These Unlucky Stars by Gillian McDunn

These Unlucky Stars

Gillian McDunn, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Self-confidence, Sibling rivalry, Intergenerational relationships, Friendship, Luck

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Annie has always been the odd one out in her family. Her dad and brother just don’t understand her creativity or spontaneity. They are so practical…so predictable. And ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has been reluctant to get close to anyone. She keeps to herself.

When a poor decision lands Annie in hot water, she must make amends by checking in daily with her elderly neighbor and helping with her weird dog all summer.  As Annie begins to connect with her neighbor Gloria, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in and see how rich life can be when you decide to chart your own path to happiness. 

Why I like this book:

Gillian McDunn has written a sensitive and charming novel about Annie, who has an artist’s heart. McDunn’s narrative beautifully captures the drama and emotion of middle grade students. Her memorable characters and deliberate pacing will keep readers fully engaged.

Annie is convinced she is the unluckiest person ever. She’s somewhat of a loner. She loves to crawl out her bedroom window and sit on the roof and stare at her beautiful mountains. She captures their shimmering sunrises and sunsets with her colored pencils. Neither her predictable and hardworking father and brother, Ray, appreciate her artistic talent. They see her as careless and worry about her safety. Ray is popular at school and is good at everything.  Annie is not Ray, so this makes for some interesting sibling rivalry.

When Annie accepts a dare to play “ding dong ditch” on an elderly woman, she causes her to fall and break her wrist. More bad luck. It only seems right that Annie helps Gloria everyday and cares for her dog, Otto, while the feisty old woman recovers — perfect for Annie. The intergenerational bond that forms between Annie and Gloria, makes this novel really shine! Annie begins to believe in herself and her talents, interact with other people, and creates her own life. 

The setting of Oak Branch, North Carolina, is so beckoning and rich with character. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the small town smells of fresh pine. Readers will want to stroll through the small town and purchase hot muffin’s from Lulu’s bakery, stop at the book store and visit JoJo and The Earl’s for some serious North Carolina BBQ. And there are many more interesting characters to meet along Main Street.

The novel is divided into five parts with short chapters that are perfect for reluctant readers. Scattered throughout the novel are Annie’s drawings, which give a great deal of insight into her feelings and chart her growth.

Gillian McDunn is the author of The Queen Bee and Me and Caterpillar Summer, which was selected for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List and the Parents magazine Best Books of the Year list. She has lived in three time zones and is a fan of Eastern and Western barbecue. When she isn’t reading or writing, she is probably cooking, traveling, or spending time with her family. She lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and children, and a very silly dog named Friday.  Visit her at her website

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.

My Whirling, Twirling Motor and My Wandering Dreaming Mind by Merriam Sarcia Saunders

October is ADHD Awareness Month

ADHD Awareness Month is celebrated every October, with events and activities happening across the country and globally. AD/HD behavior can take many forms like hyperactivity or the inability to concentrate. I’ve selected two books written by Merriam Sarcia Saunders and illustrated by Tammie Lyon, to showcase the similarities and differences. Children dealing with ADHD or ADD will see themselves in the characters of the books.  Published by Magination Press in 2019 and 2020, these upbeat books are for children 4-8 years old.

My My Whirling, Twirling Motor – 2019

Synopsis: Charlie feels like he has a whirling, twirling motor running inside him…all the time!  He can’t turn it off. At school, he talks out of turn, wiggles too much, makes sounds that annoy the other kids, and forgets his snack, lunch and homework, At home he has trouble settling down for dinner, brushing his teeth and squirming in bed.  He just can’t quiet the busy motor.  When his mom talks to him at bedtime, he wonders if he’s trouble and yanks the covers over his head. Instead, she has a surprise for him. She reads him a list about all the things he accomplishes that day.

