The Ocean at the End of the Lane

A word to the wise: Don’t stay up late reading a Neil Gaiman book and expect to get any sleep. I’m dragging today after finishing The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it was worth it.

If you’re at all familiar with Gaiman’s work, you probably already know that this book, like so many of his others, is creepy, magical, strange, and thought-provoking. It’s written for an adult audience, but there’s something childlike about it as well. It explores the fears of a young boy and how he views the terrifying world around him. Did everything happen just as he remembers? We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. In my opinion, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, while delving into one man’s memories of his childhood, also explores the themes of hope, facing one’s fears, accepting help, and believing in magic.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins with a man returning to his hometown for a funeral. In an effort to escape all of the condolences being offered, he decides to explore the area once so familiar to him. He goes past where his childhood home once stood and makes his way to the lane leading to the Hempstock farm. It is here that he begins to remember the events that took place when he was just seven years old.

When he was seven, he met Lettie Hempstock, a girl who seemed larger than life and who believed that the pond at the end of the lane was an ocean. Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother were all wise, magical, mysterious, and somehow timeless. They knew things that no normal person possibly could. The boy didn’t know quite what to make of these ladies, but he intrinsically trusted them.

Following the death of an opal miner, a strange darkness entered the world. The boy looked to Lettie Hempstock to beat the darkness back, but it somehow found a way into his life–into his very body.

The seemingly impossible events that followed shook the boy to his core and terrified him completely. The darkness that plagued him took human form and threatened every aspect of the boy’s life, even the sense of safety he should have felt in his own home, with his own family. How could he possibly fight something that scared him so deeply? Where could he look to for help?

Only the Hempstock family had the power and knowledge to help the boy. But how? What could these women possibly do to rid his world of this ancient evil? What would have to be sacrificed to save his life? And would that sacrifice ultimately be worth it?


I’m still pondering some of the mysteries in this book. Gaiman, a master storyteller, doesn’t give readers all of the answers. Some things are left to our imaginations (which is awesome).

A few unanswered questions:

  • What is the main character’s name? We never know his name or the names of his family members. Only the Hempstock ladies and a couple of other memorable characters are named outright.
  • Who died and precipitated the main character’s visit home? We know it’s not his sister, as it’s mentioned that she’s waiting on her brother. Is it his mom? His dad? Who led him home?
  • What’s the deal with the Hempstocks? Are they three incarnations of the same person? Perhaps some version of the Triple Goddess–the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden? I honestly don’t know, but this seems the most plausible explanation given the events of the book and what we learn about this family.
  • Why does it take revisiting the “ocean” to jump-start the main character’s memories? One would think something so traumatic would have been impossible to forget. Also, what exactly is this ocean? Where did it come from, and what’s the source of its power?
  • Did the events he remembered really happen? Were they the imaginings of a child to cope with something he couldn’t understand? Or is it the adult who forgets in order to cope with something that should have been impossible? How does the man as an adult explain what happened?

Maybe you’ve figured out the answers to all of these questions. Maybe not. As for me, I’ll be thinking about these things–and a few more–for a while.

Like I mentioned before, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is written for an adult audience, but some teens may enjoy it (particularly if they’re already Neil Gaiman fans). It’s deep, intense, and it does play with your mind a bit, but give it a whirl if that’s your kind of thing.

For more information on this book and others by Neil Gaiman, check out the author’s website.

Wonder Woman at Super Hero High

I’ve loved Wonder Woman since I first saw Lynda Carter spin around when I was a kid. My parents have pictures of my three-year-old self posing in my Wonder Woman Underoos. I have Wonder Woman action figures, comic books, t-shirts, and even Converse shoes. There’s a Wonder Woman display in my school library. I buy my nieces Wonder Woman stuff for birthdays, holidays, or whenever the mood strikes me. So of course I had to read Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, the first book in the DC Super Hero Girls series by Lisa Yee. I’m just embarrassed it took me so long to get around to it. (It was released nearly a year ago.)

Super Hero High is the place to be for teen super heroes…and Wonder Woman wants in. After spending her entire life on Paradise Island (also known as Themyscira) with her mother, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, Wonder Woman finally convinces her mom that she needs to be trained as a proper super hero. Off to Super Hero High she goes!

With a positive outlook and a desire to make a difference, Wonder Woman enters the hallowed halls of Super Hero High. Even though some things perplex her (like slang and sarcasm), she’s determined to be a successful student.

Almost immediately, she makes a few friends–like Bumblebee, Katana, Hawkgirl, and Harley Quinn (who’s also her roommate)–but it seems she’s also made an enemy or two. Someone keeps leaving notes for her indicating that she’s not wanted at Super Hero High. Who could dislike her so much?

