Goodreads: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
Published: June 25, 2013
Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.
Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library has a clear audience: anyone who likes books. So it should be a great choice for anyone reading this blog (You like books, right? And libraries?). Grabenstein works to grab potentially more reluctant readers, as well, by combining this topic with the fun of board games and the cleverness of puzzles and puns. He brings readers not just into a library, but into Mr. Lemoncello’s library, which is filled not only with the latest technology (holograms, touchscreens, smartboards, etc.) but also with secrets.
The plot centers on a group of children who have been “trapped” in Mr. Lemoncello’s library and must follow a series of hidden clues in order to escape. All kinds of fun ensues as the children battle with wits and literary knowledge to be the first one out the door. In many cases, however, the puzzles are not ones that readers can figure out along with the characters. Kyle and his friends often use their knowledge of Mr. Lemoncello’s board games to solve their way through clues. While many of these games are clearly based on real versions (modified Trivial Pursuit, for example), they remain fictional and readers cannot be as immediately familiar with them, their rules, and their secret shortcuts as the characters. However, there are a few straight-up puzzles, like rebuses, and plenty of trivia questions that occasionally allow readers to get in on the game.
The plot is generally interesting, particularly if one likes books and enjoys literary allusions and puns. Things briefly slow in the middle of the novel, as the children spend several chapters tracking down a series of Dewey Decimal numbers and their corresponding books. Eventually, even the characters seem to realize they could have completed this task much more quickly, if they had formed a more efficient plan of action. After that is settled, however, the pace picks up again and the race is back on through the world’s most surprising library.
As a bonus, the game the children play is not as cut-throat as many of the reality games readers may be used to. Mr. Lemoncello’s contestants are rewarded for good sportsmanship and penalized or even disqualified for breaking the rules (or people, or things). It is immensely refreshing and encouraging to find a game that is truly based on and won with brainpower, not sneakiness or force. Young readers will be reminded of the positive impact their kindness and honesty can have in their lives, while readers of any age will smile to see a situation where all good deeds go rewarded.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is not quite as quirky or clever as other middle grade novels striving for the same effect (The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and The Name of the Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch come to mind), but it is a fun and slightly wacky read. Recommended for readers of all ages, both those looking to revel in their love of books and those seeking to discover what makes books exciting.
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Published: May 7, 2013
Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.
Never having read anything by Andrea Cremer or David Levithan, I opened Invisibility with no expectations. Although contemporary romance is not my preferred genre, I was intrigued by the element of fantasy; I wanted to see how one boy’s invisibility was incorporated into his otherwise average life in Manhattan. Basically, I thought Invisibility might bear similarities to magical realism, which would be unique for YA fiction. The first half of the novel does not disappoint, but the second half turns into a full-out quest across Manhattan for a dangerous cursecaster—which never entirely matches the tone of the beginning of the book and which never seems as urgent or interesting to the outside audience as the characters find it to be. While Invisibility experiments playfully with mixing genres, it fails to mix them into coherency, and the result is a disorienting novel with a few shining moments of potential.
As noted, Invisibility seems unable to decide whether it is primarily a romance, a fantasy, or a story of character growth (or primarily the character growth of Stephen, Elizabeth, or Elizabeth’s brother Laurie, who gets his own complicated plotline as a boy recovering from being bullied for his homosexuality). However, since much of the plotline stems from Stephen’s and Elizabeth’s relationship, it seems fitting to begin there. Unfortunately, there is rather boring. Stephen and Elizabeth suffer from an extreme case of instalove, forming a romantic attachment at only their third meeting (and their first meeting was a five minute chat in their apartment hallway). Beyond the fact that Elizabeth is the only person who can see Stephen, and one of the few who even know he exists, it is difficult to tell what their relationship is based on. Perhaps their mutual loneliness? Either way, the two seem stuck together more for plot reasons than because they are somehow innately suited for each other. I had little personal interest in what they did or whether they survived as a couple.
