It’s only a game. It only resolved tiny, insignificant things. Such as who gets validation. Who gets listened to. It allocates power and draws boundaries and turns some people into stars and others into spectators. That’s all.
Unless you count The Mighty Ducks and my pre-teen crush on Joshua Jackson in the 1990s (and then again on Dawson’s Creek-don’t even try to convince me that Dawson was better than Pacey, because he wasn’t), I am really not a hockey fan. Beartown by Fredrik Backman changed that. Sort of. This book is about hockey, but it’s really about the culture around sports, teams, and the lengths people are willing to go to so they have something to root for. I cared about hockey in this book, I cared about the players, and I really cared about how they reacted as a community to a horrible event. This isn’t like A Man Called Ove at all, but it is powerful, and has Backman’s trademark way of just nailing humanity. Young, old, and in between, he calls it like he sees it, and it’s so honest.
Beartown is a tiny community in the middle of a forest. City access isn’t nearby. The only thing the town has going for it is its junior hockey league. The team is getting ready to compete in a huge tournament, and if they win, there’s a huge chance a big practice rink will be built in their town, bringing in much-needed revenue. When a young girl is the victim of a violent act, it affects the entire town and puts the hockey team in a shaky position. The town has to come together to move forward, but a clear line is drawn when not everyone is willing to support the young girl. Will the team come first, or will the town realize that sometimes an individual needs to win?
I have never seen the culture of sports, from best to worst, good and terrible, handled so elegantly. Backman is one of the best writers, maybe ever, and he gets sports in a small town exactly right. It doesn’t matter if it’s hockey, football, or baseball, or what country that small town is in: sports can be everything, and people will give up quite a bit, even their integrity, to support their team. Beartown also ties in and addresses the biggest fear every parent has: Can we ever really protect out children? The answer is a resounding no, but it’s not black and white. If we can’t protect our children, then what should our reaction be when they are hurt? What should other people’s reactions be? How much should we expect of our children? Sports culture, community, and family are wound together in this story, and Backman shows how they are and always will be linked together.
Beartown is not always easy to read, and in the hands of a lesser author I would have skipped over several scenes. But Backman’s writing and storytelling is so compelling that I couldn’t put it down. I had to keep reading, and he handled the most difficult scenes with grace. There’s nothing clumsy (or accidental) about Backman’s writing, and he does this story justice. Please, please read this book. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and you will walk away with your heart on the floor and a lot of think about.
One particular incident in this book is a potential trigger. (There is a rape.) This is normally a trigger for me, as I really dislike when authors use rape as a form of entertainment. However, the way Backman wrote it wasn’t over the top or sensationalized. It was real and didn’t drag on for many pages as a form of entertainment. Just be aware that it is there, but it’s written very sensitively.
Thank you to the Kid Lit Exchange network for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own!
Out August 21, 2018!
News flash: fat isn’t a bad word, Mom. . . . I have blue eyes. I have blonde hair. I’m fat. Literally nothing about my life is changed because that word is associated with my physical appearance.
Y’all, YA authors have been hitting it out of the park lately with body-positive, non-traditional main characters lately. To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin is no exception. A beautiful, smart, funny, fat main character? Yes, please!!! (“Newsflash: Fat isn’t a bad word.”) At the risk of sounding preachy, I just want to say how important it is that these books exist, and how much I wish they had existed when I was growing up. Books like this aren’t advocating for kids to be unhealthy (an argument I have heard before, or I wouldn’t be mentioning it). They are advocating for kids (mostly girls, because there’s such a huge diet culture aimed directly at females) to love who they are, their size, and what they look like RIGHT NOW. Not later. Not, “once I’ve done such and such.” To love themselves right here and right now. Fat isn’t a bad word, and it’s also not a determining factor in personality, brains, or success. I cannot stress how important this is, and I think everyone, young and old and older, should be reading and embracing these books and themselves. Alright. On to the review.
