Diane Colson

In Laura Tucker’s All the Greys on Greene Street, Ollie, a gifted artist, is content living with her artist parents in a loft in New York City. But then her father leaves for France, accompanied by a woman whom Ollie and her mother playfully nickname “Vooley Voo.” One week later, the playfulness has vanished, and Ollie’s mother will not get out of bed. Ollie strives for normalcy as she attends school, hangs out with her two best guy friends and goes to visit Apollo, her father’s partner in his art restoration business. Due to her mother’s urgent, hushed phone conversations and a desperate man who appears at their door, it becomes apparent that a mystery surrounds Ollie’s father and his departure, which coincided with the disappearance of a valuable piece of art. This is a lot for 12-year-old Ollie to puzzle out, and she becomes fiercely protective of her mother and refuses to accept the truth of her mother’s depression.

There is a beguiling naturalness to Tucker’s depiction of Ollie and her troubles. Ollie is observant and reflective, allowing the reader full access to her emotional upheaval. Her best friends are genuine and loyal but clumsy in their attempts to help. Apollo is kind but distantly adult. Perhaps the most lovely element of the book is the infusion of art: Ollie’s art, rendered in pencil drawings, is sprinkled throughout the book, and there are discussions of art technique, art in museums and, most instructively, the provenance of art displaced by war.

All the Greys on Greene Street is a poignant and well-structured debut novel that’s sure to satisfy young readers.

All the Greys on Greene Street is a poignant and well-structured debut novel that’s sure to satisfy young readers.

In The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, author Ashley Herring Blake (Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World  ) once again sensitively explores the intense emotions of adolescence.

In the aftermath of her heart transplant, 12-year-old Sunny decides to seize this second chance at life with gusto. But Sunny never could have imagined the adventures this new heart would afford her. First, there’s the reappearance of her missing biological mother, Lena, who left Sunny in the care of Lena’s friend Kate eight years earlier. But Lena exhibits little of the vigilant love that pours from Kate, and many of Sunny’s big questions about Lena remain unanswered. Then there’s the heartache lingering from Sunny’s former best friend’s betrayal. But this particular problem may be assuaged by the arrival of Quinn, a bright girl who cheerfully signs on as Sunny’s new BFF. 

This leads to the third big issue in Sunny’s life: kissing. Sunny is keen to have her first kiss. The problem is, she doesn’t like any of the boys she knows. When she dreams of that first kiss, Sunny dreams of kissing a girl.

Sunny is deeply reflective on the pain of parental abandonment and the taboo surrounding same-sex attraction, and she expresses her thoughts through song lyrics that she scatters about town. Her journey of self-discovery is authentic, peppered with fear and daring, mistakes and triumphs. This is a lovely novel for young readers who are exploring their own sexual orientations, as it honestly examines both the social risks and the happy potential for self-acceptance and romance. 

In The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, author Ashley Herring Blake (Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World  ) once again sensitively explores the intense emotions of adolescence.

Twelve-year-old Nisha and her twin, Amil, know little about their mother, who died while giving birth. But Nisha yearns for her nonetheless, and at night, Nisha pours her feelings into her diary entries, which are written as letters to her mother. At first, she writes of daily events such as Amil’s etchings and their father’s long days working as a doctor. But it’s 1947, and India has just won its independence from Britain, and soon Nisha’s life will change in ways she never could have imagined.

India is about to be partitioned into two countries based on religion. India will be for Hindus, while Muslims will live in the new country known as Pakistan. Nisha’s home will be part of Pakistan, and because her father is Hindu, their small family must travel cross-country to India by foot. The toll of the arduous journey is most eloquently expressed through Amil’s physical deterioration rather than an impersonal accounting of miles and terrain, and this process is particularly wrenching for Nisha as her mother was Muslim. Nisha is by nature quiet and reflective, and her diary reveals her deep emotional attunement to her family.

Overall, the important historical and political events that drive The Night Diary are believably muted through the lens of a girl with little exposure to the larger world, making this uniquely personal story similar to other portrayals of young refugees such as Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil.

Overall, the important historical and political events that drive The Night Diary are believably muted through the lens of a girl with little exposure to the larger world, making this uniquely personal story similar to other portrayals of young refugees such as Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil.

When Emily’s sister Holly died, she was buried with her beloved teddy bear, Bluey. Emily had entertained Holly throughout her short life with wonderful imaginings of Bluey’s adventures set in the fantasy world of Smockeroon. All of the stories about Bluey now seem lost to Emily—until the night something fantastic happens.

