I shouldn’t have loved this book. It contains two of my fiction pet peeves. First, there are so many tragic events: so much bad has never happened to one child within such a short timespan, except in a Chris Crutcher novel. Second, it downplays the debilitating effects of trauma. Our main character, Ben, has multiple experiences of disrupted care from birth to ten–in and out of foster homes, group homes, and no lasting connection with a safe adult until he is ten years old. That is not a recipe for emotional adjustment, and yet Ben is incredibly well-adjusted with not a single symptom of the alphabet soup of diagnoses that most children with these experiences end up with. These two things bothered me on pretty much every page of the book. And yet, I couldn’t stop reading and I ended up giving it four stars on GoodReads. Griffin is a really good writer, and he tells an engaging, deeply emotional story that never feels emotionally manipulative (no easy feat given the plot twists and turns here). He writes about very sad things with a very light touch. The characters are so lovable and interesting and complex. And there’s a great dog at the center of the whole story.
Talking As Fast As I Can is a collection of essays and humor pieces by Lauren Graham, best read and appreciated by fans of her work on Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. If you haven’t watched those two shows, there is probably no compelling reason to read this book, but if you are a fan of her TV shows, you may enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at acting, Hollywood, and what it means to be so closely associated with one (or two) TV characters. It’s kind of like reading a book written by a smarter, more reflective Lorelai Gilmore. Graham has a strong voice, and while I liked the heartfelt moments in this book best, she is also a competent comic writer and there is plenty of funny.
The Iron Trial is the first in a five-novel fantasy series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. It’s like a darker, less charming Harry Potter: there’s a magic school and a Voldemort-like evil rogue magician; a boy who doesn’t know who he is and his two friends (a boy and girl); they have to learn magic, manage mischief, and fight evil. I probably won’t read the rest of the series because I wasn’t especially engaged by the story or characters, but I did love that it’s middle grade (though dark in parts–plenty of violence and death!), it’s SHORT, and the big plot twist was actually a surprise to me (though it shouldn’t have been–it’s also very Harry Potteresque!).
I plucked two books off my reading twin’s library hold shelf this week. Cat Secrets was one, and it’s a keeper. The cats are determined to share their cat secrets only with other cats, and they attempt to determine if the reader is a cat. There is much amusing conversation directly with readers (I can imagine that young readers could get quite involved in attempting the meows and purrs the cats require as proof of cat insider status) as well as a lot of interference by a tiny mouse that the cats manage to be totally unaware of. Lots to tickle the very young here.
I’m Not is the other title I snuck off my reading twin’s shelf (just to read in the library, in case that’s not clear. I am not actually trying to prevent my reading twin from checking out the books she has on hold by taking them for myself!), and I liked it, though the illustrations seemed a little too heavily influenced by James Marshall. It’s the story of two friends, one very outgoing and good at everything, and the other, well, not. In the end, however, the narrator discovers her own unique strengths and accepts the ways that she is different from her friend.
I Am Yoga is a really lovely, really calming title that depicts yoga practice in such a creative way. I loved the author’s note and description of the poses in the back as well as the message that we can use our breath and body to calm ourselves and connect ourselves to the world around us.
I really, really, REALLY don’t understand the appeal of this series. That makes me sad, because I love Bob Shea. Maybe you have to be reading it aloud to an appreciative audience?
Otto Grows Down is a funny–and intense!–exploration of one child’s wish that his new sister had never been born. The ending is inevitable: of course he has to learn to accept his new sibling. But the journey to get there is quite creative.
I liked this role reversal story of a Dad who is so excited to get to the zoo and then can’t quite behave once he’s there and the long-suffering, patient child who attempts to curb Dad’s wild exuberance. Plenty of silly fun for kids but also engaging for the grown-ups reading it to kids.