Middle Grades Review

The Nitty Gritty: Orphan Island

I’m going to come clean (again): middle grades fiction is my thing. Totally my thing.

We read Orphan Island for the Bookish 4th & 5th grade book club–and it was a unanimous choice. At least one of the girls had been dying to read it. And, I mean, who was I to make her suffer any longer? Besides, the author lives basically right down the street from the shop. And some of the girls had met her and/or had books signed by her, and they were a little enamored.

Okay, I’m a little enamored, too. She’s really great. Yes, she’s a great writer. But she’s also a person in my orbit that I look to for guidance and sanity and kindness. And yet, I’d never read one of her middle grades novels.

So everyone won with this choice.

Because I have trouble with names and characteristics of things or even people I find abstract, I struggled a bit at the beginning of the book. You immediately meet the whole cast of characters (nine kids on an island)… and because I didn’t really have any context for them yet, I had trouble keeping them straight.

Just plow through it. You’ll get it sorted eventually.

Because soon you’re going to be totally taken in with this story about these kids living life with NO ADULTS on an island. I mean, I kind of find adults annoying sometimes, too… but imagine all the things you might not know if you had no adults.

Non-spoiler Spoiler: This isn’t a Lord of the Flies situation. Not at all.

But it is a story about figuring where you fit. And how, why, and/or if you should follow the rules. And about hope, fear, and reality.

It’s good. And it was fun to talk about with my little gang of girls. There’s enough mystery to let your imagination run wild. But it’s grounded enough to give you space to talk about real life struggles.

I highly recommend reading it with your 8-11 year old. Or running your own little book club with this book. It’ll give you a way to engage and find out what’s really going on in your kid’s head. You’ll be intrigued at what you discover.

Middle Grades Review

The Nitty Gritty: Clap When You Land

I hugged this book when I finished it. I just couldn’t imagine putting the characters down & walking away from them. 

I’m still not ready to let go…

Even if YA novels aren’t typically your thing, this deserves a read. It’s a novel written in verse, which is pretty damn cool to begin with. It’s both stripped bare & poetic. And it’s easy to float through…

And yet.

The themes aren’t simplistic at all. I think for teenagers just beginning to sort the complexities of family, this novel might be revelatory. For me, in my mid-forties with a child of my own and parents who are both complicated and aging, I found myself nodding my head often. Sympathetically clucking. Yes, yes. We are often disappointed in love and life. Yes, yes. There is pain. But there is also terrific joy and new beginnings. And life. In all its richness. 

Elizabeth Acevado is immensely talented. Without any excess description to bog down her writing, she made me see the Dominican Republic so clearly. She neither romanticized nor disparaged the island. She rendered it real, beautiful, complicated–like a living being. 

And I love Acevado for giving us a gay character in a YA novel where her being gay is entirely beside the point. This isn’t a novel about coming out. Or coming to grips with identity (not gay identity at least). This girl is just gay. Because folks are. And she lives her life. Because folks do. And it’s all so shockingly normal that it made me cry. 

I was caught in this novel between remembering what it was like to be 17 and knowing that one day (sooner than I could imagine) my own baby will be 17. It’s kind of a beautiful, liminal space. And I found adults in this book that were complicated, yes. But sometimes powerful, sometimes vulnerable, and always deeply human. 

It’s good y’all. Go read it