Tag: Middle Grade

Best Books of 2017

My year got hijacked. I started off strong, reading something like 20 books in January (thanks in large part to a part-time job as a warming house attendant, which essentially meant uninterrupted reading time on most days). Then I got a job at a bookstore. Sounds ideal, right? Well, it really cut into my reading time, I can tell you that!

However, I did manage to get close to my goal of 75 books. I might even make it. At this writing, I have two days left, and I’ve read 60 books. And there’s a readathon tomorrow!

But all that aside, I did manage to read some great books this year. Books that blew me away, and that made me think, that stayed with me. And that is always the best thing. The following are the ones I most heartily recommend. Continue reading

Halloween Reads 2017

Every year since 2011 I have done a round-up this time of year of spooky and creepy reads that I have enjoyed. I have sometimes included horror recommendations from other people (like in last year’s post from Alison at Little Bookworm), but I haven’t read those because I am a chicken. This year, though, I am happy to supply several titles that seriously fit the bill. I personally know a couple of these authors, but honestly, that has no bearing on my recommendation. They are all great stories.

At the bottom you will find links to my previous years’ posts, and an apology from me for falling off the radar here for so long. First, on to the books! Continue reading

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

As October quickly zooms by, I am hard at work trying to get my Halloween Reads post done. This title will go on that list, but I wanted to do more than a capsule review on it. It deserves its own space.

I knew it would be good, having read Will’s previous books. But it was better than good. Here we have another stellar story from the indomitable Will Alexander. Continue reading

Best Books of 2016, Part II

Here is part two of my Best Books post, in which I wax rhapsodic about another YA fantasy, some mysteries, some middle grade and a few children’s picture books! I hope you have a chance to check some of these out! And if you missed it, check out part one of my post of Best Books of 2016!

Now, if you know me, you know how much I love YA. And if you know how much I love YA, you know how much I love Leigh Bardugo. I didn’t miss the sequel to Six of Crows, and I didn’t leave it off my list! Here we go, making the world right:

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Yes, this is one of my favorite reads. I am, however, still in a bit of huff because the series is over. This book is the second one in the Six of Crows series. I reviewed Six of Crows here. Have I told you lately how much I love these characters? I love them so much, it hurts to say goodbye. In fact, I had a really hard time getting into this book. I had to enact the buddy-read method to get me to keep moving forward – and so that I would have someone to cry with when it was over. Okay, I didn’t cry (much). But it was still very sad. Nevertheless, pain is a part of life, and I suggest you get your hands on all the Leigh Bardugo books you can carry, and just sit down and read them all straight through. You’ll have a helluva hangover, but it will be so worth it. This setting, the writing, the story, the characters – you will be in love. (Bonus: I did preorder this, and I did get the most coolest preorder swag ever! More on that later.)

Mystery

In the Moors, Unraveled Visions, Beneath the Tor (Shaman Mystery series)
by Nina Milton

I’ve recently discovered a series published by a Minnesota publisher, Flux, which has a mystery imprint called Midnight Ink. I was looking for books about shamans, and stumbled across the Shaman Mysteries series by Nina Milton, about a modern shamanic practitioner named Sabbie Dare. Not only is it fascinating to hear about how she plies her trade, but the mysteries are good too. They are set on the Somerset moors, which only adds to the overall appeal. There are three in the series and I read them out of order, which does not seem to matter too awful much. Each one of them pulled me in and kept me going late into the night. I love Sabbie and I am totally rooting for her, even if she does have a habit of sticking her nose in where it doesn’t belong. Bonus: this counts as research for my work in progress!

Middle Grade

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper

What a lovely, refreshing, too-true bit of magical realism! I met Abby while we were both working on a project last spring, and I was so happy to find that her debut novel is every bit as effervescent as she is. It is a story about bullying, but also about self-confidence, about being true to yourself, and about the rigors of junior high. The main character may have a made-up condition, but the challenges she faces are as real as anything you will ever read. I loved Elyse, and her chirpy voice is spot-on and feels like someone I know. I am looking forward to more from this author!

