****************NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST****************
The Best Thing About this Book is either what Bekah does for Nina in a time of need or the art works referenced and explored.
Premise: Nina loves her boyfriend Seth. She’ll do anything for him. She’ll worship him. But something about that doesn’t settle in to her experiences with her mom, who tells Nina there’s no such thing as unconditional love, and takes her to Italy to visit iconic sculptures of women.
Rating: 5/5 Target: 16 and up (technically YA, but I wouldn’t bookend it there)
Title: Make sure you know this nursery rhyme (called “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”) to be able to fully analyze this title. Elana K. Arnold adds assistance to understanding the title in the Author’s Note at the book’s end. Highly Recommend It. I’ll just give you this little teaser: “I now see that the stuff of girls is meant to be consumed — sugar and spice and everything nice — yummy sweet treats that melt in your mouth. And it reads to me now as a warning […]”
Main Character(s): Nina 16 y/o (she/him) with flashbacks to 14 y/o
Great for…* (readers): who want to think deeply about female gender roles and latent messaging in art and society.
Great for…* (teachers): I wouldn’t use this one in a classroom unless it’s past high school. However, selections could be used to study the female role in society and/or the nature of flashbacks and structure compounding overall meaning.
Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, holds nothing back in description of bodily functions, doctor visits, sexuality alluded to and pictured
Interact: What is your memory of nursery rhymes as a kid? (especially if you grew up with “What Are Little Boys Made Of”)
The Best Thing about this Book is that the perspective gives you a window into what it’s like to devolve into unhealthy body image beliefs, eating habits, etc.. BUT IT MIGHT ALSO BE the coach.
Premise: Sarah’s love of basketball drives everything in her life: from friendships to food. But when her body is performing the way she wants it to, and her friendships are knocking into problems, how will she respond? Especially when she’s feeling like she doesn’t always matter to her mom, who sometimes forgets meals, and her dad, who travels a lot.
Rating: 4/5 Target: 6-9
Title: The title references a history of women literally taking up less space than men, even making themselves smaller. It deals with body image and body size as well as positioning on a basketball court.
Main Character(s): Sarah, 7th grade (she/her)
Motifs (not exhaustive): food, body image, basketball, friendships, crushes, cooking, therapy, family, mother-daughter relationship, reading, health
Great for…* (readers): who have a friend or family member who suffers an eating disorder or disordered eating and for female athletes.
Great for…* (teachers): discussion around societal norms/expectations and pressures teens feel.
Parental Warning(s): I’m not sure I would send a kid, especially a target-age-range girl off to read this alone. Get into the weeds with this one.
Interact: Sarah develops a passion for cooking. What’s your favorite thing to eat and/or recipe to cook it?
***********GRAPHIC NOVEL AND NEWBERY HONOR BOOK***********
The Best Thing about this Book is the world of roller derby, of course. So fun.
Premise: Astrid has always been best friends with Nicole, but as they age, their interests are parting ways. While Astrid wants to learn to roller skate and participate in roller derby, Nicole wants to spend her summer at dance camp. Astrid must figure out her way on skates, in derby, in friendships, and family over the course of the summer.
Rating: 3/5 Target: 2-8
Title: This one’s more-or-less what you see is what you get: Astrid wants to be a roller girl.
Main Character(s): Astrid, 6th grade (she/her), 12 yo
Great for…* (readers): who are reluctant readers. It’s a graphic novel after all and the artwork is great. Good for goofy girls or edgy ones as well as athletes and roller derby enthusiasts. There is a girl power sub-element to roller derby that comes through in this book with few male characters.
Great for…* (teachers): This is not a book I’d use in class or as an assignment unless it were specific to the study of the structure of a graphic novels (perhaps in comparison to a traditional one).
Parental Warning(s): N/A
Interact: Have you ever been to a roller derby bout? Or would you?
The Best Thing About this Book is Biggie’s little brother, Maddux. The eleven-year-old displays the best character. He’s helpful and reliable if naive. However, his role is minor so not enough to win me over to the book itself.
Premise: Biggie is fat. It’s why no one calls him by his given name anymore. It’s also what propelled him to want to disappear from everyone else’s radar so they don’t make fun of him. For two years of high school, he got out of PE without his mom knowing it. Not anymore. And in his first PE class, he pitches a perfect game of wiffle ball. The girl of his dreams makes a comment that he should play for the school team, so he sets out to pitch a perfect game for the school. First, of course, he has to make the team in his ploy to win the girl.