My Wandering Dreaming Mind – 2020

Synopsis: Sadie feels like her thoughts are soaring into the clouds and she can’t bring them back down to earth.  She has has trouble remembering the teacher’s instructions and does the wrong lesson. Her mind can travel so far away, that she forgets to put things away, forgets her sister’s soccer game, doesn’t finish her homework, loses her library books, and has a tough time listening to conversations with her friends.  When she asks her parents why her mind wanders and why she makes so many mistakes, they have a clever way to help Sadie remember how amazing she is.

Why I like these books:

Both of Saunders’s picture books draw readers into how Charlie and Sadie experience their worlds with their own relatable words. Readers will almost feel the the bees buzzing in Charlie’s body, making it almost impossible for him to settle down. He has to keep moving. With Sadie, they will feel how much more interesting it is to imagine ponies and fairies, than remembering to do chores. Both Charlie and Sadie feel like they are in trouble all the time, which impacts their self-esteem. Many kids will identify with Charlie and Sadie’s predicaments. I love how the author approaches both situations with their parents, who focus on what their children “can” do and point out their exceptional abilities, qualities and talents.

Tammie Lyon’s energetic and expressive illustrations beautifully compliment the stories.  You can see her lively and colorful artwork in the gorgeous covers.

Resources: Both books include a Note to Parents and Caregivers with more information on ADHD, behavior management, self-esteem, and helping children focus on the positive things they do. They each have their gifts to share with others. Great discussion book that is not preachy.

Merriam Sarcia Saunders, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and ADHD Certified Clinical Services Provider who works with families with AD/HD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. She lives in Northern California. Visit Saunders at her website. You can follow her on twitter @ADHDchat

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Gustavo the Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago

Gustavo the Shy Ghost

Flavia Z. Drago, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jul. 14, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Ghosts, Monsters, Day of the Dead, Shyness, Friendship, Seasonal

Opening: “Gustavo was a ghost.” He enjoyed doing the normal things that paranormal beings do — passing through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark.”

Synopsis:

Meet Gustavo. He’s a ghost, and like any paranormal being, he enjoys doing the normal things, passing through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark. He also loves playing the violin.

But Gustavo has a problem. He is very, very shy. He longs to make friends, but he’s never even dared to speak to any of the other monsters in his town. In fact he’s terrified. With the Day of the Dead fast approaching, can Gustavo be brave enough to let others see him and share his gifts?

Why I like this book:

Flavia Z. Drago’s delightfully quirky story is about a painfully shy ghost who will charm readers from the start. Children will commiserate with Gustavo when he tries to make friends, who just can’t see him. Gustavo is even afraid of standing in line to get Eye-Scream.  But in his heart, Gustavo knows he’s something more — a ghost with a talent to share with others.  Kids will cheer when he decides to invite his friends to the cemetery on the Night of the Dead for a special event.  The ending is endearing and uplifting. There is humor, there is heart and there is connection.

Drago’s illustrations bring Gustavo’s character to life. He uses a lot of white space with sparse text and fun wordplay, which is very effective. Readers will enjoy the entertaining and wacky illustrations show many Mexican themes. They really make this story shine and kids will have a grand time studying each page trying to locate Gustavo — who hides very well in plain sight. This delightful seasonal book is a winner.

Resources: While you draw pictures of ghosts, talk about what makes you feel shy and what one thing you might try to do to make a new friend.

Flavia Z. Drago was born and raised in Mexico City. About this book, she says, “When I was in kindergarten, every lunch break I used to sit on a bench and wonder how the kids were able to play and talk to each other so easily. It was a mystery to me.” As a child she wanted to be a mermaid. Sadly, that didn’t happen, but around the same age, something else did: she began drawing. And when she grew up, she became an artist. Flavia Z. Drago lives in Mexico and this is her debut picture book.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

A Girl Like You by Frank Murphy and Carla Murphy

A Girl Like You

Frank Murphy and Carla Murphy, Authors

Kayla Harren, Illustrator

Sleeping Bear Press, Fiction, Jul. 15, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Girls, Embracing individuality, Diversity, Self-esteem, Self-confidence, Friendships

Opening: There are billions and billions and billions of people in the world. But you are the only YOU there is!

