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Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Song for a Whale
Image: Cover of Lynne Kelly’s Song For A Whale

The story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Lynne Kelly’s Song For A Whale was a beautiful book about a young girl’s need to belong and her determined journey to help a whale also find a place to belong. Iris is deaf. Her grandparents are deaf and she has a friend, Wendell, who is also deaf but she attends a hearing school. On top of all this, while her mom and older brother have learned sign language to easily communicate with Iris, her father has never put in the effort instead relying on her lip reading skills and other people to translate. This book centers on her discovery of a whale called Blue 55 who sings in a frequency that other whales can’t understand. Iris immediately relates to Blue 55 and she sets out on a journey to give him a song that might finally make him feel heard.

In both high school and my first round of college I took ASL classes. I spent three years learning it in high school and was actually planning on minoring in it in college. For a really long time I was interested in becoming an interpreter and while my career goals have ultimately changed since then I think that learning sign language is something that everyone should do if presented the opportunity. The Deaf community is wonderful and I’ve met a lot of great people over the years that have pulled me out of my shell from my time learning ASL. It’s an incredibly expressive language and it taught me a lot about communication so I was excited to pick up a book featuring a deaf main character! I feel like if I let myself talk about it too much I would take up the entire post but I’ll just say that while communication and school and everything surrounding that is up for individual families to decide it is incredibly important for deaf children to be able to communicate. ASL has its own structure and grammar but it is a language and it opens the world up so much more than relying on lip reading and speaking.

Song For A Whale was emotional. Iris feels misunderstood and often floats through life feeling like an outsider. At school she has to rely on an interpreter and with interactions with Deaf (uppercase D means individuals who identify with the larger Deaf community) people she feels like she’s getting left behind because she isn’t around fluent signers all the time. My heart hurt for her because she had so much passion that I wanted everyone else in her life to see that too. So when she begins to create a song for Blue 55 after learning about the whale in science class I couldn’t help but cheer her on as she began to make unlikely friends along her journey. I think that this book is a perfect one to help young readers begin to step into the shoes of those that have different abilities to their own. Being deaf does not define a person and I really enjoyed that Kelly fully made Iris her own person because that will help readers understand that too.

One of my favorite things about this book was that not only was it a story of belonging but it was also one of healing. Before the events of this story took place, Iris lost her grandfather. So on top of everything she was navigating her grief for one of the few people that fully accepted her as she was. Her grandmother was grieving the loss of her husband and life long companion and I loved seeing the support and hope she had for Iris. She stepped up for her granddaughter and ended up beginning to move with her grief as well. As they both opened up to each other and the outside world I was really proud of both characters for being so strong.

This is a very character driven book. Interspersed between a few of Iris’s chapters were some written from the perspective of Blue 55. They were moving and brought me hope that the two would be able to interact in some way before the story ended. I loved how Kelly tied the passion Iris felt for radios to this mission to create a song for a whale. It was unique and I think it added so much to the importance for everyone to be able to communicate with those around them. I also thought that it was cool to find so many educational tidbits sprinkled throughout about whales and whale song. It was well worth the read and whether you’re hearing or deaf I couldn’t recommend this book more.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (to find a local indie to shop through!)

And with that, I’m signing off for the day. I’ll talk to you all in my next post!

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Categories
Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia

I was super excited when I was granted access to an eARC to The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia. It follows a girl named Lulu who has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. This is an incredibly uncommon phenomenon but it was such a fascinating concept to center the story around. If you don’t know what HSAM is, it essentially means that Lulu remembers every second of her life.

Lulu lives with her parents, little brother, and grandmother. She had a younger sister who I think passed away from SIDs but it wasn’t explicitly stated. Her parents have struggled immensely with this and on top of that her mother is dealing with postpartum depression as well. So Lulu leans on her grandmother heavily, which makes it even scarier when her grandma starts having problems with her memory. When Lulu realizes the scope of her own memory, she tries to collect her grandmother’s in order to help her in day to day life. Lulu wonders if the reason that her grandmother is losing her memory is because of a traumatic event, just as a traumatic event can trigger HSAM, she reads that it could also trigger memory loss. So Lulu goes in search of her grandmother’s past in order to save her memory and save her family.

