The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Weber

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, January 2017.

WEBBER, Katherine. The Heartbeats of Wing Jones. 336p. Delacorte Press. Mar. 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780399555022.

Gr 8 Up – Set in 1990’s Atlanta, this coming-of-age story is realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism, is full of diverse and strong female characters. Bullied for her looks, Wing Jones, half Chinese and half black, doesn’t stand out like her football star, golden boy brother, Marcus. After a night of drinking, Marcus causes an accident, killing two people and ending up in a coma.  Unable to sleep at night, worrying for Marcus and living on the brink of poverty, Wing starts running. Though Marcus is one of the reasons Wing is running, she is able to step out of his shadow, finally feeling acceptance and accomplishment. Aaron, Marcus’s best friend and Wing’s long-time crush, is also a runner, providing a romantic element and additional distraction for Wing. Running gives her the courage to embrace her differences and stand out. Wing’s family back-story regarding her father is heartbreaking, revealed early on, explaining why her father is not in the picture. Wing lives with her mother and both grandmothers, and as such, is surrounded by female role models with take-charge attitudes. The plot moves along quickly, written in first person through Wing’s perspective of the changing world around her. Fans of Jandy Nelson and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy Webber’s debut novel. VERDICT A uniquely original novel about family, love, and the courage to stand up to life’s challenges and triumph which will delight teen readers. Recommended as a general purchase for all libraries.

At the Edge of Summer by Jessica Brockmole

9780345547897_c667aAt the Edge of Summer will be published on May 17, 2016.

It is the summer of 1911, and 15 year old, Clare, is sent from her home in Scotland to Mille Mots, a castle in the French countryside. Her father passed away, so she was send to live with the Crepets, artists and friends of her mother. Clare’s mother, also an artist, disappeared when Clare was younger, leaving Clare with a feeling of being unwanted and unimportant.

At Mille Mots, she meets Luc, the only child of the Crepets. Luc is a few years older than Clare and he studies at the university. Clare is intrigued by Luc, who treats her as an equal and encourages her to be herself, teaching her how to draw and spending time getting to know her.

Just when Clare starts to feel at home with the Crepets and her feelings blossom for Luc, her grandfather shows up to take Clare with him on his journey through Portugal and Africa. Clare is once again thrust  into unfamiliar environments where she feels like an outsider looking in.

Fast forward a few years, as World War I is raging across the land and Luc and Clare have drifted apart, Luc is serving his country in battle. He thinks of Clare often and gets through some very hard days with the help of a friend and fellow soldier named Chaffre. Clare yearns for summer days spent with Luc, the one place she was truly ever happy – at Mille Mots. Thinking about Luc and hoping he makes it out of the war alive, she decides to take his advice and pursue study in art. She attends the Glasgow School of Art, and while there begins volunteering in a Paris studio where artists sculpt prosthetic pieces for injured soldiers. What she finds there will forever change the course of her future.

Brockmole does a fabulous job describing Paris, the French countryside, and the castle at Mille Mots. Readers can easily picture Clare’s surroundings and share in her feelings of loss and sadness when she must leave Mille Mots after such a memorable summer spent there.

The novel includes many letters between Luc and Clare over the years they are apart, some replies and some that go unanswered and unread. The letters add a richness to an already beautiful story line and budding romance.

Another aspect of the story which I really appreciated were the man/woman platonic friendships that both Luc and Clare had while they were apart. Luc became close with Mabel, a nurse who helped him so much after he was injured in the war. Clare is fortunate to meet and become close with Finlay, also an injured solder with a heart of gold. Without the support of Mable and Finlay, Luc and Clare may not have had the courage to find themselves or fight for the way back to each other.

Fans of historical fiction, fiction, and romance will surely enjoy this story. It is well written with an intriguing story line and beautiful descriptions of art and landscape.

 

 

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

9780812996081_8119b.jpgMiller’s Valley is set to be published on April 5, 2016.

