Stellarlune by Shannon Messenger

Stellarlune

Information

Goodreads: Stellarlune
Series: Keeper of the Lost Cities #9
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2022

Summary

Keefe is on the run. But Sophie has to trust he is okay. She struck at the Neverseen, and now her allies fear retaliation. But Lady Gisela is planning something, too. Sophie just doesn’t know what.

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Review

I have had conflicting thoughts about the Keeper of the Lost Cities books, and book nine neatly encapsulates many of the things I both love and hate about the series. Initially, I fell in love with the series, and would loudly proclaim to one and all the reasons everyone should pick it up. However, the series kept growing. I think it was supposed to initially only be five books, then seven, then nine, then book 8.5 came out, and then this book, Stellarlune was finally supposed to wrap everything up. But guess what? It doesn’t! Book 10 (or 11, if you count book 8.5) is on the way!

As the series grew, Messenger started obviously making up new plot twists that didn’t really make sense, but made for good cliffhangers. Consequently, the overall plot was lost and the series ended up with three different villains who probably should be connected, but aren’t, really. Additionally, the character list became so long that Messenger tends to drop them for a few books at a time–even main characters like Sophie’s “best friend” Dex or boys who were set up to be potential crushes. Then, plot elements started to repeat themselves. Book 8.5 was an especial low for the series, as it is almost entirely just a compilation of already known facts from the series, presented as an “encyclopedia,” with a novella at the end that made it so that fans had to buy the book to keep up with the story–even though it felt like a blatant cash grab. And now, there is…whatever Stellarlune is. Which is a book heavily suffering from middle book syndrome, rehashing old plot points for at least 350 pages, before finally getting the plot moving again.

One of the most annoying features of the series is that the books range from 700-900 pages, but they could each easily be half the length, if any editor wanted to bother reining Messenger in. (But this is a bestselling series, so no need to bother trying for a good book when people will buy it anyway, yeah?) Much of the waste comes from Sophie discovering something, then reporting her discovery to everyone she knows, usually two or three times. While most books would cut to the chase with a phrase such as, “Sophie filled them in,” and then describing the listener’s reaction, Messenger loves to have Sophie actually tell everyone what happened with a blow-by-blow, every. single. time. Heck, she even had Sophie recap the last few books for another character in what was supposed to be a pep talk, but really just sounded like Sophie humble bragging. I don’t know why this is such a prominent feature of the books, but apparently what Messenger thinks fans want is the characters standing around talking for hundreds of pages about what happened and how they all feel about it, but never doing anything till the big finale.

For years, I was okay with how goofy this series is and loved to laugh at how bad the writing is, just because I like being in Sophie’s world and because I like the characters. Book 8.5 really soured me on the series, though, since now Messenger seems to be drawing out the books just because she can–and presumably because the publisher thinks they will sell no matter what. Book 8.5 ends with a repeat of a plot point that had already happened. Book 9 then opens with everyone discussing this event, then goes into a rehash of the Fitz-Sophie relationship drama, even though it should be clear by now that that ship has sailed. I honestly felt like throwing the book at a wall until the midway point, when things started to happen and the plot actually seemed to be relevant again. I did have to laugh, though, at how this book has characters suddenly and repeatedly pointing out how the protagonists do nothing but stand around and argue, leading them to be the world’s most ineffective defense team. I guess if you point out the main flaw in your plot, that makes it okay?

Sadly, the mystery and drama promised to fans never get realized. [Potential spoilers.] Caches with Forbidden Secrets are now in play, and they are supposed to hold memories so terrible, they could shatter a person’s mind. They don’t. And it is strange even Messenger does not seem to realize that, since Sophie is going around collecting Forbidden Secrets like Pokemon cards and does not seem the least bit worried or upset by them. If a teenager can open the caches, why is the Council so intent on insisting they are dangerous? More dangerous truths were revealed about Elven actions in previous books when the big showdown with the Neverseen was not even supposed to be imminent. I also am confused about the new role of caches here, as I thought the whole point was that guilt could shatter an Elven mind, so they had to hide their terrible deeds done in the name of leadership. But the memories here are typically not anything that the holders should feel that guilty about–often just stuff they saw that made them sad. And, as the book suddenly seems to have realized, but doesn’t know how to address–erasing memories of important matters of state is strikingly ridiculous when government leaders need to know what happened in the past! [End spoilers.]

