Author Event: Celeste Ng at La Tavola Restaurant and Grandview Heights High School – Columbus, Ohio

I had the privilege of dining with Celeste Ng at La Tavola Restaurant and then attending her on-stage interview at Grandview Heights High School tonight. Author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere, Ng was incredibly gracious and personable.  Having the opportunity to meet her and hear her thoughts from the stage was very rewarding and definitely a highlight of my week!

Interviewed by local Grandview Heights Library Patron Service Director, Eileen McNeil, Ng answered questions from the stage about everything from what it was like growing up with scientist parents to whether or not she considers herself ‘political.’  Her amiability and quick wit were on ready display for the audience this evening.  She is self-deprecating and funny but very clear in her opinions about the plight of minorities (which she defines as women, people of color, people with disabilities and non cis-, non-hetero people) in our country today.

ng

Ng described for the audience how and why she came to set her books in Ohio and the importance of highlighting diversity and discrimination in her work.  She described her childhood (split between Pittsburgh and Shaker Heights, Ohio) and how deeply she feels the experience of being the children of immigrants. She described her works as being primarily about identity and whether or not one can leave the past behind.  Ng explained that she believes that her roots in a family with immigrant parents have led her to be fascinated by those topics.  

Ng explained how important she believes it is to write about families and that the dynamic between parents and children fascinates her.  She expressed her opinions about the importance of family as a topic of exploration and made very clear her opinion about the criticism and derision that some (particularly female) writers receive when the topic of their writing is primarily domestic:  there are few things more important than raising a human being to be part of society.

Ng was asked about her presence on Twitter and talked about how much she (unexpectedly) enjoys it and uses it as a platform for her opinions and beliefs.  Although I personally focused more on the amazing character development and driving narrative that make up her books when I read them, hearing Ng speak tonight reminded me of the many portions of her writing that touch on political and social topics.  I was very excited to hear Ng say that she has accepted being a ‘political writer’ as part of her identity (because, as an Asian-American, cis/hetero woman and mother, people will view her actions and writing through a political filter) and embraces the opportunity to explore and expound upon those topics.

Generous with her time (Ng stopped at every table this evening and spoke to each person who was present while graciously signing books and taking pictures) and engaging in her speech, Ng was a joy to meet this evening.  There are few things more satisfying that recognizing that an author whose work you truly enjoy is also someone whose beliefs and personality you also really admire!

 

Book Review: Never Sit If You Can Dance by Jo Giese – 4 stars

You know all those things that your mom and/or grandma say that you don’t pay any attention to day-to-day but become part of the fabric of your life? That’s what this book is about. A light read with a heavier impact, this book is sweet and endearing but will leave you slightly emotional and weave it’s way into your thoughts long after you’ve turned the last page!

Giese’s book is a memoir:  she positions it as a memoir of her mother’s life but, in truth, it is also a memoir of her own.  Her mom, whom she calls ‘Babe,’ was born in 1916 and is clearly a product of her time.  Giese tells her mother’s story in vignettes, each representing some saying or life lesson that she impressed upon others.  Everything from ‘Don’t be drab’ to ‘Never leave a compliment unsaid,’ Babe’s lessons are straightforward and initially, I worried that there wasn’t quite enough there to warrant a book.  I’m glad I kept reading, however, as Babe’s life lessons (though perhaps coming off as a little simple and dated) are as important and applicable globally as they were to the person she became.

Babe lived the classic 1940s and 50s housewife life…she raised three children, supported a working husband and managed relationships with her extended family.  Not all was rosy for her, however, and Giese allows us a peek inside the crippling depression that Babe suffered with after several miscarriages and the pain that losing a spouse and outliving all of one’s friends must cause.

Through Giese’s book, we see a picture of a loving wife and mother in Babe.  We also see some of the typical mother-daughter discontent that arises over a lifetime of loving one another.  The lessons that Giese gleans from her mother’s outlook on life are poignant and honest:  you can imagine that although Giese grew into her appreciation of her mother’s wisdom, it likely grated on her when she was younger and had less of the gift of hindsight.  While it’s possible to question whether or not Babe’s lessons are really that important…I dare you to read about her methods for saying goodbye and not have it change the way you view partings forever.

