A Review of It Looks Like This

By Hal Patnott

It Looks Like This

Stop by the Butler Center to take a look at our copy of It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt.

It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt (Candlewick 2016)

When the sun rose at Mill Point Beach, they listened to the waves “surrounded by an eruption of colors.” That sunrise is what Mike wants to remember when he lets himself think about Sean, not all the bad things that came after. The summer before Mike’s freshman year of high school, his family moves from Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin to Somerdale, Virginia, a small, oceanside town with mild winters. Unlike his little sister Toby, Mike doesn’t mind the move or the megachurch their father insists they attend. Although one of his classmates, Victor, accuses him of staring and bullies him for no reason, Mike doesn’t completely hate his new school. He loves French class–that’s where he meets Sean. When Mike and Sean decide to partner for a class project, they start to explore their feelings for one another. Their attraction is a huge secret that Mike must hide from his conservative parents and Victor, who will jump at any chance to make his life hell.

It Looks Like This is a far-from-uplifting coming-of-age story. No one knows about Mike’s doomed relationship with Sean until Victor films them kissing on the beach on New Year’s Eve and calls their parents. Even Mike’s friends–who eventually stand by him at the end of the book–casually throw around homophobic slurs. Sean’s father responds with violence when he learns about his son’s relationship. Mike’s parents coerce him into attending conversion therapy camp, where he learns all the “negatives” of being a “practicing homosexual,” such as “depression, drug use, and relationship instability.” His roommate tells their discussion group, “There are all these obstacles to being a homosexual already, and that’s before you consider that it goes against the obvious purpose of sex. I’m just saying that maybe the natural world is trying to tell you something.” While Mike does escape the camp, he returns home to learn that Sean got drunk and died in an all too familiar car crash. It takes Sean’s death for Mike’s parents to start trying to support him. Decades after Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982) broke the mold of books about gay and lesbian youth by offering a happy ending, It Looks Like This feels a bit like a return to the bad old days. Certainly, It Looks Like This offers a realistic portrayal of the isolation of being an LGBTQ teen in a small, conservative town, but the progress Mike makes toward self-acceptance in the resolution doesn’t fully overcome the overwhelming sense of hopelessness present throughout the novel.

Graphic Novels

By Alena Rivers and Hal Patnott

This week we decided to feature a review of one new, and one upcoming graphic novel. Often we select works for our posts based on thematic similarities, but this week we wanted to explore a format we haven’t written much about in the past. Check out our thoughts on Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories by Sara Varon and the advanced review edition of Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallaro.

What graphic novels are you looking forward to reading this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories by Sara Varon (Macmillan/First Second, 2016)

Sara Varon has published several praise-worthy graphic novels. Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories contains eight stories from her first published book in 2003 titled, Sweaterweather. Nine additional short stories were included in this expanded version. Each of the stories is accompanied by a short introduction explaining the thought-process behind the story, giving readers a sneak-peak into the progressive development of the author’s text and illustrations. The stories are simple in nature, often depicting illustrations of brief moments in the daily life of her anthropomorphic characters. These moments range from the common, such as preparing a meal for a dinner guest in the story titled “The Dinner Guest, to the more imaginative of events like those in “The Flight” where a non-flying character barters for feathers from birds so the character can experience flight. Descriptive panels on the ins and outs of beekeeping or what it’s like to ride a subway in Mexico City provide informative insights into the author’s experiences.

The color palette is a modest deep blue and stark white for most stories, while some of them include shades of pink and purple. The author includes summaries of interviews she conducted with other work-from-home artists in her attempt to discover the secrets to successful work-from-home endeavors. Sweaterweather & Other Short Stories is an illuminating, behind-the-scenes dive into an author/illustrator’s making of a comic that will appeal to both graphic novel novices and long-time fans of the format.

Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro (Macmillan/First Second, 2017)

In fifteen-year-old Angela’s Velocity Suburb of New Fleet Tempopolis, life never stops accelerating. That’s “the Go Guarantee, Go” (3). At Hyper High she takes classes in Brief Lit, and during Health, her teachers hand out Rapid Jo supplements to keep students alert. Angela’s parents sleep standing up to start their morning more efficiently. No one uses adverbs or adjectives in conversation. The Guarantee Committee holds everyone to the highest standards of speed, monitoring the citizens through surveillance cameras and by implanting tracking chips in their arms. Desperate to escape the regulation of her society, Angela joins forces with a secret, underground civilization that lives slowly in defiance of the Guarantee Committee.  When she discovers their haven beneath the ground, she knows she can never return to her old life. She refuses to live in a haze ever again.

Decelerate Blue is a fast-paced, dystopian adventure.  The sharp-angular design of the characters and backgrounds brings Angela’s efficiency-obsessed world to life. Within the first five pages, Rapp and Cavallaro introduce the steep consequences of defying the Guarantee Committee, which adds to the suspense when Angela runs away from home. Although Decelerate Blue is initially engaging, the resolution arrives abruptly. Angela’s love interest, Gladys—a girl Angela meets when she moves underground—receives a tragic and brutal end when the Guarantee Committee roots out the colony. Ultimately, Decelerate Blue offers an exciting premise, but it lacks a satisfying conclusion.

Time Flies When You’re Reading Books

By Diane Foote, Hal Patnott and Alena Rivers

The Butler Center has received hundreds of books published this year, or to-be-published in the coming months, and the Butler Center staff has been busy reviewing dozens of these books! Our list of books that we would like to read outpaces our time to read them. Our hope is to squeeze in a few hours before fall classes begin so we can read at least one more book from our list. Here is a sampling of titles that we plan to read over the next couple of weeks. What’s on your last minute list?


The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion 2017)

Salvador Silva experiences the world through the words he meets. See, “words only existed in theory” until “one ordinary day you ran into a word…met it face to face. And then that word became someone you knew” (16). As Salvador’s senior year of high school begins and his Mima’s health starts to fail, new words like “college” and “cancer” loom on his horizon. For the first time, he starts to question who he is and whether he has value.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, 2016)

Dèja is a fifth grade student starting off in a new school. As the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Dèja’s teacher begins a lesson about the events of 9/11. Dèja and her new friends learn not only about 9/11 but also how it has impacted their nation and their own lives. Dèja discovers more about her family, as they cope with financial struggles while living in a shelter, and she begins to understand the role 9/11 has played in shaping her life. A diverse set of characters lends different voices to this exploration of a topic that is still new to many of our youth.

Booked by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

One of the most buzzed-about books of the year features high-school soccer star Nick Hall as he copes with his linguistic professor father’s “verbomania,” a disinclination to pay attention in class, and the fact that his best friend Coby will now be playing for Nick’s team’s toughest opponent. But nothing shakes Nick the way he’s shaken by a sudden announcement his parents make, throwing the rest of his problems into perspective. Written in verse style familiar from Alexander’s Newbery Medal-winner Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), Nick’s compelling first-person account is one we’re a little embarrassed not to have read yet.

Books to Celebrate the 2016 Summer Olympics

By Alena Rivers

The 2016 Summer Olympics have just begun in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the 2016 Summer Paralympics will follow. Watching each athlete compete in the Olympics is only part of their story. These athletes also have amazing stories that highlight the challenges they have had to, and continue to, overcome to rise to top in their sport. Their stories are full of determination, commitment and serve as sources of inspiration for aspiring athletes. This week, the Butler Center pays tribute to the work of all athletes by highlighting two 2016 books inspired by Olympic Gold Medalists.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller, illus. by Frank Morrison (Chronicle, 2016)

Young Alta is known as the quickest kid in her hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee; the same town that is currently awaiting the arrival of their hometown hero, Wilma Rudolph, the first African American to win three gold medals at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.

