Genre: Family

ARC Illumination: Everything, Everything (2015) by Nicola Yoon

ARC Illumination: Everything, Everything (2015) by Nicola YoonEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Published by Random House Children's Books on September 3rd 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Love & Romance, Family, Contemporary
Pages: 320
Goodreads
five-stars

Madeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. But when Olly moves in next door, and wants to talk to Maddie, tiny holes start to appear in the protective bubble her mother has built around her. Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper, shows it at her window, and suddenly, a door opens. But does Maddie dare to step outside her comfort zone?

Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

Happy August, readers! The blog has been on a bit of a hiatus due to my pretty busy teaching load this summer, but I’m happy to say that I’m gradually returning back. I have loads of books to tell you about, and I’m sure you’re also anxious about getting Part 2 of my ALA recap! I’m eager to post it. More updates coming soon, but first, I must tell you about Everything, Everything!

What an impressive and beautiful book. Many of my friends on Twitter and Goodreads had been raving about this one, and the unique premise (along with the cover) really drew me to this debut. I was thankful to pick up a Print ARC at ALA, and I was almost jumping for joy at getting a matching tote. Upon arriving home, this is one of the first books I picked up, and without further ado, let’s get to my thoughts on this September release YA!

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What I Loved:

The creative narrative structure: Drawings, e-mails, air quality reports, and chat room dialogues pepper the narrative of Everything, Everything and I loved it! I think this creativity added a depth and richness to the story that wouldn’t have been achieved without these unique additions.

The voice of the MC: Maddy is endearing, curious, and sometimes fearful. But she’s willing to take a risk on her next door neighbor, Olly. And the fact is, “He’s not safe. He’s not familiar. He’s in constant motion. He’s the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.” Of course, we cheer Maddy on, and though this isn’t a thriller, I feel like I was on the edge of my seat waiting for this couple to get together. Would Olly brave the air lock room and the decontamination in order to see Maddy, who’s allergic to almost everything in the outside world? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out…

The depiction of conflict: Every relationship, if it’s an authentic and close one, will endure conflict of some sort. That’s what happens when people are real with one another. Whether it’s between Maddy and her mom or Maddy and Olly, the dialogue, emails, and chat transcripts in the book illuminate the ups and downs of these connections. As Maddy is growing up, and eventually trying to hide her connection with Olly from her mother, she inevitably drifts apart from her mother in order to make her own way in the world. It’s astounding, in some ways, thinking about how much Maddy is missing in her life just due to the fact that she is confined to a very small space, and isn’t allowed outside. Or…she might die. Her mother and her “nurse” are the two people she mostly sees everyday. Until Olly comes along—the boy next door. Then, everything changes. Everything. But this change is good. Even though the changes that ensue are painful at times, they prove to be the best kind of changes that happen for Maddy.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

Madeleine gradually opens up to the idea of love in her life—romantic love, that is, and it takes an immense amount of courage for her to do so. But Olly is such a sensitive friend to Madeleine, and he seems to understand her fears and trepidation. I think this reflects a spiritual aspect of the book in that it highlights the way people make room for our weaknesses and fears—true friends will understand that sometimes it’s a journey for a relationship to blossom. Nurturing has to take place, and when we’re in tune with the spiritual part of our selves—that aspect that is in tune to other people’s unvoiced fears, we can be more sensitive in our connections and interactions. The book really dives into the characters—Madeleine, her Mother, Olly—the result is a beautiful character driven story that illuminates the power and magic of love. Also: of growing up. Growing up is an essential part of life, and for Madeleine, it brings some pain. Especially in relation to discoveries she makes. No spoilers here, but there are some painful points in the story. It’s realistic in that it depicts the ups and downs of figuring out who you are and what you want right in the middle of some of the most confusing years: the teenage ones.

“Maybe growing up means disappointing the people we love.”

“You can’t predict the future. It turns out that you can’t predict the past either. Time moves in both directions – forward and backward – and what happens here and now changes them both.”

Spoiler alert: Love is worth everything. Everything.”

