Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Four Weeks, Five People: Troubled teens learn about themselves

Four Weeks, Five People, by Jennifer Yu, (May 2017, Harlequin Teen), $18.99, ISBN: 9780373212309

Recommended for readers 14+

Five teens meet at a wilderness camp to work on the challenges in their lives. Clarissa suffers from OCD and anxiety; Ben disassociates from reality, preferring to live through movies or television shows; Andrew is the singer of a band, suffering from the anorexia he believes will make him look like the type of rock star fans want to see; Stella suffers from depression, and Mason’s narcissistic personality disorder shows through as an overconfidence and arrogance that puts other people far below his estimation.

Told in separate, first-person narratives, each teen tells a bit of their story – what brought them to wilderness camp – and their point of view experience of the four week program. We read about their daily struggles, clashes with other campers, and staff. The five come together, but don’t really accomplish much over the course of the novel. Most of the time, the characters bicker with the counselors or among themselves, but there is time for a brief romance and the beginnings of some friendships. As in real life, four weeks is not a realistic amount of time to expect the characters to be cured; this is a snapshot of a moment in their therapies.

Four Weeks, Five People is a read that draws you in and progresses quickly. It’s an interesting way to start a dialogue about mental illness, but if you’re looking for a deeper read, I suggest Christina Kilbourne’s Detached, Jo Knowles’ Still a Work in Progress, or J.J. Johnson’s Believarexic.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Just Like Me examines adoption’s internal narrative

just like meJust Like Me, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh (April 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492604273

Recommended for ages 9-14

Julia is on her way to summer camp with her friends, Avery and Becca. It’s a little more than a regular week away at camp with friends, though – Avery, Becca, and Julia are “Chinese sisters” – the three girls were adopted from the same Chinese orphanage as babies, and their parents have stayed in touch. While Avery and Becca eat Cheetos with chopsticks and don’t mind talking about their Chinese heritage, Julia has conficting feelings. Becca thinks that Julia hates being Chinese, but that’s not it at all – while the world sees Julia as Chinese, she sees herself as Irish and Italian, like the parents who are raising her and who love her. But she also wonders about the birth mother who gave her up.

Told in alternating journal entries and narratives, this is Julia’s story. It’s told in the first person from her point of view and her journal articles provoke her to think more deeply as the novel progresses. Through Julia’s eyes, we see the other girls develop as she gets to know them.

Just Like Me is a great summer camp story about a bunch of girls who have to learn to get along: Julia, Avery, and Becca end up in a cabin with three other girls who bring some tension of their own, and the group has to learn to get along or do a lot of clean-up duty! But digging deeper, Just Like Me is a story that peels away the faces we show to everyone, only to discover that no matter how different people may think they are, they’re more alike than anyone can imagine. Every family has rough spots – it’s how we as individuals cope with them that makes us different. The story is ultimately about a group of girls who learn to embrace who they are, individually, and embrace one another for their similarities and celebrate their¬†differences.

It’s also a touching story about figuring out who you are when you feel like you have a giant blind spot in the middle of your life. Nancy Cavanaugh wrote this story, inspired by her own daughter’s adoption story; as an adoptee myself, I found myself particularly drawn into Julia’s journal articles. Julia’s thoughts could have come from me, had I kept a journal at that age:

“Most of the time, I don’t even think about being adopted. …even though my mom doesn’t always want to admit it, people do sometimes treat me differently. Like the time in third grade when my mom dropped me off at a classmate’s birthday party, and when my classmate’s cousin saw my mom, she asked me if I knew who my ‘real’ mom was. And then there was another time when I heard a lady at the grocery store ask Mom if she had any children of her ‘own.'”

Wow.¬†Like Julia, I’m Italian and Irish, just like my parents. “On the inside”, I’m French-Canadian. I look pretty similar to my parents, but those scenarios are real, and they hit hard. I’m 45 and still get asked if I know who my “real” mom is. It took a long time for me to be able to respond, “Yeah, I do; she’s at work, probably wondering why I haven’t called to let her know I’m home from school yet.” And it still irritates me if someone deigns to ask me that.

