Friday, July 3, 2015

DIME by E.R. Frank

fpoDime has been living in foster care for as long as she can remember.  Foster mother Janelle isn't bad as long as she's not drinking.  When Dime meets Daddy, she sees a chance to change things.

Daddy treats Dime kindly and takes her home with him.  She may have to sleep in the alcove in a sleeping bag and deal with two other moody, bossy girls, but Daddy is generous with food and clothes and even offers the kind words and gentle caresses Dime has been craving.

It doesn't take long for Dime to figure out what L.A. and Brandy do that allows them to return with fists full of money for Daddy.  She longs for Daddy's gentle touch and begins to want to please him in other ways.  By the time he suggests that she can have what she wants if she earns her keep on the street, she believes that is the only way to survive and avoid returning to live with the drunken Janelle.

The longer Dime works for Daddy, the more she wishes to be free.  She experiments with writing notes that might get the attention of someone willing to help her, but it isn't until a new recruit, eleven year old Lollipop, becomes pregnant that Dime sees her chance to leave.  Will leaving end her life of prostitution or perhaps just end her life?

Author E.R. Frank presents the ugly, gritty life of young girls enslaved by heartless, greedy pimps.  This look at human trafficking is a must read that will have readers looking more carefully at suspicious situations involving nervous-looking teen and pre-teen girls accompanied by imposing adults. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

LAUGHING AT MY NIGHTMARE by Shane Burcaw

Laughing at My Nightmare
Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy as a toddler, Shane Burcaw has spent almost his entire life in a wheelchair.  The disease causes a wasting away of muscle tissue causing increased weakness.  Shane made a choice early in his challenging life not to let his condition or his wheelchair change who he truly is as a person.  He is now in his early twenties, president of his own non-profit organization, and making a difference in the lives of others by embracing the idea that facing life with laughter works wonders.

In LAUGHING AT MY NIGHTMARE, Shane shares the good, the bad, and the ugly in his lifelong battle with a debilitating illness.  He expresses his gratitude to his parents and younger brother for treating him just like anyone else and believing he can do anything anyone else can do.  Shane attended public school and excelled despite the fact that he was admittedly goofing off most of the time.  His determination and creativity allowed him to participate in activities with his able-bodied friends and classmates which earned him their praise and acceptance.  He went on to attend college and graduated from Moravian College with a degree in English.

Shane discusses everything - his medical treatment, the help he requires with his physical needs, his emotional struggles, and complications in the area of relationships and physical intimacy.  He is candid, blunt, and of course, humorous to the point that readers will be chuckling aloud.  The intent of his story is to inspire others and encourage them to face challenges with laughter instead of tears.

I highly recommend LAUGHING AT MY NIGHTMARE.  To me it strongly resembles a teenage version of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE as it emphasizes the positive in even the most negative of circumstances.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

THE HOUSE YOU PASS ON THE WAY by Jacqueline Woodson

The House You Pass on the Way"I'm me.  That's all."  That's the attitude that helped Staggerlee get by in a small, Southern town called Sweet Gum.  Her grandparents were famous entertainers, and after their tragic deaths, there was a memorial erected in their honor.  But even famous ancestors didn't make up for the fact that Staggerlee and her siblings were the product of a mixed-race marriage.

Her daddy was black like most of the people in Sweet Gum, but her mama was one of only a handful of white people.  Staggerlee didn't mind who she was, at least not until she entered middle school.  Known as a loner, she wasn't bothered by her biracial heritage, but rather by a deeper feeling that began with the onset of puberty.  Staggerlee was more interested in girls than in boys.  A surprise kiss with Hazel in a field of blue cornflowers thrilled her beyond belief.

Hoping she had discovered a kindred soul, Staggerlee was devastated when Hazel's reaction to their encounter was to shun her and join up with the other popular kids, leaving Staggerlee alone once more.  Happily, the summer between middle school and high school brought an unexpected visitor.  A long lost cousin was sent to visit Sweet Gum for the summer holiday.  It didn't take the two girls long to discover they had more in common than being cousins.  For the first time Staggerlee felt she had a true friend.

Three time Newbery Honor author Jacqueline Woodson published this book in 1997.  Although it doesn't seem that long ago to this seasoned reader, Woodson's story holds up well and should be of value to today's teen readers.  THE HOUSE YOU PASS ON THE WAY is worth checking out as a middle grade read for those questioning their place in the world around them.

Friday, June 26, 2015

THE CEMETERY BOYS by Heather Brewer

The Cemetery BoysStephen can't believe his father says they are moving from Denver to some podunk town in Michigan.  Medical bills for Stephen's mother are piling up and have depleted the family's entire savings.  According to Stephen's dad, moving back to Michigan to live with Stephen's paternal grandmother is their only option.  Stephen knows that means leaving his mother in the mental health facility in Denver, but his dad assures him they will move her closer as soon as possible.

One would think moving in with a grandmother during stressful times would be helpful, but the moment Stephen lays eyes on his grandmother, he knows she hates that they have arrived.  As his father begins looking for work, Stephen tries to stay away from the house as much as possible.  He soon meets a few guys who invite him to hang out with them at the Playground, their nickname for the local cemetery.

