Hey, Kiddo: A Review

January 17, 2020

 Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

  • Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction

Genre/Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir, MG/YA Graphic Novel

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

Normal is a setting on the dryer….

Jarrett Krosoczka knows from a very young age that his family is complicated. His mom is an addict and unreliable; his father is absent in every way and Jarrett doesn’t even know his father’s name. Jarret’s grandparents rescue, adopt, and raise him. As a teenager, Jarrett gains a deeper understanding of his complicated family and embraces his love of art as a lifeline.

Jarrett Krosoczka’s TED Talk

My Thoughts:

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With the Fire on High: A Review

September 17, 2019

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High Review.png

Genre/Categories: Contemporary YA Fiction, Cooking, Multi-Generational Family, Coming of Age

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

Emoni Santiago is a responsible, creative, and determined teenage mother. In addition to caring for her young daughter, living with and helping to support her grandmother, and navigating her classes as a high school senior, Emoni is well known for her extraordinary cooking skills. For her, cooking is an artistic adventure. A new culinary arts class is offered at her school along with a class trip to Spain. Given all her responsibilities and financial situation, can she possibly risk everything to follow her dreams?

Amazon Rating: 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

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On The Come Up: A Review

June 6, 2019

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

On the Come Up Review

Genre/Categories: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction, Homelessness, Poverty, Family Life, YA Music, Racism

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

The daughter of a Garden Heights rap legend, sixteen-year-old Bri’s greatest desires include making it as a rapper, making enough money to take care of her mom and siblings, and moving out of the neighborhood. Bri is distracted at school by her rapping goals and neighborhood performances. At home, her mom has lost her job and the family is facing unpaid bills, shut off notices, an empty refrigerator, and the threat of homelessness. Suddenly, Bri not only wants to make it as a rapper, now she has to make it. Bri makes some impulsive decisions as she fights to make her dreams a reality. This is a story about fighting for your dreams against the odds as it portrays the realities of poor and working-class black families. Author Angie Thomas has experience in the art of rapping and her authentic voice fills all the spaces in this realistic story with vivid details of the Garden Heights community and its memorable characters. Although the story takes place in the same community and makes a reference to the shooting at the center of The Hate You Give, this is not a sequel to THUG and can be read as a stand-alone. Each book is a unique reading experience.

My Thoughts:

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Paper Hearts: A Review

May 21, 2019

Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

Paper Hearts Review

Genre/Categories: WW11, Holocaust, Jewish, Young Adult, Poetry, Friendship, Survival

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

In Paper Hearts, two unforgettable girls find themselves tragically imprisoned at Auschwitz during the Holocaust and become friends. Through the bonds of friendship and a bit of defiance, Zlatka and Fania find bits of hope and a will to live. In this true story, Zlatka, along with the help of a few other girls, masterminds making a surprise birthday card for Fania. A secret project that would be a crime punishable by death if caught, each girl signed the paper hearts card with her hopes and wishes for happiness, love, and freedom. This heart is a symbol of defiance and is one of the few artifacts created in Auschwitz that has survived and can be seen today in the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre in Canada. (see an article link and image below)

My Thoughts:

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Review: The Dreamers

December 14, 2018

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

the Dreamers 2

Genre/Categories: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopian, YA

The Dreamers Summary:

Virus. A remote college town in the hills of drought stricken California sets the scene for this story and a strange illness/virus that causes its victims to fall asleep and experience vivid dreams. No one can wake the first college age victims and soon the virus spreads throughout the town, randomly affecting young and old alike. The town is quarantined and the National Guard is called in to enforce the quarantine and monitor supplies. The Dreamers is a story about the people affected and their reactions and actions.

My Thoughts:

Thanks #netgalley and #randomhouse for my free copy of #thedreamers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Dreams. Have you ever had a dream that was so real that you had difficulty orienting yourself to a wakeful state? Have you ever pondered the meaning of your dreams? Have you attempted to make sense of your dreams? Do you think dreams can predict the future? Or have you wondered about the passage of time while you sleep? Have you even been asleep briefly but had a dream that seemed to last a long time? Have you experienced dreams about people who are no longer alive?