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So I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. Was it super realistic? No, but it was emotional and heartfelt and deep while at the same time balanced with lighthearted jokes and fun friendship moments. Memory issues are a hard topic for me and I couldn’t help but get emotional a lot throughout this book. I know a few people that have dealt with or are dealing with Alzheimers and I myself have dealt with a great deal of memory loss due to mental health problems. It was painful to see how much Lulu was scared of losing her grandma if anyone found out what she was struggling with.

There was also quite a candid discussion of postpartum depression and grief and it was hard to see how Lulu struggled with her relationship with her parents but eye opening to read from the side of a child in a situation like this.

The side “quest” I guess is what I would call it that followed Lulu and her friends, Max and Olivia, in trying to also uncover Lulu’s grandma’s past was too funny. They took their roles of detectives so seriously and I really enjoyed seeing how their relationships developed and changed as the book progressed. I genuinely loved each of the characters in this book and it warmed my heart to see them heal even just a little by the time the book ended.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was that each chapter opened with a short description of some part of the brain and how it functions. Considering the book centered around a story in which the brain and memory was a central feature, I thought this was really interesting! It was educational and easy to understand and I really liked that.

This book felt reminiscent of The Ghost Collector  in that both main characters are dealing with something really difficult and are doing everything in their power to fix what they are struggling with. I highly recommend both.

 

Categories
Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Happy Monday and welcome to a new series on Adventures With A Side Of Espresso!

Ever since I created my The Books That Shaped Me (1, 2, 3) posts I have wanted to reread and read so many middle grade books. So without further ado, welcome to the first ever Middle Grade Monday!! This is going to be a series published on random Mondays where I discuss either middle grade books that I have reread or new books that I have picked up. I’m really excited to do this!

And if you have no idea what middle grade is, well that’s the category of books that is geared towards kids aged 8-12!

So when I was in third grade, I picked up Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix from my elementary school library and it very quickly became my new favorite book. I read it once a year after that until I was finished with elementary school and recently picked up my own copy of it from a thrift store so I had to reread it. Margaret Peterson Haddix has so many unique books that I highly recommend checking out any of them if you’re interested in reading middle grade books.

In picking up this to reread I was really interested in seeing if this book held up. It was originally published in 1995 and I think that’s going to be my main purpose in rereading books.

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Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jessie lives with her family in the frontier village of Clifton, Indiana. When diphtheria strikes the village and the children of Clifton start dying, Jessie’s mother sends her on a dangerous mission to bring back help. But beyond the walls of Clifton, Jessie discovers a world even more alien and threatening than she could have imagined, and soon she finds her own life in jeopardy. Can she get help before the children of Clifton, and Jessie herself, run out of time?

Basically, Jessie has grown up for her entire life believing that she’s living in the 1800’s and when kids within her village begin getting sick, Jessie’s mom reveals to her that it’s actually 1996 and they are living in an historical tourist attraction. Now, put yourself into the shoes of a nine year old… Is this not a mind-blowing concept or what??

In terms of this holding up today, I think it does. There are some offhand comments about “Indians” but in looking at this as if the main character in the book was living in the 1800’s, well, it’s a good learning point to explain why viewpoints have changed since then. I found reading this to be stressful even as an adult and I already knew every twist and turn that this book took! And I wish that I could say that this book wouldn’t hold up because of the outrageous concept but like cults happen and other crazy stuff happens even now which still just blows my mind what people can get away with.

If you know of any kids that are into fast paced and stressful books, this is a dang good thriller. It’s 184 pages but it packs a punch, there isn’t a single dull moment in the entire thing. 5/5 stars!

Oh and then, as I was talking to my mom about this book the other day when we were forcing my brothers to pick out books to read at the library she told me that there’s a movie based around this sort of concept too. So catch me watching The Village pretty soon now because I really want to see a cinematic version of this. It still amazes me how much of an impact a book that I read 10+ years ago can have on me even today. I highly recommend.