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: Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

3.5 stars (I liked it quite a bit).

Where the Watermelons Grow cover (link to Goodreads)

I waffled whether to give this 3 or 4 stars. I generally don’t like half stars, but sometimes it’s merited. The thing is, what this book does well, it REALLY does well. And most of the reasons I didn’t rate it higher were personal, not the fault of the author.

I actually bought a hard copy of this book because my library didn’t have it as an audiobook and I wanted to read it so badly I shelled out some of my limited spending money for it when it went on sale. I loved the cover, the title, and the hype it was getting on Twitter. I knew next to nothing about it beyond that.

Here are some of the things it does well:

  1. It depicts mental illness with accuracy and grace. It doesn’t sensationalize it or soften it. The MC’s mother’s schizophrenia is scary and dangerous and sometimes subtle too, and always complex.
  2. It doesn’t present too-simplistic solutions for really hard problems.
  3. It really put me into the setting. The unbearable heat the whole way through was like another character, and I almost felt as if I was sweating, even though I read this in the springtime.
  4. Each relationship was developed gently and organically. The characters felt real.
  5. The prose is gorgeous.

For these reasons, I feel this is an important book. For me personally, sometimes it felt a little . . . cute. And the plot meandered maybe more than I care for. At times I felt slightly bored and unsure where it was going.

But if literary books about important themes are your jam, I’ll bet money you’ll like this one.