Heidi

Rating: 
Author: Johanna Spyri
Genres: Children’s, Middle Grade, Classic
Pub date: 1880 (read Jan. 2019)

Oh Heidi, a girl after my own heart. I bought a new copy of Anne of Green Gables last year after my childhood copy was accidentally donated and decided to pick up copies of both Heidi and the Secret Garden, which had cute matching covers. I never read Heidi as a child, but I was into the mountain setting and was basically hoping for Anne of Green Gables set in Switzerland.

Heidi definitely does not have the same charm as Anne, who is one of my all-time favourite female characters, but I could appreciate her love of the simple life and the fresh mountain air. Heidi is a little orphan girl who, up to the age of 5, lived with her Aunt in the small Swiss town of Dorfli. At the age of 5, her aunt decides she has spent enough resources on Heidi and drags her up the mountainside to instead live with her Grandfather. Her grandfather is seen as a bit of a hermit by the townspeople and is fairly misunderstood, so they all pity Heidi when they see her on the way up the mountain.

However, Heidi immediately settles into life at her Grandfather’s cabin and is totally enamored with the beautiful mountain views, the wildflowers, and her neighbour Peter, the local goat-herder. Likewise, her Grandfather’s life is taken over by Heidi and he starts to find a new joy in life. I thought the whole mountain setting – two misfits finding love with one another – story was brilliant and was totally into this book at the beginning. I can see why it’s a classic, but like I said, Heidi just doesn’t have quite the same charm as my other beloved children’s books and it’s pretty slow moving. I struggled through the story at times and unfortunately, the ending of the book hasn’t really aged all that well.

It is a sweet story with christian undertones and themes. In the middle of the story, Heidi is extremely distraught when she is removed from her grandfathers and forced to live in Frankfurt. She finds the town so dark and dreary and she doesn’t understand the way of life, so she is misunderstood by those around her and yearns more than anything to return to Grandfathers. She learns about God and is taught to put her trust in his plan and is ultimately rewarded by her prayers and faith. While some elements were problematic, I was impressed that this book features both a girl in a wheelchair and a blind person.

I can’t write this review without discussing the ending, so if you’re unfamiliar with this classic and plan to read it, please stop reading here. SPOILERS AHEAD.

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So I didn’t really like the ending of this book. I definitely don’t fault the author for it because this was written in the 1800’s, but in my opinion the ending doesn’t really hold up today. I had two issues with the ending, the first of which is that Peter sucks! Peter is a pretty big introvert, whereas Heidi loves people and making new friends, and he is constantly threatened by Heidi’s other relationships and acts out pretty aggressively in his jealousy (both with the Doctor and Clara). My problem was that Peter’s behaviour was totally wrong, but he never really suffered any consequence from it. He destroys Clara’s chair for heaven’s sake and though he feels bad after, no one ever holds him accountable to his actions. They were just teaching him it’s okay to be an asshole.

My second issue was with Clara suddenly gaining the ability to walk by sheer force of will and the power of fresh mountain air (supposedly). I don’t fault the author because I’m sure people with disabilities had it rough in this era and their disabilities were not as well understood. So gifting her character with the ability to walk again seems like the perfect ending to a childhood story. It just doesn’t really stand up today and I’d hate for little girls in wheelchairs to read this book and be preached the message that if they just pray and want it enough, they might be able to walk again too. Or to feel like they can only achieve happiness by the curing of their disability and that the ultimate dream is to escape your disability. I liked Clara because despite her disability and sickness, she had a great attitude and didn’t actually seem that hampered by her disability. Being in a chair is nothing to feel bad about and is not an impediment on happiness. So I just don’t think this ending holds up in light of the body positivity movement and is a little insulting to the less able-bodied.

3 stars for the sweet story and setting, but beware some of the ideas are a little preachy and out-dated.

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Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Rating: 
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Pub date: Nov. 13, 2018 (read Nov. 2018)
Series: Nevermoor #2

Happy Pub Day Wundersmith!

