fiction · middle grade

Book Review: Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart

An article came out a while back about Jewish middle grade books, and my TBR blew up after that. I try to keep it to manageable numbers, but sometimes you just find one of those lists, and everything goes downhill in the best possible way, right? One of those books from that was Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart (Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021). The premise sounded emotionally heavy – you know I love the heavy books! – and the main character was Jewish, so all of this earned it spot on my TBR. I was so happy to finally be able to grab a copy from the library in the next town over.

The story opens with what Abby thinks is the worst day of her life – her best friend, Cat, is moving to Israel. She’ll be gone for a few years, and Abby, who is shy and doesn’t really have any other friends, doesn’t know how she’s going to survive seventh grade. Fortunately, she’s got her two moms and her older brother Paul to help her through the tough spots, along with her turtle, Fudge. And the cute boy who moved in next door, into Cat’s old house, might turn out to be a friend as well…if Abby can stop being so awkward whenever she tries to talk to them.

But turns out Cat moving to Israel isn’t the worst thing. Paul is sick – really sick, with testicular cancer, and Abby’s not sure she can handle the possibly that he might die. His treatment is going to be tough on everyone, and Abby’s going to have to come out of her shell a little in order to be the supportive one this time.

Abby, Tried and True is sad and fun and sweet all at once. Abby is timid, yet vibrant; she’s a grade-A introvert who’s perfectly happy with one best friend, spending her time at home crocheting, writing poetry, and talking to her turtle. She’s close to her family: her two moms, her sixteen-year-old brother, and her grandparents, and she hates being in the spotlight. At the start of the novel, she’s entirely content with all of this, but Cat’s move to Israel throws her into the frying pan of seventh grade alone. It’s Conrad, the cute new boy next door, who provides the first opportunity for Abby to step into some leadership skills, showing him around at school. He’s just as nervous as she is.

Paul’s shocking diagnosis sends tremors through the whole family. Testicular cancer isn’t uncommon in teen boys, but it doesn’t necessarily get the attention it deserves (who wants to talk about testicles???), so in reading about Paul’s treatments and how he dealt with not only his illness, but the side effects and emotional fallout as well, really taught me a lot. I knew a little bit about what the struggles looked like when chemo ended, but not quite as in-depth as Ms. Gephart went here, so I found myself especially interested in that part of the story. Abby’s struggle to understand and support her brother and her moms through all of this is genuine and heartfelt; her growth throughout the story is natural and admirable.

Her friendship and budding romance with Conrad is adorable and provides some lighter moments from the stress and strain of Paul’s illness. It’s all very sweet and innocent, and Conrad, whose uncle survived testicular cancer, is excellent support and friendship for Abby. And the Jewish rep? Top notch. Multiple Jewish holidays and their traditions are portrayed, and it’s so enjoyable to see how Abby and her family celebrate.

All in all, Abby, Tried and True is an excellent middle grade novel about a tough subject.

Visit Donna Gephart’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

graphic memoir · graphic nonfiction · graphic novel

Three graphic novels!!!

I love graphic novels and memoirs, and I’ve been having fun enjoying the ones that have come up on my TBR lately. They’re a quick read, but the art makes the story really come alive. I find it difficult to review them, though; I’m not much on the technical parts of art, so I can’t really discuss those, and it feels like a huge omission to leave that out. But I was able to grab a few graphic novels from the library lately, and I figured I’d give them a quick mention here.

First up is the creepy true story, Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell (Albatross Funnybooks, 2021). Most of us are familiar with the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho; the character Norman Bates and his crimes were based on Ed Gein, a native of Plainfield, Wisconsin. His crimes changed the face of American horror forever; in the years before Gein’s crimes were discovered,  scary movies in the US usually centered around creatures from other planets. Gein’s house of horrors launched the birth of slasher films, an era that’s still ongoing.

