“I know a life can be destroyed in an instant: a car spins out of control on a busy road, a doctor sits down to break bad news, or a love letter is discovered hidden in a place where its owner thought it would never be found. All these things can shatter a world in just a few moments. But is it possible for the opposite to happen – for a life to be created in a moment instead of destroyed?” page 189
Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius with Megan Lloyd Davies. Nelson Books, Thomas Nelson, HarperCollins Christian, Nashville, Tennessee, 2013. Adult memoir, 276 pages. Lexile: not leveled AR Level: 6.2 (worth 11.0 points) . NOTE: Despite the reading level, definitely an adult book. See content warnings for more information. FURTHER NOTE: Not to be confused with the 2018 MG historical fantasy novel Ghost Boys, also reviewed on this blog.
The story of a boy who, in 1988, slowly succumbed to a mysterious illness that left him paralyzed and unable to function. Except Martin was not totally gone, and slowly returned to full consciousness, aware of his surroundings but unable to control his body at all.
This was a surprising read. The cover says it’s a New York Times bestseller, but I’d never heard of it before a friend handed me the book. The subtitle and blurb probably already clued you in, but since I do review a lot of fantasy, let me be clear that this is an adult work of nonfiction.
Reading a South African story that didn’t discuss any of the unique political or cultural milieu was interesting but also felt weird. Race is rarely mentioned, although sometimes it can be guessed from a name or the description of a person. At the same time, it also makes sense that in this particular circumstance, Pistorius truly didn’t care much about racial tensions or the larger political world!
“The women in my family handled most of the practical details of everyday life. Men were skilled at some things, at the same time as being inexplicably incapable of performing other seemingly simple tasks. I grew up believing that men were faulty creatures, a little untrustworthy, childlike, even. They needed a woman around to keep them on the tracks.” page 13
Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, BC, Canada, originally published 2016, my edition 2019. Adult nonfiction, 244 pages + 12 pages for notes at the end. Not leveled.
Canadian memoir through a collection of essays – about life as a young butch and then a non-binary adult.
This was a gift from a friend who pointed out that I hadn’t reviewed any nonfiction by non-binary authors yet – to which my response was that I hadn’t read any yet. A quick trip to another room and this was pressed into my hands with the instruction that it should be my first, but definitely not only, non-binary nonfiction read.
“I no more wanted Parz’s help than I wanted to be helpless. I didn’t want him – or anyone – to see me as weak.” page 54
Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell. Harper, HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York, 2013. MG fantasy, 328 pages. Lexile: 770L . AR Level: 5.4 (worth 10.0 points) .
A princess’ work is never done, even if said princess is visibly disabled, especially if said princess is the only heir to valuable property. When Tilda’s cousin steals her lands, she sees it as the perfect excuse for freedom and adventures. She’ll be free of all her onerous duties, and her people will be free of her and won’t have to whisper horrid comments behind her back. But even as she learns about dragons, the wild hunt, and other magics, she also learns a lot about herself and what she truly wants.
Tilda is a princess (and as a sole heir, will inherit despite her gender and disability) but she secretly dreams of living in a monastery. This is partly because she doesn’t know the realities of that life, thus can idealize it, but it’s also because of the realistically awful yet appropriate for the time period way she’s treated.
“For me the worst part, especially about young kids being racially profiled in school, is that they can’t be expected to understand that what’s happening to them is not their fault.” page 49
My Seven Black Fathers: A Young Activist’s Memoir of Race, Family, and the Mentors Who Made Him Whole by Will Jawando. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2022. Memoir/autobiography, 232 pages. Not yet leveled.
The story of one man’s early life through the lens of seven essential mentors.
Jawando begins by comparing his own life to a childhood friend, Kalfani, who didn’t have the same kind of mentoring available to him. Indeed, this is Jawando’s central theme throughout – the importance of community.
I’m not sure what my expectations were – perhaps something like Misty Copeland’s personal reflections on a variety of related figures. My Seven Black Fathers reads more like a hybrid biography/memoir. Jawando tells the story of his life in roughly chronological format, only occasionally needing to use the subject emphasis and timeline jumps characteristic of memoir.
