Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

bridge-of-clay-zusakMarkus Zusak author of the acclaimed novel and now title movie, The Book Thief, is on the verge of his second release. Zusak’s latest work Bridge of Clay, is a multigenerational family portrait that deals with issues of loss, regret, creation, and the danger and joy of love. Told by Matthew Dunbar, the oldest of the Dunbar brothers, Bridge of Clay is less about its narrator and more about Clay: the brother who bridged a broken family, a broken past, and a broken peace.

Bridge of Clay reaches across and through time to tell the story of the five Dunbar boys. The story, though, starts before the brothers are born, with their mother Penelope and the struggles she overcame to become the person they came to know. There’s also the boys’ father, Michael, and the loss and pain he was swept up in before and after his sons were born. Then there’s the meeting of Penelope and Michael in the midst of a piano delivery gone wrong. There’s the Iliad and the Odyssey. There’s Carey, an almost-famous jockey and Clay’s best friend. Threads and threads woven together to tell Zusak’s saga.

Through all this mass of time, Matthew begins his story at one of many beginnings, which is also a middle and an end. Much of Zusak’s novel is told in this way: circling through distant past, near past, and present so that the reader at times can’t be sure which part of the circle she’s in or why it matters. Sometimes the reader reaches the curve of that story arc 100 or 500 pages later and suddenly something makes perfect sense. While this device can make aspects of the various storylines seem irrelevant, in the end  it makes the reader realize she’s read a masterpiece. That being said, she needs to make it to the end to have that realization.

Much of the novel is contemplative in nature and has a beautiful stillness that moves the reader into all different ranges of emotions: joy, sadness, pain. The effort it takes to maneuver through the tangles of time and truly get to know the characters is great; however, the end makes all the reader’s struggles well worth while and rewards those who have the stamina to make it.

Slated for release by Knopf publishing on October 9, 2018, you can order a copy of Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak from your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Sky at Our Feet’ by Nadia Hasimi

the-sky-at-our-feet-hashimiNadia Hashimi’s second foray into middle grade fiction, The Sky at Our Feet, is just as thrilling, relevant, and heartfelt as her first, One Half from the East. In The Sky at Our Feet, we meet Jason D. an Afghan, or an American, or maybe both, he’s still not quite sure himself. A young boy who has just been told some of the dark secrets from his mother’s past, Jason D. suddenly has a lot more questions about his past, his family, and his own identity.

One month after finding out that his mother is living as an illegal immigrant in the United States, she is taken from the laundromat where she works as Jason D. watches helpless from afar. Now, Jason D. is more than confused, he is alone, scared, and suddenly charged with a mission to find his mother. Through a series of seemingly unfortunate events, Jason D. ends up in a hospital where he meets Max, the girl who will help him to answer some of the deepest questions he has. On a day trip that turns into the biggest adventure of his life, Max learns more about himself and what it means to have an identity than he ever could have imagined.

The Sky at Our Feet is a story that is relevant not only because of the heightened media around illegal immigration, but also because of the deeper questions it asks. What makes somebody who they are? What does it mean to have an identity? What does it mean to have an identity that is tied to the place that you live? The place that you’re from.

An artful and exciting novel, The Sky at Our Feet is both inspiring and thought-provoking without ever letting the reader stop for air. With its fast-paced, non-stop action, it’s hard not to read The Sky at Our Feet all in one sitting.

Slated for release by Harper Collins in March of 2018, you can preorder a copy of Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Girl in the Blue Coat’ by Monica Hesse

girl-in-the-blue-coat-hesse.jpgGirl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is a novel steeped in history, passion, and emotion. A coming of age book that tells the story of the main character, seventeen-year-old Hanneke’s experiences in Amsterdam during World War II. Hanneke is an angry citizen of Amsterdam during the German occupation in 1943, angered not only by the Germans’ presence, but mostly because her boyfriend died during the war and she feels responsible. Now, Hanneke works in dealings on the black market, delivering goods like coffee, chocolate, and cigarettes to her fellow citizens.

At the beginning of the novel, Hanneke is completing a routine drop off at Mrs. Janssen’s house, a woman Hanneke knows well and whose son and husband have also died at the hands of the Germans. When Mrs. Janssen invites Hanneke to stay for real coffee and pastries though, Hanneke is suspicious of what more Mrs. Janssen might want from her. After reluctantly agreeing to join the old woman, Hanneke begins to relax and wonders if perhaps Mrs. Janssen is merely lonely. And she is, though not exactly for the reasons Hanneke was thinking.

