Book Reviews

THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL by Stacy McAnulty — book review!

“One chapter,” I said to myself. “Okay, two.” In this way, I read Stacy McAnulty’s middle grade novel in two sittings!

MisCalcLightcover

What I enjoyed:

  1. Math
    References to pi and Fibonacci, plus a main character who calculates quicker than a calculator makes for a brain-tickling theme. Better than that, math is used to save shelter dogs, and the book reveals how math is all around us. Better than even THAT is the use our main character makes of math. Rather than being merely the author’s decoration, math is the MC’s coping mechanism for anxiety. Sometimes math gets in her way, but mostly Lucy Callahan uses her gift as a way to grasp this ungraspable world. Naturally, her inner journey hinges on going where no formula has gone before.
  2. Friendships
    Though Lucy starts out with only online math friends, her chances of making an IRL (in-real-life) friend increase exponentially when she’s forced to attend a public middle school. Though it’s rocky for a long time, and not without anger and tears, caring about a couple of people and having them care about you turns out to be worth it. This book focuses on Lucy’s new relationships, and I appreciate that one is inter-racial and the other inter-class-al, with both feeling natural.
  3. Challenges
    The reader sees at once that Lucy’s gift is also her curse. A lightning strike left her a math savant, but also a “freak.” She hides her talent at school, but we can’t be who we aren’t for long. Life drags her into facing one fear after another — her phobia of germs, her wish to stay with her online math peers rather than plain kids, and her aversion to smelly, lick-y dogs.
  4. The Writing
    First person works well here to bring the reader into Lucy’s mind, which is an interesting place! We experience her OCD first-hand and understand the psychological costs to not completing her routines. The plot moves along well, keeping the character arc and action arc connected, with action pushing Lucy’s emotional journey forward. The mean girls make their appearances, but they don’t dominate the scenes. The adults facilitate, but they don’t take over. The friends have their mini-arcs, growing and changing, too, underscoring the book’s hopeful tone.

Consider reading this one yourself and then handing it off immediately to the nearest 10-14-year-old!

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Book Reviews

EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE UNIVERSE by Tracy Holczer — book review!

Thoughtful, logical Lucy finds herself thrust into her emotionally raucous Italian family when her dad ships out for Vietnam in 1971. During his absence, she and her mom adapt to living with herb packets, chicken claws showing up in odd places, and her Nonnina’s pink kitchen. Well, mostly. Now that Dad is returning, though, everything will go back to the way it was before–the highly organized life of a doctor in traifullsizeoutput_166ning and his family.

But soldiers returning from war are never the same. And the world they come home to isn’t either. As Lucy deals with one emotional slam after another, her creative coping skills such as a Homeostasis Extravaganza make her relatable and also admirable. What she wants is to be brave and reasonable, but it might be time to add expressive to that list. With a new friend, a deepening appreciation for her huggy Italian family, and a vet family to track down, Lucy is learning to trust her heart.

My two cents: Loved it! In a nuanced weaving of history, closely observed characters, and poetic language, Tracy Holczer captures the both the discriminating mind and the open heart of her reader. Recommended!

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Book Reviews

THE SCIENCE OF BREAKABLE THINGS by Tae Keller — book review!

imageLooking for a book with head AND heart? Tae Keller’s THE SCIENCE OF BREAKABLE THINGS laces Natalie’s science notebook to her quest to save her mother from depression. With friends Twig and Dari, Natalie sets out to win an egg dropping contest that will fund her plan to show her mother a miracle in New Mexico — the Cobalt Blue Orchids that grow in toxic waste. Her mother studied the flowers back when she went to work, back when she left her bedroom every day, back when she left her bed. Now that their own orchid has died, it’s up to Natalie to remind her broken mother how beautifully tough orchids can be and how alive. Even as she finds herself breaking rules, breaking in to her mother’s lab, and breaking out of her therapist’s expectations, Natalie’s hope never cracks. Recommended!

Stuff I liked most: 1) Keller’s honest portrayal of complex emotions, such as the moment when Natalie finds out that almost everything she thought about the orchid in the greenhouse was wrong  2) the fact that Natalie is realistically rendered — for example, her mom’s a scientist, but she herself is bad at science!

Find author Tae Keller here: http://www.taekeller.com

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