Monday, May 30, 2016

FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS by Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over Sideways
*Special thanks to Scholastic Press for a review copy of FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS.

I have long been a fan of author Jordan Sonnenblick.  DRUMS, GIRLS & DANGEROUS PIE is one of the first books I read aloud to my 8th graders.  It convinced me of the value of sharing books aloud as a way to involve older readers.  FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS, due for release in September 2016, is Sonnenblick at his best!

Claire's life isn't going like she had hoped.  In band she is being hassled by Ryder.  He is constantly tormenting her about her second chair seat in the saxophone section.  It's almost time for seat challenges, and he dares her to try to take first chair.

Older brother Matthew has a reputation of being just about perfect.  Entering eighth grade with the shadow of his straight A average is pressure she just doesn't need right now.

As a dedicated dance student, when Claire receives the news that her best friends at the dance studio are being moved up to the high school age group and she is being left behind, she is convinced that life is not fair.  But all these irritating things become minor annoyances one September morning.

Claire is at the kitchen table trying to forget an argument she recently had with her father.  Suddenly the table is thrust viciously in her direction.  She looks up to protest just as her father slumps dramatically to his side.  His face looks strange and garbled words come from his mouth.  Claire knows this is a medical emergency and jumps into action.  She dials 911 and soon finds herself in the front seat of an ambulance with her father strapped to a gurney in the back.  What follows changes Claire's family in ways she never imagined.

Sonnenblick drama interspersed with his trademark humor will keep readers glued to FALLING OVER SIDEWAYS.  Be sure to watch for this one in bookstores this fall.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

LILY AND DUNKIN by Donna Gephart

Lily and Dunkin
Dunkin has just moved from New Jersey to Florida.  While walking in his neighborhood, he sees a blue-eyed girl in a pretty red dress.  On his first day at his new school, he meets a boy named Tim.  There is something strangely familiar about Tim, but Dunkin isn't quite sure what.

Tim McGrother frequently feels like he is living a double life.  Deep down he has always identified as a girl, but his body identifies him as a boy.  His mother and sister recognize the girl and call her Lily, but his father insists that he is Tim and should be living as the boy he recognizes as his son.

Dunkin is fighting to fit in and be comfortable in his new home.  With his father gone, he relies on his mother and grandmother, but he longs for a friend.  His mother has been great since they moved, letting him have his own space and even letting him be responsible for taking his daily medication.  But, when Dunkin finds himself part of the basketball team and hanging with kids he sees as popular, he begins to think his medicine is slowing him down.

Tim desperately wants to live as Lily, but the taunting and teasing he endures every day while living as a boy, have him too frightened to be the person he truly is.  The only place he feels comfortable is sitting up in the old banyan tree by the library.  It's a place filled with memories of his grandfather.  Tim even named the tree Bob.  When a sign suddenly appears announcing the tree will be cut down for a new park, Tim feels like his world is crumbling.

Dunkin and Lily could be so good for each, but will they discover the friendship waiting for them?

Author Donna Gephart tackles two huge issues in LILY AND DUNKIN.  Lily is transgender and Dunkin has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Personal experience and exhaustive research combine to make this a truthful and moving read.  Be sure to check this one out from your local library or find a copy at the nearest bookstore.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

NOWHERE TO RUN by Claire J. Griffin

Nowhere to Run
Thank you to author Claire J. Griffin for this copy of NOWHERE TO RUN.

When Daddy Lewis died of a heart attack, Calvin promised his mother he would stay out of trouble and graduate from high school.  He has another personal goal which is to win the 100-meter dash at the championship track meet.  But, staying on the straight and narrow isn't always easy.

Calvin's best friend Deej is mixed up with some bad people, and friendship loyalty threatens to pull Calvin into Deej's world.  First it is a false accusation at school that gets both teens suspended for a week. 

Calvin does his time at home and returns to school to fulfill his promise and make his mother proud.  Deej, on the other hand, comes to school less and less and finally drops out entirely.  Their friendship seems to have ended as well until a late night call from Deej that involves Calvin in a situation that could cost him everything.

Author Claire J. Griffin takes readers into the world of an underprivileged inner city neighborhood where teens attend a rundown high school, live in broken homes where parents struggle to make ends meet, and try desperately to avoid gang involvement.  Calvin sees how life can look when he meets Junior, a beautiful girl with an over-protective father, but their worlds may be too different to make a relationship work.  At just over 100 pages, NOWHERE TO RUN is a quick read perfect for reluctant readers, but well developed enough to satisfy any reader.

HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR by John Corey Whaley

Highly Illogical Behavior
It has been three years since sixteen year old Solomon Reed has left his house.  What started as random panic attacks led to the awful day in eighth grade when Solomon stripped off his clothes and sat down in the fountain in front of his middle school.  After that, full-blown agoraphobia has kept Solomon from interacting with anyone except his understanding parents.