Mrs. Janssen reveals to Hanneke that she was hiding a young Jewish girl in her house, a girl she not only feels responsible for because the girl’s whole family is dead, but a girl she has also come to love as a daughter. Though Hanneke has never worked in dealing with contraband people, she decides to help Mrs. Janssen almost as a way to please Bas, her dead boyfriend. She knows he would help Mrs. Janssen if he were alive, so in an attempt to regain the trust she thinks Bas has lost in her, she decides that hunting for this girl is the right choice.

Along the twisting roads of mystery leading up and down Girl in the Blue Coat, Hanneke finds much more than and not at all what she was ever looking for. She finds unsuspecting friendships, passion for a cause, and more than one reason to keep living her life.

Though marketed as a young adult novel, Girl in the Blue Coat is an exhilarating and powerful read for any aged booklover.

The paperback version of Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse was published by Little Brown and Company in April of 2017. You can purchase a copy of the novel at your local bookstore.

Read more historical fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

‘A Shadow Bright and Burning’ by Jessica Cluess

a-shadow-bright-and-burning-cluessAn evocative and exhilarating read, Jessica Cluess’ first novel in her Kingdom on Fire series, A Shadow Bright and Burning is nearly impossible to put down. A young adult fantasy novel that addresses coming of age themes, feminist mentality, and issues inherent in discrimination and exclusion, A Shadow Bright and Burning is a book full of riveting content both on the surface of its plot and in the deeper realms of its layered meanings.

Henrietta Howel is a young orphan who finds that she might be the first female sorcerer in over 100 years, but can she live up to the expectations set for her? Living in Victorian England, Henrietta and her band of soon to be commended sorcerers are doing their best to fend off the seven Ancients, a group of demons released from Hell by a magician some years ago. Magicians after all are all bad: deceitful, evil, uncontrollable. Or are they?

Some people in the book say the same things about women, especially those women with magical powers. Henrietta is thrown into the world of sorcery with no training, and now she has to prove herself not only as a sorcerer, but as the lone female in a male dominated world. Coming up against issues many teenage, non-sorcerer women come up against, like love, lust, and sexuality, Cluess does a fantastic job of painting Henrietta as a strong-willed but conflicted female character.

The quintessential young adult fantasy novel, A Shadow Bright and Burning has all the right elements: an orphaned girl, multiple love interests, and a world in dire need of saving. But Cluess also brings so much more to the Kingdom on Fire series: she brings lessons of acceptance, empowerment, and loyalty.

Slated for released on September 20, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers, A Shadow Bright and Burning is available for preorder at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘One Half from the East’ by Nadia Hashimi

one-half-from-the-east-hashimiA book so compelling you could read it in a single sitting, One Half from the East tells a story much larger than the characters involved. Nadia Hashimi’s second novel follows Obayda, a ten-year-old bacha posh, or a girl dressed as a boy, living in Afghanistan. Obayda’s family turns her into Obayd to bring the family honor and with the magical hope that in doing so, their next child will be a boy.

Obayd must navigate school, people, and the world around her without her dresses, her long hair or sisters, and most of all without the confidence she had in being who she was. Along the way though, Obayd learns how to survive as a boy, how to live as a boy, doing the things she was never allowed to do as a girl. She meets another bacha posh who shows her how to fit into her new skin, and soon enough, Obayd does not want to be Obayda again. But that is the tradition of bacha posh – a young girl is turned into a boy only to bring luck and fortune to the family, not to be a boy forever.

Obayd and her friend know that the time is coming for each of them to return to their old ways of life, but now they are stuck in the middle. They are not quite girls and not quite boys, and they fear the return to a life with less freedoms, one that they don’t identify with any more: the life of a girl.

In One Half from the East, Nadia Hashimi not only exposes readers to what life in Afghanistan is like for women especially, but she also brings to light larger, worldwide questions of gender and identity. At one point in the novel, Obayda wonders what makes a girl, a girl. Her and her sisters muse whether it has to do with the length of a person’s hair, the clothes the person wears, or with how the person acts.