Giese is a journalist by trade and the book is written in a very straightforward, friendly style.  I admire the way she tells her mother story cleanly and allows the reader to draw his/her own conclusions while still fortifying the tales with her own impressions and feelings.  This book could easily have devolved into a ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ guidebook from the 1950s.  Giese, however, infuses the stories with her peronsal spin and allows the reader to see how Babe’s tutelage impacted the woman she ultimately became.   Giese allows the reader to follow her mother right up to her death in 2015 and leaves us, through her stories with a better understanding of what vulnerability and nurturing really mean. 

At 168 pages, Never Sit If You Can Dance is a quick and easy read. Be careful though. You may not recognize the deep impact that book’s simple message is having upon you until you close the book and walk away. Babe’s message, as well as Giese’s, will stick with you and wander back to you like an old friend just when you least expect it!

To get your copy of Never Sit If You Can Dance, click the link below:

Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother

Middle Grade Book Review: The Wrong Shoes by Caryn Rivadeneira, Illustrated by Graham Ross – 4 stars

This book’s subtitle is ‘A Book About Money and Self-Esteem’ and that’s what I really liked about it: it covers topics of financial literacy and self-esteem in ways that are extremely accessible to its target audience (8-12 years old.)  Peppered with engaging, comedic illustrations from Ross, the book moves along at quick clip and will keep a tween’s interest while imparting some wisdom along the way.  Never condescending, Rivadeneira’s book is structured as a 64 page set of journal entries by two tweens: Marco and Amelia, and follows their journey as they try to find ways to fit in and make money fast!

True to its title, The Wrong Shoes first focuses on Marco’s dilemma:  he’s being made fun of at school for wearing shoes that were popular last year.  Initially proud and excited about his footwear choice, Marco is embarrassed as a classmate rallies the troops to harrass him about this ‘fourth grade flunky’ shoes.  As all kids and adults can commiserate with Marco’s situation (who hasn’t been targeted in school for some social or fashion misstep?) it’s a good place to start to establish Marco’s urgency in needing money.

Marco’s mother refuses to buy the ‘right’ shoes for him (yeah Mom!)  She doesn’t have the budget for it right now and encourages Marco to solve his own problem.  While she doesn’t minimize Marco’s discomfort (again, yeah Mom!) she empowers Marco by suggesting that he has the means to resolve this issue on his own.

Given this dilemma, Marco enlists his friend Amelia to help him figure out how to earn cash quickly.  His mom sets up an appointment for him with a neighbor she thinks can help.  The neighbor shows the kids how to make a list of things that need to be done in their community and assess whether or not they want to do them and whether or not they believe anyone would pay for the services.  Some of the tasks Marco and Amelia identify are more gratifying than others (hey…$12 for picking up dog poo is not bad!) and they earn 1/2 of what Marco’s needs for the shoes pretty quickly.

The neighbor then points them to the local bank manager who advises them about saving money and interest.  It’s a good lesson…the bank manager helps Marco and Amelia gain strategies for not spending their earned money and helps them understand the (slow) process of earning interest.  Rivadeneira’s explanation of how interest is earned and why it accumulates is spot-on…I’ve never heard it explained in such a kid-friendly way!

Finally, the bank manager introduces them to a local pastor who educates them about the power of charity.  She encourages them to do service work and explains the concept of donating 10% of one’s earnings.  While initially resisitant to the idea (who wants to give away a portion of the money he’s trying to raise to buy shoes?) Marco and Amelia eventually come to understand the ways in which giving assists the community and makes the individual giver feel valuable and responsible.

