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#PubDayTuesday ARCs Book Reviews

#PubDayTuesday | ARC Review: Camp Famous by Jennifer Blecher

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Thank you to Greenwillow Books and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Camp Famous is OUT NOW!

"Camp Famous" by Jennifer Blecher (cover)
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: The Princess Diaries meets Harriet the Spy when Abby—the most ordinary girl in the world—finds herself undercover at a summer camp for famous kids. From acclaimed author Jennifer Blecher, Camp Famous is an accessible and fun summertime adventure about fitting in, being brave, and letting others see who you truly are. Camp Famous is pitch-perfect for anyone who loves Disney’s Camp Rock.

Eleven-year-old Abby Herman is beyond excited that her parents are letting her go to summer camp for the first time ever. Maybe camp will be the place she’ll finally find what she’s always wanted: a best friend. But—surprise!—she’s not going to just any summer camp, she’s going to Camp Famous, the one exclusively for famous kids escaping the spotlight.

Desperate to fit in with the pop stars, princesses, and geniuses, Abby creates a fake identity as a famous author. Everything goes as planned: the other girls welcome her, she participates in camp activities, and she even inspires a pop star! But as camp comes to a close, Abby finds herself torn between who she has pretended to be and who she truly is.

 

REVIEW: An ordinary girl attending a summer camp for famous kids instantly drew me in. What a fun summer camp story about friendship and being your true self! It was easy to relate to Abby and her desire to fit in, be accepted, and make friends easily as everybody else.

The difference between Abby and the other kids presents a compelling juxtaposition of perception versus reality. Abby feels compelled to lie about her identity in order to fit in. She already has preconceived notions about celebrities and is adamant that pretending to be a famous writer will help her chances of making friends. Minus the lying, Abby’s actions are genuine

I liked getting to know some of the other campers. At Camp Famous, these kids are getting the summer camp experience and a break from the spotlight and people who think they know them but actually don’t. For a few secluded weeks, these famous children can be their true selves. To just breathe and be kids. I felt bad for one girl in Abby’s cabin whose mother has clearly been exploiting her for fame and fortune without her consent. The reality these child celebrities display is that they are still just like other kids with thoughts, feelings, and wishes. Slowly, Abby begins to see this in her interactions and discussions with them. I think it also helped that there’s variety in what each camper is famous for that kids of today connect to (i.e., inventing slime, viral dances).

I would love to read a story of how Abby navigates her new friendships with famous people in the real world. The ending was great and I think set up the right conditions for a sequel.

Camp Famous was endearing, enjoyable, and unputdownable!


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#PubDayTuesday ARCs Book Reviews

#PubDayTuesday | ARC Review: Wildseed Witch by Marti Dumas

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Thank you to Amulet Books and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Wildseed Witch is OUT NOW!

"Wildseed Witch" by Marti Dumas (cover)
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary Fantasy
Series: Wildseed Witch #1
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
Recommend to Others?: No

ABOUT: A fun middle-grade contemporary fantasy with an all-BIPOC cast, about a social-media-loving tween who gets sent to an ultra-private witch camp.

Hasani’s post-seventh-grade summer to-do list is pretty simple: get a bigger following for her makeup YouTube channel and figure out how to get her parents back together. What she does NOT expect is that an emotional outburst will spark a latent magical ability in her. Or that the magic will be strong enough to attract the attention of witches. Or that before she can say #BlackGirlMagic, she’ll be shipped off on a scholarship to a fancy finishing school for talented young ladies.

Les Belles Demoiselles is a literal charm school. Here, generations of young ladies from old-money witch families have learned to harness their magic, and alumnae grow to become some of the most powerful women across industries, including politicians, philanthropists, CEOs, entrepreneurs—and yes, even social media influencers. Needless to say, admission to the school is highly coveted, very exclusive . . . and Hasani sticks out like a weed in a rose bouquet.

While the other girls have always known they were destined to be witches, Hasani is a Wildseed––a stray witch from a family of non-witches, with no background knowledge, no way to control her magic, and a lot to catch up on. “Wildseed” may be an insult that the other girls throw at her, but Wildseeds are more powerful than they know. And Hasani will learn that there are ways to use magic and thrive that can never be taught in a classroom.

 

REVIEW: Wildseed Witch was a good story but left me with mixed feelings.

I loved that this book takes place at a charm school for young witches to learn to control their magic (“Charm, not magic.”) and eventually become powerful women in high-profile positions. It’s enhanced by being located in New Orleans, Louisiana and backdropped by the rich Louisiana Creole history.

