Just Like Jackie (Lindsey Stoddard)

30 Apr

Fair warning, Squinks: This story will hit you in the feels.  Multiple times.  Definitely pick up Just Like Jackie for your next read.

 

Just Like Jackie Squinklethoughts

1.  It’s not that I had low expectations of this book, but as an avid MG readers, I generally have a good sense of how an MG reading session is going to go.  It’s one of the great comforts of this genre that readers should expect some comedy, some angst, some magic (maybe), and a lot of heart.  Just Like Jackie has all of these, which makes for an excellent reading experience.

2.  First off, I was so mad for the first five or six chapters.  Everything Robbie feels in the opening pages, I’ve felt, too.  The injustice!  The utter cruelty of Alex and Robbie’s teachers/principal!  I can’t believe she was made to return to school even after everything that happens in the opening pages.  That would so not fly in today’s world.  I was seething at some points that I seriously considered giving up the story and throwing the book across the room, just so I wouldn’t be mad.  But I’m glad I didn’t, and if you feel this way after the first few chapters, too, trust me … keep reading.

3.  I firmly believe that for some people, all it takes is one teacher to believe in you for you to believe in yourself.  Of course, you can have many supportive teachers in your life, but how early you’re lucky enough to find the first can make all the difference in your entire academic career.  With the way things are going in Robbie’s life, she’s incredibly fortunate that her school counsellor, Ms. Gloria, has the patience and tenacity to keep trying to help her and the other kids.  I’m willing to bet that Robbie, Alex, and the other kids in the group will never forget Ms. Gloria.  And she really saves the reading experience for me.

4.  It’s so hard to watch someone’s memories slip away.  I think it’s much harder to experience than simply seeing someone grow weak with age because you can’t really see memories failing.  But you can certainly feel it, and it brings incredible sadness for everyone who’s friends with the person affected by it.  Robbie is sweet and caring, and every time her heart breaks over her grandpa, my heart twinged with sadness, too.  What a situation to have to deal with at such a young age!

 

Just Like Jackie 2

 

5.  I’d have loved to have learned more about Robbie’s family background, but I suppose it’s not necessary.  However, considering the family seems to have had so much drama, I was really looking forward to reading more about the past.

6.  I’m so glad Robbie has friends like Derek and Harold to get her through her days.  They’re incredibly loyal, treating Robbie as if she were family, which makes the ending more optimistic than it might have been.

7.  Teachers/parents: There are two things I particularly enjoyed about this story.  First, Harold has a husband, and the two adopt a baby.  It’s not a major plot point in the story, but I’m glad, all the same, that it exists, especially considering Robbie has to deal with issues surrounding her grandpa having darker skin colour than her.  I liked that the obstacles stemming from these are explored, but that neither racism nor homophobia overpowers the other troubles Robbie faces, namely her grandpa’s failing memory and the school bully.  Second, Stoddard’s writing is so fluid that I lost myself in the authenticity of Robbie’s voice.  Her emotions are so real and heart wrenching that I found myself, on multiple occasions, tearing up on the subway and streetcar from everything Robbie has to deal with.  If you’re thinking of including Just Like Jackie on your bookshelves or reading list, you might want to keep this in mind when considering your readers.  This story affected me more than I anticipated, and it’s a great one for all readers to experience.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Lindsey Stoddard’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Harper Collins, for sending me a copy of Just Like Jackie in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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Together at Midnight (Jennifer Castle)

26 Apr

I love stories about the end of the year, which is really what drew me to this one to begin with.  Add to that the premise of practising random acts of kindness, and I was sold!  Together at Midnight is a sweet story about finding yourself while being kind to others.

 

Together at Midnight

Squinklethoughts

1.  I started reading Together at Midnight way past midnight, and I was already on page 81 by the time I realized an hour had passed.  I had meant to just start the book to get a feel for it, but the first few chapters flew by really quickly.  If you like fast-paced stories and short chapters, you’ll love this.

2.  Kendall and Max are equally strong and compelling narrators.  It was great to read the story through their distinct voices.  Kendall is a very lovely flawed character.  She’s just spent a semester abroad in a school program that takes kids across various European countries.  For her, it was the perfect way to earn credits while undergoing teaching and learning styles that she could handle.  As the youngest and only girl in the family, Kendall has had supportive parents and siblings throughout her life, but there are some struggles she has to face alone.  Kendall is a great protagonist for anyone who’s ever felt just behind every one else – grasping academic concepts a little slower, or enjoying social milestones a little later.  She’s friendly and brave and optimistic, which makes it easy for other characters to like her, even if she can be hard on herself, but she really just needs time to grow.

3.  I was rooting for Max all the way.  He seems like the ultimate gentleman when it comes to his treatment of both Eliza, his erstwhile girlfriend, and Kendall.  He’s also a caring person, as evidenced by his relationship with his curmudgeon of a grandpa, Big E.  But what I like about Max best are his flaws.  Sometimes he cares a little too much, and that turns him into a helicopter parent, or – worse – he derails his life to help someone, even if he’s not asked to do so.  He actually reminds me a lot of Ted Mosby, architect.  He is inherently kind and obviously smart to have been accepted to Brown, but he, too, needs a little growing up.