Unique. The Dreamers came to me at exactly the right time. Usually science fiction is a genre I’m tempted to pass over. Yet, I’m thrilled I took a chance on reading The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker. Even though I don’t read a lot of science fiction, I became intrigued by several reviews of The Dreamers from respected reviewers on Instagram, Goodreads, and in blog posts and I was very much in the mood for something different. Once I noticed this title, I knew I had to see for myself! I hope you, too, will give this unique story a chance.

Not Too Weird. Because I don’t typically read science fiction, I truly appreciate the mild nature of this character driven story. There’s nothing too weird, grotesque, or frightening. The strange illness that causes victims to suddenly fall into a deep sleep from which they cannot be awakened strikes young and old alike and at random. Some victims sleep longer than others and as the epidemic spreads from the college students and throughout the town, it’s a challenge to keep all the patients alive under quarantine conditions. As victims wake up, they report having vivid and realistic dreams and a few struggle with the meaning of the dreams and have difficulty adjusting to life outside of the dream state. The virus disappears as mysteriously as it appears. the prose is lovely, and the story told from multiple points of view is a quick read, engaging, bittersweet, and thought provoking.

Sleep. The Dreamers causes you to think about your own crazy dreams and about how you and your city would react in any crisis. Considering the dire circumstances, it’s a fairly gentle read as the college students and the town’s residents succumb to the most routine and ordinary part of a typical day….falling asleep. The eerie part is that they might fall asleep while mowing the lawn, making dinner, or walking the dog. For a few nights after finishing the story, I certainly thought about closing my eyes as I lay on the sofa or as I fell asleep for the night. If you have difficulty sleeping or experience troubling dreams, this might need a trigger warning. The story is like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Recommended. The Dreamers is a heartwarming story of community, individual survival, and neighbor helping neighbor. I highly recommend this story for readers who are looking for something a little different, for those who enjoy a mild science fiction selection with a touch of psychology and philosophy, and for fans of beautiful writing and a compelling story line. It would make a great vacation read, buddy read, or book club selection. I was left with a few unanswered questions though as the cause of the virus and the recovery are never fully explained.

Pub Date: 1/15/2019

My Rating: 4 Stars

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The Dreamers

Buy Here

Meet the Author, Karen Thompson Walker

Karen Thompson WalkerKaren Thompson Walker is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Age of Miracles, which has been translated into twenty-seven languages and named one of the best books of the year by Amazon, People, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Financial Times, among others. Born and raised in San Diego, Walker is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program. She lives with her husband, the novelist Casey Walker, and their two daughters in Portland. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon. Her second novel, The Dreamers, will be published in January 2019.



Happy Reading Book Worms

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



Looking Ahead:

Next week, I’ll post my review of Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Isn’t the cover striking?! This is a Middle Grade historical fiction selection and a diverse read.



My Fall TBR

I FINISHED ALL the books on my Fall TBR list! Usually I can’t get to every book on my list, so I’m feeling a sense of accomplishment. My winter TBR will post on December 21.



Links

Check Out My Gift Ideas For the Readers on Your Holiday Shopping List!

“Everyone Gets a Book!”

gift stack of books

In movie news….

Reese Witherspoon to produce “Where the Crawdads Sing”!



Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



Reading Challenges: Thinking Ahead to 2019

Have you ever considered a reading challenge? Here are the reading challenges I’m considering for the 2019 reading year. The first three are wonderful challenges for any reader. The last one is geared toward reviewers who are members of NetGalley or Edelweiss.

Modern Mrs Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge (very broad, doable categories that might provide some stretch in your reading life)

Goodreads Reading Challenge (determine how many books you’d like to read and track them through the Goodreads app)….the link is to my 2018 challenge….the 2019 challenge will be available at the first of the year.

