~Review by Amanda Smith
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca is a touching novel in verse about Reha, a first-generation Indian American girl who comes to terms with living in two worlds. As an immigrant and mother of first-generation American children, this novel truly resonated with me. Even though our countries of origin are different, LaRocca touches on universal immigrant experiences such as missing extended family and always feeling a little different or other. But Red, White, and Whole isn’t just about the immigrant experience. It is a tender look at mother-daughter relationships, and it is a beautiful coming of age story as Reha faces the unimaginable: her mother's battle with Leukemia. LaRocca entwines Indian folklore into the narrative to add another layer to her poignant storytelling and character development. Subtle repetition of key phrases and the calculating use of “red” and “white” throughout the novel bind the individual poems together – and the result is synergy: a WHOLE that is greater than the sum of its parts.
LaRocca supports the main theme of "two worlds" with recurring images of the colors red and white, and how they relate to the parts of blood, as well as virtue and grief in Indian culture. Red, White and Whole is a study in repetition within a verse novel. LaRocca weaves threads and themes seamlessly throughout, often when the meaning of the phrases are altered by context or circumstances. The similarity of the words paired with the difference in context delivers a forceful emotional punch.
To learn more about Rajani, visit her website at www.rajanilarocca.com/
Review by Annie Cronin Romano
THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA (Tor Books, 2020) is a delightful story about 40 year old Linus Baker, a simple, straightforward fellow employed as a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. Things go along rather routinely for Linus, until one day he is summoned to the Office of Extremely Upper Management and given a mysterious assignment: go to the orphanage on Marsyas Island and report back on the welfare of the six children there. With very little to go on, and with the knowledge that he will be given information only as it is warranted, Linus heads off. What he finds on the island challenges every notion he holds of the “magical” children he has previously encountered in his work. With each passing day, he finds it increasingly difficult to remain objective to the charms of the orphans—and their caretakers—all the while growing more suspicious of his employer’s true motives behind his visit.
Part magical adventure, part social equality piece, part romance, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is a charming, emotional, thoughtful novel that takes the reader on a journey to a beautiful island inhabited by unique, intriguing characters, all the while reminding us that not everything is as it seems—or, more importantly, as it should be. Read this story, and you’ll be dreaming of eating cherry ice cream with Linus and Arthur, gardening with Talia, listening to records with Lucy, and writing poetry with Sal! TJ Klune’s novel is an example of a beautifully written story laced with humor and infused with the themes of compassion and acceptance.
So, why did I chose an adult book for my book pick when our blog’s focus is kidlit? Because sometimes the most valuable books to use as mentor texts are not always within your writing genre, and THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is one such example. And it’s interesting to note that this book does not fit neatly into any genre. Most libraries and bookstores have it in their adult fiction section. A few have chosen to place it on their Young Adult shelves. Others have it in Science Fiction. Regardless of where you find it, the story is the same: a delightful adult fiction story with a childlike whimsy. But more importantly for writers, this novel is a solid example of developing strong characters and allowing them to unfold and develop as the story moves along. In particular, the six magical orphans in this novel seem at first glance to be somewhat unlikeable and not fully in focus, but as the story progresses and the layers of each child are pulled back, what is revealed is truly magical and illustrates how characters must be given the space to grow and develop depth within a story’s arc. Rather than rushing to dump too much information at once, Klune patiently and expertly discloses his characters, allowing the reader to connect with them in a “real time” sort of way. THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is also a strong example of straddling the magical world and the realistic one in terms of setting and character-building. The reader is able to understand the underlying themes of social justice and kindness through this unique approach to world-building, all the while keeping the emotional aspect relatable, relevant, and appealing.
To learn more about TJ Klune, visit his website at http://www.tjklunebooks.com.
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