What Happened to You? by James Catchpole

Published: 6 April 2021Goodreads badge
Faber & Faber
Illustrator: Karen George
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

This is the experience of one-legged Joe, a child who just wants to have fun in the playground. Constantly seen first for his disability, Joe is fed up of only ever being asked about his leg. All he wants to do is play Pirates.

But as usual, one after the other, all the children ask him the same question they always ask, “What happened to you?”

Understandably Joe gets increasingly angry until finally the penny drops and the children realise that it’s a question Joe just doesn’t want to answer…and that Joe is playing a rather good game…one that they can join in with if they can stop fixating on his missing leg.

Because children are children, after all.

I really liked this book, more than I thought I would. I picked it up based solely on the front cover and my curiosity of the story, but by the end I was surprised of the story direction. I thought it might have been a simple plotless book about understanding people were different but instead it’s a great story that demonstrates people are different but also have no obligation to tell you about it.

Immediately we’re told of Joe’s discomfort at having to meet other kids. Even as a young kid Joe is tired of people asking about his leg, interrupting his playtime. I loved that we start by seeing Joe playing, using his imagination and enjoying himself then show the trepidation as someone joins him. Catchpole doesn’t let us off easy though as page after page drives home Joe’s discomfort at the intrusive questions by the kids.

The illustrations and the text work well together as you can’t escape the visual of the kids ganging up on Joe, badgering him with questions and demanding an answer to their own curiosity. George keeps them simple but relevant and they are a great expression of Joe’s imagination.

I also liked how Joe turns the kids questions back on them, to ask their opinions. It’s great to show a young kid already have agency to make people understand how rude their questions can be, even if they are only curious. Catchpole also makes a great point of asking the question why people need to know. No one owes you an explanation. Of course everyone learns their lesson at the end, but what was great was that Joe isn’t the one to initiate it. Catchpole has told a great story about being yourself, using your words to push back against conversations you don’t want to have and it’s a great example that could be used in a myriad of other situations and circumstances.

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The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I (#2) by Carolyn Mackler

Published: 29th May 2018 (print)/29th May 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books /Recorded Books
Pages: 304/7 hrs and 51 mins
Narrator: Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s been five months since sixteen-year-old Virginia Shreves thought her life was finally back on course: she has come to terms with who she is both inside and out, and she’s even started to rebuild her relationship with her older brother Byron, whose date-rape charge completely shattered everything.

But just as she’s getting used to the new normal, Virginia’s world turns upside down again. Sparks with boyfriend Froggy Welsh the Fourth fade, her best friend Shannon bombshells bad news, and then the police arrest Byron.

As Virginia struggles to cope, she meets Sebastian, an artist with his own baggage. The pair make a pact not to share their personal dramas. But secrets have a way of coming out, and theirs have the potential to ruin everything.

This sequel was published in 2018 so it’s clear after updating Virginia’s story Mackler felt compelled to keep the story going, either that or the compulsion for a sequel prompted a revision of the first. Either way it’s not a bad addition by any means, it’s the same characters and the tone is similar to the first book which works in its favour.

Plot wise I enjoyed that there were ongoing outcomes and consequences from the events in the first book. It’s only a few months later and it’s a nice reminder that things aren’t solved and wrapped up neatly at the end of a book. Having said that you don’t need to have read book one as the events previous are recounted fairly seamlessly, and the continuation of the story means nothing much has been happening in between.

There’s still talk around the sexual assault, and the fatphobia and body images aren’t gone which adds realism and believability to a story that previously tried to fix things a little too quickly. Previous characters return, some with more depth than before, and new antagonists bring conflict and a different type of drama.

I liked the introduction of Sebastian and how Mackler navigated it between Virginia and the bigger story. I would have been annoyed if they got close later in the book but the fact they become friends and maybe something more early on was a good distraction for Virginia and it allowed something to be only hers for a while. Of course it also allows for a bigger impact once all the secrets come out, classic storytelling. But Mackler handles it well and I liked how Sebastian and Virginia managed their relationship around the drama.

Virginia is once again shameless about her infatuations and her list. I also liked her approach to her brother and how she never really lets him off the hook for his actions. Trying to navigate that relationship now allows more growth for her, which is good as it shows there’s always more growing to do.

There are further reminders of the super-rich lifestyle as we delve into country clubs and nannies and it is very telling given how her parents react that there is a lot at stake about keeping up appearances and hoping things blow over around certain indiscretions. But overall it was an enjoyable story and satisfying to see further developments in Virginia’s story.

