Thursday, January 29, 2015

DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK by Scott Blagden

Dear Life, You SuckCricket Cherpin will be eighteen in a few months, and as far as he can figure, his only options for the future will be dealing drugs or fighting competitively.  Having lived in a group home for orphans for the last eight years, his only "family" are a bunch of nuns and a passel of younger orphans.  As far as Cricket is concerned, his life sucks.

Tormented by a bully in his small school, Cricket vows to protect the Little Ones he considers to be his responsibility.  Using his fists to fight against his tormentor earns him suspensions and a bad reputation with the principal.  Mother Mary tries to encourage better behavior because she truly cares about him, but Cricket's bleak outlook on life doesn't allow him to see how much he means to her.

Cricket finds escape in creating and telling stories to the younger boys.  They live for this story time and hang on his every word.  When he is not entertaining the little ones, he hangs out with the group home Caretaker who offers tips on fighting and is the one who suggests a career in the fight business might be Cricket's only future option.

A letter writing assignment in English class opens up a conversation with a teacher who believes in Cricket and thinks he has opportunities available to him if he is willing to take the chance.  Her comments surprise Cricket and get him thinking about the possibility of life after the group home.

DEAR LIFE, YOU SUCK by Scott Blagden offers readers an in-your-face view of life from a teen who is not afraid to tell it like it is.  Cricket will amuse, offend, and touch readers as they travel with him through life on the dark side.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

CRACKED by K.M. Walton

CrackedImagine having to share a room with your own personal bully 24/7 for five days.  That's what has happened to Victor.  Can he survive?  Will the strange pairing turn into friendship?

Victor keeps mostly to himself.  He is an exceptional student, especially in math.  He's so good he got a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT.  Unfortunately, his uber-demanding parents are less than satisfied with his slightly lower scores on the rest of the test.  They've decided to take their European vacation without him, leaving him home to study under the watchful eye of his grandmother.

Victor has other plans.  Feeling that his life has been made miserable by a classmate who torments him relentlessly and parents who think only of themselves, he makes the decision to end it all by swallowing the contents of one of his mother's pill bottles.  As he drifts off, he regrets that his grandmother will no doubt be the one to discover his body, but he believes is doing what he has to do.

Grandmother arrives in time to call 911, and Victor awakens in the psych ward of the hospital.  Just his luck, he learns that his roommate is Bull Mastrick, the one person who would love to help end his life for him. 

Bull has landed in the psych ward after attempting to shoot his grandfather.  Having a grandfather who uses you as a punching bag seems like justification enough for Bull to take matters into his own hands and use the gun he finds hidden in a crumpled paper bag.  What takes Bull totally by surprise is the fact that his grandfather tells the cops who arrive after the gunshot, that his stupid grandson was trying to commit suicide.  The lie spares Bull a stint in juvie, but five days in the booby hatch with a bunch of losers will be challenging.  Is he up for the challenge?  Will his outlook change when he learns there are others with problems just as daunting as his own?

Author K.M. Walton takes readers into the minds of two teens ready to take drastic action to end the pain and torture of their lives.  Though their solutions are different, they end up together as they search for meaning and a reason to carry on.  Her characters are captivating and their stories are sure to resonate with teens.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

IN REAL LIFE by Lawrence Tabak

In Real LifeThis one is for all the online gamers looking for adventure.  Seth Gordon is fifteen and is about to have his dreams come true.  He is an exceptional player of a very popular computer game called Starfare.  He has competed and performed well in tournaments and is well-known for his creative playing strategies. 

Seth spends all his free time playing Starfare.  His parents are divorced, and recently his mother moved to California.  Since his father travels a lot for his job, Seth's mother would like him to make the move to California to live with her.  That is definitely not what Seth wants so he strikes a deal.  If he gets a summer job and agrees not to spend so much time gaming, he can stay with his dad.

When he lands a job at a local pizza place, he hits the jackpot because not only does he get the job, but he also gains a girl friend.  It is hard for Seth to believe that Hannah really likes him.  He is used to being overlooked by girls and considered to be a bit of a nerd because of his outstanding math abilities and his fixation on computer games. 

