Just Pretend – Tori Sharp

Writing three reviews in a row is something that I rarely get to do, since I rarely accumulate so many read books at once, but it’s a lot of fun because I am on a roll.

Just Pretend is a graphic memoir and already when I realized that, I was a little in love. I love memoirs, I love graphic novels, so a graphic memoir, to me, is like a special butterfly that landed on my hand instead of that beautiful flower that was next to me. It chose me. It recognized MY beauty.

I probably should not place my self-worth on whether a butterfly lands on me or a flower, but all that say that whenever I do get to hold a graphic memoir in my hands, I feel hella special. I am worthy of this human creation. (Also, if my writing seems a little tangled right now, it’s possibly because I just reviewed Little Weirds by Jenny Slate and that’s just a normal after-effect.)

So Tori Sharp’s graphic memoir explores her middle school friendships and family dynamics. Her parents are separated, and luckily so since they cannot stand each other. Her father is more detached: she’s not very close to him and she’s about to be even less close. She’s good friends with this one girl at her school, and they like to write stories together, then act them out, but her friend is having issues of her own and there are many ups and downs happening in Tori’s life.

This book reminded me of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, since Shannon and Tori have similar personalities—they are both shy, quiet, love to read and write and struggle sometimes in the friendship department (welcome to the club, sista). But if I was to compare—which of course I will and do—I would say that this truly does not hold a candle to Shannon Hale’s graphic memoir. It is well-enough-executed and I did find the themes the author explored to be meaningful, but it’s very conflict-centered. The author herself even said at the end of the book that she believes stories to be that way, and so she decided to forgo too many happy memories in favour of those tense-filled ones that really affected her the most and added, I guess, the most to the storyline.

Here I have to disagree. I don’t think that stories NEED to revolve around conflict or that they always do. That would be sad, really. What about people who meet and have a wonderful relationship from the get-go? Do they not have a ‘‘story’’ because their moments are filled with joy more than aggression and sadness and tension? I do admit that some conflicts are more internal, so not as obvious, and yes we’re all dealing with our own respective stuff, but I think this memoir would have really benefitted from more beauty and happiness to balance things out.

Overall, it’s a good book, with cute illustrations and a main character we slowly get to know and care about, but it is similar to Shannon Hale’s Real Friends in many ways and if I was to choose between the two, well, you know which one that would be.

(On another note, I think I will refrain from writing three reviews in a row next time as it does jumble my thought process a little – LOT.)

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review, as always.

Define ”Normal” – Julie Anne Peters

I wish I had read this book when it came out. Except, when it came out, in 2000, I was four years old. I’m holding in my hands what I believe to be the fourth edition, which shows just how relevant the story still is today. Actually, I think it’s more relevant now than ever. When it came out, it was probably one of a kind. A YA contemporary story that discusses mental illness, parental neglect, peer counselling and what ‘‘normal’’ means. Nowadays, we can find more stories exploring those themes—thank goodness—and a few ones that go even more into depth, but it was interesting to see how those topics were handled 21 years ago.

There is much less shame now regarding counselling, therapy and the overall idea of needing help figuring things out, controlling our temper, opening ourselves up to others and letting ourselves act our age. But for Antonia and Jazz, peer counselling is foreign, awkward and stilted. They don’t know what it means to be in a ‘‘safe space’’ and how to open up about what they feel on the inside. It’s very difficult in the beginning, since Antonia and Jazz don’t trust one another, but they slowly develop a bond that grows beyond their peer counselling sessions.

I’m writing this review not only because that’s what I do—I’m a book blogger, hey!—and because I genuinely enjoy sharing my thoughts on the stories I read, but also because I want to set the record straight regarding this title. This author is known for writing LGBTQIA+ characters, and I saw this one being shelves as ‘‘LGBT’’ quite a few times on Goodreads, but sexual orientation is not discussed. The main focus is the growing friendship between the two teen girls and how counselling helps them face their own respective issues. There is no romance, and though it’s a meaningful story, it is not a ‘‘fun’’ one. Hopefully, you get into it with better expectations, but by all means do go into it.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Seven Day Switch – Kelly Harms

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler was fantastic, so of course I had to read this book. Who could resist an adult Freaky Friday retelling, with two moms swiping bodies? Wendy and Celeste lead very different lives. One is a full time worker, the head of the household, whereas the other is a full time stay-at-home mom who fully depends on her (luckily devoted) husband for financial support. They each make assumptions about one another, and judge each other’s actions mercilessly, until they experience firsthand what the other is feeling and just how wrong they might be about each other. Not always, but by switching bodies, which proves to be super awkward at first, they find themselves learning from one another and growing into better, stronger, more fulfilled women.

I had fun with this story and these two women. Kelly Harms writes with energy, detail, realism and humor. At times, there was too much description to my liking. I don’t, as a reader, necessarily need to know every single back-story or detail, so I could have done with less of that. The best part is the growing relationship between the two women. They have their ups and downs, their confusions and moments of revelation, their anxieties and bursts of happiness—overall, they slowly realize that maybe this ‘‘experience’’ is happening for a reason. I do believe this story could have benefitted from even more nuance. Of course, Wendy and Celeste are learning that things are not always as they seem and that some people struggle in silence, but there are still many clichés about these two women’s motherhood and wifehood experiences that made me want to roll my eyes at times. Working all the time vs. being a stay-at-home mom? Both come with pros and cons, but neither felt balanced and balance is something that they both need more of us and are not done learning.

