50 More Strong Girls In MG/YA Lit (Part B)by Lesley Roessing
What does it mean to be a “strong girl”? Standing up to others? Standing up for ourselves? Discovering our true selves? Strength can be revealed by how we deal with a situation, by overcoming challenges and differences, by demonstrating resilience and even resistance. Sometimes strength is righting a wrong or helping others; sometimes it is how we deal with others and the way others treat us; and sometimes it is the courage to be ourselves or to change who we were. These 25 novels/memoirs demonstrate that girls can be strong in diverse ways.
When I think of Laurie Halse Anderson, writer, I think of well-told important stories—whether contemporary or historical, memorable characters, critical messages. When I think of Laurie Halse Anderson, person, I think of hugs, compassion, empathy, attention, and action. Now when I think of Laurie Halse Anderson, poet, I will ruminate on the power of words, the rhythm of words, the lyricism of words.
It is hard to believe that Shout is Anderson’s first free-verse writing. I was swept away in the unexpected word choices, startling word combinations, thoughtful line breaks, and subtle alliterations.
[As a child,]
I learned then that words
Had such power
Some must never be spoken
And was thus robbed of both
Tongue and the truth. (16)
In this memoir, Anderson generously shares her life—the bottomless depths and the highest peaks—all that made her the force she is today. A challenging family life and the rape that “splits open your core with shrapnel,” clouds of doubt and self-loathing…anxiety, depression, and shame,” leaving “untreated pain / a cancer of the soul / that can kill you.” (69)
But also there were teachers, librarians, and the tutor who taught “the ants swarming across the pages” to form words and meaning, the lessons learned from Greek mythology, the gym teacher who cared enough to inspire her to shape-shift from “a lost stoner dirtbag / to a jock who hung out with exchange students, / wrote poetry for the literary magazine / and had a small group of …friends to sit with at lunch.” (88) and her home in Denmark which “taught me how to speak / again, how to reinterpret darkness and light, / strength and softness…redefine my true north / and start over.” (114)
She shares how the story of her first novel Speak found her and the origin of Melinda, “alone / with her fear / heart open, / unsheltered” (162)
Part Two shares the stories of others, female and male, children, teens, and adults, connected through trauma and Melinda’s story, the questions of boys, confused, having never learned “the rues of intimacy or the law” (181) and the censorship, “the child of fear/ the father of ignorance” which keeps these stories away from them. Anderson raises the call to “sisters of the march” who never got the help they needed and deserved to “stand with us now / let’s be enraged aunties together.” (230)
And in Part Three the story returns to her American birth family, her father talking and “unrolling our family legacies of trauma and / silence.”
This is a tale of Truth: the truths that happened, the truths that we tell ourselves, the truths that we tell others, the truths that we live with, and the power of Story—to tell and to hear.
Just like Ally (Fish in a Tree) and Carley (One for the Murphys), Hunt has created a third character who has come to live in my heart—Delsie, always barefoot, lives by the news from her weather station.
Delsie was raised by her game-show-watching Grammy and grandfather, Papa Joseph, since her mother deserted her shortly after birth. None of them ever knew who her father is. However, Delsie never thought of herself as an orphan until the complicated summer which began when her friend, playing the role of Annie, asks her, “What’s it like…really like…to be an orphan.” (2)
Delsie lives on Cape Cod, summer home to tourists, where Grammy cleans guest cottages and they live in a tiny community of four houses where everyone is each other’s family and support system. Papa Joseph has died, and they all miss him and try to fill his space.
The summer before seventh grade is a rollercoaster for Delsie. Her summer best friend, Brandy, is changing; she worrying about getting messy and then befriends the new girl Tressa, a classic Mean Girl.
Luckily, Ronan moves in with his father, and he stands up to the Mean Girls on Delsie’s behalf. He and Delsie become friends, sharing feelings of abandonment by their mothers and, therefore, being broken. Delsie has always felt like she has to lie to be friends with the girls (“I remember pretending to know things and like things I didn’t just because I wanted them to like me.”), but with Ronan, “I don’t have to lie about who I am.” (99) As family friend Esme tells Delsie, “…anything that matters in this whole…wide…world is about connection.” (83) What begins as a summer of abandonments becomes a summer of connections.