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge (especially great for bloggers and reviewers who want monthly link up opportunities)

NetGalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge (link up opportunities for members of NetGalley and Edelweiss)



 Let’s Discuss

Do you like books that are outside your typical genres? Do you enjoy science fiction?

Are you finding time to read in December?!

It’s time to start thinking about your best read of the year!



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.

Review: The Map of Salt and Stars

August 31, 2018

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar (cover)

Genre/Categories: Fiction, Mythology, Folk Tale, Magical Realism, Coming of Age, Syrian, Story Within a Story

Summary:

The Map of Salt and Stars is really two stories. One story is contemporary and the other is a mythological folk tale that takes place 800 years earlier. In the contemporary story, Nour’s mother, a Syrian-American, a cartographer and painter of beautiful maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria after the death of Nour’s father. The mother feels a strong desire to live closer to her family. After they arrive in Syria, they experience effects of the civil war evidenced by protests and shelling in their quiet neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s home and neighborhood, she and her family and a close family friend of her father’s are forced to flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety.

The story within the story is a favorite folk tale that Nour’s father told her over and over again as a young girl. Nour loves the main character in the folk tale, Rawiya, who becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the region. Rawiya follows al-Idrisi on a journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where they encounter a mythical beast and fight epic battles.

There are strong connections between the two stories as Nour and her family are forced from their home to travel the identical route that Rawiya traveled eight hundred years earlier. Throughout the journey, Nour remembers and is inspired by the heroine of her favorite folktale as she faces similar challenges and fears.

Early Amazon Rating (August): 4.5

My Thoughts:

There’s a lot to like about this story!

Favorite Quote: “[King Roger] explained that he often came to the library at night. He motioned to the shelves of books, their spines polished gold, tawny brown, and russet leather. ‘Anyone who wants company and knowledge will find what they seek here,’ he said. ‘We are among friends.’ ”

Connections. Throughout the larger story, the two separate stories are connected in several ways. A few examples:

  • The characters in each story take a journey, have adventures, experience heartache, redefine the meaning of family, and hold out hope for ‘home.’
  • Both characters disguise themselves as boys.
  • Both girls grieve over the loss of a beloved father.
  • Nour’s mother is a map maker and painter while Rawiya is an apprentice to a map maker.
  • Both girls leave home and face grief on their journey.
  • The stories have some similar plot devices (one example among many is that Nour leads her family to safety [remembering the way to her father’s friend’s house] after their neighborhood was bombed and Rawiya saves her small expedition from a huge white attacking bird).

Themes. The story is filled with poignant themes including grief, beloved fathers, dangerous journeys, the comfort of stars, faith, and the search for home.

The Writing. Beautiful descriptive writing and sensory details fill every page of this story creating a memorable sense of place. Readers who appreciate figurative language will enjoy creative and descriptive phrases including fresh and unique similes, metaphors, and personification. The symbolism of salt and stars also encourages thoughtful reflection.

Compelling Characters: Meet Nour and Rawiya

Both main protagonists in The Map of Salt and Stars are young girls (coming of age). Nour and Rawiya are strong females with leadership qualities and are compelling characters (Cooler reviewers than me would call them “badass girls.”)

  • Nour is a bit melancholy, seriously reflective and thoughtful, has color Synesthesia, appears to have a photographic memory, exhibits leadership abilities, and is brave and daring.
  • Rawiya is fearlessly confident. She is best described in the following quotes:

When Khaldun (a young man) doubts that he can throw a stone high enough to kill Roc, the giant white mythological bird, Rawiya quietly and confidently says, “Perhaps I can.”

When she was discovered as a girl, she challenged her critics, “You once said I had courage, heart. That heart still beats. The body that cradles it is no large matter.”

…and my favorite….

I am a woman and a warrior,” Rawiya said, her blade cutting into his club. “If you think I can’t be both, you’ve been lied to.

