. “I didn’t really need you,” said Beverly. “Yes, you did, honey,” said Iola. “Yes, you did,” said Elmer from the back seat. “Okay,” said Beverly. “Whatever you people say.” Page 207

Kate DiCamillo is the author of many books for young readers. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal (Flora & Ulysses in 2014 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2004); the Newbery Honor (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, 2006), and the Theodor Geisel Medal and honor (Bink and Gollie, co-author Alison McGhee, 2011; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, 2007). She is a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, appointed by the Library of Congress.

Greg Pattridge hosts for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Just South of Home by Karen Strong

Just South of Home

Karen Strong, Author

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 320

Themes: African Americans, Family Relationships, Racism, Crimes, Georgia, Ghosts, Supernatural

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger, brainy brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie, arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.

Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, a landmark of the small town that she heard was haunted with ghosts. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers disturb the restless ghosts (or haints), who are unleashed upon the town. It is up to Sarah, Janie, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper to uncover the deep-seated racist part of the town’s past that is filled with unimaginable crimes against the black community. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.

Why I like this book:

Karen Strong’s Just South of Home is a haunting and extraordinary experience for readers who are interested in looking at racist atrocities committed in the South and how they impact a community who wants to forget the past. The author doesn’t shy away from dealing with the burning of the town’s Creek Church by the Klan and a boy who is brutally murdered and buried near the church. His restless spirit is trapped and needs to move into the light realm.

The characters are loveable and memorable. Sarah’s safe and logical science-filled background is overturned once she experiences the force of evil and the unrest of the haints. Janie is fearless and nudges Sarah to do things she wouldn’t normally do — like breaking into their grandmother’s attic
to search for clues about Creek Church and getting caught. Mrs. Greene is unmoving and won’t think twice about using a willow switch as a form of punishment. But she is also very generous with her famous red velvet cake. Evolving family relationships are central to this novel.

Strong’s plot is thrilling and suspense-filled. It is mystery that Sarah, Janie, Ellis and Jasper desperately want to solve. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Teens looking for something original and creative will enjoy this novel. It is an excellent discussion book because of the historical themes.

Karen Strong was born and raised in rural Georgia. She spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens on her grandmother’s land. She now lives in Atlanta. Just South of Home is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Favorite Quote: Page 100

I couldn’t deny it. What we had seen was as real as the sun, the stars, and the planets in our solar system. Those shadows were physical things, and they weren’t human. I didn’t need any more theories. No more explanations. Creek Church was haunted. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros

The Remember Balloons

Jessie Oliveros, Author

Dana Wulfekotte, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Aging grandparent, Memory, Family relationships, Balloons

Opening: I have lots and lots of balloons, way more than my little brother. “This one’s my favorite,” I tell him, pointing to the balloon filled with my last birthday party.

Publisher Synopsis:

James has a lot of balloons. They’re where he keeps his favorite memories of birthday parties, eating cake with chocolate frosting and riding a pony.

Grandpa has lived a long life and has the most balloons. Birthdays and long-ago summers, his wedding day, the birth of children and grandchildren, his favorite dog and special camping trips — Grandpa’s balloons hold so many great stories. James love to hear them all.

When Grandpa’s balloons start drifting away, so does his memory. James want to catch the balloons, but he can’t.  James now has to be the one share stories — to share his balloons with Grandpa.

Why I like this book:

What a treasure! Jessie Oliveros’ tackles the timely and difficult topic of memory loss in a sensitive way so that children will easily understand. With many seniors living older to see great- and great-great grandchildren, this is an important book for families to remember. This book is a treasure! A moving story about a girl trying to make sense of her grandmother’s memory loss.

Oliveros’ story is so beautifully written. We tend to hold our memories in things, and for James and his grandfather it is balloons. The balloon metaphor is ideal for children, because balloons hold many joyful memories.

Dana Wulfekotte’s black and white illustrations with splashes of color are perfect for this story. Children will see the racial diversity in the family, which the illustrator weaves into his illustrations. He also uses a lot of white space — space to breathe and collect your thoughts as you study each and every page.

