At Last I See the Light: A Review of This Was Our Pact

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This Was Our Pact
Ryan Andrews
First Second
June 11, 2019
Grades 6 and up

In Ryan Andrews’s graphic novel, This Was Our Pact, the agreement Ben and his friends made was simple “No one turns for home”(1) and “No one looks back”(2) to follow the lanterns of the night of the Equinox Festival. Despite the arrangement, only Ben stayed along with the outcast Nathaniel as they traveled by following the river. Along the way, they meet a talking bear tasked with bringing back the fish for the feast. After the boys got lost they go on a side quest to obtain a star for the renowned chemist, Madam Majestic. Ben and Nathaniel discover more than they could ever dream on their journey. For now, Andrews leaves it up to his readers to decide where Ben and Nathaniel will wander to next. This graphic novel was illustrated in pen with a watercolor backdrop and layered using Photoshop. Andrews uses shades of blue, red, and yellow to create the whimsical magical realism environment, which brings the story to life and adds to the mood. These illustrations have an enchanting wondrous, effect with an unsettling undertone of creatures and monsters lurking in the pages. It is a relatively fast-paced book, but there is enough development to see the friendship between Nathaniel and Ben grow. Each of their personalities felt well-distinguished, helping the characters come to life and more natural to emphasize with them. This book is a phenomenal addition to any middle-grade collection, exploring themes of friendship all within an astonishing adventure.

Roses Have Thorns: A Review of Girl’s With Sharp Sticks

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Girl’s With Sharp Sticks
By Suzanne Young
Simon Pulse
March 19, 2019
Grades 9 and up

Welcome, investors, to Innovations Academy. Here girls are created and controlled to be perfect. Although there are problems with Philomena Rhodes. She has been acting up despite her impulse behavior therapy. Philomena has recently become distraught because her friend, Lennon Rose, has gone missing. Lennon Rose had been reading poems that encouraged ideas. She began to question the school’s teachings, and it started affecting the other girls: Sydney, Annalise, Brynn, and Marcella. No longer willing to be brainwashed by the men, they escape the dreaded school with the help of their new friends, Jackson and Quentin. Now, they’re on they are on their way to uncover the mysteries at Innovations Corporation. This dystopian nightmare of a novel is the first book in Suzanne Young’s Girls with Sharp Sticks series. Young takes her time to show the disturbing world that these girls live in. The men in the novel are possessive, dominating, and obsessed with the girls. Controlling what they wear, eat, and learn. Women’s rights are being taken away, and the girls discover that what these teachers, administrators, and investors are doing is wrong. The tone is creepy and unnerving. However, the book is empowering, especially in terms of sisterhood. Young writes, “They manipulate us with lollipops and guilt…and now, we can choose to be better than these men. We choose to love each other. We choose to be free” (278/353). The girls have a strong connection that is constant throughout the book. It’s not one girl fighting to escape; it’s all of these girls who  have formed a bond. A good addition to any library because it deals with fundamental human rights and why we need them.

Pride Month Book List!

June is Pride Month! The LGBTQIA+ experience is vast, no one book can define what the experience is like for any one person. With the political climate pushing for policies that would deny those who fall within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella rights, it can be comforting to read books that extol the LGBTQIA+ experience. To celebrate Pride, we would like to share with you some of our favorite LGBTQIA+ books that have come out so far this year. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the LGBTQIA+ books that have come out this year, but it is a start for those who wish to read more books with LGBTQIA+ protagonists.

Happy reading everyone!

61auCUPW94L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_It Feels Good to be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity
Theresa Thorn
Illustrated by Noah Grigni
Henry Holt and Company, June 4 2019
Ages Pre K-8

Ruthie is a Trans girl; when she was born people thought that she was a boy but she is actually a girl. When Ruthie was five years old, she corrected her family, telling them that she was a girl and not a boy like they thought. Ruthie has a gender fluid friend named Alex, and a non-binary friend named JJ. Ruthie’s brother Xavier is cisgender. Even though they all have different gender identities they are all still valid. The book is thoughtfully written and educates children and adults alike about various gender identities and what they mean. The book also includes resources at the end of the book for both children and parents to learn more about gender identity. The illustrations are colorful and beautifully complement the topic of the book. The book is illustrated by Noah Grigni who themselves is non-binary.

810WSYBncdLStonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution.
Rob Sanders
Illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Random House, April 23, 2019
Ages Pre K-10

The Stonewall Inn has changed over the course of the 20th and 21st century. In the 1960’s, the Stonewall Inn began to attract the LGBTQIA+ community. As the inn began to attract more and more LGBTQIA+ people, police officers began to raid the building and arrest people for being LGBTQIA+. On June 28, 1969, police once again raided the inn and began arresting people; only this time the people resisted beginning the Stonewall Uprising. Following the events of the Stonewall Uprising, each June people around the world celebrate LGBTQIA+ rights. Written from the perspective of the Stonewall Inn rather than those who participated in the Uprising, this book does a great job of simply explaining the events that led to the Stonewall Uprising. The illustrations are gorgeous and make the book come to life. Resources at the back of the book provide a more in depth history of the Stonewall Inn and the Stonewall Uprising, as well as books and websites to learn more.

911GEL0JZ1LBloom
Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau
Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau
First Second, January 29, 2019
Ages 12 and up

Ari wants to move away to the city with his friends and bandmates, but is stuck at home working at his family’s bakery. Looking to find someone to take his place at the bakery, Ari meets Hector who is studying to be a baker. As Ari tries to find himself and move away, he realizes that Hector may be one good reason to stay. A sweet, slow-paced, graphic novel about falling in love and finding oneself. The illustrations are entirely in shades of blue, creating a calming atmosphere for the story. The end of the book included a recipe on how to make the Kyrkos Family Bakery’s Famous Sourdough Rolls, (which looks delicious).

51lH-OCV+oL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Weight of the Stars
K. Ancrum
Macmillian, March 19, 2019
Ages 13 and up

Since the death of her parents, Ryann has become the sole provider for her brother James and his son Charlie. With the weight of the responsibilities she now has, Ryann is forced to give up her dreams of going to space. When Ryann meets and befriends the Uninaut’s daughter Alexandria, her dreams of space re-awaken. As the two girls spend more time together, they begin to develop feelings for one another, which makes Ryann wonder, is going to space worth leaving Alexandria and her family behind? A poignant and nuanced book, it explores what it means to take care of others, and what it means to pursue your dreams knowing that those dreams may make it so that you can never see your loved ones again.

31681158._UY762_SS762_Starworld
Amy Coulthurst and Paula Garner
Candlewick Press, April 16, 2019
Ages 13 and up

Sam Jones is loves to draw, and dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer. Sam is nerdy and only has one friend, until the day Zoe Miller walks into her life. Sam and Zoe begin to text each other regularly about the world they created together—Starworld—where they can escape the problems that they face in their lives. As Starworld expands, so too do Sam’s feelings for Zoe. The only problem is that Zoe has a boyfriend. Written in the perspectives of both Zoe and Sam, this book shows that people’s lives are not always what we assume them to be and that the problems we face can be lessened with support.

 

41Lq87sSB7L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Carmilla: The Novel
Adapted by Kim Turrisi
KCP Loft, May 7, 2019
Ages 13 and up

Laura has just begun her freshman year at Silas University when her roommate Betty goes missing. When Laura goes looking for answers, she is met with hostility by the dean of the university. It seems as though no one will take this seriously. To make matters worse, her new roommate, Carmilla seems to be actively antagonizing Laura. Despite this, Laura finds herself inexplicably attracted to Carmilla. Could it be because Carmilla is a vampire? Could Carmilla be behind Betty’s disappearance? Based on the web series of the same name, Carmilla is a fun, fast-paced, vampire story.  While making references to other well-known vampire novels, this one still feels original and fresh.

41473872I Wish You All the Best
Mason Deaver
Scholastic, May 28, 2019
Ages 13 and up

Ben recently came out to their parents as non-binary and was kicked out of their house. Desperate, Ben calls their estranged sister Hannah for help. After moving in with Hannah and getting enrolled at North Wake high school, Ben meets Nathan. Nathan is beautiful, funny, and kind, and becomes one of Ben’s closest friends. Scared of being rejected by Nathan, Ben decides not to tell him that they are non-binary. Still dealing with the fallout of coming out to their parents, Ben begins to learn that not everyone will reject them due to their gender orientation. Written by Mason Deaver, who themselves is non-binary, this is a touching story about coming to terms with your gender identity.

Moving Forward: A Review of I Don’t Want To Be Crazy

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I Don’t Want To Be Crazy 
by Samantha Schultz
Scholastic Inc.
March 29, 2019
Grades 9 and up

