So many wonderful, wonderful books and so little time! Here are a few middle-grade and young adult books I read in the last couple of months.
I know a little about gorillas being endangered because I began to read up bits and pieces about it when I saw articles linking the fate of gorillas to the largescale use of palm oil. But even in the articles I read, I had no idea about coltan and its use in every electronic device we use. The threat that mining poses to gorilla habitat is real and frightening.
(And so, first of all, all those who’ve been telling me I need to get a new phone, read this book.)
I read Gill Lewis’s White Dolphin years ago, but it stayed fresh in my mind because it is such a powerful story. I also had a fan girl moment recently when Gill Lewis retweeted a review I posted of Me and Mister P. Sky Hawk has been on my list of books to read for ages, but somehow, I haven’t got around to it. Gorilla Dawn? I heard of it for the first time when I saw the book in the library.
Set in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gorilla Dawn is the story of young Imara, possessed by a demon who hardens her to keep her strong. She is a Spirit Child, protector of the Black Mamba, the head of a rebel tribe. The rebels have begun to mine for coltan illegally, and with the help of a corrupt police officer, it’s easy to get conflict-free certifications for the coltan they dig out.
Imara is not bothered by this – yet. Her priority is simple. She must never appear weak in front of the Mambas because weakness means death. However, when a young gorilla whom she calls Kitwana is captured to be sold to a white woman, something begins to stir within her. She is put to the test, forced to question what love, loyalty and bravery mean.
Gorilla Dawn is a powerful, heart-wrenching story that reminds us that we’re all linked in a circle of events that could save us or destroy us.
|Rating (out of 5)||5|
When young Esperanza’s father dies, her life turns upside-down. While the house and harvest are left to Esperanza and her mother, the plantation now belongs to her uncles, who make it crystal clear that they will stop at nothing to gain full control. The house “accidentally” catches fire, and it’s time to move – or do her uncles’ bidding.
From living in a sprawling mansion in Mexico, Esperanza and her mother are forced to flee to California and start a new life. The young girl soon realises that she knows nothing and must learn quickly to avoid being teased and taunted. Hard labour and financial difficulties are new to her, but she needs to learn – and fast.
Loosely based on a true story, Esperanza’s journey gives us a glimpse of what Mexican laborourers in the US face. Deportation, impossibly low wages and strikes become Esperanza’s new reality, and slowly, with her, we become sensitive to class differences and the ways in which skin colour seems to be linked to economic status.
Esperanza Rising is a lovely story of hope, love and family.
|Author||Pam Muñoz Ryan|
|Rating (out of 5)||4|
Apple and Rain
In my post ‘Seven Fictional Teachers I Love‘, I mentioned Mr Gaydon from Apple and Rain. I love Mr Gaydon, but the book is much more than the story of a good poetry teacher.
Eleven-year-old Apple stays with her grandmother who is sometimes most embarrassing. For one, she insists on picking Apple up from school each day. Additionally, Apple is not allowed to do several things other girls her age do. All in all, she can’t help wishing that her mother, who ran away when Apple was a baby, would just come back.
Her wish comes true, but the homecoming is not as sweet as Apple imagined. It soon becomes quite clear that the prime reason for her mother’s return is that Apple can now take care of her younger sister Rain, whose existence itself comes as a surprise to the older girl.
I love how each relationship blossoms in this story, how each one rings true. Like One, a book I adore, Apple and Rain explores a bond close to my heart – that of sisterhood. In a dysfunctional family filled with bitterness, jealousy and hurt, how can sisterhood bloom? But it does. Slowly, but surely.
|Title||Apple and Rain|
|Rating (out of 5)||4.5|
Seven years ago, I read Season of Secrets by Sally Nicholls and though I don’t remember the story entirely, I do remember loving it. When I saw another book by the same author at the library, I picked it up – and was glad I did!
Shadow Girl is a slim volume, a book to read in one sitting. Clare, a foster child, has trouble at school. She is afraid of forming new relationships and so remains aloof, convinced that the moment she finds someone she loves, it will be time to move away. Yet, when she finds Maddy, another foster child, she begins to open up. She shares her stories of bullies and learns about Maddy’s own troubles.
Despite all their conversations, though, Clare feels like she knows very little about Maddy. And when Maddy disappears, Clare panics. What can she do? Everything seems to indicate that Maddy could not even have existed. Who can Clare go to for help when she’s convinced that her friend has vanished?
|Genre||Supernatural (no horror)|
|Rating (out of 5)||4|
The Sherlock Holmes Connection
I love it when characters and ideas take on a life of their own! I sometimes enjoy derivative works even more than I enjoy the original; for instance, I loved Lilliput, which begins, of course, with an idea from Gulliver’s Travels.
The Sherlock Holmes Connection is a collection of four stories, united by one idea – that Dr Watson was the true detective in the stories. He was the true observer, not Holmes himself. Watson’s descendants continue the Sherlock Holmes legacy, armed with a magnifying glass engraved with the initials ‘S.H.’ The four stories are connected by little else, for their settings are varied, ranging from Stockholm in the early 20th century to present-day India.
In each of the four stories, the detective entrusted with the magnifying glass is a child who must first figure out what it is that needs examining before moving on to solve the mystery. What could the reward for finding a pocket watch be? What could be hidden in recipes concealed inside a suitcase?
The children need to figure out whom to trust before then linking the clues they have to the puzzle before them. I enjoyed all four stories!
|Title||The Sherlock Holmes Connection|
|Authors||Martin Widmark, Anushka Ravishankar, Katarina Genar, Bikram Ghosh|
|Genre||Detective Fiction/Fan Fiction|
|Rating (out of 5)||4|
I’ve written so many times about how much I love Julia Golding‘s stories. Someday, I’ll write about the entire Cat Royal series because Cat has become one of my all-time favourite fictional characters.
Wolf Cry is another work of historical fiction (not linked to Cat), this time featuring Norwegian Viking sea-lords and a “Blue Man”, a dark-skinned slave.
Freydis longs for her father’s love, but is the despised daughter, worthless and, in her father’s opinion, illegitimate. When her father is away, his enemy attacks the Viking stronghold. Freydis is badly injured and her brother is taken captive. Enraged, Freydis’s father is determined to find his beloved son and take revenge. Why should a daughter survive? What right does a useless girl have to survive when his heir, his diamond, is probably dead?
The Blue Man – Enno – sees it all. Though determined never to care for any Viking, he begins to develop tender feelings towards Freydis, his owner. The complexity of each of the relationships is beautifully drawn. The characters leap out of the pages, true to life. And Freydis, feisty heroine, finally proves her worth to her father.
|Rating (out of 5)||5|