What to read next

Each time we review customer holds on books, CDs, and DVDs to ensure the wait lists aren’t becoming too long I see names that are familiar; James Patterson is often there and I also see Nora Roberts, Stuart Woods, Linwood Barclay. Customers at WPL are also such big fans of every award-winner going so as soon the longlists are announced for anything we see an increase in the interest in those titles, whether they be books or films. Once in a while there are surprises on these lists and that is what makes working at a public library constantly invigorating and that is what makes coming to work every day so interesting.

The most recent list had the most encouraging title at the top of the list, a title from the shelves of our Children’s Department, not a spy thriller or the latest Hollywood memoir.  The book that WPL customers are most interested in reading right now is R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, a book that has recently been adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay. We’ve had this fabulous novel on the shelves since 2012 with constant love from the families and kids who have taken it home. From the very moment that young readers started to get to know the main character, Auggie Pullman, they knew that they had read something authentic and wanted to talk about it, share it with friends, and find out more. This is a story about a previously homeschooled 10-year old boy who decides to start attending school (with all of the pressures you would expect plus the fact that he has several medical conditions including a severe facial deformity) and the author chooses to use this as an opportunity to model friendship, acceptance and empathy instead of your typical fish out of water story. It’s the perfect choice for a read-aloud or read alone.

It’s tough to find something exactly like Auggie’s situation but we have so many beautifully written novels to tempt you. The quality of writing for the middle-school audience is outstanding and, once you read your first one, you will find yourself coming back for more. Sarah Weeks wrote a fantastic book that will bring everyone back to their days of sitting in the school cafeteria with Save Me A Seat. She tells the story of Joe, who has just lost his best friends because they moved away, and Ravi, who has arrived in New Jersey from India. Joe has been bullied his whole life and Ravi is struggling with trying to be understood while he navigates the strange world of an American middle school.  They find their way through the lunch line, the humiliation thrust upon them by classroom bullies and a week’s worth of homework together.  This is where real friendships are formed.

Schools and friendships are the cornerstone of great literature for kids. It also really helps make the story ‘zing’ if the parents are absent in some way. They don’t have to be deceased exactly but their interference in a book can really slow down a narrative. Just think of every great book you loved when you were a kid – did the mother/father/grandparent/guardian feature prominently? If any adult was a big part of the story they were usually a very cool aunt or spectacularly helpful older cousin or mature neighbour. It can never be someone in authority – this spoils absolutely everything. Wonder‘s author addresses this in interviews about her book and many other authors, like Neil Gaiman and Kate Di Camillo, have done so as well. Stories are better without a cumbersome adult around.

Author Donna Gephart had written several successful novels for kids before she came to write the story of Lily and Dunkin in 2016. They meet in the beginning of their grade eight year when they find they have something in common – they dislike their birth names (Lily was originally Tim and Dunkin was born Norbert and takes up his new name due to his fondness for the doughnuts) – and are grappling with bodies that are betraying them.  In Lily’s case she knows that she is a girl but others assume she is a boy and classmates bully her as she slowly exhibits her identity by wearing makeup in public and Dunkin is hiding his bipolar disorder from his team so that he can become a part of their a successful basketball program. As Dunkin chooses to stop taking his anti-psychotic medications so that he can have more energy for basketball and Lily works on environmental issues their friendship grows. Gephart’s gift for humour makes this so much more than a book about kids with difficulties in middle-school.

Should you be interesting in approaching the middle-school world through something more visual you might want to check out CeCe Bell’s El Deafo. It’s a graphic novel of the author’s own experience but she has chosen to make all of her characters anthropomorphized bunnies so it seems oddly current – who knows exactly how old a bunny is, really. CeCe contracted meningitis as a child, loses her hearing, and goes through the experience of learning to use a hearing aid, requiring cords and a large receiver worn on her chest. The real magic in this book is her ability to dig deep into her memory and help the reader feel as if they are by her side as she relives the terrifying moment when she first realizes that she can’t hear her mother’s voice, how wonderful it is to hear again when she first uses the hearing aid, what it feels like to use her super hearing power for good by spying on the teachers in the hallway. The image of the girl-bunny on the cover of the book is a representation of how she felt – superhero-like – and the author is careful to say that her experience of deafness is hers alone but her experience of being a kid searching for a true friend will seem genuine to all.