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee by Erin Petti

This is delightful. That is the first word that comes to mind. This was one of my top Halloween Reads this year (check the link for the full review). It is a bit creepy, yes, and in the way of children’s literature, involves giving the children a great deal of license to do as they wish. But it is a lovely story, a bit of a mystery, a love story and a ghost story all rolled into one. The construct of the main character being very curious and loving scientific method means that this is very literally used in the story, which is one way of slipping in exposure to that. But Thelma is so delightful, and her need is so dire, that we cannot help but root for her. There is even an online component. I received this at the Heartland Fall Forum book show.

Children’s Picture Books

I just got my first issue of Horn Book, which had a very cool subscription deal that I couldn’t pass up. And it reminded me again how much I love a really beautiful children’s book. I will highlight a couple here that came to me over the past year.

One North Star: A Counting Book
by Phyllis Root
Illustrations by
Beckie Prange and Betsy Bowen

This is flat-out gorgeous. I love the combined woodcut and watercolor illustrations, the deep colors, and the depiction of the natural world. It is a counting book, too, which is absolutely fun. It takes the reader deep into caves, under water, and into a bear’s den. The pages are lush and rich with detail, while at the same time being very simple. I also like that there is information in the back on the different habitats depicted. If you have not yet discovered Phyllis Root, also check out her Plant a Pocket of Prairie book, also illustrated by Betsy Bowen, or any of her other many titles. This is my top children’s book of 2016! I received a copy of this book from the publisher, University of MN Press.

 

Tinyville Town Gets to Work! By Brian Biggs

This book reminds me of the old Richard Scarry books I had when I was a kid (which, yes, I still have), with its busy bright pages full of people doing all kinds of things. This is the first in the Tinyville Town series by Biggs. I got to meet the author at the Heartland Fall Forum in the Moveable Feast, where he told us about this book. It describes a very big process (building a bridge) in a very simple way, and celebrates the idea of how people working together can make great things happen. I look forward to more in this series!

Wake Up, Island by Mary Casanova
Woodcuts by Nick Wroblewski

This details a similar landscape as One North Star but contrasts with its very delicate, lovely illustrations that also include woodcuts but with a softer palette. This book shows the whole world waking up – not just a sleepy bear scratching his back, but pine trees that stretch, and lichen that warms a rock. This is full of fun sounds – mallard wings “wuff-wuffing,” a chickadee calls, a red squirrel chatters and munches. Children will get a feel for the whole world that is contained in this tiny spot of the north woods. I received this book from the Minnesota publishers reception at the Heartland Fall Forum.

There are so many good books out there. This is a much longer list than I typically give. I keep thinking of more books I want to add. But hopefully, one of these will appeal to you, and you will find the book that you need at the time that you need it. Because books really do change lives, and they really do matter. I hope you have many great books come your way in 2017!

Best Books of 2016, Part 1

I love my stats. I am still not sure if I’ll make my reading challenge goal for this year – I had hiked it up to 80 books, even though last year I had not made my goal of 75. Call it a fit of optimism. But the year before last I read 100. Now my challenge shows me that I have 1 day and 10 hours to make my goal. This year, they have a feature called My Year in Books, which is like catnip to me. My longest book was Crooked Kingdom at 536 pages (every moment of it worthwhile); my average page count per book was 296 pages. These 72 books I’ve read so far this year amount to 20,439 pages. I like that. It’s a nice round number. I only wish I had more reading stats.

What I do have is a list of the books I liked the most. The ones that stuck with me. Here I’ll highlight my favorite reads of the year, covering many genres. My top three (no surprise) are all YA fantasy.

