Quick Revew: Emancipation Day and The War That Saved My Life

Both of these books take place during World War II.

  • Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady
    • Rating: ★★½ [ratings guide]
    • This is only the second book I’ve read that uses passing to explore racial identity and prejudice. Boy, Snow, Bird introduced me to the concept, of which I was previously ignorant. 
    • I liked the setting and the incorporation of historical events. I especially liked that part of the story is set in Newfoundland prior to its joining with Canada. 
    • The story is pretty bleak and felt flat overall, to me. Missing that spark that brings a story alive. The final line definitely caught me in the gut, though! Ouch, what a conclusion.
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
    •  Rating: ★★★ [ratings guide]
    • I like stories about plucky young evacuees during WWII. I suppose that comes from the Narnia books and the film Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I should read more books about them.
    • A lot of the story felt unbelievable to me. Mam reads as a caricature and Ada teaches herself unaided (to walk, to ride a horse) remarkably well for a nine-year-old who’s been shut in doors her entire life. The ending is a bit of a spectacle. However, if I were younger, I think I would forgive these aspects of the books in favour of Ada herself, whose line of thinking and emotional reactions feel very much so believable. She could be very inspirational. I would cheer when she succeeds because of her bravery and I would admire her devotion to her brother.
    • I wonder if Ada was meant to have an autism spectrum disorder? Her screaming, her distancing moments, disliking touch and the comfort she finds in being wrapped in pressure prompted this thought. (Pardon my ignorance if I’m way off base here – these could also all be symptoms of being locked up her whole life). At least, I like to think a child who experiences these things and reads this book will find someone to look up to in Ada.

Quick Review: The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

★★★½
  • Key words to describe this book: Diversity and Canadian history and classism and folklore and sexism and racism and adventure! Whoo, that’s a lot for one book to address, but all these topics factor into the story. I guess the best word here is intersectionality? It’s great to see that in a novel for younger readers. Even though this book tackles many subjects, it’s primarily a fun story. You could dig deeper into those topics if you wish, or you could just enjoy it as an adventure book. It has a great premise and kicks off to a strong start.
    • I like how the darker side of the CPR’s history is acknowledged. For example, comments are made early in the book about how it was a terrible working situation for Chinese people.
    • Will and I have the same hometown, a city where many Métis people live. I was excited to find Mr. Dorian is Métis (111). I’ve never read a fiction book that wasn’t specifically about Indigenous people where there’s a Métis character.
    • I was a bit thrown when they dressed Will in yellow face like that wasn’t at all a problem (141). With racism being a forefront subject in this novel, I thought that such disguises would have been handled more sensitively
  • I’m not sure about Maren’s role. I think she could have used more fleshing out. It’s great that she spurns Will’s coddling and shows she can make her own decisions and take risks, but I felt that was her only purpose (“Look, girls can act on their own!”). She’s also the only female character of any significance.
  • I thought the story was well-paced (though it did slow up a bit in the middle as they moved their performances from class to class). I was surprised when I noticed I was already 50 pages in.
  • Oooohhhhh, the description of breakfast makes me want to cry. I want to eat it all!!!! (121)
  • Overall, an entertaining and easy read, enhanced by the historical Canadian setting infused with a touch of folk fantasy.

Quick Review: A Snicker of Magic and Escape from Camp 14

When I do a quick review post, there’s usually two books and I’m able to connect them somehow, as indicated in the post title. But with these two I can’t manage a connection!

  • A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
    • Rating: ★★★½ [ratings guide]
    • A very sweet and comforting story, about family and friendship and belonging and magic. I like that adult struggles were included alongside Felicity’s (the narrator) own.
    • I don’t think I’ve ever read a story where the only conflict was overcoming personal challenges. There’s no antagonist to be found here. This is part of the reason why I think this story is very sweet. No one is the bad guy, no one is against anyone else. 
    • I liked Felicity’s word collecting and her little sister Frannie Jo (can Frannie Jo have a spin-off book, please?)
    • Jonah, one of the main characters, has a physical disability. I think how Lloyd incorporates that disability into the story should serve as an example to anyone looking to do the same. His disability is not the story, but nor is it an invisibility. The references to Jonah’s wheelchair take up no more space than if he didn’t have a wheelchair. For example, where one might read “He ran ahead”, you’ll find “He rolled ahead”. This is how easy it is to include a diverse character. They really can be just like any other character.
  • Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
    • Rating: ★★★ [ratings guide]  
    • An extremely illuminating and significant read 
    • Brutal and real in order to give readers an understanding of how life in the camp impacted Shin (could be difficult for some to read)
      • A saddening exploration of how a bad environment (nurture) affects a person. Shin’s only frame of references is life in the camp, under what he learns from the guards and his teachers, and so he buys into that completely, because he doesn’t know any different. The book does go on to explore the difficulties he has adjusting to life outside of the camp and how he comes to realize that he did not ‘learn’ to feel the right emotions (ex. didn’t care at all about his mother, now feels guilty about it).
    • Although Shin’s experiences are contextualized by what was happening in North Korea at the same time, the book doesn’t give a full picture of the situation in North Korea (and it doesn’t purport to; it’s primarily Shin’s story). Further reading is necessary if you wish to learn about North Korean history or the overall quality of life for general citizens (not those born and raised in a political prisoners like Shin)