These are sublime, universal stories which will capture the hearts of families. The books are as brave and bright as the children who will enjoy reading them. Kids just like Auggie, CeCe, Lily, Dunkin, Ravi and Joe are here in our library and these books, and so many others, are ready for them to love.

-Penny M.

Young Jane Young

This book surprised me. And I do so love a surprise. Going into this book I was expecting a funny, fiction read. Enjoyable but light. What I got was a different experience. Sure, it had interesting characters and a touch of humour but it was the author, Gabrielle Zevin’s ability to turn my thoughts on their heads and make me see things in a different light that got my attention.

Young Jane Young has its funny, chuckle to yourself, bits but also addresses big issues like shame, forgiveness, strength and about not running from your past but facing issues head-on so they get out of YOUR way.

“How did you ever survive that scandal?”

She said, “I refused to be shamed.”

“How did you do that?” you asked.

“When they came at me, I kept coming,” she said.” 

But what truly shone for me was the idea that the assumptions we make greatly influence our understanding of what we’ve experienced and our reactions to those events. I admit to catching myself assuming things about characters and the plot and we all know what they say about assuming. I loooved that aspect of the book and it gave me a lot to think about.

The story is told by four women – Aviva, who is at the heart of the scandal, her mother Rachel, Ruby, Aviva’s daughter and Embeth, the senator’s wife. These four women have made mistakes, have complicated relationships with each other but together they tell the many sides of this story. These women have moxie. You can’t deny it. They’re fighters and I loved seeing the strength and diversity in the female cast.

Readers will easily see strong correlations to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal but Zevin brings her own perspective and shows how one perception of an issue isn’t the only one. Scandal has a domino effect and impacts those around it in varying degrees. I applaud Zevin for confronting the blatant double standards put on women that are still prevalent, sadly tolerated and even encouraged, in our society today.  The topic of this book is quite timely with recent events but ultimately this is a story about the complex relationships between women, it’s got humour, heart, food for thought and a fighter’s spirit. What more could you ask for?

-Laurie P.

This is your holiday read

I just read the best book. It’s called Roost and it’s written by Ali Bryan who is Canadian. It came out in 2013 and is her first novel. I can’t wait for her next which is called “The Figgs” and comes out May 2018.

Bryan’s novel is the first person story of single mother Claudia who lives in Halifax and works full-time. She shops at Canadian Tire and Joe Fresh, often thinking back to happier days when she didn’t buy her clothes in a grocery store. Claudia lives with her two toddlers, Wes and Joan who are hilarious and so well written they dance off the page. This entire book is so funny I laughed out loud during the whole thing and it’s also so, so smart. I had the treat to go to Toronto to visit my Aunt a week ago and started reading it on the early morning train and I was laughing before 7am in the No-Talk zone! Don’t tell!

Claudia is separated from her husband Glen but still relies on him heavily to help out with household maintenance like finally removing the ugly rooster border in her kitchen. She knows she needs to let go, but not yet. Every time he comes over to help or take the children for his weekend, she notices something new about him; a new car or pair of pants. He gets a new dog and a fancy apartment and takes up painting when Claudia barely has time most days for a shower. Even the kids behave better around him. These details take Glen further and further away from Claudia while she feels like she can barely keep her head above water.

Things get worse when her mother dies; no spoiler here, it’s how the book begins. She and her brother Dan and his wife must find time to grieve while caring for their father who is not doing well on his own. It’s just all too much. Dan’s life is perfect and completely opposite from Claudia’s, until he shows what a jerk he is when his wife begins to suffer from postpartum depression and he can’t understand or help her. There are so many poignant parts that are lovely and make your heart do that happy/sad heavy flippy thing (I know you know what I mean).

