Vlog Review: Taking Up Space

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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?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Roller Girl (a graphic novel)

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***********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

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, identity, truth, change, sport, strength, female strength

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?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Bea is for Blended

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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 interact section). 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.

Main Character(s): Bea, 6th grade (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): family, teamwork, girl power, unity, change, friendship, communication, reading, bullying, strength/confidence, doing what’s right, gratitude, soccer, sports, blended families, broken families, equity

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?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Impossible Music

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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.

Main Character(s): Simon, 18 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): identity, music, communication, Deaf culture, art, Auslan, sign language, family, teen relationships, health, mental health, depression, suicide, dreams, commitment, courage, community

Great for…* (readers): who love music or medicine or Deaf culture (or want to learn about any of those). Simon is a bit detached to begin with, so it takes a while to get into the read.

Great for…* (teachers): This one is a pretty easy read. It’d be best used in small reading groups where you have a variety of elements you’re looking at — no one thing stands out in this one.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, regular physical intimacy (not seen or described)

Interact: Why would (or wouldn’t) you want to perform in front of a crowd?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: American Betiya (scbwi emerging voices winner)

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Premise: Rani’s Indian immigrant parents want her to focus on school and not get distracted by other things, especially not boys. So when Rani meets and falls for Oliver, a senior at her high school who has tattoos, she has to keep her American world with Oliver separate from her Indian world with her family. But how long can Rani keep Oliver a secret before her parents find out she’s sneaking around with him?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 10th-12th grade

Title:  The title of this book sets the conflict on the cover: two cultures that look separate must somehow become one in protagonist Rani (betiya is a Hindi word meaning daughter).

Main Character(s): Rani, 18 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): Indian culture, family, romance, first love, friendship, racism, objectification, cultural awareness, cultural appropriation, privilege, expectations of others, art, photography, sexuality, tradition, identity

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a conflict of cultures or are children of immigrants, kids who have high expectations for themselves or whose parents have high expectations for them, anyone trying to figure out what love is and looks like as a teen or young adult

Great for…* (teachers): foreshadow, internal/external conflict, and discussion around racial and cultural respect

Parental Warning(s): Regular cursing, sexual innuendo and descriptions of acts (not graphic)

Interact: Oliver is Rani’s first love. They meet at an art show but already go to school together. How did you meet your first love or what is your dream for meeting your first love?

If you like the culture conflict in this book or learning a little about Indian culture, try this book.

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Pippa Park Raises her Game

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Premise: Pippa Park loves basketball and her friends, but her family wants her to excel in school. When Pippa’s skills earn her a place at an elite, private school, her family jumps at the chance to send her as a scholarship student. The kids at Pippa’s new school are all wealthy, and Pippa’s family is working class. She’s reminded she does not belong even by the food she brings to lunch (Korean delights). So Pippa plans to make a new version of herself, one that will impress the private school kids and hide where she comes from. But how long can she fake a front?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-7

Title:  Of course there’s a basketball assumption here, but Pippa’s basketball skills have very little to do with the plot. They get her into the school, but that’s about it. Raising her game has more to do with her sense of acceptance for who she is — and possibly her math grades.

Main Character(s): Pippa, 7th-grader (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): acceptance, belonging, authenticity, friendship, cliques, passions, family, social status, economic status, sacrifice, bullying, Korean culture

Great for…* (readers): who are drawn into the drama of being popular or just struggling to accept themselves in middle school. (The fact that the cool kids are called the Royals rings very Mean Girls to me.) The basketball could be used to draw a non-reader athlete in as it does start the book, but the sports won’t hold their attention as they fade into the background pretty quickly.

Great for…* (teachers): Lit Circles — I wouldn’t recommend this as a core novel, but as free reading and even guided reading groups absolutely. The publisher specializes in scaffolding such things with resources.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: Food plays a repetitive role in Pippa’s narrative. Pick a question: (a) which food from the book do you want to eat? (b) what’s your favorite thing to eat? (c) Why is the significance of food, and specifically Korean foods, in this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Other Words for Home, a novel in verse

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Premise: Division erupts in Jude’s hometown in Syria, causing her brother to side and react differently than her father and sending Jude and her mother to live with family in Ohio. Jude needs courage to leave Syria and begin a life in the U.S. but she also needs courage to face a culture that sees her as someone who does not belong, as someone “middle eastern,” and figure out what home really means when everything is different than it was before.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-7

Title:  Jude must improve her English skills while living as a refugee in the United States, so the title can be taken literally, but there’s much more to the concept of home than a word.

