White Bird by RJ Palacio

White Bird by RJ Palacio
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historical, Graphic Novel, YA, Ages 16+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

In R. J. Palacio’s bestselling collection of stories Auggie & Me, which expands on characters in Wonder, readers were introduced to Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère. Here, Palacio makes her graphic novel debut with Grandmère’s heartrending story: how she, a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II; how the boy she and her classmates once shunned became her savior and best friend.

Sara’s harrowing experience movingly demonstrates the power of kindness to change hearts, build bridges, and even save lives. As Grandmère tells Julian, “It always takes courage to be kind, but in those days, such kindness could cost you everything.” With poignant symbolism and gorgeous artwork that brings Sara’s story out of the past and cements it firmly in this moment in history, White Bird is sure to captivate anyone who was moved by the book Wonder or the blockbuster movie adaptation and its message.

Haunting, beautiful and sad.

I picked up this book because I’ve been on a history binge and a graphic novel one, too. I’ve not read any other stories by RJ Palacio, so this was my first. I have to say this was a haunting book. I can’t imagine being in Sara’s place, nor dealing with what she did. I had a hard time staying in my house during the pandemic – I love fresh air – so living for a whole year in a barn is beyond my wheelhouse. Reading about Sara being there for that long made me appreciate my situation much more.

Sara is a Jew living in France, but it’s during World War II and Jews aren’t welcome in France after the collapse. I can’t imagine being her, living in a barn, hiding in the straw, living off scraps and hoping for the end of the war because no one should have to live like that. She lost her mother during the war and even her best friend. It was sad and I was very much emotionally invested.

I liked how her father would swing her around like a bird and that verbiage, along with Julien’s friendship and help, got her through the war. I hated the ending, even if the war did end – I won’t give away spoilers, but when you read it, you’ll see. I knew that would have to happen, but I was hoping it wouldn’t. It tore at my heart and made me think.

If you’re looking for a graphic novel that’s another way to learn about the Holocaust, the travesties of war and the strength of human resolve, then this might be the book for you.


The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

For as long as he can remember, Leo has lived in the blue house with his dad, but lately the neighborhood is changing. People are leaving, houses are being knocked down, and shiny new buildings are going up in their place. When Leo and his dad are forced to leave, they aren’t happy about it. They howl and rage and dance out their feelings. When the time comes, they leave the blue house behind–there was never any choice, not really–but little by little, they find a way to keep its memory alive in their new home.

Starting over again in a new place is never easy.

I adored the fact that Leo and his dad were part of a low-income household. There aren’t enough picture books out there about families who struggle to make ends meet and who live in homes that are leaky and creaky because the people who live in them simply can’t afford to fix everything. What endeared me to it even more was how matter-of-fact the narrator was about their social class and living situation. It was simply part of their tale, but by no means was it the focus or the most interesting portion of it. That was the perfect note to strike, especially for this age group and for readers who might be in similar circumstances.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed how Leo’s dad encouraged him to express difficult emotions like fear and grief. The father was so loving and supportive of his son no matter how much the boy struggled with leaving their beloved blue house and moving to a new home. Change can be difficult for adults, much less young children. Leo’s father couldn’t have done a better job of making that transition as easy as possible for his family.

It was delightful to see how the author mixed the sad moments in with happier ones that showed why this family loved the blue house so much and how they planned to keep the traditions they started there going after they moved away. There is definitely something to be said for remembering the past fondly and actively looking for the good in life no matter what happens next.

The Blue House made me blink away tears. I can’t recommend this poignant tale highly enough!

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, YA
Length: Full length (256 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

In this high school-set psychological tale, a tormented teen named Evan starts to discover a series of unnerving photographs—some of which feature him. Someone is stalking him . . . messing with him . . . threatening him. Worse, ever since his best friend Ariel has been gone, he’s been unable to sleep, spending night after night torturing himself for his role in her absence. And as crazy as it sounds, Evan’s starting to believe it’s Ariel that’s behind all of this, punishing him. But the more Evan starts to unravel the mystery, the more his paranoia and insomnia amplify, and the more he starts to unravel himself.
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Creatively told with black-and-white photos interspersed between the text so the reader can see the photos that are so unnerving to Evan, Every You, Every Me is a one-of-a-kind departure from a one-of-a-kind author.

Losing your best friend is hard enough. But what if you think you’re losing your mind, too? Ever since Ariel left, Evan’s found himself adrift. Unable to sleep or concentrate, he’s falling farther and farther into a dark hole of what ifs. But when he finds the first picture, he begins to wonder if there is more going on than he suspects.

I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Evan at first. You want to coddle this boy who has lost his best friend, but you also feel the need to shake some sense into him. However, as you get deeper into the story and begin to understand all that was going on with his friend, Ariel, it makes more sense why he’s being so hard on himself. Why these photos he’s finding are so important to figure out. Still, there are moments where he should have taken a step back and reevaluated his situation. He might have been able to better cope with certain things if he wasn’t forever pushing forward at a breakneck pace.

Although set in high school, the emotions and mental health struggles that both Evan and Ariel deal with throughout the story spoke to me on an adult level. So many times in our lives we’re going through something and believe that no one else will ever understand. That’s not unique to teens, it pursues us into our adult lives as well. It’s an unfortunate part of life, but one that most of us learn how to deal with in the end. I think that, by the end, Evan has started to understand this as well. It’s my hope for him anyway.

Told through both prose and a set of increasingly strange black and white photographs, Every You, Every Me isn’t your typical young adult fiction. This is a good part of the reason why I picked it up, I was intrigued by the concept of mixed media. In addition to the photographs, the story feels like an old journal entry, complete with random strike throughs in the text. Most of the time, the strikethroughs in the text make sense, as if Evan is editing his thoughts in real time, although there are moments where it didn’t seem to jive for me. In the end, Every You, Every Me is a tale of friendship, mystery, and finding mental wellness when you don’t think it’s possible.