It is a story everyone can relate to; family squabbles, overtired children during the holidays, running around but never feeling you’re doing well enough. It’s about having a hard time when things have to change and you don’t want them to. It’s about those lovely and chaotic moments with you kids. It is a short book, just under 300 pages and I’d say perfect for reading over the holidays, one night when you can sneak away from the craziness and take a bath. It is a glimpse into the lives of this family. There are no surprises or lessons learned, just about good people doing their best.

-Sarah C.

Baring one’s soul

The Memory of Light is a beautiful book about a serious situation. It was like reading someone’s bare soul – brave and honest. It breaks through the glorified clichés that so often surround stories of suicide to capture a realistic account of depression.

Vicky Cruz comes from a wealthy family. She has people who love her. She has more opportunities and privileges than most. Her depression is not caused by a specific event or trauma. Her suicide attempt shocks everyone and has her family begging the question ‘why?’. Vicky can only reply that it is possible to be loved and still want to kill yourself.

What I liked best about The Memory of Light is its realism. It’s not a fairy tale where she finds the meaning of life and suddenly all is well. It treats depression as exactly what it is: a disease. It isn’t something that will simply go away – she will have to deal with it for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, there will always be people who fail to grasp that concept. In the book, her father doesn’t understand her illness and probably never will, even impatiently asking her at one point if she’s still suicidal, as if it’s something she should have gotten over by now.

Perhaps the book is so real because author Fransico X. Stork has his own battle with depression. In his author’s note he writes that mental illness has affected him most of his life and he wanted to write a story ‘not about the downward spiral toward darkness, but about the much harder, much more hopeful and suspenseful steps toward light.’

The novel follows Vicky as she takes baby steps to recovery. The ground she walks on is often shaky and uneven. There are no short cuts. But she meets others along the path – young people her own age that are also battling mental illness. Each person she meets is from a completely different background, illustrating the idea that depression does not discriminate.

The Memory of Light is one of those rare stories that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. I still find myself wondering about Vicky and her family.  I do hope Fransico X. Stork continues writing, as anything he publishes will immediately go on my holds list.

-Lesley L.

A Break from the Chaos

As we head into the holiday season with all the shopping, decorating, cooking and baking, life can get a bit (or very!) chaotic. What better at the end of a long day than to curl up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and a nice, relaxing book?

I recently completed Jan Karon’s latest volume, To Be Where You Are, book 14 in the Mitford series. If you haven’t read any of these yet, I highly recommend you start at the beginning with At Home in Mitford. Mitford is a small fictional town set in North Carolina. From the series’ beginning, Father Tim Kavanagh has been its main protagonist, an Episcopal priest (what we in Canada would call Anglican), whose goal is to serve both God and the flock he’s been given to shepherd. And what a peculiar flock it is!

If you’ve read the previous books, you’ll know that Mitford’s inhabitants face many of the same challenges we do. In the current book Father Tim tries to find his place post-retirement, his adopted son Dooley struggles with the financial aspects of his new veterinary business, Dooley and Lacey parent their adopted child Jack, Dooley’s natural mother strives to right the wrongs of her own parenting. What sets these stories apart from ours are the bucolic environment and Karon’s writing style, which is charming, entertaining, and ultimately gratifying.

To Be Where You Are begins on October 1st and apart from a brief postlude the following June 2nd, wraps up on December 25th. It’s a wonderful book to tuck under your arm and delve into as we head into the winter season.

Done Mitford? Try these cozy series/reads:

The Butternut Creek series beginning with:

welcomecommitteeofbutternutcreek

The Harmony Series, beginning with:

hometoharmony

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion:

therosieproject

And books by Maeve Binchy, Jennifer Chiaverini, Robin Jones Gunn and Miss Read.

-Susan B.