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Every girl is a wonder! A Girl Like You encourages girls to embrace what makes them unique, to choose kindness, and to be their own advocates. In an age when girls know they can be whatever the want, this book reminds them of all the ways to be beautifully, brilliantly, and uniquely themselves.

Why I like this book:

Frank and Carla Murphy’s magnificent book celebrates girlhood and encourages girls to discover the unique individuals that they are. Readers will meet girls who are brave enough to try new things and not be afraid of failing; girls who pursue their big dreams;  girls who share their thoughts and opinions with others; and girls who have empathy, listen, and are kind to friends in trouble. The messages throughout are beautiful.

This is not just a book for girls. It is also a book that mother and daughter will want to share together. In fact I have adult friends who would benefit from the many beautiful reminders of who girls/women really are. This is a perfect gift book.

Kayla Harren’s endearing and vibrant illustrations show a wide-range of diversity among the characters. I was delighted to see an illustration of a girl with Vitiligo, a skin pigment disorder. Kudos to the illustrator for making the characters inclusive. The end pages are also fun!

Resources: This book will spark many interesting discussions at home and in the classroom. With older girls, encourage them to make a list about the things they like about themselves or write a short story or poem about how they are special. With younger girls have them draw a picture.  This book pairs beautifully with Frank Murphy’s A Boy Like You, so both could be used together in a classroom setting.

Frank Murphy is a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. After writing A Boy Like You, he wanted to write this book, but knew he couldn’t do it without the help of his best friend and wife, Carla Murphy, who is a pediatric nurse who has been helping kids get better for more than 15 years. This is her first book.  They live in near Philadelphia, with a daughter and their two dogs.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis and a Book Giveaway

Book Giveaway 

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Stephan Pastis, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Entertainment, Media tie-in edition, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Detective Agency, Mistakes, Failure, Self-Confidence, Comics

Book Jacket Synopsis:

My names is Failure. Timmy Failure.

I am the founder, president, and CEO of the best detective agency in town, probably the nation.

The book you are holding is a historical record or my life as a detective. It has been rigorously fact-checked. All the drawings in here are by me. I tried to get my business partner to do the illustrations, but they were not good.

This book, and my life, are the inspiration for a new movie, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. It can been viewed on Disney +. It’s true. Now, in addition to being the best detective in town, probably the nation, I am also a movie star. My greatness knows no bounds.

Why I like this book:

Cartoonist Stephan Pastis brings back his boastful and overly confident Timmy Failure in this hilarious specialbook for fans. Pastis’s comedic timing is brilliant. You’ll have to admit that 11-year-old Timmy is an adorable character who is clueless about his lack of skills and his failures, but lovable all the same. Then add his imaginary and lazy business partner, Total, a 1500-pound polar bear who spends most of his time gorging on trash, and what you end up with is Total Failure Inc.

The narrative is first person TIMMY and is witty, sarcastic and entertaining. His last name was once Fayleure, but someone changed it to Failure. He certainly lives up to his name.

“I am the soon-to-be head of multi-billion-dollar employer of thousands who made it big by adhering to one simple credo: Greatness.

I am a detective without peer.

A visionary without limits.

A pioneer of tomorrow who only challenge now is to remain humble.”

The truth is that Timmy is totally bored in school and his teacher’s and other students don’t understand him or his rich fantasy life, which leads him to a lot of trouble at school and home. Timmy is socially inept in his interactions with other characters — Weevil Bun, Rollo Tookus, and Jimmy Weber. And then there is his arch nemesis, Corrina Corrina (aka The Beast) who is smart, tutors other students and has her own successful detective agency. And Timmy does not lose a client to Corrinna Corrina. Fortunately for Timmy, he does have a mother and other adults who do care about him.