4.  The adventures in this book take place during that fuzzy week between Christmas and New Year’s when you don’t know what day it is, but you’re thankful it’s still the holidays.  I love that.  I also love Castle’s decision to set this story in New York City, in and around the hustle and bustle of Times Square, a beating heart of a metropolis if there ever were one.  So many different cafés to try out, so many different people to observe.  I’ve been to NYC a handful of times now, and it’s so easy to see why Kendall and Max’s challenge works well here – and why the city itself helps the two of them evolve.

5.  I’m often wary about multiple narrators within a story, but Castle’s choice makes perfect sense.  In fact, knowing the thoughts of the people that Kendall and Max encounter adds a wonderful depth to the story for the readers.  It’s like a very satisfying instance of dramatic irony, especially when the two protagonists aren’t sure if they’ve helped or hindered their targets.  We, the audience, know the consequences of their actions, and it makes our journey so much better.

6.  There are so many quotable quips throughout the book that would look great on posters.  In particular, I loved:

It’s possible to have no regrets but also wish everything were different.

Every minute of being with [him] took effort, and not that I have anything against effort, but when you experience a different way of being with a person, stuff begins to make sense.

Together at Midnight 2

 

7.  Teachers/parents, Together at Midnight is a nice addition to your libraries.  There are a few discussion points that would be more appropriate for senior-level students, but nothing too earth shattering.  What your YA readers will take from this story is what I did: It’s entirely possible to be a wonderful human being even if you’re far from perfect.  Also: random acts of kindness can go a long way even if you can’t see their effects.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Jennifer Castle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Tumblr | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Harper Collins Canada, for sending me a copy of Together at Midnight in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Never That Far (Carol Lynch Williams)

5 Apr

Have you ever lost someone that you never imagined losing?  Did you worry that the pain would never go away?  Never That Far by Carol Lynch Williams is a sweet story about a girl who loses her best friend but cannot lose herself in her grief, for she’s got a very important mission to accomplish.

 

Squinklethoughts

1.  What drew me to this story was the very heart of the plot: Libby’s grandfather dies, and her world is turned upside down.  I was super close to my own grandpa, and even though he didn’t die suddenly, we only had a couple of weeks from the time he got sick to the time we had to say goodbye.  I knew instantly that I wanted to read Libby’s journey of grief.  I think others who have experienced the profound loss of a beloved family member will appreciate this story, and even if you haven’t, you’ll still take away so much from Libby’s narrative, especially how she tries to honour her grandfather and the rest of her family.

2.  The characters in Never That Far are so different from one another that it’s a wonder Libby manages to juggle them all in her life.  Her dad must be a nice-enough guy, but in his grief, he becomes so withdrawn from his daughter and the world around him that I wonder if that isn’t how he was even before his dad died.  Bobby is refreshing as someone who doesn’t easily dismiss Libby’s “crazy” idea that her grandfather visits her at night.  I also like how he seems to really care for her, even though his sister, Martha, isn’t on the same page.  There’s something to be said about people who defy their parents’ orders just to help out a friend.  Not that I’m condoning disobeying your parents, Squinks … just that it works out in this novel.  Preacher Burls is not my favourite character at all, even as the story progresses and she shows a lot of good will towards Libby.  But that’s my own thing.  Maybe others will completely understand where she’s coming from.

3.  I like that Williams chose to include colloquialisms and spellings that reflect Southern American speech.  It really added something unique to the story for me.  Since I’m not from Florida where the story is set (or even from the surrounding areas), I really felt transported to Libby’s family’s groves whenever I read the dialogue or Libby’s thoughts.

4.  The idea of dead people revisiting the living is, I know, a controversial one.  Never mind all the religious beliefs that can be subscribed to (or rejected) by this idea, just the logical and emotional aspects of it are enough to make the premise a difficult one to grasp for many readers.  My suggestion is that you read this novel with an open mind and an open heart, remembering that in the same way we don’t all find joy in the same things, we all deal with sadness in different ways.  I like how Williams gives us an idea of how some people might deal with a loss.  It might not happen the same way with me, but I can appreciate Libby’s story all the same.

5.  **POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT** … Teachers/parents, I know that some people think that death and coping with loss might be too mature a topic for middle-graders to deal with.  I think otherwise, and I’d like to offer you my humble opinion: the sooner that children read about this very real and painful part of life, the better it will be for them to start grasping its inevitability.  Someone somewhere may very well be saved (or, at least, his/her pain will be lessened) by knowing that someone else, albeit a fictional character, has endured the same sorrow and come out relatively unscathed.

 

4 squinkles

 

Carol Lynch Williams’ Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Blog | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of
Never That Far in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Love Sugar Magic #1: A Dash of Trouble (Anna Meriano)

13 Mar

Squinks, if you’re looking for a story brimming with magical adventures and misadventures, with a healthy serving of heart and humour, then you must read Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble.

