Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (YA) (MG)

Book Review: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (2016) (Young Adult) (Middle Grade) 4 Stars ****

This book is a take-off on The Canterbury Tales. Set in France in 1242, we are told the story of three amazing children and a dog by a variety of characters, each of whom adds a section to the story. The book is compelling, with many messages on many different levels. The sometimes bawdy humor and double entendres with the intense story line may be more appropriate for a Young Adult reader. Any fan of medieval history will be enthralled by this story. Many events and characters are based on historical facts and people who actually lived, but the author does take liberties with combining story elements for dramatic effect.

Jeanne, Jacob, William, and Jeanne’s reincarnated greyhound Gwenforte travel as a group to Mont Saint-Michel to eventually stop a book burning of some 20,000 Jewish books, including Torahs, as ordered by King Louis IX and the Queen Mother. Initially running for their lives, the children meet up, finding comfort in one another. They encounter problems and people in trouble along the way. Each child uses a special power to save the day: Catholic Jeanne—visions of the future and a steadfast heart; Jewish Jacob—the healing power of prayer and herbs; part-Muslim, part Christian William—his super strength and unusually large size; reincarnated Gwenforte— the ability to protect Jeanne. As the populace becomes aware of the powers of this group, some believe them to be saints and others, especially the king’s forces, believe them to be agents of the devil. Separated from their parents by violence, each child must rely on strength of character, cunning, cooperation, good luck, and the help of the other children and a powerful adult.

In the end, returning to their families is not an option. Jeanne, Jacob, and William go their separate ways to live out their lives and fulfill their destinies.

The story is compelling and well told. I’m not sure about the attention span o middle grade readers on this on. Probably, twelve and up would be a more suitable age even though the book is labeled as middle grade. It was somestimes difficult to know which character was telling the tale at a specific time. I often had the feeling that the author was giving hints as to a secret identity since there was often a lot of evasiveness in answering questions of validity of knowledge.

This book encourages God, religion, cooperation and acceptance among the different faiths, and the concept that a few bad people in a religion or government should not condemn the whole group. I do recommend it, especially in our world of intolerance for those who do not believe as we do.

 

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: Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Middle Grade)

Book Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016) (Middle Grade) 5 Stars *****

Finally! A kids book award finalist that truly deserves serious consideration. A book that excels in its story, messages, characterizations, relatable experiences, and … ta da…is well-written! Seventh-grader Castle Cranshaw, has nicknamed himself Ghost because of his now you see him, now you don’t ability to run away from danger. With a school file folder filled with examples of Ghost’s bad behavior, we have a perfect example of a kid gone wrong who has no idea how to fix himself. Two local, upstanding men serve as role models when they  literally and figuratively, save Ghost’s life.

Raised in poor, rundown Glass Manor by a loving, striving mother, lonely, troubled Ghost suffers from the memory of his now imprisoned drug-addicted father shooting at him and his terrified mother three years earlier.  Seeking refuge at the local convenience store owned by elderly, hard of hearing Mr. Charles, Ghost and his mother are hidden in the back storeroom while Mr. Charles calls the police. Ever since that horrific day, Ghost stops in daily to see Mr. Charles and to buy a small bag of his favorite sunflower seeds.

Ghost tricks the school track coach into allowing him to do a test run even though try-outs had passed. True to his name, Ghost impresses the coach with his run and, with his mother’s permission, is invited to join the track team. Mrs. Cranshaw is skeptical at first, but acquiesces after Coach Brody promises to kick Ghost off the team at the first sign of trouble in school or if his grades are negatively impacted. The daily structure and strict rules of conduct imposed on the team members turn Ghost’s life around.

This improvement in behavior comes slowly since Ghost does not know how to ignore a fight. The victim of constant teasing because of his ill-fitting clothing, cheap sneakers, bad haircut (done by his well-meaning, broke mom), lack of friends, cringe-worthy butt of jokes neighborhood, jailed attempted murderer of wife and child imprisoned druggie father, Ghost has to deal with more than he can bear. He loves his mother and knows she’s doing all she can. As a matter of fact, this hospital cafeteria lady is studying to become a nurse with online courses. This makes Ghost very proud.

