Kids’ Review: GEORGE by Alex Gino

george

Can we talk about this book?

When I was at BEA this spring, I received a copy of GEORGE by Alex Gino. Actually, the young man from Scholastic who was presenting the book to us gave an emotional appeal for people to read it and love it and support them as they felt the story would come under controversy.

GEORGE is about a 4th grade named George who, while a boy on the outside, is a girl on the inside. George wants to be Charlotte in the class’ upcoming production of Charlotte’s Web, but only girls can audition. George hides the fact that internally she is female, especially from her family, but ends up telling her best friend.

This is a very touching and sensitive story about a child struggling with their gender identification. I absolutely loved George. I felt the story was written from the heart and sensitively portrayed a young person in the midst of establishing their identity.

My challenge with GEORGE was when I think about what age to recommend it for. It is written for middle grades (3-6) but I’m not sure that age could appreciate and understand it (reading it on their own) unless it is something in their own experience. It’s more of a middle school read in my opinion. That said, I have several adults that I will recommend it to.

I’m sure some will take issue with this story. I’m sure some won’t like it. But I think it’s a lovely and sensitive portrayal that deserves to be read and shared.

Review: GIRL AT WAR by Sara Nović

I’d been seeing a lot in the blogosphere about GIRL AT WAR, the debut novel by Sara Nović, so I was thrilled to find it on the “new release” shelf at the library!

Young Ana is only ten when war breaks out in her home country of Yugoslavia. Ana lives with her parents and younger sister in Zagreb, and soon their days are an endless parade of air raids, food rations, and disrupted harmony. But it is during one day, on a trip home from a doctor’s office, that the war touches them irreparably and Ana’s life is forever changed.

Ten years later Ana is living in NYC when she realizes that in order to come to terms with her past, she must return to Zagreb. Spontaneously, she boards a plane and returns to her homeland, looking for past friends and relatives and trying to reconcile her survival and her identity.

I found this book fascinating. Nović lived in Croatia and her story rings true. I tried to find out online how much of this novel was fiction and what could be memoir, but wasn’t successful — not that it matters, it is classed as fiction. I just could hardly believe that Ana’s tragic experiences could be the experience of many children – I don’t want it to be true. It is hauntingly real and unforgettable. I loved the writing and the voice of the protagonist.

Don’t miss GIRL AT WAR. You can find this book at an indie near you. I am an Indie Bound affiliate.


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Review: Eight Minutes by Lori Reisenbichler

When Kandy at MindBuck Media Publicity offered me an ARC of EIGHT MINUTES I thought it sounded like a fun thriller to read. Well, I was right! I basically read this whole book in one day as I couldn’t put it down!

EIGHT MINUTES starts with Shelly Buckner giving birth to her first child – a son. Her husband misses the birth because he is in a horrific crash on the way to the hospital, an accident that almost kills him (he is technically dead for eight minutes before they revive him). Life rolls along for this fairly typical small-town couple until their child, Toby, is three and he starts to speak of his imaginary friend, John Robberson. Unlike most children’s imaginary friends, though, John Robberson is different. He tells Toby a lot of detailed information about flying planes in Vietnam that Toby couldn’t have known, and he also is pressuring Toby to go visit “Kay”. Shelly worries about everything from Toby’s insecurities in being an only child to schizophrenia, while her husband Eric is almost staunchly at the opposite end of the spectrum: leave the kid alone, he’s fine. Then Shelly discovers that there was a real John Robberson – one who flew planes in Vietnam and who had a wife named Kay. A man who died the night Toby was born.

Yikes! This was one supernatural thriller that I couldn’t put down. Who is John Robberson and what does he want with Toby? And will the quest for answers end up alienating her husband and destroying their marriage? About one-third of the way through I was pretty sure I knew what was happening (and I was right) but I just kept reading right up to the last page.

If I had one disappointment, it was the ending. I wanted a bit more resolution written more explicitly. I went back and reread the end (never easy on a kindle) and I was still left thinking. That might have been the author’s intent (I assume it was) but I just thought a few paragraphs taking place about a year later, even if everything wasn’t answered or tied up neatly, would have been more satisfying.

If you like the supernatural and the bigger question of “where do we go when we die?”, then I recommend EIGHT MINUTES.

Thank you for my review copy!

You can find this book at an indie bookstore near you — I am an Indie Bound affiliate:


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Kids’ Review: BLACKWATER BEN by William Durbin

I received a copy of BLACKWATER BEN a while ago from my friends at University of Minnesota Press. They do wonderful books for young readers (usually historical fiction) that are rooted in Minnesota history and I’ve loved everything they have ever sent me. I have to apologize in that I managed to lose this book TWICE – a record for me – and it has taken forever for me to finish and review it!

BLACKWATER BEN focuses on young Ben Ward, who, in 1898, joins his father at a lumbering camp in the Minnesota woods to work as a cook’s helper. The life of the lumberjack is not an easy one, and Ben has to learn to navigate the different personalities of the crew, along with the somewhat distant personality of his widowed father. Along the way, a scrappy young orphan boy, Nevers, joins them, and Ben has a friend to help him work (and play). Ben wants to know more about his mother, though, and his father is not very forthcoming; a friendship with one of the men at the camp, though, may give him more information.