Hachette Book Group was so kind as to send me an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. And all I can say is that this book is WUNDERFUL!

I heard some really great stuff about Nevermoor, the first book in this series, so I read it a few months ago and absolutely loved it! It’s a middle grade book that I can’t help but compare to Harry Potter. They have a lot of similar elements, but are still quite different. In my opinion, Nevermoor incorporates all the features that made Harry Potter a phenomenon and I feel like it’s the series I’ve been searching for since Harry Potter ended.

Over the last few years, Throne of Glass has been my go to series, but it’s over now and now I just can’t stop thinking about Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor. The second book in a series is super important because author’s can often get the second book blues after a really successful first book, and the chance to prove to your readers that you’re not just a one-book phenomenon. After finishing Wundersmith, I am totally on the Jessica Townsend bandwagon and even MORE obsessed with this series.

First of all, the covers are gorgeous and I think they perfectly capture the whimsical nature of these books. Just to give you a quick synopsis, Nevermoor is about 11 year old Morrigan Crow. Because of when she was born, she’s spent her entire life as a cursed child, being blamed for all the misfortune that happens in her town in the Wintersea Republic. Until one day, red-head Jupiter North shows up on her doorstep and invites Morrigan to move to the mythical city of Nevermoor to compete in the trials for the Wundrous Society.

Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead for Nevermoor if you haven’t read it, but I will keep the rest of the review spoiler free for Wundersmith.

At the end of Nevermoor, Morrigan is successful in passing her trials and is invited to join Wunsoc. However, she is shocked to discover that she is a Wundersmith. The last Wundersmith in Nevermoor was Ezra Squall, who committed such evil acts that he was forever banned from Nevermoor. For this reason, Wundersmiths are not well liked or accepted and Morrigan is forbidden from learning the arts of the Wundersmith or from telling anyone her talents. But when strange events start taking place in Nevermoor and she is bullied by her classmates, she questions whether all Wundersmiths really are bad,

This book was everything I wanted from the sequel. It had all of the whimsical elements that the first book had, while continuing to test Morrigan, introduce new characters, and deepen the plot. I said in my review for Nevermoor, and I’ll reinterate here, that what I like so much about this series is the gradual world building and the fact that you can tell this world is going to have so much more depth than what has been revealed to us. The entire book is a plot within a greater story. What made Harry Potter so good was Rowling’s ability to tell one story, while simultaneously building on that larger story arc. Our questions are not always answered in a single book and the story continues across the greater series. I loved Rowling’s foresight in Harry Potter and her ability to craft her arcs and mysteries in advance of writing each book and then weave them together over the course of the novel and series. I can’t be sure because we’re only two books in, but I suspect Townsend is following a similar format.

I think it takes a very accomplished author not to rush through their world building – to tell a fun and fascinating story, while still withholding enough of the secrets to keep us coming back for more. There can be a tendency to overload your reader with information about the world you’re creating, but slowly introducing parts of that world is a much more effective way to draw your reader in and not overwhelm them. I keep learning more about Nevermoor, yet it already feels like a fully formed place. I don’t feel as if Townsend is trying to explain her world to me, but rather is gradually building that fully formed world around me. It’s hard to explain, but it makes for a really enjoyable reading experience.

The Harry Potter feels continue in this book and I feel like Townsend is setting us up for a substantial series. Morrigan enters the Wunsoc society in this book and we get to know the 8 other students that make up her unit (unit 919). Wunsoc parrots the belief that your unit is your family and that you must learn and grow together. A success or failure on behalf of one person is a success or failure for the entire unit. Morrigan’s initial draw to the society was the opportunity to have 8 ready made friends, something she never had as a cursed child. But she soon learns that Wunsoc is not as perfect as she believed and that trust, respect, and friendship are still things that will need to be earned.

