Review: Swing by Kwame Alexander

2 stars (It was okay).

Cover of Swing. Link to Goodreads.

This is a contemporary YA about two teen boys who are trying to make their mark on the world in a rather endearingly floudering teenaged way. I have super mixed feelings on this one. It was poetic and well-written, but it seemed to meander, and I felt much of the time like I wasn’t sure where it was going. Then the ending came out of left field, and I guess that was the point, but . . . it didn’t quite land for me. I was left feeling confused mostly.

I’ve also noticed that verse novels don’t translate well to audiobook, and that’s what this one was. If you like somewhat abstract novels or want books about the experience of being Black in America, this one is a decent representation.

Review: Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

4 stars (I really liked it).

I sometimes wonder why books in verse are converted to audiobook. There’s just so much you miss listening to a poem. Perhaps if the narrator paused at the ends of lines and did a dramatic reading, it would work okay. I somehow got all the way to the end of this not realizing it had been in verse (much like Other Words for Home). I do listen to my audiobooks at 2x speed, so maybe it’s my own fault. At any rate, go get a physical copy of this one.

This is a weird little story about an unusual girl, and it grew on me. It doesn’t go to the predictable places, in a good way. The main character, Calli, has multiple problems that get in the way of her making friends: she has Tourette’s syndrome, her mom has a bad habit of moving frequently and suddenly, she’s an astronomy nerd, and she dresses a few decades out of date. Watching her make friends was incredibly satisfying eventually, but it was uncomfortable being in her head for a lot of the book because I have known kids like her, who struggle to find any friends at all.

Heck, I’ve been a kid like her. Not the Tourette’s. Anyway, I liked it. Beautifully written, and I think it’s important for kids to realize what it’s like to be the kid that everyone picks on because they’re so strange. I’m surprised this book didn’t win awards, honestly. It seems like the type of book that should.

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

5 stars (This was amazing!)

Planet Earth Is Blue cover (link to Goodreads)

I’d seen this book in lots of “Best of” lists and had it on my wish list in my library app already when a friend of mine, Heather Clark, was chosen to be Nicole’s Pitch Wars mentor. Pitch Wars is a contest on Twitter where aspiring authors submit their books to mentors–usually other published or agented authors. The mentors may get dozens or even hundreds of submissions, and they pick one person to work with for two months to help them get their book as close to perfect as possible.

I’ve read Heather’s book, Lemon Drop Falls, and it’s amazing. I was not surprised it was picked. But when I found out Nicole was her mentor, I knew I had to bump Planet Earth Is Blue to the top of my to-read pile. I’m SO glad I did. This book is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The main character is utterly unique. She’s almost nonverbal, for one. She’s severely autistic. But her thoughts are beautiful and utterly engaging.

Nova is obsessed with space and knows lots about it, and there are sciency facts dropped throughout, which was fun. She’s looking forward to watching the Challenger launch with her sister, who has promised she’ll be back by then.

The book is funny, heartwarming, sad, hopeful, eye-opening, and overall magical. I’d compare it to books like Wonder and Out of My Mind, but it’s better than either (even though I also rated Wonder 5 stars), so I can’t compare them. My 11 year old son is reading it and enjoying it too.

Review: Best Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

4 stars (I really liked it)

Best Friends cover (link to Goodreads)

This one didn’t make me cry, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or just a me thing. But it had more of the same things I adored in the first book, only for junior high: the drama of having boys (or girls) who like you or who you think you might like but aren’t sure or who you think you’re supposed to like but you’ve never really thought about it. It’s got navigating the pressure to be cool and to fit in, which I personally didn’t relate with because I was the direct opposite of cool in junior high, but it’s just so well done, and the art is emotional and adorable and relatable, and I loved watching Shannon as a baby novelist.

These books are important. They are for everyone who is a kid, who was a kid, or who knows a kid. Really. Go read them if you haven’t. It’ll only take an hour or two per book.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

4 stars (I really liked it).

Insignificant Events cover (link to Goodreads)

What’s great about this book:

  • Representation of both the MC, who has no arms, and her friend with Tourette’s
  • A cheerful, fun tone throughout–easy for kids and adults alike to love
  • A happy, intact family
  • The main character herself

What didn’t work as well for me:

  • The mystery–I felt the book would have worked as well or better without it

Luckily, the mystery wasn’t a crucial enough piece that I couldn’t enjoy the story without it, so this still rates 4 stars for me. My 11 year old son also read this and liked it.