Meet Anna Mei, a New Friend of Mine

Anna Mei: Cartoon Girl, by Carol A. Grund, is middle grade/intermediate novel that introduced me to a world that felt familiar, but distant. Remember late grade school?

I do. I have a LOT of memories of those 5th grade through 8th grade years (I know, that bleeds over into junior high, but living it felt that way too).

Boys were icky, and yet…interesting. Girls were friends and…horrible. Parents were alien life forms and everything was changing.

Eleven-year-old Anna Mei faces all of this AND a total upheaval of her world. She finds herself in a new school, the outsider, trying to fit in.

She ends up being someone she’s not, but it takes a while before she will admit it out loud. I forgot about the courage that takes. It’s good to be reminded, because I have kids this age in my life. I think I’ll be sharing this book with them, in fact.

Woven throughout (but NOT shoved down your throat) are Christian/Catholic values, including Anna Mei’s own struggles with relating to God. She finds herself discovering unexpected things about herself and those around her. I found myself remembering how important fiction like this was to my own formative years. I’ll be passing it on for sure.

Highly recommended.

*Received as a review copy from the publisher.

The Little Flower for Little Girls (and for the Young at Heart)

I had heard plenty of rave reviews about Olivia and the Little Way, by Nancy Carabio Belanger, a middle grade/intermediate novel that’s been out a while, but it wasn’t until I received a copy for some review work I do for the Catholic Writers Guild that I finally had a chance to read it.

Boy, I wish I hadn’t waited!

This is a novel that, middle grade or not, is perfect for a wide range of readers. My mother-in-law saw me reading it and asked me about it. My raving convinced her that she would be borrowing it next. Her reading it has convinced my eight-year-old (non-Catholic) niece that she is next. I have an idea of about three other girls who will love it, if I ever get it back long enough to lend it to them.

What makes it so compelling? First, it’s that although fifth grader Olivia seems too good to be true at first, we find out that she’s as human as we are. She wonders where God is and why in the world she has to struggle the way she does. She tries hard, but thanks to her grandma, finds that through devotion to St. Therese, the Little Flower, that she’s able to better grasp some of the more difficult aspects of living.

Throughout the book, we get glimpses of St. Therese’s philosophy (which is worth reading all on its own, by the way) and of a real person’s approach to it. For those of us who are not as used to this whole saint thing works, we find that it’s neither inappropriate nor inaccessible.

Just as Anna Mei reminded me about the trials of this age, Olivia made me appreciate my adult status all the more. (Not gloat about it, mind you, but appreciate it.) It also made me understand, a little more clearly, some of the struggles that face today’s youth.

Highly recommended, and sure to be a well-worn favorite in my house (though I may have to get a second copy!).

*Received as a review copy from the author.

Christian Frank, Get WRITING!

Trespasses Against Us (John Paul 2 High), by Christian M. Frank, is the second in the John Paul II High series, and I must have forgotten how excited I was back when I read the first in the series. Since putting it down, I’ve been contemplating writing a letter to the author. The letter starts, Dear Mr. Frank, GET WRITING! As a writer myself, I know that’s no easy mandate. As I understand it, he has a new baby and a grueling schedule.

But the way this book ended, I’m pretty much unable to think of much else. Once again, we have a plot that’s edgy and engrossing and characters who are concrete and likable (except for the ones who aren’t, of course). We have Catholicism as a seamless part of the fabric of the book; it’s more than incidental, but very much NOT shoved down the reader’s throat. Though my first thought on sharing these books are Catholic teens in my life, the other teens I know aren’t far behind.

This book has all the ingredients of a great novel, and I’m going to be just as eager to read the next in the series as I was to get the latest Fairy Tale Novel (#1 in my Seven Summer Reads).

Highly recommended for you AND the young people in your life.

*Received as a review copy from the publisher.

Beautiful and No Disaster

My Beautiful Disaster, by Michelle Buckman, is the sequel to Maggie Come Lately, which I raved about in #3 of my Seven Summer Reads post a few weeks ago. I’m a big fan of Buckman’s, and Beautiful Disaster did not disappoint.

You probably already know that the characters were flawless. (By that I mean that they were as messed up as you and me, made big mistakes, and lived life like you expect real life people to.)

You won’t be surprised to know to hear that the writing was fabulous, that the settings were detailed without gagging, that the dialogue could have been overheard in my sister-in-law’s living room (if her kids were old enough, that is).

What you might be surprised to hear is what this book’s main topic is. I can’t tell you, though, because it will destroy the plot. (Well, it would have destroyed it for me. I’m sure, if you look at enough reviews, you’ll find one that will tell you.)

Buckman’s tag line is “fiction that rethinks life.” Now that I’ve read four of her novels, I feel like I can nod vigorously and write her thank you notes for the difficult work she’s doing. She’s not picking an easy writing route with this kind of fiction, but she is speaking to the heart of the matter.

She does it without shoving anything down your throat too. (Have you noticed that I’m just a wee bit sensitive to that?) She does it without painting a picture of a life that does not exist, and she makes me want to read more-more-MORE of what she writes.

This book (and its predecessor) get my very highest recommendation. They’re the kind of books I would almost buy extra copies of, in order to make sure that I don’t lose the original to a friend.

*Purchased with my own money, even though my library had it. (I’ll be sharing it, rest assured.)