Tag Archives: loss

Sorry For Your Loss by Jessie Ann Foley

sorryforyourlosshccby Jessie Ann Foley
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

16-year-old James “Pup” Flanagan is the youngest of 8 in a close-knit, Catholic, Chicago family. His oldest sisters are referred to as “the sister-moms” and his oldest nephew is also a junior at the same high school (though the two don’t get along at all and Pup’s nephew teases him for being a poor student). Pup is closest with his sister Annemarie, and the whole family is still reeling from (but not dealing with or discussing) the death of his next-oldest brother, Patrick, from meningitis three years before. His brother Luke has failed out of law school and become a full-fledged alcoholic and drinking himself nearly to death, leading to a scene of domestic violence and an even more harrowing scene where Pup goes and drags him out of a dingy basement and gets him to the hospital. With Pup’s help, the family starts to heal together.

On the cheerier side, what gets Pup through the end of his junior year is photography, a Hail Mary (if you will) to save his failing art grade, which he turns out to be a natural at. He also happens to spend a lot of time with Abrihet, a classmate he vaguely knew but never interacted much with. Pup finally lets go of his longtime best friend and crush, Izzy, whose skeezy boyfriend pushes Pup’s crush into the open. As Pup gets closer to Abrihet, he realizes that what he has with Izzy is superficial and, worse, one-sided, and what he has with Abrihet is real and powerful. Even when Izzy finally gets wise and dumps Brody’s cheating butt, and comes to Pup for solace, he finds he doesn’t even want what he thought they had. Through it all, the metaphors of photography and what he is able to learn about himself through compiling a portfolio at his art teacher’s urging is quite moving and lovely.

A librarian friend recommended this one to me, selling it by saying that it’s the best first kiss ever and the last several pages blew her away, and I have to agree. (Well, to be fully honest, I was a little distracted when reading the kiss but upon rereading, it was delightful.)

For fans of: I’ll Give You the Sun (or maybe the other way around – if they read this, they’ll like Sun)

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

9781250314093by Remy Lai
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old Jingwen moves with his mother and little brother to Australia from an unspecified Asian country (Singapore? China?) and he feels like he’s moved to Mars. Moving to Australia and opening a bakery (called Pie in the Sky) had been a family goal for a long time, but a year after his father’s sudden death in a car accident, Jingwen’s mother decides to take the plunge anyway. As a single mother, she can’t open the bakery her husband had dreamt of, but she works in one with a very compassionate boss who lets her change her schedule as her parenting needs evolved. This is partly because, despite stern warnings not to use the oven, Jingwen and Yanghao find loopholes and use it anyway, because Jingwen is convinced that if he can only make the twelve cakes his father wanted on the menu at Pie in the Sky, everything would be all right. He also struggles with learning English and making friends, though those turn out all right in the end. There’s also a nice elderly neighbor who is sometimes drafted into helping watch the boys who Jingwen hates at first but comes around to in the end.

We have this one in our graphic novel section even though it’s one of those hybrid books and it’s actually more paragraphs than panels. The author made good use of the dual formats most of the time, especially by using aliens to show Jingwen’s gradual turning into a Martian (I mean getting used to Australia), exaggerating the drawings and using dead-on facial expressions to great effect. I was very surprised at how long Jingwen went in school without getting additional help due to his lacking language abilities, but maybe that is a difference between Australia and the US. Jingwen and Yanghao would have immediately been assessed and placed in an ELL class before even being put into their regular classrooms to make sure they had enough English to understand their classes, but in this book they are in their regular classrooms right away and Jingwen goes months not understanding a thing before he finally realizes that his teacher wants him to stay after school for tutoring help.

I loved the relationship between the brothers. Yanghao is only a year behind Jingwen in school, but two years in age, and is so much less mature. Most of the time he sounded six instead of nine, bouncing off the walls and being impulsive and getting them both into trouble. Jingwen is definitely the more responsible of the two, far beyond his eleven years, and resists learning English (finding his brother’s ability to pick it up annoying) and mourning his father. There are some tender moments between the two and it just felt like a very realistic relationship to me. Also, I really wanted cake at the end of this book.