Alta is confident in her ability to run faster than any other kid in Clarksville until a new girl, Charmaine, challenges Alta to a race. Charmaine is quick to point out that she has new shoes, just like the ones Wilma Rudolph wears. Alta’s shoes are worn out and dotted with holes but she knows that shoes don’t make the runner, so she accepts Charmaine’s challenge.  The girls’ race is heated and Alta channels the strength of Wilma Rudolph in her legs as she keeps step to the rhythm of the champion’s name. Though they get off to a rough start, ultimately, the girls pull together to support their hero during a parade in Wilma Rudolph’s honor, which turns out to be an experience uniting not only the girls but their segregated town of Clarksville, as well.

Pat Zietlow Miller creates text that is oftentimes rhythmic and sets the pace for the cadenced pattern of racing feet through the story. Frank Morrison, depicts the movement and mannerisms characteristic of young girls at play and competition. The watercolor images are soft and suggest the tone of the 1960’s. The author’s note contains a photo of Wilma Rudolph in the Clarksville, TN parade and a brief overview of her Olympic achievements and their impact on her hometown and the nation.

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray, illus. by Christine Davenier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

Nadia Comaneci is an historic Olympic Gold Medalist from Romania, scoring the first perfect 10 in Olympic history, seven perfect 10’s in fact, and winning several medals in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Nadia is an active young girl who is constantly in motion, running, jumping and climbing trees. Her parents see fit to direct her energy into gymnastics lessons. Not long after, while doing cartwheels on her school playground, she is spotted by Bela and Marta Karolyi. At age six, Nadia is recruited to train under the Karolyi’s, and through dedication and commitment, by the age of 14 she makes it to the Olympics, coached by the Karolyi’s.

Nadia’s story is told in easy to follow text that highlights moments of trial and error through her progression to the 1976 Olympic Games.  The ink and colored pencil drawings are full of movement, evocative of that of Nadia herself. The Afterword contains a description of events following Nadia Comaneci’s Olympic wins, citations for quoted text, and a bibliography of articles, books, and websites.

A Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

by Hal Patnott

Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child–Parts One and Two by J.K.Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine 2016)

Albus Severus Potter lives in the shadow of his father’s legacy. After the Sorting Hat places him in Slytherin, other students call him a failure, even his cousin Rose refuses to associate with him at school. Albus may look like his father, but the resemblance ends there. Scorpius Malfoy, Albus’s best and only friend, also struggles to escape his family’s reputation. Rumors that Scorpius is the son of Voldemort rather than Draco haunt him. Both Albus and Scorpius feel “spare,” and it is that dark thought that sends them plunging into the past.

A familiar cast of characters return to the stage in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Fans of the original seven books get a glimpse of how a life post-Voldemort has changed the old heroes. The importance of family and friendship remain central to the story as they were in past Potter adventures. Harry grapples with his relationship with his Albus Severus. Ginny tells him, “Harry, you’d do anything for anybody. You were pretty happy to sacrifice yourself for the world. [Albus] needs to feel specific love. It’ll make him stronger, and you stronger too” (277). Saving the world never guaranteed he would excel as a parent.

Although nostalgia will draw a huge audience to Cursed Child, the script relies on readers’ prior knowledge of characters and events from the book series, particularly the Triwizard Tournament from Harry’s fourth year. The plot suffers from a fixation with the past. Time jumps rapidly from scene to scene. In the opening of the play Harry and Ginny are dropping off Albus at Platform Nine-and-three-quarters for his first year at Hogwarts. This scene corresponds to the epilogue of Deathly Hallows, though the order of events and the dialogue are inconsistent between the two texts. By the tenth scene of the play, Albus is already entering his fourth year; we don’t have a chance to get to know him or Scorpius. Readers witness only flashes of their, apparently bitter, experiences at Hogwarts. The other students also lack much introduction or depth of character. Ultimately, when one of the new characters, a student in Albus’s year, dies in a manner reminiscent of Cedric Diggory’s murder, the emotional significance falls flat. Perhaps this episodic approach works better as a live stage production, which is how it was originally conceived and is presented here, and perhaps it isn’t fair to evaluate this as a narrative like its predecessors. But overall, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child adds little as a new installment to the Harry Potter series. The popularity of the original series demands its presence on library shelves, but by comparison it’s a spare.

