Review: We Ride Upon Sticks

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

From the author of the widely acclaimed She Weeps Each Time You’re Born comes a new novel, at once comic and moving. Set in the coastal town of Danvers, Massachusetts (which in 1692 was Salem Village, site of the origins of the Salem Witch Trials), it follows the Danvers High field hockey team as they discover that the dark impulses of their Salem forebears may be the key to a winning season.

In this tour de female force, the 1989 Danvers Falcons are on an unaccountable winning streak. In chapters dense with ’80s iconography–from Heathers to Big Hair–Quan Barry expertly weaves together the individual and collective journeys of this enchanted team as they storm their way to the state championship. Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza, whose bleached blond “Claw” sees and knows all, the DHS Falcons prove to be as wily and original as their North of Boston ancestors, flaunting society’s stale notions of femininity in order to find their glorious true selves through the crucible of team sport.


Apparently putting a speculative slant is the way to get me to read literary fiction. Add in a nice healthy sense of humor and teens overly into their extra-curricular activities and I am all in. I really enjoyed this quirky, smart book.

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Middle Grade Review: They Call me Güero

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles

Genres: Middle Grade, Novel in Verse
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

In Spanish, “Güero” is a nickname for guys with pale skin, Latino or Anglo. But make no mistake: our red-headed, freckled hero is puro mexicano, like Canelo Álvarez, the Mexican boxer. Güero is also a nerd—reader, gamer, musician—who runs with a squad of misfits like him, Los Bobbys. Sure, they get in trouble like anybody else, and like other middle-school boys, they discover girls. Watch out for Joanna! She’s tough as nails.

But trusting in his family’s traditions, his trusty accordion and his bookworm squad, he faces seventh grade with book smarts and a big heart. Life is tough for a border kid, but Güero has figured out how to cope.

He writes poetry.


What a lovely, powerful book. If poetry is supposed to make you feel something, Güero definitely succeeded.

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Review: You Should See Me in a Crown

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Genre: Young Adult
Maturity Level: 4
(Content Warning: public outing, chronic illness)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?


“Miss Lizzie, why are you looking at the white girl like that?”
“Like what, P?”
She rolls her eyes and tries again. “Uh duh, like Tiana looked at Naveen?”

Reading You Should See Me in a Crown was exactly like watching a 90s teen rom-com, if 90s teen rom-coms were diverse and queer.

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Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Series: The Broken Earth
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Maturity Level: 5
(Content Warnings: child abuse, harm to children, enslavement)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.


WOW.

I’ve slept on this book before trying to start the review because I am just IN AWE, but I still don’t know what to write. How do you review on of the greatest pieces of speculative fiction of the 21st century?

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Middle Grade Review: A Wolf Called Wander

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry

Illustrated by: Mónica Armiño
Genre: Animal Stories, Adventure, Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 2

(Content warning: Shooting of animals)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Swift, a young wolf cub, lives with his pack in the mountains learning to hunt, competing with his brothers and sisters for hierarchy, and watching over a new litter of cubs. Then a rival pack attacks, and Swift and his family scatter.

Alone and scared, Swift must flee and find a new home. His journey takes him a remarkable one thousand miles across the Pacific Northwest. The trip is full of peril, and Swift encounters forest fires, hunters, highways, and hunger before he finds his new home.


This absolutely beautiful book is the modern update of wildlife survival tales like Call of the Wild or White Fang. Add in stunning illustrations and a touch of non-fiction at the end, and kids are going to be eating this book up.

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Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Series: Dimple and Rishi
Genre: Young Adult
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.


Sometimes I forget how much of a stinking romantic I am. Sometimes I forget that I believe in true love more than I believe in nearly anything else. Today I remember. My heart is completely melted.

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Middle Grade Review: Sweep

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 3 (Content Warning: Child Abuse)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

For nearly a century, Victorian London relied on “climbing boys”–orphans owned by chimney sweeps–to clean flues and protect homes from fire. The work was hard, thankless and brutally dangerous. Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is quite possibly the best climber who ever lived–and a girl. With her wits and will, she’s managed to beat the deadly odds time and time again.

But when Nan gets stuck in a deadly chimney fire, she fears her time has come. Instead, she wakes to find herself in an abandoned attic. And she is not alone. Huddled in the corner is a mysterious creature–a golem–made from ash and coal. This is the creature that saved her from the fire.


Sweep is historical fiction set in Victorian London with just a touch of magic. This is not a happy story, but is brutal in its honesty. While I didn’t find it particularly inspiring or touching, it’s impossible to deny the power of the story.

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Review: The Empire of Gold

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty

Series: Daevabad Trilogy
Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Daevabad has fallen.

After a brutal conquest stripped the city of its magic, Nahid leader Banu Manizheh and her resurrected commander, Dara, must try to repair their fraying alliance and stabilize a fractious, warring people.

But the bloodletting and loss of his beloved Nahri have unleashed the worst demons of Dara’s dark past. To vanquish them, he must face some ugly truths about his history and put himself at the mercy of those he once considered enemies.

Having narrowly escaped their murderous families and Daevabad’s deadly politics, Nahri and Ali, now safe in Cairo, face difficult choices of their own. While Nahri finds peace in the old rhythms and familiar comforts of her human home, she is haunted by the knowledge that the loved ones she left behind and the people who considered her a savior are at the mercy of a new tyrant. Ali, too, cannot help but look back, and is determined to return to rescue his city and the family that remains. Seeking support in his mother’s homeland, he discovers that his connection to the marid goes far deeper than expected and threatens not only his relationship with Nahri, but his very faith.

As peace grows more elusive and old players return, Nahri, Ali, and Dara come to understand that in order to remake the world, they may need to fight those they once loved . . . and take a stand for those they once hurt. 


What a finale!! I’m almost never happy with the end of a series, which maybe partly explains why I rarely make it to the end. But The Empire of Gold was so fantastic! It really checked all of my boxes. (Caution, mild spoilers ahead. Nothing you probably haven’t guessed, but shield yourself if you want.)

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Middle Grade Review: New Kid

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Series: New Kid
Genres: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade

Maturity Level: 2
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Rating:
⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? 


I loved this graphic novel! The art, the story, the characterization, the subtltly, everything was so spot-on! I would put this up there as an all-time favorite with El Deafo and Pashmina. A must-read for middle-graders!

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Review: Within the Sanctuary of Wings

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

Series: Memoirs of Lady Trent
Genre: Fantasy

Maturity Level: 3
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Rating:
⋆⋆⋆

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent–dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet–after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia–the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure–scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland’s enemies–and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.


Reviewing book five in a series seems so pointless, because there’s not much to say about this book that I didn’t say about the previous four. It’s in the same vein, no major changes, and a satisfying conclusion to the series.

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