Book Review: Wink by Rob Harrell

A few weeks ago, I was in the mood for middle grade books and googled something like middle grade books in 2020. One of the first results that popped up was Wink by Rob Harrell. I read the blurb and was immediately determined to read it.

First though, I had to finish Wonder. I finished that last week, so after that and after a short break for processing, I proceeded to this book.

Wink

Summary

A wrenching and hilarious story about embracing life’s weirdness and surviving an unthinkable diagnosis, based on the author’s own experience with a rare eye cancer.

Twelve-year-old Ross Maloy just wants to be normal. Not to have a rare eye cancer, not to lose his hair, not to have to wear a weird hat or have a goopy eye full of ointment. Just normal. But with a sudden and horrifying diagnosis, Ross can’t help standing out. His new life is medical treatments that feel straight out of a video game, vision loss in one eye, disappearing friends who don’t know what to say to “the cancer kid,” cruel bullying, and ultimately, friendships new and old that rise above everything.

Just when Ross starts to feel like he’s losing his footing, he discovers how music, art, and true friends can change everything. Filled with Rob Harrell’s comic panels (Batpig for the win!) and spot art, this novel brings effortless humor and hope to an unforgettable, uplifting story of survival.

My Review

Well, I cannot see the illustrations, so this review is purely about the story. And let me tell you, it’s an amazing story! Harrell has created Ross to be so totally witty, I loved it! I mean, even in the darkest of times, while my heart went out to Ross, I also found the story humorous. Ross truly shows his determination. He may not (as he says) have some big epiphany in which he realizes life is a precious gift, but he does retain his sense of humor in spite of it all. That’s awesome. I mean, this book had me laugh out loud on several occasions.

What’s also important, is the development the characters go through. I liked how Harrell creates his characters to be as open to friendship as they were. I mean, I know this book is a middle grade novel and some kids that age are just so closed-minded. Harrell’s characters for the most part are not.

I loved that this book had just one viewpoint, that of Ross. It shows us what goes on inside a “cancer kid”‘s mind without the added baggage of family members or friends. Of course, they chime in on occasion, but that’s okay. Oh, and not just Ross, but many other characters are totally awesome.

I loved Harrell’s writing style, the dialogue and how quickly this book moved. All absolutely great.

In short, this wasn’t some inspirational story, and yet it was. It’s partly based on Harrell’s own experience, even though I assume Harrell was an adult when he got cancer. I think this book definitely provides some perspective to middle schoolers and yet puts a laugh on their faces.

Book Details

Title: Wink
Author: Rob Harrell
Publisher: Dial Books
Publication Date: March 31, 2020

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Book Review: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

If there’s one good thing coming out of the COVID-19 thing, it’s that I have finally come to enjoy reading again. I wouldn’t know what to do otherwise, as it was recommended my husband do not visit me for the next two weeks. We are to have as little contact with people outside of the facility as possible. That way, it is hoped that the virus doesn’t enter here. I doubt it’ll work, but oh well.

I downloaded the middle grade novel Amina’s Voice already when it first became available on Bookshare a long while ago. I started reading it last January, after I finally finished Pictures of Me by Marilee Haynes and wasn’t done with middle grade yet. Then, adult and young adult novels caught my attention again. This past week, I’ve been reading a lot, so I finally finished this read. My review may contain spoilers.

Synopsis

A Pakistani-American Muslim girl struggles to stay true to her family’s vibrant culture while simultaneously blending in at school after tragedy strikes her community in this sweet and moving middle grade novel from the award-winning author of It’s Ramadan, Curious George and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.

Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin.

Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.

Amina’s Voice brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other.

My Review

I am horrible where it comes to reading diverse books. I mean, I read some fiction featuring LGBTQ+ characters and of course I love books portraying disability. However, where it comes to ethnic and racial diversity, I’m clueless. I saw that some book bloggers were featuring books by authors of color for Black History Month, which was last month I think. Then I thought, how do I even have a clue which authors are Black? I obviously can’t tell by their names and, being blind, I cannot see their pictures. Then again, I guess I’m not particularly drawn to books featuring racially diverse characters either, and I can’t use my blindness as an excuse for that. OMG, I don’t want to use this book as a token diverse read and that’s exactly what I do now! And Hena Khan isn’t even African-American. Sorry.

Anyway, I’m saying all this to make the point that I was very clueless when I started reading this book about what it would be like being Amina. I didn’t understand some of the terminology at first, but I grew accustomed to it pretty soon. I actually loved learning more about Pakistani-American culture and Islam.

More importantly though, this book is about friendship. Amina at first isn’t sure about Soojin hanging out with Emily, but finally she learns that Emily is nice after all. I loved reading about the development of their friendship.

I also loved reading about the support Amina’s classmates and their family, including Emily, offer when the mosque is vandalized.

