Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell A Read Your World Review & Giveaway

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A REVIEW + GIVEAWAY
FOR MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY

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LOVING VS. VIRGINIA
A DOCUMENTARY NOVEL
OF THE LANDMARK CIVIL RIGHTS CASE
Written by Patricia Hruby Powell
Artwork by Shadra Strickland
(Chronicle Books; $21.99 – available after  1/31/17, Ages 12+)

Cover image for Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

REVIEW: When I read Patricia Hruby Powell’s Loving vs. Virginia I felt like a fly on the wall or a Jeter family cousin, as the action of this powerful story unfolded around me. Despite knowing how things turn out in the end, I found every aspect of this teen docu-novel incredibly riveting and eye-opening. Through meticulous research and interviews, Powell has successfully managed to transport readers back in time to the Jim Crow south of Caroline County, Virginia. Plunked down into the small neighborly community of Central Point, we’re quickly swept up into the lives of sixth grader Mildred Jeter, and her close knit family. The year, 1955.

a night at the drive in movies from Loving vs. Virginia

Interior artwork from Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell with illustrations by Shadra Strickland, Chronicle Books ©2017.

As the romance between family friend Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter developed and grew, so did their problems. Strict segregation laws banning interracial marriage were in effect in over 20 states making any romantic relationship between a black woman and a white man a crime, and vice versa. Virginia, the state that Mildred and Richard called home, made no secret of its distaste for interracial marriage and did whatever it could to thwart these relationships. Mildred often noted that had their genders been reversed making Mildred a white woman and Richard a black man, he’d have surely been hung.

So while things were already difficult for these two, matters were made worse by the local law enforcement. A nasty man named Sheriff Brooks was determined to keep the lovers apart or make them pay. When Mildred and Richard eventually got married in D.C. where it was legal to do so, they returned home to Central Point intending to stay under the radar. But secrets were hard to keep in small towns and it wasn’t long before Sheriff Brooks invaded their home as the legally married couple slept together. The marriage was not considered legal in Virginia and the Lovings were guilty of committing a crime. Mildred and Richard were arrested! Having not seen the film or read anything about the Lovings, I was shocked by this dead of night intrusion.

This would only be the first of several arrests that eventually led Mildred and Richard to young lawyers with the National Civil Liberties Union. The Loving’s rights as Americans, according to their plucky attorneys, were being denied. It took several years and a lot of personal sacrifice for the couple, but they worked through every issue, and their compelling case was ultimately heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course as we all know, they won in a unanimous decision under Chief Justice Earl Warren, but the fear of losing was palpable. It was no longer illegal to marry someone of another race. And at last, the Mildred and Richard could raise their children in their home state of Virginia without fear of breaking the law. Perseverance, fearlessness, and commitment helped this couple make history. The year, 1967. And now in 2017 we can proudly mark the 50th anniversary of this important case and the Lovings that made it happen.  

Late night escape to the woods from Loving vs. Virginia

Interior artwork from Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell with illustrations by Shadra Strickland, Chronicle Books ©2017.

Powell’s writing is at once simple yet sophisticated. The ample white space of each unillustrated page invites readers in slowly and calmly as the tension of the story builds. Told in blank verse, Powell’s narratives alternate between the distinct voices of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, bringing enlightening perspectives to teen readers. The text is complemented by illustrator Shadra Strickland’s evocative artwork done in visual journalism style “characterized by a loose, impromptu drawing style” containing overlapping lines and “an informal feeling of sketches in the final composition.” Strickland’s illustrations made it easy to picture the setting, the characters, the time period and the events. I cannot imagine this story with any other type of art. Its minimal and muted color palette and its interspersing of historical photos in black and white worked wonderfully to convey the mood of this era. Helpful information can be garnered from the extensive resources included in the back matter of this book such as a time line, a bibliography, quote sources and moving messages from the artist and author. With its still timely message of civil rights, equality and racial tolerance, Loving vs. Virginia should be required reading for every high school student. I will be recommending it to everyone I know with a teen at home.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

MCBD logo image IMPORTANT INFO:

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

 

Current Sponsors:

MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli.
Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books.

