Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

beholding bee“The way I got the diamond on my face happened like this.

I was sleeping in the back of our hauling truck one night after Pauline shut down our hot dog cart and Ellis closed the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel, and then, after every one of the stars had blinked out for the night so no one could see, that is when an angel came and kissed me on the cheek.

That is the way Pauline sees it.

Other folks say different things, like ‘What a shame, what a shame.'”

Bee tries to hide the birthmark on her face from the customers that come to her hot dog cart at the carnival.  But sometimes, they say cruel things or tease her, and it hurts her feelings.  It’s not all bad: she has her little dog, and Cordelia, the pig; and there’s Pauline, the young woman who found her-the closest thing she has to a mother.

Bee spends her time looking for the home she dreams of, a nice place for her and Pauline.  And she’s learning to run, too, which helps when she is feeling sad.  No matter how difficult her circumstances are, Bee tries to remain hopeful. She knows it will be better someday.

When Pauline unexpectedly leaves, Bee takes refuge with her mysterious “aunts”, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter.  There’s something a bit strange about them, though: no one else seems to be able to see them.  They make a cozy, if unusual, family, and Bee settles down.  She even is able to begin school for the first time! However, it’s not as easy as she was hoping.

 This gentle novel explores friendship, beauty, and bullying, against the interesting backdrop of World War II.   The character development is natural and thorough, and the historical details are fascinating.  This book would be great in a classroom, and presents an interesting perspective on wartime combined with a story laced with meaning.  It’s also a good way to open a dialogue on differences and bullying.  I loved it, even though it made me cry about every other page!  I think you’ll love it, too.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Fusco, Kimberly Newton. Beholding Bee.  Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2013. 327 pp.  Ages 11-14.

If you liked this book (and I think you will!) try these:

Sorta Like a Rockstar

The One and Only Ivan

The Magician’s Elephant

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Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Image“I try to keep my mouth shut because the ants are telling me: Stay safe, Lucky Linderman.  Keep your mouth shut. But I talk anyway.  ‘My mother is a squid, so we have to come here because Dave and Jodi have a pool, and my mother has to swim several hours a day or else, as a squid, she will die.  My father has to stay in Pennsylvania because he is a turtle and can’t face anything other than boneless chicken breasts and organic vegetables.

My ninja is smiling at me. ‘You mom is a squid?’

‘Psychologically, yes.’

‘And your dad is a turtle.’

‘Right.’

‘What does that make you?’ she asks.

‘I don’t know yet.’

Lucky Linderman has masterminded a survival plan: Operation Don’t Smile Ever.  It started after his survey project, in which he asked his classmates how they would kill themselves if they could.  The thing is, everyone freaked out and now the school officials think he’s “troubled”.  Combined with a dad who is always working at his restaurant, a mom who would rather swim than engage with humans, and Nader’s incessant bullying, Lucky’s not so sure he has much to smile about anyway.  Oh, and the ants: he also sees an ever-present line of ants who like to comment on everything he does.  As if a squid mom and turtle dad aren’t weird enough.

And that’s without the nightmares.  See, his grandfather is a POW/MIA, a prisoner of war, missing in action.  He went to Vietnam and even his body didn’t come back.  Lucky’s grandma died while pleading for Lucky to find out what happened to him.  But Lucky kind of knows already.  See, he has dreams of Harry, his grandfather.  They’re nightmares, really.  They make traps together, talk about life, and even play Twister.  And from each dream, Lucky carries a memento into real life: a banana sticker, a black headband.  He feels like the dreams have a purpose; he will stop having them when they find his grandfather.

This is a very special book, one that doesn’t ignore the horrific realities of war and the agony of bullying, the feelings of worthlessness and despair that accompany adolescence, or the frustration inherent in being a member of a dysfunctional family unit.  There is no minimization of trauma here, but King shows us a way around the challenges.   Lucky’s story champions the subtle bravery of not throwing in the towel.  It is a novel about what it means to grow up.

We are in the hands of a master storyteller, friends.  We’ve all read books on bullying, on war, on dysfunctional families.  But, I ask you, how many of those books had a line of ants, or dreams that might be real, or a Vagina Monologues ninja in them?  And it’s not just these delightful creative elements that will grab you and suck you in, either.  It is Lucky’s natural voice.  While you’re reading this book, it’s like sitting inside his head.  You’ll look around and say, “Hey! I know this place!” And after you finish this book, I hope you see the ants, too. I hope they’re cheering for you.

A. S. King won the Printz Honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and this book has already gotten starred reviews and the attention of the American Library Association-all for good reason.  I especially love that this book will appeal to reluctant readers (although I do so hate that phrase, because it assumes that people don’t want to read.  No, they just haven’t found the right books yet, I say).  So here, readers-who-might-be-having-a-bit-of-trouble-liking-reading:  this one’s gonna blow your mind.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com

King, A. S. Everybody Sees the Ants. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. 279 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book, I think you’ll love A. S. King’s earlier book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Also, you might want to check out Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like A Rock Star and Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going.  They aren’t so much about war or bullying, but they have the same feeling to them.