If you can get to the midway point, the plot is delightful, once more. Readers finally get the Sophie-Keefe confrontation they have all been waiting for. And then lots of dramatic stuff happens so Messenger can end on one of her trademark cliffhangers. I truly did enjoy this half of the book! I just dearly wish that the editor had reduced the page count by half. Or, even more importantly, cut the first 350 pages so Messenger could have actually ended this series.

Because it’s time to let go. Keeper of the Lost Cities was a great series. But, like any thing that becomes successful, it lost its way when the creators wanted to keep it going and the original plot had to be trashed just to keep the thing alive. Now it’s staggering onward, but it’s not particularly pretty to watch. And it’s not fair to fans to milk them each year for cash by publishing a 700-page book in which almost nothing happens.

3 Stars

Unspoken Magic by Emily Lloyd-Jones (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: Unspoken Magic
Series: Unseen Magic #2
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: February 21, 2023

Official Summary

Deep in the redwoods, in a magical town, anything can happen, and any creature—or monster—could exist. But when a team of myth-busters comes to Aldermere, they threaten its very existence—and eleven-year-old Fin will do anything to protect her home. For fans of Nevermoor and Amari and the Night Brothers, Emily Lloyd-Jones’s sequel to the acclaimed Unseen Magic is a story of trusting yourself and finding the friends who believe in you, no matter what.

Aldermere is a town with its own set of rules: there’s a tea shop that vanishes if you try to force your way in, crows that must be fed or they’ll go through your trash, and a bridge that has a toll that no one knows the cost of. Some say that there may even be bigfoots wandering through the woods.

It’s been six months since Fin saved Aldermere from someone intent on exploiting its magic. With spring break just around the corner, Fin’s plans are to relax, try to train her new raven friend, and read some of the mystery books she loves. But her plans are derailed when Fin and her friends find a baby bigfoot who’s been separated from her pack.

Then a film crew shows up, intending to add Aldermere to their web show debunking strange and magical legends. Fin can’t let the film crew put the bigfoot—and Aldermere—at risk. Now, Fin, Eddie, and Cedar must keep the bigfoot hidden and find a way to track down her family. But Cedar’s been hiding a secret of her own; one that may complicate everything.

As monsters, friends, and enemies collide, Fin, Eddie, and Cedar have to trust one another with secrets both good and bad if they’re going to save the town they all love.

Emily Lloyd-Jones crafts a novel infused with magic that is sometimes wonderful and charming—and sometimes dangerous. The sequel to Indie Next Pick Unseen MagicUnspoken Magic is perfect for fans of Christina Soontornvat’s A Wish in the Dark and Claribel A. Ortega’s Ghost Squad

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Review

Unspoken Magic is a charming story about a girl and her friends who would like to protect their bizarre little magical town from being discovered by outsiders (that is, they don’t want the magic part discovered; apparently the place routinely gets a lot of hiking tourists). It has a perfect blend of heart, friendship, mystery, and weirdness that made me fall a bit in love with the town myself, even if the magic isn’t the kind one might expect.

It’s worth nothing that this is a sequel to Unseen Magic, but I didn’t know that when I requested it from Netgalley (oops), so I read a couple chapters to see if it functions as a standalone, and I really think it does! There are references to things that happen in book 1, but they’re always so clearly elaborated on that I didn’t feel confused, and the story itself is entirely separate, not a continuation from book 1. So pick this one up first, read Unseen Magic first. Either way should work.