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-GrandVahid Imani, Gwen JacksonHena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty, Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra RichardsElsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe, SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts here.

Important MCBD Links to Remember:

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Chronicle Books Summary:

From acclaimed author Patricia Hruby Powell comes the story of a landmark civil rights case, told in spare and gorgeous verse. In 1955, in Caroline County, Virginia, amidst segregation and prejudice, injustice and cruelty, two teenagers fell in love. Their life together broke the law, but their determination would change it. Richard and Mildred Loving were at the heart of a Supreme Court case that legalized marriage between races, and a story of the devoted couple who faced discrimination, fought it, and won.

Patricia Hruby Powell’s previous book, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, won a Sibert Honor for Nonfiction, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and five starred reviews. She lives in Illinois.

Shadra Strickland is an illustrator whose work has won an Ezra Jack Keats Award, a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, and an NAACP Image Award. She lives in Maryland.

GIVEAWAY:
Details of our giveaway courtesy of Chronicle Books are below. Plus, if you follow us on Facebook and let us know that you did by telling us in the comments of this blog post, we’ll give you an extra entry. An additional comment on our Facebook page post for this book review gets you yet another entry. Also, if you enjoyed this review, please subscribe to our blog. Thanks and good luck!

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Celebrate Summer With Our Fabulous Four Books Giveaway

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WIN FOUR SIGNED MG & YA BOOKS
Enter our fantastic summer giveaway
Courtesy of Candlewick Press

 

What better way to welcome the summer solstice than with a giveaway? But this is no ordinary giveaway! In April I enjoyed a wonderful pre-LA Times Festival of Books dinner with four fab Candlewick authors and was given autographed copies of their books. Good Reads With Ronna is giving away those signed novels to one lucky winner and it could be you. Read about the books in the giveaway. A handy Candlewick  tote bag is also included:

Burn_Baby_Burn by Meg Medina book coverBurn Baby Burn
Written by Meg Medina
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)
Pura Belpré Author Award winner Meg Medina has another hit on her hands with this riveting read which took me back decades to that scary summer following my first year at university in New York. That’s when the letters of the S.O.S. distress signal stood for something much more sinister – the killer, Son of Sam. Here’s a description of the novel from Candlewick:
Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when the city is besieged by arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam who shoots young women on the streets. Nora’s family life isn’t going so well either: her bullying brother, Hector, is growing more threatening by the day, her mother is helpless and falling behind on the rent, and her father calls only on holidays. All Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. And while there is a cute new guy who started working with her at the deli, is dating even worth the risk when the killer likes picking off couples who stay out too late? Award-winning author Meg Medina transports us to a time when New York seemed balanced on a knife-edge, with tempers and temperatures running high, to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit — and the hardest to accept.
While violence runs rampant throughout New York, a teenage girl faces danger within her own home in Meg Medina’s riveting coming-of-age novel.

Read a sample chapter here.

Honor_Girl by Maggie Thrash book coverHonor Girl
Written and illustrated by Maggie Thrash
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)
I read this graphic novel memoir in three sittings because I just had to find out what happened to Maggie at Camp Bellflower for Girls, the summer she fell in love. I cared about her immensely and so will YA fans into candor, introspection, and the intensity of first love. Here’s a description of this impressive debut novel from Candlewick:

Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.
All-girl camp. First love. First heartbreak. At once romantic and devastating, brutally honest and full of humor, this graphic-novel memoir is a debut of the rarest sort.

The Hired GirlThe_Hired_Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz book cover
Written by Laura Amy Schlitz
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 10-14)
While everyone was out at the pool during my Florida vacation this winter, I remained indoors because I could not put down this multiple award-winning novel from Newbery Medalist Schlitz. I relished being brought back in time to 1911 Baltimore following the ups and downs of protagonist Joan Skraggs as she becomes the hired girl in a wealthy Jewish household and tries to find her place in the world. Fans of historical fiction should add this to their must-read list.

