Monday, August 31, 2015

STICK by Michael Harmon

Let me start with the fact I have never read a book by Michael Harmon that I didn't like so I was excited to see his latest book on a recent trip to the bookstore.

Brett "Stick" and Preston have absolutely nothing in common.  Stick is a senior making plans for his future, hopefully at UCLA playing football.  Preston is a freshman and definitely not an athlete.  Their paths cross the day Stick witnesses several of his teammates bullying young Preston.  Witnessing raw eggs drop on the head of the skinny ninth grader as the football heroes crack up is a sight Stick can't get out of his mind.

Known as the best high school wide receiver in the state, Stick grew up loving football, but his passion for the game is waning.  His demanding coach, his obsessed father, and never-ending workouts have him questioning whether he should continue.  When Coach confronts him about his failing grade in math, the pressure is almost too much. 

Preston offers to tutor Stick, but the football star has already made a decision about his future in the game.  When Stick quits, he feels the wrath of both his father and his coach.  They insist that he is throwing away his life and don't care about the feelings that are behind his decision.

As Stick works through his football frustrations, he learns that others who surround him have their own demons and the ability to share the pain with someone who cares can sometimes make the suffering a bit easier.  Stick is empowered when he begins to understand what motivates people like his father, his coach, and his new friend Preston.

Author Michael Harmon's talent takes readers right into the hearts of his characters.  I cheered, laughed, gasped, and booed as I connected to the well-developed personalities of characters I either loved or hated.  STICK will not have time to collect even a particle of dust on the shelf in my classroom.  Can't wait to share it with my students.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

INTO THE DANGEROUS WORLD by Julie Chibbaro with art by JM Superville Sovak

Into the Dangerous World
Author Julie Chibbaro and her artist husband JM Superville Sovak team up to create this unique YA novel.  Filled with artistic references and bold artwork, INTO THE DANGEROUS WORLD features a teen determined to achieve fame as an artist.

Aurora's protected life in a rural commune suddenly comes to an end when her mentally unstable father sets fire to the group's home.  A frustrated artist, he dies in the flames he ignited, leaving his wife and two daughters homeless.  Aurora, Marilyn, and their mother move into one-room accommodations in New York City.  The girls start school as their mother tries to find a way for them to survive.

As Aurora explores her new world, she is fascinated by the graffiti she sees on almost every city surface.  She is inspired by the colorful tags and is determined to leave her own unique mark on the city.  Meeting Trey and his crew known as Noise Ink may give her the perfect opportunity to learn this new style.

Despite warnings from her mother and the owner of a local art supply store, Aurora starts running with the crew.  She follows them to back alleys, abandoned buildings, and even deep into the subway train tunnels as she creates art with spray cans, stencils, and paste.  All the while Aurora listens to the voice of her dead father hoping that she can live up to his expectations and become the artist he thought she could be.

INTO THE DANGEROUS WORLD focuses on an art form that most would consider acts of vandalism.  Seeing Aurora's appreciation of famous artists of the past, readers will realize that urban art like graffiti may have more value than first meets the eye. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Sophomores and Other Oxymorons
Knowing how popular David Lubar's SLEEPING FRESHMEN NEVER LIE has been with my students, I didn't hesitate to pick up a copy of SOPHOMORES AND OTHER OXYMORONS as soon as it hit the bookstore.  In my opinion, the continuing high school adventures of Scott Hudson did not disappoint.

Things have definitely changed since the arrival of Scott's baby brother Sean.  Other than the fact that the little guy is usually loud, moist, and smelly, he is kind of cute.  Scott's father is still hoping to open his own garage, his older brother's band is enjoying some success, and it looks like Scott may soon have a sister-in-law.

With high hopes for sophomore year, Scott is determined to advance his friend relationship with Lee to a romantic level.  He is looking forward to contributing some high quality writing to the school paper.  He also has every intention of keeping his grades up and his prospects for a great future open.

Day one of sophomore year begins on the bus with an annoying freshman in need of Scott's advice and protection.  This is followed by a disgusting encounter with a partially dissected cat resulting in an embarrassing bout of public vomiting.  Worst of all, in English, the class that should be the highlight of his day, Scott discovers that the teacher most definitely doesn't appreciate his wit and wisdom.  It's beginning to look like sophomore year might not be all Scott dreamed it would be.

