Picture Book Reviews

Max the Brave: A (brief) Review and Blog Tour Post

Max the Brave by Ed VereMax is a brave and fearless kitten and he is totally ready to start catching mice. The only problem? Max isn’t sure what a mouse looks like. Max sets out to find mouse with hilarious results in this playful and engaging picture book.

Max the Brave (2015) by Ed Vere is a great read-a-loud choice. Each page features a different color background to make Max stand out even more in bold contrast. Animals drawn largely in black serve to underscore the big reveal at the end.

An amusing story with sight gags similar to John Klassen’s “hat” books, this one is sure to have lots of appeal with readers of all ages.

Want to know more? Check out the spotlight and trailer below:

Max is a fearless kitten. Max is a brave kitten. Max is a kitten who chases mice. There’s only one problem—Max doesn’t know what a mouse looks like! With a little bit of bad advice, Max finds himself facing a much bigger challenge. Maybe Max doesn’t have to be Max the Brave all the time…

Join this adventurous black cat as he very politely asks a variety of animals for help in finding a mouse. Young readers will delight in Max’s mistakes, while adults will love the subtle, tongue-in-cheek humor of this new children’s classic.

Ed Vere is an author, artist and illustrator with a long track record of success in the picture book category. Max the Brave was named one of The Sunday Times’s 100 Modern Children’s Classics. His book Bedtime for Monsters was shortlisted for the 2011 Roald Dahl Funny Prize and Mr Big was chosen by Booktrust as the official Booktime book for 2009 (and was distributed to 750,000 British schoolchildren making it the largest single print run of a picture book). Vere was the World Book Day illustrator for 2009.

Sourcebooks also has a giveaway for 5 copies along with nifty red capes now through OCTOBER 31. Head over to the Rafflecopter page to enter!

Social Media:

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuNbrpUVunE

Website: http://books.sourcebooks.com/maxthebrave/

Activity Kit: http://sourcebooksftp.com/Email/MaxTheBrave/MaxTheBrave-ActivityKit.pdf

Educator guide: http://sourcebooksftp.com/Email/MaxTheBrave/MaxTheBrave-EduGuide.pdf

Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews

Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. (Ball of Yellow String): A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. by Cherise Mericle HarperWhat do marshmallows, yellow string, the Eiffel tower and Super Sticky Spray have in common? Not much really, except that they all have a key role in Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S (Ball of Yellow String) (2011) by Charise Mericle Harper.

Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. is Fashion Kitty’s fourth adventure, but it is my first experience with the fashion forward cat whose family has two secrets: (1) they have a pet mouse and (2) Kiki Kittie is now a superhero called Fashion Kitty.

Although the content is necessarily different, this book follows the tradition of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books (and even Brian Selznick and other books that I’m not as familiar with) in combining a written story with illustrated segments interspersed throughout the text.

The really nice thing about this book, being part of an established series, is that Harper does a good job bringing readers up to speed quickly. It was easy to read this book as a standalone without the earlier installments.

Apparently the earlier books in the series were more traditional graphic novels and some readers miss that format. I can’t comment on that since I haven’t read the other books, but I liked the text/image format. This could also be a good stepping stone to more text-based books for readers who are growing with the series, but it’s really a matter of personal preference.

Harper’s writing is clever with a bit of fairy tale quality–it’s easy to imagine sitting around a story hour being told this story by the author instead of reading it as a book.

I like the emphasis on helping friends here and the illustrations are a lot of fun. Really, the whole premise is fun–a cat who is a superhero and helps cats with fashion emergencies? What’s not to love? I was also happy to see the inclusion of a lot of boy characters instead of keeping the book girly and fashion-centric. Fashion does, obviously, play a role but it’s also just a vehicle to help people out.

T-shirts and marshmallow art  play a role in the story and Harper even provides craft ideas at the end of the book making this one the full package. With the humor, short chapters, and illustrations Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. is a great choice for fans of the series, reluctant readers, and anyone in between.

*A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher/author. (This is totally unrelated to the review and did not impact my opinion of the book, but thanks to Dema Neville for the lovely packaging of the said review copy which included the book as well as some marshmallows and yellow string–which as it turns out tie back to craft ideas at the back of the book.)