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

Dan vs. NatureDan_vs_Nature book cover
Written by Don Calame
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)
Novelist and screenwriter Don Calame, has penned a fast-paced, fun YA novel for the most reluctant of teen readers. If you’re not sure what’s in store, better check out Calame’s clever book trailer here because it really gives you a good taste of the author’s unique sense of humor. High schoolers will appreciate the predicament that the main character, Dan Weekes is thrown into, survive being with his future step-dad or survive the wild.

Shy and scrawny Dan Weekes spends his time creating graphic novels inspired by his dream girl and looking out for his mom as she dates every man in the state of California. Then his mom drops a bomb: she and her latest beau, Hank, are engaged, and she’s sending her “two favorite men” on a survivalist camping trip to “bond.” Determined to trick Hank into showing his true — flawed — colors on the trip, Dan and his nerdy germaphobe best friend, Charlie, prepare a series of increasingly gross and embarrassing pranks. But the boys hadn’t counted on a hot girl joining their trip or on getting separated from their wilderness guide—not to mention the humiliating injuries Dan suffers in the course of terrorizing his stepdad-to-be. With a man-hungry bear on their trail, no supplies, and a lot of unpleasant itching going on, can Dan see his plan through now that his very survival depends on Hank?
From screenwriter Don Calame comes another outrageously funny and raunchy tale of teen boys whose plans go awry — this time, on a survivalist camping trip.

ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY NOW – Increase your chances of winning. You’ll receive an extra entry for following Good Reads With Ronna on Facebook, but please let us know you’ve followed by telling us when you comment below. Thanks and good luck!

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Inherit The Stars by Tessa Elwood

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INHERIT THE STARS
by Tessa Elwood
(Running Press Teens; $9.95 Trade Paperback, Ages 13+)

 Inherit_the_Stars

In her debut novel, Inherit the Stars, book one in a duology, Tessa Elwood creates her own little universe that consists of several inhabited planets, feuding families, an economic crisis, and a political hierarchy all wrapped up in both a tale of adventure and a classic love story. The protagonist, Asa, lives on Urnath, a planet that becomes contaminated. Forced to ration both food and fuel, the inhabitants revolt against those who govern including The House of Fane, which happens to be Asa’s family. When Asa’s oldest sister Wren is caught in the crossfire, Asa tries to save her sister, but struggles. In fact Asa finds she struggles to succeed in most things. Asa’s father and sisters have very little faith in Asa’s abilities and maturity. However, in order to save her family and her people, Asa forces her way into the most difficult role of her life, marrying into the House of Weslet and trapping herself in a “blood bond” filled with insufferable expectations. Once the merger is complete with the marriage of Asa and Eagle, the two have to find a way to coexist with each other and to trust each other, which ultimately leads them to depend on each other.

Although it took a while to get absorbed into Elwood’s Sci-fi world, once I did there was no turning back. I became engrossed in the love story between Asa and Eagle and couldn’t put it down. While I felt the ending was a bit abrupt and, perhaps, unnecessarily rushed, I was merely disappointed that such an enjoyable story was over. I look forward to reading the sequel and hope to see the bond between Asa and Eagle grow. I can only begin to imagine what other trials they will overcome together and am certain Elwood will deliver a most satisfying conclusion to this engaging read.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 


Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

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LIBRARY OF SOULS 
THE THIRD NOVEL OF MISS PEREGRINE’S PECULIAR CHILDREN
By Ransom Riggs
(Quirk Books; $18.99, Ages 13 and up)

Library_of_Souls 

 

The Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs is an intriguing tale of mystery and magic, inspired by a collection of inexplicable vintage photographs. The story that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City, comes to an electrifying end in Library of Souls. Having traveled to a mysterious island off the coast of Wales to try to make sense of his grandfather’s untimely and cryptic death, sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman discovers his grandfather’s oldest and most peculiar friends, including his dearest love, Emma. Jacob fights alongside her and the other peculiars against unimaginable enemies and monsters that threaten their world. When their headmistress, Miss Peregrine, and all her fellow ymbryne leaders of Peculiardom are abducted, Jacob allies with the peculiar children and discovers he has power of his own.