I had some initial questions about how Lloyd-Jones would focus the plot. “Make sure a paranormal research team doesn’t discover anything strange or magical” seems very broad, and I had imaginative flashes of the team almost encountering magic left and right and the townsfolk scrambling to stop them, like putting out little fires everywhere. Lloyd-Jones didn’t do that. The book focuses on ONE very noticeable magical thing protagonist Fin and her friends must hide/fix without the investigators. This keeps everything neatly together, and I liked the approach.

I also liked Fin. She’s anxious but working to overcome some of her roadblocks. She clearly means to do well and be kind to others. She has a great relationship with her cousin, who is outgoing and sometimes a goofball but also seems like a very nice kid. And there is Cedar, who is equally kind and also has some interesting psychological insights into other people for a kid. They’re a fun trio, working together to have fun over their spring break and enjoy the strangeness of their town.

Together, they have a quick adventure, hiding things from both their parents and the paranormal investigation team. They run into a few snags, sneak about the woods, all kinds of fun stuff. It’s just a nice romp of a book. A quick read, and definitely worth it if you like middle grade.

Briana
5 stars

Diana and Nubia: Princesses of the Amazons by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, Illustrated by Victoria Ying

Diana and Nubia

Information

GoodreadsDiana and Nubia
Series: Diana: Princess of the Amazons #2
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Expected Publication: 2022

Summary

Nubia loves living on Themyscira, but it does get lonely being the only kid. Then she makes a wish to Hera–and the next day wakes up with a stranger in her room–Diana, who claims she is the princess of Themyscira! Worse, their mothers seem to think that both girls have existed there as sisters all along. The two will have to work together to make things right.  But what if it means losing the first friend they have had?

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Review

Diana and Nubia: Princesses of the Amazons is a cute graphic novel about being sisters.  Diana and Nubia start their relationship feeling competitive, and like the other is an interloper in their life.  As time progresses, however, the two see how well they work together–and how much fun they can have.  The focus remains on the relationship between the two, brushing aside bigger questions about the nature of the worlds and the potential consequences of their actions.  I do not think younger readers will read too much into the backstory, however, and instead will find both the story and the artwork absolutely adorable.

In many ways, I think Victoria Ying’s illustrations really make the book.  The story is not particularly original, though it is fun to see Diana and Nubia interact with each other.  What really makes the book stand out is just how cute the pictures are!  Both Nubia and Diana are drawn as the sweetest little characters–and their big, emotive reactions to everything that happens is the icing on the cake.  Truly, I picked up this sequel for the artwork more than anything else.  As much as I have liked Shannon Hale’s books in the past, I have found her newer ones to be a bit standard.  Not bad, but not standouts.

The plot is arguably very kid-friendly, though, as an adult, I found it a little lackluster. Hera promises Diana and Nubia that the two have to complete a challenging quest.  However, they do it very easily, with only a big scene of a mountain climb and a monster at the very end to hint of any danger.  Really, they are merely engaged in a scavenger hunt.  I do not doubt that this will appeal to kids and that it seems age appropriate.  I just think that if Hera promises a challenge, the two should be shown struggling more.

On the whole, however, Diana and Nubia: Princesses of the Amazons is a delightful graphic novel.  And I am sure it will be especially beloved by readers in the targeted age range.

3 Stars

The Case of the Rigged Race by Michael Hutchinson (ARC Review)

The Rigged Rce

Information

GoodreadsThe Case of the Rigged Race
Series: Mighty Muskrats Mysteries #4
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: ARC from Publisher
Published: September 2022

Official Summary

The Mighty Muskrats are back with a chilly new mystery!

Windy Lake First Nation is hosting the annual Trappers Festival, and the four Mighty Muskrats are excited about the sled-dog races and the chance to visit with family and friends from far and wide. But during the Teen Sled Race, the lead dog is the victim of a frightening accident that may be more than it seems.

Between mysterious strangers seen lurking by the trail and a loud group of animal rights protestors, the Muskrats have a lot of suspects. Despite the chill of winter, the case is heating up for Sam, Otter, Atim, and Chickadee!

