Review: Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge

Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge. Amulet Books, 2013.

Age Level & Genre: Young Adult realistic fiction graphic novel

13541584Face Value: It’s a pretty cover that showcases Gulledge’s graphic talents. But it’s kind of misleading! Based on the title and the silhouette of two snuggling people, I went into this book thinking that it would be a romance. It’s definitely not. There is plenty of affection and warmth woven into the story, but it isn’t a love story. I bet some people have been drawn to this book because of the cover expecting one kind of story and getting another. That’s ok – if it got them to read Gulledge’s excellent work, then that is a good thing.

Does it break the slate? It’s not really slatebreaking, but it is a great book featuring male and female characters who challenge stereotypes with their everyday behaviors. Will, the delightful protagonist, faces some shadows from her past and proves herself to be a gifted artist. Her family and friends are all forward-thinking and dynamic characters. There’s not a single flat character in this story. Everyone surprised me in some way.

Who would we give it to? This is an end-of-summer story, so I would hand this book to a young reader who is trying to savor the last few days of summer before school starts up again. Continue reading

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Review: The F*ck It List by Julie Halpern

The F*ck It List by Julie Halpern. Feiwel and Friends, 2013. Currently available.

Age Level & Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

17286812Face Value: I love this cover. It has that Instagram filter coloring that looks very contemporary (but will probably look very dated in two years). The cover of this book is more about the title than about anything relating to the story or characters. The title is has a shock value that grabs attention, and the cover capitalizes on that shock value to draw in potential readers. It’s a gimmick, but it worked on me and I know it will work on others. I freely admit that I picked up this book because the title made me laugh.

Does it break the slate? It certainly does. Alex and Becca are best friends who have done some not-so-nice things to one another throughout the years, but they rise above that mean girl stereotype to support each other through some tough times. They are smart and self-possessed girls. Although there is a fair amount of drama in their relationship, I still think that their friendship is admirable because they have enough resilience to bounce back from bad situations.

Who would we recommend it to? This would be a fun book for a pair of besties to read together. Alex and Becca have such a unique friendship, and it would be great to read this book along with a friend and talk about it along the way. Continue reading

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Review: Now I’ll Tell You Everything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Now I’ll Tell You Everything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. Currently Available.

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

20759648Face Value: There have been so many incarnations of Alice McKinley in covers over the past couple decades. And I’ll just say this: I have never read these books because I love the covers. On the spectrum of Alice covers over the years – this one is not too bad.

Does it Break the Slate? Oh, of course it does. I have loved this series, and this character, for way too long to think otherwise. And while Alice (and the series) might have frustrating moments, the overall feel is so incredibly, outstandingly, resoundingly Slatebreaking. More on this later.

Who would we give it to? Don’t read this final book if you haven’t read earlier books in the series. But you can totally still read it and love it if you’ve missed the last handful and loved the early Alice McKinley books. If you have any sort of nostalgic love for those books, you should definitely read the last one.  You should also read this great Washington Post feature on Naylor and her series. Did you know that Lois Lowry and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor once talked about doing an Alice/Anastasia crossover!?!?!? I can’t even imagine how amazing that might have been. Continue reading

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Review: Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill. Henry Holt and Company, 2013. Currently available.

Age Level & Genre: Middle grade historical fiction

9780805093513Face Value: LeUyen Pham created phenomenal illustrations for the whole book, and the cover is the crown jewel. I love the way it captures both the unique setting and the cheerful tone of the story. Every moment of Ballard Creek life is captured from a child’s point of view, and the cover appropriately highlights the children who live in the settlement.

Does it break the slate? Bo is quite young to be a Slatebreaker, but she shows promising tendencies by always questioning why things are the way they are. I did appreciate the way Hill featured a family with two fathers and adopted children at the core of the story – this book challenges the notion of the traditional nuclear family in a gentle but firm way.

Who would we give it to? Budding arm chair travellers will enjoy the way that the Alaskan setting plays a role in the story. This story would also appeal to young readers who got hooked on pioneer-style historical fiction and need to branch out a bit beyond the typical stories of covered wagons in the American West.   Continue reading

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Review: Blythewood by Carol Goodman

Blythewood by Carol Goodman. Viking, 2013. Currently Available.

Genre: Historical Fantasy

17572846Face Value: Solid cover, nothing amazing. It reflects the story, looks intriguing, but doesn’t do too much to grab your attention either. I really enjoyed this first book in a series, so I’m hoping it gets a more dynamic redesign in future editions.

Does it Break the Slate? Totally. This is a great example of a supporting cast that is filled with Slatebreaking characters, building up a rich character landscape.

Who would we give it to? If you love magical boarding schools (Harry Potter, and others) or if you love historical fiction focusing around the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, this book has something for you! I am extremely fond of both of those things, so I was a likely target for this book. But it really works, not just as a retelling of familiar stories. Continue reading

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Review: Freedom Heroines by Frieda Wishinsky

Freedom Heroines by Frieda Wishinsky. Scholastic, 2012. Currently Available. 

Age Level & Genre: Non-Fiction

9780545425186_xlgFace Value: I think that this cover is the way that many non-fiction books for young readers have to look now: edgy and cool. Let’s face it: most young people do not read biographies. The cover has to look mysterious enough to attract interest. This is part of a series of biography books, too, so the publisher has to have some consistent cover design. I would love to see the women featured more prominently on this cover, but I also understand that a little subtlety can go a long way when attracting a reader.

Does it break the slate? Since all of the women profiled in this book were prominent advocates for human rights, that immediately puts the book in the Slatebreaking category. It is a biography of not just one but of six women who were active in movements for women’s rights and civil rights. I appreciate that the author included profiles of women of color and described the ways in which these women disagreed with one another, even though some of them were fighting for the same cause.

Who would we give it to? Any young reader with a budding social conscience will be intrigued by the strategies employed by these women to engage the public in a fight for rights. I think this book is especially relevant as we enter another long stretch of presidential campaigning. I would recommend it to young readers so that they can see where we have been before as a nation. Knowing how hard people fought to have the right to participate in the political process is a powerful antidote to political apathy.

Continue reading

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Review: Revived by Cat Patrick

Revived by Cat Patrick. Little, Brown and Company, 2012. Currently Available.

Genre: Speculative Fiction / Mystery

12681233Face Value: I listened to this on audio book, so I didn’t spend a lot of time with this cover. Which is ok with me, because I don’t think this cover tells you anything about the story, and does nothing to set it apart. Not that good, not that bad either.

Does it Break the Slate? For the most part, yes. Daisy, our protagonist, definitely has her Slatebreaking moments. And over the course of the book, as she learns more about her situation, we see her becoming a much more active participant in her own life / lives. There are great depictions of friendships between teenage girls and a significant trans character (without ever being an “issue” book about trans people).

Who would we give it to? Finding an audience for this book among traditional speculative fiction readers might be challenging. It reads very contemporary romance in a lot of ways (which isn’t a bad thing). But I think that might mean that there is more readership for this book among Sarah Dessen fans than among Hunger Games die-hards. Continue reading

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Review: The Sound of Your Voice…Only Really Far Away by Frances O’Roark Dowell

The Sound of Your Voice…Only Really Far Away by Frances O’Roark Dowell.

Age Level & Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

17063685Face Value: I’m getting a little bored with the “shoes and ankles that represent a character’s personality” theme on book covers. This is good enough for this story – the lower legs that we see fit the character descriptions – but Kate and Marylin are far too interesting to be represented solely by their feet.

Does it break the slate? This is not an earth-shattering book. The female characters are great, especially Kate. They don’t change the world, but they cause ripples that will make their middle school a better place. I can’t call it a Slatebreaking book, but it is a story with notable female characters and I won’t hesitate to recommend it to young women.

Who would we give it to? Any girl who just doesn’t have time for the drama of middle school will appreciate the frank social analysis in O’Roark Dowell’s book. Continue reading

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Review: Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher. Little Brown and Company, 2012.

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Face Value: Well I like the ketchup clouds. But other than that I don’t really understand the cover, and don’t like it all that much. I much prefer this alternate cover (I think it’s the British version, or maybe the paperback? hard to tell from Goodreads), which draws you in right away, plot and character-wise.


Does it Break the Slate? Getting there. I felt a deep empathy for Zoe, our protagonist, and I totally believed that she was on her way to becoming a Slatebreaker. This girl has so much weighing her down, and I sure don’t know if I could have handled all of that on my shoulders, especially as a teenager. Even though it’s really not until the end of the book that she starts to pull herself together and take her life, and happiness, into her own hands, I really believe that Slatebreaking is in her future.

Who would we give it to? Mystery readers will be intrigued by the “what really happened” element, and contemporary realism fans will appreciate the authenticity of Zoe’s voice, her boy troubles, and her expertly written family dynamic. If you read this book, like I did, because you loved Annabel Pitcher’s first book, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, you won’t be disappointed. Continue reading

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Review: Insurgent and Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Insurgent and Allegiant by Veronica Roth. Harper Collins, 2012 and 2013, respectively. Currently Available.

Genre: Speculative Fiction / Dystopia

Face Value: Consistent and respectable. When I reviewed Divergent  a couple of years ago, I noted my appreciation for the covers and I continue to like them. The former Chicagoan in me appreciates the recognizable features of the skyline and the airport. The distortion of the faction symbols over the course of the trilogy reflects the book and the branding while still looking different and interesting. While this isn’t necessarily a piece of art I’d want to hang on a wall, I have no qualms about reading it in public.

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Does it Break the Slate? YES. Said it about the first book and if anything, Tris becomes even more of a Slatebreaker over the course of the trilogy. She’s very much an action hero, but she’s also thoughtful, loyal, determined and smart. We also see her make terrible, incredibly stupid mistakes – because her good qualities are also paired with actual human flaws. And once again, Tris is not the only tough girl in a sea of boys – in the world of Divergent and its sequels, women hold high ranking power positions, they are good and evil, they are insurgents and politicians and rebels and scientists. Gender is relevant in this world, but it is not the only signifier of any one quality. And the real and true friendship that develops between Tris and Christina might be my favorite in the whole series. Including romance.

But if we are talking romance, despite their fights and occasional total wrong choices when it comes to protection, etc. I found that Tris and Tobias have a relationship built on mutual respect and love. I like the way it changes over the course of the books, and the ways in which they are both there for each other and sometimes let each other down.

Who would we give it to? Judging by the wait time at my local library for the hold to come in, I don’t think I have to work too hard to sell this book to readers. I am actively trying to convince my coworkers to read it before the movie comes out though. Continue reading

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