“Writing a novel is a long process – like a long-distance runner running a marathon, I know I cannot reach the finish line that day. Instead, I have to be patient, trying to complete a shorter stretch of writing – a chapter, for instance.” pages 21 and 22
The Lost Garden by Laurence Yep. My edition Beech Tree Paperback, Harper Collins, New York, 1996 – originally Simon & Schuster, 1991. MG autobiography, 118 pages. Lexile: 1110L . AR Level: 7.1 (worth 7.0 points) .
The story of famous children’s author Laurence Yep’s life from his early years to the start of his writing career, although focusing mostly on his coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s.
The slim paperback fooled me into thinking that this would be a book for elementary students, but the content is more appropriate for tweens and young teens. Yep doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, such as his own family’s brushes with poverty, a customer whose husband brutally attacked her, Mark Twain’s suicidal thoughts, the topless dancers at a club in the neighborhood, and pulse-pounding confrontations when the burglar alarm goes off.
He tells even difficult and painful tales in a straightforward way, and frequently pauses to explain details that might not be known or understood by younger readers. This reminded me strongly of Roald Dahl’s Boy – a tale of a fairly ordinary life told with vivid details that render it fascinating. Aspects such as what it was like to have severe asthma attacks before common home treatments may shock young readers.
There are so many tidbits here about how he was inspired or helped with various novels by different relatives or events. I’m planning a systematic rereading of his entire Golden Mountain Chronicles series, many of which I’ve read but not in order – after which I might need to reread this book!
“Tonight’s stranger had worn a suit like that, one of plain, darkest jet, but also unmistakably a uniform, along with smoked-glass spectacles. The sandy tone of his skin had been not quite the same as the tan burnish all sailors got from the sun. There had been something slightly off, slightly unnatural, about the way he’d moved.” page 41
The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Square Fish, Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan, New York, 2016, my edition 2017. MG alternate world historical fantasy, 378 pages. Lexile: 810L . AR Level: 5.8 (worth 16.0 points) . NOTE: This book is a direct sequel to Bluecrowne and the review will necessarily contain spoilers for that plot.
Finally back to her ship even if unfortunate circumstances brought them there, Melusine Bluecrowne (call her Lucy, please) and family are on a particular mission of discovery for a young philosopher, but studying science in the midst of war is dangerous. Teen Maxwell Ault is that natural philosopher, determined to carry out his deceased father’s mission. Oliver Dexter is a new midshipman determined to prove his mettle on his first command… even though he’s only just turned twelve. As their three paths cross, well they be able to assemble the war-stopping engine? And if so, who will gain control of this dangerous weapon?
Well, we’re four books deep into the world of Greenglass house as far as blog reviews, and while the series as a whole continues to be more diverse-adjacent than diverse (with the exception of the twobooks on Milo), I’m sort of committed to reading them now and also happen to love interconnected novels that aren’t necessarily a series, so I suppose I’ll go on reviewing them.
I wrote a bit in my review of Bluecrowne about how I accidentally purchased and read this book first, not understanding that it is indeed a direct sequel to that book. The publisher has done their bit to confuse readers by trying to promote Bluecrowne as the third book in the Greenglass House series (when really it’s more of a prequel and stands separately from the Greenglass books), and then initially promoting Thief Knot as a standalone (when really it’s quite dependent on knowledge, characters, and such from the two Greenglass books and reads like a continuation of that series with a different protagonist and slightly different setting).
Returning to this particular volume, The Left-Handed Fate takes a different tack to any of the other books I’ve read so far. First, while they do make landfall at times, the majority of the book takes place on the boat where Lucy’s made her home most of her life. Second, it’s rather more historical than any of the other books. Bluecrowne also was set in the past, and Milo’s books delve into Nagaspeake’s history, but this book is set around the War of 1812, which is an actual historical event that gives the story a somewhat different feel.
“The holes in his mind were obvious enough. He was still working well below grade level. He would probably never read a book for pleasure.” page 211
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis. W.W. Norton and Company, New York, orig. pub. 2006, my edition 2009. Adult nonfiction, 340 pages. Lexile: 980L . AR Level: 7.2 (worth 19.0 points) .
