On the Come Up

After devouring and waxing poetic about Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, I was among the eager fans awaiting On The Come Up. It’s a coming-of-age story about a Black teenage girl named Bri who finds her calling, the power of her own voice and, ultimately, discovers who she wants to be.

I easily connected with Thomas’ writing style. It’s powerful, engaging and authentic as she shows Bri and her family’s struggles to make ends meet and deal with their complicated past. Through her dialogue, she reveals the bonds between the characters and adds humorous bits, delightful nerdy references and some solid banter.

I loved that Bri is so different compared to Starr (the main character of The Hate U Give). She is brash, headstrong, outspoken and occasionally makes poor choices but its through those choices, and their consequences, that we see Bri find out who she wants to be. She is flawed but passionate and once she focuses on what’s important to her, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Angie Thomas need not worry about Sophomoric Writer Blues. On The Come Up is a wonderful, thought-provoking read about self-discovery and while many readers may not connect with Bri’s hip hop world, Thomas has written a story about relatable issues (loss, friendship, the messiness of family, standing up for yourself) and allows her readers to take a look at the world through Bri’s eyes and walk in her Timberlands for at least a few hundred pages.

— Laurie P.

Back to Reading

A List of Classics You May Have Missed from your Childhood

Ever since I finished my formal education, September has been an odd month. Gone are the days that September connotated a new beginning with new timetables, assignments, and renewed optimism. Now that I’m out of school, I find myself with plenty of free time after work, time that I can finally devote to reading what I want to read rather than what I need to study. It’s liberating, but it can be a bit overwhelming. When I try to determine what I feel like reading, I am left asking myself: Where do I start?

I did what any diligent bookworm would do. I went on Goodreads and consulted my TBR (To Be Read) list. I saw books of all genres from fiction to non-fiction, mystery to historical fiction, but what I noticed at the beginning of my list were children’s books. And then I remembered why I started this TBR list in the first place. I wanted to record a list of children’s classics that I missed during my childhood. Some titles included Inkheart, Maniac Magee, Julie of the Wolves, and Stuart Little. The list was long, and I thought to myself, why not start with these books?

There’s something to be said for reading a children’s story as an adult. Children’s stories can remind us of our youthful wonder, a freeness to experience the fullness of our vulnerability and innocence while asking life’s greatest questions. It’s never too late to read a children’s book. It shouldn’t be taboo either.

WPL’s children’s collection offers a variety of old and new favourites to revisit or discover. Here are a few books that I’ve revisited and enjoyed as an adult recently:

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Twelve-year-old Jonas is living in a seemingly ideal world until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memories. During his training, he begins to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community. Lowry has continued this series with three other books: Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son.

2. Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
After Cole’s anger erupts into violence, he agrees to participate in a sentencing alternative that is based on the Native American Circle of Justice to avoid going to juvenile prison. Cole is sent to a remote Alaskan island where an encounter with a huge Spirit Bear changes his life. This gripping and graphic survival story offers a poignant testimony to the power of pain that can destroy and may also heal.

3. Holes by Louis Sacchar
What begins as a family curse becomes an inevitability for Stanley Yelnats the Fourth as he is unjustly sent to Camp Green Lake where the Warden makes boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging a five-foot-wide by five-foot-deep hole. Holes is a deceptively complex mystery that questions fate, luck, and redemption all while being rolled into a multi-generational fairy tale.

4. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
When 10-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles upon the Tuck family’s secret, she learns that drinking from a magic spring could doom or bless her with eternal life. The Tuck family takes Winnie away for a couple days to explain why living forever is less a blessing then it may seem. This slim novel packed with vivid imagery will leave you asking: would you want to live forever?

5. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
This thirteen-book series follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire in the aftermath of their parent’s death in a fire. The Baudelaire’s are placed in the care of Count Olaf, a relative, who orchestrates numerous disasters that they must flee from. While the books offer a dark and mysterious tone, they are both clever and full of literary allusions, dark humour, and sarcastic storytelling that would be an excellent revisit or introduction for adults.

There are countless more classic children’s books that can be enjoyed by readers of any age. Are there any books from your childhood that you always wanted to read but never got around to? Check out the WPL Catalogue and/or the shelves at your local branch. You’ll never know what magical wonder you may find.

— Eleni Z.

