Tuesday, June 30, 2015

LAUGHING AT MY NIGHTMARE by Shane Burcaw

Laughing at My Nightmare
Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy as a toddler, Shane Burcaw has spent almost his entire life in a wheelchair.  The disease causes a wasting away of muscle tissue causing increased weakness.  Shane made a choice early in his challenging life not to let his condition or his wheelchair change who he truly is as a person.  He is now in his early twenties, president of his own non-profit organization, and making a difference in the lives of others by embracing the idea that facing life with laughter works wonders.

In LAUGHING AT MY NIGHTMARE, Shane shares the good, the bad, and the ugly in his lifelong battle with a debilitating illness.  He expresses his gratitude to his parents and younger brother for treating him just like anyone else and believing he can do anything anyone else can do.  Shane attended public school and excelled despite the fact that he was admittedly goofing off most of the time.  His determination and creativity allowed him to participate in activities with his able-bodied friends and classmates which earned him their praise and acceptance.  He went on to attend college and graduated from Moravian College with a degree in English.

Shane discusses everything - his medical treatment, the help he requires with his physical needs, his emotional struggles, and complications in the area of relationships and physical intimacy.  He is candid, blunt, and of course, humorous to the point that readers will be chuckling aloud.  The intent of his story is to inspire others and encourage them to face challenges with laughter instead of tears.

I highly recommend LAUGHING AT MY NIGHTMARE.  To me it strongly resembles a teenage version of TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE as it emphasizes the positive in even the most negative of circumstances.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

THE HOUSE YOU PASS ON THE WAY by Jacqueline Woodson

The House You Pass on the Way"I'm me.  That's all."  That's the attitude that helped Staggerlee get by in a small, Southern town called Sweet Gum.  Her grandparents were famous entertainers, and after their tragic deaths, there was a memorial erected in their honor.  But even famous ancestors didn't make up for the fact that Staggerlee and her siblings were the product of a mixed-race marriage.

Her daddy was black like most of the people in Sweet Gum, but her mama was one of only a handful of white people.  Staggerlee didn't mind who she was, at least not until she entered middle school.  Known as a loner, she wasn't bothered by her biracial heritage, but rather by a deeper feeling that began with the onset of puberty.  Staggerlee was more interested in girls than in boys.  A surprise kiss with Hazel in a field of blue cornflowers thrilled her beyond belief.

Hoping she had discovered a kindred soul, Staggerlee was devastated when Hazel's reaction to their encounter was to shun her and join up with the other popular kids, leaving Staggerlee alone once more.  Happily, the summer between middle school and high school brought an unexpected visitor.  A long lost cousin was sent to visit Sweet Gum for the summer holiday.  It didn't take the two girls long to discover they had more in common than being cousins.  For the first time Staggerlee felt she had a true friend.

Three time Newbery Honor author Jacqueline Woodson published this book in 1997.  Although it doesn't seem that long ago to this seasoned reader, Woodson's story holds up well and should be of value to today's teen readers.  THE HOUSE YOU PASS ON THE WAY is worth checking out as a middle grade read for those questioning their place in the world around them.

Friday, June 26, 2015

THE CEMETERY BOYS by Heather Brewer

The Cemetery BoysStephen can't believe his father says they are moving from Denver to some podunk town in Michigan.  Medical bills for Stephen's mother are piling up and have depleted the family's entire savings.  According to Stephen's dad, moving back to Michigan to live with Stephen's paternal grandmother is their only option.  Stephen knows that means leaving his mother in the mental health facility in Denver, but his dad assures him they will move her closer as soon as possible.

One would think moving in with a grandmother during stressful times would be helpful, but the moment Stephen lays eyes on his grandmother, he knows she hates that they have arrived.  As his father begins looking for work, Stephen tries to stay away from the house as much as possible.  He soon meets a few guys who invite him to hang out with them at the Playground, their nickname for the local cemetery.

While hanging out with the guys, Stephen learns of a local legend involving the Winged Ones.  These giant winged creatures appear from time to time, and according to the tale, must be appeased with a human sacrifice so the town can avoid impending hard times.  It all seems a bit farfetched, but even Cara, the beautiful sister of one of Stephen's new friends, argues that the Winged Ones really do exist.

Stephen thinks the whole town is creepy, and when he realizes that Cara's twin brother Devon has an unnatural power over the rest of the guys who hang out at the cemetery, Stephen decides he needs to take action.  Can he convince the others that Devon is out for blood?  Or will Devon reveal that someone else is actually connected to the Winged Ones and their power over the town?

