Posts tagged “Girls of Summer 2011

If You Come Softly

If You Come Softly

By Jacqueline Woodson
Young adult
Puffin, 1998
ISBN: 0698118626/ ISBN: 978-0698118621
Awards/Recognitions: * ALA Best Books for Young Adults * Detroit Public Library Author’s Day Award

An Audre Lorde poem inspired this 1998 love story by Jacqueline Woodson. Lorde’s poem begins:

If you come softly
as the wind within the trees
you may hear what I hear
see what sorrow sees

Woodson published If You Come Softly fifteen years ago, yet every page reads like a contemporary love stoy. It’s told from the alternating perspectives of Ellie and Miah, who are both fifteen, both upper middle class, both students at a mostly white private New York City high school. Only Ellie is white and Miah is black. While Ellie and Miah live in the same city and attend the same school, their cultural and familial life-experiences are completely different.

The young couple’s willingness to enter into and explore these differences leads them to fall in love and to stand up on behalf of their love when society and even their families try to put them down. If You Come Softly is not a true-love-is-blind story but a true-love-is-pliable-and-open story.

If You Come Softly overflows with that tingly first-love magic. Sweaty palms, stolen kisses, long late night calls, dreamy hours of wondering when. We all know that to love anyone or anything is to offer up your heart for the breaking. The Lorde poem reminds us that the deepest possible connection with another being will include suffering, for such intimacy allows us to “see what sorrow sees”. Within Woodson’s title, even, we know that sooner or later Ellie and Miah and their families will also see what sorrow sees.

Fortunately for her readers, when Jacqueline Woodson breaks your heart, she does so to make it more like Ellie and Miah’s love: pliable, ready, and able to receive all the goodness of the world in whatever shape, form, or color it’s offered. GA

Read the Girls of Summer interview with Jacqueline Woodson here.

Visit Jacqueline Woodson’s website: http://jacquelinewoodson.com/

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Behind the Mountains

Behind the Mountains

By Edwidge Danticat
Middle grade
Scholastic, 2002
ISBN: 439-37300-x
Awards/Recognitions: *BookSense 76 Pick * Americas Award Honor Book *New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

Grown-up girls of summer will recognize Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat as a two-time National Book Award finalist for Krik? Krak! and Brother, I’m Dying. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Danticat and Haitian-American illustrator, Alix Delinois, published a picture book about Haiti called, Eight Days: A Story of Haiti. In Behind the Mountains, Danticat delivers a first-person narrative of a hard-working Haitian family and the tragedies and triumphs they face.

Thirteen-year-old Celiane Esperance lives in the mountains of Haiti with her mother, Manman, and her brother, Moy. The family patriarch, Victor, has gone ahead to America, where he is living, working, and saving for his family to join him in Brooklyn. The story is structured as Celiane’s journal, a gift from her teacher to reward hard work and good grades. Celiane is told she may use this blank notebook for anything she wishes: “Madame Auguste made such a speech of the whole thing to show me and the other pupils all the uses an empty notebook can have. But when she said I could use you to write down things about myself, I became very glad and decided that is exactly what I am going to do. I will tell you everything I can tell no on else, and you will keep quiet because you have no tongue and you cannot speak. My pen is your tongue and I am your voice so you will never betray my secrets.”

Celiane’s secrets include typical worries and daydreams of a young teen – boys, homework, chores. The notebook also keeps a record of such worries that no child ought ever face – surviving a pipe bomb explosion, a five-year separation from her father, fear for her brother’s life during political upheaval. The diary entries contain a vivid, dynamic portrait of Haiti, too. Alive with color and sound and smells of the city and countryside, Behind the Mountains is a powerful sensory experience. Vibrantly painted tap-taps called Wyclef and sporting phrases such as “your love is my love” fill the streets of Port-au-Prince. The brothy, velvety smell of New Year’s Day soup joumou, squash soup, fills Manman’s kitchen. The steady, reflective, and optimistic voice of Celiane infuses each entry with both wonder and wisdom. GA

Learn more about Edwidge Danticat.


Huntress

Huntress

By Malinda Lo
Young adult
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN: 9780316040075/9780316175203
Awards/Recognitions: * ALA Best Books for Young Adults

O, Huntress!

Some books defy categorization; some books reject our need to make the world linear and instead turn our imaginations inside out for a nice cleaning out of cobwebs, a good letting in of sunshine. Open the pages of such a book and, somehow, labels and shelves and containment seem not only inappropriate but downright sinful. Such a book is Huntress.

Fantasy? Yes. Adventure? Certainly so. Love story? Oh yes, a love story of the truest, purest sort. Young Adult? OK, sure, technically, I guess that’s where Huntress rests when not in use. Spirituality? Deliciously so. Eco-fiction? Yep. GLBT? Sure!

The jacket flap summarizes the plot nicely: “Nature is out of balance in the human kingdom. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance. To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go forward on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fair Queen.”