At the end of the summer, Delsie realizes two things: that people, such as the sour Olive, may have their own problems but also may be more caring then others realize or expect (“…instead of just a plain scoop of cold ice cream, a scoop with some chocolate chips hidden inside.”) (180) and that “Knowing that I have real friends that have my back and will protect my feelings—people like Aimee, Michael, and Ronan—makes all the difference.” (240) This pivotal summer Delsie learns a lot about her neighbors, about family, and about support and love.
Reading the novel was also a rollercoaster for me. I was sad about Delsie’s history, mad at how she was being treated by Brandy and Tressa, and glad that she was able to recognize her true friends and revise her definition of family. I know that middle-graders reading this book will identify with some parts of Delsie’s and Ronan’s lives and maybe those who don’t, will see themselves in Brandy or Tressa and gain some empathy and understanding.
“Now Carolina saw [the road} like Papi saw it: white crest of salty water, foam and mist, a wave upon the sea, and one foot in front of the other. Cuba, Puerto Rico, New York, Carolina’s roots were not in the soil but in the rhythm of her family’s movement, step after step.” (193)
Carolina’s father lost his job in Puerto Rico, and the family—Papi, Mami, Daniel and 11-year old artist Carolina—move to upstate New York to live with her aunt, uncle, and popular 13-year-old cousin Gabriela. Caro misses her homeland, and she fights to retain her art, her culture, and her memories of Puerto Rico while living in the big house in a new development. When Tia Cuca tries to replace Ratoncita Perez, the mouse who leave money for children’s lost teeth, with her own version of the tooth fairy, Carolina realizes that she can accept, if not embrace, both cultures. Meanwhile Gabriela wants to learn more about her Cuban-Puerto Rican roots and to learn Spanish.
Carolina meets Jennifer, a fellow artist, who quickly become a best friend despite Mami finding her unsuitable and, as Carolina learns to stand up for herself, Gabriela learns to stand up to her friends, and together Carolina, Gabriela, and Jennifer help to save the farmland that comprises Silver Meadows from becoming all development.
A story of culture, family, friendship, nature, accepting change, and making a difference.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 9.8 million Americans aged 18 or older, or 4.2% of the adult population, are living with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder. Two-thirds of females and one-half of men afflicted with serious mental illnesses are likely to be parents,
“Turns out, it’s easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketsful of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for merchandise from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store. The hard part was getting up the guts to go.” (1)
Ariana “Cricket” Overland is an adolescent a reader wants to champion. As the story begins, Cricket’s father and grandmother have died, her mother has left, and she is living with her Aunt Belinda who is secretly planning to pawn her off on Great-Aunt Genevieve. Her mother, a creative artist, has struggled between depression and wild adventures for years and is obsessed with a Bird Room she once saw, a room where “Everything was alive.” Cricket is sure that her mother will return to lay her grandmother’s headstone and, having said she wished her mother could “just be normal” (106) the night before she took off, Cricket wants to find the Bird Room and prove that her mother is not crazy and maybe find a treasure using clues hidden by the mysterious Mr. Bob..
When Aunt Belinda abandons her in Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry, Cricket takes her pet cricket, spends all her money on supplies and food, writing an IOU for what she can’t afford, and takes off for Woods Time, as her father would say. “I couldn’t stop Mama from leaving, and I couldn’t stop Daddy from dying, but I could sure do something now. (11)
Living in a tree house and following her father’s guidelines for survival, she survives raccoons stealing most of her food and supplies and an ice storm and explores the ghost town, torn down and abandoned by a lumber company, until clues—and a snake bite—lead her to Miss V, the one person whose house still exists, a woman who helps her discover that not only her mother, but she, “contains multitudes.” “I thought about what Miss V had said about Mama being more than what the neighbors thought…. And it wasn’t who I was, either. I was my own, whole person.…Maybe it was time to start taking chances on me.” (203)
Cricket joins the ranks of literary strong girls; she is the resourceful and resilient hero of an adventure story about family and identity written by Jo Watson Hackl, a new author with an incredible voice.
Song for a Whale is a story of isolation and the need for connection and belonging.
