Little Thieves: A Review

The little thief steals gold, but the great one steals kingdoms; and only one goes to the gallows.
-Almanic proverb

Little Thieves by Margaret OwenFor Vanja Schmidt, nothing has ever been free–not even the love of her godmothers Death and Fortune. After years struggling to avoid trapping herself in service to either of the godmothers who refuse to claim her as their own, Vanja has almost earned enough to buy her freedom. By earn, she means stolen.

Vanja has left an impressive trail of damage in her wake ranging from stolen jewels to, most recently, a stolen life. Being Princess Gisele’s trusted maid should have kept Vanja safe. It didn’t. So Vanja finds her own way to safety by stealing Gisele’s enchanted pearls and using them to impersonate the princess. Gisele is left penniless and alone. But that is a small price to pay for Vanja to be safe and free–one she’d pay again twice over.

When Vanja is so close to freedom she can taste it, all of her lies threaten to bury her.

Vanja angers the wrong god and incurs a very dangerous curse on what should have been her last heist. Now Vanja will become exactly what she always wanted unless she can break the curse. It starts with a ruby on her cheek that could pay her entire way if only she could pry it loose. She can’t, of course. And neither can anyone else who covets it. That isn’t Vanja’s biggest problem.

If Vanja is unable to make amends for her past misdeeds in two weeks, the jewels will spread and kill her. Even if she survives that, Gisele’s fiance has pushed up their wedding. Meaning Vanja might find herself married to a brute of a prince who seems intent on making sure his bride never makes it past the honeymoon.

Worse, someone has finally caught onto Vanja’s schemes. And he might be the one person too smart for Vanja to outwit.

After years of cons and heists, Vanja is intimately familiar with the trinity of want. She knows how dangerous it is to be loved, or wanted, or used by the wrong people. She is less certain of how to find the right people to help her–let alone convince them to trust her–to steal back her life in Little Thieves (2021) by Margaret Owen.

Find it on Bookshop.

Little Thieves is an inventive retelling of the German fairytale “The Goose Girl.” It is also the first book in a duology. The story is narrated by Vanja with section headings grouped under different fairy tales Vanja shares with readers–each tale includes an illustration done by the author. Vanja is among several characters cued as white although the world Owen conjures strays from the stereotypical Germanic setting of many fairy tales to make space for characters who are BIPOC and from span the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

Owen breathes new life into this familiar tale by reframing the story to follow the supposed villain. Flashbacks in the form of fairytales illuminate the deeds and misdeeds that led Vanja to steal Gisele’s pearls. They also offer hints of how Vanja can make her way back from it and break the curse.  Young sleuth Emeric Conrad is an apt foil to Vanja’s schemes and ably keeps pace with her throughout this clever tale.

After years of getting by on her wits and what she could steal with her own two hands, Vanja is slowly forced to admit that she might not be able to do everything alone. As she finds new allies–reluctant and otherwise–she slowly builds out a support system and confronts the role her own tendency for self-destruction played in her checkered past. Owen skillfully demonstrates Vanja’s growth throughout the novel as she moves from a girl willing to pry a ruby off her own face (if only she could) to one who might have to sacrifice everything to save the people she’s hesitantly begun to care about.

Little Thieves is a sleek page-turner that seamlessly blends classic fairytale elements with a high stakes con, sardonic humor, and flawed characters you can’t help but adore. Come for the imaginative world building and a truly distinct retelling, stay for the gasp-worthy twists, found family, and slow burn romance. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

You’ll Be the Death of Me: A Review

You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManusIvy Sterling-Shepard, Cal O’Shea-Wallace, and Mateo Wojcik were inseparable in middle school after cementing their friendship on the Best Day Ever when they skipped out on a class field trip in Boston to have an adventure of their own. Now in their senior year of high school they barely speak; they all have bigger things to worry about.

Ivy has always been an overachiever. How else can she prove that she can keep up with her legit genius younger brother? How else can she recover from the fallout after his latest, brutal joke? Unfortunately, instead of pulling out a stunning victory at the student council election, Ivy loses. To the class clown. “Boney” Mahoney.

Mateo is too exhausted to worry about what’s going on with his former friends. His family’s business just failed. He’s working two jobs to help out plus school. His mother is rationing her meds for her rheumatoid arthritis because the co-pay is so high. And his cousin Autumn is . . . not making good choices as she tries to help the family struggle along as best she can.

Cal is in love. But he’s also lonely. He has been for a while, if he’s being honest. And being stood up again doesn’t help that at all.

When all three of them arrive at the school parking lot at the same time, late, it feels like a second chance. Maybe they can skip class and recapture whatever it is they lost along the way.

