It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts
I read three very different middle grade books last week with two things in common: gifted authors and a common message of carrying compassion with us as we make our way through the smallest of actions and tasks – kindness matters.
Lisa Thompson’s debut novel, The Goldfish Boy , is a hard-to-put down mystery with a twist: there is one mystery to be solved in the disappearance of a neighbor’s little grandson, and there is another mystery to be solved within the main character (and chief detective) himself, twelve year old Matthew.
Ever since his baby brother’s death, Matthew just cannot seem to get his hands or his room clean enough – germs are everywhere, no matter how much he washes and scrubs, and things have reached a point where Matthew can’t leave his house…or his room. The big front facing window of his house, and his own back yard facing room, give Matthew great vantage points from which to survey the goings on in his cul de sac, though, and Matthew keeps track of his neighbor’s movements with careful and detailed notes: time, place, etc. all duly noted. For their part, his neighbors (a wonderful cast of characters, each of whom are interesting and well crafted) see the pale boy who seems to wear cleaning gloves all the time and watches them furtively through his windows, as very, very, odd. And rather sad, too.
Needless to say, Matthew’s parents are terribly concerned and are determined to help. Just as he begins to see a specialist, the neighbor’s grandson vanishes, and Matthew now has another concern to worry and obsess about. His notebook and his noticings may finally be put to good use!
Lisa Storm is able to get into Matthew’s OCD mindset with great sensitivity and honesty. You feel Matthew’s discomfort with his compulsions, his struggle to try to understand why his mind is telling him to do things that he also knows he somehow ought not to do. I love the fact that his parents, although troubled and exasperated, love their son and make it clear that they want to help him. The Goldfish Boy is just a beautiful story – one that helps many of us understand what it’s like to be OCD, even as we read on to see how an engaging mystery is solved.
The main action in Hello, Universe takes place in the course of just one day, but Erin Entrada Kelly manages to weave a deeply moving portrait of the messiness, neediness and unpredictability that is being in middle school and trying to figure out who you are and how to fit in, when it seems as though you don’t fit in at all.
Here’s the jacket copy:
Virgil Salinas is shy and misunderstood.
Valencia Somerset is clever and stubborn.
Kaori Tanaka tells fortunes and reads the stars.
Chet “the Bull” Bullens is the biggest bully in the neighborhood.
They aren’t friends, they don’t go to the same school. But when Chet pulls an unthinkable prank on Virgil and Virgil’s pet guinea pig, Gulliver, the lives of these four middle schooler collide in surprising and unexpected ways.
There are a lot of funny parts in Hello, Universe, but also parts that will bring a lump to your throat. Virgil, for instance, has been nicknamed “Turtle” by his family, because he is so shy. Every time he hears this nickname, Turtle wishes he could say out loud what he feels out loud inside:
Don’t call me that.
It makes me feel like I’m six years old.
It makes me feel like a loser.
Erin Entrada Kelly has created a lovely story with characters that stay with you longer after you have finished reading.
Ruth Behar’s Lucky Broken Girl may well be my favorite book of the summer – it’s just one of those wise books that breaks your heart even as it heals.
Ruthie Mizrahi is a trying to adjust to her new home in America. She and her family have left Castro’s Cuba for the new life of promise that her father dreams of, even though he mother pines away for all they have left behind: their extended family, their traditional ways, and the warmth of being surrounded by the familiar and the well loved. Ruthie, though, is looking forward to new go go boots, new songs to learn, and being the neighborhood’s hop-scotch queen.
Just when it seems as though things are falling into place, a terrible car accident leaves Ruthie in a full body cast for a year, uncertain about ever being able to walk again. Through this experience she learns about patience, generosity and small acts of kindness and friendship that can transform hopeless and helpless days.
In the afterword, Ruth Behar writes that Lucky Broken Girl was her story – the story she “was supposed to forget”, because the experience had been so traumatic:
All those who have been wounded know what I mean. Maybe all who have been wounded know what I mean. Maybe all who’ve been wounded are told, as I was, “It could have been worse.” In other words don’t ask for too much sympathy. I remember feeling as a child that it was wrong to talk about my pain. Wrong to feel any pain. I buried the pain inside, where only I could feel it piercing me…I don’t anyone wait that long. Pain is Pain. Speak up. Tell your story.
Ruthie’s story speaks to all adults who have been broken in one way or another, and had to somehow make our journeys to a better place; but Ruthie’s story also speaks to children who might be experiencing brokenness in one way or another, and trying to find a way out. Ruthie’s story is one of healing and hope – I absolutely loved it.