You can purchase The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I via the following

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The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things (#1) by Carolyn Mackler

Published: 3rd April 2018 (print)/4th May 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books /Recorded Books
Pages: 256/6 hrs 28 mins
Narrator: Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Fifteen-year-old Virginia feels like a plus-sized black sheep in her family, especially next to her perfect big brother Byron. Not to mention her best friend has moved, leaving Virginia to navigate an awkward relationship with a boy alone. He might like her now… but she has her doubts about how he’ll react if he ever looks under all her layers of clothes.

In order to survive, Virginia decides to follow a “Fat Girl Code of Conduct,” which works, until the unthinkable causes her family’s facade to crumble. As her world spins out of orbit, she realises that being true to herself might be the only way back.

I didn’t realise this was originally from 2003 because it felt more current but it was rereleased in 2018 as an updated version and despite never having read the 2003 version, I can definitely imagine why some of the advice and content might be not only outdate but promoting the wrong things. Given the subplot though I’d be curious to see how that was dealt with in 2003.

It’s always curious reading books set in the US because they have some very specific and weird subjects I never had in high school like Global Studies and one solely on Geometry. Rarely a mention on broader subjects, certainly this time there’s no mention of Maths, English, or simply Science. Granted Virginia goes to a posh school so maybe they’re beyond the simple subjects. There’re the usual stereotypes too of the popular kids, dorky kids, and ‘regular, I don’t fit in a group’ kids whatever that means, but you always need the outsiders to even the outsiders groups I guess.

Virginia is very confident in her lust for the baseball players, which you know, good for her. It was nice to see her unashamedly gawk at them and dream about them. But she also very unhappy at the start of the story and seeing her grow throughout is encouraging and definitely this is where a lot of the updated mentality and society changes can be seen. Mackler doesn’t fix everything, the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ approach works to an extent but as a story showing how “the privileged girl also has problems” it has some merit but falls flat at times.

I love these absent families that don’t notice their kids are taking afternoon classes, wandering the city all day or aren’t in school. Though the way Virginia describes her parents skipping out most days and weekends it makes sense. Her family is also super rich so there’s probably a bit of parental neglect to ride on. The second house and the travelling parents isn’t something you need to read between the lines for, if it isn’t said outright it’s certainly inferred.

Content warnings for obvious things like fatphobia and bullying, but there is a subplot of Virginia’s older brother date-raping a girl which Virginia crosses a lot of lines in as well which was a weird decision to make by Mackler. There’s also self-harm and a horrible Fat Girl Code of Conduct to deal with, and while they’re addressed, the solutions and recoveries to Virginia’s problems felt rushed. Not saying there isn’t a shift in her mentality which is great, but it is a fast turn around and given how ingrained it is at the start, such a shift feels too simplified.

Despite a few flaws it is a well written story. It’s captivating, engaging, and the complexity of the material does show that people are complicated, you don’t know what other people are going through, and everybody has something their worrying about despite public appearances.

You can purchase The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things via the following

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See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Published: 17 May 2022 (print)/12th May 2022 (audio) Goodreads badge
Simon & Schuster/Simon & Schuster
Pages: 432/12 hrs and 50 mins
Narrator: Emily Lawrence
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Barrett Bloom is hoping college will be a fresh start after her messy high school experience. But when school starts on September 21st, everything goes wrong. She can’t switch out of her Physics 101 class even after being humiliated by the awkward guy sitting next to her, and she botches her interview for the college paper. At a frat party that night, she accidentally tips over a tiki torch and sets the place on fire. She panics and flees, and when she realizes her roommate locked her out of their dorm, she falls asleep on a couch in the common room.

The next morning, Barrett’s perplexed to find herself back in her dorm room bed, no longer smelling of ashes and crushed dreams. It’s September 21st. Again. And after a confrontation with Miles, the guy from her physics class, she learns she’s not alone—he’s been trapped for months.

When her attempts to fix her timeline fail, she agrees to work with Miles to figure out what’s going on. They start skipping their classes in favour of the library and research trips that take them into the unexplored underbelly of the university and across state lines. As Barrett starts to fall for Miles, the two of them must find a way to grow and change alongside the shifting fabric of the universe. But the one question they can’t answer is what they’ll mean to each other if they finally make it to tomorrow.