An aspect of the book that isn’t mentioned in the synopsis, is Amina’s uncle visiting from Pakistan. At first, he is critical of American culture and feels Amina is brought up un-Islamic. He too learns to accept differences of culture and religion eventually.

Overall, I loved this book! Its terminology, including the Islamic words, were understandable. It was an awesome way of learning about Pakistani-American culture. I also could relate to the identity issues Amina was facing. In this sense, it really is a cool read for everyone, whether you belong to an ethnic minority or not.

Book Details

Title: Amina’s Voice
Author: Hena Khan
Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: March 14, 2017

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Book Review: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

I first heard of Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart (Goodreads) in the summer, when I was reading a lot. I couldn’t wait for the book to be released in October. However, when it was finally released, it took me a few weeks contemplating how to get ahold of the book before deciding to check if it was on Bookshare, the U.S.-based accessible book service. It was! I downloaded it and started to read it immediately.

Synopsis

Everyone has scars. Some are just easier to see … 16-year-old Ava Lee is heading back to school one year after a house fire left her severely disfigured. She’s used to the names, the stares, the discomfort, but there’s one name she hates most of all: Survivor. What do you call someone who didn’t mean to survive? Who sometimes wishes she hadn’t? When she meets a fellow survivor named Piper at therapy, Ava begins to feel like she’s not facing the nightmare alone. Piper helps Ava reclaim the pieces of Ava Before the Fire, a normal girl who kissed boys and sang on stage. But Piper is fighting her own battle, and when Ava almost loses her best friend, she must decide if the new normal she’s chasing has more to do with the girl in the mirror — or the people by her side. The beautiful, life-affirming debut from Erin Stewart that’s being called the YA answer to Wonder. Perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Nicola Yoon and John Green. “A heartfelt and unflinching look at the reality of being a burn survivor and at the scars we all carry. This book is for everyone, burned or not, who has ever searched for a light in the darkness.” – Stephanie Nielson, New York Times bestselling author of HEAVEN IS HERE and a burn survivor

My Review

I loved this book! The reason it took me longer to finish than I’d expected, had very little to do with the book. I mean, yes, the book is 352 pages, which is pretty much the most I can handle for a read that doesn’t take me forever. I’m just a slow reader.

The book isn’t as much of a page-turner as some other books I read, but that’s because it’s not a thriller or suspense novel. I loved the way this book meandered. What I mean by this is, there are a lot of plot twists, but they’re not breath-taking except for a few.

I found Ava to be a really relatable character. I mean, I’m not a burn survivor, but I did stick out like a sore thumb in high school and felt like making myself invisible. Piper should definitely be on my list of characters I’d wish were my best friends. And for those who’ve read the book and wonder, yes, I’d stick by her no matter what, just like Ava does.

I loved how well-developed each character was. This is definitely not a fast-moving book, but it’s one in which you’ll really get to know the characters. I like that.

I’ve previously read books where I thought the story should’ve ended a few pages before it did. The best example I can give is Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult, in which Willow dies at the end and it’s a true disappointment. In other books, the end drags on too long or is too thrilling even with a good outcome. This one was just right in the middle in that respect. I loved it.

Book Details

Title: Scars Like Wings
Author: Erin Stewart
Publisher: Delacorte
Publication Date: October 3, 2019

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Book Review: Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler

Like I said before, I’m really enjoying reading a lot lately. I had a number of books on my TBR list for a while, but hadn’t gotten down to actually reading them. Now I found the time and energy to read. Some of the books I’ve been reading, have been out for many years, so I won’t bore you with a review. Though Don’t Wake Up was published two years ago already, I still think it’s worth reviewing.

Synopsis

Alex Taylor wakes up tied to an operating table.
The man who stands over her isn’t a doctor.
The offer he makes her is utterly unspeakable.
But when Alex re-awakens, she’s unharmed – and no one believes her horrifying story. Ostracised by her colleagues, her family and her partner, she begins to wonder if she really is losing her mind.
And then she meets the next victim.
So compulsive you can’t stop reading.
So chilling you won’t stop talking about it.
A pitch-black and devastatingly original psychological thriller.

My Review

This was actually the first-ever thriller I read, because the genre normally scares the crap out of me. This one, however, was so compelling I just had to check it out. And I must say, I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, the plot was very scary at times, but it also kept me wanting to read on.

The synopsis above only covers the first 25% of the book or so, so I wasn’t sure it’d be interesting enough to read on beyond that. But it was.

One of the reasons that I didn’t before like reading thrillers, is that I don’t like bad endings, in which the main character dies for no apparent reason at the last page. In this sense, Don’t Wake Up definitely didn’t disappoint. Of course, bad stuff happens to people in the book – several people die in it -, but the book didn’t make me feel sick to my stomach at the end.

