Book Review: All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

All About Mia
Lisa Williamson
David Fickling Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-16397-1
Hardcover

Mia-in-the-middle is not doing well. Something like loneliness lingers, an itch that can’t be scratched. It doesn’t make sense to her that someone who adores alone time (but is never actually alone) could feel lonely. Anyway, the small window of time that gave her a bit of breathing space has slammed shut.

It felt decadent, using Grace’s room while her elder sibling spent her gap-year in Greece (no doubt doing something amazing). But now, out of the blue, Grace is coming home early. And she’s bringing her “spoddy” boyfriend. An aggravating situation exacerbated by the overwhelming excitement of their parents. Already annoying, on their love-crazed-wedding-planning-cloud, they are absolutely insufferable with enthusiastic joy.

Her younger sister, Audrey, will never be an ally. Aside from training for swim meets, she only has time for Beyoncé, her beloved guinea pig. Mia’s three best friends, generally good-to-go with whatever floats her boat, seem a bit strange and stand-offish. Not so supportive, terribly frustrating.

Initially, I didn’t like Mia. But then it hit me. I was seeing Mia through her eyes. Neither one of us had figured out that she wasn’t feeling very fond of herself. Or that she felt invisible. Slowly, I began to understand her outrageous behavior and blatant disregard for everyone close to her. Unable to articulate the aching emptiness; Mia could only act out.

I’m excited to share All About Mia with students here in the U. S. because I think that, like me, they will delight in the English dialect and phrasing and they will definitely appreciate the cultural differences. Which reminds me—in the U.S., the legal drinking age is 21. The Campbell-Richardson family resides in Rushton, a small English hamlet. Although Mia does over-indulge, and it is under-age drinking; it is in a world where wine (albeit watered-down) is welcome with evening meals and the legal drinking age is 18.

Mostly, I’ll be recommending this because I believe that everyone who meets Mia will feel a little less lonely.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2018.

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Book Review: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Dust GirlDust Girl
The American Fairy Trilogy Book One
Sarah Zettel
Random House Children’s Books, June 2012
ISBN 978-0-375-86938-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run, Kansas, helping her mother run their small hotel and trying not to think about the father she’s never met. Lately all of her energy is spent battling the constant storms plaguing the Dust Bowl and their effects on her health. Callie is left alone, when her mother goes missing in a dust storm. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man offering a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in “the golden hills of the west” (California). Along the way she meets Jack a young hobo boy who is happy to keep her company—there are dangerous, desperate people at every turn. And there’s also an otherworldly threat to Callie. Warring fae factions, attached to the creative communities of American society, are very aware of the role this half-mortal, half-fae teenage girl plays in their fate.

Every now and then, a book comes along that gives a reviewer pause and the reasons can be complicated, perhaps even hard to explain. Such is the case with Dust Girl and what I think of it.

First, the downside. Callie, star of the show, is biracial, being the daughter of a white mother and a black father. Once again, the publishing industry has failed to capitalize on this fairly uncommon element and has put a slightly dark white girl on the cover. The most telling discrepancy is the hair—in the book, Callie talks about what her mother would do to try to hide the texture and curl of her hair, primarily by keeping it tightly braided. The hair on the cover is clearly not as described in the book. The skin also gives a false impression, certainly not “cream colored …with not too many freckles”—there is not a freckle in sight. The cover decisions are not the author’s fault as an author rarely has any say about cover art with major publishing houses but I’m not alone among readers when I wonder why these publishers won’t  gladly depict a person of color as just that.  Do they really think such a cover would deter sales? Perhaps they do think that and perhaps they would lose a few buyers but I guarantee they’d gain others who are actively looking for more diversity. (By the way, they did get Callie’s eyes right, a “stormy blue-gray…that…turned steel gray”.)

The only other negative I’ll mention is that I thought the story was a bit too slow in the beginning but that is truly a minor quibble and soon forgotten as things pick up speed.

I know about the Dust Bowl, of course, but this book does more to make the reader feel and understand what it was really like since John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Ms. Zettel handily evokes the era with its music and its railroad hobo communities and her spare prose brings the despair and heartache of the time and place to the forefront of the reader’s attention, all the while weaving a faery theme into the reality we know.

By crafting this as a tale of adversarial faery factions, Ms. Zettel has found a way to explore the racial and economic tensions of the 1930’s in an unusual and entertaining manner. The end of Callie LeRoux’s old life comes on April 14, 1935, when one of the worst dust storms recorded hits Slow Run, Kansas, her mother disappears, and Callie learns she isn’t really human. It’s then that very peculiar things begin to happen and she meets a hobo boy named Jack Holland, a boy who will prove to be the companion she needs on the journey that’s about to begin.

Sarah Zettel is a very accomplished writer and one who can be depended upon to tell a good tale. Being a fan of dark fantasy and of young adult fiction, I was hoping to find this an entertaining story that would hold my attention. Dust Girl did not let me down and I’ll be looking forward eagerly to Book Two in the American Fairy Trilogy.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2012.