Iris is twelve years old and deaf as was her grandfather—her closest ally—and her grandmother who is grieving her husband’s death and has isolated herself. At her school Iris is somewhat isolated as the only Deaf student. The only person she feels close to is her adult interpreter. The other students may try to include her in their conversations, especially an annoying girl who thinks she know sign language, but Iris gives up as she “tries to grab any scrap of conversation” (64) and communicate better with her father.
In one of her classes Iris learns of Blue 55, a hybrid whale who sings at a level much higher than other whales and cannot communicate with any other whales. As a result he belongs to no pod and travels on his own, isolated. Iris decides to create and record a song that Blue 55 can hear and understand. “He keeps singing this song, and everything in the ocean swims by him, as if he’s not there. He thinks no one understands him. I want to let him know he is wrong about that.” (75)
Iris is a master at fixing old radios and feels without the storeowner for whom she fixes radios she “wouldn’t know I was good at anything.” (68). With her knowledge of acoustics, Iris records a song at his own frequency for Blue 55, mixing in his song and the sounds of other sanctuary animals and sends it to the group in Alaska who are trying to track and tag him.
On a “run-away” cruise to Alaska, Iris and her grandmother reconnect; her grandmother makes new connections to others and finds a place she now needs to be; Iris connects with Blue 55 giving him a place to belong; and Iris is finally able to request to go to a new school that has a population of Deaf students with Wendell, her Deaf friend.
Scattered within the story are the heartbreaking short chapters narrated by Blue 55. Readers will learn a lot about whales, about acoustics, abut Deaf culture, and even more importantly, about those who may feel isolated and the need for belonging in this well-written new novel by Lynne Kelly, a sign language interpreter.
Mikayla comes from a family of wrestlers. Her two older brothers are wrestlers, and wrestling is one way she can connect with her father who moved out. In sixth grade, under her wrestling name of Mickey, she joins the Gladiators travel team after the coach of the Eagles refuses to include a girl on the team. Her best girlfriend whom she has wrestled with for years decides that wrestling is no longer for her; in fact, it may never have been. And Mickey becomes the only girl on the team where she has to prove she belongs. There she meets Lev and his friends and becomes part of the Fearsome Foursome.
Lev’s best friend Bryan knows they won’t spend much time together during wrestling season and starts pursuing other interests. But Lev comes from a sports family where they spend their weekends and holidays at matches and his sister’s field hockey games. However, he finds he is writing poetry to calm himself down and getting headaches and missing the old family dinners and cultural traditions, and now he is even questioning the sport he used to love.
When Lev and Mickey are paired at practice, he is afraid she might get in the way of his training for States. But as their friendship grows, he finds that as he stands up for her goals, his just might have changed.
As an author on a sports fiction panel once said, sports is the setting, not the story. And even though the reader learns quite a lot about wrestling and the world of adolescent wrestlers through alternating narratives by Mikayla and Lev, Laura Shovan's new novel is a story about family, friendships, resilience, and finding identity.
“Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.” (52)
And seventh-grader Zoey has a lot she has to do. She has to pick up the baby from her mom’s job; she has to meet her little sister and brother at the bus stop, take them home, and many times feed them. She has to keep them busy in the one bedroom they all share so they don’t bother her mother’s boyfriend or mess up his perfectly organized, clean trailer. She has to help her friend Fuschia when she is thrown into an abusive situation and her friend Silas when rumors are spread about him. And she has to get through each day, as unnoticed as possible, so she doesn’t get teased for her unwashed clothes. If only she were an octopus, she could use her many arms to hold her 3 siblings, do her homework, help her mother; she could camouflage herself and be even less noticeable; she could change her shape and fit in small places. She could protect herself, her friends, and her family.
Zooey used to have a strong, competent mother. But that was before Lenny, Lenny who breaks her confidence with his verbal abuse. How can Zoey convince her mother to leave; how can they afford to leave?
“It’s not enough to know your stuff. Not if one of the things you know for sure is that everyone you’re going up against is better than you.” (42)
There is one teacher who sees the potential in Zoey and forces her to join the debate team where Zoey learns about discrediting your opponent, thinking from new perspectives, and saying what you think with passion. When she hears Matt Hubbard, the most popular boy in the class—but one who has been nice to her—give a speech, “…suddenly, I know. This isn’t some crush on a boy. This is me wanting to feel the way he does. Strong. Confident. Like no one would even think about messing with me.” (68) Through her teacher and her mother’s friend Connor, she gets to the point “…when you start to wonder if maybe you do have a choice about the kind of person you want to become.” (102)
And she needs to help her mother back to the place where she realizes that she has choices and the right to be treated well, even if it means a harder life.
