Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Mini Reviews: As Brave As You || Brown Girl Dreaming













As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds


Genre: Middlegrade contemporary fiction
Pages: 410
Publication Date: May 2016


When two brothers decide to prove how brave they are, everything backfires—literally.

Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck and—being a curious kid—Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he covers it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans).

How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all.

Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?



The Good: This is my first Jason Reynolds book, and I have to confess that I mostly bought it because of the cover. If you look really close, the scene on the cover is actually kind of terrifying. A kid is running away from a creepy old house. But, the bright colors make it not-creepy. I love it.

Jason Reynolds is a strong writer who definitely remembers what it’s like to be a kid. The voice in this novel is spot-on. I loved the narrator, Genie, right away. His curiosity and nerdyness are relatable because—just like me—he’s addicted to Googling every random thought that pops into his head. Genie’s older brother, Ernie, is the opposite of Genie. Ernie likes fashion, and being social, and flirting with girls. The brothers make an entertaining pair. Their banter is hilarious.

There is a lot going on in this novel, but mostly it’s about asking questions and confronting problems rather than avoiding them. Ignoring a bad situation usually makes it worse. The characters learn to talk through their problems, apologize for their mistakes, and speak up when something makes them uncomfortable. These are all good lessons for young readers to learn.



The Bad: As Brave As You is a character-driven novel. Most of the tension comes from wondering whether or not Genie will come clean about the mistakes he has made. There isn’t a lot of plot. Since the book is 400+ pages, I wondered if kids would have the attention span to get through it.   

I realize that this is a kids’ book, but I wanted to know more about the adult characters. The adults have a lot of issues with each other. Genie’s parents have marriage issues. His parents don’t get along with his grandparents. There are a lot of family secrets. I understand that it’s realistic for kids to be kept away from adult problems, but that doesn’t work in fiction. Genie tells the reader about the problems, and then they’re magically solved when Genie isn’t around.



The Bottom Line: I liked it. Genie is an easy narrator to love, and I enjoyed reading about his adventures in the country. I will look for more Jason Reynolds books.











Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson


Genre: Middlegrade memoir-in-verse
Pages: 368
Publication Date: October 2016


Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child's soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson's eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.



The Good: This is my first Jacqueline Woodson novel. I had previously read her picture books and liked them. Since I’m always interested in how authors become authors, I was eager to pick up Woodson’s memoir-in-verse. In this book, she talks about her childhood in New York and South Carolina, and how she discovered her talent for writing poetry.

If you’re worried about the poetry being too “artsy,” you should stop worrying. The poems are straightforward and easy to understand. My favorite poems are the ones that show the struggles Woodson had to overcome. As a kid, her time was divided between racially segregated South Carolina and less-segregated New York. Her beloved uncle went to jail briefly. Her youngest brother spent time in the hospital after eating lead paint. Woodson’s family was Jehovah’s Witnesses, so religion took up most of their time and kept them separate from their neighbors. Despite the challenges, Woodson grows up to become a bestselling and award-winning author. It’s always fun to read stories about people honing their talents and beating the odds.


I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.Brown Girl Dreaming



The Bad: So . . . unpopular opinion time: I thought this book was boring. The individual poems are good because the author knows how to write, but I don’t think the poems work as a novel-in-verse. Nothing happens. There isn’t much plot. It’s just a collection of poems about a fairly typical 1960s American childhood.



The Bottom Line: It was okay. The author is talented, but I spent most of the book waiting for something to happen.












27 comments:

  1. People have suggested I look into brown girl dreaming for my intro to lit class, but there's something about it that turns me off too.

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    1. I was a little disappointed in it. I sat on a waitlist forever to get it, so I had high expectations.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. As Brave As You seems interesting--the cover really is interesting. I like that it really focuses on confronting problems. I've wondered about Brown Girl Dreaming because I've seen it in so many places, but I'm really not sure if the style is something I'd be interested in. I enjoy poetry, but something about it doesn't grab me for that one. Great reviews!

