Tag Archives: summer

Second Dad Summer by Benjamin Klas

by Benjamin Klas
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Jeremiah is spending the summer with his dad in Minneapolis, as usual. This time, though, there’s another man in the picture: his dad’s boyfriend, Michael. Jeremiah met Michael last year but thankfully didn’t have to spend too much time with him. This summer, though, he’s still there. Jeremiah finds Michael’s flamboyance and interest in being his parent annoying. Dad and Michael have moved in together to a new apartment and Jeremiah makes friends with Sage, a girl about his age (12) with two moms and a bicycle, and they spend a lot of time riding around together. They also manage to befriend Mr. Keeler, the resident curmudgeon. By the end of the summer, Jeremiah has come around to Michael, partly because of Mr. Keeler, whose passing plays a role in Jeremiah and Michael bonding.

A coworker recommended this one to me, but wasn’t sure who to give it to. Normally the font size and protagonist age match up but this book might be a case of a hi-lo book (high interest level – of interest to a middle schooler – paired with low reading level, indicated by the larger font size and presence of pictures as aids). It’s also a great show of bisexuality and bisexual acceptance; Jeremiah’s dad (and mom) have known that he’s bi all along and no one has any lingering issues about him dating both men and women. Sage has two moms and that’s partly why they bond; she is cued as Black and all other characters are cued as white (except for one of Sage’s moms who is identified as Hmong). It’s also worth noting that the author does a great job of showing how Jeremiah feels about Michael and how it changes gradually over the course of the book.

I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

9780062871992by Christine Day
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Edie discovers a box in her attic with photos of a woman named Edith who looks just like her. In a flash, she and her best friends, Serenity and Amelia, are deep in the mystery. All Edie knows is that her mom was Native American and was adopted as a baby by a white family; she knows almost nothing of her heritage (though the book opens with a scene of her and her parents at a fireworks event on a reservation, seemingly engaging with other American Indians for the first time).

Along Edie’s journey of family discovery, she comes to grips with her changing relationships with her best friends and her family, and matures into an almost-teen who is ready for the truth. Spoiler alert: it turns out that Edie’s family story involves forcible separation of her mother as a baby from her mother, and it was awful and traumatic and systemic, even in the 1970s.

Debbie Reese, the gold standard for questions of American Indians in Children’s Literature (and has the website to prove it), gives this one a “recommended” rating on her website, so I made sure to snag it, and it does not disappoint! There is a reference to a boy of interest, but in general Edie’s focus is so laser-like on her family and on the dog she meets at the same time, so if young readers aren’t into romance, they will barely notice it.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. Lambert

9780545931984by Mary E. Lambert
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I picked up this book expecting it to be a light read, and it was not. (Who doesn’t love family game night?! Uh…) It was, however, a great story, and one not frequently told. Annabelle has just finished 7th grade and the summer stretches before her. However, it’s not full of sleepovers and friend visits – Annabelle has a self-imposed Five Mile Radius on her house because she’s embarrassed about her hoarder mother and the state of her house. That situation finally comes to a head – Annabelle’s father leaves, her older brother stays out as much as possible, and her little sister calls up Grandma to come help.

It didn’t resolve exactly how I thought it would, which is good – I thought it would be too simplistic, but Lambert really gets into some of the nuance, at least it seemed to me as someone who is not an insider to this situation. Most importantly, not only is Annabelle’s family starting to heal, but she is learning big adult lessons about how to manage her own emotions and mental health. Her big revelation comes when Grandma Nora says, “We are all broken, even you,” and Annabelle really considers what that means.

Annabelle also explores nuance in her friendships, with her new best friend Rae and her other friends who she realizes she still has things in common with and that Rae isn’t the perfect friend for her in all ways. Annabelle also has a crush on a boy, and the development of that is very adorable. Her brother’s protective reaction to this news is a bit bro-y, but also sweet in its own way. Annabelle and even her sister Leslie seem more than capable of managing their own love lives.

