Book Review: Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

Book Review: Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim (2020) (Middle Grade) (Fiction) 4 Stars ****

Cute, sassy, eleven-year-old Yumi Chung has a dream to become a stand-up comedian. Problem? Living in the shadow of a perfect older sister, her Korean parents want her to do something important and high-level with her life, giving them bragging rights in their community. Set in Los Angeles, California, Yumi is torn between the traditional values her parents are trying very hard to instill, and her desire to be a modern American girl.

Yumi has a busy life. She helps out every day at her parents’ Korean Barbecue Restaurant but busy  has taken a sudden turn for the worse. “Ever since the new luxury high-rise condos went up all over Koreatown, foot traffic into our family restaurant has all but stopped. Dad blames the new people for hogging all the parking spots, driving up the rent, not supporting small businesses, and probably even causing global warming.”

Family money is tight, so Yumi is told she must study hard to win a scholarship to continue at Winston, her prestigious private school. Her parents enroll her in a three hour a day, five days a week study class to prepare for the SSAT test which she must ace with at least ninety-eighth percentile for her academic scholarship. Yumi is ambivalent about the school since the wealthy kids tease her about smelling like barbecued meat, giving her the nickname Yu-MEAT. As luck would have it, Yumi discovers The HaHa Club where a famous stand-up comedian is running classes for kids. With a case of mistaken identity working in her favor, Yumi attends these classes, learns to overcome her shyness and self-consciousness and attains her dream, rescuing her family’s business on the way. The only failure is not trying.

Yes, Yumi wins the scholarship but she’s now happy about it. “Even I’m surprised that Winston no longer scares me.  After scheming the entire summer to get out of returning, I realize that it wasn’t Winston itself that was holding me back. It was my fear of it. I imagine myself walking through Winston’s halls, and I know this year will be different because I’m not the same person I was last year. I’m ready to be heard. And I don’t need to go to a new school for that, because no matter where I go, I’m still going to get my new beginning, my fresh start. As the True Me.”

What I found surprising and disturbing about this book, is how easily Yumi and her sister lied to their parents about their whereabouts and pastimes. I don’t believe most parents would appreciate this quality in book characters, especially since there are no consequences for their actions. A guilt trip, reprimand, or punishment would probably help to make the case that ambitions are fine, but lying is not.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2021

 

Book Review: Mary Underwater by Shannon Doleski

Book Review: Mary Underwater by Shannon Doleski (2020) (Middle Grade) (Teen) 4 Stars ****

Thirteen-year-old eighth grader Mary Murphy has a problem. Her father leaves her scarred and black-and-blue whenever he decides he doesn’t like what she’s doing. Her mother doesn’t stand up to him to protect her daughter or herself. Although he’s often imprisoned for his abusive behavior, whenever he returns, Mary lives in fear for her well-being and most often sleeps at a neighbor’s house. She doesn’t want to admit to her friends, teachers or social worker what’s going on at home. She fears they will perceive her as a loser—that somehow, it’s her fault that her father physically abuses her. To find strength to get through the hard times, Mary carries a photo of Joan of Arc, the young girl who led the French army in a victory against the British, as inspiration. She looks to Joan and repeats her affirmation, “I am not afraid. I am not afraid. I am not afraid.”

With help and encouragement from her Aunt Betty, love interest Kip, and best friend Lydia, Mary is determined to build a submersible craft to journey the seven miles across Chesapeake Bay. A submarine scientist agrees to guide her, hands her the book he’s written on the subject, and tells her to get to it. With the money Mary makes at her summer job at the public library, she’s able to purchase the parts and material necessary to complete her project.

With her new found success, Mary feels her inner strength and remembering Joan of Arc, stands up to her father, leaves home with her mother’s blessing to live with her loving Aunt Betty and her wife, and reports the abuse to the social worker and the authorities.

Mary is bolstered by the love and support of those around her. Instead of contempt, they feel admiration for Mary’s desire to change her abusive situation and do everything they can to help her experience loving surroundings.

This book makes the point without being preachy or melodramatic. The author encourages Mary and other abused children to find an adult they can trust, and allow them to help improve the situation or, if need be, remove them from the destructive home environment.

