“I think of my grandmother -- how sturdy she was. An anchor that could not be moved against her will. Many feared her, the strong tenor of her voice, her wild dark hair -- I never saw her take a brush to it and it often caught in the wind and bound into knots, but moments later it was silk down her back. She was a marvel. And I wish I was her right now, I wish I knew what she knew.”
Nora Walker is rumored to be a witch. She is a finder and can find things that are lost and missing; the Wicker Woods near her family home tolerate her presence and help her find what has been lost. Coming from a long line of strong women, she is grieving her beloved grandmother and does not relate well to her rarely there mom. She'll need her strength, her courage, and forces that she's not sure she possesses in order to face the mystery at the center of the story.
What Ernshaw does so well is create a rich winter tapestry framed within a spooky, slightly off kilter setting. I also love her commentary on witches, strong women, and the way boys in groups can behave. Both Oliver and Nora are richly drawn, compelling, and compassionate.
A tender budding romance, an unlikely friendship, and a mysterious event are all at the core of this haunting tale. A boy is missing and another boy is dead, and Nora Walker will find herself at the crux of this grisly mystery, doing her best to keep herself from unraveling.
In Romanov, Nadine Brandes explores what happened to the Romanov family in Russia from the time of their captivity after the forced abdication of the throne through their executions and beyond. The Unabridged crew had a chance to interview Nadine about this awesome book; see the link at the bottom of this post to check out everything she shared!
This novel focuses on the young, spunky, courageous Anastasia (Nastya), who is a teenager when the abdication happens. However, Brandes also explores the other family members through Nastya's relationships with them. Through the course of the novel, the readers get to know Natstya's siblings, especially the eldest, Maria, and Alexei, Nastya's sickly brother who was heir to the throne prior to the revolution.
In this historical fiction young adult novel mingled with fantasy, magic and imagination play a powerful role in the way that events unfold for some of the members of the Romanov family. During their captivity, the Romanovs find unexpected friendships and even love. Some of the soldiers who guard the family find themselves questioning the Bolsheviks' decisions as they discover the kindness, playfulness, and cheerfulness of the Romanov children. Both Nastya and Maria find themselves falling for soldiers who guard them, and comrades Ivan and Zash take different attitudes toward their situation, but both struggle to manage their feelings.
In this novel, Brandes explores how loyalty to a cause can come into question when faced with the humanity of those on the other side. The Romanov family members, led by their father's example, are kind and compassionate toward the soldiers who guard them, which evolves into unexpected understanding between the two groups. Both Nastya and Zash find their feelings for each other growing stronger as their time together lengthens. However, the political complexities keep them all on edge as the situation for the family grows ever more desperate.
One of the aspects of the novel that I most appreciated was the question of culpability and the role of forgiveness. Though tensions are high throughout the period of captivity, tender moments also surround the Romanov family, and that tenderness evolves into a complicated love. In this passage, Nastya considers what has happened and thinks, “I realized that a part of forgiveness was accepting the things that someone had done -- and the pain that came with that -- and moving on with love. Forgiveness was a personal batter that must always be fought in my heart. Daily. And though I was tired of running and fighting and surviving... I wasn't ready to surrender that battle yet.” Nastya has to reconcile her ideals with the reality surrounding her. She also has to consider what she hopes for her beloved country in the face of the current turmoil. Ultimately, she must decide what she hopes for herself and for the land she loves, forcing her to make hard choices.
This was a great novel rife with interesting historical tidbits and rich with complex character dynamics. It brings to life the family, time period, and location of the Romanov regime as it came to its end.
“It was still hard for a Korean to become a Japanese citizen, and there were many who considered such a thing shameful—for a Korean to try to become a citizen of its former oppressor. When she told her friends in New York about this curious historical anomaly and the pervasive ethnic bias, they were incredulous at the thought that the friendly, well-mannered Japanese they knew could ever think she was somehow criminal, lazy, filthy, or aggressive—the negative stereotypical traits of Koreans in Japan.”
I started this book rather randomly one night while trapped in the room with my toddlers who were refusing to go to sleep (but were actually letting me read -- a rare moment, but one that required the Kindle instead of a regular book, which is how I discovered that I'd purchased this book on one of the daily deals... such a good purchase!).
I was immediately swept away by the tender, compelling story of the young Sunja, child of Hoonie and Yangjin, and their family's challenges as they worked to make their living by running a boarding house for people in the small village where they lived in Korea. When Sunja found herself in a position of dishonor and shame, I was moved by her resolution and her courage. As she makes the move to Japan, the story shifts into an exploration of Korean life in Japan. The epic novel moves through generations of Koreans in Japan, and Lee highlights the systemic oppression faced by Koreans in Japan, moving from the early 1900s all the way to present day.
