Category Archives: Openmind

Elephant-y books, a giveaway & an interview with Carol Buckley

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Phew! Prepare yourself for one juicy, packed-full-of-treats post! Today I am happy to review two lovely non-fiction picture books from Tilbury House about the elephants at Tennessee’s amazing Elephant Sanctuary. These books are authored by Carol Buckley, one of the founders of the Sanctuary. As well, Carol has stopped by for an interview. Finally, Tilbury has kindly arranged for a few prizes in celebration of this blog tour: one is a copy of Just for Elephants signed by author and Sanctuary co-founder Carol Buckley, and the grand prize is a copy of Travels With Tarra, signed by Carol and featuring a scanned image of Tarra’s signature symbol – her footprint! Also, a package of Tilbury House Animal Books— The Goat Lady, Thanks to the Animals, and an advance copy of Bear-ly There will go to one lucky winner who leaves a comment on one or more of the respective tour posts (September 1-8, 2009). For all of these prizes, you just need to leave a comment on one of the posts in Carol’s blog tour. If you are on twitter, you can also win a copy of each of Carol’s books by tweeting before September 9th about the tour using the hashtag #trunktour. Winners will be contacted at the end of the blog tour after September 10th. (Note: open only to residents of Canada and the U.S.)

Let’s get on with the celebration!

Just for Elephants introduces readers to the Sanctuary and its philosophy by focusing on the story of how one of the resident elephants, Shirley, came to live there. Readers will steal a glimpse into everyday life for the elephants at the Sanctuary and through Shirley’s connection to the other elephants, begin to appreciate the complex and deep social relationships that elephants form. Travels with Tarra is the story of Carol Buckley’s amazing relationship with Tarra, the Asian elephant she has had for more than 25 years. It traces their early years performing together at circuses, theme parks and zoos, moving on to the years when Carol was establishing the Elephant Sanctuary. Both books are written in a simple and direct narrative style that will be accessible to younger readers, but with detail enough to engage older readers too, for both those who enjoy non-fiction and fictional texts. Some of the photography is fantastic, with pictures of the elephants hanging out, roaming and enjoying life and freedom on the land at the Sanctuary. A few of the photos in Just for Elephants were quite out-of-focus, which while this lent a certain “behind-the-scenes realism” to the text, I thought was a little distracting and surprising, given that I’m sure there were thousands of possible pictures to use. Travels with Tarra has some great shots of Tarra as a wee little elephant, sure to inspire more than a few “Aawww!”s.

As usual with Tilbury, teachers will find many good ideas for using these books in the classroom at Tilbury’s site. Also, while the Sanctuary is not open for visitors, they have established opportunities for teachers to schedule virtual tours via teleconference and there are excellent units for K-8 available for free downloading at the website.

Tilbury has come up with a lovely way to support the Elephant Sanctuary by planning a “Trunk Sale” running now through December 31st. For every 100 copies of the elephant books (Travels With Tarra and Just for Elephants) that are sold, Tilbury will sponsor a much-needed item from the Sanctuary’s wish list. These include 100lbs of peanut butter (a favorite treat), elephant-sized meals, and land to roam (to support the Sanctuary’s recent expansion). The books are available from indie stores across the country, online retailers, and direct from The Elephant Sanctuary, www.elephants.com.

Now for the interview. Welcome Carol!

I’m sure that in all of your years caring for and working with elephants, you’ve seem some pretty remarkable social interactions between elephants. Could you share the most memorable moment you’ve witnessed related to elephant interaction?