Author Heather Brewer deftly combines reality and fantasy in this thrilling tale.  She captures Stephen's desire to become part of the group and at the same time protect himself from the all-consuming power that has the rest of this small town mesmerized.  THE CEMETERY BOYS is intriguing and a bit frightening and a great summer read!

WANDERING SON #1 by Shimura Takako

Wandering Son: Book One WANDERING SON by Shimura Takako is an example of LGBTQ manga.  Published in the pure manga style, reading from back to front and top right to bottom left, traditional manga fans will find it to their liking. 

Two fifth graders entering puberty support each other in their transgender exploration.  Both come from loving, supportive families, but both face bullies at school as they begin to express their true selves.

Using humor and sensitivity, Takako presents a unique combination of text and artwork that will speak to young readers and perhaps help answer important questions.  This manga series currently contains 8 volumes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

BLOOD WILL TELL by April Henry

Blood Will Tell (Point Last Seen Series #2)The SAR (Search & Rescue) group is back!  Author April Henry once again does her mystery magic in BLOOD WILL TELL.

Nick gets a call that describes a missing seven year old girl.  He and the rest of the SAR team gather for instructions and begin the search.  When the little girl shows up safe and sound, everyone is relieved until she suddenly streaks off right into the path of an oncoming pickup truck.  Her body flies through the air and lands with a sickening thud.  Nick temporarily loses it when he sees glistening, white bone protruding from the little girl's leg.  After vomiting in the bushes, Nick gathers his wits and jumps into the action to stabilize the seven year old's neck until the EMS workers arrive.  How's that for an attention-grabbing start?

The SAR team barely has time to recover when the next call comes in.  This time the body of a young woman was discovered in a ditch, and Nick finds himself crawling on his hands and knees alongside his partners as they look for trace evidence that will hopefully catch the woman's killer.  What no one expects is that Nick will soon be accused of committing the crime.  Can he convince the cops that the DNA found on the victim is not really his?  And, will he be able to deal with the life-changing secret that DNA sample reveals?

Through alternating voices, Henry takes her readers into the minds of multiple characters whose individual issues and personal problems add depth and undertone that make BLOOD WILL TELL a real page-turner.  Her red herrings will lead readers down numerous paths in not only the murder investigation, but also into the lives of the SAR team members themselves.  This novel is the second in the Point Last Seen mystery series.  If you haven't already, be sure to check out the first book titled THE BODY IN THE WOODS.

Monday, June 22, 2015

THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH by Bill Konigsberg

The Porcupine of TruthFor Carson Smith it's bad enough being forced to spend the summer in Billings, Montana, but when it means reuniting with the dying father he hasn't seen since he was three years old, Carson figures it will be one long summer.  When his mother suggested this "vacation" from their home in New York City, Carson never dreamed it could completely change his life. 

Upon arrival in Billings, Carson's mother drops him off at the Billings Zoo.  It's not much of a surprise that the zoo has virtually no animals.  As Carson wanders in search of the few zoo inmates, he recognizes the symbolic nature of his quest.  For some time now Carson has had overwhelming feelings of loneliness.  His mother, a school counselor, is more interested in "counseling" than in mothering.  She doesn't understand Carson's shy ways or his rather oddball sense of humor.  He is pretty sure hanging around with a dying alcoholic in Billings isn't going to measurably improve his circumstances.

Stumbling across an incredibly beautiful girl who has been camping out at the zoo, seems like an amazing miracle.  She is Aisha.  She not only beautiful, but intelligent and funny, and also a lesbian.  The latter news, recently revealed to her father, is why she is sleeping in the zoo.  Being strongly religious, his reaction to the news was to kick his daughter out of the house.  Aisha tells Carson she has been couch-surfing, sleeping in her car, and now she's found the nearly deserted zoo to be a convenient resting place.

Carson shares his own tale of woe, and then on the spur of the moment, invites Aisha to crash in his father's basement.  Surprisingly, this is approved by both Carson's mother and father.  Aisha arrives with her meager possessions, and suddenly, Carson's life is not as lonely as before.

Details from Carson's father's past gradually begin to reveal themselves, and the two teens become intrigued with figuring out the reason Carson's grandfather mysteriously abandoned his young family decades earlier.  Maybe if Carson can understand what happened between his father and grandfather, it will help make sense of the reason his father turned to alcohol and didn't protest when Carson's mother chose to leave and start a new life in NYC. 

Author Bill Konigsberg takes his readers on a journey with Carson and Aisha that combines mystery, humor, and the search of answers many face as they try to navigate an often confusing and angry world.  THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH is a must-read!

Friday, June 19, 2015

POACHED by Stuart Gibbs

PoachedI thought BELLY UP by Stuart Gibbs was terrifically hilarious when I read it a few years ago so I decided to try another one of his books. 

