Sunday, April 30, 2017

MMGM (5/1/2017): All the Answers by Kate Messner

For MMGM, I am recommending All the Answers by Kate Messner.

Here's the publisher's description:

What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Would you know what your teachers were thinking? When Ava Anderson finds a scratched up pencil, she doodles like she would with any other pencil. But when she writes a question in the margin of her math quiz, she hears a clear answer in a voice no one else seems to hear. 

With the help of her friend Sophie, Ava figures out that the pencil will answer factual questions only--those with definite right or wrong answers--but won't predict the future. Ava and Sophie discover all kinds of uses for the pencil, and Ava's confidence grows with each answer. But it's getting shorter with every sharpening, and when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava's family, she realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers . . .

This book has become one of my all-time favorites. I love the premise, the characters, and the fun (and horrible) revelations, but most of all, I love this book's depiction of anxiety. As someone who has anxiety, I can relate to how the main character, Ava, often worries, whether about her family or her safety on a particularly nerve-wracking school field trip. Ava's worries and how she is sometimes trapped in them, nearing full-blown panic, or overcoming them, finally convincing herself to do things, is so realistic that it seems just like a vivid memory. I love how Ava's relationship with the pencil is both good, allowing Ava to help others, such as at her grandfather's nursing home, and bad, allowing Ava to answer her worries, some of which are true, making her worry more in anticipation and dread. Finally, I love how this book manages many complex topics, as well as many smaller ones, to create an incredibly realistic depiction of life and of a person with anxiety. (Even despite the magic pencil!) This book is amazingly written and so enjoyable to read, whether through the true-to-life sad parts or the truly uplifting happy ones.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

MMGM (4/24/2017): Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

For MMGM, I am recommending Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Here's the publisher's description:

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "forever" part . . . 
Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century. 
Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. 
Or so she thinks. 
Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya's Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut graphic novel from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel! It is a very quick read (I read it in about an hour), as well as a very fun one. The main character, Anya, has a family who has only lived in America for several years, having come from Russia. Anya smokes in an attempt to seem cool, and she isn't a good student. Just a few pages in, Anya falls down a well, where she meets the ghost of someone who died in the well. Anya and the ghost become fast friends, at least until they have a falling out and Anya discovers something shocking about the ghost. Although Anya makes many mistakes, she is a likable character, and she is very realistic. I also enjoyed the book's theme, which is mainly about how we perceive people as having better lives than we do, when that may not be true. Finally, I love the art style of this book, which is drawn mainly in black and white, although the black has more of a purple look to it. All in all, Anya's Ghost is an entertaining, thoughtful, and just-creepy-enough read!

Poetry Sunday (4/23/2017): "Rain" by Mary Oliver

If you've ever read my early Poetry Sunday posts, you might be aware that I often recommended Mary Oliver poems. Today, however, I finally get to recommend my favorite, which I don't think was legally available online until now: "Rain" by Mary Oliver. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

MMGM (4/10/2017): Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

For today's MMGM, I am recommending Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (author of When You Reach Me).

(If you are confused by this cover, it is the redesigned version, not the original.)

Here's the publisher's description:

This brilliant, New York Times bestselling novel from the author of the Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me explores multiple perspectives on the bonds and limits of friendship. 

Long ago, best friends Bridge, Emily, and Tab made a pact: no fighting. But it’s the start of seventh grade, and everything is changing. Emily’s new curves are attracting attention, and Tab is suddenly a member of the Human Rights Club. And then there’s Bridge. She’s started wearing cat ears and is the only one who’s still tempted to draw funny cartoons on her homework.  

It’s also the beginning of seventh grade for Sherm Russo. He wonders: what does it mean to fall for a girl—as a friend?  

By the time Valentine’s Day approaches, the girls have begun to question the bonds—and the limits—of friendship. Can they grow up without growing apart? 

I do love books that are timeless, but sometimes, a book has to be specific to a certain time. That is the case with Goodbye Stranger, which deals with complex problems in a well-written way. The book features several different stories and points of view, all of which, in some way, relate to friendship. The book has a great balance of humor and touching moments. However, above all else, the best part of this book is a major plot point involving Bridge's friend, Em (short for Emily). Em and a boy she knows start exchanging pictures, some of which are of their bodies, and Em's leaks into the school. Goodbye Stranger manages to discuss every major topic that could relate to this, such as who is at fault, how exactly bad this was, etc. This review doesn't do the book justice, but Goodbye Stranger's combination of discussing something important and current and of being an overall great book makes this a great book for any older middle-grader. (And just FYI, I love this book even more than When You Reach Me, if that helps sell you on it!)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

MMGM (4/3/2017) Classic Critique: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

For MMGM, I am doing something a little different. As you might have noticed, all of my past MMGM posts have been recommendations, with little to no criticism. However, I have noticed that, for all the good books out there, some classics (i.e. those we are forced to read) aren't as good as many lesser-known books. Since I recently had to read a book for a school project, I have decided to review it while it's fresh in my memory. Therefore, I am reviewing The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, using the classic pros-and-cons style.

  • Enjoyable style and voice. The Red Pony, originally written in 1945, revolves around a boy named Jody growing up on a ranch in what seems to be the 1920s. Steinbeck's narration of the four short stories comprising the book is enjoyable to read, featuring heavy use of figurative language and a distinct style and voice (the author's voice, not the main character's) that is omniscient, switching between several characters thoughts and feelings.
  • Interesting characters. Steinbeck crafts an interesting cast for the book. Jody is a somewhat strange boy (often noticing what shoes his father is wearing based on their sound, for instance) who rarely talks, while his father is often mean and distant, trying to seem tough, but often internally realizing his mistakes, only to immediately make them again out of shame.
  • Reasonable length. Unlike so many other books of its time, The Red Pony has 100 pages of material formed into a book that is exactly 100 pages. After reading so many 600-page classics, a shorter one is refreshing.

  • Everything is gruesome. There are 5 parts of the book (all of which involve animals) that are described in a way that could traumatize anyone (e.g. cutting open a horse's windpipe, beating a buzzard to death with a rock). This is far too many, and Steinbeck's skill at description is actually problematic here, making it challenging to get through many parts of The Red Pony.
  • Everything is depressing. So much of this book is sad, from the fate of the titular character to the feelings of many characters (such as Jody's grandfather, who always tells the same stories from the past over and over, much to the dismay of Jody's father). Since the book is so short, there are very few happy or hopeful moments, making the book drag on, despite its short length.
  • Everything is misspelled. When character's names are misspelled as "Judy" and "Billly," it is slightly concerning (especially on a copy printed 50 years later—why hasn't it been spellchecked?)

This book has many good qualities, but, in my opinion, its unrelenting sadness severely lowers its ranking. However, it could always be worse, and, for an old book, it is relatively enjoyable, featuring great writing (I can understand why it is a classic). I know many of you will probably disagree with me, but I still hope you enjoyed reading this review!

Poetry Sunday (4/2/2017): THREE POEMS!

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending 3 different poems! They are "Afterwards" by Thomas Hardy, "The Oven Bird" by Robert Frost, and "Keeping Things Whole" by Mark Strand. I hope you enjoy these!