With Harley Quinn videoing every move she makes and someone leaving her mean notes, Wonder Woman is feeling the pressure to be the best, especially when she factors in her desire to be on the school’s Super Triathlon team. Can she make a difference when so much is weighing on her? Can she possibly figure out who wants her gone?

Join Wonder Woman and many other familiar faces to find out if they’ve got what it takes to be true heroes!


I’ve glossed over a lot here, and that’s sort of intentional. It’s a fast, entertaining read, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. A few things I will say, though:

  • I love that Wonder Woman has kind of an Amelia Bedelia vibe in this book. She’s very literal, and it’s fun to see how someone who’s been so removed from slang and popular culture navigates through high school.
  • Speaking of high school, who knew super heroes had it just like the rest of us? Mean girls, struggling to make friends, bullies, striving to make good grades, living up to parents’ expectations. It’s all there, and it’s nice to see that even those with super powers deal with the same stuff we all do.
  • If you’re not familiar with DC comic book characters now, you soon will be. I know a lot of the characters mentioned in this book thanks to the old Adam West Batman TV series, some DC movies (some good, others not so much), and the wonderful programming on the CW. Wonder Woman at Super Hero High introduced me to some I didn’t know much about, and I look forward to reading more adventures of these super (and not-so-super) heroes as teenagers.

Wonder Woman at Super Hero High is a great fit for elementary and middle school libraries. Considering that many kids (and adults) read DC comics and collect action figures, there’s a ready-made audience just waiting for this book and those like it.

The next two books in the DC Super Hero Girls series are Supergirl at Super Hero High and Batgirl at Super Hero High. Both are already out. The fourth book, Katana at Super Hero High should be out on July 4th of this year.

If you’d like more information on Wonder Woman at Super Hero High and the series as a whole, visit author Lisa Yee’s website.

Enjoy!

Goodbye Days

There are some books that should really be packaged with a box of Kleenex. Goodbye Days is one of those books. From Jeff Zentner, author of the William C. Morris Award-winning The Serpent King, comes another novel that absolutely rips your heart out. Goodbye Days isn’t one of those books that makes you cry only at the end. No, this one elicits full-on sobbing most of the way through. This novel is at once tragic, poignant, and cathartic, and I adored every last bit of it…even though I was often reading through a veil of tears.

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Goodbye Days a little early, but it’s available for the masses on March 7th. If you’re wondering if you should buy this book, you absolutely should.

Carver Briggs should be getting ready to enjoy his last year of high school with his three best friends, Mars, Blake, and Eli. Instead, he’s attending their funerals and dealing with the knowledge that he played a role in the deaths of those closest to him. How was he supposed to know that sending them a text message–like so many they’ve sent in the past–would somehow lead to the accident that destroyed everything?

Now, Carver’s life without his friends is almost more than he can bear. He’s a mess of grief, guilt, and fear. Grief over the loss of his friends; guilt over his role in this tragedy; and fear of what may happen to him if the authorities decide to bring criminal charges against him. Carver doesn’t know how to cope with everything, and he’s experiencing panic attacks for the first time in his life. Something’s got to give.

Thankfully, Carver isn’t completely alone. He’s supported by his parents (even though he doesn’t really confide in them), his wonderful sister, Georgia, and Jesmyn, Eli’s girlfriend, who shares her grief with Carver. He’s also started seeing a therapist–at his sister’s urging–and that’s helping him to explore his feelings about everything that’s happening.

Then there’s Blake’s grandmother. She, unlike some of his other friends’ family members, doesn’t blame Blake for what happened. She comes up with the idea of having a “goodbye day” for Blake, and she wants Carver to share one final day saying goodbye to her grandson. They’ll tell stories about Blake, visit his favorite spots, eat his favorite foods…basically, spend one day devoted to Blake’s memory.

At first, Carver is apprehensive about this, but he finds the experience somehow cleansing, and he wonders if it’s a good idea to have “goodbye days” with the families of his other friends. Some are willing; others are not. Not everyone forgives as readily as Blake’s grandmother. Even Carver feels that he’s somehow deserving of everything being heaped on him: the criminal investigation, the panic attacks, being a pariah at school, and the thoughts that plague him on a daily basis.

Will Carver ever be able to forgive himself for his role in this horrible tragedy? Will others be able to forgive him? Can a series of “goodbye days” help Carver and his friends’ families make some sort of peace with their loss? Will a cloud of grief hover over Carver forever, or will he be able to find a “new normal” with a little help?


