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.)

Review: Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead

2 stars (It was okay). But.

Liar & Spy cover (link to Goodreads)

A long time ago, I shared an apartment with my best friend Marie. We were both in college. She told me that her dad hated being late, so much so, in fact, that he considered it an absolute deal breaker when he showed up to pick up a date and she wasn’t ready to go.

And you know what? That’s fair. When you’re choosing a marriage partner, you’re allowed to be as petty as you need to be. If you know you’d resent someone every time they made you late for something, you’d probably do better avoiding marrying them.

I tried to remember that story when I was dating to help me not take things personally. Who knew what random mannerism or habit of mine might make someone not call me back? It might not even be something bad; it was just a deal breaker for them.

I think about it again now that I’m querying. Yesterday I got a rejection on a full, and the email basically said, “We loved x, y, and z, but ultimately didn’t connect with the character as much as we would have liked.” The thing is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the character. Different people connect differently with different characters, just like different people connect differently with different people. I’ll keep querying in the hopes that I find someone who does connect with my MC.

This hasn’t been much of a review yet. The truth is, I didn’t really connect with George, and I actively didn’t like Safer. Because of that, I didn’t really care what happened, and I didn’t feel joyful at the ending. But lots of people adored this book and found it immensely satisfying. I’m gonna say this is a me thing and tell you to try it for yourself, especially if you like quiet books with delicately executed themes.

It’s short and sweet and voicey. You very well may like it more than I did.

Review: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

2 stars (It was okay)

After loving the first Penderwicks book, I was seriously let down by this one. My biggest problem was the cultural appropriation plotline: one of the sisters is a budding writer, and the other, a “tom boy,” is assigned to write a play as homework. They swap responsibilities, so the writer sister writes the play for the tom boy. The play is about a Native American young woman, except it’s a very “noble savages” take on a Native American story, and it made me very, very uncomfortable.

If it had been one little moment, it wouldn’t have been as big a deal. But the tom boy gets praised for writing the play, and then the school decides to put on the play with the tom boy in the lead role, and the lie gets way out of hand. The result was that a lot of pages were spent on the lines of the play and thinking about the play, and it’s just all very . . . last century. I think the 2000s can do better than this.

Plus, the silly romantic plotline with the dad didn’t work for me at all (though I did want him to end up with who he ended up with), and some of the things that I found the most charming (mainly Batty) in the first book were not there anymore. It’s still well written, and there were good, authentic character moments and funny moments, but overall I found this book a little too precious and cheesy and unbelievable to truly fall in love with.