Saturday, January 24, 2015

CRACKED by K.M. Walton

CrackedImagine having to share a room with your own personal bully 24/7 for five days.  That's what has happened to Victor.  Can he survive?  Will the strange pairing turn into friendship?

Victor keeps mostly to himself.  He is an exceptional student, especially in math.  He's so good he got a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT.  Unfortunately, his uber-demanding parents are less than satisfied with his slightly lower scores on the rest of the test.  They've decided to take their European vacation without him, leaving him home to study under the watchful eye of his grandmother.

Victor has other plans.  Feeling that his life has been made miserable by a classmate who torments him relentlessly and parents who think only of themselves, he makes the decision to end it all by swallowing the contents of one of his mother's pill bottles.  As he drifts off, he regrets that his grandmother will no doubt be the one to discover his body, but he believes is doing what he has to do.

Grandmother arrives in time to call 911, and Victor awakens in the psych ward of the hospital.  Just his luck, he learns that his roommate is Bull Mastrick, the one person who would love to help end his life for him. 

Bull has landed in the psych ward after attempting to shoot his grandfather.  Having a grandfather who uses you as a punching bag seems like justification enough for Bull to take matters into his own hands and use the gun he finds hidden in a crumpled paper bag.  What takes Bull totally by surprise is the fact that his grandfather tells the cops who arrive after the gunshot, that his stupid grandson was trying to commit suicide.  The lie spares Bull a stint in juvie, but five days in the booby hatch with a bunch of losers will be challenging.  Is he up for the challenge?  Will his outlook change when he learns there are others with problems just as daunting as his own?

Author K.M. Walton takes readers into the minds of two teens ready to take drastic action to end the pain and torture of their lives.  Though their solutions are different, they end up together as they search for meaning and a reason to carry on.  Her characters are captivating and their stories are sure to resonate with teens.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

IN REAL LIFE by Lawrence Tabak

In Real LifeThis one is for all the online gamers looking for adventure.  Seth Gordon is fifteen and is about to have his dreams come true.  He is an exceptional player of a very popular computer game called Starfare.  He has competed and performed well in tournaments and is well-known for his creative playing strategies. 

Seth spends all his free time playing Starfare.  His parents are divorced, and recently his mother moved to California.  Since his father travels a lot for his job, Seth's mother would like him to make the move to California to live with her.  That is definitely not what Seth wants so he strikes a deal.  If he gets a summer job and agrees not to spend so much time gaming, he can stay with his dad.

When he lands a job at a local pizza place, he hits the jackpot because not only does he get the job, but he also gains a girl friend.  It is hard for Seth to believe that Hannah really likes him.  He is used to being overlooked by girls and considered to be a bit of a nerd because of his outstanding math abilities and his fixation on computer games. 

Seth's dream is to become a professional computer game player.  After a recent tournament, he is totally surprised when the head of a professional Korean team contacts him.  The Koreans are the best in the world, and now they are interested in making him the first American to play on their team.  It involves leaving Kansas City and moving to Korea.  It is all extremely exciting, but is achieving his life dream worth losing Hannah? 

Author Lawrence Tabak captures the fast-paced, competitive world of computer gaming.  Readers interested in online games, as well as anyone looking for an edge-of-your-seat adventure with a bit of romance, should give IN REAL LIFE a try.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till CaseOn August 25, 1955, a fourteen year old Black boy was kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi.  Emmett Till of Chicago was visiting his cousins when his young life was cut short.  Author Chris Crowe recounts the events leading up to the boy's death as well as the controversial trial and its effect on the then growing Civil Rights Movement.

Young Emmett set off for what he believed would be a fun vacation before school started back in Chicago.  His mother, Mississippi born, warned him to show proper respect to white people on his trip to the South.  Unfortunately, the high-spirited, humorous teen got caught up in entertaining his cousins and their friends when he made comments to an attractive, young white store clerk. 

Several days after the incident at the store, two white men arrived at Emmett's uncle's sharecropper's cabin and hauled him away.  He wasn't seen again until his mutilated body was discovered in a nearby river.

With the recent declaration to desegregated schools, the South was filled with angry white people determined that their federal government could not dictate how they should run their communities.  Much to the horror of the Black population across the country, the resulting trial of the white men who had murdered Emmett ended in a not guilty verdict.  The ripple effect of the verdict spread through the United States and fueled the movement being lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Chris Crowe presents Emmett Till's story with details and evidence collected from many sources.  Newspaper accounts, photographs, interviews, and testimony combine to reveal the grim circumstances of what followed the hasty, reckless actions of an inexperienced fourteen year old.  As Crowe mentions in the Introduction, Emmett Till's story is often left out of history books so many don't know about his part in those tumultuous times.  Given recent events involving racial issues, his story is even more important today to remind us we need to right the wrongs of our past not perpetuate the hatred.

ON A CLEAR DAY by Walter Dean Myers

On a Clear DayAuthor Walter Dean Myers will be greatly missed in the YA world.  Well-known for taking his readers into the often rough, inner city lives of his teen characters, Myers goes into the future, 2035 to be exact, in one of the final stories he shared with his fans.  In ON A CLEAR DAY Myers shows how a group of seven teens sets out to make a difference in their economically segregated future world.