Schechter and Powell tell the story of Ed Gein’s life: his abusive, controlling, overpowering, hyper-religious mother, who worked hard to create him exactly how she wanted him; his inability to become a fully independent adult; the town’s basic acceptance of the man they considered a little odd; the shocking discovery of what he’d been doing in that house all those years after his mother had died. Even if you think you know the full story, odds are there’s something in here you didn’t, and the two authors base their telling almost entirely on primary sources. This is creepy, but fascinating!

Next up, It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot (Orion, 2016). A funny book about depression? A funny illustrated book about depression? Whaaaaaaaaaaaat??? It exists, and it’s so worth the read.

Ruby Elliot has struggled for years with depression, the kind that makes it hard to even get up off the crumb-filled couch you have your face mashed into. The kind where your brain is constantly telling you what a worthless toad you are, so why bother. And in this graphic memoir, she illustrates exactly what her depression looks and feels like. And somehow, she manages to not only do it, but do it with a sense of humor.

I laughed out loud so many times, both from genuinely finding Ms. Elliot’s writing and illustrations funny, and because she just gets it so well. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety my whole life, and I was able to relate to so much of this book. It was a truly enjoyable read and a gentle, yet strong treatment of what’s normally a tough subject.

And then there’s Trashed by Derf Backderf (Harry N. Abrams, 2015). I really enjoyed Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer, and this was no different. While this graphic novel is indeed fiction, it’s based on his experiences as a garbageman. The story follows a young man who’s been hired on with his city’s sanitation department and gets into all aspects of the job (how disgusting it is, what complete jerks the ‘customers’ are, the pranks and hijinks between the workers). Interspersed with the story are facts and information about trash, trash collection, and the massive problem that is trash, both in the US and around the world. Totally enjoyable read that will make you think about not only what you dispose of, but HOW you dispose of it.

And that’s it! What are some great graphic novels that you’ve read recently???

fiction · middle grade

Book Review: Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

Sometimes you learn about the existence of a book and everything about it just clicks for you. Main character is a tween adopted as an older child from overseas? Whoa. He’s struggling badly to connect to his new family? Holy cow, never seen that done in middle grade before. His parents are adopting another child and the majority of the story is set in Kazakhstan? Whaaaaaaat??? Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014) went onto my TBR immediately, and I was thrilled to finally be able to pick up a copy at the library in the next town over. What an incredible and sad book.

Jaden is twelve, adopted from Romania at the age of 8 (although his parents thought he was much younger, since he was so very small when they brought him home). He’s struggling badly: struggling to connect to his parents, struggling to feel anything other than rage at having lost the only home he’d ever known (the comforts of this home now don’t matter; that kind of loss is still trauma), struggling to control his behavior: hoarding food, lighting fires, shutting down. He’s receiving help for all of this, but none of it is easy and Jaden knows exactly how difficult it is on his parents. That’s why they’re adopting a baby: because they’re tired of him and want a kid who doesn’t do all these things.

The whole family is traveling to Kazakhstan for this new adoption, but once they’re there, things don’t go anywhere as smoothly as they’d hoped. The baby they thought they’d be adopting has already gone home with other parents. Jaden’s folks are devastated and while they begin to consider the other babies at the orphanage, Jaden meets a toddler, Dimash, likely with special needs, with whom he bonds – and for the first time, he’s able to feel a connection with someone. Dimash is about to age out of the baby orphanage, and Jaden knows exactly the kind of life that’s in store for him when he does. Can he convince his parents that having Dimash as his brother, a boy he already feels protective of, is what will truly bond them all together as a family?

This is one of the saddest middle grade books I’ve ever read. Jaden is a tough case, but the thing is, none of his behaviors are abnormal for a kid who’s been through what he has, and that’s what’s so heartbreaking about it. Nothing in his formative years was terribly stable; he lived in terrible conditions until he was eight, when he was pulled away from the only place he’d ever known and thrown into a new country, with a language he didn’t understand, in a family he couldn’t quite get the hang of interacting with. How long until all of this fell apart and he’d be thrown into the next situation? All of what he’d been through, including having been given up by his mother (whom he couldn’t quite fully remember), was traumatizing, and Jaden is absolutely suffering in this book.

