Genre: Social Issues

YA Contemporary Review: The Start of Me and You (2015) by Emery Lord

YA Contemporary Review: The Start of Me and You (2015) by Emery LordThe Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing USA on March 31st 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it's never too late for second chances. It's been a year since it happened-when Paige Hancock's first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school. . .and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her-the perfect way to convince everyone she's back to normal. Next: Join a club-simple, it's high school after all. But when Ryan's sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Illuminations:

ATTENTION: Strong recommendation for New Emery Lord YA ahead!!

Was I ever surprised at how much I loved The Start of Me and You…

The book opens after Paige has lost her boyfriend, who was killed in a swimming accident, and she’s still working through her grief. But she determines to put her best foot forward with the new school year, and she wants to open her heart again. Maybe to a new relationship. Ryan Chase shows up, and seems to be the guy Paige hopes to be pursued by. But a surprising decision to get involved with “Quiz Bowl” (trust me—you’ll love it!) introduces Paige to new friendships and faces. What ensues is fantastic—though Paige may not see it at first.

Paige, Max, Ryan, Tessa, Kayleigh, Morgan…these are characters I came to care about, and Lord describes an amazing friendship among the girls. Sure, they have their bumps along the road in their friendship (and that makes it more realistic) but this group of girls has been through thick and thin, and they’re intentional about being there for one another.

“In friendship we are all debtors. We all owe each other for a thousand small kindnesses, for little moments of grace in the chaos.”

Emery Lord’s dialogue: I love it. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where I was so aware of how fantastic the dialogue was between characters. In a way, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a hangout between friends. The banter wasn’t choppy, but authentic and humorous at times. This was definitely a strong point in the book for me.

Paige’s relationship with her grandmother is another connection in the book that is extremely significant for her. It’s lovely to watch how her grandmother encourages her, and helps her to gain insight into those situations and relationships in her life that are a bit tricky to navigate. There’s the situation with Paige’s parents—though divorced, they begin dating! This requires a lot of adjusting for Paige, but in fact, it’s another opportunity for her to grow.

Who Should Read This Book:

Here’s a confession. I haven’t read Open Road Summer. I know! I’m sure you’re shocked—apparently this debut of Lord’s is fabulous and most people became solid fans of the author after they read it. I have every intention of reading this now that I’m finished The Start of Me and You. This is a fantastic YA Contemporary that features endearing characters you can’t get enough of, a storyline that builds gradually into a satisfying resolution, and themes readers can relate to (even if they’re older!).

I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary—you’ll see I tend to stick to fantasy and historical fiction in the YA realm, though in Middle Grade I read more Contemporary. Because of this, there are still a lot of the YA Contemporary “greats” I need to read.

I would say, though, that if you do read this genre, you’re probably already familiar with this author, or you’re going to be. Emery Lord depicts appealing but flawed characters we grow to care about. Her settings are vivid, and at least in this one, there are lots of visits to coffeeshop bookstores! That alone makes me excited…

The Final Illumination:

I have to admit to you—I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this YA read depicting the journey of a girl as she works through the death of her boyfriend, deciding to open her heart to friendship, love, and new experiences. Though the story’s pace is slow at first, I didn’t want to stop reading. And as the narrative progressed, I began to speculate on who would end up with whom, but that didn’t take away from the pleasure I found in watching it all play out.

This book is strong and authentic in its depiction of relationships among friends and between boy and girl. If you’re looking for a story that has drawn refreshing and endearing portraits of relationships in different stages–whether friendships or blossoming romance, this is the book for you.

I grew to really love Paige as a character—to watch her craft her “perfect plan” for the new school year, and to then see how this plan unfolded, bringing surprises and unexpected twists along the way. I have to admit that I was sad when I turned the last page of the story—I had grown to love the trips to the bookstore café, the friends dropping by with coffee, the movie nights with the entire gang. This is a fabulous book, readers—please do pick this one up when it releases on March 31st!

five-stars
What Katie Read

A Graphic Novel Memoir: El Deafo (2014) by Cece Bell

A Graphic Novel Memoir: El Deafo (2014) by Cece BellEl Deafo by Cece Bell
Published by Abrams on September 2nd 2014
Genres: Autobiography, Comics & Graphic Novels, Diseases, Illnesses & Injuries, Friendship, Health & Daily Living, Middle Grade, Social Issues
Pages: 224
Goodreads

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful and very awkward hearing aid. The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear sometimes things she shouldn t but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become El Deafo, Listener for All. And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she s longed for. --Publishers Weekly, starred review

              El Deafo Illuminated:

El Deafo is a delightful romp of a graphic novel portraying the life of Cece Bell, its author, who grew up with a hearing impairment. It’s a graphic novel memoir, and it tells the heartwarming story of a girl navigating a world with a hearing aid, and all this entails for her friendships, schooling, and family life.

We get an insider’s glimpse into what it’s like to be a girl who has trouble hearing, surrounded by other kids and teachers who don’t have this issue. The result is often laugh out loud funny and you’ll be definitely be cheering for Cece throughout this award-winning story. She has her ups and downs, and that’s what makes this book especially realistic.

I hadn’t even heard of El Deafo until it came to my attention at the ALA Youth Media Awards. It didn’t take me long to get into the book to understand why this one had attracted awards. To be honest, I had never thought much about what it would be like to be a child losing your hearing, and adjusting to a fairly different way of existing in the world. You’re surrounded by other people who can hear and understand each other, but you can’t (without a little help).