Recommended. I highly recommend The Map of Salt and Stars for readers who appreciate historical fiction and stories set in diverse cultures, for those who seek stories of strong, independent, confident girls, for readers who would like an ambitious blending of a contemporary and a mythological story (with a bit of magical realism added to the mix), and definitely for readers with Syrian heritage. Even though this story is categorized adult fiction, I think mature middle grade girls and young adults who are looking for literary role models would be engaged by this story and be inspired by the female protagonists.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (rounded up to 5 Stars)

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map of salt and stars

The Map of Salt and Stars Information Here

Meet the Author, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Jennifer Zeynab JoukhadarJennifer Zeynab Joukhadar is a Syrian American author. Originally from New York City, Jennifer was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. She is a member of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI) and of American Mensa. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Kenyon ReviewThe Saturday Evening PostPANK MagazineMizna, and elsewhere. Jennifer is a 2017-2020 Montalvo Arts Center Lucas Artists Program Literary Arts Fellow and an alum of the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net.



QOTD:

Have you read The Map of Salt and Stars or is it on your TBR?
Do you enjoy the story within a story structure?
One book I read with this same story within a story structure is Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry



Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



My Summer TBR

I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read a good portion of the list (crossing off one more next week), some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)



Looking Ahead:

Over the weekend, look for my August Wrap Up post.

Next Friday, I hope to bring you a review of Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance.

clock dance

Amazon Information Here



Let’s Get Social!

Thank you for visiting and reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along (see subscribe or follow option), promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

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***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photos are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.

© WWW.ReadingLadies.com

Far From the Tree [Book Review]

December 22, 2017

Has your life been touched by adoption?

Some readers notice that this story feels similar to the NBC T.V. series This is Us…. and it is similar in its multi-layered sibling saga (from a teenage perspective) and especially a similar adoption theme. If you watch This is Us, you might remember in Season 1 how Randall describes his feelings growing up as an adopted child in a white family. These are similar feelings (as well as others) expressed by Joaquin, Grace, and Maya in Far From the Tree.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway (cover) Image: black text on a background of pinkish purple explosion of leaves

Genre/categories: YA Fiction, Social & Family Issues, Adoption, Siblings

Summary:

Far From the Tree is a contemporary YA fiction novel in which three biological siblings (placed for adoption or foster care as babies in separate families) find their way to each other as teenagers and discover a deeper meaning of family. The story is complicated because Grace, one of the three siblings, has just placed her own baby up for adoption. In addition, Joaquin, another of the siblings has experienced trauma growing up in the foster care system. The author tenderly explores each of their stories including the mistrust, feelings of aloneness, and individual hurts and disappointments. Far From the Tree won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Amazon Rating (December): Early Reviews: 4.6 Stars

My Thoughts: 

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Top Ten Books I Want My Grandchildren to Read

November 14, 2017

Do you have “books” written on your Christmas shopping list? If you’re looking for books as gifts for middle grade through YA readers this season, this post might give you some ideas.

Top Ten Tuesday

We’re linking up today for Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and the Bookish (above meme belongs to Broke and Bookish). Their prompt for this week is “Top Ten Books I want my Future Children to Read”…. that boat has already sailed, so I’m adjusting that to grandchildren….but this is a great top 10 list for any child in your life! Also linking up today with Modern Mrs Darcy for Quick Lit November 2017.

These 10 books are separated by age range but are in no particular order, and links to my reviews are included. These are books I recommend that parents/teachers/grandparents read alongside their children because of the rich discussion and teaching opportunities, and great literature can be enjoyed by all ages. Although specific themes are listed for each selection, the larger overarching themes for all selections include “diversity, building compassion, and understanding.” Follow links for full reviews.




“Top Ten Books I Want My Grandchildren to Read”




Middle Grades (grades 4-8, ages 9-13)

Wonder by R.J Palacio

Wonder

Join hundred of thousands of other middle grade readers across the nation in reading this best seller!