While hanging out with the guys, Stephen learns of a local legend involving the Winged Ones.  These giant winged creatures appear from time to time, and according to the tale, must be appeased with a human sacrifice so the town can avoid impending hard times.  It all seems a bit farfetched, but even Cara, the beautiful sister of one of Stephen's new friends, argues that the Winged Ones really do exist.

Stephen thinks the whole town is creepy, and when he realizes that Cara's twin brother Devon has an unnatural power over the rest of the guys who hang out at the cemetery, Stephen decides he needs to take action.  Can he convince the others that Devon is out for blood?  Or will Devon reveal that someone else is actually connected to the Winged Ones and their power over the town?

Author Heather Brewer deftly combines reality and fantasy in this thrilling tale.  She captures Stephen's desire to become part of the group and at the same time protect himself from the all-consuming power that has the rest of this small town mesmerized.  THE CEMETERY BOYS is intriguing and a bit frightening and a great summer read!

WANDERING SON #1 by Shimura Takako

Wandering Son: Book One WANDERING SON by Shimura Takako is an example of LGBTQ manga.  Published in the pure manga style, reading from back to front and top right to bottom left, traditional manga fans will find it to their liking. 

Two fifth graders entering puberty support each other in their transgender exploration.  Both come from loving, supportive families, but both face bullies at school as they begin to express their true selves.

Using humor and sensitivity, Takako presents a unique combination of text and artwork that will speak to young readers and perhaps help answer important questions.  This manga series currently contains 8 volumes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

BLOOD WILL TELL by April Henry

Blood Will Tell (Point Last Seen Series #2)The SAR (Search & Rescue) group is back!  Author April Henry once again does her mystery magic in BLOOD WILL TELL.

Nick gets a call that describes a missing seven year old girl.  He and the rest of the SAR team gather for instructions and begin the search.  When the little girl shows up safe and sound, everyone is relieved until she suddenly streaks off right into the path of an oncoming pickup truck.  Her body flies through the air and lands with a sickening thud.  Nick temporarily loses it when he sees glistening, white bone protruding from the little girl's leg.  After vomiting in the bushes, Nick gathers his wits and jumps into the action to stabilize the seven year old's neck until the EMS workers arrive.  How's that for an attention-grabbing start?

The SAR team barely has time to recover when the next call comes in.  This time the body of a young woman was discovered in a ditch, and Nick finds himself crawling on his hands and knees alongside his partners as they look for trace evidence that will hopefully catch the woman's killer.  What no one expects is that Nick will soon be accused of committing the crime.  Can he convince the cops that the DNA found on the victim is not really his?  And, will he be able to deal with the life-changing secret that DNA sample reveals?

Through alternating voices, Henry takes her readers into the minds of multiple characters whose individual issues and personal problems add depth and undertone that make BLOOD WILL TELL a real page-turner.  Her red herrings will lead readers down numerous paths in not only the murder investigation, but also into the lives of the SAR team members themselves.  This novel is the second in the Point Last Seen mystery series.  If you haven't already, be sure to check out the first book titled THE BODY IN THE WOODS.

Monday, June 22, 2015

THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH by Bill Konigsberg

The Porcupine of TruthFor Carson Smith it's bad enough being forced to spend the summer in Billings, Montana, but when it means reuniting with the dying father he hasn't seen since he was three years old, Carson figures it will be one long summer.  When his mother suggested this "vacation" from their home in New York City, Carson never dreamed it could completely change his life. 

Upon arrival in Billings, Carson's mother drops him off at the Billings Zoo.  It's not much of a surprise that the zoo has virtually no animals.  As Carson wanders in search of the few zoo inmates, he recognizes the symbolic nature of his quest.  For some time now Carson has had overwhelming feelings of loneliness.  His mother, a school counselor, is more interested in "counseling" than in mothering.  She doesn't understand Carson's shy ways or his rather oddball sense of humor.  He is pretty sure hanging around with a dying alcoholic in Billings isn't going to measurably improve his circumstances.

Stumbling across an incredibly beautiful girl who has been camping out at the zoo, seems like an amazing miracle.  She is Aisha.  She not only beautiful, but intelligent and funny, and also a lesbian.  The latter news, recently revealed to her father, is why she is sleeping in the zoo.  Being strongly religious, his reaction to the news was to kick his daughter out of the house.  Aisha tells Carson she has been couch-surfing, sleeping in her car, and now she's found the nearly deserted zoo to be a convenient resting place.

Carson shares his own tale of woe, and then on the spur of the moment, invites Aisha to crash in his father's basement.  Surprisingly, this is approved by both Carson's mother and father.  Aisha arrives with her meager possessions, and suddenly, Carson's life is not as lonely as before.

Details from Carson's father's past gradually begin to reveal themselves, and the two teens become intrigued with figuring out the reason Carson's grandfather mysteriously abandoned his young family decades earlier.  Maybe if Carson can understand what happened between his father and grandfather, it will help make sense of the reason his father turned to alcohol and didn't protest when Carson's mother chose to leave and start a new life in NYC. 

Author Bill Konigsberg takes his readers on a journey with Carson and Aisha that combines mystery, humor, and the search of answers many face as they try to navigate an often confusing and angry world.  THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH is a must-read!