FLASH REVIEW: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

By Maureen Tai, 18 July 2021

Newbery Medal-winning When You Reach Me (ages 11+) is Rebecca Stead’s clever, mind-bending, sci-fi-esque, mystery-whodunnit that will appeal to fans of A Wrinkle In Time. Sixth grader Miranda receives mysterious notes instructing her to write a letter – a true story – and to keep it a secret. Even more disquieting is the fact that the note-leaver seems able to predict the future, and Miranda discovers to her horror that she might be too late to prevent an imminent death. In authentic teen voices, Stead expertly weaves an intricate plot (with a gasp-inducing twist at the end), creating a thought-provoking, gripping and satisfying read for both teens and adults alike.

Flash Review: Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer

By Maureen Tai, 4 July 2021

Looking for an engaging, middle grade graphic novel about two unlikely friends, mother-daughter relationships and solving neighbourhood mysteries? Shirley & Jamila save their summer (ages 8+) is just the ticket, with likeable, multi-dimensional characters, smart, snappy dialogue, bursts of good-natured humour and an absorbing plot. Torontonians will also appreciate the visual references to the city peppered among the pages: the CN Tower’s silhouette in the skyline, the “U of T” emblazoned on the older brother’s t-shirt, the “We [heart] the CBC” sign stuck into a grassy lawn, and the thoughtful detailing of houses and streets in the Annex, a Toronto neighbourhood that I myself frequented as a university student. Be ready for some fun sleuthing!

Flash Review: Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

By Maureen Tai, 20 June 2021

Witches of Brooklyn (ages 8+) is the delightful debut graphic novel by French illustrator Sophie Escabasse. Newly orphaned Effie is unceremoniously dumped at the beautiful three-storey house belonging to her aunts, Selimene and Carlota. If living with relatives she barely knew existed wasn’t bad enough, Effie has to deal with a new school and grapple with a terrifying new reality – that like her aunts, she too is a witch! Effie’s latent magical powers and inner strength are slowly revealed in this enjoyable story, packed with a host of memorable characters who each harbour their own little secrets. The gorgeously coloured illustrations are masterfully executed, each page full of movement, interesting details and thoughtful character depictions; from little Effie’s Asian features and updated anime bun style hairdo to Aunt Selimene’s pugnacious nose and jutting chin and Aunt Carlota’s teeny tiny pince-nez and softly plump figure. A lovely read that will appeal especially to little girls (and their mums) who secretly wish for magical powers!

Flash Review: Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

By Maureen Tai, 13 June 2021

Love That Dog (ages 8+) is a delightful verse novel, written as a series of diary-like ruminations of a (likely 10-year old) boy called Jack. We learn that Jack is a reluctant poet. Through his eyes, we see his teacher Miss Stretchberry, persisting. She shares different forms and styles of poetry and encourages Jack to explore poetry as a way of connecting with his emotions and telling life stories. Through his writing, we see Jack change as he becomes more comfortable with words, as he’s able to confront the raw, poignant truth about his beloved dog, Sky and as he’s able to share his story not just with his classmates but with a bona fide, real poet and author – the incredible Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014). This beautifully written, gently humorous and deeply thoughtful middle grade story (short! coming in at 86 pages) is signature Creech and one to treasure, whether you’re a poet or not (or if you just didn’t know it).