Foreword Reviews

Young Adult

Like Vanessa

Book Cover
Tami Charles
Charlesbridge Publishing
Hardcover $16.99 (288pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

From the very first page, Like Vanessa conveys the hopes and fears of a girl who wishes for a different life. Nessy Martin is fourteen years old and living in Newark with her alcoholic grandfather, her mostly absent father, and her older cousin. Her mother left when she was just four years old, and Nessy has never understood why.

The book takes place in the 1980s, just as Vanessa Williams becomes the first black woman to be crowned Miss America. Nessy dreams of being crowned herself, hoping that she can somehow win her mother’s approval. Though it scares her, she is convinced to enter a beauty pageant at her middle school, and in the process of preparing for the competition, she learns a great deal about herself and about the meaning of true beauty.

Nessy’s descriptions of the local gang, the bodegas, and the music she hears drifting into her window at night bring her urban setting to life. Her understandings of her family members—a grandfather trying to forget, a cousin struggling with the safety of his differences—paint vivid portraits.

Nessy’s desires and dreams of wealth and glamour are relatable, as is her lack of self-esteem. As, for the first time, her friends and family help her see the strong, talented, and beautiful young woman that she is, young adult audiences may be helped to similarly embrace how they, too, are worthwhile.

Like Vanessa is an emotionally potent, engaging young adult story with a heroine whom it is impossible not to root for. The life lessons that Nessy learns are relevant and worthwhile for everyone.

CATHERINE THURESON (December 27, 2017)

Yak Girl

Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal

Book Cover
Dorje Dolma
Sentient Publications
Softcover $18.95 (300pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Dorje Dolma’s fascinating memoir, Yak Girl, concentrates on a childhood in Nepal. Though marked by hardships, her story is filled with hope and strength.

The remote district of Dolpo had no electricity or running water, no transportation, and no access to medical care. From the time she was very little, Dolma had grown up with many responsibilities, watching after her younger siblings and caring for herds of sheep and goats. She spent her days wandering the mountains, seeking grazing spots for her animals, and protecting them from wolves and snow leopards.

Dolma’s extraordinary book offers an insider’s perspective on the family structures, ceremonies, and rituals of a remote culture. Struggles are related in a straightforward manner, and recollections are marked by happiness and family love. Language rings with honesty and dignity.

When Dolma was nine, the family moved to Kathmandu to treat her scoliosis; in that city, they were very poor, and had to beg for money. Dolma writes about learning to let go of the shame she felt, and about sharing what she had with others who were worse off. Hers is a beautiful account of personal character.

Dolma was placed in a boarding school; eventually, a sponsor brought her to America, where her scoliosis could be treated. The confusion and fear she felt as she left her home country for a foreign land comes through clearly, speaking to her incredible strength and bravery.

Yak Girl is an extraordinary and insightful account of a young girl’s strength of will.

CATHERINE THURESON (December 27, 2017)

Shoot the Moon

Book Cover
Kate Watson
Softcover $14.99 (352pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Tate Bertram is handsome, smart, and rich—a golden boy who has lived a privileged life. At just nineteen years old, he is also a gambling addict. After he nearly died while trying to evade a debt collector, his family staged an intervention and put him in rehab. Now he runs an illegal poker game, but resists the urge to play.

When his illegal game is shut down, Tate is forced to take work as an intern for his aunt, who is running for state attorney general. Her opponent, Conner Wolf, is the father of the girl who taught Tate how to play poker. Wolf also might be connected to the mob, and Tate wants to prove it. He starts playing a new and very dangerous game, one that could have a huge payoff or could cost him everything.

Shoot the Moon is an exciting story with a complex, tightly woven plot. It has a little bit of everything: romance, family drama, political intrigue, and a thrilling mystery. The pages fly by. Tate learns to accept his gambling problem, forgive himself and his family, and begins to put his life back together.

The book delves into the psychology of poker players and the probabilities of different hands. Even those with no frame of reference for the game will come away understanding why it holds so much appeal.

Shoot the Moon is complex, intelligent, and quick-moving. It thoughtfully examines addiction, and the difficult task of overcoming it, through its complicated but appealing teenage leads.

