Thursday Thoughts: Reviews revisited (January – June 2021)

It's time for my last Thursday Thoughts post until the summer! (I'm skipping the post I had considered for 1/13, because I'm tired—what can I say?)

Also, before my post, I must share some completely random news: I just found out that one of my favorite graphic novelists, Svetlana Chmakova, is coming out with the sequel to Awkward, Brave, Crush, and Diary, called Enemies, in September! Here are the details. It's a long wait, but it will be so worth it!

Today, I'm posting my second-ever Reviews Revisited post, in which I look back over a 6-month period of books to see if they ended up being as memorable as I thought they would be when I reviewed them. Rather than looking at the previous 6 months (which would include books at the end that I had literally just finished), I actually look at the 6 months before that, so this post covers January – June 2021 rather than July – December 2021 (I'll look at those books in July 2022). Let's dive in!

(Please note: I have excluded one book from this roundup because it is a Cybils finalist in the category I am judging for, and I am not permitted to discuss the finalists until after the winners have been announced. Once the winners are announced, though, I plan to discuss all of the finalists in my categories in their own posts, so you'll get to hear my latest thoughts on that book then!)

January 2021

Almost American Girl

Honestly, this book didn't really stick with me—it was definitely worth reading, and I still remember bits and pieces of the plot and themes, but I don't think it was quite as engaging or memorable as I would have hoped. But if the premise grabs you, it's definitely still worth a try!
Operatic

I don't know if I'll ever forget this book—it was absolutely brilliant! There was the jaw-dropping art, the exploration of music, the intriguing combination of a realistic MG story and a biography of a real-world opera singer, and the color-coded panels for each storyline (like in The Magic Fish—I think color-coded panels pretty much immediately sell me on a book!) I'd really like to re-read this book at some point, and I've taken some time to enjoy Kyo Maclear's many picture books as well.
Before the Ever After

This book didn't stay with me much at all, which is really surprising because I do distinctly remember it being truly incredible! I'd say what definitely did stick with me is my distaste toward football and how it literally causes life-changing brain damage in its players. Even though I don't recall much of this story, it's definitely worth a read, especially considering that Jacqueline Woodson of all people wrote it!
City of Secrets

I remember parts of this book, but mostly I remember it being fine—not great, just fine. The sequel I reviewed recently, City of Illusion, didn't help matters. This is probably one to skip unless action-adventure type stories are really your jam!




February 2021

Snapdragon

I knew when I read this book that it wasn't necessarily a new favorite, but it was an absolutely fun and delightful read, and I do still remember some elements of that—a fun cast, intergenerational friendships, dead animals (it's not quite as creepy as it sounds), and just possibly a hint of magic (this was the book that kicked off my Four Weeks of Witches reviews for all of February!). There are a few graphic novels from these months I enjoyed more than this one, but this one is definitely up near the top!
Beetle & the Hollowbones

OK, this is one of those absolutely fabulous stories that I really do hope everyone crams in at some point! Witchcraft, giant malls, squee-worthy art, realistic MG issues, explorations of abuse, the world's cutest (and only) Blob Ghost, and a Stonewall Honor all make this story ridiculously delightful—and surprisingly impactful too! And there are apparently sequels coming out in several years—I'm so excited!!
The Witch Boy (and its sequels)

I was really living it up in February 2021—I mean, right after reading the fantastic Beetle & the Hollowbones, I spent a week reading all three of these books by Molly Knox Ostertag and absolutely LOVING them too! More witchcraft (with an actual magic system that has rules and makes sense—what a wild idea) mixes with compelling characters, pitch-perfect art, and an exploration of constrictive gender norms all made for a series that I devoured, that I still love (it might be considered one of my favorite series one day), and that convinced me to read Ostertag's FANTASTIC YA graphic novel The Girl From the Sea as well! Basically, Molly Knox Ostertag is a genius—full stop.

Mooncakes

Honestly, this book ended up not being as memorable as I would have liked—there was a lot going on, and it was immensely fun to read in the moment, but it just didn't stick with me, I'm afraid. But I'm still glad I read it to conclude my Four Weeks of Witches event!





March 2021

Class Act

I think I'm the only person on the planet who didn't love this book—I thought New Kid was excellent, but this sequel just had a few things that didn't quite click for me. It hasn't really dropped in my esteem, it's just that it wasn't super-high in my esteem to begin with.
Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow

Hmmm. How memorable was this book? It was definitely memorable enough that I referenced it a lot while I was reviewing Amari and the Night Brothers, which I was honestly not a fan of—I think that book made me realize just how exceptional Jessica Townsend's worldbuilding and plotting skill truly is. And I definitely remember the similarities in the plot to the pandemic and the issues of race during 2020—as well as the eerie prescience of Townsend's allusion to storming the government buildings (January 6, 2021 was three months after this book came out). So actually, I remember quite a bit, and if you're a fantasy reader, this is probably the best MG fantasy series I've seen ever. But I do still hope that Morrigan herself gets a little more development in the coming books!

