Imperfect: A Story of Body Image by Dounya Awada

2.5 stars Graphic Novel YA

I wasn’t fond of the cover of this book and if I was browsing, I wouldn’t pick it up.   This nonfiction story is about Dounya who has a disorder.  Body Dysmorphic Disorder – a psychological disorder that makes a person obsessed with their appearance.  This person is obsessed with faults that they feel they have in their appearance. 

Dounya grew up with a mom who she thought was perfect.  Dounya wanted to be just like her mother so she tried, even at a young age to copy everything her mother did.  Her world of being a perfectionist was just beginning.  In every aspect of her world, Dounya tried to remain the perfect little individual.  If Dounya thought she had failed, she was devasted. In their culture, food was love and her mother enjoyed showing her daughter her love through food. As Dounya put on the pounds, she tried to hide it but her aunt’s comment put her size out in the open, devasting Dounya. 

Her reaction was not what I had expected.  I felt Dounya was hiding and it wasn’t until later, that did she realized what she had done and she knew that she needed to do something different.  With determination Dounya started to turn her life around but I began to wonder if she would ever be satisfied?  This perfectionist in her just wasn’t going away. 

The illustrations in this graphic novel are bright and colorful and I enjoyed all the different size text boxes that they used to create this book. There were a few instances where I thought the illustrations contradicted the story and I just didn’t know what to believe.  If she accepted herself for who she was, why did her illustrations make her look so perfect?   Was she perfect?  I appreciate that Dounya shared her story but I have mixed feelings about how the artwork fit with her story.  2.5 stars

We Are All So Good At Smiling by Amber McBride

5 stars YA Mental Health

This book was a bit more abstract than I had originally anticipated.  I felt I was dancing around through the beginning pages of the book trying to get inside what was happening so I could fit it all together.  What put this book into motion? 

I could feel the emotions in the text and the flow of this book was fantastic.  The sentences were arranged on the pages, just so.  I felt it.  I could feel the energy and the pauses without even looking.

“You can’t avoid this forever

or you’ll end up back here

again & again & …….

Mom’s voice trails off.

                           I swallow,

                      filling in the blanks.

                  Until I don’t…….until I am gone.

                                               I’ll try harder,

                                                  I promise.”

She’s being treated at the hospital for depression. Whimsy can count on both hands the times that she’s been hospitalized for her illness but this time, it’ll be different.  Watching from her window, a car approaches the hospital and she notices the mint-green hair.  He’s alone.  She sees something in his shadow and now, she needs to know more about this boy.  Really, did she really see this? I think she better check again. Who is Whimsy and now, who is this boy that she calls Fae boy.

In the hospital, Whimsy goes to group therapy where she assigns all the individuals who attend, a Fairy Tale name.  These names correspond to a specific trait of that individual so they’re actually fitting but some of these names, I wasn’t familiar with.  Therefore, “a boy with mint-green hair (an actual Fae-I believe) actually named Faerry.” And “the silent one with stories on her skin & magic like electricity in her hair – that would be Me (Whimsy).”  Whimsy has an old notebook that she’s had for many years, that she treasures.  Inside this notebook, she writes Fairy Tales, ones that she has created and ones that were told to her.  I found this notebook very interesting as I think it reflects a lot about Whimsy.

Once Whimsy and Fae are released from the hospital, their relationship continues as Fae’s family moves closer to where Whimsy’s family resides.  It’s a magical, fairy tale world as the two friends discover a forest which is more than just trees.  As the book progresses, the story came together and Whimsy was able to fully show herself.  We are all so good at smiling but what are our smiles really hiding?  I enjoy reading books dealing with these types of issues and I really loved how the author used poetry to convey her thoughts.  The cover of this book is incredible.  

Broken by Jenny Lawson

5 stars Nonfiction

Jenny is real.  Jenny’s books remind me that I need to enjoy life, no matter what comes my way.    Everyone faces issues in their life and I like Jenny’s approach to the obstacles that she faces in her own life.  When I read Broken, there were many times that Jenny had me laughing out-loud or snickering, as I couldn’t believe how candid she was.  Yet, there were times where she got serious in her conversations and she got me thinking, seriously thinking.  Yes, life should be like this…… I follow Jenny on social media and I’ve read one of her previous books and her use of humor in dealing with her illness is shown again in this book.  As I read Broken, I felt empowered.  We all can and should apply Jenny’s approach to our own lives.