Teddy is back solving mysteries at FunJungle and causing havoc in the process.  Living at a zoo evidently isn't exciting enough for Teddy.  His penchant for playing practical jokes has gotten him in some hot water in the past, but the occasion to investigate the kidnapping of the zoo's borrowed koala, Teddy takes things very seriously.

When it is revealed that Teddy is the prime suspect in Kazoo's disappearance, he knows he must take things into his own hands.  He is suddenly extremely busy dealing with Large Marge, a security guard out to get him, and handling a bully named Vance and his sidekicks who are harassing him at school and at the zoo.  Can he find the kidnapper before the koala starves?  Is it a disgruntled employee or one of the keepers hoping to strike it rich with a huge ransom?

POACHED is classic Stuart Gibbs with plenty of humor, non-stop action sequences, and amateur sleuthing.  It is perfect for middle grade readers looking for a fast, fun read.

Monday, June 15, 2015

SAINT ANYTHING by Sarah Dessen

Saint AnythingSydney feels invisible.  Her parents are completely wrapped up in her brother Peyton's life since the accident.  No, he wasn't the victim, although, Sydney sometimes thinks her mother has forgotten that.

After several stints in rehab for drugs and alcohol addiction, Peyton was driving drunk and hit a boy on a bicycle, leaving the boy paralyzed from the waist down.  Sydney vividly remembers the trial and conviction, and now she's living with a brother serving time in prison.  Her mother is focused on Peyton's rehabilitation, and her father is focused on paying lawyers and making sure his wife doesn't fall apart.

Things begin to look up a bit when Sydney changes schools.  One afternoon after class, she stops for a slice of pizza at Seaside Pizza.  The pepperoni pizza is amazing, and besides that, she meets handsome Mac and quirky Layla.  Seaside and a pepperoni slice become a daily habit, and Layla becomes Sydney's new best friend. 

It is still tense at home, but Sydney finds that the Chatham family provides a welcome get-away from the stress and pressure she feels with her own parents.  Although she's a little more relaxed, the underlying guilt Sydney feels about her brother's role in the crippling of a young teen is something she knows she will eventually need to confront.  Will Sydney find the acceptance she seeks from her parents?  Will she be able to rekindle the childhood relationship she had with her brother even while he is locked up?

Author Sarah Dessen strikes again.  SAINT ANYTHING explores family relationships, love, and facing the consequences of our actions in this thought-provoking and heartfelt journey.  Dessen fans will speed read this one and no doubt return for more.  At least that's how one of my students responded telling me she loved it and read it twice in the less than a week.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

SEED by Lisa Heathfield

SeedSeed is the perfect place to live.  According to Papa S., Nature rules this idyllic community and worshipping Nature guides the lives of those who live there.  Pearl has lived in Seed her entire life.

The sunrises and sunsets are perfect, the vegetables grown are luscious and beautiful, and the honey is sweet.  Everyone shares in the work and the rewards as they sell their produce to those who live in the Outside.  The men of Seed spend their days in the barn doing engine work for those on the Outside. 

Pearl loves her life in Seed.  She is eagerly awaiting the day when she will become a Companion for Papa S.  She knows this is expected and has watched as other young girls have held the honor.  At the moment she is busy helping Elizabeth who will soon give birth to a new member of the Seed community.

When one of the Kindred arrives with a woman and two children from Outside, Pearl is excited.  No one from Outside has ever come to live among them.  The woman seems frightened and nervous, but Papa S. assures her she has made the right decision and that Nature will protect her and her children.  The little girl seems happy to be here, but the boy Ellis is reluctant to embrace the ways of Seed.  Pearl is inexplicably drawn to Ellis.  His constant questions about the ways of the community begin to raise Pearl's own questions and eventually doubts about the place she has always called home.

Author Lisa Heathfield paints a startling and uneasy picture of life in this cult-like community.  Readers will immediately connect with the innocent, na├»ve Pearl, and at the same time distrust the revered Papa S. and his controlling ways.  SEED explores a different theme than most new YA offerings.  Pick up a copy if you are looking for a bit of a change of pace.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

PAINLESS by S.A. Harazin

PainlessAgainst all odds, David Hart is still alive.  At age seventeen, he has lived longer than anyone ever expected.  David was diagnosed with CIPA, a congenital insensitivity to pain. 

David was abandoned by his mother shortly after his birth, and not long after that, his father, not ready for the immense responsibility of raising a child with this unusual condition, left David with his grandparents.  Growing up for David meant continuous monitoring since even a minor injury could result in a life-threatening situation.  Unable to sense outside temperature variations could cause David's internal temperature to spike or plummet resulting in seizures and even death if untreated.  For David breaking a bone cause absolutely no pain, so walking for days on a broken leg left David with a permanent limb and required him to walk with a cane. 

