With the insane amount of reading that’s gone on for Cybils so far, I’ve had a ton of things pile up for review. Though these reviews go over the 140-character limit style of Twitter, they’re still short and to the point.
Pure Red by Danielle Joseph: This book reminded me a lot of Liz Gallagher’s My Not So Still Life, as both stories portray a girl who is struggling to understand who she is as an artist. Meaning, a little quirky, a little outside the social norms of her school, and inevitably, a little in love with a boy who she believes in unreachable. In this novel, Cassia is really fixated on colors and what the meaning with/behind them is, which was an interesting aspect of the writing itself. But overall, this read was kind of forgettable for me. I wanted more out of the character relationships, especially between Cassia and her father, but there was never an arc to them. More than that, though, it never felt as though Cassia changed from the beginning of the story to the end, other than finally going after Graham’s cute butt, which I heard just a little too much about. That said, this book is clean and the voice is young, so it’s likely a good choice for your middle school readers and those who want a safe pick.
The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow: This historical fiction takes place right at the rise of Nazi Germany and follows Karl Stern. He’s made a deal with the infamous Max Schmeling, a boxing legend, and he’ll be receiving lessons in exchange for one of his father’s paintings. The problem is that Karl is Jewish. Even though he doesn’t look like it from the outside, he is, and it’s a secret he guards to the best of his abilities. He doesn’t always win, though, and when he’s outed as a Jew during a high stakes boxing match, Karl’s world and dreams crumble before his eyes. But it only gets worse from there. This emotional, fast-paced book was engaging and the writing made me fall immediately into Karl’s world. However, I found the passage of time to be a huge issue in this book, as months go by with little to no mention; during an era when life changed literally by the second in Germany, I wanted a lot more out of Karl and his life. The ending was also a complete let down, as it was far too tidy and too easy, and it left a lot of strings loose I wanted tied together a little more. Great for fans of historical fiction, especially of the World War II variety outside the actual war itself.
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell: If ever there were a book to hand off to die hard fans of Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen series, this might be the one. This story is about Janie Gorman, a girl who is a little different from her peers in more ways than one. When high school starts, she’s determined to make herself fit in, but that’s a little hard to do when you live on a farm and always seem to be bringing that with you wherever you go. Things start to change, though, when Janie learns that being strange is okay and maybe even a good thing. This story is fun and quirky, and while it’s not the strongest written nor have the deepest characters, it’s one that has good appeal to many teen readers. Like Murdock’s book, it’s also a clean read and perfect for younger teen readers and even readers who are a little too old for middle grade books.
What Comes After y Steve Watkins: This story about loss is less about the grieving process so much as it is about resettling post-trauma. Iris’s father’s died, and when she’s sent to live with a cold and unfeeling aunt thousands of miles away, she’s immediately an outcast. Her aunt and cousin are abusive towards her — so much so that they’re put into jail after a violent attack, and she’s sent to live with a foster family. Although this gets a little convoluted-sounding, it’s not. Iris throws her passion and loneliness into taking care of her aunt’s goats, and these become her source of comfort, along with a boy named Littleberry. Though the book was well written, it did drag on quite a while, and at times, it fixated on unnecessary moments that weren’t essential to the plot or character development. Those who like stories of redemption though will appreciate this one. Bonus for a few twists I didn’t see coming in that redemption.
Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia: This book follows three girls — Vivien, from New York City via Miami via Cuba; Shirin, from Iran; and Ingrid, from small town Ontario, Canada — as they spend a summer together at a boarding school in Switzerland. It’s a literary novel, so there is little action or movement, but there is a lot of character development along the way. Timing and pacing didn’t work for me, and I found the motivation behind character actions to be completely missing. It didn’t make sense to me why the characters did what they did, since we weren’t allowed into their minds quite enough. This book reminded me a LOT of Nina de Gramont’s Gossip of the Starlings. Wealthy girls who did things at a boarding school because they could just didn’t work for me. That said, some of the writing was downright delectable. Vivien’s obsession with food was clear in the language, and I would have loved to have a taste of some of her meals. The ending of this one, too, was way too convenient. Who knew the girls REALLY had a deeper connection than a few summers together at boarding school? I kind of saw it coming from miles away.
Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams: Set in Zimbabwe at the height of government rebellion, Deo has seen his unfair share of loss and destruction, but it’s when his mother and grandfather are mercilessly killed that he must take his older brother Innocence and get out as fast as he can. Innocence has a mental disorder, making him much less and older brother to Deo and more like a child. The boys escape Zimbabwe and make their way to South Africa, where they’ve paid for the dream of freedom, but they soon learn that that freedom really doesn’t exist. This emotionally-pounding book is a raw look at the terror and destruction in the lives of kids in this part of the world. I had a problem with Deo as a character though, and while the title sort of explains the entire premise of dealing with tragedy, I needed to get to know him more at the front of the story. He didn’t handle his emotions except through running (and soccer), but I needed just a little more to buy that about him as a character. We’re thrown to personal tragedy too soon to understand his coping mechanics. Innocence was a fabulous character and an heartbreakingly real depiction of the state of mental health and understanding. Moreover, there is a lot of back matter in the story about xenophobia, but that doesn’t play quite the role in the book as it could have — and had that been amped up, even with an additional 25-30 pages of writing, this story would have been even stronger. This book will have appeal to readers who like stories set abroad, those who like tales of survival, and those who have read books like Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. It’s fiction, but it’s based on reality.