Book Reviews

Wisdom’s Kiss: A Review

Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert MurdockPrincess Wisdom, known as Dizzy, does not much care for the staid and boring life of a princess. Tips does care much for the life a miller’s son with his brutish brothers in their small bucolic town. Fortitude, more often Trudy, could be perfectly content if only her foresight would let her.

When these three souls venture out to seek their fortunes their lives entwine in unexpected ways that could save the kingdom. Or bring it to ruins. With the help of a singular cat, Dizzy’s cunning grandmother, and just a tiny bit of magic everyone might get everything they never knew they always wanted in Wisdom’s Kiss (2011) by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

Wisdom’s Kiss is an epistolary novel or sorts. Chapters alternate between play scenes, encyclopedia entries, excerpts from memoirs, diary entries and even letters (with cross-outs, misspellings and all).

Writing a novel in letters is a tricky thing. It offers the option to include many different writing styles as well as a variety of viewpoints. Sometimes it can also create a distance between the readers and the characters as the book  never, really, lets readers see the inner emotions of the characters. Such is the case here.

While Trudy and Ben were delightful characters with engaging storylines, it was very difficult to connect with Dizzy or Tips who are largely selfish and impulsive throughout the novel. Given the direction of the plot it was particularly frustrating to watch these two take the leading roles in the story. Other aspects of the book also seemed to enter the narrative far too late while also being abrupt–at which point Trudy really became the saving grace of the whole plot.

Wisdom’s Kiss is still a clever story with many fun twists on fairy tale characters (including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and a certain boot-wearing feline) that will appeal to fans of fractured fairytales and retellings alike.

Possible Pairings: Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock*, The Game of Triumphs by Laura Powell, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patrica C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

*Wisdom’s Kiss is a companion/follow-up to Princess Ben. Dizzy’s grandmother in Wisdom’s Kiss is the protagonist of Princess Ben which is about Ben’s own youth.

Book Reviews

Plain Kate: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Plain Kate by Erin BowA long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate. Plain Kate, Kate the Carver. No one’s friend and no one’s daughter. Little Kate might meet her fate whittling sticks till it’s too late.

Kate’s shadow is long and her talents with a knife are great. Taught by her father, Plain Kate can draw the truth out of any piece of wood with skill and her knife, not with magic.

But in a town looking for someone to blame for the bad times, a little skill can start to look a lot like magic. And in a town where witches are feared and burned, working magic with a knife–even if that magic isn’t really magic–can be a very dangerous thing.

As things go from bad to worse in her small market town, Kate knows she has to leave. But you need money and food to go anywhere. So Kate makes a deal with the mysterious stranger passing through town.

In exchange for her shadow he can give her what she needs, and grant her heart’s wish. All Kate really wants is to get away, so she agrees. But as Kate sets out with her provisions and her cat, Taggle, she soon realizes she can’t live without her shadow for long. But Kate isn’t a witch and her only magic is a talent for carving. Will that be enough to help Kate change the course of things and get her shadow back in Plain Kate (2010) by Erin Bow?

Find it on Bookshop.

Plain Kate is Erin Bow’s first novel.

Bow blends element of traditional folk tales with her own lore to create a unique world for this dark fantasy. Kate is a carver through and through, a fact that the writing returns to again and again as Kate works on her carvings and views her surroundings through a carver’s eyes.

The writing here is lyrical and evocative, making up for a story that became somewhat scattered in the second half of the book. Plain Kate will easily appeal to anyone looking for a traditional fantasy but be warned: this is a story that is very grim even in the midst of its flights of fancy.

I loved the book trailer for Plain Kate but I hesitate to mention it because I think it’s misleading in terms of how very, very dark this book really is. Now might also be a good time to mention that I really enjoyed the cover art for this title by Juliana Kolesova even though it (again) suggested a much more whimsical story than this really was.

This dichotomy between the cover/trailer and the actual story also makes it hard to determine my own feelings about the book. I can see the merits of the writing and the premise. The world Bow created is wonderfully developed. All the same,  I found the contrast between the story I was expecting and the story I got to be so jarring that I cannot love it as wholeheartedly as I thought I would.

