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Book Review: All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Publisher’s description

all summer longA coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel about summer and friendships, written and illustrated by the Eisner Award–winning and New York Times–bestselling Hope Larson.

Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he’s off to soccer camp for a month, and he’s been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it’s up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own. At first it’s a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin’s older sister, who enjoys music just as much as Bina. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he’s acting even weirder than when he left. How Bina and Austin rise above their growing pains and reestablish their friendship and respect for their differences makes for a touching and funny coming-of-age story.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This will be an easy hit with fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Jennifer Holm, and Shannon Hale’s Real Friends. I could probably bring 20 of these to work, put them on my desk, and have them all gone to 5th graders in a few hours.

 

There’s so much to like here. I loved everything about this graphic novel except the repeated use of the word “lame.” Why do people think it’s okay to still use that word? Barring that, which took me out of the story every time because I had to sigh and roll my eyes, it was fantastic. I love that it’s about a boy-girl friendship. Neighbors Bina and Austin have been best friends literally their entire lives. But as athletic Austin heads off to a month of soccer camp, leaving music enthusiast Bina behind, Bina feels at loose ends. She’s never really had to figure out what to do without Austin. She listens to music, plays her guitar, binges a tv show, and texts Austin, wishing he’d bother to text her back. It’s not that she doesn’t have anything else going on in her life, but it’s her first summer really on her own. Her older brother and his husband are adopting a baby, her other adventurous brother pops home and gives her a little pep talk, and she has a good relationship with her parents. She becomes friends (maybe, sort of, she thinks) with Charlie, Austin’s older sister. Charlie introduces her to new music, gets her into babysitting, and makes Bina feel kind of cool. And kind of used and frustrated. Middle school is a pretty typical time to discover just how complicated relationships, even lifelong ones, can be. So much is changing, but, as her mom points out, Bina is becoming more herself every day. She’s getting more into music, understanding more about social dynamics, and learning how to shape her own days without her best friend there to help her. When Austin returns from camp, things between them are definitely different, but they work it out, discovering that growing and changing doesn’t have to mean growing apart. Bina is a great character and a lot of readers will relate to her feelings and uncertainty. A solid addition to any graphic novel collection. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780374310714
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 05/01/2018

Book Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Publisher’s description

girl made ofFor readers of Girl in Pieces and The Way I Used to Be comes an emotionally gripping story about facing hard truths in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

BILLY STARS

There’s what I tweeted after I finished this book. What a powerful and memorable read. I read a LOT of books. Often, as the weeks and months pass, the details get lost to me. I’ll remember I liked something, but not necessarily all of the reasons why. Or I’ll forget characters’ names or how the book made me feel. But this book? This book will stay with me. All of it.

 

Relationships in twins Mara and Owen’s world are closely-knit. They attend an arts magnet program with all the most important people in their lives. Hannah, Owen’s girlfriend, is one of Mara’s best friends. Charlie, Mara’s very best friend, is also her ex-girlfriend (Mara is bisexual; Charlie is nonbinary). And Owen’s best friend, Alex, has always been there, but Mara finds herself turning to him more and in new, unexpected ways. When Hannah says that Owen raped her at a party they all were at, Mara is devastated. She knows her brother would never do that. But she also knows Hannah would never lie about that. She turns to their small group of friends, including both Hannah and Owen, as she tries to process what happened. Mara has her own reasons for fiercely thinking that “believe girls and women” is a good policy (beyond it just being a good policy). She’s held on to a secret for years, a secret that ruined her relationship with Charlie. Mara and Owen’s parents believe Owen when he says he didn’t rape Hannah. They urge Mara to understand the need to be united on this, to not talk to anyone about it, to make sure they all have the story straight. But Mara is sick of not talking about things. She stands by Hannah, especially when Hannah comes back to school and is repeatedly greeted with, “Hey, slut, welcome back.” Mara, Charlie, and Hannah all have truths to tell. They rely on each other, and the support of girls (particularly in their feminist group at school, Empower) to find the strength to not be silenced. 