The trio’s attempt to recreate the magic of the Best Day Ever quickly becomes the Worst Day Ever when they follow another classmate to a mysterious meeting. And witness his murder.

Worse, Ivy is soon the prime suspect. Mateo has a dangerous connection to their dead classmate. And Cal is hiding something from everyone–something that could have deadly consequences.

All of them have their own motives for staying together and figuring out what happened. Now they have to figure out if they also have their own motives for murder in You’ll Be the Death of Me (2021) by Karen M. McManus.

Find it on Bookshop.

You’ll Be the Death of Me is a perfectly paced mystery set primarily over the course of one frantic day. Chapters alternate between the three main characters Ivy who is white, Cal who is white and has two dads, and Mateo who is Puerto Rican and Polish. Mateo’s cousin Autumn was orphaned as a child and lives with Mateo and his mother. Interludes from other characters add dimension to the story by providing different viewpoints this is otherwise closely focused story.

McManus packs a lot into this story as all three characters are hiding things from each other. These secrets are expertly teased out as the novel progresses and builds to its jaw dropping conclusion. None of the protagonists here are perfect–bad choices are made by all throughout the novel. Both their growth and the novel’s intense readability are testaments to McManus’ considerable talents as an author.

You’ll Be the Death of Me is an utterly engrossing page turner filled with unexpected twists, humor, and unexpectedly compelling friendships (and even some romance). Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu, People Like Us by Dana Mele, The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Awakening Storm: A Graphic Novel Review

The Awakening Storm by Jaimal Yogis and Vivian TruongGrace is excited to move to Hong Kong with her mom and her new stepdad. Her father might be dead, but this is her chance to connect with his culture and the stories he always told her about dragons.

When an old woman thrusts a strange egg at Grace during a school trip, she begins to realize that her father’s stories might be more fact than fiction.

After the egg hatches Grace and her new friends will have to find a way to protect the baby dragon while trying to figure out the scope of the dragon’s powers–and who the shady organization is that wants to use those powers for ill in The Awakening Storm (2021) by Jaimal Yogis, illustrated by Vivian Truong.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Awakening Storm is the first graphic novel in Yogis and Truong’s City of Dragons series. The book includes full color illustrations. Grace’s mother is white and her father was Chinese. Grace’s friends at her international school come from a variety of cultures.

Yogis’s characters are presented with care and an excellent use of dialog–especially with Grace and her new group of friends–to showcase the character relationships at work. Truong’s full color illustrations are dynamic and translate the action of this story well into motion-filled panels. The vibrant colors and cartoon-like style work well for the story and make for one extremely cute dragon.

The Awakening Storm is an immediately engrossing adventure filled with fast friends, quick banter between characters, and an amazing blend of Chinese mythology in a modern story.

Possible Pairings: Caster by Elsie Chapman, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, City of Thieves by Alex London

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calpse: A Graphic Novel Review

ParaNorthern: and the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse by Stephanie Cooke and Mari CostaFall break for Abby means helping out at her mom’s coffee shop and babysitting her little sister, Ella. Hopefully in between all that Abby will get to hang out with her friends Hannah (a ghost who immigrated from a spectral dimension), Gita (a wolf-girl), and Silas (a pumpkinhead doing his best to spread awareness and encourage a gourd-free autumn for all). If she’s really lucky Abby will also get to practice some of her spellwork and potions–if she gets goods enough maybe her mom will add some of Abby’s potions to the menu.

When Ella is bullied by speed demons, Abby obviously has to help. But something goes wrong with her magic. Instead of diverting the bullies Abbby opens a portal to another realm. A realm filled with chaos bunnies.

The bunnies are super cute when they’re on their side of the portal. When they start hopping through North Haven they’re decidedly less cute and markedly more chaotic.

With the bunnies leaving a trail of, well, chaos in their wake Abby will have to get help from her friends to fix her magic and stop this a-hop-ocalypse in its tracks in ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calpse (2021) by Stephanie Cooke, illustrated by Mari Costa.

Find it on Bookshop.

ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calpse is a fun middle grade graphic novel that introduces readers to Abby, her friends, and the magical town of North Haven. Abby and her family are Black. Hannah is brown skinned and wears a hijab. Cooke and Costa have worked together to create a town that is presented as both inclusive and magical with background characters as well. This creates a lot of front-loading in terms of world building but it also makes North Haven a town readers will want to return to again and again.