This is truly a story of resilience and growth, and, reaching the last page, I startled the waiting room where I had been reading but saying out loud, “Oh, no, it’s over?” Stan Lee said that you can’t care about the story if you don’t care about the characters. Zoey was one of those characters who will grab readers on the first page and not let go.
I read this darling, wonderful novel that deals with important issues—diversity, bullying, intolerance, and refugee children—in one day because I didn’t want to stop reading. I fell in love with the narrator right away, a British 9-year-old upstander.
A new student joins Alexa’s class, but he doesn’t talk to anyone, he disappears during every recess, and he has a woman who helps him with his work. And even though she has what some might term a challenging life herself—her father died when she was younger, her mum works two jobs to make ends meet and isn’t at home very much, and they have to be really careful about spending money, Alexa never sounds like she is complaining. Alexa and her three best friends, Josie, Tom, and Michael, a very diverse group of 9-year-olds, make it their mission to become friends with Ahmet. They give him gifts and then invite him to play soccer, where he excels, and they try to keep him safe from Bernard the Bully and his racist remarks and threats, which, it turns out, Ahmet can handle.
When they learn that Ahmet is a refugee from Syria, escaping on foot and in a lifeboat from bad people and bombs, the four friends are concerned. But when Alexa learns that his little sister died on the crossing and Ahmet does not know where his parents are and then learns from the news that the border is closing to refugees the next week, she puts a plan, the Greatest Idea in the World, in motion. She will ask the Queen to find Ahmet’s parents and keep the border open for them. When that plan seems to fail, the friends move on to the Emergency Plan.
I found it amazing that a novel on such a complicated subject could be handled so well and so thoroughly in a book for readers age 8 and up. This book indeed will generate important conversations—and maybe some research and news article reading.
This unforgettable novel is written as a letter by Viji to her younger sister. Viji and Rukku, who has a mental disability, run away from their physically abusive father when their mother forgives him time after time. Viji says, “Our togetherness was one of the few things I had faith in.” (2) Homeless, they join two boys, Muthu and Arul who live on a bridge, and the four of them become a family. They live day-to-day, picking through trash to sell recyclable materials, refusing to become beggars. Arul notices that Rukku can do more than Viji thinks and gives her small responsibilities, letting her feel valued. “…he’d seen something in you that I hadn’t bothered to notice.” (64) In fact, Rukku sells the bead necklaces she has been making for more money than they have had so far.
After they lose their “home,” they move to a graveyard infested with mosquitoes and Rukku and Muthu become ill. Viji decides to trust and seek help from Celina Aunty, a woman who runs a home for working children, but Rukku dies, and Viji blames herself. It takes time, but Celina Aunty convinces her that even if she has no faith in religion, she should learn to “have faith in the goodness within yourself.” (161) When Arul tells her, “Start giving thanks for what you do have.… You’re here in this home with a chance to do something more with your life. You have Celina Aunty. You have me. You have Muthu. Most of all, you have yourself.” (164)
Writing to her sister, Viji travels back, but she also can now move forward, imaging herself as the teacher she always wanted to be with new friends and her family, Arul and Muthu.
The Bridge Home is a 2019 Global Read Aloud Choice.
Reading this wonderful new novel for middle grade readers straight through, I fell in love with Lucy and empathized with her struggles to understand human behavior—the mean girls who make fun of her differences and exclude her, the boy who cheats off her in math class and is constantly taking photographs, the BFF who betrays her.
When she works on a school project and falls in love with a dog at the shelter, she learns to reach out to save him and finds there are people she can depend on, especially Levy, the cheater. Levy grew into my favorite character behavior because, an outsider himself, he understood human behavior and was able to capture, appreciate, and share the complexity through his photography.
Middle school is where very few fit in—whether a genius or not.