I want to say that YA fantasy has really stepped it up in recent years, but maybe it is just that I have only begun paying closer attention since I started blogging. I have gotten to know many bloggers on Twitter and Instagram who focus on YA, so that might be leading me more towards that genre as a whole. I am not a huge fan of contemporary (though I love Rainbow Rowell and I am looking forward to Adam Silvera’s new one), but I can’t get enough of the fantasy.

Without further ado, here are my top reads of 2016!

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

This one has stuck itself deep into my heart, deep into my psyche and my imagination. It is one of the most highly imaginative, well-executed books that I think I have ever read. It feels cut out of whole cloth. It is magical, awe-inspiring – the superlatives do not do it justice. What Kristoff has done here is imagined a whole new world – one with three suns, then created a lexicon that uses that specific element – days are not days, they are “turns” and so these characters do not say ‘some day,’ but “some turn.” He has then populated that landscape with an incredible cityscape, and other continents that share their own incredible histories, and then peopled that world with characters that make you cringe and make you cry, that you will root for and fear all at once. The writing, the very magic of the words and sentences, is sublime. There is even – wait for it – a vast, cavernous library that has its own surprise, and is prowled by actual bookworms, which will eat you whole.

This is deep and dark and full of foreboding. People die. Many die in gruesome, startling ways. Our heroine, Mia, is befriended by shadows, and you will soon wish you had your own Mister Kindly. Her story is heartbreaking, but she rises above it in ways that will astonish you. You may not agree with everything she does, but you will want her to succeed at doing it. Let’s just say it earns the hashtag for this title, which is #stabstabstab.

I cannot say enough good things about this book, except holy hell, why was it not on every best list, and why is it not being sung from the mountaintops? And just that you should go get it. Read the synopsis on your chosen book site, and then know that is not nearly enough. It is so much more. For some reason I haven’t published my review yet. And my library doesn’t have a copy. I had to get mine from another system (thank the goddess for Interlibrary loans!). But it is worth hiking over hills and mountains to get this in your hands.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

It was hard to choose, if I had to, between this and Nevernight. The clincher, I think, was the overall feel of the book. This is a fantastic story, told by two teens, who are very different from each other. I don’t know if you will like Katie, but that’s okay. You may be repulsed by August, or utterly charmed by him. You will certainly feel for them as they are drawn into this world they inhabit, which they are trying very hard to resist. I loved the story here, I loved the characters, and I loved the utterly forlorn nature of the situation. This is not sugar-coated. It is dark and it is nasty. But there is music, though it does not bring beauty, and at the end, there is hope. This was the second book I had read by Schwab, and I found it even more wonderful than her Darker Shade of Magic series. No romance here, thank you very much. And I can’t wait for the second in this duology, Dark Duet. You can see my full review here.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

I’ve been championing this book ever since I first read it. I loved it. It is a fast-paced, rousing rebel-with-a-cause adventure, and I want to get back to the desert and see what could possibly happen next. I loved Amani and I loved the setting. I could taste both the dust in my mouth and her own desperation to get out of her sleepy little one-horse town. But along with the adventure, this was also a book about stories. There are legends, and myths, and everyone has their own secrets, and the stories might be true, or might not. There is magic, there is a lovely spot-on bit of blushing romance, and I can’t wait for the next book. I don’t own a copy of this one, but I am torn now, because they changed the beautiful cover for the next book. Why oh why did they do that? They just don’t understand – series must match! And that gorgeous cover is something I would have loved to see carried through. Ah well. I know well enough by now that publishers have reasons why they do things.

Nonfiction

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

I read this bit by bit, trying to savor it but still rushing to the next chapter. I loved the way it was laid out. Each chapter focused on a different element of writing. You might want to skip ahead to whatever is eating you at the moment, but I urge you to read it all the way through. It’s like a little masterclass between covers. See how many flags are in my copy? I am excited to put all this great advice to use. A Minnesota author by a Minnesota publisher! I got this copy at the Minnesota reception at Heartland Fall Forum, where I finally got to meet Ben in person.