Who Should Read This Book:

Readers who enjoy young adult contemporaries would most assuredly enjoy this novel featuring a protagonist with a unique medical condition. It’s character driven, yes, but there are plenty of significant interactions, even a tropical vacation, what’s not to love about Maddy and Olly? I know I’ll be thinking about these characters for a long time, and that ending was just perfect!

The Final Illumination:

One thing I love about this book (among other things) is the cover! Isn’t it stunning? What a wonderful choice on the part of the cover designers because it seems (to me) to encapsulate part of the story’s theme. Where once life was dull with very little change and variety, new relationships can open up dimension and depth and detail and color…

What did you think of Everything, Everything? Are you planning on reading it when it releases in September? Drop by my Twitter account where I’ll have a Preorder Giveaway going on for the book!

five-stars
What Katie Read

An Award Winner: The Crossover (2014) by Kwame Alexander

An Award Winner: The Crossover (2014) by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014
Genres: Basketball, Family, Middle Grade, Novel in Verse, Parents, Poetry, Realistic, School & Education, Siblings, Sports & Recreation
Pages: 237
Goodreads
five-stars

2015 Newbery Medal Winner 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner "With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).    Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

Where were you at the end of January? Did you listen to the live stream of the ALA youth media awards?!? Or were you there? Even if you weren’t there or didn’t listen, you may know that the winner of the Newbery Award, the most prestigious award in children’s literature, for 2014, went to The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

Today I want to tell you my thoughts about this powerful and stunning novel in verse—sure to appeal to male AND female readers. It left a lasting impression on me, and I’m curious to know what others thought.

I was lucky enough to hear Alexander speak during lunch at the recent New England regional conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators in Massachusetts. What a fabulous speaker! He even shared a poem at the end of his talk, which left the audience moved and wanting more.

This snippet from his award winning novel is just one example of his perfect metaphors:

In this game of life

Your family is the court

And the ball is your heart.

What I Loved:

The relationship between the Brothers: Josh and Jordan Bell are twins, and they share a lot, including a passion and gift for basketball. They love their mother and father dearly, and their father, once a famous basketball player himself, plays a strong role in the story. One aspect of this book I loved, though, was the depiction of the relationship between the brothers. It’s from Josh’s point of view that we hear the story, and over the course of 237 pages, these thirteen year old twins go through quite a bit. Sure, their relationship has some bumps along the way, but ultimately their connection endures its test, and their love for their family stands strong. With each poem titled, I think Alexander exceptionally described the strength and uniqueness of the twins’ relationship.

The imagery: Wow! Is one way to express how I feel about Alexander’s imagery. Whether it’s “arms as heavy as sea anchors,” “JB’s eyes are ocean wide,” or “to push water uphill,” this novel in verse is chock full of stunning language and rhythm that will reinforce the power of a narrative told in verse. And if you like basketball, you definitely can’t pass up the chance to read The Crossover. You’ll feel like you’re in the court with Josh and JB and right in the middle of the action. Check out “Fast Break” on page 149, for example.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

The Connections Among Family: There’s no way I can’t mention a spiritual aspect of this book as it relates to the profound connections within family. Josh’s mother and father both play an important role in the story, and this book definitely wouldn’t be the same without them in it. There’s no doubt that Josh and JB love their parents, and they’re influenced (for the better) by both of them. When tragedy strikes their home, it’s even more apparent how strong their family bonds actually are. The story is a testament to the importance of our families, and also the significance of honoring what our parents have sacrificed for us, their children.

Who Should Read This Book:

I’ll probably recommend this book to just about everyone—one reason being that this book won the Newbery and I think it’s important to read the books that win the major awards (even if only to consider what the committee deemed noteworthy that year). However, this novel in verse is a quick read, powerful, and beautiful. I loved it, and though I have to admit that I may have cried a little, the story is worth it. I will genuinely miss Josh’s voice, and will just have to go hunt down more of Alexander’s work.