Elizabeth’s relationship with Laurie is vastly more complex, as the two argue and tease like real siblings but also feel mutually protective of each other. Elizabeth worries whether Laurie’s homosexuality will be accepted in a new city. Laurie worries about Elizabeth’s new mysterious boyfriend and whether he is treating her right. Both worry about each other as the fantasy aspect of the plot picks up and they become embroiled in the dangerous world of cursecasters. Even with their dynamic aside, Laurie is easily the most compelling character of the novel, approaching every situation with a good humor, a wise heart, and the steadfastness to take any action necessary for the protection of his friends. In contrast, Elizabeth spends most of her time becoming irrationally angry, yelling at people, and ignoring sound advice. It is difficult to wish her success on any personal level; mostly I wanted her to win the battle of wills against the cursecaster because she was on the “good” side.
Yet the war between good and evil does not seem as dire as Elizabeth & Co. believe. [SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH] On one hand, the magic in Invisibility is not well-developed enough to seem believable. Basically, there are a handful of “cursecasters” who curse a disproportionate amount of the population—who are completely unsuspecting, besides the even smaller handful of “spellseekers” who can see the curses but not do much to stop them. This all seems so unjust and so unbalanced. And it begs the question of why it even matters that this world of magic exists beneath our unsuspecting noses. “Cursecasters” curse people and they suffer but have no idea they are cursed, so they carry on with their daily lives. How…dull.
The other “big reveals” of the novel are similarly disappointing. In the beginning of THE story the readers learn that Stephen’s mother will not give him any details about how he became invisible. She says that telling him will grossly endanger him. When Stephen finally does learn, he is “broken.” From a reader’s perspective, he is really overreacting because it is not that big of a deal and the knowledge alone does not put him into peril. Only the actions he takes with the knowledge can do that.
Invisibility has high points: the fantastic character development of Laurie, the boldness of imagining what it would be like to live literally invisibility, the astute descriptions of life in New York City. In between these points, however, is a lot of slow and underdeveloped plot. A romantic fantasy set in the City That Never Sleeps should have too much going on to be boring.
If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.
Sarah Dessen is known for her contemporary romances featuring strong girls seeking to overcome personal issues. If you are looking for readers with a similar vibe, then look no farther!
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
One of my favorite contemporary romances, this story is brimming with heart. Jace and Samantha’s relationship grows slowly and naturally, leading to a romance in turns sweet and just a little bit sensual. Additionally, readers are introduced to Jace’s large family, and his younger brothers and sisters will win readers’ hearts as easily as Jace does (especially George!). A highly recommended read that offers just the right blend of fun and thought-provoking themes.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Stephanie Perkins has a knack for writing romances that incorporate cliche fantasies (a love affair in Paris, France!) into wonderfully real characters and books. Anna, at times kind, funny, or a just a little bitter, faces the tough problem of falling in love with a boy who is already taken. The solution is hardly clear–to Anna or the boy–but the two and their friends embark on an amazing journey of self-discovery that will have readers cheering for them all the way.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Smith writes a love story that takes place in the span of a single day. When Hadley Sullivan misses her flight to her father’s second wedding, she befriends a cute British boy sitting her row, and their relationship quickly blossoms into something more.
Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan
In this romantic fantasy, Manhattan-newcomer Elizabeth discovers she is the only person who can see the cute boy who lives down the hall. To the rest of the world, Stephen is literally invisible. With the help of Elizabeth’s younger brother Laurie, the two embark on a quest to cure Stephen’s curse. Along the way, they learn as much about themselves and each other as they do about the hidden world of magic. A bold story that tackles all kinds of love–romantic, familial, and frienship. Review coming to Pages Unbound in September.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
After a bad car accident, Mia wakes up to find her body in a coma, but her consciousness outside. For a day, she watches doctors, friends, and family fight for her life, but ultimately realizes that she is the one who makes the real choice whether she stays. Part of her decision hinges on her relationship with her rock boyfriend Adam, who has a sweetly romantic side.
Goodreads: This Is What Happy Looks Like
Published: April 2, 2013
If fate sent you an email, would you answer?
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O’Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.
Then Graham finds out that Ellie’s Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?
