Friday, September 18, 2020

BEFORE THE EVER AFTER by Jacqueline Woodson


ZJ's dad was a pro football player. Wherever they went, folks asked for his autograph and recalled amazing games and plays where he was the star. That was multiple concussions ago. Now ZJ's dad is sitting out the games and spending most of his time at home.

Life for this former football star is filled with terrible headaches, medical tests and new-fangled treatments, plus moods swings and memory loss. Life for ZJ is filled with ups and downs, keeping as quiet as possible, and trying to explain to friends why it's best if they don't come over to hang. ZJ has discovered some relief in his school activities and his music, but seeing his dad's condition has him terrified to play the sport he once loved. 

In between doctor visits and treatments, ZJ's dad has good days and bad. ZJ and his mother try to make the best of the good days as they come to terms with the new normal of their lives. Only close friends and family still come to visit, and sometimes there's news about other players suffering in similar ways. It is just the beginning of football's realization of the consequences of hard hits and brain trauma. Understanding is still difficult when ZJ feels that he is losing his dad.

Award winning author Jacqueline Woodson has taken a sometimes controversial topic and given it heart and soul. She shows the unique courage of families experiencing the aftermath of athletic brain trauma and the toll it takes. Written in verse, BEFORE THE EVER AFTER is a quick yet fascinating read. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

RUNNING by Natalia Sylvester


Life for Mariana "Mari" has always been about politics. Her father has held state offices, served as a Senator in DC, and now he's running for president. This means that Mari and her little brother are constantly appearing at rallies to show their support for their father. It's not Mari's favorite thing to do, but according to the people running the Ruiz for Prez campaign, it's necessary.

When Mari's best friend Vivi's parents get divorced and her father sells their home to a land developer, Mari begins to see first hand how politics really works. The developer is a huge supporter of her father's campaign which didn't raise any red flags until Mari joins a school political group interested in revealing some shady dealing involving contaminated water in the Miami area.

By following the money Mari learns that her father has been working with the developer to assure the new building project can go full steam ahead despite the fact that chemicals being dumped illegally may be making people sick. It's even worse when Mari discovers Vivi's grandmother may have fallen victim to the tainted water. 

Of course, when Mari questions her father, she is told to keep quiet and step aside for the sake of the campaign. The more Mari learns, the more determined she becomes to speak up and hold her father accountable. Can she make a difference or will she ruin his chances to win the Florida primary and move on in his bid for the White House?

RUNNING by Natalie Sylvester speaks to the political atmosphere of today. Written in a straightforward, no-nonsense style, RUNNING will capture the attention of teen readers and more. Mari's decision to protest is likely to inspire readers to speak up themselves for the injustices surrounding us in today's world. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

HARROW LAKE by Kat Ellis

HARROW LAKE by Kat Ellis is perfect for horror fans. Excellent descriptions of creepy scenarios fill almost every chapter as Lola struggles to deal with a frightening attack on her father and having to live in the backwater town where he filmed one of his famous horror movies years ago.

Lola returns to the New York City apartment she shares with her father filmmaker Nolan Nox only to find him stabbed and near death. He is rushed to the hospital, and Lola finds herself shuttled off to live with her grandmother in Harrow Lake. 

Harrow Lake is where Nolan met and married Lola's mother. The then young Lorelei was enchanted to meet the well-known movie director and even more thrilled to be cast in the lead for his latest movie. The two married and had little Lola, but Lorelei left them abruptly when Lola was five. Lola hasn't seen or heard from her since.

Now Lola is living with her maternal grandmother in the town where Lorelei grew up. The town is known only for being the location for the movie. Strange things are happening in the town and strange people are becoming common place in Lola's new life. Visions that include scenes related to the movie and the mother who abandoned her begin to plague Lola both day and night. Will she get the answers she seeks? Will she survive long enough to be reunited with her father once he recovers? Read HARROW LAKE and find out, if you dare.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

PUNCHING THE AIR by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam


Amal knows he is guilty of throwing the first punch, but beyond that, he doesn't deserve to be serving time because of the fight. "It was just a fight," but because of a group of black guys, one white guy ended up in the hospital in a coma. Doesn't matter that the white guy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, people say it was the black kids in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though the black kids never have a right place or a right time for anything.

Amal's family hired a lawyer, but since the white kid was unconscious and couldn't tell the real truth, Amal is sitting in a cell. He is trying to keep things on the down low while he waits for visitors and the news that his lawyer is able to figure out how to get his conviction overturned. Amal is working the program. He's trying to attend classes and use his time to read, write his poems, and work on his art. He definitely has talent, but keeping his frustration under control means he doesn't always do the right thing which ends in lost privileges and solitary.

