Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: May 11, 2018 by Pajama Press (in Canada)
Book Description:

He’s a rescue, a mutt. Maybe there’s a little golden retriever in him, although he’s not exactly pretty. He’s had a run-in with coyotes and he’s missing an eye. But Mike is eleven-year-old Cara Donovan’s dog, and they love each other absolutely. Usually her pet follows Cara everywhere, but on the day the family first smells smoke in the air, Mike becomes anxious. Pine Grove is in the path of a wildfire, and the family is ordered to evacuate. In the ensuing chaos, Mike runs off. And then the unthinkable happens; there is no time to search for Mike. They are forced to leave him behind.

Shocked and devastated, Cara watches helplessly as the family drives through a nightmare, with burning debris falling from the sky and wild animals fleeing for their lives. Once in the city far from the burn zone, the Donovans are housed with a volunteer host family. Jewel, the hosts’ daughter, is nice, but Cara can only think about what she may have lost. What will happen if nothing is left? But as she reflects on what “home” means to her, Cara knows only one thing. She is not going to lose Mike. She will do what it takes to find him, even if it means going back to Pine Grove on her own.

The wildfires are bad this year
new ones popping up every day

It’s hard to tell how far away the smoke is
but the tightness in my gut
says it’s not far enough.

Canadian author Shari Green, author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel-in-verse Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, returns with Missing Mike, a middle grade novel (also in free verse) about a young girl’s unbreakable bond with her rescue dog Mike and what happens to Mike, her family, and their community when a devastating, seemingly unstoppable wildfire hits their town.

That’s when I saw Mike.
He wasn’t a puppy
and he wasn’t cute
but I was pretty sure
he needed somebody to love him.

We meet Cara Donovan and her dog, Mike (full name Mike Wazowski, after the famous monster), shortly before she and her family have to evacuate their home of Pine Grove (hours north from Vancouver) due to rapidly-spreading wildfires. In first-person narrative, Cara takes readers through the terror she, her older sister Sloane, and their mom and dad feel as they are faced with ten minutes to vacate their house. In the immediate sharpness and disorientation of the moment, Cara and her family quickly pack, taking their pre-prepared ‘just in case’ bags with whatever they think their must-have items could be. Cara, in the middle of brushing her beloved one-eyed rescue mutt, leaves Mike in their backyard, with the plan to take him to the car promptly after packing. The only thing is, when Cara goes back to their fenced-in backyard, Mike is gone: “Mike’s not in the yard / probably jumped clear over the lousy fence / searching for a cool spot / a not-so-smoky spot / a safe spot”. Cara pleads with her family to let her search for her best friend, but the utter urgency of their evacuation orders overrides everything. Even looking for a much-loved family member. We follow Cara and her family as they are taken in by a well-meaning, hospitable couple and their child Jewel, who becomes a friend and ally when Cara attempts, multiple times, to locate her dog. Woven in Missing Mike is Cara’s exercise- stemming from her love of crossword puzzles- in figuring out different words for home…and what ‘home’ really means in the midst of tragedy and displacement, while feeling and receiving kindness and warmth from strangers brought together in crisis. The main thread in Missing Mike, though, is that of Cara’s unyielding quest to, beyond all hope, find her much loved dog. Never resting, Cara is proactive in her multiple searches, helped by Jewel and even her strangely distant sister, providing readers with just enough small rays of hope to believe that her resilient dog Mike might just be out there, facing down coyotes and fires, waiting for his best friend to come back.

Overall, Missing Mike is a touching, lyrical story with the beautiful, boundless relationship of Cara and Mike as its core and achor. Shari Green’s writing style is effortless and candid, a perfect match for Cara’s natural and appropriately trusting, childlike narrative. Readers who love stories about human-animal bonds, children’s novels told in free verse, or middle grade titles that explore family dynamics and strength in facing adversity might find much to love about Missing Mike. Those who enjoy the writing of authors such as K.A. Holt, Katherine Applegate, Barbara O’Connor, Beth Vrabel or Alison Hughes might also want to check this moving middle grade novel out.

I received a copy courtesy of Pajama Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Review: Knockout by K.A. Holt

Review: Knockout by K.A. Holt
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 6, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Levi just wants to be treated like a typical kid. As a baby, he had a serious disease that caused him respiratory issues. He’s fine now, but his mom and overprotective brother still think of him as damaged, and his schoolmates see him as the same class clown he’s always been. He feels stuck. So when his dad-divorced from his mom-suggests he take up boxing, he falls in love with the sport. And when he finds out about a school with a killer boxing team and a free-study curriculum, it feels like he’s found a ticket to a new Levi. But how can he tell his mom about boxing? And how can he convince his family to set him free?

Surprise!
I make them laugh.
I make them point.
That way
the tightrope is mine
to control.

