Book Review: The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

The You I've Never Known cover imageAs far back as she can remember, Ariel has been on the move with her dad, putting space between the two of them and the mother who abandoned her to run off with another woman. Every time Ariel thinks she and her dad will settle for a while, he picks up and leaves again. But now that she’s 17 and a senior in high school, Ariel decides she wants to put down roots, and she likes the place she lives. She meets Gabe, and is attracted to him, but she also thinks she may be falling in love with her best friend, Monica. It’s a confusing, emotional time, and Ariel doesn’t want to move before she figures out how she really feels.

When she discovers that her dad may have been lying to her, and that her mother didn’t abandon her years ago, she must confront the facts and decide how to live going forward, with or without her dad.

The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Klages takes readers deep inside the lives of two women impacted by the same controlling man: Ariel and her mother Maya. Told in alternating style, with Ariel’s story in verse and Maya’s in prose, the story unfolds gently as it reveals the turmoil each feels given the facts of their circumstances.

Much of Maya’s story is told in the past, when she is a teen like Ariel. Both of their stories show them dealing with difficult family situations and trying to decide what is important in their lives. And as with her other novels, Hopkins doesn’t shy from portraying relatable, imperfect characters facing difficult decisions. The You I’ve Never Known will keep readers aged 14 and up eagerly turning pages right up to the end.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

Some Writer! cover imageSome Writer! The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet clues young readers in on the life of Elwyn Brooks White, the beloved writer of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Born in 1899, near New York City, White loved spending summers with his family on a lake in Maine. Later, he bought a home near the same place he stayed as a child. His time on the farm helped him get familiar with the animals that lived there and inspired his writing for children, especially Charlotte’s Web.

Sweet’s biography uses excerpts from White’s letters and manuscripts interwoven with facts, photos, and collage to paint a picture of the author as a quiet person who started writing when he was young. He didn’t like attention, he loved his family, and he had a knack for writing stories that appealed to both children and adults.

Some Writer! is for anyone who loves White’s books and want to know more about him and his life. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 13.

I got a copy of this book from the library to review.

Book Review: Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry cover imageDani’s Grandma Beans always told her, “Sooner or later, we’re all gonna be okay.” But Dani wonders how that could possibly be true. Her best friend told her he’s not allowed to be friends with her anymore and her grandma slips away with dementia more and more each day. But when Grandma Beans tells Dani to find the papers, to get the key and open the box, Dani starts to unravel a mystery that concerns an old friendship gone bad and how it relates to the history of civil rights in Oxford, Mississippi.

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught is a rich and complicated novel that addresses several issues of historical and contemporary importance. It’s aimed at young readers aged 9 to 12, but teens and adults will find just as much to appreciate in the story.

Dani, who is 12, has a white mother and an African American father. Her Grandma Beans is her dad’s mother, and she lived through the tumultuous events aimed at desegregating Mississippi in the 1960s. As Dani uncovers the segregated history of the town she lives in, she sees the vast differences between that time and the present. In current times, she feels no threat from being biracial. But she recognizes that many people struggled for years to make conditions change. And some of them paid a steep price to help that change happen.

Issues addressed include the value of friendship and actions that may destroy even the best of friendships, slavery and the Civil War, the Meredith riots in Oxford that occurred when James Meredith became the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss, aging grandparents and dementia, family secrets and more.

Even with an abundance of meaty issues to encourage thought and discussion, Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry doesn’t stray into preaching to get its messages across. Instead it stays true to telling the honest story of a 12-year-old girl concerned about her family, her friends, and her place in the world. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Book Review: My Dad is a Clown by José Carlos Andrés

My Dad is a Clown cover imageClowns sometimes get a bad rap, portrayed as frightening or creepy. But in My Dad is a Clown, a picture book by José Carlos Andrés, young readers get an idea of what it means to be a clown. The story is told by a young boy. Here’s how it begins:

“The other day at school, a classmate got angry at me and said, ‘Clown!’

I thanked him and gave him a kiss. He didn’t understand, but we became friends again.

My dad is a clown and I am very proud of him and his job, which is one of the most important jobs. Imagine how important it is. He makes people laugh.”

The boy has another dad named Pascual, who is a doctor. Pascual says the two men have two of the most important professions. One heals the body and the other heals the soul. But My Dad is a Clown also shows how much work it takes to be funny and make people laugh. It’s a tender look at a job most people give little thought to.

