Sunday, June 29, 2014

GIRLS LIKE US by Gail Giles

Girls Like Us"Retard," " Fool," and "Speddie" are just a few of the names directed at Biddy and Quincy.  Both girls are Special Education students graduating from high school.  What will happen to them out in the real world?  One creative social worker has an idea, but will it work?

Biddy has grown up with her grandmother never knowing her mother.  An accident at birth deprived her of oxygen and she has been labeled with "moderate retardation."  Unable to read or write, she still has a great memory for details and tasks if someone is patient enough to work with her.  Graduation means that her grandmother will no longer receive Biddy's monthly support check so she announces that Biddy will have to leave the only home she has ever known.

Quincy lived with her crack addicted mother and whatever boyfriend she was currently seeing.  When one of those boyfriends disciplined Quincy with a brick doorstop, she was left with a disfigured face and brain damage.  Quincy is angry with the world and learning that she will be leaving her current foster home to live with Biddy another "speddie" from her graduating class doesn't exactly make her day.

Ms. Delamino has arranged for an interesting experiment.  The two girls will shared a small apartment on the property of an elderly woman in exchange for cleaning and caring for the woman.  Ms. D. also found a job for Quincy at a local grocery store.  Her hopes are that the two girls have skills that will complement one another and enable them to live successfully in the normal adult world.

Author Gail Giles beautifully illustrates the true meaning of friendship and collaboration.  GIRLS LIKE US is a touching story of three women who find a way to share their lives and benefit in amazing ways.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

PANIC by Lauren Oliver

PanicLiving in Carp, New York, doesn't offer many opportunities.  Most teens hope to graduate and find some way to get out of town.  One possibility is to win a contest known as Panic.  Everyone pretends not to know about Panic, but the fact is, everyone knows about the game and its potential for disaster.

Every year high school students are expected to contribute one dollar a day throughout the school year.  The collection becomes the pot the eventual winner of Panic will earn.  This year the pot totals $67,000.  Only seniors can compete and winning that huge pot makes even the most reluctant willing to risk life and limb.

The first round of the game involves jumping from a high cliff into the quarry off Whippoorwill Road.  Scary, but not bad when compared to the rest of the stunts participants will face as the game continues.  People have been seriously injured and there have also been deaths attributed to Panic over the years.  A secret group of judges arranges the events while most of Carp turn a blind eye to the dangerous tradition.

Dodge, Heather, Nat, and Bishop are all competing this year.  Each has his or her own reasons for risking everything for the $67,000.  The contests will involve some of their greatest fears - heights, a haunted house, spiders, tigers, and even Russian Roulette.  Will the risks taken end in reward or regret? 

PANIC by Lauren Oliver is the perfect summer read.  Breathtaking, edge-of-your-seat action will keep readers turning pages from start to finish.

FORGET ME by K. A. Harrington

Forget Me
Ebook review copy courtesy of

Morgan has only known Flynn for a few months, but she thinks she may be in love.  He is dark and quiet, and she hasn't really introduced him to many people since he'd rather just hang out quietly with her.  Disaster strikes the night that a black SUV roars out of the darkness killing Flynn and then speeding off into the night.

There is no closure for Morgan.  Flynn's body is apparently claimed by his family and taken away for a service and burial, and Morgan isn't invited.  Determined to solve the mystery of Flynn's terrible death, Morgan takes the suggestion of a friend and posts her one and only picture of him on a social media site.  The mystery only deepens when the picture leads to information about a young man known as Evan.  Could they actually be the same person?  Morgan aims to find out.

Morgan's search is complicated when her parents begin acting strangely.  Both of them lost their jobs when the major industry in River's End closed due to a series of heart attack deaths related to one of the company's products.  Now they always seem to be whispering in the next room about some secret only to lapse into an uncomfortable silence when Morgan enters the room.  Morgan knows they are hiding something so she is forced to search for answers about Flynn on her own.

Should she arrange a meeting with Flynn's lookalike who lives in the neighboring town?  Perhaps returning to the abandoned amusement park where she met Flynn will reveal some answers.  All Morgan knows is she will never find peace until she knows who Flynn really was and why the black SUV ended his life so abruptly.