The unique setting mixes with the classic outcast trope in which Hasani is a (potentially overpowered) wildseed among “normal,” generational witches. The people who pass through this school have a distinct idea about what a witch should be like, who counts as a witch, and the use of magic. Hasani is at a disadvantage economically, socially, and culturally the moment she accepts the invitation to attend Les Belles Demoiselles.

Up until then, she didn’t even know magic or witches existed. She is a wildseed among elitists attending a private school (figuratively, only for witches). She doesn’t have the benefit of learning from an experienced witch/relative. She’s not forewarned about the negative perception people tend to have about wildseeds.

Hasani’s time at the school is rough and disheartening. There were too many unlikable characters. Most of the girls were either outright mean or followers to the popular girls. Only was real with her. Hasani is belittled and talked down to even by a few of the teachers as an ignorant wildseed. Some judgements about certain mishaps Hasani had were harsh or uncalled for, such as when she found out her dad was getting married and lost control of her magic again. And she just had to accept these criticisms and play the game in order to graduate and be a belles demoiselles.

I somewhat liked Hasani’s character. I think she’s a relatable tween of today. I love her enthusiasm towards growing her makeup YouTube channel. But it was hard to continue to like and root for her as she kept making clearly bad/rash decisions (plus ignoring sound advice) about fitting in at school, her parent’s divorce, dad’s unexpected girlfriend, and her YouTube channel.

About halfway through the story the charm school part ends and Hasani focuses on her channel and getting her parents back together. From then on, the story felt over, like what could happen now? Nothing noteworthy really happened, which left me feeling disconnected. I kind of wish the story took place predominantly at the charm school.

Wildseed Witch was a miss for me. There are things that were done well and that I liked, such as the cats and how each person had their own flower. I loved the setting and the fact that this was an all-BIPOC cast. And the cover art is stunning! But I don’t have much interest in reading book 2. Based on the ending, I don’t know what more there could be to the story. It felt like the story was dissatisfying-ly over over.


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Book Reviews

Book Review: Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

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"Falling Short" by Ernesto Cisneros (cover)
Image via Goodreads

Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: A novel about two best friends who must rely on each other in unexpected ways.

Isaac and Marco already know sixth grade is going to change their lives. But it won’t change things at home–not without each other’s help.

This year, star basketball player Isaac plans on finally keeping up with his schoolwork. Better grades will surely stop Isaac’s parents from arguing all the time. Meanwhile, straight-A Marco vows on finally winning his father’s approval by earning a spot on the school’s basketball team.

But will their friendship and support for each other be enough to keep the two boys from falling short?

 

REVIEW: Falling Short is the literal embodiment of friendship goals. Cisneros’ sincere writing quickly endears us to two unlikely best friends whose steadfast support for one another is tested as they learn to navigate sixth grade.

Marco is a very sweet and intelligent boy who wants to join the basketball team to gain his father’s approval. He’s so precious that it made me furious that his sports-obsessed father pretty much wanted nothing to do with Marco because Marco’s behavior and interests weren’t masculine enough. Marco is perfect the way he is.

Issac is athletic, friendly, and outgoing. He’s determined to do better in school, so that he can make his mom proud and not let her down anymore. He’s got a good heart, but his impulsiveness and absentmindedness sometimes get him into trouble. I appreciate Issac’s honest effort to do better.

The bond between Marco and Issac is beautiful and demonstrates what real friends do, say, and make you feel. Both of their parents are divorced and they both have strained relationships with their father. I loved how comfortable they feel with being open and honest with each other whenever they’re going through a tough time – whether it’s about school or home life. Opposites attract and, in this case, form a profound friendship and unwavering support system.

Falling Short exceeded my expectations. Over the course of the story, the main characters (and reader) learn a lot about themselves and what matters most to them. Traversing middle school for the first time and dealing with complicated family matters are arduous tasks to do all at once, so I was wholeheartedly rooting for Issac and Marco to overcome these obstacles. A lot of heart, humor, and realness permeate the story that make it easy for the reader to connect with the characters.

This story was nothing short of wonderful.

CW: alcoholic parent, toxic masculinity by a parent


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Book Reviews

Book Review: Blended by Sharon M. Draper

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"Blended" by Sharon M. Draper (cover)
Image via Goodreads

Genre: Middle Grade
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?”