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

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

9781442474659 by Cynthia Kadohata
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Summer and her family are harvesters. They normally spend the summer harvesting wheat all over the central plains, but her parents are called back to Japan for an emergency. This leaves Summer and her brother, Jaz, in the care of their grandparents, who then have to take on the harvesting work so they can make ends meet. Summer is convinced that her family is doomed to bad luck, what with the emergency, her grandparents’ physical problems, and starting with her own life-threatening bout of malaria the year before. After the malaria, Summer developed a deep fear of mosquitoes and bathes in DEET all the time. This is also the first year that Summer has a crush on her grandparents’ employers’ son, Robbie. This particular summer, she spends most of her time helping her grandmother cook for the harvesters and doing the homework that her teachers gave her in advance so she doesn’t fall behind. She also has to look after her little brother, Jaz, who has autism and deal with her complicated relationship with her grandmother, who is either all critical (usually) or all loving (rarely). All in all, it’s an eventful couple of months and she does a lot of growing up, even eventually pitching in to drive one of the combines when her grandfather is sick. This book was very quiet and I loved how Summer came to her own realizations. She never addressed her challenges with her grandmother, but felt that she understood her, so maybe their relationship will get better. Despite her grandmother’s criticism, Summer doesn’t seem to feel a lack of respect for her. I liked that not everything gets 100% resolved in the end but that I was still left with a hopeful feeling, and a feeling of realistic progress in her life.

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin


by Cindy Baldwin
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Della Kelly’s mother is going back down the the dark road to schizophrenia again, like she did four years ago. Della blames herself because her mother’s symptoms first started after Della was born. Now she has a baby sister and things are getting bad again. It becomes too much for Della as her father becomes increasingly stressed while also trying to save the family farm and adjust to the absence of Della’s grandparents, who moved about an hour a way after a health scare. Della’s best friend and next-door neighbor, Arden, whose parents are northerners who homeschool their brood and aren’t quite fully accepted by their small town. But the town comes together to support Della and her family as they learn that it’s not always better to pretend everything is fine. Though Della desperately wants to heal her mother with the Bee Lady’s magical honey, even the Bee Lady is savvy enough to know that her honey won’t heal what ails Mama, and never leads Della to believe that it will but, rather, wisely urges her to seek her own healing.

My book club did not like this one and mostly thought it was just blah, but as a kid with a parent with mental illness, this struck a chord. I think these characters will stay with me for a long while; they’re the kind that became friends. My book clubbers especially took issue with the role of the grandparents, who seemed mostly to be a device conjured for just one poignant scene near the end, but I appreciated them in that scene and all that they lent to the story as a whole. I also was interested to watch Della’s father balancing everything, including (mostly) maintaining heroic patience with Della when it would have been completely understandable for him to lose his temper.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson


by Varian Johnson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When I came across a new book by the author of the Great Greene Heist, I had to put my name on the waiting list – especially when I learned that it was about puzzles and mysteries! It would be perfect for one of my patrons who’s really into Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Book Scavenger.

What a rich, complex story this is! The main storyline is that 12-year-old Candice and her mother move to her grandmother’s old house in South Carolina from Atlanta for the summer while her parents separate. Candice discovers that her grandmother, Abigail, had been knee-deep in solving an old mystery and picks up where she had left off, with the help of 11-year-old Brandon who lives across the street. In solving the mystery and all its accompanying puzzles, they learn a lot about the history of the city and Candice’s grandmother’s involvement. The reader is privy to relevant scenes from the past, which are printed on gray pages, and some pieces of the story from Abigail’s point of view, which are printed on black paper with white letters, and which all come together at the end.

But this is so much more than a simple – or even complex – mystery story. It’s also the story of Candice and Brandon’s personal and family struggles. It’s also overwhelmingly a story of identity, particularly racial identity, both from the 1950s and present-day. There’s so much to chew on that I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. Some of the parts about race relations seemed a bit heavy-handed to me as an adult, but I have a lot of context and it’s probably just right for kids, especially white kids, who may have no context for it. I really appreciated that Johnson included extensive notes at the end about Jim Crow, the end of segregation, and present-day police brutality. As I said, it’s about so much more than the core storyline, and it’s an important story to have today.

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue


by Emma Donoghue
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Sumac Lottery comes from a large family – 7 kids (she’s #5) and 4 parents. The parents, two homosexual couples of various races and ethnicities, were already close friends when they won the lottery and decided to buy a mansion and acquire all their kids (some through adoption, some through other means – IVF? it’s a bit unclear). Despite their wealth, they are very environmentally-minded and don’t buy a lot of extra things just because. The story starts when one of the grandparents, the one living that none of the kids knows, comes to live with them. He is very conservative and racist and clashes a lot with his son’s family and quickly earns the nickname Grumps. He displaces uber-helper Sumac from her room and thus begins her internal struggle. Grumps is deeply unhappy about all the changes in his life and takes them out on the family, but also comes around eventually (even being rescued from the airport where he’s attempting to get back to his old home).

