Engaging and inspirational tales for students coping with common problems.

NELSON BEATS THE ODDS

COMPENDIUM ONE

Paired graphic novels explore learning disabilities and bullying—and touch on foster care—for middle-grade and YA readers.

In the eponymous and first of these two debut graphic novels, black middle schooler Nelson has a hard time concentrating. There are just so many people to talk to. New glasses help, but he still fights to stay focused. Finally he is diagnosed with ADHD and placed in special education classes. While he detests his new label, Nelson excels and anticipates a reunion with his friends in high school. Disheartened when he is placed in special ed there, Nelson and his parents lodge a protest. He struggles in the regular classroom but manages to graduate. After a few years in community college, he transfers to a university and becomes a social worker. He is encouraged by some supportive teachers, but other instructors motivate him to prove them wrong in their negative predictions for his future. The second graphic novel, Tameka’s New Dress, focuses on Nelson’s black friend Tameka, introduced in the first work. Tameka transfers to Nelson’s school after she and her siblings are removed from their mother’s care and placed with their grandmother. Despite her friendship with Nelson and others, Tameka is the target of bullying because of her light skin. When her grandmother sews her a beautiful dress, making Tameka look like an African queen, the bullying is exacerbated. Tameka confronts the troublemakers—with kindness—and resolves the problem. Both tales are interspersed with relevant facts and quotes from celebrities—ranging from Channing Tatum to Oprah Winfrey—who have experienced the same difficulties as Nelson and Tameka, which should stir readers. Therapist, speaker, and social worker Sidney addresses racial and socio-economic issues germane to the characters’ trajectories but primarily highlights the self-reliance of the protagonists and the crucial positive influences a few caring adults can exert. The author expertly creates characters young readers should relate to and conveys his message and lessons without being heavy-handed. Van Wagoner’s (Cody and Grandpa’s Christmas Tradition, 2016, etc.) simple, colorful illustrations meld seamlessly with the text.

Engaging and inspirational tales for students coping with common problems.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9965324-9-5

Page Count: 70

Publisher: Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words, LLC

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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