1979 Honor: The Great Gilly Hopkins

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 4/5

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson follows an 11 year-old girl who moves into a new foster home and has no intention of making friends with her new family. All she wants is to find her real mother. Throughout the novel she pushes back against her foster family in every way possible, but eventually her hostility wears out as she comes to realize the Trotters love her – just as she finally makes contact with her mother and has a secret plan in motion to reunite with her.

This is a very character driven book, and it immerses the reader into the life of a foster child and all the challenges and issues that come with having no control over your life. Gilly herself is not a likable protagonist – she is abrasive, racist, and lashes out any time someone tries to help her. Yet it is very easy to see where she comes from as she has had no stability in her life with multiple foster homes and abandonment by a mother who couldn’t take care of her. Gilly’s transformation in this novel is interesting to follow as every action she makes has far-reaching – and mostly negative – consequences.

While The Great Gilly Hopkins is not a fun read (because of the tough subject matter), it’s a very enlightening one. The characters feel real, and the ending is bittersweet as it drives home the lesson that life isn’t always fair.

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2016 Honor: Roller Girl (let the good times roll)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 5/5

The main character in Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl deals with the ups and downs of best friend drama in a fun and slightly crazy way – signing up for the local roller derby summer camp.

Roller Girl is a graphic novel about two girls who are growing apart. Astrid signs up for roller derby camp thinking her best friend will sign up as well. But when Nicole signs up for ballet camp with another friend, Astrid is left alone with feelings of anger, jealousy and confusion. She throws herself into her new hobby and tries to figure out who she is and where she belongs as she aims to be good enough to be a part of a halftime show at the next roller derby bout.

My heart goes out to Astrid. It’s easy to root for her throughout her struggles, and I think everyone can relate to the themes of this novel – feeling abandoned by friends who have found new interests, finding the strength to try out something new by yourself, and just accepting that life is all about change. These universal problems make this a very accessible book for middle school students and are true to the struggles of growing up.

Overall, Roller Girl is a great way to introduce girls to the graphic novel genre and learn more about roller derby culture.

2014 Honor – Doll Bones

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4.5/5

Doll Bones by Holly Black, a 2014 Newbery Honor winner, is a story about stories, about growing up, and about one creepy doll. Alice, Poppy, and Zach have been playing together for a long time. Using a variety of action figures and dolls, they create their own stories. On the brink of adolescence, Zach’s dad feels that dolls aren’t manly, and throws out all of Zach’s figures. This precipitates changes in the friends’ relationship. It also causes Poppy to pull The Queen, an antique bone china doll, out of the case in which it is typically displayed.

And then, The Queen appears in Poppy’s dreams, telling her that the doll is made of a young woman’s bones, bones that must be laid to rest. Poppy talks Alice and Zach into undertaking a real life quest. Without parental permission, they buy bus tickets to the city in which the doll was made, and set off on a quest of their own. Like any good heroes, they face various obstacles along the way. They don’t always meet them with grace, but they do overcome them eventually. They succeed in their quest, and in hashing out a way forward in lives that dawning adolescence was making unfamiliar.

I listened to this as an audio book and really enjoyed it. There aren’t any jump scares, just some of the usual creepiness of dolls – eyes open when they shouldn’t be, clearly cremains inside the doll body, adults around them thinking they were a party of 4 when only 3 actual children existed, etc. The author balances adventure with the hard work of preteens negotiating relationships between each other in a way that children don’t do as self-consciously. She also integrates the store of Eleanor (the girl whose bones were used in the making of the doll), revealing that story piece by piece, with information integrated as a method for moving the plot along.

As a librarian,  I was also amused, and appreciative, of the author making the librarian VERY non-stereotypical. She also showed some of the realities of dying towns – kids were upset that the library was closed on the weekend, librarian found them because she was coming in to do selection and ordering when the library was closed, etc.

Late elementary school and middle school is the target audience, with some complexities to the relationship stuff that might skew it more towards the middle school side, just because kids a bit older have started to deal with those issues in their own lives.

Non-Newbery: A Monster Calls

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 5/5

This is an absolutely heart breaking, beautiful book. It was written by Patrick Ness from ideas left by Siobhan Dowd, when she died of cancer.

A “monster” – The Green Man, Lugh, it has gone by many names over time – appears one night in Conor’s backyard. His mother is sick, and he can’t accept that. The monster tells the boy stories, which are woven into the narrative, alternating with the boy’s life. Bullying, and the monster’s stories, are the only times when Conor feels “seen” by those around him. The adults around him, in their haste to be sympathetic, let Conor get away with anything, making him feel invisible. This, in turn, leads to actions to force them to deal with him.

Conor is also plagued by a nightmare in which his mother is falling over a cliff, and he can’t hold on. The monster helps him figure out why the nightmare happens and forces it to its conclusion – Conor letting go of his mom. The monster also sits with Conor while his mother dies in real life.

There were ugly tears, and a lot of them, while I was reading the book. The narration style is fairly simple, but the message profound. The monster’s tales aren’t simple, moralizing passages, but present fairly complex truths. Their integration with Conor’s life is well handled and heightens both. I highly recommend this for everyone. I’d say middle school and up will get the most out of it. It’d be fine for younger readers that don’t get scared very easily – no gore or objectionable language, some bullying, and, of course, death.

2017: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

VERDICT: Meh. Treasure….ish?

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

I read this book about six months ago. I was so meh about it that the review has sat half finished since then. The Good: The plot is original and plays with some of the common tropes of fairytales, like “wicked” witches and monsters in the woods. It features strong, multi-faceted female characters, who do their own rescuing. There are Magic and Monsters and Good vs. Evil. The Bad: The style is awkward. It speaks pseudo fairytalese, but doesn’t quite commit. It also shifts between characters a bit to frequently. I found myself skimming the last hundred or so pages, hoping desperately that the book would FINALLY end.

Overall, give this is a try if you like fantasy or fairytales. Just because I didn’t love it, doesn’t mean you won’t!