Eleven-year-old Isabella is used to these kinds of comments – her father is black, her mother is white – but that doesn’t mean she likes them. And now that her parents are divorced (and getting along WORSE than ever), Isabella feels more like a push-me-pull-me toy.

One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. If you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

 

REVIEW: Isabelle (Izzy) feels torn by her parents’ divorces, which in turn splits her identity. Also, for the first time, she becomes acutely aware of being biracial.

Izzy is such a sweetheart and a very relatable kid. I love how much music brings her joy. She’s a talented pianist who finds solace in playing when everything else around her doesn’t make sense.

Izzy clearly loves both her parents. It’s good that she also has a positive relationship with her dad’s girlfriend and her son. But Izzy hates when her parents fight and dreads the exchange day. She doesn’t like going back and forth between houses every Sunday because it makes her feel like a visitor. No place is home anymore.

It’s sad to see her grin and bear it when inside she’s full of chaotic and confusing emotions. Additionally, she’s starting to notice how race dictates how others may treat people like her.

Blended is an engaging story and had me deeply invested in everything Izzy was experiencing in her new normal.

One thing that left me stumped was the climax and its aftermath. The story built up to this intense moment that was incredibly painful to read. This unfortunately is something that happens to Black people and a real fear some people have. So you’ve reached the height of the story and then, instead of a gradual descent of falling action and resolution, it’s this rushed and unsatisfying ending. I thought there’d be more I guess? From a storytelling pov, things wrapped up in a way that to me lessened the impact of the climax and made me question why? There are a few silver linings that point to quite possibly a better tomorrow and change. I’m just not sure what to make of where things ended for Izzy after everything she experienced.

I really did enjoy this story, Izzy’s character, and how the author tackled children of divorce, race and society. But I have mixed feelings about the ending.

CW: racism, police brutality

Favorite Quotes:

  • (p.18-19) “Yeah, they love me and all that, but it doesn’t stop them from slicing my life in half every seven days and then acting like that’s normal or something. Every Monday I wake up in a different bed than the one I slept in the week before. I hate that! Birds make nests in trees, right? One nest. One tree. Who ever heard of a robin moving her eggs every week to a new tree? That’d be crazy, right? Yep. Crazy. Welcome to my life.”
  • (p.61) “I never say ‘I’m going home’ anymore. It’s ‘I’m going to my mom’s.’ Or ‘I’m going to my dad’s.’ Going. Not staying. Actually, it’s not funny at all.”
  • (p.63) “I’ve colored the Mom weeks with green highlighter. And Dad weeks with neon orange. Twenty-six for each one. Split exactly in half. Know what’s sad. There are no weeks for me.”

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Book/Library Hauls

Scholastic Book Fair Haul ❤📚

It’s the last book fair of the school year at work this week and, like all the many times before, I couldn’t help picking up a few new books.

If you ever had a Scholastic Book Fair at your school when you were a kid, it’s always an exciting time. Those are fond memories from my school days, browsing through the catalog and then later finding your order neatly packaged on your desk. Good times, good times! Now, as an adult who works in a school, that same excitement is still there.

There were a lot of great selections this time around that made it so hard to choose! But after much contemplation, I happily chose to get the three middle grade books pictured below:

@thebookshelfcorner

📖 ABOUT THE BOOKS 📖

Join the Club, Maggie Diaz by Nina Moreno, Illustrated by Courtney Lovett

"Join the Club, Maggie Diaz" by Nina Moreno, Illustrated by Courtney Lovett (cover)
Image via Goodreads

Everyone in Maggie Diaz’s life seems to be finding their true passion. The one thing that defines them as a person. Her best friends Zoey and Julian are too busy to spend time after school thanks to band and comics club. Mom is finishing her last semester in college. And of course, perfect older sister Caro has her sports and tutoring club.

So Maggie cooks up a plan to try all the clubs she can! But trying to fit in with type-A future leaders, gardening wizzes, and the fearless kids in woodshop is intimidating, exhausting, and seriously confusing. And when Maggie ends up disappointing her friends, she realizes that juggling school, friends, and all of her after-school activities isn’t what she expected. Finding herself might just require some surprising help and possibly a little magic from the bruja next door.

The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity

"The Last Shadow Warrior" by Sam Subity (cover)
Image via Goodreads

Twelve-year-old Abby Beckett is proud to come from a long line of elite Viking warriors known as the Aesir. She’s spent her entire life training to hunt the horrific creatures known as Grendels – the ancient foe of the Aesir – just like her mother did before she died. But there’s just one, small problem: No one has seen a Grendel in centuries, and the Viking Council wants to disband the Aesir . . . forever.

