Yolanda Ridge

Middle Grade Author

Speed of Life

9781492654490Speed of Life

Author: Carole Weston

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9781492654490

This is another title for the middle grade grows up category. The main character, Sofia, is fourteen-years-old – right on the line between middle grade and young adult. It was shelved in the middle grade section of my local library but has some very young adult content, mainly about sex (although none of it is graphic). On Goodreads it is recommended for ages 11-15, which seems appropriate. My 11-year-old son chose not to read it when he got to ABCs of Adolescence but I think he was already put off by the first line “WARNING: This is kind of a sad story”.

Regardless of what category this title falls into (and despite the sadness factor, or perhaps because of it), Speed of Life a wonderful read. It is impossible not to cheer for Sofia as she grieves the loss of her mother and adjusts to her dad’s new relationship. Along the way, Sofia moves from the city to the suburbs and finds romance. Some of the coincidences – Dear Kate and Sam – are a little too coincidental but the characters are memorable and authentic enough to make up of this minor quibble.

The message – even though you never forget losing those you love, life without them slowly gets easier – is beautifully conveyed. This book is both heart breaking and heart warming all at the same time. Recommended.

 

 

 

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Real Friends

Real Friends

Author: Shannon Hale

Illustrator: LeUyen Pham

Publisher: First Second

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 1626727856

I don’t often review graphic novels but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them! I’m a big fan of letting children read everything and anything and I think graphic novels add to the diversity of choices in a truly great way. In addition, I don’t think graphic novels appeal only to those of lower reading ability of interest level. In fact, it’s possible that even for the most advance readers, picking up a graphic novel can challenge their brain in new and creative ways.

On to Real Friends! It is possible that I’m biased about this book because it’s set in the mid-80s and the main character, Shannon, was born in the same year as me! But really, kids of all ages will be able to relate to the ups and downs Shannon experiences as she tries to fit in with ‘the group’ while staying true to her own beliefs. Although this book focuses on friendships, it also deftly touches on other topics such as bullying, family dynamics, mental and behavioural health issues.

Shannon Hale’s portrayal of her own childhood is brave and unflinching. In an author’s note at the back, she explains where the story has been fictionalized, how the relationship with her sister has evolved since elementary school and why she felt it was important to share her experiences. I love her final message to readers:

“Friendship in younger years can be especially hard because our worlds are small. In high school and beyond, I found many supportive, lifelong friends. If you haven’t found your ‘group’ yet, hang in there. Your world will keep growing larger and wider. You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are.”

The pictures compliment the story beautifully, with vibrant colours and emotional detail that drip from the page. As LeUyen Pham says in her acknowledgments, Shannon has penned a story that feels like it was ripped out of my own memories and insecurities as a child and her drawings bring those feelings alive in a compelling and engaging way.

A wonderful collaboration!

 

 

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Call Me Sunflower

Call-Me-SunflowerTitle: Call Me Sunflower

Author: Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9781510711792

Sunny’s heart is in the right place – all she wants to do is to get her parents back together so she can move back to New Jersey with her mom and her sister. As she goes through each step of “Sunny Beringer’s Totally Awesome Plan for Romance”, readers will laugh and then cringe at her attempts to re-ignite their romance.

I love that this novel features a non-conventual family, Odyssey of the Mind and an animal rights subplot. And the secret Sunny uncovers when she finds a photo that makes her question her mom’s relationship with Scott – the only dad she’s ever known – provides just the right amount of tension and intrigue.

Another heart-warming middle grade novel by my my critique partner and writing friend, Miriam Spitzer Franklin. Highly recommended!

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I’ll Give You The Sun

Title: sun_375wI’ll Give You The Sun

Author: Jandy Nelson

Publisher: Dial Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-0803734968

Like We Are All Made of Molecules, I’ll Give You The Sun straddles the line between middle grade and young adult fiction. Unlike We Are All Made of Molecules, I’ll Give You The Sun falls much more solidly into the young adult category.

This book is also told from alternating points of view, twins named Noah and Jude. Interestingly, the chapters from Noah’s point of view are told when he was thirteen-years-old and Jude’s chapters come three years later when she is sixteen. This is not just a gimmick, it is part to the story. In Noah’s chapters, the twins are close and life is pretty good. In Jude’s chapters, the twins have lost their bond, their personalities have switched and it is clear that something has happened to blow their lives apart.

As the story progresses, going back and forth between Noah and Jude’s narratives, readers discover what happened and layers of secrets and deception get revealed. Although Noah (and Jude) are obviously younger in his chapters, the word choice and content may still be uncomfortable for younger middle grade readers.

I’ll Give You The Sun is a powerful, heart wrenching story about art and loss. It has a message for readers of many different ages but will resonate most with those mature enough to relate to the myriad of emotions explored.

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We Are All Made of Molecules

Title: We Are All Made of Molecules6-11-14-molecules-2

Author: Susin Neilsen

Publisher: Tundra Books

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 978-1770497795

This book is aimed at a slightly older audience than most of the books I include on this site (in some places it is listed as middle grade, in other places young adult). I’m including it because it’s good – very good – and also because the categorization of books based on age is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

It is told from the alternating view points of thirteen-year-old Stewart and fourteen-year-old Ashley, who are thrown together when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Although Stewart is gifted (or perhaps because of it), he is socially immature and the chapters told from his perspective are clearly middle grade. But Ashley, although only one year older, is in some ways precocious putting both her voice and the content of her chapters into the young adult category.