Rating: 2/5 Target: 8th-12th grade
Title: It’s his name and arguably his identity. The book begins with the story of how he got his nickname, so it’s fitting — and it is about him when you break it all down.
Main Character(s): Biggie aka Henry, 17 y/o (he/him)
Motifs (not exhaustive): obesity, dating, goals, high school relationships, cliques, bullying, teasing, baseball, perfection, anxiety, identity, athletics, broken families, step fathers, family dynamics, social media
Great for…* (readers): N/A
Great for…* (teachers): N/A
Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, crude reference to female body, sexual reference/innuendo
Interact: Does a negative review make you want to read a book more than a positive one?
The Best Thing about this Book is the daily practice of sharing three things you’re grateful for in the morning (“three things”). Close second: M&Ms for breakfast
Premise: Until her mother’s marriage changed Bea’s life, it was just her mom and her, the Embers girls (with fist bump). Marrying Wendell means a step-dad, step-brothers, step-pets, and, the reason for it all, a half-sibling. Now Bea is part of a blended family and all the chaos that comes with it.
Rating: 4/5 Target: 3-7
Title: I’ll say it. As a Lindsey Stoddard fan, I’ve been less than impressed with the titles of her books. “B” is for blended. It sounds lower grades elementary though the book is not (and, yes, it does relate to a moment in school referenced below in the interactsection). Bea is her name. And the primary conflict is the adjustment into a blended family, so there you have it. I’ll see if I can wiggle my way into the Stoddard camp to amplify these titles.
Great for…* (readers): who are part of blended families or moving to a new location, girls in general (though it’s not a girls-only book), athletes.
Great for…* (teachers): I’d love to do a character study on this one — where you work with shadow traits (the negative side of a positive trait) and then analyze shadow traits for yourself. OF COURSE, there is the concept of equity in sports and double standards of gender which could branch into many levels of inconsistencies in culture.
Parental Warning(s): Bea and her mom have their own versions of swear words.
Interact: At one point in Bea’s class, the students introduce themselves with the name game we’ve all played at one point: the first letter of your name turns into a trait you possess. EX: K is for keen or B is for blended. What’s yours?
Premise: One school week in the lives of online Scrabble friends Charlotte and Ben are eventful. Charlotte’s begins with being called out of class with the news that her dad is in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Meanwhile, Ben’s parents announce their divorce. Though the two kids do not attend the same school (they don’t even live in the same state), they both have to learn what friendship means in the midst of the most difficult challenges of their lives.
Rating: 3/5 Target: 3-7 grade
Title: The statement, “You go first” is repeated several times throughout the novel and has to do with taking risks and being vulnerable in relationships and other settings.
Main Character(s): 6th graders Charlotte (she/her) and Ben (he/him)
Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, isolation, change, trauma, bullying, scrabble, board games, nerds, social group, empathy, public speaking, student council, regret
Great for…* (readers): who are experiencing the shifting sands of friendships during tweenagerdom or isolated socially.
Great for…* (teachers): structure! This is essentially two novels that parallel one another than then intersect. There’s not much in here that requires guidance for young readers, so it could be a great Lit Circle or independent reading book.
Parental Warning(s): None.
Interact: What’s your favorite board game (or online game played by more than one person)?
Premise: Simon is a musician. But he can’t hear. So how can he continue to study music, create music, play music? And, most of all, experience music he will never hear again? Everything about music seems impossible to him. If Simon is going to have a happy life, he’s going to have to accept his new sensations and his new modes of communication — but can he?
Rating: 3/5 Target: 9th-12th grade
Title: The first thought about where the title comes from is the premise. And it seems, for much of the book to be just that, but there’s more to it that has to do with a performance I won’t get into because I don’t want to spoil anything.
Premise: Molly and her brother Kip must find a way to support themselves without their parents, so they book posts at an isolated home in an avoided wood in England. When they arrive, they discover something peculiar happens there that causes the house’s inhabitants to become sickly — and there seems to be a man who roams the house each night. Who is he? Why is he there? And what is happening to this family? Find out in this paranormal fantasy thriller.