Cooke drops readers into the middle of the story without a lot of explanation about North Haven’s clearly magical underpinnings or Abby’s abilities as a witch. As it turns out, that’s something Abby is still figuring out herself which becomes a big part of the book’s plot. Costa uses an orange-hued palette for scenes in North Haven while more magical panels on other planes are more purple. Snappy dialog between Abby’s friend group demonstrates support and gives space to a developing romance between Abby and Gita. Costa’s illustrations make bloodthirsty chaos bunnies cuter than they have any right to be while also admirably portraying motion and action including an expertly drawn double page spread of the rabbits runnning rampant through the coffee shop.

The fast clip of the story can feel rushed but remains enjoyable. Themes of support and love from both friends and family add heart to this magical adventure.

Possible Pairings: Moonstruck by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth; Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner; Snapdragon by Kat Leyh; Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks; Camp Midnight by Steven T. Seagle; The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner; Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close: A Non-Fiction Review

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann FriedmanIt takes about three hundred hours to become best friends with someone–in other words, just twelve and a half days. But it takes so much more than proximity to go from acquaintances to friends. Even after forging that shared wavelength, forming those bonds, you have to keep showing up to keep the friendship healthy.

Being a good friend is a lot of work. Friendships can be messy. They can be unwieldy. Sometimes they can feel uneven when you put in more than you get back (or the other way around).

Friendships can also be just as important as any romantic or familial relationship you’ll ever have.

So why don’t we talk about friendship more? Why is there so little written about these relationships that can define so much about our support systems and, ultimately, about ourselves?

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close (2020) by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman doesn’t have all the answers but it does include a lot of smart observations about friendship.

Find it on Bookshop.

You might know Sow and Friedman from their “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast. This book (which the authors narrate for the audiobook) brings readers behind the curtain of the highlight reel of their friendship to look at the moments that brought them together, tested their friendship, and ultimately kept them close.

While Big Friendship is not a guide to creating and maintaining friendships, the book does include smart tips through the specific lens of Sow and Friedman’s relationship. The book also explores the stretches inherent to maintaining friendships and the unique challenge of making space for something that society often tells adults to devalue in favor of a focus on work or family.

In a time that has tested more than a few friendships, Big Friendship is a timely and thoughtful read sure to provoke some valuable conversations and offer needed space for introspection.

Possible Pairings: Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen, Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond by Lydia Denworth, Crossing the Racial Divide: Close Friendships Between Black and White Americans by Kathleen O. Korgen, The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate by Harriet Lerner, Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer, You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships by Deborah Tannen, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle, Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship by Kath Weston

Instructions for Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola YoonEvie Thomas is done with love.

After watching her parents’ marriage fall apart, she knows firsthand that love is a scam. Real life doesn’t have happy endings. The romance novels she used to adore are all lies.

While her mother tries to move on and her younger sister falls headfirst into every relationship she can, Evie is still angry at her father. And she’s furious that she wasted so much time believing in something that never lasts.

Giving up on love seems like the easiest course of action until Evie’s plan to donate her romance novel collection to a little free library goes horribly wrong. After accepting a mysterious book from a stranger, Evie can suddenly see people fall in love when they kiss. Her new visions trace each relationship from its tender beginning to the inevitable conclusion. It’s more than anyone can take but especially someone who is done with love.

Evie’s hunt for a way to stop whatever is happening leads her to La Brea Dance Studio and the owners’ charming, very cute nephew X. Where Evie is cautious, X is impulsive. If Evie is reserved, X is open–he always says yes. In other words, they are complete opposites and, through a series of events Evie barely understands, they are also suddenly partners in an amateur dance competition.

All Evie wants to do is stop her weird visions. If that means hanging out with X, fine. Falling for him is definitely not part of the plan, no matter how cute X might be. But the more time Evie spends with X, the more obvious it is that falling for him is as inevitable as standing close during the tango.

After witnessing so many heartbreaks firsthand, Evie knows that love always ends. As she gets closer to X, she’ll have to decide if having love at all is enough to risk the inevitable heartbreak in Instructions for Dancing (2021) by Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

In many ways Instructions for Dancing feels like a natural next step (pun intended) to follow up Yoon’s blockbuster sophomore novel The Sun is Also a Star. Through Evie’s visions this story spins out from main character Evie’s first person narration to show a world that is much larger, and more beautiful, that cynical Evie is at first willing to acknowledge. Elements of fabulism (think magic realism but not by latinx authors) add unexpected magic and whimsy to this subtle story. Evie and X are Black and backed up by an inclusive cast with strong friendships and memorable adults notably including X’s grandparents.

Evie’s reluctant immersion in the world of competitive dance adds a lot of humor to a story that tackles weighty topics like love and loss with nuance and care. Evie’s friend group also plays an important role in the novel as all of them prepare for the end of high school and what that will mean for each of them and their friend web.