Library of Souls opens as the children are trying to escape their enemies (and the monsters they control) while attempting to rescue their ymbrynes and the many other peculiar children who have been captured. Their journey takes them to Devil’s Acre, a sinister labyrinth of dark alleys and mysterious characters. We struggle along with Jacob and Emma, not knowing whom to trust and fearing the worst for their beloved friends. As Jacob discovers the strength of his powers, he also discovers true friendship and a love he never knew existed. While this particular leg of the story is a maze in itself and takes more than a few twists and turns, it remains a captivating series that comes to a fulfilling end, allowing readers to truly appreciate the extraordinary.

Click here for more information about the boxed set of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 


A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka – Review & Interview

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A Girl Called Fearless
by Catherine Linka

(St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99, Ages 12 and up)
Review and Interview by Ronna Mandel

Review:

Fearless-cvr.jpgAvie Reveare is an average teen in a not so average world. Like most teens, she loves music, hanging out with her friends, and is especially close with her best friend Dayla, and a childhood pal, Yates, whom she may or may not be falling for (also typical of a teen).

The time is now and Avie is living a well-off life in Pasadena, California. However, this being dystopian fiction, author Linka has had to create a believable America unlike our present one. This one is still reeling from the aftermath of Scarpanol, a synthetic hormone that was used in beef and ended up killing fifty million women ten years earlier. The end result – young girls are a protected commodity, contracted for marriage often by the highest bidder.

Females have been losing their rights since the Scarpanol tragedy and the Paternalist movement, which threatens to control them entirely, is causing many teenaged girls to flee to Canada. When Avie’s father accepts a marriage contract offer for his daughter from Jes Hawkins, a massively rich Paternalist running for governor and one of the sleaziest characters I’ve seen in print recently, she realizes she too must make a run for the border. Readers soon learn that escaping the clutches of a wealthy, well-connected wannabe politician, is a lot easier in theory than in reality. Avie, with the help of Yates, is forced to go underground, but in doing will she rise to the occasion, get involved in a cause she’s tried to avoid or succumb to the emotional and physical consequences of escaping her forthcoming marriage?

With A Girl Called Fearless, Linka’s created a page turner for teens that will pull them into her world immediately and keep them reading because they’ll care about Avie and what happens to her; the urgency of her situation tenable. Teen vernacular is captured perfectly, and Linka’s use of song lyrics and the anger behind them is also employed successfully in the storyline.

“Better Learn My Name”
By Survival Instincts

I’ve got a hundred names,
But it all comes out the same
I’m someone’s prize possession
Not a person. An obsession

Is it the end of the world as Avie knows it or can something good come from all the malice boiling just below the surface of everyday dystopian life? I recommend getting this YA novel as a gift this holiday season for that teen who might otherwise be attached to a cell phone for the next two weeks.

Q & A With Catherine Linka:

What is your book about?

A Girl Called Fearless and its sequel, A Girl Undone, are about Avie, a junior at a girl’s school in Pasadena who comes home from school one day and finds that her dad has “Contracted” her to marry a man twice her age who she’s never met. The book is set in Los Angeles today, but assumes that ten years ago, synthetic hormones in beef killed most adult women in the US, so teenage girls have become the most valuable and protected commodity in the country. Avie must choose whether to get married or run for freedom in Canada.

We’ve seen a lot of strong girl characters like Katniss from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. How does Avie compare?

I wanted to write about a girl who’s not a superhero style character. Avie’s a typical teenage girl suddenly thrust into a situation that tests her to the max. She doesn’t think of herself as “Fearless” even though her friend Yates likes to call her that. I felt it was important to show young readers that many of us don’t know what we’re capable of until we are pushed to our absolute limits. At the end of book one, Avie says, “I am fearless,” because she has survived.

