Genre: Family

Middle Grade Monday: The Secret Hum of a Daisy (2014) by Tracy Holczer

Middle Grade Monday: The Secret Hum of a Daisy (2014) by Tracy HolczerThe Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Published by Penguin on May 1st 2014
Genres: Death & Dying, Family, Multigenerational, Social Issues
Pages: 320
Goodreads

Happy Monday, Readers!

This isn’t my BIG BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT (that’s coming later this week) but a small announcement: I’m starting a new feature on Mondays—Middle Grade Monday! As you know, I already read and chat about a LOT of Middle Grade books, but Monday will be especially devoted to a book in that genre, and it will always be one that I’ve read recently and that I REALLY LOVE! And I think you will too. So here goes for my first Middle Grade Monday!

Suggested age range: 10 and up

“ ‘You deserve to be loved. But sometimes, you can’t see what that looks like for yourself’” (p. 15)

“Sometimes we lose pieces of who we are in times of great sorrow and distress. And then we have to find a way to get them back.”

The Book: Set in California, this poetic realistic story follows the journey of twelve year-old Grace. Grace and her mother have always been on their own, moving from place to place, but when her mother tragically dies, Grace is sent to live with a grandmother she has never met. Struggling with trusting this woman who turned her daughter away before Grace was born, Grace has to navigate a new life in a new place. Can she move on and open her heart to a different family and relationships? Will she uncover the puzzle of clues she thinks her mother left her, perhaps leading her to the answers she so desperately needs in this new town? The Secret Hum of a Daisy charts Grace’s journey as she discovers more about herself, the mother she so desperately loved, and those with whom she might learn to trust.

Spirituality in The Secret Hum of a Daisy: This story has spirituality written all over it. Not in an overbearing way, but because it treats issues of death, grief, healing of the heart, forgiveness, and love. It’s all there, and the way Holczer weaves these themes together is beautiful! How do we say goodbye to a loved one we thought we would never lose so soon? How do we open up our hearts to those who have hurt us? How do we forgive ourselves and those around us? What does it take for the heart to heal and to be ok with settling somewhere and building community? These are all questions raised in the story, and that I think, highlight spiritual aspects of the narrative.

Grace finds solace in writing—but after her mother is gone, it is difficult for her to write anything at all. We find out just how important writing is to her in the opening pages:

“That was how the words felt sometimes as I wrote them down. Like I was taking something scrambled and unscrambling it.” (p. 24)

Who Should Read This Book: This is an award-worthy book that I think all lovers of middle grade fiction should sit down and enjoy. The writing is poetic, the pace is just right, and though the story has its sad parts, it ultimately ends with hope and new beginnings. Though some young readers might have trouble reading a book that opens with the death of a mother, I think the right readers would appreciate this book and its thought-provoking moments of mystery.

The Final Word: What a wonderful debut contemporary middle grade novel! The cover is beautiful, the title is poetic, and there is plenty more poetry throughout the story. This was on my top ten list of anticipated reads for 2014, and I was so happy to finally read this for my children’s book club. I think the entire group loved the book, and I’m excited to host Tracy for an interview on the blog soon. There were definitely moments of tears, so keep tissues nearby, but also moments of laughter and hope. This is a splendid story, with some lovely quotes that I want to return to again and again (you’ll see I’ve included some within this post) and the reminder of how important poetry will always be within the human experience. READ IT!!

“ ‘You will go your whole life, Gracie May, and every single person in it will fail you in one way or another. It’s all about the repair’ ” (p. 187).

What Katie Read

The World of the “Possible”: The Fourteenth Goldfish (2014) by Jennifer L. Holm

The World of the “Possible”: The Fourteenth Goldfish (2014) by Jennifer L. HolmThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Published by Random House Children's Books on August 26th 2014
Genres: Death & Dying, Family, Fantasy & Magic, General, Middle Grade, Social Issues
Pages: 208
Goodreads
four-stars

Suggested age range: 10 and up

I received an e-ARC of this book from Net Galley & Random House Kids in exchange for an honest review.

The Book: Ellie is eleven and in middle school. Transition is difficult in itself but throw in the sudden arrival of her grandfather at her home, and things are even more complicated. That’s because he’s thirteen years old! As a famous scientist, Melvin has successfully reversed the aging process through his discovery of a jellyfish compound, dubbed T. melvinus. So Ellie is essentially going to school with a teenager who has a 76 year old brain. Ellie and her friend Raj decide to help Melvin break into his lab in order to safeguard the compound, and if they accomplish this, perhaps the world will finally have its “fountain of youth.” What ensues is a humorous adventure in which Ellie discovers more about herself,  the changing nature of friendships, and the value of love from family and friends in the midst of growing up.