Author K. A. Harrington combines one plot twist after another to create a suspenseful novel that fills in a much needed gap in YA literature.  Mysteries are few and far between for teens, and Harrington's FORGET ME is perfect for readers searching for offerings in this genre.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to FlyLiving in Clay Allison, New Mexico, should mean that Arlo Santiago is into football and keeping the team's legend alive for the community, but football definitely isn't Arlo's game.  He spends his time playing the video game Drone Pilot.  When he isn't gaming, he is riding one of his dirt bikes stunting with friends in the desert.

Another thing that occupies Arlo's time is worrying about family.  His mother was tragically killed in a convenience store robbery, his father lost his job when the local newspaper folded, and his little sister has fallen victim to a disease that will soon leave her wheelchair bound for what's left of her short life.  Drone Pilot is Arlo's main escape.  When he is playing he feels like he is truly flying and leaving his troubles behind.

The night that Arlo breaks the all time high scoring record on the game is the night his life changes forever.  Little does he know but his ability to play Drone Pilot and his high score has caught the attention of the U.S. government.  The next thing he knows he is being invited to the military compound known as White Sands where he will be tested to learn his potential as an actual drone pilot for the USA.  When it is revealed that his skills top all others in the test group, he is given an offer he can't refuse.  Flying surveillance drones could provide everything his family needs, but it might also come with a price Arlo isn't willing to pay.  How far will he go to help his father and his sister? 

DIRT BIKES, DRONES, AND OTHER WAYS TO FLY explores the meaning of family, loss, and the power of promises.  Author Conrad Wesselhoeft shows readers how important it is to stand by one's principles no matter the cost.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

FAT ANGIE by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fat AngieAngie lives in Dryfalls, Ohio.  She and her family are well-known in town and even beyond because her sister, a local basketball star turned soldier, has disappeared in Afghanistan.  Everyone assumes her sister will not be coming home, but Angie refuses to give up.  If she never sees her sister again, Angie is pretty sure her own life will be over.

Having lost her sister is not Angie's only struggle.  She is overweight which makes her a target for every bully in town.  Her own mother also has issues with Angie's weight and spends most of her time avoiding her remaining daughter.  Tension is thick between her mother and also her adopted brother Wang who is having his own difficulties dealing with their missing sibling.

When a new girl named KC Romance walks into Angie's life, amazing things begin to happen.  KC doesn't seem to care about Angie's physical appearance.  She lets Angie know that she thinks there is much more to her than what people see on the outside.  The confidence that Angie gains might be just what she needs to survive her family tragedy, but there is more to KC Romance than meets the eye.

Author e. E. Charlton-Trujillo has created a resilient character in Angie, one who will inspire readers to battle against the odds and fight back.  Angie's journey is not an easy one, but with determination and the support of people who believe in her, she is able to carry on.

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefAuthor Markus Zusak uses intensely beautiful language to tell the story of Liesel Meminger and life in Nazi Germany under the reign of Hilter.  Narrated by death, it's the story of a young girl taken in by a Germany couple. 

Hans and Rosa Hubermann are prepared to act as foster parents to Liesel and her younger brother.  When the boy dies on the train en route to their Himmel Street home, they agree to take in the girl even though it means their foster care allowance will be cut in half.  Actually, Rosa Hubermann is more disappointed by the lack of income than her husband Hans who is immediately taken by the young Liesel.

Liesel slowly adjusts to life with her foster parents.  Nightmares plague her sleep as she remembers the tragic death of her brother, but Hans is there to comfort her each night.  To calm her and pass the time when she awakens in the night, he teaches her to read and unknowingly opens her world to the power of the written word.  Once Liesel experiences books she can't get enough of them and will do almost anything to get her hands on more material.

When a young Jewish man arrives in the dark of night, the Hubermann's find themselves fulfilling a promise made years ago.  They take in the young man and hide him in their basement even though they are risking their own safety to do so.  A strong bond develops between Max and Liesel.  She keeps the family's secret well and life continues in what soon becomes a war-torn Germany.

THE BOOK THIEF is a mesmerizing tale that will have readers gasping in fear, chuckling at life's humor, and experiencing the heart break and horror of war.  This reader did the unthinkable and watched the movie first, but seeing the fantastic cast enact the story helped make the written word even more glorious.  Find the time to read the book and watch the movie.  You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

SWAGGER by Carl Deuker

SwaggerMoving during his senior year is not exactly what Jonas planned, but when his father is injured and then loses his job, any opportunity is a welcome one.  Jonas assures his parents that he can play basketball anywhere, and the Monitor College scholarship he is trying to earn will be still be a possibility.

