Review: Extraordinary by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

extraordinary by miriam spitzer franklin

Last spring, Pansy chickened out on going to spring break camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process.

Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Extraordinary is one of those books that I feel like I could’ve loved in elementary school but is ultimately not for me at this point. My problems with the story weren’t necessarily because there’s anything wrong with the book, but because I came in with two incorrect assumptions:

The first one has to do with target audience and age of the protagonist. I thought this was middle-grade. It’s not middle-grade. The protagonists are in fifth grade, and they read like they’re in third or fourth grade. Because of that, if I was to recommend this, I would recommend it to lower middle-grade readers.

Unfortunately, while I’m on the topic of the characters, the cast lacks the maturity of their age. There are books where the main characters feel like teenagers, feel like middle-graders, but this isn’t one of them. The voice and narration was very unnatural to me, and the events of the plot held no substance. Things happened, were supposed to have some sort of meaning, and then quickly moved on.

However, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the plot and the characters. Extraordinary struck me as the friendship version of Tricia Clasen’s The Haunted House Project, which was one of my Tweens Read August picks. Even though it was cliché in many ways, the friendship between Pansy and Anna was fun to read about. I also loved the coming-of-age nature of the story, which brings me to my second point.

I went in expecting Extraordinary to be a book about friendship. I love reading about friendships, especially broken ones, in middle-grade and YA, but more than anything else, Extraordinary is a coming-of-age type of book. Pansy grows tremendously over the course of the story, becoming her own person and learning how to live with the idea of not always being with Anna. That’s not to say they don’t end up together in the end. They go through their own share of troubles, but they have an incredible bond with each other.

In terms of the supporting cast, I adored the good family relationships in the story. There’s no Disappearing Parent Syndrome for Extraordinary. Anna’s problems tie in her entire family and Pansy’s entire family, and Pansy’s parents play strong roles as her supporters. This was great to see when much of middle-grade lit is moving toward stories where parents play minimal, if any, roles. The teachers within the story weren’t particularly memorable either, but I enjoyed their roles and support while I was in the story.

Also, on a side note, what kind of fifth grade class is still learning the multiplication tables for 2? I know personal experiences aren’t always accurate, so I took a look at IXL and they should be learning decimal/fraction multiplication and division, as well as exponents, probability, and ratios. I’m nit-picking, but it was little details that made this book seem younger than it’s intended for.

Strangely enough, by the end of the story, I realized that when I started this book, I was looking for another book along the lines of Jenny Han’s Shug or Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. Both books are very deep and poignant, talking extensively about friendship, loss, and coming-of-age. Granted, those books are more middle-grade than children’s, but I would probably think of them first if someone wanted a recommendation. Overall, Extraordinary was a decent read, but I would only recommend for younger middle-grade readers and children’s lit readers. 2 stars.


ARC Review: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

the changelings by christina soontornvat

Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door.

Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

Description taken from Goodreads.

I feel like if I had read this during my middle-grade years, I could’ve loved it to death, but when I was reading it now, all I could do was point out the clichés to it. I think the problem with the story is that there’s next to nothing fresh about it. It’s interesting, and the characters are heartfelt, and the writing is cute, but there’s nothing super memorable there.

That being said, I did love Izzy and her adventures with the outlaws. Their trip through Faerie was entertaining, and I loved Izzy’s voice as a character. She’s bookish and clever, not necessarily strong or brave, but she grows over the course of the story and comes to home both within herself and with her family/friends.

Overall, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one. It’s cute, but it’s just not what I’m looking for. I’d much rather recommend Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander series, which has many of the same themes and was one of my first of these kinds of novels. Good read, but nothing I would come back to. 2 stars.

Review: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

it's not me, it's you by stephanie kate strohm

One high school girl’s comedic examination of her dating past as told by the friends, family, and boys who were involved!

Avery Dennis is a high school senior and one of the most popular girls in her class. But a majorly public breakup with the guy she’s been dating causes some disastrous waves. It is right before prom and Avery no longer has the perfect date. She runs the prom committee, how could she not show up with somebody?

