Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Number of pages: 208 pages
Published: February 1st, 2022
13-year-old Ava Marie Jones can't endure another moment on the pageant stage, despite her stepmom Ulga's insistence. Mustering her courage, she's finally decided to say, "no more!" Jumping off the stage, Ava makes a run for her favorite spot, the Cathedral tree, a three-hundred-year-old Sitka Spruce. It's a refuge of warmth and shelter, a place to escape. They're kindred spirits after all, both being orphaned. But this time when Ava enters her beloved tree, the ground gives out sending her spiraling downward, and ultimately being caught in the waiting arms of a boy, Duncan, from this mysterious and massive underground city. It seems Ava is now in the city of Xarcadia, a place filled with all of these curious shops, tall stone buildings and city walls made from the roots of her Cathedral tree. The people are even different than anything she's ever seen before, some glow, are blue, or have bow shaped eyebrows.
Once Ava recovers from the initial shock of her fall, Duncan begins to explain where she's crashed landed. At one time the people of Xarcadia lived above ground, amongst the mortals, but following a strife their leader, Ambrose brought them underground and formed the city for the Magites. Some Magites sent their children to experience the mortal world, but on their thirteenth birthday, the children return to Xarcadia, and are referred to as "The Lost One's." There is a huge celebration that they've been found and now returned to their true home. There is even a ball where their parents reveal themselves.
Ava has always felt different, out of place somehow, but this is more than she expected. Xarcadia is home to hundreds of different magical species, fairy, merfolk, vampire's, even witches. Each one having been registered or tagged at birth. However, when a scan is attempted on Ava's wrist, she doesn't show up in the registry. She's an anomaly, something that has never existed in their city before and is seen as a threat to the Magites. Not only can they not determine who she is, there is no way to know if her parents know of her return. The city is left with no way to determine who she belongs to and what species she is.
To keep an eye on Ava until a solution can be found, Ambrose decrees she should enroll in Linhollow Academy for the Supernaturally Gifted. He also assigns two rather large guards to track her every move. Ava hopes that while at this Academy she can learn more about her unexplained existence, what she is and just who her parents are. Along the way she makes some new friends who help her navigate the Academy and help her uncover her craft, Duncan (a vampire), Tara (a witch who writes for the Arat Asoraled, a secretive newspaper) and Colin Arion (a fairy and fellow Lost One). But trouble seems to be following Ava when some of the students are attacked and one is killed that appears to be linked to a Resistance group within the city that has ties back to Ava. Can the students uncover the truth?
I quite enjoyed reading The Impossible Girl. It has the feeling of reading something gloriously familiar. A little Alice in Wonderland, when Ava falls down through the hole ending up in a new place. Some Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger and Nevermoor Series by Jessica Townsend vibes, being a place filled with magical creatures, wonderous shops and a girl with hidden talents, above what would be typical. And maybe even a little Harry Potter for the exciting school. There are some familiar tropes, a girl who never knew her parents, has special magical abilities, and comes to the school for magical training. There's a clash between Magites and the Resistance. And even a prison that feels like Azkaban. Yet there is also a uniqueness in the story. The Academy is underwater, Ava is one of hundreds of different species and even the Assembly Games that they play are very different. I found myself rapidly turning pages to find out who or what was behind the killings. It's an exciting world to explore. Very atmospheric, detailed and wonderous. Ava makes for a lovely main character; she's flawed and longing for a place to be accepted. She goes on this journey to discover who she is and we're following right along. The friendships that develop are fun, and they experience many an adventure, it's the kind of book that I want to revisit, just to read it all again. And I'm hopeful that there will be more books in the future.
**A huge thank you to Monarch Educational Services for the ebook in exchange for an honest review.**
I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE
★“This gripping, fast-paced mystery comes together well, with Mika’s deductions based firmly in logic and connections based in her own clear observations…A thrilling and thoughtful period murder mystery.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
★“This English translation of Rundberg’s lively historical mystery…is something to celebrate…Joyous, funny, suspenseful, and serious—an unusual and winning combination for middle-grade readers. Let’s hope its three sequels appear in [A. A.] Prime’s English translation, too.” —The Horn Book (starred review)
“It’s a testament to the authors that none of the solutions comes easily — in any good mystery story, truth is a messy and painful business.” —The New York Times Book Review
New Girl (Ella at Eden #1) by Laura Sieveking, illustrations by Danielle McDonald
12-year-old Ella is following in her best friend Zoe's footsteps by attending the prestigious boarding school, Eden College. This is her first time being away from home, but having Zoe as a roommate makes her feel like she can finally settle in. Yet, things don't quite go as she had initially anticipated. Not only does she make a comment and laugh at a painting of fellow Year 7 student, Saskia's great-grandmother, but she also gets on the bad side of Year 7's housemistress and Vice Headmistress, Ms. Montgomery. How will she ever make amends? When items begin to go missing, and noises are heard in the hallway late at night, Ella puts her sleuthing skills to the test to catch the thief red-handed and hopefully show that she belongs at the school.