Emily discovers talking stuffed animals in Holly’s empty room and learns that they had once belonged to the son of Emily’s neighbor, a teen who died many years earlier. The toys speak of their world—the same world as Emily’s own imagined Smockeroon!—and describe it as a place where abandoned toys live and play with their deceased human owners. After hearing this, Emily becomes obsessed with the idea of connecting with Bluey in Smockeroon. She hopes that Bluey can connect her to Holly once again.

Emily’s interactions with the toys are charmingly portrayed. Even though 11-year-old Emily has just begun secondary school and is a bit old for toys, she is still child enough to thrill at their animated existence. British author Kate Saunders realistically portrays the arc of grief—from Emily’s initial unbearable longing to her reckless pursuit of Bluey—until she is finally willing to let the toys go. In an afterword, Saunders recounts the loss of her own son and the process of resurrecting his old toys through this novel. The Land of Neverendings is a sweet, funny story that will appeal to readers poised on the brink of separation from childhood toys, as well as those journeying through the grief process.

When Emily’s sister Holly died, she was buried with her beloved teddy bear, Bluey. Emily had entertained Holly throughout her short life with wonderful imaginings of Bluey’s adventures set in the fantasy world of Smockeroon. All of the stories about Bluey now seem lost to Emily, until the night something fantastic happens.

When a girl is left on the steps of the Mostly Silent Monastery in Washington, D.C., wearing a shirt adorned with a picture of a bicycle, the practical Sister Wanda names her Bicycle.

Living with Sister Wanda and the mostly silent monks, 12-year-old Bicycle has found a contented existence, which reaches near perfection when she rescues a battered bicycle, lovingly dubs it Clunk and spends every spare moment cycling around town. Sister Wanda, worried that Bicycle has no friends, arranges for her to attend a friendship camp. Dismayed, Bicycle plots out a cross-country route to San Francisco to see her cycling idol, Zbig Sienkiewicz, and slips away on trusty Clunk.

Bicycle’s subsequent adventures have a modern fairy-tale charm. She and Clunk encounter a succession of quirky yet good-hearted characters, such as Griffin, a Civil War-era ghost, and the chef Marie Petitchou. Each chapter captures a snapshot of Americana: Bicycle leads a horse to the finish line at the Kentucky Derby, is mowed down by pigs on parade in Missouri and crosses the Continental Divide. Readers willing to suspend disbelief and roll with the silliness are rewarded with an enriched understanding of America’s vast landscapes and more than a couple easy-to-digest life lessons.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

When a girl is left on the steps of the Mostly Silent Monastery in Washington, D.C., wearing a shirt adorned with a picture of a bicycle, the practical Sister Wanda names her Bicycle.

Brodie is a very good dog. He loves his boy wholeheartedly and will defend him with his life. That’s actually exactly how Brodie suddenly finds himself in a dog’s version of heaven, a place with wide expanses of grass for endless running, rolling and playing with other happy dogs. This is a transitional world, the place where dogs chill after they have died in our world and before they are ready to go to the Forever place. But something’s not right here for Brodie. He’s not interested in moving on to Forever. He wants to go back to his boy.

Author Dan Gemeinhart vividly captures the physical sensations of a dog’s existence. Brody senses before he thinks; his narrative flows in visceral waves of experience. These sensory pleasures are no match for the emotional sturdiness of Brodie’s good heart. Although he has no memory of his own death, he knows that he left his boy in a dangerous situation. Despite being warned that Brodie could lose his soul forever if he returns to our earthly world, Brodie takes the plunge—accompanied by an affable pit bull and appropriately snarky cat—and discovers that there are new dangers he must face while navigating the world in a ghost body. Other ghostly, yet evil animals are eager to devour their fresh souls. And Brodie has only pieces of memory to lead him back to his boy. In the end, this story is a beautifully rendered homage to the bond between lonely children and their devoted pets.

Brodie is a very good dog. He loves his boy wholeheartedly and will defend him with his life. That’s actually exactly how Brodie suddenly finds himself in a dog’s version of heaven, a place with wide expanses of grass for endless running, rolling and playing with other happy dogs. This is a transitional world, the place where dogs chill after they have died in our world and before they are ready to go to the Forever place. But something’s not right here for Brodie. He’s not interested in moving on to Forever. He wants to go back to his boy.

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