Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Title: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Published: 2014
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Gabi's senior year is shaping up to be a big one. From her best friend getting pregnant, her meth-addict father gumming up her life, her frustration with the constraints of trying to be her mother's ideal Latina daughter, and the travails of her first (and second) boyfriend, this will be a year to remember. Lucky thing she has her friends and her poetry to help her through.

First Impressions: AAAAAAAAAGH I loved this. Gabi is so incredibly real and complex.

Later On: This is one of those books that doesn't have a terribly tight plot. It's really just a year in Gabi's life, with all the accompanying ups and downs. But as I told co-workers, I kept reading because I really just wanted to hang out with this girl. She's funny, loyal, fierce, and loving, and she's continually learning more about herself and what she wants for her life and those she loves.

More: Latinos in Kidlit

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Title: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: In a post-apocalyptic world where the undead have invaded everywhere except one walled city, Mahyani Romeo and Catresou Juliet have just committed suicide. But in a world where death isn't so much the end as a stop along the way, it's not that simple. Torn apart from each other, each believing the other is (permanently) dead, Romeo and Juliet find themselves in unlikely partnerships with two of the play's secondary characters.

Juliet bonds to the perpetually angry novice Mahyani Runajo (the play's Rosaline) as they seek to unravel the mysteries of the Sisters of Thorn, magical guardians of the city's defenses against the undead. For his part, Romeo finds himself working alongside Juliet's fiance, Catresou Paris, to uncover the nefarious dealings of illegal necromancers, who might very well be coming from inside his own family.

If either of them fail, the city could fall to the ravening hordes of the undead. So . . . yikes?

First Impressions: This was a really interesting tweak on Romeo and Juliet, and I'm very much hoping it won't end as tragically as the classic. But I don't know because CLIFFHANGER ugh.

Later On: I love retellings, because the best ones have an effect on your interpretation of the original. That said, this isn't quite a retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

Picking up as it does after the end of the play, this book is more concerned with exploring the alternate world that Hodge has set up, using Paris and Runajo's points of view, with occasional diversions into the tale of Romeo and Juliet's courtship through their eyes. So it's more like a spinoff set in an alternate universe.

This world is extremely complicated. It throngs with conflicting loyalties, complex family and community obligations, and of course, the feud between families that started it all. In this world, the feud is more about differing beliefs and practices around death and life. Wading through all this takes some patience. I felt that it was rewarded.

Even more of a reward is getting to spend time with the ferocious Runajo and Juliet. Both are warriors, fierce and strong-willed. They have both spent their whole lives focused on a singular purpose - to become the Catresou family executioner, on Juliet's part, and to become a nun and magical defender of the city in Runajo's - but now in the rocky position of having to rethink everything they once believed. Paris and Romeo were less compelling as characters, but they spent more time in the city itself, illuminating the inner workings of the complex world that Hodge has built.
And, fair warning: in this book at least, Romeo and Juliet get all the way to the end still believing the other to be dead. The second book has no release date or even title yet (curses!) but when it comes out, I'll be picking it up.

More: Kirkus

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Book Review: A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas

Title: A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids
Author: Shelley Tougas
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss

Summary: Mary Margaret Miller's life is turning upside down, and even her beloved saints don't seem to be helping. Not only is her family moving away from their hometown, she has to live with her grandparents while her parents try to earn enough money so they can get settled somewhere else. She's been tapped to be junior bridesmaid to her cousin's wedding, but since her cousin is terribly shy and her grandmother is (to put it nicely) a total steamroller.

Then there's the cute boy next door, who is (gasp!) a Unitarian and keeps asking her challenging questions about being Catholic. Let's not even mention what she did to the local bully, back at home. Surely there's a saint for all of this . . . right?

First Impressions: This was adorable! And included a surprisingly thoughtful examination of maturing faith.

Later On: One of my very favorite themes in children's and YA is faith and religion, because it's so rare (other than "religion ebil" or "religion is old-fashioned and naive") and yet so important in the life of many kids and families.

Mary, who is from a Catholic family, is obsessed with the saints and all their weird specialties. As a lifelong Catholic myself, I have to say this wasn't so much a feature of the religion as I've experienced it, as it was one of those random obsessions that kids sometimes get. Certainly the saints are important to Catholics, but Mary uses them to try and organize and control her life, and part of the faith theme of the book is that it's not nearly that simple.

Of course, there's more at work here than Mary Margaret's deepening faith. For such a funny book, this covers surprisingly serious topics, including bullying, economic instability and its stresses on families, and inter-family conflict, whether it's about having a giant spectacular wedding or the differing practices of religion. You can certainly read it strictly for fun, but there is more there for kids to engage with if they choose.

More: Ms. Yingling Reads

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Book Review: My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill

Title: My Unscripted Life
Author: Lauren Morrill
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: Reeling after her rejection from her first-choice art school, Dee impulsively takes a job on a movie set to pass the summer. Once there (and once past the initial bumps and bruises) she discovers a surprising aptitude for set dressing. She also discovers an attraction to the leading man, Milo - not so surprising, because he's a teen heartthrob with legions of adoring fans. But the biggest surprise? He actually seems to be attracted to her back.

First Impressions: Awwww cuuuuute! I liked how she refocused her love of art. But the ending was very rushed.

Later On: Lauren Morrill writes what I think of as Disney movies on paper. They're fun, they're cute, they're not terribly realistic, but it's a good time. As long as you pick this book with that in mind, you should enjoy it.

More: Kirkus