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Reviews Roundup: Portraits of Love and Passion

The famously lovesick Romeo once declared of the equally famous object of his passion, Juliet, "Come what sorrow can, it cannot countervail the exchange of joy, that one short minute gives me in her sight." As Cupid's holiday comes stealthily tip-toeing round the rosebush, the SLC Reviews team wants to celebrate stories that convey moving portraits of love and passion. From a realistic romance burgeoning between two young men amidst emotional life changes, to a ballad about the courageous warrior Mulan and her romance of equals with Kai, these couples at once echo and expand upon Romeo's lovelorn decree. But we aren't stopping there, for love comes finely arrayed in a rich multiplicity of garb. Sulwe tells the story of a young girl's journey to self-love and self-acceptance and of the affirming connection between a mother and daughter. Likewise, The Blackbird Girls depicts a Romeo and Juliet-like story between two young girls from opposing backgrounds who nonetheless develop a profound and lasting bond of friendship. So, get out the heart-shaped chocolates (and maybe the tissues), and indulge in narratives that reveal the human capacity for passion and love in all its diverse expressions!

Reviews Roundup Magnolia Sword
Sherry Thomas
The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan
2019. Tu Books (Lee & Low). Grades 7 & Up

All her life, Mulan has trained in martial arts for a lethal duel against the son of a rival family, but the duel is postponed when war descends on China. Every family must send an able-bodied male into battle, so to spare her disabled cousin, Mulan disguises herself as a man and goes to war. She impresses the son of a duke with her fighting skills and is invited to join his personal group of warriors, only to realize that he is really Kai, her duel opponent, and that he recognizes her too. Mulan and Kai fall in love while thwarting a treasonous plot against the royal family…. Thomas masterfully interweaves details about China's ancient dynasties, its historical wars, and even the construction of the Great Wall with thrilling battle scenes, treacherous plot twists, and a memorable love story….
—Reviewed by Jenny MacKay
Click here to read the full version of the review

Reviews Roundup Castle by the Sea
Lucy Strange
Our Castle by the Sea
2019. Chicken House (Scholastic, Inc.). Grades 4-7

Strange's sophomore effort is a page-turning, twisting and gripping adventure story set in and around a lighthouse on the southeast coast of England during the second World War. Inspired by the legend of the Daughters of the Stone, Pet and Mags are sisters that reside in the lighthouse with their English father, Pa, and German mother, Mutti. Other colorful characters include Spooky Joe, Mrs. Baron and Michael Baron, with whom Mags falls in love, thus thickening the plot. When Mutti is brought to an internment camp under suspicion of aiding the enemy, the girls set about to prove her innocence…. [T]here is real romance and emotion in these pages, and the right reader will find themselves captivated by the characters and the World War II time period.
—Reviewed by Joel Shoemaker
Click here to read the full version of the review

Reviews Roundup Gravity of Us
Phil Stamper
The Gravity of Us
2020. Bloomsbury Publishing. Grades 6-12

Cal is an ordinary 17-year-old in Brooklyn who has developed a large online following through his Facebook Live-esque reports from around the city…. With almost no notice, the family picks up and moves to Texas, far from everything and everyone Cal knows…. However, Texas turns out much better than expected, leaving Cal's once ironclad plans ever more uncertain. A big part of their new home's surprising appeal comes in the form of Leon, a fellow astronaut's son, with whom Cal begins a very intense romance during a stressful time for both of their families. This title will appeal to many different readers, including scientists, computer programmers, LGBTQ youth, and anyone who enjoys a story of perseverance and resilience. Also notable is the nonchalant approach the author takes towards young love between two male characters.
—Reviewed by Bernie Morrissey
Click here to read the full version of the review

Reviews Roundup Sulwe
Lupita Nyong'o
Illustrated by Vashti Harrison. 2020. S & S Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster). Grades PreK-2

The color of Sulwe's skin is like none other in her family and this makes her feel uncomfortable and unwanted. Her personal struggle keeps her from liking herself and even those around her. She prays for beauty in the form of lighter skin, but her prayers go unanswered. She is so troubled by her situation that she shares her hurt with her mother, who reminds her that beauty comes from within and acceptance starts with oneself…. It is a well written story with universal appeal that will capture the hearts of those who experience it, especially the many readers who have struggled with standard conceptualizations of beauty and self-acceptance.
—Reviewed by Maria J. Sexton
Click here to read the full version of the review

Reviews Roundup Blackbird Girls
Anne Blankman
The Blackbird Girls
2020. Viking Children's Books (Penguin Young Readers Group). Grades 6-12

….Fifth-graders Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko were neighbors and staunch enemies. Coming from a Jewish family, Valentina was accustomed to the vitriol from Ukrainians like Oksana and her parents, and was often bullied at school. As a result of the [1986 Chernobyl] explosion, however, residents are forced to evacuate and Valentina and Oksana find themselves journeying together to Valentina's estranged grandmother in Leningrad. The girls soon learn that pain can be experienced in many ways and they eventually overcome their differences to develop a deep friendship…. This title weaves a beautiful, bittersweet tale of courage, resilience, and how love can ultimately overcome ingrained hatred and prejudice. This book is an tribute to those who suffered at the hands of cruelty and survived to tell a tale of love and friendship that transcends time and place.
—Reviewed by Martha Hubbard
Full review will be available March 1st!

Alex Casavant, SLC Reviews Team

Select Citation Style:
Casavant, Alex. "Reviews Roundup: Portraits of Love and Passion." School Library Connection, February 2020,
Casavant, Alex. "Reviews Roundup: Portraits of Love and Passion." School Library Connection, February 2020.
Casavant, A. (2020, February). Reviews roundup: Portraits of love and passion. School Library Connection. Retrieved from

Entry ID: 2195095

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