“Did my birth mom love me?”

It’s the question you probably won’t get an answer to. I think about it on my birthday now, not as often as I used to. But I’d like to think that she did in her own way, because she took care of herself well enough to make sure I was born healthy, and made sure I was adopted by a family that would love me and take care of me.

What I’m trying to say here is, Just Like Me is required reading, because Nancy Cavanaugh – already a constant on my library shelves, thanks to books like Always, Abigail and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

Visit Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s author website and learn more about her books, download educator guides, and find out about author visits.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Pack your bags for creepy Camp Midnight!

camp midnightCamp Midnight, by Steven S. Seagle/Illustrated by Jason Adam Katzenstein (April 2016, Image Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-63215-555-9 (Diamond ID: AUG150485)

Recommended for ages 8-12

Poor Skye is shuttled between her divorced parents – and she is NOT a fan of her step-monster, Gayle. When her mother drops her off at her father’s for summer vacation, she finds out that they’ve made plans to send her off to camp – and then they end up sending her to the wrong camp! Camp Midnight is no ordinary camp: the head counselor is a witch, and the really cute boy she likes is a werewolf. Skye is under pressure to show her “real self” from the mean girls in her cabin, but she and her new friend Mia are keeping their secrets to themselves. Skye will learn a lot this summer, especially when Mia reveals her secret and it’s up to Skye to decide whether or not it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Camp Midnight is an original graphic novel from Big Hero 6 creator Steven T. Seagle and New Yorker artist Jason Adam Katzenstein. This brilliant pairing brings a lot to the table: we have a sarcastic middle grade main character who readers will love. Skye’s in a position too many kids understand, being shuttled between two households; she has the indignity of a step-mother who makes no secret about not wanting her around, and a seemingly clueless father. Sent off to summer camp without even being asked, she finds herself the odd kid out in a big way, and reacts by rejecting everyone outright before they can reject her. Middle graders are going to love Skye’s sarcastic exterior and her vulnerable interior.

The art is a brilliant accompaniment to the story. I love Katzenstein’s rendering of the “step-monster”, with her glaring dark color and overbearing stature. Mia is drawn to be as soft and sweet as her character, with huge eyes, evoking sympathy from the get-go. The art is often exaggerated, larger than life, giving a bigness to the story that a tale with monsters deserves. Color is for overall mood, with panels in shades of orange, brown, or red, often with one color – like a blue or fuschia – to set apart a mood or action.

Camp Midnight is a fun addition to graphic novel libraries, and I already noticed the kids in my comic book group at the library circling while I was reading it (during what was supposed to be their comic book creating time). Call your distributors and pre-order it!

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Niles Wormwort, Accidental Supervillain – Supervillains go to summer camp?!

niles wormwortNiles Wormwort, Accidental Supervillain, by D.M. Cunningham (Nov. 2014, Spencer Hill Middle Grade), $7.95, ISBN:9781939392374

Recommended for ages 9-12

Niles Wormwort is determined to win the science fair this year – but he blew up the school instead. His father has packed him off to Camp Mayhem – a role-playing superhero camp – much against Niles’ wishes. Things only get worse when Niles discovers he’s actually at a training camp for supervillains. What could get worse than that? Oh, just the sinister plot he uncovers while at the camp – a faction working within the camp has plans to take over the world! Will Niles go full supervillain, or will he be wiped out?

I enjoyed this book so much more than I expected to. I’m usually a sucker for a good superhero story, it’s true, and Niles Wormwart, Accidental Supervillain gave me a good laugh while drawing me in. Told in the first person, Niles’ voice is spot-on for the put-upon teen. He can’t believe what’s going on around him, and that his father just dumped him at this camp, refusing to take his calls. He’s got hero-worship issues for the local bad boy, who ends up at the same camp. He learns how to stand on his own feet and take care of himself, and I just wanted to cheer because the kid finally got it.

Middle graders will get a kick out of this book, and parents, librarians, and teachers may want to handsell this to their reluctant readers – it’s worth it.

Read an interview with author DM Cunningham here. For a bio and links to his social media, click on over here.