His parents are well-meaning but often get things incredibly wrong. Dad is way more distant than he should be; Mom already seems exhausted (and they’re adding a baby into this mix!); together, they make some really bad decisions, like leaving Jaden alone in the apartment while they run off to the market in Kazakhstan – he’s twelve, but emotionally, he’s a LOT younger. And of course, predictably, he leaves the apartment under the guise of finding them…and gets lost. Bad move, Mom and Dad.

Jaden’s connection with Dimash was really well written and incredibly sweet to read. For the first time in his life, he’s able to see something outside of himself and his own pain, and this is a major breakthrough. The scenes where the two of them were interacting were so sweet, maybe a little bittersweet, a little like the sun breaking through storm clouds.

This is a heavy book for middle grade, and younger kids may struggle to comprehend the depth of Jaden’s trauma-induced anger and his more difficult behaviors, like starting fires. They might not fully understand why he often still sleeps on the floor like he did in the Romanian orphanage, when he has a perfectly good bed in his American room. This would make for a good parent-child read-together or book club selection; if your kiddo is reading it alone, be available to answer questions and have some discussions about what trauma is and how it can manifest.

Beautiful, heartbreaking book, one that will stick with me.

Visit Cynthia Kadohata’s website here.

fiction · YA

Book Review: Meet Me in Outer Space by Melinda Grace

Central Auditory Processing Disorder. I learned about this disorder years ago, when my son’s friend from school had this diagnosis. He was a really cool kid and just needed a little extra help to be successful, and so when I learned about Meet Me in Outer Space by Melinda Grace (Swoon Reads, 2019), in which the main character deals with CAPD, I was interested. What would a YA book that includes this disorder be like?

Edie Kits has dealt with Central Auditory Processing Disorder her whole life. What people say isn’t always what she hears, so things can get confusing, and it absolutely impacts her learning. Nevertheless, Edie has persisted and she’s doing well in college, studying to work in the fashion industry. She’s even planning to study abroad this upcoming summer…but French 102 is proving to be a problem. Not only that, but her professor is completely unwilling to accommodate her disability.

Enter Wes Hudson, the adorable-yet-frumpily-dressed TA. After a few awkward foibles over Edie’s disability in the beginning (hey, everyone needs to learn!), he’s her biggest cheerleader, helping her run interference when necessary with the grumpy professor and becoming her French tutor. Edie’s falling for him hard, but what about Paris? She’ll be gone until next spring; she can’t let a boyfriend get in the way. Better to start pushing Hudson away now…

This was cute, but just kind of okay for me. It’s one of those books where, I felt, the problem could have been solved if the two main characters could have just sat down and talked honestly about their problems (and it’s one thing if, say, some trauma from the past makes it difficult to open up. This wasn’t the case here). If Edie had just said, “Look, a relationship with you would be great, but I’m going to be gone from June until next April. I don’t know how we would handle that; what are your feelings on long-distance relationships? It wouldn’t be forever, but it would definitely be tough,” the book would’ve been about half its actual length. I found myself getting annoyed with her and Hudson because the possibility of a long-distance relationship never seemed to occur to either of them.

Including CAPD in the book definitely added an interesting aspect to the story; Edie’s struggles and frustration with her French professor made her problems incredibly real (the professor and Edie’s jackwagon counselor really ticked me off; I’m not sure some of their actions were actually legal, and Edie definitely could have pushed harder to receive the accommodations she needed – easier said than done, I’m very aware of that. Sigh). I did go into this expecting it would be a bigger issue throughout the story, that it would affect her friendships more and she would struggle more in daily life and not just in school, but Edie seemed to have an easier time of it with friends – possibly the one-on-one or smaller groups aspect helped?

This was okay for me. Not mind-blowing, but mostly enjoyable.

Visit Melinda Grace’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.


