Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

stellaI’ve known about this book for a while. Well, since the beginning of 2015 when it was published. So I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t read it when it came out, but in my defense I was going through my “only YA and picture books” phase, and I didn’t get out of that until about four months ago. So here we are today. I’m reformed.

In my reformed state I’m here to tell you that Stella by Starlight was one of those books that I’ll probably never forget. From Stella’s tenacity that I truly believe I see every day in my patrons and remember feeling myself, to her confusion about why things are happening the way they are, I’ll never forget it. Nevermind the fact that a certain political candidate has Klan members at his rallies nowadays, this book was extremely relevant to the social climate today even though it took place during a time when Jim Crow laws were being enforced.

What starts out as a fire witnessed by Stella (11-year-old wannabe reporter from Bumblebee, NC) and her brother Jojo quickly becomes an issue throughout the town. That wasn’t just any fire. It was the Klu Klux Klan, and they’ve made their presence more than known to the people of color in Bumblebee. When Stella’s father, the local minister, and another local father go to register to vote, a family is targeted. Suddenly the idea that she might not be the best writer in her class is overshadowed by the reality that there’s a family of 12 that suddenly finds itself without a home. While Stella grapples with the implications of racism in her town, she also sees kindness from her African American neighbors and even some of the white people in town.

This was difficult to read, simply because it is so relevant today. Your heart breaks for Stella, her family, and the fact that many children had similar or worse experiences than she did at this time.

Have you read Stella by Starlight? If so, let me know what you thought of the book. If you haven’t, does this sound like something you’ve read recently?

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The Things You Kiss Goodbye by Leslie Connor

I was so impressed by this book. I can remember going to little “talks” in high school where they would talk about how many high school relationships are abusive (that statistic is up to roughly 10% according to a CDC article I found while writing this). It seemed so high to me at the time. I’d never experienced anything like what I imagined an abusive relationship was like. I got these ideas–from Law & Order: SVU and from those talks in my health class in high school–that abuse was always rape o physical abuse, that the women and men who take that kind of abuse are just hit one day and afraid to say anything because they’re too surprised. That’s true, and I’m not saying that that doesn’t happen. However a lot of what I’d consider abuse now as a twenty-something isn’t as overt as that.

Plot

This book was a breath of fresh air as someone who’s been in an abusive, controlling, manipulative relationship. This book is important for the very reason that it describes Bettina’s relationship with her boyfriend Brady as picture-perfect. It’s the kind of relationship that all teenage art kids dream of (I know I did) where the basketball star notices you and wants to make you his because he sees how unique you are. You’re his special snowflake that he defends in front of his jock friends. But when he starts to act cruelly, Bettina can’t believe it. She’s so shocked that she doesn’t say anything to him. And when she does he brushes it off, telling her that it’s all in her head, that she needs to lighten up, that it was just a joke. That brushoff is what made this book seem real to me.

She is lucky enough to find someone who gets her through her abuse and who reminds her often enough that she’s better than that abusive relationship that she eventually leaves Brady.

Verdict

This book had me crying on the train to Chicago before a big date night, and my mascara ran all over. It was a mess. Needless to say don’t read this in public unless you’d like to make a spectacle of yourself. I normally totally judge books by their covers, but this one is definitely deceptive. It seems like it’ll be a fun little romp into the land of teen dating and the life of a girl whose parents are Greek (like, Greek Greek) and control most of her life. It was not. It’s a sad book. I cannot stress this enough. But I also know it’s an important book because it describes a realistic abusive relationship between two teens.

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

This is a children’s picture book, yes, but it was so unexpected. I honestly don’t know where I first heard the title, but the book was overall very much about depression and coping/living with someone who suffers from depression.

Plot

Vanessa’s sister Virginia has woken up feeling quite wolfish. She finds no joy in her friends stopping by or the birds singing. Her art box remains unopened. So Virginia sits with her and listens to what she could possibly want. From here she decides to paint a magical world on their bedroom walls that can transport Virginia to a happier place. Virginia notices. The two talk together and eventually Virginia starts to feel less like a shadowy wolf and more like a sunshiny little girl.

Verdict

It’s hard to find a book that deals with mental illness in a positive way. This is nothing like the brusque titles like My Mommy Has Depression (is that a title? I should hope not, but I would not be surprised at all). This one handles the issue with respect and dignity while at the same time giving examples of how to help: listen, talk, be there for that person. It’s a beautiful book.