O, Huntress, I love you at forty-six and would SO have loved you at fifteen. My daughter loves you at eighteen; my aunt at sixty.

And just what makes Huntress so lovable?

Well for starters, Huntress is a twofer – Kaede and Taisin, two strong girls in one book. Two strong girls saving the human and fay worlds, falling in love, and staying true to themselves. Author Malinda Lo has created a world so immediate and rich that readers can’t help but feel transported forward or backward into the journey with Kaede and Taisin. As their love grows, Lo’s narrative makes you giggle, makes you blush, and makes you remember. Aesthetically, this is one book you will want to hold in your hands and read in its paper version. Huntress is so lovingly designed with an old-school endpaper map, embellishments to open each chapter, and ornaments that delineate each of the book’s three parts. GA

Learn more about Malinda Lo.


Mockingbird

Mockingbird

By Kathryn Erskine
Middle grade
Philomel, 2010; Puffin books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-399-25264-8/978-0-14-241775-1
Awards/recognition: * National Book Award 2010 * International Reading Association Award *Crystal Kite Award *Golden Kite Honor *Southern Independent Booksellers Award *ALA Notable Children’s Book *Children’s Book Committee of Bank Street College Best Children’s Book (outstanding merit) *Junior Library Guild Selection

I couldn’t have completed my picks without including Mockingbird by fellow Virginian, Kathryn Erskine. This novel, which won a National Book Award, is the story of ten-year-old Caitlin, who struggles to make sense of her brother’s death in a school shooting – a struggle that is complicated by her Asperger’s Syndrome.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that one of my own daughters was born with disabilities. (Hers are intellectual challenges, not autism.) It’s a particular pleasure for me to find a novel that captures the gifts and obstacles of life with a disability so well.

Caitlin is mainstreamed in the fifth grade at a school that is still reeling from a shooting, where her older brother, Devin, was killed. In her highly structured world, she refers to the event as “The Day Our Life Fell Apart.” Complicating matters for everyone is the fact that Josh, a cousin of the shooter attends her school, too. At home, Caitlin’s father – depressed and isolated – is grieving his son’s death even as he continues to meet Caitlin’s needs as best he can.

Daily life at school is a challenge. As often happens with kids who live outside the norm, Caitlin is an outsider with her peers, who in turn want to help or throttle her. Erskine does a fantastic job of getting behind this character’s eyes so that what seems erratic (the rocking, the shouting, the refusal to budge on a seemingly simple matter) all makes perfect sense. She also shows exactly what’s involved for a girl like Caitlin to do a group project or simply to “look at the person.”

The book is often funny, thank goodness. (And really, how could it be anything else when you’re following a character that understands the world very literally? Just think of Amelia Bedelia.) There are excruciating scenes, too — often those moments when Caitlin injures those around her unintentionally – and moments of sheer beauty, such as the simple friendship between Caitlin and a first grader named Michael.

But what shines out more than anything else is that there is a way back from unspeakable grief. What it takes to find it is acceptance, patience, and an unfailing commitment to those we love. That, and a strong girl as our guide. MM

Kathy Erskine receiving the National Book Award.  

Learn more about Kathryn Erskine.


Girl Stolen

Girl Stolen

By April Henry
Young adult
Christy Ottaviano Books: Henry Holt BYR, 2010,
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9005-5
Awards/Recognitions: * American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults * American Library Association Quick Picks for Young Adults

Sometimes, I’m reminded that we tend to read the way we eat. For some meals, we fill our plate with nutritious food that takes a while to digest. Other times, we just want to enjoy a big fat slice of cake, no guilt attached. There’s no reason we can’t enjoy both within reason.

For me, Girl, Stolen is a delicious piece of cake. No, it doesn’t make deep commentary on a girl’s journey. But it is an exciting crime story that will keep you happy poolside as you read to find out if 16-year-old Cheyenne Wilder will manage to escape her captors.

It’s a nightmare pulled from headlines: A kid is stolen in the half-second it takes a parent to run in for an errand. In this case, Cheyenne is burning with fever, and her stepmother takes her along to pick up her antibiotics. Unfortunately, a car thief named Griffin happens along. He’s out trolling the mall parking lot to help his chop-shop dad by stealing a nice SUV. What he doesn’t realize until it’s too late is that Cheyenne is asleep in the back seat of the car he steals.

Being hijacked when you’re deathly ill is bad enough, but let’s throw in the clincher: Cheyenne is legally blind, thanks to the car accident that killed her biological mother. And that, my friends, is what we mean by a character’s dilemma.

The novel is written in alternating chapters, between Griffin and Cheyenne’s point of view. It has the effect of humanizing the villain – or at least, pointing out that he’s not the uber bad guy in this tale. I was a little worried that the author would recreate one of those silly scenarios where the female victim falls in love with her assailant. (Ask your mother about soap operas in the 1980s. Sweet Lord.). But no, experienced mystery writer April Henry doesn’t go there. Instead, she fleshes out her characters’ relationship just enough and keeps us on the edge of our seats with everything from snarling dogs to leering garage assistants.