The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang

If you have not read The Late Homecomer, you may not be familiar with Yang. She is a Minnesotan, but her writing will take you far away from here. In her latest book, she tells the story of her father. It’s interesting to hear a daughter focus on her father, but clearly they have a special relationship, and his gift made an impression on her. This is a riveting account of his life, from the mountaintop jungles to the refugee camp to life in America. It is clear that should Yang choose to, she would be an astounding poet. If you ever – I mean EVER – get a chance to hear her speak, run, don’t walk. She can make an entire room cry just answering a question. Her thoughtful, clear-headed story will leave its mark on you. Bonus: if you are not familiar with the Hmong people, you are in for a helluva story. I am so glad that she wrote this book. This one should be filed under “miraculous.” (I received a copy of this book from the publisher at the spring bookseller meeting of MiBA.

Grief Is the Things with Feathers by Max Porter

Never mind that Porter stole the title of the poem that was my mantra while my best friend was fighting cancer. I was irked by that at first, wishing I’d thought to title my poetry collection with this, but that would be too close to the source, wouldn’t it? At any rate, I did not have huge high hopes for this novel. I thought it was at best an affectation, at worst an over-hyped golden boy. But, ahem, I stand corrected, even if only to myself. This spare, lyrical novel will give you pause. It may seem crazy, but just read every word and take the journey. The journey is always different but the ending is magnificent. Keep going.

Fiction

The Dark Lady’s Mask by Mary Sharratt

Carry yourself away, 400 years in the past and across the ocean, to Italy, to England. Mary Sharratt brings it all to life. In what is fast becoming her trademark of authenticity, she has recreated the world in which, perhaps, William Shakespeare made the acquaintance of England’s first published lady poet, Aemelia Bassano. He may or may not have traveled to Italy with her, and then, returning to England, he wrote those sonnets – to her? It is all conjecture at this point, but oh, highly suspect! And somehow, it just feels right. We get glimpses of the court life, glimpses of the precarious nature of society then, the predicament of women, and the words, all the words. This is a lush, fully-imagined story, great for anyone who enjoys diving into historical fiction. Disclaimer: I worked with Mary on a social media campaign for the release of this book. Look for #OpheliaReads on Twitter and Facebook for some fun pics!

Wintering by Peter Geye

And now for something completely different. Peter Geye fully brings to life the landscape of northern Minnesota like no one else. In fact, you could say that the landscape is another character in his books. If you have not read his earlier work, The Lighthouse Road, you could pick that up first, and then binge both of these. They are each told covering two time periods, and contain multiple perspectives, sharing some characters. It is complex writing, and beautiful. Geye returns to his North Shore town of Gunflint, and tells the story of a trip a father and son took into the wild years before. It is an adventure story, tense yet full of the peace of nature. You do not need to have read Lighthouse Road in order to enjoy Wintering, however. Just find yourself some Peter Geye, and settle in for a great winter read.

 

And with that, I got carried away. Check back tomorrow for the second half of my Best of 2016 reads, with more YA, mystery, middle grade and children’s picture books!

Roald Dahl 100 Celebratory Blog Tour! Plus Giveaway!

roalddahl

This year Penguin Young Readers and the Roald Dahl Literary Estate are
celebrating 100 years since the birth of
Roald Dahl —the world’s number one storyteller.

In honor of Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday this year on September 13, Penguin Young Readers has published new collectible hardcovers editions of some of Roald Dahl’s beloved stories, which were released on September 6, 2016, including Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and James and the Giant Peach! Penguin Young Readers has also released brand new covers of all of Roald Dahl’s works in paperback.

If you’ve been thinking about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a lot since the passing of Gene Wilder, you owe it to yourself to become familiar with the rest of Dahl’s wonderful body of work. I have the privilege of giving you a look at George’s Marvelous Medicine, a short chapter book suitable for ages 7 and up. I am excited to be offered this opportunity from the fine folks at Penguin Young Readers/Puffin!

