Bite-Sized Reviews of The Handmaid’s Tale, Ellen Outside the Lines, Missing Mike, The Deepest Breath, and The Hair Book

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Today, I’m reviewing a classic adult dystopian (!), a MG contemp, two MG contemp verse novels, and a picture book! I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Series: The Handmaid’s Tale #1
Published by Knopf on 1985
Genres: Adult, Dystopian
Pages: 325
Narrator: Claire Danes
Length: 11 hours and 1 minute
Source: Purchased
My rating:

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a moth and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

 

I know no one needs my opinions about The Handmaid’s Tale (after all, so many people have analyzed this book), but it felt necessary to include it on my blog because it’s so important and so iconic. I read the book along with my 17-year-ol daughter, which made the experience that much more enriching because she loved the book so utterly and completely. She told me so many times that she felt like every single sentence of the book has a deeper meaning, a weight and importance. You can’t read The Handmaid’s Tale without feeling something. The book makes so many important points about women’s role in society and about the ways our gender can be overlooked and overridden. It’s both scary and utterly real. I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t sure I was actually going to like this book—for some reason, I just thought it would be too “pretentious” for me. It’s not. It’s a simple, yet incredibly affecting, picture of a frightening society that feels a little too close to reality in many ways.

NARRATION: I listented to (most of) this book. At first, I tried to listen to the version on Hoopla, but the narration was terrible in my opinion. Couldn’t get through it. So, I switched over to Audible and found the version narrated by Claire Danes. Oh, wow, what a difference! Do I even need to say that her narration was amazing? I mean, it’s Claire Danes.

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on March 22, 2022
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Pages: 336
Source: NetGalley
Cover Artist: Ana Hinojosa
My rating:

Rain Reign meets Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World in this heartfelt novel about a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old navigating changing friendships, a school trip, and expanding horizons.
Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school.

Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track.  Except it doesn’t.

Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.

Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.

 

Ellen Outside the Lines gives us insight into the mind of a neurodivergent middle-grader who is stretching her wings and reaching past her perceived boundaries for the first time. Ellen is autistic. She likes routines and rules and her comfort zone, which includes her best friend Laurel. So, when she takes a trip to Barcelona and the chaperones throw a whole lot of “new” into the mix, including putting her in a group that doesn’t include her best friend, Ellen is thrown. She isn’t sure if she can navigate the situation, and she doesn’t know how to approach these kids who don’t truly know or understand her. One thing I loved about this book is that it showed both sides of the coin: both Ellen learning and growing and finding ways to navigate the world and her friends (new and old) learning and growing and discovering how they can support her. Add to that Ellen’s new nonbinary friend who challenges her structured view of gender, and you have a compelling story. This book will expand kids’ view of the world and help them find compassion and understanding for those who are different (and it also gives neurodiverse kids a positive view of themselves). Definitely recommend!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

Missing Mike by Shari Green
Published by Pajama Press on May 11, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade, Verse
Pages: 248
Source: Library
Cover Artist: Rebecca Buchanan
My rating:

He’s a rescue, a mutt. Maybe there’s a little golden retriever in him, although he’s not exactly pretty. He’s had a run-in with coyotes and he’s missing an eye. But Mike is eleven-year-old Caera Donovan’s dog, and they love each other absolutely. Usually her pet follows Caera everywhere, but on the day the family first smells smoke in the air, Mike becomes anxious. Pine Grove is in the path of a wildfire, and the family is ordered to evacuate. In the ensuing chaos, Mike runs off. And then the unthinkable happens; there is no time to search for Mike. They are forced to leave him behind.

Shocked and devastated, Caera watches helplessly as the family drives through a nightmare, with burning debris falling from the sky and wild animals fleeing for their lives. Once in the city far from the burn zone, the Donovans are housed with a volunteer host family. Jewel, the hosts’ daughter, is nice, but Caera can only think about what she may have lost. What will happen if nothing is left? But as she reflects on what “home” means to her, Caera knows only one thing. She is not going to lose Mike. She will do what it takes to find him, even if it means going back to Pine Grove on her own.

With her signature style combining simplicity and lyricism, the author of Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles and Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess tells an uplifting story of love and loss. And she shows how one girl’s stressful journey eventually leads her to an unexpected place, and a new definition of home.

