The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead; Wendy Lamb Books, 216 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12. (April 7 publication)
The remarkable Rebecca Stead (author of "When You Reach Me" and "First Light") has crafted a lovely, illuminating novel of childhood and of family, told in the authentic voice of a 10-year-old girl looking back on events that have changed her life as she prepares for her father's wedding. The title comes from a list Bea made in a notebook, when she learned her parents were getting divorced and that she would be dividing her time between two homes. No. 1 on her list of "the things that will not change" was that Mom and Dad will always love her, and each other.
Stead offers an appealing narrator in Bea; she has loving parents and good friends but her life is not easy. She suffers from anxiety (dating from age 7 when her father almost choked to death on an orange). She regularly sees a therapist who keeps a jar of gummy bears on hand. She also suffers from painful eczema, often waking up in the night to use hot water to relieve the itching which makes it worse. Bea is impulsive and doesn't always anticipate consequences (like shoving a boy off his chair during a game of musical chairs at a birthday party or kicking a broken bottle while wearing sandals and badly cutting her foot). The novel is set in New York City where Stead grew up, also the child of divorced parents. The city setting – including the high-end restaurant where Bea's father is the chef – adds a colorful backdrop; Bea hangs out at the restaurant, walks places with her friends, lives in an apartment.
Bea is thrilled to learn that her father is going to marry his boyfriend, Jesse, because it means she will finally have a sister: Jesse's 10-year-old daughter Sonia who lives with her mom and little brothers in California. Bea imagines instant closeness when Sonia comes to visit; the reality is more complicated. Her father's wedding plans invite teasing from a cousin and a negative reaction from a classmate and make Bea aware of a painful estrangement in Jesse's family circle. Stead explores the hurts and slights of childhood that leave deep wounds, the powerlessness children feel when dealing with unsympathetic adults, the worries that weigh on children's minds, the secrets children carry. Even Bea's beloved teacher makes her feel bad by rewarding the best spellers with a party every month, leaving the rest, including Bea, to eat in the lunchroom. Over the course of the novel Bea grows as a person, learning to understand Sonia, asking an annoying classmate for forgiveness. Most of all this is a story about love, of making connections, of the families we're born into and the ones we create for ourselves. Stead leaves us with some beautiful images, of brothers standing in a cornfield in Minnesota listening to the corn grow, of Bea as a tiny girl looking out a window at the moon, seeing the moon from another window and calling it "utta moon," or other moon.
We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 352 pages ($18.99) Ages 14 and up. (March 31 publication)
Siobhan Vivian offers a thrilling tale of female empowerment in this well-crafted, suspenseful tale about an elite girls' field hockey team and their toxic young male coach. The action, narrated from the alternating perspectives of six girls, takes place over just 24 hours.
The tone is set in the first chapter with a grueling workout the girls endure on the fifth and final day of tryouts, pushing themselves to impress their handsome, mercurial, tyrannical Coach, a former college player. Even veteran players, especially Phoebe, who is recovering from an ACL tear, aren't sure they will make the cut at the tryouts. The veterans are accustomed to Coach and his methods, but Luci, a freshman shocked to make the team, has a fresh perspective and is intrigued when the Coach takes her into his confidence. A team sleepover, including a midnight initiation ceremony, is traditional the night before the Wildcats play their first game of the new season. But when Coach changes the playbook, the girls find themselves in uncharted territory. Vivian offers thrilling game action and fascinating insights into the intense competitive drive of these female athletes. Her use of alternating perspectives is particularly effective as the suspense mounts, and the girls start to trade notes, put the pieces together and emerge from their collective state of denial to comprehend the depth of the betrayal.
Story topics: books