When Jonas arrives in Seattle, he immediately regrets the positive attitude he put on for his parents.  He tries to join the pick up games in his neighborhood, but making friends is difficult when you are headed into your final year in a new high school.  The only guy who extends a welcoming fist bump is a six-six senior named Levi.  Levi helps Jonas get acquainted with the rest of the team and tells him what to expect from the team's aging coach, Coach Knecht. 

Practices start, but Jonas quickly senses that Coach Knecht's style is not going to be helpful in snagging the Monitor College scholarship.  He will be lucky if he gets to play a few minutes per game let alone score enough points and rebounds to keep the New Hampshire college's coach interested.  Besides his playing worries, Jonas has his grades to keep up.  Chemistry could put an end to his scholarship hopes, too.

Everything could change with the arrival of Ryan Hartwell, a new assistant coach and teacher.  His coaching style is completely different from Coach Knecht.  It is exactly the type of coaching Jonas needs to play the kind of game that will have him headed to Monitor College.  Unfortunately, Hartwell doesn't see eye to eye with Coach Knecht so not much changes on the basketball court.  Off the court, though, Hartwell is making fast friends with the team and offering them a place to party in exchange for their promise to keep it on the down low.

As the season unwinds, events transpire that result in more playing time for Jonas, but something isn't quite right.  His friend Levi is showing signs of stress that have Jonas concerned.  When he learns the reason for Levi's change in attitude, he finds himself faced with a decision that could change everything including his own future.

Author Carl Deuker is known for his excellent sports novels.  SWAGGER does not disappoint.  It is filled with non-stop basketball action and enough edge-of-your-seat tension to satisfy any teen reader with an interest in sports and realistic fiction.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

GASP by Lisa McMann

GaspIn CRASH Jules saved Sawyer from being killed by a truck headed toward his family's restaurant.  Then in BANG she and Sawyer saved the lives of students about to be killed in a school shooting.  Now one of the survivors of the school attack is having visions similar to those Jules and Sawyer experienced just before the tragedies they prevented.

They learn about Tori's visions and step in to help, but they are too late to stop the deaths of several people due to carbon monoxide poisoning.  When she contacts them again with a new vision, Jules and Sawyer are determined to succeed in stopping another tragic event.  This time it appears to involve a Lake Michigan ferry transporting an innocent crowd of people from Wisconsin to Michigan.  If they can just figure out the clues, they may be able to save the lives of many.

In the midst of decoding Tori's vision, Jules and her family are the victim of a freak fire that destroys her family's restaurant and home.  Although they lose everything and are devastated at the prospect of starting over, the fire seems to have been just the jolt that Jules's father needed to recover from his depression and take charge of his family and business.

GASP is the third and final book in the Visions series by Lisa McMann.  Jules and Sawyer's stories will entertain and keep readers on the edge of their seats as well as illustrate that tragedy often uncovers unexpected hope and courage. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsThey were wealthy with four summer homes on their own private island.  They had everything, but one summer something happened that changed them all.

Cadence, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat had spent every summer together on Beechwood Island for as long as they could remember.  The island belonged to the Sinclair family and the four teens were connected to the Sinclairs in some way or another.  Grandfather Sinclair was the aging king of the island and his three daughters returned every summer with the grandchildren.  Most years were carefree, but an event happened that ended those lazy, innocent summers.

That summer Cadence was injured.  It involved the ocean, some rocks, and a head injury that left her with blinding pain sometimes unaffected by even the strongest pain killers.  She had very little recollection of the accident and what she could remember was washed away whenever the terrible migraines struck.  Sent to Europe the summer after her injury, it was the first summer she hadn't spent on the island.  Now she was about to return to the family's summer retreat, and she wasn't sure she was ready. 

When she arrived, she was surrounding by noisy younger cousins and greeted by aunts who acted distant and distracted.  It all felt different.  Her grandfather's history-filled house had been totally remodeled, and something seemed off about her childhood summer companions.  Why weren't things the same?  There seemed to something everyone was trying to communicate, but she somehow wasn't getting the message.