Once Amal gets the routine down, he finds support from Imani who drives five hours one way to teach a poetry workshop. She recognizes his skill with words and art and encourages him to tell his truth through his art.

PUNCHING THE AIR is written by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam. Yusef is one of the Central Park Five accused of beating a white jogger. Amal's story reflects that of Yusef as he attempted to serve his time as he awaited the day he would be exonerated. Described as more that just a story about incarceration, PUNCHING THE AIR illustrates the power of the written word and the strength of artistic creation to raise the spirit and honor the truth. Written in verse that reads as art itself on the page, this powerful novel speaks to the problems of our time.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

SUICIDE NOTES by Michael Thomas Ford


Jeff wakes up in the hospital surrounded by his parents and medical professionals. Obviously, his suicide attempt was a failure. Now he is being committed to a program for 45 days. Will they figure out what's wrong or will he try again?

As Jeff begins participating in group and individual sessions with the psychiatrist, he insists he isn't crazy. It doesn't take long for him to realize that's probably what everyone thinks in these situations. He finds one of the other teens named Sadie fun to hang out with, and he attempts to get Martha to open up a bit. 

It's Rankin that has the biggest impact on Jeff. An accidental, embarrassing encounter in the bathroom turns in some experimental sexual activity that has Jeff realizing he is probably gay. This adds another layer to his therapy and why he attempted suicide in the first place. Now he must come to terms with this new information and how he will share it with his family.

SUICIDE NOTES by Michael Thomas Ford addresses the issue of suicide and mental health using dark humor and straight forward discussion. It is a book that would definitely answer some questions for teens dealing with issues without glamorizing the topic.

Monday, August 31, 2020



Greg Heffley of Wimpy Kid fame has some competition. His friend Rowley is writing his own material, but never fear, Greg is on hand to help with advice whether Rowley wants it or not.

Rowley is sitting down to write a book. His idea is filled with adventure and fantasy, and he's sure it will be a success. There's a one-eyed wizard, a pixie, a few monsters, a vampire, and even a werewolf for awhile. Rowley's hero is Roland. Roland is on a quest to rescue his mother who has been kidnapped by the White Warlock. If Roland doesn't get there in time, his mother will be forced to wed the White Warlock and will never be able to return home.

At the end of each chapter, Rowley receives writing advice from his friend Greg Heffley. Greg is convinced that only way to consider Rowley's book a success is if it gets made into a movie. Greg encourages Rowley to include plenty of adventure, maybe some romance, and for sure a couple of deaths. He thinks if Rowley does everything right, he will get a movie deal, action figure dolls of his characters, and even toys for kids in fast food meals across the country. Unfortunately, taking Greg's advice could mean compromising the story Rowley really wants to write.

Author Jeff Kinney returns with his trademark humor and fun illustrations in ROWLEY JEFFERSON'S AWESOME FRIENDLY ADVENTURE. Wimpy Kid fans will love this new storyline and no doubt beg for more.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

FIGHTING WORDS by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


Delicious is 10 years old and would prefer to be called Della. Della has a story to share, but she knows it isn't going to be easy so she starts slowly. She and older sister Suki narrowly escaped death when their mother blew up a motel room cooking meth. Their mother ended up incarcerated in Kansas, and Della and Suki ended up living with Clifton their mom's boyfriend.

Now Della and Suki live with Francine. She is their foster mom, and according to her she has to take care of them and get them whatever they need with the money she gets from the state. Things aren't too bad. They have new clothes for the very first time. They have enough to eat and treats from Food City where Suki gets her first job. But, there's something hanging over Della's head from their lives before better times and foster care.

Back when they were living with Clifton, Suki's friend Teena showed up one day just in time to snap pictures proving that Clifton was touching Della in a most inappropriate way. Thanks to the video Della and Suki are now safe, and there's enough evidence to take Clifton to court. But, as usual for Della, things aren't as simple as they seem.

In addition to getting used to living with Francine, going to a new school, and making a new friend Della is trying to understand why Suki wakes screaming every night and refuses to explain what's bothering her. The truth becomes all too clear when Suki frightens Della by attempting suicide with a knife in Francine's kitchen. Now the girls must face their fears and find a way to ease the pain they are both experiencing.

In FIGHTING WORDS author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley deftly handles extremely sensitive subjects in a way that opens them to discussion and better understanding of the fact that more people are victims of sexual abuse that one could ever imagine. Della's 10 year old voice will break hearts as she speaks up for all those victims who might not yet have the courage.