I see great things in this book’s future, but part of me still wishes it had been the lighter-toned, more whimsical book I had initially expected.

Possible Pairings: All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Bone Shaker by Kate Milford, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Book Reviews

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

There are six things very wrong with fourteen-year-old Georgia Nicolson’s life at the beginning of her first diary volume Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging (2000) by Louise Rennison (find it on Bookshop):

(1) I have one of those under-the-skin spots that will never come to a head but lurk in a red way for the next two years.

(2) It is on my nose.

(3) I have a three-year-old sister who may have peed somewhere in my room.

(4) In fourteen days the summer hols will be over and then it will be back to Stalag 14 and Oberfuhrer Frau Simpson and her bunch of sadistic “teachers.”

(5) I am very ugly and need to go into an ugly home.

(6) I went to a party dressed as a stuffed olive.

My friend “Barbie” is insanely fond of Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicolson series, starting with Rennison’s debut novel Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging which was selected as a Michael L. Printz Honor Book in 2001. Having some free time after graduation, I decided to give the series a try. I read the first two books in as many days. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging is quite funny and I did like it, but the more I read the more I felt like I shouldn’t like it.

Georgia is not always the nicest person. She can be self-centered and rude. But she is so funny that it’s hard to be angry about it. As Georgia tries to figure out exactly what growing up means (aside from landing the Sex God), she often finds herself in some awkward situations (see the mention of a stuffed olive above). Although a lot of the book is outlandish in its humor, Rennison’s anecdotes are generally spot on in terms of authenticity. I have the old pictures with uneven eyebrows to prove it.

Part of my problem with this novel is that I couldn’t gauge if the voice was accurate. To me, Georgia’s diary reads more like that of a sixteen-year-old but after consulting with “Julie” it seems that Georgia’s misadventures could be accurate. Not having been the same kind of fourteen-year-old as Georgia, I needed some outside confirmation.

It also bothered me (though not enough to stop reading the series) that Georgia largely seemed exactly the same at the end of the novel as she did at the beginning. It doesn’t make the book better or worse, but it was something I noticed. If you want to see a similar book with more character evolution, check out Alice, I Think by Susan Juby another laugh-out-loud funny diary book with a teen narrator albeit a Canadian one this time.

All that aside, this book is hilarious. I’m usually hesitant of diary-style books but it works well here. Rennison uses the technique to amusing effect by including the time of certain entries to illustrate Georgia’s often rash temperament. Part of me wants to take Georgia under my wing and save her from herself, but the rest of me knows that if I did that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the rest of Georgia’s books. Oh the moral dilemma . . .

For some added fun, be sure to check out Georgia’s glossary of English terms at the end of the book.

Possible Pairings: Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton, Ghost Huntress by Marley Gibson, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, Alice, I Think by Susany Juby, Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, Sucks to be Me by Kimberly Pauley, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, My Big Nose and Other (Natural) Disasters by Sydney Salter

Book Reviews

Kitty Kitty: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Kitty Kitty by Michele JaffeJasmine Callihan is back and better than ever in Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe! And, boy am I excited about that. “Kitty Kitty” will be released in July 2008 by HarperTeen (part of HarperCollins coincidentally enough), so you’re seeing the review here first.

Kitty Kitty picks up a month or two after the ending of Bad Kitty (Jaffe’s madcap YA debut featuring Jasmine). This time around, Jasmine is in Venice, the most romantic city in the world, and in a beautiful hotel. The only problem is that Jasmine is there with her ogre-iffic father and her step-mother Sherri! In other words, Jasmine is really far away from her friends, her rock star boyfriend, AND the prestigious high school that would look great on her college applications.

Why you may ask? So Jasmine can be home-schooled (not from her actual home) while she takes intensive Italian lessons and her father writes his definitive book on the history of . . . soap. Jasmine is understandably put out by all of these abrupt life changes. But what really upsets her is the apparent suicide of her friend from Italian class–the mysterious and eccentric Arabella. Except Jasmine isn’t so sure that Arabella’s death really was a suicide.