Morrigan is tested in this book. Wunsoc is essentially a little Hogwarts type world where she will attend school for the next 6 or 7 years (can’t remember exactly how many), before pursuing greater endeavors. Her classmates are all signed up for fun and interesting classes, but as a secret Wundersmith, the society is a bit at a loss for what to do with Morrigan. She is forbidden from learning how to use her talents as a Wundersmith, but as wunder keeps gathering to her, her talents can no longer be ignored.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot, so I’ll just say that I loved the mystery element to this book and I loved the characterization. Hawthorne is just as fun in this book as the first book and I really liked getting to know Cadence a bit more in this book. It was a little hard at times to keep track of all 9 of the Wunsoc students as 6 of them are brand new characters to us, but I’m really excited to get to know them better as the series progresses. We’re also introduced to the Scholar Mistresses at the school in this book and I can’t wait to see where the next book takes us with the two different streams of study at Wunsoc. Townsend builds on the relationships of the folks living at the Hotel Deucealion. Jupiter continues to be an elusive, eccentric, Dumbledore type character and I have a lot of questions about what he’s really up to. Fen continues to be one of my favourite characters and I hope to see more of her and Jack in later books.

In conclusion, I still highly recommend this series and I loved every part of this book. My only regret is reading it too fast and having to wait too long for the next book!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Rating: 
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pub date: Oct. 2017 (read Aug. 2018)

I’ve been seeing Nevermoor pop up on Booktube and for some reason decided I didn’t have an interest in it. But I recently heard it labelled as the “next Harry Potter” and that there were a lot of comparisons that could be made between the two, so of course I finally had to pick up a copy. Best decision ever because this book was so much fun from start to finish!

Morrigan Crow is eleven years old and has the unfortunate bad luck of being born on Eventide. As a result, she’s considered a cursed child in the Wintersea Republic and is blamed for every bad thing that happens in her village. But her real bad luck is that cursed children always die on the eve of the next Eventide, which happens to be the day after Morrigan’s eleventh birthday.

Morrigan just wants to be remembered, but when the next Eventide is announced, it’s obvious her family is already preparing to move on and forget about her. However, before death can catch her, Morrigan is whisked away to Nevermoor, the free state, by the enigmatic Jupiter North, who selects Morrigan to be his first ever candidate for the Wundrous Society. But in order to be admitted to the Society, Morrigan must complete her trials and be selected by the judges.

What made this book fantastic was that it had so many layers. It’s been a long time since I read a book like this and it made me realize how much I miss clever fantasy stories with a strong mystery element. This has obvious parallels to Harry Potter with the 11 year old being whisked away to another world, the magical elements, her wise mentor figure, the foreboding unnamed villain, and the humourous moments woven throughout the story. But it’s the larger mystery of this story and the complex world building that made this such a good book and worthy of being compared to Harry Potter.

This was a 450 page book and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this world. It was a brilliant debut with just the right balance of world-building, character development, and whimsy. Townsend doesn’t give up all her secrets and I know there’s so many more surprises and quirks to be developed in this series. I don’t really know where the author plans to take the plot, but I get the feeling that it will have a lot more depth than what we’ve been introduced to in the first book.

I really wouldn’t change anything about this book. I have so many questions, yet I was still satisfied by the ending. I can’t wait to find out more about the Wundrous Society and what mischief Morrigan and Hawthorne will get up to in the next book. There were so many intriguing characters in this book and I can’t wait to learn more about Jupiter, Jack, Fen, Cadence, Noelle, and of course, the Wundersmith.

Book 2 can’t come soon enough! Everyone should read this!

Brown Girl Dreaming

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Genres: Poetry, Young Adult, Childrens
Pub Date: Jan. 2014 (Read April 2018)

Thanks for sticking around everyone! I’ve been travelling around Vietnam for the past 3 weeks, so my book reading has been a little slow, but I have several books to update you on now!

I did accomplish my April Reading Challenge, which was to read 3 award winning books. Brown Girl Dreaming was the last book I read right before I went on holiday, but I didn’t get a chance to write a review before I left, so please forgive me for already starting to forget a bit about this book, but I’ll do my best to review!

