Penguin Teen, 2018
I enjoyed The Fashion Committee so much! It has angst and moments of social realism, but also moments of wry humour and a quirky premise. Charlie and John are high school students pitted against each other, and several of their classmates, to win a highly desirable scholarship to a school of art and design. Charlie is fashion crazy: it’s where she puts the vigilance and anxiety that living with an addict causes. John couldn’t care less about fashion but yearns to go to art school; but coming from a home with a fixed income, he simply can’t afford such dreams. For a while Charlie and John operate on parallel tracks, but we know they’re destined to collide.
Several reviews of this novel point out some improbable plot points, and while I recognize these concerns, I’m not convinced fiction has to operate as a perfect mirror of this world. Similarly, some readers are likely to notice that the “journal” structure of the novel doesn’t hold consistently, but it’s still narratively satisfying. I was pleased that Juby didn’t pair Charlie and John romantically — which would have been an easy choice — and I felt the resolution of the scholarship plot was fittingly balanced.
The Fashion Committee offers readers something like watching a John Hughes movie — but without the saccharine aftertaste or the 1980s attitudes. It’s a strong, smart novel by a novelist who understands her craft and her audience well.
Originally published on LibraryThing on July 15, 2018.
by Elizabeth J.M. Walker
Orca Books Publishers, 2018
Natalie usually studies ballet with Amber and Yumi, but summer vacation pulls the girls apart. Given the chance to join her cousins’ dance class, Natalie can either turn up her nose or take part to maintain her fitness and skills. But when her best friends seem not to miss her — even seem to be glad she’s away — Natalie’s confidence collapses. Can Natalie be a dancer if she’s not practising ballet?
Slip Jig Summer offers a fun twist on the fish-out-of-water story by putting a ballerina in an Irish dance class. It’s a short book with a fast-moving plot, so there’s limited space for character development. Natalie reads as a somewhat flat character, and the stakes in her conflict don’t feel terribly high. Similarly, Amber’s turn to “frenemy” seems unmotivated and is predictably resolved. That said, familiar interpersonal issues, portrayed in an accessible storyline, will help lower-literacy readers move through the text easily.
Slip Jig Summer is a new volume in Orca’s Limelights series for students interested in the performing arts. I enjoyed the fresh focus on dance and predict the novel will lead its readers to other dance novels (of which there are many). It’s an energetic selection for high/low readers.
This review was originally published in Resource Links, February 2018.
by Angela Hovak Johnston
Inhabit Media, 2017
Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines describes the process a group of women in the Canadian Arctic followed to revive the tradition of women’s tattoos. Historically, Inuit women wore tattoos on their hands, arms, and faces to represent a range of personal and social messages. After contact with European missionaries, women stopped being tattooed and the cultural knowledge of traditional tattooing was nearly lost. Thanks to Angela Hovak Johnson, however, the practice is being reclaimed with striking results.
This resolutely woman-positive project turns on its photography. The photos present both the tattooing process and a portfolio of an emerging generation of tattooed women, from teens to elders. The editorial photography is clear and straightforward, accompanied by explanatory text and the women’s individual stories of their tattoos’ meanings. The portrait photography captures the women in strong poses as they display their tattoos, often in northern landscapes. For non-Inuit readers, the book offers a powerful (and sometimes playful) way to understand elements of Inuit culture. For Inuit readers, the book represents the pride and resilience of women and culture.
I would underscore, however, the book’s stern warning that these tattoos, no matter how appealing they may be for non-Inuit women and men, are the cultural property of Inuit women, who are struggling to retain and reclaim their traditional knowledge and practices. Non-Inuit should emphatically not consider seeking similar tattoos but rather learn to appreciate the beauty and significance of these tattoos for the women who wear them today.
Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines is a glorious book that documents important work of cultural reclamation. It belongs in libraries across Canada, and I hope it will find a broad audience. It is a proud declaration of women’s strength and beauty and a profound testament to cultural recovery.
This review was originally published in Resource Links, June 2018.
by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Orca Book Publishers, 2018
Ramadan is the holy month of fasting observed by Muslims to teach and uphold key beliefs. It is a period for reflection, empathy, and renewal; it is also a time for family and community — particularly at the arrival of Eid-al-Fitr, the end of the fast.
