Middle Grade

31247023Title: Lucky Broken Girl
Author: Ruth Behar
Pages: 256
Year: 2017
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisBased on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed. Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

I think it’s so neat that this is a sort of fictionalization of the author’s own experience. In my time interning at literary agencies, I have read a lot of proposals for memoirs that people have written or planned to write that I think would work so much better as fiction, and this is a great example of that. It struck me how engaged I felt in the story where the main character could not leave her bed. And I really felt all the things that she felt. I was inspired by Chicho who shows her how to paint and teaches her about Frida Kahlo, and I was kind of annoyed by that snooty little Belgian girl that I knew was not being snooty on purpose, but sheesh, did she really need to wave her perfection in our faces? (Yes, I do get intimidated by ten-year-olds, okay?) I learned a lot about a lot of different cultures from this book, which is a great thing especially in a middle grade book. I only took my rating down to four stars because there was this little background issue where Ruthie’s mother was clearly being at least mildly psychologically abused by Ruthie’s father, but the author didn’t go anywhere with that. And maybe it never escalated to much in their real life, but I wanted some kind of progression. Ruthie’s mother didn’t necessarily have to leave him, but I at least wanted her to start to be able to acknowledge what was happening. But overall, I think this is a great book to give to any middle-school-aged people you know, as well as a good one to read yourself.

Speaking of interning, today is my last day at Writers House! I didn’t think I would feel so sad, but I do, and I will miss this place a lot. But I will always be reading and reviewing books, even if it’s just actual published books for a while. Who knows what I’ll be doing next! Happy reading, friends.


781110Title: Fever 1793
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Pages: 272
Year: 2000
Publisher: Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisIt’s late summer 1793, and the streets of Philadelphia are abuzz with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Down near the docks, many have taken ill, and the fatalities are mounting. Now they include Polly, the serving girl at the Cook Coffeehouse. But fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook doesn’t get a moment to mourn the passing of her childhood playmate. New customers have overrun her family’s coffee shop, located far from the mosquito-infested river, and Mattie’s concerns of fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of growing her family’s small business into a thriving enterprise. But when the fever begins to strike closer to home, Mattie’s struggle to build a new life must give way to a new fight—the fight to stay alive.

I cannot believe we are 12 days into 2017 and I have only finished one book. I have been so ridiculously busy trying to plan my life that I’ve had no time to do anything fun. Plus, I spend 16 hours a day analyzing books at my internship so it’s hard to want to do any more of that than I have to–hence the life planning. Anyway, I started reading this in December and finished it a week ago and am just now sitting down to write about it.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again five hundred thousand times: Laurie Halse Anderson is the greatest human being on the planet and everything she does is wonderful. I never paid attention in history class so I’m not the right person to fact-check this, but I definitely trust her to have done her research, so I felt like I learned a lot while being thoroughly entertained, and also having my heart broken. Mattie’s relationship with her grandfather is very precious, and it is (satisfyingly) painful to see that taken away from her. And then when she finds Nell, my heart is put back together. And Mattie herself is so fierce and so full of love, and she makes for a great protagonist. Oh, and the other little thing that I thought really made this book stand out is the quotes at the beginning of every chapter from historical books and letters. Some of them were really funny, like the ones about girls and etiquette. And then there were quotes from actual characters in the book who I didn’t realize were real until I read the quotes. That was really cool. And I’m not surprised because my book mother is perfect and creative and amazing. I love you, Laurie.

I wish I had more to say about this, but I didn’t take notes while I was reading, and also regardless of who wrote it, historical fiction is not my thing. BUT if you want more fantastic opinions, please read the Goodreads reviews because it is full of precious little middle schoolers weighing in on their reading experiences and it makes me sooooo happy.

15937108Title: Counting by 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Pages: 380
Year: 2013
Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 6 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisWillow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life… until now. Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

I really wanted to give this book five stars. Counting by 7s is so close to being perfect. Willow Chance is an amazing girl, and I wish I could adopt her myself. Mai and Quang-ha and Pattie are all amazing too, and together they make such a beautiful and diverse family. Despite my typical reservations on this topic, I loved the change in perspectives. You would think it would be so weird and complicated switching from first person present tense to third person past tense and back, but it worked so flawlessly. It was perfect for this book, though I probably wouldn’t encourage other writers to use it. It seems like the type of thing that can only work in very specific books. I am also impressed by all the research that must have gone into this Counting by 7s, from the Vietnamese language to types of plants.

A lot of reviewers on Goodreads feel like the ending wrapped itself up a little too neatly. I see their point, but I think a lot of these people are forgetting that they’re reading a book for children. Neat, happy endings are okay. I do agree with one thing, though (spoiler ahead): Pattie let her kids live in a garage when she had the money to buy a whole apartment building, and that doesn’t make sense. Well, I see how it could make sense. I can relate to living in conditions that I don’t need to live in in an attempt to save money so that I can live in much better conditions in the future, but I don’t understand why Pattie wouldn’t let her kids at least live somewhere normal, but she’ll buy the whole building for Willow, whom she’s known for a few months. A lot of people are saying, and it feels natural to do so, that she’s doing this for Willow when she won’t even do it for her actual kids, but as a future adoptive parent, I don’t like that language, because an adopted child is just as much that person’s child as their biological children. But I still think it doesn’t add up for her to do that upon the addition of Willow to her family and not before. I think it would have been just as easy and just as satisfying to have Pattie decide to move them all into an apartment, and the money could have come from the increase in customers at the nail salon due to Willow’s changes.

That’s part of what brought my rating down–not so much what happened at the end but more the fact that a more believable but just as happy ending was so easy. But the other thing that brought my rating down was Dell Duke. A lot of this is my own bias: I don’t trust men with children. I realize that Dell doesn’t actually do any harm to Willow, but in my experience, men, especially men like Dell, are careless, and they can’t see past themselves and are therefore incapable of helping others. I realize how this statement could be interpreted as “unfair” because “not all men” blah blah blah, but I don’t really care. Dell made me very uncomfortable. He should not have had those children in his car, and he should not have taken them out to eat despite the fact that that’s what they wanted to do. He was beyond unprofessional and irresponsible as a guidance counsellor. I don’t care how much he was “redeemed” at the end. He creeped me out.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I would recommend it to pretty much anyone. I think it would have been an inspirational read for me as a middle schooler, and I wish I could send it back in time to my twelve-year-old self. As for my twenty-two-year-old self, I interviewed for the coveted Writers House internship on Monday. I had to read a manuscript and provide a critique for them last week, and it turned out that they liked it! They told me they started with 1200 applicants and interviewed 40, and that this is why they do the writing assignment–lots of people had several great internships on their resume while all I have is retail at Barnes & Noble, but that doesn’t matter if they can’t do the work. That made me feel really good and really capable, even if I don’t end up getting it. I was just doing what I already do here, and what I love to do more than anything else! I love New York!

22749695Title: The Trap
Author: Steven Arntson
Pages: 256
Year: 2015
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Time taken to read: 4 hours
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisIt’s the summer of 1963, and something strange is afoot in the quiet town of Farro, Iowa. The school district’s most notorious bully has gone missing without a trace, and furthermore, seventh grader Henry Nilsson and his friends have just found an odd book stashed in the woods by Longbelly Gulch—a moldy instruction guide written to teach the art of “subtle travel,” a kind of out-of-body experience. The foursome will soon discover that out-of-body life isn’t so subtle after all—there are some very real, and very dangerous, things happening out there in the woods. The science fiction inventiveness of Madeleine L’Engle meets the social commentary of Gary Schmidt in this thrilling tale of missing persons, first crushes, embarrassing pajamas, and thought-provoking dilemmas.

As much as I love YA and children’s books, I actually don’t find myself reading a lot of middle grade books, although obviously I was always attached to one when I was, like, seven years old. I read this one because I’m interviewing at a literary agency in a few weeks for an internship there, and I thought it would probably be good to have read at least one book that they’ve represented. I did not plan to finish this book in one sitting when I took it down to Central Park yesterday, but here we are.

I liked the setting a lot. I thought it was really neat to have the layers of sci-fi and fantasy and civil rights and racism. Although, when I explained the plot to my boyfriend, he said, “Okay, I buy the ghosts and the astral projection, but you lost me when you said the book claims someone in Iowa in the 1960s knows both someone who’s Native American and someone who’s Chinese.” Truthfully, I had the same thought while reading this, but I love representation, and especially in a children’s book where there are ghosts running around, I don’t really care how logical that representation is. (I honestly don’t know if it’s illogical or not. I know nothing about Iowa or the 1960s.)

The actual plot was okay. I was interested enough to want to know what was going to happen, and like I said, I did finish the book in one sitting. I thought the whole thing with the Fibonacci sequence and the “subtle self” was a little weird and creepy, but it was creative, and I suppose I can see how a kid would enjoy it. Henry was a pretty fun main character. I liked the twin dynamic, although I did not appreciate his remarks in the beginning about how she should have had the bike that was “for boys” because she was the tougher one. I don’t deny that kids think like that, especially decades ago, though still mostly now too, but it definitely had no place in a book like this. If you’re writing for children, you have to be mindful of the messages you’re sending.

In any case, this was a fun read, but now I have to go be a real adult and do real adult things like pay my rent and go to work. I am very excited for the start of September tomorrow! If you have any recommendations for good autumn reads, please let me know. And if there are any fans of middle grade books reading this, tell me your favorite! Maybe I will read more middle grade stuff.