Review

The Mighty Muskrats return in their fourth mystery! This time, Windy Lake First Nation is hosting the annual Trappers Festival, but it looks like someone might be trying to rig the dogsled race.  The Mighty Muskrats have various suspects–a group of animal rights activists trying to interrupt the events and a couple of gamblers who might have big money on the race. The four solve the mystery methodically, searching for clues, examining the evidence, sending off lab samples, and talking to suspects.  A winning mystery for children who enjoy detective series.

Mystery series for children have a long history and there are, of course, numerous examples of titles that have done very well and continue to have sustained popularity.  So it’s exciting to see a newer series with more diverse representation. Author Michael Hutchinson is a citizen of the Misipawistik Cree Nation, and a love and respect for the way of life embraced by the Windy Lake First Nation imbues every page.  Protagonists Sam, Otter, Atim, and Chickadee all bring their own understanding of their culture and traditions to the story, sharing them with the other characters, but also with readers.  The ending message is that we should all seek for understanding–a lesson the Mighty Muskrats demonstrate for readers, showing how open discourse can lead to positive resolutions.  I think readers will really connect with the Muskrats, their desire to bridge the gaps between people, and, of course, their curiosity and bravery!

Fans of children’s mystery series will not want to miss out on this contemporary one.  The mysteries are age appropriate, and the protagonists take realistic steps to solve them–modeling for readers the scientific process, the rules of deduction, and more.  But the stories never feel overly educational.  They’re fun!  And the plot is full of just the right amount of action to keep readers engaged.  I hope for another installment soon!   

3 Stars

Anne: An Adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros

Information

GoodreadsAnne
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, residents of the Avon-Lea apartment complex, asked to foster a baby. But a computer glitch sends them feisty teenage Anne Shirley instead. But soon Anne is winning over their hearts–and losing hers to her best friend Diana Barry.

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Review

Anne of Green Gables meets the modern world in this graphic novel adaptation from the author of Jo. Anne Shirley arrives at the apartment complex the Avon-Lea, where she enchants Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, and falls in love with her best friend Diana Barry. Though the artwork is not the most appealing I have seen for the tween crowd, the story is heartwarming, and I think readers will fall in love with Anne all over again.

Anne reminds me strongly of Anne of West Philly, another recent contemporary graphic novel adaptation of L. M. Montgomery’s classic work. Both works feature Anne at school, working on trending STEM projects, and crushing on Diana instead of Gilbert. In this version, however, Anne does not consider herself good at science (which made me sad) and contributes more to the artistic angle of her school project. Additionally, Gilbert comes off rather badly–kind of like a bully who just will not understand why it is not funny to tease Anne when she asked him to stop. Most notably, however, this version features a lot of talks from the adult figures in Anne’s life, which help her with her social-emotional learning. She has some anger issues, but she learns to deal with her emotions in a mature way instead of lashing out.

The colors are a bit muted and the artwork is not altogether to my taste. However, I think the storyline is enough to carry the book. And, though I tend to favor a different art style, I recognize that my tastes are not universal. Plenty of readers might like the illustrations more than I! At any rate, I do think Anne is worth reading for this fun contemporary take on a beloved children’s book.

Pick this one up if you are a fan of middle grade graphic novels, or if you love seeing how authors put new spins on old tales. Or, of course, if you are an Anne fan and just can’t get enough of the beloved redhead!

4 stars

On Rereading C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Again)

It’s hard for me to “review” The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I’ve read it so many times at different times of life and had so many different thoughts. To say I was obsessed with Narnia is an understatement. My third grade teacher read this book aloud to the class, and then I was hooked, reading and rereading the series (except The Last Battle, which I’ve read only twice; I struggled with it a lot). I imagined I was in Narnia, watched the movie, went to a local play. I would have said it (the series as a whole, I guess) was one of my favorite books.

