Pighearted by Alex Perry

Pighearted

Alex Perry, Author

Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 26, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Pages: 304

Themes: Animals, Chronic illness, Family life, Pig, Science, Ethics, Humor, Friendship

Synopsis:

Jeremiah’s heart skips a beat before his first soccer game, but it’s not nerves. It’s the first sign of a heart attack. He knows he needs to go to the hospital, but he’s determined to score a goal and not let his heart condition get in the way.  Charging after the ball, he refuses to stop…even if his heart does.

J6 is a pig and the only one of his five brothers who survived the research lab. Even though he’s never left Room 23, where he has a bed, good food and a TV, he thinks of himself as a therapy pig, a scholar, and a bodyguard. But when the lab sends him to live with Jeremiah’s family, there are two other new titles he’s desperate to have: brother and family.

At first, Jeremiah thinks his parents took in J6 to cheer him up. But before long, he begins to suspect there’s more to his new curly-tailed companion than meets the eye. When the truth is revealed, Jeremiah and J6 must protect each other at all costs—even if their lives depend on it.

Why I like Pighearted:

Alex Perry’s novel is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, but it is the most original and entertaining story I’ve read in a while. It is a story about a boy with a fatal heart condition and a pig with a heart that could save his life. It is also a contemporary story that tackles difficult topics and pushes the boundaries of science and medical ethics, making it an excellent classroom discussion book. 

The story is narrated in the alternating views of the boy, Jerimiah, and the pig, J6. Jeremiah is a relatable character, especially children with chronic illnesses. Even though he has a fatal heart condition, he is a bright and compassionate boy who wants to be a normal kid. After the heart attack, a device is implanted inside his chest to help his heart pump. There are strict rules he has to follow to protect the device.  

J6’s pigs-eye view of the world is hilarious, since much of what he’s learned is by watching TV. (For me, J6 steals the show.) He may have a human heart, but he also may have a human brain. He is mischievous, cheeky, smart and opinionated. He has a lot to say, but the only sound that escapes him is: OINK. He will leave readers chuckling throughout the story with his pig-hearted narrative. It is Jeremiah’s little sister who teaches J6 to read and communicate with letter cards. He loves Jeremiah and they swiftly develop a brotherly bond. When J6 realizes that his mission in life is to give his heart, he worries about becoming “pulled pork on a bun served with French fries.” 

There is never a dull moment in this fast-paced, action-packed story. There are hospital trips, escape plans, searches for a refuge for J6, festival antics, hurricanes and floods. And there is a large cast of memorable characters who all play a significant support role in the story — especially his sisters, Jazmine and Justus, and friends, Adnan and Paloma. 

Pighearted is a hopeful story, with heart at its very center. The unselfish bond between Jeremiah and J6 is unbreakable. It involves a sacrifice each is willing to make for the other. But, I won’t say anymore. The ending is a whirlwind that I did not anticipate. Sorry, no more spoilers. This is a fun and engaging middle grade book, suitable for all ages!

Alex Perry used to teach middle schoolers in Houston, but now she writes books for kids everywhere. When she was six, she babysat a potbellied piglet, and she’s been obsessed with his cuteness ever since. She just had to get the messy little guy into a book, and now she has. She lives in Arkansas with a messy little human baby, her husband, and two huge dogs. Pighearted is her debut novel. She invites you to visit her website, or follow her on Twitter @Alextheadequate.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Copy reviewed from a library book.

Oranges for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide

Orange for the Sunsets

Tina Athaide, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Social class, Ethnic relations, East Indians, Uganda, Family life, Idi Amin, History

Publishers Synopsis:

Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall.

But when Ugandan President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship. And with only days before the deadline, Asha and Yesofu must decide if the bravest thing of all might be to let each other go.

Why I like this book:

Tina Athaide’s powerful novel is gripping as it explores the 1972 expulsion of 50,000 Asians from Uganda. Athaide portrays the vast disparity between the two ethnic groups in Uganda through the daily lives of Asha Gomez, an Indian Ugandan, and Yesofu, an African Ugandan. Their friendship is depicted within the backdrop of historical events, a brutal dictator, social class, ethnic relations, family relationships, and hope. 

The narrative is told in the alternating voices of Asha and Yesofu, which is very effective because readers will understand the emotions each character has to confront individually and together as friends. All of the successful businesses, farms, schools, homes and churches are owned by Indians, while the Africans work hard labor in the sugar cane fields and are servants in Asian homes. Few African can get loans to buy land or start businesses.

Asha was born in Uganda and knows no other home. Her father is from Goa, India, and works in the Ministry of Tourism and they entertain foreign dignitaries. Her family is wealthy. She lives in a two-story house with a wraparound front porch. They can afford to eat kulfi or ice cream and serve their tea on beautiful silver trays. Her family have African servants, including Yesofu’s mother, Fara, who works as a housekeeper and cook. Asha is a compassionate, caring, brave and determined character. But she’s also very naive to the social injustices.  She never has visited Yesofu’s home or thinks to ask Yesofu about his life. 

Yesofu’s life is a stark contrast to Asha’s. His family lives in a two-room shack made of “wattle and daub — woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud and topped with a grass roof.” Yesofu sleeps on a woven mat and gathers branches for firewood and hauls water from the well twice daily. His mother has very little education and his Baba works in the fields all day. Yesofu’s and his brother Esi’s education is paid for by Asha’s father. Yesofu dreams of getting a scholarship to attend college and playing professional cricket.  At first, Idi Amin’s talk about a brighter future for Africans excites Yesofu. His Baba may be able to buy land. He may be able to attend college and have a better life. So he joins his friends and family in support the actions of Amin.

This is a period in history I wished I’d followed more closely in the 70s. So I’m very grateful to gain some understanding through Athaide’s novel, which is loosely based on her own life there. Her novel is well-researched. It really will help readers understand what happens when racial nationalism is used to rid a country of other ethnicities. President Idi Amin promises to help African Ugandans. But he seizes Indian properties, businesses, bank accounts. He is violent and commits torture and murder. Friends become enemies. There are no winners. And Yesofu begins to sees a darker side to Imin’s promises. Yesofu’s comment says it all: “Idi Amin had promised change would come to Uganda. And he was right. Everything had changed. No Asha. No Akello. No jobs. No money for school fees. No food, Dada Amin had promised a great future, but a future is hard to build when there’s nothing left.” 

I highly recommend Orange for the Sunsets. Readers won’t be able to put it down. Make sure you read her Author’s Note, the 90 Days in History, additional resources and view her personal family photos.

Review:For those wondering how to discuss the dangers of manipulative and toxic nationalism with children, this delicately told story is it. Orange for the Sunsets is a nuanced and balanced way to see politics through a child’s eyes.”— Nadia Hashimi, M.D., author of The Sky at Our Feet and One Half from the East.

Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family lift Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for this book. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.