With two characters struggling to hide their secrets and their vulnerabilities as they fall in love, This What Happy Looks Like is thoughtful contemporary romance that will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen and Huntley Fitzpatrick. Indeed, the formula is a little familiar (characters have family problems that they initially hide from each other but then help each other work out), but the execution is lovely and the characters complex, so readers who enjoy the genre will find another book to love here. Smith also adds a unique touch by interspersing emails and conversations that Graham and Ellie share between traditionally written chapters, bringing readers into some of the more intimate aspects of their relationship.
Although What Happy Looks Like features a teenage heartthrob swarmed by fans and paparazzi, the tone of the book is a little mellow. It draws on the atmosphere of the small Maine tourist town in which Ellie lives, and the calm of the surroundings seems to seep into Smith’s writing. Even as Graham and Ellie run from the paparazzi, run from each other, run from their parents and manager, nothing is written as urgently as one suspects it must be.
Part of the point of the book, of course, is showing that being a movie star is not always as glamorous as it sounds—but if an author puts a movie star into a romance novel, a reader does expect it is to make the romance more exciting, evoking girls’ childhood fantasies of marrying their favorite celebrities. Smith succeeds so well at making Graham come across as an ordinary guy that his status as a movie star seems like a plot point more than part of his character. (Ellie has reservations about dating him and subsequently being in the public eye herself.) His being a star initiates events, but does not add much swoon-factor to his romance with Ellie.
In general, the romance is not swoony—few lines stick out as being romantically quotable. The real emphasis is on Ellie and Graham as characters, often individually. Both are complex and dynamic; they accomplish true growth during the story, ultimately strengthening their bonds with their parents and friends and coming to understand more about themselves. In the end, the exploration of their characters overshadows their romance, both thematically and plot-wise. This is hardly wrong, but it is surprising due to the romance-heaving marketing and may disappoint readers who go in expecting a little more love.
This What Happy Looks Like is cute and solidly written, great for fans of contemporary YA who enjoy light issue stories and a smidgen of romance. It is not highly original, but it will just hit the spot for people looking for chick-lit.
Discuss! Would you ever date a celebrity?
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Series: Twisted Lit #2
Source: Received from authors
Skye Kingston views the world through the lens of her camera, chronicling the lives of the high school uppercrust, but never daring to enter their world. Still, she dreams of the day when Craig, a star athlete and the crush of every girl in school, will realize that the two of them were always meant for each other. Craig has a secret, however—one that threatens to keep them apart forever. Inspired by Macbeth.
Although marketed as a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (one meant, presumably, to make the Bard hip to teenagers), Exposure bears only a passing resemblance to the Renaissance masterpiece. Without the overt hints given by the chapter titles—each one inspired by a quote from the play—I daresay many readers would miss the connection. Exposure therefore must appeal to readers primarily through its own plot and characters, not through any novel reinterpretation of Shakespeare. Whether it succeeds depends largely on how its audience feels about teenage drama.
The decision to call Exposure a retelling of Macbeth baffles me. The majority of the references to the play occur in names—Beth instead of Macbeth, the Hurlyburly as a place the kids like to hang out, etc. Only a few key elements stand out: the introduction of three girls who make (really vague) prophecies, the death of Duncan, a scene with a knife, and a moving forest. These elements, however, do not typically correlate with the play. Whereas the witches in Macbeth are clear agents of evil, the girls here are playful and friendly. In the same vein, the moving forest does not come to destroy Macbeth but to protect the environment. And while the most obvious connection may be the one I have not yet mentioned—the social climbing of Craig—I really have to question whether a teenager’s quest to become Prom King is comparable to the usurpation of the Scottish throne.
Exposure might have proven more interesting had it intelligently incorporated themes from the play. Macbeth is a powerful work of theatre that addresses ambition, fate, evil, guilt, and politics—to name only a few key topics. True, many readers (especially those who now realize that their choice of prom date was not the earth-shattering event they may have once thought) might have difficulty taking a work seriously when it proposes to compare the fate of a nation with one girl’s desire to climb the high school social ladder. However, parallels still could have been drawn much more strongly than they were. Having a character spout the cliché “You’re in charge of your own destiny” to a boy with domineering parents only draws attention to how far short the book falls from the subtle power of the play. Neither fate nor evil ever really seems to be at work here–only bad decisions based on social insecurity.