 

This masterpiece is gutting. It’s not just the characters, the dialogue, and the writing are all wonderful—they are—but that the story is so real. So true. So common. Maybe not the specifics, but the general story. This is in incredibly important read about the aftermath of a sexual assault, about consent, rape culture, family, friendship, and feminism. A powerful, heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting read. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781328778239
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 05/15/2018

 

 

Book Review: Four-Letter Word by Christa Desir

Publisher’s description

four letterEight friends. One game. A dozen regrets. And a night that will ruin them all, in this high stakes gripping story of manipulation and innocence lost, from the author of Bleed Like Me.

Chloe Sanders is ready for a change. She’s tired of watching her best friend Eve turn away from her for the more interesting and popular Holly Reed, and tired of living with her grandparents while her parents volunteer overseas. Chloe spends her days crushing on a guy named Mateo, being mostly ignored by Eve and Holly, and wishing the cornfields of Iowa didn’t feel so incredibly lonely.

Then a new girl transfers to her high school—Chloe Donnelly. This Chloe is bold and arty and instantly placed on a pedestal by Eve and Holly. Now suddenly everyone is referring to Chloe Sanders as “Other Chloe” and she figures the only thing to do is go with it.

Chloe Donnelly introduces all her friends to a dangerous game: a girls vs. guys challenge that only has one rule—obtain information by any means necessary. Chloe Donnelly’s got power over everyone—secrets she’s exploiting—and she uses it to keep them all playing. When the game turns nasty, soft-spoken Mateo chooses Other Chloe to help him expose everything Chloe Donnelly has done. But neither realize just how much the truth could cost them in the end.

Amanda’s thoughts

Playing a game that turns out to be surprisingly high-stakes, full of secrets and lies and manipulations, unsure how you even got involved and wishing you could just opt out? That’s the plot of Desir’s new book, but that’s also pretty much just a fairly apt summary of the teenage years, right?

 

Chicago transplant Chloe Donnelly seems so cool and sophisticated, at least to the girls in small Grinnell, Iowa. She immediately becomes the leader of Eve, Holly, and Chloe Sanders, who, much to her chagrin, immediately becomes “Other Chloe” despite being the original or “old” Chloe. Chloe Donnelly introduces them to the game Gestapo, sort of like Capture the Flag but with a word to figure out. And much higher stakes. She gets four boys to play against the four girls. The winners can ask the losers for a favor that they can’t say no to. Other Chloe, rightfully so, finds the concept of the game and the “platinum favor” to be rather terrifying. It isn’t just a fun game—it’s built all around uncovering secrets and blackmail. She sees it as ultimately a sex game. Her crush, Mateo, sees it as about secrets. But Chloe Donnelly says the game is really just a device to get what you want, to go after things you’re too afraid to try for, to uncover information you otherwise wouldn’t have. Other Chloe wants out, realizing there’s nothing fun about this game for her, and it seems like most of the other players would like to get out of the game, too. But it’s not that simple. Chloe Donnelly makes it so everyone has to keep playing. The platinum favor could mean secrets could stay hidden. But getting to that favor, finding a way to win, is far more complicated than anyone thought, especially when they start to realize they don’t actually know anything about Chloe Donnelly.

 

Readers who love suspense and intrigue will enjoy this story. The twists and turns the game takes makes it hard to figure out just what exactly everyone is hiding or who may be aligned with whom. It also feels impossible to know who, if anyone, to trust or believe. It’s difficult to sort out who may be manipulating someone or lying just to advance in the game. Readers don’t really get to know the large cast of characters, which makes it even more suspenseful, because so much feels hidden or in question. A unique twist on what it means to negotiate friendship, dating, sex, and high school. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481497374
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 05/15/2018

Book Review: We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Publisher’s description

fly awayLuke and Toby have always had each other’s backs. But then one choice—or maybe it is a series of choices—sets them down an irrevocable path. We’ll Fly Away weaves together Luke and Toby’s senior year of high school with letters Luke writes to Toby later—from death row.