One more note – it’s unclear where the family is from, but it’s possible that they are from Singapore or Indonesia, and/or the story is based loosely on Lai’s upbringing, which would make this book #ownvoices so I’ve included that tag just in case.

Baking like: the Dirt Diary series
Sibling relationships like: Sisters and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

9780399546457by Ruth Behar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When she was ten, Ruth Behar broke her leg in a bad car accident and was laid up for almost a year in a full body cast. This is a fictionalized account of that time, mostly made of her fuzzy memories and some embellishing to make it a slightly happier story than it was. (Reading the author’s note was very interesting!) Most interesting to me were how much she changed as a result – when she finally gets to go outside, she’s not soaking it in and begging to stay out, she is begging for the safety of her room and her bed. When she finally finally finally gets the cast off (after a couple of false starts that extend her time laid up by more than double), she is too scared to try to walk again. Her process of overcoming that fear was also fascinating.

Ruth describes her various friends, including Ramu (whose kid brother falls out of a window to his death and the rest of the family, overcome with grief, moves back to India) and Chicho, a lovely and possibly gay artist from Mexico, who is very kind to Ruth and her family. She describes Danielle from France who appears to be a fairweather friend but in the end comes through and they become quite close. Ruth’s mother sacrifices the most for her and bears the brunt of the emotional toll, which was also quite interesting to read (as an adult; I don’t think that would hold much interest for kids). Ruth and her brother Izzie (Isaac) are quite close as well and rarely fight, and she gets a teacher/tutor who not only helps her not fall behind, but with whom she advances to a 10th grade reading level after just graduating from the ELL class.

The other interesting thing to note is that Ruth and her family are Jewish and Cuban, the history of which plays a decent role in the story. I’m glad to encounter more books of Jewish people of color because theirs are narratives that outsiders don’t get to encounter too often and which are quite different from the white/Ashkenazi Judaism as most Americans probably think of it. Through Ruth’s healing, you can see the seeds of anthropology starting to grow; she is now an anthropology professor and has explored her own “Juban” roots through work like the documentary Adio Kerida and the book An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba.

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

9780525646570

by Nicole Panteleakos
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Nova is missing her sister, who promised to return before the space shuttle Challenger launches with Christa McAuliffe aboard. As Nova and her newest foster family count down the days until the launch, she writes her sister letters, telling her all about her new family, her new school, and how much she’s looking forward to seeing her sister again. The letters are never mailed, and even if they were, they’re illegible – Nova is autistic and nonverbal (though she can talk a little and make herself understood at times) and her writing “looks like chicken scratches.”

Nova’s foster parents are the only ones outside of her sister who ever knew how smart she was, how she can read and has a rich inner life. She’s obsessed with astronomy and could have answered questions from her special astronomy elective teacher if she’d had a way to communicate. One of her special ed classmates speaks sign language, and I found myself wondering why Nova didn’t. But it’s 1986 and it’s enough of a challenge to get the school to realize she can read.

Nova and her sister had previously lived in many different foster homes since being taken away from their mentally ill mother (possibly schizophrenia is hinted at) when Nova was 5. Their grand plan was to run away once Bridget turned 18 and could take care of them. But now Bridget is gone and Nova doesn’t know where. When the launch comes and goes (with disastrous results), Nova finally comes to terms with the truth about where her sister has gone and what it means for her.

Panteleakos is a special ed teacher with experience in the foster care world. She has a list of credentials as long as my arm and also did a ton of research with other experts. However, she is not herself autistic, and in light of recent scrutiny surrounding the ASD community, I have to remain skeptical unless a member of that community endorses this book.

The other caveat for me was that I would have liked the full lyrics to David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity,” which she quotes throughout the story (sometimes creating significant parts of the plot), which I only sort of know, and which was running around in pieces in my head the whole time.

YA Graphic Novel Reviews like whoa

After repeated requests from a very picky second grader for “books like Smile and Drama” (full-color, realistic, about girls), I decided it was time to get more acquainted with our YA graphic novel section so I could more easily pull out things for her (we have a couple of second graders who read in that section). So far I’ve only read one book that I would give her, but I already knew the author’s work and would have taken a chance on it. I will persevere – and the results will be here! Four for today:

9780062851062Just Jaime by Terri Libenson
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Oh how I felt for Jaime. Libenson has a way of hitting the nail on the head with middle school emotions. I was very impressed with Invisible Emmie, her first book in what appears to be this series, but this one lacked the same twist at the end. Nevertheless, it’s a solid read and also solidly in the Drama/Smile camp, all about those middle school friendships that change on you and the popularity games that take over your life. Jaime, who is kicked out of her friend group by stereotypical mean-girl Celia for not being mature, turns out to be more mature and eloquent than Celia. She stops gossiping and becomes friends with some of the kids they used to make fun of. Eventually her best friend, Maya, also leaves Celia and joins her, and they all live happily ever after. I also loved the small storyline with her mom reuniting with an old friend, and one teacher who is very nice to her, which was also lovely. There’s a fair amount of narration in the Jaime chapters (as opposed to the Maya chapters; the narration alternates between the two, in echoes of Invisible Emmie), making it a nice choice for patrons whose parents favor more text.

9781250068163Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I felt the title was misleading, because other than her brothers (who arguably don’t count as boys who are friends), Maggie’s main friendship in this story is with a girl, Lucy. But let me back up. Maggie has been homeschooled her whole life and is entering high school with her three older brothers, who have each entered as freshmen. Part (or all?) of the reason is that their mom, who did the homeschooling, has left. Maggie is surprised to learn that her brothers are well-established in school, something that is both to her benefit and has surprising repercussions in complicated school drama. Her oldest brother has some beef with some other guys, but being his sister gives her some street cred. Even Lucy, whose older brother is tied up in some of the drama, is aware of him. Maggie’s twin brothers are also well-known and have their own storyline of going through growing pains of establishing individuality. To round out the storyline, Maggie sees a ghost. Her and Lucy’s attempts to get rid of the ghost land them in trouble and mixed up with the older boys. I wouldn’t exactly call the boys friends though (hence feeling misled). Eventually, Maggie rounds up her brothers and they resolve things, and she and Lucy go on their merry way.

Homeschool-to-school transition like: All’s Faire in Middle School

9781416935858Mercury by Hope Larson
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I found the story a little hard to follow, and not just because it jumped back and forth between two time periods. I was intrigued to re-read my review of another of Larson’s graphic novels, Chiggers, from 5 years ago and see that I also had trouble following that story, which possibly has to do with it being black-and-white (I tend to have more trouble with those than comics that have even one additional color). One story line is of Josie in 1859 in Nova Scotia whose family is taken in by a con man, Asa Curry, who discovers gold on the family’s farm. He intends to marry Josie and when her father won’t allow it, apparently kills him. He leaves Josie with a necklace with something inside it that acts as a metal detector. Meanwhile, in 2009, Josie’s descendant, Tara, finds the necklace. Tara had been homeschooled for a couple of years until her house burns down and her mother moves elsewhere to work, leaving her with her aunt and uncle, who are a little weird about her mom, and same-aged cousin, Lindsay. Tara re-enters school with a bunch of kids who all know her story and joins the track team, which allows her to get to know Ben better, who she apparently looks like and has a crush on. Josie’s story ends with her father’s funeral (and Asa’s death as he is shot trying to escape from jail for the cons and murder) and Tara’s ends with finding some gold, with a touch of magic/magical realism.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

