Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: The Whispers by Greg Howard

Publisher’s description

whispersA middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

11-year-old Riley’s mother always told him a story about wish-granting Whispers that live in the woods behind their South Carolina home. Just leave them a tribute, tell them your heart’s desire, and the Whispers, who know all the secrets in the universe, will take care of you. When Riley’s mother disappears, he desperately hopes this story isn’t just fiction.

 

Riley’s mom has been missing for four months when we meet Riley. He’s repeatedly interrogated by a detective but can’t come up with any other details to help them find her—Riley was at home playing, his mother was napping, there was a mysterious car nearby, then she was gone. They keep going over the details, and Riley has no hope that the detective, who he thinks is incompetent, will ever find his mom. It’s up to him. It’s up to the Whispers in the woods behind his house. They must know where his mom is.

 

Riley, a self-professed mama’s boy, has been miserable since she disappeared. He’s started wetting the bed (which he refers to as “my condition”), his father hardly acknowledges him, and the bullying and teasing he’s always faced at school has gotten worse. He has one good friend, biracial Gary, and a protector in an older neighbor, Dylan, but beyond that, is alone. He’s carrying the heavy weight of guilt, worried that he somehow drove his mother away with his “other condition,” which is how he refers to the fact that he likes boys. He thinks that he’s being punished for this.

 

Deciding to take things into his own hands, Riley heads into the woods with Gary and Gary’s younger brother to camp, hoping to maybe hear more from the Whispers, who have been speaking to him lately. They tell him that “she’s here.” Believing them, believing that she’s in those woods, Riley heads deeper into the forest. He offers the ultimate tribute to the Whispers, but will it be enough for them to reveal where she is?

 

Readers will tear through this story, with many questions along the way. Is Riley hiding something from the detective? Or from the reader? What’s really going on with his neighbor, Dylan? Who is Kenny from Kentucky? What happened in the shed? Does the unlikely helper he encounters in the woods know something about his mother? Everything is eventually revealed and answered, and what readers learn will likely send them scrambling back to reread the story through new eyes. A moving, thoughtful examination of trauma, grief, and the power of imagination. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525517498
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/15/2019

Book Review: Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII by Mary Cronk Farrell

Publisher’s description

standingStanding Up Against Hate tells the stories of the African American women who enlisted in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in World War II. They quickly discovered that they faced as many obstacles in the armed forces as they did in everyday life. However, they refused to back down. They interrupted careers and left family, friends, and loved ones to venture into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory. They survived racial prejudice and discrimination with dignity, succeeded in jobs women had never worked before, and made crucial contributions to the military war effort. The book centers around Charity Adams, who commanded the only black WAAC battalion sent overseas and became the highest ranking African American woman in the military by the end of the war. Along with Adams’s story are those of other black women who played a crucial role in integrating the armed forces. Their tales are both inspiring and heart-wrenching. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

You know what I know literally nothing about? The role of black women in WWII. This book certainly changed that. Immensely readable and supported by a lot of photographs and newspaper clippings, this book will fill a gap in, I’m guessing, the knowledge of many. By the end of WWII, 6,520 black women served in the US Army. This book tells some of their stories.

 

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, an all-women and all-black group, was the only unit of black women allowed to serve overseas during WWII. These women sorted and redirected mail, an enormous undertaking given the amount of mail from home (often addressed with just the soldier’s first name, with no other identifying info) that had built up while soldiers were on the move. They know that no mail meant low morale for the soldiers, so their job was a vital one. Readers get some background on what the Jim Crow era was like in the South, with black people treated as second class citizens. When women began to be recruited for noncombat positions to free up men to fight, many thought there was no way they could handle it—many thought that women didn’t belong in the military and were really only fit to be housewives. This discrimination and doubt was doubly apparent when it came to accepting black women as part of the military. The women who enlisted, including Major Charity Adams, a former teacher (and one of only two black women to obtain the rank of Major in WWII), saw it as an opportunity. They went into the military expecting to face less segregation and discrimination, but found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that was not the case. Black women and white women were kept apart at the training center, a place where many of the black women expected to work as one corps, not two. Barriers did break down over time, in some ways, but the military was still a reflection of the world at large at the time. 