So when I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a couple years ago as an adult, I was horrified to discover I didn’t think it was that good. It’s . . . very short. I couldn’t comprehend how very little happens and how what does happen, happens so quickly! The story seemed so underdeveloped, so sparse! I must have just used my child’s imagination to make everything seem so much bigger. It was a huge letdown, to discover that Narnia are NOT among the children’s books that withstood rereading for me as an adult.

So what did I think this time?

My opinion is more in the middle. The book is still short. It’s kind of shocking to realize that the Pevensies win the final battle, are installed as Kings and Queens of Narnia, live their lives in Narnia, and fall back through the wardrobe into England all in a single chapter. It’s hilarious that a “great battle” is about three paragraphs long. I was confused to see the children reference great hardships and being all dramatic about how much had happened when they’d been in Narnia for literally a day.

But, whatever. I guess I was expecting it this time. It doesn’t really work for me as an adult, but I remember I had absolutely no problem with it as a child reading the books, so I need to give Lewis credit where credit is due.

I did notice this time around, however, that Lewis’s prose is rather repetitive. I mentioned the “always winter, never Christmas” bit to a friend as I was reading, and he said he didn’t remember anything about Christmas in the book. That was surprising to me because, you know, Santa is literally a character in the story, but I realized someone says something about “always winter, never Christmas” five or six times It’s not a one time quote. And Lewis does that often. I remembered the direction not to shut oneself in a wardrobe, of course. I didn’t remember that is ALSO mentioned about five times. And various other bits are repeated.

There’s much to love about Narnia. I suppose Lewis had a talent for writing something short that ends up being very evocative for children. And, of course, many adults continue to see a lot in it academically.

As entertainment, I enjoyed it more this time than I thought I would, judging from the tragedy that was my previous reread. I just need to remember that the book seems rushed and go in expecting that, and then I can still access some of the charm I saw in it as a child.

Briana

Miles Morales: Stranger Tides by Justin A. Reynolds & Pablo Leon

Miles Morales Stranger Tides Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: Miles Morales: Stranger Tides
Series: Miles Morales Graphic Novels #2
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Miles Morales is starting to get the hang of being Spider-Man. Then people around the world start freezing–and the phenomenon seems to be connected to the launch of a highly-anticipated video game. Miles is on the case, but he might need some backup if he plans to defeat the Stranger. The Stranger has judged humanity and deemed that the only justice is for the world to consume itself.

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Review

Miles Morales is back in the sequel to Shock Waves, and he finally feels like he might be able to swing this whole Spider-Man thing. Furthermore, people are starting to accept him as a real superhero, and he even has an invite to the launch of a hot new video game. But when the Stranger judges humanity and decides that half the populace must die, Miles might just find he needs some backup. Stranger Tides is not the most original story, but it features an engaging protagonist and stellar artwork. It is worth a read for fans of Spider-Man, even if does not feel like a must-read for graphic novel fans in general.

Justin A. Reynolds is known for his banter, and that works particularly well for a character like Spider-Man. Miles’ narration feel genuine for the character, and sometimes even witty–not just sarcastic. I love Miles, so it’s rewarding to see him in good hands. Reynolds balances the humor with heart, showing how Miles’ love for his friends and family drives him. The relationships in the book are one of the most rewarding aspects, even when it sometimes feel like they deserve a bit more development.

Though the storyline sometimes feels confusing and not all characters get enough time to feel fully developed, fans of Spider-Man will still love this one. The fast-paced action, large cast of characters, and general feeling of forward motion will keep the attention of readers, while the fun and colorful artwork is also sure to attract. Stranger Tides may not be my favorite Miles Morales story, but it is entertaining, and I would likely read another installment in the series.

3 Stars

Sweet Valley Twins: Best Friends by Francine Pascal, Nicole Andelfinger, et al

Information

GoodreadsSweet Valley Twins: Best Friends
Series: Sweet Valley Twins Graphic Novels #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Official Summary

Jessica and Elizabeth have always been inseparable twins, but starting middle school means a chance for new beginnings! Elizabeth is excited to organize a school newspaper, but Jessica is more interested in joining the exclusive Unicorn Club. What will happen when the twins realize they might not be as alike as they thought?