Lisa Prayton remembers the day Solomon parked himself in the school fountain.  She remembers the taunts and jeers from the rest of the students, and then how quickly they all forgot about Solomon. 

Now Lisa is trying to find Solomon.  She has an idea and Solomon holds a key role in the plan.  Lisa dreams of getting a full scholarship to a college known for their great psychology program.  If she writes the winning essay in their annual contest, money for college won't be a problem.  The topic of the essay contest is a personal experience with mental illness.

It starts with a letter to Solomon.  In it she offers to visit him and extends her hand in friendship.  Lisa manages to give the letter to his mother and hopes she will deliver it.

Solomon thinks this strange girl might be a bit nuts, but he agrees to allow her to enter his home and his world.  It only takes one conversation for the two of them to hit it off.  Lisa's plan is off and running.  She hopes to continue visiting Solomon and effect a "cure" that she can write about in her essay.  It should be a sure winner and earn her the scholarship.

Award winning author John Corey Whaley has written a sure winner.  HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOR explores the truth about friendship and its power to connect people and change lives.

Monday, May 16, 2016

I, WITNESS by Norah McClintock and Mike Deas

I, Witness
Thanks to Nevercountedout.com I was able to read I, WITNESS and share it with my students.

Blood splashes across stark black & white images in this graphic novel by Norah McClintock and Mike Deas. 

Boone seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  When he and a friend witness the death of another teen, Boone is questioned by the police as well as his friends and the family of the victim.  Swearing he didn't see a thing doesn't answer their questions and now he is facing threats of his own.

The heat from the first incident has barely died down when Boone and his friend are caught by fire in a drive-by shooting.  Boone is injured, but his good friend dies.  Once again the questions fly.  What did Boone see?  Is he not talking because he is protecting someone?

Harassed at school and pressured by the victims' families, Boone decides things have to change.  He has an idea of who might be responsible, but can he figure it out before he becomes the next victim?

Action packed images add intensity to this neighborhood drama.  Readers will be on the edge of their of their seats as Boone tries to find the killer before another life is lost.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I WOKE UP DEAD AT THE MALL by Judy Sheehan

I Woke Up Dead at the Mall
In the past I have admitted to purchasing a book solely because of the cover.  You know, the judging a book by the cover thing.  Well, I picked this one up because of the title.  How could I pass up a book called I WOKE UP DEAD AT THE MALL?

Sarah is sixteen, and she is pretty shocked when she wakes up dead in the Mall of America.  According to Bertha who welcomes her, Sarah has been murdered.  Bertha also informs her that all murdered teens end up at the mall.

Who would murder her and why?  She was just a regular teen, living a boring life.  She didn't live in dangerous neighborhood.  She didn't commit crimes or hang out with unsavory companions.  The only thing different about her life was her father's recent marriage to a woman named Karen. 

Sarah joins other dead souls in the mall.  One floor is reserved just for them.  They are able to shop until they drop and eat anything and everything at the food court.  Ideally, given the right amount of time, they "wake up" and are ready to move on. 

Sarah meets Lacey, Alice, Declan, and Nick.  Each one shares the story of their deaths and each seeks the answers needed to move on.  When Sarah discovers that her new stepmother might be her murderer, she also learns that her father could be the woman's next victim.  Do the rules of the mall allow her to return to earth to warn him?  Will her new friends be able to help her?

Author Judy Sheehan's I WOKE UP DEAD AT THE MALL is a quirky journey that will give readers a look at what might await them in the afterlife.  Just like life, death comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and everyone's story is different.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

THIS WAY HOME by Wes Moore with Shawn Goodman

This Way Home
Being recruited to play basketball at the college level is the only way out of a bad situation for Elijah Thomas.  His father bailed on his mother when Elijah was only two years old.  Since then his mother has worked two jobs to make ends meet.

Junior year has ended and Elijah and his two best friends are planning to compete in a local adult basketball tournament.  Winning could earn them $3,000.  Elijah and Dylan are thrilled when Michael shows up with three shoeboxes.  Three awesome pairs of Jordan's that should have them running circles around their opponents.  A few days later, Michael appears with three incredible jerseys.  Well, they are incredible until Elijah eyes the small but highly noticeable patch that represents the Blood Street Nation gang.

When Elijah and Dylan question Michael, he assures them it is no big deal.  There's a guy named Money who simply wants to make sure they are lookin' good when they win the tournament and the big money.  Although, wearing the gang's colors seems dangerous, the three teammates push aside their concerns and prepare to play.

Shortly before the big tourney begins, a local boy is shot.  The neighborhood is on edge, especially Elijah's mom, and when she overhears a kid talking about the patch on the new jerseys, she is furious.  Elijah has always managed to stay out of trouble on the street, but hooking up with Blood Street Nation in any way can only end in disaster.