I love a time loop. Give me time loop stories every day of the week and I will be one happy reader. There is something about watching people cycle through the different stages and emotions when they’re stuck in time and seeing what choices they make, how they justify their actions and their theories on how and why they became stuck in the first place that is so wonderful to read about.

Obviously readers never get stuck in time loops because I wouldn’t try to escape until I’d finished reading all the books on my shelves. It’s all robbing banks and illegal or absurd activities, never finally having the time to catch up on your reading.

I really enjoyed the narrative Solomon has created. What I love about these stories is you can experience the same day over and over but one new action, one time to change things slightly can bring about new information that you never even knew was being hidden from you and between Barrett and Miles’ stories I loved having these little snippets of their lives revealed, each having an impact at the right moment. I was intrigued that through the whole thing we never see Miles’ side of the story, which was the right choice in the end because Solomon’s reveals are timed so perfectly there was no other way.

For two people who both lamented how they had no friends and were lonely I was a smidge disappointed it didn’t stop with them becoming great friends but that isn’t what these YA stories are about, it’s about finding love and all that stuff. I’m not a total cynic, Solomon has done a great job with this story because the slow build up and the multiple loops are a great way to explore both characters and I love that there was time to explore a full range of emotions and see great character growth on both sides.

It’s classed as a YA and while both characters are still teenagers it’s their first day of college, a unique blending of their high school time and on the cusp of their new beginnings. It is a good choice because it’s a turning point from their high school selves and the start of something new, and it allows more freedom for the events in the story without limitations.

The resolution of the time loop is fantastic and Solomon never takes the easy road with answers or explanations. I loved the complexity of the story and the hints and themes running throughout that mean nothing but mean everything as well. When you get to relive the same day over and over little nothings become big somethings if you make a different decision.

You can purchase See You Yesterday via the following

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The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase (#2) by Greg Cox

Published: 25th April 2017 Goodreads badge
Tor Books
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Genre: Mystery Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Stories have power.

In 1719, Elizabeth Goose published a collection of rhyming spells as a children’s book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.

Now, strange things are happening around the world. A tree-trimmer in Florida is blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, a woman in rural Pennsylvania is attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes, and a college professor in England finds herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Flynn AWOL–again–it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed.

I adored the movies and television series The Librarians so finding out there were further adventures in book form was a pure delight and they did not disappoint. They were written while the show was airing with the understanding we know who these characters already are, but they are also whole new adventures for them to go on and mysteries to unravel.

Delving into the realm of nursery rhymes and other literature as if it were real or based on fact has always been a fun topic, I loved seeing it in Jasper Fforde and I loved it here. Of course the history of nursery rhymes is filled with half-truths and unknowns which makes it perfect for the Librarians universe.

All the characters are here – Jenkins, Baird, and the three new librarian recruits and Cox has depicted them as they appear in the show. Their mannerisms, voice, thoughts and style all correspond with the people we’ve been introduced to and even if this is your first introduction to them, there are enough scatterings of information and backstory that you can pieces together who these people are. This is book two officially but can easily be read out of order, as I did while I tracked down book one. There are references to past cases but whether they are in the previous book, in the show, or that happened off screen is unknown but it helps to add to their experience, backstory and their mission.

For a book with some good action scenes, all of which are well written and quite vivid, it is also a slow story of research and piecing together many clues with side quests that prove distracting in a good way. You definitely sense their frustrations of trying to fix one problem when other smaller problems keep popping up to hinder their progress. The Librarians was always about action and drama and chaos and Cox brings this to the page very well. The distribution of research and investigation, coming together into one bigger plot is great and it lets you play along and try and solve the mystery as well, working out what things mean and what piece of information is important.

What I love about these kinds of books is its connection to reality; they try to link it to real people, provide reasons and history about the various artefacts while also keeping the magical element of the Library. Every story, myth or riddle is based on a truth is a good way to look at the Librarians universe and logic so to have rooms filled with tridents and treasure chests, things manifested from rhymes, stories and legends is wonderfully clever and I love it.

The climax and resolution is incredibly clever because it plays on what you know, if you know the Librarians history, but it also allows the possibility of multiple other events and outcomes and trying to work out which one Cox will choose is a fun game on its own. I’m so glad this book lived up to my expectations and gave the perfect balance of mystery, adventure, as well as humour and being delightfully cheesy at times as well. A great addition to the Librarians collection.

You can purchase The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase via the following

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