Obayda simply wants to be a boy, but Hashimi also questions this desire. Does Obayda want to be a boy to bring honor to her family, is it to have the freedoms she would otherwise not have? In the end, Hashimi starkly points out that learned behavior can easily become associated with “boy” and “girl,” and yet the society surrounding that culture takes those behaviors as inherent. Boys play soccer. Girls sew dresses. But a girl can just as easily learn to play soccer, and a boy can just as easily learn to sew. So what is the “boy” thing to do, and what is the “girl” thing to do?

Hashimi wrote One Half from the East as a middle grade novel for grades three to seven, but the novel is by no means strictly a children’s novel. The book is a culturally eye opening work of art that is just as moving and heartbreaking for any aged reader.

One Half from the East will be released by HarperCollins on September 6, 2016. Preorder a copy from your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers’ by Brandon T. Snider

peter-powers-and-his-not-so-super-powers-sniderPeter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is your classic middle grade superhero chapter book. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it has good moral lessons, and it’s just plain fun.

Peter is the middle child in a family of four, and not just an ordinary family of four, but a family of superheroes. Mocked by his siblings for his seemingly inane power – the ability to make ice cubes from his fingertips – Peter is pretty down in the dumps when we first meet him. He is looking for a way to prove himself, and his live-in grandfather, an ex-superhero himself, provides the perfect answer: Peter must defeat a supervillain.

So what does Peter do? He goes out in search of a supervillain. Captain Tornado is the targeted supervillain, and Peter, though not confident, is bold enough to confront Captain Tornado face to face. But what will happen? How will Peter stop Captain Tornado with just ice cubes? Oh, and what about getting the whole act by his superhero parents, who are bound to show up on the scene?

Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is a fun and fast paced read for people of all ages. While author Brandon T. Snider targets children ages 8-12, the book is also a great read for parents, teachers, or people who just love middle grade fiction. The themes and morals taught about self-acceptance, patience, and dealing with the annoying and frustrating aspects of life are pertinent for any child in middle school and any person who works with children period.

Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is slated for release by Hachette Book Group in October of 2016. You can preorder a copy at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Brightwood’ by Tania Unsworth

9781616203306What does it mean to live fully? What does it mean to be crazy? Where do freewill, imagination, and the idea of taking chances come into play with each of these questions? Tania Unsworth probes into these inquires in her latest young adult fiction novel Brightwood.

Brightwood tells the story of Daisy Fitzjohn, a young girl living alone in a mansion with her mother. Daisy is not allowed to leave the mansion, and has never met any other human being besides her mother. Not that she doesn’t have friends like a rat named Tar and some animal and plant friends on the grounds of the property. But, Daisy still longs to know what life outside Brightwood Hall is like, despite the fact that she is most definitely scared of it.

Daisy’s yearning to go out into the world is put on hold though when her mother mysteriously disappears after heading out to the grocery store one Monday morning. Daisy is almost immediately suspicious because of the day of the week that her mother left: her mother is a rigid woman when it comes to schedules, and she only goes shopping on Wednesdays. But either way, Daisy is willing to give her mother the benefit of the doubt, at least at first. At least until a strange man shows up at the gates and lets himself in to Brightwood Hall. Now Daisy is really scared. But what is she more scared of: living on the grounds with a strange man wandering around who claims to want to help her, or leaving the only world she’s ever known to seek help?

Daisy is faced with these and many more hard questions as Brightwood progresses. All along the way, she confronts challenges of bravery and character. Daisy meets Frank, a (maybe) imaginary friend who appears in black and white and who helps guide Daisy with very strange and fantastical metaphors. Frank, a bit of a coward at times herself, helps Daisy to see that bravery isn’t easy and it doesn’t come naturally. Frank pushes Daisy to her limits, or perhaps Daisy pushes herself to her limits, depending on how you understand the story.

In the end Daisy must not only confront tasks that force her to show her courage, but she also comes up against challenges of morality. She must ask herself what the right thing to do is, and how she can “keep her shape,” as Tar demands she should.

Brightwood is a fast-paced, exhilarating novel that keeps readers on their toes: terrified, entranced, angered and in love with the characters Unsworth creates. As a Y.A. novel, Brightwood addresses important values for children ages 10 and up, and teaches these values in ways that are both subtle yet graspable.

Brightwood will be released by Algonquin Young Readers on September 27, 2016. You can preorder a copy at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.