Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (YA Fiction)

Genesis Begins Again

Alicia D. Williams (YA Fiction)

Thirteen-year-old Genesis Anderson hates moving (her family is on number four), broken promises (too many to count), her father’s hateful words when he’s had too much to drink (too painful to count), her hair, and staying with her grandmother. She also hates the darkness of her skin, which she’s tried to lighten using a variety of household products. But mostly, Genesis hates the list that was started back in sixth grade by two classmates who listed one hundred things (the stupid girls only listed sixty) they hated about her. The joke’s on them because Genesis has been adding to that list on her own and will probably make it to 100 in no time. There’s a lot of things Genesis hates, but a new school with new friends and new opportunities finally show Genesis that there are a lot of things to like. With things finally beginning to look up, you can bet that it won’t be long before something comes along to mess it all up. Genesis hates that.

Very few young adult books have grabbed me the way Genesis Begins Again has. Williams’s opening paragraph leads us into a false sense of security that is quickly and horribly stripped away in a matter of paragraphs. Williams snuffs out our girl’s light in one raw and shameful event that immediately shows us the obstacles that Genesis faces, the character of the “friends” she has, and the girl that she ultimately is. Behind all that self-loathing is a strong, loyal, fierce, and intelligent girl who is wise beyond her years and determined to make her fractured world whole again…no matter the cost. She is instantly a character that we root for and we find ourselves either wanting to take her by the shoulders to remind her that she’s better than she thinks or wrap our arms around her to reassure her that everything will be alright.

It’s hard to believe that this is Williams’s debut novel. It received the Newbery Honor award in 2020, as well as the John Steptoe Award for New Talent. Her book began as an autobiography but was soon revised to better reflect the present rather than the past. The themes of bullying and colorism play predominantly throughout the story and often emanate from surprising and unexpected sources. The characters are wonderfully developed, the prose is engaging and allows us to fully immerse ourselves within Genesis’s world, the conflicts and outcomes are realistic, and there’s enough drama and tension to keep the story moving at a wonderful pace.

Highlighting the important and influential role that teachers have on our children, Genesis is highly influenced by her music teacher, Mrs. Hill. It is she who introduces Genesis to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James who showed her that there is beauty in brokenness and joy beyond the pain. Music healed Genesis…it freed her…and proved to be a lifeline to those around her who needed it the most. Billie Holiday once said, “If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.” All through the story, Genesis was always trying to be someone else: lighter, braver, smarter, hipper, or more popular. It was only after she discovered and began to sing her own song, that she was truly able to begin again.

Rating: 5/5

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The Pepins and Their Problems by Polly Horvath (J Fiction)

The Pepins and Their Problems

Polly Horvath (J Fiction)

Being a fairly small family, the Pepins seem to have a rather large amount of problems. From frogs in their shoes to a cow that is suddenly producing lemonade to missing cutlery (where did all the forks go???), there doesn’t appear to be an end to the number of problems the Pepins have. But with the help of a telepathically gifted author and projected suggestions from readers from Pottsville, Pennsylvania to Hughes, Alaska and everywhere in between, there seems to be no problem too big that the Pepins can’t solve. That is until a long-lost Pepin arrives who promises to solve ALL of their problems himself. Could this finally be the end to the Pepins’s problems?

This book is outrageous, outlandish, and out and out ridiculous as Polly Horvath delights readers with a story filled with a cow who takes French and algebra lessons, a dog and cat who not only talk, but have been known to fly about in a motorless aircraft, a very fine neighbor, and a not-so very fine neighbor. We see scarf dances, an elaborate neighbor test, an awkward infatuation with a barbershop pole, and a laboratory that would make even Willy Wonka jealous.

The Pepins and Their Problems has a recommended reading age of 8-12, but I fear that a reader over the age of ten will find this book to be too silly and very frustrating at times since some of the problems the Pepins have can easily be solved with a simple question or plain old common sense. This book would be in its element if read out loud allowing young readers to think over and offer up their own solutions.

The thing I love most about Horvath is that she does not write down to her audience (which I seem to say every time I review one of her books) and this is obvious as she tosses out words such as loquaciousness, perspicacious, ruminatively, progeniture, and amalgamation. Definitely have a dictionary close by…you’re going to need it!

Whether they’re stuck on the roof or dealing with a relative who sucks up breadcrumbs through their nose, the Pepins are ever a loving and close-knit family who look upon their problems as blessings in disguise and realize that a happy family already has as many riches as anyone can hope for. Now who, dear reader, could possibly have a problem with that?

