Sunday, September 26, 2010

BOYS DON'T CRY by Malorie Blackman

BOYS DON'T CRY by Malorie Blackman is an emotionally charged story about love and family and the different shapes they sometimes take.  This book is one you won't want to miss.

Dante is anxiously awaiting his A Level exam results.  He is proud of himself for taking the exams a year early, and he's eager to know if his scores will have him headed to university in the near future.  But when a knock at the door brings his old girlfriend and not the postman, Dante is in for the surprise of his life.

Melanie has been gone for over a year.  The last time they spent any time together was at a friend's party.  That night they were both drunk and ended up in an upstairs bedroom where they had a less than memorable sexual encounter.  Now Melanie was sitting in his living room holding a baby on her lap.  Dante is at first confused and then shocked when Melanie tells him the baby is his daughter Emma.

If finding out he has a daughter is not enough, Melanie asks Dante to watch the baby for a bit while she goes out to run an errand.  Before he has a chance to object, she is gone.  And not long after, Melanie calls from her mobile phone and tells Dante she won't be coming back.

Dante's father is furious when he hears about his son's irresponsible sexual behavior, but to Dante's amazement, he immediately leaps into action making a plan and getting the supplies they need to care for a baby.  Dante is equally shocked when his younger brother Adam falls head-over-heels in love with little Emma.  All Dante can think about is how to get Melanie to come back and get him out of this impossible situation.

Even though his A Level exam scores are perfect, Dante knows his plans for university and the future have become a distant dream.  He quickly learns being a father might be the hardest job on earth.  The more time he spends with Emma, the more his love begins to blossom.  With the help of his dad, his brother, and his aunt, Dante begins to take his responsibility seriously.

Maybe it is learning to love his daughter or maybe it's spending more time at home, but Dante also begins to discover his usually cheerful younger brother has some problems of his own.  He finds himself filling not only the role of new father, but also that of protective older brother.  Through it all he learns the true meaning of love and all the joy and pain it can bring.

Author Malorie Blackman takes the usual teen parenthood story and turns it upside-down.  Readers will be quickly drawn into Dante's experiences and will feel every moment of fear, regret, and exhilaration as he deals with all life has thrown his way.  There are fabulous moments of joy, flashes of anger, and terrible tragedies as this odd family struggles to hold it all together.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

THE GUARDIAN by Joyce Sweeney

Joyce Sweeney's books are always popular with my students so I was excited to finally get my hands on THE GUARDIAN.  I wasn't disappointed, and my students won't be either.

Hunter has been tossed around the foster care system for as long as he can remember.  He was four years old when he was sent to live in a Catholic orphanage.  Since then he has lived with a series of foster families.  Most recently, he's been living with Mike and Stephanie.  One of four foster children, life there is pretty good.  That is until Mike has a stroke and dies.

Now Hunter is living a nightmare.  When her husband died, Stephanie became a totally different person.  She was always a bit controlling and sometimes got carried away with discipline, but now that Mike isn't around to keep her in check, things are getting crazy.  She expects all the kids to get jobs and help with family finances.  Even little five year old Drew is being forced to enter kiddie beauty pageants and model to bring in money.  When Hunter objects to Stephanie's plan to let some strange guy photograph Drew in exchange for portfolio headshots, Stephanie severely beats Hunter. 

Thinking back to Mike's funeral and the mysterious motorcycle rider who rudely interrupted the service, Hunter begins to fantasize that he has a guardian angel.  The dim memory of a tall, dark stranger who appeared to him on the day he was taken from his mother and sent to the orphanage provides fuel for Hunter's growing fantasy.  Is there someone looking out for him?  Continued sightings of the motorcycle rider and several mysterious email messages have Hunter revisiting childhood memories of the power of prayer and religion.

In THE GUARDIAN Sweeney creates a powerful story about the importance of love and the feeling of family.  Hunter's attachment to his foster siblings has him protecting them despite risks to his own physical well-being.  Sweeney forces Hunter to examine the power of family love as he confronts the mysteries of his past.  The stirring emotions and edge-of-your-seat action combine to make THE GUARDIAN one of Sweeney's best.


SUBWAY GIRL by P.J. Converse

SUBWAY GIRL by P.J. Converse

School is frustrating for Simon.  If all he had to do was learn math and science, it might be passable, but in order to graduate, Chinese-speaking Simon must pass the English exam.  So far his practice scores have been miserable causing him to slip farther and farther behind.  Despite encouragement from his long-time friend Katie, Simon decides he has suffered enough and ditches school to take a job working in a restaurant. 

Riding the subway to and from school and then back and forth to his job, Simon notices a pretty girl.  She seems to get lots of attention from all the boys and men riding the subway.  Simon isn't surprised when she shows up at a party he attends, but he is annoyed with how she is treated by the other guys at the party.  When the two meet, they share a mysterious connection and a true friendship quickly forms.

