Friday, July 25, 2014

NEW BOY by Julian Houston

New BoyNEW BOY, set in the 1950's, is the story of a Southern high school student whose chance to attend a boarding school in Connecticut is an eye-opening experience.  Rob Garrett understands that the opportunity to enroll as the only black student at Draper has the potential to open doors for him that continuing to attend his local high school in Virginia will not.  He knows he should be grateful, but he is also incredibly nervous.

The administration at Draper makes Rob feel welcome, and classes are interesting and challenging.  Living in a dorm with all white students is a bit unsettling.  Rob treads lightly during the early days at the new school especially when he witnesses the blatant discrimination aimed at a fellow student unlucky enough to be an Italian with chronic acne.  Rob befriends the outcast, but as the challenge of his studies and maintaining a spot on the honor roll consumes his time, he finds it is difficult to be the attentive friend he knows he should be.

As Rob keeps in touch with friends in Virginia and visits home during holidays, he learns of the increasing fight to end segregation in the South.  Becoming used to the more free way of life for blacks in the North, he vows to help his Southern friends fight despite the risks and his parents' fears for his safety. 

Torn between life in two very different worlds, Rob's story gives a personal touch to the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950's.  NEW BOY by Julian Houston is an excellent novel for readers interests in seeing a different view of the fight to end segregation in America.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY by Karen Harrington

Sure Signs of CrazyWhen people learn who Sarah Nelson's mother is, Sarah and her father have to move.  That means Sarah is used to being the new kid at school, making new friends, and living in rental houses.  Sarah understands the reason for the many moves, but it doesn't mean she has to like it.

She doesn't know the details of what happened very well because she was only two at the time.  What she does know is that her mother went crazy and tried to drown Sarah and her twin brother Simon.  Sarah survived, but Simon did not.  There was a trial, actually two trials Sarah will remind you.  One trial ended with a guilty verdict for her mother who was sent to a mental facility.  The other trial was for Sarah's father who was found not guilty on charges of endangering his children.  When news gets out about the family's identity, it is just easier to move than deal with the consequences.

There are only a few weeks left of Sarah's sixth grade year.  She has two worries about the approaching summer.  1) Like every other summer, she will be sent to stay with her grandparents because her father has to work and doesn't like to leave her home alone.  2) If she survives the summer with her grandparents, Sarah dreads the fact that she will be in seventh grade because she knows she will be required to complete the Family Tree Project assigned to all seventh graders in Garland, Texas.  How will she be able to hide the truth about her mother then?

One thing that gives Sarah some comfort is the challenge her teacher gives the class on the last day.  In an effort to keep the students writing over the summer, Mr. Wistler suggests that everyone write something, either a story, a book of poetry, or something.  Sarah begins writing letters to her favorite character in her favorite book - Atticus Finch.  She has read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD multiple times and even highlighted the passages she loves.  She believes Atticus is the perfect father, and since her father drinks too much and doesn't even remember her birthday, she turns to Atticus when she needs to confide in someone.

As readers follow Sarah's summer adventures, they will enjoy her spunk, appreciate her dedication, and learn her family's secrets.  Author Karen Harrington words and images are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Love Letters to the DeadWhen Laurel's English teacher requires everyone to write a letter to a dead person, Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain.  He was her choice because her sister May was one of his biggest fans.  Both Kurt and May died young so Laurel is hoping to find some answers or at least comfort as she writes the letter.

What is interesting is that Laurel doesn't stop with her assigned letter to Kurt.  She continues writing her thoughts and feelings and addressing them to other dead people.  Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, and even Allen Lane, the voice of the famous talking horse Mr. Ed, are just a few of the dead people to whom Laurel pours out her feelings.

Laurel splits her time between living with her father and her aunt.  Her parents divorced shortly before her sister's death and her mother left soon after.  Laurel hoped that changing schools would soften the impact of missing her sister, but making friends proves to be challenging until she meets Natalie and Hannah and then the mysterious Sky.  Not the best influences, they may be leading her astray, but Laurel welcomes the distractions they offer since she doesn't seem able to face the truth about the painful secret she carries with her.  Sky has his own secrets and attempts to get Laurel to open up to him, but she isn't sure she is ready to trust anyone just yet.

LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD is the debut novel of author Ava Dellaira.  The use of letters provides a unique approach in the telling of Laurel's story.  Dellaira captures the essence of both past and present through Laurel's heartfelt words to people no longer of the earth.

Friday, July 18, 2014

FAT CHANCE by Leslea Newman

Fat ChanceAlthough published in 1994, FAT CHANCE by Leslea Newman still rings true today, in fact, with the increased prevalence of eating disorders, its message may be even more important today.

As an eighth grader, Judi dreams of having a boyfriend and going on exciting dates, but she is convinced that can only happen if she loses weight.  Her mother insists she is a "growing girl" who needs to eat three nutritious meals a day.  Judi is sure that isn't the path to happiness.  It doesn't help that Judi's classmates are typical kids who tease and taunt about any perceived physical flaws with little regard for the feelings they hurt or the self-esteem they damage.

When Ms. Roth, the new English teacher, requires each student to keep a diary, Judi uses the assignment to pour out her feelings as she records her attempts at weight loss and relationship difficulties.  She learns tricks to avoid eating breakfast, consumes only diet Coke for lunch, and tries to get away with eating as little as possible of her mother's home-cooked dinners.  She is able to shed a few pounds, but is frustrated by the need to binge when she is feeling stressed.

The answer to all her problems seems to appear the day she stumbles across popular girl and future model, Nancy Pratt, vomiting in the restroom.  When Nancy explains that vomiting is her secret to weight control success, Judi is disgusted at first, but as she becomes more desperate to be thin, she gives it a try.  It is easier than she ever imagined.  Now she can eat enough to keep her mother from nagging and lose weight at the same time.

Keeping her secret is difficult, and when Nancy ends up in the hospital as a result of her bulimia, Judi begins to have second thoughts.  Losing weight has some positives, but the strain it has created in the relationships with her best friend and her mother involve more negatives than she may be willing to endure.

In FAT CHANCE author Leslea Newman captures the emotional turmoil created in those suffering from eating disorders.  Through Judi's obsession to lose what to some may seem an insignificant amount of weight, it becomes clear that the mind of a person with bulimia is far from normal and their body image issues produce increasingly irrational arguments most of us would never understand.  Newman's message that eating disorders require outside intervention and commitment on the part of the struggling individual makes this novel instructional as well as entertaining.  Unlike more recent books written about the same subject, FAT CHANCE does not dwell on the horror and debilitation of the eating disorders, however, it still provides an important view worth reading.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

GOLDEN BOY by Tara Sullivan

Golden BoyHabo is thirteen and he lives in Mwanza, Tanzania.  His father left the family years ago, leaving his mother and siblings alone to scratch out a meager existence on their little farm.  Habo's job is to tend the goats.  He would like to help out more, but Habo can't stand even short amounts of time in the sun.  You see, Habo is albino.

Being an albino in Tanzania is not only difficult but also dangerous.  The constant hot sun is definitely a problem, but the attitude of the people is an even greater challenge.  Because no one understands why Habo is the way he is, his mother has been blamed for his oddities.  People speculate that his father was a white man or that his mother committed some other sin that caused his condition and brought the family bad luck.  Although his mother loves him, their relationship is distant as she tries to find ways to care for her children and keep the home together.

Unable to pay the landlord, Habo's mother announces that they will be moving to the city to live with an aunt.  His older brother will stay behind to finish the coffee harvest and join them later.  The move will be taking them to a much larger place where jobs will be more plentiful, however, Habo knows the move will also increase the likelihood of danger.

Habo must be kept in hiding at his aunt's house.  Unfortunately, a casual comment from his sister reveals his strange condition and an evil poacher attempts to kill Habo and sell his body parts as good luck medicine.  Habo knows the only recourse is to leave his family and head to the larger city of Dar es Salaam where life is not so dangerous for albinos.