One of the most remarkable scenes I have witnessed occurred was shortly after Bunny arrived. Bunny had live 44 years alone in a small zoo. Her keepers were highly protective of her to the point of sheltering her from experiences that might have helped her to become a more confident individual, but they cared deeply for Bunny and felt they were doing the right thing by being over protective. When Bunny arrived at the Sanctuary she was insecure about the very ground she walked on. The surface was not level as she was used to and she had no experience with negotiating trails, climbing a gentle sloop or crossing a rocky creek. This evening Bunny was making her way back to the barn with a caregiver at her side gently coaxing her over this new and scary terrain. Bunny failed to recognize the land dropping slightly and tripped. She fell to her knees. She was visually shaken although she had not fallen down or injured herself, she was afraid. The caregiver tried to comfort Bunny and encourage her but she would not move. She was frozen in fear. At that point Barbara, another elephant, appeared in the distance, she was looking in Bunny’s direction. Bunny was not uttering an audible sound at least not audible to the human ear. But Barbara appeared to be responding to something as she came directly over to Bunny, gently laid her trunk on Bunny face and then just as silently as she arrived, Barbara turned to leave. Bunny rose from her knees and immediately followed Barbara without hesitation.

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Secret Keeper

secretkeeperI was so impressed by Mitali Perkins’ Rickshaw Girl when I read it two years ago for the Cybils awards that I had a humming excited feeling as I prepared to read her latest, titled Secret Keeper. Today I turned the last page one very happy reader. This is a beautiful book that you won’t soon forget, a story about true sisterhood that is full of heart and heartbreak and characters you’ll care about.

Set during the political turmoil in India in the mid-1970s, Secret Keeper focuses on a family facing a major transition. Asha’s father loses his job and makes the difficult decision to leave his family behind to travel to America to look for work. He plans to secure a job and then send for them to join him. This means that in the meantime, Asha, her older sister Reet, and their mother must move from their home in Dehli to Calcutta to stay with Baba’s brother and his family. This is not something that anyone really wants. Even though Uncle is welcoming and quite kind to his relatives, since he is the man of the house, the three women are entirely at the mercy of his decisions. They wait for word from Baba, hoping that it won’t be long before they leave to start their new life in America. Things don’t progress quickly, however, and money starts to run low. Reet’s beauty attracts a lot of attention in the neighborhood, and soon there are marriage proposals. Asha doesn’t want to lose her sister, and she has never felt more confined by the traditions and expectations of her Uncle’s household and the community beyond. She dreams of continuing her education and having the freedom to do the things she loves, to play sports and enjoy herself like her cousin Raj. She escapes to the rooftop where she writes in her diary and steals some time for herself. In these stolen moments, she meets the boy next door, Jay Sen, and over time, the two begin to care for one another. Then news arrives from America that changes everything and sets Asha and her family on a course none of them ever imagined.

Secret Keeper is incredibly moving. It kind of sneaks up on you, because at first it’s just the story of a family, going through a lot of changes, but then it slowly becomes a lot more than a simple family story. Mitali creates the relationship between Asha and Reet so convincingly. I can’t think of a YA novel in which I’ve appreciated a depiction of sisterhood more than here. Their bond comes through on these pages with real intensity, which makes what happens in the later part of the novel heartwrenching, and really quite unforgettable. You will be inspired to imagine these characters ten, twenty, fifty years down the road in their lives. You will wonder what happened after. I love books like that. I think Mitali also has a talent for writing about the culture of distant places in a way that is fully integrated with the rest of the story. You will never feel like she’s just taking a moment to fill you in on Indian society before getting back to the narrative, and yet you finish her book feeling as if you have gained substantial insight into a different place and the people who lived there. Another thing I admire in this story is the ending. It’s hard, but it’s perfect. Mitali didn’t choose the easy way out. I kept waiting for something to happen to take the story towards a more conventional “happily ever after,” but it is just right.

I’d seen the book trailer for Secret Keeper when it came out earlier this year, and for some reason it left me with the impression that the story was middle grade, so it came as something of a surprise as I was reading along that this is definitely a book for teens that deals with intense emotions and issues.

Secret Keeper is rich and powerful and crafted by a writer of true talent. I’m not waiting two more years to read all the rest of Mitali’s books. I’m off to the library right now.

Secret Keeper is published by Delacorte.

