By Hannah Barnaby
Houghton Mifflin Books for children, 2012
Honors: William C. Morris Award finalist * Kirkus Best Teen Books * Bank Street College Best Children’s Books * YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
I remember the first time I went to the circus. I was five, and my mother took me to see the Ringling Bros at Madison Square Garden. I remember that the clowns frightened me, that the giraffe felt like a skyscraper, and that I said a dirty word that got me scolded. But mostly, I remember that it was the first big outing I took with my mother.
Maybe that’s why I adore Wonder Show. My mom passed away last year, and I read this book at her bedside during her final days. It’s no surprise that I would turn to a book for escape and solace. It’s always been that way for me. But I found myself completely absorbed in this story of a strong girl, her longing for family, and the role of self-forgiveness for all of us.
Set in the 1930’s, Wonder Show is the story of Portia, a girl who loves to make up stories for anyone who’ll listen. She is abandoned first by her mother, then her loving father, Max, and finally by her no-nonsense Aunt Sofia, who decides she can’t raise the headstrong and creative girl on her own. Portia finds herself in the care (loose definition, here) of the ever-creepy Mister at the Home for Wayward Girls. Here, her life as an outsider begins. When her desperate attempt to help a friend dodge Mister’s marital intentions goes terribly wrong, Portia flees in desperation and joins—what else?—the circus.
Well, not exactly the circus. She joins the part of the circus where the true outsiders reside: the Wonder Show, filled with Siamese twins, bearded ladies, giants, armless knife throwers and more.
Barnaby’s debut is so impressive. She recreates the tightly knit community expertly, and her instincts for timing and tension are spot on. She creates characters that are rich in their own needs and failings. I found it almost impossible to stop reading at the end of each chapter. And, I fell in love with Portia.
It’s a teen novel that can work especially well in middle school, but really, any age can enjoy this creepy and thoughtful tale. In Portia, we have a strong girl who refuses to be beaten down, even by her own remorse. – Meg
By Jenny Hubbard
Young Adult (high school)
Delacorte Press, a Division of Random House, 2014
Other formats: e-book
Sometimes our youth is marked by tragedy. And that’s the case for Emily Beam, whose boyfriend, Paul Wagoner, walks into the high school library and takes his own life. This is a story about teen pregnancy and suicide. But more, it’s a story about mistakes and the awful consequences of decisions, about the complete unraveling of a girl, and the role of female friendships, writing, and time in helping her survive.
Normally, I plug my nose at novels set at boarding schools in New England or whose narrative centers around the cheerleader-athlete-keg party set. However, nothing about this novel is stereotypical: not the characters, not Emily’s voice, and certainly not the depth and honestly with which Jenny Hubbard lays out the complicated moral questions of one girl’s life. The novel is interspersed with Emily’s free verse, inspired by the life and works of Emily Dickinson—which opened for me a thirst for diving back into the famous poet’s life.
You might already recognize Jenny Hubbard, whose debut novel Paper Covers Rock was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Novel award. My prediction is that Jenny Hubbard is at the start of a long, bright career—and we’ll all be better for it. I haven’t read a novel that moved me and troubled me this much in a long while. I hope it finds its way to the bookshelves of high school girls everywhere. -Meg
By Sy Montgomery and Temple Grandin
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012
Middle grade non-fiction, Ages 9 and Up
additional formats: enhanced e-book, audio
NYPL 100 Titles for Reading & Sharing, 2012
Whether you realize it or not, your life has very likely been influenced by Temple Grandin. An advocate, designer, and activist, she’s dedicated her life to the humane treatment of livestock. As a child, Temple was diagnosed with autism. Sy Montgomery’s biography explores Temple’s world and her journey to understanding and embracing autism as a gift that helps her understand and connect with animals.
“I was one of those kids who did not fit in with the rest of the crowd,” Temple Grandin says of her childhood. Temple’s own voice, woven throughout much of this story, describes how she has been misunderstood, ostracized, criticized, and denied access. Because she is a female? Yes. Because she lives with autism? Yes. Because she challenges the status quo? You got that right. Because she refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer? Yep, that, too.
Temple always had someone in her corner. Her mother, her aunt, and select educators and business people who recognized Temple’s genius and worked to open doors and opportunities for her. These passionate advocates taught Temple the principles of self-advocacy, and she never looked back.
The facts of Temple’s life, as well as the anecdotes that illustrate how she came to know herself, are fascinating. Through stories, photographs, and Temple’s actual livestock-system designs, readers begin to understand how Temple’s brain works. Temple’s brain is most fascinating! We learn how the qualities in Temple that caused some to misjudge her are the very qualities Temple credits for her success, creativity, and innovative thinking. The biography is chock-full of concrete and well-lived words of advice from Temple that will inspire kids, such as: “Individuals who have been labeled with disabilities or even just quirky or nerdy kids often have uneven skills” and “By finding friends who like the same activities that you like, you can avoid the bullies.”
I learned of Temple Grandin’s breakthrough thinking and innovative designs in livestock management in 2006 with the publication of her book, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Her work has influenced nearly every cattle farmer in America, including my family. Sy Montgomery brings a rich, engaging, and important biography of one of the most influential American women to young readers. GA