Need help? Call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453 (1-800-4-A-Child)

Interested in building an immersible craft? Remember, lack of oxygen has serious consequences. Don’t go it alone. Be safe with help from professional organizations: Seaperch.org, Psubs.org, facebook.com/piscessub. Play video games Subnautica and Subnautica: Below Zero. Read Manned Submersibles by R. Frank Busby.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

 

Book Review: The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Book Review: The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (2020) (Fiction) 4 Stars ****

When we first meet Giovanna, she’s happy, confident, studious, calm, and secure in her family, school, and neighborhood. Most of her self-esteem comes from the admiration she believes is reflected in her father’s eyes until Giovanna overhears a negative remark made to his wife, saying Giovanna looks like his estranged sister—ugly on the outside and the inside. Everything falls apart. “Maybe at that moment something somewhere in my body broke, maybe that’s where I should locate the end of my childhood. I felt as if I were a container of granules that were inperceptibly leaking out of me through a tiny cracks.”

Giovanna goes on a crusade to meet her much-aligned Aunt Vittoria to discover the truth for herself. This is the beginning of Giovanna’s end. Loud, ill-mannered, brash, Vittoria is the antithesis of Giovanna’s educated, well-mannered, soft-spoken parents. What do they have in common? They’re liars. All of them.

Set in Naples, Italy, in the 1990s, the story takes us through Giovanna’s young teenage years from twelve to sixteen, filled with angst, insecurities, manipulations, and lies. It’s almost like reading her diary filled with secrets and contradictions by all the adults around her, as well as by her friends. While Giovanna hates the lies used to cover up, further their ends, protect their reputations, and jockey their postions to come out on top, she is a quick study. As much as Giovanna detests these practices, she recognizes the expediency of such behavior and employs it successfully to insure success in her ever-changing machinations. Gone is the innocent, happy girl we once knew.

In addition to Aunt Vittoria and Giovanna’s parents, her best friends, sisters Angela and Ida and their parents, play integral roles in the drama that is Giovanna’s life. Despite the main character’s young age, this is not a kid’s book. Character development is intense. The adult dramas are played out in full. The teenage characters imitate negative adult behavior. All characters are flawed contradictions of themselves and of the expectations of others. Nothing is as it seems.

Elena Ferrante is a renowned Italian writer, best known for The Neapolitan Novels, a series of four books beginning with My Brilliant Friend which begins the acclaimed HBO ongoing mini-series.

 

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

 

Book Review: The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O’Shaughnessy

Book Review: The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O’Shaughnessy (2020) (Middle Grade) (Fiction)         4 Stars ****

Eleven-year-old Maybelle Lane lives in the Pelican Park Trailer Court in Louisiana with her beloved mother. Since Maybelle’s mom works two jobs, Maybelle spends a lot of time alone or just running away from the neighborhood bullies. One of Maybelle’s hobbies is recording different sounds from nature or everyday life. With her acute sense of hearing, Maybelle recognizes the voice of her never-in-the-picture father, a DJ and advice-giver for a Nashville radio station. “And that’s when I heard it. The sound of my fate coming up to meet me.”

Maybelle’s mother always insists that Maybelle’s father is not interested in meeting her. When a Nashville singing contest is announced and Maybelle’s father is to be one of the judges, she secretly plans to travel to Nashville to enter the contest and meet her absentee father for the first time. Misdirected by his radio advice-giving persona, Maybelle believes that her father will be thrilled to meet her. But, how to make this happen? Hmmm.

As Fate intervenes, Maybelle’s mom is offered a singing/guitar playing gig for a few weeks on a cruise ship between Miami and the Bahamas. Their neighbor, strict, widowed teacher Mrs. Boggs, offers to watch Maybelle. Somehow, Mrs. Boggs agrees to take Maybelle to Nashville for the contest, using her RV as transportation, never knowing about Maybelle’s plan to confront her father. Since Mrs. Boggs only drives two-three hours a day and needs her afternoon naps, the trip takes six days. Young, troubled neighbor Tommy O’Brien tags along for a trip of a lifetime. The three travel companions each change for the better as they learn to share their problems and responsibilities, open their hearts and minds, become less rigid, take chances, overcome fears, and help build one another’s self-esteem. Together, the trio conspire to covertly rescue an abused dog, as each one contributes to its recovery and well-being.