Book Review: George’s Marvelous Medicine

georges-marvelous-medicineI have read some of Dahl’s other works, and of course seen some of the movie adaptations but I had never read this book before. It was not a big surprise that this book had a little bit of a dark side to it – if you think that George is going to take things lying down, you don’t know Dahl!

George suffers from, well, an insufferable Grandma, who happens to live with him, making her that much more unbearable. She is nasty, rude and demanding, a combination that George finds hard to take. And then one morning, he starts to think that there may be more sinister factors at play, when he suddenly hears her speak in a voice that he had never heard before. Could she really be… a witch? She certainly looks like one.

George decides to take matters into his own hands. Now, he is a dutiful son, at the very least, and he has been instructed to give Grandma her medication at a specific time. So he just decides to, um, doctor it up a little.

The ensuing chaos and unexpected consequences give George and his family a day they will not soon forget. And as for Grandma? Well, she’s probably okay. Maybe. And George? He is that much more certain of the existence of a certain kind of magic in the world.

This is classic Dahl. Singular child faced with a very unusual situation. Things blow out of proportion – literally. And there is no lesson, no moral here. The child is not punished in the end. The bad behavior of the adult is not redeemed. There is no such thing as political correctness (I even checked the publication date, and nope, it was not published before that term came into general use).

My advice to parents is that if you have a particularly suggestible child, perhaps you should wait to read this to them. But if you have a precocious, rambunctious child who delights in the absurd, this would be just the ticket. Just don’t let them go anywhere near the medicine cabinet. Or the bathroom in general. Or the laundry room. Or the barn. Or… well, you’ll see.

Dahl gives us delightful imagery that has always helped to translate his stories into movies well. If the idea of Grandma’s mouth puckering up like the behind of a dog does not appeal to you, well, you can get over it. The many ramifications of George’s medicine and the permutations of Grandma and assorted barnyard animals are rendered in lively language that would make this fun to read aloud.

Do keep an eye on the kids, though, won’t you?

 

If you’d like to read an excerpt of George’s Marvelous Medicine, check out Novel Novice’s blog for the first chapter and a bit about how this book shaped her reading life. Also check out some of the other tour stops for more excerpts, features and reviews!

For more information on the tour and the author, check below. I am so excited to be a part of this international, year-long celebration of one of the world’s most beloved authors!

Giveaway! (oh, isn’t this exciting?)

Penguin Young Readers/Puffin is holding a giveaway of the whole newly-designed paperback collection of fifteen titles with new covers and a special edition Roald Dahl tote bag to hold them in! One lucky winner will be chosen by the publisher from Rafflecopter entrants at the end of September or early October (date to be determined).

This giveaway is being offered and run by Penguin Young Readers/Puffin. Go ahead and enter and then tell me in the comments what your favorite Roald Dahl book is! And if you enter and tweet about the Giveaway, don’t forget to use the hashtag #RoaldDahl100 – and tag me at @LindaWonder!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Titles included in this special giveaway include the following:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Boy: Tales of Childhood

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Danny the Champion of the World

Esio Trot

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Matilda

The BFG (now a major motion picture)

The Witches

James and the Giant Peach

The Twits

George’s Marvelous Medicine

The Magic Finger

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me

Going Solo

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” – Fantastic Mr. Fox

About the Author

roald-photo-officialRoald Dahl (1916-1990) was born in Wales of Norwegian parents. In 1951, Roald Dahl met his future wife, the American actress Patricia Neal, who starred in films including The Day the Earth Stood Still, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Hud, for which she won an Oscar. After establishing himself as a writer for adults, Roald Dahl began writing children’s stories in 1960 and wrote two of his best-known novels, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the U.S.