I’ve always been a big fan of whatever Anna Quindlen writes, one of my favorites is Black and Blue. Quindlen has a knack for making the reader feel like they are really submersed in the story and in the life of the family being portrayed. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this story, but I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

This is the story of Mary Margaret Miller, who goes by Mimi. It’s a coming of age story, in which the reader watches Mimi grow up and move on with life over and over again, despite some road blocks along the way. The largest of which being the fact that the government plans to flood the valley in order to build a dam, like they did to the neighboring town of Andover a few years back. Along with the day to day stress of family life in a rural farming community is the constant impending doom of when their home and life as they know it be flooded out from under them.

Mimi is not the type to cause any trouble within her family, because there are plenty of others doing that for her. Her older brother, Tommy, also her mother’s pride and joy, is and always will be a playboy, in and out of trouble for as long as Mimi can remember. Mimi grew up on the farm, one of the last remaining Millers of Miller’s Valley, where her family before her has lived for generations. Her father is a farmer and fix-it man, while her mother is a nurse at the local hospital. Mimi’s aunt Ruth lives in the little house just behind her parents house, and she has refused to leave the house for years. Mimi goes through school getting good grades and attempts to leave Miller’s Valley, things keep happening with her brother Tommy, father, aunt Ruth, or mother to hold her back.

My favorite part of this book are the deep relationships between Mimi and the other characters. Mimi narrates the story, so the reader gets to know how she thinks and recognizes all the times where she holds back what she really feels led to say or do, because she is appeasing someone else or keeping the peace, or what little is left of it. Her childhood relationships with friends, Donald and LaRhonda, sibling relationships with Ed and Tommy, and even the parent-child relationships with her father and mother are interesting and keep the reader’s attention. Will Mimi end up like her aunt Ruth, refusing to leave her home or Miller’s Valley? Or will she finally do what Tommy encouraged her to do, get out of Miller’s Valley while she can, in order to make a life for herself? You’ll want to read it to find out. Great story. I especially loved the ending, where Mimi as an old woman looks back on her life and really puts everything in perspective.

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

This is a fabulous story set in the 1960’s in the rural South. Jane is a newlywed, fresh out of college and eager to start her first “professional” job as a social worker. As she becomes increasingly involved in the daily lives of her poverty stricken clients, both white and black families, her wealthy pediatrician husband tries harder to convince her not to work. He would rather her join the Junior League and waste her days away with the other country club wives, as it looks bad for him to have a wife who insists on working. Jane, however, finds great pleasure in her work, as she is truly helping those in need. Soon she meets the Hart family, 17 year old Mary Ella, her 2 year old illegitimate child William,  grandmother Nonnie, and 15 year old Ivy. The girls work on a tobacco farm, which is where their house is located, while William is barely supervised by Nonnie. Mary Ella has some sort of mental illness, William is deemed “slow”, and Nonnie has multiple health problems. Ivy, though she keeps the family together as best as she can, also suffers from epilepsy. As Jane gets to know them, she softens and becomes especially close to Ivy, which could soon cost her a lot in her own personal life.

This story reads quickly because something is always happening to keep the reader’s interest. The way the author depicts daily life in these poor families is heart wrenching, raw, and real. I wasn’t aware of the history about sterilization of colored women, epileptics, poor people, and people of low IQ during the 1960’s. The author includes historically accurate notes at the back of the book that are mind blowing. What a terribly sad thing this was for so many people who weren’t even given a choice. The author put together a beautiful story which brought this important and somewhat overlooked topic of government mandated sterilization to life. I would highly encourage reading this book. It would be an excellent choice for book clubs to discuss.

Water from my Heart by Charles Martin

Charles Martin’s new book Water from my Heart will be published May 19, 2015.

My favorite part of the book was the vivid description of the different places in which the story took place, such as Bimini and Nicaragua. The rich details of the setting cause the story to really come alive in the reader’s imagination. The thing I didn’t like about the book was that the ending was too predictable and sort of tied up with a neat tidy little bow. This book is not really like Charles Martin’s other books. I really enjoyed The Mountain Between Us, Unwritten, and A Life Intercepted. The story line of Water From My Heart was very unlikely. However, the end-papers explain that the story was inspired by a real life situation and people the author met in Nicaragua who suffered similar hardships to the characters depicted in the book. The beginning was a little hard to get hooked, but once the character became immersed in the daily life of a Nicaraguan family, I was captivated by the story. Fans of mainstream or Christian fiction would enjoy this book.