In the end, though it wasn’t as fun as Freaky Friday, I really enjoyed the friendship featured and all the learning that occurred. Though it’s shelves as ‘‘magical realism’’ on Goodreads, aside from the body swap it felt believable and the kind of life experience I wouldn’t mind going through. Come on, universe, make this happen!

Thank you Amazon Publishing for the copy in exchange for a review.

Trinkets – Kristen Smith

I love it. I love when a book that seems not to work for a ton of people ends up being the right fit for me. This book has pretty low ratings on Goodreads, and yet I could not help myself from requesting it. Normally, low ratings would discourage me from doing that, but the premise and TV show tie-in cover gripped my interest. Not to mention that this is a Little, Brown Books for Young Readers publication and in the past very few of those have let me down. Fun fact: I hope to get a book published by them in the future. I don’t know who edits these stories but they are doing a great job.

With this particular title, it’s definitely the original execution that kept me engaged the most. The plot is not necessarily new—though I certainly liked the idea of three girls befriending each other in a Shopaholic Anonymous group. Other than that, it deals with basic high school, boy and friendship drama. It’s not the most self-aware book either, with aggression, bullying and disrespect being made light of at times. I’m still on the fence about Moe’s love interest, who gives her attention when they’re alone but completely disregards her when they’re in public. That’s some shitty behavior right there and not something I felt Moe should have put up with at any point.

At the same time, it’s a very readable book. There are three narrators: Elodie expresses herself through poetry, Tabitha through blog posts-type chapters and Moe through diary entries. It’s a fast-paced story, and as cliché as it can get at times, it does deal with realistic issues that teens may go through in their daily lives. Frankly, I’ve never read a story about teen shoplifters before, and yet they do exist. Similarly, the concept of rehabilitation isn’t given a lot of attention in YA and doesn’t have the best reputation, and yet the author managed to make it seem worthwhile and… exciting. A rehab-centered group can become a place where you not only get to discuss something that others may judge you for in the outside world, but also to make friends and generally connect with people who are going through the same thing you are—thus making you feel less alone in the process.

I was taken by surprise by one of the three girls’ secret, which I absolutely did not see coming. Now it makes me want to watch the Netflix series as well, see how the girls and their addiction translates to the screen. TRINKETS is at times fun, at times dramatic, or sad, but never a bookish regret.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

My Last Summer with Cass – Mark Crilley

I love a story told through good art. I love it even more when the story is as good as the art. Such is the case here. Megan and Cass are two childhood friends who share a passion for making art. They meet every summer, along with their families, at a cottage, where they unleash their creativity in different ways. But Cass’s family falls apart, and those summers are no more. The girls grow apart for a bit, then reunite in New York, the place where dreams come true and every artist can find a home. While Cass seems to have figured out the type of artist she is and where she belongs and with whom, Megan is still unsure of who she is meant to be. Terribly afraid of disappointing her parents, especially her dad, she holds back and plays it safe. Cass can see through her friend, can see her buried need to express her true self, and pushes Megan to dig deeper and be braver. All is well… until she pushes too far, too soon.

I related to this story a lot, especially to Megan’s character. I think we’re all forced to grow up one day or another, but for some of us it takes time. If Cass hadn’t been there to introduce her best friend to new things and show her a side of the world she hadn’t seen before, who knows when Megan would have had the chance to experience these new things. Or maybe she would have, but with the wrong crowd, someone who doesn’t have her back. Cass’ aggressive way of throwing new things at Megan did rub me the wrong way, because I wonder, can you really force growth? Isn’t it supposed to happen naturally, over time? More importantly, should you force it? Too much, too soon can be overwhelming for someone who has lived a fairly sheltered life and has only just recently started voicing her own opinions and standing up for herself. The truth is that, whether you agree with Cass’ actions or not, and Megan’s responses to these actions, you are at least sure to be emotionally affected by them because the author and illustrator draws with intent and meaning. I was glued to this graphic novel until the very end. Con: I finished it in 15 minutes. Pro: Those were some intense 15 minutes that I wouldn’t mind repeating.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

WolfWalkers: The Graphic Novel

I am not normally a fan of movie novelizations. I like original works. If a book came first, I like to start with that and if I really, really enjoyed it or want to know more about the characters and world, then I watch the movie and vice-versa. But in this case, I tried to watch the movie and that did not work out. While the graphics were absolutely stunning and unique besides, I simply could not take the slow-pacing. Perhaps it does pick up, as it does in the graphic novel, but I had to force myself to watch it and that never feels quite good. All of that to say that I was very pleased to learn that the movie was turned into a graphic novel, as I did genuinely want to know more about the story.

