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You Go First (Erin Entrada Kelly)

30 Oct

If anyone needs a reminder that one person can make a difference in the life of another, this is the book for you.  Kelly’s sweet story will touch young and old alike.

 

You Go First

Squinklethoughts

1.  Charlotte and Ben are two average middle-schoolers trying to get through life that’s recently thrown them a few curve balls.  It’s hard enough for Charlotte to deal with her dad being in hospital after a heart attack, but now she has to navigate the murky waters of a BFF breakup, too.  Ben, meanwhile, has to resolve his feelings over his parents’ imminent divorce while juggling bullies and a bid for a student-council position.  Thank goodness Charlotte and Ben find one another as they’re dealing with their separate issues.  Even a friendly text now and then can ease the burden of a particularly terrible day.

2.  I’ve been in Charlotte’s position of dealing with the death of a friendship.  I’m glad Kelly doesn’t make it dramatic or messy – no big showdown in the cafeteria or confrontation in the girls’ washroom.  Sometimes friendships end quietly.  But I’m really happy that the pain of going through this kind of breakup is conveyed throughout the story.  I’m also especially pleased that there’s no scene where the adults try to help her deal with the end of that friendship.  Sometimes adults forget what it’s like to be kids, and no matter how well-meaning their intentions are, life (and later generations) don’t always work the way adults think it does (or should).  Sometimes two people just shouldn’t be friends, and that’s okay.

3.  On the other hand, I think I was waiting for just a bit more emotions from Ben towards his parents.  He stews about the divorce on his own, which I totally get, but I was left hanging when the family don’t really discuss much of anything related to it.  Even just the the logistics of living in different houses and the repercussions of not seeing both parents every day, I think, would be a pretty big change for any middle-grader.  Also, considering the huge scene at the end, I wanted to read about just deserts.

4.  I’m glad that the ending of the book isn’t incredibly tidy, but hopeful nonetheless.  I would have liked a bit more interaction between Charlotte and Ben, considering their lives intersect at some point.  I’ve only read the ARC version, though, so perhaps there’s an epilogue or something in the final copy.

5.  The dual-narrative structure here works very well.  I particularly enjoyed Kelly’s subheadings and preambles at the start of each chapter, which I found myself eagerly anticipating.

6.  Kelly’s writing style is very pleasing, and I think that’s one of the reasons my students have enjoyed this book so much.  Each character has a distinct voice, for sure, but there’s something inviting about the way Kelly writes.  It’s as if she knows the right combination of words to make kids feel safe and welcome in her story, and at the same time, she evokes memories in her adult readers about what it was like to be young once.  I’m very much looking forward to reading The Land of Forgotten Girls and Kelly’s other works.

7.  Teachers/parents: I read somewhere that a reader didn’t like this book because he/she thought the author is encouraging kids to be strangers on the internet.  Um, no.  That completely misses the point.  Yes, Charlotte and Ben do meet online, but on a student site geared towards and exclusive to student scrabble players, which means that registration is probably verified and monitored by teachers who actually know the kids.  It’s also made clear that Charlotte and Ben had been playing using pseudonyms for months before they eventually became friends, and even then, they had a hard time discussing personal issues.  The way the two meet, which can absolutely be addressed by parents and teachers, shouldn’t take the focus away from the comfort and stability that each character brings to the other.  There’s so much to love about this story.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Erin Entrada Kelly’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Greenwillow Books, for sending me a copy of You Go First in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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Squint (Chad Morris & Shelly Brown)

14 Oct

Middle school is hard enough, but imagine having to go through all the craziness of school while also losing your vision.  In Squint, Morris and Brown introduce Flint, a very sweet and uplifting character who’s going blind and is not part of the in-crowd, but who finds solace in drawing his comic book and making a new friend.

 

Squint Squinklethoughts

1.  Squint (real name Flint) is such a nice guy.  I wish there were more kids like him.  He’s very observant about the dynamics of school and how people interact with one another.  He’s also quite honest about his fears about losing his sight, not finishing his comic book on time, and generally not ever being accepted.  What I love most about him is his authenticity.  The story is told from his perspective, and I think my students will really find a friend in him because he tells his story well.

2.  McKell is also a great character.  It must be difficult dealing with a terminally ill sibling.  It’s one thing to deal with death, but even at my “mature” (ha) age, I still find it hard to hear that someone my age is dying.  Mostly, I’m happy that McKell chooses to not follow her friends in the way they make fun of Squint.  I’m hoping that someone who reads this story will be inspired by McKell deciding to befriend him instead of treating him poorly.  Imagine what both of them would miss out on if they had never met.