Rating: 3/5 Target: 4-9
Title: You guessed it. The man in the premise (above) is the night gardener. I won’t tell you why he’s called that, though, but he drives the plot in more ways than one, so it makes sense that he’d have the title of the book.
a pinkyandthebrainhomage by KZ Rochelle (of course)
Before diving into this episode, see what K & Z were up to in the previous episode of The Days of Our Pandemic or follow K & Z from the beginning.…
K stepped solemnly into the bathroom. In her hands she held a small cardboard box no larger than a shoebox. “Here it is, Z.”
“Here it is, K! This is it! Our hope! Our dreams of getting out of these four walls are finally coming to fruition! Here! In this moment! And you cannot unhinge us with your reckless ineptitude.”
“You think I’m unhinged, Z?”
Z glanced into K’s eyes without adjusting the position of her head from its centered view of the shipment. “Yes, K.”
“You do?” K asked, sorrow creeping into her voice for the first time in a long time.
“Yes, K,” Z said.
Z fixated on the box.
“What does unhinged mean?”
At this, Reader, Z saw an opportunity. And, Reader, she took that opportunity.
“Unhinged? Unhinged describes someone with an unusually strong sense of commitment to do what’s right, to endure through momentary pain, to inflict a bit of a poke, for the good of one’s self and others.”
K’s chin rose higher with each word. Higher and higher until she stared at the ceiling.
“And you think I’m unhinged, Z?”
“Most definitely, K.”
K stood as erect as Z. Her face determined. “Let’s open this shipment, Z.”
“Let’s,” said Z.
K grabbed at the packaging tape with her bare hands. She ripped it off like a bandaid. She opened the cardboard flaps and unveiled a white, foam box like an ice block.
“It’s inside there,” directed Z.
K gave her a nod and proceeded to open the remaining packaging and all its sealants until all that was left was a single vial.
“Now,” said Z, “the magnetized syringe.”
“That’s the moving thing, Z?” said K as she watched two components wiggle and slide across the counter toward the vial she held.
“Yes,” said Z.
“Yes!” said Z. “This is the moment, K. This is the time. Take it in your hand like this.” Z held a lip gloss tube to demonstrate for K.
Entranced, K followed Z’s instruction.
“That’s it. That’s it.”
K held the syringe. The syringe held the vial.
“Hold it up to the bruise on your arm.”
K’s trance broke. “Which bruise, Z? Look how many I have.” K pointed with the needled and began counting with pride. “One, two, three, four, five, six…”
“Number five! Number five!”
“Number five. Number five.”
“Num-ber five. Num-ber five.”
“…seventy-seven! Seventy-seven bruises, Z. Which one.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so way back at the beginning of counting?” said K.
Z opened her heavy eyelids and stared at K until her eyes glossed over. No words made their way out of her mouth.
K lifted the vial of mRNA and its needle of delivery up to her shoulder.
The movement of the needle roused Z.
Z said, “Now all you must do is jab it in on the count of three, and the mRNA will do the rest.”
“The messenger will do the rest?” asked K.
“Pardon?” Z forgot for a moment that she’d informed K of the true name of mRNA, the full name, the extended form name which, of course, began with messenger. “Oh, yes.”
“On the count of three.”
“Can we do five?” asked K.
“You want to count to five?” asked Z.
“Right-o, Z,” said K. “It is bruise number five.”
“Go ahead, K,” said Z.
K, misunderstanding Z as usual, thought Z wanted her to go ahead with it. She said, “No numbers or counting then, Z. Right-o.” And she thrust the needle into her arm.
Z watched and a grin spread like a virus across her face. “You’ve done it! I’ve done it! We’ve done it!”
“We did it! We did it!” K skipped one, two, three, four, five times before the desire to skip drained a bit. Her skips became slower, heavier. She walked, step by step, in her own bathroom, and she noticed she held a vial in her hand. It looked unfamiliar to her. A vial with a needle attached. How did it get there?
“Well, that’s dangerous,” she said and set the materials down on the counter.
As she did, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. She turned her head to the left and examined her right side.
“Looks good,” she said.
She turned her head to the right and examined her left side.
“Looks good,” she said.
She tipped her lips up to one side, gave herself a nod, and said, “You, KZ Rochelle, are about to have a very good day.”
And with that, she turned, she exited the bathroom, and she called to her sons, “Xander, Xaivier, grab your things. We’re leaving. Let’s go visit your cousins.”
