Tag Archives: sports

The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

by Christine Day
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Adding my positive review to that of <a href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>by <a href="https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2020/09/highly-recommended-sea-in-winter-by.html">Christine Day</a><br>Overall: 5 out of 5 stars</p> Dr. Debbie Reese! 12-year-old Maisie is still recovering from her ballet-related knee injury when we meet her. She is also not responding to her best friends, who are fellow ballet dancers and one of whom she blames for her injury. Mostly taking place over the course of a week in February, the story revolves around Maisie really hitting rock bottom about the injury and also [SPOILER ALERT] re-injuring her knee while on vacation with her mom, stepdad, and half-brother.

Maisie has two very insightful parents: her mom and stepdad, who are both Native (her biological father was also Native, and was in the Army; killed in Afghanistan when Maisie was a baby) and who speak to her gently and frankly about her mental health and about depression and therapy. At that point, the narrative zooms forward four months to where Maisie has found other interests besides ballet and has an idea of the future that doesn’t really involve ballet, along with friends at her own school. Her ballet friends go to different schools, so she was very unmotivated at school for a few different reasons. Jack, her stepfather, was determined to make her succeed in school unlike Jack and her father.

I loved that the story was infused with Native terms and ideology, but never felt didactic. (Instead of “See-yah means grandfather,” Maisie says “Jack wasn’t allowed to call his see-yah ‘grandpa,'” for example.) Maisie and her family live in the Pacific Northwest, which is her mom’s and Jack’s people’s homeland, and some places are referred to by their Native names. Day gives an Author’s Note at the end about some of her choices, and there is a note from Cynthia Leitich Smith about the book and about the imprint, which is Heartdrum (HarperCollins).

Turning Point by Paula Chase

by Paula Chase
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

13-year-old Rasheeda is not looking forward to this summer, her first without her best friend, Monique, since moving in with her aunt in The Cove. Though the take ballet together, only Monique and Jamila, the best in their class, were selected and given scholarships to attend Ballet America, a 3-week intensive in another city. That leaves Sheeda home with just Tai, Mila’s best friend, and her church friends, a group which is splintering for different reasons. Oh and Mo’s brother Lennie, who is flirting with Sheeda like crazy.

Sheeda struggles with her precarious placement on the edge of adulthood, chafing against her aunt’s strict rules, but also seeing that they are there for a reason. There is an incident when an older boy, Lennie’s cousin, touches her in a way that she doesn’t like, and Lennie doesn’t stand up for her. He says, “I wouldn’t have let him hurt you,” and internally her response is, “He did hurt me, though.” Chase stops just shy of making explicit the connection: emotional harm IS harm. Harm doesn’t need to be physical or visible to be harmful. I think for 6th-8th grade readers, it might have been worthwhile to have stated this. But either way, that scene is very important and I’m glad it’s in there. It would be a great example to male readers of why consent is so important – and so murky sometimes.

The other important storyline is Mo and Mila off at the ballet intensive. They are grateful to have each other, and especially be roommates, because they are the only two Black girls there. (Curiously, their identities are not held up against anyone else marginalized, like say any boys, for comparison, but the storyline is rich enough on its own.) They share a bathroom with Katie and Brenna, who are White, and of course race, and racism, comes up. Mo is cast in the “angry Black woman” role and explains very clearly why she is frustrated by Katie’s and Brenna’s actions and words. Unfortunately, this does put her, and Mila to a lesser degree, in the role as Katie and Brenna’s teacher, but I think the microaggressions are very well shown. In a somewhat parallel situation to Sheeda’s, Mo is hurt by Katie’s failure to come to her defense in a hurtful situation – again, one that the other person didn’t recognize as hurtful.

I could go on and on about this book and the other relationships in it, but the only other one I want to mention is the one touched on most briefly: Sheeda’s relationship with her mother. I think the most telling way that Sheeda grows up is that she wants to hear her mother’s voice just to comfort her, and her mother is unable to give her any genuine attention. From the moment she answers the phone, it is all about her and her problems and her anger at Rasheeda’s aunt (her sister). Sheeda hangs up after a while, and seems to understand that her aunt is who she has, who will care for her in all the ways. Even if they don’t always agree, she’s her mother now.