Comparing the book to Macbeth might, of course, be unfair. I suppose few authors expect to attain the type of popularity or acclaim that Shakespeare has. Even as a book unto itself, however, Exposure falls short. I found the characters unlikeable and unbelievable. Of course the typical popular diva appears along with her boyfriend–the guy who is really nice except that somehow he was trapped by this backstabbing girl and subsequently found himself hanging out with her likewise catty and downright mean friends. (Again, this guy is really very nice. He just hangs out with a bunch of people who are willing to destroy the lives and reputations of those who get in their way. But that says nothing about his own sweet, loving nature.) However, even the protagonist Syke does not prove very appealing. The bulk of the book chronicles her feelings of inferiority and her desire to be with another girl’s boyfriend. No doubt she reflects the feelings of many a high school girl, but, aside from her love of photography and model-worthy looks (that no one appreciates), Skye barely comes across as an individual. She has few secret loves or fears or dreams that do not center around her crush. She does not even have a group of friends (socially awkward people in these stories usually hang out with other socially awkward but really very friendly people, right?) and she is a senior in high school. That’s how overlooked she apparently is.
I also had trouble buying the high school setting. The stereotypical high school portrayed in literature and film is not my high school. Mine was pretty much free from cliques and no one who was as mean as the stereotypical “popular” girl would have ever achieved popularity, much less proven a strong contender for an award like Prom Queen. Perhaps I was unsuspectingly blessed with an abnormal experience full of kind people who cared more about what you could contribute to the community than what you wore, but I am so tired of the catty, backstabbing experiences portrayed in the media that I generally do not even read contemporary YA. The attempt the authors made to sound like they are a part of teen culture did not add to the experience.
Finally, I have to address what I feel most strongly about: the poor message the book sends. This necessarily dictates spoilers. Exposure is clearly trying to say something about social status in high school not determining one’s worth–or something like that. Thus, what we get for a happy ending is Craig breaking up publicly with his popular girlfriend at the prom (seriously, he makes a speech to the student body with a microphone saying he never liked his girlfriend) and leaving to make out with Skye. I think this is supposed to be a freeing moment because apparently his evil girlfriend dictated all his moves before, even making him complicit in manslaughter. However, Craig is not a nice guy who was manipulated by someone else. He has free will. He chose to go out with that girl. He chose to be complicit in manslaughter. He chose to break up publicly with his girlfriend at prom and ditch her for another girl. He hangs out with a fast crowd, tries to get drunk, and evidently is the type of guy who puts his teenage girlfriend in a situation where she might get pregnant. The fact that Skye ends up with him makes this book more of a tragedy than Macbeth, where at least Scotland gets a new ruler.
I regret I had to give this book such a negative review. I love Shakespeare and was looking forward to a new spin on an old tale. Even taking into account the fact that contemporary YA is not my genre, however, I find I cannot speak positively of this book when I feel it promotes such a poor message.
Goodreads: So Yesterday
Official Summary: Ever wonder who was the first kid to keep a wallet on a big chunky chain, or wear way-too-big pants on purpose? What about the mythical first guy who wore his baseball cap backwards? These are the Innovators, the people on the very cusp of cool. Seventeen-year-old Hunter Braque’s job is finding them for the retail market.
But when a big-money client disappears, Hunter must use all his cool-hunting talents to find her. Along the way he’s drawn into a web of brand-name intrigue-a missing cargo of the coolest shoes he’s ever seen, ads for products that don’t exist, and a shadowy group dedicated to the downfall of consumerism as we know it.
Review: Hunter will draw in readers from the opening pages with his quirky narration and down-to-earth personality. He may be a “cool hunter,” absurdly talented at finding awesome fashion details that will be the country’s next biggest trend, but he is also a teenage boy who finds it awkward relating to his parents or interacting with girls. He is cool, but he is also approachable, and he will charm readers.
The setting of the book is equally alluring, and appropriately New York City. Hunter helpfully describes each neighborhood of the city he enters, painting a vibrant picture for readers who might never have visited. The descriptions are clever and apt enough, however, that even New York residents will not find them boring.