Bell’s depiction of her childhood adjusting to this new life and culture is refreshing and honest.

The book is episodic and covers multiple years in the life of its protagonist–we watch Cece struggle with life in school with a giant hearing aid, and watch how her perception of herself affects the way she interacts with others. But as time goes by, and she recognizes the “power” she has due to her hearing aid, this perception of herself begins to change. I loved the imagination and creativity of this protagonist–I can imagine that this graphic novel would probably work well as a read aloud too.

Who Should Read This Book:

This graphic novel comes strongly recommended, whether you’re a fan of graphic novels or not. This one is accessible and engages with topics we can all appreciate—the search for a true friend, the struggle to fit in, and the difficulties of switching schools.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live with a hearing impairment, you’ll want to read this book for its insightful and sensitive treatment of what it means for a young girl to navigate the world of deafness. The result is a beautiful celebration of a creative and imaginative spirit who deserves to find a solid friend—because Cece herself is a reliable friend. I appreciated the way Bell portrays Cece’s different encounters with other girls in her school or neighborhood as she seeks a “partner in crime.” Not everything went smoothly for Cece, and that made it seem more realistic.

The Final Illumination:

I loved how Cece gradually grew to appreciate her Phonic Ear—in fact, it turned her into a kind of super hero! Cece is on a journey to find a true friend, and there’s bumps along the way, but ultimately the book illuminates how friends appreciate us for our differences, and that genuine friendship is worth the wait.

Cece is such a delightful character—not only do we meet her in the narrative’s text, but we encounter her through Bell’s colorful and expressive comics.

A stunning middle grade story about a lovely girl—a graphic novel memoir that is a sure winner for young and old alike!

What Katie Read

Middle Grade Bookish Illumination: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Middle Grade Bookish Illumination: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline WoodsonBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Published by Penguin on August 28th 2014
Genres: Autobiography, Literary, Middle Grade, Prejudice & Racism, Social Issues, Women
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

National Book Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.  Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become. Praise for Jacqueline Woodson: Ms. Woodson writes with a sure understanding of the thoughts of young people, offering a poetic, eloquent narrative that is not simply a story . . . but a mature exploration of grown-up issues and self-discovery.” —The New York Times Book Review

Illuminations of Spirituality in Brown Girl Dreaming

Not only does this autobiography in verse deal with issues of family relationships, dreams, and social justice, the story also highlights the topic of religion. For example, whenever Jacqueline stays with her grandparents in South Carolina, she is taught the ways of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she takes classes, attend church, and goes door to door. In this way, the author’s childhood religious formation figures in as an important dimension of the story.

What I really appreciated was the way the author came to some resolution about this faith through the closing “chapters.” You definitely finish the book knowing more about how Woodson came to terms with her childhood faith. I think the closing “poems” of the book are some of its strongest—I was truly impressed with the way she wrapped everything up. I was sad to see the book end and sad to say goodbye to the characters.

I believe that honoring our heritage and appreciating the sacrifices our family members have made for us can be a spiritual practice, in a way. Brown Girl Dreaming definitely reflects this aspect, and I found myself returning to the family tree at the beginning of the book again and again. I wanted to look up particular family members and trace the year they were born, and the year they died (if they weren’t still living). In this way, I felt a closeness to the story—the family tree invited me into the living room of Woodson’s life, and gave me a chair to sit in.

I felt like I knew Woodson’s grandfather and grandmother in South Carolina. I could hear the squeak swing from the backyard and smell her grandmother’s cornbread baking in the oven. This story was filled with sensory detail that put me right in the middle of the action.

To sum up: Brown Girl Dreaming reflects some aspects of spirituality in a sensitive and moving way. Woodson highlights one particular faith in her own life, but not at the expense of shutting out every other kind of faith.

Who Should Read This Book:

This is a Newbery Honor book for 2014—the ALA awards were announced just last month, and the Newbery is an award to take note of. I honestly thought this had a chance at the Newbery and I was right—for it received an honor. That being said, I think any and all readers should sit down with this beautiful novel in verse. It won’t take you as long to read a middle grade novel in verse as it would one in narrative form, but you may find yourself stopping to soak in the beautiful imagery and rhythm of these poems. You may find yourself reading certain pages aloud—and that’s a good thing.

If you’ve ever had a dream that seemed impossible, read this book. It’s a lovely testament to how someone who struggled with reading became a beautiful and world-changing writer.

The Final Illumination:

I LOVE novels in verse! When I taught Middle School English, my 7th graders read Crossing Stones by Helen Frost, and did we ever have fun with that book in the classroom! Poetry is also one of my favorite genres to read and write—so Middle Grade novels in verse (which are becoming more and more prevalent) are a group of texts I genuinely enjoy reading (if the story is something I’m interested in). In this case, I thought Woodson’s text was inspiring, lyrical, and moving. I know I’ll definitely return to it.

There are so many rich passages in the book, but I’ll leave you with just a few:

Then I let the stories live

Inside my head, again and again

Until the real world fades back

Into cricket lullabies

And my own dreams. (99)

 

I know

If I wanted to

I could write anything. (156)

 

Did you read Brown Girl Dreaming? What about other novels in verse you would recommend?

five-stars
What Katie Read
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