The story of how the blind side revolutionized football, and a personal story giving one example of the new kind of recruit who is most highly sought after these days in American football.
Before getting into the review, I’ll tell you that I’ve read some of Michael Lewis’ other books – a relative is a fan. This one deals with race and adoption, which is part of why I’ve chosen to review it here. I was given a free copy of this book and decided to read it in part because of the sport enthusiasts I know who enjoyed it, but I myself am not much of a sports fan, which surely colors my opinion.
I think the major problem I had with this book was that Lewis starts out from a white perspective, and really never leaves that viewpoint, even when he’s purportedly trying to get into the minds of his POC characters. The point where this was startlingly clear to me was the first paragraph of Chapter Three, where Big Tony is dramatically driving the boys out of poverty.
Lewis states “Memphis could make you wonder why anyone ever bothered to create laws segregating the races. More than a million people making many millions of individual choices generated an outcome not so different from a law forbidding black people and white people from mingling.” (page 45). The ignorance is startling – clearly Lewis has never heard of redlining and didn’t bother to do even basic research on Black history before writing a book where race has a major influence!
“Samuel tried to remember what his father had told him about Indians. The Light of God was in them too. He struggled to keep that in his mind, but it did not ease his fear.” page 66
The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by James Watling. Puffin, Penguin Random House, New York, 1998. Historical fiction, 104 pages (including excerpts). Lexile: 810L . AR Level: 5.2 (worth 2.0 points) .
Set in 1777 and told in alternating views from the perspectives of Quaker boy Samuel Russell and Abenaki teen Stands Straight, this novel is based on real events during the American Revolution.
Joseph Bruchac, although not without error, is one of the handful of Native authors consistently writing historical fiction for children. (Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series is another notable example; Eric Gansworth and Tim Tingle have also written more than one book each. At the time of this writing, any others I know of only have one.) Also, I have so far been able to find only one work of children’s historical fiction by another Native author set before 1800. I hope others exist and are published set in all time frames, especially given the promising new Heartdrum imprint.
Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson. Square Fish, Macmillan, New York, 2018. MG historical fiction, 250 pages. Lexile: 810L . AR Level: 4.9 (worth 5.0 points) .
The life of one preteen girl in Detroit in 1945 – who later become the wife of Malcolm X. Betty wants nothing more than to be loved by her biological mother, but they disagree at every turn. She believes strongly in justice and fair treatment for all, but not everyone will stand with her.
So much is happening in this book yet all balanced very well. Reading the prologue introduces several of the issues that will become themes throughout. When just five pages in, first-person narrator Betty tells us about seeing a lynching as a young girl in Georgia, it is immediately clear that this book will be sensitive but not dishonest.
The fostering/adoption/kinship narratives are also handled well. The prologue briefly covers Betty’s early life. At one year old, she was taken from her teenaged mother by her grandmother, and raised lovingly by her aunt. After her aunt’s sudden death, she moved in with her biological mother and learned that she has three half-sisters and two step-brothers.
Her role ends up being more like a caretaker to the seven other members of her family; she constantly feels unappreciated and faces harsh punishments and constant misunderstandings. Church is a source of hope and light for Betty – her Christian faith and involvement with various activities at Bethel AME specifically are a major part of the book.
“The weight of Delpha’s secret tugged at her gut, promising to rearrange her life nine ways to Sunday if she’d let it.” page 5
Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo. Scholastic Press, New York, 2020. MG fantasy, 280 pages. Lexile: 810L . AR Level: not yet leveled
Delpha’s strict mother’s biggest rule is a total ban on magic. But as they sink deeper into poverty, Delpha is ready to break any rule to prevent more of her beloved grandmother’s treasures from being sold off as tourist souvenirs.
Since finding out she’s intersex, Katybird has desperately wanted magic to prove she’s the successor to her family’s magical traditions. When that longed-for Hearn magic doesn’t manifest as planned, she’s desperate for a magical fix – even from a McGill like Delpha.
Together the girls unleash a terrible curse – threatening not just their families, but the whole valley.