Hunter, and his new friend Jen, lead readers on a wild chase throughout the various districts of New York, introducing them to cramped apartments and luxurious celebrity parties in turn. The pace is fast, as Hunter and Jen have a limited time to test their amateur detective skills and discover who kidnapped Hunter’s boss and why. Readers will keep turning pages.
The book’s only potential flaw? Its premise. So Yesterday is about what makes something cool. The book’s heroes are seeking a way to make coolness more organic, something that arises naturally when people see things they like, instead of something so heavily defined by companies and advertisements.
This is interesting food for thought, and readers will have a lot to consider. Why do they think things are cool? Because they like it or because they see it everywhere? Do they fall for ads and fads? Who does get to decide what’s cool? Ultimately, however, the book’s cause falls a little flat. Changing the definition of cool is unlikely to be a priority for many readers when there are arguably more important problems in the world. So Yesterday is fleetingly captivating, but its message is not urgent.
So Yesterday is both entertaining and very real. The protagonists are charmingly unique, intelligent, and flawed. Their struggles will help readers think about how they define who they are, as they follow Hunter’s and Jen’s journey through the exciting world of fashion.
Published: 2004 (Razorbill)
Goodreads: OCD, the Dude, and Me
Official Summary: With frizzy orange hair, a plus-sized body, sarcastic demeanor, and “unique learning profile,” Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in even at her alternative high school. While navigating her doomed social life, she writes scathing, self-aware, and sometimes downright raunchy essays for English class. As a result of her unfiltered writing style, she is forced to see the school psychologist and enroll in a “social skills” class. But when she meets Daniel, another social misfit who is obsessed with the cult classic film The Big Lebowski, Danielle’s resolve to keep everyone at arm’s length starts to crumble.
Review: OCD, the Dude, and Me has a fantastically fresh and unique voice. The novel is a compilation of Danielle’s writing—school essays (in a conversational style that drives her English teacher insane), emails, personal reflections, post cards, and more—and the look inside her mind is staggering. Danielle is vulnerable, quirky, and real. She relates what makes her uncomfortable, and the lengths she must go to refind her peace (hiding quietly under a pile of messy clothes!) as readily as she relates what makes her strong. If you were captivated by the distinctive voice of Graceling, you will find a comparable, contemporary voice in in OCD, the Dude, and Me.
Danielle faces a plethora of problems in her senior year of high school, including social awkwardness and boy troubles. Her issues do not read like “book issues,” however, but like ones that readers might actually have. Her dilemma is not that she must choose between two amazing guys fighting valiantly for her attention, but that the guy she likes has a girlfriend and seems unaware that she exists—except when he’s making fun of her. Love hurts at Danielle’s high school. But her correspondence with her aunt helps her, and readers, learn how to deal with that.
The moments of raw reality in the book are nicely offset by crazier, beautiful ones. Danielle, for instance, is obsessed both with Romantic literature (I can like her just for that!) and the movie The Big Lebowski. She goes to great lengths to have fun her way, dressing up with her aunt and mother to have a nineteenth century tea date in the garden and commissioning costumes to celebrate Lebowski Fest. She meets a variety of characters as unique as she is, ranging from the other members of her social support group, to a tour guide she meets on a class trip to England. Danielle’s life is invariably interesting.
OCD, the Dude, and Me is an exceptional book, a great choice for those who appreciate fresh voices, authentic takes on the high school experience, or quirky characters. Highly recommended.
Published: March 31, 2013 (Dial—Penguin)
Goodreads: Dangerous Boy
Official Summary: A modern-day retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a chilling twist.
Harper has never been worried about falling in love, something she is skeptical even exists. But everything changes when Logan moves to town, and to Harper’s shock, the two tumble into an intense romance. It’s everything she never thought she wanted.
Then she meets Logan’s twin brother, Caleb, who was expelled from his last school. True, he’s a bad boy, but Harper can’t shake the feeling that there’s something deeply sinister about him–something dangerous. When Logan starts pulling away, Harper is convinced that Caleb’s shadowy past is the wedge being driven between them. But by the time she uncovers the truth, it may be too late.
Review: Dangerous Boy presents itself as a dark, suspenseful read that will send chills down readers’ spines. However, the closest it gets to its goal is giving the distinct impression that the author is striving to create a scary atmosphere. Spooky locations and creepy pranks pop up one after another, but in the end they feel contrived. I, a person scared by everything, was not particularly moved.