When her father is injured in an attack that leaves him in a coma, Abby is forced to take refuge at Vale Hall, a mysterious school in Minnesota where nothing is quite as it seems. She soon discovers the tables have turned and a Grendel is hunting her, but when she tries to alert the Viking Council, they accuse her of making up stories for attention . . . just like her mother did.

Desperate to protect her father and clear her mother’s name, Abby goes on a dangerous quest to discover the truth–a journey that brings her face-to-face with some unlikely foes, including a Ping-Pong-playing sea monster with a wicked backhand, and a dark Valkyrie with a fondness for bingo. Abby quickly realizes that someone at the school is trying to stop her progress and destroy the Aesir for good. And only she can unravel the sinister plot before it’s too late.

Absolutely Nat by Maria Scrivan

"Nat Enough" by Maria Scrivan (cover)
Image via Goodreads

You can stay stuck or go forward, but you can’t go back.

Natalie has just arrived at summer camp and soon realizes it isn’t anything like the brochure. Instead of spending the summer with her best friends, Zoe and Flo, Natalie is stuck with her ex-BFF, Lily, and someone even more annoying than the endless mosquitoes: Millie Flatbottom. Even worse, she’s constantly pushed out of her comfort zone and forced to come face-to-face with some of her greatest fears. Although summer camp isn’t at all what Natalie expected, could it be exactly what she needs?


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ARCs Book Reviews

ARC Review: Wednesday Wilson Fixes All Your Problems by Bree Galbraith, Illustrated by Morgan Goble

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Thank you Kids Can Press and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Wednesday Wilson Fixes All Your Problems releases June 7, 2022.

"Wednesday Wilson Fixes All Your Problems" by Bree Galbraith, Illustrated by Morgan Goble (cover)
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: In this second title in the early chapter book series about everyone’s favorite young entrepreneur, Wednesday Wilson is only trying to help her brother when her latest business idea strikes! Sometimes the best business ideas pop up when you least expect them. Or that’s what happens to Wednesday Wilson, anyway, the morning her brother, Mister, locks himself in the bathroom because he’s nervous about a school presentation. When classmate Emmet convinces Mister that a worry stone will calm his nerves, Wednesday offers Mister her marble — with the promise that a Worry Marble will fix all his problems! But then Wednesday starts thinking about just how many things kids get nervous about. And, hmm, she does happen to have a whole collection of marbles. Has Wednesday just hit entrepreneurial gold?

This is the second title in the early chapter book series by Bree Galbraith that follows the ever-evolving, but always entertaining, antics of girl entrepreneur Wednesday Wilson. The highly engaging series encourages ingenuity, creative thinking and resourcefulness. It’s also loads of fun! Wednesday’s enthusiasm and energy and her one-of-a-kind take on the world will delight and inspire. Short chapters enhanced by Morgan Goble’s illustrations along with lists and clever business-themed definitions help bridge the gap for emerging readers. Wednesday has two moms, one is Black and one white, and the story features an expanding diverse cast of BIPOC and disabled characters. It also contains character education lessons on initiative and perseverance.

 

REVIEW: Another delightful business adventure with Wednesday Wilson, future entrepreneur!

Wednesday Wilson usually has a lot of big business ideas to try. But lately she’s been in a funk. As she tries to help her little brother, Mister, overcome his nerves about giving a presentation in front of the whole school, Wednesday is suddenly struck with a new business idea: the Worry Marble, guaranteed to fix all your problems..or get Wednesday into trouble once again.

I love Wednesday’s perseverance to see an idea through. She’s earnest, organized, and very persuasive. She has a vibrant personality that draws others in.

Kids can learn important skills from these books, such as basic business terminology, problem-solving, creativity, and teamwork. I like how Wednesday, her friends, and brother work together to make a genuine product that will help others.

The illustrations are expressive and bring the story to life in all the best ways. The cast of characters is wonderfully diverse. And I like how the story talks about and celebrates different types of families.

I hope there will be more books forthcoming because this is a really enjoyable series. I love that it’s equal parts entertaining and educational with great lessons to learn. Wednesday Wilson is such a fun character with a lot to offer the world.


