Frazzled

Frazzled by Booki Vivat

Meet Abbie Wu! She’s about to start middle school and she’s totally in crisis.

Abbie Wu is in crisis—and not just because she’s stuck in a family that doesn’t quite get her or because the lunch ladies at school are totally corrupt or because everyone seems to have a “Thing” except her. Abbie Wu is in crisis always.

Heavily illustrated and embarrassingly honest, Frazzled dives right into the mind of this hilariously neurotic middle school girl as she tries to figure out who she is, where she belongs, and how to survive the everyday disasters of growing up. With Abbie’s flair for the dramatic and natural tendency to freak out, middle school has never seemed so nerve-racking!

Packed with hilarious black-and-white illustrations and doodles throughout, Frazzled takes readers through Abbie Wu’s hysterical middle school adventures.

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My sophomore year of college, I took a non-fiction writing workshop and Booki was a tutor for the class (basically a small group leader). When I saw that she had accomplished every creative writing student’s dream of publishing a book, I had to get it!

I haven’t read a middle-grade novel in a long time, so I don’t really have a frame of reference for Frazzled. But I thought the book was great! It took me back to being in middle school. I hope I wasn’t as neurotic as Abbie is…but I probably was! It was middle school after all.

The story was cute, Abbie’s issues real and convincing, and the illustrations were so, so good. But I think my favorite thing about this book had little to do with what actually happened in the book, but what the book was.

Abbie is not only a female protagonist, but she’s an Asian-American protagonist. Abbie also has a non-traditional family structure. Abbie’s Dad is never mentioned in the book. Whether that issue will be touched upon in a later book remains to be seen, but Abbie is being raised by her strong and tough Mom in the meantime. I love that Abbie is a character that kids can really relate to, whether because she’s a girl, she’s Asian-American, or she has a family that’s different from what a family is traditionally conceived to be.

I can’t find a reference to it online, but I believe I read that Frazzled is part of a 3-book deal. Regardless, I’m looking forward to reading more of Abbie Wu’s adventures!

Wildwood

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her brother is abducted by a murder of crows and taken to the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland. No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it.

So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval—a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater, as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

The first book in the epic middle-grade fantasy series full of magic, wonder, and danger—nothing less than an American Narnia—from Colin Meloy, lead singer of the highly celebrated band the Decemberists, and Carson Ellis, the acclaimed illustrator of the New York Times bestselling The Mysterious Benedict Society.

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I usually read a lot of reviews for books from a new author before actually buying the book, so I normally have a pretty good idea what the book is about and whether I will like it or not. This book was given to me and that I didn’t really know all that much about what kind of experience I could expect from it.

It started off a bit slow. I wasn’t that interested in the story until Prue and Curtis arrived in Wildwood and then the book took off from there. It’s pretty lengthy but didn’t lag once the kids arrived in the forest. Wildwood is populated by an interesting cast of characters and overall, I quite enjoyed this book. It’s set in Oregan and feels very Oregonian, from the descriptions of the forest to the illustration of the people, who all looked like bearded, beer-drinking Portland hipsters. Honest. Just flip to a picture of the bandits.

At first, I thought this book was intended to be read to children. And then I decided that the book was a little too dark for that. I don’t read much middle grade so I’m not sure if this is a good entry for that particular genre or not. I was expecting to find the story a bit predictable, but it really wasn’t. It wasn’t the best book I’ve read recently, but it was still a book I looked forward to continuing to read each night before bed.

Wildwood is the first in a planned trilogy with Under Wildwood being the second book in the series and Wildwood Imperium is the third.

Click here to buy Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I or purchase all three books in a box set here Wildwood Chronicles Complete Box Set: Wildwood, Under Wildwood, Wildwood Imperium

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

As far as the literary world is concerned, Neil Gaiman is a god among men. Does he deserve the title and the hype? Oh yeah. He’s that good.

I haven’t read many of Gaiman’s books for children, other than I suppose Stardust (but I don’t really think it’s for kids). I’ve been excited for this book since before it came out. I just loved the idea of it and it didn’t disappoint.

I was a bit surprised that it turned out to be a book of short stories, joined together by a common plot, setting, and cast of characters. An interesting way of doing things, but one I enjoyed. Gaiman is such a good writer and like good writers, can kind of get carried away with the sentence spinning and the plot turning. This book was much more manageable in that regard. Easy to follow and no less beautiful or artfully crafted.

The plot twist that comes in the second to last story (the chapter before the end) made me gasp out loud. I was not expecting that and just the way it was dropped into the turn of a simple sentence…genius. Between the period of one sentence and the capital letter of the next, the whole game changed.

I do wish the plot surrounding the death of Bod’s family and why the man Jack is still trying to kill Bod had been better explained. It was summed up rather quickly (in about a paragraph) and left me unsatisfied. I think there was so much room to go there that wasn’t really delved. Yes, I know it’s for kids, but still. Just one paragraph more.

If you’ve never read a Neil Gaiman book before, this is a great place to get your feet wet. Imaginative, beautiful, funny, bittersweet…without the density of the thicker books like American Gods.

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This remarkable novel holds a fantastic puzzle at its heart.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

I’ve had this book for so long I can’t even remember how I came across it. I’ve shuttled it around from apartment to apartment and finally to this house, where I finally read it.

When You Reach Me won the Newberry Medal in 2009. I think I held off on reading it for so long because it’s labeled Middle-Grade and whenever I had a free moment, I would choose something else. But as I’m trying to catch up on my reading goals, I selected it since it was so thin and looked to be a quick read.

I liked the story that Stead wove. And can I say this is the first time I’ve been utterly taken by surprise by a middle-grade novel? Or perhaps even a YA novel? I had no inkling of where the plot was going until it got there. And yet, the groundwork was laid. I just didn’t recognize it as important.

Reading this novel also makes me want to get down to reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. Sadly, I have never read this novel. I know. Everyone and their brother has read it. But not me. Heard of it plenty, sure. But never read it. I think I will need to take a trip to the library soon and read it.

This is a sweet story that is not to be missed. A powerful and curious tale of childhood and the paths our lives take when we don’t notice.