Cry, Heart, But Never Break, by Glenn Ringtved (2001, 2016)

Illustrated Book
4-9
Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn RingtvedThis is the second of two books I’m reviewing today on grief and death. They are challenging issues for any of us, and when children are involved, books can offer a way for adults to help kids grasp an understanding of death and accept the pain of loss. This tender and sensitive book offers an honest and gentle approach to an impending loss. Four children are sharing a kitchen table with Death, who has come for their beloved grandmother. Death is presented as a visitor, a kind one, whose heart is surprisingly full of a love for life. The children naturally try to deter Death from his task. Read More »

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As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti (2018)

Fantasy
14-18
As You Wish, by Chelsea SedotiBe careful what you wish for. That’s the lesson Eldon Wilkes is learning as he approaches his 18th birthday, a big event in the isolated town of Madison, Nevada. That’s when you get to make a wish and – it will happen. Oh, sure, there are rules. You can’t wish for more wishes, and you can’t ask for something that will impact the outside world (like world peace, or being a pro NFL player) but the locals are pretty good at finding ways to get what they want. Money is a common request, as is beauty, and happiness. Some wishes are funny – a truck, or a lifetime supply of pot. Others speak to the desperation in some lives – to be loved, or for transcripts good enough to get into Harvard and away the hell from Madison. Read More »

The Big Bad Fox, by Benjamin Renner (2015, 2017)

Animal Fiction
3-11
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin RennerInitially thinking this was a picture book and attracted by the cover, I obtained a digital galley from the publisher. Much to my delight, it turned out to be a graphic novel, numbering about 200 pages. Our protagonist is a hapless fox who is seen as no threat at all by either hens or a lazy guard dog. Frustrated and hungry the fox joins forces with a wolf, agreeing to steal eggs and raise the chicks to a tasty size. But the chicks imprint on the fox and he becomes quite attached while they in turn come to believe they are foxes. Given how evil those hens are, this isn’t a bad thing. The plot is enjoyable as the fox struggles to resolve the situation, and schemes his way to a solution. Read More »

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge (2014, 2016)

Mystery
12-16
The Lie Tree, by Frances HardingeAs embarrassing as it is to admit, I often find myself at odds with the selections for literary awards. I read them because a) everyone asks me if I’ve read it and b) expert readers have judged this a top contribution. But at least half the time, I’m left scratching my head, mystified as to why this book made the list. It’s happened again. Fourteen-year-old Faith is quietly seething under the Victorian constraints imposed by everyone from strangers to her adored father, the Rev. Erasmus Sunderly, who is also a natural scientist. Faith is a brilliant young scholar whose ambitions appear impossible to fulfill. Girls don’t know anything about the moon, her little brother informs her with sober sincerity. Read More »

I Crawl Through It, by A.S. King (2015)

Surrealist Fiction
15-21
I Crawl Through ItDefinitely weird, often confusing, but ultimately fascinating and rewarding, this is a surreal psychological exploration of the minds and lives of four deeply troubled teens in suburban Pennsylvania who face gruelling test weeks even while their school receives daily bomb threats. Brilliant Stansi wears a lab coat everywhere, even on her family’s “vacations” to school shooting sites. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter. Lansdale is a modern-day Pinocchio except it’s her hair that grows with every lie. And China is a poet so damaged she has turned herself inside out. Their parents are absent and self-absorbed, blind to their sons’ and daughters’ pain and anxiety. Read More »

The Visitors, by Simon Sylvester (2014, 2015)

Mystery
16 to Adult
The VisitorsHave a few days off and looking for something different? How about a spooky story set in the fog-limned Scottish isles? Few people visit the remote island of Bancree where 17-year-old Flora Cannon lives with her mother, stepdad and baby brother Jamie. The tapwater is dark with peat, and most folks work for the distillery, including Flo’s stepdad. Her boyfriend is a year older, and has just escaped Bancree for his first year at university. As expected, he dumps her forthwith. She’s not angry; she’s jealous. She has no friends her age on the island, and intends to slog through Grade 12 until she too can leave the island. Bancree is so small, she takes a ferry to attend high school (not unlike some Gulf Island kids here in B.C.). Read More »

Tales from Christmas Wood, by Suzy Senior (2015)

Christmas Fiction
3-7
Tales from Christmas WoodIt’s Christmas Eve, and Christmas Wood looks lovely in the snow. But so much is happening behind the scenes! Badger stumbles across the lovely village and decides on the spot to move in. But her scary teeth make it hard to make new friends. Tiny Mouse is making gingerbread cookies, but his penchant for tasting creates a problem. Rosie Rabbit’s brothers are so noisy they drive their sister out the door, and she becomes lost. Robin wants to grow up to be a hero, and discovers something about himself. Fidgety Fox is looking for adventure and instead finds something scary in the barn! Read More »