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.

Review: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

4 stars (I liked it a lot).

This novel, told in verse, follows a Syrian pre-teen as she travels to the US with her mother to live with family in Cincinnati when their hometown becomes unsafe.

I should have read the print version of this one. The narrator was fine, but I think certain aspects of the book don’t work if you don’t have the visual formatting to draw attention to certain words and phrases, to give them weight. The result was that I wasn’t ever really *into* this book, and I think I would have been if I had had the physical copy and had been able to savor certain parts rather than just barreling through them with the audiobook. I also felt like it was a little heavy handed with the message at times, though in verse form, I think I would have been more patient with that.

The main character was fully realized, and the message is timely and important. Would be great for fans of Out of the Dust and Wishtree.

Review: Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

3 stars

So . . . there was a LOT about this book that I liked. I loved that it didn’t pull punches talking about bullying and how it can sometimes come from a former friend. It felt very familiar to me, and honest, and different from how bullying is portrayed in other middle grade fiction.

I liked watching a real friendship develop. I liked Delsie’s interest in weather. I liked the central conflict regarding her desperate longing for a nuclear family and her search for her mother, and I liked the resolution to that conflict, mostly.

I know I’m mostly alone in this, judging from reviews, but I don’t like books that are middle grade but that seem to aim to please adults more than kids. This was one of those books, in my opinion. The relationship between Delsie and her grandmother, for example, felt a little too precious. The way Delsie was written, too, she wasn’t so much relatable as pitiable or nostalgic. I can imagine kids being required to read this in school, but I’m not sure how many of them I can imagine *liking* it.

That isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I did. But my goal in this blog is to help parents, teachers, and other mentors to find good books to put in kids’ hands. If your kid really likes literary fiction, then, sure, this might be a good one. This might also be a good one if your kid is dealing with mean friends (pair it with Shannon Hale’s Real Friends).

Review: The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

4 stars

This one was so cute and heartwarming. A classroom full of “screwups” for whatever reason are stuck with a completely apathetic, checked-out teacher. With a POV for pretty much every character in the book, I’m surprised it works as well as it does. But it’s lovely to see how this teacher who doesn’t seem to care at all wins over his class–and how they bring him back to the world of the living, little by little.

Some parts, especially in the last quarter of the book, seemed a little cheesy for my tastes, but kids’ll love this one. It’s funny and authentically middle grade, and there are a few moments that had me going, “YES!!!” and grinning like a maniac.

It would make a great classroom read-aloud, but would also be fun to read with your own kids. Lots of opportunities for discussion as well.

Review: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

5 stars (I loved it).

Like The Hate U Give, this book centered on a fully realized character and her choices. Like The Hate U Give, it handles racial issues with grace and power and authenticity. Like The Hate U Give, the moment when the main character truly finds out who she is and what she needs to stand for, it’s explosive.

You should absolutely read it.

That said, be prepared for a main character who isn’t as easy to like as Starr was. She’s flawed and stubborn and complex, and that’s a lot of what I liked about her, but you should be prepared going in for a story that is less . . . I don’t know if “heartwarming” is the right word for The Hate U Give, but you get the idea.

Angie Thomas, though . . . she’s a force. I am blown away by her phenomenal talent. And once again, I was blown away by Bahni Turpin’s narration.

(Do note that, once again, there’s a fair amount of swearing.)