The characters were really well-developed. The book is mostly written from Alex’s point of view, but several other characters get a viewpoint too. This was necessary to keep the thriller effect. I liked it.

Overall, I really loved this book and it has me longing for more thrillers. I just searched for Liz Lawler on GoodReads and found she had another book published earlier this year. I’m definitely going to want to read that one too.

Book Details

Title: Don’t Wake Up
Author: Liz Lawler
Publisher: Twenty7
Publication Date: May 18, 2017

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Book Review: Finding Stevie by Cathy Glass

I bought Finding Stevie, Cathy Glass’ most recently published book, already shortly after it first came out in early March. However, I had a ton of books on my reading list, so I didn’t immediately start it. Then it took me a while to finish it, because I got distracted. Last Sunday I finally finished it, but didn’t feel like writing a review yet. I was having a bad cold and didn’t feel like writing much at all. Now my cold is gone, so I can write the review.

Synopsis

Finding Stevie is a dark and poignant true story that highlights the dangers lurking online.

When Stevie’s social worker tells Cathy, an experienced foster carer, that Stevie, 14, is gender fluid she isn’t sure what that term means and looks it up.

Stevie, together with his younger brother and sister, have been brought up by their grandparents as their mother is in prison. But the grandparents can no longer cope with Stevie’s behaviour so they place him in care.

Stevie is exploring his gender identity, and like many young people he spends time online. Cathy warns him about the dangers of talking to strangers online and advises him how to stay safe. When his younger siblings tell their grandmother that they have a secret they can’t tell, Cathy is worried. However, nothing could have prepared her for the truth when Stevie finally breaks down and confesses what he’s done.

My Review

I at first had some trouble getting through the first few chapters. I was curious what Stevie’s secret might be and didn’t find out till almost midway through the book. Then, I worried until nearly the end that the book might not end on a positive note. It seemed to drag on a bit, but eventually, I couldn’t help but love this book.

As the book carried on, I grew sympathetic towards every character. For example, Fred, Stevie’s grandfather, is very blunt and doesn’t accept Stevie’s gender identity at first. He reminded me of my own father, having very strong opinions that he wouldn’t let go of despite the evidence. However, in the end it is clear that Fred too loves his grandson.

Book Details

Title: Finding Stevie: A Dark Secret. A Child in Crisis.
Author: Cathy Glass
Publisher: HarperElement
Publication Date: February 21, 2019

Book Review: Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

I first heard of Lisa Genova in 2015, when Still Alice was made into a movie. I never saw the movie, but got the book as soon as I could. It sounded intriguing. However, I started the book but never got far into it. I got Left Neglected sometime in 2017, but never finished that either. I still intend to finish both. Then late last year, I heard of Every Note Played. I never even got that book, but it got me interested in checking out Lisa Genova again. This is how I found Inside the O’Briens. I was impressed. I had read a young adult novel called Rules for 50/50 Chances, about a girl whose mother has Huntington’s Disease, a few years back. That book had been grippling and hard to put down. I don’t know what it is about Huntington’s over Alzheimer’s or ALS that drew me to this book. I read this book and this time, I actually finished it. Here are my thoughts.

Synopsis

Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

My Review

The book starts off with a rather grippling scene in which then 36-year-old Joe recognizes his mother in himself. Then, the book quickly skips over the next seven years and details Joe’s work as a police officer. As a reader, I got clues that something was amiss from the beginning and kept wondering when Joe would finally see it himself. Of course, I knew the reason from the book synopsis and Joe had probably never heard of Huntington’s. When Joe finally causes a riot control drill to be prolonged due to his inability to stay in line, his friend and coworker gets his wife involved. This is when they finally go to the doctor.

Once Joe finds out he has Huntington’s Disease, his four children face the question of whether to get tested for the gene themselves. They each have a 50/50 chance of having the gene too, in which case they’ll get the disease. I knew as much from Rules for 50/50 Chances, which centered on this chance. It was very intriguing to follow each child’s steps towards accepting their father’s fate and making a choice about knowing or not knowing their own.

Genova chooses to focus her attention on Katie, Joe’s youngest daughter. She is only 21 and as such, not much older than the main character in Rules for 50/50 Chances. However, Inside the O’Briens is clearly a novel intended for adults and not young people. This is clear when reading from Katie’s perspective too. I must say here that I generally prefer young adult to mature fiction, but this was truly a great read. It’s also not really fair to compare this book to a young adult book by a different author when their only similarity is Huntington’s.

I loved the detail with which Genova describes the scenes and her characters. Each character is truly well-rounded in a way I don’t see often. This book is about so much more than Huntington’s. It’s also about police work, because Joe is a police officer. That may’ve been another thing drawing me into this book rather than Genova’s other books: I just so love learning about cops’ lives.