Author E. Lockhart has crafted an amazing story about one tragic summer and one family's struggle to carry on.  Lockhart is able to draw readers into this rich family despite their often standoffish ways, and she tricks her readers into believing they see the entire picture.  When the real story clicks into place, readers will wonder how they missed the clues as they breathlessly speed through the final pages in search of answers.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


My Mother the CheerleaderIf you are looking for a slightly different view of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's, check out MY MOTHER THE CHEERLEADER by Robert Sharenow.

Louise lives with her mother in a New Orleans' boarding house.  Louise's mother owns the boarding house and usually rents the few rooms to truckers passing through on their runs.  Her mother can usually be found "entertaining" these men or else spending the long, hot southern afternoons drinking pitchers of lime juleps in the backyard.

Recently, school desegregation has been the topic.  A young Negro girl enrolled in Louise's school.  Louise's mother is against desegregation and joined a group of mothers who protest every day at the school.  The women yell vicious taunts at the little girl, and they've become known as the Cheerleaders.  They have received media attention which has encouraged Louise's mother even more as she participates in the protests.  All Louise knows is, like most of the other parents, her mother has pulled her out of school, and now she is spending her time doing most of the work around the boarding house.

When a handsome stranger from New York arrives and rents a room for several nights, Louise and her mother both fixate on this mysterious man.  He says he has come to reunite with a brother he hasn't seen for many years.  When he visits the site of the protests, he becomes the victim of taunts and threats from the crowd who see his New York license plates and assume he is Jewish there to support desegregation.  Louise is frightened by the threats of violence toward the man she has taken a liking to, and her mother is also surprised by the crowd's reaction. 

Robert Sharenow presents a unique view of the segregation/desegregation issue.  Louise is a curious and likeable main character, and readers will definitely connect with her as she critically observes the adults around her and tries to make sense of a very confusing social issue.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman

A Time to DanceDancing means everything to Veda.  Her mother wants her to focus on her studies and become an engineer some day, but the traditional Indian dance known as Bharatanatyam is all Veda thinks about. 

When Veda succeeds in winning a dance competition, she believes her dreams for the future have just begun.  Riding home from the competition, tragedy strikes.  There is an accident and Veda's lower right leg is injured beyond repair.  When she regains consciousness in the hospital, she learns her leg has been amputated below the knee.  Now she believes her life is over.

An American doctor takes Veda's case and promises he can create a prosthetic leg that will have her dancing once again.  After physical therapy and learning to adjust to her new leg, Veda finds herself back in the beginner's dance class.  The only thing that keeps her going is a handsome young dancer named Govinda.  He believes in her and is determined to see her dance with more than just skill.  Veda is challenged to take her dance to an emotional level she never thought possible.

Author Padma Venkatraman tells Veda's inspiring story and fills it with the mystic and tradition of India.  Written in verse, A TIME TO DANCE celebrates the art of dance as well as the resilience and passion of the human spirit.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Thirteen Reasons Why
At first Clay Jensen doesn't understand why a package containing 7 cassette tapes is delivered to his house.  The reason becomes clear as soon as he starts listening to the tapes.  The tapes were made by Hannah Baker, a classmate who committed suicide.  Recorded by Hannah just before her death, the tapes explain to thirteen teens just exactly what part they each played in Hannah's death.

Clay reluctantly begins listening to the tapes.  He can't fathom why he received them, but the only way to find out is to listen.  He knows when he finishes he is supposed to package them back up and send them on to the person whose story follows his.  In the meantime he knows he won't be able to stop listening until he knows the truth. 

The stories Hannah shares are disturbing and yet compelling at the same time.  As the hours pass, Clay learns about Hannah and about his fellow classmates and what people do to one another with their words and actions, sometimes intentionally and sometimes by chance.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher was published in 2007 and became an instant success.  This is my second time reading the novel but my first review.  I'm finding it difficult to put into words the true power of this YA novel.  So much is in the news about bullying and its often devastating consequences, we may have become jaded to the true power of the bully. 

After playing an audio excerpt from the book to my 10th grade English students, several of them suggested it should be a required read for all high school students.  I will be including it in my curriculum next year, hence the need to reread it.  I am interested and a bit anxious about the discussion it will stimulate next year.  It will no doubt make a lasting impression on some students.