This thought-provoking novel is an exploration of friendship, regret, and redemption, for fans of Jason Reynolds and Marieke Nijkamp.

Best friends since childhood, Luke and Toby have dreamed of one thing: getting out of their dead-end town. Soon they finally will, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, never looking back. If they don’t drift apart first. If Toby’s abusive dad, or Luke’s unreliable mom, or anything else their complicated lives throw at them doesn’t get in the way.

In a format that alternates between Luke’s letters to Toby from death row and the events of their senior year, Bryan Bliss expertly unfolds the circumstances that led to Luke’s incarceration. Tense and emotional, this hard-hitting novel explores family abuse, sex, love, and friendship, and how far people will go to protect those they love. For fans of Jason Reynolds, Chris Crutcher, and NPR’s Serial podcast.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES and MEET ME HERE, the two previous novels from Bryan Bliss, so I figured I’d enjoy this. Though, really, enjoy is the wrong word to use for reading about impoverished, neglected, abused teens, one of whom is on death row. My point is, I knew I’d like the book. But I wasn’t prepared to be totally blown away and just gutted by this story. I’m a reading machine—as soon as I finish something, I pick up something new right away, hardly pausing for a breath in between. After finishing WE’LL FLY AWAY, I didn’t read anything else for a few days, just wanting the story and the characters to stick with me a while longer. This powerful look at loyalty, protection, friendship, and choices will shatter you. Be ready.

 

The story toggles between the letters that Luke is writing to Toby from death row and the time prior to his incarceration. We don’t know why Luke is on death row, other than he did something that he admitted to and doesn’t regret. We only learn at the very end how he landed there. Though I suspected what was going to happen, what would land him there, it was still absolutely devastating when the reveal of what happened came. But that all happens near the end. For the bulk of the book, we see Luke and Toby struggling through their day-to-day lives. Luke lives with his mom and twin younger brothers in a one-bedroom apartment. There’s never enough to eat and Luke does most of the caring for his brothers. When his mom eventually disappears for a few days, it hardly matters, because she wasn’t doing a whole lot to help out while there. Toby lives with his violent, drunk, abusive father. Toby is used to seeking safety and space to recover with Luke. What little Luke has, he’s happy to share with Toby.  He has always been Toby’s defender and protector. The two have hopes of leaving their small North Carolina town after graduation. Luke has a wrestling scholarship waiting for him in Iowa and Toby figures he’ll tag along. They haven’t exactly worked out details, but having some idea of life after this place helps them both cope with their realities. Things begin to unravel when Toby gets involved with Lily, a young woman he meets at the bar his dad frequents. Their meeting sets in motion terrible events that almost feel inevitable. As I read, as I watched events unfold, I kept thinking, “NO, NO, NO, NO,” even though I knew something terrible had to happen to get Luke on death row. It all feels so hopeless.

 

In Luke’s letters from death row, we see weird glimpses of hope that we could never see in the main narrative. I say “weird” because the kid is on death row. His letters are full of pain and anger, but also resiliency, and he works through so much in his letters to Toby. His letters give us a real insight into his mind during this time. It is, I would guess, virtually impossible for almost all of us to really imagine what it would be like to be on death row. To be waiting. To watch people you have come to know put to death. I think it can be easy for people to look at people in prison, on death row, and forget their humanity. It can be easy to write people off, to expect a punishment, to not see them as humans, to not understand what led them there, to not think about redemption or the worth of a life or what the death penalty really means. Bliss makes you think about all those things. He makes the reader understand that people are not just defined by one thing, but have entire lives and stories that led them to the act or acts that landed them in prison. He asks readers to see their complex lives and care about them. The standout characters, including the nun who routinely visits Luke in prison, are deeply affecting and beg readers to really pay attention to their lives and their choices. Though devastatingly sad, this is also a beautiful look at friendship between two boys—something we don’t always see much of in YA. This emotional, powerful, and unflinching look at friendship, loyalty, and the justice system is an absolute must for all collections. Not an easy read, but an important one. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9780062494276
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/08/2018

Book Review: A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, a starred review, which originally appeared in the May 2018  School Library Journal.