Book Review: Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, edited by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal

I’ve been doing my volunteer work for over a year now, compiling lists of resources to help people who are leaving or have left high-control religious groups (cults, for sure, but also the kind of churches that aren’t necessarily regarded as cults but which take over their members’ entire lives). It’s deeply fulfilling work, and it makes me happy to know that I’m helping people build stronger, more meaningful lives. There are so many people out there who need this kind of support, and this is obvious in books like Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, edited by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal (Epiphany Publishing, 2019). This has been on my list since it came out, but the pandemic stopped me from visiting the nearby library where it was located. The pandemic isn’t over, unfortunately, but I’ve been able to check books out from that library lately, and I’m thrilled! (Also, I learned that Chrissy Stroop and I have a mutual friend, which makes me feel cool by association – the only kind of cool I’ve ever been, hehehe.)

This is a collection of essays by various authors who have left different forms of Christianity. Some have left more cult-like groups (like the IFB); others have left what are regarded as more mainstream churches, evangelical or otherwise. What all have in common is an awakening, be it sudden or gradual, that this was not a good fit for them, for various reasons. Some left immediately afterwards; others tried hard to cram themselves into a box where they would never fit. All made their way out in a painful process that, for many, takes a lifetime to recover from.

I love essay collections, and this was a great read on a difficult and emotional subject. I was pleased to recognize many of the authors – some from Twitter, others because I’ve read their writing elsewhere. The authors are all in various stages of exit: some are still freshly out, while others have been out for years. Their pain and sadness are all similar, however; it’s hard to leave such all-encompassing belief systems, and it shows in these essays.

Empty the Pews is thought-provoking. Not quite a condemnation of Christianity, but it points out where it hurts its members, where it’s doing more to chase people out than fill the pews, and the pain it causes, which can ripple down through the generations. Ms. Stroop and Ms. O’Neal have collected and edited a wonderful collection of essays that doesn’t hold back in illustrating the pain its authors have gone through, and this book should be an eye-opener for those who haven’t had the experiences of their religion pinning a target on their back solely for who they are.

Wonderful collection, and I’m glad I finally got to read it.

Visit Chrissy Stroop’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow Lauren O’Neal on Twitter here.

Visit the website for Empty the Pews here.

book review · memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American by Wajahat Ali

I’ve followed Wajahat Ali on Twitter for years. His astute political commentary, sense of humor, and love for his children (especially his daughter Nusayba, who fought stage-4 liver cancer and won with the help of a new liver – which was found because Dad tweeted about it! Bless that man who gave her part of his, when he didn’t have to) made him an easy and enjoyable follow. So when I learned he was coming out with a book, I added Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American (WW Norton Company, 2022) to my TBR. And this week, it was finally in.

The son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants, Wajahat Ali has led an interesting life, much of which I knew nothing about. This part-memoir, part-humor writing, part-textbook on Islam in America and the immigrant and second-generation experience, introduces the reader to a world they may not understand much about. With a large extended family and frequently gossipy community, Wajahat Ali may not have always felt accepted by white America, but he kept his nose down, worked hard, and tried his best. Life fell apart, however, when his parents got caught up in some shady business deals, were arrested, and were sentenced to prison.

Instead of getting started with his adult life and heading straight to law school after college like he’d planned, Wajahat picked up his parents’ mess, attempted to take over the business (while trying to finish up school as well!), and did what he could to support his parents and try to garner more support from the outside community. The stress nearly devoured him whole; he survived, finished law school, became a playwright, a writer, and a lawyer, and became a man who, if only on the outside (anxiety and OCD solidarity, Mr. Ali!), handles himself and the challenges he faces with courage, grace, and a wicked sense of humor.

Wajahat Ali’s writing style will pull you in. When terms come up that a non-Muslim may not be familiar with, he’ll define them, but he’ll do so in a way that keeps the conversation going. Never once does he talk down to his audience, even when he knows far more about the subject than we do. He wants to engage us, to involve us in his story so that we understand the full Muslim-in-America story: what it’s like, how it feels, how white non-Muslims have affected his life (positively and negatively). How white people have ignored people like him, until they can blame him for something that someone who may have looked like him or shared his religion did – something we don’t do to white people. (As I write this on July 4th, police are frantically searching for the gunman of the Highland Park parade, which is only about 45 minutes away from me. Ten bucks said that guy had a Christmas tree in his house when he was young, and I’ll bet all my savings that we’re not going to hold all Christians or Christianity responsible for his behavior. And we shouldn’t. And the same courtesy should be extended to our Muslim brothers and sisters.)

What I’m trying to say is that this will make you think deeply about how you think of Muslims – the ones in your community, the ones you see on television, the ones in your family or friend group, if you’re lucky enough to have them. How are they portrayed in the media? Are there any ways you think about them differently than you’d think anyone else? Can you do better? (The answer here is yes. Always yes. We – and this includes me – can always do better.) This book is a great start, and it’s a great read.

I’m glad this made its way to my list, and I look forward to hearing more in the future from Wajahat Ali. I’m glad I got to enjoy his writing in longer form.

Visit Wajahat Ali’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction · true crime

Book Review: Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases by Paul Holes

My long-time online parenting group (been with them twenty years now!) has a book group, and of course I’m one of the admins. Every Wednesday, we chat about what we’re currently reading, and a few months ago, someone mentioned that they were reading Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases by Paul Holes (Celadon Books, 2022). My brain immediately perked up, and off I trotted to my library’s website. Sure enough, they had it, and just as I expected, it was checked out…and likely would be for a good long time. ‘No worries,’ I thought. ‘I have plenty of other books to read in the meantime.’ But on this last library trip, Unmasked was on the new books shelf. YOINK!

Paul Holes worked for various offices in Contra Costa County, California, solving both active and cold cases, some of them well-known. Jaycee Dugard was discovered on his watch; his work with DNA helped to finally identify the Golden State Killer after decades. He was good at his job, and having served in that role for twenty-seven years before retiring, he’s seen some terrible, awful things. And he’s here in this memoir to tell you all about them.

For the sensitive reader, there are a few stomach-turning moments where the descriptions get a little graphic, but for the most part, Mr. Holes keeps that part calm. It’s more the details of what happened that are tough to read. Children and young women, mainly, ripped from their families, often times without a trace. Horrible suffering for both the victim and their families and loved ones. Paul Holes was privy to all of it over his career, and the horrors took their toll on him as well. This brutally honest memoir shows not just the brutality of crime but what it costs those tasked with solving them.

What struck me most about this book was its honesty. Paul Holes pulls no punches when it comes to what a shitty father and husband he’s been, in large part because of the demands of his work (and this goes for both the PTSD it caused him and how his brain is naturally wired to get obsessive about his cases). He drank too much, he spent far too much time at work, he had a hard time letting go of work once he did return home. The crimes he worked also destroyed his first marriage and deeply damaged his second as well; they weren’t the sole cause, and maybe he would’ve been just as crummy of a husband and father if he’d been a dentist or accountant, but the horrors he dealt with every day at work definitely didn’t help. His honesty at just how awful he was, however, is refreshing.

This is a grisly peek into what goes on behind the scenes of all those true crime podcasts and documentaries that so many of us binge-watch. It’s more than DNA swabs and footprint casts; it’s maggots and rot and murders continuing to ruin families because there’s not enough usable evidence. It’s horror on every side, but if true crime is something that intrigues you, you’ll do yourself a favor by delving more into this behind-the-scenes story.

Follow Paul Holes on Twitter here.

fiction · middle grade

Book Review: The Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon

So I was wandering through the library with my daughter last week when she took off to go hunt for Digger, the construction-equipment stuffie that the library stashes in various places in the children’s department. If you spot Digger, you get a sticker, so my daughter’s all in on the search. (They use Digger because our new library building is currently under construction; the computer screensavers play videos of the construction updates, it’s actually really cool.) I went around front to peek at the new children’s and middle grade books, and among all the awesomeness, I found The Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon (Charlesbridge, 2022). Intrigued by the title, I opened the cover to read the inside flap, and within a few words, I was in.

Rory, a brand-new sixth grader heading to middle school, still struggles to say his r’s, a daunting sound for new speakers that usually fully resolves around second or third grade, but for some kids, it’s a little tougher. And being named Rory? Ouch. To make matters worse, his former best friend Brent has ditched him for the cool wrestling group, and he’s gone a step further, making fun of Rory right along with them. Rory’s got a stable and supportive friend group of his own, but losing Brent and being subjected to constant teasing because of his speech impediment? It hurts. A lot.

His new speech therapist, Mr. Simms, has some unorthodox ideas of what speech should look like, and from him, Rory picks up an appreciation for the life and struggles of Muhammad Ali. After a disastrous parentally-enforced get-together with Brent and some other old friends, Rory, along with his fellow students, is shocked when Brent is involved in a terrible accident that leaves him with a traumatic brain injury. Unable to reconcile this new, damaged Brent with the one who had hurt him so badly, Rory can’t quite muster sympathy. As his r’s continue to improve, Rory’s emotions remain in a tangle, and they only get more complex as Brent returns to school and becomes Rory’s partner for the big English project.

My recap absolutely does not do this book justice. First off, a book about a middle grader struggling with speech? I. Was. In. I’d never read a book about a kid in speech before, and my heart soared at this wonderful representation. While I never needed help with speech, I know how very common it is, and how much kids need to see themselves in fiction, and I can’t help but absolutely thrill at how many kids are going to see this book and feel a little less alone. Middle school, bullies…a traumatic brain injury and all the complications and messiness that entails? My goodness. This book packs a LOT into its 240 pages, and it does so masterfully.

Rory is so very real. He gets angry, he’s resentful, he shows how very hurt he was by his former best friend’s betrayal in so many realistic ways. His friends’ and fellow students’ reactions to Brent’s post-injury behavior is portrayed incredibly well. Some are sad; some are scared; some seem to use mockery and insults as a means of masking their fear (because if this could happen to Brent, it could easily happen to them as well, and middle school is about the age where this really begins to hit home…just in time for the teenage brain to take over and go, “Nah, it won’t happen to me!”). The teachers turning a blind eye to some of the less-than-acceptable behavior from Brent’s friend group is, unfortunately, all too real. Mr. Simms? Hands down one of the best adult characters I’ve read in a middle-grade novel. If only more teachers had that kind of magic!

The Way I Say It is an absolute gift to middle-grade writing. If your child struggles with speech or has in the past, they’ll see themselves in Rory and hopefully pick up some of Mr. Simms’s lessons along the way. And if your child knows someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury, watching Brent’s struggles might be a gentle introduction as to what TBI recovery might look like, and how they might feel as they support the injured friend. I’m so very, very glad I came across this book on the new books shelf, because it was an utter delight to lose myself in.

Visit Nancy Tandon’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · graphic novel

Book Review: White Bird by R.J. Palacio

At some point, I learned about the existence of White Bird by R.J. Palacio (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019) and looked for it at the library, but it never seemed to be in, and since I never formally added the book to my TBR, I kind of forgot about it. But my daughter has discovered a love for graphic novels, and on our last trip to the library, I finally found that elusive copy of White Bird. Into my bag it went.

It’s been quite a few years since I read Ms. Palacio’s Wonder, so I didn’t quite remember Julian, Auggie’s bully, but he’s back in White Bird, interviewing his grandmother Sara, who survived the Holocaust thanks to the kindness of a local family. (The story stands alone, so reading Wonder beforehand isn’t necessary.) Julien is the boy who sits next to Sara at school. He’s survived polio and uses crutches, making him a target of many of the other students, but Sara’s never really spoken to him. The day that the Nazis come to take away the Jewish students, Julien helps Sara to hide, then takes her to his home, where her parents stash her in the barn.

