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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade DNFs: I Lived on Butterfly Hill & Space Case

On 11, Jun 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Butterfly HillI Lived on Butterfly Hill written by Marjorie Agosin, translated by E.M. O’Connor, pictures by Lee White

From GoodReads:¬†Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile–until the time comes when even Celeste, with her head in the clouds, can’t deny the political unrest that is sweeping through the country. Warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates disappear from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents–her educated, generous, kind parents–must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” To protect their daughter, they send her to America.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Accented with interior artwork, steeped in the history of Pinochet’s catastrophic takeover of Chile, and based on many true events.

This book must have been a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” because I could not get through it despite how amazing it was.I put it down about half way through and didn’t really look back. Which seems crazy. Agosin has written an incredibly beautiful book. The language is so poetic. She has detailed the setting in Chile wonderfully and you really get a sense of place (it actually sounds a lot like San Francisco). I also found it really¬†interesting that the characters are religious (her grandmother was a Jew that escapes Nazi occupied Austria, parents and other family are Catholic), and while it’s apparent it isn’t a religious book, will resonate with many children who are faithful, but not necessarily looking for a religious book and will work for kids who are not religious because it isn’t “a thing”.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about was how historically accurate the book is/is supposed to be. It’s clearly based on what happened with the Pinochet coup and dictatorship in Chile, but the timeline and events didn’t quite seem to match up to what I have read about that period. In the end it doesn’t really matter, the book has a momentum and history of its own that carries it.

So if it was such an incredible book with great characters, beautiful setting, even more beautiful language, and a good plot, why couldn’t I finish it? I think it was primarily the length. It’s about 400 pages and it was just so daunting. The chapters within it are short, but it’s still 400 pages. While I would easily recommend this to middle schoolers I think this will make it a hard sell.

Space CaseSpace Case by Stuart Gibbs

From GoodReads:¬†Like his fellow lunarnauts — otherwise known as Moonies — living on Moon Base Alpha, twelve-year-old Dashiell Gibson is famous the world over for being one of the first humans to live on the moon. And he’s bored out of his mind. Kids aren’t allowed on the lunar surface, meaning they’re trapped inside the tiny moon base with next to nothing to occupy their time; and the only other kid Dash’s age spends all his time hooked into virtual reality games. Then Moon Base Alpha’s top scientist turns up dead. Dash senses there’s foul play afoot, but no one believes him. Everyone agrees Dr. Holtz went onto the lunar surface without his helmet properly affixed, simple as that. But then Dash learns Dr. Holtz was on the verge of an important new discovery, and it’s a secret that could change everything for the Moonies;a secret someone just might kill to keep…

Gibbs writes funny books. Belly Up is still one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Why then did I put Space Case down after 75 pages or so? As with Butterfly Hill, I’m not really sure. It was funny (although not nearly as funny as Belly Up). I think the mystery took a little too long to get going considering the focus was the mystery and not character development (it still wasn’t in full swing by the time I put the book down). I had a little trouble believing an adult would approach a kid to help investigate a murder over NASA’s head, but then again books ask us to suspend our disbelief all the time. I think I just wasn’t invested enough to let it slide.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. I’m not a huge mystery fan so I just don’t think I had the patience to keep going, but I do think kids who like mysteries will devour this. It’s very funny and Dash is a cool kid. The setting is also pretty awesome and makes for some excellent suspense and adds some interesting issues. Plus the whole first chapter deals with poop, space toilets, and how Dash has broken one. What kid wouldn’t love that? (Grown ups love poop jokes too, just admit it.)

I feel like I should point out that Dash is mixed race as are the majority of the characters. About 50 pages in Dash notes that most everyone is by now and he’s a little weirded out by the space tourist family on Moon Base Alpha that is Scandinavian and very white in appearance. Even though characters’ skin color is noted I didn’t think it felt out of place per se and I’m glad the characters reflect what we are seeing with diversity.

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