Jenny talks openly about her mental health issues and I appreciated her upfront approach and her honest opinions and emotions.  Discussing depression and anxiety, she lets her readers know that we all have our own issues and that we all take our own unique path in life.  I liked how Jenny described this in her book.  For it’s all in how you look at it.  You’re here at this specific spot, this right spot at the right second, for a purpose.  It’s all about your perspective: literally and figuratively. 

        “It’s not the same path that everyone else takes, and that can be hard and lonely, but I was reminded that there are amazing things that I would never see with normal eyes and other paths.”

I liked that Jenny was not afraid to be open.  Jenny was sincere and truthful with her readers.   She’ll say what many individuals are thinking but they’re too afraid to say it out loud.  She’s real and she’ll definitely make you feel accepted and normal. I really enjoyed this book. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Jenny at a book reading a few years back and I was thrilled.  I can tell you; she was as personable and friendly, as she is in her books.  A calming atmosphere filled the room as she spoke, it was as if, a good friend had stopped by to chat. I read Broken poolside at a resort, this year on vacation.  I had many people look at me as I laughed away the morning,  so I’d just hold up the book and smile at them.  Sitting next to my husband, I’d have to stop reading many times so I could read him parts of the book.  Her stories were things I could relate it and some were so funny, I just had to share.   I know I will be revisiting this book in the future.   I want to thank Goodreads, Jenny Lawson, and Henry Holt for my copy of this book as I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.  This review is my own personal opinion of the book

Four for the Road by K.J. Reily

5+ stars Fiction YA

  “We’re all just trying really hard to cling to something we’re not entirely sure can hold us up.”

I read this book over 2 months ago yet as I think about these characters and their story, I am reliving every moment of this fantastic book! It’s only been 12 months, 3 weeks, 1 day, 6 hours, and 14 minutes since Asher’s mother died. As the thick smoke fills the house and makes seeing the television screen impossible, Asher continues watching the television as the fire consumes his home. In the hospital, the support groups that Asher initially walks into provides more than just support for him.

Asher meets a variety of individuals and I loved every single one of them.  With unique personalities and stories, these individuals have so much to offer while still dealing with their own issues.  

  “We’re all just trying really hard to cling to something we’re not entirely sure can hold us up.”

As the groups gathers, Asher hears his own struggles and pain coming from the mouths of those around him.  These individuals know the battles and scars that he has, he’s not walking alone.

       “I’m not completely alone in my head with this monster.”

Asher needs closure so he can move on and these individuals are there for him. With a list of questions, Asher decides to find the answers.  It’s a road trip and Asher is not going alone. The new friends that he includes in this ride are perfect.  I was smiling, laughing, and enjoying this car trip so much.  What a ride!  The group does more than just get answers to Asher’s questions, they have an adventure.   Everyone benefits from this excursion.    

With short chapters, fun and entertaining characters, this was one book that I couldn’t put down.  I enjoyed the author’s use of language as there were many great passages inside this book.  I thought the author did a great job handling the topics covered inside this book.  One of the best books I read this year.  I highly recommend it!!! 5+ stars

   “Then I start thinking about how many grieving groups they would need to have just for the 10,262 people killed last year by drunk drivers and how there just aren’t enough days in the week to take care of that many people with dead family members so I just sit down on the garage steps and think about hammers and baseball bats and then my dad sits down next to me.”

Everything Will Be Ok by Anna Dewdney

5 stars Children’s Picture Book

You’ll be okay.  That’s the vibe from this children’s book as the author asks the reader a variety of questions and tells them that they’ll be okay.  So, you hurt yourself, you’ll be okay.  So, you lost your kite and now, you can’t play that game anymore.  It’s okay, find another game.  Feeling sick?  It’s okay, you’ll be better soon.  Scared? Miss your parents?  Things not working out how they’re supposed to?  It’ll all be okay; you’ll be back where you need to be soon.  How often we all need to understand and apply what this book has to say.  With bright colorful animals with great facial expressions, the illustrations support what the message of this book is trying to tell us all.  It will all be okay, maybe not right now but soon.

I liked how this rhyming book says it all but it’s not wordy.   The text is catchy, it’s easy to rhythm and I found myself bouncing back and forth as I read it, (bouncing to the beat).  The book covers a lot of subjects that children face that can throw them off and affect them.   Instead of getting upset or changing their behavior because of a snag in their day, this book helps them realize that it’s going to be okay, that they can handle it.  I think this would be a great book to read often with a class and talk about the implications that this book addresses.  A good book to have at home too and talk about how bumps in their day doesn’t have to ruin their day.   Everyone needs to read this one!  A million stars   Everything Will Be Ok by Anna Dewdney

You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow

4.5 stars YA

I felt there were a lot of issues in this book, issues that Emma had to sort through as they couldn’t be ignored.  Her family had money but putting money on these issues wouldn’t be the answer.  With a respectable and prominent family name, I felt that money had been the families answer before the accident.   Money can’t fix the challenges the family is facing now but first, the challenges must be identified and acknowledged. 