I don’t know what more I can say about this book without telling everything that happens. It wrecked me, maybe more than The Serpent King did…and that’s saying a lot.

I think Goodbye Days is a great read for fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Gayle Forman. Basically, if you like books that tear your heart out, this is the book for you.

In my opinion, Goodbye Days is more suited to a YA audience than a tween crowd. If you plan to market this book to a middle grade audience, read it first. The book is written from a teen guy’s perspective, so there is some language and frank talk of “personal growth.” (I don’t think I need to explain that, do I?) Know your readers, and plan accordingly.

For more information on Goodbye Days and Jeff Zentner (who is now one of my go-to authors for contemporary YA), visit the author’s website. You can also connect with Jeff Zentner on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Dumplin’

Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ had been on my to-read list for a while. I finally decided to read it when it was placed on the nominee list for next year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. I finished the book a couple of days ago, and I found it to be extremely relatable, especially if you’re a big girl living in the South (or anywhere, really). I, for one, saw some of my own high school experiences reflected in the life of one Willowdean “Dumplin'” Dickson. Maybe you will too.

Willowdean Dickson is a fat girl. She knows it; she owns it. What does it really matter anyway? She’s relatively happy. She’s got a wonderful best friend, Ellen, who’s as close as a sister and shares her love of Dolly Parton. She’s got a decent job at a local fast food joint where she gets to ogle Bo, a guy who, oddly enough, seems to like her as much as she likes him. Everything’s just peachy, right?

Well, not really.

Soon, Will’s insecurities about her size start to interfere with her life, much like they did for her beloved Aunt Lucy, who recently passed away. Will is increasingly frustrated with Ellen, who doesn’t really get what it’s like to live in a large body. Will feels Ellen drawing away from her and toward Callie, a girl who makes her disdain for Will pretty obvious. Will also doesn’t quite trust Bo’s feelings for her. She freezes when he gets too familiar with her body, and she doesn’t understand why a guy like him would want to be with a big girl. On top of all this, her mother, who Will doesn’t really connect with, is gearing up for her long-time obsession, the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant.

The Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant is everything to many of the girls in Will’s town. Will’s mother was a former pageant winner, and she never lets anyone forget it. When going through her aunt’s old papers one day, Will discovers that Lucy, who always struggled with her weight, also wanted to enter the pageant, but she never took that risk. Will, in the blink of an eye, decides to step out on that ledge and do what her aunt wouldn’t. She enters the pageant…and her world turns upside down.

Suddenly, a bunch of other girls–girls who wouldn’t normally enter a beauty pageant–are following in Will’s lead. Will doesn’t want to start a whole movement or anything, but that may not be up to her anymore. Ellen has also entered the pageant, and that puts a strain on her relationship with Will, especially considering that Ellen actually has a shot of winning.

Will’s mom doesn’t think her daughter is taking the pageant seriously, and that adds a whole other level of drama to what is quickly becoming more chaos than Will can handle. And when she’s already dealing with boy issues, Will is wondering if she’s bitten off more than she can chew.

There’s only one question Will needs to answer at this point: What would Dolly do?

As Will begins to more fully embrace who she is, she comes to value the new friends she’s made during this pageant madness, but she also looks to repair the damaged relationships in her life. Those between her and her mom, Ellen, and Bo. She’s not going to let anything–including her own issues and insecurities–come between her and what she wants anymore.


I’ve spent my entire life as the fat best friend, so I 100% related to much of what Will experienced in Dumplin’. I still have major anxiety about eating in front of other people, showing any part of my body, and a bunch of other issues that I won’t get into here. It was not at all difficult for me to place myself in the main character’s shoes (or in her late aunt’s, for that matter). I’ve had fights with friends (mostly thin girls) who simply didn’t understand that my experiences were different from theirs. They didn’t worry about getting made fun of every time they walked down the hall, got up in front of a class, or stepped out of their comfort zone. So, yeah, I get Willowdean.

Having said all that, I will say that some of her experiences were beyond me. I am not now nor have I ever been a pageant girl. I’ve never understood the appeal. (Apologies to my friends and family members who are all about this stuff.) I’ve also never had to worry about attracting the attention of a “hot guy,” unless it was negative attention, mostly bullying.

While I do relate to Will in this book, I also think parts of it, especially the ending, are a little too neat. Everything kind of wraps up in a nice, neat little bow, and that’s just not how things work in the real world. I also think that Will could have done a bit more self-reflection, examining her somewhat hypocritical views on the girls around her, particularly those also competing in the pageant.