Resources: The book alone is a great resource to talk with your children about aging, memory loss and family history. Encourage your children to interview their grandparents and journal family stories. Parents may want to check out the National Institute on Aging for additional information to help children understand Alzheimer’s.

Jessie Oliveros grew up watching Kansas sunsets. Her childhood balloon is sunflower yellow and filled with memories of chasing tornadoes, romping through the woods and fishing with her grandpa. After a fulfilling career as a registered nurse, Jessie hung up her stethoscope to grow children and stories. These days you can find her in the Texas hill country with her husband and their four kids. You can visit Jessie Oliveros at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. 

*Reviewed from a library copy.

My Quiet Ship by Hallee Adelman

 

My Quiet Ship

Hallee Adelman, Author

Sonia Sánchez, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction,  Oct. 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Conflict, Yelling, Anger, Coping skills, Family relationships, Imagination

Opening: Whenever I hear the yelling, I run to the spot.

Synopsis:

When the arguments begin between his parents gets bad, Quinn escapes to his special place, the Quiet Ship, where he’s the commander. Together with his faithful stuffed animal crew, Quinn can shut out the yelling that makes him sad and scared, and travel somewhere else — his imagination. His Quiet Ship takes him far away from the yelling.

But one day, the ship breaks. Quinn must be brave and find a way to tell his parents how their fighting makes him feel.

Why I like this book:

Hallee Adelman has written a sensitive and heartfelt story about a boy, Quinn, who builds a safe haven for himself when his parents start arguing. When their yelling escalates,  Quinn’s quiet spaceship allows him to blast off and travel through the clouds, stars and universe to a place that is peaceful. “Far, far away / from here… / From there… / From that yelling.”

The narrative is simple and imaginative and speaks a language children will easily understand. Through Quinn, children will learn coping skills to help them share their fears, sadness and worries.  Quinn bravely works through his anger towards his parents, finds his voice and confronts his parents.

Resources: This powerful book is an excellent conversation starter for both children and parents about handling conflict. Is yelling necessary? Are there more effective ways of dealing with anger? It is important that a children feels safe to discuss their feelings.

Sonia Sánchez’s illustrations are magnificent and really give this story life. The are bold and the yelling takes the form of angry, jagged streaks or heavy clouds that suffocate Quinn. Quinn’s desperate expressions are priceless as they communicate his anguish. She uses both traditional and digital media in her artwork.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Amy Makechnie, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Brain injury, Memory, Family relationships, Moving, Farm life, Missing persons, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too — always leaving a bad first impression. Her idea of a welcome wagon came in the middle of July, during my first Iowa heat wave, which was as hot as you know what.”

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She is the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to about the brain. And she wants to ride into her first day at her new school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn. Gwyn is definitely not the kind of girl you forget.

But that’s just what her mother has done — forgotten. Gwyn’s mother, Vienna, hasn’t been able to remember anything past the age of 13, since she suffered a hypoxic brain injury. Gwyn and her little sister, Bitty, don’t exist in Vienna’s mind. As Gwyn tells Vienna’s new nurse, “we’re practically orphans.”

Gwyn’s father is obsessed with solving the mystery of Vienna’s brain.  He moves his family from New York to Crow, Iowa, where he and Vienna lived as children. He hopes that going home to Crow and surrounding Vienna with familiar friends and family, will jog her memory and help in her recovery.

As soon as they arrive in Crow, Gwyn is hot on the trail of a different case — one she thinks can actually be solved. Farmer Wilbur Truesdale is missing and there’s only one person who could know what happened to him: her brand new next-door archenemy, Gaysie Cutter.

The more Gwyn goes looking for answers, through, the more questions she encounters — about Wilbur, about Gaysie, but also about the mother she’s never gotten the chance to know. Gwyn’s determined to hunt down the truth about everything, but what if the truth isn’t as simple as pointing the blame at someone? What if sometimes the most terrible things that happen aren’t actually anyone’s fault at all?