Themes: kindness, compassion, friendship, acceptance, bullying, fitting in

My Full Review Here

Purchase Information Here

Movie Releases November 17! (trailer here)


Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again

Read about the refugee/immigrant experience from a Vietnamese perspective. Beautifully written in free verse.

Themes: new culture, leaving your homeland, friendship, bullying, fitting in,
family loyalty, traditions, finding your voice

My Full Review Here (scroll down to second review on page)

Purchase Information Here


Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

Stella by Starlight

If you’re looking for an appropriate diverse and historical fiction selection for a middle grade reader (ages 9-12), I recommend this poignant story of Stella’s experiences with racism and finding her own voice as an African-American girl living in the segregated South (1932, Bumblebee, North Carolina to be exact).

Themes: prejudice, racism, finding your voice, writing, family loyalty,
community support

(I did not do a full review of this book but you can check out the Amazon summary using the link below)

Book summary and purchase information here.




Mature High School through Young Adult

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham

dreamland burning

Historical Fiction selection for mature high school through YA which culminates in the Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots of 1921.

Themes: racism, prejudice, finding your own voice, determination, bravery

My Full Review Here  (Scroll down page to find review)

Purchase Information Here


Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee

In this mature middle grade through high school historical fiction selection, we live the refugee experience from three perspectives. (a note of caution: even though this is shelved as middle school, I suggest this selection for mature middle grades because of its difficult themes of war and survival)

Themes: refugee experience, survival, leaving your homeland, kindness of strangers, family support, children forced to make adult choices

My Full Review Here

Purchase Information Here




Young Adult (YA)

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Glass Castle

Young adults might find this poignant memoir of homelessness and neglect engaging.  This book first came to my attention when my high school grandson shared with me that his class was reading it and that it was meaningful to him, and of course I wanted to share that reading experience with him. The movie was released in August and is now available on DVD.

Themes:  homelessness, family dynamics, sibling support, overcoming difficult circumstances, survival

My Full Review of Book and Movie Here

Purchase Information Here


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book Thief

World War 11 historical fiction from a young German girl’s perspective.  This is appropriate for older high school students through YA. An excellent movie was released in 2013. I have not written a full review of this book because I read it years ago, but you can find an Amazon summary by following the link below.

Themes: Holocaust, survival, kindness of strangers, sacrifice, friendship  

Amazon Summary and Purchase Information Here


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate You Give

This very current and relevant read deals with difficult racial themes, and also allows us a glimpse into Starr’s life as an African-American teenager living between her mostly white private school and her poor black inner city neighborhood. (***caution: language) I recommend this book for YA or especially mature older high school students who might be interested in a story they could see on the nightly news involving a confrontation between a police officer and an African-American male.  This book is currently in movie production.

Themes: racism, prejudice, friendship, family support, finding your voice,
code switching

See the Movie Promotion Here

My Full Review Here

Purchase Information Here


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea

For YA or mature older high school readers, an intense World War 11 historical fiction story from four different perspectives.
(note: serious survival themes)

Themes: World War 11, intolerance, survival, friendship, loyalty, 

My Full Review Here (scroll down page to find review)

Purchase Information Here



Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig


Ginny Moon

For YA or mature high school readers, a highly engaging and page turning story of a 14 year old girl who is on the Autism spectrum. Ginny Moon was recently listed on Amazon’s list of 20 top editor picks for 2017.

Themes: Autism, adoption, persistence, determination, differing abilities,
finding your voice

My Full Review Here

Purchase Information Here





Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

Looking Ahead!

I’m on track to review The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper on Friday’s blog.

The Other Alcott

Information and Buy Here

Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. We reached 2,000 views this week. Thanks! Every share helps us grow.

Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear if you’ve read any books from the Top Ten list? Do these look like reading selections your children or young adult would appreciate? Do you search out diverse reads when buying books for your children?

Ginny Moon [Book Review]

November 3, 2017

***This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Do you appreciate reading stories from a differing abilities perspective? Do you know someone on the spectrum or would you like to experience what that would be like? Are you a professional whose work involves persons on the spectrum? If you wonder what life looks like from the perspective of Autism, please continue reading and be encouraged to add Ginny Moon to your TBR.