Even with a couple of things that gave me pause, I do think Dumplin’ is a great book. There’s none of that “fat girl only becomes happy when she loses weight” nonsense, which is a major plus. I look forward to seeing more of Willowdean and company in future books. (There’s supposed to be a sequel to Dumplin’ sometime next year.)

Given that there’s some salty language and pretty frank talk of sexy times, I do think Dumplin’ is suited to a teen/high school audience. I probably wouldn’t place it in a middle school library.

To learn more about Dumplin’ and Julie Murphy, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

Finally, if you like Dumplin’, you might want to read Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Dark Side of the Rainbow

Read all of these Dorothy Must Die books and novellas before continuing with this post. (Yes, I’m serious.)

So…you’ve no doubt gathered that I recently finished reading yet another Dorothy Must Die story. Yes, I’d say that’s pretty obvious. The latest story, Dark Side of the Rainbow, is the eighth prequel novella, and it focuses on Polychrome, the fairy in charge of the Rainbow Falls region of Oz. If you’re familiar with this series, you’ll recall that Polychrome plays an important role in The Wicked Will Rise, and this novella gives a bit of backstory to Polly’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the war brewing in Oz.

Polychrome really can’t complain about her life. She’s the Head Fairy in Charge of Rainbow Falls, the hottest vacation spot in Oz. She spends her days partying, surfing, chilling with her pet unicorn (which is not actually a unicorn), and having a grand old time. She doesn’t get why her cousin, Ozma, is always so serious. Ozma needs to loosen up and enjoy life a little, like Polly does on a regular basis. Oz will take care of itself.

Oh, if only Polly were right…

One day, a familiar face arrives in Oz and throws everything into chaos. It’s Dorothy, the Witchslayer. Polly, who doesn’t pay a ton of attention to the goings-on in Emerald City, doesn’t know how things have changed since the reappearance of Dorothy. She doesn’t know that Cousin Ozma is no longer on the throne. She doesn’t know that Dorothy is a power-hungry psycho. She doesn’t know that fear permeates everything now. All she knows is that Dorothy is visiting Rainbow Falls, and she wants to be friends. Why, though? Why is Dorothy so determined to get close to Polly?

A new friend of Polly’s, a handsome fella named Bright, tries to warn Polly about Dorothy and what she’s doing to Oz, but Polly doesn’t believe him…at first. Soon enough, however, she sees what’s happening, and she tries her best to stop it from reaching her own domain. It may be too late, though…

When Dorothy’s true nature is revealed, Polly must do whatever she can to stop this madwoman from destroying Rainbow Falls completely. Will her efforts be enough? Will this laid-back fairy give in to Dorothy, or will she become the leader Rainbow Falls needs in its darkest hour?


Maybe it’s just me, but I’m seeing parallels to American politics in a Dorothy Must Die story here. Anyone else? Something to think about.

While this wasn’t my favorite of the Dorothy Must Die novellas, I did like it, especially considering how things end up for Polly and company in The Wicked Will Rise. (No, I will not spoil it if you haven’t caught up.) I wish her relationship with Bright had been explored a bit more, but we still got a pretty decent look at how their relationship began.

Now that Dark Side of the Rainbow is out, we have just one more novella, The Queen of Oz, and the fourth and final novel, The End of Oz. Both have a publication date of March 14th. I’ll probably read the novella first and then move on to the novel. We’ll see how it goes, but I will definitely be reading both stories as soon as I possibly can.

For more information on the entire Dorothy Must Die series and Danielle Paige, connect with the author on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.

Crenshaw

The lists of nominees for the 2017-18 South Carolina Book Awards were recently released, so I have a whole new reading list to take care of. I decided to read of one of the new Children’s Book Award nominees this weekend.

Most people familiar with children’s literature know Katherine Applegate for her outstanding Newbery-winning book, The One and Only Ivan. In Crenshaw, she gives readers yet another heart-warming story. This moving book takes a look at one boy’s life and the sudden reappearance of his imaginary friend, a very large cat named Crenshaw.

Jackson likes facts. He thinks there’s always a logical explanation for everything around him. So, obviously, there is some plausible reason for the presence of the surfboarding, human-sized, talking cat in front of him.

Jackson knows this cat. It’s Crenshaw, his imaginary friend from years ago, and there’s no rational explanation for his reappearance, so Jackson pretends he’s not seeing what’s right in front of his eyes. It’s just not possible. But he still has Crenshaw sightings from time to time. What’s going on here? Why is Crenshaw hanging around now, when he’s been gone for so long?