 

Though skilled, capable, and qualified, the black women found themselves being eliminated from certain opportunities and given the run around to keep them from applying. It was mainly white women who were allowed to go on for training for specialist positions while most black women were barred from any additional training. Often, black women were assigned menial labor tasks, especially in the South, where they were told that “Negroes know their place.” When some of the women refused, citing discrimination, they were threatened with court martial and jail time. In general, the black women throughout the various training camps and bases faced threats, verbal abuse, KKK intimidation, physical attacks, and police violence. In 1945, when they were overseas, they were welcomed in Birmingham and treated well. Free of the Jim Crow rules and racist attitudes of the US, they were treated with respect and welcomed into people’s homes. But, of course, attitudes within their own military didn’t magically transform, and the women of the 6888th continued to face scrutiny. In the fall of 1945, many black women reached the end of their tours of duty, returning home to the US to discrimination. Black soldiers weren’t given the hero’s welcome that white soldiers were. For the most part, they were just given their discharge papers and sent on their way. The final chapter reflects on what the women got out of their time in the military.

 

An author’s note looks at the continued racism and segregation in the US after WWII as well as military service by black men and women in the wars since then. A glossary, time line, notes on sources, and a select bibliography round out the text. Finished copies will include a forward by a black retired Major General.

 

This thorough look at the role black women played during WWII is an excellent addition to all collections. Well-written and incredibly engaging, with ample quotes from women involved in the 6888th and so many pictures, this book is highly recommended. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419731600
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 01/08/2019

Book Review: Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Publisher’s description

black enoughEdited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.

Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough.

Contributors:
Justina Ireland
Varian Johnson
Rita Williams-Garcia
Dhonielle Clayton
Kekla Magoon
Leah Henderson
Tochi Onyebuchi
Jason Reynolds
Nic Stone
Liara Tamani
Renée Watson
Tracey Baptiste
Coe Booth
Brandy Colbert
Jay Coles
Ibi Zoboi
Lamar Giles

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This is a truly excellent collection of contemporary short stories. There wasn’t a dud in this anthology, which is pretty impressive, because I usually feel like collections  are often so uneven, that they have a few strong stories and just as many forgettable, undeveloped stories. These stories all focus on being young and black in America. They look at identity, tradition, ideas of blackness, relationships, and experiences in various urban and rural areas across the country.

 

In Renée Watson’s piece, 17-year-old Raven, a counselor at a camp for young girls from the Portland, Oregon area, is surprised to find one of her campers is her father’s daughter from the family he had after he left when Raven was seven. Varian Johnson’s story is set in South Carolina and follows Cam, who is visiting his grandma, as he deals with code switching, being called an Oreo, and thinking he’s not black enough for the girl he likes. Leah Henderson sets her story at a prep school where art, futures, and authentic selves are all in question. Lamar Giles’s “Black. Nerd. Problems” entertainingly focuses on a group of mall employees at an after-hours mall party.

 

Kekela Magoon’s main character mourns the loss of a school friend who was maybe the only person to see her real self. Jason Reynolds shows us a group of boys walking home from the pool through Bed-Stuy dreaming of the perfect sandwich. Brandy Colbert’s “Oreo” deals with a potentially Spelman-bound senior, her parents’ complicated feelings about HBCUs, and how her cousin from Missouri thinks she “acts white.” Tochi Onyebuchi shows readers a Nigerian American debate superstar who unexpectedly finds a passion for metal music. Liara Tamani’s story is set at a church camp where there’s pressure to send naked selfies. Jay Coles brings readers to the tiny town of North Salem where two boys from feuding families reveal their feelings toward each other while getting ready to compete in the big horse race.

 

Rita Williams-Garcia’s story is the only one to veer into fantasy, with a gay male model encountering an 1840s slave (either in a wash basin or in a dream) who can’t understand his modern life and freedoms. Tracey Baptiste’s “Gravity” takes place in a brief time span on a dance floor when a Trinidadian girl is sexually assaulted by her dance partner. A real standout story is Dhonielle Clayton’s “The Trouble with Drowning,” in which twin sisters from a wealthy area of Washington, DC experience a growing distance and a family unwilling to address mental health issues.

 

Justina Ireland’s main character, Devon, is in “the backwoods of Maryland” for the summer while her mother gets help for her depression and begins dating a local girl, trying to learn to live in the moment even though their relationship seems sure to end when they both leave for college. Coe Booth’s is set at college, where computer science student Garry hopes to be reunited with Inaaya, a girl he knew (and fell for) from past summer hackathons. Nic Stone’s main characters come from very different upbringings, but learn to see each other beyond their stereotypes and bond over their love of Percy Jackson books. And finally, Ibi Zoboi looks at the one night of freedom of Nigeria (Geri), the daughter of black nationalist revolutionary freedom fighter caught for tax evasion who can’t wait to be eighteen and leave the confines of the movement.

 

The stories, settings, and writing styles are varied. While readers will never know what to expect when they flip to the next story, they will not be disappointed. Each story is thoughtful and engaging, with tones varying from serious to more lighthearted. One of the best things about anthologies is the potential to introduce readers to writers they are unfamiliar with. This collection features so many wonderful authors and I hope that, if readers don’t already know their work, these stories will encourage them to seek out their books. Teachers and librarians, put this book up on a display featuring books by the authors included here. A great exploration of identity and cultures—a necessary addition to all collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062698728
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/08/2019

Book Review: Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

A recent article suggested that faith is one of the last remaining subjects that are taboo in YA literature, which reminded me that I had not yet written a review of one of the best books I have read in a long time that talked about faith and spirituality in the life of teens: Heretic’s Anonymous by Katie Henry.

hereticsanonymousPublisher’s Book Description:

Michael is an atheist. So as he walks through the doors at St. Clare’s—a strict Catholic school—sporting a plaid tie, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow nonbeliever at that. Only this girl, Lucy, is not just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

But Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism. After an incident in theology class, Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies. When Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom, or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

Karen’s Thoughts:

With my new commute to work, I have about an hours drive each way and I have been listening to a lot of audio books. I’m a pretty new audio book connoisseur and the person doing the reading can make or break a book (I’ve stopped several because they had a terrible reader). This was a good production that drew me into the story and kept me engaged. So as an audio book, I recommend it.

I was drawn to this book by both the cover and the title. I mean, there’s burnt toast on the cover, it’s intriguing. But I approached this book with personal caution because as a Christian, I’m always hesitant when a book starts out with “Michael is an atheist”, because I don’t want to have my personal faith choices outright attacked. This book does not do that in any way and I appreciated so much the way that it handles and introduces a wide variety of faith perspectives and discussions. In fact, here we find a thoughtful group of teens who are wrestling with personal identity and faith and none of them really attack or try and convert the other. It was a refreshing reminder that people can hold very different faith points of view and still care about and respect one another. The way Henry handles each characters faith is thoughtful and respectful. I can’t speak to whether or not the representations of each faith is authentic or accurate, but I felt like it was respectful.

I could personally really identify with Lucy who is both Christian and Feminist. Michael assumes that she can not truly be Catholic as a feminist and Lucy reminds him time and time again that she very much embraces her faith, she also questions and challenges some of the worldly structures of her faith that oppress and demean women. I’ve had some of the same conversations that Lucy has with my friends who are also both feminist and Christian. And I love that Katie Henry shows that yes teens are intelligent, deep, and wrestling with these issues. The depiction of teens Henry presents in Heretic’s Anonymous is very much on point with the teens I am raising and interacting with daily.

Heretic’s Anonymous isn’t just about faith, it’s about family, friendship, finding yourself and having the courage to stand up for what you believe and challenging the system. It’s also about finding that delicate balance between standing up and speaking out and knowing how to do so in ethical ways that respects others around you. In a time when #resistance is trending and young people are in fact speaking out about things like gun control, Heretic’s Anonymous is a reflective look at how you can stand up and challenge the system and what the consequences for one’s actions might be.

This book is entertaining and reflective and thoughtful; it’s fun and engaging while also looking into some serious issues. I appreciate that it represents such a wide variety of faith view points in the characters, the discussions that they have, and the ways in which they have them. None of these teens are perfect and there are some major falling outs, because faith is deep and personal. And I think that is one of the ways in which Heretic’s Anonymous excels, it really shines a light on exactly how deep and personal faith can be while sharing with us these lives that are wrestling with faith in a world in which they are trying to find themselves while the adults around them are telling them how to dress, act, think and be. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams, a teen perspective

Today Elliot, our new teen contributor, shares their first book review with us.



genesisbeginsagainPublisher’s Book Description:

This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

Elliot’s Thoughts:

 

Genesis Begins Again is a story that feels all too real. This story highlights the fact that racism is still very much alive- even from one person of color to another. From a young age, thirteen-year-old Genesis has been told that she’s “too black” and that everyone wishes she looked like her light-skinned mother. The words “too black” ring in her ears day after day…especially because she hears those words all too often from her father: her alcoholic, gambling, dark-skinned father. In order to please her father (and subconsciously herself) Genesis follows any method to try to lighten her skin- rubbing lemons on her flesh, lathering herself in yoghurt, and even taking a bath in bleach. However, Genesis soon discovers that her skin isn’t the problem and that perhaps if she just understands the real issues, a change in her perspective could be the solution that everyone has been looking for.

 

The characters in Alicia D. William’s novel are some of the best written characters I have ever read. All of the characters have very unique personalities and have reasons for why they act the way that they do. Williams took the time to come up with a backstory for each and every character which makes them very believable and three dimensional. Never have I read a novel where an author paid attention to a character’s backstory as much as Williams did, and I greatly appreciate it because a person’s history is truly what makes a person.

 

My only complaint about this story is that at times the kids seemed like they were talking with very stereotypical “kid lingo.” That was one of the first things I noticed when I started reading this story. However, the story was so interesting and so deep that I easily pushed past the lingo and simply could not put this book down. Overall, I would give this book 4.5/5 stars for delving into really important issues, having an easy to follow, clear story line, and having very dynamic characters. As a white person, there were a lot of racial issues brought up in this book that I had never thought about before, so I am thankful that Williams brought these issues to light. These are definitely issues that I will be thinking about for years to come and it’s all thanks to Genesis Begins Again!

 

Post-It Note Reviews: Books for younger readers featuring eagle trainers, role-playing gamers, Slayers, and more

IMG_3631Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K-5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.

 

IMG_7270

Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow

An exquisitely written, uplifting middle grade debut by acclaimed author, Erin Bow, about a young girl who defies her family’s expectations in order to save her brother and become an eagle hunter, perfect for fans of PAX.
It goes against all tradition for Aisulu to train an eagle, for among the Kazakh nomads, only men can fly them. But everything changes when Aisulu discovers that her brother, Serik, has been concealing a bad limp that risks not just his future as the family’s leader, but his life too.

When her parents leave to seek a cure for Serik in a distant hospital, Aisulu finds herself living with her intimidating uncle and strange auntie—and secretly caring for an orphaned baby eagle. To save her brother and keep her family from having to leave their nomadic life behind forever, Aisulu must earn her eagle’s trust and fight for her right to soar.  Along the way, she discovers that family are people who choose each other, home is a place you build, and hope is a thing with feathers.

Erin Bow’s lyrical middle grade debut is perfect for fans of original animal-friendship stories like Pax and Because of Winn Dixie.

(POST-IT SAYS: A sure hit for readers who like touching, powerful stories about animals. Aisulu is a great character. Can’t speak to the Kazakh rep, but it seems well-researched. Lovely writing. Ages 9-12)

 

 

IMG_7288

The Game Masters of Garden Place by Denis Markell

A quirky Dungeons & Dragons-inspired adventure that will appeal to gamers and readers of the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series.

What if your favorite fantasy game characters showed up on your doorstep IRL?

Sixth graders Ralph, Jojo, Noel, Persephone, and Cammi are hooked on fantasy tabletop role-playing games. When they somehow manage to summon their characters to Ralph’s house, things take a truly magical turn!

The five are soon racing around town on a wild adventure that tests their both their RPG skills and their friendship. Will Ralph and crew be able to keep their characters out of trouble? Trying to convince a sticky-fingered halfling rogue not to pickpocket or a six-foot-five barbarian woman that you don’t always have to solve conflicts with a two-handed broadsword is hard enough. How will they ever send the adventurers back to their mystical realm?

(POST-IT SAYS: D&D fans will gobble this up. Others may find the plot disjointed with too much of the game fantasy and not enough of the “real stuff.” Still—a fun, unique adventure. Ages 9-13)

 

 

IMG_7332

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce, Debbie Levy

In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated schools violated the U.S. Constitution. This decision, Brown v. Board of Education, was a big deal–but Supreme Court rulings do not enforce themselves. If Brown‘s promise of change was to become reality, people had to take action.

And so, in the small town of Clinton, Tennessee, twelve African American high school students stepped up. You probably haven’t heard of the Clinton 12–but what they did in 1956 (a year before the Little Rock 9, four years before Ruby Bridges) was front-page news all over the nation. My co-author, Jo Ann Allen Boyce, was one of the Clinton 12, and we have worked together to tell her story. Like my book The Year of Goodbyes, this is nonfiction in verse, with primary archival materials and additional backmatter features. (Summary from Debbie Levy’s website)

(POST-IT SAYS: Nonfiction in verse that’s immensely readable. Powerful history that’s easy to connect to things today. Primary docs of news stories and quotes lend to the power. Strong voice, important history. Ages 10-12)

 

 

IMG_7423 (1)

 

Geeky Fab 5 vol. 1: It’s Not Rocket Science

Lucy Monroe’s first day at Earhart Elementary is one for the yearbook: By recess she has launched herself off the rusty monkey bars and ended up face down onto the blacktop. The principal closes the rickety playground, and now the whole school is mad! What’s a new girl to do? Create a band of geeky friends to build a cool new playground together! Easy, right?

Join Lucy, the gang, Hubble the snarky kitty, and their TV reporter buddy, Suzy Pundergast, to find out if they can prove the meanies wrong because when girls stick together, anything is possible!

(POST-IT SAYS: Though at times the dialogue feels forced/not authentic, this is a fun (and fun to look at) read about a diverse group of girls with STEM interests. Hooray, geek girls! Ages 7-10)

 

IMG_7476

Wedgie & Gizmo vs. the Great Outdoors by Suzanne Selfors, Barbara Fisinger (Illustrator)

Fans of Stick Dog and My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish will LOL when rival pets Wedgie and Gizmo brave their first family camping trip in book three of bestselling author Suzanne Selfors’s hilarious illustrated series.

Wedgie and Gizmo’s humans are taking their first family vacation—to a campground by a lake! And their pets are too destructive to stay home alone. Wedgie the corgi is super-excited. He can’t wait to chase squirrels and poop in the woods!

But Gizmo, the evil genius guinea pig, has no time for games. He must convince the forest critters to join his Evil Horde and help him take over the world—one tent at a time.

Muh-hah-hah!

(POST-IT SAYS: HILARIOUS! This is the third book in this fun series. Wedgie and Gizmo are wonderful narrators with distinctive voices. Use this series as a read aloud. Ages 7-10)

 

IMG_7541

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: New School Nightmare by Carolyn Nowak (Artist)

An exciting and hilarious new middle grade story for anyone who likes (or doesn’t like) vampires! 

Buffy Summers is just like any other student…except for the part where she’s also a secret vampire slayer. In every generation, one girl is granted great strength to stand against the forces of darkness. Of course, power doesn’t matter when it comes to eating lunch alone, getting picked on by the popular kids, or having way too much homework.

Luckily, Buffy finds her way with a can-do attitude, a weird Watcher, and new besties, Sarafina and Alvaro–who might just have powers of their own. But will any of it be enough to turn the tide when an army of villainous vampires invade town? Can Buffy save herself, let alone the world?

Like Star Wars: Jedi Academy and DC Comics’s Secret Hero Society, this action-packed and fun-filled story is told through comics, journal entries, class notes, doodles, text messages, and other in-world artifacts.

(POST-IT SAYS: If you can divorce this from everything actually BUFFY, this is a cute introduction to a 12-year-old Slayer. The writing isn’t great but the concept of a Slayer, witch, and a werewolf teaming up, along with the varied format, may draw readers in. Ages 8-12)

 

 

IMG_7910

My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver

In a racially polarized classroom in 1970 Alabama, Lu’s talent for running track makes her a new best friend — and tests her mettle as she navigates the school’s social cliques.

Miss Garrett’s classroom is like every other at our school. White kids sit on one side and black kids on the other. I’m one of the few middle-rowers who split the difference.

Sixth-grader Lu Olivera just wants to keep her head down and get along with everyone in her class. Trouble is, Lu’s old friends have been changing lately — acting boy crazy and making snide remarks about Lu’s newfound talent for running track. Lu’s secret hope for a new friend is fellow runner Belinda Gresham, but in 1970 Red Grove, Alabama, blacks and whites don’t mix. As segregationist ex-governor George Wallace ramps up his campaign against the current governor, Albert Brewer, growing tensions in the state — and in the classroom — mean that Lu can’t stay neutral about the racial divide at school. Will she find the gumption to stand up for what’s right and to choose friends who do the same?

(POST-IT SAYS: Tensions run high in 1970 Alabama in this first year of integrated schools. A very political look at how race affects schools, friendships, and families. Moving, important historical fiction. Ages 8-12)

 

Book Review: What You Hide by Natalie D. Richards

whatyouhidePublisher’s Book Description

A new pulse-pounding romantic thriller from the author of We All Fall Down and Six Months Later 

Spencer volunteers at the library. Sure, it’s community service, but he likes his work. Especially if it means getting to see Mallory.

Mallory spends a lot of time keeping her head down. When you’re sixteen and homeless, nothing matters more than being anonymous. But Spencer’s charm makes her want to be noticed.

Then sinister things start happening at the library. Mysterious symbols and terrifying warnings begin to appear, and management grows suspicious. Spencer and Mallory know a homeless teenager makes an easy target, and if they can’t find the real culprit soon, they could lose more than just their safe haven…

Karen’s Thoughts

It’s interesting in the blurb above that this book is described as a “pulse-pounding romantic thriller” because as I read this, I was moved repeatedly by the way this book talks about a variety of current and pressing issues, including the opioid crisis, domestic violence and teen homelessness. Make no mistake, What You Hide is a thrilling read and there definitely is some budding romance, but I thought this book also did a sublime job of talking about real issues in meaningful ways in the context of this “pulse-pounding romantic thriller”.

As I was reading this book, I was actually working at a public library in the state of Ohio and we had a teen coming in daily that we knew was homeless. So this book was very real and pressing to me; it had a palpable urgency to me as I went home at night to read this book and then returned to work each day and talked to a teen that I knew had slept outside the library, tucked away in a corner trying to stay safe and unnoticed. I actually reached out to Richards and asked her some concrete ways to help this teen as I knew she must have learned things researching this novel and she was gracious enough to give me some leads. We did end up connecting this teen with several resources and I am thankful to be able to share with you that he also got a job. Working with homeless teens is always a horrific reminder of the various ways in which our society fails our children.

What You Hide also does a really good job of presenting some solid examples of domestic violence that is more psychologically than it is physically abusive, and I appreciated this important revelation. Tucked in here is also some hardcore truths about addiction and the current opioid crisis, which is hitting Ohio pretty hard so it seems fitting that the author included this in the context of this particular story as well. All of these issues are brought to light and revealed in authentic ways that don’t hit the reader over the head but also show the ways issues become tangled up in other issues and they feed upon and work with each other to bring a teen to the place where fear, desperation and a lack of options leads them to a life lived on the streets, or tucked inside a closed library.

One of the other things that I think that Richards does so well is present us with a variety of teens who are trying to figure out who they are and balance that with parental expectations and the stress that comes with trying, and often failing, to meet those expectations. This is made most clear in the story of Spencer, who is literally standing (well, lying) still because he can’t figure out how to move forward in healthy ways as who wants to be does not align with what he feels his parents want him to be. I loved the character of Spencer and felt that his dilemma was both poignant and all too real. This was the most spot on representation of one of the primary challenges of adolescence and I felt that every teen reading this book would be able to relate to and identify the conversations that these teens are having about growing up and trying to figure out what next steps to take.

What You Hide is a love letter to libraries and the feelings of acceptance and belonging they bring to a community, which is not surprising because Richards herself works in a library. Every nook and cranny of this library felt authentic, affirming, and inspiring. There are hidden places, local history, and the possibility of ghosts – and who doesn’t love the idea of a haunted library? I mean, I don’t want to work in a haunted library, but the setting makes for a great story.

Then there is Mallory, a strong, fierce, determined but lost young lady trying to convince her mom to leave a man that she sees as abusive who finds herself alone on the streets. She takes refuge in the library, hiding until it closes and hoping to find a few moments of warmth and safety. Even as Mallory reaches out and tries to find help in her situation, we see all the obstacles that minors trying to find a respite from a storm at home experience. There are rules and regulations that make finding help so very hard to do, and they leave Mallory in some of the most vulnerable situations. As her hunger grows and her desperation builds, we learn more and more about what life is like for a homeless teen and the desperation they feel. Mallory’s story will break your heart.

This is an interesting book because it presents itself as a thriller, but it asks you to think deeply by revealing harsh truths in the midst of this mystery. Unlike the problem novels of the 90s (yes, I’m that old) that hit you over the head with their after school special like messages, Richards peels back the layers on issues while entertaining with a thrilling mystery that may or may not be a ghost story set in a library that may or may not be haunted, and it is a satisfying read that leaves you thinking of the many challenges teens today are facing. It’s a bold move, a trusting one that respects teen readers and understands that a book can be many things at once. It also reminds us that teens are indeed facing a variety of hard pressing issues, almost always at the same time, and they are often ill equipped and unprepared to deal with them and the very systems that are there to support them are ham-stringed by rules and regulations that put the most vulnerable of them at further risk. Don’t let the cover or the marketing fool you, this is a deep, thoughtful novel that genuinely explores teen life.

I highly recommend this novel for teens and anyone who cares about teens. It’s more than an entertaining thriller, its a deeply contemplative exploration of teen life today that moves the reader.

Themes and topics covered: Homelessness, domestic violence, coming of age, addiction, poverty and socio-economic challenges, the U.S. opioid crisis

Published December 4 by Sourcefire Books

Book Review: Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump by Martha Brockenbrough

Publisher’s description

unpresidentedA riveting, meticulously researched, and provocative biography of Donald J. Trump from the author of Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary.

Born into a family of privilege and wealth, he was sent to military school at the age of 13. After an unremarkable academic career, he joined the family business in real estate and built his fortune. His personal brand: sex, money and power. From no-holds-barred reality TV star to unlikely candidate, Donald J. Trump rose to the highest political office: President of the United States of America.

Learn fascinating details about his personal history, including:

-Why Trump’s grandfather left Germany and immigrated to America
-Why Woodie Guthrie wrote a song criticizing Trump’s father
-How Trump’s romance with Ivana began—and ended
-When Trump first declared his interest in running for President

Discover the incredible true story of America’s 45th President: his questionable political and personal conduct, and his unprecedented rise to power.

Richly informed by original research and illustrated throughout with photographs and documents, Unpresidented is a gripping and important read.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

An unexpected sick day home with my kiddo provided me the uninterrupted time I needed to read this new biography, aimed at teens, about Donald Trump. While anyone who has paid at least a little attention to politics the last few years will know at least a general outline of what has gone on with Trump’s presidency and his policies, it is the deep dive into his younger years that may prove most revealing. It all certainly illuminates how he got where he is. Brockenbrough looks at Trumps complicated relationship with facts and misinformation, examines patterns of behavior, and shows how his many business and personal choices inform his character. She tracks his family’s rise to wealth starting with his grandfather, who eventually found fortune in the hotel and restaurant businesses, and then outlining his father’s business interests. In the late 1930s, one newspaper called Fred Trump “the Henry Ford of the home-building industry” (pg 32). Trump’s father established their name as a brand, bringing Donald aboard real estate deals starting at a young age.

 

Building on the wealth and business practices of his family (and relying on them to bail him out repeatedly and help hook him up with deals that didn’t always look above board), Donald hustled to make deals, negotiations, and shrewd decisions that would help further the Trump brand as well as establish him as one of the wealthiest men in the country (even if that “fact” was an embellished truth). Chapters delve into his business scandals, financial risks and gambles, the constant wheeling and dealing he was doing to make deals happen, as well as his history of racism and discrimination. Many times throughout his career (prior to the presidential run and win), Trump lies outright about things big and small. It doesn’t matter if they are can be verified or easily discounted—things like his net worth or even locations of property or number of floors in a building—he always presented and believed his own version of the truth. Following his business career lets readers see that he was not only a man on the rise, but he was also a slumlord, a liar, and an entertainer. He just wanted people to talk and think about him. Trump loved the spotlight, and this love grew as he entered the world of reality television and consumer goods.

 

Never slowed by his bankruptcies or his staggering debt, Trump continued to plow forward, eventually running for the presidency, despite no prior political or military experience, figuring the press would be good for his brand. From here, we see more of his contentious relationship with the media, his disregard for facts, research, and data, and his desire to be seen as powerful and important. The chapters on his presidency detail the many ways he was unprepared to take office, his Russian connections, and the scandals, firings, and policies that have defined his administration thus far.  Backmatter includes a timeline of milestones both before and during his presidency, brief biographies of campaign staff, policy advisers, and his legal team, Russian connections, extensive endnotes, a biography, and an index.

 

This well-researched, thorough, and immensely readable biography helps make clear how Trump got to where he is. Brockenbrough uses the facts of Trump’s life to show a deceitful, manipulative, fortunate, and unprincipled man’s rise to fame and power. For me, personally, I was much more interested in the first 2/3 or so of the book that tell a story that I was less familiar with—Trump’s family, his younger life, the details of all of this business dealings/failings—than I was in the chapters dealing with his presidency, mainly because I have ingested such huge amounts of information about his politics and character since he was elected. I hope this biography is widely available to young readers, who need to know exactly who this man is. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the author
ISBN-13: 9781250308030
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 12/04/2018

Book Review: The Resolutions by Mia Garcia

Publisher’s description

resolutionsA heart-expanding novel about four Latinx teens who make New Year’s resolutions for one another—and the whirlwind of a year that follows. Fans of Erika L. Sánchez and Emery Lord will fall for this story of friendship, identity, and the struggle of finding yourself when all you want is to start over.

From hiking trips to four-person birthday parties to never-ending group texts, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora have always been inseparable. But now with senior year on the horizon, they’ve been growing apart. And so, as always, Jess makes a plan.

Reinstating their usual tradition of making resolutions together on New Year’s Eve, Jess adds a new twist: instead of making their own resolutions, the four friends assign them to one another—dares like kiss someone you know is wrong for you, find your calling outside your mom’s Puerto Rican restaurant, finally learn Spanish, and say yes to everything.

But as the year unfolds, Jess, Lee, Ryan, and Nora each test the bonds that hold them together. And amid first loves, heartbreaks, and life-changing decisions, beginning again is never as simple as it seems.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I shouldn’t, but of course I judge a book by its cover. It’s what stops me when I’m scrolling through online catalogs or pulling books off the shelf in a library or bookstore. Sometimes I’m wrong about a book—cover looks great and totally like something I’d love but book is meh—but sometimes the book is just as fun and cute and unique as its cover. Thankfully, that was the case for The Resolutions. I read it in one sitting.

 

Denver Latinx teens Jess, Lee, Nora, and Ryan are best friends. While still incredibly tight, it’s the middle of junior year and a they all have a lot going on in their lives. Ryan is still reeling from his breakup with Jason, Lee is struggling with whether or not to get tested for Huntington’s Disease (the disease that killed her mother), Nora is wondering if she can really handle a future that just holds going to a local college and continuing to work at her family’s restaurant, and Jess is busy, as always, taking on too many responsibilities. On New Year’s Eve, they assign each other resolutions, hoping to push each other out of their comfort zones (in a good way), encouraging each other to do the things they always talk about but never do. It’s been increasingly hard to coordinate time to all be together, and Jess hopes a project like this will help keep their bond strong. But, as you might expect, pursuing these resolutions is hardly uncomplicated, though the gentle pushes from their friends do help them discover parts of themselves they otherwise may have taken longer to know. 

 

There is so much to like about this book. Garcia’s keen ear for realistic dialogue really makes for effortless reading—it’s easy to cruise through lots of pages really feeling like you’re listening to friends talking. Including some of their text messages to each other also lends itself to that feeling. Though many of the friends are involved in romantic relationships—Ryan is recovering from his boyfriend breaking up with him, Lee is suddenly seeing someone old with new eyes, and bisexual Nora is happily dating the same girl she’s been with for a while—this is solidly a friendship story. The love and support and encouragement they offer each other is so great to see. Garcia manages to write about serious subjects, like Lee’s worries about Huntington’s Disease or Nora’s perceived lack of control over her future or Jess’s increasing and frightening panic attacks, with a light touch. These issues (and more) feel weighty and important, but maybe because of the support in their lives they also feel like things that can be conquered or achieved. As the story follows them through part of junior year and part of senior year (from one New Year’s Eve to another), we see them struggle, change, grow, and succeed in ways that feel very honest, real, and inspiring. Through it all, the bond of their friendship helps them grow up and grow together. I suspect teen readers will devour this totally satisfying look at identity, obstacles, and friendship. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062656827
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/13/2018

Book Review: This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Publisher’s description

this is whatThis tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks: what will you fight for, if not yourself? You Don’t Know Me But I Know You author Rebecca Barrow’s next book is perfect for fans of Katie Cotugno and Emery Lord.

Who cares that the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is fifteen grand? Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And because ever since Hanna left—well, there hasn’t been a band.

It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now—and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship.

But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge—to ignore the past, in order to jump start the future—will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I always like a story about complicated friendships. Here, in Barrow’s second book, we get just that; but it’s not just the story of why a friendship broke up, it’s also the story of how a friendship was patched back together.

 

Hanna, Dia, and Jules used to be best friends. Dia and Jules still are. They also used to be in a band together. Super tight, the girls played their mix of punk/grunge/R&B at shows and parties all around town until Hanna’s drinking problem got in the way. The book opens with them having just played a successful show, then jumps to the very end of senior year, 407 days after Hanna got sober. She’s no longer friends with Jules or Dia. The other two girls remain close, supporting each other through a break-up, a baby, and a death. We move around in time, narratively, and see their friendship in the past, see Hanna’s drinking escalate, and see Dia’s relationship with Elliot, the now-dead father of her baby. It’s easy to see how their friendship imploded, but it’s harder to see how the girls can put it back together. Enter the Sun City Originals contest.

 

Dia wants to enter the contest for a chance to win $15,000 and the opening spot for one of their favorite bands. Jules says it wouldn’t be right to enter without Hanna on drums, even though they haven’t even spoken to her in nearly two years. Reluctantly, the girls reform their band, but just their band—not their friendship. But playing together again means spending a lot of time together, and it’s hard to keep those walls up and hang on to those old hurts when they’re around each other so much, and when they’re having so much fun making music again. Dia and Jules realize they don’t even really know Hanna anymore. But can you start over being friends with someone when there’s so much baggage?

 

I loved this book for the painfully honest and authentic look at teenage friendship. The girls are all complex characters dealing with their own things. Dia has a toddler and is trying to protect her heart from falling in love and potentially losing another person. Jules is dating Autumn, a new girl at work who has never been in a relationship and isn’t sure if she’s a lesbian or bi or what. They’ve all just graduated high school and are trying to figure out what the future will bring. They’re not just trying to figure out who they are in relation to each other, but who they are in relation to many other people, and on their own. This story of trust, old wounds, rebuilding, and music is empowering and ultimately a powerful look at support female friendships. A great read.

 

Bonus: The whole time I read this, I was thinking about an amazing local (Minnesota) band that I saw last winter, Bruise Violet. I’m listening to them as I write this review. Check them out!

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062494238
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/06/2018