Review: The Swallow by Charis Cotter

Author: Charis Cotter
Title: The Swallow: A Ghost Story
Format/Source: eBook/Netgalley
Published: September 2014
Publisher: Tundra Books
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Middle grade ghost story
Why I Read: Intriguing premise, cute cover
Read If You’re: Looking for a good ghost story, or a story about friendship
Rating:  ★★★★ [ratings guide]
GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon 
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Publisher’s description: In 1960s Toronto, two girls retreat to their attics to escape the loneliness and isolation of their lives. Polly lives in a house bursting at the seams with people, while Rose is often left alone by her busy parents. Polly is a down-to-earth dreamer with a wild imagination and an obsession with ghosts; Rose is a quiet, ethereal waif with a sharp tongue. Despite their differences, both girls spend their days feeling invisible and seek solace in books and the cozy confines of their respective attics. But soon they discover they aren’t alone–they’re actually neighbors, sharing a wall. They develop an unlikely friendship, and Polly is ecstatic to learn that Rose can actually see and talk to ghosts. Maybe she will finally see one too! But is there more to Rose than it seems? Why does no one ever talk to her? And why does she look so… ghostly? When the girls find a tombstone with Rose’s name on it in the cemetery and encounter an angry spirit in her house who seems intent on hurting Polly, they have to unravel the mystery of Rose and her strange family… before it’s too late.

Recently, I read Doll Bones. I was most looking forward to the creepy aspect of that book, but the ghost story line seemed to fall by the side in favour of the friendship/growing up story line. Happily, The Swallow satisfied my desire for an eerie middle grade read, striking just the right balance between belonging and friendship, and ghostly terror. A handful of frightening scenes made me anxious while reading this book in the dark before bed! But the fright is not prolonged or overwhelming. There are humorous scenes that do not detract from the creepy of the story, but add to the realistic portrayal of a budding friendship between two young girls. The scene in which they meet for the first time is a particularly good example of this. I enjoyed the focus on the relationships between the two girls and their respective families. I liked that the ghost story is integral to their own lives, and not part of some outside adventure like in Doll Bones. I was surprised to find some emotional parts in this book well – I actually teared up! The story of searching for belonging at that age is one I think many children might relate to.

The story is written in first person, with chapters alternating between Polly and Rose. Some may find such a narration confusing, especially given the short chapters, but I thought the transitions felt seamless and comfortable. I appreciate this sort of narrative because I think it gives you a better understanding of a character than if you learn about them solely through a third or first person perspective. In The Swallow particularly, this style keeps the reader on their toes about whether Rose is a ghost.

Please Note: The next paragraph discusses the conclusion of The Swallow. Skip to The Bottom Line to avoid.

The twist!! There is a twist, and I didn’t expect it at all. I assumed the setting of the 1960s was for atmospheric purposes, so when the timing became significant to the plot I thought “Doh!” I was totally prepared for the main drive of the story being the conclusion of whether Rose is a ghost. So, when a twist came, I was very pleased that it was not over the top (i.e., preceding by heavy foreshadowing and anticipation that something was going to happen), and that it really came as a surprise to me. It was hinted at shortly before the reveal, so I did guess, but I believe you were meant to – it wasn’t dragged out for very long and while the actual revelation was still a surprise, I was excited to read it and I exclaimed “OH OH YES VERY GOOD!!” Well done, Ms. Cotter. I do have one criticism about the conclusion, however. There is no resolution between Polly and her brothers. There’s a moment where they mention they feel like her death was their fault, drawing a clear parallel between how Willie felt about Winnie. I think some sort of farewell between the three of them before Polly moved on would have been appropriate.

 

The Bottom Line: A great debut novel that will grab your attention from the start, The Swallow provides equal enjoyment for those looking for a good tale about belonging and friendship, or for those looking for a spooky ghost story.

Further Reading: 

Quick Review: Breezy Summer Reads

I read each of these books – one young adult and one middle grade – in one sitting. 

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
    • Rating: ★★★ [ratings guide
    • The second book I ever purchased solely due to hype
    • I really liked the narrative style – without it, this would have been a one or two star book.
      • Some people don’t like broken lines in their prose novels. To me it’s either annoying if done intrusively, or it creates a rhythm that suits certain characters’ personalities. I think the use of broken lines suits Candace’s dramatic, whimsical personality, and I don’t think they’re overused.
    • Not sure how I feel about the characters. I guess they felt realistic but they didn’t really compel me.
      • I was not expecting this book to be so much about racism or inter-generational family conflicts.
      • But really it’s all about rich people problems so if you’re not into that, stay away.
    • The big twist was something of a disappointment (as it pretty much was bound to be after all the hype), but especially because it was very similar to what I had just read in another book.
        • SPOILERS (highlight to see):
        • I thought there would still be more after the fire reveal, about when she hit her head…but then it just turned out to be she was so traumatized she blacked everything out. I thought maybe the big twist

        • I wonder how the twist would stand up on a re-read, i.e. how obvious the clues would be. The fact that her friends were dead was not a huge shocker, but the fire and how it came about was interesting (if I hadn’t read that ending in another book just a few weeks earlier, I might have enjoyed the twist a lot more.
  • Doll Bones by Holly Black
    • Rating: ★★★ [ratings guide
    • This is a good story about growing up but a not-so-good creepy adventure story. The three kids read as tweens, not as teens or adults in small bodies. I was expecting something akin to Coraline and was greatly disappointed in that area. However, there were some really poignant moments (such as when Alice reveals why she’s so adverse to Poppy’s ghost hunt). I think this book would have been much stronger without the doll story line, which admittedly is the main focus and probably what draws kids to the book.