During their meeting with the local pastor, she introduces the kids to a gentleman who served in the  military and subsequently suffered with some financial hardships/homelessness and ultimately came to work on the staff of the pastor’s organization.  This gentleman consciously doesn’t wear shoes in order to remind himself his gratitude for footwear and stay in touch with his memories of times when he was not fortunate enough to have any.  The interlude with the shoeless gentleman struck me as awkward…I wasn’t entirely sure how it fit into the story.  While it may have been the impetus for Marco ultimately deciding that the ‘right shoes’ were not as important as he originally thought, it didn’t exactly seem to fit with the storyline and seemed a bit ‘forced’ in my opinion.  While gratitude is certainly a valid concept to introduce in a story about money and fitting in, I’m not sure that this vehicle for doing so flowed in the way the author might have hoped.

If I had any other concern about this book, it was only that Marco and Amelia seem gender stereotyped a bit.  She is polite, diligent and responsible.  Marco eats too much, has sketchy manners and is more selfish.  I found myself wondering why the female character always has to be the dependable foil to the boy’s ruffian persona?

Overall, however, I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to introducing it to my 11-year old son.  There is much within it that he already knows but the presentation is engaging and he is likely to absorb more of the ‘lesson’ within than he would getting it only directly from my husband and me.  Financial literacy is so important for children to learn and so often overlooked as something they will simply intuit…I found Rivadeneira’s foray into introducing the topic through the lens of trying to ‘fit in’ very appropriate and extremely valuable.

To get your copy of The Wrong Shoes by Caryn Rivadeneira for you and/or a tween that you know, click the link below:

The Wrong Shoes: A Book About Money and Self-Esteem (Generous Kids)

Book Review: The Wonder of Lost Causes by Nick Trout – 4 stars

As Mark Twain said, ‘I like a good story, well told…’ That’s exactly how I would describe The Wonder of Lost Causes. Nick Trout presents the story of an 11-year old boy (Jasper) who has Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and lives alone with his veterinarian mother, Kate. Told from alternating viewpoints (Jasper’s and Kate’s) we learn what its like to live with a CF diagnosis and how a very special dog can change a person’s outlook on life!

Kate is (with good reason) a very involved, nervous mother who has scheduled Jasper’s life (by necessity of his condition) down to the minute. She does everything she can to protect him from anything that might cause his condition to worsen while harboring the typical ‘mom concerns’ about her child’s happiness and ability to fit in with others.

From the beginning of the story, we are in Kate’s and Jasper’s heads. We see the difference between how Jasper sees himself and how his mother sees him: Jasper is engaged with the world and seems fearless in the face of a terminal illness diagnosis while Kate is somewhat neurotic and works to wrap Jasper in ‘bubble wrap’ to keep him safe.

Jasper spends a great deal of time at his mom’s veterinary practice and is introduced to a dog (Whistler) who has been horribly abused and is terribly rough-looking. While Jasper has always had bonds with the animals he encounters, his relationship with Whistler is particularly special and he begins to believe that he can ‘communicate’ with Whistler and feel his feelings.

Drama ensues as Whistler begins to have a positive impact on Jasper’s life and Kate struggles with her resolve regarding not allowing Jasper to have a pet or deviate from his precise life schedule. Trout does an amazing job illustrating the love between Jasper and his mom while also giving us a very intimate look at the necessary level of concern that a parent with a terminal child experiences constantly.

Ultimately, a decision must be made…not only by Kate but by outside parties who wish to seperate Jasper and Whistler. You’ll find yourself torn again and again between rooting for the relationship that has blossomed between boy and dog and considering the impacts of that relationship on Jasper’s health and others involved. This is ultimately a feel-good book and you’ll walk away sure that the right decision has been made…your heartstrings, however, will definitely be pulled along the way.

I was incredibly impressed by Trout’s ability to walk the delicate path between Jasper’s desire to ‘live life’ and his mother’s need to protect him. The reader is given very clear glimpses into what it might be like to live with a terminal illness and I was not surprised to learn (though I had to do some digging to find out) that Trout is both a veterinary surgeon and a CF parent. His insight into Kate’s neuroses was obvious and his ability to make the reader feel those complex feelings was masterful.