Double Review: Two by Jason Reynolds

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Reynolds says over and over that this is NOT a history book, and I have to agree because this was way more readable than a history book, especially because it felt like Reynolds was talking directly (and pretty informally) to me. Also, though it went chronologically, Reynolds made connections between different historical events that I had never seen before (some events I had never heard about). He did seem to be very focused on Angela Davis; the last section of the book sounds like the whole history of the country comes back to her. And maybe it does – I’m new to learning about her life. The main thing that blew my mind was the idea that the American Revolution was fought over slavery – in the same way that the South wanted to keep slavery in the Civil War, apparently the colonies wanted to keep slavery in the Revolutionary War. There were other interesting connections and explanations but I don’t want to spoil them – go read it!

Ghost
by Jason Reynolds
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

In the first book in the Track series, we meet Ghost, aka Castle Cranshaw, as he is discovering an innate ability to run and learning for the first time what it means to be on a team. He stumbles across a city track team with a cab driver for a coach who becomes almost a guardian angel for Ghost, bailing him out of a few scrapes. Ghost struggles to deal with his feelings and trauma of being chased by his abusive father out of the house with a gun. (His father has been in prison for the past three years because of it.) Befriending the other team newbies, not to mention Coach, helps Ghost start to work through it, while giving him something productive to do with his youthful energy rather than continuing to get in trouble.I read this as an audiobook and the reader was great – really nailed Ghost’s voice!

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit

by Sarah Kapit
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Vivy Cohen is an 11-year-old knuckleball pitcher. See, three years ago, she met the great VJ Capello, her hero, who showed her the knuckleball hold, and she’s been practicing it ever since. She’s gotten pretty good and even gets herself on a team! Her mom isn’t quite so enthusiastic, because she’s afraid to let Vivy do things that are risky, either physically or socially, since Vivy has autism and needs to work on her social skills. Part of that is going to social skills group, which she hates, but one assignment the kids get is to write to their hero. Of course she chooses VJ Capello, who to her surprise writes her back! This begins a correspondence that carries the whole epistolary novel. Mostly they talk about pitching, but also Vivy’s family, including her brother (spoiler alert: he comes out as gay), and her best friend, who is also the catcher on the team she plays for. When Vivy gets pretty seriously hurt, her mom bans her from playing and her great challenge is to convince her. The way she finally does (oops, I mean, spoiler alert) was a little surprising and gratifying – everyone in the story grows a little as a result: mom, dad, Vivy, even VJ, but nothing comes of the coach’s son bullying her. One additional aspect to the story is that VJ is Black and has some reflections on being a Black knuckleball pitcher, a minority of minorities, in a sense.

I won’t make the mistake again (see the comments) of claiming that an author who is writing about an autistic character is not themselves autistic, but it is not clearly the case whether Kapit is autistic or not. So the jury is out on the authenticity of the experience, though it certainly felt very real from an outsider’s perspective, especially the descriptions of Vivy’s emotional meltdowns and her hand flapping of excitement, even if Vivy seemed a bit too in tune with others’ body language and with her own mental process. Regardless, Kapit certainly has down the non-autistic adults in Vivy’s life, especially her mom, who arguably does the most growing. One argument that Vivy makes about making her own decisions is that next year she will have a Bat Mitzvah and “doesn’t that mean something? I think that it should.”

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.

Up for Air by Laurie Morrison

9781419733666by Laurie Morrison
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Annabelle is looking forward to another summer of competitive swimming and hanging out with her best friends Mia and Jeremy. But her school year ends harder than she thought, even with accommodations made for her learning disabilities (ADHD?), Mia is busy with her new lacrosse friends, and Jeremy is leaving for camp in Boston for a month. When Annabelle gets recruited to the high school swim team and gets to spend more time with cute Connor Madison, things start to look up. But it turns out that Annabelle isn’t really mature enough for high school shenanigans and makes some bad choices that get her injured enough to be off the swim team. After an adventure into Boston to track down her newly-back-in-the-picture dad (who turns out to have a new family and be in recovery from alcoholism), she comes to be more comfortable with where she is and stop rushing to grow up.