Authors Wes Moore and Shawn Goodman weave a story about the threat of gang involvement for young men trying to find their way out of the poverty of inner city life.  THIS WAY HOME offers enough basketball action for sports fans and enough drama for other readers.  Short chapters keep the story moving and crisp action will capture and hold the attention of even reluctant readers.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

SKYSCRAPING by Cordelia Jensen

Skyscraping
A big thank you to Nevercountedout.com for a copy of this book.  My students and I have truly enjoyed it.

It's 1993 and Mira is about to experience a roller coaster of a senior year.  No doubt headed for a great college and a promising future, Mira is editor of the yearbook and respected by her peers.  Living in New York City means there's never a dull moment.

Everything in Mira's life begins to unravel the day she comes home to discover her father in bed with another man.  When her parents sit down with Mira and her younger sister April, they explain that they have had an open marriage for years.  Interpreting her parents' relationship as a sham, Mira begins to rebel.  If they can live what she perceives as a dishonest life, why should she have to follow the rules?

Mira turns to risky behavior and neglects many of her responsibilities.  She is kicked off the yearbook staff and her grades drop.  Wanting nothing more than to escape the city and her family, she insists on visiting small colleges in tiny towns instead of following the wishes and dreams she previously shared with her father.

Mira's world threatens to collapse completely when her father announces that he is HIV positive.  His health begins to deteriorate and as 1994 begins he is diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.  Soon after, his doctor gives him one month to live.  As reality sinks in, Mira understands exactly what she has to lose.  Feelings of anger turn into a desperation to make every moment count.

Author Cordelia Jensen explores the emotions and passions of a family facing an uncertain future.  This novel written in verse will pull readers into the lives of Mira's family and won't let go.  Fear, frustration, and finding meaning in what fate presents combine to make this one powerful read.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

THE TRUTH by Jeffry W. Johnston

The Truth

Three years ago Chris and younger brother Devon lost their father.  He was a police officer, and he died saving the life of another child.  Even though three years have passed, Chris still has trouble understanding why his father did the unthinkable, put down his gun, and then was forced to step in between a little girl and the man who was threatening to shoot her. 

Now Chris has had to step up and be the man of the family.  He learned exactly what that meant eight nights ago when an intruder entered their home.  Chris and Devon were home alone since their mother was working late.  Chris heard noises downstairs.  Before he headed down to check, he took the gun from his mother's nightstand and told Devon to stay upstairs.

Entering the kitchen, Chris glimpses a gun in the hand of the intruder and he fires.  The next thing he knows, he is staring down at what appears to be a kid no older than thirteen.  Chris watches as the kid bleeds to death on the kitchen floor.

According to police, the shooting was clearly self-defense, but now Chris finds himself facing the older brother of his victim.  Derek is demanding the truth.  He wants to know what really happened. 

Through "Now" and "Then" alternating chapters, author Jeffry W. Johnston tells a chilling story about just how far one brother might go to protect another.  THE TRUTH can definitely be described with phrases like "a real page-turner" and "edge-of-your-seat action."  The plot twist at the end took this reader completely by surprise.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

CHARACTER, DRIVEN by David Lubar

Character, Driven
A book written in the first person narrative style indicates that the story is being told by one of the characters in the book.  In most such stories, readers know that the author is telling the story by voicing the characters thoughts.  CHARACTER, DRIVEN by David Lubar had me feeling differently.  Cliff tells the story, and I had a definite feeling that Cliff frequently surprised author David Lubar with the direction of his thoughts.  This novel feels as if it was literally "character driven."

Maybe I'm wrong about what I wrote in the paragraph above, but having given writing assignments to my high school students encouraging them to let the character take over, and having experienced the phenomenon when working on my own writing, I have to wonder if Lubar felt pulled through this story by Cliff himself.

Cliff is seventeen and will be graduating soon.  He is not part of the cool crowd, in fact, he is the polar opposite.  Cliff admits being told by a girl, "You're not a bad guy, But you're just so far from cool in every way, I can't get sucked into anything social with you.  I would never wash it off."

His plans for the future are sketchy at best.  His father has made it perfectly clear that upon turning eighteen, Cliff will be on his own.  Not a surprise considering it's been years since Cliff has done anything that has pleased his old man.  Cliff's only champion during what he frequently refers to as his "deformative years," has been his mother.

Most of Cliff's efforts revolve around trying to keep the peace at home and find a girl friend.  He has dreams of dating the new girl, Jillian.  He worships her from afar.  They share two classes together, and every day he hopes to make contact.  When he isn't pining after Jillian, he is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

CHARACTER, DRIVEN the teenage male perspective in stark, sarcastic frankness.  Lubar presents high school life in the same humorous, ironic tone as he did in SLEEPING FRESHMEN NEVER LIE.  Fans are sure to be pleased by this new release.