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Shannon’s Hot Takes, December 2021: Family Matters

By Shannon  |  KPL News

You know what makes writing blogs about books easier (at least for me)? Choosing a theme for the month and then reading books that fit that theme. Also, I like making themed lists (come into the Teen Room and check out our Book List binder and you will see!), so this is a natural progression of that. Therefore, I have decided that this is what I am going to do from now on–and for the month of December I chose to read books about family. At first, I thought about choosing holiday books, but to be honest, there aren’t a lot of teen books about or taking place during the winter holidays. Besides, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s always seems to me to be a family-oriented time, you know? The three books I read deal with different types of family issues–living up to a father’s legacy, absent parents, found family, the bond between sisters, and parents keeping secrets being some of them. These stories definitely made me want to hug my parents and siblings, and to appreciate the relationship I have with them. What books have you read that are about families? Let me know in the comments!

Hood by Jenny Elder Moke

I am a sucker for a good Robin Hood yarn, which I blame on two movies: Disney’s animated version with attractive foxes and Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, starring a devil-may-care Kevin Costner and a scene-stealing Alan Rickman. I saw both as a small child, and they have stuck with me all these years. They made me a fan. When I saw this retelling about Robin Hood and Maid Marien’s daughter, I knew I needed to read it. This novel was short and sweet, and I enjoyed Elder Moke’s take on what happened after Robin and Marien married.

Isabelle of Kirklees has only ever known the confines of the convent where her mother, Marien, is prioress. She suspects her mother had a colorful past, as she’s taught Isabelle how to hunt with a bow and other useful skills, but her mother refuses to reveal any details. Isabelle also doesn’t know who her father is. However, this all changes one day when she defends the local villagers from the cruel soldiers of the Wolf, the right hand man of King John. Her mother helps her escape arrest, and then sends her away because her life is now in danger. Thus begins an adventure where Isabelle finds out that her father is none other than the famous outlaw. Can she fit in with the rest of Robin’s Merry Men, and can they end the Wolf’s evil plans for good?

As someone with a history degree, I appreciated the historical details that Elder Moke included in the book, like mention of the Magna Carta and the problems that King John had with the barons. It made the story feel more real to me, like it could have actually happened. She also did a good job emphasizing how smelly everything would have been, especially in cities. No wonder the Merry Men prefer to live in the forest! Having the Merry Men accept women into their ranks if they can prove themselves was a nice touch. The story focuses, of course, on Isabelle and the confusion she feels as her life is upended. I liked her as a character, and found her emotional journey relatable. I know from reading other reviews that some disliked the bittersweet ending, but I disagree. It aligns more with real life than fairy tale, and I liked that about it. Anyway, I recommend this book to anyone who loves Robin Hood like I do, enjoys a fun retelling, or even for historical fiction fans.

So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow

This title is one of the first in a series of “Remixed Classics,” published by Feiwel & Friends that I have been looking forward to since I heard about the whole thing. As the website for the series states, “In the Remixed Classics series, authors from diverse backgrounds take different literary classics from centuries past and reinterpret them through their own unique cultural lens. This collection will serve YA readers as both a series of fun, engaging reads as well as a subversive overall look at what our society has deemed ‘classic’ — works that are overwhelmingly cishet, white, and male.” Sounds awesome, right? I remember reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as a girl, and was excited to see how Bethany C. Morrow molded that story into something uniquely her own. No offense to the classic novel, but I prefer this one.

The book begins in 1863 with the Civil War still raging, and the newly-freed March family attempting to build a life of their own in the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island. They have four daughters–Meg, who longs to get married and have children; Jo, who starts writing down the sentences she always used to compose in her head; Beth, a seamstress suffering from a mysterious illness; and Amy, a dancer who doesn’t ever want to stay still. They deal with the absence of their father, the hard work involved in creating a community from the ground-up, and the trauma from their enslavement. The sisters grow and change, but always have their love for each other to rely on.

I learned so much from this novel. I had never even heard of the Freedmen’s Colonies. In fact, I don’t remember learning anything about the experiences of newly-freed Black people in my many years of education. There is so much more to be learned about the experience of African Americans during and after the Civil War, and novels like this can help shine a light on how much we are not taught. Beth’s illness was another example of something I did not know much about (it’s not stated on the page, but it is sickle cell disease), and I looked up more about it because of this book. I loved Morrow’s take on the Jo and Laurie relationship–I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say it highlights an under-represented part of the population. And Amy! I actually liked her character in this book. I remember detesting her in the original novel. The highlight of the book really is the close relationship between the four sisters and their parents. Throughout all their trauma and struggles, they remain true to themselves and each other, and that was really beautiful. I believe everyone should read this book, especially if you love retellings and African American history.

Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens

I picked up this graphic novel based on the cover alone. A girl with red eyes, running with wolves?! Definitely something I needed to check out. I’m glad I did, because this was such a good bittersweet paranormal story about family, racism, and sacrifice.

Artie Irvin lives in a small town with her mother, a park ranger. She loves photography, something she inherited from the father she never knew. She doesn’t really fit in with her white classmates, and is picked on regularly. One night, she decides to sneak out against her mother’s wishes so she can take some photos of the full moon. She is frightened by a giant wolf in the woods, until she watches that same wolf transform into her mother! Artie finds out that she comes from a family of werewolves. Her mother takes her to see some old friends so that they can help teach her about her wolf abilities. While there, she learns about her mother’s past, her father’s death, and that the scariest things out in the woods are not the wolves–but the vampires.

I loved that this graphic novel had so many different layers to it. It is a story about: Artie coming-of-age as a human and a werewolf; the relationship between a mother and daughter and the secrets they keep from each other; a daughter’s search for connection with her absent father; a love story (between Artie’s parents and Artie and her new crush Maya); the bonds of family (whether related by blood or not); and a nuanced exploration of racism and its resulting trauma through a paranormal lens. There were moments where I laughed out loud and where I held back tears. Stephens’ use of color really enhanced the story-telling, especially the contrast between the werewolves and vampires. If you like graphic novels, this is one that you should definitely pick up!

Shannon is a Youth Services Librarian for the Kirkwood Public Library. If she is not in the Teen Room, she is usually at home playing video games or D&D, reading, creating stories, painting, listening to true crime podcasts, or watching professional wrestling. Her favorite authors are Holly Black, Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant/S. Deborah Baker, Nic Stone, and Agatha Christie.
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