Spirituality in The Fourteenth Goldfish: The book’s ability to make the reader consider the realm of the “possibles” in the world of science is one of its highlights. I, for one, think that the relationship between spirituality and science is a relevant one. Especially when you get into quantum physics. I’ll save that for another post though. What I want to say is that some points and themes in the story leave gaps for spiritual ideas to poke through. For example, the cycle of life is important and the way that cycle runs is significant—if we have the power, should we be able to alter that? Should we play God? Such questions raise what could be heavy issues with readers.

Who Should Read This Book: Fans of When You Reach Me or A Tangle of Knots would get this title as a reading option from me (were you in my 6th grade classroom). The journey of a girl navigating the beginnings of middle school and also harboring a great secret (her grandfather who has discovered how to reverse aging is a teenager living in her home) is one that I think many readers of fantasy or science fiction would enjoy. I also think there are some cool events that could coincide with this text—jellyfish research and fountain of youth creations and even lunch at a Chinese restaurant where segments of dialogue could be read from the book in a reader’s theatre presentation. Don’t ignore the ‘possibles’ with this one!

The Final Word: Jennifer L. Holm is a three time Newbery honor winner, and this novel’s unique premise is reason alone to delve into the world of middle grade science fiction, if that’s not your normal cup of tea. If you found a fountain of youth, would you take advantage of it? If you could have your grandparent live with you, but as a teenager, would you say yes? You might never have to answer either of these questions in reality, but they’re amusing to think about. This story is charming, but it also gives science nerds something meatier to read as well. Readers that aren’t as interested in science might get a little bogged down at times, and there were a few points where I wanted more to happen faster, but all in all, I enjoyed the story and was satisfied with its conclusion. I’m especially drawn to middle grade novels that highlight enduring themes like this one: “Never ignore a possible.” Challenge accepted.

 

What did you think of The Fourteenth Goldfish? Are there other middle grade science fiction titles this reminds you of?

four-stars
What Katie Read

The Half Life of Molly Pierce (2014) by Katrina Leo

The Half Life of Molly Pierce (2014) by Katrina LeoThe Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno
Published by HarperCollins on July 8th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Emotions & Feelings, Family, Friendship, Siblings, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 240
Goodreads
four-stars

Suggested age range: 15 and up

The Book: It’s mystery, it’s contemporary, it’s young adult. It’s The Half Life of Molly Pierce. Seventeen year-old Molly feels like she’s missing part of her life. There’s the boy who claims he knows her, but she doesn’t recognize him or know where (or when) she met him. Then there’s his brother who also knows her name, and with whom she senses a significant connection. Was (is?) there something between them? Love? Friendship? Slowly, memories start to come back, and Molly begins to put the pieces together. What is her secret life everyone else seems to know about but her? Will she ever have a whole life instead of just half of one?

Spirituality in The Half Life of Molly Pierce: So, you’ve probably heard me talk about the idea that the relationship to the self is one area of spirituality we can think about out of the four major connections (self, others, natural world, Divine [God]). Looking at this novel through a spiritual lens highlights that idea of our connectedness to the self, and it definitely made me think about how this idea of being “whole” is tied to our spirituality. Mental illness is something a lot of people deal with in today’s world, and it shouldn’t be ignored. The more we can understand it and support people who deal with it, the better. When we see brokenness, we want to fix it. I want to see un-whole people become whole, and Molly’s story reminded me of that even more.

Hope and expectation for the good to come were two other dimensions of the story that engaged my own spirituality.

I wasn’t expecting this because I honestly wasn’t sure what the book was going to be about! So I’m immensely glad I picked it up.

Who Should Read This Book: If you enjoy psychological reads that have a bit of mystery, like We Were Liars, you’ll probably enjoy this. Readers interested in issues surrounding mental illness, or writers interested in ways they can represent mental illness in a story would definitely find this book relevant. It will make you think, and is ideal for reading and discussing with others. I found myself telling my friends about it, even though they weren’t reading it at the time. Oh, and it’s pretty addictive. You might even drop friends off to shop and wait in the car so you can finish the book. (Note: There is some strong language and mature content in the book.)

The Final Word: I wasn’t sure what to think of Molly Pierce at first. I hadn’t read many of the reviews of the book before I plunged in, which I found out afterwards, was a good thing. There is a bit of a twist, and I’m certainly not going to give any hints what that twist entails, but readers who like puzzles and uncertainty—this might be a good choice for you.

I was wondering how Leo was going to wrap the story ends up and resolve the plot, and I was surprised at how satisfying the ending was to me.

The beginning of the book was very jarring (and I think it’s supposed to be) but its conclusion left you with a far different feeling.

Have you read The Half Life of Molly Pierce? What did you think? What other books did it remind you of?

four-stars
What Katie Read
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