Let’s get back to Ghost and his poor choices. Immediately after being allowed on the track team, Ghost manages to stay out of trouble for seventeen hours and two minutes. Ghost knows there’s a lot at stake but he can’t seem to help himself. Knowing Ghost’s background, the school principal cuts him some slack involving an altercation between Ghost and a school bully who pushes all of ghost’s buttons by reciting a list of Ghost’s most embarrassing family secrets and throwing a piece of greasy chicken at him during lunch. Coach Brody also decides to go easy on Ghost after hearing the details.

Ghost’s sneakers are old, ill-fitting and an improper choice for running track. Ghost’s shoelaces become untied during a race, causing him to trip and fall. He can barely contain his embarrassment and decides to cut down his high-tops with scissors to make it easier to run. Needless to say, this plan backfires since running is not easier and the insults and teasings come in by the truckload. In Ghost’s desperate, misguided way of thinking, now the only solution is to steal a pair of beautiful running sneakers. He manages to leave the store unaccosted, but no one is buying the story about the gift from his mother explanation.

When Coach Brody goes to the local sporting goods store to purchase new team uniforms, he is shocked to see a still photo shot from the store surveillance camera on a bulletin board showing Ghost escaping with his stolen merchandise. The coach confronts Ghost and takes him back to the store in shame and pays for the sneakers with his own credit card, a string of warnings, and much-needed lectures.

Ghost, who has not had too many people to count on in his life, begins to trust the adult males around him and to seek their counsel. He has friends, belongs to a team, and is admired by his classmates. His attitude and expectations have changed.

At the end, Ghost proudly runs a race in his new uniform and new sneakers, with his mother, aunt and cousin cheering him on from the bleachers. Who wins? No one knows. The author does not tell us. I believe the goal is to improve Ghost’s self-esteem to a point where it doesn’t matter whether or not he wins this time, because he can win in the future. Ghost is an all-around winner and we can only hope he will now follow that path through life.

 

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 Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Middle Grade)

Book Review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (2015) 5 Stars ***** (Middle Grade)

Ewww. Ughhh. Yuck. Dreadful. Frightful. Absurd. Wonderful. Fun. This is the most ooey-gooey kids book I’ve ever read. Loved it! If your middle grade reader is looking for a fright-night, this is the place! Set on a Caribbean island, “a Jumbie (JUM-bee) is the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that comes out at night with the purpose of causing trouble.”

There are many different types of jumbies: the douens (dwens), La Diabless (LA-jah-bless), Soucouyant (soo-coo-YAH), and Lagahoo (lah-gah-HOO)” to name a few. “The jumbie crawled with ease over thick trunks and gnarled underbrush, even though night in the forest was pitch-black.” Their purpose? To disrupt, terrify, and kill, especially children who disobey their parents and wander into the forest at night or respond to the jumbies’ calling their names.

Feisty, brave, adventurous, confident, twelve year-old Corinne La Mer lives happily with her father, Pierre, after the death of her mother Nicole one year before. It is All Hallow’s Eve when the people of the island pay respects to their deceased relatives. Unwittingly, Corinne unleashes the power of Severine, the meanest jumbie that ever lived. A shapeshifter in the guise of a beautiful woman, Severine entices Pierre with her charms, while administering evil potions to change Corinne’s father into a mean, snarling, gnarling jumbie.

Corinne is befriended and helped by Dru, and the orphaned, homeless brothers Bouki and Malik, as well as the frog whose life Corinne saved at the beginning of the story. Corinne approaches the white witch for help, but her powers are waning with her advanced age and debilitated physical condition. Corinne learns the surprising truth about her mother, Severine, and her ancestry. Corinne wields her own magic with the fruit of the sweetest orange tree in the land, and the stone necklace, a gift from her mother before her death, which Corinne always wears tied around her neck. In the end, life returns to normal with a few exceptions—some happy, some sad.

This book is beautifully written with fully developed action and transitions. The author, born in Trinidad, appears to have a complete and subtle understanding of the subject. The book shows rather than tells, so we learn the characters by what they do and say. Inspired by the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree” this book contains heroes, villains, magic, tasks and deeds that must be accomplished to save the hero, her family and friends, and the community in which she lives. Our hero never seeks fame but steps up to the task when she realizes she’s the only one who can do it — the journey of the hero!