Post-breakup, Avery gets to thinking about all of the guys that she has ever dated. How come none of those relationships ever worked out? Could it be her fault? Avery decides to investigate. In history class she’s learning about this method of record-keeping called “oral history” and she has a report due. So Avery decides to go directly to the source. Avery tracks down all of the guys she’s ever dated, and uses that information, along with thoughts from her friends, family, and teachers, to compile a total account of her dating history.

Avery discovers some surprises about herself and the guys she’s spent time with — just in time for prom night!

Description taken from Goodreads.

Even though this is categorized as YA, I can’t take it completely seriously as YA. It had much more a mature MG feel to it, and I loved it for that. Many people have compared this to the movie Clueless, and I definitely see 8th grade girls falling in love with the drama, structure, and plot of it all.

It wasn’t exactly for me. I didn’t realize going in that it’s told interview-style, and that system almost never works for me. I like my stories told straight, and this veered off the path by a lot. Because of that, I struggled to get into the novel, but when I did, I found a really cute story underneath all of this. Avery is a lovable heroine who is just a little, well, clueless, and I loved reading about her throughout the course of the novel.

Overall, I did think it was a little too much. In all honesty, it sounds like the author took a bunch of overly stereotypical teens, interviewed them about a certain girl, and put it into a book. It worked at times, and it didn’t work at times. I’ll be recommending this one, but only to the right people. I can’t see this book branching audiences very well. 2 stars.

Review: Fenway & Hattie by Victoria J. Coe

fenway & hattie by victoria j. coe

Fenway is an excitable and endlessly energetic Jack Russell terrier. He lives in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and—of course—his beloved short human and best-friend-in-the-world, Hattie.

But when his family moves to the suburbs, Fenway faces a world of changes. He’s pretty pleased with the huge Dog Park behind his new home, but he’s not so happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the super-slippery Wicked Floor in the Eating Room, and the changes that have come over Hattie lately. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in her new short human friend, Angel, and learning to play baseball. His friends in the Dog Park next door say Hattie is outgrowing him, but that can’t be right. And he’s going to prove it!

Description taken from Goodreads.

I mentioned in the Tweens Read August announcement post that Victoria J. Coe would be among the authors participating in the event, and in the effort to get some of these amazing books read, I picked up her debut, Fenway & Hattie. That was also why I read Counting Thyme, but unfortunately, I didn’t love Fenway & Hattie as much as I loved Counting Thyme.

Fenway & Hattie was cute, but it wasn’t particularly intriguing besides that. I love dog stories, from A Dog’s Purpose to One Good Dog, but this book didn’t bring anything new to the table. It felt cliché and spazzy. While I can understand the spazzy because of the nature of the POV being by a Jack Russell Terrier, I wasn’t particularly interested past the first few pages.

I continued reading, thinking maybe younger MG readers (or elementary school students) will like this one, and it turned out to be a good thing. I enjoyed the plot that came later on and the trials Fenway faced with the challenges of moving. It was also interesting to try and figure out what was going on from a dog’s perspective.

he plot isn’t bad, but most of the book feels meaningless because there’s just not a lot going on even over the span of 176 pages. The characters were fun to get to know, especially Hattie, and I loved her relationship with Fenway, but the writing was generally all over the place.

All in all, Fenway & Hattie is a fun read that I would probably only recommend to kids who read younger MG. Even though I didn’t truly enjoy this one, I might still pick up the next book because I’m interested to see where the plot goes. 2 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 176

Series: Fenway & Hattie #1

ARC Review: Furthermore by Taherah Mafi

furthermore by taherah mafi

There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other.

But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. Her only companion is a boy named Oliver whose own magical ability is based in lies and deceit—and with a liar by her side in land where nothing is as it seems, it will take all of Alice’s wits (and every limb she’s got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.

Description taken from Goodreads.

I distinctly remember Taherah Mafi as being the victim of the first book I ever publicly ripped apart, not that I’m proud of that. That review was written a little over four years ago, and I’ve since learned a lot as a blogger and taken the post down. I would still never pick up Shatter Me ever again, but I was hoping that with Furthermore, we could create a new beginning.

It wasn’t meant to be.