Middle school is hard enough, but with these twins each dealing with becoming their own person–will they be able to stay friends at the same time?

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Review

The graphic novel adaptation of the Sweet Valley Twins series seems obviously meant to capitalize on the popularity of the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel adaptations. And, really, I see no reason why this series should disappoint fans of the BSC comics. It features many of the same scenarios–changing friendships, middle school cliques, and family relationships–and has some fun (if more muted) artwork. I don’t know how fans of the originals will feel about this new take, but I do think tween readers will fall in love with the Wakefield twins and their drama.

What really fascinated me, as an older reader, about this book is how it does not in any way teach a Good Message. I only read a few Sweet Valley books in the day, but the general idea seems to be the same. Jessica is an absolute monster whose desperation to be popular causes her to be a stuck up bully. Elizabeth is the “goody two shoes,” and the one who is smart, organized, and reliable–but she has her moments of pettiness, too. Does anyone learn a lesson here? Does Jessica realize that the Unicorn Club is just a bunch of Mean Girls and quit to find better friends? Do her parents or Elizabeth intervene when they see Jessica becoming a Mean Girl? Does the school care that the Unicorn Club spreads gossip and makes new members perform dangerous/mean pledges? Nope! Elizabeth actually wants to join the Mean Girls, too, and their mother is very supportive of Jessica being her own person who, um, I guess now spends her days mocking the other girls in her class. Not only that, but the big finale is Elizabeth pulling a Mean Girl-esque prank on the Unicorn Club–and readers are supposed to cheer! It might have been wrong for the Unicorn Club to be bullies, but, in this book, if the bullies are bullied it’s called Justice. This is not a book that could have been written today.

But, hey! I enjoyed it! I don’t need this book to have a Lesson. I am perfectly capable of realizing that Jessica is a terrible person all on my own. And the drama kept me reading. This is the same drama, I imagine, that captured readers back in the day. Will the Unicorns accept Jessica? Is that cute boy a future love interest? What lucky girl will get the lead in the ballet performance? I need to know. Where is book two?

The main critiques I have both have to do with the art. Personally, I thought the color palette was a bit too muted; I would have liked to see something more along the lines of the Baby-Sitters Club books. More pressing, however, is the problem that Jessica and Elizabeth often look exactly the same in many of the panels, and I often had no idea who was talking, even after rereading a few times. I thought sometimes, for example, that the person on the left should have been one twin, based on their physical positions in prior panels, but they would be saying something that seemed like the other twin was talking. It is very confusing, and if the girls had just been drawn with a different necklace or a different color scrunchie or something, it would have been helpful for reading comprehension. And, finally, the friends are not properly introduced, and I had difficulty keeping track of who is who.

On the whole, however, this series seems perfectly positioned, to me, to appeal to tween readers of the Baby-Sitters Club books and I don’t see any reasons it shouldn’t sell well! The series will likely have a nostalgia factor for older readers, as well.

4 stars

The Pearl Hunter by Miya T. Beck (ARC Review)

The Pearl Hunter book cover

Information

Goodreads: The Pearl Hunter
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: February 7, 2023

Official Summary

Set in a world inspired by pre-Shogun era Japan, this is a stunning debut fantasy in the vein of Grace Lin about how a young pearl diver goes to the ends of the earth to rescue her twin sister, who has been stolen by a ghost whale.

Kai and Kishi share the same futon, the same face, and the same talent for pearl diving. But Kishi is the obedient daughter, while Kai tries to push the rules, and sometimes they fight. Still, when Kishi is stolen and killed by the legendary Ghost Whale, nothing will stop Kai from searching for her, deep in the ocean, hoping for a way to bring her back to life.

But such a rescue is beyond the power of an ordinary mortal. Kai strikes a deal with the gods: she’ll steal a magic pearl in exchange for her sister’s soul. As she journeys across treacherous land scape, Kai must navigate encounters with scheming bandits, a power-hungry war lord, and a legion of conniving fox spirits. And when a new friendship becomes something almost as powerful as her love for her sister, Kai must make impossible choices and risk everything just to get home again.

