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Review Roundup: Tween and YA Books

February 8, 2015

The Swap
Megan Shull
Katherine Tegan Books, 400 pages
(got an advance review copy from the Book Expo)

I can see definite comparisons to Freaky Friday in this solid middle grade novel. Ellie and Jack are both having a rough time in middle school. She has Mean Girl evil frenemies. He has a dad who pushes military levels of hard discipline on him and his brothers playing hockey. As the terrible day they’re each having lands them in the nurse’s office… they get a chance at some perspective.  By switching bodies, somehow. And so Ellie-in-Jack suddenly has brothers and a shouting, militaristic Dad making her run miles and do push ups before breakfast… and Jack-in-Ellie’s perspective on dealing with the Mean Girl clique is refreshing.

I think a lot of the publicity and cover copy that focuses on the hockey and the slumber parties to play up the gender comedy of Ellie and Jack’s switched lives honestly sells the character development short. The chapters alternate between her head and his, to really see them articulate their own experiences as observers in each other’s lives. And the emotions seem real, and told in a balanced, smart way.

Zac and Mia
A.J. Betts
Text Publishing
306 pages
(review copy from the Book Expo)
I imagine this book is going to get compared to The Fault in Our Stars, because the two central characters have cancer. And because their banter and their quirks fly in the face of the maudlin story that a “cancer book” about “cancer kids” could tell.

I liked the side details of the farm where Zac lives- with the alpacas and the incursions of baby kangaroos, and his sister Bec.

I’m definitely not the book’s target audience, being some [redacted] amount of years older than Zac and Mia. And some of their narration and their choices made me cringe in a remembering-being-a-teenager way. Which just tells me the author got it right.

What is it about the appeal of cancer in YA? The Teen With Cancer has come a long way since I was reading Lurlene McDaniel in my own teenage years. The dialogue has certainly improved. I have a deep and abiding hatred of hospitals, and even I succumb to a teen-with-cancer book.

I Kill The Mockingbird
Paul Acampora
Roaring Book Press

A really fun little middle grade novel about three best friends, hashtags and a bookstore. Over the course of the summer, Lucy, Elena and Michael make a pact to draw more attention to the book To Kill a Mockingbird, to honor the memory of a beloved English teacher. They launch a goofy project combining Twitter hashtags and altogether clever uses of social media, with a stunt that’s sort of a prank, sort of a demonstration, sort of a crime but not really? I liked that the kids were quirky and very much themselves without it feeling forced. It’s a tiny, fast read of a novel, especially for someone older than the target audience. Although they got a lot done, with the friendship dynamics, and even some parent dynamics for Lucy, I was left feeling like the details of character had been rushed. (There was something about Elena alluded to from her past that left me feeling perplexed and kind of voyeuristically nosy for wanting to have it explained.)

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