In September 1964, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published initially in the U.S. with the U.K. following a few years later. It would go on to become one of the most famous and best-known of Roald’s stories. The idea for the story grew out of his own well-documented love of chocolate and his school-day memories of acting as a taster for a famous chocolate factory. These first stories were written as entertainment for his own children, to whom many of his books are dedicated.

Today, Roald Dahl’s stories are available in 58 languages and have sold more than 200 million books. With more than 40 million Roald Dahl books in print in the U.S. alone, Dahl is considered one of the most beloved storytellers of our time and his popularity continues to increase as his fantastic novels, including James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The BFG, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, delight an ever-growing legion of fans.

For more information please visit the author’s website at roalddahl.com/usa .

About the Blog Tour

Visit any of these blogs for more fun information and another chance at the giveaway! Wherever possible I have linked to the Blog Tour post.

September 5 – Peace Loves BooksCharlie and the Chocolate Factory Excerpt
September 5 – The Compulsive ReaderDanny, The Champion of the World Review
September 5 – The Starry Eyed RevueJames and The Giant Peach Review
September 6 – Ex Libris KateThe Witches Review
September 6 – Cracking the CoverThe Magic Finger Feature – Short Review and History
September 6 – Lost In LitThe Witches Feature – Revisiting The Witches as an adult
September 7 – Cozy Reading CornerCharlie and the Great Glass Elevator Excerpt
September 7 – The Plot BunnyThe Magic Finger Review
September 7 – Lilli’s ReflectionsThe Twits Excerpt
September 8 – The Irish BananaMatilda Review
September 8 – Ticket To AnywhereDanny, The Champion of the World Excerpt
September 8 – Cuddlebuggery – Quentin Blake’s Illustrations of Roald Dahl’s Books Feature
September 8 – Beth Fish ReadsGoing Solo Review
September 9 – Ravenous ReaderThe BFG Excerpt
September 9 – Paper CutsThe Giraffe, the Pelly and Me Excerpt
September 9 – The Lovely BooksThe Witches Excerpt
September 9 – A Glass of WineJames and the Giant Peach Excerpt
September 10 – Novel NoviceGeorge’s Marvelous Medicine Excerpt
September 10 – YA BibliophileFantastic Mr. Fox Review
September 10 – Watercolor MoodsThe Magic Finger Feature – Collage
September 11- Jessabella ReadsCharlie and the Chocolate Factory Review
September 11- Who R U BlogCharlie and the Glass Elevator Feature – Trivia
September 12 – Belle of the LibraryThe Twits Review
September 12 – BookManiaLifeGeorge’s Marvelous Medicine Review
September 12 – The Book SwarmDanny, The Champion of the World Excerpt
September 12 – Book BellesJames and the Giant Peach Feature – Book to Movie
September 12 – Alexa Loves BooksMatilda Feature – Style Files
September 13 – Roald’s birthday! – Brittany’s Book RamblesMatilda Excerpt
September 13 – Roald’s birthday! – Mundie KidsThe BFG Review
September 13 – Roald’s birthday! – Read Now Sleep LaterBoy Excerpt
September 13 – Roald’s birthday – Consumed By BooksMatilda Excerpt
September 13 – Roald’s birthday – I Am A Reader – James and the Giant Peach Excerpt
September 13 – The Novel Life – Lessons that Roald Dahl has taught me feature
September 13 – The Book RatEsio Trot Excerpt
September 14 – Belle’s BashThe BFG Excerpt
September 14 – WinterHaven BooksEsio Trot Excerpt
September 14 – A Book and A LatteThe Magic Finger Excerpt
September 14 – Hello ChellyMatilda Feature – BookBags
September 14 – Loving Dem Books – Youtube Feature
September 15 – Writing My Own Fairy-TaleGeorge’s Marvelous Medicine Review
September 15 – The Book BanditThe Giraffe, and the Pelly and Me Review
September 15 – Hopelessly Devoted BibliophileEsio Trot Review
September 15 – Coffee, Books and Me – Top Ten Reasons You Should Read Roald Dahl’s Books
September 16 – Undeniably Book NerdyBoy Review
September 16 – Supernatural SnarkJames and the Giant Peach Review
September 16 – My Friend AmyGoing Solo Excerpt
September 16 – The Quiet ConcertDanny, the Champion of the World Review
September 17 – Book BriefsCharlie and the Great Glass Elevator
September 17 – Andi’s ABCsCharlie and the Chocolate Factory Feature – ABCs
September 17 – Just Another Rabid ReaderThe Magic Finger Review
September 17 – Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia – Roald Dahl Feature – Food Feature
September 18 – Bumbles and Fairy-TalesMatilda Feature – Reading With Dad
September 18 – Addicted 2 NovelsEsio Trot Review
September 18 – Pure ImaginationFantastic Mr. Fox Excerpt
September 18 – Green Bean Teen Queen – What Roald Dahl Means To Me Feature
September 19 – BookiemojiThe Witches Excerpt
September 19 – Shooting Stars Blog – Roald Dahl Feature – Etsy Products
September 19 – Nightly ReadingMatilda Review

