Book Review: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Title: Genesis Begins Again
Author: Alicia D. Williams
Genre: MG/YA Own Voices Contemporary Fiction
Page Count: 385 pages
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Release Date: January 15, 2019

Publisher’s Summary: There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

My Thoughts: I don’t even know where to begin with Genesis Begins Again. This book is beautiful, moving, heartbreaking, charming, inspiring, devastating, and everything in between. This is simply a phenomenal work of YA Own Voices Fiction about a girl learning how to love herself. It also takes place in metro-Detroit, where I live, which was pretty cool. I was so invested in Genesis’s story—everything from her personal internal struggles with her skin tone and her flawed but well-meaning father, to her new teachers and classmates and profound musical talent—I found it impossible to put this book down even to eat a meal. Memorable was her newfound friendship with a Greek classmate suffering from OCD, and the contrast between the two girls. I absolutely adored everything about this book and enthusiastically recommend it.

Book Review: Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Title: Wish
Author: Barbara O’Connor
Genre: MG Fiction
Page Count: 236 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: August 30, 2016

Publisher’s Summary: Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.

From award-winning author Barbara O’Connor comes a middle-grade novel about a girl who, with the help of a true-blue friend, a big-hearted aunt and uncle, and the dog of her dreams, unexpectedly learns the true meaning of family in the least likely of places.

My Thoughts: This book sold like hotcakes both years I volunteered at the book fair at my son’s elementary school. I decided to give it a read. I was pleasantly surprised by such a sweet story about a little girl struggling with her anger when she’s sent to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her aunt and uncle. Charlie’s father is in jail and her mother is sadly negligent. Thankfully, her aunt and uncle have hearts of gold and take her in as their own. At first, Charlie is prejudiced against the little mountain town and its “hillbilly kids” who probably “eat squirrel.” But, with the help of a scrawny puppy who’s a stray like her, Charlie learns to love her new home.

Throughout the story is the motif of wishes and every possible superstition surrounding them – blowing on dandelions, knocking on wood, etc. Of course, Charlie is constantly wishing for one outcome she wants…only to discover that maybe it’s the other outcome she needs. A heartwarming story for fans of books like Because of Winn-Dixie.

Book Review: Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally Carter

Title: Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor
Author: Ally Carter
Genre: MG Mystery
Page Count: 336 pages
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 3, 2020

Publisher’s Summary: April didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t the one who broke the vase. April didn’t ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don’t understand that April isn’t like them. After all, April’s mother is coming back for her someday very soon.

All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.

My Thoughts: April is an orphan with nothing but a mysterious key and the sadly misguided conviction that the mother who abandoned her long ago intends to eventually come back for her. When April accidentally sets a museum on fire trying to find the lock for her key, she’s sent to live with her new foster family at the Winterborne mansion. There she learns the mystery of the missing heir, Gabriel Winterborne, and begins to wonder if the old mansion is haunted. April makes new friends – and enemies – at the Winterborne House, all the while driven by her determination to find the key to her mother’s lock.  

Winterborne Home… is classic Ally Carter, complete with a team of kids with extreme skills, witty writing, mystery, high-stakes danger and adventure. I was unhappy, though, that it ended on a cliffhanger without solving one of the story’s central mysteries. I hope not too much time passes before the release of Book 2.  

Book Review: The Rose Legacy (Book #1) by Jessica Day George

Title: The Rose Legacy
Author: Jessica Day George
Series: Rose Legacy: Book 1
Page Count: 288 pages
Genre: MG Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Release Date: May 1, 2018

Publisher’s Summary: When orphaned Anthea Cross-Thornley receives a letter from a long-lost uncle, she wonders if she will finally find a true home. But she is shocked to learn that her uncle secretly breeds horses–animals that have been forbidden in her kingdom for centuries. More alarming is Anthea’s strange ability to sense the horses’ thoughts and feelings, an ancient gift called The Way. Confused and terrified, Anthea is desperate to leave, but when her family and kingdom are put at risk, can she embrace The Way and the exciting future it might bring her?

My Thoughts: This is through-and-through a horse lover’s novel. I was interested to learn that it was Jessica Day George’s first novel (or one of her first?), but never saw publication until it was revised later in her career. I enjoyed her Isbjorn/Singing, Springing Lark retelling in Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow when I read it several years back; I like her gentle storytelling style. In The Rose Legacy, we meet young Anthea, who dreams of becoming a Rose Maiden to the queen. Instead, she gets sent to a land of exile where her uncle illegally breeds horses. Horses are thought in their kingdom to be plague-bringers and spreaders of disease, so Anthea must get over her prejudice against them to realize her deep, telepathic connection with one of her uncle’s horses, Florian. Their relationship reminded me of the Princess and her horse, Falada, in The Goose Girl, but thankfully without the tragedy.

I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this story as much if I hadn’t recently adopted (and subsequently fell in love with, lol) my Golden Retriever. It’s definitely for animal lovers and the story’s heart is the bond between human and animal. The politics of the fictional nation didn’t grip me so much, but the twist at the end left me curious. For young fans of horses and fairy tales, this book belongs in your stable!

Book Review: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Title: Song for a Whale
Author: Lynne Kelly
Page Count: 224 pages
Genre: MG Fiction
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 5, 2019

Publisher’s Summary: From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Full of heart and poignancy, this affecting story by sign language interpreter Lynne Kelly shows how a little determination can make big waves.

My Thoughts: This is easily one of my all-time favorite MG novels. From the get-go, we immediately root for Iris, a twelve-year-old girl who is deaf and loves to repair broken radios (symbolic, in a way). Iris is the only deaf student in her school, which makes her feel unheard and like an outsider. She wants to go to the all-deaf school, but her parents fear that sending her there may disconnect her from them. When Iris learns about a whale who speaks at a frequency that no other whales can hear or understand, she feels an incredible compassion and affinity. She begins to work on a project that will show the whale, Blue 55, that he’s not alone. But everything from distance to school and her parents is determined to keep her from her goal of reaching Blue 55.

I wept…a couple of times…when I read this novel, and immediately bought copies for several of my loved ones. This story really moved me and I enthusiastically recommend it to readers of all ages.