This month has been a whirlwind of travel, books, and contest-promoting, but I promise to be a more diligent reviewer from now on. Besides, I’ve read a ton of amazing books I can’t wait to tell you about! First up, the wonderfully-titled, charming early middle grade novel The Year of the Book.
This book covers the ups and downs of Anna Wang’s grade four year. Anna is a quiet, meticulous child who enjoys reading and sewing. She is less enchanted with Chinese school, which her mother insists she attend, and is wary of her fair-weather friend Laura, who seems to prefer the company of mean-girl in training Allison.
Author Andrea Cheng nails the politics of childhood, especially triangular relationships. Laura seems to prefer Anna’s company, but chooses Allison over Anna when push comes to shove. Allison is that dominating, bossy person who pits people against each other and makes everyone vie for her attention. We’ve all known girls like this. Under Cheng’s careful character study, neither Allison or Laura are totally demonized, but we (the reader and Anna) are given little insights into why they behave the way they do. This is a fine balance to achieve but Cheng pulls it off marvelously.
This is one of those rare early chapter books that gets everything right: the level of language (not too sophisticated), friendship and parental anxieties, chapter length, font size, use of illustration. Everything here is perfect for grade 3, 4 maybe even 5 readers. Her tone reminds me of Jean Little’s middle grade; straight forward, honest and sensitive. She is a writer who knows how important moments of comfort (food, routine, family) are to young readers. Abigail Halpin’s black and white spot illustrations add warmth and charm to the story.
Fans of Ivy and Bean who are ready for something with a bit more substance and emotional impact but are not ready for the full-on literary drama of say Rebecca Stead or Jenny Han will appreciate this novel. I sure did!
The Year of The Book is available now from Houghton Mifflin.