More by Bree Galbraith

Wednesday Wilson Gets Down to Business (#1)


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Book Reviews

Book Review: Maya and the Return of the Godlings by Rena Barron

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"Maya and the Return of the Godlings" by Rena Barron (cover)
Image via Goodreads

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Maya and the Rising Dark
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: The threat from The Dark is far from over. Twelve-year-old Maya knows this. After crossing the veil between the two worlds, saving her father, and narrowly escaping the sinister clutches of the Lord of Shadows, tensions between the human world and The Dark are higher than ever. And even worse, Maya’s orisha powers as a godling are out of control.

Now a guardian in training, Maya spends her days patching up veils with her father and cleaning up near-disasters like baby wormholes that her erratic powers create. But when Maya and her friends discover that something went terribly wrong during their journey to bring her father back to the human world, they are forced to return to The Dark and restore what they left behind, the one thing keeping the veil from falling: her father’s soul.

The Lord of Shadows is mobilizing his forces for an all-out war against the human world. And this time, Maya and her friends will need all the help they can get. Even if that means teaming up with their greatest enemies, the darkbringers.

 

REVIEW: In Maya and the Return of the Godlings, the stakes are higher, but that doesn’t stop Maya and her friends from braving The Dark once more to find her father’s soul and prevent the Lord of Shadows from entering the human world in order to destroy it. There are a lot of problems to deal with all at once.

Maya proves once more how brave she is, but I felt in this sequel she was more reckless in a not so appealing way. I was on board with Maya wanting to go back to The Dark instead of waiting three months for backup to arrive. And I also get her wanting to prove how capable of a guardian she could be so that her father doesn’t have to work alone repairing veils anymore. But I thought she could have made better choices in how she would accomplish that. For example, there was one scene that – while not entirely her fault – resulted in (probably) million of dollars in damages and someone could have gotten seriously injured or killed.

I do like that Frankie and Eli get a chance to really shine and demonstrate how much they’ve improved with using their godling powers. I liked that we’re introduced to a few new characters with the potential to really shake up the story.

And I liked that we get more backstory of what happened before Maya’s dad created the veil and the opinions about human-darkbringer-orisha associations from all sides. Having these POVs, especially with the possibility of another war brewing – increased my investment in the story. All of the revelations throughout really brought home what could be lost if the Lord of Shadows and his army isn’t stopped.

The pacing of the story threw me off at times because something would begin and then stop, seemingly unfinished, in random places and then sometimes never fully addressed again. But I do like the potential these new storylines had/will have. Just wish certain things had a fuller end-for-now, like about Frankie and her biological mom.

The story is heading in a great direction. The author built up the story and got it to a good place for a showdown to happen in book 3, Maya and the Lord of Shadows. I can’t wait for its release!

Lastly, I am loving the cover art for this series. All three are stunning and colorful and pretty! Strength exudes from them that you can’t help but be drawn in by. This book’s jacket illustration was done by Geneva Bowers and the jacket design was done by Andrea Miller.


More by Rena Barron

Maya and the Rising Dark (#1)


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About Books

Currently Reading – March 7, 2022

What is the genre of your current read(s)?

Over the weekend, I finished reading Summer Nights with a Cowboy and Wednesday Wilson Will Fix All Your Problems. Now I’m reading a middle grade fantasy called The Girl of Magic and Dreams by Charity Tober.

I won an e-copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway last Fall, but haven’t had a chance to read it until now. The cover is really pretty and I like the idea of a Dream Realm that’s protected by Dream Watchers. I’m interested in this character’s journey and how she might overcome internal and external conflicts. This title is also currently available on kindle unlimited if you have that.


"The Girl of Magic and Dreams" by Charity Tober
Image via Goodreads

ABOUT: Twelve-year-old Sophia Warner comes from a long line of Dream Watchers, humans possessing magical abilities from the Sandman himself and entrusted with protecting the Dream Realm. Frustrated by her slowly evolving powers and the continuous disapproval of the Council of Dreamers, Sophia becomes more and more reckless as she tries to force her full abilities to manifest in a desperate quest to locate her mom—who went missing in the Dream Realm four years earlier.

But things take a dangerous turn when Watchers begin to go missing and the ruler of the nightmares, the Shadow Queen, is to blame. Trapped on a dark island in the world of dreams by the Sandman long ago, the evil queen craves to find enough magic to finally break free from her prison and take over the Dream Realm.