Start your summer with 90 Days of Different

Sophie is mature. Sophie is responsible. Sophie is dreadfully dull.  So dull in fact that her boyfriend breaks up with her just before high school graduation.  What should be the happiest time of her life is turned upside down.  But Sophie’s best friend Ella has a plan. Every day for the remainder of the summer Sophie will try a brand new experience. Some experiences will be tame and others will be wild, but each one will thrust her out of her comfort zone. Every adventure is documented with pictures or videos and posted online.

90 Days of Different is written by Eric Walters, one of Canada’s most popular writers for young readers. He began his career as a teacher, writing stories that would appeal to his students. Years later, he is still finding ways to connect with his young audience. You can follow all of Sophie’s experiences on social media. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts are set up with pictures of her adventures.

Some of Sophie’s tamer experiences have her doing things like modeling on a runway or riding a mechanical bull.  One of wildest adventures starts with her sneaking out late at night to paint street art and ends with her in the back of a police car. Other experiences are just plain entertaining, like getting a job and then trying to get fired before the end of her shift.

As the summer goes on, Sophie becomes more confident and finds herself as somewhat of a social media star. People start following her adventures from all over the world, some even suggesting what she should do for her next experience.

The story pushes the idea of growth and self discovery but it also focuses on friendship. Instead of being about girls who chase the idea of boys and romance, it follows the story of two girls who believe in and support each other.

Sophie and Ella’s friendship began in early childhood. Since then,they’ve shared together all of life’s joys and hardships. Ella was there when Sophie lost her mom. Sophie was there for Ella when her parents divorced.  Like any real friendship, it has its ups and downs, positives and shortcomings.

90 Days of Different is a light, easy read with a positive message. It’s a great choice to curl up with on the deck or porch and start the summer.

-Lesley L.

Revisiting a classic

I think that everyone has a book that they read when they were young that made them feel like the author was speaking directly to them, as if the author could see right into their soul, and that no other person would read the book in the exact same way. The book that meant that much to me is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and I know that I pestered my parents and older siblings with constant references to book until they probably thought it might be worth ‘losing’ my library card for a few weeks so I’d find something else to talk about. Written in 1962, it was the winner of the 1963 Newberry Medal, and has never stopped being a touchstone in children’s literature (and, I really think, literature for all). I re-read it almost every year and our shelves at home have more than one copy because our kids have received it as a gift several times. It’s probably good that we have so many copies as each person will want one when they move out.

It’s not just that reading the book takes me back to a cozy time from my reading past, although in a way it does, because the main character – Meg Murry – has a loving family, a wonderful dog, supportive friends. In fact, the book is edgy and has more darkness than you would expect of a novel with a young main character. Part of the appeal of this book is that Meg is at an awkward time in her life, doubting her appearance and her place in the world, but she has to travel across the galaxy to rescue her father with the help of her incredible younger brother Charles Wallace and a new friend, Calvin.  The three kids at the centre of the story are united because they all see themselves as different from their peers and they know themselves well enough to place value on their ability to think independently. Reading this when I was little felt wonderful and I still value their loyalty to one another when I read it now. It’s a story of friendship and trust but the author had a glorious imagination like no one else I was reading at that time – unless I was taking books from my brothers’ bookshelves.

This novel shows all three children facing challenges, doubting themselves, seeing horrible danger approaching and at some moments they despair that they might not succeed in rescuing Meg’s father. Madeleine L’Engle chose not to ‘write down’ or ‘sugarcoat’ a situation for her readers and the first time I read this one I was so worried for the fate of Meg and Charles Wallace. It’s an adventure that keeps you on the edge of your seat, casting Meg as the hero – a girl! – long before that was popular. She is the 1960s version of Katniss Everdeen but uses her love for her father as the weapon against the villains. As the child of scientists with a gift for math and a stubborn streak, Meg was an anomaly in the books I was reading and she continues to be one of my all-time favourite book characters. Her story, her love of her family, and the friendship she forms with Calvin has not aged a bit, making it possible to hand this book out to a young person at the library today and be confident that they will adore it.

Here is some great news for all who love the words of Madeleine L’Engle – her granddaughters have written a biography (for middle-grade audience but I don’t think that matters at all to fans of a woman who wrote for children with such respect) using their family stories, her own manuscripts and journals, and photographs as the basis for the book.  The book has been given the wordy title of Becoming Madeleine: a biography of the author of A Wrinkle in Time by her granddaughters.  I’ve read that her granddaughters had been thinking of doing something to celebrate the author’s 100th birthday (she was born in New York City in November 29 of 1918) and, inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics from Hamilton where the cast sings “who lives, who dies, who tells your story”, they knew what they wanted to do.  They chose to focus only on the years of her life up to when this novel was published and tried to examine only documents which were relevant to the biography in an effort to be respectful of their grandmother’s privacy. L’Engle had agreed for all of her papers to be housed at the archive of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois so I’m sure that they must have spent many happy hours there collaborating on this incredible project. It’s a book that will be popular with fans of all ages.

Another significant event happens this year to tie in with her important birthday – the much anticipated film based on A Wrinkle in Time. It’s been adapted before, once for TV, and it wasn’t exactly… perfect. We have that 2003 film here at the library if you would like to check it out. We also have a glorious graphic novel version that is so worth your time. I knew that this new adaptation was in the works and was thrilled to see that Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay would be the powerhouse behind it. It’s a tricky film to produce as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin travel across galaxies and meet wonderful, magical, and spectacular beings so the special effects staff must have been working overtime every weekend. In addition to this challenge DuVernay is producing a film based on something that has lived on in memories for decades so there is pressure there to keep fans happy. In the novel the kids have three guides in their cross-Galaxy journey who are known as “the Mrs.” – sometimes referred to as guardian angels – and DuVernay cast Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. In a recent TIME magazine article she said that she chose them because she wanted “leaders – icons” to play these incredible personalities. Good or bad decision? What do you think? Well, they are such iconic women that I have seen three magazine cover stories featuring them, a Dec 25, 2017 TIME magazine cover, the February 2018 issue of Essence and March 2018 issue of Oprah Magazine. We have copies of these magazines on the library shelves and both Oprah Magazine and TIME are available for you to stream or download through the Digital Library so you can read all about the cast, the movie and how they feel about Madeleine L’Engle’s iconic work.  

I’m not sure how I will feel about any of the decisions the director and producers have made about the most recent film adaptation but I do know that the first time I saw the trailer (@WrinkleInTime takes you to the trailer and all kinds of great news about the movie) in a theatre with my kids I really did tear up. It’s beautiful stuff. And, more than that, it’s simply thrilling that so much attention is being paid to a wonderful story about children who are saving the world, going out to fight against a horrible darkness, to protect their father from something so cruel when they know that they might lose their own life in the fight. I am feeling a little bit worried about what Disney is doing with my very favourite story but I’m hopeful. Please don’t ask me how I feel about the sales of those A Wrinkle in Time Barbies

-Penny M.

 

Life after The Walking Dead

Fans of The Walking Dead will have to wait many long months for the conclusion of Season 8. So far this season, we’ve seen more bullets, explosions and bodies than all the other seasons combined. While waiting to see what Rick’s next move will be in his all out war against the Saviors, I checked out the dystopian teen novel Enclave.

Enclave is the first book in the Razorland trilogy by Ann Aguirre. I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover this trilogy but once I started, I was hooked. I read Enclave in one day. I checked out the other books, Outpost and Horde, immediately afterwards and had a lot of late nights.

Similarly to The Walking Dead, civilization in Enclave has collapsed. People scrounge on the remains of a once thriving culture to survive. Also like The Walking Dead, the world is plagued by twisted creatures that prey on the living. Only in Enclave, the creatures are not mindless zombies. ‘Freaks,’ as they are referred to in the book, possess an intelligence that evolves with every generation.

The story’s main character, Deuce, reminds me of a young Michonne. Strong, fierce and skilled with a blade, Deuce is a huntress trained to keep her people safe from freaks that roam near their territory. So far, her clan has survived by living in underground tunnels. However, as the freaks grow smarter, they are able to organize and even strategize their attacks. Deuce finds herself forced to flee above ground into a world she’s never seen. Sunlight, trees and buildings are all foreign to her but she must adapt to this new place in order to carry on.

In the second book, Outpost, Deuce has joined a group of villagers above ground. They are a devout group of people that adhere to a traditional way of living. Deuce does not fit in. She was once a revered warrior, but now she is an outcast, someone to be avoided. Meanwhile, the threat of freaks has risen above ground and is amassing at an alarming rate.

In the final book, Horde, the freaks have evolved to have near human intelligence. Their numbers are enormous, obliterating entire settlements and leaving no survivors. They are no longer looking for food, they are looking for vengeance. Deuce finds herself in a leadership role for the first time. The last few chapters had me clutching my comforter – at least Rick’s crew never had to deal with intelligent walkers.

The Razorland trilogy is fast paced and plot driven – you will have no problem getting through this series, although you will probably lose a lot of sleep.

-Lesley L.

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.

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.