Mayhem ensues as Jasmine begins to investigate Arabella’s life in order to understand what could have provoked her death. Atrocities include bangs on the head as well as an unfortunate encounter with a pair of white leather pants. Oh, and Jasmine turning to Mr. T as a new role model (although that last one might not be so bad depending on who you ask!).

Stylistically, Jaffe continues to use a variety of writing techniques to create a truly modern reading experience. Techniques that reappear in this volume include footnotes, email and instant messaging excerpts as well as pictures created with words. These devices help keep the novel interesting–there’s a lot of information presented in a lot of different ways. At the same time, it makes readers extra aware that they are reading. But that’s okay here because it encourages a close reading of the text in some cases–an important skill found in what can be called a light read.

Some parts of the novel seem contrived, such as Jasmine’s friends coming to her rescue, but with blow dart pens and tricked out cowboy boots this novel, like Bad Kitty before it, is more cartoon than true-to-life-drama anyway. (A style that Jaffe once again pulls off very well.) And who wouldn’t want to read more about Jasmine’s motley group of friends? Best friend/fashion genius Polly; lock picking, wise-cracking twins Tom and Roxy; and even Jas’ evil cousin Alyson and her evil sidekick Veronique reappear with just as many made up words and fashion faux pas as before. My only qualm about the novel is that the cat angle that was so crucial to Bad Kitty is also not as strong here since no cats feature as more than passing characters in the narrative.

Another odd addition is the presence of a mysterious sender of e-mails and an as yet undeveloped sub-plot involving Jasmine’s dead mother (this person and the fact that Jasmine’s mother died when she was six turn up more in this novel than the first, which didn’t mention mysterious e-mails at all). Aside from being a fine example of a writer spinning backstories into a series as she writes the series, this new plot thread suggests that Jasmine will return again soon.

Possible Pairings: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, Bloomability by Sharon Creech, My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day, Drawing a Blank by Daniel Ehrenhaft, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Fracture by Megan Miranda, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, CSI (television series)

Book Reviews

Bad Kitty: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bade Kitty by Michele JaffeThe phrase laugh out loud isn’t used that often now that “lol” has flooded the Internet in a big way. Personally, I think that’s a loss. It’s also a subject for a different kind of post though. My point here is that people don’t often talk about things that really make them laugh out loud–literally laughing, out loud. Bad Kitty (2006) by Michele Jaffe is a novel that had me laughing for most of it. It also has the distinction of having zero one star reviews on amazon.com. And, to make it even cooler, Bad Kitty is also my latest CLW selection.

Bad Kitty is Michele Jaffe’s first novel for a young adult audience. (She is also the author of several novels for adults including Bad Girl and Loverboy.) The story starts when Jasmine Callihan and her family are vacationing at a posh hotel in Las Vegas.

Jasmine believes that everyone has a superpower. For instance, her best friend Polly has an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion. And Jasmine’s stepmother, Sherri!, is impossible to hate. As for Jas’ own superpower, well, she isn’t really sure yet. (Though, if readers like Jasmine anywhere as much as I do, they might have their own ideas at the end of the novel.) She has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And cats really like her.

Unfortunately, those things together lead to nothing but trouble for Jasmine. It all starts when a psychotic cat (followed by a psychotic man in a mesh shirt) chase Jasmine around the resort. Soon, Jasmine finds herself in the middle of a mystery involving the psychotic, three-legged, cat and his family. The story here is zany and fun as Jasmine and her friends run around trying to solve the case in spite of the annoying presence of Jasmine’s evil cousin Alyson and her evil hench Veronique. Another annoying presence is that of Jasmine’s father who is determined to keep Jasmine’s dream of fighting crime just that–a dream. Despite her father’s discouragement Jasmine manages to conduct her investigation, albeit with untraditional tools like eyeshadow instead of conventional fingerprint dust.

Some book characters are flesh and blood–others are more pen and ink. Bad Kitty is definitely what I would term a cartoon-ish novel, but in the best way. The story is peppered with Jasmine’s material for her Meaningful Reflection Journal, preparation for writing college essays next year, including Little Life Lessons as well as some very entertaining haikus (“Cute guy at Snack Hut / Why won’t you remove your shirt? / It’s so hot (you too)”).