Teacher Book Alert: When it’s Six O’clock in San Francisco

sixoclockI received my copy of When it’s Six O’clock in San Francisco a while back, but I put it away and hadn’t looked at it until today, because I didn’t want to think about anything even remotely related to school so early in my summer holiday. Now that we’re into August, and my mind is starting to turn back to teaching, I thought I could safely pick it up. As it turns out, my feeling that it would be a great teaching book was exactly right. This lovely picture book is the perfect way to help students understand the tricky concept of time zones.

Cynthia Jaynes Omololu has created a text that is accessible and lyrical, and Randy DuBurke’s evocative and warm illustrations bring the multicultural aspect of the work vividly to life. The book begins with a boy waking up one February morning in San Francisco. From there, as the pages turn, the reader moves around the world, from Montréal to Santiago to London and Cape Town and beyond. At each new place, the text starts off, “When it’s six o’clock in San Francisco…” and goes on to give the time in that part of the world and to describe what a child who lives there is doing at that time of day. Omololu describes ordinary things – going to school, playing in a soccer game, running errands, having dinner and cycling home. There is something comforting and beautiful in the way she describes the ordinary events of daily life, and I think kids will appreciate this and make connections to the text easily.

I remember being fascinated as a child by the idea that somewhere on the other side of the world a kid was going to bed when I was just getting up, or heading home from school as I was climbing onto the bus. There was some magic in that, even when I understood the real explanation for it. It made me feel oddly connected to people I knew I would never meet. Omololu’s book captures that spirit, and I imagine it will get kids wondering what other children are doing, at all different times of the day, on the other side of the planet.

When it’s Six O’clock in San Francisco is published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Also Known as Harper

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Harper Lee Morgan wants to be a poet. Actually, she’s already a poet. She just wants to have a chance to share her poems onstage, at her school’s poetry contest. She writes about her experiences, and she has had a lot of pretty difficult ones in her young life. Her Daddy walked out on her family soon after her little baby sister died. Now her Mama has to work even harder to provide for Harper and her brother Hemingway. It seems like things couldn’t be much worse, but then the family gets evicted from their house. Harper ends up having to stay home from school to care for Hemingway, right at the time when she wants to be there most, to get her poems all perfect for the poetry contest. Feeling stuck and forced into circumstances no one would choose, Harper discovers a lot about responsibility, creativity and the secret places beauty can live.

I loved this book, from start to finish. Debut author, Ann Haywood Leal, is a writer worth watching. Her novel addresses challenging real world issues (homelessness and poverty) in a way that is entirely understandable for children, without shying away too much from how scary the situation is for this family. Kids will grasp the desperate circumstances of Harper’s family, and no doubt be interested in seeing how this girl copes in such an unimaginable situation for most children. You’ll fall for this character, for the way she is an ordinary child and yet sometimes sees the world with a kind of wisdom and forbearance beyond her years. I enjoyed the way that Harper’s poems were scattered throughout the narrative. I’ve read numerous children’s books with main characters who are aspiring poets, and I think that Leal did a fantastic job creating poetry that could indeed have been written by a child. The poems read very believably – never overly refined and seemingly too adult in tone and style. There are several memorable secondary characters as well, particularly Dorothy, an older woman Harper meets early in the story and who has secrets that Harper does not discover until much later. Leal has a way with words that seems graceful and natural, never forced. She tells the story simply but with real care.

Also Known as Harper has much to offer readers in its themes and would make an outstanding choice for literature circles in the classroom or book club discussions. I’m imagining conversations about hope and the way people judge each other. This narrative has a lot to say about compassion, feeling compassion for others even while you’re in a situation that deserves compassion as well. I was reminded of Waiting for Normal, although I thought Harper was a more believable character than Addie in Waiting for Normal, because while Harper was optimistic and hopeful, her strength was tempered by frustration and sadness too. I plan to recommend Also Known as Harper to many, and I will be looking out for Ann Haywood Leal’s next books. Ann will be here soon for an interview, and I’ll hopefully be giving away a few copies of her book when she visits.