Seventh-grader Cleveland Rosebud Potts has her future planned out. She is going to do everything she needs to get away from boring Sassafras, Florida, and move to Paris for eighth grade. She has been saving money from her dog-walking business and learning French from CDs borrowed from the library. As part of her Paris Project, she still needs to learn to cook a French meal, eat in a French restaurant, view French Impressionist paintings, and be accepted and earn a full scholarship to attend the American School of Paris. She has been wearing the beret her father gave her daily as inspiration.
However, many roadblocks have occurred on her way. Her father is a gambler, betting on dog races, and stole not only from his boss which has earned him a 7-month jail sentence, but took all of Cleveland’s savings, and as the daughter of a criminal, most of her clients have fired her. Her mother cleans houses to try to keep ahead of the bills, and her older sister Georgia works many jobs saving for her dream, to attend the University of Vermont the following year. When she video visits her father in prison, she has ambivalent feelings—she misses the funny father she loves but is furious with his actions and their effect on the family. Because of her father’s crime, the other girls at school ignore or laugh at her and she sits alone at lunch; in fact, people in town are wary of the whole family. “Life got divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’ that awful day when Dad was arrested for stealing money from Mr. Ronnie Baker.” (64)
Cleveland is not only determined and focused, she is spunky—she doesn’t complain the she only has a few outfits, her sneakers have holes, and her stomach frequently rumbles from hunger. And she does have one true friend—an eighth grader who also lives in the trailer park and is working on becoming a chef like the mother who left him and his father. Declan teaches her to cook French food, helping her to check that off her Paris Project list. However, when he becomes friends, and maybe more, with her father’s former boss’ (the man who put her father in jail) son, Cleveland has to decide how to act. “'Do you like Todd?… I mean do you ‘like’ him?” “Yes.” I understood that the words I said next mattered. A lot. I took a slow breath and gathered my thoughts. “That’s really great, Declan.” (162-3)
One friend decides to leave the pack of mean girls and Declan and Todd stop my Cleveland’s locker with hugs and high fives and “When it came to sisters, [she’d] hit the lottery,” (178) and together her support system, along with her strong mother, help Cleveland navigate life after and “after that” when her dad is released from prison. The preparing for the Paris Project ends up taking on a whole new meaning as Cleveland sets new goals.
The power of words – to celebrate, to heal, to communicate, to feel.
Fifteen-year-old Xiomara grabbed me immediately with her words. She sets the scene in “Stoop-Sitting”: one block in Harlem, home, church ladies, Spanish, drug dealers, and freedom that ends each day with the entrance of her Mami.
Xiomara feels “unhide-able,” insulted and harassed because of her body. We meet her family—the twin brother whom she loves but can’t stand up for her and a secret that he is hiding; her father who was a victim of temptation, and now stays silent; her mother, taken away from the Dominican Republic and her calling to become a nun and forced into a marriage that was a ticket to America; and Caridad, her best friend—only friend—and conscience,
Bur Xio fills her journal with poetry and when she discovers love, or is it lust, she finds the one person with whom she can share her poetry.
“He is not elegant enough for a sonnet,
too well thought-out for a free write,
Taking too much space in my thoughts
To ever be a haiku.” (107)
Aman gives Xio the confidence to see what she can become, not what she is told she can be, and to appreciate, rather than hide, her body. “And I think of all the things we could be oif we were never told out bodies were not built for them.” (188)
She also begins to doubt religion and defy the endless rules her mother has made about boys, dating, and confession. With the urging of her English teacher, Xio joins the Poetry Club and makes a new friend, Isabelle “”That girl’s a storyteller writing a world you’re invited to walk into.” (257) and with the support of Isabelle, Stephan, and Chris “My little words feel important, for just a moment.” (259)
When her mother discovers that Xio has not been attending her confirmation class, things come to a climax; however, even though her obsession with poetry has destroyed relationships in her family, it also, with some “divine intervention,” becomes the vehicle to heal them.
As I read I wanted to hear Xio’s poems, but when I finished the book, I realized that I had. A novel for mature readers, The Poet X features diverse characters and shares six months’ of interweaving relationships built on words.
Magic—“the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces” (Oxford Dictionary). The older I become, the more magic, or coincidence, or fate observe. Maybe magic appears when needed.
