Ashes to Asheville.
By Sarah Dooley.
Apr. 2017. 256p. Putnam, $16.99 (9780399165047).
Five years have elapsed since 12-year-old
Fella and her teenage sister, Zany, left Asheville, and now they’re headed back, sneaking
out late at night with Mama Lacy’s ashes and
racing to get there in time for what would
have been her fortieth birthday. They left
Asheville for West Virginia to be near family as Mama Lacy battled
pancreatic cancer, but after
Lacy’s death, Fella’s biological grandmother fought for
her in court and won, separating her from Zany and
Mama Shannon. Now the
two girls are essentially on
the lam. A chance meet-up
with a stranger who steals Lacy’s ashes turns
into an unexpected friendship with Adam,
whose own father is on his deathbed—dying
of cancer, too. There’s so much unspoken between the two sisters, but particularly painful
for Zany is the financial ease that Fella lives
in with Mrs. Madison, while she and Mama
Shannon struggle to get by. Dooley’s portrait of two sisters still struggling with grief
and huge life changes makes for a powerful,
absorbing read. As the girls’ road trip turns
treacherous, readers will anxiously turn the
pages, hoping for a happy ending. The court
battle for Fella’s custody shows the extent to
which state battles over same-sex marriage
create fissures in families and have an enduring and tragic impact on the lives of young
people. A tender, touching, and timely read.
Bayberry Island: An Adventure about
Friendship and the Journey Home.
By Henry Cole. Illus. by the author.
May 2017. 176p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, $16.99
(9780062245519); e-book (9780062245526). Gr. 2–4.
The adventures begun in Brambleheart
(2016) continue as chipmunk Twig endeavors to return the baby dragon, Char, to his
home with the help of Lily, a rabbit, and
Basil, a weasel. As the four friends set sail
on the Spirit, they grow concerned for the
well-being of Char, who is listless and not
eating. A sense of urgency descends on the
group, which pulls together as a team to
navigate their tiny ship and get Char home.
Obstacles—some minor, some dramatic—
impede their progress, but kindly creatures
met along the way always lend a hand.
Cole has an excellent sense of how to write
a compelling adventure for young or sensitive readers. Gentle suspense is woven into
scenes to keep the plot moving forward,
but the story is firmly anchored in its warm
portrayal of friendship. Storms, shipwreck,
betrayal—all are surmountable with friends
by your side. Adding to the story’s charm are
Cole’s pencil illustrations, softly depicting
the small animals’ bravery in a huge, unpredictable world. A sweet, satisfying adventure.
Ben’s Revolution: Benjamin Russell and
the Battle of Bunker Hill.
By Nathaniel Philbrick. Illus. by Wendell
May 2017. 64p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, $17.99
(9780399166747). Gr. 2–4.
Based on events in the author’s adult history Bunker Hill (2013), this illustrated
chapter book focuses on the true story of
Benjamin Russell, a 13-year-old Bostonian boy who enjoyed helping his father’s
friend, the printer Isaiah Thomas. Ben was
an early witness to the American Revolution,
including the Boston Tea Party, and even
admonished a British officer for ruining his
friends’ icy sledding run down Beacon Hill.
Naturally, when war broke out, he and his
curious friends followed General Percy’s brigade across the bridge to Cambridge. They
soon realized that the British had sealed off
Boston, leaving them stranded and away
from family. Philbrick’s episodic narration
and Minor’s realistic, engaging paintings
combine to depict Ben’s experiences as a clerk
for militiaman Israel Putnam and his assistance in the Battle of Bunker Hill. The book
concludes with Ben’s “honorable discharge,”
his reunion with family, an apprenticeship
with Isaiah Thomas, and a presentation of
the Declaration of Independence. Younger
advanced readers and budding history buffs
will enjoy this account of Benjamin Russell’s
youthful exploits. —Angela Leeper
The Bonaventure Adventures.
By Rachelle Delaney.
May 2017. 288p. Penguin/Puffin, $16.99
(9780143198505); e-book (9780143198529). Gr. 4–7.
Twelve-year-old Sebastian (“Seb”) has
grown up in a traveling circus founded by
his father, ringmaster Dragan Konstantinov.
Everyone assumed that Seb would inherit
Dragan’s incredible aerial abilities, but it has
become increasingly evident that Seb has no
circus talent at all. Even so, he loves the life,
but dwindling crowds may spell the end of the
Konstantinov Family Circus. In desperation,
Seb applies to Montreal circus school Bonaventure Academy in hopes of learning how
to revitalize his father’s failing show. Delaney
takes a realistic approach to the circus—no
magic or curiosities here—proving it’s quite
enthralling in its own right. At the story’s
heart is Seb’s personal journey to find his
true talent, something made possible with
the help of a kind teacher and new friends
Banjo (a slackline performer) and Frankie
(parkour aficionado). Delaney deftly juggles
themes of friendship, personal growth, and
tradition versus modernization within a
well-paced narrative. The friends’ adventures
around the school, located in an old cathedral, and suspicions that Bonaventure might
be in trouble make for a captivating read.
By Stewart Foster.
May 2017. 352p. Simon & Schuster, $16.99
(9781481487429). Gr. 4–7.
Eleven-year-old Joe Grant has no recol-
lection of being outside of his specially
monitored hospital room. A rare genetic
disorder, severe combined immunodeficien-
cy, keeps him within the
same four walls because the
smallest thing can kill him.
Joe’s world revolves around
monitor beeps and daily
bruise checks in the show-
er, and the only people he
sees are doctors, nurses, his
Skype pal Henry, and Beth,
his sister and only living family member.
Though he’s a rabid fan of Arsenal Football
Club and Spider-Man, Joe only has limited
exposure to the outside world, via one win-
dow and technology—his TV, laptop, and
phone. His imagination creates involved
scenarios of what his life could be outside of
the hospital, and when a new nurse, Amir,
shows up, Joe’s life changes dramatically in
ways he’d only dreamed of. Joe’s hopeful and
unaffected voice gently reminds readers not
to take even mundane things for granted
and that he understands his lot in life even
if he doesn’t fully accept it. Alternating be-
tween lighthearted and heart-wrenching
scenes and emotions, Bubble’s star power
lies in Joe himself. His uplifting relation-
ships with Amir and Beth, who never lets
the demands of medical school come be-
tween her and her brother, meaningfully
unfold as Joe experiences the world from the
inside looking out. A perfect pick for read-
ers who loved R. J. Palacio’s Wonder (2012).
Continued on p. 54