I’ve barely read this month as I try to bust through this slump, but the ones I did read have had a certain theme, no matter how it was framed: survival. And I do love me some survival stories.
Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday, by Christine Reilly (2016, Touchstone, 232 pages, library hardcover). I can’t remember how I heard about this book, but I instantly fell in love with the language. The writing was melodious without sacrificing narrative motion, or getting too mushy. The survival theme here was how love for your family (real and created) lasts through changing iterations of selves and relationships throughout the years, with one screwball family standing for us all. I’d still borrow rather than buy, but a solid 3 of 5 stars for me.
The Girl in the Well Is Me, by Karen Rivers (2016, Algonquin, 224 pages, hardcover). I stumbled across this at my used book stores, although I bought it from the slim “new books” section they like to tease me with. I read the back of the book and had to have it: after accepting a dare from new “friends” in her new town, Kammie falls down a well and gets stuck – with her arms pinned to her sides, which was a bit much for my claustrophobia to be honest. It’s well-written for the middle school set, both keeping the plot and the philosophical issues at an age-appropriate level and also asking the readers to reach a bit and they explore an adult survival situation. I’m tucking this one aside for my girlies. It might be a bit young for my 7th grader, but she’s in a slump of her own (and loves disaster books right now), and my 5th grader would love it, but she’s only into graphic novels right now. Perhaps this will be a read-aloud book? 3 of 5 stars.
Kids of Appetite, by David Arnold (2016, Viking Books, 352 pages, hardcover). I was chomping at the bit to read this book as soon as I first heard whispers that Arnold was writing it. His debut novel, Mosquitoland, was one of my favorite reads – and I’m still not over the fact that Mim isn’t real. So I had high hopes about Kids, a band of homeless orphans who “adopt” Vic, a teen who flees from his mom’s house with his father’s ashes after her new boyfriend asks to be her new husband. The group adventures around the city, fulfilling a list of love-errands left in a cryptic note by Vic’s dad before he died. It read as trite as it sounds at time, and was a bit forced. The characters were cute and quirky – but caricatures most of the time. There were a few genuine bits, but not nearly enough, and it all felt loosely strung together. Honestly, the story read more like a first draft. And so fell my heart. I’m really hoping this was a sophomore slump. I’ll pre-order Arnold’s next…but with a bit more cautious optimism. 2 of 5 stars.
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (2016, Harper, 336 pages, hardcover). You guys, I bought a lot of hardcovers this month! Shame on me! (Although not really.)(But kind of.) And this one was even a special signed first edition. Because Ann Patchett! I adore her writing. State of Wonder and Bel Canto and This Is a Story of a Happy Marriage – all on my favorites of favorites of favorites list. So I saved Commonwealth to read on the airplane while visiting my sister, thinking it would make the ride fly by (see what I did there?). But the story, well, it sort of fell flat. It read to me like a Turner House that didn’t trip my bells and whistles. It was another story about how a family survives and renegotiates relationships and love and betrayal and all the juicy, mundane, every day, once in a lifetime minutia… I just couldn’t connect. Wrong book at the wrong time, I suppose. 2 of 5 stars.
El Deafo, by Cece Bell (2014, Harry N. Abrams, 233 pages, paperback). I bought this graphic novel for Bee-girl because she can’t read them fast enough – and I like feeding that addiction. I’d heard glowing reviews of this story about a young girl who loses her hearing after an illness, and has to be the New Girl at several New Schools with a weird (to elementary school kids) and obvious Disability. The writing and illustrations were top-notch. I loved that not only was Cece’s disability discussed and handled in many different ways and settings, but so many other important issues were subtlely broached. Cece and her best friends get into arguments; Cece has a blowout with her mama; the teacher doesn’t handle a situation correctly, leaving Cece puzzling over how to handle it. Bee loved the book, and I think I would have loved it more were I a ten-year-old, I still read it start to finish in one sitting. I highly recommend for your upper elementary to younger middle graders. It’ll talk about stuff they need to hear without getting it from preachy parents, because Mooooommm! 4 of 5 stars.
Fobbit, by David Abrams (2013, Harvill Secker, 384 pages, used paperback). I heard so many good things about this book back when it came out, and read the two books it was up against in that year’s Tournament of Books, but I never got to Fobbit. And now I’m mad that I didn’t until now! It’s a wickedly sharp and funny and eviscerates a side of war rarely depicted – even in these oddly anti-war years. If you’re into war movies or political shows – say, Wag the Dog or House of Cards – then this is for you. If you want to read how to smartly skewer people and weaponize your words, also worth your while. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.
And that’s it. For, like, October. I told you – I’m slumping bad. But there’s hope. Even a bad slump has to end sometime…
Tags: Ann Patchett, book reviews, book slump, Christine Reilly, Commonwealth, David Abrams, David Arnold, El Deafo, Fobbit, Kids of Appetite, reading, Sunday's on the Phone to Monday, The GIrl in the Well is Me