Also Known as Harper is published by Henry Holt.

Other reviews:

A Patchwork of Books
Mrs. Magoo Reads

Operation Redwood

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S. Terrell French’s debut Middle Grade novel, Operation Redwood, is an eco-adventure story that delighted me from start to finish. French combines spunky characters, authentic kid friendships and environmental activism to create a story that is exciting, heart-warming and inspiring.

Julian Carter-Li is living with his high-powered uncle while his photographer mom travels the globe. He doesn’t like this arrangement much, because his aunt and uncle are pretty unpleasant and make it obvious that they don’t really want Julian around. When Julian happens to read a very angry email sent to his Uncle Sibley from a girl who accuses Sibley of planning to destroy a stand of redwoods, he ends up getting pulled into a fight to save the forest. Along the way, Julian learns a lot about the magic of the redwoods, life in the country, friendship and family ties.

I always admire a writer who can create an MG novel that will surely appeal to both boys and girls. S. Terrell French has achieved this in Operation Redwood, as the novel offers well-drawn male and female characters and the adventure element whips along with plenty of risk and duplicity and kid-ingenuity, sure to attract all readers. MG novels with convincing characters and a non-stop story don’t happen everyday. More often it seems that you end up with more of one than the other. Not so here. I guess that’s what produces the feeling you’ve got by the end of Operation Redwood that you’ve read something substantial and lasting, and certainly a book you want to pass on to every kid you know.

I loved this story’s freshness, it felt especially “now” with its environmental emphasis, and I think there is something in the confident, savvy nature of the kids that young readers will recognize. Naturally, the story is packed with potential links for educators, and I imagine that it would make a smashing read aloud in the classroom. Kids need more books that demonstrate how they have the power to change the natural world for the better. For wannabe activists, tree-huggers, and all middle grade readers, Operation Redwood comes very highly recommended.

Operation Redwood is published by Amulet, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams.

Red Glass

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I’ve been on quite the amazing book streak recently, and one of the highlights of the past weeks has certainly been Laura Resau’s magnificently nuanced and poetic novel, Red Glass. If you have not yet had the pleasure of reading this book, I’m very envious, because it swept me up completely and immediately turned me into a serious Laura Resau fan.

Sophie’s life changes forever after one phone call from a hospital. The call concerns a six-year-old Mexican boy who was found in the desert, dehydrated and alone, the only survivor of a group of people who were following a guide across the border to Arizona. Her family gets this phone call because the boy, Pablo, was carrying Sophie’s stepfather’s business card. Pablo comes to live with the family and it isn’t long before they cannot imagine their lives without him. Sophie calls him her Principito, or Little Prince, and she loves him with her whole heart. A year later, Sophie’s parents get in touch with Pablo’s relatives in Mexico and Sophie journeys to Pablo’s hometown, along with her Aunt Dika, Dika’s new boyfriend Mr. Lorenzo and his son Ángel, so that Pablo can decide where he wants to live permanently. This journey is difficult for Sophie for many reasons. Of course, she can’t stand the thought of losing Pablo. Beyond this, she has always been afraid of just about everything, from food poisoning to germs to cancer. She has no idea how this trip will test her strength and change her life.

I am a big fan of foreign films. My family teases me because for every good one I manage to rent / drag them to see, I end up picking about 5 sketchy and/or completely weirdo ones (they’ll never let me forget the “Monks playing soccer movie”). Still, I’ll take a great foreign film over Hollywood schlocky drama any day of the week. The reason? With a great foreign film, I almost always feel like I’ve witnessed another way of being in the world, vastly different from my life, that I might not ever have the chance to experience. I felt this way the whole time I was reading Red Glass. It made me think a lot about what people need to be happy, what makes communities work, and how shared experiences can reach across time and culture.