From the beginning, I was expecting this one to be too over the top about the hippy-dippy diversity, but it actually worked. I had a really, really hard time connecting to the fact that this book took place in Toronto – I had gotten it into my head that they lived in Hawaii! (I think because their house sounded a lot like the 13-Story Treehouse.) The kids are all homeschooled and are named after trees; eventually they mostly crystallized but I felt like some details were missing (like Sic’s name came from a tree somehow but I missed how – maybe Sycamore? And another kid is just straight up named Wood?). Probably details of their births and races and even intellectual abilities/disabilities were omitted to show that they’re not really important to Sumac, but it didn’t help me understand her family.

The one thing that irked me was that the four-year-old sibling, whose original name was Briar, decided they wanted to be called Brian and not be called a girl throughout the story (though at the end they claimed to be a brother and a sister to their siblings), and the rest of the family kept referring to them as she. While this seemed necessary to create confusion for the grandfather and make one particular scene work, it seemed both insensitive generally and also out of character for this family in particular, which is so diverse and perfectly accepting in all other ways.

It reminded me of The Family Fletcher in noise level and busyness, too, so if you liked that one, you’ll probably like the Lotterys! I spent a while looking to see if this was the second book in a series, since it seems to jump right into an established story, but it doesn’t appear to be the case. (Though the author’s website indicates it’s to be the first in a series, so I guess stay tuned!)

Honor Girl


by Maggie Thrash
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I’ve read my fair share of gay teen love stories and generally find them intense and satisfying, but something about this one didn’t hit quite as hard. I’m not sure what it is. I think from the beginning, I found the pictures hard to follow – I thought Maggie was a boy at first, even though she’s wearing a skirt in the first scene. I had trouble telling some of the other characters apart. Aside from that, I wasn’t sure exactly what the author was trying to get across, which may come more from my experience being in fiction form, rather than memoir. The ending was anticlimactic but it’s hard to get mad about that since it was her life that just didn’t tie up neatly. Or maybe I’ve just been reading too much middle grade fiction where things tie up very neatly all the time.

All that being said, Honor Girl is pretty solid. It’s a quick read, as are many graphic novels. I liked that Maggie has a good friend at camp who is there for her, as opposed to the younger (and much more immature) Bethany. It reminded me in parts of This One Summer with the younger annoying friend. I also liked that the reader, along with Maggie, didn’t feel Maggie worthy of the title Honor Girl, even though in retrospect she absolutely did earn it. It’s just that ending that really bugged me, even if it did have good foreshadowing.

Fenway Fever


by John H. Ritter
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Alfredo “Stats” Pagano has grown up in Fenway Park.┬áPapa Pagano’s hot dog stand has been in the family for decades and they have season tickets. Stats has a particular friendship with the Boston Red Sox’s young hotshot pitcher, Billee Orbitt, who has just entered a slump; Stats’ heart defect is acting up and he needs surgery; and Pops finally reveals the family’s financial troubles to Stats and his older brother, Mark. Stats and Billee investigate what they’re sure is a new curse at Fenway and try to figure out how to break it. Meanwhile, Mark is in danger of losing his perfect season record as little league shortstop and playing in the all-star game against Japan at Fenway Park. Oh and Pops is still mourning the death of Stats’ and Mark’s mother four years ago. So, there’s a lot going on.

It took me a little while to get into this one, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s an original story, and the moments between Stats and Billee (and pretty much all the other characters, including his brother) are touching. Stats and his brother are close and care for each other and put the family first. The ending is very sweet and more than a little contrived with how the money troubles and heart condition get resolved. But overall, good themes and really good tension in the story. I wasn’t quite expecting the story to wrap up so quickly and when it did. When the CD belted out “THE END” I jumped a little and then rewound a couple of tracks to relisten. Sure enough, things had wrapped up so quickly I had just missed them. But overall, really great, and a perfect summer book – especially if you live in Boston and/or like baseball!

Note: I had this book as an audiobook, narrated by James Colby, who did a great job with all the Boston accents!