Totally Joe by James Howe

“Ok, fine, I’m not a boy like them, but I’m still a boy.  The thing is, boys-by which I mean guy-guys like my brother Jeff-have always been a total mystery to me. I mean, how do they know how to do all that stuff, like throw and catch and grease car engines? Besides the fact that I don’t have a clue how to do any of those things, on a scale of 1-10, I have, like, below zero interest. Way below.  Try negative a thousand.”

Joe’s writing his alphabiography for a school assignment.  It’s a story of his life with a section for each letter of the alphabet, starting with A, for Addie, his best friend, through Z, for Zachary, the boy that might someday become his boyfriend.  His alphabiography is almost like a journal: he talks about his crushes, about his family, how it feels to be bullied.  He’s a great cook, is horrified by the thought of kissing, and favors loud Hawaiian print shirts.  He has a boyfriend, Colin, who is just not quite ready to come out of the closet yet, and there are some guy-guys who’ve been picking on him, but Joe strives to be positive.

I usually end up reading more high school level books, and this is written for the younger crowd, so it was a refreshing change.  Actually, refreshing is the perfect word for Joe, himself.  He’s optimistic, self-confident, and his indomitable spirit permeates the book.  I love his language: creative, casual, and approachable.  His character comes off as so earnest and friendly, that you want him to be real. Furthermore, James Howe has done a wonderful job handling the bullying issue without allowing the novel to be consumed by it.  The result is a light, pleasant, and encouraging read.  I think you’re going to like it!

For the record, James Howe is the author of my much-beloved Bunnicula series!

Happy reading!

Howe, James. Totally Joe. Athenum Books: New York, 2005.  189 pp. Ages 10 and up.

Publisher’s website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/James-Howe/20539048

This is the companion book to The Misfits, so that is a great place to start if this sounds like a good book.  However, I read Totally Joe first, and it was just fine on its own!  Also, look for Addie on the Inside, coming out soon!

 

 

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

“There are three things in this world that I want more than anything. I’ll tell you the first two, but I’ll never tell you the third.”

Super-smart Donnie is very serious about the things he wants: the first is a copy of Giant-Size X-Men #1, the only comic book that his father doesn’t have in his collection.  The second is a computer, so he can work on his own graphic novel project, Schemata. As for the third, you’ll have to sort that out on your own!

Donnie is 15, living in the basement in the house he shares with his pregnant mother and so-called step-fascist, the man she left Donnie’s father for.  School is a battlefield: he’s bullied constantly, and has only one friend, Cal.  Cal’s on the lacrosse team and hangs out with the jocks, so sometimes he has to pretend that he’s not really Donnie’s friend.  All he really has to keep him going is his graphic novel and what he calls “The List”: a mental catalog of everyone who has ever hurt him, so that he can seek revenge someday. (Just to be clear, here, he may fantasize about hurting those who have hurt him, but he affirms that “the best revenge is living well”, and is determined to make it big someday, rather than act out in violence).

He’s being beaten (again) in gym when Kyra shows up.  She’s pale, dressed in black, with piercings and an attitude that proclaims, ” I hate you all”.  Soon the duo become unlikely friends, driving around in a series of (possibly) stolen cars, talking about suicide, school, comic books, and how they’ve been let down by the adults in their lives. She teaches him how to stand up to people, and when Kyra needs help, Donnie uses what he learned to save her life.

High school isn’t an easy place for many people, and this book explores how painful social isolation can be.  Donnie’s voice is believable, and readers will be instantly sympathetic to him.  Kyra’s set-up can be a little awkward in places, such as the unexplored thread about the stolen cars, and I felt the exchanges with the principal were not terribly realistic.  But, you know what?  This is fiction, after all.  It’s a story.  It’s ok to have some elements that may or may not happen in real life.  That’s part of storytelling!

Fans of comic books, graphic novels (though don’t get confused, this isn’t a graphic novel, it is just about them), and anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will appreciate this book, I think.  My very favorite parts were where the author, Barry Lyga, would slip into using this unique imagery.  It was almost poetic, and I was so surprised and pleased to see it included.  For example: “And now the laughter takes on a slightly dark tinge, a bad flavor, as if dipped in a solution containing the slightest percentage of vinegar.”  Nice, right?

It really reminded me of Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going, so if you liked that one, I think you will like this one, too!  There’s also a sequel, Goth Girl Rising, but do you know what I would really like to see?  I want to see the real-life version of the graphic novel that Donnie is working on in the book.  It sounds great!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://barrylyga.com/new

Book website: http://fanboyandgothgirl.com (Look, there’s even a discussion forum where you can talk about what Donnie’s mysterious “third thing” is!)

Lyga, Barry. The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 2006. 311 pp.  Ages 15 and up.

Hey, can I say one more thing that I loved about this book?  I’m pretty happy to see several characters in it that don’t drink.  For example, Cal tells Donnie how to spill his beer a little into the plant at the party, because neither of them really want to drink.  Thanks for that!

Also, watch out for my next post on Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King.  Since I started library school, I’ve been really nervous and a little homesick, and reading and blogging help me feel better! Soooo, it should be up soon!