 

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 First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez (MG)

Book Review: The First Rule of Punk (2017) by Celia C. Perez (Middle Grade) 4 Stars ****

The first rule of punk? Always remember to be yourself. Seventh-grader Malu (Maria Luisa O’Neill-Morales) is suddenly moving from Gainesville, Florida to Chicago, Illinois. Her mom has snagged a two year position as a professor of English at an Illinois university. Leaving her much beloved cool dad, friends, and old room, Malu begrudgingly shows up at her new school and meets the requisite mean girl, Selena Ramirez, who belittles Malu’s lack of fluent Spanish, labels her a coconut (brown on the outside, white on the inside), and pokes fun at her punk rock attire. Malu has little use for her Mexican heritage as promoted by her highly educated, cultured Mexican mother, but strongly identifies with her American record store owner father as a punk rocker with a contrary attitude to the status quo.

On the first day of school, Malu unknowingly breaks the school’s dress code with her punk style of dress and is sent to the auditorium for a list of school rules, which she still manages to break in the next few weeks. Malu now has a group of friends, the requisite outcasts, who decide to form a band for the school talent show at the Fall Fiesta. When the school principal deems their punk rock too loud and inappropriate for a cultured school performance, Malu and the Co-Co’s organize an Alterna-Fiesta show outside on the school grounds where they, and other talent show rejects, will perform. Before long, the inside show is disrupted, and the crowd moves to the outside to see what the ruckus is all about. With her hair cut short, shaved on the sides and bangs dyed green, Malu is the new rebel leader.

The author includes many Mexican phrases and customs in the story. She utilizes graphic art with cartoon characters and different fonts to enhance the action and to deepen communication of Malu’s feelings and concerns. Both techniques add a lot to the book.

Malu’s mother accepts her as more punk rock and less senorita. Malu’s father surprises everyone by showing up without warning at Malu’s performance. Needless to say, he applauds her contrariness and is proud of how she is stepping into her true identity. The principal realizes the error of her ways. The students and their parents all agree with Malu’s stand. This unrealistic portrayal  of adult attitude change diminishes the reality of negative reactions from adults and classmates that any noncomformist is likely to encounter. This is not a responsible message to young readers.

I’m not sure about this ending with the happily ever after message. Should children be encouraged to break rules, not accept limits, create their own worlds with their own realities and rules? I’m not comfortable with this message that if you don’t like it, disregard it and interfere with and disrupt the main event. This message might be appropriate for older teenagers and adults, but I don’t like this message for children.

Malu gradually comes to respect and value the Mexican culture and no longer believes she must choose between the two sides of her heritage. This is a good thing because we know that people have more in common than their obvious differences would suggest.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

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 2019

Book Review: Fish In A Tree (MG) by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Book Review: Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt  (2015) (MG) 3.5 Stars ***1/2

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.” This is the message of the book. Sixth-grader Ally Nickerson is dyslexic which means she has difficulty in learning to read which carries over to difficulty in writing words. Words may be seen as backwards or moving on the page. This book purports that Ally’s teachers, parents, and friends are not aware of her limitations. According to the story, Ally acts out or charms her way out of assignments to cover up her problem. Really? She made it to sixth grade and everyone in her life is none the wiser? At the end of the book, we discover that Ally’s seventeen year old hard-working, focused, responsible brother Travis suffers from the same problem and has hidden it also. It’s this unrealistic portrayal combined with other unrealistic events that warrants fewer stars for an otherwise charming story.

Ally receives a lot of snide remarks from the class mean girls. Characters are stereotypical. Rich bitches, weak geeks, poor paragons. Ally is sent to the principal’s office for sending a sympathy card to her teacher who is going on maternity leave. Ally sees the pretty yellow flowers on the card and believes it to be a happy card. Supposedly, she cannot read the words that express sympathy and is unaware that the card is inappropriate. Again, very unrealistic that a non-reader such as this can hide her problems, and who would be sent to the principal for sending the wrong kind of card?