Bad Kitty is basically an amalgamation of a lot of different genres. It has some teen romance, some mystery/suspense, and a lot of comedy. A lot of times, that doesn’t all come together to make a decent novel–with “Bad Kitty” it does. The novel is very similar to Meg Cabot’s latest Jinx with semi-obvious romantic subplot and the foreshadowing, but Jaffe does it better. Strongly recommended for anyone who likes “classic” chick lit.

Possible Pairings: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day, Drawing a Blank by Daniel Ehrenhaft, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Fracture by Megan Miranda, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, CSI (television series)

Book Reviews

A Well-Timed Enchantment: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande VeldeI don’t particularly like cats in real life, but I’ve noticed recently that they are generally a lot more appealing in fiction. A Well-Timed Enchantment (1990) by Vivian Vande Velde has a cat that’s cool like that.

Find it on Bookshop.

The story starts when Deanna, a fifteen-year-old spending the summer with her mom in France, drops her Mickey Mouse watch down a well. Turns out the well isn’t your average well: it’s magic. To make matters worse, Deanna didn’t drop her watch into the well, she dropped it into medieval France. Now she has to get the watch back before things get really out of hand. Deanna gets some help in the form of Oliver, the black cat she befriended back in modern France. Except now Oliver is a human.

I first read this book when I was sixteen. I loved it so much I read it twice back to back. A Well-Timed Enchantment is one of those books that never get old. You can read it again and again and the story is still just as good as the first time.

Vande Velde’s narrative style here is similar to her other “fairy tale” books (like The Rumpelstiltskin Problem or Heir Apparent) with a blend of traditional story telling and her inimitably modern sensibility. The novel is written with a third person narration that follows Deanna’s perspective.

This novel combines a lot of different elements to great effect. One of the best characters (in any of) Vande Velde’s work is Oliver. Turns out cats don’t see things the same way humans do. I don’t know how convincingly anyone can write in the voice of a cat-turned-human but Vande Velde seems to do a good job of it.

The story is quick and fairly simple. There are a lot of things that older readers can enjoy and comment on, but the story is straight-forward enough that younger readers can also keep up. I might even go as far as to say it’s a great feminist-oriented book for children (some might call it “anti-princess”) because Deanna plays a significant role in fixing things (getting back the watch) even though Oliver does help quite a bit.

My only issue with A Well-Timed Enchantment is the ending. Some readers will tell you they like a good, open-ended finish. It’s more realistic, it encourages readers to use their imagination, etc. There is a time and place for open-endedness. This book does not happen to be the best place for it. Vande Velde acknowledges this in her dedication (it’s dedicated to a girl even though she hated the ending). Over the years the ending has rankled less because, having given the matter more thought, I’ve been forced to conclude that there might not be a better way to end things. But it still left me frustrated after my first reading.

Despite the somewhat irritating ending, this book is amazing. The characters are endearing, the story is fun, Oliver is awesome. Vande Velde is as creative and fun here as ever.

Possible Pairings: Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco, Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin

Book Reviews

Peeps: A review

Peeps by Scott WesterfeldI was going to say Peeps (2005) (find it on Bookshop) is one of Scott Westerfeld’s earlier novels, but they all seem to have come onto the scene around 2005. Instead I’ll say this, it’s one that’s set in New York City. So, here’s a reason to advocate abstinence only sex education: You can turn into a vampire if you exchange saliva with the wrong person. Cal, unfortunately, misses out on this lesson–so after a drunken one night stand he ends up as a vampire. As you might have guessed, these are not your grandmother’s vampires. Sure, the legends are the same, but that’s about it. Because in Westerfeld’s story, vampirism is a disease spread by a little parasite called Toxoplasma. So, instead of being called vampires, Cal and others who have been infected (or are carriers) are called “Parasite Positives” or “Peeps” for short.

The upshot is that Cal is recruited by a secret government organization to hunt peeps and especially to capture those that he infected. Then he has to find the girl who made him a carrier. Sounds simple, right? Think again. As Cal gets closer to tracking down his progenitor things keep getting more complicated until everything Cal thought he knew to be true is thrown into question.