Trout also knows his dogs. While I had never read any of his other books (including Patron Saint of Lost Dogs and Dog Gone, Back Soon) I discovered that his back catalog is devoted almost solely to books with a canine protagonist. Writing from what he knows, The Wonder of Lost Causes, was both sweet and penetrating. I loved the endearing relationships between Jasper and others (Whistler, his mother, his elderly friend Burt, etc.) but didn’t find them too saccharine. That balance is exceptionally important to me…I often find overly sugary books offputting.

The realistic (sometime even caustic) perspective that Trout provides allowed me to truly enjoy this book without feeling like I was reading a fairy tale. His characters are real and their feelings are authentic. The plot, though somewhat fantastical in that the boy and dog communicate with one another, was believable enough that I found myself flipping through the book in parts to find out if it was based on a true story. Though not written from the perspective of the dog, Lost Causes reminded me, in some ways, of The Art of Racing in the Rain by allowing human realities to be illuminated by the involvement of a canine companion.

If you love animals (especially dogs) Lost Causes is definitely a book you shouldn’t miss. Even if you don’t, however, this book has something to say that you’ll want to read. You don’t have to love dogs to love a ‘good story, well told.’

To get your copy of The Wonder of Lost Causes, click the link below:

The Wonder of Lost Causes: A Novel

Middle Grade Book Review: Misha Alexandrov by Jan Karol Tanaka – 4.5 stars

Misha Alexandrov, by Jan Karol Tanaka, is the story of a mixed-race (Russian and Aleut) 10 year-old boy who migrates to California’s north coast in the early 1800s as part of a boat crew of working men. Misha lost his mother prior to embarking on the trip with his father and was then orphaned in Alaska before arriving in California. He is being cared for, somewhat reluctantly, by a member of the crew (Dmitri) who promised his father he would look after him.

When Misha’s ship arrives on the coast of California, he is immediately overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of the location and longs for the opportunity to make a new home for himself. Nonetheless, the community he arrives in is a working colony and he has no skills that can benefit the well-being of the town. Moreover, he is viewed with suspicion by the inhabitants of the colony who see him as ‘bad luck’ due to the loss of both of his parents. His status as mixed-race (a ‘half-breed’) also hinders his ability to assimilate into the community.

Luckily for Misha, Dmitri is a man of his word and does everything he can to protect and promote him. Misha also becomes the beloved friend of a Hawaiian cook and local Indian boy who fight to help him in his quest. Dmitri begins to train Misha in the carpentry trade and his hopes that he will be able to become a contributing member of society rise. Unfortunately, the foreman (Tarasov) of the local company is both a tyrant and a racist and threatens to send Misha home alone on the next ship if he cannot prove his value.

Through a combination of ingenuity, grit and the love of his new friends, Misha fights to build a new home and be allowed to stay in California. We watch his struggle with fear, impulsivity and the injustice of others as he grows and matures in his new environment. You’ll find yourself rooting hard for Misha to succeed and ‘feeling all the feels’ for his friends and supporters as they take on Tarasov and the hurdles that Misha must face to stay with them.

Tanaka has written a beautifully quiet book that delivers a heartwarming coming of age story. Her prose is gorgeous and her characters are both believable and endearing. There is plenty of action and humor within these pages but the tone of the book is mostly reflective and hopeful. Tanaka’s style is reminiscent of Jean Craighead George (Julie of the Wolves, My Side of the Mountain) or Scott O’Dell (Island of the Blue Dolphins) and readers will treasure this story in much the same way they do those.

Tanaka creates Misha’s story in such a way that readers will learn a lot from his experience without feeling preached or pandered to. Lessons about the history of California, the importance of love and friendship, identity and racism are delivered subtly and with a gentle hope. Misha is not depicted as a perfect character and even the motives of the story’s villain are explored in light of his own upbringing and struggles. The opportunity for tremendous encouragement and optimism exists within this story and young people will see themselves in Misha despite differences in time, place and circumstance. This is one of those timeless stories that is historical in nature but all too easily applied to the struggles we face today.

