All the Bright Places

  • Author: Jennifer Niven
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers        
  • Pub date: Will be published 1/6/15
  • Intended for: Ages 14 +
  • Perfect for: Anyone looking for a well written emotional book.

Bright Places cover

First of all, big thanks goes out to my lovely sister-in-law for giving me this galley. Thank you for supplying me with such great reading material!!

I didn’t know what to expect with this book because I avoided reading the back cover copy on the galley. I decided to read the book because I really like the cover and I liked the title. It looks like a book I would like. And it is.

The story is told in two voices:

Violet—a popular sixteen-year-old girl who has recently lost her older sister to a car accident (in which Violet was a passenger, and came out of it unscathed) and feels lost with grief. She counts down the days until the end of school, when she can get out of there and not deal with people and learning and, well, life.

Finch—a sixteen-year-old “Freak” according to his classmates. He’s a unique soul who bounces between loving every minute of life and dealing with crippling depression. He counts the number of days he is “awake” after coming out of a bout of depression.

We begin the book with them both standing on the ledge of the bell tower at their school, contemplating suicide. Finch talks Violet down off the ledge, although reports of who saves who gets turned around by the high school masses and Violet is deemed a hero for saving Finch’s life. But Finch doesn’t seem to mind that—he’s just interested in this girl whose life he just saved and wants to get to know her.

The two get paired up for a class project that takes them on adventures throughout the state of Indiana.

Throughout the story, Finch teaches Violet how to open up and embrace living all the while dealing with the impending blackness he knows will envelope him again. He fights such a good fight by staying upbeat (at least on the outside) in the face of adversity, but the constant taunting by fellow classmates wears on him. And the fact that his dad left his family and started a brand new one doesn’t help either (nor does the fact that Finch’s dad is physically abusive to him). And to top it off, Finch’s mom and sisters just don’t “get” his depression. They push it aside as him being moody.

While Finch battles his inner demons, he is also falling in love with Violet (and she with him) and their building relationship is told beautifully and is thankfully never rushed. They learn to trust each other and their genuine affection for each other comes across so well on the page.

While Violet’s story is told well, it’s Finch’s voice that really stands out. There is such a sense of urgency in Finch’s words that you can’t help but be propelled forward into the story. You can feel his pain. You can feel the black cloud he is trying to break out from under. You can feel his highest highs and his lowest lows.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but I will say that it’s a very emotional read, but so compelling that I honestly could not stop reading this book.

Niven does a beautiful job giving a voice to those who are contemplating suicide. As she writes in her Author’s Note, the stigma of suicide and mental illness is terrible and those who think about suicide, as well as those left behind after a loved one has committed suicide, are often ostracized. This book helps give sufferers and survivors a voice and helps to enlighten readers on how someone with a mental illness may feel.

Highly recommended.

Dory Fantasmagory

  • Author/illustrator: Abby Hanlon
  • Publisher: Penguin/Dial Books for Young Readers          Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 6 to 8
  • Perfect for: Everyone! I think everyone should read this fun story.

Dory coverI’ll start with this: Wow!

Sometimes a book comes along that totally knocks your socks off with its unexpected awesomeness and this is definitely one of those books. I am SO EXCITED about this book. Seriously. It is so many things that I hardly know where to start. I haven’t been this excited about an early chapter book since Clementine hit the scene.

What’s to love about the book, you ask? First let me tell you that it’s about a girl, Dory, who is the youngest of three children and all she wants is to play with her brother and sister. But they think she’s annoying and acts like too much of a baby. In order to keep herself occupied, Dory relies on her very rich imagination. Dory’s main imaginary friend is Mary, a monster, and she has a stable of other pretend friends as well.

Dory interior 2One of the things to love about this book is that it reads so true that you’d swear the characters are real and standing right in front of you. Everything that comes out of Dory’s mouth rings true. She’s full of spirit and wonder and she is tirelessly inquisitive. And the situations she gets herself into are just as authentic. In Dory’s life, one outrageous thing leads to another, as it usually does for a six-year-old with such an active imagination. At one point, Dory is at the doctor’s office and after getting a shot she wasn’t expecting, she acts out and gives the doctor a shot of her own with the end of a lollipop stick. You can tell that she doesn’t intend to be bad, but it’s just what happens in that situation. And it’s SO believable. And the whole book is like that!

