Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

If you’ve never gone through a period of life feeling ashamed, consider yourself blessed. Most people lack self confidence at some point in their lives. Teens and younger children frequently feel that. It’s part of growing up. When I was in high school I didn’t think anybody could possibly like me, especially any boy. Boys did like me, but even when they showed or told me that, I didn’t believe them. I probably had a reputation of being an ice queen.

At 5’6” tall, 120 pounds, and with flame-red hair, I probably wasn’t all that bad to look at. But, still I didn’t think I measured up. So I can relate to all who feel unlovable and unworthy.

Fortunately, I did find at least some of my good qualities and did discover I wasn’t really stupid. Most people do find their paths in life, but most also don’t have an easy path.

Anyway, here are three books that deal with our struggles toward self respect. Hope you enjoy them.

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The first book is about being picked on or bullied because of some physical difference. Add to that an emotional sadness and you’ve got one insecure individual.

Camo Girl
Kekla Magoon
Ella is picked upon by the other kids because her skin is mottled—dark brown in some spots on her face and light brown in others. She’s ashamed of her looks, thinking she’s ugly. She had two friends up until this year—sixth grade. But Millie has been avoiding her except when they ride to and from school, so Ella is down to one friend who calls himself Zachariah, knight of his own realm. Everyone else makes fun of Z, but Ella—known to Z as The Lady Ellie-nor—is loyal to her friend. He helped her grieve when her father died by making up their fantasy world, which was good at the time. The problem is Zachariah slides ever further into the alternate world so he won’t have to deal with the reality of his father having deserted him, leaving his mom and him to camp out at the Wal-Mart where she works. He becomes even more the object of torture for the school bullies; the Lady Ellie-nor coming to his rescue. Z’s distress deepens when Bailey James starts at their school and seeks out Ella’s company. She thinks it’s because she’s the only other black kid in the school. But he invites her to join him as he hangs out with the popular crowd and protects her from the bullies. She finds herself pulled toward other people and begins to reconnect with her friend Millie. Z goes on a mission to find his estranged father and Bailey helps Ella find him. Bailey has secrets of his own, including having his own father in a psychiatric hospital to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Z finally gets the help he desperately needs and Ella begins to move on from her father’s death. This is a very well written novel and an enjoyable read.
BIBLIO: 2011, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division/Simon & Schuster Publishing, Inc., Ages 8 to 12, $15.99
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle Reader
ISBN: 978-1-4169-7804-6
ISBN: 978-1-4424-1722-9

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This second book is about having to move from one culture to another and acknowledging uncomfortable truths.

Flowers in the Sky
Lynn Joseph
Nina Perez is perfectly happy living in Samana, Dominican Republic, but her mother is always harping on her to move to New York City and live with her brother, Darrio. Mamí is sure Nina will have better schools to go to and many chances to marry a rich man, who will take care of Nina and Mamí. Mamí whines at Darrio to send them money, which he dutifully does. But when Nina goes to New York, she discovers how her brother is making his money. He sells stolen goods in exchange for a free apartment and a salary. Nina makes friends at her new high school, but she falls for an older boy, Luis Santana, with a street reputation of being a bad sort. Nina misses being able to have a flower garden, so Darrio buys her an orchid to grow on the fire escape and soon she is growing lots of orchids to sell in the neighborhood. She starts up a friendship with Luis, even though Darrio and Mamí disapprove and would prefer she date her smart school friend, Carlos. Eventually Darrio gets caught for selling stolen goods, but Luis protects Nina and tells her the story of how he got his reputation. He tells her he’s thinking of going to college. Nina also realizes how much pressure she and Mamí have put on Darrio to support them over the years and how hard it’s been on him. This is a nice story, well told. It could lead to classroom discussions on cultural differences and learning to listen to people to see who they really are.
BIBLIO: 2013, HarperTeen/Epic Reads/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 13 +, $17.99
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-06-029794-7
ISBN: 978-0-06-223642-5

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The third book is  about moving, but also dealing with new philosophies.

White Crow
Marcus Sedgwick
Against her desire, Rebecca moves to Winterfold from London, because her Detective Inspector dad has to lie low until the hullabaloo about his involvement in the death of a teenage girl simmers down. Winterfold is hot and boring and falling into the sea little by little. But Rebecca does meet a strange and fascinating girl named Ferelith and they become friends. Together they explore the town as Ferelith lures Rebecca into discussions of life and death and whether Heaven and Hell actually exist. Juxtaposed in this story are excerpts from the diary of an eighteenth century priest who is wondering about the same issues with a strange French doctor. The girls start daring each other to do increasingly bizarre and dangerous things and end up with Rebecca being locked in a special room where Ferelith tries to coerce her friend into admitting the reality of good and evil or God and the Devil or an afterlife. The two finally explore a hidden room/cave at the bottom of the French doctor’s house and find bones of the seven people the doctor and priest had murdered. As the girls are in room, the back of the house falls into the sea. Ferelith jumps into the sea and drowns, leaving a terrified Rebecca alone in the cave. Strange story with dark twists and turns which will keep the reader enthralled, even if it is a bit convoluted.
BIBLIO: 2011 (orig. 2010,) Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrink Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, Ages 14 +, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1-59643-594-0

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Enjoy the reviews and remember to be happy in your own skin.  At almost 75, I’ve pretty much achieved that.

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