Amy is Chinese but was born and raised in the United States.  In Hong Kong with her mother and brother for the first time, she finds it difficult to communicate since her parents never pressed the issue of learning Chinese.  As her friendship with Simon grows, she finds herself sharing her problems with him, and at the same time, Simon discovers his English is improving as he shares his concerns with her. 

Will Amy be able to help Simon improve his English enough to pass his exam?  Can Simon be any help to Amy as she struggles with the knowledge that she is pregnant with her former boyfriend's child?

SUBWAY GIRL written by P.J. Converse, whose experience teaching English in Hong Kong, bridges the gap between two totally diverse cultures.  Readers will immediately become attached emotionally to Simon and Amy.  Lacking any understanding adult role-models, the two come together to create their own support system.  Converse communicates a true understanding of teen issues and the emotions they generate.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

THE HIVE by Kelley Powell Barcellona

THE HIVE is an excellent book for tweens.  At just under 100 pages, it reads quickly and doesn't talk down to its readers.  Author Kelley Powell Barcellona has experience as a middle school teacher, and it shows as she successfully portrays that age group in her story.

The Hive is a group of four girls lead by Brooke Stevens.  According to them, if you aren't a member of their group, you are nothing.  Brooke leads the girls in targeting  unlucky students and bullying them mercilessly.

This time their victim is Tori.  Brooke uses a series of anonymous notes to a popular boy named Hunter to spread the word that Tori has a crush on him and is possibly even stalking him.  The notes set the trap while Brooke and her friends reel in Tori by inviting her to a party that offers her a chance to do her favorite thing - sing karaoke.  However, by selecting Tori, the Hive may have met their match.

THE HIVE paints an accurate picture of middle school life.  Barcellona adds a few twists in the plot by giving Brooke a few problems of her own.  This one would be an excellent addition to any library or classroom collection.

Monday, September 20, 2010


You've seen the reports on the news -- the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary appears on a grain elevator or on a grilled cheese sandwich.  Well, it has happened on a Florida golf course where Dylan Flack works as a caddy, and the whole thing is about to throw his life into a tailspin.

Dylan and his dad left New York City after his mother's death.  It wasn't his idea, but his dad thought it would be good to start over somewhere new.  Mr. Flack left his videographer job and now works as a landscaper perhaps in an effort to bury his problems instead of facing them.  Dylan is along for the ride and trying to make the best of it.

Named after Bob Dylan by his poet mother, Dylan has never been very close to his dad.  Now enough time has passed since his mother's death that he is disturbed to realize he is unable to remember her face.  The fact that his father left all the family photos behind in New York City hasn't helped their father/son relationship.  Dylan's job caddying at the golf course is about the only thing getting him through the summer.

When the figure of the Virgin Mary is discovered in the bark of one of the golf course's trees, everyone begins to descend on the sleepy little town of Jupiter, Florida.  That's when Dylan meets Angela.  She is one of several teens who arrive in town because their mothers are Virgin Mary groupies.  They follow what they call the BVM sightings like roadies following a rock band. 

The teens welcome Dylan into their group and use his knowledge of the local area to create interesting entertainment to while away the time until their parents move them to the next location.  Dylan is struck by Angela's beauty and drawn by her risk-taking behavior.  He has hopes that with her around the summer might offer more than attempting to please his father and helping old guys cart around their golf gear.  For him the appearance of the Virgin on the tree may be a "blessing" of another kind.

VIRGIN TERRITORY by James Lecesne is a quirky tale of one young man's struggle to face his mother's death and form some sort of bound with a father he doesn't really understand.  While many are struggling to "see" the Virgin in the tree bark, Dylan and his father are struggling to figure out what's next for them after losing the one connection that held everything together.


Keep your mind open.

Read SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Vera's life is about secrets.  Living with only a father doesn't exactly inspire her to share her many secrets.  He has done his best to raise a teenage daughter himself, but not only is he tight with his money but also with his ability to communicate.

Vera is the result of a teen pregnancy.  One of her secrets is that after she was born her mother was a stripper.  Her best friend Charlie knows that secret, but she would like to keep it from everyone else if at all possible.

Charlie is at the center of many of Vera's secrets.  They have been each other's best friend forever, and they share the secret that Charlie's father abuses Charlie's mother.  As neighbors it has been difficult to ignore the sounds of shouts and slaps, but Vera's father says keeping their secret makes things easier for everyone.

It isn't until Charlie's untimely death that Vera fully embraces the secret love that she has felt for him.  As she deals with a full-time job, keeping up her grades, and pleasing her father, Vera's stress level has her visualizing Charlie everywhere.  It takes a while to realize that the "Charlies" are trying to communicate something.  There are secrets that Charlie wants Vera to uncover and use to clear his name.  The circumstances around his death were suspicious and involved the destruction of a place Vera loved, but these are secrets she finds it incredibly frightening to share.  Will she find the courage she needs to do the right thing?

