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

Wishtree

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.



FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway

Far from the Tree

As an adoptive parent, I'm always interested in new books that feature adoption. FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway did not disappoint.

When three teens suddenly discover they are siblings, their lives are changed forever. Grace, Maya, and Joaquin are all living their respective lives when they learn that they share a biological mother.
Grace and Maya were both adopted by two separate families, while Joaquin has lived in a series of foster homes.  

Grace has experience with adoption from two perspectives - as an adopted daughter and recently as a teen mother making the decision to give up her own daughter for adoption. When Grace realized she was pregnant and that her boyfriend and his family wanted nothing to do with the baby, she decided the best thing for the tiny life she had been calling Peach was to find a couple who could give the baby the same positive life she had had with her own adoptive parents. Thankfully, her parents were understanding and supportive making her decision a little less traumatic when Peach was born.

Maya was adopted by a loving couple. When they discovered they were having their own biological child shortly after adopting Maya, things between them didn't change. Maya and Lauren grew up as any sisters, bickering but loving and defending each other every day. Family life only became rocky when their mother started drinking and their parents' marriage began to fall apart.

Joaquin entered the foster care system as a toddler. He doesn't remember anything about his earlier life. Moved from home to home, he did have some good experiences, but tragedy stuck creating a long-lasting scar that made trust difficult for Joaquin. He is now with a couple committed to being his "forever" family, but Joaquin has personal doubts that continue to stand in the way of his ability to trust in a positive future.

Finding out that they are biological siblings offers the three teens an opportunity to form bonds of their own. Getting to know one another and share their secrets takes true trust and ultimately tests their willingness to open their hearts to what it means to be family.

Monday, December 18, 2017

ORCHARDS by Holly Thompson

Orchards

The summer after eighth grade Kana Goldberg was sent to visit relatives in Japan. Half Japanese/American and half Jewish/American, Kana was prepared to be uncomfortable to say the least. The recent suicide of a classmate had all the parents sending their daughters somewhere for the summer.

Kana found herself sharing a room with one cousin and helping work in the family's citrus orchard with another cousin. Kana was given plenty of chores to do while being supervised by her critical grandmother. Learning the ins and outs of the local and family customs kept Kana busy since she was also struggling to brush off her rusty language skills.

All the business was intended to help Kana keep her mind occupied and off the tragedy she had left behind at home. As time passed, she realized she did think less about what had happened, but she still had to deal with the fact that she may not have been at fault for the bullying that caused Ruth's suicide, but rather the fact that she hadn't done anything to stop it.

Kana summer in Japan helps her recognize and appreciate what is important about family and friends and what it means to take responsibility when it comes to relationships. Author Holly Thompson paints a beautiful portrait of the Japanese countryside and the family orchard as she tells Kana's story in verse.







Sunday, December 17, 2017

INTO THE HURRICANE by Neil Connelly

Into the Hurricane

The lighthouse on Shackles Island holds significance for both Eli and Max. Eli watched helplessly as his sister jumped to her death from the railing of the lighthouse. Max's finally memories of her father include time shared while standing at the railing of the same lighthouse. Now both teens are headed for that memorable location hoping to make peace with their pasts.

There's one major complication and her name is Celeste. Hurricane Celeste is bearing down on Shackles Island. Residents have been ordered to evacuate immediately. The bridge will be shut down in several hours which means Eli and Max must hurry. 

When the two teens' paths cross at the lighthouse, both are still determined to complete their personal missions despite the storm. The storm, however, has other ideas. Forced from the lighthouse, Eli and Max run into a notorious family of no goods from the island complicating matters even further. Now Eli and Max find themselves having to recover their belongings and escape the clutches of these delinquents. The teens also become responsible for not only themselves but also a frightened little girl clutching a stuffed toy.

Author Neil Connelly takes readers on an emotional and action packed journey complete with hurricane force winds, driving rain, crashing surf, and even an albino alligator. Eli and Max help each other survive both physically and emotionally as Hurricane Celeste tries to destroy Shackles Island.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down (Signed Book)
Aza describes her world as “an ever-tightening spiral.” Her OCD behavior has her constantly fearing the worst. She obsessively changes a bandage covering a cracked callus on her thumb. She is convinced it will become infected and kill her or she’ll end up in the hospital where she’s given antibiotics which will result in a fatal case of C. Diff.

Her mental frailty combined with the loss of her father has Aza spending time with her therapist and counting on her best friend Daisy for support. She doesn’t need anything else to complicate her life, but along comes Davis and his younger brother. Their billionaire father has disappeared, and Aza becomes involved in the hunt to find Mr. Russell Pickett.

Can she overcome her psychological fears enough to follow the clues and handle the budding romantic feelings she has for Davis Pickett? Is she too wrapped up in her own problems to sympathize with her friend when she breaks up with her boy friend? Can she find a way to cope with losing her father without increasing her mother’s stress?

Popular author John Green has finally returned to his fans with TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN. It is definitely a book to read and savor, and then reread again.