 

 

they themA Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson (ISBN-13: 9781620104996 Publisher: Oni Press Publication date: 06/12/2018)

★Gr 7 Up—Genderqueer writer and illustrator Bongiovanni and cisgender writer Jimerson, longtime friends, present this educational comic guide to gender-neutral pronouns. Speaking to each other and directly addressing readers, they emphasize the importance of inclusive and respectful language. Bongiovanni brings the perspective of their lived experience, and Jimerson serves as a thoughtful ally and role-plays as someone unfamiliar with gender-neutral pronouns. Together, they offer examples and explanations of pronoun usage and discuss misgendering (using the wrong pronouns, assuming gender, and relying on faulty visual shortcuts based on a gender binary). They also model potential conversations, such as how to ask what pronouns others use. The repeated references to creating inclusive work spaces give this guide more of an adult-oriented focus; still, teens will get a lot out of it. Featuring whimsical, lively illustrations, this clear, well-organized, conversational guide also covers dealing with mistakes. A section called “For Folks Identifying with Alternative Pronouns” offers advice on coming out as nonbinary. VERDICT A great, simple look at the importance of using correct pronouns; extremely accessible to those for whom gender-neutral language is a new concept.

Book Review: Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Publisher’s description

stay sweetFrom the author of The Last Boy and Girl in the World and The List comes a bold and sweet summer read about first love, feminism, and ice cream.

Summer in Sand Lake isn’t complete without a trip to Meade Creamery—the local ice cream stand founded in 1944 by Molly Meade who started making ice cream to cheer up her lovesick girlfriends while all the boys were away at war. Since then, the stand has been owned and managed exclusively by local girls, who inevitably become the best for friends. Seventeen-year-old Amelia and her best friend Cate have worked at the stand every summer for the past three years, and Amelia is “Head Girl” at the stand this summer. When Molly passes away before Amelia even has her first day in charge, Amelia isn’t sure that stand can go on. That is, until Molly’s grandnephew Grady arrives and asks Amelia to stay on to help continue the business…but Grady’s got some changes in mind…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Totally enjoyable book. Vivian is one of my auto-read authors—if she has a new book, I’m reading it. Reading this delightful summery book was just the ticket on an annoyingly cold day in Minnesota in April (we had a snow day this week and it was below zero two mornings this week). It made me want ice cream, which is no small feat given the unseasonable cold and the fact that I don’t generally like ice cream (Breyer’s nearly impossible to find vegan ice cream being the exception).

 

Vivian excels at great characters and great dialogue. The plot here is fairly small—when Grady inherits the ice cream stand, changes are afoot, including the possibility of selling the stand—but the relationships between the characters and the introduction of Molly’s own teenage diary makes this quiet story full of life. I like that Vivian is never afraid to show how complicated friendships/relationships between girls can be. Amelia and Cate are the very best of friends, but they keep secrets from each other, they argue, are jealous, they hold grudges, they lash out, and they figure out how to move past all those slights. I loved the whole concept of the ice cream stand—started in World War II by a young woman and only ever staffed by girls, all these years later (until Grady comes along). The system of support and friendship these Meade Creamery girls have is lovely and powerful. I would happily read a whole series about Meade girls over the years and what hijinks they got up to and saw each other through, from Molly and friends in the 1940s through now.

 

This will easily fly off shelves this summer. Give this to fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han. And when you sit down to read this, have some ice cream handy, because you’re going to want some. A satisfying and sweet read. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534405035
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Publication date: 04/24/2018

Book Review: The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the April 2018  School Library Journal.

