Sunday, January 31, 2016

THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It Ends
It's opening day of school at Opportunity High School.  All students, staff, and teachers are gathered in the auditorium for Principal Trenton's annual first day of school pep talk.  Everyone that is, except a handful of track team members and their coach who have been excused to prepare for an upcoming meet.  The odds are good that they will go to state competition for the seventh year in a row so Principal Trenton lets them off the hook.

Students are milling around, some heading toward their seats, others exchanging summer gossip, and others blatantly ignoring instructions to come to order.  Inside the auditorium Autumn chats with Sylv about her upcoming audition at Julliard, while out on the track, Claire and Chris run side by side, encouraging each other and commenting about future plans.

Three other students are missing from the required assembly.  Tomas and Fareed are jimmying the lock on Principal Trenton's file cabinet in search of a student's file.  Supposedly in detention, the two are using the opportunity of an empty office to do a bit of snooping to find why Tyler Browne is coming back to school.  Tyler is the other student not attending the principal's lecture.  He has been busy, and everyone is about to find out why.

Tyler enters the auditorium after the student body has settled in.  He carries multiple weapons and has ammunition strapped across his chest.  In seconds he takes control of the huge room, ordering a terrified student to chain the only remaining unlocked door.  He has already secured entrances and exits throughout the school.  He has the students, staff, and teachers of Opportunity High trapped and he begins to fire.

Claire and Chris hear the shots as they run around the track.  Tomas and Fareed also hear the crack of gunfire as they flip through the office files.  After their initial shock, they take action to alert authorities, but Opportunity High School serves an extended area and is located out in the middle of nowhere.  How long will it take for the police and rescue units to respond?  How many of their friends will survive the shots being fired?  Why has Tyler breached the ordinarily safe atmosphere of their school determined to kill and injure anyone who stands in his way?

Author Marieke Nijkamp uses four alternating voices to tell the frightening story of a mere fifty-four minutes in the lives and deaths of those trapped in this Alabama high school.  Readers who have heard news stories of such events will truly understand the fear and tragedy of a school shooting.  Powerful details and raw emotions will stay with readers long after the last page.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jessica Verdi

What You Left Behind
Soccer jock and all-around popular kid, Ryden never really noticed Meg and didn't know that she had had a crush on him for quite some time.  As he thinks back on that day in class when her warning saved his ass from landing in a wad of gum, he still smiles.  But the smile quickly disappears because Meg is dead.

After that day in class, Ryden fell hard for Meg.  Her dark hair and dark eyes captured his heart.  He tried to stay cool, but that didn't last long.  Then he learned that Meg had cancer.  He vowed to help her fight it and was sure she would win.  She would have except for the fact that he had unprotected sex with her, got her pregnant, and was the cause of her refusing her second round of chemo.

Ryden still can't believe that Meg has been dead for months and he has been a father for months.  He is only seventeen for God's sake, and he has little Hope as a daily reminder that he killed Meg.

At least Ryden's mother is supportive.  She is lending a hand when it comes to raising Hope, but summer is almost over, and his mom is pressuring him about what he plans to do once school starts.  Ryden is actually more worried about what will happen when soccer practice starts in a couple of weeks.  He is counting on this final year as an all-star goalie to earn him a scholarship at UCLA.  Deep down he knows his mom is trying to prepare him for the fact that he won't be going to college because of Hope, but Ryden doesn't see why he can't figure out a way to be both a college student and a dad.

With the dream of his future on the line, the stress of learning to care for an infant, and painful memories of Meg, Ryden is trying to hold it all together.  Coming across some hidden notebooks of Meg's that reveal some of her deepest thoughts, threatens to tear Ryden apart.  Can he have everything or will his life be changed forever by the choices of the past?

Author Jessica Verdi packs a powerful punch in WHAT YOU LEFT BEHIND.  Readers' hearts will break for Ryden and all he has lost. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

STUCK ON EARTH by David Klass

Stuck on Earth
Tom Filber is constantly taunted by his neighbors and classmates.  They have nicknamed him "Alien."  Little does he know he is considered to be a "perfect" fourteen year old subject whose body is about to be taken over by a real, snail-like alien by the name of Ketchvar III.

Ketchvar III has been sent from his home planet to study humans and return with a report indicating whether or not the human race is worth preserving.  Ketchvar assures a frightened Tom that the takeover of his body will be painless.  Ketchvar tells Tom he will simply slither through Tom's nostril and take possession of his brain.  No big deal.  Yikes!

Ketchvar completes the takeover and begins his study.  The first thing he notices is that Tom's family is in turmoil.  His father and mother fight constantly, mostly about money and their lack of it.  Tom's sister Sally is an evil young woman who spends her time playing her cello badly and making life miserable for Tom.

Tom's life outside of his family is not much better.  He is bullied at school and has no real friends.  The only highlight in his life is his crush on his beautiful neighbor Michelle Peabody.  Ketchvar's initial observations reveal very few redeeming qualities about the human race. 

Oddly, no one seems to notice much difference in Tom after he is possessed by an alien.  He and Ketchvar manage to find a peaceable way to inhabit the same body, and with Ketchvar controlling things, Tom's relationship takes some interesting turns.  Ketchvar strikes up a friendship with Michelle that has her revealing some of her darkest secrets.  He is also able to chat with Tom's father, discussing things the two have never felt comfortable discussing before.  As Ketchvar spends more time with humans, he begins to understand what makes them tick.