David Lubar packs in plenty of humor and tons of word play for readers as they navigate sophomore year with Scott and friends.  Quirky characters, non-stop action, and witty vocabulary will have readers laughing all the way through this hilarious page-turner.  Will Scott return for junior year in the near future?  We can only hope.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD by Jennifer Wolf Kam

Devin Rhodes Is Dead

When your best friend suddenly dies under suspicious circumstances, the guilt can be overwhelming.  Cass believes she may possess the secret to the death of her best friend Devin.  The problem is there is no one she can talk to about it. 

Devin's grieving mother would love to talk about it with Cass, but how can you admit to a dead girl's mother that you may have had something to do with her precious daughter's death. 

Cass's own mother is trying to convince Cass to get on with her life.  Yes, she should feel badly about Devin's death, but the best way to cope is to get back out there and create some new friendships.

Marcus seems to want to help Cass, but he is part of the reason she feels guilty about what happened.  If she hadn't been marveling about the fact that a boy actually liked her, she might have paid more attention to Devin in her time of need.

Author Jennifer Wolf Kam presents Cass's story in alternating chapters set Before and After Devin's death.  Cass's view of the events surrounding the loss of her best friend illustrate both the positive and negative power involved in friendship.  Coming to terms with death and learning to be comfortable about moving on is not an easy task.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

GATED by Amy Christine Parker

Lyla and her parents started life over when they joined the Community.  Recruited by the group's leader, Pioneer, after the disappearance of their older daughter,  Lyla's parents hoped to find peace in the gated neighborhood located in a rural area outside the city.  Losing her sister completely changed Lyla's parents and left her with overwhelming feelings of guilt.

Recently, promised to a young man in the Community, Lyla is preparing for what Pioneer predicts will be the end of the world.  She was happy to be betrothed to someone she considers to be her best friend.  It will certainly make living in the Silo for the next five years a bit easier.  According to Pioneer, there are only a few months left before the world outside their inner circle will be destroyed requiring their chosen few to enter the underground safety of the Silo where they will remain until it is deemed safe by the Brethren to return to the surface.

All is well until a visitor from the outside comes to the Community.  His name is Cody, and Lyla is asked by Pioneer to give the young man a tour while he has a meeting with Cody's father.  Lyla is immediately drawn to the handsome young man, and it appears that he feels the same.  After he leaves, she is barely able to focus on the tasks required to prepare for the coming Armageddon.  Will she have a chance to see Cody again before the world ends?  Why did meeting and talking with him lead to so many questions about Pioneer and his belief that only those in the Community were chosen to survive the mass destruction?

GATED by Amy Christine Parker is an intense tale of a cult-like group convinced by a persuasive leader that their isolated life will guarantee their survival.  Readers will learn to just what extent Pioneer's power and mind control will influence Lyla's parents and friends.  I will definitely be picking up a copy of ASTRAY, the sequel in the GATED series.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

DEAR NOBODY: THE TRUE DIARY OF MARY ROSE edited by Gillian McCain & Legs McNeil

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose
DEAR NOBODY represents the real diary entries of a teenage girl, Mary Rose.  Left behind after her death, the entries chronicle her struggle with bullying, drugs and alcohol, and a fatal condition that guaranteed she wouldn't live beyond early adulthood.

The writing begins in late fall, 1996, and ends in 1999.  Early entries focus on Mary Rose's attempts to escape the pain and loneliness of her disease, cystic fibrosis.  Also, living with an alcoholic mother allowed Mary Rose more freedom than the average teen. 

Having no true friendships, Mary Rose often gravitated to larger groups such as the rowdy teens who hung out late into the night and partied with booze, pot, and harder drugs.  Participating in activities with these kids led Mary Rose down a rough path.  She found using drugs helped take her mind off family issues and her illness.  Of course, abusing alcohol and drugs was the last thing her body needed, and she was frequently hospitalized or sent to drug treatment programs.

Mary Rose writes of her hopes for a cure and her dreams of finding a boyfriend who truly loves her.  She does tell of several romantic relationships, however, the young men were more motivated by her willingness to have sex than by any real feelings for Mary Rose.

Readers interested in books by Ellen Hopkins or books like GO ASK ALICE will find DEAR NOBODY to their liking.  The raw, gritty words directly from this troubled teen make for disturbing yet fascinating reading.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

WILD AWAKE by Hilary T. Smith

Wild Awake
Having recently read and enjoyed A SENSE OF THE INFINITE by Hilary T. Smith, I thought I would try her first book.  WILD AWAKE did not disappoint.  Smith's writing flows smoothly and draws me in quickly.