I really enjoyed this book, which is a great pick for middle grade readers. Ben has various adventures, but throughout, the reader learns a lot about life in the camps at that time. I loved the differing personalities of the various men at the camp. That was a hard life!

I thank University of Minnesota Press for my copy. I think this would make a great book for a school library or to be used in class.

You can find this book at an indie near you (I am an Indie Bound Affiliate):


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Review: THE CITY by Dean Koontz

I’ve always been a fan of Dean Koontz. I particularly like his creepy, supernatural work. I was thrilled to see his latest book on Net Galley, and was happy to receive an ARC (I also was one of the many bloggers hosting a Pub Day giveaway earlier this month). THE CITY was a bit different from Dean’s earlier works, which just shows his versatility.

In THE CITY, Jonah Kirk tells the story of a strange experience from his youth that shapes and guides his future. The story starts when Jonah is eight. He is a precocious child, and a musical prodigy, living with his divorced mother and near his beloved grandparents in “the city”. An odd woman appears to him and tells him strange information, which later plays a role in his life. This woman, we come to learn, is the heart of the city itself, a metaphor made human. She also magically procures a piano for Jonah. This woman, Pearl, appears to Jonah through the story, to guide and protect him as he comes in contact with several nefarious characters (including his estranged father) who threaten his livelihood and that of the city at large. Throughout the story (again, told by Jonah as an adult looking back) we come to know his hard-working mother, their widowed Italian neighbor, his feisty grandparents, best friend Malcolm, and – my favorite – their sensitive and intelligent neighbor, a survivor of the Japanese internment camps.

I enjoyed this book! I really loved the character of precocious Jonah. This book builds to a dramatic and violent climax, which was fairly upsetting, but Jonah’s spirit and tenacity shines through all the darkness. The ending was one of hope and resiliency.

I noticed that a prequel, “The Neighbor”, by Koontz was only 99 cents for kindle, so I purchased that as well. This story was creepy and highly disturbing, while it introduced us to Jonah’s best friend and neighbor, Malcolm. You can certainly read The City without reading it, but it does add a bit to character development.

Review: The Clearing by Dan Newman

Just in time for Halloween! Dan Newman’s THE CLEARING is a suspenseful story within a story. In 1976 four boys were playing the swamps and woods of St. Lucia when one of them dies. The others decide to keep the events surrounding his death secret and instead blame it on island superstition: the monster Bolum. Time passes and while lives are irreparably changed by the child’s death, life does go on.

Fast forward forty years to present day, and our hero, Nate, is returning to the island to put old ghosts to rest. However, in doing so, Nate opens up old wounds and upsets the precarious balance of society on the island. Soon he is being followed and attacked by scary men wielding sacrificed animals and vials of blood. Someone is trying to hush up the events of that night and will stop at nothing to keep Nate and anyone who helps him quiet.

I enjoyed reading this novel which read quickly and was rather thrilling. At the end things tied up pretty neatly, and I felt that Newman expounded the final conclusions a bit too much (just in case someone couldn’t figure it out on their own, I guess); however, all in all, I enjoyed this light read and kept going to the end. A little fantastic – yes. A good read for the Halloween season – yes!

I got mine as an ARC from Net Galley (Exhibit A Publishers) – thanks!

Quick Kids’ Review: “Pets at the White House” by Jennifer Pickens and Barbara Bush

I received “Pets at the White House: 50 Years of Presidents and their Pets” as an AR digital download through Net Galley. My children and I enjoyed looking through this book at all the wonderful photographs of former (and current!) Presidents and their beloved pets who have lived at the White House. There is a particularly well-developed section on the Kennedy years which had the dearest pictures of Caroline and JFK, Jr. as children with their many pets. Informational text is included, along with quote from many First Ladies about the role of pets in their lives. This was a keeper!

Thank you, Net Galley and Fife and Drum Press, for my copy!

Quick Review: January First by Michael Schofield (Releasing in August)

Through Net Galley I received an ARC download of this novel, whose full title is: “January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and her Father’s Struggle to Save Her”. I had heard about this book – I think on NPR – and was intrigued to read this true story.

January Schofield is a brilliant and precocious young girl with a vivid imaginary life. As January develops, however, her creativity and genius is occluded by what is finally diagnosed, at age six, as childhood schizophrenia. January’s case is marked by severe violence and almost constant hallucinations. Her doctors struggle to understand her and to find medications that will effectively treat her, while her family struggles to keep her (and her little brother) safe.

I found this novel to be an incredibly compelling read. I started it one evening and read through until 2 AM in order to finish it. I think one of the things that drew me to this book was how incredibly human the parents were. You could just feel how they were struggling and how they were willing to do whatever they could for their child (actually children), even if it meant living apart. Their painful journey is described in detail through the father’s voice.

Thanks, Net Galley and Crown Publishers for my copy!