Savannah (Savvy) is not looking forward to the next year. Her sister and best friend just left for her first year at college, and Savvy is stuck at home with her weight-loss-show contestant mom. In addition to losing an unhealthy amount of weight on the show, she is now obsessed with remaining thin, eating the least amount of food possible, and dragging Savvy into that lifestyle. Meanwhile, Savvy has a new friend/crush in George, the new kid at school. Between her mom’s concerning behavior, her love life, and trying to be a normal teenager in the process, Savvy is juggling quite a bit. The story is about Savvy finding her own happiness amidst insecurities, her mom’s unhappiness, and figuring out who she really is as a person.
This book is wonderful. Wonderful! On the surface it’s a YA romance, but the story goes much deeper than that, in a way that’s easy for younger readers to relate to. I loved seeing the development and breakdown of the mother/daughter relationship (and the not so thinly veiled sendup of The Biggest Loser, an extremely harmful show) and how realistically Martin portrays the slow healing of a damaged maternal relationship. She really stresses the importance of how our kids see us versus how we see ourselves, which rarely matches up. Before the reality show, Savvy saw her mother as strong and beautiful, and all she wants is for her mom to look at herself through that lens. (Something we could all stand to do.) Savvy also love the way she looks. She does not apologize for being a certain size, and she displays only a few normal insecurities that anyone might have.
As for the romance . . . it’s a sweet plot, and Martin handled it perfectly for middle grade and up readers. I love that looks aren’t ignored (there’s no way for looks not to be involved in the beginning of relationships, especially in a teen YA romance novel), but aren’t the main focus, either. It’s about how Savvy and George support each other and how they make each other feel. Being cute is just the YA icing on top.
My only complaint about To Be Honest is that I wish it was longer! There were some wonderful sub-plots that would have been even better if they’d had a few more pages devoted to them, and Savvy’s relationships with her mom and dad would have benefitted from a few more in-depth scenes. However, this book is perfect as a middle school and teen book and as a body-positive story (more fat girls in lead roles with the focus not being on their weight, please). I would truly recommend it to anyone ages 11 and up. You need it in your life!!
This would be a great companion read with Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. (Read my review of that HERE.) I don’t often make read-alike comparisons, because that’s too much pressure to place on a book! The writing styles of these two books are different, but they both send the same message of being with who you are, not just how you look.
As if how you feel about your family ever makes any sense at all. I should know better than most. Because forgiveness is exactly what I gave my own parents years ago.
The Book of Essie by Meghan Maclean Weir was my Book of the Month selection for June. I almost didn’t choose it, but Annie Jones from The Bookshelf recommended it as a weird, good but not great, and interesting book, especially if you’ve watched reality shows like the Duggars before. (Full disclosure: I absolutely have.) And it was exactly what she said it was: entertaining, very readable, good but not great. This is a good choice for a summer beach read if you want something entertaining or to snuggle under a blanket and read about someone else’s crazy life.
The story is about Esther Ann Hicks, or Essie, and her family. They are super religious, the head of a mega church, and their lives are documented on a reality TV show called Six for Hicks. When Essie’s mom finds out that she’s pregnant, they must decide if, when, and how they’re going to reveal this to the public. While it seems as if Essie’s life is being manipulated out of her control, she’s quietly planning something bigger behind the scenes. With a new friend, Roarke, and a TV show host with her own interesting past, Liberty Bell, Essie plans to discover the truth of her family’s past and reveal her own way to freedom.
If this sounds like 19 Kids and Counting, the reality show about the Duggar family . . . that’s because it’s very clearly taking a lot of elements from that show. And I’m here for it. In my opinion, the first two-thirds of the book was a little slow, but I still wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to Essie’s family and what Essie was planning. The writing isn’t bad, the story just wasn’t as thrilled as I wanted it to be. However. The last 110 pages of the book? They made the entire book worth the read. As in, I kept saying, “Whoa. Whoa!” I don’t want to describe anything in particular so that I won’t ruin the story, but I will say that the story resolves in a very satisfying (but also weird) way.
If you like the dynamics of family reality TV shows or are interested in books centered around cults, I think The Book of Essie is worth a read. I wish the entire book had been as compelling as the last third, but that last third is a doozy and I flew through it!
There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.
I read a lot of Young Adult literature. I love it, and some of it is more well-written than adult books. I have never read one that is so body positive, with a character that not only has an amazing attitude but isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, as Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Murphy is now going to be an auto-buy author for me, and I ordered all of her books after reading this. Dumplin’ is what I want all YA books to be: funny, insightful, honest, and entertaining.
