Monday, May 18, 2015

Middle grade and YA fiction

This week I've been reading some advanced readers copies from Netgalley again, and wow, was THIS a good crop.

The first one is definitely middle grade fiction by Carol Weston.  It's a sequel to her fabulous book called "Ava and Pip" about two sisters struggling to fit in.  Here is the review of "Ava and Pip"  This one is called "Ava and Taco Cat" and it's just as good as the first one, but this one is a bit more girly than "Ava and Pip" so it may have a harder time finding wide spread appeal because although I liked it, there are a couple of things that will make middle grade boys squirm.  First, the good parts.  Ava is back as a prolific writer and lover of words.  She has decided she wants a cat and finds one at the local shelter.  She names him Taco Cat (a palindrome) because the shelter is near their favorite taco spot.  Ava writes a great story about Taco Cat and even ends up in the newspaper, which brings a whole new set of drama.  Ava has been reading fables which she retells at appropriate times and that's a nice tie in too.  But Ava has moved into 5th grade and some of the middle grade issues (like menstrual cycles and make up) may make this a difficult one to sell to the boys.  Ava is a very likable character though and there are lots of teachable moments in the book, like patience, tolerance, talking to your friends rather than assuming you know what's on their mind.  Very good story.

The second one I think is also middle grade fiction but I think this one could have legs for middle school or possibly high school.  It's from one of my favorite authors, Gennifer Choldenko.  She wrote "Al Capone Does My Shirts" which is a great story about a boy who's family moves to Alcatraz Island because his dad has taken a job as a prison guard there.  It turns out Al Capone is also there and the kids try to use Capone's presence to their advantage.  Choldenko wrote several about this time period and this place and she explains at the beginning of her new book, "Chasing Secrets" that she's decided to branch out a bit.  This one is also set in San Francisco but a bit earlier than the others... 1900.  The main character, Lizzie, is struggling with a new school (for ladies... Lizzie would rather ride horses) because her mom died and she and her dad and her big brother Billy are living in a house next to her aunt and uncle's house.  Lizzie's dad is a physician and really wants to help people.  Her brother Billy is trying to earn enough money to buy a horseless carriage (in ways their dad does not approve of).  One day their Chinese cook disappears and it seems that he is stuck in Chinatown because people are afraid there is a plague and so they have quarantined Chinatown.  This story has big themes of loyalty and trust, when you should tell secrets and stick to your guns and when you should keep quiet.  It also touches on some of the horrible ways the Chinese were treated at the turn of the century.   Lizzie is a strong, interesting character that I would love to read more about.  This would be great matched up with a story like "Big Sky Hattie" or "Hattie Ever After" by Kirby Larson.

The last one is more YA to me... it was advertised for fans of "the Hunger Games" (loved those!) so I was all in, but this one has a couple of other awesome things going for it.  First of all, it's called "5 to 1" by Holly Bodger.  It's set in India in the future, where, because there has been a limitation on the number of babies born to a family, and families want boys to carry on the family name and take of them parents, girl babies and girls in general are in short supply.  One village decides to take matters into their own hands and build a wall around their community and make some big changes.  One of the changes is that boys compete to marry the wealthy girls.  Winning means a lifetime of support and luxury so it's a pretty good deal.  The losers face sort of an uncertain fate,, guarding the wall, which is dangerous, or getting tossed outside, even more dangerous.   The story is told from two perspectives-one of the girls, who thinks this is a really bad idea and is trying to come up with a way not to have to marry the boy who is willing to cheat to be the winner.  The second is one of the boys who's competing, who doesn't want to win (he has another plan) but finds himself drawn to the girl as well as wanting the foreseen winner to lose.  The girl's voice is free verse poetry and the boy's is prose so it gives an even stronger feeling of contrast.  I really liked this one a lot.  It was very exciting and compelling to read.  It also has a very interesting theme of unintended consequences and social planning.  

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