Main Character(s): Jude, 12 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): culture, hope, home, bravery/courage, war, change, terrorism, war, dislocation/refugees, language, middle eastern/syria, anti-refugee behavior, EMPATHY

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate deep thinking OR who are intimidated by the text on a page (as this book is written in verse).

Great for…* (teachers): Symbolism and discussion, discussion, discussion. There is so much in this book that lends itself to deeper meaning than just the words on the page (thereby also playing into the motif of language/communication). The book can be used to challenge preconceived notions and assumptions, so, again: discussion!

Parental Warning(s): Anti-refugee behaviors and words but no cursing

Interact: Who or what means home for you? (Consider sights, scents, textures, etc.)

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Right as Rain

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Premise: It’s been 278 days since Rain’s brother Guthrie died, and Rain and her parents are moving 288 miles to have a fresh start (even if her mom is the only one who wants one). What happened that night is a big who knows to everyone except for Rain, but that secret means Guthrie’s death is her fault. With her secret and very few other items packed, Rain moves to NYC to process through the loss of her brother and the degradation of her parents’ marriage while she tries to fit into a new environment where she’s off on the wrong foot. (Check out the motifs section, there’s a ton of issues brought up by this book — and all well done.)

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: The title’s meaning remains open to numerous interpretations — so it’s a great discussion point post-read. I’ll wait for you to tell me your interpretation before I divulge mine.

Main Character(s): Rain Andrews, 11 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief/loss, depression, friendship, moving, change, divorce/separation, gardening, teamwork, community, homelessness, gentrification, otherness/belonging, poetry

Great for…* (readers): who have friends experiencing grief. As a mother of kids with nuclear family member loss, I want to give this book to all their friends so that they get an inside perspective of what it’s like. Also good for kids who feel alone, different, isolated, or are experiencing change.

Great for…* (teachers): This book is rife with figurative language and symbolism. It even weaves poetry in (as a school assignment), so it’s kind of asking for work on that front. Many allusions to The One and Only Ivan make for a great pairing if Ivan comes first.

Parental Warning(s): For children who have experienced death of a nuclear family member, this book could stir up difficult emotions.

Interact: Rain runs to wipe her thoughts away and empty her brain. What works for you?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Book Review: French Exit

I’ll tell you from the beginning. This is a post to declare to you that I would make a fabulous casting director. Or possibly a self-deceiving cheat.

I’ve finished reading French Exit by Patrick DeWitt.  I always want to add an article in front of the title, declaring this book to be about the French exit, but apparently there are many French exits, several in the book, more in reality. 

Anyway, I picked it up, knowing it was in production to be a film — but I didn’t know it was a finished film. In theaters now (in LA and NYC). 

The several French exits in the book are declared early. Fanny Price has gone broke. Her immense wealth that grew upon her marriage has run dry. Absolutely. Nothing left after seven years of warnings from her financial advisor Mr. Baker. When the money runs out, he asks Fanny what her plan had been through those seven years. Her response epitomizes her character: “My plan was to die before the money ran out. But I kept and keep not dying, and here I am.” 

Here, at the time, is stateside, but without a place to stay she soon finds it necessary to head to Paris where a friend has an apartment where Frances may stay. She travels to France with her son because it’s their only option (exit 1), all the while with the plan to rid herself of her final spending money and do as she planned: die (exit 2). But she’ll do it her way, as much as she can. 

DeWitt presents Price fully formed, take her or leave her, and take her you must. She’s just quirky enough, just witty enough, and just sane enough to be mesmerizing beyond her beauty. 

