22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

Lucy and Cam want nothing more than to get out of the Sunnyside Trailer Park. Their plan is to compete in the annual BotBlock competition, win $5000 and 15% college tuition. They have a plan to complete their mission that includes raising the admission fee, building and programming their robot and getting to the beachside competition. Lucy wants to escape a mom with manic-depressive disorder who seems to be off her meds and Cam wants to get away from a house filled with children and his mom’s abusive boyfriend. In addition to their problems at home, they are also hassled by a bully at school. Their road to victory is hit with several roadblocks when Lucy’s mama takes them on a runaway roadtrip to escape the authorities.

Mental illness is a hard topic to cover in middle grade fiction. It isn’t often written about and when it is sometimes it is overblown or completely unrealistic. Chasing the Milky Way does not suffer from either of those problems. It is a very realistic look at what it is like to live with a mentally ill parent. Lucy deals with so much more than most kids will ever deal with, but I am sure kids with mentally ill parents will recognize a lot of her story. It is a book that was a bit hard to read because it seemed so realistic. I just knew disaster was around the corner and I kept not wanting it to arrive. I wanted Lucy and Cam to succeed but knew there was very little chance it was going to happen. It was almost like watching a horror movie where you knew the bad guy was going to attack at any moment. You cover your eyes or hide behind the chair and peak out at intervals. That is kind of like how I felt reading this book. Mama is not the bad guy of course, her illness is, but it still felt like it could jump out at you at any moment, which I am sure is how mental illness sometimes feels. This book is going to be a hard sell to a lot of readers, but the ones that tackle it are going to have their eyes open to a world I hope they never experience.

06. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Biographies, Courtney, Graphic Book, History, NonFiction · Tags:

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah Van Sciver, 192 pages, read by Courtney, on 10/26/2013

This graphic novel tells of a lesser-known chapter of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It begins well before his presidency, before his marriage to Mary Todd. It follows a young Lincoln through his early days as a struggling lawyer. Set-back after set-back drive Lincoln into a deep, dark depression that nearly kills him.
I must confess I did not know a whole lot about Lincoln’s early life as most historical documents focus on his presidency and the years leading up to it. This graphic novel presents a less-than-glamorous tale of a man trying to find his way in the world. The stylized artwork may not be to everyone’s liking, but this is still a very accessible book that adds an extra dimension to the life of one of America’s greatest historical figures.

08. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Teen Books · Tags: , ,

Reality Boy by A.S. King, 368 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/09/2013

Gerald Faust hates his life. But, really, when it comes right down to it, he was never given much of a chance. When he was 5, his mother enlisted the aid of a TV show that brings an appropriately-British nanny into a house to address the behavioral issues of the children living there. The producers and cameras move in soon after. Audiences love the show; the Faust family is decided messed up. But the cameras only show one side of the story. The side of the story that ends with Gerald becoming known as “the Crapper”, which winds up being Gerald’s identity throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence. If things had been edited differently; if Gerald’s parents (particularly his mother) had acted differently; if the nanny had been an *actual* nanny and not just an actress playing a nanny; audiences would have seen the circumstances that led to Gerald’s infamous habit of defecating on various household surfaces. The audiences might have seen his eldest sister threatening to kill Gerald and his other sister. Audiences might have seen his mother constantly siding with his psychopath of an older sister. In case the point needs to be made clear: the behavior problems were never Gerald’s, but they made for better TV.
We’ve all seen these shows, right? Well, what happens when the subject of one of these shows grows up? What kind of life do they lead when every single person in their hometown associates these kids with the nightmares they were portrayed as on TV? In Gerald’s case, it causes him to have extreme anger and anxiety issues. It’s also landed him in the special education program at school. It’s caused him to be a loner, because no one wants to be friends with “the Crapper”. It’s caused Gerald to create an Disney-like imaginary world called “Gersday” to escape to. In other words, life has not been easy. When Gerald is finally forced to talk to his co-worker crush, he’s forced to find a way to relate to the outside world and comes to some staggering conclusions along the way.
I love A.S. King’s work and this one is no exception. It’s a concept that I’ve never come across before and it’s a story told with impeccable pacing and loads of compassion. King writes the sort of books that wind up surprising you no matter how much you think you know what’s going to happen next. This is part coming-of-age, part love story and part family drama. It’s told in chapters that alternate between Gerald’s present and various “takes” from scenes in the reality show that Gerald had no choice but participate in. Bit by bit, they tell a heartbreaking and darkly humorous story that feels as unique is it does familiar. Highly recommended.

I received this book after stalking the publisher at the ALA Annual Conference and am not compensated in any way for my review (other than the sheer joy of reading). This book comes out in September 2013.

03. March 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction · Tags: ,

A Finders-Keepers Place by Ann Haywood Leal, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 03/03/2013

Esther is eleven years old but has a lot of responsibility. She has to look after her younger sister Ruth, keep track of her mom Valley’s moods and keep the prying eyes of society off of her family. Esther and Ruth don’t always have food to eat or clothes to wear. Valley has moods that make her forget about things like that. She goes through notions like living like the Amish or remodeling their house that don’t always work out. Esther wants to find her father but all she knows about him is that he is a preacher named Ezekiel. So Esther and Ruth attend as many church services as they can to find Ezekiel.

Esther is way more grown up then she should be. She has to take care of her family and her mentally ill mother and make sure no one noses around too much. She can’t always protect Ruth from Valley just as she can’t always protect herself. This is a really heart-warming story about a young girl searching for her father and dealing with her mother’s illness. It is never spelled out what exactly is wrong with Valley but it is clear that she is depressed or bipolar or something. This story shows the resilience of kids and their ability to deal with just about any situation even those they should have to deal with.