Below are ten titles (varied) of books that I’ve read over the past month.
MY BROTHER’S NAME IS JESSICA by John Boyne
Sam idolizes his brother, a popular good-looking footballer. But life changes dramatically when Jason announces that he knows he was born in a girl’s body and is about to transition. The boys’ parents aren’t any help – actually very harmful – to the circumstances, especially since the mother has her heart set on getting the prime minister’s job in Britain and family secrets must be kept. Boyne is a favourite author of mine and I was intrigued throughout by the arguments, emotions and confrontations this family with humour. Mom and Dad’s comments are so outlandish they’re often funny. This is a signficant contribution to literature dealing with young people questioning their gender identity and with those around them who need to learn about acceptance. Despite some controversy (Who is Boyne to tell a story about a transitioning adolescent? The offensive title?), I applaud – and highly recommend – another John Boyne creation.
BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY by Brian Francis (YA)
Toby’s mother committed suicide and the girl, now a teenager lives with her grandparents. Toby is troubled by her past (who is my father? who are my real friends?) and now plans to kill herself. Her estranged father finally appears on the scene and when Toby learns that he is gay, and a drag queen she continues to ask questions about her past? A meeting with Toby’s father is strained and she struggles to accept things as they are and move on. A strong YA book concerning mental health, homophobia and acceptance.
ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA by Ruth Freeman
Written as letters to her grandmother in Africa, a young refugee girls recounts her experiences in “Crazy America”. Insightful narratives about a newcomer adjusting to North American customs, friendships and learning the English language.
ALL OF ME by Chris Baron
Ari is fat and he constantly worries about what others think of him. To add to his woes, he is being bullied, he is supposed to be practicing for his Bar Mitzvah, his parents are breaking up. But Ari does develop friendships who help him through his emotional turmoil and help him to see dealing with problems is all part of growing up. Written in free verse style.
SERAFINA’S PROMISE by Anne E. Burg
Serafina promises her family that she will get all her chores done so that she can go to school. Her bigger promise is to become a doctor one day and take care of the poor people in her community. Told in free verse, this book, set in Haiti, is a story of courage and perseverance and family love.
SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA autobiography)
A biography written in free verse. Anderson’s main claim to fame as an author is her novel “Speak” which provided teenage readers with a story dealing with rape. Shout is based on Anderson’s personal experiences beginning with her life as a shy thirteen year old, her own rape story, and how she slowly recovered from that experience. Jacket blurb: “This book is for anyone who has ever been lost, ignored, silenced, abused, assaulted, harassed, talk down to, made to feel small. or knows someone who has.” Powerful poems best suited for a teenage audience.
THE LION THE WITCH and the WARDROBE C.S. Lewis
I chose to re-read this novel because I am going to see a stage production at the Bridge Theatre (London, UK). I’m going to see the play because the director, Sally Cookson, has wowed me with previous productions (Jane Eyre, Peter Pan). Alas, the novel didn’t engage me as much as it did the first time I read it (about 35 years ago).
HURRICANE SEASON BY Nicole Melleby
11 year-0ld Fig (Finola) has a lot on her shoulders. She is burdened with the erratic behaviour of her disturbed, unpredictable father, a once-renowned piano player. Fig fears that she will be taken away by child services when her father has ‘episodes’. With the help of a caring neighbour who just moved into the neighbourhood, Fig comes to learn that her father is bipolar – and gay. A well-written moving story about mental health, homophobia, facing danger, confronting friendships, first loves, mental health and homophobia.
WHITE BIRD by R.J. Palacio (graphic novel)
Palacio’s novel Wonder has inspired millions of readers to think about what it means to be kind. In this graphic text, Julian (the character who bullied Auggie) learns about the Holocaust from his grandmother who recounts her experiences as a young Jewish girl, hiding from the Nazis in occupied France. The book is introduced with the words by philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” White Bird is an important contribution toHolocaust literature that helps bring the past into the present and help students to consider the power of courage and kindness in a time of war.
OLIVE, AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout
This is a sequel to Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, once again presented as short stories. Much of the cast of characters are connected to Olive (her son and his family, a new husband, a former student), but sometimes Olive’s name just seems to fly by. The author has a gift at getting at the truths of how people feel about each other. With cranky, critical Olive, who seems to be as grounded as they come, openly observes and reflects on the quirky behaviours of those in our family and our community and the strange emotional connections to those we love (or pretend to love) relationship choices, Strout is a fantastic writer, observing the world without any word fuss, but always with keen observation and deep heart. Strout understands the lonely and loneliness. As Olive journey’s through her senior years, there is a sense of sadness in the stories of her world and these stories are certain to raise questions in readers’ minds and consider “What’s it all about?”. . S I loved this book, certain to be at the top of my favourite’s list by year’s end.