In Gae Polisner’s novel The Summer of Letting Go, Francesca’s (Frankie) younger brother Simon drowned four years earlier while at the beach with his parents and sister. At the time eleven year-old Francesca was watching him, and she has felt guilty ever since. Guilt weighs heavy on a child, and Francesca hurts and desires more than a fifteen year old can handle.
Then she meets a little boy with her same name, Frankie, who looks like Simon and was born the day Simon drowned. Did Simon’s soul transmigrate to Frankie? Can Francesca make up for the tragedy of four years ago by taking care of, and loving, Frankie. As she helps Frankie, Francesca also helps his mother, a recent widow, and her own mother, also stuck in grief, and is able to heal and move on.
This novel introduced me to a new favorite character, Aza, whose name takes her through the alphabet and back again. Aza suffers from debilitating anxiety. Green, through Aza, is very effective at describing her condition to the readers, the way it spirals out of control, controlling her life as she tries to figure out who her “self” is. “I was beginning to learn that your life is a story told about you, not one that you tell.”
As much as Aza tries to control herself and her relationships, her thoughts take over, sometimes rendering her helpless, other times dictating her actions. Her thoughts intrude in her relationship with her new boyfriend Miles and almost derail her relationship with her best friend.
The plot involves a mystery, but I saw that more as a vehicle for the characters’ evolving relationships as they all—Aza, Daisy, Miles and his brother Noah—explore the world, face loss, and navigate relationships with parents and friends. “…the world is also the stories we tell about it” and John Green helps readers understand the complexities of life—especially life with loss and mental illness.
“When you learn vocabulary words in school, you memorize the definition. And you have a good idea of what the words mean. But it’s not until you feel them that you really grasp the definition. I have known what the word ‘helpless’ means for a long time. And ‘desperate.’ But I’ve never felt them. Feeling them is different. They fill your chest with a horrible sense of ‘dread’ and ‘guilt’ and ‘despair.’ Those are more vocabulary words that you can’t fully understand until you feel them. (246)
The summer before eighth grade is full of changes for Rachel. She turns 13; she has a job working with animals on her wealthy neighbors’ “farm;” her relationship with Micah changes when she realizes she only wants to remain best friends, not date him; she questions her sexual orientation when she realizes that her feelings when she is with Cybil are how she used to feel with Micah; and although her family has always been relatively poor since her mother lost her job, the bank is foreclosing on the house where she and her younger sister Ivy were born. If home is where the heart is, as her sister’s pillow proclaims, what defines a home?
In Where the Heart Is, a new novel by author Jo Knowles, some readers will seem themselves represented and others, such as Rachel's peers, will learn empathy for those whose lives may leave them feeling helpless and desperate, as is the case with too many of our adolescents who are in situations they cannot control.
Good story for middle-grade readers, especially girls. Topics: poverty - foreclosure - identity: questioning sexual orientation - peer relationships
“Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.”
Charlie Reese was very careful what she wished for, and she made sure to make her wish every day since 4th grade. Charlie knew every way there was to make wishes and never missed an opportunity.
Charlie’s family was “broken”—her Mama hadn’t “put her feet on the ground” or paid attention to her in a long time; her father, Scrappy, had a temper and was in prison getting “corrected;” and Jackie, her older sister, was living with a girl friend, graduating from high school, and working.
Charlie is sent to live with her mother’s older sister Bertha and her husband Gus in the Blue Ridge Mountains where people may or may not eat squirrel. Bertha and Gus are loving, try hard, and even though the cheesy Cinderella pillowcases, Bertha’s endless stories, and Gus’ “Butterbean” nickname for her may not be appreciated by Charlie, they never stop trying. “No, me and Gus are the lucky ones, right, Gus?” (157)
I was swept into the story by Charlie’s voice from the first page, “My name is Charlie. Charlemagne is a dumb name for a girl and I have told my mama that about a gazillion times. I looked around me at all the hillbilly kids doing math in their workbooks.” (3) Charlie is lost, but in Colby she meets Howard, a true friend, and Wishbone, her adopted dog, knowing that he was to be hers the first time she saw him, even before she caught him and he became her constant companion. “…I sent my thoughts zipping through the trees to wherever Wishbone was. I wanted him to know he didn’t have to be a stray like me.” (79)
The characters were all well-developed and unique, Howard, the boy with the up-down walk who ignores the bullies and the mean kids, whose own wish is to have Charlie as a friend, and who becomes her moral compass; the numerous Odom kids, and the loving Mrs. Odom who is accepting of everyone with their quirks. “I’m so glad to have a feisty female around here to help me keep these boys under control. I been needing a girl on my team.” (109)
Charlie’s older sister Jackie comes to visit and as positive, gregarious, and appreciative of Charlie’s new town, friends, and family as she is, Charlie learns that Jackie has grown up with the knowledge that, when she was seven and Charlie was a baby, their mother left them. “Nothing’s gonna change, Charlie.….Scrappy is gonna keep being Scrappy and Mama is gonna keep being Mama and you and I are on our own. (178) But her visit helps to show Charlie just how lucky she is to have a new start in her new town. “You got a good life here, Charlie.” (179)
Sometimes you get what you wish for, but sometimes you get even more.
“The hard thing about accidentally saying the wrong thing is that you don’t know it’s the wrong thing until you have already said it and hurt someone.” (166)
Jilly P’s baby sister is born Deaf. Through talks with her fantasy chat room peers, especially her new friend Dereck, a young Deaf Black adolescent, Jilly learns that she has many misconceptions about the Deaf and about racism. And that some of her well-meaning comments and questions are hurtful. At a Thanksgiving dinner with her aunt’s wife, who is Black, she learns that racist attitudes are still alive—even within her own family members.
When a Deaf Black female—an Honors high school student—is shot running away from the police, having not heard and heeded their call to stop, Jilly observes, “Derek’s right. It doesn’t matter whether Jessica was wearing hearing aids. It doesn’t matter whether she was out late at night. She should have been safe….Everyone should be safe. But they’re not. Especially people who are Deaf. Or Black. Or both.” (202)
Jilly’s story was written by author Alex Gino to “help white readers learn a bit more about their privilege and how to support marginalized people in their lives.” (Author’s Note) Jilly recognizes, “I’ve learned that what you say matters, and that you can hurt people even when you don’t mean to. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to help someone start a rough conversation, even if that person is an adult. Even if those people are your parents. I’ve learned that racism is still around today….And I’ve learned there’s no such thing as being done with learning.” (215)
Strong Girls in Historical Fiction
The Battle of Normandy, code named Operation Overlord, began on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, when some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region. The invasion was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history and resulted in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control.
In Alan Gratz’s new novel readers learn all about the invasion on D-Day from multiple perspectives, male and female.
First, readers meet Dee Carpenter, real name Dietrich Zimmerman, whose family fled the Nazis in Germany; his Jewish best friend Sid; James and his friend Sam, a Cree Indian, members of the Canadian army; and Bill and Thomas, soldiers from England. As casualties and injuries mount, readers meet the black medic Henry who has experienced racism and discrimination in his army life.
But readers also meet strong girls who helped with the invasion. Eleven-year-old Samira is French Algerian, and after her mother, a member of the French Resistance, is captured, she joins the Marquis (code name for the Resistance) to find and free her mother, helping others along the way.
And readers are introduced to Dorothy, the American reporter, disguised as a man so she can cover the battle; and the 13-year-old French Monique, who has studied first aid. Together they help save soldiers in the field, Monique soothing them with her singing.
This novel would appeal to those who are interested in history, battles, artillery, strategy and the men—and women—who served.
See reviews of these other historical-fiction novels in my July 3, 2019, guest blog “Learning History through Story”
The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw
The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolutionist by Margarita Engle
The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbit
The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail Shepherd
Unbound: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg
Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielson
She is the author of Bridging the Gap: Reading Critically & Writing Meaningfully to Get to the Core; Comma Quest: The Rules They Followed. The Sentences They Saved; No More “Us” & “Them: Classroom Lessons and Activities to Promote Peer Respect; The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension; and the newly-published Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum. Lesley has contributed chapters to Young Adult Literature in a Digital World: Textual Engagement though Visual Literacy and Queer Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the English Language Arts Curriculum and is a columnist for AMLE Magazine and past editor of Connections, the award-winning journal of the Georgia Council of Teachers of English.