This book is rich in relationships and the reader is really inside Annabelle’s head. I thought it was extremely realistic to how kids can know what the right thing is and still be conflicted and want to fit in, and therefore make bad decisions. All the parts of dissecting a boy’s texts and actions felt exactly right and yet I could see, from an adult’s point of view, that Connor was just a player. Even once Annabelle is off the team, her teammates want to hang out with her and try to help her through this in an amazing show of female solidarity, which was another excellent piece of wisdom imparted with this story. I also liked how Annabelle’s mother and stepfather, Mitch (with whom she is close), relate to her not just as parents but as people at the end of the story. That seems like a huge piece of growing up and navigating changing relationships and I was very pleased to read it. Annabelle also makes peace with Mia and Jeremy, though things don’t go exactly back to how they were before, which was also satisfying.

One note on race is that Annabelle’s summer tutor, Janine, is black, which we learn through a comment on her hair and then on her outsider status, which could have been handled differently. The other social issues of note are that Jeremy’s older sister, Kayla, who is on the high school swim team with Annabelle, was treated for an eating disorder the previous year, so note that as a sensitive topic. (The author thanks Jen Petro-Roy for her assistance in understanding and representing eating disorder aftermath accurately.) And finally, Annabelle, Mia, and Jeremy are all day students at the private school on Gray Island (which is I think supposed to be Martha’s Vineyard?), so neither fully fit in with the other boarding students or the public school kids who are there for the summer. Annabelle’s learning differences make her feel even more like she doesn’t belong – but that’s another issue that gets resolved over the course of the story.

Adventure like: Nest by Esther Ehrlich
Relationship growth like: A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

9780525552963

by Adib Khorram
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Teenager Darius Kellner is clinically depressed and the target of bullies, which his dad thinks is Darius’ fault. He’s not your typical nerdy, Trekkie teen, because he also has an obsession with tea that comes from his Persian side of the family. He’s never been to Iran to meet his grandparents, but gets the opportunity when his mom learns that her father has a brain tumor. Their trip is loaded with significance and sadness, but also brings Darius new understanding of himself, his roots, and especially his father. He also makes what appears to be his first best friend ever, in his grandparents’ neighbor, Sohrab.

Among really cool things I learned a lot about: Darius’ grandparents are Zoroastrian and Sohrab is Baha’i, so there’s a fair amount about both religions and Persian culture generally. Both religions are minorities in Iran, which has some social/political dynamics that I was unaware of. There are mosques everywhere and they visit over Nowruz, the Persian new year – not to mention the culture of taarof, or back-and-forth offering and declining of hospitality, which Darius is not very good at. He feels most acutely American when he fails to taarof correctly and also when others speak Farsi around him, which he doesn’t understand.

Sohrab’s father was unjustly jailed years ago, and they receive upsetting news about him, causing Sohrab to lash out at Darius (who, to be fair, isn’t exactly comforting). This isn’t their first fight, in the few short weeks they’ve known each other; their first day, Sohrab takes him to play soccer with his nemesis, who teases Darius for being uncircumcised, and Darius is understandably upset with Sohrab for putting him in that position and for not standing up for him. But I loved how their friendship developed, and how hard it was for Darius to leave him behind and return to the U.S. They had many poignant moments of quiet, gentle friendship. And when Darius returns home, his own bully bothers him a little less, and his bully’s sidekick is downright nice to him.

What I loved most, though, was how Darius’ relationship with his dad developed. He was in Iran with his mom’s family, but he sees his dad through their eyes, and they have some lovely and also hard conversations about themselves and their relationship. While nothing is completely fixed, there is great hope for the future.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

9780763690496

by Meg Medina
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I was able to snag this one on Monday, right after it was announced as the Newbery winner but before it headed out on its rounds to all the librarians and other people who keep tabs with such things, and was able to finish it by last night. Phew! Merci Suarez is a 6th grade scholarship student at a swanky private school where she doesn’t always fit in. She lives in a small house right next to her aunt’s house and her grandparents’ house. Intergenerational living was part of Medina’s inspiration for this story, and it was really cool to see this portrayed in a kids’ book. I think it’s something that not many white Americans get to see, and in our blind allegiance to individuality, we can look down on it and not see the benefits. As Medina says, and Merci echoes, sometimes the loss of privacy between more distant family members can be hard, but what’s true at least in Merci’s case is that her overall extended family is a rock solid unit, which serves them well when times get hard.

