sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

July 8, 2020

into the stacks 2020: march
posted by soe 2:14 am

Here’s what I was reading way back in March, just before the pandemic shut things down locally. I finished the third read that month the day we were sent home “for the next two weeks” and in time to return it to the library the weekend it closed down.

And then I didn’t finish anything else for a month.

But that’s a story for another day. Today, I’ve got three books to talk about:

New Kid, by Jerry Craft

In this graphic novel, artistic seventh-grader Jordan is embarking on his first day at a prep school across the city (and the world) from his Washington Heights neighborhood. For his first day, he’s picked up by his student liaison, whose father tells him to lock the car doors while he rings Jordan’s doorbell. This is just the first of many microagressions that Jordan is going to face as one of the few students of color at a school that features an auditorium named for his student liaison’s family. Middle school is tough even without that baggage, but Jordan is going to get through it. But he’s going to have to do that while dealing with teachers who call him by other Black kids’ names, hearing about fancy vacations, navigating city bus rides to school through neighborhoods where no one looks like him, wishing he could attend art school instead but not being able to convince his parents, and listening to taunts from the kids he grew up with about why he thinks he’s too good to hang out with them now.

Middle school sucks, but inevitably we find our way forward and through. We find our group, we find the classes where we excel, and we find teachers who see our potential. And this is true of Jordan, as well. The universality of this transition makes it easy for us all to connect with Jordan’s story, but the specificity of his struggles will either reflect a shared experience to some or provide insight for others. Either way, this is a great book for anyone to read, and I highly recommend it. It’s got the Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the Kirkus Prize to prove that I’m not the only person to endorse it. (“Don’t just take my word for it…”)

Pages: 256. Library copy.

A Fatal Grace, by Louise Penny

In the second of the Three Pines series, we find Inspector Gamache and his wife on Boxing Day having a look through cold cases of another precinct. When his wife finds the recent murder of a homeless woman they recognize, he agrees to look into it. Meanwhile in Three Pines, a horrible woman who is cruel to her daughter and husband and spitefully mean to artist Clara, dies while watching an outdoor curling match with the whole village present. Gamache is summoned to the scene and must begin piecing together the truth from the beloved cast of characters from the first book, the woman’s family and paramour, and a trio of old women, one of whose yoga studio has the same name as the dead woman’s self help business. He is joined by his faithful #2, his devoted team, a new, local sergeant, and the hapless and disgraced sergeant he dismissed the last time he worked in Three Pines. Is her return a sign of trouble to come from police headquarters in Quebec? And how do they relate to Gamache’s past?

When I had the chance to hear Louise Penny speak, she described the series like a new friendship. The first book is getting coffee. The second is drinks. The third is a meal. And soon after that you’ve got in-jokes and shorthand and are old friends. And she’s right. Her character-driven series is solid, and if you could be convinced that you won’t be the one murdered, you might really aspire to live in the charming Quebecois village.

Pages: 311. Library audiobook copy, via Overdrive.

Brown, by Håkon Øvreås, Yvind Torseter (illustrations), Kari Dickson (translation)

Rusty’s grandfather has just died and Rusty and his family are struggling. His mom is sad and anxious, and Rusty misses his grandfather. One night, after bullies destroyed the fort that he and his friend were building, he awakens to the sound of his grandfather’s broken pocket watch ticking. He realizes that this means he’s supposed to take on the role of being a superhero and seek vengeance on those who’ve wronged him. So, dressed in a hodgepodge of brown clothing and armed with brown paint from his grandfather’s garage, he heads out to paint the bike of one of the bullies. And the next day, the bully’s father comes to ask if Rusty and his family know anything about this. “Brown” is joined, after a few nights, by other young superheroes, “Blue” and “Black,” (who closely resemble Rusty’s friends, Lou and Jack) in exacting revenge. Each night, as he is returning home, he meets his grandfather’s ghost, who counsels him, until one final night.

I’ll be honest; I’m a little fuzzy on the details of this one after several months, but I liked it a lot in the immediate wake of reading it. I’d recommend it to those early chapter book readers who might be fond of notebook novels or someone grieving for a loved one.

Pages: 136. Library copy.

Book totals: 3
Page totals: 703
Authors’ profiles: 1 American (Black), 1 Canadian (white), 1 Norwegian (white)

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