The novel overall felt like something the author had crafted. It opens with a somewhat standard cliffhanger prologue, then backpedals to the main story. Characters are introduced, necessary background information thrown in, and words used “creatively” (i.e. in contexts that almost make sense, but actually do not). Hubbard clearly has experience writing, notably Prada & Prejudice, but Dangerous Boy reads as if she has a concrete idea of how a book is supposed to work and then forces it to do so; neither the writing nor the story seem effortless and natural.
The plot, instead of transitioning smoothly, jumps around from location to location. Occasionally there is the impression the author means to achieve some type of dramatic effect by revealing some new information and then cutting to another scene, but the reading experience mostly feels stilted instead of exciting. The overarching plot does not compensate for these flaws. From the beginning a reader will see there are two possible outcomes to the book: the one the book heavily foreshadows, or a plot “twist” that is easy to guess.
The characters of Dangerous Boy are not particularly interesting. Harper is an “almost genius” with a high IQ who cannot think of a smart solution to a problem to save her life. Literally. Her attempts to figure out the mystery are absurd; she does not try the obvious and most effective courses of action. (This is also a book where the entire plot would have been avoided if anyone had done the smart thing and called the police—but of course that never happens in books.) Her boyfriend will not be overly attractive to readers, especially since there is no build-up to their romance and their relationship appears to be founded primarily on PDA. My ARC jacket suggests Logan is a bad boy, not just his twin brother, but the official summary seems to have correctly deleted that assertion; I was not impressed with any badass attitude from him.
Dangerous Boy simply is not the book for me. The writing style seems off, the plot is predictable, and the characters are difficult to connect with. Even though Harper does find herself in terribly dangerous situations, I was not very scared. The best takeaway from the book is the hidden sound relationship advice: “Guys screw up. A lot. You just have to figure out whether their heart is in the right place.” Apply this to girls, too, and a lot of relationship problems will be solved.
Published: September 4, 2012
Goodreads: One + One = Blue
Source: ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Official Summary: Twelve year-old Basil knows he’s special—he’s been associating numbers with colors since he was a kid. His gift (or curse) has turned him into somewhat of a loner, but his world begins to change when he meets Tenzie, the new girl in school who has similar freakisms. She, too, has synesthesia (a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another). At first, Basil is somewhat annoyed with Tenzie’s pushiness, but after Basil’s estranged mother returns, his life is turned upside down . . . and Tenzie may be the only person to help him put it back together again.
Once again, MJ Auch has written a thoughtful coming-of-age novel that explores friendship, family, and fitting in.
Review: One + One = Blue is an exceptional book with a unique tone and story. It dives right into Basil’s story and right into his differences. It does not focus on Basil’s synesthesia however. Instead, synesthesia is in the background, a part of Basil’s life that makes him special, that gives him both trouble and advantages, but which is never his defining feature. The true story here is that of Basil’s’s relationships, particularly with Tenzie and with his mother.
This approach is perfect, as it demonstrates to young readers that a character and a life are made of many parts. Bullies may pick out one thing to mock, but bullies are short-sighted. Putting synesthesia towards the background takes something away from the book only once. Tenzie casually mentions that she is able to use her number/color associations to help her with math, but her explanation of a rainbow grid is a little vague. Readers interested in mathematics or synesthesia would love to learn more about Tenzie’s process and Auch misses a great opportunity to explain possible benefits or creative uses by glossing over the moment.
One + One = Blue is a little gritty and a little glamorous and a little weird. It is action-packed and it is funny. It addresses a lot of tough issues, including Basil’s differences and his dealing with an unstable absent mother, but all these issues are treated with care and humor. Kids who are different themselves, or who are artsy, or who are daring will fall in love with Auch’s work and with her characters.
This is a special book, chronicling the life of a normal kid who faces crazy circumstances, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes foolishly, and sometimes bravely. It ultimately demonstrates the beauty of differences, of passion, of love, and of friendship. The world of One + One = Blue is a little insane, but entirely wonderful.
Publication Date: April 30, 2013