The excellence of middle grade literature continues! So far this year, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a number of terrific, moving, unique children’s fiction titles, and that train of awesome continued with my back-to-back reading of K.A. Holt’s House Arrest and Knockout. A companion novel-in-verse to 2015’s House Arrest, Knockout tells the story of twelve-year-old Levi Davidson as he begins a tumultuous and audacious year.

Knockout is told in the first-person narrative of Levi. We are introduced to Levi and his world as he sets himself up to begin grade seven alongside his best friend Tam. Levi and Tam met back in kindergarten and discovered commonalities: both were born premature at two pounds and required an inhaler. However, as Levi tells us, the differences are vast. Levi had a trach as a child; his life has been in and out of hospitals, with him still having to go for major annual checkups. His mom (divorced from his dad) and Timothy continue to hover and set boundaries, watching, warning, and pleading with Levi to be careful. To always be safe. When Levi’s dad suggest that Levi try a sport, he doesn’t expect to fall in love with boxing, but he does. Levi discovers a raw aptitude for boxing; surprising everyone with tenacity and lightening speed that make up for his lack of height and slight build. As Levi’s year marches on, he continues to hide boxing from Tam, his mom and brother-who would be terrified for his health- until one boxing accident lands him in the hospital, injured, vulnerable and with lies unveiled. As with House Arrest, Knockout is utterly compelling from opening to ending- Holt’s writing is beautiful and seamless. Levi’s voice is unforgettable here, and readers get to experience his fears, his mistakes with Tam, his highs, and hopes for a more independent future at a sports-focused school through dynamic and heartbreaking verse. Especially moving throughout the novel are the extraordinary moments and reveals between Timothy and Levi, which we get to read via their written exchanges to one another.

I take out an earbud
offer it to Timothy
and we listen together
head to head,
song after song,
the same music as always, and yet…
different now.

Overall, Knockout is terrific- profound, wise and funny, told in a blistering pace that wonderfully allows for both consequential and quiet moments to permeate. Readers who previously read and loved K.A. Holt’s House Arrest might definitely be itching to read more about the Davidson boys- and to find out what Timothy is up to in his twenties! It is probably not necessary to have read House Arrest prior to Knockout, though I personally loved having read Timothy’s story first and having been introduced to Levi when he was a baby. It’s a win either way to get to read two tremendous, affecting and memorable books! Readers looking for more novels in verse in the vein of Kwame Alexander, or those who like authors such as Kate Messner, Beth Vrabel, Leslie Connor or Lisa Graff might especially love K.A. Holt’s Knockout.

I received a copy of Knockout courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Booked by Kwame Alexander

BOOKED25897953Review: Booked by Kwame Alexander
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 5, 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Verdict: Excellent
Book Description:

Twelve-year-old Nick is a soccer-loving boy who absolutely hates books. In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel The Crossover , soccer, family, love, and friendship take center stage as Nick tries to figure out how to navigate his parents’ divorce, stand up to a bully, and impress the girl of his dreams. These challenges-which seem even harder than scoring a tie-breaking, game-winning goal-change his life, as well as his best friend’s. This energetic novel-in-verse by the poet Kwame Alexander captures all the thrills and setbacks, the action and emotion of a World Cup match!

Poet and author Kwame Alexander won the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Honor Award for his critically-lauded middle grade novel-in-verse The Crossover. In his latest novel, Booked, also told in verse, Alexander turns his eye to twelve year old Nick: master talent at word play and soccer star who is also having major upheavals in other areas of his life.

Nick has a few great things going on in his life: his soccer playing, his strong relationship with his Ping Pong playing mom, his loyal best friend Coby, the mentorship of a most fascinating librarian, and the possible interest of a classmate named April. On the flip side Nick has: a linguistics professor dad he can’t really understand (who makes Nick read his own authored dictionary), a few horrible classmates who physically and verbally bully him and Coby, and the hard realization that his parents marriage might just be over. In luminous and impressively constructed fashion that tackles a serious array of subjects, Alexander takes readers on an unputdownable journey with Nick as he navigates his way through some major, major highs, and serious lows. At once a story about sports, a young boy’s first steps into love, dealing with bullies, racism, standing up for friends, and coming to grips with parents as individuals, Booked is a full read; vivid and unforgettable- not to mention a brilliant study in how an author can play with form and language.

Overall, Booked is…flawless. Having had a hot and cold relationship with novels told in verse, I was both excited and terrified to read this work. Any doubts I had about how seamless, affecting and electrifying verse novels could be, were completely obliterated with this read. I read Booked in just about one sitting (sadly, life got in the way), and it is a joy of a reading experience. Readers looking for a meaningful, unrepeatable read, or those looking for a contemporary middle grade read revolving around family, sports, learning about love and growing up- I highly recommend giving Booked a try.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.