I wanted to love this book, and in some ways, I did. There were some paragraphs I can only describe as being poignant and utterly wonderful. Mafi’s fans won’t be let down; her writing is full of metaphors. They tend to be hit or miss, but they’re plentiful and they’re long.

If you haven’t read any of Mafi’s writing yet, I would describe her books as trying to put John Green’s writing into a fantasy novel. You can decide how you feel about that.

Apart from the writing, I feel like the plot is where Furthermore truly shines. Ignoring all the writing and stripping down the characters and plot to what they actually are, this was a fantastical story about love, loss, and betrayal that YA readers will love. However, I can’t see people who traditionally read MG loving this.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of Mafi’s writing style, but this isn’t one I think I’ll be recommending. It takes way too long to get to the point of anything, and no matter how much I loved the other elements of the story, the writing continued to throw me off at every turn and corner. It threw off the pacing and made the book feel much longer than it actually is. I can see people loving this one, but it wasn’t for me.

2 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 446

Review: Booked by Kwame Alexander

In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER, soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.
This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match!

Description taken from Goodreads.

The only question left is what went wrong.

When I wrote my review for The Crossover, I said it was one of the best books written in verse that I’ve ever read. With Booked, it seems as though my hopes for finding an author who writes epically in verse are gone, at least in Kwame Alexander’s case.

Here’s my problem with verse: typically, they’re saying a whole lot of nothing.

I can stand John Green and Rainbow Rowell because even though their writing is flowery, they’re making a poignant, relevant point.

I don’t know what, but something went wrong in Booked. It didn’t feel the same as The Crossover. It wasn’t important, it didn’t feel important, and it wasn’t purely enjoyable either. There was none of the wit, the humor, the endearment, of the first book. There were some great themes. I loved the positive relationships with librarians in this novel, and the fact that Nick learns to love reading, but it didn’t strike (pun intended :3) me nearly as hard as the first book.

I loved The Crossover, and Booked hasn’t ruined it for me at all, but it was a disappointment. It could just be a disappointment because my expectations were so high, but I would probably only be recommending this one to soccer lovers. 2 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 320

Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi


Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

Description taken from Goodreads.

This is one of those books that wins awards but isn’t really all that.

It has its moments. It has its quotable sections. It has valuable lessons, and I must admit it offers an extraordinary look into the life of someone growing up in Iran in that time period. But I would never read this book for fun. I wouldn’t pick it up for anything other than research.

If I was researching, this would be a wonderful way to go about it, but I wouldn’t read it for reading’s sake the way I would with Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

And unlike Spiegelman’s Maus, the fact that it’s broken up into two books doesn’t make them individually stand on their own, endearing and autonomous. It makes the books weaker. The main difference between book 1 and book 2 is age. Marjane is much younger in the first book, so the second book consists of less childish ideals and more romantic notions. However, even though there’s that split, the first book ends so abruptly that things seem rushed.

The entire structure of the story was off. I disliked the way that even though the story continued on, each part to Marjane’s life felt like an episode rather a continuation of the plot. Each section was a little snippet, a show. One thing didn’t lead to the next. It made Marjane’s life as the heroine feel insignificant, like her story didn’t matter. It was punctuated by repetitive themes and not enough moving forward.

While I loved learning about the Islamic Revolution in a completely different way than I had learned it before, this isn’t a graphic novel that I would recommend to any middle-grader for the fun of reading it. Maybe because it’s diverse lit, but other than that, I wouldn’t recommend it. 2 stars.

pg count for the paperback: 160

Review: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

raymie nightingale by kate dicamillo

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of Kate DiCamillo’s work. Some of her books are ones that I would name as instrumental to my love of reading and writing as a kid. I loved her stories before I ever loved realistic fiction/contemporary as a genre.

But this one just didn’t strike a chord with me.

Maybe the problem was that I didn’t even realize this was meant to be historical fiction until I dove into the book. Yeah. There are lots of aspects to this story that are, for the most part, unexplained, and only make sense because this is set in the mid 1970s. For starters, if you’re going to read this book for the time period, please read a different book. This isn’t worth it for the historical fiction appeal. The time period played such an inconsequential role that I could forget it wasn’t set in present day.

