September 4, 2015

Audiobook: My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante
Translated by: Ann Goldstein
Read by: Hillary Huber
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's a few mild swear words and some frank talk about not-quite sex. It's incredibly slow with a lot of narration rather than dialogue, but I'd give it to a high schooler who was interested in historical fiction. It's in the adult section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up because I've heard good things about Ferrante from our translation book club (they only read works in translation), and because I needed a book in translation for my bingo card.  (Which I'm going to end up being three squares short from getting a blackout. I read a lot.) I didn't know much about it, going in, so I didn't think I had any expectations. (I did however, expect to really enjoy the narrator, which I did.)

What it turned out to be was a very slow, intricate, detailed portrait of a girl, Elena, in a neighborhood in Naples, Italy, and her (somewhat obsessive) relationship with her best friend, Lila. This first book is a lot of set up: their lives -- Lila is the daughter of a shoe repairman; Elena the daughter of a porter, whose mother has a wandering eye and limp and is cruel -- and their relationship -- mostly competitive, mostly on the side of Elena -- to each other. They meet in elementary school, where Lina is the smartest and the best. But because she is poorer than Elena and because her parents won't be bullied by the teacher (there was a lot of bullying by people in this), Lina drops out of school while Elena continues.

And yet, everything Elena does is because she wants to seem important to Lina. She wants Lina to look at her and feel like she Needs Elena in her life. And yet, for the most part, she doesn't.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, I adored Huber's narration, the way she embodied the characters (and how effortlessly the Italian names and places came off her tongue). She really is a talented reader, and I love listening to her. But, I'm not sure I figured out what was so great about the novel. I was interested enough to keep reading; the character's lives were intriguing and, yeah, I guess I did want to hear what Elena and Lina would do next. But, in the end, I don't know if I cared. I finished the book and kind of went, "Huh." Maybe it's because I don't read a lot of books like this (both translated as well as adult fiction), but it just kind of washed over me.

Not that it was bad. It just wasn't something I was terribly enthusiastic about.

September 2, 2015

Full Cicada Moon

by Marilyn Hilton
First sentence: "I wish we had flown to Vermont instead of riding on a bus, train, train, bus all the way from Berkeley."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy sent to me by the publisher rep.
Content: There isn't anything objectionable, and it's a novel in verse so it'd be appropriate for the younger readers. Good for conversation as well. It'll be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Mimi Yoshiko Oliver is obsessed with space. It's 1969, the height of the space race, and she wants to be an astronaut. The problem? She's a girl. No one takes her desire seriously, especially in her school in Vermont. It also doesn't help that she's Afro-Asian, one of the only people of color in an all-white community.

As she goes through seventh grade and the beginning of eighth, Hilton gives us Mimi's struggles and triumphs, from her attempts to get into shop class -- there are some pretty strong gender norms in the late 1960s --
to her struggles to make friends. There are lots of stories about racism in the south in the 1960s. It was actually quite refreshing to be reminded that even northerners had issues with civil rights.

It's a lovely novel in verse, as well. Hilton captured Mimi's sense of wonder an awe at the world around her as well as her desire to go into space. It wasn't overly detailed, something which might bother some readers but I found I didn't mind. Perhaps it's because I'm older, and I remember what it was like (sort-of). But, I also think it was a conscious choice on Hilton's part to make it more accessible to those reading it. So, on the one hand, it's historical fiction. But the other, it didn't really feel all that much like it.

Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Mimi and her family, as they adjust to a new home, broaden their horizons, and have a memorable year.

August 31, 2015

August 2015 Round-Up

Busy. That's how I would describe my life right now. Busy at work, busy at home. Busy busy busy. And yet, I manage to squeeze in a book or two here and there. I'm in need of a vacation. Good thing KidlitCon is coming up! I hope to see some of you there!

There was so many good books this past month, I hated to choose just one. But if I HAD to, it'd be this:
Appleblossom the Possum
So adorable.

As for the rest:

Middle Grade
Confessions of an Imaginary Friend
The Joy of Living
Adult Fiction:
Something Fresh (audio)

The Wonder Garden
Everything Everything

Goodbye Stranger

Graphic Novel:
Sunny Side Up

Baba Yaga's Assistant
What were some of your favorites this month?

August 28, 2015

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend

A Memoir by Jaques Papier
by Michelle Cuevas
First sentence: "Yes, world, I am writing my memoir, and I have titled the first chapter simply this: EVERYONE HATES JACQUES PAPIER."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 4, 2015
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: Aside from a few big words, this one is written at an 8-year-old's level. I'd give it to 3rd-graders and up. It'll be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

For all eight years of his life, Jacques Papier has been happy. He has a wonderful twin sister, Fleur, and even though is parents seem to ignore him and the weiner dog, Francois, hates him, he's pretty happy. Then one day, in second grade, his is forced to face this realization: he's imaginary. This sets off both an existential crisis and an adventure as Jacques figures out what to do now that he's no longer "real".

It's a pretty simple premise, but Cuevas executes it brilliantly. It's framed as a memoir, and her voice for Jacques is spot-on. I love the other imaginary beings he comes across in his travels, and the way he becomes the imaginary friend of several other children. It's scattered through with drawings (I think done by the author), which just adds to the whimsy of this one. And the ending is incredibly sweet without being too saccharine.

I adored it.

August 26, 2015

Everything Everything

by Nicola Yoon
First sentence: "
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 1, 2015
Review copy picked up at CI3 and signed by the author.
Content: There is a few mild swear words, and one sort-of on-screen, sort-of-off-screen sex scene. The publisher has it listed for grades 7 and up, which puts it in the YA section, but I might move it to the Teen (grades 9+).

Madeline has spent her entire life inside. White furniture, white walls, filtered air, the whole deal. It's because she has Severe Combined Immunodefiency (SCID), which basically means she's allergic to the world. Any little disease, any little microorganism will kill her. So, she stays inside, reading, doing her online school.

And then Olly moves in next door.

Okay: yes, the plot is predictable. Boy moves in next door, they meet and have instalike, and suddenly the girl is questioning her Life Choices and Taking Risks.

But I ate this up. I don't know if it was the short chapters, snippets of Madeline's thoughts and observations, interspersed by some charming line drawings. Or the parallel worlds between her being trapped inside her house because she's sick and Olly being trapped because of his abusive father. Or just the chemistry between Madeline and Olly, which was fantastic. Or the fact that Madeline was Afro-Asian, and yet it wasn't really an issue. She just was. Her mother is suffenciently controlling (for good reason), and I adored Carla the Latina nurse, who was really more of a mother figure to Madeline.

And all of this added up to overcome the predictable plot and make me fall for this book. Another absolutely amazing debut.