Woven through with Japanese culture and legends, this many-layered story will grip readers of all ages.

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Review

With immersive world building and a protagonist whose love for her sister cannot be stopped, The Pearl Hunter is sure to be a hit with lovers of middle grade fantasy.

Miya T. Beck drops readers into protagonist Kai’s world, where her family is tightknit but magic seems faraway because her family’s status as pearl divers makes them low class. However, legends quickly become real after Kai’s twin dies, and she encounters gods and magical beings she thought were only fairy tales. And she’s ready to bargain with them all if it means getting her sister back.

Kai’s bravery and determination are some of the things I loved most about the book. Even places where the plot slows or falters, Kai’s personality helps the book keep shining. This is, of course, another instance of a book where the strong sisterly bond is almost always in flashbacks because the one sister isn’t actually present in the story, but I love a good sister bond nonetheless, and The Pearl Hunter delivers.

I do wish some of this charisma had been present in the romance. The love interest is an interesting person in his own right, and I like him well enough as a character, but there isn’t a lot of development showing how he and Kai actually come to care for each other. It seems that one moment they’re enemies, and the next they’re all blushing and willing to risk their lives for each other. Possibly the target audience will not take issue with this, however. I remember being in middle school and thinking some books that have maybe 3 pages total of romance were wildly romantic, whatever that says about me.

The bold choices the author makes at the end of the novel, however, definitely earned my respect. Things didn’t go quite the way I might have hoped or imagined, but they’re memorable and make a lot of sense in the context of the book. I also don’t think there will actually be a sequel, but there’s a lot of room left for me to imagine the adventures Kai might go on next and how she might try to change fate, and I like that a lot.

This is strong, solid fantasy. The pacing is slow at times, but the heart of the protagonist is inspiring and the folklore woven in will appeal to a lot of readers, so this is one to check out.

Briana
3 Stars

Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega & Rose Bousamra

Information

GoodreadsFrizzy
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Marlene just wants to be herself and have fun, but all mother wants is for her to behave and keep her curls from going wild. This means a weekly trip to the salon to achieve what her family calls “good hair.” With the help of her Tía Ruby, Marlene will learn that all hair is good, and how to embrace hers.

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Review

Frizzy is the type of story that will pull at readers’ hearts. It follows Marlene as she strives to be accepted by her family, but is always made to feel less-than her cousin who is perfect and has “good hair.” Even Marlene’s well-meaning mother places pressure on her to present herself as “professional” and “grown-up” by straightening her hair every week through a torturous appointment at the salon. Marlene’s journey to self-love is sure to move and inspire readers.

Reading Frizzy was honestly quite difficult, and I found myself tearing up at times over how Marlene’s family treats her. Though they say they love her, they constantly compare her to her cousin with straight, blonde hair, acting like Marlene’s natural curls are akin to a moral failing. Worse, whenever Marlene tries to speak up to defend herself or to explain how she feels, she is punished for being rude. Like many adults, her family feels that grown-ups can say anything they like to children–no matter how hurtful–and that children must never say anything back. This behavior was particularly difficult to see from Marlene’s mother, whom Marlene notes used to wear her own hair curly, but now has bought into the idea that only straight hair is beautiful.

The book, however, treats Marlene’s mother with as much sensitivity and kindness as it does Marlene. Tía Ruby explains to Marlene how she and her sister were also brought up with the harmful idea of “good hair,” and how that has affected Marlene’s mother, and led her to perpetuate the idea with her own daughter. With Tía Ruby’s help, Marlene is able not only to learn how to care for and style her curly hair, but also is able to rebuild her relationship with her mother. The story is a real tearjerker!

Frizzy is a must-read for fans of middle grade graphic novels. It is written with sensitivity and insight. And, though it is sometimes hard to read, it ends with a hopeful message that things can change and all hair is beautiful.

5 stars