YA & Middle Grade Reviews: Week of 6/5/17

Just a few for you this week!


MatyldaMatylda Bright and Tender by Holly McGhee
(Candlewick – March 14, 2017)


In a courageous debut novel, Holly M. McGhee explores the loss that shakes one girl’s world — and the unexpected consequences of the things we do for love.

Sussy and Guy are best friends, fourth-graders who share their silliest thoughts and deepest hopes. One afternoon, the two of them decide they must have something of their very own to love. After a trip to the pet store, they bring home a spotted lizard, the one with the ancient face and starfish toes, and they name her Matylda (with a y so it’s all her own). With Guy leading the way, they feed her and give her an origin story fit for a warrior lizard. A few weeks later, on a simple bike ride, there is a terrible accident. As hard as it is, Sussy is sure she can hold on to Guy if she can find a way to love Matylda enough. But in a startling turn of events, Sussy reconsiders what it means to grieve and heal and hope and go on, for her own sake and Matylda’s. By turns both devastating and buoyant, this story is a brave one, showing how far we can justify going for a real and true friend.


A sweet and simple story about friendship, grief and moving on.  Sussy and Guy’s friendship is very tender, and Sussy’s transference of her grief onto taking care of Matylda is nicely described in an age-appropriate manner. This would make an excellent read aloud in 3rd or 4th grade, as Sussy reads younger to me in terms of maturity for an almost-5th grader.

I had a digital ARC of this book, but ended up reading a finished copy from the public library. 


AskMeHowIGotHereAsk Me How I Got Here by Christine Hepperman
(Green Willow Books – May 3, 2016)


Addie has always known what she was running toward. In cross-country, in life, in love. Until she and her boyfriend—her sensitive, good-guy boyfriend—are careless one night and she ends up pregnant. Addie makes the difficult choice to have an abortion. And after that—even though she knows it was the right decision for her—nothing is the same anymore. She doesn’t want anyone besides her parents and her boyfriend to know what happened; she doesn’t want to run cross-country; she can’t bring herself to be excited about anything. Until she reconnects with Juliana, a former teammate who’s going through her own dark places.

Once again, Christine Heppermann writes with an unflinching honesty and a deep sensitivity about the complexities of being a teenager, being a woman. Her free-verse poems are moving, provocative, and often full of wry humor and a sharp wit. Like Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins, Christine Heppermann is a voice to turn to for the truth of difficult subjects. Ask Me How I Got Here is a literary exploration of sexuality, religion, and self-discovery.


Raw and largely in actual poem form – not like many new free verse novels – this is a powerful YA story dealing with abortion, Christianity and sexuality. Perfect for fans of Ellen Hopkins, this is an incredibly fast read that many HS students will appreciate.

I read a copy of this book from the public library. 

NamesTheyGaveUSThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
(Bloomsbury Childrens – May 16, 2017)


When it all falls apart, who can you believe in?

Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.


What can I say? This is perfect YA. The only criticism I can give is that it’s over and I can’t live in Lucy’s world forever. The Names They Gave Us has moved into the top YA spot for me in the category of “thoughtful and sweet and fairly innocent but incredibly deep” (I read a LOT of YA as a school librarian, therefore have a LOT of categories!)

My rambling and parenthetical review:
I have never read a YA book (or really ANY book) that so perfectly captures the anguish of wrestling with faith without being actually about religion (disclaimer: I am NOT religious, but read a lot of YA that discusses religion, mostly Judaism, Islam or Christianity ). While Lucy’s struggle to understand Christianity may be focused on a singular religion, it could be any of us struggling with any religion. How do you come to terms with a God who see in gray rather than black or white? How do you reconcile an upbringing of purity with a world that is anything but pure? Lucy’s ponderings on these topics are ones I will return to for years to come as I (and family and friends) have to face the same thoughts and issues in our less-than-perfect lives.

In addition to the religion aspect of the story, Lord (excellent author name for this book!) creates a perfect picture of mother and daughter love that the majority of us can only look at and sigh, while wondering how WE can get that. To be honest, she does the same with many of Lucy’s relationships, both platonic and romantic. Feelings are raw and real and exquisitely expressed.

Emery Lord is one of my new favorite YA authors, and her books should be required purchases for high school libraries.

I read a copy of this book from the public library, but did also have a digital ARC. Am purchasing for my high school library immediately!

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

2 thoughts on “YA & Middle Grade Reviews: Week of 6/5/17

  1. I’ve had Ask Me How I Got Here on my TBR list for quite awhile now, Kate. I LOVED her Poisoned Apples–very powerful poetry! Check it out if you haven’t yet read it!


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