Red Glass offers Sophie’s inner journey and physical journey to readers in lyrical prose that you’ll find yourself rereading and remembering long after you’re finished reading. This is a story about how memory shapes identity, and how harshness and beauty are found so often side-by-side. Sophie learns how to trust, to take risks and how to let go. I read a review that compared Resau’s writing to Barbara Kingsolver’s books, and I thought that this comparison was right on. With both of these writers, readers experience a strong sense of place, attention to setting and the natural world, rich characters and a definite soulfulness in the story and quality of the writing. I am sure Red Glass would only keep revealing more of its richness upon rereading. I plan to do just that before next month, when it is a featured title all of May at readergirlz.

Red Glass is published by Delacorte.

Jane in Bloom

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Confession. I’ve never been especially drawn to children’s books that are heavy issue books. You know, a book about a young person struggling against all odds to face a life-threatening illness or some kind of trauma. Those books are important for kids and teens, certainly, but sometimes I get the impression that authors look around for some sort of crisis situation for their character, thinking it will immediately make their book more powerful and affecting. Sort of the way some actors seem to choose particular types of dramatic roles with an eye to getting an Oscar. I’ve read my fair share of stories featuring suffering young people and sometimes I have difficulty distinguishing among them. Such stories need to offer me something new, something different in the approach, in order for me to take notice. Like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, for instance. Now that sounds like a book that’s offering something new. I’d never dismiss an issue book without giving it a fair shot, of course. I’m just a wee bit skeptical from the get go, that’s all.

So it was with a little hesitation that I started reading Deborah Lytton’s debut Middle Grade novel, Jane in Bloom, because it centres around a family that is experiencing the devastating effects of anorexia as one of the daughters fights the disease. I’ve read many books about eating disorders, so I wondered what I’d find here that I hadn’t seen before. Lizzie is Jane’s older sister. She is the beautiful sister, the talented sister, the one with a golden future. Jane is a good kid, no trouble at all, and has always been comfortable in her sister’s shadow. But behind Lizzie’s perfect exterior is a secret that her family has been trying to keep for some time. Soon after Jane’s twelfth birthday, Lizzie’s eating disorder takes her life. This loss forces Jane to focus on herself and to think about who she wants to become. She discovers talents she never knew she possessed. As it turns out, Jane in Bloom is not really just another story of a girl battling an eating disorder. It’s actually Jane’s story. It’s about a girl experiencing complicated emotions after a great loss, discovering her gifts and looking at herself and her family in a different way.

I really enjoyed how Jane is a completely ordinary kid. At the beginning, she hasn’t really spent much time at all thinking about who she is, or what she likes, or what she’s good at. With a sister as dazzling as Lizzie, Jane is invisible to others and she’s not really visible to herself either. I think a lot of girls will connect to this experience. Lytton captures Jane’s transformation into a more self-assured, interesting and expressive individual in a way that doesn’t seem forced in the least. In these pages, Jane looks at herself for the first time and finds there’s a lot more there than she ever realized. Lytton draws Jane and Lizzie’s relationship carefully in just a few scenes at the beginning of the novel. As the story progresses we appreciate the layers of that sisterly bond – jealousy, anger, profound love and understanding. This is novel all about relationships, between Jane and Lizzie, Jane and her parents, and Jane and Ethel (the woman who comes to care for her when her parents are away). All of the relationships are drawn with care and an honesty that should really appeal to readers.

Deborah Lytton has written a book that offers younger readers a way into two very difficult subjects: eating disorders, and the loss of a sibling. Her novel is not intimidating. It is an honest and gentle look at one girl’s efforts to reconcile her mixed-up feelings after her sister’s death. But that’s not all that this book is about. It’s about self-discovery and change. There’s also a lot of hope here. Sadness for sure, but hope too. I think it would make a great choice for a girls’ book club, because it’s not just an issue book, it’s a story with a completely realistic, relatable girl at its centre. It’s as much about Jane’s growth and change as it is a story of loss. Jane in Bloom should inspire discussion, and with any luck, readers will be inspired to do a little self-exploration too.