Ramadan provides a clear, accessible introduction to Ramadan and Islamic beliefs generally. The author explains the stages of Ramadan and the practices associated with the holy month. Her presentation includes a survey of Ramadan traditions from diverse societies around the world, as well as her personal reminiscences and short profiles of young Muslims’ individual choices and needs during a month-long fast. The text also includes quotations from young people explaining what Ramadan means to them, an excellent extension of Ausma Zehanat Khan’s own story. The text is supported by a glossary and a short list of references. There are even a few recipes for readers who want to sample the flavours of other cultures. Throughout, the author’s voice is warm and friendly, but also respectful — nicely balanced.
Ramadan is a new volume in the Orca Origins series, which has been uniformly well researched and attractively presented. The colour palette of this book is soft and appealing, while the bright full-colour images add interest to every page. This series has been insightfully planned and carried out: books like Khan’s Ramadan make intercultural discovery and understanding fascinating and fun. I particularly like how prominent girls and women are in this text. And while the book is intended for kids, there are many adults who would benefit from reading it to dispel their misunderstandings. I emphatically recommend Ramadan: The Holy Month of Fasting to any class or community interested in reading for multicultural understanding.
This review was originally published in Resource Links, February 2018.
by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books, 2017
Petula wants her life to be as safe, quiet, and unremarkable as possible. Since the tragic death of her little sister, Petula has cut unnecessary social ties, turned inside herself, and become an expert at identifying — and avoiding — risk. Then she meets a boy she dubs the Bionic Man; soon she’s questioning her ideas about safety and security. With friendships, relationships, and her own mental wellness hanging in the balance, Petula must decide whether to take a chance on a boy who gives her so much, but could hurt her very badly.
I loved Optimists Die First. I enjoyed it much more than Nielsen’s 2016 book We Are All Made of Molecules. Although the plot sounds like a romance (and there is a romantic relationship at the centre of the plot), the novel engages much bigger issues than simply girl meets boy. A twist revelation late in the book adds depth and dimension to the story; I appreciated that the author didn’t let her characters take the easy way out.
Optimists Die First is likely to become a favourite with YA readers. With all her anxieties, Petula is initially tough to like, but she’s worth getting to know.
Originally published on LibraryThing on July 24, 2017.
by Sheree Fitch and Anne Hunt, eds.
Nimbus Publishing, 2017
Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things is a fresh collection of children’s poetry from and about English Atlantic Canada. It includes more than one hundred poems, not all of them written specifically for children. The collection has considerable reach, spanning from late nineteenth-century poetry to poems written just a few years ago. It is particularly well organized for teaching. The poems are organized by theme, and the book includes short biographies of the contributors. There are poems here to complement many standard Language Arts units and to demonstrate a breadth of literary forms and techniques. All in all, it’s a smart, compact, versatile collection, wrapped in a delightful, appealingly designed package.
If you’re looking for a book that will be greatly enjoyed and cherished, check out Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things. It’s an essential addition to public children’s libraries and a worthwhile extension to school and classroom libraries. It would also make a wonderful gift for any young reader who shows an aptitude or appreciation for writing and poetry.
This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2017.
by Aviaq Johnston
Inhabit Media, 2017
Those Who Run in the Sky is the haunting, lyrical story of Piturniq, a boy on the edge of manhood whose life is overturned when he learns his destiny is to be a shaman. A gifted hunter and a much-admired leader, Pitu finds himself stranded during a blizzard, his sled dogs, tools, and packed food gone. Can he survive the tests of the spirits? Will he ever see his beloved mother or his intended bride again?
It was such a pleasure to read this coming-of-age novel by young Inuk writer Aviaq Johnston. The story is captivatingly told, and the novel has an almost hypnotic voice; it was a book I read in a single sitting because it was so eerie and beautiful. Strands of the Inuit worldview are woven into the story, and people, objects, and ideas are referred to by Inuktitut names, immersing readers in Pitu’s reality from the first page (the glossary, including pronunciations, will help readers negotiate the language). Illustrations by Toma Feizo Gas add a further layer of drama and beauty to the text.
Educators and librarians looking to bring more Indigenous texts into classrooms and collections should include Those Who Run in the Sky. The book offers all readers a wise, identifiable protagonist and provides a brilliant way, as the author suggests, to “continue the tradition of sharing and teaching.” I hope this book is read and recognized widely; though very different from much of what teens are reading today, it has relevant and timely themes and ideas to share.
This review was originally published in Resource Links, October 2017.