Tag Archives: brothers

Staff Review: Into the Grey

9780763670610Into the Grey

Celine Kiernan

Candlewick Press


Available August 2014

Why are we attracted to a novel? I mean, what makes us pick it up in the first place? What makes us put it down? What makes us pick it up again and want to read it?

I find myself attracted to certain themes, or times, or countries, over and over again.  Sometimes I feel as if I am just looking for stories that are variations on the same theme. Sometimes I think I am searching for books that make me feel the kinds of emotions that I felt in childhood and adolescence.  Sometimes I wonder if the books that I choose to read now, as an adult, are an unending search for what I read as a child. And sometimes I wonder if I am just constantly looking for that one perfect story – that one that will change my life, or that will be SO GOOD that I never want to read another story. So far I haven’t found anything that would stop me from reading another word again, thank goodness, but occasionally I read a book that kind of ruins me from reading another book for a few days, anyway.

Are the stories that we look for as adults a repeat of the stories we read as children? Do we spend our adult lives yearning for the stories of our childhood, as if we are searching for something that was lost?

I really really like English novels – and Welsh, and Scottish, and Irish novels. Not all of them, obviously, but the kind of novel that evokes the feelings from childhood I remember. As though there is more going on than what we see in front of us, and where it is not always apparent which time we are in.  More than American stories, British stories have this feeling of the past and the present existing simultaneously.  I always thought this was because the weight of the past is so much heavier – having more baggage, if you want to call it that – in Britain than here in the New World. Here in the Americas, there is less history to contend with and so our stories tend to be less about the past and more about  the future. When I was a kid in the 1970s, I loved anything to do with Celtic history and King Arthur and I loved two stories in particular: Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, and Nancy Bond’s A String in the Harp.

Into the Grey is a story by the Irish author Celine Kiernan, and there is nothing Arthurian or mythological about it, being set in 1974 Ireland; yet the feeling that I got from this book reminded me of those beloved childhood books.  The story is about two fifteen year old twin brothers, Pat and Dom Finnerty. Their Nan, who hasn’t been herself since her stroke, accidentally burns down the family home, and the boys, their parents, their young sister, Dee, and Nan must move to the seaside cottage that they have summered in. Only now it is winter, and the cottage is desolate, cold and windy. The past is never over, remember, particularly in Ireland in the 1970s, and it soon becomes obvious to Pat that Dom is haunted by a ghost. Dom will die unless Pat can figure out how to save him, but Pat is afraid to say anything to his parents, who are overwhelmed with their own problems. The ghost turns out to be a young boy (Francis) who died of diphtheria prior to World War I, and whose twin (Laurence) died in the mud at Passchendaele. They both exist in a limbo between the living and the dead. Nan holds the key to figuring this out — if only she can remember her past, because she is one of the links.

The past and the present seem to co-exist simultaneously, and this eerie, dreamy kind of feeling is what reminded me of some of those childhood novels.

Robert Dunbar’s review of Into the Grey, which is on Celine Kiernan’s blog (http://celinekiernan.wordpress.com/robert-dunbars-intro-to-into-the-grey/), talks about the theme of loss far better than I ever could. He talks about the loss of life, of brothers, of friends and comrades, of home, of memory. He mentions a heartbreaking passage about the horrific loss of life in the mud of World War I: “So. That’s how it happens. All the time. All over the world. People just fall away. There’s no warning, and you can’t do anything about it. No matter how old you get. You just lose people and lose people and lose them again, and you never get them back.”  I loved this passage (I had highlighted it in my copy of Into the Grey, too) because it sums up the complete randomness of loss of life, no matter how much meaning we may attach to it. It’s a pretty dark sentiment for a YA novel, really.

However, I think there is one more important theme in this novel: the bond of love between brothers. Pat will do anything to get Dom back from being haunted to death. And Laurence has never given up looking for his brother Francis, with the result that they have been stuck in the Grey area between life and death for over 50 years. Patrick must venture Into the Grey to save Dom, risking his own life to save the life of his brother.

Into the Grey is a quiet novel that gradually grew on me, and I heartily recommend it to both YA and adult readers.

~ Lysbeth Abrams

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Staff Review: The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

FC9780385376525The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

Dana Alison Levy

Random House


Available July 22, 2014

It has to be said: think Penderwicks, with four brothers instead of sisters. But these brothers have two dads, so they’re all adopted. More importantly, each brother is a distinct character, and they’re all fiercely loyal to one another when they’re not biffing each another verbally in typically playful male competition. Sam, the 12-year-old, is anxious to be a good role model even as he risks peer ridicule for participating in the school musical. Jax is the athletic 10-year-old, always competing with Sam even as he seeks his older brother’s approval. Eli is also 10, deeply studious, but worried that his insistence on attending an expensive, demanding private school may be the wrong choice after all. Frog is six, funny, and eager to keep up with all the others. The two dads are less distinguishable, but highly functional as parents, laying out and maintaining “Fletcher Family Rules” of honor, fair play, and safety. The story follows the time honored setting of a school year, and the characters are strong enough that their daily adventures and concerns fit together as tightly and unexpectedly as a Chinese puzzle, albeit one held together with mud and sweaty socks. Within all this, the fact of same sex parents and racially varied children is simply part of the fabric, as natural – and special – as waffles and strawberries for breakfast. Among the many, many middle grade books that come out each year, it’s still a thrill to find one so well done that we know at once we can recommend it wholeheartedly for at least a generation to come.

~ Carol


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Indies Introduce: Knightley and Son and Steering Toward Normal

[Note: I was honored to be invited to the Indies Introduce Children’s panel last summer. A group of ten booksellers from all over the country read through middle grade and young adult novels by first-time novelists. We had regular conference calls discussing each book and eventually selected what we considered to be the ten best books by debut authors. Those books are now (woot!) being published and I’m excited to introduce them to the Eight Cousins community. Over the next few days, I’ll discuss each of the books.]

Todays Featured Indies Introduce titles are Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin and Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck.

FC9781619631533Knightley and Son

Rohan Gavin



Ages 8-12

Knightley & Son is the perfect book for lovers of mystery, intrigue, British humor, and nefarious self-help books. Detective Alan Knightley has been in an unexplained coma for four years. Son Darkus has been reading up on his father’s case files determined to find the explanation. When Knightley suddenly wakes up, Darkus insists that his father needs his help, especially since there seem to be odd side-effects of the coma. What do self-help books have to do with it? Everything! Obviously. Well, probably. It’s hard to tell prove. Enter Knightley & Son.

FC9781419707322Steering Toward Normal

Rebecca Petruck

Amulet Books


Ages 9-13

Diggy, like many 8th graders, has a hobby. A hobby that takes up most of his out-of-school hours. It requires dedication, perseverance, practice, patience, and rope. He raises calves for competition at the Minnesota State Fair and this year, he is ready to win. He is not ready to have classmate Wayne dropped off at his house with the declaration that Wayne is his half-brother. Wayne’s mother has recently passed away and his father decides he doesn’t want to raise another man’s son. The events hit a little too close to home, because Diggy himself was once dropped off at that same farm when his own mother decided she wasn’t ready to take care of a baby. While Diggy, and then Wayne, try to raise two calves, their father tries to raise both of them, which also takes dedication, perseverance, and patience (no rope). Steering Toward Normal is a family story; it’s about families who unexpected end up together and families who chose to stay together, and it’s about dedication, perseverance, practice, and patience.

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