Deborah Lytton’s Jane in Bloom is published by Dutton, March 2009.

A Bottle in the Gaza Sea

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With the recent intensification of conflict in the Middle East, I hope many teen readers find their way to A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, because it is a powerful, thought-provoking glimpse of life in that region. The novel begins when Tal, an Israeli girl, decides to throw a bottle with a letter she has written about herself into the Gaza Sea, hoping to make contact with someone who lives on the other side. She chooses to send the message after a bomb rips through a local cafe killing a young woman who was to be married the very next day. Tal cannot contain the emotions she feels when she hears about the tragedy, and so she writes about what’s inside her head as a way of coping. Naim, a 20 year-old Palestinian who first identifies himself to Tal as “Gazaman,” finds the bottle and contacts Tal. From there, the two young people begin corresponding through email, sharing their experiences and opposing perspectives. As time passes they become friends, and through this unusual relationship they understand the issues behind the conflict in even more personal and complex ways.

One of the reasons I love to read as much as I do is that sometimes I find stories that offer insight into a culture or a moment in time or an experience that I could never know first hand. A Bottle in the Gaza Sea does this brilliantly. It grabs onto you, and forces you to imagine what it would be like to live in a place where violence was a part of day-to-day life, where fear would be so close to the surface all the time. Tal and Naim grapple with this throughout the novel, feeling rage and desperation and profound sadness at the loss they feel around them, in the streets, on the news. I thought that Zenatti conveyed Naim’s intense anger so well at the outset of the story. His voice is sarcastic and bitter and mad, and as you begin to understand what he has seen and what he lives with, you can understand where his feelings come from. Tal wants so badly to believe that there is good in the world and that it is possible to find a way towards a future where everyone can live in safety and peace.

This book has a lot of say about the power of language. Writing offers both of these characters freedom. Their letters become a place to express what they would otherwise be forced to keep inside. Their stories and their opinions bridge the distance that war and death has opened between their communities and cultures. Late in the novel, Tal and Naim write about how their countries cannot seem to agree on a common language. They have different words for things: terrorists / freedom fighters, Israel / Palestine, security / peace. Tal says, “I think if we could agree on words we could agree on everything.” I love that line. It makes you think about the deep roots of conflict and the steps that could be taken to start something new.

Sure to spark discussion, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea has won the 2009 Sydney Taylor Book Award for its authentic portrayal of the Jewish experience.

More reviews:

Miss Erin
Teen Book Review
Abby the Librarian

Flygirl

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Sherri L. Smith’s Flygirl has been getting great buzz through the kidlitosphere, and with good reason. Smith offers readers a story rooted in a fascinating and little known aspect of war history, a heroine with heart (and guts), plenty of high-flying adventure and rich themes to keep you thinking long after the book ends.

In 1940s Louisiana, Ida Mae Jones works hard cleaning people’s houses, earning money to help support her family after her father’s death. Aside from her devotion to her brothers, her Mama and her Grandy, she has one great love: flying. Taught by her father, Ida Mae can really fly, and she’d do just about anything to follow her dream to become a pilot. When she learns of the WASP program (Women Airforce Service Pilots), Ida Mae’s resolve is put to the test. She forges her father’s pilot license and heads to the training center, where she has to pass as a white woman in order to even be considered for the program. Ida Mae must keep her identity secret, a choice that disappoints her family and forces her to pretend to be someone she isn’t as she forges new friendships at the base. What follows is an account of her training, the challenges and risks of being a WASP, and the story of one young woman reaching for her greatest goal.

I loved Flygirl because it’s impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of Ida Mae’s journey, and in the gamble she takes in order to fly. Sherri L. Smith proves her writing skill by creating a convincing, fully-developed character and crafting a plot that is full of action. Isn’t that what the best writing delivers? Great character + plot that never stops.

