MG – Caprice

Booth, Coe. Caprice. Scholastic, 2022. 978-0-545-93334-6. $17.99. 243 p. Grades 6-8.

Sensitive, poetical Caprice is a rising eighth grader with a big decision: should she grab the opportunity of attending a prestigious boarding school or stick with her friends in Newark, New Jersey? Though she loved her seven-week stint at summer camp at Ainsley School for Girls, she is torn because of her closeness to her best friend, Nicole, a budding romance with Jarrett, and her commitment to the Center, the community place that fosters fun and leadership in her neighborhood. Through her poems and flashbacks, the reader learns of sexual abuse that Caprice keeps buried and secreted from her family. She is considerate of her parents’ precarious financial situation because of their faltering business and is scared that her need to be in Newark keeps her mother and father apart. Her return home a week before school starts corresponds with a call from Baltimore informing the family of her maternal grandmother’s serious illness. Caprice’s mother and grandmother have been estranged since Caprice was four-years-old when her grandmother sent Caprice and her mother away from the family home after a dangerous incident. Only Caprice and her grandmother know the real reason for their banishment, but her mother has lived all these years with hurt and resentment, alienated from her mother and brother, Raymond. The reader meets Caprice over an important week when school, friendships, and soul-searching come to a head. Her sporadic panic attacks increase, and she waffles between closing herself off and speaking up for herself in new ways. In Caprice, Coe Booth tackles a difficult topic by mining the memories and feelings of Caprice as she faces her demons and challenges herself to esteem who she is. Caprice’s immediate family is loving and communicative. Her friendships with both adults and kids at the Center are genuine and nicely developed. Though the confrontation with her abuser at story’s end avoids any expected messiness and description, the emotions Caprice experiences throughout the novel will resonate with many readers dealing with changes in their lives. The students at Ainsley are international: New Zealand, Ghana, Toronto. Race is not mentioned directly in the book; however, Caprice gets her locs done and the book’s cover art displays an African American girl, so there are implications that the other characters are African American.

THOUGHTS: Coe Booth lets Caprice’s voice come through in the narration and the typical middle school dialogue with which readers will relate. The thriving Center Caprice attends is core to the community and helps to shape the kids who participate in the different activities it affords, from a Women’s Club, to film making, to dance. Caprice takes part in some neat poetry activities that readers can replicate. Her leadership qualities come out in her refusal to be treated less than boys and to tolerate snide remarks about her body. The adults surrounding Caprice–even though they know nothing about her abuse at the time–are nurturing and say the right things. Caprice’s pride in her neighborhood and loyalty to her friends are good discussion points.

Realistic Fiction   Bernadette Cooke   School District of Philadelphia

Twelve-year-old Caprice should be having the time of her life. She just finished a seven week summer program at a prestigious school in upstate New York, and she has now been offered a full scholarship through high school. She has a week to make the decision to accept the scholarship. She returns to her home in Newark, NJ and learns that her grandmother is seriously ill. This brings back the memories of the abuse that she endured while living there with her grandmother and uncle. She has remained quiet about this abuse and has told no one. The deadline to commit to Ainsley is coming closer and closer, and Caprice is struggling with her past while trying to make a decision about her future. 

THOUGHTS: This book is a powerful read for a middle schooler. It addresses the issue of child abuse – sexual and emotional. It could have some triggers for some readers.    

Realistic Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Sometimes it’s hard for kids to decide what they want from life, and what they are willing to let go of, until they are faced with some life-changing events. This is certainly true for Caprice, a smart, motivated, and mature 7th grade girl who has just finished an exclusive summer leadership experience at a private school in an affluent part of Washington, D.C. She loved that school, but she also loves her home and friends in urban New Jersey. After she is offered a full scholarship to return to the private school for her 8th grade year, she quickly must decide whether she is willing to give up her familiar home and her best friend in favor of the school opportunity of her dreams. In addition to the stress of her impending education decisions, past childhood trauma and the declining health of a grandmother she hasn’t seen in years add to her troubles. Will Caprice be able to navigate her painful past, her complicated family, and her new and old friendships to see her way to a brighter future?

THOUGHTS: Caprice and her family are warmly drawn, and her friendships feel so real! This book deals with difficult topics including childhood abuse, family secrets, divorce, adolescent feelings, and confusion about the direction and meaning of one’s life, but everything is dealt with a sensitive and graceful hand that still makes the book a pleasure to read and recommend to students.

Realistic Fiction        Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

YA – Squire

Alfageeh, Sara, and Nadia Shammas. Squire. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-94585-3. 336 p. $21.99. Grades 7-10.