Book Review: Sticks & Stones

PrintI soared through this sweet, inventive middle-grade story – not that I wanted it to end… but it simply grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Elyse’s voice is spot-on, perfect. I love her internal dialogue! Everything is on point, and completely feels real.

Well, yes, even the CAV (the medical condition that she has that makes words appear on her skin). When I first heard about this premise, I thought it was a clever way to display the effects of bullying. But it is much more than that. It does not feel like magical realism, it does not feel surreal. It feels totally believable and my heart ached for El more than once. For one, if you have ever had a skin condition that itched, you will know that this is no joke. I grew up with toxic eczema, which landed me in the hospital once (they tell me I almost died). And I’ve had recurring skin rashes throughout my life, that affected how I dressed, whether or not I went swimming, etc. Along with everything else, this was especially hard during junior high (when we had swimming in gym class!). I wouldn’t repeat those years for a million dollars.

It’s hard to pull a quote without spoiling things, so I’ll just say that whether words are on the inside or the outside, they can still hurt. And that you don’t need someone else to tell you’re awesome. But sometimes we forget that. Everyone has something that they are lacking, or something they need – whether you are the snotty cool girl or the girl with the weird skin condition. And if you have it within your power to give someone what they are lacking, you will feel better for doing so.

Along with the smashing character development, the plot was compelling enough to keep me turning pages long into the night. I loved the little twists and turns and especially the one at the end! I love the device of the Letters to Future Self that helped us sort out the confused thoughts of an 11 year old, and I loved that “hate him/love him” love interest, the “too-nice” guy that you just couldn’t date, the snotty girl – they were all real. I mean, for real real. I knew every one of them. Ugh. Thank God that’s over, and here we just get to visit.

I want everyone to visit. For days afterward, I found myself wanting to return to this setting, these characters. And that, as we all know, is the mark of a good book. This is a wonderful, charming, touching read full of great characters with a fantastic story and message. And can we get a hand clap for that cover? I love the colors – the whole book is lime green and pink. Just yummy. Get your hands on it!

Abby Cooper does the impossible – she makes it seem like junior high is almost worth all the pain. This is lovely. It is simply lovely. I hope we hear a lot more from this author. Also note that she will be doing events to support the book. Her launch is this coming Saturday, July 23 at the Arlington Heights Community Center/Library in St. Paul, from 3-5pm. There will be cake! She will also be at Barnes & Nobles: Galleria in Edina on July 30 at 11am and Har Mar in Roseville on Aug 6 at 2pm. Check her website for more event information, including school visits, festivals and more!

 

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the author. Yes, I know her. She’s delightful. I met her while we were working together on an editing project. She in no way influenced this review or my rare use of stars on GoodReads (FIVE stars, baby!). And I do sense a tiny bit of Abby in Elyse!

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