 

 

gender identityThe Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck, Noah Grigni (ISBN-13: 9781684030309 Publisher: New Harbinger Publications Publication date: 04/01/2018)
K-Gr 4—Written by a clinical social worker specializing in gender nonconforming youth, this comprehensive guide helps children and families explore, understand, and affirm gender identities. This workbook is designed to allow kids to read, write, and draw about themselves, either with a parent or on their own. The thorough text defines terms in context and in a glossary, discusses gender diversity internationally and through history, and includes brief biographies of children who identify in a variety of ways. Through activities, readers can write about their pronouns, pick out clothes and hairstyles that best fit them, explore their feelings about their bodies, draw self-portraits, fill out a birth certificate, and list what changes they may like to make in their lives. Information is also presented on adult helpers (therapists, parents, and school staff), being safe and comfortable at school, and how to handle questions with example answers. This valuable resource clearly explains concepts and is full of activities that are fun and illuminating. Storck constantly reinforces the ideas that gender is expansive and identities are limitless, that any identity on the gender spectrum is valid and should be affirmed, and that children should feel loved, supported, and safe as they explore their identities. Working through this book with an adult would be useful, as the reading level may be much higher than that of the readers, though the text is aimed at young children. VERDICT A sensitive and empowering exploration of identity and expression that both educates and celebrates. Collections will strongly want to consider. —Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN

 

The Long Term Effects of Childhood Trauma and THE FALL OF INNOCENCE BY Jenny Torres Sanchez

Earlier this week, Junot Diaz wrote one of the most compelling and heartbreaking looks at the long term effects of childhood trauma in a personal essay for the New Yorker. In it, he discusses being raped at the age of 8 and how that trauma played out over and over again into his adult life and affected his mental health, his ability to form meaningful relationships, and his ability to maintain a solid career. If you haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend that you do so now.

9781524737757_fallinnocence_HC_JK.indd

As I read an early ARC of THE FALL OF INNOCENCE by Jenny Torres Sanchez earlier this year, I was equally moved by how Sanchez takes on the the long term effects of childhood trauma. From school shootings, domestic violence, parental loss and natural disasters, our children are effected many ways by childhood trauma. My children were forced to flee their home in the midst of dangerous flooding in the early morning hours and it effected every aspect of our lives. There were not only those moments of terror as we waded through waist deep raging waters to get to higher ground and safety, but the many months afterwards where we had to clean up and rebuild our lives. It has been seven years since that natural disaster and to this day we still have moments where we remember something that we lost in that flood. And in many ways that flood was nothing compared to the trauma many of our children are facing.

As a victim myself of repeated childhood sexual violence in the 8th grade, I am all too well aware of how long that trauma can effect you, how difficult it is to overcome it, and how even more than 30 years later the most innocent of moments can trigger you. We owe it to our children and to the health and well being of the human race to do more to protect and preserve our children and to address that various ways in which trauma can impact their lives.

How Childhood Trauma Can Affect Your Long-Term Health

The Fall of Innocence in particular takes on the topic of violence. The main character, Emilia Dejesus, is the victim of violence by a stranger near her elementary school at a young age. Fast forward to the future, now in high school, Emilia believes she is doing okay, until triggering events occur that remind her of that trauma. It effects her relationship with her boyfriend, her ability to be intimate, her sense of self and safety in the world. But that’s not all it effects, as it effects everyone around her. Her brother, her parents, and even her boyfriend can not escape the tentacles of consequence that radiate out from that traumatic moment in her life. Every individual caught within the radius of her life is impacted by that trauma, because we do not suffer in isolation.

Childhood Trauma : Long-Term Effects and Symptoms

What follows is Emilia’s unraveling, which the reader is invited to experience intimately through this gut wrenching and emotional tale. There is no happy ending here, as there often isn’t when a child suffers trauma that haunts them throughout their life. Addiction, mental health issues, ability to form meaningful attachments, self-doubt and self-sabotage, these are just a few of the long term effects that can be traced back to childhood trauma. When looking at the data, one can’t help but notice that there are a high number of sexual abuse victims that populate our prisons, especially our female prisons. And today we know that 1 in 4 adults are facing a mental health crisis at the same time that over 100 people die a day in our country as part of the opioid epidemic. It is important, I think, that we began to really examine how childhood trauma really impacts not only our children, but the adults they will become.

The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

The Fall of Innocence is hands down a must read book for every man, woman, and teen. It uses the gift of storytelling to help us examine the long term effects of childhood trauma and asks us to start a conversation that we need to be having. It pulls no punches as it dives in deep to the emotional wreckage of a life left in ruins. You will sob. The Teen also read this book but she had to take some breaks in between readings to read something that she found more uplifting to help break up the emotional intensity. In the end, she came to me and we talked a lot about this book. I will talk a lot about this book for the rest of my life as not only is it moving and haunting, but it is necessary and relevant. This is a topic we should be talking about more prolifically and I’m thankful that Sanchez did the hard work of setting this story to page, and she did so quite well indeed.

Complex trauma: how abuse and neglect can have life-long effects

Publisher’s Book Description:

For the past eight years, sixteen-year-old Emilia DeJesus has done her best to move on from the traumatic attack she suffered in the woods behind her elementary school. She’s forced down the memories–the feeling of the twigs cracking beneath her, choking on her own blood, unable to scream. Most of all, she’s tried to forget about Jeremy Lance, the boy responsible, the boy who caused her such pain. Emilia believes that the crows who watched over her that day, who helped her survive, are still on her side, encouraging her to live fully. And with the love and support of her mother, brother, and her caring boyfriend, Emilia is doing just that.

But when a startling discovery about her attacker’s identity comes to light, and the memories of that day break through the mental box in which she’d shut them away, Emilia is forced to confront her new reality and make sense of shifting truths about her past, her family, and herself.

Will be published June, 2018 from Philomel Books

Book Review: Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge

Publisher’s description

bootsAmerica’s war in Vietnam. In over a decade of bitter fighting, it claimed the lives of more than 58,000 American soldiers and beleaguered four US presidents. More than forty years after America left Vietnam in defeat in 1975, the war remains controversial and divisive both in the United States and abroad.

The history of this era is complex; the cultural impact extraordinary. But it’s the personal stories of eight people—six American soldiers, one American military nurse, and one Vietnamese refugee—that create the heartbeat of Boots on the Ground. From dense jungles and terrifying firefights to chaotic helicopter rescues and harrowing escapes, each individual experience reveals a different facet of the war and moves us forward in time. Alternating with these chapters are profiles of key American leaders and events, reminding us of all that was happening at home during the war, including peace protests, presidential scandals, and veterans’ struggles to acclimate to life after Vietnam.

With more than one hundred photographs, award-winning author Elizabeth Partridge’s unflinching book captures the intensity, frustration, and lasting impacts of one of the most tumultuous periods of American history.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I always expect nothing less than powerful mastery from Partridge. Her ability to present nonfiction in an immensely readable way is unrivaled. If you’re looking to read more nonfiction, or develop your nonfiction collection at work, I suggest Partridge’s books, along with my other favorites, Jim Murphy, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and (the late, great) Russell Freedman.

 

In BOOTS ON THE GROUND, Partridge presents the Vietnam War from various perspectives, including that of multiple presidents, soldiers, a nurse, and a Vietnamese refugee. The personal stories, many pictures, facts, and historical context all come together to show the reader what it was like during this time, what it was like to go to war, and what it was like to survive (and be haunted by) the war. The stories of those she interviewed speak to the fear, uncertainty, anger, patriotism, sorrow, and frustration that accompanies war and everyone it affects. The people Partridge writes about are diverse (including black, Asian American, and Mexican American soldiers, a biracial nurse, and Chinese American Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial), and she covers important events that happened around the war, including Woodstock, Kent State, protests nationwide, Martin Luther King Jr’s stance on the war, wartime and post-war refugees in Vietnam, and life after the war for veterans. The photographs add a lot to the narrative, driving home just how young these soldiers were, how horrible the conditions were, and how many lost their lives. 