The main character in New Girl, Ella appears to be the same character across a few early readers/chapter books, namely the Meet Ella series, which continues with Ella and Olivia, the Ella Diaries series and now the Ella at Eden series. The first three early readers were written by different authors, with the Ella at Eden being written by Laura Sieveking. Danielle McDonald is the illustrator for all of book series. In all there are over 30 books. The reader can begin with the shorter easy readers and progress to the more advanced chapter books, following Ella as she grows up and begins her next chapter at boarding school.
New Girl makes for a fun boarding school story. Ella is confident and determined. She really misses her younger sister, Olivia and Ella often sends her an email, which the reader can read. Ella has a wide vocabulary and Sieveking ensures that the reader understands the more sophisticated words that Ella uses by providing the definition. For example, a word like antithesis, Ella would say "that's a fancy word for opposite." Ella really wants to get the best marks at school to maintain her scholarship and puts in the hard work to accomplish her goals. There's the day-to-day challenges of fitting in, attending classes, mixed in with the mystery of who's stealing items from the Year 7 students. There's even some late-night sneaking around the dormitory and sleuthing to find the culprit. The story reinforces the idea of not judging people too quickly and not making rash accusations until you understand the full picture. Overall, a fun adventure and I can see it appealing to fans who've read the earlier chapter books or who enjoy boarding book stories. The next book in the series is called The Secret Journal.
**A huge thank you to Kane Miller Publishing for the paperback in exchange for an honest review. **
I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge's blog HERE
Opening Lines: "You see people doing things they shouldn't. Sometimes you mind your own business. Other times you might say something, but it's hard to do that if you've just been caught red-handed yourself."
Ian's mom has just returned home from the hospital, with visible tape and gauze on her arm from an I.V. Ian suspects she had an accidental overdose, but the initial excuse is that she had work done on her back. No one is discussing the needle that's still in the living room, or even where she's been, but both his mom and Aunt Terry are curious about the big dog hanging out around the house.
While Ian's mom was away, the dog showed up on the porch eager for Ian to give him some food. Ever since, they've become inseparable, so Ian sort of adopted him. Now that his mom is back, he's sure that she'll want him to get rid of the dog, but somehow the conversation never comes up. Now that mom's home, Ian feels a few changes are in order. For one, he decides to quit the basketball team so he can get a job. If he ever wants to get his families car, barn and farm back up and running he really needs an income. Plus, this gives him the chance to be around and take care of his mom so she can hopefully beat her opioid addiction this time. The story takes place before Thanksgiving and runs through the holidays, chronicling all of Ian's struggles to find work, in school and with fixing up the house. Everything culminates in a personal tragedy that sends Ian and his dog on the run, with Ian vowing that no one will ever separate him from his dog.
I don't know what I initially thought when I saw the cover. I imagine that I thought this was a story about a boy and his beloved dog. Which it surely is, but it's also so much more. For me, it's about the title, which also happens to be Ian's adopted dogs name, Gather. Websters says that Gather means " to bring together or collect." Throughout the story, Ian intentionally or not gather's people around him. People who become a support system to him. There's his teacher, The Sharpe who takes care of her students by buying them snacks and offering her room as a refuge. A place where Ian can warm his pants after the rain, and a place where he can be "seen." Then there is the school nurse, who also keeps snacks for kids, and who keeps deodorant and extra clothing just in case they are needed. Then there are people in Ian's community who gather around him. Or as I like to think, all the special people that he attracts. The connections that he makes which each and every one of them is just beautiful. Be it his elderly neighbor who he does handy work for or even the owner of the coffee shop his mom works at, they all play a part in the story.
I found the initial pages of Gather to be very powerful in setting the scene of Ian and his mom's relationship. Neither of them knows how to discuss the important things going on at home, not the needle that shows up in the living room, or even where his moms been and why? It leaves Ian walking on eggshells, trying not to upset his mom by bringing up anything that might be stress inducing (like why she really lost her job) or anything that might cause her to have a relapse. Ian and his mom's relationship is also filled with misunderstandings, moments when Ian misinterprets certain events because he doesn't have the whole picture. Despite all the chaos at home, Ian is a resilient kid who strives for a better life for himself and his mother.
This is a story of homelessness, rural life, addiction and the importance of community. It is written in first person narrative with such an authentic voice, curses and all. The story meanders between the past and present, with Ian switching topics frequently to draw on past events, even veering from one idea to the next. I'm not usually a fan of a character "back tracking" or "getting ahead of themselves", but somehow it really worked in the story. Ian was forced into growing up so fast and took on so much responsibility. Sometimes, the story even felt like Ian's memoir or that you're reading his adult reflections on his youth. But always you feel Ian's hopes, dreams and desires for his future. This is an excellent book, thought provoking, builds empathy and I can certainly see why it's a National Book Award finalist for Young People's Literature. This story made a huge impact on me and it's a story that will stick with me for quite some time.
**A huge thank you to Candlewick Press for the review copy in exchange for an honest review.**