3.  I love that Squint lists various rules.  In fact, I think they would have made great chapter subtitles!

4.  This whole narrative gently nudges readers to consider their choices carefully without seeming too … preachy, for lack of a better word.  When Squint’s grandpa encourages him to be proud of the hard work he puts into his drawings, it highlights the idea that quitting, while sometimes easier, is not necessarily the best choice.  And when Squint comes into the kitchen with a glint in his eye, and his grandma tells him that his grandpa would advise him to treat his friend really well, it was a much nicer way of teaching Squint to be considerate of others.  You catch more flies with honey, they say, eh?

 

Squint 2  

5.  I like the multimodal aspects of the story.  Besides the rules that Squint mentions periodically, there are comic-book excerpts and text exchanges between the characters.  They enhance the story simply by giving readers a break from the traditional narrative format.  More and more, I see my young readers devouring these kinds of texts.

6.  Teachers/parents: You’ll definitely want to add this story to your shelves.  It’s a nice way to introduce readers to topics like fitting in, making friends, being sick, getting advice from your grandparents, and ultimately accepting who you are.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Chad Morris’ Online Corners
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Shelly Brown’s Online Corners
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Thanks, Shadow Mountain, for sending me a copy of Squint 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.

Don’t Cosplay with My Heart (Cecil Castellucci)

26 Dec

My last new read for 2017 is Don’t Cosplay with My Heart by Cecil Castellucci, and you’ll love it if you’ve ever felt like any fandom universe is sometimes much better than the real world.

 

Don't Cosplay with My Heart

Squinklethoughts

1.  The cover and title totally hooked me.  I love the girl’s pink hair and purple mask – they drew my attention right away.  Also, there’s a popular song that I grew up with called “Please Be Careful with My Heart”, and the title of this book made me remember the lyrics of the song, so I wanted to see how many parallels the two would have.

2.  Edan Kupferman, the heroine of our story, is going through so much.  I just feel for her.  What’s great (for the reader, not for her) is that she’s in an unusual quandary, so it’s not like I could have predicted how things would turn out.  In fact, I was quite surprised at how the problems within her family ultimately develop.  (All the more interesting for me is that there’s a bit of Hollywood and behind-the-scenes allusions to Tinseltown in the story.)  I like that Edan has a hard time telling her best friend, Kasumi, what’s really going on with her parents.  She tells the audience right away how close they are, but there are some secrets that are difficult to share even with best friends, and this felt really realistic for me.  I don’t know that I would have allowed things to develop the way Edan does, but her choices about this make the rising action more interesting.  I also love that Edan’s family is comprised of three strong women who are tested to the core.

3.  Yuri.  Ugh.  I did not like him right away.  I see why he might have been interesting for Edan, but I just felt like she fell under the whole sunk-cost fallacy.  She spent so much time pining for Yuri that she can’t see how terrible he is for her.  I mean … just his friends are hard to hang around with, and even Edan can see that clearly.  I wish there were more just deserts for Yuri, but I suppose Castellucci leaves that to the reader’s imagination.

4.  Just as Yuri is so ugh, I felt myself rooting for Kirk almost right away.  It’d have been great to have had a friend like Kirk in high school, though I’m sure I would have been just as emotionally invested in his home life as Edan eventually is.  Edan and Kirk work well for me because even though they have their own really difficult dilemmas to deal with, they both have enough compassion in them to help one another out.  This doesn’t always happen (and, for sure, I wish this had happened when I was in school), so to read about two characters who could think beyond themselves, even for a little while every so often, was quite refreshing for me.

5.  I’ve been to many cons and conferences (though none as big as SDCC), and I love that world.  I love being immersed in a fish tank of like-minded individuals for a few days.  Even though I don’t cosplay myself, I do wear tailored tees and other paraphernalia to show my fandom love.  It was particularly interesting for me to read about some of the rules, expectations, and backstage info about what happens in other cons (even the fabricated one here).  Castellucci writes about Disney bounding and ticket lotteries with an authority that makes me think she’s been to a fair (faire, ha) few cons herself.  If you are a “real nerd” (used in quotes because, well, read the book to find out why), you’ll love these bits in the novel.

6.  I loved all the back stories on Team Tomorrow, Edan’s fandom of choice.  These were the parts of the story that I thought were so well written, and I wonder if the author first thought of the Team Tomorrow backstory and just sort of built Edan’s story around it … which is so cool to speculate.  There are lots of details about the made-up characters (Gargantua, Green Guarder, Lady Bird, etc.) and real comic-book life (ashcans, story arcs, writer-illustrator-creator-producer relationships, etc.), and I really wanted to learn more.  Plus, there are tons of allusions to real fandoms that my Disney-Harry-Potter-Doctor-Who-Sherlock/Elementary-Murdoch-Mysteries-loving heart just eats up.  I guess I’m all about the behind-the-scenes stuff.  Anyway, the Team Tomorrow BTS pages were my favourite parts of the whole story.

