Most of the ten fiction titles listed below were written in 2023. Most of them were ‘thoroughly enjoyable’ reads to end the year.
ANIANA DEL MAR JUMPS IN by Jasmine Mendez (Physical Challenges)
Aniani, a young Domican American girl, is a passionate swimmer who has won several competitions. Her mother, however, is haunted by the drowning of her brother and she wants to keep her daughter away from the dangers of water. Aniani’s father agrees to take his daughter to swim practices and both try to keep this a secret from the mother. When Aniani is stricken with JIA (Juvenile idiopathic arthritis), a disease that causes stiffness and swollen joints she is forced to stay in bed and forsake her dedication to swimming. A doctor believes that swimming will help Aniani manage her disease, even though her mother forbids her from returning to the water. This is a compassionate story of being fighting for something you are dedicated even though it means fighting against a parent’s wishes and beliefs. The author has drawn from her personal debilitating experiences, and tells a moving,story through a multiple free-verse forms. This is an inspiring story of courage, honesty and never giving up.
THE BOY THE CLOUD, AND THE VERY TALL TALE by Heather Smith
This is the story of a boy who wishes to find his father who was swept away by a mysterious cloud and embarks on a tall-tale journey to find the truth about his father’s disappearance. Ewan and Flora’s quest is filled with adventure as they accompany their new friend Mr. So-and-So. The Newfoundland rural setting is as important character in the story as the quirky characters that brother and sister meet along the way to a land (spoiler alert) where people with sad stories have been summoned). What a great storyteller Heather Smith is!.What a great author Heather Smith is. This is an appealing read for lovers of whimsical and heartfelt narratives. It’s quite funny too!
GLOWRUSHES by Roberto Piumini /Translated from the Italian by Leah Janeczko / (1987/2023)
This classic title was published in Italy in 1993 and the English translation by Leah Janezko, released in 2022, brings this enchanting story to a new generation of readers. Sakumat is a reputable artist living in Turkey. He is summoned by the lord the burban to paint the walls of his son, Madur’s rooms. The eleven-year old boy is confined by sickness to never leave his home. The artist and the boy develop a strong friendship as Sakumat sets to work embellishing the walls with glorious, colourful landscapes filled with mountains and fields and shepherds and armies conjured up by the boy. As Madur’s health fades, the artist continues to pour his heart into the commission, hoping to show the boy the richness and beauty of the world. This is an inspirational tale of companionship, of creativity and of life and death. Exquisite.
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN LIVES NEXT DOOR by Cary Fagan
The plot is in the title. Andie Gladman’s family lives in a small Ontario town and when she sees her new neighbour put the initials H.C.A. on theis of mailbox she is convinced that the famous author is living next door to her. Andie becomes so enamored with the fairy tales, that she decides to write a series of poems based on such classic stories as The Little Match Girl and The Ugly Duckling. Readers will know that Hans Christian Anderson living in her neighbourhood must be a fantasy but we go along with her, especially since it helps her to deal with adjusting to a new school, finding new friends, and the challenges of being verbally taunted by Myrtle Klinghoffer. A delightful read!
THE LOST YEAR by Katherine Marsh
During the COVID pandemic, thirteen-year old Matthew and his mother live together in New Jersey with Matthew’s one-hundred-year old grandmother. Matthew’s father, a journalist, is committed to staying overseas to report on health conditions. When Matthew discovers a tattered black and white photograph, it sparks an opportunity for him to unpack the stories of her past. The novel is presented in alternating timelines, connecting the United States to the USSR, and the present day to the 1930’s. Chapters feature four alternating voices from the present and the past. At the heart of the novel, is the horrific time in Ukrainian history. – the HOLODOMOR (“death by hunger”) – the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians, a period that was covered up by the Soviet government for decades. The Lost Year is a timely story of survival and sacrifice, an engaging narrative of generation connections, and a stellar example of historical fiction.
LUCY & LOLA by Monique Gray Smith / WHEN WE PLAY OUR DRUMS, THEY SING by Richard Van Camp / 2018 / (Indigenous History)
This is a wonderful publication (2018) from McKellar & Martin Publishing group that should be part of any junior classroom to bring understanding of Indigenous Culture, history and Reconciliation. The book is presented as two novellas, (presented in a front to back, back to front format) by two award-winning Indigenous voices. In Lucy & Lola by Monique Gray Smith (75 pages), two twin girls spend a summer with their Kookum (grandmother) while their mother studies for the bar exam. The vacation provides the opportunity for the granddaughters to learn about Kookum’s story (and their mother’s story) about being sent to residential school and in the process learn about being intergenerational survivors. In When We Play Our Drums Sing by Richard Van Camp (63 pages), we meet 12 year old Dene Cho, a 12-year old who is angry and upset that his peple are losing their language, traditions and ways of being. A friendship with Elder Snowbird, helps Denee to learn about the Indigenous past with hopes of changing the future. An exceptional two novellas in one volume, each accompanied with a Language Guide and a Reader’s Guide.
