A round-up of a new middle grade novel in verse and three new YA titles………..
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green
(Pajama Press – May 15, 2017)
Sixth grade is coming to an end, and so is life as Macy McMillan knows it. Already a For Sale sign mars the front lawn of her beloved house. Soon her mother will upend their little family, adding an unwelcome stepfather and pesky six-year-old twin stepsisters. To add insult to injury, what is Macy s final sixth grade assignment? A genealogy project. Well, she’ll put it off―just like those wedding centerpieces she’s supposed to be making.
Just when Macy’s mother ought to be sympathetic, she sends her next door to help eighty-six-year-old Iris Gillan, who is also getting ready to move―in her case, into an assisted living facility. Iris can’t move a single box on her own and, worse, she doesn’t know sign language. How is Macy supposed to understand her? But Iris has stories to tell, and she isn’t going to let Macy’s deafness stop her. Soon, through notes and books and cookies, a friendship grows. And this friendship, odd and unexpected, may be just what Macy needs to face the changes in her life.
Perfect middle grade free verse! I am so excited to share this with my elementary and middle school students, as I am always talking up free verse, but can’t find enough excellent examples to share with them. Macy’s story is heartwarming and thought-provoking, and her relationship with her elderly neighbor is a wonderful one for kids to read about. I love their connection over baking and books – I especially loved the book references throughout the story, like to the books El Deafo and The Tale of Despereaux – books that kids today will know and be able to relate to. Kids will also be able to connect with the storylines relating to parent remarriage and moving, and will be able to look into the world of someone who has lost their hearing, much as they have enjoyed doing with El Deafo.
I can’t wait to read this author’s other middle grade novel Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles and order both of these titles for my libraries.
I received a digital advance review copy in exchange for an honest review – all opinions are my own.
I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.
That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim
(HarperTeen- May 9, 2017)
Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.
Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.
With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.
A fresh and complex contemporary YA story with a Pakistani-American protagonist that manages to be both wryly hilarious and discuss Urdu poetry, the Bosnian genocide and Indian Partition all in the same page. That takes serious skill! As I have said in some of my other reviews, I am a librarian and read and review a LOT of YA – I’m always on the hunt for an original story and this one certainly fits that description. Thanks to Edelweiss for the digital review copy!
Shabnam and her friend Farah are at the heart of the book and their discussions about wearing hijab and what it means to be a “good” Muslim were incredibly deep and heartfelt, but at the same time the girls were just plan funny. There is discussion about sexuality and sexual diversity but in a “ugh, why is the world so heteronormative” way, not in a preachy way. There was minor drinking and drug use, but as a backdrop for the larger story. There was a love interest, but one who helped Shabnam find her true self and devotion to her family’s history.
I really enjoyed reading this story and would recommend it for purchase in all high school libraries as a window for some and a mirror for others. If the book creates dialogue and controversy about what a good modern Muslim looks like and acts like, that’s a healthy thing for teens to be discussing, whether with one another or their parents and teachers.
I received a digital ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
(Feiwel & Friends – May 16, 2017)
There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.
Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?
Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.
What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.
Refreshing, smart and funny ~ The Love Interest did something no other YA has done for me lately: completely surprise me and upended ALL of the YA-love-scifi stereotypes. There’s major romance and steaminess, yes, but there’s NO SEX. There’s alcohol, but no one is drunk and there are no drugs. There is sci fi, but it’s not really sci fi because it’s spying, and it’s……….it’s just different. And different is so good right now. I read so much YA as a book reviewer and librarian that I am just overjoyed that Dietrich managed to create a new story.
I absolutely love how Cade deals with his sexuality and I especially love the note in the back pages of this book:
“Lastly, I want to give a shout-out to the LGBTQIA+ people out there. If you’re “LGBTQIA+ and reading this, know that you are perfect, and valid, and you deserve only the best. I hope The Love Interest managed to get my feelings about you across, but just in case, I’ll make it crystal clear here: I love you.”
Is this book perfect? Nope. There is a little bit of clunkiness with some of the dialogue and transitions, but I’m willing to put that aside because of 1) the uniqueness of the storyline 2) the excellent LGTQIA+ portrayal and 3) the fact that I got this book at 4 pm and finished it the next morning at 4:30 am. It takes skill to keep readers reading!
Hat tip to Book of the Month Club for including this in their May 2017 choices – it’s definitely a unique pick for them, and I love that they did such an amazing thing for this debut author and book.
I chose this as one of my Book of the Month selections for May 2017. I pay for this subscription.
Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
(Balzer + Bray – May 9, 2017)
Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.
Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.
The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.
Julie Murphy became a favorite of mine after I read her book Dumplin’. That plus the hype about Ramona Blue is why I was anticipating this one so much! While reading I was up and down and up and down about 15 times on whether I was loving it or liking it.
Here is why I settled on 3 stars:
– tackles ambiguous feelings about sexual identity (and Murphy used sensitivity readers) which will be a welcome topic for any teens struggling to label themselves. I did feel like some of the dialogue was less-than-fluid and there were some unnecessary sexual references in jokes and offhand comments that felt a bit forced and could have been cut, though.
– has beautiful descriptions of feelings about family relationships, and the storyline involving Ramona and her pregnant sister is my favorite in the book. I also love Ramona’s interactions with her father.
– the Olympics and swimming storyline is a unique one, and I loved that Ramona has such body confidence.
While the book has definite merits, I have books I have loved more about all of the topics above.
I love Julie Murphy and I know every book can’t be like my favorite of any author. I applaud her for tackling topics in this book that many authors avoid (race, sexuality, etc). I am so excited about the next Dumplin’ book that Murphy is working on!
I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.