Christina’s Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

Christina’s Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth GriffinSilhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
Published by Milkweed Editions on 2012
Genres: 20th Century, Family, Girls & Women, Historical, Homosexuality, Parents, Social Issues, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 189
Format: Hardcover
Silhouette of a Sparrow is an excellent example of an historical, coming-of-age lesbian young adult novel. Written with a deft hand, based in the true history of its setting, and with characterizations that will ring true to any teenager, it is a worthy and enjoyable read for anyone. --Lambda LiteraryWINNER OF THE MILKWEED PRIZE FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATUREWINNER OF THE 2013 PATERSON PRIZE FOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERSALA RAINBOW LIST RECOMMENDED BOOKAMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT LIST RECOMMENDED BOOKLAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALISTMINNESOTA BOOK AWARD FINALISTFOREWARD REVIEWS BOOK OF THE YEAR HONORABLE MENTIONIn the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging in ornithology and a visit to an amusement park-a summer of fun before she returns to a last year of high school, marriage, and middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under supervision of oppressive guardians, her father's wealthy cousin and the matron's stuck-up daughter. Only a job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own heart can save her from the suffocation of traditional femininity in this coming-of-age story about a search for both wildness and security in an era full of unrest. It is the tale of a young woman's discovery of the science of risk and the art of rebellion, and, of course, the power of unexpected love.

Silhouette of a Sparrow was one of the earlier books selected for our book club to read by a group member. It was a fast-read and contained some mature content (even though it is noted for winning the “Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature.”)

The book is about a girl, Garnet, who is away from home during the summer of 1926. While away, she picks up a job and meets a girl from a different side of the tracks than herself. Garnet has the opportunity to explore who she is and what other opportunities and adventures are out there for her during this coming-of-age period in her life.

This book allowed for a great group discussion with multiple opinions and directions for conversation to go between the mature subjects and metaphorical references carried on throughout. My main critique: It felt like the author was trying too hard at times to get her message across between the environmentalism and “coming-of-age” experiences. The book felt over-dramatized at times, with numerous “disasters” occurring back-to-back for a book that I thought was intended to be more relatable for younger generations.

However, after discussing this book with my book club, I saw more behind the story I did not appreciate before. For example, the significance behind the bird-cutting hobby of Garnet and how she spread her wings in the end…

It was not a favorite on my list, but others ranked in highly and felt that connection the author intended. It is a light, quick read… probably great for a summer-time pool-side book.

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Christina’s Review: Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing HahnMister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2012
Genres: Adolescence, Death & Dying, Girls & Women, Law & Crime, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 330
Format: Paperback
Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story. The brutal murder of two teenage girls on the last day of Nora Cunningham's junior year in high school throws Nora into turmoil. Her certainties—friendships, religion, her prudence, her resolve to find a boyfriend taller than she is—are shaken or cast off altogether. Most people in Elmgrove, Maryland, share the comforting conviction that Buddy Novak, who had every reason to want his ex-girlfriend dead, is responsible for the killings. Nora agrees at first, then begins to doubt Buddy's guilt, and finally comes to believe him innocent—the lone dissenting voice in Elmgrove. Told from several different perspectives, including that of the murderer, Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls is a suspenseful page-turner with a powerful human drama at its core.

I borrowed this book from Michelle because the book’s description sounded intriguing to me. The story is based off of real-life events that took place in 1955 around Washington, DC involving the author. In Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls, the original events are fictionalized and moved to just outside of Baltimore, Maryland to a quiet suburban neighborhood. The story followed the last day of Junior year for Nora and her group of friends, and how their lives were changed forever.

This story is about accepting death and follows that “coming-of-age” and understanding of life story-line. The author chose to tell the story primarily through Nora’s perspective, but also through the eyes of other characters involved, including Buddy and “Mister Death” himself. The character differentials were hard to get through at first… I could tell the author tried to make their voices sound different, but they felt forced and I did not identify well with any of the other characters except Nora as the main character.

As the summer progressed following the murders and search for the killer, or waiting on the conviction of the guy it had to be, Nora began to question her religious views: Is God real? Why would he let this happen? Why did he take the lives of two young girls? How would things change from here?

Getting towards the end of the read, there was no real climax. The end of the story just happened, and it was not until the “Afterword” that I really grasped why that was. The story was based on events that occurred during the author’s life when she lost two friends to an unknown killer. I believe the book was more therapeutic for the author and meant for her primarily to get out those emotions and the events that haunted her past and present. I did not feel closure in the story, and I did not really identify with the characters or events. In fact, I really just wanted to get through the book and to the end to find out what would happen.

It was a fairly quick read… short sentences, straight-forward content. The book was meant to be a coming-of-age type of read, but I did not get that. To me, it was a story based on real events and meant to be more of a closure for the author than a tale for the reader.

pj - christina


Michelle’s Review: Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: Salt and Storm by Kendall KulperSalt & Storm by Kendall Kulper
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on 2014-09-23
Genres: 19th Century, Family, Fantasy & Magic, Girls & Women, Historical, Multigenerational, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder--and the one boy who can help change her future.Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane--a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.