Readers won’t be disappointed in their unforgettable and favorite hero. He succeeds to fail at everything, but he does so with charm and pride. Pastis’s black and white comic illustrations adorn every page and will leave readers roaring with laughter. And the fact his unorthodox story of failure has elevated him to stardom, shows Timmy’s brand of detective work is heartwarming to his fans.

Resources:  You can’t fail to have fun at Timmy Failure’s website. Check it out!

Book Giveaway: In order to participate and win a copy of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, leave a comment below by April 26! Tell me if you’ve read the other books in the series and which one is your favorite. Or tell me if you are new to this series and would love a chance to win a copy. You must live with the US or Canada to participate.

Stephan Pastis is a New York Times best-selling adult author of Larry in Wonderland and Pearls Before Swine. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is his first book for young readers, and is followed by Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done and Timmy Failure: We Meet Again. He lives in northern California.

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.

*Review copy provided fee by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Birds of Paradise by Pamela S. Wight

Birds of Paradise

Pamela S. Wight, Author

Shelley A. Steinle, Illustrator

Borgo Publishing, May 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Birds, Overcoming fear and danger, Self-confidence, Bullying, Friendship

Opening: “Bessie and Bert are Birds — sparrows, humans call them. They just call themselves birds.” 

Synopsis:

Bessie and her brothers and sisters hatch from their shells, while their parents feed them fat bugs and  warn them about the danger that lurks around them. Thunderstorms and Blue Jays scare Bessie. But so do cats. When it’s time to fly from the nest, Bessie is hesitant to leave its security and needs some nudging from her mom. Still she stays close to the tree, afraid to explore the world around her.

Bessie meets Bert, a risk taker who finds joy in life. He dives for grass seed and soars high above the forest listening to the wind.  Bert is so busy enjoying life that he lets his guard down and nearly becomes dinner for a prowling cat. After he loses his tail to the cat, Bert is bullied by the other birds for his recklessness. Bessie and Bert become friends and encourage each other. Together they explore the world.

Why I like this book:

Pamela Wight’s Birds of Paradise is a heartwarming story for children about balancing fear with the simple joys of life.  And chirping sparrows are the perfect medium to tell a beautiful story of friendship and taking care of each other — all valuable life lessons. This is a story for all ages.

Wight is a lyrical author. Her captivating prose simply transport her readers. “Like the sunrise after a snowstorm?” Bert asks with excitement. “Or the flock of birds diving together in the summer sunshine?” 

Shelley A. Steinle’s illustrations are beautiful, lively and expressive. She depicts a variety of bird species with intricate detail. There is a lot to study on each page. Children will enjoy searching for the lady bug Steinle has hidden on each page.

Resources: Birds of Paradise will encourage children to observe birds in their own backyards. Summer is ending and birds are preparing for the winter. Some will migrate. Take a walk in the woods and listen to their bird chatter. Search the skies for the migrating bird formations. Draw a picture of what you observe.

Pamela Wight is a successful author of romantic suspense as well as the author of the illustrated children’s book, Birds of Paradise, enjoyed by readers ages 3 to 93. She earned her Master’s in English from Drew University, continued with postgraduate work at UC Berkeley in publishing, and teaches creative writing classes in Boston and San Francisco. The gorgeously illustrated book was a  finalist in the 2018 International Book Awards. Visit Wight at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the author.

Yes I Can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

Yes I can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

Kendra J. Barrett, Jacqueline B. Toner and Claire A. B. Freeland, Authors

Violet Lemay, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Nov. 20, 1018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Disabilities, Self-confidence, Abilities, School, Curiosity, Interaction, Kindness

Opening: This is Carolyn. Like many kids her age, Carolyn loves animals, castles, and building with blocks. She is helpful to her mom and dad and even to her baby brother.

Synopsis

Carolyn is a happy, energetic, caring first-grader who just happens to be in a wheelchair. She’s excited to start her new year of school and make new friends. The other students are curious about Carolyn because she uses a wheelchair. Some are accepting, while other kids are reluctant. Yes I Can! follows Carolyn on a typical day at home, at school, and even on a field trip! She can do almost everything the other kids can, even if sometimes she has to do it a little differently. The other kids become used to Carolyn and notice what she can do.

Why I like this book:

The authors have written a very uplifting story that focuses more on what Carolyn can do, than what she can’t do. Carolyn is very outgoing, social and wants to participate. And there are many things available to help children with disabilities adapt and participate.

I like how the teacher in the story handles Carolyn’s disability in her classroom. She makes sure Carolyn  feels included when she asks her to pass out papers, when she invites her to help with the morning song and when she makes sure she can accompany the class on a field trip.  This helps Carolyn feels less  isolated.

And the teacher has to deal with the other students’ curiosity.  Kids are naturally very curious about someone they may perceive as different. Some feel cautious and awkward. They don’t know what to say or how to act. And Carolyn’s teacher is very supportive, so that her school friends feel comfortable including her in school activities, recess, and lunch. The students hardly notice her disability.

The illustrations are expressive, warm and endearing. They show diversity which compliment the book’s theme.

Resources: The book includes a Note to Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers with more information on discussing disabilities with children and helping them to build positive, empathic relationships. I especially like the lists of questions with suggested answers that teachers can use.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

What You Can Do With A Chance? by Kobi Yamada

What Do You Do With a Chance?

Kobi Yamada, Author

Mae Besom, Illustrator

Compendium, Inc., Jan. 10, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Taking a chance, Conquering fear, Risks, Courage, Opportunity

Opening: “One day, I got a chance. It just seemed to show up. It acted like it knew me, as if it wanted something.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  What do you do with a chance? Especially one that seems too big or too wild or just out of reach?

Do you hold back? Do you act like you don’t care? Do you let it slip away?

This is the story of some remarkable chances and the child who doesn’t know quite what to do with them. But the more chance come around, the more the child’s fascination grows. And then, one day, a little courage makes all the difference in the world.

This is a story for anyone, at any age who has ever wanted something, but was afraid of wishing too much to get it. It’s a story to inspire you to embrace the chances that come into you life. Because you never know when a chance, once taken, might be the one to change everything.

What I like about this book:

This inspiring book challenges kids to find their courage, step outside of their comfort zones and take some risks. Chances are fleeting and may not appear in the same manner. It is a special book that is soulful and moving.

The tone of the text is simple and straightforward. The story takes children on a journey of self-discovery. Each step along the way, we can feel the child moving forward, holding back and finally taking the leap to victory over self-doubt and fear. Children will relate to this story

There is so much beauty in this book. Mae Besom’s pastel abstracts are wistful and wondering, yet carry the child’s raw emotions that culminate in excitement and exhilaration. The color yellow appears in the beginning of the story in a butterfly, and gradually explodes into yellow and gold as the child succeeds. Creative teamwork between author and illustrator.

Resources: This is a wonderful discussion book for home and classrooms. Taking a chance isn’t easy and Yamada opens the door for kids to explore the topic with the chances they have taken –riding a bike without training wheels, riding a roller coaster, singing a solo, writing a poem, and making a new friend.

Kobi Yamada is the award–winning creator of The New York Times best sellers What Do You Do With an Idea? and What Do You Do With a Problem?  He is the president of Compendium, a company of amazing people doing amazing things. He happily lives with the love of his life and their two super fun kids in the land of flying salmon where he gets to believe in his ideas all day long. He thinks he just might be the luckiest person on the planet.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

The Tiptoeing Tiger by Philippa Leathers

The Tiptoeing Tiger

Philippa Leathers, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Feb. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Animals, Tigers, Siblings, Self-Confidence

Opening: Everyone in the forest knew that tigers were sleek, silent, and totally terrifying. When a tiger prowled through the forest, everyone found other places to be.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everyone knows that tigers are sleek, silent, and totally terrifying . . . most tigers, that is. But no one is afraid of Little Tiger. He’s just too small and clumsy to frighten anyone. Determined to prove that he is terrifying, Little Tiger sets out on tiptoe, creeping through the forest to find someone to scare. He gets yawned at and laughed at, but Little Tiger won’t give up. Is there any animal in the forest who will find him just as sleek, silent, and totally terrifying as the bigger tigers?

Why I like this book:

Little Tiger is an endearing hero anxious to use his voice and do what tiger’s do best, ROAR!  Only his roar is not so big and no one jumps or runs away. Wanting to prove to his brother he CAN scare someone, Little Tiger, makes a valiant effort. He finally finds someone to scare, but you’ll have to read the book to find out. This is an adorable story many children will relate too — especially those who like to sneak up on someone and yell “roar” or “boo!”

The pacing is perfect. Each word of the text has been carefully chosen and the simplicity of the language is quite appealing. This entertaining story is highlighted with expressive and lively watercolor illustrations which add to the fun and tension.  This book is a perfect classroom story-time share or an individual read-aloud. They will enjoy the anticipation and acting out the ROARS!

Resources: Children will have fun acting out Little Tiger’s ROARS!  Make a circle and have them parade around the room on their tiptoes and practice their quiet and loud roars. There are many other jungle animals in the story that Little Tiger meets. Ask children to move around like different animals in the story.

Philippa Leathers is a freelance animator and illustrator, as well as the author and illustrator of The Black Rabbit and How to Catch a Mouse. She lives in England with her husband and their young children.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

A Month of Mondays by Joëlle Anthony

A Month of Mondays

Joëlle Anthony, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 7, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Abandonment, Family Relationships, Courage, Self-confidence, Healing

Opening: I have three women who think they’re my mom. My sister Tracie has mothered me since I was three, when ours left us. Aunt Jenny steps in when an authority figure is needed and she thinks my dad’s being a slacker. Caroline, the one who gave birth to me? She sends the checks.

Book Jacket Synopsis: This can’t be good! Suddenly Suze’s mom wants back into her life and her teacher wants her to “try harder”?”

As if middle school wasn’t hard enough, Suze Tamaki’s life gets turned upside down where her mother reappears after a ten-year absence. Once Suze gets over her shock, she thinks it might be cool to get to know her mom. But her older sister Tracie is determined not to let her back into their lives, after she walked away without an explanation.

At school things aren’t much better. One of her teachers decides the way to cure Suze’s lack of motivation is to move her into Honors English — a development Suze finds both inspiring and distressing. When she’s paired with straight-A student Amanda on an English assignment, she finds herself caring about people’s expectations like she’s never done before.

Why I like this book:

Joëlle Anthony’s has written a complex and heartwarming story that focuses on the impact of parental abandonment, complicated family relationships and healing.

There is a great cast of quirky characters, who are believable and well-crafted. Suze, is an engaging and edgy narrator. She perceives herself as an underdog at school. But she is smart, curious, and determined character who takes risks that often land her in detention. Her older sister, Tracie, is protective and makes Suze sign a contract to never have contact with their mother. No one in the family talks about her mother, Caroline, including her father, or aunt and uncle. Her friends Jessica and Amanda provide some normalcy in her life. Readers will relate to Suze and her quest to know her mother.

The plot is realistic, the tension is palpable, and the solutions flow organically.  Suze wants to get to know her mother, but is a conflicted. Their first contacts are awkward. Caroline is late, leaves to make phone calls, or has to work late. She sends gifts that aren’t appropriate.  But they work at their relationship and Suze begins to find answers to her questions. The pacing is a bit slow in the beginning, but it picks and keeps the reader turning pages. The ending is unexpected and very satisfying.

Joëlle Anthony is the author of Restoring Harmony, The Right & the Real, and Speed of Life (writing as J. M. Kelly). Visit Anthony at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

*I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.