When I first began reading, I envisioned Price as Hepburn with a Brynn Mawr accent, an elitist prig from the early scenes of The Philadelphia Story. But as I read, as DeWitt presents flashbacks that explain the why of what you the reader already know the character is, Price took on more color. She could not be caught in the black and white films of Hepburn, held in the distance by time. No, she was fully-fleshed if standoffish, with a flat American annunciation. Her voice became Michelle Pfeiffer’s, flat and flavored as in I Am Sam where her character must hold it all together for appearances sake.

And this is where I return to my premise for this post. Can you guess which actress plays Frances Price in theaters? Why, none other than Michelle Pfeiffer herself. The character could not be played by anyone as well what with the coupling of physical beauty Pfeiffer possesses with her paradoxically cold voice with undertones of rich emotion — such that it made me wonder if DeWitt wrote the novel with Pfeiffer in mind for the role. If he did, he got what he wanted. 

Either way, I got what I wanted and thus I proclaim myself a great casting director without any other evidence than that which I’ve just noted (and will tell myself that is sufficient evidence to make a case — I’m not claiming I’d make a great lawyer). Either that, or somewhere I caught a glimpse of Pfeiffer in the role and have given myself the credit all the while keeping my conscious self from this knowledge. Deceiving at least myself and possibly you in the process. Take your pick.

But if you want to read this book, you’ve got to want to read it for the dark humor and intoxicating horror of Price, whose grown son lives with her because he wants to and she wants him to. Their relationship keeps Malcolm Price from marrying his fiance. (I’m still perplexed as to why the fiance is interested in Malcolm, but that enigma is never meant to be explained. The Prices are an addiction. Logic need not have anything to do with it. And like all addictions, they’re rather dark and a bit dirty.) The book centers on Frances Price, but it’s not necessarily about her. Once you’ve read it, think about it. Tell me: is the book about Frances or Malcolm or someone else altogether? I’ll be interested to know.

Oh! By the way… I’m eager to see this movie — I hope it’s as arty as I want it to be. And since I’m already a fantastic casting director, I can confidently declare it’s in the film’s best interest to follow the notions I’ve never voiced regarding its most apt aesthetic.

Rating: 3.5/5
Target: adult readership, 16 y.o. and up

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RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Book Review: Anxious People

The structure is the meaning. The meaning is the structure. The structure’s in the meaning. The meaning’s in the structure. If that’s too much for you, you may want to either skip this read or read it without much care.

I admit it. When I started Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, my first Backman book, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the short, choppy chapters that read as unique short story submissions to literary journals with flashpoints in the final lines that change the entire reading of the story. Again and again and again. One was good. Two okay. Then, it irritated me. I couldn’t get my feet on the ground of this narrative without having Backman purposely launch me off them.

The interjections of interviews with equally irritating, if not obnoxious, characters proved nothing if not a nuisance.  

Precisely as they were meant to do. 

This will be a short review (if you can call it that) because I have no intention of revealing the plot resolution of Backman’s book featuring a bank robber without a robbery and a hostage situation with the “world’s worst hostages.” You’ll have to experience the details for yourself. But here is what I’ve come to conclude: despite all that Backman himself will tell you the book’s about (in the text itself, he will use the phrase repeatedly), if you can trust him, the story is about isolation and connection. 

The jagged pieces that begin the book are reflections of the characters themselves: intriguing, well-crafted, but ultimately awkward in how they attempt to be more than alone. Because as the reader, I was somewhat lost in the nameless characters and their stories at the start, I found myself like them, weighing whether or not connecting to these characters is worth it. The more they revealed, the less annoying the characters were, and the more I recognized bits of myself in them. 

That’s the genius of this narrative. You find yourself in characters who you assumed were nothing like you. You connect with them as Backman transitions from his short, stop-and-go chapters to lengthier ones. Even the shorter interviews reveal connections you may not anticipate and which bolster the meaning of the narrative.

The book is well done and meaningful. It is unusual and unique, like we are, yet immensely relatable, too. Also, like we are. If that seems enigmatic or problematic or paradoxical, well, you’ll just have to read Anxious People to understand what I mean.

Rating: 4/5
Target: adult readership, 16 y.o. (not due to word or subject-matter but due to nuance)

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RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend