Ophelia After All: A Review

Ophelia Rojas knows who she is: a girl who’s all about Cuban food, supporting her best friends, and her roses–both the ones she grows in her garden and the ones that embellish almost every piece of clothing she owns.

Ophelia has a reputation for one other thing: her numerous crushes on way too many boys. Ophelia gets a little tired of all the teasing sometimes but she is who she is.

Except when Talia Sanchez shows up at school, Ophelia realizes she might not know who she is quite as well as she thought. With high school ending, friendships changing, and a new crush that is totally off script, it feels like everything is up in the air. Now Ophelia has to decide if she can stay true to this new version of herself while holding onto the things and people she cares about in Ophelia After All (2022) by Raquel Marie.

Find it on Bookshop.

Ophelia After All is a standalone contemporary and Marie’s debut novel. Ophelia’s is biracial-Cuban on her mother’s side and white on her father’s leading to some thoughtful observations on racial stereotypes, microaggressions, and colorism. There’s a lot of diversity among the supporting cast including characters across the LGBT spectrum.

Ophelia’s narration is funny and thoughtful as she navigates her senior year of high school and the growing understanding that she might be bisexual–or something else she hasn’t learned the name of yet. With support from new friends like Wesley, Ophelia realizes that sexuality, like most things about a person’s identity, can be fluid and changeable. By the end of the story, Ophelia (and readers) also see that the queer community is open to all even if you’re still figuring things out.

With a crush that doesn’t go to plan and the bittersweet understanding that not all friendships are meant to last, Ophelia After All is a hopeful story about about endings and new beginnings.

Possible Pairings: The Pursuit of Miss Heartbreak Hotel by Moe Bonneau, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju, All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins, The One True Me and You by Remi K. England, The Year I Stopped Trying by Kate Heaney, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve

The Night Gardener: A Picture Book Review

The Night Gardener by The Fan BrothersWilliam doesn’t know what to think when the tree outside his window is transformed into an owl topiary overnight. Soon after more wonderful topiaries begin appearing in the neighborhood.

Eager to find out the secrets behind these wondrous creations, William sneaks out after dark to discover the night gardener at work. Soon, William begins working with the night gardener to create more beautiful trees and help change his town forever in The Night Gardener (2016) by The Fan Brothers (Eric and Terry Fan).

The Night Gardener makes full use of its large size with big full-page spreads of artwork throughout the book. Soft, washed out colors in the beginning of the book contrast sharply with the vivid greens used for each new topiary. The Fan Brothers even differentiate between day and night with a subtle blue hue overlaying each evening illustration.

The weight of color used throughout The Night Gardener also highlights the effect of each topiary on the town as more and more heavy color is used in each spread until, at the end of the story, the illustrations are full-color.

This is a charming picture book in the tradition of Grandpa Green by Lane Smith and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. The arc of the story is reminiscent of Daniel Pinkwater’s classic The Big Orange Splot, another book that slowly brings color and individuality to a decidedly beige town.

The Night Gardener is a gorgeous debut. The Fans combine luxuriant, detailed illustrations with a whimsical story to create a picture book that is sure to be a hit with readers of all ages. A likely suspect for many best picture books lists later in the year.