YA and Middle Grade Reviews: Week of 4/25/17

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A round up of an amazing new YA release this week, plus some great backlist!

Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan (Candlewick – April 25, 2017)


Hurricane Katrina sets a teenage girl adrift. But a new life — and the promise of love — emerges in this rich, highly readable debut.

Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It’s a small life, but it is Evangeline’s. And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru — a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline’s aching heart. Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.


One of my favorite YA titles of the year.

I have always been fascinated by the city of New Orleans and the area surrounding it, and am forever changed by seeing the devastation Katrina caused the entire coastal area. I remember so clearly exactly what I was doing when the news of Hurricane Katrina came, when we heard what was coming toward the Gulf Coast in August 2005. I was hugely pregnant and home with my husband and his high school best friend, who had lived in New Orleans for years and was visiting his parents near us in Wisconsin. We watched the TV coverage non-stop and spent so much time with our friend as he was displaced from his longtime home. We experienced the “Katrina-refugee” story through him, a 30-something affluent single adult who was fortunate enough to have a safe and comfortable place to live while the storm raged and the clean-up took place. We listened to him as he told us about his friends and their stories, and looked at the pictures he sent us of his house and the ravaged places we had visited when we went to see him several years before. We returned to New Orleans several years later to attend his wedding, and marveled at the rebuilding that had brought the city back to a semblance of normal, but mourned the loss of so much else.

I have read numerous books about Katrina and post-Katrina Louisiana, but I have never before read a book about Katrina from a teenager’s perspective. I am so very happy that when I did, it was this one. Evangeline captured my heart and wouldn’t let me go until I had finished the book, less than 18 hours later. I first heard about this title from a post by the author on the Nerdy Book Club blog, and immediately requested it from Net Galley to review for my library. I am so happy to have had the additional insight from the author during that pre-reading experience, and thoroughly agree with her that “stories that place the intricacies of the heart at their center” have a place on the shelves. “Between Two Skies” is the perfect story to explain the horrors of Katrina and the beauty of the bayou to a generation of teens who barely remember the tragedy, or who have never visited this area of the US – much like stories like “Nine, Ten” and “Towers Falling” bring the horror of 9/11 told through a sensitive lens to a new generation. These stories need to be told, and YA and middle grade fiction is how these stories will best reach children of today and tomorrow.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.

Wishing Day by Lauren Myracle (Harper Collins ~ May 1, 2016)


On the third night of the third month after a girl’s thirteenth birthday, every girl in the town of Willow Hill makes three wishes.

The first wish is an impossible wish.
The second is a wish she can make come true herself.
And the third is the deepest wish of her secret heart.

Natasha is the oldest child in a family steeped in magic, though she’s not sure she believes in it. She’s full to bursting with wishes, however. She misses her mother, who disappeared nearly eight long years ago. She has a crush on one of the cutest boys in her class, and she thinks maybe it would be nice if her very first kiss came from him. And amid the chaos of a house full of sisters, aunts, and a father lost in grief, she aches to simply be…noticed.

So Natasha goes to the willow tree at the top of the hill on her Wishing Day, and she makes three wishes. What unfolds is beyond anything she could have imagined.


A magical middle grade story that is perfect for readers looking for just a little bit of magic, a little bit of sadness, a little bit of romance, and a little bit of suspense. I really enjoyed this story and know it will be a hit in my libraries with students in grades 4 – 7. Those students who love realistic fiction, but aren’t always wanting the gritty reality being written about so much now. Those students who like magic, but don’t want JUST magic. Oh, and the COVER! This is one of my all-time favorite middle grade covers – it’s just gorgeous. I really appreciated the depression storyline and the sweet and innocent romance/crush angle. The family dynamics were touching and Natasha was a well-developed character. The ending was abrupt, but that is often the case in a story that is designed as the first in a series. I can’t wait to read Darya’s story in the next book in this trilogy!

The publisher donated this book to my library for review – all opinions are my own.

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg (Chronicle Books – September 9, 2014)


Originally published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in 2013, under the title, My Life as an Alphabet. Candice Phee isn’t a typical twelve-year-old girl. She has more than her fair share of quirks, but she also has the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to make sure everyone around her is happy. That includes you. Because you’ll laugh out loud reading this charming, lovable novel. Candice’s task is no easy feat when she’s dealing with a pet fish with an identity crisis, a friend who believes he came from another dimension, an age-old family feud, and a sick mom. But she is on a mission! Her methods might be unique, but Candice will do whatever it takes to restore order to her world and make sure everyone is absolutely, categorically happy again.


Candice Phee is just as quirky as this book is, and I love them both. I really enjoyed the way the book was organized into chapters for Candice’s alphabetical autobiography project – that was a first for me. The part that made me the happiest about this book, however, is how twice Candice is referred to as being autistic or on the spectrum and she just responds with “I’m me”. That makes me so happy! Her parents are so imperfect and their emotions (and mother’s depression) are so raw – that part of the story will hit home for many readers. In spite of that, there were so many parts of the book that made me laugh out loud – a great balance. I wouldn’t say that this book is for every middle grade reader, and I would definitely trend older or least toward more mature readers with my recommendations simply due to the vocabulary and all of Douglas’ talk of multiple dimensions and tesseracts. I believe the last time I even saw the word tesseract was when I read “A Wrinkle in Time” in 5th grade, and would definitely recommend this book fans of that series. Also recommended for anyone who loves stories about not fitting in and being true to oneself.  This is a quick, very satisfying read. **Note: the only thing I did NOT like about this book is the use of the “R” word used multiple times by a classmate taunting Candice. While it is recognized in the story as being unkind, I’d prefer not to see the word in print.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulsen Books – March 24, 2015)


This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.


Absolutely riveting and sobering story of a Pakistani-American family and an arranged marriage, set in both Florida and Pakistan. My heart ached for Naila the entire time I was reading. This is a must-read not just for YA fans, but for anyone looking for (or needing) a window into this culture. One of the most valuable parts of the book for me was the author’s note in the back pages about the impetus for this book, and the reality of arranged-by-force marriages even within the US, including resources listed for organizations to help women in this situation. Saeed, as a founder of We Need Diverse Books, is an incredibly important figure in literature. Just added Love, Inshallah (a story collection she contributed to) to my TBR shelf.

Find me on Goodreads for ALL the middle grade, YA and adult books I read. All of my picture book reviews are on my Instagram ~ would love to see you there as well!

3 thoughts on “YA and Middle Grade Reviews: Week of 4/25/17

    • YES! I can’t believe that I completely forgot about that book! I read it several years ago and absolutely loved it – thank you so much for reminding me of it! That’s what happens when I read so many books – they leave my brain way too quickly 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Tween Reviews – Volume 1 | The Loud Library Lady

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