Ally’s father is deployed in the army as a tank commander. As an army brat, Ally has been in seven schools in seven years. It is my understanding that families of service people generally congregate in the same areas near army bases, so this depiction of Ally being the only one in school in this situation may not be accurate. While this bit of back story  might serve to explain how Ally has not been diagnosed, it doesn’t explain how Ally’s mother misses the mark on her daughter’s and her son’s situations.

The new teacher, Mr. Daniels, suspects Ally’s problems with reading and writing and gently allows her to complete her assignments in different modalities which allow her to use her other itelligences. In time, he tutors her in reading and raises her self-esteem. This changes her behavior and Ally is voted class president. Ally makes two new friends, Keisha and Albert, who encourage and support her.

Ally now deduces that Travis shares her reading and writing problems and engages Mr. Daniels to tutor her brother.

A happy ending for all.

 

Author’s Note: Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. This reading/writing disability is a visual perception problem.  Dyslexic students may spell the same word different ways on the same page, reverse letters in writing words, and be sensitive to the contrast between a white page and dark print. Headaches are common because of eye strain in forcing the eyes to focus. Special help is generally recommended. It’s also a good idea to use an index card under each line of print to reduce the number of words seen at one time and to help keep a straight line of vision.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

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 2019

Book Review: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (Middle Grade)

Book Review: Merci Suarez Changes Gears (2019) by Meg Medina (Middle Grade)
3 Stars ***

So, here we have a 2019 Newberry Medal winner that is, at best, a mediocre story with mediocre plot advancement, little character development, poor transitions, choppy writing, lack of focus, too many characters and situations with way too much telling and not enough showing, and too many details in all the wrong places. I found myself reading and re-reading paragraphs many times. What was the author talking about? I didn’t figure out the point of the story until I was 3/4 through when she finally wrote a few sentences in a row that followed a thread that continued until the ending. Finally! This book did not win the medal for its literary excellence. This book came at the right time in history, when what you’re writing about, rather than how you write it, wins awards.

Lots of Spanish words and phrases make this book particularly relatable and more easily comprehended by English language learners.

We start out with our main character, Mercedes Suarez (Merci), a sixth-grader at the elite Florida Seaward Pines Academy located in what the author hints to be Palm Beach County. Merci’s family is working class Cuban American. Her family is tightly knit and always in each other’s business, while offering unwavering support and help without hesitation. This multi-generational family live on the same block in three casitas, one after the other. Marci lives with her hardworking, responsible parents and seventeen year old brother, Roli. Loving grandparents Abuela and Lolo are next, with the third house occupied by bakery owner, overworked Tia Ines and her twin five year old out-of-control sons. Merci and her brother are required to help with responsibilities in all three households—babysitting the twin terrors, accompanying Abuela and Lolo when they leave the house, working in Tia Ines’ bakery on weekends, and various other obligations.

Merci is in her second year of Seaward Pines Academy, an elite school frequented by wealthy, serious, well-behaved students. Merci ‘s family cannot pay tuition, so she must perform community service for the privilege. Merci’s father tells her, “Do a good job, so they know we’re serious people.” Sixth-graders are required to mentor new students by showing them the ropes. Merci is assigned as a Sunshine Buddy to the very white, very nice, very handsome, very popular Michael. Yuck He’s a boy! Not everyone shares these feelings. This pairing causes passive-aggressive revenge tactics from wealthy, assertive, in-your-face Edna, who torments everyone but now leaves extra room to undermine Merci every chance she gets.

Don’t get the idea that Merci is a victim or a shrinking violet. Not true. In all fairness, Merci’s quick temper and lack of critical thinking skills are the culprits that land her in the principal’s office. For example, Merci accidentally hits a fast ball into Michael’s mouth, sending him to the hospital. Then, oblivious to the consequences, Merci cuts Edna out of the plastered mummy costume which encases Edna’s head, not realizing she cut off Edna’s eyebrows in the process. Not intentionally, of course, but she’s generally unmindful of consequences.

Merci has a special bond with her grandparents. When Lolo shows signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, Merci is furious with her family for not telling her about her grandfather’s condition. This is where the story was headed! In this coming of age story, the title takes on a special significance as Merci is given a beautiful, grown-up bike while gaining perception and appreciation of her family, their flaws, strengths, and natural life cycles. Merci demonstrates this by making a family photo album for her grandfather, capturing family members in every day activities, hair uncombed, crumbs on their chins, in the middle of doing chores and caring for their family. Until now, not thought of as special, but Merci now understands the gift of love they all share.