Kiri is home alone while her parents are taking a dream cruise.  Her plans are to eat a little, sleep when necessary, and practice, practice, practice for her upcoming performance at the International Young Pianists' Showcase.  In her spare time she will rehearse with her best friend and bandmate Lukas for the Battle of the Bands.

What Kiri didn't plan for was finding out the truth about her sister's death years ago.  She was only ten when her sister when Sukey died in a "car accident."  Kiri learns the truth when a stranger calls saying he has some of Sukey's belongings.  Without her parents for moral support, and unable to confide in Lukas about the devastating news, Kiri turns to a huge, young man who goes by the nickname Skunk.

Author Hilary T. Smith deftly handles love, loss, and disappointment in WILD AWAKE.  Although, Kiri's beliefs about her sister are tested, the things she learns help her better understand her parents, her often distant older brother, and most importantly, herself.  Smith successfully crafted a real roller coaster of emotions.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

NO SUCH PERSON by Caroline B. Cooney

No Such Person
Two sisters - Miranda, age fifteen, in love with the family cottage on the Connecticut River, and Lander, age twenty-two, totally focused on med school until she meets Jason.

NO SUCH PERSON begins with excitement on the Connecticut River.  A ski boat tows its skier into the path of an oncoming river barge.  The skier disappears under the huge vessel.  The boat operator doesn't seem particularly upset about the accident as he arrives at the Allerdon's dock and immediately begins to flirt with Lander.

Miranda witnessed the skiing accident along with others in her vacation community, however, she noticed something the rest did not.  She is fairly certain that Jason, the driver of the boat, intentionally steered into the path of the barge.  When she suggests this theory, Lander quickly rejects it saying that Miranda is always exaggerating and creating drama where there is none.

When Lander is later arrested for murder, the entire community is shocked, and Miranda vows to prove that Jason is the real criminal.  What follows is a complicated, twisted adventure as the younger sister attempts to exonerate the older sister despite the odds stacked against both.

Veteran YA author Caroline B. Cooney's newest release is the perfect mystery for teen readers.  The third person narrative alternates between Lander's horrendous experience locked up and accused of murder and Miranda's investigation and attempt to find the real murderer.  Filled with a wide range of colorful characters, interesting use of social media, and the unique bond between siblings, NO SUCH PERSON is sure to captivate Cooney's already huge fan base.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


fpoSet in an eating-disorder treatment center, PAPERWEIGHT is a realistic portrayal of teens dealing with conditions like anorexia and bulimia.  Stevie is seventeen.  The last year of her life has been focused on the loss of her brother Josh.  They were together in a car when a terrible accident claimed his life.

Stevie's problems with food started before the accident, but now she is using her eating disorder to control her feelings of guilt.  She is determined to avoid food until she eventually dies on the anniversary of her brother's death.  Her deteriorating physical condition has become obvious to her father so he has checking her into a 60 day treatment program.

Stevie doesn't want to successfully complete the treatment program.  Her goal doesn't include making friends and coming to terms with her eating disorder.  When she begins to bond with her roommate Ashley and connect with her treatment coach who she refers to as Shrink, conflicting emotions threaten to pull her over the edge even before the upcoming tragic anniversary.

Author Meg Haston realistically captures the complicated nature of eating disorders.  Since many who suffer from these conditions are caused by other underlying issues, treatment is tough and recovery is not a guarantee.  Readers will easily relate to Haston's true to life characters.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015



The Last Time We Say Goodbye
I read a couple of books while visiting my daughter in Kansas.  Here are a few words about both.

THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE by Cynthia Hand is about Lex.  Her younger brother committed suicide and she is riddled with guilt.  She always promised she would be there for him, and when she ignored his text message, she fears she let him down in the worst possible way. 

Described as perfect for readers who liked THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and IF I STAY, it deals with love and loss and moving on.

Eden West

In EDEN WEST by Pete Hautman, Jacob barely remembers living in the World beyond the twelve square mile area known as Nodd, the land of Grace.  A religious based cult, Nodd is populated by believers who live life waiting for the End Days.  They believe that they will be transported directly to heaven while the rest of the World will end in destruction.

While patrolling the perimeter of Nodd, Jacob meets Lynna.  Having been raised on land adjacent to cult property, she has always been curious about life there so she strikes up a conversation with Jacob.  He finds her fascinating, and the two agree to meet again the next time Jacob is checking fences. 

Jacob finds this modern, mysterious girl interesting, and he begins to question his life in Nodd.  Is their leader being honest with his followers?  Is the outside world really such an evil place?  Spending time with Lynna seems to be worth the risk of angering the leader.