CATHERINE THURESON (December 27, 2017)


A Novel

Book Cover
Cynthia Weil
Hardcover $16.99 (232pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

KT has never known her father. Her mother says that her father left before she was born, but that is not exactly true. Her mother went to a sperm bank to become pregnant, and a brief search on a website intended to help connect the children of its donors leads her to two half brothers.

Though the three young adults share nothing in common, they band together to search for their biological father, each hoping to learn something about who they are. They end up on a cross-country road trip that will give them even more than what they were looking for.

806 is a lighthearted treatment of a serious topic. KT is a rebel in a rock band, Gabe is a nerd with glasses and allergies, and Jesse is a golden boy, beautiful and athletic and popular. The three teenagers struggle to accept that they could come from the same parent, but soon learn that they have more in common then they thought.

Their adventure is filled with humorous moments: running from police, meeting a mystic in the desert, sneaking into a celebrity golf tournament. These moments balance out the weightier content of the plot.

Though each step in their search turns out well, and all three find a nearly perfect outcome, the book is wonderful and relatable for kids who may not have grown up in traditional biological families. This lovely story reminds readers that other people, no matter how different they may seem, often share the same hopes and fears, and knowing that makes everything a little less lonely.

CATHERINE THURESON (December 27, 2017)


Year One

Book Cover
A. L. Collins
Tomislav Tikulin, illustrator
Softcover $8.95 (320pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Inventive and highly entertaining, A. L. Collins’s Redworld is set in a future where Mars has been colonized and serves as home to several alien races, including humans. Clever explanations for how the planet was made livable, and how its inhabitants create and use energy to sustain it, build a believable setting reminiscent of the old west.

Belle Song, a young girl who has no desire to live on Mars, has a spirited sense of adventure that makes her a good fit for life on this alien world. Her parents’ engineering jobs on Mars fall through, but her father decides that the family will stay and become farmers.

Life on the farm is filled with hard work. Living conditions are fairly primitive, and the two friends she makes, each a different alien species, do not get along. All of this is of small concern when Belle and her friends find themselves facing wild dogs, raiders, big-city criminals, and a lost cave full of sacred artifacts.

The martian setting is enticing, especially as explored by naturally curious Belle. An android helper and aliens add interesting elements.

This book follows courageous Belle’s first few seasons living on Mars. It is divided into four parts, each of which could stand alone as an independent story. Throughout each of the stories, Belle and her friends learn to trust one another and that “we’re all aliens to each other … until we become friends.”

Redworld is fun, unique, and well plotted, with interesting characters and dangerous adventures that make it difficult to put down. Subtle lessons about creating a sustainable environment and learning to see past superficial differences heighten its appeal.

CATHERINE THURESON (December 27, 2017)

The Book of Pearl

Book Cover
Timothee de Fombelle
Sarah Ardizzone, translator
Sam Gordon, translator
Candlewick Press
Hardcover $17.99 (368pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The Book of Pearl is a beautifully imagined tale of grief and love. Timothée de Fombelle’s book, originally published in French, is impeccably translated by Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon.

The story is luminous, with a plot that delicately weaves multiple worlds across multiple time periods into a seamless whole. A prince, Ilian, is banished to another world, separated from the fairy he loves. He will spend a lifetime trying to find his way back to her. A fairy, Olia, deeply in love with the prince, follows him to a new world, but she has been cursed so that if he ever sees her, she will cease to exist. She will spend a lifetime in hiding, trying to protect her love.

A young man unwittingly falls into this tragic love story when he sees Olia many years after the pair arrive in twentieth-century France. He gets lost wandering through the woods and is rescued by a mysterious man, now known as Joseph Pearl, who is living in a cabin surrounded by suitcases filled with random objects. It will ultimately fall to this young man to form the ending to Ilian and Olia’s fairy tale.

The complexity of the book will likely challenge some of its young adult audience, but the challenge is more than worth the effort. Characters are beautifully developed, motivated by fear and loss and love. Various settings, from a summer palace in a shimmering land of magic to a charming confectionary in pre-World War II Europe, create vivid environments for the characters to inhabit. The story is a brilliant mixture of history and fantasy, and is filled with longing and hope.

The Book of Pearl is a celebration of imagination and the power of storytelling. As it builds each layer of the intricate plot, the book itself becomes part of the magic. It is an absolute must for anyone who has ever loved a fairy tale.

CATHERINE THURESON (December 27, 2017)

Catherine Reed Thureson

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