In her final author's note Tara Sullivan writes of her fascination with the plight of albinos in Tanzania and surrounding countries.  After researching the horrible stories of dismemberment and other ways African medicine men used albinos, she was inspired to write this fictional account.  Habo's tale is at once horrific and inspiring as readers will follow the young teen on his journey to find a place that will accept him for who he is and appreciate the talents he has to offer.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

WICKEDPEDIA by Chris Van Etten

WickedpediaWICKEDPEDIA by Chris Van Etten is the perfect murder mystery for summer beach reading.  Complete with high school gossip, a touch of humor, and some gruesome killing, it will grab readers and keep them in a choke hold until the end.

Cole is battling Winnie for valedictorian, and to make matters worse, Winnie is his ex-girlfriend.  He hasn't truly gotten over their breakup, and he certainly isn't a fan of her new boyfriend and soccer star, Josh. 

When Cole's friend Gavin suggests a way to embarrass and maybe even sideline Josh, Cole is all in.  Using Wikipedia is a shortcut their teachers frown upon, and when they discover Josh uses it regularly, they decide to do a bit of editing to "help" Josh with his research for an upcoming speech. 

Everything works just as they plan and Josh suffers publicly.  But, when Cole and Gavin get a bit more creative on Wikipedia, events begin to spiral out of control.  What started out as a joke is now ending in death and disfigurement caused by someone who is obviously watching their every move.

Author Chris Van Etten provides plenty of intense action and intrigue in WICKEDPEDIA.  Get your hands on a copy today.

Friday, July 11, 2014

SAY WHAT YOU WILL by Cammie McGovern

Say What You WillI have a number of reactions to report with this review of SAY WHAT YOU WILL by Cammie McGovern.

1) I discovered it while browsing the new releases at the bookstore.  Really glad I selected it!
2) As I read it, I was pleasantly surprised to identify it as a romance that might appeal to some guy readers.
3) Although I was usually one jump ahead in the plot, there were still enough twists to keep me up all night turning pages.

Amy, a victim of cerebral palsy (CP), is headed into her senior year of high school.  She walks with the aid of a walker and speaks with the help of a computerized device called a Pathway.  Through the years she has had adult aides to help her get to classes and deal with the physical requirements of her condition.  She was used to eating her "special" lunch in a staff lunchroom and having the ever present adult act as a go-between to communicate with students and staff.  Amy may have needed individualized assistance for some things but not with her classwork.  Amy found schoolwork a breeze, and as a result, her mother was busy planning her final year of high school and the application process for all the colleges she hoped her daughter could attend.

For her final year in high school, Amy had one request.  She was tired of spending the majority of her time with adults.  It was clear to her that her fellow students were not inspired toward friendship due to the constant presence of her "teacherlike" helpers.  Amy worked long and hard to convince her parents that she wanted to have peer helpers for her senior year.  She made her case successfully, and through an application and interview process, her mother selected four of Amy's fellow classmates to act as her helpers and hopefully her new friends.

Chloe, Sarah, Sanjay, and Matthew were the chosen four.  Helping Amy would be a paid position and also count toward community service credit for the year.  As the experiment started, Amy found Matthew to be the strangest fit.  The other three went about their tasks willingly, but sometimes left Amy behind making it seem like they viewed the companionship as merely a job.  Matthew was attentive, and Amy quickly decided he had the potential to be a real friend and maybe more, but his own odd tics and behavior had her convinced that he had serious problems of his own.

Readers of SAY WHAT YOU WILL receive story insight from both Amy and Matthew as the POV's of both characters are strongly present.  Amy is dealing with her physical disabilities and her domineering mother, while Matthew quietly suffers with OCD tendencies that have increased in recent years since his parents' divorce and his mother's decline into depression.  Having the balance of Matthew's voice alongside Amy's is what may make this a successful read for both male and female teens.  I will definitely be book talking it with that in mind.

This is the first YA effort for author Cammie McGovern.  A must read as far as I'm concerned, and I am eager to see what she has to offer next.