Kate DiCamillo’s writing is beautiful. It’s simple, it’s sweet, and it perfectly fits her stories. There were parts of this book that I loved, snippets that made me believe in Raymie’s story. There’s also a lot of unexpected humor in this novel. Granted, the humor isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it was pleasantly surprising. It kept the tone of an otherwise sad novel lighthearted, and it shaped Raymie’s character.

All in all, this story was pretty meh for me. None of the characters truly meant anything to me, and I could understand what DiCamillo was trying to do with Raymie’s sob story and her belief that her father could come back. In fact, it worked for a while. I sympathized with her, and I did enjoy her story overall. But for the most part, it was tiring and forced.

If you want a great book by DiCamillo to read, there are plenty, but this isn’t one of them (at least not for middle-grade readers). 2 stars.

Review: Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt

maybe a fox by kathi appelt

Sylvie and Jules.

Jules and Sylvie.

Jules adores her older-by-one-year sister, Sylvie.

Sylvie: beautiful like their mother.
Sylvie: supreme maker of tiny snow families.
Sylvie: faster than fast.

Sylvie: gone.

Into thin air, Sylvie goes missing, and as Jules stumbles in grief, a fox cub is born. A shadow fox, spirit and animal in one. From the minute the cub opens her eyes, she senses something very wrong. Someone—Jules.

Jules: steadfast like their father.
Jules: supreme maker of tiny snow foxes.
Jules: collector of rocks.

Jules: heartbroken.

Who is this Jules? Who is this Sylvie she cries out for? And why does the air still prickle with something unsettled? As that dark unknown grows, the fates of the girl Jules and the fox cub, laced together with wishes and shadowy ties, are about to collide.

Description taken from Goodreads.

I had absolutely no idea what to make of the blurb or what it was trying to say. I got a magical fox vibe? Maybe something along the lines of two sisters, one of them dies and turns into a magical fox?

Hey, stranger things have happened in MG.

Unfortunately, this one just didn’t work for me. Combine my perpetual frustration with near-crushing sadness, and Maybe a Fox just wasn’t for me. If you like sad stories, then this one is for you. Other than my plot and writing problems with it, it wasn’t bad at all. The pacing was good, and it had a sleepy, nostalgic feeling to it.

The characters were memorable, and I grew attached to them so that the emotional impact was even worse. The sister relationship between Sylvie and Jules was well-done and realistic, and at the end of the book, I felt like I knew both of them well.

This is the life-changing book for someone, just not me. I would recommend it to a middle-grade girl who likes contemporary and wants to cry a lot, though for the most part, I see this more as a literary award book than a popular one. 2 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 272

Review: MARTians by Blythe Woolston

martians by blythe woolston

Last girl Zoë Zindleman, numerical ID 009-99-9999, has just been graduated. Early. Her options: wait for her home to be foreclosed and stripped of anything valuable now that AnnaMom has moved away, or move to the Warren, an abandoned strip-mall-turned-refuge for other left-behinds—a safe place, and close to AllMART, Zoë’s new employer, where “your smile is AllMART’s welcome mat.” Zoë may be the last girl, but her name means “life,” and Zoë isn’t ready to disappear into the AllMART abyss. Zoë wants to live.

MARTians is set in a world of exurban decay studded with big-box stores, where its inhabitants are numbed by shopping and the six o’clock “news.” MARTians may be the future, but it is frighteningly familiar.

Description taken from Goodreads.

In a word, interesting.

And by interesting, I mean not for any middle-grader that I know. Probably not even for most YA readers that I know. There are parts of this book that are insightful, funny, deep, all things I appreciate and love, but much of it was crude or hard to understand.

After years of reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t do sci-fi where I have to figure lots of things out (Blood Red Road, I’m looking at you). This just barely scrapes into that category. The wording made this exhausting to read, even for such a short book, and I never felt attached to the characters or to the story. The descriptions, while certainly valiant efforts, fell flat, and this world wasn’t too compelling for me.

The ending does leave you thinking, and I want to say that I can see a few adults enjoying this, no one particularly comes to mind. While this had some interesting concepts, it’s not one that I would recommend. If you’re looking for a reasonably middle-grade sci fi, go for M.T. Anderson’s Feed. 2 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 224