Dory interior 6But I got ahead of myself…the main story revolves around Dory’s brother and sister wanting to stop Dory from being such a baby, so they tell her that a woman named Mrs. Gobble Gracker will come and steal her away because Mrs. Gobble Gracker is a five hundred and seven-year-old robber who steals baby girls. Instead of Dory being scared, she’s instantly intrigued and asks endless questions about this woman: Is she a vegetarian? Does she vote? Is she powerful? Does she have a cell phone?

Dory interior 4 As you can see, Hanlon does a fabulous job with the writing of the story. Her story is fun and age-appropriate and honestly, her words and phrases are just exciting to read (or say out loud). Like the name Mrs. Gobble Gracker. Reading that name makes me smile because it’s an honest-to-goodness funny name. And when Dory imagines a fairy godmother who helps her out of jams, it’s not an ordinary fairy godmother…nope…it’s a male leprechaun. After he turns her into a dog (because she doesn’t want to be human anymore), he goes to leave (because he has to meet his wife for dinner) and Dory asks him what his phone number is in case she needs to reach him. He tells her, “You can call me from any banana. No numbers.” That’s so ridiculous and funny and another example of how fun the words are in this story.

Dory interior 5And the art…it’s so perfect for the story and such an amazing addition to it. Turns out that Ms. Hanlon, a first-grade teacher, taught herself how to draw after being inspired by her students’ drawings. What??? That’s so crazy impressive because once you see how perfect these drawings are for the story you’ll wish you could teach yourself something that, to me, is just not teachable. I think she has storytelling talent oozing out of her and the drawings come from there. The illustrations express so much emotion and joy and are so seamlessly integrated with the story in that I can’t imagine one without the other.

Dory interior 3This book is such a wonderful example of how tone and storyline and characters that are true can add up to a sincerely fun reading experience. Do yourself a favor and go read it. I dare you not to smile. Very, very highly recommended.

There's a lot of stuff oging on in the head of an imaginative six-year-old.

There’s a lot of stuff oging on in the head of an imaginative six-year-old.

Absolutely Almost

  • Author: Lisa Graff
  • Publisher: Pengin/Philomel                        Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 8 to 12
  • Perfect for: Ages 8 to 12 and anyone looking for a realistic look at life from the perspective of an average 10-year-old kid.

51paTf2xL2LAlbie is the ten-year-old protagonist in Absolutely Almost and at the beginning of the story he’s just been kicked out of his private school in Manhattan for not performing well enough academically. Of course his parents don’t come out and tell him this, but he overhears enough of a conversation between his mother and grandfather to know what’s going on.

So from the beginning of the story we learn that Albie’s life is filled with lots of people telling him he’s not good enough. His father tells him that “almost” isn’t good enough—he wants perfect spelling test scores. His mother is hoping that Albie tests positive for dyslexia because that would give her a reason for his less-than-spectacular grasp of reading and math. On top of that, Albie’s best friend for the past six years is moving from across the hall to across the park. To top it all off, a mean boy at his new public school calls Albie “dummy” from day one.

That’s a lot for a young boy to deal with. A naïve young boy who believes people have the best of intentions.

There are so many good things about this book and one of them is that Albie isn’t your normal storybook hero. Throughout the whole book he struggles. He struggles with school. He struggles with friendships. He struggles with knowing the right thing to do. He tries really hard, but in the end he’s an average kid who is working his way through life and I love that readers get to read about someone like him.

Another one of the good things about this book is that the story told in short chapters that are great for young readers. Digestible chapters that aren’t intimidating. Each chapter is a snippet from Albie’s life, which gives readers a good look into how he navigates the murky waters all around him.

Yet another good thing is that Graff has created some really human, multi-dimensional characters, with the parents being realistically flawed, Albie’s math club teacher being patient and understanding, his best friend being true to himself, and his babysitter Calista being sympathetic, supportive, and encouraging.

It is through Calista that Albie begins to see that maybe he is good enough just as he is. She is patient and kind and never preachy with him, which is just the kind of approach Albie seems to need.

This book is the whole package—great writing, solid, well-developed characters, an interesting story, and a good deal of fun as well. Highly recommended.