The book tackles mature content matter, most notably the fact that Ashely almost gets raped, which  may be difficult for some younger readers to process. (It was difficult for me, as well, but likely in a different way and for different reasons.) Still, I would argue that preteen readers should be exposed to some of these issues in the safely and context of the book before they are experiencing it themselves.

This is a topic I will be addressing in future posts. Age of main character, target audience, and content maturity is an issue that’s affecting my own writing a lot lately. In the meantime, I highly recommend We Are All Made of Molecules for middle grade readers (and above) who are ready to tackle more challenging content and love a good book!

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The Expendable

THE EXPENDABLE, published in YOUTH IMAGINATION MAGAZINE, is a short story written by my friend and critique partner, Jerry Mikorenda. It is aimed at a slightly older audience than most of the books I review on this site, but it is an important read for everyone, especially today. Check it out.

The Expendable, Youth Imagination.

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The Wild Robot

Title: The Wild Robotwildrobot1

Author & Illustrator: Peter Brown

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 0316381993

A middle grade book about nature triumphing over technology? Yes, please!

On the surface, The Wild Robot is a book set in the not-so-distant future where robots (or robot creators) rule everything but the small island where ROZZUM unit 7134 (aka Roz), gets stranded after her cargo ship sinks. Beyond that, it is a story of love, community, and the force of nature with layered themes that will resonate with a wide range of readers. The relationship Roz develops with an orphaned gosling, Brightbill, is so touching and full of humanity that it brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. Not your typical robot story, that’s for sure.

Although character development is paramount, Peter Brown does not sacrifice on  plot. Essentially a survival story, the ending is shocking, sad and oddly satisfying (with more than a hint about the possibility of a sequel).

As another reviewer said, “This book will do for robots what Charlotte’s Web did for pigs”. Read it (or listen to the audiobook) – I promise it will make you re-think the future of Artificial Intelligence.

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The League of Unexceptional Children

Title: The League of Unexceptional Children

Author: Gitty Daneshvari

Illustrator: James Lancet

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 0316405701

Not only do I love the concept of this book, the execution is great too! I listened to the audiobook on a summer road trip with my sister, 9-year-old niece, and two 10-year-old sons (yes – twins). It kept the kids engaged the entire time and made my sister and I laugh out loud on several (okay, many) occasions.

The start is a bit slow but once the “unexceptional children”, Jonathan and Shelley, are introduced the reader is drawn immediately into their world. Making the point that not everyone is exceptional – and nor they don’t need to be – does not get in the way of a great adventure story that involves saving the Vice-President of the United States.

I’m not sure if I missed any great visuals by not reading the actual book but the audio narrator is amazing and the voices she does really brings the story to light. Prepare to laugh and cheer for the unexceptional.

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Painting in the Dark

97819434311441Title: Painting in the Dark: Esref Armagan, Blind Artist

Author: Rachelle Burk

Illustrator: Claudia Gadotti

Publisher: TumbleHome Learning

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 987-1-943431-15-1

This nonfiction picture book, aimed at 8 to 12 year-olds, introduces readers to Esref Armagan, a blind artist from Turkey. In typical biography style, author Rachelle Burk outlines Esref’s life chronologically, which is well laid out and researched. What makes this book special is the focus on how the artist developed his ability to paint things he’d never actually seen.

Accompanying the text are a few samples of Esref’s work, incorporated into vibrant illustrations by Claudia Gadotti. Unfortunately, some of the text, which changes color to stand out against the corresponding background, is often obscured by the illustrations.

This will not in any way prevent readers from being touched by Esref’s story. Reading about all the obstacles he faced in becoming an artist will inspired people of all ages, regardless of the type of limitations they must personally overcome. Artists in particular will enjoy learning how he continually improved his paintings by learning to add elements like shadow and perspective.

Making Painting in the Dark  even more powerful is the fact that Esref Armagan is still alive and he is not world famous or rich. He has struggled and continues to persevere.  I could not think of a better person to feature in a biography for young readers. Highly recommended for the school library.

Addendum: According to the publisher and author, the text issue has been addressed in a new printing of the book. Good News!

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OCDaniel

Title: OCDanielocdaniel-9781481455312_lg

Author: Wesley King

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge

ISBN: 9781481455312

Based at least partly on the author’s own experience with obsessive compulsive disorder (as outlined in the author note at the end), this book is a must read for all school aged kids. With up to 20% of children experiencing some type of mental illness, OCDaniel shows why some people chose to keep their “craziness” hidden while providing  hope for affected kids, their friends and family.

But that’s not why you should read this book (and recommend it to all the young people in your life). You should read OCDaniel because it is entertaining, touching, insightful, and commassionate. You should read it because there’s football. You should read it because there’s a mystery. You should read it because you will fall in love with Daniel, Psycho Sara, and all the other realistic characters in this book (especially best friend of the year – Max!)…. But most of all, you should read OCDaniel because it is so darn good!

Without spoiling the ending, you will route for the Elephants even if you don’t like football and have no idea what a kicker does. And the mystery will definitely keep you guessing even though the actions of one character’s mom stretches credibility.

A mix of Wonder and Fault in our Stars, and just as well written, OCDaniel will not disappoint in any way. Highly recommended!

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