Both adults and young people alike will be touched by Tanaka’s writing. To get a copy for yourself and/or one to pass along to someone else who needs this message of determination and hope, click the link below:

Misha Alexandrov (Distant Shores of Home) (Volume 1)

Middle Grade Book Review: Jed and the Junkyard War by Steven Bohls – 2.5 stars

Well, I knew the day would come when I was disappointed by a book that I planned to review and wasn’t sure what to say. I have so much respect for authors and the hard work they do to create a piece of literature that it pains me to write a negative review. I considered just putting the book down when I was finished and not writing a review at all…but I feel like, as someone who puts her opinions out here on the blog regularly, there’s more integrity in telling the truth than in just avoiding it.

All of that to say, Jed and the Junkyard War was not for me. I had high hopes – it’s a middle grade post-apocalyptic story about a boy named Jed who wakes up one morning to missing parents and a series of odd clues for finding a grandfather he’s never known. He travels to a strange world filled with junk (we never do find out why that is!) and is immediately accosted by a strange cast of characters that make up the crew of an airship.

By introducing them to a series of objects from his regular life (such as a watch and a can opener) he wins the trust of the crew and gains their agreement to help him on his quest. Along the way, Jed and the crew are attacked by various lifeforms from the junk world and ultimately come face-to-face with Jed’s grandfather, who turns out to be someone other than who Jed expected. Some of Jed’s compatriots are sacrificed in the final battle while others survive…ultimately the author leaves the book on a cliffhanger, giving Jed more work to do to complete his quest, and allowing the reader to become aware that a sequel will ensue.

There are certainly things to recommend this book: Bohls’ world building is amazing! He describes the world that Jed discovers in great detail and populates it with inventive descriptions and intriguing characters. Additionally, Jed himself is an interesting character…he seems to have a sharp mind and a quick wit and, at the beginning of the book, it’s easy to root for him to conquer his quest and find his family!

Unfortunately, for me, confusion reigned in this book. The ‘rules’ of the junk world weren’t clear to me…why are there three different kinds of populations? Why do they live in particular areas? Why do they hate each other? Why is all of their food in cans? Where do all these cans come from? I wasn’t bought into the story enough to just forego all explanations and go along blindly into the world.

I also found the characters in the junk world confusing: Jed meets at least 4-5 characters on the airship but I struggled to differentiate them. Given nonsense names like Sprocket and Pobble, I found myself unable to remember who was who or understand the individual roles that specific characters were supposed to play in the story.

Finally, I found Bohls’ dialog unnecessarily annoying. Characters ask bizarre questions and give bizarre answers for little reason and with no explanation. The one female character that I could differentiate from the others seemed to communicate only in baby talk throughout the book. Many of the characters’ conversations read like ‘Who’s On First?’ routines.

I also have to mention two plot points that troubled me greatly: 1) Pobble is described as obese. That, in itself, is not a problem but the author spends a significant amount of page space just ridiculing and making fun of the character’s size. In a book for kids and in a world that already abounds in fat shaming activities, I really question Bohls’ need to create a character just to be the butt of fat jokes. 2) Shay, the babytalking character referenced above, is one of the only females in the story. Given the choice to create a babytalking character, must it be a girl? Given the choice to create only one prominent female character, must she only be able to whine petulantly? I struggle to understand whether or not any thought about the implications of that decision occurred at all.

All in all, while the junkyard world was vivid and colorful, the chaotic presentation of the story left me cold and confused. While some may make the case that middle grade fiction doesn’t require the kind of coherence and explanation that I hoped for…I maintain that even children expect more! Let’s give them books that are wildly inventive and innovative in their creation that can also provide a plot that holds together and characters that they can follow!

Don’t Forget! Mama Panda Bear Book Club will discuss The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict online on May 14th at 8pm EDT!

I hope you are enjoying reading the book! If you haven’t stated yet, there’s still plenty of time!

The Only Woman in the Room is a historical novel about Hedy Lamarr and her role in WWII in Austria. This is the story you’ve never heard about a woman of incredible talent, beauty and smarts!

Details about how to connect to the book club discussion will be posted next week! I can’t wait to meet you ‘in person!’