Rating: 4/5

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The Borrowers Aloft (The Borrowers #4) by Mary Norton (J Fantasy)

The Borrowers Aloft (The Borrowers #4)

Mary Norton (J Fantasy)

Pod, Homily, and Arrietty Clock have been through a lot, but with the help of Spinner, they are finally headed to their new home in Little Fordham. Developed and managed by Mr. Abel Pott, this miniature railway village attracts plenty of humans and humans—as all Borrowers know—always can be counted on to leave behind lots of things worth borrowing. But Little Fordham has also attracted the attention of Mr. and Mrs. Platter, a greedy couple who know a good opportunity when they see it. They set on building a similar village called Ballyhoggin and just when they think they’ve one-upped their competition, they discover something in Little Fordham that could make them rich—real little people! Soon, the Clocks find themselves kidnapped and will soon be a permanent Ballyhoggin attraction. They’ve pulled off narrow escapes before, but could our favorite Borrowers have finally met their match?

The Borrowers Aloft is the fourth book in The Borrowers series and Norton continues to thrill and excite readers with new characters, challenges, and lessons to be learned. We meet the kind Mr. Pott, the amiable Miss Menzies who befriends Arrietty, and the opportunistic and scheming Platters who imprison our heroes and plan to exhibit them like animals in a zoo. This book truly tests the patience, strength, and unity of our heroes as they must rely on their ingenuity, wit, and each other in order to regain their freedom.  

Four books in and Norton still manages to keep the Clock’s journey fresh and exciting with new faces, obstacles, and challenges: Arrietty has grown tremendously but her trusting nature once again puts her family at risk; Homily is realizing that her little girl is growing up soon will be looking to build a life of her own; and Pod is faced with making some tough decisions of his own as he weighs his wife’s comfort, his daughter’s longing, and his desire to remain true to his Borrower nature.

Homily asks Pod a question that she’s heard herself ask a number of times, “Where are we going to?” to which Pod responds, “To where we belong.” Spanish athlete Bojan Krkic once said, “It is important to find a place where you feel trust, you feel belonging and stability.” Based on this, it seems that Pod, Homily, and Arrietty may be closer to finding their perfect place than even they realize.

Rating: 5/5

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The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

The First Phone Call from Heaven

Mitch Albom (Adult Inspirational)

It was a rather ordinary day in the small, quiet town of Coldwater, Michigan. A day when a phone call would forever change the town—and soon the world—forever. The last time a phone call had such an impact was on March 10, 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell made the world’s first phone call to his assistant, Thomas Watson, and infamously uttered, “Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you.” The phone call received by Tess Rafferty was just as improbable and consequential because this call came from Heaven. As more people came forward to share their own calls, one man remained skeptical and determined to prove this wonderful miracle was nothing more than a cruel and heartless hoax.

I fell in love with Mitch Albom after reading Tuesdays with Morrie and he has again presented me with another beautiful bouquet in the form of The First Phone Call from Heaven. He gives us several characters to follow as each receives a phone call from the afterlife, but he keeps us focused on three central individuals: Sully Harding, widowed father and newly released from prison who refuses to buy in to the religious narrative; Katherine Yellin, real estate broker who receives the second call but is the first to announce it publicly; and Police Chief Jack Sellers, divorced and father to a son lost in combat who must maintain law and order while trying to grapple with his own truth. Woven through all of these stories are historical facts and tidbits about Alexander Graham Bell, which I really enjoyed learning: stories about his mother and wife who were both hearing impaired, his close brush with obscurity, and the actual creator behind the standard telephone greeting “Hello” (hint: it wasn’t Bell who suggested “Ahoy!”). All of these references could have seemed forced and out of place, but Albom connects the past to the present as effortlessly as we are able to connect with one another today.

Albom’s faith is clearly the heart of this book as heavenly callers reassure their living recipients that they are well, happy, and that Heaven is indeed real. Sadly and realistically, we witness a beautiful event spiraling out of control as protestors seek a platform and news outlets realize the potential profit that faith and hope hold. It was Winston Churchill, working to form the United Nations after World War II, who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” I’m sure it was a media mogul who might have been tempted to tack on “…or a miracle either.”

This is a wonderful story of faith challenged, hope questioned, and lives altered as the impossible becomes possible and the unknown is made clear. And whether you’re a believer, non-believer, or agnostic, one thing we can agree on—that remains as true today as it did in 1876—is that a single voice spoken through wires has the ability to change life forever.

Rating: 5/5

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