Book Review: In Sight of Stars

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Polisner, Gae. In Sight of Stars. Wednesday Books, 2018.

Note: This is a review of an advanced, uncorrected proof.

Many YA releases discuss mental illness in a frank but positive way. Some examples include John Green’s Turtles All The Way Down and Julia Walton’s Words on Bathroom Walls. Gae Polisner’s most recent publication, too, sheds light on tough topics like suicide and self-harm, but leaves the reader feeling hopeful.

In Sight of Stars features teenaged protagonist Klee (pronounced “Clay”), a high school senior and burgeoning artist. Klee’s artistic abilities were inherited from his father, an artist-turned-attorney. Klee, unfortunately, is the first to discover his father’s body following his violent suicide. Feeling numb and directionless, Klee moves with his stoic mother to the community of North Hollow.

In North Hollow, Klee begins a relationship with the beautiful but flighty Sarah. But Klee grows aggravated with Sarah’s elusiveness and is troubled by an accidental discovery regarding his parents’ marriage. Thus begins a series of events that lands Klee in a juvenile psychiatric ward nicknamed the “Ape Can”. Through the help of wise Dr. Alvarez and a mysterious nun with dwarfism, Klee recounts his haunted past and prepares to deal with his now complicated present. Will he make amends with Sarah and his mother? Will he untangle the mystery of who his father truly was?

Having read Polisner’s The Memory of Things—a book centered on the events of 9/11—I can say with certainty that the author describes the bustle and beauty of New York in a way that few writers can. I loved The Memory of Things, but In Sight of Stars is by far my favorite of Polisner’s books. The action felt fast-paced, the flashbacks were bitingly painful, and artwork was described so viscerally that I found myself Googling painting after painting.

In my view, the book’s one flaw is that the surprise or turn regarding Klee’s father felt predictable. I guessed the outcome early on; I would assume that younger readers would be able to connect the dots as well. Also, for teachers looking for appropriate read alouds, this book has a sizable amount of sexual content.

Overall, though, I truly enjoyed In Sight of Stars and can see a number of uses for this text in the classroom. Teachers who are touching on psychology or art related issues would perhaps be most interested in Polisner’s novel, but anyone hoping to start conversations about life after trauma should pick up a copy as well.

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone

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Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. Henry Holt and Company, 2018.

If you’re at all active in the Young Adult book community, you’ve likely heard the buzz surrounding Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel Children of Blood and Bone. Some of this buzz surrounds Adeyemi herself—a Nigerian-American Harvard grad who landed a movie deal for her forthcoming series. When my copy arrived in the mail, I was anxious to read and evaluate the novel.

In Zelie’s world, citizens were once divided into two factions: those who wielded magic (known as maji or diviners) and those who did not. Zelie’s mother was a powerful maji who could command spirit armies to do her bidding; however, she is eventually killed in a maji raid orchestrated by the cruel King Saran. With magic eradicated and Zelie’s mother only a memory, Zelie’s days are spent with her broken father and older brother, Tzain. The family catches and sells fish to survive.

While in the marketplace peddling her fish, Zelie is accosted by a panicked stranger. This stranger is fleeing from the king’s guards, and she’s adman ant on needing Zelie’s assistance. Later, the identity of the stranger is revealed—she is Princess Amari, the daughter of King Saran. She doesn’t share her father’s views on magic, though, and in fact claims to know a way to return magic to the kingdom. Can Zelie trust Amari? Will the magic that existed in Zelie’s childhood ever return?

Adeyemi’s world is carefully crafted and intricate; there’s truly no facet she hasn’t thought out. Even the animals are reimagined and renamed as hybrids—lionnaires, for example. I also loved that the female characters in Children of Blood and Bone are multifaceted. Zelie is tough and guarded but quickly falls in love; Amari is fearful and delicate but can act with violence when necessary. The book’s ending, too, is a true cliffhanger and made me eagerly anticipate the next book in the series.

I sometimes felt that Zelie and Inan’s relationship moved unrealistically fast. Like other large fantasy novels, keeping up with the many names, locations, special powers, particular deities, etc. grew to be a bit of a challenge.

Despite its length, Children of Blood and Bone is extremely teachable, particularly because of Adeyemi’s author note at the book’s end. She reveals that the book was inspired by sad instances of police brutality, and that various heart wrenching losses in the book mirror actual losses in the real world. Children of Blood and Bone, then, would be the perfect book for a unit on allegory or text-to-self and text-to-world connections.