Instructions for Dancing is the definition of bittersweet with an ending that is sure to garner a few tears from even the coldest of hearts. With a story that carefully balances hope and pragmatism, Instructions for Dancing is affirming and, ultimately, an ode to love in all of its forms.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

*An advance e-copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

A Spindle Splintered: A Review

“Sleeping Beauty is pretty much the worst fairy tale, any way you slice it. It’s aimless and amoral and chauvinist as shit. It’s the fairy tale that feminist scholars cite when they want to talk about women’s passivity in historical narratives. Even among the other nerds who majored in folklore, Sleeping Beauty is nobody’s favorite. Romantic girls like Beauty and the Beast; vanilla girls like Cinderella; goth girls like Snow White. Only dying girls like Sleeping Beauty.”

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. HarrowZinnia Gray has always known Sleeping Beauty has its problems, even before she read about the medieval version Zelladine (don’t Google that one, you don’t want to know). She also knows that Sleeping Beauty is the one story where a girl like her manages to turn things around and get a happy ending. Of course Zinnia loves Sleeping Beauty.

After years of moving fast and trying to pretend her clock isn’t running out thanks to the rare Generalized Roseville Malady that causes protein to build up in all the places it shouldn’t be in her organs, Zinnia knows she’s almost out of time. She rushed through high school, a degree in folklore at the local college, and she tried to rush away from her parents’ stifling efforts to save her.

Now Zinnia is here at her twenty-first birthday. She knows no one else with GRM has lived to see twenty-two. She knows true love’s kiss isn’t going to save her because she never gave herself permission to fall in love. That doesn’t stop her best friend Charmaine “Charm” Baldwin from loving Zinnia fiercely and giving her the exact kind of Sleeping Beauty themed birthday party she’d want for her last one.

The party is about what you’d expect: Whimsical and ironic until it turns maudlin and sad. Until things go sideways when Zinnia pricks herself on a spindle (she has to try it, okay?) and finds herself in another version of Sleeping Beauty with another dying girl trying to dodge her supposed happy ending–one that Zinnia might actually be able to save–in A Spindle Splintered (2021) by Alix E. Harrow.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Spindle Splintered is a novella inspired by Harrow’s desire to “spiderverse” a fairytale and the start of a new series. The story includes silhouette illustrations by Arthur Rackham that, as the copyright page notes, “were unavoidably harmed, fractures, and splintered during the design process.” These illustrations add an eerie note to the physical book while hinting at the darker origins behind many fairy tales that have become sanitized over time.

Zinnia’s narration is sharp-witted and often bitter–fitting for a character who knows she’s almost out of time–while her unshakeable friendship with Charm provides a grounding force throughout the fast-paced story. On the other side of the portal (or whatever it is that transports her, Zinnia was never big on science) she meets another dying girl. Primrose is the epitome of a fairy tale princess. Except that after she’s saved from her own hundred year sleep, she has no desire to marry her rescuer, Prince Harold, or any other man for that matter.

Part portal fantasy, part retelling, A Spindle Splintered offers a new interpretation of Sleeping Beauty both for Zinnia and the girl she meets after that fateful spindle prick. Recommended for readers looking for a no-nonsense protagonists and a decidedly modern take on a classic fairy tale.

Possible Pairings: Sleepless by Cyn Balog, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Stain by A. G. Howard, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Ash by Malinda Lo, Gilded by Marissa Meyer, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, Into the Spider-Verse

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Steelstriker: A Review

*Steelstriker is the conclusion to Lu’s Skyhunter duology. Start at the beginning with Skyhunter to avoid spoilers.*

Steelstriker by Marie LuSix months after the fall of Mara, the Karensa Federation works mercilessly to absorb the formerly free nation into its sprawling empire. Mara’s artifacts are carted to Federation museums and sculpture gardens, their heritage erased. Prisoners await execution or transformation into Ghosts–the hideous monsters the Federation uses so effectively against both its enemies and its subjects.

Talin Kanami watches helplessly. Once an elite Striker, Talin and her friends tried to stop the Federation’s invasion but they were too late. Now Talin stands at the Premier’s side as a Skyhunter–a human turned war machine with lethal strength and steel wings. Talin is the Premier’s unspoken threat against all who would defy him. She is also his hostage; her good behavior ensuring her captive mother’s continued survival until Talin’s transformation is complete and the Premier controls her completely.

Red escaped the Federation once, his desperate flight bringing him to Mara and to Talin. Her hope made him believe things could change. But now watching another invasion, his wings damaged in battle, the first Skyhunter knows he will need more than rage and regret to help his new friends–especially Talin in Steelstriker (2021) by Marie Lu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Steelstriker is the conclusion to Lu’s Skyhunter duology. Start at the beginning with Skyhunter to avoid spoilers.