Inside the lavender home with blue violet trim on Wonky Way Lane, a family fluttered with unusual activity. Previously, these people had been confined to their home for over a year of their lives. They shared experiences they’d never hoped to, like running out of paperclips and baking loaf after loaf of banana bread and learning morse code and turning the bathroom into a water park and then…
They went outside the walls of the lavender home with blue violet trim. Xander picked a goldenrod wildflower. He smelled it. He wiped the pollen and stem residue on Xaiver.
And they went on, Reader, to interact with their cousins and others. They hugged. They played soccer, shot basketballs, attended school and church. They noticed the green of the leaves. They smelled the jasmine. They engaged their senses in the world outside.
Thus it was that sanity returned.
this story has been brought to you by the insane mind of author, KZ Rochelle
Outside the lavender home with blue violet trim on Wonky Way Lane, a pair of peregrine falcons soared on the breeze over a rabbit den, flapping their wings and paying no particular attention to the bunnies below. Prior peoples have seen a harbinger herein, but such as those had long since considered the signs in the skies. They’d traded them (in an unsought barter) for the signs of insides.
In front of the bathroom mirror in said Wonky Way Lane home, the following scene took place. Observe, dear Reader, from your safe distance on the far side of the screen lest you spiral into what you discover. Or perhaps, you have already….
“Today is the day, K,” Z said from inside the mirror.
“What day is it, Z?” K asked.
“Today is THE day, K. THE day. The day we’ve been waiting for.” Z looked at K expectantly.
“TH, TH, THE day.” K pondered. “Is today Thursday, Z?”
“The day of the week is irrelevant!” said Z. “Today is the day we escape the world enclosed by these four walls.”
“Of course it is, Z. That’s the same thing we do every day.” Z rolled her hazel eyes.
K misunderstood and tried to roll her eyes as well, but she ended up tossing her head back and hitting the crown of her head on the wall behind her.
A perturbed groan emanated from the wall itself.
K and Z both ignored it.
“I’m glad you finally understand that, K, but today is not like every other day.”
K rubbed the back of her head. “I understand lots of things, Z. Like the chemical potential –”
“Yes!” Z interrupted K. “The chemical potential.” She raised a single finger. “That’s precisely what I mean.”
“Huh?” K still rubbed her head. She needed to make sure her thought-maker hadn’t been dented. Afterall, she had some very interesting thoughts stored there.
Z pushed her hair from her eyes, styling it without the means of a mirror — as she was in the mirror. “I have been working…”
“Right-o, Z. You’ve been working.”
“…on a project destined for success.”
“Yes, yes, success,” said K.
“And the shipment I ordered arrives today.”
“Oooooooh.” K’s eyes widened. “Is it a present?”
“Yes and no, K,” said Z.
“Yes and no?” K cocked her head and squinted one eye as though she’d been squirted with lime juice — which, Reader, she had not been, even though Z often wished for a lime with which to squirt K. “How can it be both yes and no, Z?”
“Because not everything is black and white, K.”
“Of course not everything is black and white, Z. Look around you. There’s red and green and blue and orange and purple and —”
“Quiet is not a color, Z.”
“I know that, K,” Z said while trying to collect her calm.
“But if quiet were a color, I suppose it would be —-”
“No, K. Irrelevant is not a color either. Should we call my kindergarten teacher?”
“Oh, good gracious.” Z’s head flopped onto her upturned palms.
“I don’t know if I have her email. Or phone number. Or Meet. Or WhatsApp. Or Marco Polo. Or –”
“Anyway!” Z interrupted K’s spiral.
“Yes, Z. Anyway, quiet would be off-white,” stated K.
Z’s eyes peeked out from between her fingers. “Did you say off-white?”
“Off-white,” K said with one definitive head nod like a period.
“She must be off, right?” Z whispered to herself.
“Right-o,” said K, still punctuating her previous comment and unaware that Z had said anything since.
“Can we get on with this?” asked Z.
“Certainly,” said K.
Z arose. She presented her best posture. “I have arranged for an important shipment of very specific messenger ribonucleic acid which you will use with this lancet to inject yourself.”
K shrieked. “A messenger is coming to lance me with acid?! Z, I do not want to leave here in a body bag. I would rather stay inside these four walls.”
“You will not stay inside these four walls and you will leave on your own two feet!” Z said.
“I don’t care if they hold me up on my two feet if I’m inside a body bag,” K informed Z.