What I particularly like is what many reviewers have pointed out: Cheyenne’s blindness is simply a part of her, not the focus of her character. And like all strong girls, blind or otherwise, she’s up to solving her trouble – no matter how hopeless it seems – through her wits and gifts. MM

Learn more about author April Henry.


Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

Revolution is Not a Dinner Party

By Ying Chang Compestine
Young adult
Henry Holt BYR, 2007
ISBN: 0805082077 / 978-0805082074
Awards/Recognition: California Book Award for Young Adult Literature
 * 2008 ALA Best Books For Young Adults
 * 2008 ALA Notable Children’s Books
 * 2007 Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Fiction Book List

Revolution is Not a Dinner Party offers a look at a family’s frightening experiences during one of the most chilling chapters in modern Chinese history. It’s a page-turner, a tragedy, and a tribute to the resilience of a young girl in the midst of a world gone crazy.

“The summer of 1972, before I turned nine, danger began knocking on doors all over China.”

So begins the story of Ling Chang, the daughter of two doctors living in Wuhan during Mao Tse Tung’s Cultural Revolution, when thousands of Chinese intellectuals were killed or sent to re-education camps. Over the course of three years, Ling and her family descend from well-respected citizens to “bourgeois pigs,” whose home is ransacked and lives made miserable at every turn. The novel doesn’t spare the thousands of tragedies, large and small, through the eyes of a little girl awakening to the darker side of human nature. Whether it’s a broken doll, school humiliations, betrayal at the hands of friends, or witnessing a suicide, Compestine lays the facts bare. Ling journeys from being a wide-eyed innocent to a streetwise twelve-year-old, who wields belt buckles to ward off bullies and who steals food from the Red Guard’s secret stash.

Beyond the nail-biting tension as the noose tightens around this family, the relationship between Ling and her parents made this novel a keeper. Ling is blessed with a healthy relationship with her doting father. His life lessons – whether dancing the tango, studying English, or memorizing the physician’s code of ethics — see her through even her loneliest days. But, I was even more intrigued by the complicated love/hate dance between Ling and her mother. Seemingly tense and unfairly critical at the start of the novel, Ling’s mother is anything but sympathetic. In time, however, Ling learns to judge those behaviors against the backdrop of what it really takes to survive in a world where even the most trusted friend can betray you, when the simplest dream or desire can cost a girl her life.  MM

Learn more about Ying Chang Compestine.


The Calling

The Calling

By Cathryn Clinton
Middle grade/ Ages 10 and up/Grades 5 and up
Candlewick Press, 2001
ISBN 0763613878/978-0763613877
Awards/recognitions: * Parents’ Choice Awards Gold Award

Cathryn Clinton’s first novel, The Calling, made me a lifelong fan of hers and of her book’s publisher, Candlewick Press. The strong girls that I know are spiritual beings. They wrestle with questions about right and wrong, about intuition, about the hereafter, and about how they fit into God’s plan. With The Calling , both author and publisher affirm that spiritual questions belong in the realm of children’s literature, for this is a story of a child receiving a call by God into her life’s work. Yet while spiritual journeys are serious matters, we have only to pay attention to the world around us or to read The Calling to remember that God really does have a big old sense of humor.

In The Calling, Esta Lea is one of the youngest members of a clan where preaching is a tradition, just how farming is for other families. At the ripe old age of twelve, Esta Lea unexpectedly gets the call to allow God to heal others through her. Esta Lea experiences visions and something profoundly different starts happening in her “knower” – her “knower” being the part of herself where wisdom and insight reside. She is a somewhat reluctant healer, pure in motivation, and both surprised and grateful as God uses her to restore the faithful to full sight, full hearing, and full faith.

Right away, Esta Lea’s handsome and ne’er do well uncle, Peter Earl, sees opportunity in his niece’s calling. He hatches a plan to take Esta Lea and her songbird older sister, Sarah Louise, on a healing revival tour of all the nearby small towns. But, is Peter Earl’s plan for God’s glory or Peter Earl’s? Not only is Esta Lea now a healer, she’s a bit of a private eye, too! With some help from her BFF, Sky, who unabashedly lives her life in emulation of Saint Joan of Arc, Esta Lea tries to figure out what her uncle is really up to. Add Peter Earl’s glammed up ex-girlfriend, a hoarder with a heart of pure gold and a prophetic gift of her own, a few other real-life saints, and The Calling is all at once mystery-comedy-faith fiction.

Yes, The Calling feels like home. This is a book to read when you need to breathe in a stand of pine trees, to recall a best friend who had your best interests at heart, to laugh out loud, and to rock easy in the grace of being called by name. GA

Learn more about Cathryn Clinton.