Chapters alternate between Talin and Red’s first person narrations as the protagonists try to find their way back to each other and continue fighting the Federation. The strong link they shared in book one is weaker now as Talin struggles to contain her emotions before the Premier can use them against her. Isolated and worried about each other, this leads to repetition in the story as both Talin and Red wonder what has become of the other.

Seeds of rebellion and resistance spark action in this story which expands the sophisticated and nuanced world building from book one. Questions of who is fit to run a nation and how power is bestowed add further depth to the book’s political landscape while references to Talin’s tortuous transformation (which occurred between books) remind readers how very dangerous and cruel the Federation can be. As the Premier tries to harness (presumably nuclear) technology from the Early Ones, it becomes clear that sometimes mistakes are doomed to repeat.

Lu once again delves into the brutality of war and invasion as Talin–whose vocal chords were damaged in the invasion of her birthplace, Basea–and Red–who was recruited by the Federation as a child soldier–both reflect on what has brought them to this point. Steelstriker fast-paced and brutal but ultimately a satisfying conclusion to a strong dystopian duology.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

We Will Find Your Hat!: An Early Reader Review

We Will Find Your Hat! by Candy JamesGet ready for Hat Day, the hattiest day of the year.

Reddie is very excited to have some hat-tastic fun with her friend, Archie. But Archie has a problem. He can’t find his favorite hat!

Archie’s home is filled with a lot of things that could be hats (or drums, or pizza) but where is his favorite hat? in We Will Find Your Hat! (2021) by Candy James.

Find it on Bookshop.

We Will Find Your Hat! is the second book in a new early reader series by the wife-and-husband team of Candy (illustrator) and James (author). The characters are inspired by their daughter’s real life plush toys which saw her through many adventures.

This series straddles the line between early reader and graphic novel. The story includes full-page and double page spreads as well as smaller (comic book style) panels to showcase different scenes and add motion to the illustrations. The page design and a background palette featuring shades of green add interest to the book and give We Will Find Your Hat! a unique feel.

The text in the story is all dialog presented in speech bubbles (white for Archie and orange for Reddie) making the style reminiscent to Willem’s Elephant and Piggie series–this is also an element that stays consistent across books. Fans of the hat-related humor in Jon Klassen’s Hat picture books will find the same energy and wackiness here.

Archie’s unearthing of numerous hat adjacent objects adds humor to the story and is sure to encourage conversation about what items young readers might want to repurpose themselves.

We Will Find Your Hat! is another fun installment that proves two heads (and many hats) are better than one.

*An advance e-copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Kaleidoscope: A Review

“Maybe this is what it’s like to be inside the mind of God. The past and the future mean nothing, and the time is always now.”

Kaleidoscope by Brian SelznickIt starts with a ship going to see. Or exploring a wondrous garden. It begins when a boy named James leaves a message for his father with a doll that will be discovered years later, encased in ice.

Always there is searching. There is missing, hoping. There is saying goodbye.

It ends with an invisible key. A spirit machine born out of a dream made reality. With answers found inside inside an apple.

Every spin of the kaleidoscope fragments one story while bringing another into focus. The beginning is always different. The end keeps changing. But always, slowly, there is peace in Kaleidoscope (2021) by Brian Selznick.

Find it on Bookshop.

Selznick’s latest illustrated novel reads as a series of interconnected short stories–mediations on the same themes of loss and separation examined through different lenses. In his author’s note Selznick explains the inspiration he drew directly from the early days of the pandemic when Selznick and his husband were separated for three months–a fracture that inspired more abstraction in his art and eventually led to this story.

Each chapter (or self-contained story depending on your interpretation of the text) begins with a kaleidoscopic image followed by the unabstracted image pulled directly from the story. A namesless narrator tells each story and although the characters change, always there is a nameless character trying to make their way back to James. In some stories like “The Ice” or “The Spirit Machine” the grief is overt while other standout stories (“The Apple” or “In the Dark”) offer more optimism.

Common images and themes throughout each story slowly unfold to bring a larger narrative of connection and loss into focus. While the story lacks any significant female characters, the nameless narrators do serve as a cipher of sorts allowing readers to insert themselves fully into each story.

Kaleidoscope is very much a product of the pandemic. Readers will see that in Selznick’s carefully rendered artwork, the disjointed narratives, the stories that almost but don’t quite but maybe do intersect. Kaleidoscope is a meditative and ultimately hopeful book, ideal for readers seeking a puzzle-like diversion. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales by Chris Van Allsburg et al

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*