A Time to Dane – Padma Venkatraman

diversity in YA, novel in verse, religious

Veda is a trained prodigy in bharatanatyam dance.  In India, she is well respected as a skilled dancer.  When a bus accident results in the partial amputation of her leg, she not only loses the ability to dance, but also her connection to the story of the dance and its significance to her culture.

Trying to overcome the unfairness of the accident is only part of her struggle, she must learn that her identity as a dancer must change or disappear altogether.  Knowing dance is in her heart, she finds strength to not only begin dancing using her prosthetic leg, but to begin many aspects of her life again.  Helping her along is her lovely grandmother who has supported Veda in dance and life and Jim, the American doctor who fixes and teaches Veda how to use her new leg.  Veda is strong and resilient and when her dance teacher refuses to continue teaching her, she finds another dance teacher who isn’t put off by her disability.  In fact, it’s at this new studio where she meets Govinda, a young dancer and dance teacher, who treats Veda as an artist.

This is a story about more than dance, but the spirituality of dance cannot be ignored.  It’s as important to the story as any character.  This is a beautiful novel about healing the mind, body, and spirit.

Everywhere in Everything

Everywhere, in everything, I used to hear music.                                                                        …

in the scents of cumin, coriander, and red chili.                                                                   Wrap my arms around Paati’s plush body.                                                                                   At night I’d hear music                                                                                                                         in the buzz of hungry mosquitoes                                                                                           swarming outside my mosquito net, …

In the grey-green hospital room                                                                                                 silence                                                                                                                                         stretches.                                                                                                                                      (42-43)


The War That Saved My Life -Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Award Nominee, families, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

This is a great historical fiction about the beginning of World War II when Ada and her brother are sent from London to the countryside of Kent with other evacuee children.  The story begins with Ada’s difficult life in London and her transition not only to country life, but also to a life of kindness, education, and love.

Ada is a ten year old, well maybe ten – the truth is her life in London is difficult and her mother not only is cruel to Ada, but does not even tell the poor girl know her birthday.  Ada was born with a twisted foot and her mother has kept her held up in their one room flat due to shame and ignorance.  When Ada learns from her little brother Jamie that children are being sent to the countryside she is determined to learn how to walk so that she can travel with her brother.  Once they arrive at Kent, they are the last children left to be chosen.  When they are placed with Susan, an education, but single woman in the village, they all must learn what it means to live as a temporary family.

Ada and Jamie rely on each other and through new experiences of country life, community, and love of two new pets, and curious ambition, they adapt to a new life.  As Hitler invades Europe, their oasis in Kent begins to suffer wartime hardships.  Susan helps Ada become a typical child and once they are told that Ada’s foot could be surgically fixed, Susan is sure that Ada’s mother will consent.  War looms, bombs become a daily occurrence, still it is the looming presence of a cruel birth mother that haunts Ada.  How long will she and Jamie get to stay in their new home?  Will Hitler’s armies reach Kent?  And will Ada finally get the medical treatment she deserves or will the cruel nature of her mom return to claim her children and lock Ada up in the one room flat?  Now that Ada has experienced friendship and love and the prospect of a future, does she even want her mom to come for her?

This is a story of how strangers come together and form a family, all saving the other’s and lead to living a better, more fulfilled life of love and joy.

Newbery Honor (2016),  Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School (2016), Odyssey Award (2016), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2017)

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly –

Award Nominee, Female Leads

Minnow Bly’s parents joint a cult when she was young.  She was punished by her hands being chopped off at the wrists.  Let’s take a moment and process that.  Many people, including my public library, thought this book was an adult book – so be warned.

The story is told in flashbacks and to the FBI psychologist that visits Minnow in juvenile detention.  We read about her story from her family joining “The Community”, the years her family increased in both children and importance within The Community, and the events that led to Minnow’s disability –  as well as the death of the Prophet. Minnow is a smart seventeen year old, despite the fact she cannot read and has had the world kept from her.  Through the years she didn’t trust the Community or the Prophet’s stories and communication with God.  Only when she runs further into the woods and finds a teenage boy living in a cabin, with his dad, does she realize the lies she has been told and that people outside of the Community are not evil.  Jude helps her through the years by offering a supportive escapism.

With such a sad and dark plot, the humor found with Minnow’s cell-mate Angel is a nice reprieve, in juvenile detention, but still.  Angel helps Minnow learn the rules of juvenile detention.  Minnow decides to get the truth out about the Community, especially how it treated children and women, and agrees to talk to the FBI, who are investigating the burning of the Community and the death of the Prophet.

A dark story of mystery, a cruel disfigurement, and overcoming something horrible.  Similar to This. As we read more about Minnow’s background and the brainwashing the men of The Community taught, it is difficult to separate this story from modern cult-like groups.  For being a debut novel, I was very impressed with the depth of the various plots.  Be aware there are beatings, torture, and some cussing, but overall it shows how Minnow survived and begins to rebuilt her life.

Here is an interview with Stephanie Oaks

William C. Morris YA Debut Novel Nominee (2016)


All the Truth That’s In Me

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, families

It begins with the sense that there is already disappointment or danger in our young narrator’s life. “In time, you became a man, and at once, I became this”

Divided into Books, and then brief paragraphs separated by roman numerals, it starts as if each paragraph is an afterthought with a lingering pause as if each thought is waking into a new moment after a restful sleep. Early on, the reader senses longing and regret from our narrator for a future that was lost, an experience that was forced, and a return that is half empty. Judith is silent, seen more as a nuisance by her mother and brother than a daughter or sister.  Her role in the tiny community is isolated and she is a presence only, not a friend or participant after a 2 year absence.

You see, a fellow farmer and community deacon, after his wife left him, took two girls.  After drinking his way to madness, setting his home on fire, one girl washed up the river dead, the other returned to her family missing not only two years of her life, her innocence, but also half of her tongue.

We start with a one-sided love story between neighbors who live in cabins and live the simple life.  With families that came together on a boat, they have been intertwined for years in Roswell Station.  Farming, living, and living in a safe, small community – one in which there needs to be a guard each night watching the ocean for ships and invaders (homelanders).

As the story continues, the second person narrative gets a bit old.  Although I suppose if you were always spying on someone I would think of it as a “you did this”  and then “you did that”.  Each section? Chapter? …. the writing is broken up sometimes after only a few lines and sometimes after pages, but I don’t know my roman numerals much past 20 so I acknowledge the style as pauses in thought, or a dimming of lights to end one scene and then light up the stage again to a new thought, scene, chapter, or whatever I call it, it is lovely prose often sucking me in and keeping me reading longer than I should.

I felt like the plot ended with the resolution of the battle and the death of Judith’s abductor, which made me wonder where the story was headed. As Judith returns home with the injured men from her town, the community slowly recovers from the battle. She also finds a friend in an unlikely person, her own strength, and her own voice.

(and as a mom of two young children, I personally liked this expansion of my phrase “use your words” when my son was learning to talk.  Maria to Judith, “Use language worthy of your mind. Use what you have. Stretch it forward” —- that’s going to become my new ‘use your words’)