Playing with other children was a challenge when bumps and bruises threatened.  David also found it difficult to understand when others suffered pain.  All these concerns left David living a very protected life, but he is realizing at seventeen that he wants to experience what others take for granted.

When a longtime friend and companion announces he is leaving for college, a new trainee must be hired.  Meeting the new replacement, Luna, changes life for David.  She is fresh and interesting and challenges him to expand his limited world.  He embarks on completing a bucket list he never thought he had the courage to attempt in the past.

Author S.A. Harazin incorporates her medical knowledge as a registered nurse into David's unique story.  Readers will sense the loneliness and frustration David experiences as he tries to negotiate life as a normal teenager.  Each challenge and setback is filled with emotion and reveals David's ultimate determination to live life to its fullest.

Friday, June 5, 2015

INVISIBLE GIRL by Mariel Hemingway

Invisible GirlLooking for more non-fiction, particularly personal stories, I came across this new release.  Mariel Hemingway may be a bit of an unknown for current teen readers, but her story is a compelling one that speaks across generations.

INVISIBLE GIRL documents Hemingway's struggle to survive in a dysfunctional family famous enough to be hit by the occasional spotlight.  Both parents are alcoholics dealing with a rocky relationship for most of their married life.  Two older siblings are dealing with their own emotional and mental health issues.  That leaves Mariel to quietly fend for herself. 

Lonely for much of her young life, she struggled in school, not only with the subject matter, but also with fitting in and making long-lasting friendships.  Feeling unattractive and awkward, Mariel escaped into to make believe games and daydreams.  It seemed that just when things might begin to fall into place, her world was upended, forcing her to begin again.

Written in an easy, flowing style, INVISIBLE GIRL offers teens a peek into the not-so-perfect life of a woman who not only survived her teenage years, but went on to become quite accomplished.  I know I will have readers interested in this one.

GRACEFULLY GRAYSON by Ami Polonsky

Gracefully GraysonGrayson has been living with his aunt and uncle since his parents died in a car accident.  Always feeling a bit left out, Grayson, now in the sixth grade, is desperately trying to make friends and fit in at school.  His favorite teacher, who everyone calls Finn, encourages him to participate in the classroom and beyond, but it isn't until the announcement of the upcoming school play that Grayson truly decides to take a risk.

Tryouts for a play depicting the mythological story of Persephone have many students eager to read for a part.  Grayson knows the story and at first thinks he might tryout for the part of Zeus.  As he watches another boy read for that part, he realizes his true desire is to try for the part of Persephone. 

For as long as Grayson can remember, he has daydreamed about wearing girls' clothing.  In fact, every morning as he stands in front of the mirror, he tries to conjure up an image in which his baggy track pants morph into a flowing skirt.  With no one to confide in, Grayson struggles along hiding the person he truly is.

What if he successfully wins the lead female role in the play?  Will he have the courage to play the part, and what will be the consequences?

Author Ami Polonsky tackles a hot-button topic in GRACEFULLY GRAYSON.  She delicately paints a picture of Grayson's inner turmoil, his deep desires, and his never ending wish to please the parents he lost so suddenly.  This emotionally packed read definitely addresses a need in young adult literature.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A LIST OF THINGS THAT DIDN'T KILL ME: A Memoir by Jason Schmidt

A List of Things That Didn't Kill MeJason Schmidt begins his story with the memory of arriving home at the age of sixteen to find his father crawling around on the floor in a pool of his own blood.  Raised by this single father whose world revolved around drugs and gay men, Jason was faced with a daily struggle to survive.

Father and son moved from one unkempt home to another from Seattle to Eugene to San Francisco and back.  At times they were homeless or simply crashed with friends or acquaintances.  Constantly moving, meant different schools for Jason or no formal schooling at all.  Fortunately, he finally found himself in a high school that fit his needs and allowed him to graduate and go on to college despite a lack of parental guidance.

Jason describes endless time alone, forced to fend for himself.  The childhood illnesses and injuries that occur in most families, were potentially life-threatening for the young boy whose father was usually more interested in scoring his next drug deal than taking care of his son.  He witnessed his father's arrest and dealt with the AIDS/HIV diagnosis that would eventually take the man's life.

How does a young boy survive such a tumultuous childhood to become a fully functioning adult?  Jason Schmidt shares his very personal and touching experience with readers in this blunt, humorous, and fascinating memoir.  His courage and determination are clearly evident and are sure to inspire anyone who reads A LIST OF THINGS THAT DIDN'T KILL ME.