7.  There’s one part though that I wasn’t too fond of, which is the constant references to boys objectifying girls and Edan being super feisty (or thinking about doing something super feisty) every time it happened.  I one-hundred-percent believe that girls should be treated with respect and should never be made to feel uncomfortable.  But I felt, more times than not, that the way the author presented this was unrealistic.  When Yuri’s friends are talking about how great a girl looks, Edan sometimes gets upset right away.  Maybe it’s because people who talk poorly about girls like they do wouldn’t stay my friends for very long, or maybe it’s because I think commenting on someone’s looks is not always demeaning nor are those looks mutually exclusive of a person’s intelligence.  I just can’t see myself getting as steamed as Edan does (and still being with Yuri … ugh again).  Either way, I think this would make a great starting point for discussions among my students.

 

4 squinkles

 

Cecil Castellucci’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTubeChapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Scholastic Canada, for sending me a copy of Don’t Cosplay with My Heart in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

The Adventurers Guild (Zack Loran Clark & Nick Eliopulos)

5 Dec

The next great adventure is upon us, Squinks.  Even if you don’t initially choose to be part of the Adventurers Guild, you will find yourself hooked and wanting more.  Clark and Eliopulos’ story  is one you must get your hands on right away.

 

Adventurers Guild Squinklethoughts

1.  One of the first things I look for in an adventure story is whether the main character has someone he or she can count on.  I don’t like stories where there’s only one main character traversing lands and discovering things on his or her own because there’s no one for that character to talk to, bounce ideas off, or just generally depend on.  I was in luck with The Adventurers Guild, for there are TWO main characters at the beginning of the story, with a handful more of important secondary characters that join by the end.

2.  Zed (the city’s only half-elf) and Brock (his handsome, long-time best friend) each hope to be chosen for the Mages and Merchants Guilds, respectively.  But just when they think they’re about to start new chapters in the lives as members of their guilds, Alabasel Frond, the Guildmistress of the Adventurers Guild chooses Zed.  How could Brock not follow his best friend, even though this guild is known for losing its members to fates worse than death?  Brock’s decision to volunteer for the Adventurers Guild because Zed is chosen may not have been entirely altruistic, but all throughout the story, over and over again, there is evidence of how much Brock truly cares for his best friend.  And Zed feels the same about Brock.  If I cared not at all for the story, that fact might have been enough to keep me reading.  Their friendship is one for the ages, and you just wish you could be friends with both of them.  These two characters are funny and fun to be around.  I’m really glad the authors decided to alternate the focus of the chapters between the two of them.  The story is still told from third-person perspective, but readers get a slight bias towards one of the boys in each chapter, which adds depth to each character in turn.

3.  I love the Guildculling and the energy and anticipation that surrounds it.  I’ve always enjoyed doing surveys or quizzes that sort me into a particular group, so I liked learning about the different guilds in Freestone and how each is responsible for the safety of its citizens.  I’m very eager to learn more about the different characters in each guild, especially those in some of the lower guilds that didn’t get much screen time.

 

Adventurers Guild 2  

4.  I also love Liza’s character.  She can hold her own both in wit and with weapons.  She puts up a tough façade, but she slowly reveals bits and pieces about her to the boys, and it turns out that she can make Brock blush.  She’s by no means perfect, but she’s definitely interesting.  I love the way her storyline is going, and I can’t wait to see how she develops as an Adventurer.

5.  Alabasel Frond is a wonderful character.  Most of the time, I think she’s unfeeling, but she’s fierce and unabashedly loyal to her apprentices and Freestone.  Of all the characters in the story, she’s the one that has so much more to give, and I really want to know more.  Like Brock, I don’t know that I’d want to be friends with her, but …

6.  What makes this story great is that it is both a plot- and character-driven one.  The kids have a mission to save the world, and there are tons of great twists and turns and Dangers along the way.  You never know who to trust!  But what makes this story a must-read is the cast of characters that Clark and Eliopulos have created.  They jive together in a way that is at once recognizable and unique.  Even the annoying Micah has his moments that make you feel something beyond your initial loathing for him.

 

Adventurers Guild 3  

7.  Teachers/parents, The Adventurers Guild is a story you must have on your shelves.  If your kids haven’t read Zed and Brock’s adventures yet, buy or borrow a copy of this book, and give them an early Christmas present.  They’ll never forget it.  Of course, that means that you’ll be on the hook for the next titles in this awesome series, but you’ll get there when you get there.  The co-authors’ writing is funny and fresh, which make for an utterly compelling story.  (There’s a line on page 80 where Zed laughs out loud in response to something that Jett says, and I laughed out loud even before I read that the character laughs out loud.  Oh, and my eyes got misty in a few places.)  There’s so much to love about this one.  I can’t wait for what’s next.

8.  Which Guild would take you in?  Find out here.

 

5 Squinkles

 

Zack Loran Clark’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

Nick Eliopulos’ Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Disney-Hyperion, for sending me a copy of The Adventurers Guild in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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