Four Books for Four Hogwarts Houses

By Hal Patnott and Alena Rivers

In anticipation of the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this weekend, we decided to feature four books and sort them into the Hogwarts Houses based on the traits of their main characters. The original idea for this post came from a post on the yalsa-bk listserv titled “Sort YA into Hogwarts Houses?” written by Rachel Moir, the teen services librarian at Worcester Public Library. The titles we selected are all middle grade fiction from our 2016 collection. Stop by the Butler Center to check them out for yourself!


Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan (Disney/Hyperion, 2016)

When thirteen-year-old Thorn’s father disappeared, he promised his mother and little siblings that he would bring him home by harvest, but ever since he left his village, Thorn’s circumstances went from unlucky to a living nightmare. Bound into the service of an executioner, the road ahead of Thorn leads straight to Gehenna, a kingdom of shadows where necromancers wear the crown.

Lilith never wanted to wear the Mantle of Sorrows and assume the position as the Lady Shadow, ruler of al Gehenna, but after the brutal murder of her parents and older brother, she has no choice. Without her father’s sorcery, her kingdom is falling apart. Magic flows through her veins too, but the law forbids her from learning.

Shadow Magic begins in the thick of danger, and the stakes only get higher for Thorn and Lilith as they become ensnared in dark magic and a murder mystery. To survive and save Gehenna they need the courage to disregard the rules and unleash their own hidden talents.


The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Penguin/Dial, 2016)

The Gallery begins in present day New York where 100-year-old Martha O’Doyle is being interviewed by a young reporter sent to do a short piece featuring Martha as she crosses over her centennial year. The young reporter has discovered that Martha is the only surviving witness to the death of a newspaper tycoon and his wife who were in their home when it was bombed. Curious about the details of the bombing, the young reporter probes Martha for more information. Though the reporter doesn’t get her story, Martha decides it’s time to write out the details as she remembers them from nearly 90-years ago. She reflects on her year as a maid for Mr. J. Archer Sewell and his wife, Rose Sewell. In her younger years, Rose had been known to be a rambunctious, socialite who was not adverse to scandal. But when young Martha arrives at the Sewell house she finds that Rose has become a recluse, never leaving their home and only caring for the countless, priceless paintings she and her father collected over the years. Rose refuses to interact with anyone other than a small handful of people but Martha is curious, strong-willed and has little regard for rules so she devises a way to communicate with Rose and in doing so, discovers there is more to Rose’s story.

Told in retrospect, Martha’s character is independent, determined and resourceful. Readers will feel the tension between the story’s characters and Martha’s challenge to balance restraining her thoughts and opinions while pushing to learn the truth.


The Inn Between by Marina Cohen (Macmillan/Roaring Brook, 2016)

Eleven-year old Quinn’s best friend Kara is moving with her family from Denver to Santa Monica. Quinn and Kara have been best friends since kindergarten and the thought of them being apart has both girls dreading the impending move. Quinn is invited to join Kara’s family on their trip to their new home so she and Kara can spend more time together and to help Quinn reconcile some of her own personal issues. The story opens as the girls and Kara’s family drive through a long stretch of desert. As the evening approaches the weary travellers decide that they all could use a break from the road so they stop at a grand Victorian inn that seems out of place and isolated in the great expanse of desert. While The Inn Between is a magnificent and beautifully ornate building, only moments after checking-in, Quinn begins to feel uneasy about their temporary shelter. After spending the night in the hotel, Quinn, Kara and her brother, Josh, discover that Quinn’s parents are missing and not long after, Josh goes missing as well. These are not the only strange things the girls notice about the inn, its staff and its guests. Quinn and Kara must unravel the mystery of Kara’s missing family or risk never leaving The Inn Between.