As the only child Dream Watcher, Sophia is told to stay out of it. But when tragedy strikes her family, and the Council of Dreamers hesitates to intervene, Sophia is forced to make a choice. With the help of her best friend, a magical cat named Cosmo, can Sophia not only conquer her own fears and learn to control her magic, but also stop the Shadow Queen’s evil plans before all is lost?


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Books of the Month

[February 2022] Book of the Month: Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier

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There was not question in my mind on which book to pick for February’s Book of the Month. I easily chose Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier. Happy Pub Day! to this wonderful, moving read. Since I recently reviewed this book I won’t go on and on about how great it is. I’ll just say it’s a must read!

Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier
Image via NetGalley

Title: Just Right Jillian
Author: Nicole D. Collier
Genre: Middle Grade
Publisher: Versify
Recommended?: Yes

ABOUT: In this heartfelt middle-grade novel from debut author Nicole D. Collier, fifth-grader Jillian must learn to speak and break free of her shell to enter her school’s academic competition and keep her promise to her grandmother.

Fifth-grader Jillian will do just about anything to blend in, including staying quiet even when she has the right answer. After she loses a classroom competition because she won’t speak up, she sets her mind on winning her school’s biggest competition. But breaking out of her shell is easier said than done, and Jillian has only a month to keep her promise to her grandmother and prove to herself that she can speak up and show everyone her true self.

A warm and relatable middle-grade debut novel about family, friendship, and finding the confidence to break free from the crowd and be who you truly are.


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ARCs Book Reviews

ARC Review: Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier

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Thank you to Versify and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Just Right Jillian releases February 1, 2022.

Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier
Image via NetGalley

Genre: Middle Grade
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: In this heartfelt middle-grade novel from debut author Nicole D. Collier, fifth-grader Jillian must learn to speak and break free of her shell to enter her school’s academic competition and keep her promise to her grandmother.

Fifth-grader Jillian will do just about anything to blend in, including staying quiet even when she has the right answer. After she loses a classroom competition because she won’t speak up, she sets her mind on winning her school’s biggest competition. But breaking out of her shell is easier said than done, and Jillian has only a month to keep her promise to her grandmother and prove to herself that she can speak up and show everyone her true self.

A warm and relatable middle-grade debut novel about family, friendship, and finding the confidence to break free from the crowd and be who you truly are.

 

REVIEW: To feel seen, to be heard, and the freedom to be yourself are some of the most empowering things in the world – Just Right Jillian embodies this and more.

The wonder that is Just Right Jillian will forever hold a special place in my heart. It’s rare that I come across a character I feel a deep, personal connection to. Jillian’s story was so much like looking in a mirror that I couldn’t help but get emotional at times.

Jillian is many things – smart, a warrior weaver, an expert at hanging upside-down, kind. But many see her as a kind of awkwardly shy turtle if they see her at all, she feels. Though her family always supports and encourages her, saying she’s just right as herself, Jillian isn’t convinced because words are often “too big” to get out of her mouth. She can’t help but believe it’s better to conform and hide (be invisible) than be different and stand out. People-ing and speaking are a struggle for sure!

Jillian wants to enter her school’s Mind Bender academic competition (and maybe win), so that she can prove her worth and keep a promise to her Grammy. Jillian’s journey is challenging because of her low self-esteem and continued grief over the recent loss of her Grammy.

The path towards Mind Bender and being the Jillian she wants to be is a mesmerizing undertaking with exceptional character development. There were as many steps forwards as there are steps back. I love Jillian’s strength and resolve to be better. Even when she feels she hasn’t made any progress towards her goal, with the love and support from her friends and family, she continues to try her best.

I loved the close, loving relationship Jillian has with her parents through the good times and the bad. I also loved her friendship with one of her classmates, Marquez. They’re very kind to each other, offering helpful advice whenever the other is feeling troubled. Marquez’s advice was really wise. I liked his philosophy of being JTRA (just the right amount) and that you can overcome your fears by training your heart. Even the relationship between Jillian and her supposed enemy, Rashida (known for her smarts and also a classmate), was wonderfully developed and special.

A fun part of the story was Jillian’s class raising chickens. It was interesting learning the process of what happens inside the eggs from the time they’re laid to when the chickens hatch. I like how Jillian made connections with the eggs to her own predicament and how she could find a solution to it.

Just Right Jillian is a book I wish I had when I was younger and beyond. This book made me feel so seen and for that I really appreciate it. Indeed, Just Right Jillian is a marvelous debut with a ton of heart. Short, sweet, and oh-so endearing.


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