Edward Bloor (Young Adult Fiction)
The Fisher family—Dad, Mom, and sons Erik and Paul—are moving from Texas to Florida. Their new home is in the prestigious Lake Windsor Downs subdivision located in Tangerine County. Despite their new location, the family continues to move forward with the Erik Fisher Football Dream…dad’s favorite topic. However, no such dream exists for Paul whose IEP lists him as legally blind. But you don’t have to be blind to see all the strange things happening in Tangerine: the never-ending muck fires, disappearing koi, a giant school-swallowing sink hole, and lightning that strikes at the same time every day. Things are definitely different in Tangerine and they’re about to get even more strange as Paul begins to piece together memories about a dark, family secret as fuzzy as his own eyesight.
I’m having a difficult time writing this review as the adult in me desperately wants to rip the title of “parent” from both Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. In 1670, John Ray cited as a proverb, “Hell is paved with good intentions” and the Fisher parents embody this beautifully. They have failed both of their sons dismally, and I can only hope that the audience this book was written for (young adults) realize this and understand the difference between parenting and passivity. With that said, I shall cast aside my adultness and say that Tangerine does provide teens with some spot-on insights into the messy, harsh, and unforgiving world of middle and high school. Edward Bloor gives us a story about the Haves and the Have Nots, where opportunity seems to favor those with money over those with moxie. He shows us how a bunch of ragtag soccer players can be more of a family than your own kin. And, he warns us of the danger of placing glory above goodness and confusing apathy with care.
Despite the flagrant shortcomings of some of the adults in this book, Bloor does give readers a modern-day hero in the likes of Paul Fisher—an underdog who pursues his dreams with relentless courage and moral conviction. Never one to fall victim to his impairment, Paul proves himself to be a loyal, fearless, and worthy friend and shows everyone in Tangerine—including his own family—that he is more than just the sum of his parts. From an early age, Paul realizes that life is often unfair and cruel, but by living in Tangerine where lightning does in fact strike twice, he understands that anything is possible and that even a kid labeled as legally blind can still see the good in people.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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The Canning Season
Polly Horvath (Young Adult Fiction)
Thirteen-year old Ratchet Clark (her father wanted to name her Stinko) lives with her mother, Henriette, who dreams of belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club (“Thank God for the Hunt Club” is the mantra in their household). Henriette works two jobs, sustains the family on Cheerios, and constantly reminds her daughter to cover up That Thing on her shoulder (it is unsightly). Life moves along at a predictable pace until the day that Henriette sends Ratchet to live with her two great aunts in Maine. Tilly and Penpen Menuto (DON’T call them the Blueberry Ladies!) are twins, but as different as chalk and cheese. Tilly is tiny and thin and Penpen is round and jolly, but both are as devoted to canning as they are to one another. Between blueberries, bears, a one-way phone, an unexpected orphan, and countless stories of a headless mother, Ratchet’s summer will prove to be anything but predictable.
The Canning Season is a delightful, entertaining, and hilarious romp. Fans of Philip Gulley or Ann B. Ross will find equal enjoyment in the Menuto sisters and their tales of loggers, love, and the lure of the woods. Some of the language in this book is a bit salty, but is appropriate to the targeted age (13 and older) and shouldn’t shock anyone who watches PG-13 films or hangs out at the local mall.
Throughout the book, we see Henriette placing an unhealthy importance on belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club, which remains an elusive aspiration. We find out that the club really isn’t as exclusive as first thought and, in reality, is open to anyone wanting to join. Drawing a nice parallel with Tilly and Penpen’s home, we see that the ominous house on the hill surrounded by bear-infested woods isn’t really what it appears to be either. It is actually warm, welcoming, and inclusive; all who enter are taken care of and treated with respect, kindness, and love (except Myrtle Trout…Heaven help her). The Canning Season reminds us that things are not often what they seem and that love is often found in the least likely of places. Thank God for the Hunt Club, indeed.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com
Swim to Me
Betsy Carter (Adult Fiction)
Delores Walker can vividly recall the moment her mother dropped her into the shallow end of a lake. She was just two, but she remembers the water’s temperature, plunging into its depths, and struggling to resurface. It was heaven. Twelve years later, she travels to Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida with her mother and father. It’s 1970 and the mermaids of Weeki Wachee perform a tribute to Apollo 11. They spin, twirl, dive, and glide, and Delores is fascinated and enthralled by these amazing creatures in the water. Now at sixteen, she boards a Greyhound bus to Florida with a suitcase, a handful of silver dollars, a letter from Weeki Wachee, and a dream of being a mermaid.
This book is a loving tribute to those wonderfully glorious quirky, kitschy, and sometimes tacky roadside attractions that are a part of our rich and unique history and culture. I totally immersed myself in this novel and loved reading about these aquatic darlings and their lives both in and out of the tank. Carter ensures a well-rounded story by giving equal attention to Delores; her struggling and self-absorbed mother, Gail; and her absentee and apathetic father, Roy. By offering readers a deeper insight into each of these characters separately, we gain a clearer understanding of their own personal thoughts, feelings, and struggles.
More than a loving wink and nod to days gone by, Swim to Me is a book about endings and new beginnings; about not being defined or confined by your present situation; and about taking what’s given to you and making the absolute most of it.
* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com