Some of those times include helping take care of her twin 5-year-old cousins, which Merci resents, especially as she is trying to save up money for a new bike and wants to try out for the soccer team. But some of those times are about her grandfather Lolo’s decline into Alzheimer’s. I most appreciated Merci’s deep breath and taking the plunge into naming it with her new friends when they come over, instead of hiding it and being miserable and, as she says, leading to lies. Her family has a firm belief in telling the truth, which it turns out only Lolo is willing to break – to keep Merci from knowing about the Alzheimer’s. My heart broke for Lolo, wanting his beloved Preciosa to stay innocent and their relationship to go unchanged, and for Merci, who like many sixth-graders, is on the precipice between childhood and adulthood, and is very hurt by being treated like her 5-year-old cousins. Her older brother, Roli, is in on the truth, and is the one who finally tells her, after a particularly bad episode with Lolo shatters any illusions she may have had about what was going on.

I think this will be a hugely important book to kids whose families are grappling with Alzheimer’s disease. Issues of class difference are also dealt with very well; Merci’s parents are not well-off, but you’re not beaten over the head with it. Merci also deals with a mean girl at school, Edna Santos, who gets her just desserts without Merci having to rat her out. Merci has been on the edge of the popular group, led by Edna, despite being poor and having a lazy eye, but over the course of the book she finds some unexpected new friends and comes out stronger than ever.

Merci has a Sunshine Buddy at school, a new kid she’s supposed to befriend and help out. Her Buddy is a boy, which is already awkward at 6th grade, and doesn’t really seem to need her help. But she finds a way and it’s rewarding. There are some scenes with the group that includes her Buddy, Michael, and mean girl Edna, that also show them all straddling that line into adulthood extremely well. The other very realistic thing I liked was that Merci was frequently chastised for being late to school when she is being driven by her mother or brother. I completely empathized with her level of frustration with being punished for something out of her control, and I think a lot of kids will, too.

My one complaint is that the secret way she comes up with to help Lolo remember might just realistically set her up for disappointment. When he forgets, nothing will help him remember. For now, he comes back to himself and remembers her, but eventually he won’t. So her project is really more for her, in the end, though it’s portrayed as some sort of gift or cure for him, and I hope other kids don’t take it that way.

Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

9780316363242

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!

And She Was by Jessica Verdi

9781338150537

by Jessica Verdi
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Dara has just graduated high school and dreams of playing tennis professionally. She’s good enough, she just needs the money. But she’s always lived a life of limited resources with her mom. When she asks her mom for her birth certificate so she can get a passport to play a tournament in Canada, her mom gets weird. Then when she finds the birth certificate on her own, things get even weirder. Her mom’s name, Mellie Baker, is nowhere on the document; instead her parents are listed as Marcus Hogan and Celeste Pembroke.

Dara’s search for what’s going on leads to a bombshell revelation by Mellie: she used to be Marcus and is Dara’s biological father. When Celeste died, she took the final steps to live as a woman and had to go underground and assume a whole new identity. To protect her daughter, she did the same for her. Now 18, Dara’s journey continues – she grabs her best friend, Sam, and hits the road to find the other half of her family.

Throughout Dara’s road trip, she receives emails containing more of Mellie’s story. By the time she tracks down the Pembrokes, she is furious with Mellie for the ways in which her decisions impacted Dara. But she comes around to understanding why Mellie did what she did, and even leaves the lap of luxury at her grandparents’ home, and the promise of a life as a pro tennis player, to stand by her mother (and – spoiler alert – face her fears about dating Sam). I thought I knew how this story was going to unfold, and there were a few surprises, which was great. I also appreciated the author’s note at the end, where she recognized that she is not trans herself, but tried to do the story justice. She also talked about the need to have Mellie’s story in an adult voice in there, which is unusual for YA.