Thursday, December 24, 2015

Middle Grade Reviews Part Two

Firefly Hollow
By Alison McGhee, illustrated by Christopher Denise
Published 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from print ARC
Firefly and Cricket both have dreams bigger than the hollow where they live. With the help of Vole and a miniature giant named Peter, will they find a way to make their dreams come true?

So I don't usually go in for animal fantasy novels, though there are a few exceptions (Charlotte's Web, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH). However, these types of fantasy are extremely popular with middle grade readers and this one featured incredibly charming illustrations, so I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very sweet and heartwarming story that I think kids will really enjoy. This would be an excellent family read-aloud, precisely in the vein of Charlotte's Web. Like that book, it does have moments of sadness, so be careful with sensitive readers.

Connect the Stars
By Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
Published 2015 by HarperCollins
Reviewed from e-ARC
Aaron and Audrey are both a little quirky - quirky enough that they sometimes have trouble making friends. So, when they meet at a wilderness camp, expectations are low. But when things start going haywire, will they be able to rely on each other to survive?

I read de los Santos' previous middle grade novel and found it interesting, though time travel isn't usually my thing. In this book, the focus is more on magical realism - both of our narrators have a special ability that makes life just a bit more difficult for them. Aaron remembers everything he sees and hears - but memory does not necessarily equal knowledge. And Audrey can always tell when someone is lying, which sounds great - until you realize how often people tell even little white lies.I liked the dual narration, though their voices were sometimes a bit too similar. I really enjoyed the relationships that were forged at the wilderness camp - the other kids in their group were just as interesting as Audrey and Aaron. The adventure is enough to keep the plot moving along at a nice pace, though the conclusion seemed a bit melodramatic. Overall, though, I think this one should appeal to kids.

The Afterlife Academy
By Frank L. Cole
Published 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Reviewed from e-ARC
Walter doesn't know what to expect when he dies - but it's certainly not becoming a Guardian Angel. Entrusted with a High Level Target, Walter will have to use all his skills to protect Charlie - without any training. This could be trouble.

Well, I try. I try to read as much middle grade as I can. But then, I come to books like this. I think this actually was the start of my reading slump this fall. I just didn't like it - nor did I like several of the others I read around the same time. I could see where Cole was trying to go, but it all felt obvious and not very successful. There are only so many instances of incredible luck fighting powerful demons that I'm willing to believe. It felt predictable and the humor was a big miss for me. It read open enough that there could potentially be a sequel, but I'm not interested in revisiting this world.

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