Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis, Illustrated by Susan Meyer

Scarlet Ibis and cartoon sketch of children

BIBLIO: 2014,Atheneum Books for Young Readers: an Imprint of Simon and Schuster. 9-14.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle School
ISBN: 9781481449410

Scarlet and Red live with their mother in an apartment in London. Scarlet is the head of the house as she cares for both her autistic brother and depressed mother and struggles to keep child protective services at bay. Red has a fascination with birds that Scarlet readily encourages by watching the bird’s nest outside of his window, collecting feathers, and taking him to the zoo once a month with the help of some kind people.

Everything changes for Scarlet’s little family through a series of events that ends up separating them. Scarlet must adjust to living with her new foster family, Renee, Theo, Jez, and Avril. With the new family, Scarlet also goes to a new school and must learn to make friends, and sometimes with unlikely strangers,like the bird lady, Madame Popescu. Ultimately though,Scarlet thoughts are consumed with trying to reunite herself with Red.

Scarlet slowly comes to realize what may be best for her is not what she dreams of. In the end, everything works out just the way it needs to give everyone a future they deserve.

The Belles

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

 teen girl with updo and ball gown on a book cover

BIBLIO: 2018,Freeform. Ages 12-17.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1484728499

Camellia is a Belle. A treasure among the people of Orleans, a Belle is a woman that has been blessed by the Goddess of Beauty and has arcane abilities. The people of Orleans, the Gris, are born with gray skin, red eyes, and ratty hair, while the Belles are born beautiful and can shape the Gris in their image.

Trained all her life to be a Belle with her six sisters, Camellia yearns to be the favorite Belle of Orleans and to serve the royal family. Once the sisters have presented their abilities they are placed in teahouses throughout the kingdom to serve their patrons and make the people of Orleans beautiful time and time again, as the results are only temporary.

Once the Belles begin fulfilling their duties they begin to uncover dark and revolutionary secrets. The royal family is not as perfect as they seem either. Camellia must perform her duties, play the dangerous game of politics, and fight for her life and everything she’s ever known.

This book is written to entertain through its fantastic descriptions and impeccable world building. With themes of bullying, self-esteem, and typical teenage struggles, this book is a great way to connect these important topics to everyday life. I personally loved this book and would highly recommend it. The book is reminiscent of The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. This book is best suited for young adults 12-17.


Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

ominous cartoons book cover

BIBLIO: 2009, W.W. Norton & Company., Ages 14 to 18.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter
FORMAT: Graphic Novel
ISBN: 978-0393338966

This graphic novel is the true recollection of the author-illustrator. Set in his childhood in Detroit Small shows the reader what shaped him as a person. It starts by explaining that he was a very sickly baby and he got lots of x-rays. It jumps ahead to when he’s six years old and how his house is always silent. No one speaks to each other and everyone is terse and keeps to themselves, always miserable. The family goes to the hospital a lot because David’s father works there. When he and his mother visit his grandmother and step-grandfather, affectionately called Papa John, we get a glimpse at what his stern mother dealt with and gain some perspective into her personality. Some more time passes until he is eleven. David gets a large cyst on his neck examined, which needs to be removed. But living in the cruel household that he did, it took three and a half years to schedule a surgery and his cyst grows disgustingly large. Upon removal the boy discovers he can’t talk because in addition to the growth the surgeon removes his thyroid and part of his vocal cords rendering him speechless. Desolate with his loss, David goes through terrible stages of grief, military school, and seeking out psychological help. Moving out at the age of sixteen, he begins his journey to his own life by finding a voice in his artwork. The art in this book is very macabre and shadowy- eliciting emotions of cruelty, intimidation, depression, and mystery. There is plenty of symbolism and repetition to examine deeply. The people are all skeletal, frightening, and their eyes are intense. Everything has a dark twist to it and the sketches are sparse with background clutter but incredibly detailed. Frequently, Small alludes to Alice in Wonderland in his dreams and illustrations, suggesting his need for its escapist nature. Altogether a very powerful book with a lot of room for questions. I would recommend this graphic novel for fourteen and up, because of the disturbing content and some pg-13 nudity.

Child of Spring

Child of Spring by Farhana Zia

leaves and ring book cover

BIBLIO: 2016, Peachtree Publishing Ltd., Ages 9 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781561459049

Set in rural India this story is about Basanta. She is a wonderful, spirited, young girl who has a lot of growing up to do, while already having more responsibilities than the average American child. Basanta and her mother must work at Messaab’s wealthy estate. They take care of Messaab and little Bibi and the family’s housework. In the evening they return to their Bunti, a collection of huts they call their community. Basanta has many friends including Lali, Bala, and her animal friends Kalu the dear dog and Dinoo Kaka the crow. There are other kids in the community that Basanta interacts with regularly, like the mischievous brothers Raju and Paki, snake-like Rukmani, and the kind boys Ganga and Ramu. Basanta is rich in life but working in a world of wealth she quite frequently envies her mistress little Bibi and her luxurious presents. Throughout this story Basanta learns many lessons such as kindness, people’s ability to change, friendship, wit, and honesty. Many surprises come up in the little community both good and bad and the story ends with the festive celebration of Divali.