 

These personal stories are riveting and, of course, heartbreaking. For me, born shortly after the war ended, to parents who had been in the military and stationed in Germany during the war, parents who then came home to protest the war, this was a compelling read about a war I feel like I know a fair bit about. But for younger readers, like my middle school-age son, who are just starting to learn more about America’s involvement in various wars, this book will prove invaluable. Readers will walk away knowing a lot about the historical context, but more importantly, knowing firsthand stories about what people experienced during and after the war. An outstanding and moving look at the Vietnam War. Essential for all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780670785063
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/10/2018

Book Review: How You Ruined My Life by Jeff Strand

Publisher’s description

how you ruinedA new hilarious novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and Stranger Things Have Happened.

Rod’s life doesn’t suck. If you ask him, it’s pretty awesome. He may not be popular, but he and his best friends play in a band that has a standing gig. Yeah, it’s Monday night and they don’t get paid, but they can turn the volume up as loud as they want. And Rod’s girlfriend is hot, smart, and believes in their band—believes in Rod. Aside from a winning lottery ticket, what more could he ask for?

Answer: A different cousin. When Rod’s scheming, two-faced cousin Blake moves in for the semester, Rod tries to keep calm. Blake seems to have everyone else fooled with good manners and suave smile, except Rod knows better. Blake is taking over his room, taking over his band, taking over his life! But Rod’s not about to give up without a fight. Game on. May the best prankster win…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

An excellent holdover from my surly teen years is that if someone tells me I will like something, or if something is billed as being “hilarious,” I will immediately NOT want to like it and usually not even venture to read/watch/whatever something because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I WILL LIKE and DON’T TELL ME I’M SUPPOSED TO FIND SOMETHING FUNNY. So, suffice it to say, between the description up there of this book as “hilarious” combined with someone having read this and told me I’ll “love” it, I was all ready to be disappointed. I think Rod, the main character in this book, would appreciate my very (leftover) punk rock attitude of I WILL PROBABLY HATE THIS.

 

You know where I’m going here, right? That’s right—I enjoyed the heck out of this book. 16-year-old Floridian Rod is in a semi-okay punk band with his two good friends, Clarissa and Mel. He’s dating Audrey, who is super smart and sells their merch at shows. Life seems like it’s going fine… and then his cousin Blake shows up to live with Rod and his mom for three months. Blake is ANNOYING. He’s an entitled snob who sends a U-Haul with 42 boxes to Rod’s tiny house, arrives at the airport with a dozen suitcases, and can’t even be bothered to help bring them in or even open his own car door for himself. He is INSUFFERABLE. Blake claims he’s not being insulting, just observant, as he makes snide remarks about Rod’s life. He treats Rod like a servant, and has no understanding at all of boundaries (like he immediately takes down half of Rod’s posters and puts up his own crap, then decides he’ll sleep in Rod’s bed and leave Rod with the air mattress). But to Rod’s mom, he’s a total suck-up. Rod is LIVID. He addresses the reader a lot, which normally would bug me, but really works here. That even works to hilarious effect in the chapter about biology class and animal dissection—it comes with a warning, and I did skip that chapter, because no thank you, but the next chapter provides a brief recap for those of us who couldn’t handle the dissection chapter. Super nasty Blake continues to act like he’s just being observant and trying to help and really working to help make Rod’s life BETTER. But Blake’s version of “better” involves Rod’s girlfriend dumping him, his band ousting him, and an awful lot of “helpful” things that sure seem like sabotage. When Rod just can’t take it anymore, when everything has imploded, he takes drastic action—only Blake isn’t sure if it’s a prank or real.

 

This book is funny, full of digressions and ramblings and lots of ranting. It’s not exactly deep, doesn’t have a whole lot of plot, and Blake’s reasoning for his actions is pretty thin, BUT this book is a lot of fun. A solid recommendation for readers who like unreliable narrators, pranks, and lots of humor. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781492662020
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/03/2018