Graphic Novel Review: Malice in Ovenland

An original, #ownvoices can’t-miss middle grade graphic novel.

Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess.
Rosarium Publishing, Greenbelt, MD, 2016.
MG speculative fiction, 126 pages including extras.
Not yet leveled.

Lily Brown is not going to camp this summer, or on a fancy vacation.  She’ll be staying home, eating her mom’s new ‘healthy’ organic cooking, caring for their plot in a community garden, and doing extra studying.  Her mom goes away for a weekend and Lily’s almost done with her chore list when she loses an earring inside the oven and discovers a magical world where they aren’t too happy about the sudden lack of grease in her family’s kitchen.

Malice in Ovenland cover resized
Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess.

There’s no way that my summary has done this book justice.  There are so many things going on here, and everything is wonderful. This is a book that kids love to read, and that parents can feel good about their kids reading.

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Review: George

“The word man hit like a pile of rocks falling on George’s skull. It was a hundred times worse than boy, and she couldn’t breathe.” page 16

George by Alex Gino.

George loves Charlotte’s Web more than anyone in her class, maybe even her school.  She can’t wait to be Charlotte in the 4th grade play.  There’s only one problem – to the world, she looks like a boy, and Charlotte is a girl’s part.  But George is also holding in a big secret…  she’s really a girl.

George-small

This book has been getting a LOT of buzz in the book blogging world, particularly the diverse corner of it.  Let’s face it, there aren’t many books in general addressing the transgender experience, and I cannot think of any other fiction work for middle graders on this topic.  There are a few picture books, but the majority of works are aimed at teens and YA audiences, which is a shame, because many (not all) transgender or intersex people are dealing with this from a much younger age.

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Review: Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go

“There are memories you write down to get them out, to force them as far away from you as you can.” page 9

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go: A Novel of Haiti by Laura Rose Wagner.
Amulet Books Imprint, Abrams, New York, 2015.
YA realistic fiction novel, 263 pages  including extras.
Lexile:  not yet leveled.
AR Level:  5.0 (worth 8.0 points)  .

15-year-old Magdalie’s been raised by her aunt in Port-au-Prince and is like a sister to her cousin Nadine.  When a massive earthquake hits the country, they’re devastated, grief-struck, and struggling to survive.  But then Nadine is offered an opportunity, and Magdalie cannot join her.  Will their sisterhood survive?  Will they?

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go

If you’re reading this review far enough into the future then this book will no longer be realistic fiction.  Just as novels about 9/11 are now historical fiction, this book about the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, a recent historical event, will one day be historical fiction!

The book opens with a scene of the actual earthquake, so it certainly starts off gripping.  After reading the blurb, I thought this book would be told in two voices, but it focuses solely on Magdalie, the sister left behind in Haiti.  This is an interesting twist on the usual immigration narrative.  Typically we follow the immigrant and don’t get as much information on those who are left behind.  In this book, the immigrant sister slowly and painfully fades away, while the focus is on the dire circumstances and overpowering need for survival in the country of origin.

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Review: A Long Walk to Water

“He ran until he could not run anymore. Then he walked. For hours, until the sun was nearly gone from the sky.” page 9

A Long Walk to Water: A Novel Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2010.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 121 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  5.0 (worth 3.0 points) .

Southern Sudan, 2008: Nya is a young girl who, for seven months of the year, spends every day walking to a nearby pond and bringing a heavy plastic container back to her family.  After a brief stop for lunch, she repeats the task in the afternoon.  Every day.

Southern Sudan, 1985: Salva is a young boy displaced by the wars and drought that are sweeping through the Sudan.  He, too, walks for miles every day, but without a lunch, home, or destination.  He walks with the hope of survival, unlikely for a young Sudanese boy alone in the world.

A Long Walk to Water

This book has been on my TBR for a while, but originally I was under the impression it was non-fiction.  The afterword has notes from both Salva Dut and author Linda Sue Park, explaining how the story was based on his life, using interviews, personal conversations, and his writings to keep the fictionalized story as close as possible to what actually happened.

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Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

“I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting there crying when another car rolls up in front of me. I look up, and it’s Peter Kavinsky’s black Audi with the tinted windows.” page 36

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.
Simon and Schuster BFYR imprint, New York, 2014.
YA Romance/realistic fiction, 355 pages plus recipes and excerpt.
Lexile:  630L  .
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 12.0 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would recommend this book for high school students and not elementary school.

Lara Jean is the middle of three sisters and her mother has passed away.  Her oldest sister, Margot, is moving to Scotland, leaving Lara Jean in charge of her younger sister and father.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before resized

I am probably the only person ever to read this book because I first enjoyed Jenny Han’s middle grade book Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream.  This series has been hyped so much that I thought it would be another Everything, Everything, but after reading and liking Clara Lee, I grabbed this at Target.

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Review: Monster

“Violence in here is always happening or just about to happen. I think these guys like it – they want it to be normal because that’s what they’re used to dealing with.” p. 144

Monster by Walter Dean Myers.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York, 1999.
Teen fictional chapter book/screenplay, 281 pages.
Coretta Scott King Award Winner, Michael L. Prinz Award, National Book Award and more
Lexile: 670L.
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 5.0 points).

Monster is a complicated novel of a story-within-a-story.  At first glance it is the straightforward tale of a boy who is accused of assisting in a murder during a robbery-gone-wrong, mostly expressed through his recreation of the trial as a screenplay and his diary notes from prison.  But it is also the story of a criminal justice system where the mostly white cast assumes all the power over the mostly black “monsters.”  Then there are also flashbacks that add more information about Steve Harmon and the other characters which call into question his real role in the murder.  Meanwhile, we are seeing all of this through the lens of one desperate young boy – what is the truth?

Monster

Honestly, for a book to get this many awards and never attract my attention is very unusual.  This book also has never been checked out of the school library I got it from.  But opening the book, I’m not surprised.  The format is challenging, the language certainly above the level indicated in many places, and the content seems aimed more at high school students in terms of the complexity of thought required to process the novel.

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Review: A Time to Dance

“There are no dancers / on this temple’s walls. / Here, even Shiva / stands still.” page 99

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2014.
Novel in verse, 307 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  4.8 (worth 5.0 points)  .

Veda is a classical dance prodigy starting out on a glorious career in Bharatanatyam when her leg has to be amputated.  But dance is her life and the center of her being.  Can she forge a new life?  Can dance be part of it?

A Time to Dance

Pretty sure this is going on my favorite 2017 reads list although the competition will be steep this year.  Not what you expected me to say about a novel in verse, right?

My biggest problem with novels in verse is that they are incredibly difficult to balance.  I love novels, and I love poetry, but inevitably most novels in verse lose out either in plot or in poetry.  This book has ample plot and appropriate narrative arc, while still having generally gorgeous poetry.  I’m in awe of how Venkatraman pulled this off, because it is very, very difficult to do.

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