Willowdean Dickson (nicknamed Dumplin’ by her mother) is the daughter of a former beauty queen and pageant winner. She is also fat, outspoken, and proud. She’s happy with her body and her life (for the most part), and she goes through life with her best friend, Ellen. When a new boy named Bo starts working at the same place Willowdean works, she is immediately attracted to him. Surprising to her? He likes her back. For the first time, Will doesn’t feel so confident, and wonders why he would like her. To gain back her confidence and prove to herself (and everyone else . . . and her mom) that she is worthy of everything good in her life, she decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant. Everyone is shocked that someone who is not a typical pageant contestant would even enter, but Will inspires a movement that changes the view of everyone in the town. And, more importantly, reasserts her faith in herself.
The plot in Dumplin’ is so good, but it’s the characters who I really love. Willowdean is so real. Her characters doesn’t feel forced at all. Everything she says and every action she takes feels like exactly the right thing for her character. All I really want to do is find the adult version of her and be friends with her. I love that she doesn’t shrink into the background and basically says, “screw you” to all the jerks in the novel by doing the least expected think of all: entering the pageant. She does it unapologetically and not as a joke or with the goal of making a huge deal about it: she does it for herself.
And we can just talk about body positivity for a minute or ten? In my experience, there are very few novels that portray actual overweight characters in a positive way. They are usually quiet or mean, and are always side characters. Here we have an overweight main character who is proud of herself, happy with herself, and doesn’t spend the majority of the novel lamenting her size. Yes, she’s real, and while she is comfortable and confident in her body, she’s also ashamed at times. Everyone can relate to that feeling, no matter what size they are. But she doesn’t let it get in the way and doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on it. This is all about confidence, and how much we can actually accomplish in our lives if we stop getting in our damn ways with negative thoughts. I am here. For. It.
If you love YA, or if you’re not sure you love YA, or if you have a middle grade to high schooler in your house, please get Dumplin’ (and the sequel, Puddin’, which should be arriving at my house soon) and read it. Have your kids read it. It’s entertaining and fun, but it’s also an important commentary on how girls are “supposed” to see themselves in public, and how they should see themselves. How we all should see each other: as human beings capable of accomplishing anything we want to do. Size is not important here, just heart.
Love is an enchantress—devious and wild. It sneaks up behind you, soft and gentle and quiet, just before it slits your throat.
Today happens to be the last day of Summer Solstice, which plays a huge role in this book!
I want to stand on a rooftop somewhere (but like, a nice rooftop with a garden, not a dirty one filled with A/C units) and yell my undying love for The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. It’s not quite magical realism, and it’s not quite fantasy, but it’s a fantastic combination of the two, and I will be the first in line for Ernshaw’s next book.
Two hundred years ago, the three Swan sisters were sentenced to death by drowning for being witches. Ever since, the town of Sparrow has been cursed. Every summer during the Summer Solstice, Swan season begins. The sisters return from the sea, take over the bodies of three girls in the town, and lure boys to their deaths in the water. Penny Talbot has ignored Swan season and the boys who die every year. But when Bo Carter shows up, Penny tries to protect him from the danger he’s unaware surrounds the town. Penny must choose whether to save Bo or herself, and whether she can trust Bo with the deepest of secrets.
This book is immediately addicting. The storyline is mysterious, fast-paced, and very well written. I won’t compare anyone to the queen of magical realism, Alice Hoffman, but there are some very strong Practical Magic vibes here. (In a wonderful way, not in a copycat way at all.) The entire book is unique, and quite different from other witchy novels that I’ve read before in that it balances a fine line between mystery, magic, romance, and paranormal activity. I don’t know how Ernshaw did it, but she’s written a pretty perfect book.
If you want a great, witchy mystery, definitely add The Wicked Deep to your summer reading list. I was absolutely transported to the town of Sparrow, and it’s a fun, immersive book to disappear into on a summer afternoon. (And today is the last day of Swan season, so it might be the perfect day to start reading this book!)
For fans of: The Hazel Wood, Practical Magic[Top]