Yes, Maybelle does sing in the contest and does meet her father, but nothing turns out as Maybelle envisions. With new attitudes propelling them to the future, all of their lives change for the better.

A charming, relatable story for young readers as characters experience disappointments and loss, but still pick themselves up to start over again.

The only thing I do not like is how the author uses this platform to encourage and condone same sex relationships. I do not believe this ideology should be presented to young children. This is an adult life style decision which should not be proselytized to impressionable young readers.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

 

Book Review: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Book Review: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (2017) (Middle Grade) (Fiction) 5 Stars *****

We meet a twelve-year-old who lives in the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In her own words, “My name is Crow. When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea. I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding the tide. It was Osh who found me and took me in. Who taught me how to put down roots, and thrive on both sun and rain, and understand what it is to bloom.”

Being an intelligent, inquisitive girl, Crow investigates the history of a nearby leper colony formerly located on the now isolated island Penikese. Realizing the strong possibility that the truth of her origins are buried in the hidden history of this sad place, Crow begins her investigation. Studying books, newspaper clippings, and public records, Crow learns that people who worked with the lepers are still alive. She goes to great lengths to contact and interview these people in order to create a picture of her genesis.

With the help of Osh and loving neighbor Miss Maggie, Crow discovers the graves of her parents and a wondrous gift left to her by her mother. Realizing how much she was loved gives Crown the impetus to keep up her investigation. The problem is, there are many others who covet this gift, putting Crow’s life as well as the lives of Osh and Miss Maggie in danger. As Osh explains, “I’ve seen it happen,” he said. “People don’t want much until they have plenty, and then they want more and more.”

Crow learns who her parents were, that she had a brother who still might be alive, and that knowing who her biological parents were does not diminish the love she has for Osh. The truth is, they saved each other’s lives.

The story has a happy ending, although maybe not the one who might have wanted. This is a wonderful coming of age story where Crow learns the power of love and the misfortunes that befall people through no fault of their own.

Does Crow find her brother? You’ll have to read the book! Hint: The search for her brother leads to a series of events that would have had a very different ending if it were not for Crow.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Book Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Book Review: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (2018) (Middle Grade) (Historical Fiction) 5 Stars *****

Set in Summer to Fall of 1947 when British rule in India ends, independence is gained but in an attempt to separate the warring factions, chaos ensues. Written in epistolary format, twelve-year-old Hindu Nisha fearfully watches as her world falls apart when government officials declare a new India with millions of people forced to walk for days in the hot sun to permanently move to a new country—all Hindus, Sikhs, and smaller sects to the new India and all Muslims to the new Pakistan.

Hatred and fear reign on all sides despite the pleas of Mahatma Gandhi who peacefully led the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule. Always enemies, the hatred among these groups still exists to this day.

Nisha and her twin brother Amil react differently to the chaos around them: Nisha is analytical; Amil is pragmatic. Nisha ponders, “I wondered what that meant to be free from the British. Why were they allowed to rule over us in the first place? Didn’t they have their own people to worry about?” Dyslexic Amil answers, “Sometimes the world as you know it just decides to become something else. This is our destiny now.”

The twins’ mother died giving birth to them. Nisha terribly misses having a mother and writes to her memory daily keeping her informed of what’s going on in their lives. The ordeal takes its toll on the millions forced out of their homelands into unknown circumstances. Nisha captures the anguish of this heartbreaking time in history, “I am broken. I am broken on top of broken.”

Nisha’s trauma increases until she completely stops talking. In time, this changes as her nurturing side reappears in a time of great need.

The author tells us the events of this book are loosely based on her father’s side of the family who traveled much as Nisha and her family did from Mirpur Khas to Jodhpur, amid fear and violence, but eventually arriving safely to meet their destinies.