Book Details

Title: Inside the O’Briens
Author: Lisa Genova
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: April 7, 2015

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Book Review: And She Was by Jessica Verdi

Man, #JusJoJan is getting nowhere. That is, I’ve been jotting stuff down everyday, but none of it was blog-worthy. I felt a little uninspired. Then, reading a book seemed more interesting than writing a blog post. I chose the book called And She Was by Jessica Verdi. Then, once I finished the book, I wanted to write a review for my blog, but didn’t get round to doing it. Then on Thursday, I fell and suffered a small but painful collarbone fracture. Now it’s Monday and typing with that hand still hurts like crazy, but I so badly want to finally write the review. Here goes.

Synopsis

Dara’s lived a sheltered life with her single mom, Mellie. Now, at eighteen, she’s dreaming of more. When Dara digs up her never-before-seen birth certificate, her world implodes. Why are two strangers listed as her parents?

Dara confronts her mother, and is stunned by what she learns: Mellie is transgender. The unfamiliar name listed under “father”? That’s Mellie. She transitioned when Dara was a baby, after Dara’s birth mother died. She changed her name, started over.

But Dara still has more questions than answers. Reeling, she sets off on an impromptu road trip with her best guy friend, Sam, in tow. She is determined to find the extended family she’s never even met. What she does discover — and what her mother reveals, piece by piece, over emails — will challenge and change Dara more than she can imagine.

This is a gorgeous, timely, and essential novel about the importance of being our true selves. The backmatter includes an author’s note and resources for readers.

My Review

I already started reading this book a month or two ago. It felt a little slow-moving at first. However, once I picked up the book where I left off again last week, it was really good.

At the beginning of the book, you get to empathize mostly with Dara. This may be one reason people consider the book transphobic, since Dara first decides that her mother’s transition is selfish. Throufh Mellie’s E-mails to her though, you get to understand her perspective too. It takes a long time for Dara to understand Mellie’s point of view and, as such, it takes the reader some time too.

All characters in the book are really well-developed. With some, like the Pembrokes – the grandparents Dara meets -, I got an uneasy inkling of what was coming when they were first introduced. Still, their character was really well-painted.

Some people have pointed out that Mellie is constantly misgendered by the Pembrokes and some others. They feel this is negative. It is, of course, but it serves to illustrate these people’s character. Nowhere is the misgendering condoned by Dara.

There weren’t many truly surprising twists and turns in the book, but the plot wasn’t predictable either. Overall, I liked it. I got stuck on some details, like how could a trans person change their legal name without bottom surgery (this is not possible here), but I assume Verdi did her research.

Overall, I really liked the book. I am cisgender, so cannot say for sure whether this book isn’t transphobic. However, even though some characters are, this is probably real life for trans people everyday, sad as it may be.

Book Details

Title: And She Was
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Publication Date: March 27, 2018

Book Review: Where Has Mummy Gone? by Cathy Glass

I bought Where Has Mummy Gone? by Cathy Glass on Kindle right when it came out early last month, but didn’t finish it till yesterday. Not because it wasn’t a good book, but because I struggled to make time for reading. Today, I’m reviewing this foster care memoir.

Synopsis

The true story of Melody, aged 8, the last of five siblings to be taken from her drug dependent single mother and brought into care.

When Cathy is told about Melody’s terrible childhood, she is sure she’s heard it all before. But it isn’t long before she feels there is more going on than she or the social services are aware of. Although Melody is angry at having to leave her mother, as many children coming into care are, she also worries about her obsessively – far more than is usual. Amanda, Melody’s mother, is also angry and takes it out on Cathy at contact, which again is something Cathy has experienced before. Yet there is a lost and vulnerable look about Amanda, and Cathy starts to see why Melody worries about her and feels she needs looking after.

When Amanda misses contact, it is assumed she has forgotten, but nothing could have been further from the truth…

My Review

The subtitle listed on Amazon for this book is “A Young Girl and a Mother Who No Longer Knows Her”. From this subtitle, I already guessed that Amanda, Melody’s mother, might’ve suffered some form of brain damage. Perhaps she was in an accident and had gone into a persistent vegetative state? The thought of dementia also crossed my mind, but I dismissed this when I found out early in the book that Amanda was only 42.

Despite the fact that I had some inkling of where this book might be headed, the twists and turns did surprise me. It was heartbreaking to read about Amanda’s decline. The book ended on a really bittersweet note.

I loved Cathy Glass’ narrative style. I developed a liking for each of the characters. Amanda, of course, elicited pity with her illness, but I also got to appreciate the attempts she’d made at caring for Melody before she was taken into foster care. Cathy maintains a mostly unbiased yet positive attitude throughout the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, despite its emotive subject matter.

Book Details

Title: Where Has Mummy Gone?: A Young Girl and a Mother Who No Longer Knows Her
Author: Cathy Glass
Publisher: Harper Element
Publication Date: September 6, 2018