9781368022828by Carlos Hernandez
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This book starts with a bang and never looks back or slows down, which is partly due to a forward by Rick Riordan, though beginning the story with Hernandez’s skillful first chapter would be plenty gripping. Our hero, Sal Vidon, is always at the center of the action, of which there is plenty. Sal is able to reach through some sort of wormhole to other parallel universes and bring things or people through to our universe. Sometimes they come with things that then disappear back with them when they return, which is inconvenient (or in the case of food already in your tummy, very sad). Sometimes it’s your dead Mami or a sick baby you’re trying to make better and you wish you could keep. Sal’s father works on fixing wormholes.

There’s a lot to love about this book. We open on a scene with new-kid-at-school Sal, bully Yasmany, and Yasmany’s “lawyer” and student council president Gabi (like a 7th grade Cuban Hillary Clinton). The relationships between the three of them are very rich. Gabi’s family is fascinating and includes many adults she refers to as Dad, some of whom are male, plus a mom, and Sal doesn’t make a big deal of this when he learns it, so we never learn more. Gabi also has a baby brother who is in the NICU, so a fair amount of the story takes place there. Sal himself has type-1 diabetes, which is one reason my (also type-1 diabetic) boss shoved it in my hands to read. The information about diabetes is skillfully, if not own-voices-y, presented, not really didactic. Sal is a magician, which is how he gains entry into his performing arts magnet middle school in Miami, and magic plays a large role in the story, not just a quirky thing about him. Sal’s mother passed away several years ago and his dad married his vice principal – again, not incidental to the story. Sal loved his mother and loves his American Stepmom (which is how he refers to her almost always). He also has a habit of bringing back his mother from other universes (part of why they moved). Finally, Yasmany’s home life is, predictably, rough – and it’s his mother who is the abuser (unclear if his father is in the picture).

There are also relationships with teachers and other kids, as well as the same cast of characters from other universes with whom Sal and Gabi interact, all of which add richness and depth to the story. There’s also a fair amount of Spanish and spanglish, and some interesting slang (apparently in Sal’s world, being called a “sandwich” is an insult?). Altogether very well done and I’m looking forward to book 2, which should be out next year!

The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

9780763694746

by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Lowen and his family apply for a Dollar Home in a former mill town, presumably somewhere in the northeast United States. He is eager to escape their city, Flintlock, and start fresh where they could own property. Lowen in particular is escaping haunting memories of his neighbor Abe’s death, shot in a robbery of the convenience store down the street. Lowen feels responsible and holds a lot of guilt around that, because he was frequently annoyed by Abe’s incessant energy and questions and had sent him to the store to get some peace. Lowen’s working through that guilt is the real story, but it’s obscured a bit by his family’s immersion in fixing up their Dollar Home in time to meet the deadline. Complicating things is that many people in the town don’t really want the Grovers or the other families there, so they thwart the families’ business efforts, which is really like cutting off their nose to spite their face. By not supporting the businesses, they are not only failing to revitalize their town, but also making it so that the families can’t afford to fix up their homes, leaving them in states of ruin.

I ended up caring more about the characters and story that I thought I would at the beginning. This book clocks in just over 400 pages and I was annoyed at the beginning because there was a LOT of telling, not showing. But with the size of the book, it’s easy to see why – it’s daunting enough, no need to add more pages. There wasn’t really a part of the book where it lagged and I thought she could have cut that, or parts to the story that felt extraneous, or characters I could have done without. It was just a big story, hard to shoehorn into one middle grade book. Yet middle-grade it is, with a nice, tidy, feel-good ending and everything. The other thing that grated on me was that every chapter began with a header of exactly how much time had passed since the end of the last chapter – again, showing, not telling. I suspect that it was necessary in some spots and so they forced it onto all of the chapters, but it resulted in feeling not very well written. Overall, though, I thought there was a lot in here about relationships and grieving, and a pretty epic journey for this family.