THE MONA LISA VANISHES by Nicholas Day (Narrative Nonfiction)
The subtitle of this book reads: A Legendary Painter, Shocking Heist, and the Birth of A Global Celebrity. True that! What a remarkable, extensively researched, entertaining, fascinating, whodunnit, wild account centred on the theft of The Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci from the Louvre Museum. Nicolas Day has done deep Uber research on the missing painting by telling stories of the journalists, detectives, suspects, artists (including Picasso) who are woven into the story. And of course, Day provides a detailed account of Leonardo DaVinci,’s Renaissance Man second to none. There are over ten pages of Sources listed at the end of the book. What a fantastic piece of Narrative Nonfiction about the most famous painting in the world, all the more famous because it was once was stolen.
THE SONG OF US by Kate Fussner (Queer Relationships)
It was love at first sight (in the school Poetry Club). Olivia falls head over heels in love with Eden. Olivia is an out and proud lesbian. Eden isn’t out. The author takes readers through the girls’ journey from their growing adoration to the heartache, jealousy and disappointment that often becomes part of first love relationships. The novel is presented in free-verse style and Olivia and Eden’s participation in the school poetry club and their talents for writing bring authenticity to the poems that document their feelings and hearts. Each of these two seventh graders has family problems (Olivia’s mother is depressed, Eden lives with her domineering father). Parties, The School Dance, friendship loyalties, making mistakes will resonate with many middle years readers as much as the quest to find words of devotion, words of forgiveness that are part of the growing up – and falling in love – experience. This debut novel is a notable contribution to queer love fiction.
Excerpt (p. 120)
All I wanted was a romance for the ages,
a love story for always,
a song of us
forever and ever
THE STORYTELLER by Brandon Hobson (Indigenous History)
Ziggy, a Cherokee young adolescent is leading a troubled life. When he was a young boy is mother was one of the many Native women who mysteriously disappeared and he now struggles with Anxiety. Ziggy is determined to find out the truth about his mother and believes that he will find answers in a nearby cave in the desert. Along with his sister, Moon, his new friend, Alice, and his best friend, Corso, Ziggy embarks on an an adventure, where, like Alice in Wonderland, he meets a number of strange characters that help to explaian the past stories of the Cherokees. I wanted to enjoy this novel more than I did. I wasn’t prepared for the encounters with talking animals (e..g, An Armadillo as Andrew Jackson, a Coyote who gives advice, a sneaky Snake. Raven tricksters, an Opera-Singing Frog). I was expecting a tighter unfolding of a boy dealing with Mental Health issues, insights into the disappearing Native women and the tragic history of the Cherokee who were forced to. The author does weave these important issues into the plot but encounters with spiritual animals seemed to be digressive paths as the four young people wander through the night. I liked reading the narratives of the Storytellers, but these didn’t seem to appear until the last third of the novel. The Storyteller is a worthy addition to books with Indigenous characters. It is a worthy narrative that offers inquiry into the the Nunnehi (supernatural spirits of the Cherokee Tribe), the plight of Missing Native Women, and the history of ethnic cleansing under Andrew Jackson’s Presidency of The Trail of Tears (1830-1850). Moreover, an essential theme of the novel is about accepting ghe things you cannot change from the past and moving forward. Note: The Misewa Saga series by David A. Robertson would be good companions reads to this novel.
from Author’s note
Wilma Mankiller, the first woman Chief of the Cherokee Nation, once said, “The most fulfilled people are those who get up every morning and stand for something larger than themselves.” My hope is that The Storyteller inspires readers to think about and stand for something that is larger than themselves.
THE PROBABILITY OF EVERYTHING by Sarah Everett
Winner of the 2023 Governor General’s Literacy Award for Young People’s Literature
Eleven-year-old Kemi Carter is obsessed with scientific facts and statistics especially the realm of probability. When Kemi sees an asteroid hovering in the sky she is convinced that AMPLUS-68 has an 84.7% chance of colliding with Earth in four days. The purple haze that is being cast in the sky means that the world is coming to an end for her and everything she knows. Paranoia over AMPLUS-68 is smothering her life and she embarks on a mission to assemble a time capsule that will capture the truth of each of her family members, especially her father to whom she is devoted. Any reviews of this book hesitate to write about the plot twist that packs a wow! Readers will go along with the sci-fi premise of the imminent world disaster. I think, however, that it’s ok to say that readers will be ‘surprised’ and involvement and compassion and wonder about what is going on in Kemi’s life will. The Probability of Everything is a captivating read, beauifully-written and yes, heart-wrenching. I’m confident that there is a 94.7% chance that readers will LOVE this book as much as I did. Five out of five stars for me!