This book captures the distress visited on people whose leaders recklessly decide upon a shocking course of action, thinking somehow this craziness would bring about a happy ending. Anyone familiar with world affairs knows how the cure may have been worse than the disease.

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Book Review: The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

Book Review: The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (2019) (Middle Grade) (Fiction) 4 Stars ****

Heartwarming? No! Heartchilling? Yes! “Viji and Rukku together.” Beautiful sentiment, but nothing is forever …. Viji tells the sad story of the life the young girls encountered after fleeing their parents’ home in India. Their alcoholic father often left his mark on his daughters with split lips and bruised faces. Their weak and also physically abused mother didn’t have the mental, emotional or physical strength to take her daughters and run. She never tried to stop the beatings her daughters received. Their mother explains, “We can’t manage without him. No one employs uneducated women with no skills….Please understand, Viji.” She was begging me, the same pathetic way she’d beg Appa (Father). “I promised … to be a good wife … no matter what. I can’t leave.”

Tired of their hopeless situation, Viji takes her younger developmentally disabled sister Rukku and escapes into the world she knows nothing about. They encounter scores of young children fending for themselves on the mean streets, hiding in alleys, cemeteries, or holes in the ground—victims of abuse or abandonment, or orphaned—infested with vermin and disease, filthy, starving, falling prey to those who would enslave them for nefarious purposes, barely one step ahead of final tragedy.

The sisters adopt an abandoned puppy, then meet two kind boys, Muthu and Arul, and together they form a family. The boys teach the girls how to scavenge in garbage piles for scrap metal and other recyclables. Rukku surprises everyone with her new found ability to string beads into beautiful necklaces which she is able to sell. With these money-making endeavors, the children are able to buy food and medicine. Celina Aunty offers legitimate help through the Concerned for Working Children organization. At first the children are afraid to trust this woman and her motives. Despite their best efforts, tragedy strikes.

Arul encourages Viji to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. “I don’t mind if you have no religion, Viji. Just as long as you have faith in the goodness within yourself…. Start looking at what you haven’t lost…. Start giving thanks for what you do have.”

Viji finds the strength within herself to live her life to the fullest. When given the opportunity to return to her parents, Viji vehemently refuses. Seeing her parents’ hopeless situation for what it is, Viji forges ahead to continue to improve her own life, as well as those around her. Viji’s sense of obligation to the desperate children of the world adds to her motivation.

In the Author’s Notes, we learn that the characters and situations are based on real accounts by people who actually lived.The Concerned for Working Children has grown in size and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The book is written in simple language with short sentences. In spite of the horrendous scenes, somehow the characters do not evoke emotional response. The accounts are similar to factual newspaper accounts with the absence of emotion and empathy. We’re never told the children’s ages or that the story is set in India. Somehow, the author misses the mark on emotional content. This being said, the point is well made and lessons are learned.

Significance of title? On which end of the bridge does their true home lie?

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Book Review: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Book Review: Amina‘s Voice by Hena Khan (2017) (Middle Grade) (Fiction) 4 Stars ****

Eleven-year-old Amina Khokar is proud of her Pakistani Muslim roots. Set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Amina struggles with the ups and down of middle school friendship and acceptance as she learns loyalties are constantly being tested. A talented singer and pianist, Amina must overcome her shyness to perform at the school’s Winter Choral Concert. Amina must also overcome her reticence in reciting verses from the Quran contest at her mosque. After a series of upsetting events, Amina makes great strides in finding and sharing her voice.

Amina must work on a group project at school. The assignment: Pretend to be a pioneer in mid 1800s America racing across the country to Oregon by wagon train. The group must create obstacles and problems and present a plan to overcome them. When Amina’s best friend Soojin gets close to Emily, another group member, Amina feels threatened. Amina accidentally spills a secret about Emily that snowballs into a huge teasing avalanche and great embarrassment. Amina apologizes repeatedly but fears her friendship with the girls is irrevocably damaged.