Authors tend to put themselves into their characters. How are you and Avie related?

Well, I’m obviously not a sixteen-year-old girl, but Avie and I share a strong sense of what is fair and just. Avie’s been insulated from what is happening in the world around her, until she is Contracted to marry a man who is running for Governor of California. As she starts to see how the Paternalist politicians are manipulating men’s and women’s lives, she feels she has to act somehow. She can’t sit back and do nothing. I couldn’t sit back and do nothing, either.

What has surprised you about the reaction to A Girl Called Fearless?

One thing I never anticipated was getting emails from readers as young as eleven and as old as eighty-five. Younger readers seem to enjoy the story’s action and adventure, while older readers see the historic and political parallels between Avie’s America and the real world. And I never expected guys to read the book or enjoy it. Never! I’ve also been surprised that both grandmas and teens have thanked me for showing Avie choosing to wait instead of having sex.

We heard there’s a possible TV series?

Yes, the books have been optioned and a series is in development. It’s fascinating–and a tiny bit scary– to see how a book is taken from the page to the screen, because the author has very little control. But the lead screenwriters are geniuses, so my fingers are crossed things will come out well.

What was your biggest challenge when writing the first novel- was it creating a believable epidemic, believable characters or something else altogether?

The biggest challenge was initially the book felt like two books–before Avie leaves Los Angeles and after. I united the halves by making the businessman that Avie is Contracted to marry into a candidate for Governor of California from the Paternalist Party. This strengthened the political theme and heightened the stakes.

You sure seemed to have had fun writing the role of Avie’s skeevy intended, Jes Hawkins – was he one of the easiest to write?

I adore writing villains. They can have big, bold personalities, and it’s much easier to create a villain who possesses positive character traits than it is to write a hero and give him enough flaws to make him believable.

In addition to Avie and Yates, there are so many interesting characters in your novel – her teacher, Ms. A, a priest, Father Gabe, her gynecologist, Mrs. Prandip and her underground connection Maggie. For me though, my particular favorites were those living in the rebel enclave of Salvation. Were you inspired by anyone or anything in real life when you conceived of this community?

When I wrote Salvation, I wanted to give voice to a part of America that values self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, religion, and freedom from government control. I was inspired by stories of frontier settlers, but I also read books and blogs written by survivalists who wanted to be off the grid.

Without a plot spoiler, can you give us a tease about what we can expect in the sequel, A Girl Undone?

Avie faces some tough decisions. At the end of A Girl Called Fearless, she makes a promise, but keeping that promise puts her life at risk. The first book was about Avie discovering her inner strength. A Girl Undone is about choosing between what is best for her and what’s best for the country.

Despite the publishing industry saying that they’ve moved on to other genres, dystopian themed stories remain extremely popular with teens.  To what to you attribute this? What’s the appeal?

I think the publishing industry gets bored with genres faster than readers do, but that said, I believe “dystopian” stories are popular because they are high stakes action/adventure stories. In many ways, they are monster stories where the monster is government or technology out of control.

How do you differentiate sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian fiction for parents who want to know what types of books their kids are reading?

When people think of fantasy, they often think of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings where magic inhabits an Earth-like world. The conflict is often between those who practice good magic and those who use magic for evil.

Sci-fi differentiates itself from fantasy by offering a world transformed by advanced scientific technology, and the action often takes place away from planet Earth. Dystopian is usually set on Earth in the future, and involves a catastrophic event or technology fail that dramatically changed the society or government. The themes of both usually involve survival, or freedom from totalitarian control.

What is your current WIP?

Right now I’m reviewing the typeset pages of A Girl Undone that are due next week. I am also working with my publisher on how to make available a novella I wrote about Sparrow, a character from A Girl Called Fearless. We are considering putting it on Wattpad where readers could try it out for free.

Disclosure: I happen to know Catherine Linka who has reviewed many books for GRWR, however this did not influence my opinion about her novel.