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ is presented through multiple voices including both the past and present.  A.S. King draws readers into Vera's world and then slowly peels away the layers to reveal each and every secret.  The characters speak realistically and the situations ring true making King's story flow smoothly despite the many shifts in focus.  This novel will please King's fans and earn her many new ones.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


The winner of a signed copy of LOVE IN THE PRESENT TENSE by Catherine Ryan Hyde is

* Bailey*

Monday, September 13, 2010

THE CRUISERS by Walter Dean Myers

DaVinci Academy in Harlem is focused on gifted and talented learners.  Unfortunately, Zander Scott and a few of his friends are not making the grade.  They haven't been performing up to their potential lately, and the principal is about to make an example of their lax study habits by kicking them out.  The four friends must find a way to prove themselves.

They are given the opportunity when the school begins a unit about the Civil War.  Students are becoming divided along racial lines.  As they study the historic conflict, the school itself is reenacting the events by taking sides - the Union and the Confederacy.  Zander, Kambui, LaShonda, and Bobbi are given the task of making peace between the two sides.  The challenge is to create the peace within school rules and without any resulting violent behavior.  But with tempers running on high and tension reminiscent of the slave owners versus the abolitionists, they have their work cut out for them.

In addition to the battle going on in the classroom, Zander is fighting his own battle on the home front.  His father is threatening to sue for full custody if his mother doesn't demonstrate that she can meet the financial and educational needs required to parent his son.  The last thing Zander wants is to move from Harlem to Seattle.

THE CRUISERS is book #1 in a new series by Walter Dean Myers.  At less than 130 pages it is written in a unique blend of narrative combined with articles and writing assignments from students at DaVinci Academy.  Readers will get a taste of Harlem life along with the familiar classroom subject of the Civil War.  If they develop a connection with the characters, they'll want to keep an out for book #2 KING'S GAMBIT.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

RULES TO ROCK BY by Josh Farrar

Playing bass guitar with the kid rock band Egg Mountain is all Annabelle "Belle" wants to do.  They have become quite a sensation in New York.  Being the kid of two famous indie rock musicians has given her a chance to learn and play with some of the best.  Everything in Belle's life is about to change.

Belle's parents are knee-deep in recording a new album, and they've decided they need to get away from all the distractions of the big city.  They are moving Belle and her little brother Xavier to Providence, Rhode Island.  Belle can't believe she'll have to leave behind her band and her Abuela (grandmother) to live in a music studio where her parents will be busy every minute and she'll have no privacy at all.

The living conditions are bad enough, but it's even worse when Belle discovers how horrible Federal Hill Middle School is.  The very first day she encounters one of the school's many bullies.  They seem to take a special pleasure in shaking down the smaller kids for their lunch money.  The only bright light in her terrible first days is Mr. V and his English class.  With his help she might be able to master the art of song writing.

Things are a mess at home.  Belle is constantly left with the job of babysitting her brother while their parents work on the new album.  Thanks to the group's drummer who fixes chocolate chip pancakes at least four nights a week, they don't starve, but it's beyond ridiculous, and Belle has had it.  All she wants is some time alone so she can work on getting a new band together.

With encouragement from her old band mate Ronaldo, Belle plugs away at trying to find other musicians in her new school.  She discovers a guitar player with some promise, but he only agrees to practice not actually perform.  With his help they find a keyboard player nicknamed Crackers who not only plays well but also has a terrific voice.  Now all that's left is a drummer, but finding someone may be more of a challenge than Belle wants.

RULES TO ROCK BY is the story of drive and determination.  Author Josh Farrar introduces readers to Belle whose love of music pushes her to accomplish her dream.  Farrar creates countless obstacles for Belle, but she tackles them all.  Middle grade readers will enjoy the rock and roll backdrop and the relatable characters Farrar uses to make RULES TO ROCK BY an entertaining read.

Friday, September 10, 2010


The Sullivans are in for quite a shock.  Their normally joyous Christmas holiday is tarnished when the family matriarch, known to everyone as Almighty, announces she is dying and threatens to write the whole family out of her will unless the family member who committed some unimaginable sin confesses.  She wants their confessions in writing by New Year's Day.

The three Sullivan girls immediately assume they have committed whatever crime has offended their dear, controlling grandmother.  Each sister begins writing her confession.

Norrie, the eldest, is certain that she offended Almighty at her debutante ball.  Almighty had such specific plans and wishes for Norrie's special day, and Norrie knows her behavior was not at all up to her grandmother's rigid standards.