Seth's dream is to become a professional computer game player.  After a recent tournament, he is totally surprised when the head of a professional Korean team contacts him.  The Koreans are the best in the world, and now they are interested in making him the first American to play on their team.  It involves leaving Kansas City and moving to Korea.  It is all extremely exciting, but is achieving his life dream worth losing Hannah? 

Author Lawrence Tabak captures the fast-paced, competitive world of computer gaming.  Readers interested in online games, as well as anyone looking for an edge-of-your-seat adventure with a bit of romance, should give IN REAL LIFE a try.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till CaseOn August 25, 1955, a fourteen year old Black boy was kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi.  Emmett Till of Chicago was visiting his cousins when his young life was cut short.  Author Chris Crowe recounts the events leading up to the boy's death as well as the controversial trial and its effect on the then growing Civil Rights Movement.

Young Emmett set off for what he believed would be a fun vacation before school started back in Chicago.  His mother, Mississippi born, warned him to show proper respect to white people on his trip to the South.  Unfortunately, the high-spirited, humorous teen got caught up in entertaining his cousins and their friends when he made comments to an attractive, young white store clerk. 

Several days after the incident at the store, two white men arrived at Emmett's uncle's sharecropper's cabin and hauled him away.  He wasn't seen again until his mutilated body was discovered in a nearby river.

With the recent declaration to desegregated schools, the South was filled with angry white people determined that their federal government could not dictate how they should run their communities.  Much to the horror of the Black population across the country, the resulting trial of the white men who had murdered Emmett ended in a not guilty verdict.  The ripple effect of the verdict spread through the United States and fueled the movement being lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Chris Crowe presents Emmett Till's story with details and evidence collected from many sources.  Newspaper accounts, photographs, interviews, and testimony combine to reveal the grim circumstances of what followed the hasty, reckless actions of an inexperienced fourteen year old.  As Crowe mentions in the Introduction, Emmett Till's story is often left out of history books so many don't know about his part in those tumultuous times.  Given recent events involving racial issues, his story is even more important today to remind us we need to right the wrongs of our past not perpetuate the hatred.

ON A CLEAR DAY by Walter Dean Myers

On a Clear DayAuthor Walter Dean Myers will be greatly missed in the YA world.  Well-known for taking his readers into the often rough, inner city lives of his teen characters, Myers goes into the future, 2035 to be exact, in one of the final stories he shared with his fans.  In ON A CLEAR DAY Myers shows how a group of seven teens sets out to make a difference in their economically segregated future world.

The C-8 is a group made up of 8 huge worldwide companies that control the world's wealth and wield power over all.  As a result of this domination, society is divided into the haves and the have nots.  Those fortunate enough live in gated communities safe from the Sturmers who are hired to terrorize the general population.

Dahlia, a computer genius, has been recruited to join six other young people who are determined to find a way to overthrow the C-8 and allow countries to take power back into their own control.  Using clever thinking and high-tech strategies, the group plans their attack, but along the way, they must learn to trust and cooperate with each other as well as deal with a terrifying warlord named Sayeed.

ON A CLEAR DAY has a little something for everyone.  Myers incorporated a varied cast of characters and plenty of action to keep readers turning pages.  It is a fitting final offering from a great YA writer.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

HOME BEFORE DARK by Sue Ellen Bridgers

Product DetailsI was asked to read this 1976 release a while ago and just finished it.  Although, it is an older book, I believe the story stands the test of time.  Set in rural and small town North Carolina, readers are transported to a tobacco farm with a cast of characters who share their joys and tragedies.

Stella is fourteen and traveling with her family back to her father's childhood home.  They have been living out of a battered, old station wagon for as long as Stella can remember.  Her father has been finding work following the crops while she has been helping her mother take care of her younger siblings.  For the first time she is facing a stable life and a real home.

The story involves simple pleasures, a first love, and getting to know a caring aunt and hardworking uncle.  Author Sue Ellen Bridgers takes readers into the minds and thoughts of a variety of characters as they interact with Stella.  Challenges are met, hearts are broken, and memories are made as Stella learns the true meaning of home and family.  Overall, I'm glad I had a chance to read this one and will definitely share it with others.