What did you think about the award winning books this year? Have you read any of them? Are there any novels in verse you think I must read?

five-stars
What Katie Read

Middle Grade Review: The Question of Miracles (2015) by Elana K. Arnold

Middle Grade Review: The Question of Miracles (2015) by Elana K. ArnoldThe Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 3rd 2015
Genres: Death & Dying, Family, Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Religious, Social Issues
Pages: 208
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Sixth-grader Iris Abernathy hates life in Corvallis, Oregon, where her family just moved. It’s always raining, and everything is so wet. Besides, nothing has felt right since Iris’s best friend, Sarah, died. When Iris meets Boris, an awkward mouth-breather with a know-it-all personality, she’s not looking to make a new friend, but it beats eating lunch alone. Then she learns that Boris’s very existence is a medical mystery, maybe even a miracle, and Iris starts to wonder why some people get miracles and others don’t. And if one miracle is possible, can another one be too? Can she possibly communicate with Sarah again?

“Bad things happen, Iris thought. People die. Eggs sometimes do not hatch. But miracles…they happen too.”

What I Loved:

Iris asks the Hard Questions: I think Iris is such a wonderful character. Even though she doesn’t understand something—why miracles happen for some people and not for others, she keeps asking and  wondering. She is determined and if there is a glimmer of hope for a miracle for herself (seeing her best friend again), she’s going to pursue that.

“…maybe there was another part to her—a soul—and maybe that part was still out there.”

“But what I want to know is, if there is a God…if divine intervention is possible…then why would miracles only happen sometimes? Wouldn’t it make more sense, if God could make good things happen, that miracles would happen all the time?”

The Treatment of Grief in the Narrative: Even though this is a Middle Grade story, with a sixth grade protagonist, the author doesn’t shy away from tough topics. I think the way grief was treated in the book was sensitive and honest. The fact is that Iris’s best friend was killed the previous school year, and though the family has moved from California to Oregon and Iris is seeing a counselor, that kind of traumatic event is certain to have effects on Iris. This is a slim book, but I felt that there was a satisfying resolution to Iris’s working through getting over the death of her friend (and saying goodbye). The metaphor of gardening represents another important aspect of the story and played into the overarching themes of the story. When Iris joins her father to help with his garden, it represents more than just an activity to get Iris thinking about something else.

The Spiritual Aspects of the Story: Whether it is Iris wondering if a miracle is possible to bring back her best friend, Sarah, or her realization that Sarah’s ghost may in fact be living in her house, Arnold’s narrative features several pretty explicit spiritual aspects. At one point, Iris leaves a gift for Sarah—Sarah’s favorite book, Anne of Green Gables. Iris’s mother realizes Iris has left the book for Sarah, and the resulting conversation isn’t patronizing or discouraging. I thought the presence of these aspects in the story added a rich dimension to a sensitive topic, and I was glad the author didn’t shy away from some of the more difficult questions her protagonist asks.

This leads directly into the next category….

Illuminations of Spirituality:

Because of Iris’s journey throughout the book, the story also positions the reader to ask these (spiritual) questions:

What happens to our family and friends when they die?

Is there any way to contact them after death?

Why do miracles happen for some people and not for others?

All of these are pretty serious questions, but the book is an excellent jumping off point for talking about some of these questions with the middle grade crowd (or older readers too).

Who Should Read This Book:

Fans of The Secret Hum of a Daisy and Counting by Sevens would see similar themes in this book, though it’s certainly unique on its own, and I loved these characters, including Iris’s parents. In some Middle Grade books, the parents aren’t major players, but I appreciated the roles Iris’s mother and father played in the story.

I loved this book and have already purchased it for my collection. A true gem of a debut for 2015!

The Final Illumination:

This debut is strong, refreshing, and unique. I loved The Question of Miracles, perhaps more so because of its unflinching spiritual dimensions, which I felt were treated sensitively and with grace. Though there are many Middle Grade stories (at least that I’ve been reading lately) treating the death of loved ones in the lives of young people, that doesn’t mean each doesn’t have a unique contribution to make about questions that young people deserve to voice.

**I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

four-half-stars
What Katie Read
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