I loved the way the novel showed the complexities of identity and the weight of family. I also found the treatment of Koreans in Japan both appalling and a bit surprising -- I found that it was something about which I knew very little. I loved the way that Lee showed the various reactions and feelings toward the Japanese and life in Japan.
I'm kind of thankful that I didn't realize how long the book was or how many generations would be covered -- I might have felt a little intimidated, or I might have put it off for another time. Instead, I knew nothing about it other than what I know about current day pachinko parlors in Japan, and I found myself wrapped up in the complex story of this family and their struggles to understand their identity (both as individuals and as a collective group).
By tracking the pathways of so many individuals, this novel spans the scope of human experience, and Lee explores the common threads within that experience. “He was suffering, and in a way, he could manage that; but he had caused others to suffer, and he did not know why he had to live now and recall the series of terrible choices that had not looked so terrible at the time. Was that how it was for most people?” Although this thought came from a more minor character, it incapsulates the scope of this powerful narrative and its examination of human experience. Such a profound novel.
This was definitely one of the best reads of 2019 so far for me, and one of the most impactful books I've read in a long time.
Thank you to Partner Netgalley for sharing an e-book copy of this uplifting children's book, Who is My Neighbor? by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Denise Turu.
This is a touching story about the Blues and the Yellows, two groups who are homogenous and a bit xenophobic and prone to bias against the other group until the unlikely mixing of a Yellow (Lemon) and a Blue (Midnight Blue). Lemon and Midnight Blue discover that despite everything they have been told by their neighbors in their respective color groups, things are not what they appear.
When Midnight Blue gets hurt and gets help from Lemon (after being ignored by two members of his Blue group), he discovers that the Yellow world is one of kindness and compassion that is totally different from the way Yellows had been described to him by his Blue community. Lemon, who takes Midnight Blue to her doctor and shares her snack, discovers that Midnight Blue is also kind and gracious. After their encounter, Lemon and Midnight Blue become and remain friends. Seeing them together teaches the neighborhoods that their biases and stereotypes are all wrong, and the two communities change their ways to come together.
This is a sweet, hopeful story that very clearly parallels real life struggles that people have as they encounter others who are different from them (or avoid those others simply because of ignorance and fear). I read it with my four year old, who loved it because of the way that Lemon helped Midnight Blue and because of the way they all came together in the end. She quickly drew connections to skin color and languages, and she mentioned the prejudice that we've read about in other books and how wrong that is.
This is a great children's book with an important message about acceptance and compassion and not accepting that things have to be the way they have always been.
Thank you to Partner Netgalley for my advance copy of this novel. I loved The Belles and was so excited to read the sequel, The Everlasting Rose. Set in the dystopian world of Orléans , this novel reveals the way that quests for beauty and power can spiral out of control as the quest to become the most beautiful and most powerful gets in the way of compassion, equity, and all forms of understanding.
The Belles opens in a world where most people are born gris, meaning that their natural complexion is gray, with red eyes, straw-like hair, and gray whiskers on their faces. This condition is both unattractive and painful. The only exception to this natural state is the Belles, who are born lovely with all different complexions, shapes, and demeanors, but who are all able to use the power within their blood to help others beautify themselves. The Belles are raised to beautify others, and when they come of age, that becomes their duty. In order to avoid this natural but uncomfortable state of being gray, the citizens of Orléans must have routine beauty procedures done, which can only be performed by the Belles. They pay high prices and suffer extreme pain to endure the beauty procedures. Camille Beauregard and her sisters are coming of age at the beginning of The Belles, and they become the group of Belles able to assist all of the people of Orléans, including the royal family, with these procedures. However, as Camille gets deeper into her journey, she quickly realizes that the world is not as it seems and that her talents can be misused and can cause harm.
The Everlasting Rose picks up where The Belles left off, and it captivates the reader immediately. I loved the main characters in the novel and found myself swept up in their riveting adventure, rooting for them to succeed, even though they were facing staggering odds. Camellia Beauregard leads us through the complex world of the royal family as Princess Sophia makes her way toward the throne. Camille discovers that she has powers she did not realize she possessed, but she also realizes that she can be forced and manipulated into doing things that are horrendous. Her unlikely companion, Rémy, and her sister Edel, are both fascinating supporting characters with their own agendas and desires. Additionally, the teacup dragons who travel with them are so precious and fun!
I love the way Clayton demonstrates the power of suggestion, the pressure to fit in, and the role of gossip and the media in what shapes society. I also love her commentary on the way that subliminal messages and peer pressure can lead us all to feel that there is some kind of artificial beauty ideal that we should achieve-- and that the pursuit of that false ideal can destroy us or cause us to destroy others.
Camille's courage, determination, loyalty, and resolute unwillingness to back down make her the kind of woman I hope to be and hope for my daughters to be. She is ready to bring about change, and she faces the uncertain future with resilience and passion.
In short, I cannot wait for Book Three!
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.