Emma thought her brother Joey just liked weed but he also tested positive for heroin the night that Candy was killed.  Checking into Blue Spruce, Joey sought treatment. Emma would miss Joey but she wouldn’t miss the constant fighting that he had with their parents.  Emma’s prescription for pain medication for her injuries in that accident wouldn’t be filled, as their mother feared that Emma would also become a drug addict just like Joey.  It didn’t matter how much pain her fractured kneecap was giving her, there would be no prescription.  Mother was so bossy.  

Mother seemed to be more concerned about how her appearance in the community than with the own children.  Having an established business in the community, mother’s top concern seemed to be how she looked in the community now that something had tainted their family’s name.  She was scared of losing her high status in the community.  Little else did she know, what else was happening that would affect her and the family’s name.

My heart ached for Emma as I read.  What more could she do?  The expectations that were placed on her were high and the only activity that Emma discovers that provides her any kind of happiness had me shaking my head.  Oh Emma!!  I thought the author did a fantastic job with the details of this story.  There were times that I thought this book was slow but I had to know what happened to Emma and her brother so I continued reading and I’m so glad I did.  4.5 stars.    

Moth by Amber McBride

5 stars YA

“That day there was only enough prayer & blood for one of us to walk out.”

Moth was the lone survivor that day and the causalities included her brother and both of her parents.  Since that traumatic day, Moth has lived with her Aunt Jack, pondering whether she should change her name, since there’s no one left who cares.  Why was she left behind?  I hated to hear that Moth gave up her love of dancing since the accident.  Struggling to achieve her success, she was now just throwing it all away.  Moth had no friends at school either.  Attending a mostly white school, Moth found that the few black students that do attend, don’t include her in their conversations; they’re just like her previous school.  It’s not like she’s trying either.  She’s just existing, living on the memories that she can recall.

Sani took the seat beside her on the school bus, this seat that no one has ever sat in.  Who would have thought it all began on a school bus? Sani is having family issues and he’s popping these mysterious pills, that he’s reluctant to discuss.  Being of Navajo descent, Moth feels a connection to Sani through her Hoodoo.  With their relaxed conversations, they come to realize that they’re both just surviving.  They’re both just there.  Sani offers a solution, a way out.  A place where they can breathe.  Sani asks Moth to run away with him.   

I felt at first, when Sani asked Moth to run away with him, that he wasn’t serious.  I thought he was just throwing something out there for them to dream about as they were both frustrated but when she responded, he jumped on it.   This was an opportunity!  This was going to happen!  He obviously had been thinking about this.

What a trip this turns out to be for both of them.  I enjoyed their journey and the places that they went.  I liked that the trip was about connecting and discovery and not a love connection between the two of them.  I loved the way the story was written in verse as the words weren’t forced nor did they feel cheesy.  I enjoyed how the characters and story came together and the ending was impressive as I didn’t see that one coming.  I can’t wait to see what else this author writes.

The sky & the rain baptize our bodies- sinless & free.”

“Sani (looking sad): Do the ancestors ever answer?

Me (Moth): They sent me you.”

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

5 stars Fiction

I highly recommend you listen to this audio as its wonderful.  Words can’t express how I felt as I listened to Gifty walk through her days.  The burden that she carried on her shoulder was heavy and at times, I wondered how she was going to make it through her day.  I felt as if she was just waiting for something miraculous to happen, for something to rip the baggage from her shoulders and set her free!   

Every day, Gifty works with her mice, trying to understand their behavior.  This is her constant, the thing that keeps her moving.  Nana, her talented, gifted brother, is partly responsible for Gifty’s desire to become a neuroscientist. Their mother is the other reason Gifty is going to school.  It all started when her star-athlete brother got injured while at practice.  The pain killers that he took, eventually led to his death.  Now, with her favorite child gone, their mother slips into depression and Gifty is left trying to pick up the pieces. 