Middle sister, Jane, has never really conformed to Almighty's ideal of a perfect grand-daughter, so it is not a huge leap for her to imagine she is the guilty party.  It is also fairly easy to guess that her offense is the creation of a blog called  Oh, the things Jane has revealed about everyone in her prestigious Baltimore family.

Sassy, the youngest, was been riddled with guilt long before Almighty threatened to write them all out of inheriting her millions.  Sassy is convinced that she is guilty of murdering someone near and dear to her grandmother's heart.  Her confession will hopefully restore the family honor but will most likely result in her own imprisonment. 

Author Natalie Standiford takes readers on a wild ride as each sister recounts recent scandalous events in an effort to soothe their grandmother's ruffled feathers.  The novel is filled with pleas for forgiveness, some motivated by honest feelings and regret, and others not.  The results of everyone's soul searching turn out to reveal some surprising information about everyone in the family.  Fans of Standiford's HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT will want to check this one out.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

HALF BROTHER by Kenneth Oppel

Ben can't believe he is being forced into becoming part of his father's latest science experiment.  Being the only son of a college professor/research scientist hasn't really bothered Ben, but things have suddenly changed.  First of all, the family has moved clear across Canada so he will be getting used to a new home, new school, and a whole new group of friends.  The other big change is that he is about to become a brother.  Well, sort of...

Dr. Tomlin is beginning a research experiment to prove that chimpanzees can learn to communicate with humans.  He and his wife will be working together to raise a baby chimp as part of their family and attempt to teach the chimp to communicate using ASL - American Sign Language.  As part of the family, their son Ben will be expected to treat the chimp as a younger sibling and help in the teaching process.

Ben thinks the idea is crazy.  Yes, the chimp is cute and cuddly, but it's a chimp not a human.  Why does he have to participate in this wild experiment?  Much to his surprise, it doesn't take long for him to bond with the little chimp and become just as excited as his parents when the little guy begins to catch on to the whole communication experience.

The chimp is christened Zan, and he quickly becomes part of the family.  Ben's life starts changing at a fairly rapid pace.  As news of Zan begins to spread, Ben's popularity at his new school soars.  Everyone is interested in watching Zan and hearing about his crazy antics.  Ben and his parents are busy night and day helping the chimp assimilate to his new surroundings.  So busy, in fact, that Ben's father hires multiple graduate students to help care for Zan and record the endless videos and written notes necessary to chart the chimp's progress.  Ben's life is a whirlwind of activity. 

HALF BROTHER by author Kenneth Oppel is set in 1973, at a time when chimpanzee experiments dominated the science world.  He deftly combines the fascinating results of animal studies with the daily life of a teenage boy.  As the chimp grows and learns to interact with humans, so does Ben as he finds his place in new surroundings and as a maturing teenager.  The complexities of the research study and the growing emotional attachment of raising Zan, make HALF BROTHER a novel that will have readers laughing and cheering one minute and gasping in horror the next.  Prepare to be entertained but also touched by emotion and regret.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

PAYBACK TIME by Carl Deuker

Dan "Mitch" True sees his school newspaper as his ticket to a career in journalism someday.  He has his sights set on leaving Seattle and heading to college in New York City.  What better place to find, write, and report the news of the world!  There is only one problem.  How is he supposed to become a top-notch journalist when he's being assigned to write the sports column?

Mitch can't believe it when Alyssa is chosen as editor for the paper.  He was sure he would get the job.  To make matters worse, she tells him he will be writing all the sports stories.  It should be obvious to anyone observant enough to notice his overweight, out of shape body that sports are not a priority for Mitch.  The only thing Alyssa says to encourage him is that at least people will read his stories since the sports section is really the only part of the paper anyone reads.

Mitch heads off to the first football game with Kimi, the staff photographer.  They both focus on the team's star player, the quarterback Horst Diamond.  His talent looks like the only hope for an interesting season, that is until Mitch and Kimi notice Angel Marichal. 

Coach McNulty doesn't seem the least bit interested in Angel.  Even though Mitch watches the kid throw practice passes on the sidelines that would make an NFL player jealous, the coach shrugs away any suggestions that Angel should be given more playing time.

Mitch begins to suspect something is going on when he writes about this new player's amazing potential only to have those sections of his stories removed before they appear in the paper.  When he points this out to Kimi, she agrees that perhaps they should do a bit of investigative journalism.  They work together to uncover the mystery of Angel Marichal.  Is the coach using Angel to cheat his way into a championship position, or is there something else illegal going on?

Author Carl Deuker uses his expertise as a sports fiction writer to entertain teen readers with some great football action as well as an intriguing mystery.  Readers will follow this high school football team's winning season and at the same time witness Deuker's characters as they encounter slashed tires, gang threats, and physical violence.  In an incredible combination of action and adventure, PAYBACK TIME is sure to be a satisfying read.