As the war rages on, the two children grow, mature, and establish a firm friendship, and Sara comes to understand her prior selfishness and immaturity. But there are few Holocaust stories without loss, and through Sara’s story of survival, her grandson Julian learns what true friendship is, and how we can’t change the past, but we can move on as better people.

A beautifully drawn graphic novel, White Bird would make for a gentle introduction to an emotionally charged subject. The Holocaust and all its devastation and atrocities isn’t easy to introduce to children, but it’s a vital part of history that needs to be taught. Parents, you wouldn’t be remiss in checking this out of the library and just leaving it around the house. Odds are your kids will spot it and dive in. There’s nothing graphic or too overtly scary, but there are mentions of death; I’d put this as okay for mature fourth grade and up. Be prepared to have some discussions with your kids about the book afterwards; they’ll likely have a lot of big feelings when they turn the last page.

This is a fast read, but the story, though fiction, will stay with you. The drawings are simple, allowing Sara and Julien’s story to take center stage, and placing the reader in its various settings: running from the Nazis at school, hiding in a bale of hay in a barn, struggling to keep terror and an overwhelming sense of loss at bay. I’m glad I finally came across a copy on my library’s shelves, and I’m glad that it’s such a popular choice that I did struggle to find it. White Bird shouldn’t be missed. Especially not now that it’s being released in movie format on October 14, 2022.

Visit R.J. Palacio’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

books about books · nonfiction

Book Review: Library Lin’s Curated Collection of Superlative Nonfiction by Linda Maxie

Books about books. Truly one of the best genres out there, right? We all love books, and so a book about books is just about as good as it gets. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know I veer heavily towards nonfiction (and depressing nonfiction, at that!). There are many reasons for this, but a big one is that I just love learning, and so when Linda Maxie reached out to me to offer up her book, Library Lin’s Curated Collection of Superlative Nonfiction (Spoon Creek Press, 2022), for review, I absolutely leapt at the chance. A book all about nonfiction? COUNT. ME. IN.

In this wonderful book set up exactly like a library, Linda Maxie takes the nonfiction lover on a stroll through the shelves, organized Dewey Decimal System-style (and not without a discussion about the pros and cons of said system, and the cons of its creator – major high five to Ms. Maxie for bringing that up! It’s something I learned of only in the past year or so, so I’m pleased that it’s getting more attention), with suggestions for each category, ranging from 001 (Knowledge) to 996 (Polynesia and Pacific Ocean Islands). In between is the whole library and a world of reading possibilities.

Each book suggestion has a few lines of description, enough to either intrigue the potential reader or let them know this book isn’t for them. The introduction encourages the reader to take notes in the wide margins (AND I DID!!!), make lists, and gain a better understanding of how the library works and what kind of books are available in each category. If you’re not a huge wanderer of the shelves, this would be a fabulous introduction to what you’ve been missing.

I had so much fun going through this book. I made lists of the books I wanted to read (it’s, uh, a LOT), and I kept track of the books mentioned that I had already read (fifty-one, baby!). I tend to read mostly from my TBR, so this was a great reintroduction to what belongs where on the library shelves and what I’ve been missing out on by sticking to specific sections. Ms. Maxie’s suggestions, compiled from lists of award winners and nominees and other best-of type-lists, tend toward more recently published books (though there are some older ones whose information and/or subjects are still relevant), which I very much appreciated; it’s a bummer to find a nonfiction book that sounds fascinating but whose publication date makes you realize everything between the covers will be out-of-date. Not a problem at all with this book!

If you love books about books but have always wished the authors would include more nonfiction on those lists, you will absolutely love Library Lin’s Curated Collection of Superlative Nonfiction by Linda Maxie. And if you’ve got a nonfiction lover in your life, pick a copy up for them, because this would make a great gift!

Thanks to Linda Maxie for the opportunity to read and review this book. I truly enjoyed it!

Visit Linda Maxie’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.