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

GinnyMoon by Genjamin Ludwig (cover) Image: a girl holding a red backpack stands in an open grassy field with one lone tree in the background)

Genre/categories: YA/Adult Crossover Contemporary Fiction, coming of age, autism, family life, adoption, differing abilities

Summary:

Ginny is fourteen, adopted, a child on the spectrum, and is committed to saving her “baby doll.” In her fourth home since having been removed from her biological mom’s care, she has now been adopted by her “forever mom” and “forever dad.” For years, Ginny has been troubled about something that happened the night she was taken away from her biological mom and cannot think about anything else until she makes it right. Her “forever” parents and her counselor don’t seem to understand the extent of Ginny’s commitment or her concern, so Ginny is left with no choice but to attempt an escape.  Amazon Rating (November): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

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Refugee [Book Review]

October 20, 2017

Trust me: This is a great read!

“See us, he thought. Hear us. Help us.”

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee by Alan Gratz (cover) Image: a small child with back to camera in a small red rowboat on a stormy ocean

Genre: Middle Grade through Adult, Historical Fiction, Global Issues, Refugees

Summary:

Refugee is the relevant story of the refugee experience from three unique perspectives:

  • 12/13-year-old Josef and family are Jewish and attempt to escape Nazi Germany in 1938 aboard a ship bound for a country(Cuba) that will accept them.
  • 12-year-old Isabel and family are Cuban and flee riots and unrest in Cuba in 1994 on a homemade raft pointed toward safety in Miami, Florida.
  • 12-year-old Mahmoud and family are Syrian and seek to escape war-torn Aleppo in 2015 and relocate to Germany.

Even though these families are separated by continents and decades, their stories share certain similarities. Each journey is fraught with harrowing adventures, frustration, courage, resiliency, heartache, injustice, persecution, dangers, children assuming adult roles and responsibility, loss of childhood innocence and joy, and loss of family members. However, the families have hope that drives them forward. Amazon Rating (October): 4.8 Stars (this is a very high rating in which 88% of the stars are in the 5-star category)

My Thoughts:

Refugee is an important story because it gives refugees a face and a name, and the timeliness of the Syrian refugee family is relevant to current events.

I appreciated the tightly woven plot and seamless transitions between points of view. As the author worked to tie the stories together, the reader notices that all three journeys to safety involve a boat and that children are forced to take on adult responsibilities and worries. In addition, the kindness of strangers and glimmers of hope keep them going forward in each story.  Interesting parallels involve Josef fleeing Germany in 1938 and Mahmoud’s family escaping to Germany in 2015; furthermore, Josef’s family tried to gain entry into Cuba in 1938 and Isabel’s family sought to flee Cuba in 1994.

Refugee is engaging from page one and unputdownable. I never felt like I was reading a middle-grade selection except to reflect on how middle-grade readers might react to certain parts of the story. Yes, the story has 12-year-old narrators, but it’s the story of families and how they support each other in the most difficult circumstances. Even though adults will enjoy this story, it’s easily accessible for middle school readers (appropriate language, straight forward writing style, and not overly graphic or violent). That being said, the content is difficult at points (some events can be emotional and some historical perspective is probably needed). I recommend this for mature middle graders who are able to read this with a parent or teacher, and it will easily hold an adult’s interest as well and lead to excellent discussion opportunities.