Bonus

I fell in love with Isabelle Arsenault when I read Jane, The Fox, and Me during grad school. I believe it was for my class, “Art in Picture Books.” In it, a young girl struggles with her weight and feeling inadequate. The manner in which the story is told is both whimsical and heartbreakingly real. I’ve been planning on getting her fox tattooed on me for a while now. At any rate, if you’ve got a minute you should head over to Arsenault’s blog. Since she’s from Montreal, there are both English and French captions on her lovely pictures.

Shatter Me (Series) by Tahereh Mafi

Okay so now that I’ve read the whole series and have time to reflect on these books, I can’t even handle how wonderful they are. Here’s my two cents:

Shatter Me:

For a series with super feminine covers, Juliette is such a badass chick. She’s been locked up for nearly a year in what she can only assume is an asylum all because she touched a little boy and apparently killed him. 245 days of not speaking to a soul, of looking out the window and wishing to be free, of praying she would die just so she could be spared the loneliness she feels every day.

Until Adam comes along. Harsh at first, he soon warms up to Juliette and starts treating her with respect. After Adam, it isn’t long before she is taken to Warner, the chief officer of Sector 45 (a sector of the Reestablishment, a movement to unite the world after ecological disaster). He’s cold and unpredictable, and he soon reveals that Juliette has been very, very wrong about Adam. But when Warner pushes her too far, will Juliette finally snap? Will she touch Warner to try to escape?

This selfless character really reminded me of Valerie from V for Vendetta, suffering for something she couldn’t control. And yet while Juliette seems weak, there are glimpses of a character that is loyal enough to let her ferocity shine. Here is a character who has a haunting past. Here is a girl who might fight for what she believes in.

Might I also comment now on Tahereh Mafi’s prose? It’s a rare thing when I just want to take a book and memorize pages and entire passages so I can remember them when I’m feeling sad or just feeling feelings, but she is absolutely out of this world. I know people have been comparing Shatter Me to The Hunger Games & Divergent, and I get that. I do. Because they’re all dystopian and trilogies and bla bla bla. But honestly this book is on another level entirely. For a much more mature audience because of the emotions going on between Adam and Juliette.

Unravel Me:

I never thought I’d be team Warner, but I’m team Warner. Let me just say.

Warner Warner Warner. Le Sigh.

Ignite Me:

HA!

You made the right choice, Juliette.

Verdict

As you might sense by my digression from analytical and hands-off to complete manic pixi dream fangirl, I’m definitely 100% in love with this series. I’m buying it. And that never ever happens because everything is free at the library. However I need to re-read this series at least twice more before I’m satisfied.

It’s also a rare thing for me to call my best friend in the middle of the night and gush about character development. Juliette is one of those women who really had several “aha moments,” to borrow from Ms. Oprah Winfrey. She listened to Kenji when he told her she needed to stop feeling sorry for herself and pulled herself up out of her self-loathing.

Great friendships, families, and relationships. If you haven’t yet, please get on this series.

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun Hutchinson

Woah. This book packs a huge punch.

I was expecting something akin to Winger when I started this one, mostly because of the frequent comic strips peppered throughout the novel. You see, Drew is an artist. His character, Patient F, has also lost everything in the hospital. Like Patient F, Drew is struggling to survive in a world where his family no longer exists. Anyways.

Plot:

In his tragic life, Drew is the hero and Death personified is the villainous social worker (known to everyone else as sweet Miss Michelle) who wants to take him away from everything stable and good in his life. He works for cash in the hospital cafeteria, he volunteers and is friends with his makeshift family of nurses, his friends are two straight cancer patients in the peds ward, and he sleeps in the unfinished wing of the hospital. But when a boy comes in to the hospital with third degree burns on his legs, arms, and chest, Drew has to know more about him. He’s drawn to Rusty. His agonizing screams pull Drew in.

So he adds a new routine to his life: every night Drew sneaks into the ICU to read to Rusty and tell him about himself. Drew soon learns about Rusty’s tortured life as a gay teen, and Drew confides that he hasn’t had the same experience. Drew also vows to protect Rusty from Death.

His new routine is threatening to throw his entire life off-balance. When Death starts to notice Drew, he’s got to decide whether to protect his friends, protect Rusty, or protect himself.

Verdict:

If you’re in for a good cry, then I’d definitely say that this is the book for you. However, if your TW is child death or anything like that, I’d stay away from this read, as Drew reflects often on his six-year-old sister, Cady’s death (and there is a graphic scene where Drew tries to give CPR to a dead three-year-old).

This book ain’t for the faint of heart.

Extras:

The author, Shaun David Hutchinson, has a pretty sweet Twitter page. I’d check it out, if only to see what an awesome nerd he truly is.