If you still need a copy of the book, grab it here:


The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel

Children’s Book Review: A Voice for the Spirit Bears by Carmen Oliver Illustrated by Katy Dockrill – 4 stars – Available May 7th!

Every now and then I’m asked to review a very simple children’s book that just hits all the right notes! I recently received an ARC of A Voice for the Spirit Bears and it definitely falls into that category.

Targeted to children ages 6 to 9 (though I can see how it would be enjoyable to a broader range: perhaps the 4 to 12 year old set?) the subtitle for this book is: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal. It’s the story of Simon Jackson, a boy most comfortable exploring the woods and observing wildlife. When Simon becomes a teenager, he discovers that spirit bears (a subspecies of black bear that has creamy white fur) are losing their habitat to deforestation and vows to protect them.

Simon initially launches a campaign to recruit his fellow students (and then ultimately people all over the world) to assist him in defending the spirit bears. Although he is often teased and ridiculed by other children, Simon continues his efforts to be a voice for the spirit bears. Ultimately he is rewarded for his tenacity: not only is he able to raise enough funds to have a tremendous impact on the plight of the spirit bears, he is introduced to famous environmentalists like Jane Goodall and invited on an expedition to the Great Bear Rainforest. As part of that trip, he actually sees a spirit bear for himself! Ultimately, Simon was named one of Time Magazine’s Sixty Heroes for the Planet.

I love the idea of this book for children: it plants the seed of activism in a way that is approachable and understandable for small children. Author Oliver also doesn’t pull any punches about how difficult it is to become an activist and to stand up for what you believe in. Simon is bullied for his passions but, by staying true to himself and not backing down from what he believes in, is able to make like-minded friends and ultimately become successful as the founder of multiple activism organizations.

It’s impossible to praise this book without mentioning the illustrations. Dockrill draws beautiful renderings of Simon, his escapades and the bears. The illustrations are whimsical and colorful but go a long way toward depicting Simon’s transformation from a boy who was intimidated by the opinions of others to a leader who was able to make a difference in the world. The inclusion of Dockrill’s illustrations make this book much more approachable for the younger end of the 4-12 year old age group which I think is important: it’s never too early to start planting the seed that one person can make a difference!

The end of this book is also very interesting. It transitions from an illustrated ‘story’ about a boy named Simon to a photo-journalistic telling of the life of ‘The Real Simon Jackson.’ This end matter in the book includes photographs of Simon and of the spirit bears. It also provides more details regarding Simon’s journey and the future of spirit bears in the wild. Finally, it closes with a call to action encouraging young people to find a cause a use their voices to change the world like Simon did. If the illustrations lend themselves to reading amongst the younger end of the book’s target audience, the end matter is what will make this book equally appealing to those beyond the 8 year old mark.

Working together, Oliver and Dockrill present an inspiring and educational story in a way that is accessible while remaining true to difficulty that exists in making change happen. Oliver tells the whole story…being brave and moving this effort forward was hard work for Simon. Although she clearly makes the point that Simon’s story illustrates that one person can make a difference, Oliver doesn’t sugar coat the story. Simon and the bears reaped rewards from his tremendous efforts but a great deal was required from Simon and from the worldwide community to make those rewards a reality.

A Voice for the Spirit Bears is available on May 7, 2019. To get your copy, click the link below:

A Voice for the Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal (CitizenKid)

Book Review: Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – 3.5 stars – Available May 7th!

Shouting at the Rain is the story of twelve-year-old Delsie who lives on Cape Cod with her grandmother. Her grandmother and grandfather are the only family that Delsie can remember and her grandmother refuses to talk about her mother at all. The absence of a mother and father is beginning to trouble Delsie as she gets older and lately, she’s become obsessed with the idea that she wishes she had a ‘normal’ family.

On this particular summer, Delsie has been eagerly awaiting the return of her lifelong best friend, Brandy, to the Cape. When Brandy arrives, however, nothing seems quite the same. Brandy is more interested in being a teenager than being Delsie’s friend and Delsie begins to fear that Brandy has outgrown her. What’s worse, Brandy makes a new friend, Tressa, who seems to relish mocking everyone, especially Delsie. Between the developing questions about her mother and the changing situation with her friend, Delsie is left feeling incredibly off balance in her day-to-day life.

Luckily, Delsie has a strong support system in her neighbors and family friends and meets a new friend, Ronan, who has moved to the Cape to live with his dad for the first time. Ronan is dealing with his own pain and uncertainty and he and Delsie strike up an unlikely friendship that helps both of them learn about themselves and heal.

Hunt (who probably know from Fish in a Tree) builds a compelling cast of characters that readers of Shouting will fall in love with: between feisty Delsie, her game show-loving, adoring Grammy and tough but sweet Ronan…there are plenty of personalities to root for in this book. Hunt’s portrayals of Brandy and ‘mean girl’ Tressa are also spot-on…anyone who has ever felt the pain of being excluded and humiliated as a teenager will recognize the pain that Delsie feels. Watching her learn to accept the circumstances of her friendship with Brandy and stand up for and value herself is definitely worth the price of admission to this story for kids and adults alike.

Delsie’s neighbors, Esme, Henry, Ruby and Olive, are also incredibly endearing. They are exactly the supporting characters you would wish to have in your own life…they love and protect Delsie in a way that even she doesn’t quite understand. Without question, Hunt has created a family for Delsie to fill the void she feels in her mother’s absence. With the addition of Ronan, who would be the quintessential troublemaker except for the depth of his feelings and his ability to articulate them, Delsie is surrounded by the kind of care that most of only receive from our families of origin. If Hunt’s message is meant to be that ‘families aren’t born, they are chosen,’ she does a fantastic job of making her point through these characters.

While I am definitely an adult who loves Middle Grade fiction, I struggled a bit with the fact that this particular story seemed to have been ‘dumbed down’ for its intended audience. Much of Delsie’s internal and spoken dialogue is spelled out in a way that will allow her feelings to make sense to tweens but doesn’t seem to represent the way a 12-year-old would really think. “And you can’t really see wind. You can only see how it moves everything around it. And anger is like that, too.’ This is either an extremely profound teenager or Hunt has a message to deliver and is using Delsie as to evangelize that message in a way that comes off as slightly unnatural.

I was also confused by the inclusion of some of the characters and their associated plot points. Aimee and Michael (Delsie’s friends who are in a local theatrical production of Annie – which is used to highlight that Delsie, like Annie, is an orphan) don’t seem to have any real role in the story except perhaps as foils to Brandy and Tressa as ‘bad friends.’ Saucepan Lynn (proprietor of the local diner) is similarly inserted into the action without any purpose that I could discern. There’s also a story arc about a kitten and the pseudo-redemption of Tressa thread that felt particularly forced to me.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the core Delsie story and the authentic (non-touristy) Cape Code backdrop that Hunt so beautifully portrays, I distinctly felt that Shouting at the Rain was written for the 8-12 year old crowd. As it is marketed as a Middle Grade book, perhaps that is appropriate. I’ve fallen in love with several Middle Grade titles that appeal across the ages, however, so perhaps I’m spoiled and hoped that Shouting would be a book that I could read both for my son and for myself. While that wasn’t necessarily the case, given the strong characters and age-appropriate plot, I’m content to give this book a strong recommendation for tweens for whom it was intended. I feel certain that they will love it!

To pre-order a copy of Shouting at the Rain for the younger reader in your life, click the link below:

Shouting at the Rain

Notre Dame Day is today!

Please help me support my alma mater by donating $10 to the ND club or organization of your choice! You can support anything from the Hesburgh Women of Impact Scholarship to the Glee Club with just $10! $10 also earns you 5 votes to distribute…you can give them all to the group you gave your $10 to or allot them to up to 5 different Notre Dame groups! The multipliers earned from the votes mean that your $10 gift is worth between $55-$75 to the receiving organization! These young people work hard to earn your donations and your votes on ND Day! Please consider using this link to make a small gift! http://www.bit.ly/2ge45w8