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    1. Thanks! I love the cover of As Brave As You. As shallow as it sounds, that’s the biggest reason I read it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. These both sound like solid character driven reads. It's good to hear a different opinion about Brown Girl Dreaming because we all have different tastes.
    Tori @ In Tori Lex

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    1. Yeah, I’m an outcast with that opinion. I did really like As Brave As You, though.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. I love Mini reviews...they say everything succinctly!

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    1. I’m glad people like them! I just started doing them a few months ago.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. The only Jason Reynolds book I have read was Long Way Down, and it was a book in verse. It was amazing. I want to read more of his work, because I saw him on a panel a few years ago, and he was utterly captivating.

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    1. I really want to read that book. I’m on a waitlist for it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. I haven't read any of these, but I've heard great things about Jason Reynolds! I don't think it would be the book for me since I really need a plot driven book most of the time. I'm glad you were able to enjoy parts of these!

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    1. I’m very curious about his other books. People have said that they’re better than this one.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. 400 pages is a lot for younger readers but I guess if the content is good, like Harry Potter, kids will enjoy it.

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    1. Yep, I read a few long, slow books when I was younger. If I found them relatable, I’d plow through them.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. Not sure if As Brave As You might be pitched too young for me, but I love the synopsis and the ideas.
    Shame about Brown Girl Dreaming. Perhaps a straightforward poetry collection would have worked better?

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    1. For a kids’ book, As Brave As You is pretty complex. It does focus on the kids, though, so if you’re more interested in adult characters, you’ll be disappointed.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  9. I mean... depends on the kid I think - some kids might like 400 pages of character, others might like plot. Brown Girl Dreaming... I think the intention was meant to be more of a collection rather than an actual something will happen? I'm not sure, though the synopsis makes the book seem not so novel-like.

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    1. I’ve read a lot of novels-in-verse and a lot of poetry collections. Brown Girl Dreaming is closer to a novel-in-verse than a collection (in my opinion). It’s just a very slow novel-in-verse.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  10. Despite some of the positive reviews I've seen about Brown Girl Dreaming, I've just never felt led to pick it up. I'm not a big fan of books told in verse and it seems as though it didn't particularly add anything anyway.

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    1. I’ve liked a lot of the novels-in-verse I’ve read. This one is just too slow for me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  11. I haven't read either of these, but I loved Reynolds' latest book, Long Way Down (which is verse WITH plot). I've been interested in novels in verse lately, so I was planning to read Brown Girl Dreaming. It's good to know that there isn't much plot there so I'll be ready for that.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. I really want to read Long Way Down. I don’t remember where I am on the waitlist, but I know it’s a long list.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  12. AS BRAVE AS YOU sounds like a long book without the plot... I agree, for young readers they may lose interest.
    I'm not really a fan of poem books... so I'd pass on BROWN GIRL DREAMING.
    Great reviews!
    Naomi @ Naomi’s Reading Palace

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  13. As Brave As You is the only Reynolds book I haven't read yet. No, I lie--I haven't read the sequels to Ghost yet either. But I really, really, really recommend Long Way Down, All American Boys, and When We Were the Greatest. Ghost is good too, but clearly MG.

    I seriously thought I was the only person who found BGD boring. I feel terrible saying so, because I do think she's an amazing person, and I liked Locomotive and LOVE her picture books. And like you, I DO like novels in verse, so I was surprised to not be blown away.

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  14. Ah man, I think Brown Girl Dreaming has been on my wishlist for a long time. What a shame it's kind of boring. Might have to rethink buying that.

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  15. Gah, Jason Reynolds is an author I should start reading. I didn't realise he did kid's books like this, though I hear you -- it's a long book for a young reader.

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  16. It took me two months to read Brown Girl Dreaming. Poetry always slows me down. My weekly update

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