Author David Klass uses humor and clever dialogue to create this page turner.  STUCK ON EARTH will make readers laugh at the same time it makes them angry and a bit more conscious of who they might be as human beings.  Released in 2010, readers might have to search a bit to find a copy, but it is worth the time and energy.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

TERROR AT BOTTLE CREEK by Watt Key

Terror at Bottle Creek
Cort spends most of his time helping his dad take strangers hunting for alligators or wild pigs in the swamps of Alabama.  Although it might be considered adventurous by many, Cort isn't sure it's the life for him.  After all, his mother took off because she wasn't fond of the living on a houseboat and hoping there would be enough money for the bare necessities.

According to the weather forecasters, Hurricane Igor is bearing down on Alabama.  When everyone should be taking cover, Cort's dad decides he should take off to go check on his ex-wife.  He tells Cort to stay at the Stovall's house and watch out for Liza and Francie.  As long as they stay inside, Cort's dad says they will be fine.  He promises to return soon.

Little Francie insists on going to check on Cort's dog Catfish.  The decision to let her do so ends up putting all three kids in danger.  When Francie's wrist becomes tangled in the dog's leash, she is pulled out onto the houseboat.  Cort and Liza try to get control of the storm tossed craft, but end up in the water. 

Cort tells the girls they must get to higher ground which means heading to the Indian mounds where he and his dad take clients to hunt alligators.  Cort successfully navigates the wild, hurricane tossed waters only to discover that all the animals in the surrounding swamp are headed for the same high ground.  What follows is a hair-raising adventure with the potential for ending in tragedy.

Author Watt Key uses his own personal experience in hurricanes to create this realistically intense tale.  Key's previous books, ALABAMA MOON, DIRT ROAD HOME, and FOURMILE, are also great reads for teens looking for adventure.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

PAPER THINGS by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Paper Things
PAPER THINGS by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is about love and family and finding ways to stay together.  Jacobson tells a touching, heart-warming story for middle grade and teen readers.

Arianna "Ari" Hazard and her brother Gage lost their parents and have been living with their mother's best friend, Janna.  Gage and Janna don't see eye to eye on most issues so Gage decides he and Ari can survive without her.  He can get a job and find an apartment and the two of them can manage life on their own.

Finding a job isn't as easy as Gage anticipated which leaves the two siblings couch-surfing from one friend's apartment to another or attempting to score open beds the local homeless shelter.  All the while, fifth grade Ari tries to keep up with her school work and impress her teachers enough to earn a coveted spot at Carter for her middle school years. 

Her love for Gage keeps up Ari's faith that everything will work out for the them, but after a rough night at the shelter when a couple of older girls tease her and ruin her precious paper things, and a night spent in Gage's girl friend's car, Ari isn't sure her brother's plan is the best plan for her.  Can she make the decision to go in a different direction or will she be willing to sacrifice her own security to continue following Gage?

Jennifer Richard Jacobson is also the author of SMALL AS AN ELEPHANT, another emotional, must-read story.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

THIS ONE SUMMER by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

This One Summer
Rose loves Awago Beach.  Since she was five years old, her family has visited a summer cottage there.  The quaint community is the perfect place for summer fun.

Windy is a year and a half younger than Rose, but that doesn't seem to matter.  The two girls spend just about every waking moment together during the summer.  Theirs is a special friendship that magically seems to renew each summer when their families arrive at Awago Beach. 

This summer the girls trot down to the local store for candy and to rent movies.  Horror movies have attracted their attention this year.  They munch on snacks of gummy feet and Twizzlers as they watch the scary movies through spread fingers.  When they aren't watching movies, they swim and explore.

During this particular summer, it isn't all fun and games.  Rose's parents are fighting.  It has to do with her mother's desire for a second child, but her inability to make that happen.  Ironically, during their visits to the store, Rose and Windy witness a private conversation involving one of the store employees and a girl he has evidently gotten pregnant.  Since Rose has a crush on the older teen, she is fascinated with this bit of gossip and tries to play detective to see what she can learn. 

This Caldecott and Printz Honor book is a graphic novel you won't want to miss.  Gritty text and vivid sketches take readers into the minds and hearts of these summer vacationers.  Having spent my childhood summers at a lake, I could easily relate to the atmosphere so artfully presented in THIS ONE SUMMER.

Monday, January 11, 2016

THICKER THAN WATER by Kelly Fiore

Thicker Than Water
CeCe has goals.  She plans to attend college.  She plans to major in chemistry.  Those plans are completely derailed the day she admits she murdered her brother.

Years ago CeCe's mother died of cancer.  Since then her family has found a way to carry on.  Her father continued his obsession with his failing seed farm and also finds Jane, a replacement for his dead wife.  CeCe's brother Cyrus dedicates his life to soccer until a knee injury sidelines his future plans.  CeCe is accepted to her first choice college and hopes to get enough scholarship money to attend.

On the surface everything looks fine, but CeCe knows her brother is in trouble.  She has watched him become addicted to the pain meds prescribed for his injured knee.  He is spiraling out of control, but her attempts to get their father's attention fail. 

When CeCe is approached by greasy haired Jason in the school library, she believes she has found a way to save her brother.  Jason asks her to sell him some of Cyrus's Oxys.  She figures if she can sell him a few from time to time, she will keep them out of her brother's hands and make a little college money in the process.  Her plan works for awhile, but she has misjudged the power of addiction and the intoxication of having money for her dream.

THICKER THAN WATER is written in a before and after style.  CeCe relates the months before her brother's overdose alternating with the months she spends in the Piedmont Juvenile Detention Facility awaiting her court appearance.  Author Kelly Fiore writes CeCe's story from firsthand experience as she recalls her own brother's drug problem.  Fiore captures the overwhelming emotions as a family deals with the destructive power of addiction and the many victims left in its wake.