by Ashley Herring Blake
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The story opens just minutes before a tornado levels 12-year-old Ivy’s home. She and her family join the other victims in the school where Ivy’s extremely personal art journal goes missing. When they take a room at the inn, it’s like sardines in a can – Ivy, her older sister Layla, twin baby brothers, and mom and dad. Eventually Ivy’s parents send her to stay with her best friend, Taryn, where she feels like a burden to her family. On top of all this, she is trying to figure out her feelings for her friend June, and reconcile that with the fight she overheard between Layla and her best friend, where Layla was upset that she had learned of her friend’s girlfriend from someone else. Ivy interprets this to mean that Layla was upset that Gigi was gay, and infers that she can’t tell Layla about her own emerging sexual orientation. Ivy also is feeling distant from Taryn, who can’t possibly understand any of what she’s going through.
Ivy and June, and even Taryn, seem extremely mature and self-aware for 12-year-olds. I liked that Ivy has a trusted gay adult she can talk to and who is kind to her. I also liked that her parents made mistakes and then apologized. Most of all, I appreciated getting into the mind of an artist and hearing how she worked. This book was a lovely read, and gentle, despite its turbulent (emotionally and elementally) subject matter.
by Leslie Connor
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Perry’s mom was pregnant when she came to Blue River Correctional Facility. Because it’s a minimum security prison, she was allowed to raise Perry beyond the 2 years sometimes afforded to incarcerated mothers (he’s now 11). Now the new District Attorney has caught wind of his unusual upbringing and is trying to stop it. However, Perry’s mom is up for parole soon and her case seems to be slowed up by something. It turns out that the DA is keeping her from reaching parole. Perry is trying to fill in the holes in his mother’s story and also reunite with her as soon as humanly possible.
I appreciated learning Perry’s observations of his life both inside and outside the prison, and what was surprising to him. He’s gone to public school since Kindergarten, so he’s been out in the world plenty, but it sounds like he’s never been inside a house or lived a normal life on the outside. He’s met his best friend, Zoey’s, mom, but neither she nor Zoey have met his mom. As part of a school project, Perry is determined to learn his mother’s story, and share it, along with the stories of some of his other friends who are also “residents” of the prison.
I was really hoping we would learn the full truth about Perry’s family, especially who his father was, but on balance it is more realistic this way. One thing that bugged me was a stiffness to the writing, especially a distinct lack of contractions in the dialogue. (There were some, but not as many as would be realistic.) Also funny was that Perry sometimes refers to Zoey by her full name, Zoey Samuels, and I wasn’t quite sure why. But those were really very minor. Overall this is a gripping story and when the plot hit its stride it was hard to put down! (It’s not really a mystery, but there is a very compelling situation that needs to be discovered, so that’s why I tagged it mystery.)
by Svetlana Chmakova
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Chmakova has done it again. I devoured most of this graphic novel on my lunch break and it had me blushing and laughing along with the characters (ok, mostly blushing). I don’t know how she does it, but Chmakova perfectly captures the awkwardness of burgeoning middle school relationships. Jorge, who we’ve seen before as a minor character, stars in his own story of realizing he’s crushing hard for Jazmine – so hard, in fact, that he can’t even talk to her. He’s a big guy, and athletic, and quiet, which tends to hide his kindness. His mere presence acts as a deterrent for bullies, and he uses his power for good. When his friend Garrett gets in with the football team, a clique led by James, Garrett is psyched, but James gets Garrett to do mean and thoughtless things to others, including his best friends, Jorge and Liv. It culminates in some online bullying that Jorge is wrongfully accused of participating in. It all ends well enough, and even though they’re in middle school I could easily see Jorge and Jazmine staying together forever. There were also some awesome feminist tidbits that caught my eye: Jazmine talks about physically handling her own tormentor, which is awesome itself, and Jorge thinks she’s awesome for it, which is even more awesome (did I win for most uses of that word in one sentence?). The girls band together and really stick up for each other. One of the teachers (the drama teacher, I believe) brings her wife to a school event, the gym teacher wears a hijab, and there’s a character whose gender is unknown. I love all the representation in this series so far, and I hope she keeps writing it!