The most powerful parts of Refugee include the author’s unique structure and smooth transitions between points of view of three refugee families. The POV from innocent children was especially powerful and moving, especially as the oldest children were forced to handle adult responsibilities and make difficult decisions. One powerful idea in the story was Mahmoud’s understanding of being visible or invisible. He learned through his life in Aleppo that being invisible helped him survive and avoid bullies; however, he quickly realized that refugees couldn’t stay invisible if they wanted help from the world. It’s only when people are visible (make waves, rock the boat) that people will notice them and take action. In his own words:

“They only see us when we do something they don’t want us to do,” Mahmoud realized. The thought hit him like a lightning bolt. When they stayed where they were supposed to be–in the ruins of Aleppo or behind the fences of a refuge camp–people could forget about them. But when refugees did something they didn’t want them to do–when they tried to cross the border into their country, or slept on the front stoops of their shops, or jumped in front of their cars, or prayed on decks of their ferries–that’s when people couldn’t ignore them any longer.

Even though some readers might consider the ending slightly contrived as two of the families intersect, I appreciated a somewhat uplifting ending.

Refugee rates as one of my most memorable reads of the year and is highly recommended for readers age 12 through adult who are searching for a riveting histfic read, for parents and/or teachers who are looking for diverse reads to build global empathy and understanding of the effects of war and oppression and the refugee crisis, for book club members who are interested in discussing challenging themes.  *Caution: It’s my opinion that even though this is shelved as middle grade (grades 5-8), younger children in this range might find the occasional violence and harsh realities too much for them. It’s actually perfect for high school readers who already have helpful historical knowledge of the events. I would encourage parents to “buddy read” Refugee with their younger middle-grade children. It might be an especially interesting read for any families who have relatives that came to America as a result of being “sponsored.”

My Rating: 5+ Stars

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Relevant: A book for younger middle-grade readers (but also enjoyable for adults) with a similar refugee theme might be Inside Out and Back Again (reviewed here as an “extra” in this post).

Refugee

Refugee Information Here

Meet the Author, Alan Gratz

Author, Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz is the author of a number of books for young readers, including Refugee, Ban This Book, Prisoner B-3087, Code of Honor, Projekt 1065, the League of Seven series, and The Brooklyn Nine. I live in the mountains of western North Carolina with my family, where I enjoy reading, playing games, and eating pizza.

 

 

 



QOTD:

I’d love to hear in comments if you’re planning to put Refugee on your TBR. Does the refugee crisis topic interest you? Do you enjoy reading diverse books? Do you seek out titles that differ from your go-to genres? Do you think middle grade and/or YA selections can be appreciated by adults? Or would you rather that I not alert you to outstanding fiction for different ages?



Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Extras:

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (cover) Image: large black text over an orange spiralIn last week’s blog post, I indicated that I would review Turtles All the Way Down by John Green this week. I read it, but then I read Refugee after that and loved it so much more that I changed my mind on the blog’s focus this week–because, above all, I’m committed to bringing you recommendations for the best of what I read. I’m including a brief reflection of Turtles All The Way Down here in the extras in case you were looking forward to the review and are a John Green fan!

 

Genre/Categories: YA, social and family issues, mental illness, coming of age

Strengths:  Turtles All the Way Down deals with a very important subject and I’m assuming the author represents an authentic voice…..I appreciate that the reading experience allowed me to gain additional understanding of OCD and I loved Aza and was deeply moved by her thoughts, angst, and experiences. It is important to know that the inspiration for this book came from John Green’s own personal experiences with OCD.

Weaknesses: A lot is going on—which probably is typical of a teenager’s life and the YA genre (mother/daughter relationship, best friend, school, coming of age, boyfriend, lizard, crime-solving, astronomy, abandoned/neglected boys, etc); and the plot was meh because there were too many things happening on multiple fronts and many details that didn’t make sense in the story (e.g. a high school kid gets $50,000 and doesn’t tell her mom?). Other readers have highly rated this book and/or love John Green so I encourage you to read it and form your own opinion.

My Rating: 2.5 Stars rounded to 3 Stars

For the Amazon rating, summary, and purchase information click here.


Looking Ahead:

I have a couple of ideas from recently published titles regarding my next read, but I haven’t finalized my selection. I’m waiting for Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (contemporary chick-lit fic) to become available on Overdrive (library app) and I recently bought If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss (Appalachia setting) which looks promising. Subject to change if I find something better! What are you reading this week?


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