In the memoir I Don’t Want To Be Crazy, Samantha Schultz describes her journey with anxiety disorder. The memoir is written in verse and split into five sections. In the book, Schultz begins with her senior year in high school and continues one year beyond college. She describes her relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. During this period of transition, she begins to identify that she is having panic attacks and to understand what her anxiety disorder entails. At the end of the book, Schultz includes an Author’s Note explaining why she wrote the memoir, noting that she was motivated to “provide comfort for others” by sharing her story and that others have opened up to her about their experiences with mental illness after reading the book. She also includes backup resources on how to talk to one’s family about mental illness and offers steps that readers can take to address mental illness. With clear and believable descriptions, Schultz provides the reader with insight into what her panic attacks feel like and how she manages her anxiety. Furthermore, she also involves family members’ reactions to her mental illness, which include questioning her about it. She writes, “My mother must think I’m blaming them, / but that’s not what I tried to say…./ We have given you everything/ you ever needed, ever wanted…./ What could possibly be so wrong with your life?” (62-63). She internalizes this questioning and feels guilty about her anxiety. Because Schultz speaks directly about mental health in this book, she provides a valuable perspective, letting the readers know that it’s okay to be mentally ill. While she is talking about her personal experience with mental illness, she also provides her readers with a way of moving forward.

Duty, Loyalty, Love: A Review of Empress of All Seasons

 

Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons
Emiko Jean
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2018

As per tradition, when the land of Honoku needs a new empress, a competition is held. All eligible women are invited, and the one who survives each of the four enchanted seasonal rooms is deemed worthy of the title of Empress of Honoku and position next to Taro, the prince next in line to be emperor. Mari has trained for this competition since childhood, though as yōkai she is technically ineligible to compete. Yōkai, supernatural beings, are under threat and enslaved by the current emperor. But Mari cares little about the rules or the prince – she competes for the power of being empress, and to bring change to Honoku from within. Taro himself doesn’t enjoy being a prize to be won, and cares little about his power – he would rather spend time in his lab with his mechanical inventions. Akira, another yōkai and friend of Mari, works to overthrow the Emperor from the outside while Mari keeps her true identity hidden to join the competition. Taro may just become their greatest ally, if they can learn to trust each other when their identities and motivations are revealed.

A detailed world and political structure along with multiple perspectives gives this fantasy novel depth and puts the reader at the immediacy of the action. Inspired by her Japanese heritage, Jean has created an escape for readers that questions the sacrifices made for duty and love, and challenges the notion of tradition as a value to be upheld.

Stregas & Strategy: A Review of The Brilliant Death

brilliant deathThe Brilliant Death
Amy Rose Capetta
Viking Books, October 2018

Historical fantasy and romance collide in this captivating tale set in Vinalia, a fictional land inspired by mountain villages of old Italy. Teodora di Sangro is well aware of and versed in the di Sangro way of life, which places loyalty to the family above the self, and the opinions of men above women – but she yearns for more: the power of a di Sangro son, and to use the magic she holds inside of her. With her magic, she changes her family’s enemies into trinkets that decorate her room, but Teo knows she could do more, if only her father trusted the strega way in addition to practicing and teaching political strategy to his sons.

When Teo meets Cielo, a young genderfluid strega who can teach Teo how to use her power to become the di Sangro son she longs to be, Teo realizes there may be a way to be her true self and save her family from the Capo’s plans to weaken each of the Five Families of Vinalia. With challenges to traditional gender roles, exploration of what it means to feel at home and whole in your body, and poetically descriptive language, The Brilliant Death elevates a coming-of-age story into a thoughtful consideration of who we are when we let go of society’s expectations and trust the magic inside of us.

Women and Wealth Redistribution: A Review of The Forest Queen

The Forest Queen by Betsy CornwellThe Forest Queen
Betsy Cornwell
HMH/Clarion Books, August 2018

“Steal from the rich, give to the poor” gets a fresh take in this gender-swapped retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale. Sylvie, sixteen and lady of Loughsley Abbey, begins to question her family’s treatment of the people of Loughsley – especially now that her brother, John, is the unforgiving sheriff. With her childhood friend, Bird, she runs away and lives in hiding in the nearby woods. Slowly, others from Loughsley join them in their new community, including a young woman named Little Jane, the midwife Mae Tuck, and others who feared otherwise being jailed for their inability to pay egregious taxes. Sylvie must eventually confront her brother, along with her own complicity in the evils done by her family, and she comes to realize that the changes required for economic justice mean she must take “radical action” and put herself in potential danger for the greater good.
Sylvie and her mission to redistribute wealth among the people of Loughsley are easy to root for, but the additional focus on gender roles, womanhood, and the idea of community as family are what set this retelling apart. Strong secondary characters help to challenge Sylvie and force her to take a strong stand against a system that she would otherwise benefit from, and parallels can be drawn from the injustices in the story to those of today’s world. As Little Jane, who becomes a dear friend to Sylvie says, “If someone doesn’t care whether you live or die, then living itself is rebellion” (p 241). This thoughtful narrative of what can happen when the privileged few horde wealth while the majority struggles to make do with less and less shows the power in a united band of concerned citizens.