Merci realizes, “But there are other things I wished for even harder than this bike, and I know I won’t get them, no matter what. Important things, like wishing that Lolo wasn’t sick and that everything could stay the same.

“Then again, staying the same means that Tia Ines might not have the chance to love Simon. It means Roli wouldn’t go to college and get even smarter. It means that I wouldn’t grow up at all. Staying the same could be just as sad as Lolo changing.

“I don’t know what is going to happen next year, no one does. But that’s OK.

“I can handle it, I decide. It’s just a harder gear, and I am ready. All I have to do is take a deep breath and ride.”

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

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 2019

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Book Review: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016)  (MG) 4 Stars ****( Middle Grade Book)

We meet our main character, ten year-old Raymie Clark, on June 5, 1975, as she attempts to take baton twirling lessons from eccentric Ms. Ida Nee. Louisiana and Beverly, also in Raymie’s group, meet each other for the first time as they all decide to make baton twirling their talent so each one can enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest. Events conspire to prevent any actual baton twirling from taking place. Unforgiving Ms. Nee looks at any delay as an excuse to refuse to teach the girls. No one learns baton twirling, but the trio establish a much-needed supportive friendship which quite literally saves lives.

Initial impressions are dispelled as the girls slowly reveal the truth about their situations. Sunny Raymie, living with her kind, responsible mother, is heartbroken since her insurance agency owner father ran away on June 3 with the town dental hygienist without saying good-bye. Fragile Louisiana, prone to fainting spells, is being raised by her eccentric grandmother since the supposed death of her flying trapeze act parents in a drowning accident. Feisty Beverly lives with an alcoholic, physically abusive mother since her father left Florida to become a cop in New York City. The girls are desperate for loving attention, answers, and support. They give it to each other as they also receive it from responsive adults in the community.

At first, competitors for the crown, the girls judge Louisiana to be the most needy and deserving of the $1,975 prize money and encourage her to use her beautiful singing voice as her talent. The Three Rancheros, as Louisiana names the group, support Raymie through the death of a beloved neighbor, save a pitiful howling dog from the dog shelter, and help Raymie retrieve her book about Florence Nightingale from the senior nursing home. Beverly, always the independent, unconventional voice of reason, picks locks to illegally enter premises to achieve what they set out to do.

In the end, Raymie literally saves Louisiana from certain death by drowning and is eternally grateful to her swimming instructor who taught her how to save Louisiana before he went away, and also remembered to say good-bye before he left. Raymie is now known as Raymie Nightingale. “It was the easiest thing in the world to save somebody. For the first time, she understood Florence Nightingale and her lantern and the bright and shining path. She understood why Edward Option, the librarian, had given her the book. For just a minute, she understood everything in the whole world … She was Ramie Nightingale, coming to the rescue.”

This is a simple, charming book, low key but increasingly powerful near the end. To be honest, I found it boring and uneventful in the beginning and almost stopped reading. The pace picked up and the events and characters became more complex. Reading this book is like spending a lazy day where nothing seems to happen but suddenly it does. I’m happy I continued with this sweet, emotionally satisfying story.

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

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 2019

Book Review: The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka

Book Review: The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka
4 Stars ****   (MG and YA)

It’s been ages since I’ve read a SATIRE and here is a new and modern example to serve as a model for students of writing. Not only is it entertaining, but the reader learns about the idiosyncracies of living in a doorman apartment building in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. What fun!

Satire:  the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Anyone who knows anything about a doorman building knows the doorman knows EVERYTHING that goes on. Packages, deliveries, visitors, daily habits are all under the nose of this very special person who presides over his realm and stands guard over those who enter. Relatives and friends of the residents become acquaintances of the doorman and in turn, all become interconnected. According to Mr. Bunchley the doorman, ” a connection is made when at least one party would feel the lack of the other.”

