TEN NOVELS: October 2019

This posting features ten new novels I’ve recently read (including 2 for grown-ups), of ‘troubled’ characters, young and old.


I was so looking forward to reading this sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and was very pleased to gain deeper insights into the life of Aven Green, a girl born with no arms, as she enters high school. An incident involving harassment, is likely to infuriate readers and who will cheer Aven on as she tries to keep it cool and find a place of acceptance. Abandoned friendships, DNA testing, horse-back riding and punk rock bands play are indeed momentous events in the life of this teenage cactus. Hooray for Aven!


This title shines a light on Beverly Tapinski, a girl we first met in the novel Raymie Nightingale. The author has now given each of the three girls her own novel platform. Beverly has run away from her Florida and seems to be quite the determined free spirit.  As the novel unfolds she meets some rather quirky characters – a wise-cracking waitress, a rebellious cook, a feisty teenage store clerk, and a generous senior citizen who invites Beverly into her home. DiCamillo always seduces readers into cheering on her protagonists and she has done it again with Beverly’s story.

AKIN by Emma Donoghue (adult fiction)

Ever since reading Room, I have become a Donoghue fan and am eager to discover her new publications. This story about a retired professor and his relationship with his great nephew intrigued me. (I am a semi-retired professor; I have 4 great nephews). Circumstances (the 11-year-old grandnephew, without any parents or guardians  is forced upon Noah who is about to embark on trip to Nice France. Noah hopes to reconnect with a place that was once his home before being shipped off to America as a child to escape the Nazis. Armed with a series of photographs taken by his mother, Noah and Michael hope to identify the places and people depicted in these snapshots. I enjoyed the story of the relationship between these two characters, 79 year old Noah who is out of his depth as a guardian, and Michael, a wise and wise-cracking kid who frustrates and educates Noah.  I loved reading about Nice, but in truth i wasn’t caught up in the mystery of the family’s past that involved (perhaps) spying, surviving the Nazis and affairs.  A good, but not a great, read for Larry.


Hartley Staples is dealing with the trauma of having his older brother run away from home. The family attempts to move on but Hartley, burdened with anxiety, tries to cope with school assignments, an antagonistic sister, a best friend who rejects him and the stress of having to complete a final grade eight project. The sporadic appearance of artful postcards with wise messages keeps Hartley intrigued and provides a digression – and a support – for dealing with life’s problems.  I really enjoyed this novel and applaud the insightful,  humourous first-person voice Fagan has given to this middle years student.

A PLACE TO BELONG by Cynthia Kadohata

World War II has ended. This book is a beautiful example of historical fiction telling the story of twelve-year=old Hanako whose family was forced, after being imprisoned in camps to return to Japan to start a new life. Living in a small village with her grandparents, Hanako encounters a ravished Hiroshima, a starving nation, black markets, begging orphans. But the young girl and her family continually strive to be hopeful and share kindnesses. Winner of the National Book Award,

GUTS by Raina Telgemeir (graphic novel)

Telgemeier is the queen of graphic novels, particularly for the pre-teen girls. (i.e.,  Smile, Sisters, Drama, Ghosts). This book is autobiographical taking the author back to her years as a fourth grade student who was consumed with mental anxiety. Young Raina often wants to stay home to school rather than face woes about food, school assignments and fickle friendships. And she has an intense fear about vomiting (i.e, Emetphobia). Obviously the author has dug deep into stories from her past and her graphic creations serve as a kind of therapy for the author and a forum for true-to life worries that many young people can  identify with. No wonder, Telgeemier is the queen of graphic novels.

RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson (adult fiction)

This novel, by bestselling, award-winning author presents a powerful poetic narrative told in varied narratives, moving backward and forward in time. Melody, a child born out of wedlock is celebrating her coming-of-age ceremony in 2001. Her mother, Iris, abandoned her daughter with the hopes of getting a better education. Her father remains steadfast in his devotion to Melody. The novel weaves in themes of family love, ambition, class, sexual longing and racial identity.


Noah  missing his friend who died in an accident and hopes to find some answers, heads up to a camp in Northern Ontario. Alone. A storm is comin’. Noah encounters econvicts who escaped from jail. And a masked man who seems to know a lot about Noah. A gun.  A skidoo chase. No cell phone.  An exciting adventure and survival story from Canadian storymaster Tim Wynne-Jones.



BROKEN STRINGS By Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer

Two of Canada’s most celebrated authors for young people have collaborated to tell a thoughtful, informative and heartwarming story of Shirli Berman and Ben Morgan two junior high school students who have been selected to star in the school production of the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The production tightens the relationship between the Jewish girl and the cutest, popular boy in the school (non-Jewish).  The event also proves to be of significance by deepening the bond between Shirli and her Zayde. She enjoys visiting her grandfather often and knows that there is a story about his past that is being kept secret.  As the play goes into rehearsal, and the novel unfolds Shirley and readers discover the hidden  story of being a survivor of the Holocaust. This is a fine example of middle years novel about the Jewish culture, the power of music and the need to have family stories revealed so that the stories can be cherished and passed on. Five stars.


LOOK BOTH WAYS: A tale told in ten blocks   by Jason Reynolds

This book should win the Newbery medal. This book WILL win the Newbery Medal.  Jason Reynolds: heroic black author, a hero for black characters getting through the day.  Reynolds is riding on Reynold’s shoulders. Walter Dean Myers is riding on his shoulders. ManiacMagee is jumping around in his brain.  Don’t ask me to  pick a favourite of these ten short stories, but “Skitter Hitter” is one of the best bullying narratives story I’ve read in a long time. This book will be at the top of my favourites for 2019, It deserves awards.