I still remember that this book was immensely wise and immensely impactful about police brutality and the experience of being Black in America, and its short length made its painful-but-necessary story bearable. I wouldn't say this is a fun read, but it's a truly valuable one, and I still remember that!
Fighting Words

Wow. I don't think I'll ever forget this book, because it was absolutely incredible. This is a heartbreaking, eye-opening story about sexual abuse and mental health issues, but it's the point of view of ten-year-old Della—who is still a kid, despite all that has happened to her—that makes it absolutely sing. This is one of the best MG books I've ever read, point-blank, to the point where I happily compare it to Rebecca Stead's books (and Rebecca Stead is literally my favorite author ever). This book is painful, but if you're up for it, it's an absolute must-read.
A Map to the Sun

This was not the book to read right after Fighting Words, let me tell you that, but it was a truly exceptional story as well. This graphic novel effortlessly captures the pain, the dullness, and ultimately, the hope in the lives of five girls of color, as basketball brings them together and gives them something to control, something to enjoy in their lives. At some point in the future, I definitely want to re-read this, because it's probably one of the best graphic novels I've ever had the chance to read.


April 2021

The House in the Cerulean Sea

This book...hmmm. It was definitely a light, funny, sweet read back when I read it, but it dropped out of my memory surprisingly quickly. It's worth keeping in mind if you need a comfort read, but I think there are some better books out there that are comforting but also thought-provoking at the same time.
Act

I don't personally enjoy this series as much as some readers might, but I am 100% positive that few series capture middle-school drama this insightfully and with this much fun! Act is a great follow-up to Kayla Miller's previous graphic novels, and this one's focus on how young students like Olive can still find ways to effect change and stand up for what they believe in is quite inspiring and valuable! Perhaps I should find time to cram in book 4, Clash...
Are You Listening?

Ugh, Tillie Walden is literally so brilliant that I almost can't stand it—but thankfully, I can, and I get to read her absolutely stunning graphic novels like this one! This is another book I'd love to re-read at some point—the natural and touching friendship that develops between Bea and Lou during their travels across Texas holds things up even as previous trauma and absolutely terrifying supernatural forces threaten to send things spiraling. This book is a lot of emotions, and it might be one of the scariest things I've ever read (I don't read horror, so that's a low bar, but still)—but it's such an ingenious, utterly unique, and deeply powerful story that all of that is well worth it!

The Prince and the Dressmaker

This isn't my own personal favorite graphic novel, but again, I can absolutely see it being someone else's personal favorite, because Jen Wang almost perfectly executes this tale of royalty in Paris, breaking free of gender norms, living your most fashionable life, and maybe even falling in love! This is one of those light-yet-actually-meaningful reads that the world needs, and the crisp, clear art style is particularly noticeable in making this graphic novel accessible even to audiences that have never tried one before. If there truly is a book that could please practically anyone, it's probably this one!

May 2021


This book (a Cybils finalist this year in poetry, alongside another book I'll get to shortly), is a painful, eye-opening, and deeply meaningful novel in verse that explores the life of Ellie as she faces shame from all around—even from her own family—for her weight. I kind of expected this book to stay with me a little bit more than it did, but I still think this is the kind of story that is a truly necessary read, and one that will truly touch the lives of some young readers.
Concrete Rose

Honestly, I didn't really like this book, which surprised me considering how absolutely spectacular Angie Thomas's other books have been. I mostly just recall how frustrated I was with Maverick—he was in some truly unpleasant situations where there weren't many good choices, but he also made some choices of his own (one in particular) that were just so alarming, and so avoidable! The way this book ended did make me think that we might get another prequel exploring the time between this book and The Hate U Give, though, and I'd definitely be curious to see what happens in that one (if it actually exists).
This Was Our Pact

This graphic novel wasn't super-memorable for its meaning or anything, and I don't think I thought it would be when I read it. But it was memorable for its just-zany-enough, super-adventurous plot and its absolutely gorgeous art (which was also color-coded—clearly, that is having a greater impact on my book opinions than is perhaps rational...). Honestly, if you just want to spend a long time looking at gorgeous illustrations—and I think that is quite a nice way to spend time—then this book is worth grabbing!
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

THIS BOOK IS SO BRILLIANT THAT I HAVE TO START BY TALKING ABOUT IT IN ALL-CAPS AND THEN USE LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!! OK, let's go back to normal formatting. I have officially decided that this book is one of my new favorites of all time, which is not a decision I make lightly. But when you have a book with possibly one of the most compelling and wonderful protagonists ever, a ridiculously keen understanding of what it's like to be a teenager, and genius insights about life on practically every page (I'm not exaggerating here, y'all), I really don't know how you can resist. I'll be reviewing the sequel in a few weeks, and I'm excited to do so—in the meantime, you might read this one (with its FOUR medals on the cover) and see what all the fuss is about!