I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought this was a fictional book about growing up in the south (written in prose), but I was excited to discover its actually a non-fictional account of the authors childhood! I’m sure some is partially fabricated and written through other people’s memories (the author is very young for some of the experiences). But it is indeed written in prose and it was a joy to read.

Jacqueline Woodson was born in Ohio, spent several years living with her mom and grandparents in South Carolina, before her mother moved her and her siblings to New York. Brown Girl Dreaming tells of her childhood and her relationships with her mother, grandparents, and siblings. Her older sister was a voracious reader who did very well in school, while Jacqueline struggled in school but discovered a deep love of writing and storytelling. As a child she is frustrated by the injustices she sees around her and develops a hunger to see and create change.

It’s not really the story I was expecting, but I really liked the way it was told. I’ve been reading more prose and poetry lately and I thought this was a fantastic medium through which to tell her story. It’s a quick read, but wonderful!

A Sky Full of Stars

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Linda Williams Jackson
Genres: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction
Read: Dec. 2017 (Pub date: Jan. 2, 2018)

 

I don’t know where to start with this book…

I read the first in the series, Midnight Without a Moon, earlier this year and while I liked it, I thought parts of it were a bit problematic. I think A Sky Full of Stars is a stronger novel than the first book, but I still think it had some issues.

Namely, Ma Pearl. What the hell is wrong with Ma Pearl?! I said this in my review of the first book, but I don’t understand why Jackson decided to write Ma Pearl the way she did. She is a very harsh character and I keep waiting to discover why she is so mean, but Jackson gives us absolutely no justification. As far as I’m concerned Ma Pearl has no redeeming qualities and I think that’s unfair to her character. She literally has no empathy. She doesn’t seem like a psychopath to me, so I really don’t know why she’s so unyielding. Sure, she makes a great antagonist, but she’s also not the main villain of the story (hello white people) and I think showing us a little bit more of her humanity would make such a better character.

But let’s talk about plot, because I thought the plot of this story was stronger than the first book. Midnight Without a Moon takes place in Mississippi in 1955 and focuses on the murder of Emmett Till. Rose is shocked when the white men who murdered Emmett walk free of all charges and is desperate to see change. A Sky Full of Stars focuses on the murders of several other black men in the state for doing things like trying to register to vote, demanding to be paid a fair wage, and for simply making a mistake when pumping a white man’s gas. So basically black people are being shot for daring to exist.

I found the plot structure a bit weak in Midnight Without a Moon, but it is much better defined in A Sky Full of Stars. Rose is disgusted that white people can kill black people without suffering any consequence and decides she wants to do something about it. Everyone has different ideas about the most effective ways to create change and Rose has to figure out where she fits in and how far she’s willing to go to try and ensure a better future for her family. She struggles with turning down her Aunt Belle’s offer to move to St. Louis and is afraid of what the consequences might be of speaking out against inequality.

Similar to the first book, I felt this book had no real climax to the story and it felt like it kind of just ends. I could easily see Jackson writing another book about Rose. Mostly I think she just needs to think more about her characterization. Rose has a great character arc, but the rest of the characters feel 1-dimensional. There’s quite a lot of side characters but I feel like barely any of them had depth. The Shorty-Hallelujah conflict had so much potential, but never really came to a head and as such, didn’t really feel that meaningful. There was so much potential for Queen’s character too, but I don’t think her character developed at all in this book.

I applaud Jackson for tackling some pretty tough subjects in a middle grade book, but honestly, I think this book can go so much deeper. I feel like Jackson is hesitant to get into the dark nitty-gritty of her characters. The character conflicts all feel very surface level and I think if Jackson went deeper into her characters, their fears and desires, this would truly be a fantastic series. Have your characters make mistakes and take risks – they live in a harsh world and sometimes they are going to make bad choices. How they react and grow from those challenges is what makes them inspiring.

Thank you to NetGalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.