 

 Squinklethoughts

1. I love origin stories about magical people.  I think that’s what drew me to the Harry Potter series because the pitch involved a boy who learns he’s a wizard.  In A Dash of Trouble, Leo(nora) discovers that she and the other girls in her family are brujas – witches with magical powers that are passed down the matriarchal line.  It was really interesting to read about how Leo discovers her family secret and how she handles (bumbles) it.  I totally would’ve bumbled it, too, I bet.

2.  Leo is a sweet character who does many wrong things for the right reasons, and these choices are sources of great conflict – and comedy!  While her stubbornness at not leaving experimenting with magic left me saying out loud, “Don’t do it!” as if she were a movie character taking a shortcut through the woods at night, the thing is … I totally get her.  It’s hard to listen to people who are trying to prevent you from growing up or developing your skills.

3.  I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as the youngest in a large household, but I bet I’d be as frustrated as Leo is, having to watch her sisters, mom, and aunt work to make their family panadería successful, all while being told that the best way to help is to stay out of the way … for four years!  At 11, Leo is too small, too young, too green to start doing magic, but what she lacks in age and experience, she makes up for in enthusiasm and heart.  I have a sneaky suspicion I wouldn’t have been able to wait four years either.

4.  I like the friendship between Leo and Caroline.  I also like that Caroline has a sad back story, which is probably one of the reasons that Leo wants to help her out so much.  It’s nice to find good, loyal friends at a young age.  I also really appreciated Meriano’s development of Brent’s character.  Rather than being a “typical” boy that middle-grade girls (and girls of all ages, come to think of it) stay away from because of cooties, Brent is kind—often sweet—to Caroline and Leo.  It’s a welcome change from other stories with female protagonists that often brush boys aside.

 

  

5.  There is so much to love about this story, and I’m glad it’s just the first in a series.  I really want to know more about Leo’s mama, abuela, bisabuela, and tías.  I definitely want their stories and Leo’s sisters’ stories to appear more in the next books.  Their personalities and magical powers are so different … there is so much potential for great plot lines and conflicts in subsequent tales.  And Leo’s dad.  Well, he’s a Pandora’s Box I can’t wait to open.  (Be careful what you wish for?)

6.  One of the best things about this book is how liberally Spanish words and phrases are sprinkled throughout it.  Because I code-switch all the time at home (and even at work, when I don’t realize it), it was so natural, but also refreshing, for me to have Leo and her family speaking a combination of English and Spanish.  Meriano offers readers a great avenue to learn a bit about this beautiful language and the cultures from whence it came.  This is definitely one of the unique strengths of this novel.

7.  Teachers/parents, I very much recommend this book for all your MG readers, especially if they’re into magic, sisterhood, and learning a little of the Spanish language.  I bet the follow-ups will be even better!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Anna Meriano’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, HarperCollins Canada, for sending me a copy of Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Lost Rainforest #1: Mez’s Magic (Eliot Schrefer)

22 Feb

Readers who love stories about animals, unlikely friendships, and near-impossible goals will love Eliot Schrefer’s The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic.

 

Lost Rainforest - Mez's Magic Squinklethoughts

1. I love stories about unlikely friendships and partnerships.  What better way is that demonstrated than in a story where a panther, fruit bat, tree frog, and capuchin monkey join forces to defeat a common foe?  I love Schrefer’s choice to use rainforest animals as defenders of their world.  It only makes sense that those living in Caldera would have the most reason to want to keep it safe.

2.  Mez’s relationship with her sister, Chumba, is so sweet, and one of my favourite parts of the whole story.  Their banter and the way that Mez looks out for Chumba all the time really makes you fall in love with Mez right from the start of the novel.  Add to that their double defense against Mist, their luminous cousin, and you’ve got a great sister tag team that I hope will make it into the other stories.

3.  Speaking of other stories, Mez’s Magic is the first in a planned series of books, each of which will be told from the perspective of one of the animals.  In general, I don’t like having multiple narrators, but in this case, because Lima (the bat), Rumi (the frog), and Gogi (the monkey) are all delightful and unique, I can imagine how successful having each of them as narrators in the following books could be.  I particularly love Rumi’s nerdiness – he totally speaks my language!

4.  There is a lot of action in the back half of the story, which was great because I enjoyed the animals’ journey to the ziggurat, and was kind of worried that there wouldn’t be as much adventure when they got there.  I love that there’s even a ziggurat in the book (great teachable moment), though it was hard for me to imagine all the panels on the ziggurat that the animals were seeing.  I hope subsequent books will include them.  I can see a set of playing cards or collectible cards being made from all the creatures and places in this story.  Schrefer has created a richly detailed world!

 

Lost Rainforest - Mez's Magic 2  

5.  Teachers/parents, I have no trouble recommending this book for your children’s bookshelves.  The compassion of Mez and her friends are really important to encounter in literary characters, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed this story.  I wonder though if maybe you want to wait ‘til the second book comes out before getting this one because you can bet your little readers will be clamouring for the next as soon as they turn the last page!

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Eliot Schrefer’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, HarperCollins Canada, for sending me a copy of The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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