Catherine-Linka.jpg

Catherine Linka, author of A Girl Called Fearless, St. Martin’s Griffin, Photo ©2014 Brad Buckman Photography

Meet Catherine Linka on her Thank You Sciba Book Tour.
In appreciation for the support of indie booksellers this year,
she can be found signing her debut novel, A Girl Called Fearless,
and hand selling children’s and YA books at the following stores.
She’s the best at helping you find the perfect gift!
Be sure to pick up several copies of her book.

12/18 Once Upon a Time, Montrose, CA

12/19 Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, La Canada, CA

A GIRL UNDONE, St. Martin’s Press, 2015

ABA Kids Indie Next Pick

Winner SCIBA Book Award for YA Fiction, 2014

Nominated to ALA Amelia Bloomer Project, 2014

Website: www.catherinelinka.com

Twitter: @cblinka

Facebook: CatherineLinkaAuthor

 

 

 


Pointe by Brandy Colbert

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Pointe by Brandy Colbert is reviewed by Mary Malhotra

“Colbert builds characters whose flaws, struggles, and bad decisions make them real and indelibly memorable . . and it’s this complexity and empathy that set this gripping story apart.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Colbert has put out a stunningly poignant novel . . . Readers who discover this book will be unable to put it down.”—VOYA

Pointe-cvr.jpg

Pointe by Brandy Colbert, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

The narrator in Brandy Colbert’s debut YA novel Pointe (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014, $17.99, YA) could be a stereotypical prima-ballerina-in-training. Theo’s got the drive, the demanding instructor, the long, strong legs, the beat-up toe shoes. As you might expect, she commiserates with dancer frenemies, and escapes with school friends who have no idea what she goes through at the studio. She struggles with an eating disorder, too. But Theo is not a stereotype, and she has a lot more going on in her life than just dance.

The eating disorder, for example. It seems to be a response not to the demands of ballet but to two losses Theo suffered as a thirteen year old: her much-older first boyfriend unceremoniously dumped her, taking off without a trace; and her best friend Donovan was kidnapped. Pointe opens on the day four years later when Donovan is rescued from his kidnapper and returned home. Theo is upset that Donovan won’t see or talk to her. She’s also confused by news footage that appears to show he was happy living with his captor. She needs to understand why Donovan didn’t try to escape, especially once she realizes she knows the kidnapper — and will have to testify against him.

There is much to recommend in this book. Theo’s voice is real and raw, and she and her friends Phil and Sara-Kate make compelling, memorable characters. Their chemistry, like Theo’s warm relationship with her supportive parents, provides an island of hope in a choppy sea. The book’s natural presentation of diversity works well. Realistically, as the first-person narrator, Theo doesn’t announce that she’s African-American. Race doesn’t even come up until part way through the second chapter, when she recalls how she and Donovan bonded after a teacher mishandled a classroom discussion about slavery.

Parents sharing Pointe with teens may want to be ready to discuss some aspects of the book. Pot smoking is an accepted, routine activity for Theo and her friends. In fact, her love interest doesn’t just smoke; he also sells drugs to his classmates. He already has a girlfriend, too — but will that matter to Theo? There are sex scenes and references, and much of the sex is abusive, though Theo doesn’t realize it. Perhaps because of this, the scenes are not so explicit that the details got burned into my psyche. A last point to consider is best explained by including a spoiler, although you can skip the spoiler and walk away with this bottom line: if you start the book, be sure to finish it!

 

SPOILER: In case you want additional guidance before choosing this book, I’ll close out the review with the spoiler version of my “finish what you start” recommendation. Early on, Theo realizes that Donovan’s kidnapper and her first boyfriend are the same guy, Chris Fenner. This means he was actually twenty-six when she was thirteen, but Theo still thinks of him as her ex-boyfriend. She sees herself as an unlovable reject rather than seeing Chris as a pedophile. Eventually, she comes to the understanding that she and Donovan are both victims, that part of Chris’s crime was that he warped her view of sex and love. However, it takes her most of the book to get there; a reader without patience might give up while right and wrong are still upside down. Reading this book to the last page is not hard, but it is important.