My feelings about this book are so complicated—the beginning almost made me give up, and the ending was absolutely lovely and so powerful, and it literally won the Newbery, so it's not like no one else liked it, but I also barely remember it at all. I think the ending, while super-powerful, was really hard to even think about after I read it, because it just had so much depth that my mind literally couldn't process it all (I'm not kidding—I literally think that's what happened). So it's an immensely strange book, but it truly is like no other, and if you can push through the beginning, it might be worth the work!

June 2021

Everywhere Blue

Written by fellow book blogger Joanne Rossmassler Fritz, this book (another Cybils finalist in poetry alongside Starfish) is filled both with beautiful writing in verse and countless impactful themes, such as classical music, climate change, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. The story's central plot, as Maddie attempts to hold her world together when her older brother Strum disappears and her family falls further into tension, is an impactful one that sets the stage for some lovely, meaningful meditations on family and more. Particularly if you're a fan of books in verse, Everywhere Blue is definitely worth a read!

This is a short and sweet story with illustrations that garnered a Caldecott Medal, meaningful Asian representation, and the name Grace Lin on the cover—what's not to love? This is a story for particularly young readers, as it's a little bit simpler than most of the picture books I review, but that doesn't mean it isn't destined to become a bedtime classic! (Oh, and it's also apparently a frequently banned book, which Lin discusses on her newsletter—and she is 100% right that only racism could possibly be fueling that, because there is literally no even-remotely-controversial message or theme in this story—it's literally about a girl who can't resist eating a mooncake, and the phases of the moon. Terrifying—how dare we expose our children to such a thing. That was sarcasm, obviously.)

This book is pretty much why I started reading picture books—it's exactly what I knew I was missing out on! Beyond the truly gorgeous illustrations by Seo Kim, Kao Kalia Yang's lyrical, lovely narration sets the stage for an exploration of grief, younger siblings, neighborly connections, and the little things in life that are nevertheless so meaningful. This is, no questions asked, one of my favorite picture books ever—granted, I've only read picture books in the last six months, but I've still read quite a few, and this one is at the top.
Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away

I haven't thought much about this book at all until now, but upon recollection, it is a truly lovely story about the depth of two young girls' friendship, and about the pain (and the hope) as one of them is moving away. Sonia Sánchez's brightly-colored, creative illustrations are particularly memorable and make this story worth checking out!
Salma the Syrian Chef

This picture book is about as memorable for me as A Map into the World—it might be one of my favorites too! It has a big, delightful, and diverse cast, it has food, it has an immensely meaningful exploration of being a Syrian refugee, and it has absolutely beautiful illustrations that straddle the line between traditional and modern in a lovely way! This story is a delight, and I feel like it hasn't been talked about as much as would be nice, because it is worth a read!
On a Sunbeam

Moving back out of picture books, this is the second graphic novel by Tillie Walden I've had the chance to read after Are You Listening? (which I discussed above), and this one is spectacular as well! The plot shifts between Mia's past life falling in love with Grace at a boarding school in space, and her present life as a new recruit in a delightful, ragtag team that travels through space to restore old buildings. This story is dark and moody, both in its art and its themes, as I suspect most of Walden's books are (although this one is honestly lighter than Are You Listening?—it doesn't explore trauma in the same way, and it's kind of dark from the outset rather than trying to surprise you with it). And it culminates, like Are You Listening?, in a dramatic, cinematic climax that affects all the characters and forces them to realize (or decide) what they are truly made of. Like Are You Listening?, On a Sunbeam is an effortlessly unique and memorable journey with characters who worm their way into your heart and bring joy to the moody setting!

Truly Tyler

It would have been wonderful to end on the great note of On a Sunbeam, but alas, we must end here with this book that is perfectly fine, but that I remember quite well didn't really live up to the expectations of Terri Libenson's previous MG semi-graphic novels. The plot just didn't strike me in the same way, and I feel like less happened in this book even though it's the longest of the whole series! This book isn't really a reason to read the Emmie & Friends books, but luckily, all of the other books are good enough to make the series worth checking out, and I'm excited to see book 6, Remarkably Ruby, make its debut this May!

And that's what I've got! I enjoyed revisiting all of these reviews from previous months, and I hope you found something new amidst my endless ramblings! And I really do appreciate all of you sticking with me for all of these months—it's always wonderful to know I'm actually writing for an audience and not just blithering to myself! This will be my last Thursday Thoughts post until the summer, but I'm excited to continue my weekly book reviews on Monday like always—see you then!

Comments

  1. I love the way you did this book list. It was fun for me to read through it and remember how I felt about the books I've read on the list. I agree that "Dante" is incredible.

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    1. Thank you! It's my second time writing up a list like this—I think it's a fun way to look back at what I've been reading in past months. And I'm glad you really liked Aristotle and Dante, as well as some of the other books! Thanks so much for stopping by, Helen!

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    1. Of course—I hope you found something you might enjoy reading! Thanks so much for stopping by, Antoinette!

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  3. Great list! It's such a good idea to take a look back at reviews to see which books really stuck with you and made a lasting impression.

    Sue
    Book By Book

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