Marina Cohen’s story explores the strong bond between Quinn and Kara. Readers will be touched by Quinn’s loyalty to their friendship and they will be drawn into Quinn’s intuitive distrust of their surroundings that is matched by her determination to find the answers to the mysteries that unfold.


Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, 2016)

Claudia Miravista has no friends in her sixth grade class, but she knows everything about art history. She spends her free time drawing, and reading about the great painters of the past. Her only companion, a mysterious blue-eyed boy named Pim, lives inside the canvas, where he has been trapped for over three-hundred years. Although Claudia has just begun to discover her powers as an Artista, she is the only one with the skills to save Pim and free him from his prison.

Footnotes of historical facts and commentary about art accompany the story in Behind the Canvas. Claudia’s enthusiasm for art is infectious. In spite of what her classmates may think of her at first, she holds onto her passion and learns to harness her artistic power.

Middle Grade Quests

By Alena Rivers and Hal Patnott

When we selected Grayling’s Song and The Inquisitor’s Tale for this week, we noticed a common theme of magical quests undertaken by ragtag teams that have to overcome their differences in order to work together. Each team of heroes relies on the special gifts of the individual members. The challenges they face help them grow, so that they can triumph over their personal struggles. What we didn’t expect was that in both stories rescuing books played a central role in the plot.

Stop by the Butler Center to take a look at our copy of Grayling’s Song and our advanced review edition of The Inquisitor’s Tale.

Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion, 2016)

Grayling’s mother, Hannah Strong is considered by their townspeople to be a wise woman and healer, but no one, not even Grayling, knows exactly from where Hannah Strong’s  powers to heal come. During a typical day of tending to their daily work, Grayling is summoned by her mother. When she arrives, Grayling finds their cottage home burning to the ground, and Grayling’s mother rooted to it as her body slowly takes the form of a tree. Neither Grayling nor her mother knows who committed these powerful acts, or why. When they discover that Hannah Strong’s grimoire, the book of spells and rituals, is missing,  Grayling is told to find “the others” who also possess various forms of magic and get help. This sets Grayling off on her quest with a gathering song to sing that will lead her to the others for help, locate the missing grimoire and restore her mother to her human form. These are no small tasks for someone who does not possess the same gifts as her mother and is otherwise unaware of the other healers and cunning folk that live among their kingdom. Grayling will have to summon her bravery, determination, intelligence, resourcefulness and her ability to care for and trust in the strangers who can support her on her journey. A small but motley crew is collected along the way with a unified goal of finding the source of what emerges to be a larger problem afflicting healers across the land.

Karen Cushman provides readers with an engaging story of a young girl’s progression from dependence and insecurity to self-reliance, confidence and the desire to develop her own self-awareness. The author’s note contains a brief explanation of cunning folk along with an overview of the history of herbal medicine, folk magic and divination.

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, illuminated by Hatem Aly (Penguin/Dutton, 2016)

In 1242, King Louis IX rules over France. He hates peasants, Jewish people, and heretics. The latest enemies of his crown are three children and their holy greyhound. Rumors about these children have spread across the country. No one knows the whole story, but an unlikely group of travelers gathered at an inn share what they’ve witnessed. All of the travelers agree on one thing—the three children are saints with the powers to work miracles. Jeanne, a peasant girl, sees visions of the future—her dog Gwenforte came back to life. William, a monk with an appetite for knowledge, can shatter stone with his bare hands. Jacob, a Jewish boy, heals the sick and wounded with plants and prayer. They were outsiders even before they became outlaws. None of them chose their powers, but, in spite of their differences and danger, they choose to face their destinies together.

Adam Gidwitz skillfully weaves together medieval history and legend in The Inquisitor’s Tale. In the back matter he shares the historical inspiration for the characters and events as well as an annotated list of resources. A lighthearted, humorous tone and a central theme of overcoming personal prejudice against others make this medieval tale relevant for modern readers.