Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Where the Watermelons Grow (review)

Where the Watermelons Grow
Author: Cindy Baldwin
HarperCollins (To be released July 3, 2018)
e-ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

Twelve-year-old Della Kelly of Maryville, North Carolina, tries to come to terms with her mother's mental illness while her father struggles to save the farm from a record-breaking drought.

A lot of things are wonderful in 12-year-old Della's life, from her best friend, Arden, to the Bee stories she tells her little sister, Mylie, to the delicious sweet taste of cold watermelon on a hot summer day. But when she discovers that her mother's sickness might be coming back, a sickness that confuses her mother about what is real and what is not, Della decides she has to do something about it.

But decisions are easier decided on than acted on, and when all her efforts fail, Della has to face the fact that she may not be able to heal her mother, and will have to work awfully hard to even heal herself. Fortunately, she is not as alone as she sometimes feels.

As a reviewer, I must acknowledge that no book is read in isolation. In the past week, Time magazine posted two articles, one by Matt de la Peña, and then a response by Kate DiCamillo. Each talked about sadness and fear in children's stories, and addressed how honestly and directly authors should talk about difficult topics. Kate DiCamillo talked about asking a friend why she kept reading Charlotte's Web, and whether she thought maybe if she read it again, Charlotte wouldn't die. Her friend's response:

“No,” she said. “It wasn’t that. I kept reading it not because I wanted it to turn out differently or thought that it would turn out differently, but because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to turn out differently. I knew that a terrible thing was going to happen, and I also knew that it was going to be okay somehow. I thought that I couldn’t bear it, but then when I read it again, it was all so beautiful. And I found out that I could bear it. That was what the story told me. That was what I needed to hear. That I could bear it somehow.”

WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW is a wonderful, heart-wrenching story filled with love and hardship and hope and harsh realities. It shows that life can be terrible and scary and out of your control, and yet it can still be beautiful, and you can bear it all somehow.

I heartily recommend this to children and teens (and even adults) everywhere. Life is hard and filled with struggles, but you can bear it somehow.

Five stars!

To be released in July 2018, but available for pre-order now on Amazon

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Adding a Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness tag

Search for reviews tagged with new Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness tag.

A while back, I added a Diversity tag, which has been quite popular. When I recently reviewed Once You Know This, I realized that socioeconomic diversity might not really fit under that Diversity tag, but that more and more books are coming out with themes of poverty, hunger and homelessness. Not only do I want to encourage readers to find and explore these books, I want to encourage myself to read and review more of them (as has happened with diverse books). Hence, a new tag was needed.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Once You Know This (review)

Once You Know This
Author: Emily Blejwas
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (September 19, 2017)

Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. Lately, though, it sure doesn’t feel like it. She and her best friend, Marisol, stick together at school, but at home Brittany’s granny is sick, her cat is missing, there’s never any money, and there’s her little brother, Tommy, to worry about. Brittany has a hard time picturing her future as anything but a plain white sky. If her life is going to ever change, she needs a plan. And once she starts believing in herself, Brittany realizes that what has always seemed out of reach might be just around the corner.

I am not always a fan of "issue" books, and at first I worried this might be too gritty and harsh for middle grade kids to deal with. I think the author could have lightened her touch a little at first, but the characters are strong and appealing, and I quickly got caught up in the glimpses of hope that Brittany couldn't always see for herself. Her friend, Marisol, is a gem (both as a friend and as a character), and I grew more and more interested in the various people who Brittany depends on or who depend on her to get through a life that feels insurmountable yet real.

In some ways, this reminds me of SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR by Matthew Quick, though aimed at somewhat younger readers. That is high praise from me, though it is tempered by the worry that only some kids will be able to handle the variety of issues. But perhaps I underestimate today's middle grade students, many of whom deal with a world that is difficult and challenging.

I like how the seeds of hope are planted in this book, and that when they grow, it is not unrealistically rosy, but is very satisfying. I also like that the adults in Brittany's life, while flawed in different ways, are clearly trying to do what is best for her, even when they can't always manage.

ONCE YOU KNOW THIS is heartfelt and sincere with a strong dose of hopeful even against a grim backdrop. Ultimately, it is very satisfying, and the characters will stay with you. For those children who relate to it, I can see it becoming a favorite.

This is a very good book, and I recommend it for 9-14 year-olds with the caveat that it is somewhat intense, and the number of issues may be wonderful for some readers, but too much for others.

Four stars out of five.

Available on Amazon.