Let me also say that you will never look at rats, or cats, the same way after reading this novel. There is something about a cat with a vampiric parasite that is just so much more appealing than a normal one.

The even numbered chapters of this book don’t directly relate to the action-packed plot described above. Instead, chapter by chapter, Cal acquaints us with the world of parasitology (you might want to keep the Purel handy for certain segments). Some readers might find these narrative “interruptions” to be a bit annoying and unecessary, I’d politely disagree saying that the information is interesting and, well, cool. Even if you skip all the others, read chapter four. It’s relevant (I also saw Scott Westerfeld at a reading where he read this section of the book and it was ah-may-zing).

So, while the parasite information might be icky, the book is awesome. The story is really fast-paced and has a lot of action and suspense. Lots of chapters end on cliff hangers that make you want to read that much faster. Even more exciting, the book is just as enjoyable for male and female readers (not too gory, not too mushy–a happy medium). Cal is a likable narrator as well as a reliable one–readers know everything that he does.

My only issue with the novel comes at the last thirty some odd pages because it got confusing. At this point, Call learns a lot of new information which, of course, the readers also have to digest. Combined with the fast pace, it got a little hard to follow everything. In fact, I had to reread the last couple of chapters to be sure I knew what was going on.

Confusion aside, the story was awesome. I love Scott Westerfeld unconditionally, but this book was lots of fun to read. The set up and early chapters prepare you for one kind of book, but by the end it’s something entirely different. If you want a new take on an old monster, Peeps is your book.

Possible Pairings: Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, New York: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, Elvis music
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Peeps

Book Reviews

A Mango-Shaped Space: The difference between a teen narrator and a tween one

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy MassHere’s what I like about A Mango-Shaped Space (2003) by Wendy Mass: The plot is extremely interesting and really, for lack of a better word, new. Mass talks about a condition that most people have never even heard of and she just runs with it.

Here’s what I don’t like: Mass is at pains throughout the novel to make sure everyone knows her narrator is young. I also have mixed feelings about it winning an award (the Kaplan award I believe) for artistically representing life with a disability.

Here’s some information so you can actually understand what I’m going on about: Okay, so the book follows thirteen-year-old Mia. Mia has synesthesia, a neurological condition that allows her to see letters and numbers in color. As the blurb on the back of the book states, Mia named her cat Mango because that is the color of his breathing. That is, you will agree, pretty cool. The action of the story starts when Mia realizes she can no longer keep her condition a secret from her friends and family because it’s starting to interfere with her schoolwork. So Mia starts going to doctors and she finally meets people just like her.

So, on one level, this story is about dealing with synesthesia. But it also has a lot more going on. Mia’s grandfather has recently died and, as readers will learn, Mango’s place in the story is intricately tied to that of Mia’s grandfather. At the end of the day, more than being about dealing with a disability (I’m not even sure I like calling synesthesia a disability) A Mango-Shaped Space is about accepting who you are and coping with the harder parts of life.

I read this book back-to-back with Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian so comparisons are inevitable. What I found really interesting is that Alexie’s narrator is only a year older than Mia, but the story is clearly appropriate for teens–I’d never give it to a ten year old for instance. Mass’ novel, on the other hand, could just as easily be cataloged as a Children’s book rather than Young Adult (left to my own devices I think I would do just that). Why? Well, like I said, Mass makes sure we know how young Mia is. Revelations like Mia never previously sitting with a boy at lunch or attending a boy-girl party abound in the narrative–sometimes unnecessarily.

At the same time, the material is just less heavy. The tone is lighter and the characters are a little less developed so that their hurts never quite hit home. I’m not sure if this is a bad thing though–it just makes it clear, while reading, that the book could be appropriate for a younger audience.

I’d definitely give this book a look though. The prose is easy to digest and the story is really interesting. And, surprisingly, the story features a lot of characters who are just as interesting to meet as Mia (with her synesthesia)–Mia’s little brother Zach is a particular favorite for this reviewer.

Possible Pairings: Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life by Barbara Dee, The Teashop Girls by Laura Schaefer, Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter