This book was an interesting blend of historical fiction, mystery, and science fiction. I can certainly see why it won the Newbery Award, since it was well written, pays homage to a “classic” children’s book, and has a nostalgia factor for the teachers and librarians who grew up in the 70s and 80s — especially with all the references to Miranda’s mom practicing for her appearance on the game show $20,000 Pyramid. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that a lot of tweens and teens would find it difficult to really get hooked on this story. I was curious about how things would play out in the end and all, but the story didn’t exactly keep me on the edge of my seat.
One day, as Miranda walked home with her best friend, Sal, he got punched in the stomach. The kid who punched him was new to the neighborhood and didn’t even know Miranda or Sal, so there didn’t seem to be any reason for the attack. Even worse? Right after that incident, Sal began to get distant. Miranda felt lost without Sal, since the two of them had been constant companions since their early childhood. And then, when the hidden/”emergency” key to her apartment went missing and she found a strange note hidden in a library book, Miranda got understandably freaked out. Especially since the author of the note seemed to know things about her — even things that hadn’t happened yet. Fans of A Wrinkle in Time are sure to enjoy the way Miranda’s life experiences drew parallels to that book and made her question the real possibilities of time travel. I think there are enough details, nevertheless, that the story will still make sense to readers who aren’t familiar with L’Engle’s work.
You may have noticed that I am doing daily reviews this week, as opposed to my typical weekly post, and that is for several reasons. First of all, I have a lot of book reviews to catch up on! Secondly, school vacations are the perfect time for tweens and teens to read for fun, and I wanted to help out the people who might want/need extra suggestions. Last but not least, I realized that I was inadvertently on a roll with books that took place in summer… Since I still have a few more books that fit the bill, I decided it would make sense to keep with it and to help us all escape the winter blues, one book review at a time. :-)
After listening to What I Saw and How I Lied, I was excited to check out Blundell’s second book. So many books were piled up on my “to be read” list, though, that this book got bumped… and then I forgot about it. (Ack!) Sometimes, thankfully, fate will intervene and remind me about a book I’d forgotten to read. In this case, my audiobook ended while I was out and about. Since I didn’t have another CD audiobook on standby, I browsed the OverDrive app on my phone to see if any of my “wish list” downloadable audiobooks were checked in. Boy, am I glad this one showed up! Continue reading
In October of 1962, my mom and dad were 7 and 13, respectively. They’ve told me stories of the old “duck and cover” drills they had to do in school and how frightened they were about the potential onset of a nuclear war, but I don’t think I truly appreciated what they went through until I listened to this audiobook. Experiencing the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis vicariously through a character in a book, even knowing how the entire thing ended, was enough to make me anxious. I can’t imagine I would have fared well if I actually had to live it. (I probably would have had panic attacks all day, every day!) Such is the power of this extremely well-written book and it’s wonderfully produced audiobook. I was curious how the scrapbook pages would translate in an audiobook, and I was very pleased with the way sound bites were interjected into the story and sometimes woven together. (It actually reminded me quite a bit of the commercials in MT Anderson’s Feed.)
More striking than the anxiety this story induced, nevertheless, was the hope that it inspired. One quote, in particular, made such an impression that I pulled over during my evening commute to write them down. (Because my OCD self was concerned about accuracy, nevertheless, I found a print copy of the book.)
“There are always scary things happening in the world.
There are always wonderful things happening.
And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going
to approach the world…
how you’re going to live in it, and
what you’re going to do.”
Though Franny’s sister, Jo Ellen, was responding to Franny’s fear over the Cuban Missile Crisis, her words can truly be applied to any person’s response to any terrible situation. And, especially since this book goes beyond the facts of the Cuban Missile Crisis to explore Franny’s relationships with her family and friends, I think this book has a much broader appeal than just fans of historical fiction.
From looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel. I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix. And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off. Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life. While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!
Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace. Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide. Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit. After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy. Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.
When this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it. It just sounded too depressing. Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it. I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp. (We share a parking lot with the Y!) This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit. So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.
Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny. The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light. My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball. You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?” Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course! ;-) He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals. The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan. I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.