When Amina’s uncle Thaya Jaan comes to visit from Pakistan, his strict interpretation of Muslim life interferes with the flow in the Khokar household. When the Muslim community center/ mosque is vandalized and burned, people of all faiths volunteer their time, money, help and use of their buildings. Despite the hateful phrases spray painted on the walls of the mosque, the Imam recognizes how the American people have accepted them into their communities. “Muslims have far more friends than enemies in this country. Some people don’t understand Islam or are misled and fear us. But I’m getting so many calls of support from our friends and neighbors in the community,” Imam Malik says. “It’s true,” Hamid Uncle adds. “Even with things like this, I’m still convinced there’s no better place to be a Muslim in the world than in this country.”

The book is easy to read and fast paced. The characters reflect the diversity and different cultural experiences of the city. Pakistani Muslim beliefs, traditions, foods, dress and holidays are also brought to view. Amina learns that life is a give and take, filled with hills and valleys, but that’s OK. Determination and focus will bring you back up after the slump.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009) (Middle Grade) (Sci Fi/ Mystery) (Newberry Award Winner) 5 Stars *****

Do you believe in the possibility of time travel? Have events ever conspired to make you think there’s something going on in the world that you can’t prove but still makes you wonder? Set in the late 1970s, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, twelve-year-old Miranda now has a deeper understanding of friendships, familial and love relationships, the importance of community, and an appreciation of how all the little things people do add up to make the next person’s whole experience. Someone is leaving strange notes for Miranda to find. Who can it be? Why does this mysterious person know what the future holds before it has even happened?

Miranda is a regular, well-adjusted girl living with her mother in a run down building. Her father is out of the picture, but her mother’s very kind boyfriend acts as a male figure in Miranda’s life. They both pitch in to help Miranda’s mother practice for the popular TV Pyramid game show. With a grand prize of $20,000 flashing its smile, it’s practice, practice, practice every chance they get.

Miranda experiences the ebb and flow of school friendships. People’s feelings get hurt, or they have a change of heart but somehow they don’t communicate any of this until much later, after things have gone south, leaving confusion in their wake.

As in most New York City stories, we meet the local grocery store and deli owners, the resident corner crazy homeless man, the group of young bullies who bother younger kids, classmates of different socio-economic groups, and school employees with quirky personalities. All in all, the community is cohesive, working together to get through the day and helping one another wherever possible.

The kids are independent, sometimes more than they want to be. Classmates work cooperatively but also compete. Often, the walk home from school invokes fear and a lot of crossing to the other side of the street to avoid perceived danger. This situation is alleviated when friends walk together, or better yet, when a parent is present. But for those alone times …

At the end, Miranda solves the mystery of the elusive letter writer. It’s no one she initially suspects. The clues are vague and veiled as commonplace observations.

I loved the book and its focus on mainstream characters and the interconnectedness of the community in which they live. It’s reassuring for young readers that there are people who lead regular lives—not charmed, but free from dysfunction. My only negative reaction is the ending where the identity of the mysterious letter writer is revealed. It’s unclear to me how Miranda deduced all the pieces of the puzzle and extrapolated various manifestations of the letter writer’s persona.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at elainewrites@earthlink.net

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2020

Online Learning in the Time of Covid

Looking for Fun, Educational Middle Grade Books?
Filled with science and social studies facts.

Title: March of the Blue Moon       Author: Elaine Donadio
Diverse, mainstream characters: Nestor Ramirez, Kwan Min Park
Learn and laugh with Nestor and Kwan Min on their Alaska adventure.
Paperback and digital formats. Amazon. Barnes & Noble. Smashwords.
Free online study guide elainedonadio.com.
Open-ended questions in alignment with state standards in science, social studies, literacy.

Email elainewrites@earthlink.net
Series
Book 1 – The Science Project—NYC; Nestor, Phil, Kwan Min
Book 2 – The Ocean’s Way—South Florida; Holly, Jasmine
Book 3 – Who Do Voodoo?—New Orleans; Phil, Nestor
Book 4 – March of the Blue Moon—Alaska; Nestor, Kwan Min
Other Titles
The Ocean’s Way Poetry Companion
Sojourn Into the Night—A Memoir of the Peruvian Rainforest

Happy Reading! Read often. Read well. One person, one experience at a time.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

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