This book is sure to get readers talking too, and will offer plenty for teens to relate to because it’s about making choices, deciding what you want and going after it, and staying true to yourself at the hardest moments. Flygirl explores many themes, among them: how the past and your own desires shape your identity, different kinds of sacrifice, and the courage it takes to dive into life. Truly a story of girl power, inspired by the women pilots who broke down many barriers at a time when the skies belonged to men.

I am so excited to be involved in Sherri’s upcoming blog tour. She will stop here at Shelf Elf on February 13th, and I’ll keep you posted when her tour starts with Little Willow at Bildungsroman on January 29th.

Flygirl is published by Putnam.

An interview with Sherri at 7-Imp

Other reviews:

Pulp Fiction Reviews
Book Loons
Armchair Reviews
Kidliterate

Waiting for Normal

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Leslie Connor’s Waiting for Normal sure had a lot of build-up by the time the good ol’ Toronto Public Library finally got it in for me months after I’d requested it. I’d read review after glowing review which meant that I started reading with some trepidation. So, did it measure up?

Yes.

If I talk plot, you’ll have a hard time believing that this book is ultimately an uplifting, feel-good story. This is not to say that there aren’t some terribly sad, life-is-not-fair aspects to this narrative that really do put a squeeze on your heart as you’re going along, but overall, this is a story that will leave you feeling (mostly) optimistic about the universe.

Addie has the misfortune of having a mother who is a loser. (I could put it more gently, but why sugar-coat). In the first chapter, we meet Addie and her mom (Mommers to Addie) as they are about to move into their new home. Their new home is a dingy old trailer surrounded by blacktop on a “medium busy corner” in Schenectady. They should be grateful, since Dwight, Addie’s ex-stepfather, is letting them live for free there because they don’t really have anywhere else to go. Since the divorce he’s moved on with his life, along with Addie’s two half-sisters, but he still works hard to be a presence in Addie’s life. Straight off, it’s clear who’s the adult in this mother-daughter relationship, as Addie’s mom does nothing but sulk about the negative aspects of their new arrangement, and when she’s not sulking or smoking or chatting online, she’s completely unpredictable and really doesn’t know how to be a proper mother to Addie.

Addie is pretty-nearly unfailingly optimistic. From time to time this is a bit of stretch in the believability department, but Addie does show her vulnerability just enough that we sense she is barely holding herself together, in spite of her efforts to look for the positive no matter what happens. She befriends a few characters around and about her new neighborhood, and they assume the place in her life that family would if her world was “normal,” the way she dreams it could be.

This is not a story where a lot happens, but it moves along at a great pace. This is because you’re so invested in the character, hoping that she’ll start getting the life and the care that she deserves. The tension comes entirely from the desperation of Addie’s situation as her mother goes off the rails and leaves Addie to fend for herself for increasingly long stretches. I have to say that the idea of this child, trying to make do all alone in this trailer on an empty lot was just awful, so sad and so bleak. There is this moment when Mommers is off on one of her “business trips” and Addie has been alone for several days and she starts checking the cupboards to do an inventory of her remaining food. When she sees that she’s running low, she decides to reassemble the empty macaroni and cheese boxes using glue and then she fills them with push pins so that they rattle around and sound full, just to reassure herself. It would be hard to imagine a more powerful way to communicate to a reader how Addie is strong and vulnerable all mixed together.

This novel is ideal for a book club or for literature circles in the classroom because of the complexity and perilousness of Addie’s situation. Discussion points / themes might be: responsibility, what makes a family, where hope comes from, being grateful for small things and heroism. Waiting for Normal is thought-provoking and written in wonderfully spare language, with a clear, honest, and sometimes funny voice.

Additional blog reviews here:

Fuse #8
Look Books
Welcome to My Tweendom
Read, Read, Read
Abby the Librarian

Waiting for Normal is published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of Harper Collins.