As an Ornu, Aiza exists on the outskirts of the Bayt-Sajji empire. Her parents are content with their simple but restricted life, while Aiza longs for adventures beyond the borders of the Ornus’ designated community. Opportunity arrives with an announcement that the Bayt-Sajji military is expanding its ranks, offering successful recruits the position of Squire and full citizenship in the Empire. Aiza’s parents reluctantly agree to let her enlist, but ask that she hide her Ornu markings for her own protection. Recruitment involves intense physical training, history lessons, sparring, military strategy, and a general who rules with an iron fist. Aiza’s scrappiness, zeal, and big personality serve her well in training (not so much in history lessons). With the help of a few key allies, she makes steady progress. When Ornu rebels ambush Aiza’s patrol group, secrets and betrayals come to light and everyone must choose a side. Themes of heroism, loyalty, and identity are depicted through bold artwork with plenty of swordplay and action sequences. The author/illustrator team of Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh include a must-read “Making of a Page” section that has insights into the script, artistic inspiration, and more.

THOUGHTS: Squire is a fast-paced read with depth, and the creators leave the door open for follow-up installments. It is a must-read for fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Poisoned

Donnelly, Jennifer. Poisoned. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-26849-2. 307 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

All of her life Sophie, Princess Charlotta-Sidonia Wilhelmina Sophia, has been told that kindness will be her downfall, her heart is to soft to be a good leader. And Sophie believes every word. Fearing her stepmother’s strict ways, Sophie tucks her kind heart away, trying to hide her true self. She agrees to give her heart to a prince who is better suited to lead her kingdom. Sophie “locks away” her heart as she prepares to become Queen, but she doesn’t have the chance to fulfill this destiny. Her stepmother has other plans in mind. When Sophie awakens, following a violent event, she is greeted by seven brothers and their helpers, who have taken in Sophie and nursed her back to health in seemingly impossible ways. Not feeling completely herself, Sophie tentatively accepts her life in The Hollow. But Sophie feels like there’s more to the story, and she won’t have all of the answers until she embarks on a dangerous journey. Sophie’s character and her kind heart are tested repeatedly, as Sophie learns what it takes to be a true leader. But is her faulty heart up to the challenge, and will she survive all the evil that wishes her dead? Sophie’s story is not a romantic fairytale but instead is about one’s journey towards self discovery.

THOUGHTS: Young adult readers need Sophie in their lives. I loved this reimagined Snow White story and appreciate Donnelly’s incorporation of other themes – like how women are told what they are and are not capable of doing or being. Poisoned deserves a place in every middle or high school collection.

Fantasy          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

MS FIC – Murderer’s Ape; Whisper of Horses

Wegelius, Jakob. The Murderer’s Ape.  Translated by Peter Graves. Delacorte Press, 2017. 978-1101931752. 624pp.  $17.99 Gr. 5-8.

This beautifully illustrated mystery is the English translation of a Swedish novel published in 2014.  The book’s heroine, Sally Jones, is an anthropomorphic gorilla who can read, write, and understand language but cannot speak.  She is single-mindedly determined to prove that her best friend, Chief Koskela, a ship’s captain, is innocent of the murder he has been convicted of.  Her quest to free him takes her on a wild adventure from Portugal through India, where she struggles not only to follow a convoluted trail of evidence but for her own safety.  THOUGHTS:  Sally Jones is an unforgettable animal heroine extraordinaire who has more humanity than most humans, and yet remains a gorilla to her core.  This fun romp blends mystery, animal fantasy, and adventure, and is highly recommended for middle school libraries.

Mystery       Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Bethell, Zillah. A Whisper of Horses.  Feiwel and Friends, 2017.  978-1250093943. 339 p.  $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Serendipity lives in the walled city of Lahn Dahn, which clever readers will recognize as a futuristic, dystopian version of London.  She is a member of the lowest of three castes, and her most treasured possession is a map which shows a route outside the city to a place where horses–which are believed to be extinct–still thrive.  Serendipity dreams of finding the horses but despairs of finding a way outside the city until she meets Tab, an orphan who knows all about eluding the law. Together, Serendipity and Tab forge a tenuous alliance when they discover that each has resources the other can use to achieve their separate goals. THOUGHTS:  Excellent writing, an unusual storyline, and themes of friendship and loyalty that are developed in nuanced and thought-provoking ways make this book more than a run-of-the-mill dystopian novel.  One thing to note is that Bethell plays with language, imagining how words might evolve in a dystopian future (“amazering” instead of “amazing,” etc.); some readers will enjoy this, while others may find it frustrating or distracting.  Recommended for middle school libraries.

Dystopian    Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD