Sunday, March 11, 2018

STICK by Andrew Smith


Thirteen year old Stark McClellan is tall and skinny. That's why most people call him Stick. Another thing about Stick that catches the eye is the fact that he was born with only one ear. Most of the time he wears a cap since growing his hair long enough to cover it up isn't an option Stick's dad will allow.

On the outside Stick's family looks normal. Most people believe that Stick and his older brother Bosten live in a loving home with parents who are happily married. People don't know about the spare bedroom that serves as a torture chamber of sorts for Stick and Bosten if they break any of the crazy rules created by their parents. Not even Emily, Stick's best friend, or Paul, Bosten's best friend, know what life is really like for the two brothers.

When Stick and Bosten are sent to stay with their aunt over spring break, they learn that life can be very different. Their aunt takes them shopping so they can dress like normal teenage boys hanging out at the beach. She lets them sleep in and relax and introduces them to two friendly teens, Evan and Kim.

During their week with Aunt Dahlia, Stick and Bosten learn to surf. Wearing their wetsuits and learning the surfing lingo give the two a sense of what life is like away from their controlling parents.

Returning home, they find themselves in a new situation. Their parents have decided to divorce so the boys will now be living with their father. When it is discovered that Bosten has been living with a secret, he runs away. Stick feels his only recourse is to follow, but even though things at home are horrible, life on the road proves to be even worse.

STICK is a true page-turner by author Andrew Smith. Stick and Bosten grabbed my heart right from the start. I found myself cheering for them even when their choices were questionable. Their grit and determination are sure to inspire anyone lucky enough to pick up a copy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

MERCY RULE by Tom Leveen

Mercy Rule

In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this new release by author Tom Leveen provides a powerful read that should be shared with teens and adults alike. The story it tells reinforces the fact that every school is made up of a vast variety of individuals each with their own backgrounds and issues. As human beings we need to be more conscious of our interactions as we go about our daily lives. One supposedly innocent comment or act could be the trigger for someone dealing with more than we could ever imagine.

MERCY RULE takes readers into a typical high school. The students come in all shapes and sizes with a multitude of personalities. The jocks or athleaders as they are known in this particular school are looked up to as role models, but some of them are anything but. There are students striving to be at the top academically no matter who they have to trample on to get there. There are the lowly freshmen longing to find their niche or at least someone to invite them to sit at their lunch table. The stoners, the drama nerds, the misfits, and all the rest combine to make up a world in which nice words and respectful behavior are not the norm.

This reader was drawn immediately into the lives of the characters as view points switched every few pages. For some characters there was instant understanding and for others instant dislike. Knowing that tragedy was eventually going to strike, judgements were made about who was who and the role each would play, but Tom Leveen's plot doesn't always follow a predictable course which elicited a significant number of surprised gasps as I read.

Overall, I believe this is the most powerful YA novel involving a school shooting that I have read. Leveen captures the normalcy of the school setting and the naivety of many of the players when it comes to predicting a tragedy of this kind. No one ever imagines that someone they know could be capable of this horror, but therein lies the problem that we must somehow solve.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

SPEAK THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

Speak: The Graphic Novel

I have always been a fan of SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson. Many of my students have benefited from reading it and discussing it with friends. The arrival of the graphic novel is thrilling! This new format will extend Anderson's message to readers less comfortable with the printed word. I can't wait to share it with even more readers in the future.

Melinda's story remains true in this illustrated version. In fact, the message is even more powerful and stirring. Images that struck me were her report cards with the sinking grades, the angry faces of her parents, and her increasing isolation as she hides in her clothes and the shadows.

This graphic novel truly exemplifies the power of this genre in the future of YA literature. It's a must have for every location serving teen readers.

BEFORE I LET YOU GO by Marieke Mijkamp

Before I Let Go

It seems like living in a small town in Alaska would be idyllic and peaceful, and it may have seemed so at first for best friends Corey and Kyra. The two girls were inseparable. Corey was an average, everyday kind of girl, but Kyra was different, special in her own unique way.

The town of Lost Creek included the girls as small towns do, but Kyra's uniqueness was lost on most. What came across as the annoying highs and lows of her personality, were really the symptoms of her disease. Kyra was bipolar. 

Corey had always been there for Kyra, ready to fly with her during her manic periods and stay close by to support her when she fell into the depths of depression. At least Corey was there until her mother decided it was time to move. Corey began attending a boarding school far from Lost Creek, but she promised that if Kyra would just hold on and wait for her, she would return.

Before Corey could keep her promise, Kyra took her own life in the lake. When Corey returns for Kyra's funeral, she can't believe the natives of Lost Creek are telling her Kyra's death was meant to be.

Author Marieke Mijkamp, known for her riveting novel THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS, has hit the mark again. Friendship, mental illness, and people desperate for a better future combine to create a mysterious tale about two teens separated by tragedy.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy

Ramona Blue

Having read and enjoyed DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy, I was excited to read RAMONA BLUE. It did not disappoint. The characters were well-developed and I became attached to them immediately. Ramona's story is no doubt the same as many teens out there which makes her current and relatable.

Facts about Ramona - 1) she is over six feet tall, 2) she lives with her father and sister - her mother left them years ago, 3) her sister is pregnant, and 4) she is pretty sure she's a lesbian, but events unfold that leave her questioning just where she fits in sexually.

Uber responsible, Ramona works hard to add money to the family's stretched budget. With her sister pregnant, Ramona knows she will have to pick up the slack for the baby daddy's lazy attitude. Ramona doesn't have aspirations beyond high school because she's pretty sure her life will just be continuing as has already been established.

The summertime love of her life, Grace, leaves to returns to her own family's home with promises to keep in touch, but Ramona knows that since Grace has not officially "come out" chances are slim that the relationship will survive the long distance. To block some of the pain of their separation, Ramona spends even more time than usual with Freddie. Their close friendship begins to show signs of more than just a platonic connection. Add that to the other confusing things in Ramona's life, and this teen reflects the angst of multiple teens, not just those who live in Eulogy, Mississippi.

With references to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans tourist attractions, and small town living in Mississippi, RAMONA BLUE has a little something for everyone. The action isn't of the roller coaster variety, but more like typical day to day drama that touches all our lives at one time or another.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

ONE OF THE BOYS byDaniel Magariel

Title: One of the Boys, Author: Daniel Magariel

After a nasty divorce, a father gains custody of his two sons. They move from Kansas to Albuquerque to start fresh. For the twelve year old and his older brother life should be improving, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The boys start at their new school. They attend classes, play sports, and do their homework. All these things should please their father, but he has problems of his own. Weeks go by with the boys taking care of themselves while the father locks himself in his room taking care of "business."

When he does emerge, he is violent and abusive. He demands that one of the boys stay home with him to help him keep his books in order. The older boy tries desperately to hold onto his job at a local store so they have enough money to keep the power on and keep food on the table. Any money the father has goes to drugs and alcohol.

Author Daniel Magariel weaves the tragic tale of two kids trying to hold their fragile family unit together. Convinced by their abusive father that he is a better bet than their mother, they eventually realize how wrong he is, but will it be possible for them to escape and return to her in hopes of something better. ONE OF THE BOYS is story that will make you angry and tear at your heart from start to finish.

Monday, January 1, 2018

WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate


What happens when a two hundred and sixteen year old oak tree decides it is time to speak? You listen and learn from her story.

Red, as her friends call her, has been known as the "Wishtree" for generations. Every year on the first day of May, folks from the neighborhood write down their wishes on scraps of paper or pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches in hopes that their wishes will be granted. Red loves the tradition and looks forward to it every year. 

This year Red has a wish of her own. She has witnessed much during her long life, but recently she experienced something hateful. Shortly after a Muslim family moved into the blue house on Red's street, a boy carved the word "Leave" into Red's bark. The act caused quite a stir. Red and the critters that live within her branches observed the act and realized it was probably directed at the new family. Red now wanted more than anything to help the little girl in the blue house to find a friend. But, can she succeed while her own life might be in danger?

Author Katherine Applegate tells a lovely tale of friendship and courage and what it means to take action instead of just standing by when others are threatened. The images of Red and her animal families are adorable and also educational as they represent diversity. tolerance, and acceptance in a world often lacking those qualities. WISHTREE is a must read for all ages.