 

Missing Mike is an exploration of the concept of home. When Caera’s family is displaced by wildfires, she’s faced with a myriad of fears and questions. Where will they go? How will they get by with the few meager possessions they were able to gather before they had to evacuate? What if, in the end, they don’t have a house to go back to? And what does it mean to be truly without a home? But, perhaps most of all, Caera worries about the family member they had to leave behind, their dog Mike. Mike ran away just before the evacuation, and Caera can’t help but feel like she could have, should have done more to try to find him. Images of her home burning are always accompanied by thoughts of her poor pup, left confused and alone in a raging wildfire. She is determined to find him, whatever it takes. Maybe it has something to do with my own love for my dogs, but this is honestly one of the most emotionally compelling verse novels I’ve ever read. Sometimes novels in verse can end up distancing the reader from the MC somewhat, but that was not the case here. I felt every moment of Caera’s fears and pain (yep, some tears were shed), and I was so hoping for a happy ending. And unfortunately, there are so many natural disasters happening in the world these days that plenty of kids will relate to this story. Plus, all kids go through uncertainties, so those who have no direct experience with evacuation and the fears go along with it will still connect to Caera’s experiences. Time will tell, but I think this one’s getting added to my list of All Time Favorites!

The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 9, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade, Verse
Pages: 192
Source: Library
Cover Artist: Ahra Kwon
My rating:

Stevie is eleven and loves reading and sea-creatures. She lives with her mum, and she’s been best friends with Andrew since forever. Stevie’s mum teases her that someday they’ll get married, but Stevie knows that won’t ever happen. There’s a girl at school that she likes more. A lot more. Actually, she’s a bit confused about how much she likes her. It’s nothing like the way she likes Andrew. It makes her fizz inside. That’s a new feeling, one she doesn’t understand. Stevie needs to find out if girls can like girls – love them, even – but it’s hard to get any information, and she’s too shy to ask out loud about it. But maybe she can find an answer in a book. With the help of a librarian, Stevie finds stories of girls loving girls, and builds up her courage to share the truth with her mum. Written in accessible verse `chapters’ and in a warm and reassuring style, The Deepest Breath will be of special relevance to young girls who are starting to realise that they are attracted to other girls, but it is also a story for any young reader with an open mind who wants to understand how people’s emotions affect their lives.

 

A moving verse novel that tells a story of self-discovery and learning how to trust. Stevie is a middle school girl just starting to realize that she has feelings for another girl in her class, but she isn’t sure what that means. Normally when something starts to scare her, she’d go to her mom and her mom would help her research. Research makes her feel more secure. But in this case, she isn’t sure where to start researching and she also isn’t sure how to tell her mom how she’s been feeling. So she has to make some brave choices. The book really captures those feelings of uncertainty that so many kids have at that age (even kids who aren’t struggling with their sexuality), so it’s very relatable. And the overall message is one of hope and helps kids realize that there are adults in their lives who are on their side. I always love to see that in a book like this.

The Hair Book by LaTonya Yvette
Illustrator: Amanda Jane Jones
Published by Union Square Kids on May 3, 2022
Genres: Board Book
Pages: 40
Source: The Publisher
My rating:

With bold, colorful graphics and poetic rhyme, this is a stunning tribute to every kind of hair, perfect for fans of Hair Love.  Covered hair,Bun Hair,Party Hair…No matter your hair—YOU are welcome anywhere!   Author and lifestyle blogger, LaTonya Yvette makes her children’s book debut with a must-have gift purchase for any occasion alongside art from award-winning illustrator Amanda Jane Jones.

 

The Hair Book is a simple book that makes a wonderfully complex point: our differences are beautiful. The book is perfect for toddlers. Each spread contains a boldly-colored geometric illustration of a person with a specific hairstyle (or head-covering) and two simple words, a descriptive term and the word “hair.” Can’t get much simpler than that, right? Some of the hairstyles and head-coverings are related to a specific ethnic or religious background, but not all of them. The illustrations depict people of many different ethnicities and styles and ends with the message “No matter your hair—YOU are welcome anywhere!” What could be better than that?

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review. No compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

That’s it for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think?
I wanna know!

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