Why I liked this book:

Amy Makechnie’s debut novel is complex, heartbreaking and hopeful. Her great opening immediately draws readers into the story. The vivid setting, poignant narrative, suspenseful plot and extraordinary characters create and unforgettable experience for readers. Her storytelling is richly crafted and heartwarming.

Gwyn is a genuine and unique character with whom you feel an immediate emotional bond. She is smart, curious, imaginative and jumps to conclusions a little too quickly. Her mother’s hypoxic brain injury impacts Gwyn and forces her to grow up too quickly. The author beautifully weaves Vienna’s injury into the story as a part of Gwyn’s life experience — it’s hard to “not exist” in your mother’s eyes. In her pursuit to solve the mystery about Wilbur’s disappearance, Gwyn uncovers her mother’s past and realizes how much she is like her.

There is a cast of quirky secondary characters that add comic relief. There’s Gaysie, a giant woman who lives in a rundown house with a “backyard that looks like an art exhibit”and is known for burying dead things on her property. Gwyn become best friends with Jimmy, who is always up for an adventure, and Micah (Gaysie’s son), who likes to wear bright pink shorts, sparkling silver shoe laces and is a target for school bullies.  Gwyn’s dentist father, Jed, is devoted to his wife, and Nana, is protective and takes responsibility for everything that happens.

Teens looking for something new and creative, will find The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair a suspenseful, powerful and entertaining read. The characters will stay with you long after you finish.

Makechnie’s story also touched me on a personal level. Like Gwyn’s mother, my brain was deprived of oxygen following an unfortunate mishap nearly 15 years ago. This is the first children’s novel I’ve read where a hypoxic brain injury is mentioned. It took me back to my injury and made me think about how difficult it was on my family, who was loving, patient and supportive during my years of recovery. Fortunately my children were grown. Brain injuries vary and each person has unique symptoms and outcomes.

Thank you Rosi Hollinbeck for reviewing and recommending this book to me on your wonderful website. 

Amy Makechnie grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where shoe once tried to sail to the Mississippi River on a large piece of Styrofoam (she didn’t make it). The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is her first novel. Amy nurtures her fascination with the brain and human body by teaching anatomy and physiology to high school students in a small New England town, where they dissect hearts and memorize long anatomical words. She is the mother of a wily flock of children, all of who provide daily inspiration for writing. You can visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Blended

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Racial identify, Blended family, Family Relationships, Divorce, Stepfamilies, Profiling, Violence

Publisher Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week. One week she’s Isabella living with her lawyer dad, his girlfriend Anastasia and her son Darren, in a fancy Cincinnati house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her waitress mom and her boyfriend John-Mark living in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities.

Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?”

And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Draper boldly takes on challenging topics in her new middle grade novel, Blended. Convincingly penned, it is a thoughtful commentary on divorce, family pressure, racism, identity, police violence and socioeconomic class issues.

Draper’s tackles a timely subject that is rarely addressed in middle grade books — how do biracial children feel about their mixed identity? Draper offers a vivid portrayal of Izzy/Isabella’s emotional landscape. Is she white or is she black? Which box does she check when she fills out paper work? Her first encounter with racism is at school when a student leaves a “noose” in her best friend’s (Imani) locker. It intensifies Izzy’s feelings and she struggles to define her identity. Draper’s first person narration works very well because Izzy’s voice is strong, honest and candid.

Izzy, a talented pianist who is preparing for a major recital, has another dilemma. She wants to really know what “home”  feels like. With her divorced parents competing for her time and attention, she is torn between two worlds fraught with bickering. It reaches a boiling point when both parents decide to get married and pick the same day for their weddings. When her mother is late for their “exchange day near the mall,” her father calls the police. Panicked they are going to arrest her mother, Izzy takes off running. Her desperate act knocks some sense into her parents who realize their selfish impact on Izzy’s life. Readers will identify with Izzy’s journey to seek wholeness. Draper challenges readers with the big question about what is home.

Blended is an exceptional story with a realistic plot and characters that will stay with you long after you put it down. Blended belongs in every school library.

Resources:  The publisher has included a Reading Group Guide available for classroom use.

*Library review copy.

Greg Pattridge hosts the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his fascinating  Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.