Quirky illustrations by Natalia Hernández are in black, white, and red. The story is also told in Spanish, making this book great for readers learning either English or Spanish.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson

The Youngest Marcher cover imageAudrey Faye Hendricks was the youngest known child to be arrested during a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama. Her story is told in a picture book, The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson.

The year was 1963, when Audrey was nine. She had heard her parents and other grownups talk about the unfairness of racial segregation and ask for people to protest. Understandably, many people were afraid of being hurt and arrested and didn’t want to put their families at risk.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked children to march, Audrey volunteered right away. She was arrested and spent one frightening week in juvenile hall. Others, mostly teens in high school, joined her over the week until the cells were full. Two months after her ordeal, Birmingham erased its segregation laws.

Today it’s hard to imagine the time when blacks weren’t allowed to drink from the same water fountains as whites, couldn’t sit in the same sections of restaurants, use the same elevators, or sit downstairs at a movie theater. It’s also hard to imagine the courage of a nine year old protesting when she knew she would be arrested, or that her parents allowed her to take action. Which is why picture books about children like Audrey are so important. They let young readers know that even children like them can make a difference when they stand up for something they know to be right.

Vanessa Brantley Newton’s illustrations show Audrey as she was, a young, curious, happy child with a determination to change things she knew to be wrong. An author’s note about Audrey’s time in jail and The Children’s March followed by a timeline of other events puts Audrey’s actions in historical perspective. Hers is an inspirational story with a message to resonate through the ages.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.





Book Review: Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

Loving vs. Virginia cover imageMildred Jeter and Richard Loving met each other when they were children living in the same neighborhood, something unusual for segregated Virginia in the 1940s and 50s. They fell in love and went to Washington, D.C. to get married, as it was illegal for them to marry in their own state. But they also found it was illegal for them to live as a married couple in Virginia, and they were banished from their homes. Yet they fought back through the courts, and the Loving vs. Virginia case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor.

Patricia Hruby Powell tells their story in verse in the documentary novel, Loving vs. Virginia. Readers hear the story from the perspective of both Mildred and Richard beginning when they were teens first becoming aware of each other. Their courtship is similar to that of any two people falling in love, except they have to be careful not to let the local sheriff get wind of it.

Inserted into the story are historical documents that make clear what the two were up against. For instance, a Virginia Health Bulletin from March of 1924 outlines a new law “to preserve racial integrity.” This law was to prevent biracial children from entering schools for whites only. Quotes from judges and elected officials defending the need for racial segregation underscore the larger struggle taking place in the nation for civil rights.

Artwork by Shadra Strickland brings the two people at the center of this historic struggle for permission to marry across racial lines to life. Readers see them for they were: two people who wanted only to love each other and raise their children where they chose. I recommend Loving vs. Virginia for readers aged 9 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Win a Copy of Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Victoria cover imageI’m excited to start watching Victoria, the new PBS miniseries on Masterpiece (watch a preview), when it premiers this Sunday. I’m even more excited to be able to offer one of my readers a copy of the book the miniseries is based on.

The New York Times called the novel Victoria, by Daisy Goodwin, “lively and effervescent.” (Here’s the review.) Based on the queen’s own diaries, the novel sheds light on the life of this influential ruler.

During her reign Victoria was bigger than life, a queen with a passionate marriage and nine children. She ruled for 63 years and had wide influence not only on the British Empire but the rest of the world too.

If you’d like to win your own copy of the novel, just leave a comment here saying what you like about reading historical fiction. Be sure to comment by Monday, January 23 for a chance to win (U.S. addresses only please). Please note: the giveaway is closed. Congratulations to Victoria on winning!


Book Review: The Best Man by Richard Peck

The Best ManRichard Peck is a master at creating captivating young characters learning life lessons from the adults around them. He has another winner in The Best Man. With characteristic wit and humor, Peck has given readers another character to love, Archer Magill, a young boy who learns from his friends and family as he figures out what it means to grow up .

From Lynette, Archer learns about sticking with your friends even when it’s not cool. From Mr. McLeod, a student teacher, he learns how to stand up to bullies. From his grandpa and his dad, he learns to take pride in the things you build. And from his uncle Paul he learns that sometimes you have to break the rules to do what’s right. Ultimately, he finds that when you are true to yourself you can follow the right course for your life, even when that course riles some people up.

Issues to discuss in mother-daughter book clubs include bullying, human sexuality, old age and dying, and family relationships. I recommend it for groups with girls aged 10 to 13.

I checked out a copy of this book to read and give my honest review.


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