The funny thing, of course, is the privileged, quirky lives of the residents. Unusual demands must be addressed without upsetting anyone. The book is divided into ten stories about the doorman, crazy? or maybe not? Fred who presides over the pigeons, the requisite opera singer who loses her voice at an inopportune time, the walled up music room, the cultured, educated mice who spread their time among the different apartments and who travel to the country during the summer, the revered Number 2 elevator named Otis, the temperamental boiler, hot water for baths and tea, and the doorman’s repose—a state of rest, sleep, or tranquility—which comes after all is said and done.

The book is written with a tongue-in-cheek. So serious about nothing really. So accepting of the craziness that abounds. So true in its portrayal of this segment of New York City life.

I recommend this book to serve as a model for satire. It’s appropriate for middle grade and young adult readers. Cute. Different. Unique.

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

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 2018

 

Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (MG) for reading level, (YA) for content 5 Stars *****

What a terrific book for sophisticated MG and YA readers! This book is totally modern with its Harlem slang, supportive lesbian mother, mostly absent caring father with a new girlfriend, an idolized older brother who was shot to death in a nightclub in the Bronx, gang bangers who terrorize the younger, unassociated kids, conflicted desire for a better life, friends who teeter on the edge between right and wrong, friendship with an autistic girl which started out as dislike, rivalry, then evolved into a healthy cooperation to achieve excellence and fame, and a helpful community center counselor. This book has it all.

Twelve -year-old Wallace (Lolly) Rachpaul, who  lives in Harlem in the upper east side of Manhattan, is obsessed with keeping his possessions from being “confiscated” by the thugs who frequent 125 St. Despondent over the death of his twenty-year-old brother, Jermaine, Lolly begins to give up on life and loses interest in his school work. His only interest is constructing buildings with his individual Lego kits. When Steve, a young man who serves as a positive role model for the neighborhood boys, gives Lolly a book for Christmas entitled A Pattern of Architecture, Lolly is inspired to innovate. He combines all the Lego pieces, integrating the blocks from all the kits, with his imagination on fire. His mom’s girlfriend brings bags full of Lego pieces from her job at a toy factory. Ali, the counselor at the community center, encourages Lolly to build with his Legos and gives him a private room to construct the imaginary alien world of Harmonee. From this activity, Lolly utilizes math and creative writing. The other kids become involved and Lolly’s mutually beneficial relationship with autistic Big Rose begins. Lolly and Big Rose find a common area in which to gain public recognition.

At the end, Lolly is able to come to terms with his brother’s death, his parents’ separate lives, his loyalty in friendships that don’t always run smoothly, and his desire to excel in life and avoid the trappings of the life around him. Lolly tells us how much he has changed from the beginning of the story, “Since then I had learned the most important thing: the decisions you make can become your life. Your choices are you.”

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

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 2018

Book Review: Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Book Review: Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick (MG) 4 Stars ****

Thirteen-year-old eighth grader Claire lives in present day Bethlehem, Pennsylvania experiencing all the angst, teasing, insecurities, and disappointments that comes with that age. Written in the first person, Claire is vocal and direct about what she does not like about her school mates, her teachers, her parents, and her brother. Claire’s incessant complaining comes to a stop when her father suffers a debilitating and life threatening stroke. Claire is at home alone with him at the time and her quick thinking call to 9-1-1 saves his life and gets him the emergency care he needs in this time sensitive situation.

This well-researched book takes the reader through the warning signs of a stroke, immediate emergency care needed and the long, painstaking road to recovery with help from therapists and family members. Claire’s father loses his will to fight the limitations of his condition, but Claire manages to reach him in a special way so that they both might reach their goals. Claire’s father struggles with physical therapy and speech exercises while Claire struggles with dance exercises so she may be promoted to a dance group with kids her own age rather than with the younger kids with whom she is now matched. Claire explains, “This is what love is, I think. Daddy was strong for me so that I could learn to be. Then I was strong for him until he could relearn his own strength. Now, here we are, strong together.”

Anyone who has experienced severe family illness will be able to identify with this story. The patient’s needs overtake everyone’s life. Nothing is as it was before. Everyone’s energy is focused on the patient’s recovery while personal goals and desires are put on hold.

Claire is a hyper-complainer. I found myself getting hypertense while reading this book because of the frenetic energy with which the story is told. Too many quips and one-liners for my taste. I would opt for a calmer presentation

 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at author@elainedonadio.com.

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 2018

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