Well, it might have something to do with the stress of Jackson’s life. While Jackson’s parents are struggling to make ends meet, Jackson, his little sister, and their dog are dealing with being hungry, losing their few possessions, and possibly having to live in the family car. Jackson remembers when this happened before–and his first meeting with Crenshaw–and he doesn’t want to go through that again.

Could Crenshaw’s reappearance have something to do with Jackson’s worries? What could this strange cat–a cat only he (and maybe his dog) can see–possibly do to make things better? Crenshaw can’t take away Dad’s health problems. He can’t give Jackson’s parents the money they need for rent and all their other bills. He can’t make sure Jackson and his sister have enough to eat. So why is he here?

As hard as it is for Jackson to accept, some things simply defy logic. Maybe Crenshaw is back simply because Jackson needs him. Not to make everything better, but to be a friend when Jackson needs someone–human or feline, real or imagined–the most.


I liked Crenshaw, but I do wish it had a lot more Crenshaw in it. I feel like the book could have explored the relationship between Jackson and Crenshaw a bit more. It would have made the book stronger, meatier, and even more absorbing than it already was.

I think Crenshaw provides young readers with an accessible, easy-to-read look at what it may be like for kids who deal with homelessness or simply not having “enough.” The imaginary friend element is really secondary in this story. The primary focus of Crenshaw is how one young boy handles his family falling on hard times, and this book approaches the issue with creativity, empathy, and, hard as it is to believe in a book with an imaginary cat, realism.

To learn more about this book and author Katherine Applegate, check out this Crenshaw website. You may also like this book trailer produced by Macmillan Children’s Publishing. Enjoy!

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

I think I established a couple of weeks ago that I adore Squirrel Girl. Well, that’s even more true now that I’ve read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World. This novel, written by Shannon and Dean Hale, gives readers a look into how Doreen Green became one of the funniest, most optimistic, and most lovable superheroes to hit the Marvel scene.

Fourteen-year-old Doreen Green has a tail, she’s fast and super-strong, she understands Chitterspeak (squirrel language), and she loves nuts. She’s basically a human with lots of squirrely qualities. She and her family have just moved to New Jersey from California, and she’s looking to make some new friends–both human and squirrel.

It’s not easy, though, when you’re new in town. At first, the neighborhood squirrels don’t know quite what to make of her. They’re not used to people like Doreen. (To be fair, there are no other people like Doreen.) Eventually, Doreen forms a friendship with Tippy-Toe, a feisty little tree squirrel.

Making human friends proves to be even more complicated than connecting with the squirrel community. The popular kids at school don’t want to have anything to do with Doreen. They even make fun of her backside. (Doreen knows they’d probably love her big, beautiful squirrel tail, but she has to hide it at school. You’d have a large, curvy backside too if you had to stuff a huge, furry tail in your jeans all the time.)

Doreen does find one (rather reluctant) friend in Ana Sofia, a deaf, Latina girl who’s been investigating the increasing crime levels around town. When Doreen puts together the alarming number of squirrel traps in town, Ana Sofia’s investigations, and some weird buzzing things that are making the neighborhood dogs crazy, there’s only one logical conclusion. Her new town has a supervillain at work!

Well, when there’s a supervillain causing chaos, a superhero needs to save the day. Doreen knows what she must do. She finally becomes who she was always meant to be–Squirrel Girl! She helps humans and squirrels alike, and she works to figure out who is behind the pandemonium in town. She seeks help from a couple of Avengers, but, in the end, it’s up to Squirrel Girl, her new best friend, Ana Sofia, and an army of extremely helpful, talented squirrels.

Does Squirrel Girl have what it takes to be a real superhero? Can she and her new friends stop a criminal mastermind before everything goes nuts? Find out when you read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World!


In a world that is increasingly dark and depressing, Squirrel Girl is a glimmer of light and happiness. When I was reading this book, it immediately put me in a better mood. Doreen’s voice is totally charming, and I dare anyone who reads this book not to like it…or want more.

This novel is told in third-person, but the reader gets a better glimpse of the awesomeness of Squirrel Girl through first-person footnotes. These notes add to the hilarity of the book and are sure to make readers chuckle.

Squirrel Meets World will be released to the masses next Tuesday, February 7th, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that every school and public library should add it to their collections. It’s great for all ages, and I think it will encourage a whole new brood of readers to pick up the Squirrel Girl comic books. I’m also really hoping that we’ll see more Squirrel Girl novels in the future. I’ll definitely be on the lookout.

For more Squirrel Girl goodness, check out the Squirrel Girl Tumblr site. You can also learn more about author Shannon Hale here.

Finally, many thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this book a little early. I love it!