Sea witches is not something that I have had much experience in reading about. But Salt & Storm presents a magic structure that was intriguing and had me interested through most of the book. Each of the Roe witches has their own specialty, something that makes me turn into a little kid, imagining what my own specialty would be. (Don’t ask, I haven’t decided yet.)

If I’m remembering correctly, this book to me had a lot of opportunities to become cliche but avoided most of them. The setting was unique, being both historical and paranormal, on an island somewhere in the northeastern U.S. In some regards, I almost wished for more setting of the world beyond, but it matched the type of isolation Avery was feeling on the island.

The author’s note was perhaps the most interesting to me, which sounds strange, but it really helped tie things together for me. The book had its flaws, and it wasn’t a perfect read for me, but it was definitely an enjoyable one.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

Michelle’s Review: Wonder Show by Hannah BarnabyWonder Show by Hannah Rodgers Barnaby
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2012
Genres: 20th Century, Action & Adventure, Circus, Family, General, Girls & Women, Historical, JUVENILE FICTION, Love & Romance, Orphans & Foster Homes, Performing Arts, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 274
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show, a menagerie of human curiosities and misfits guaranteed to astound and amaze! But perhaps the strangest act of Mosco’s display is Portia Remini, a normal among the freaks, on the run from McGreavy’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave. Free at last, Portia begins a new life on the bally, seeking answers about her father’s disappearance. Will she find him before Mister finds her? It’s a story for the ages, and like everyone who enters the Wonder Show, Portia will never be the same.

I was in the mood for a fantasical circus story when I picked up Wonder Show. I wasn’t disappointed.

Wonder Show has the kind of cover that definitely attracted me to it. Add to it the fun synopsis, and it is definitely a book that screams to be read when you’re looking for some quirky storytelling. I was feeling nostalgic over reading The Night Circus…it’s not terribly similar but I would recommend it for those looking for something at least a little related.

In short, it is a very artfully written story with the kind of aesthetic that would be matched well with some Edward Gorey drawings (my favorite!). It’s a story that you can easily read in one sitting. At the same time, I think it’s appropriate for all audiences, even perhaps some younger middle grade ones. It’s dark without being overwhelmingly dark. It’s a Tim Burton-esque story if that makes sense (and if I can be allowed to make yet another reference).

I’m not doing a very good job in writing this review (I haven’t been the best at putting my thoughts into written words lately, particularly in review-form). But I promise I loved it and this has earned its spot on my bookshelf.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: The One by Kiera Cass

Michelle’s Review: The One by Kiera CassThe One by Kiera Cass
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-05-06
Genres: Dystopian, Girls & Women, Love & Romance, Royalty, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
The highly anticipated third book in Kiera Cass's #1 New York Times bestselling Selection series, The One will captivate readers who love dystopian YA fiction and fairy tales. The One is perfect for the fans who have followed America's whirlwind romance since it began—and a swoon-worthy read for teens who have devoured Veronica Roth's Divergent, Ally Condie's Matched, or Lauren Oliver's Delirium.The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of Illéa, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen—and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice . . . and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.Find out who America will choose in The One, the enchanting, beautifully romantic third book in the Selection series!

I spent the time after finishing this book lying awake writing a blog post in my mind about it. Now that it is the morning after, my emotions have stabilized, but my thoughts have remained the same. I would say that I really enjoyed this book, but I think in some ways it was the suspense fooling me a little. I did like it, but I’m not sure if it was a truly magical experience for me.

So really, this is between a 3 star (I liked it) and a four star (I really liked it): a 3.5.

I’ve been very honest in my reviews for The Selection and The Elite about how I believe these books (I think) were only ever meant to be fun and enjoyable reads. Light, kind of shallow, and still suspenseful.

I could, in fact, quote from my review of The Elite and have it completely apply to my feelings about The One:

I kept reading this book to see if America would make a decision. And each chapter added a new revelation about either the history of Illea or some new event that made me want to immediately know the outcome. I was increasingly frustrated by America’s indecisiveness and lack of a spine…it seemed like any decision was open to be immediately changed by a single event. I am still not sure I really understand the presence of the dystopian elements. The rebel attacks, the increasing tension between the castes…I kept feeling like either more attention needs to be paid to that side of things or just leave it. The series is at its core a romance story. While that plot seems less ‘important’ than a government struggle, time and again the focus is brought back to the romance. The dystopian parts of the story are definitely political at their core, or so I felt.

The things that differed with The One:

  • The dystopian elements were hashed out more, but still almost superfluous to the main plot. In some ways, it felt like it was just there to explain the type of society that would have The Selection. I wish that there had been more depth to that part of the story if it was going to be there.
  • America actually makes decisions! Though, no one could ever exactly call her ‘decisive’. ‘Impulsive’ definitely. Though perhaps as she moves out of her teenage years, she’d mature into more of a decisive woman.

All that said, I still enjoyed the story. I stayed up late to finish it and was either shouting at America or giggling throughout it. I did grow increasingly frustrated this time around with the characters’ immaturity but I think that’s more because this is -perhaps- a younger, young adult. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who does not have a tolerance or enjoy young adult, but for those looking for a fun summer read, this fits that billet!

pj - michelle