This is a very beautiful graphic novel. Unsurprisingly, the illustrations are gorgeous. Because I did watch a bit of the movie, I was already a little acquainted with the characters and was able to imagine their voices while I read, but it still felt very nice to learn more about them through paper. It’s quite convenient, I’d say, because with books you can generally read slower or faster. Of course, every story has its own pacing, but you can cheat a little if that allows you to have a better reading experience. With movies, not so much. I guess, in some cases, one can change the speed but it doesn’t feel that good or natural to me. So I absolutely loved being able to follow the story at a pacing more suited for me. It allowed me to feel comfortable reading this graphic novel and get through the storyline much quicker and easier.

To briefly summarize, this is the story of two girls – one human and one half-wolf. One lives in town and the other in the forest near the town. The new ‘‘protector’’ of the town wants to eradicate the forest and the wolves in it, but this puts the half-wolf and her family in danger. Robyn, the human girl, decides to help Mebh, the werewolf, be safe from human danger. The two are quite the pair. Robyn’s goal proves itself to be particularly challenging, since people of the town are scared and angry and think that they will only feel safe if they kill the wolves. Also, Robyn’s father is a hunter and he is especially hard to convince that wolves must be protected. It’s an emotional story with a touching beginning, middle and end. I do admit that I did not find the ending all that realistic, even for a fantasy story, and it was pretty quick besides, but the rest as they say in French chapeau!

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Squad Goals – Erica J. Kendrick

Magic’s family members are all a bunch of athletes… and she’s not. She’d like dearly to be able to follow in her mom, sister and grandma’s footsteps and become a kickass cheerleader, but alas she falls more than she claps. Yet she isn’t one to quit, and this summer she’s aiming high: become a HoneyBee cheerleader and prove to everyone, most important her family and herself, that she hasn’t skipped the athlete gene.

Sometimes, as a reader, I was unsure if she was doing all of this to make her family proud or if she really had an actual passion and deep interest for dancing and cheering people up. Her family’s opinion obviously means the world to her and she certainly does not want to disappoint them. Regardless, it’s good to try things that we’re not necessarily automatically good at, and Magic is certainly here to prove that hard work and dedication, with time, show beautiful results. Slow and steady wins the race, right? She’s not one to quit after the first or second or third failed attempt at a cheer move.

Although, Magic is doing more than just try to achieve a dream of joining her school’s cheer squad, which her family shares. She’s also dealing with friendship drama—navigating between her best friend and new friends—, a new crush that totally seems out of her league, bullying from the other participants at the cheer camp and her own insecurities. Luckily, Magic is not alone to deal with all of this and she can count on her grandma’s ‘‘magic’’ pom-poms to give her strength, courage and remind her of her goals whenever she loses sight of them.

I think this is a cute and well-executed story. It has a lot of expected elements in a middle grade story, as you may have noticed already, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable read that one can finish in a quiet afternoon. I enjoyed spending time with Magic and doing my best to cheer her on from the sidelines. I’m also just generally entertained by stories involving sports. I do admit that I’m conflicted about whether it’s a good idea to feature the idea of ‘‘getting even’’ in such a story, as opposed to exploring the concept of ‘‘turning the other cheek’’ or ‘‘responding to hate with kindness.’’ As seen in the story, responding to embarrassment and humiliation with more embarrassment and humiliation leads to more embarrassment and humiliation, yet I’m not sure that Magic herself understood that. Overall, though, this was a relatively solid debut novel and I hope for more in the future from this author.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the free copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones – Daven McQueen

53805921. sy475 The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Received: Raincoast Books
Published: June 16th, 2020
Publisher: Wattpad Books
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Racism, Friendship


REVIEW:

This is a beautiful book about a life-changing summer shared between two characters full of heart. After his father leaves him with his aunt and uncle in an unknown place, Ethan thinks he’s going to spend the worst summer ever. No one in Alabama seems to want him there, excluding but sometimes even including his extended family, except this one strange girl named Juniper Jones, who is like no one Ethan has ever met. Continue reading

Camp – Kayla Miller

42873833Camp by Kayla Miller

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Received: Library
Published: 2019
Publisher: HMH BFYR
Recommended Age: 7+
Genres & Themes: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Friendship Dynamics, Summer Camps, Social Isolation


REVIEW:

It was good to spend some time with Olive again. In the first graphic novel, she had trouble expressing her creative side and communicating with her friend groups. In this companion, she and her good friend Willow are away at camp. Everything is going well in the beginning. Olive and Willow are sticking together but Olive wants to branch out a little and try different things, talk to more people, whereas Willow wants to stick with the familiar. Continue reading

One Year at Ellsmere – Faith Erin Hicks

46223329One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Received: Raincoast Books
Published: July 14th, 2020
Publisher: First Second
Recommended Age: 8+
Genres & Themes: Middle School, Graphic Novel, Friendship, Bullying, Boarding School


REVIEW:

I don’t understand. I don’t understand why some authors decide to include one fantasy element in an otherwise completely contemporary story. I understand magical realism. I think it can be very beautiful, surprising and, well, magical. But this was no magical realism story. Continue reading