#reviewsontues Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown-girl-dreaming

In spare and lovely free verse poems, Woodson describes her early life. Born in Ohio, she moved with her mother and siblings to South Carolina at a young age, then to New York a few years later. Woodson describes how she learned to tell stories, while also exploring the era in which she grew up and the experiences — some happy, some sad — that she shared with her close-knit family.

This book has garnered many honors, and its distinguished qualities are immediately evident. I tend to want memoirs to be more like novels (real life has a distressing lack of plot, have you noticed?), but Woodson does a good job of tying her life story together in a cohesive way. Whether it scoops a lot of big awards or not, I think this is an important book, and I’d recommend it to memoir readers and kid lit aficionados. –MT

#reviewsontues Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen

 

In Mare Barrow’s world, there are Reds, and there are Silvers. Reds are the ordinary people: the workers, soldiers, commoners. Silvers are the wealthy and powerful. The difference is a matter of blood: Silvers have evolved with extraordinary abilities, and Reds have not. Mare is a Red, living a hand-to-mouth existence and picking pockets to get by, dreading her mandatory conscription into the army on her 18th birthday (a fate that has already befallen her three older brothers). When she picks the wrong pocket and gets caught, Mare expects harsh punishment, but instead the stranger whose pocket she attempted to pick gives her money and arranges for her to get a job at the palace — a job that will keep her out of the army and pay well enough that she will be able to contribute more to her family than she ever could have by stealing. But when Mare finds herself once again in the wrong place at the wrong time, she and everyone around her discovers that she has a rare talent, one not held by any Silver. The king and queen go to great lengths to cover up Mare’s abilities, taking her into the royal court and introducing her as a Silver raised by a Red family, even affiancing her to their younger son. But a rebellion is rising in the land, and Mare finds herself pulled in two different directions. She must appear to embrace her life as a Silver, or she will be killed — the king and queen have been very clear on this point. But her heart is still with the Reds. Can she find a way to help the rebel forces from within the palace?

If some of these plot points seem familiar, it’s probably because this book has a lot of similarities to other recent YA dystopias. It’s well-trodden ground at this point: the oppressive regime, the feisty heroine with special powers, the love triangles, the fighting lessons, the plot twists. That doesn’t necessarily make this book less enjoyable than its counterparts, at least for readers who like this sort of book. I thought the initial premise was interesting and the pacing was good — it kept me reading even past the plot holes that I can see, looking back. Mare didn’t seem to have any chemistry with any of her potential romantic interests, but I think that might have been at least somewhat intentional on the author’s part. This is a series that I’ll probably continue reading, and will definitely recommend to teens looking for an action-packed dystopian story.

-MT

#reviewsontues Nest by Esther Ehrlich

NestNaomi, or Chirp, as she prefers to be called, lives a happy, secure life with her close-knit family on Cape Cod. During Chirp’s eleventh year, however, her life changes in many ways. When her mother is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and then sinks into a deep depression for which she is hospitalized for many months, Chirp, her father, and her older sister are left to struggle along together, each taking on roles unfamiliar to them. In this uncertain time, Chirp forms a tentative friendship with Joey, the boy next door, whose unhappy home life is a dark contrast to Chirp’s. And when Chirp is going through a particularly difficult time, her friendship with Joey may provide the safe space that she needs when her world seems to be falling apart.

This book does a fine job of being poignant but not manipulative in dealing with serious subject matter. Characterization is definitely one of this author’s strong suits — each character is flawed but likable, and acts in ways that seemed to me entirely true to life. I do wonder why the author chose to set the book in the 1970s, as opposed to present-day. All in all, this is a good book for readers who enjoy juvenile fiction that touches on serious issues.

Review by Misti, Children’s Librarian

#reviewsontues Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted

Every ten years, the Dragon descends from his tower and takes a maiden as his tribute. Of course, he’s not a real dragon, but rather a powerful sorcerer who protects the villagers from the malignant power of the Wood. And he neither devours the maidens nor ravishes them, but somehow, even when he releases them, they never want to return to their homes and families, but instead travel to a distant city and make their own lives there. Agnieszka hates the Dragon — not because she fears that he will take her, but because he’s almost certainly going to take Kasia, her dearest friend. When he chooses Agnieszka, she is torn between dread, fury, and intense homesickness, and is determined to be as unhelpful as possible. She detests the ornate gowns he magics her into, is exhausted when he uses her to cast spells, and is outraged to discover that he is asking more of her than he has of any of his previous maidens. Agnieszka would never have believed it, but she has magic of her own, and the sorcerer’s exhausting attempts at magic are actually his version of lessons. For his own part, the sorcerer seems to see her as a colossal bother, one he’d rather be without — but when disaster strikes, Agnieszka quickly discovers that her magical powers may be more useful than she’s previously realized, if only she can find a way to make them work properly.

If I look at the individual elements of this book, they all sound familiar: the clumsy young girl and the powerful, ageless sorcerer, the evil that lurks in the heart of the forest, the novice magic user who finds that her way of using power is unique, or at least very different from her teacher’s, the driven young prince and the power-hungry opponent sorcerer (yeah, I didn’t even get to them in my summary). But when all of these elements are put together by a powerful writer like Novik, they achieve a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not perfect — I struggled to get past the squickiness of the romantic angle (giiirrrrllll, he’s 200 years older than you!) — but the story itself is so gripping, and the romance is handled much better than it could have been. All in all, a very enjoyable read for fans of fantasy stories with an epic, fairy-tale feel.

Review by Misti Tidman, Children’s Librarian