The C-8 is a group made up of 8 huge worldwide companies that control the world's wealth and wield power over all.  As a result of this domination, society is divided into the haves and the have nots.  Those fortunate enough live in gated communities safe from the Sturmers who are hired to terrorize the general population.

Dahlia, a computer genius, has been recruited to join six other young people who are determined to find a way to overthrow the C-8 and allow countries to take power back into their own control.  Using clever thinking and high-tech strategies, the group plans their attack, but along the way, they must learn to trust and cooperate with each other as well as deal with a terrifying warlord named Sayeed.

ON A CLEAR DAY has a little something for everyone.  Myers incorporated a varied cast of characters and plenty of action to keep readers turning pages.  It is a fitting final offering from a great YA writer.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

HOME BEFORE DARK by Sue Ellen Bridgers

Product DetailsI was asked to read this 1976 release a while ago and just finished it.  Although, it is an older book, I believe the story stands the test of time.  Set in rural and small town North Carolina, readers are transported to a tobacco farm with a cast of characters who share their joys and tragedies.

Stella is fourteen and traveling with her family back to her father's childhood home.  They have been living out of a battered, old station wagon for as long as Stella can remember.  Her father has been finding work following the crops while she has been helping her mother take care of her younger siblings.  For the first time she is facing a stable life and a real home.

The story involves simple pleasures, a first love, and getting to know a caring aunt and hardworking uncle.  Author Sue Ellen Bridgers takes readers into the minds and thoughts of a variety of characters as they interact with Stella.  Challenges are met, hearts are broken, and memories are made as Stella learns the true meaning of home and family.  Overall, I'm glad I had a chance to read this one and will definitely share it with others.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

DOUBLE EXPOSURE by Bridget Birdsall

Double Exposure"Aren't we all queer? Different?  Odd?  Peculiar?  Strange?  Freaky?  Weird?  Losers in our own way?"  It may have taken the first fifteen years of her life, but Alyx Atlas is coming to terms with who, or some may say, what she is.

Born intersexed, Alyx has both male and female genitalia.  This rare condition was explained to her parents by the doctor who suggested that surgery could be performed immediately to preserve her female organs and eliminate the male organs.  It was the decision made by most parents of newborns with this condition.  Alyx's forward thinking parents decided to leave things just as they were and give Alyx time to decide who he/she wanted to be. 

Since Alyx displayed true athletic talent, most considered her a boy, but from an early age she viewed herself as female.  According to doctors, she could begin taking female hormones so she could develop breasts and begin menstruating, but the advice was that she wait until she was eighteen to consider any final surgery.

All the advice was well and good, but since Alyx's feminine tracts dominated, she became the target for bullies, and after a number of vicious attacks, she began thinking death would be easier than living this double life.

After her father's death from cancer, Alyx and her mother relocated from California to her mother's hometown in Milwaukee.  Alyx took her mother's maiden name hoping to blend in at her new school.  She joined the girls' basketball team and began to live a life she thought would be normal. 

As most readers will soon guess, Alyx's past catches up with her and life once again becomes complicated.  Will she be able to deal with the challenges ahead?  Will she be able to come to terms with who she is despite the sidelong looks and discrimination of others?

Author Bridget Birdsall tackles a tough subject with sensitivity and grace.  Readers will fall in love with Alyx right from the start and cheer her on as she faces more than any teen should have to face.  Her unique situation will force readers to consider exactly what makes a person who they are both inside and out.  DOUBLE EXPOSURE is a must-read and should be on every high school library and classroom shelf.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

ONE DEATH NINE STORIES edited by Marc Aronson & Charles R. Smith Jr.

One Death, Nine StoriesONE DEATH NINE STORIES is a unique novel comprised of short stories that weave together the story of Kevin Nicholas.  Reports of Kevin's death connect his acquaintances as they tell their individual stories and how they are tied to the deceased nineteen year old.

His sister, his best friend, a passing relationship with a fellow community college student, and an ex-girlfriend are just a few of the contributing storytellers that give readers a glimpse into the intertwined relationships of those who knew Kevin.  Ghosts from Kevin's own past reveal that his relationships were not the positive ones that most would hope for in the life a young man about to begin his adult life.  From the nine different stories, readers will learn about the influences humans have on one another, whether good or bad, and how those experiences combine to shape the players.

This unique collection is the product of two amazing minds, Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith Jr.*  They tapped nine of their contemporaries to participate in this literary experiment.  Authors Chris Barton, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Marina Budhos, Ellen Hopkins, A.S. King, Torrey Maldonado, Charles R. Smith Jr., Will Weaver, and Rita Williams-Garcia all played a part in creating the cast of characters connected to Kevin Nicholas.  In the Afterword Aronson explains the unique process of creating the individual stories and the resulting complex interaction that brought them together in this interesting format. 

*Aronson and Smith have another multi-author collaboration piece titled PICK-UP GAME.  (I just ordered it and can't wait to read it!)