It was a difficult move and the family struggles as they tried to adjust to life in Alabama.  Mother wanted the Chin Chin Man to come and when he finally did, I don’t think he really wanted to live in Alabama. I think he struggled to fit in and when he returned to Ghana to visit, I knew he wasn’t planning on returning to the States. Mother’s grief had consumed her after Nana’s death and it was now consuming Gifty as well. Gifty didn’t know what to do, so she went to work, watching her mice.  I liked the honesty that Gifty showed, her frustration felt real.  A great emotional read. 5 stars

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

5 stars MIddle School

The ending of this book was fantastic!  That was one adrenaline rush! I seriously don’t think I took a breath as the minute-by-minute action played out.  As I reflect back on this book, I realized just how much I enjoyed it.  After I had been introduced to the characters, I didn’t want to put this book down. 

Zoey didn’t want to be on the debate team, nor did she want to be a part of the debate club. It’s not like she didn’t have an opinion, its just that she doesn’t like to talk out loud in class and isn’t that important in debate?  Zoey’s teacher sees something in her and she motivates her to join.  As Zoey attends a few of the meetings, I had to laugh as she begins scribbling information down and it seems as if she’s just “existing” while she’s there.  You can tell she’d rather be anywhere else then, sitting there in these meetings.  Yet, she’s listening and she’s grasping what’s really transpiring all around her, is anyone else doing the same?  

Zoey’s life at home is complicated.  She has three younger siblings (Hector, Bryce, and Aurora) which she helps care for when her mother works at the Pizza Pit.  Zoey doesn’t see her father and Bryce and Aurora don’t visit their father either.  Her mother is trying, she really is. With a roof over their heads and a bed to sleep in, her mother is trying to make a better life for her children. They’re all currently living with Hector’s father, Lenny and his grandfather in a trailer.  Sounds cozy, doesn’t it? 

I could see myself in Zoey’s mom, so much that it hurt. Her mom saw a goal and she was trying to reach it.  In-between her and that goal were her kids -that’s it……nothing else.  She was trying to make a better life for them and that was her goal.  Zoey: her view through the lens was different. With everything that Zoey is juggling, she wants to help her mom now.     

This is an excellent story that addresses the issues of poverty and abuse through the eyes of a middle-schooler. I really enjoyed how Zoey’s knowledge of debate came into play and how Zoey’s character matured in this book.  Zoey relationships with her peers and her family played a huge part in her life.  The responsibility she shouldered and her attitude was remarkable.  I loved how realistic this book felt and how smooth the writing was.  It deserves more than 5 stars!   

The Brave by James Bird

5 stars MIddle School

Thank you, James, for writing this beautiful book.  Using a touch of magical realism, 13-year-old Collin tries to find himself and his place in the world all while navigating around his OCD, bullying, family, and the other relationships that he encounters.    

Collin lives with his father but when he runs into trouble at school, his father informs Collin that he is going to move to Minnesota to live with his mother.  A woman that he has never met.  I was instantly shocked at this news. His father had already planned this move for Collin: he was just waiting for the opportunity to tell Collin. I know parenting is hard but you shouldn’t surprise your child like that and then, bail.  I was also shocked at the principal’s comment when he suggested homeschooling for Collin. He thought that Collin’s condition (OCD) was too hard for the other students to “adapt to.” Seriously?  I couldn’t believe this!

When Collin meets his mother for the first time, I was glad that he made the move. I knew it would be difficult for Collin but her attitude and the affection that she showed him from that first day, I knew she would be good for him.   Collin learns that she’s a Native American and her mannerism was something to be desired.  Collin also discovers that he has a brother and a grandmother, their stories really made this book special.

Schools in this area are no different than his previous school and after being teased for his OCD, he runs out of his new classroom.   So, what is Collin’s OCD?   Collin counts the letters in the words that are spoken to him and then, he says that number out loud.  Some kids in the past, have taken to saying long passages to Collin, to see if he can keep count of all the letters while others like to talk fast to him, to see if he can keep up with them, it’s all mean no matter how you look at it. 

Collin meets Orenda.  She lives next door and she spends a lot time in her tree house.  Orenda says that she’s changing just like her mother did but Collin doesn’t understand what she’s referring to. 

As Collin continues to get bullied at school, Orenda and Collin meet and she helps him discover who he really is.  Collin was finally enjoying parts of his life and I could see a smile on his face, it seemed that he had finally found joy.  He needed somewhere to land and he had found it, he was accepted and he felt a connection.  A truly beautiful book that I definitely will need to reread in the future.

She was “pretty” – pretty amazing, pretty smart, and pretty funny 😊