I would recommend this book to young girls and boys who want a taste of another culture. I think this book gives a great snapshot of what a normal girl’s life may look like all the while presenting universal themes and morals. There are many positive connections to be made with this book. The story doesn’t follow the traditional book structure so much as it accounts Basanta’s life. This sweet, easily read book is worth looking into.


Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

boy under tree next to truck book cover

BIBLIO: 2016,Calkins Creek an Imprint of Highlights, Ages 9 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781629796734

Times were tough in the year 1941, the United States faced the looming possibility of entering the second world war. That year was even harder for Axel Bledscoe Junior. In July of that year his Pop dies and leaves him man of the house, only beginning ninth grade. Junior must help his mother with his elderly grandfather Hammer, who had moved in just prior to his father’s passing.

Junior struggles in school and with his family life. He realizes as he talks to Pop’s old friends and family in Brookford, that his father was much more than the drunk he had become and gets a fuller sense of the childhood his Pop grew up with, especially Granddaddy’s rearing.

Struggling to find his identity, and how his father’s qualities plays into it,Junior gets into all sorts of trouble with his new friend Dudley. Junior wants to be handy,loving, and neighborly like his father in his fondest memories but keeps falling short. With the support of his neighbors and his mother, he learns to face the consequences of his actions and vows to earn the respect he desires for himself and his family. This is a truly touching coming-of-age story and flawlessly reflects the historical aspects of life on the cusp of World War II.

I would recommend this book for boys from the ages of 9-13. The plot and language is simple and the text easy to read. While basic on the surface this book can foster introspective growth. A great read for the summer.

More titles in the Series:
boy laying in grass book coveryellow cover, girl sitting book cover

Honestly Ben

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

love triangle book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Arthur A. Levine Books an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 9780545858267

Honestly Ben is a very realistic and thought provoking read. The main character Ben Carver is a typical all-american overachiever. He attends Nattick Boarding school for boys and he loves history and baseball and is set up to accept the Peter Pappas award. The award basically being a stamp of approval in all aspects of life- sports, studies, extracurriculars, and being well liked by the student body.

It would seem that Ben is invincible, but there is one major snafu in his life, and that is his romantic entanglements.Ben is struggling with his sexual orientation and throughout the book he loves both the earnest,lovely Hannah and his lively,sensitive best friend Rafe. Ben must decide who matters more to him and all the consequences that go with his decisions.

Ben has more conflicting feelings than that in his life as he struggles to figure out who he is sexually, as a teammate, as a student, and as part of the Carver family. Many tough situations arise and Ben grows as a person by learning many life lessons about family, vulnerability, courage, and most of all honesty, because what is there to life if your reality isn’t the truth?

This book is relatable, the conversations and interactions feel they’ve happened in real life already. I would suggest this book for teens in high school. There are some allusions to sex and some bad language. With the complicated themes of the novel I wouldn’t advise giving it to anyone younger than thirteen.

I personally am pretty neutral on this book. It was very well written and it is one of very few fiction pieces that have changed my way of thinking. It hurt my brain to read this book, but in a good way because it was expanding my mind. It is also the first book I’ve encountered that has a bisexual character. I read this book independently, not realizing it was part of a series. If I had more backstory I think I would have liked it infinitely more. Definitely worth the read.

Read this book first!
checklist emoji book cover

The Crystal Ribbon

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

girl flowers eyes book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 12 through 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade
ISBN: 9780545767033

An utterly engrossing first novel, Lim has created an adventure set in the rural area of China under the Song Dynasty. The main character Jing comes from a poor farming village and lives in with her two brothers Wei and Pan, her Baba, Aunt Mei, and Grandmama. This comfortable life changes soon after Jing’s eleventh birthday.

The adventure begins when Jing’s family goes to the village shrine to offer homage to the local jing spirit and the village’s protector The Great Golden Huli Jing. This jing spirit was said to be a great golden fox with five tails. Shenpopo, the village shamaness read’s Jing’s fortune saying that her life will be filled with hardship but good will come from it and that she will find her place eventually, and that she must rely on hope and faith to see her through.

Shortly after, Aunt Mei arranges Jing’s marriage to three year old Juan’an, the son of a rich dressmaker in the near city Xiawan. Distraught, Jing must got to the Guo’s household and babysit her young husband and act as servant to her new family. She befriends the cook and the pet nightingale Koko. In her new life she suffers very much by the hand of her in-laws. While living there, she encounters several magial jing spirits.

A little less than two years after she arrives in Xiawan the family becomes financially troubled and plans to resolve their debt by selling Jing to the city’s chinglou, the courtisans’ residence. The luxurious lifestyle doesn’t appeal to Jing, as she sees it for the empty life it is. With the help of some friends she escapes and travels home.

On the road she reunites with Koko and gains a new acquaintance, Kaizhen. They rest at the town of Dolan and reveals the evil jing spirit that controls the villagers. After an epic battle Jing finds herself in her village, Huanan. She must decide what to do with her newfound freedom and the wisdom she has collected in her time away from home.

This book is emotional, and has a lovely element of culture. The book is a well paced book that works well as on a summer reading list. I would recommend this book to 12-16 year olds. I enjoyed this book and thought it was very similar to Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan.