Saturday, July 14, 2018

BAD CALL by Stephen Wallenfels

Bad Call
If you are looking for a thriller with several shocking surprises, then look no more. BAD CALL by Stephen Wallenfels is perfect.

Four private prep school tennis players are about to head out on a mountain camping trip. At the last minute one of the four backs out leaving room for soccer champ, Ellie. Now the group consists of best friends Ceo and Collin, teammate Grahame, and of course, Ellie.

Things are a bit rocky from the very start. A forest fire requires a change of plans which takes them in a different direction. No problem - that's why there's GPS. Ceo seems to be in charge since he proposed the adventure and provided most of the equipment for the trip.

The fact that no one in the group is a particularly skilled hiker along with the fact that each member of the party seems to have his/her own private agenda for making the trip, means the whole plan was probably doomed from the start.

When their phones are out of range, the GPS malfunctions, a bear appears to be stalking them, and a storm approaches, all four are having second thoughts about their journey. Only three will make the return trip. Who will it be?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

SHOOTER by Caroline Pignat


Alice, Isabelle, Hogan, and Xander end up in the same boys restroom when the Lockdown announcement is made over the PA. Hogan is dressed in the school mascot costume and not at all happy about it. Isabelle is concerned that a string of recent pranks will result in the principal following through on his threat to cancel all extracurricular events including the prom she has work so hard to plan. Alice is worried about her autistic brother and how he will respond to this sudden change in his routine. Xander continues snapping pictures without seeming to care about the potentially dangerous situation.

Isabelle's phone soon buzzes with a text from a friend hiding under a desk in the main office. The text describes the police arriving at the scene and the frightening fact that THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

At first it appears there is one shooter and he has been identified. There are sounds of gunfire and possibly firecrackers. What could be taking so long? Minutes tick by as the each of the students share their thoughts and fears.

When another text message from Isabelle's friend mentions the presence of a second shooter, one of the four bathroom prisoners reacts in a way that suggestions one of them might be involved. Now what should they do?

Author Caroline Pignat uses prose, poetry, text messages, and journal entries to chronicle the events of one hour in the lives of four grade 12 students as they struggle to survive an incident of gun violence in their school. SHOOTER is passionate and realistic from start to finish.

Monday, July 9, 2018

DIVE SMACK by Demetra Brodsky

Dive Smack

What happens when a history project reveals things about your life you never knew? DIVE SMACK by Demetra Brodsky takes readers on a wild ride with main character Theo Mackey. This book's thrilling plot will hold the attention of readers right to the very end.

Theo is busy trying to score a scholarship to Stanford with his springboard diving skills. He'd like to give all his attention to the sport, but life has other ideas. His history teacher has assigned a group project involving tracing his family tree. Theo's only access to his murky past is through his grandfather and his "uncle" Phil. Neither of those individuals seem particularly interesting in answering Theo's questions. Part of that might be because of his mother's unfortunate death when their family home burned to the ground. The fact that Theo had been messing around with matches on that fateful night has left him feeling tremendous guilt.

Theo's strange visions don't help matters either. PTSD has wiped any memory of the actual night of the fire, but from time to time, Theo imagines glimpses of his mother and a mysterious, long-haired girl. There must be some connection to what happened, but Theo can't quite pull it all together.

Filled with competitive diving references, stressful family relationships, sealed records, unnerving premonitions, and a mysterious mental facility, DIVE SMACK has a little something for everyone. This is definitely a thriller you won't want to miss.

Friday, June 22, 2018

BREAKOUT by Kate Messner

What happens when you learn that not everyone is who you think they are?

Nora Tucker is finishing her seventh grade year in Wolf Creek, New York. She has always lived in this small town with its quaint little stores, library, treehouses, and mountain view. She also knows that beyond the wall outside of town is the prison where her father is superintendent. When two inmates escape, Nora finds out in a few short weeks that things aren't always as they seem.

Nora and her friend Lizzie are excited about the start of summer, but first they have two weeks left of school. It is a surprise when a new girl named Elidee arrives with so little left of the school year. Nora learns that Elidee's brother is one of the inmates in the prison so Elidee and her mother have moved to Wolf Creek to be closer to him.

Everyone is looking forward to the end of the year traditions at the middle school. The most exciting event is Field Day and the Mad Mile. Relay teams run a cross country type course with the winning team earning the privilege of throwing water balloons at the school principal. Nora and Lizzie invite Elidee to be on their team since she has demonstrated her superior running ability in gym class.

Unfortunately, when the two inmates escape from the prison, all town events are cancelled, and everyone is left hanging out indoors or greatly modifying their activities. Watching her family, friends, and neighbors in this time of crisis, opens Nora's eyes to the fact that even when you think you know someone, you rarely know their full story.

BREAKOUT by Kate Messner is a unique tale told in a series of letters, recorded conversations, news articles, comics, poetry, and more. Readers will be amazed at how quickly they will come to like and even love some characters and dislike others. Messner also makes sure to let readers know that first impressions may lead to misinterpretations. BREAKOUT is perfect for middle grade readers, but older teens will find much to like as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

DEAR RACHEL MADDOW by Adrienne Kisner

Dear Rachel Maddow
Things haven't been going well for Brynn Harper. Her brother died of an overdose and her mother remarried to a real jerk. Brynn was an honor student with her sights set on college, but her grades have recently plummeted sending her to one of the remedial classrooms in the school's basement.

Her teacher knows she has potential and so do the two honor student tutors who volunteer their time helping the students in Brynn's classroom. One of the tutors, a new student, has the potential of being more than just a friend for Brynn.

A longtime fan of Rachel Maddow, Brynn writes an email to the MSNBC news star. It is supposed to simply check off a writing assignment for Mr. Grimm, but when Brynn actually receives an answer, she continues writing and storing each email in her drafts folder.

When an opportunity to become involved in student government catches Brynn's interest, she begins to question What Would Rachel Do? The emails become a place for Brynn to seek advice, express ideas, and unload about the abusive treatment she is experiencing at home. Even when things don't go the way she hopes, Brynn's imaginary communication with her hero fills a void and allows her to focus enough to begin raising her grades.

Debut author Adrienne Kisner has created a unique style that should appeal to YA readers. The email format and the contemporary comments about current politics offer great discussion starters.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

RESTART by Gordon Korman


RESTART by Gordon Korman takes a different look at bullying. It asks the question, "Once a bully, always a bully?"

When Chase falls off the roof of his family's home, the result is amnesia. He wakes up in the hospital to strange faces claiming to be family and friends. Chase doesn't even recognize his own face when he demands to see a mirror.

Everything about his life has changed. Because of a severe concussion, he isn't allowed to play football. He isn't sure he wants to play football, except all his father talks about is what a great player he was with chances for another state championship.

Chase has no memory of his former friends so he has to trust what they are telling him. Aaron and Bear try to remind him that they are his closest friends and that they are a team both on and off the field. But, when Chase learns that the three of them are serving community service time at the local nursing home, he has his doubts about exactly what kind of friends they really are.

Other kids at school seem to steer clear of Chase, and the more he learns about his past, the more he realizes he was a bully. In fact, Chase and his buddies Aaron and Bear are the reason one kid actually switched to another school. Could he really have been the instigator of the prank that blew up a baby grand piano?

Readers of Korman's RESTART will follow Chase as he tries to discover who he was and who he really wants to be. Some believe he has changed for the better, but others don't think that is possible.

Monday, June 11, 2018

DEEP WATER by Watt Key

Deep Water

Wow! I couldn't put this one down! Watt Key has outdone himself this time. I've been a fan since reading his first book ALABAMA MOON, and I didn't think it could get any better. DEEP WATER truly deserves the label "page turner."

Julie Sims has been scuba diving with her father for years. She may only be twelve, but she knows what she is doing in and around the water. Fortunately she's aboard on this particular charter dive because her father isn't feeling well. Julie has the task of escorting their two customers to the bottom to fish around a secret, artificial reef.

Confident that she can fill in for her father, Julie begins the descent with a father and son who have paid $2,000 to spear a few fish. As she nears the bottom, Julie notices that the anchor is not properly placed and fears the boat might break loose and drift without them. Her attempts to warn the clients fails and her worst fears come true.

Julie and the two other divers surface to find the boat has disappeared. What follows is a harrowing adventure involving the "bends", sea lice, dehydration, sharks, and more. Will Julie be able to keep her clients alive until help arrives? Will the lessons she's learned from her father be enough to guarantee a happy ending?

Readers of DEEP WATER will be holding their breath along with Julie. Just when it looks like she will have a bit of luck, mother nature rips it away. Perfect for summer reading or any time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


The Stars Beneath Our Feet

Wallace "Lolly" Rachpaul is still mourning the loss of his older brother. He and his mother are finding it difficult to move on after the tragedy.

To keep at least his hands busy, Lolly takes apart his collection of Lego kits and begins to create a model city. His imaginary world grows and grows until it outgrows the bedroom Lolly shared with his late brother.

When Lolly is invited to move his Lego building to the local after school center he attends, he meets Big Rose. She's rather odd and prefers to be alone, but she seems interested in Lolly's Lego structure. After watching him for weeks, she begins to build her own structures, some of which are remarkable replicas of famous New York City landmarks.

Living in the projects presents Lolly and his friends with dangerous elements and challenging situations, but Lolly's love of building and his newfound friendship help him deal with the loss of his brother and allow him to find new meaning through art.

Author David Barclay Moore deftly captures life in the inner city with his likeable characters and their unique artistic expression. A perfect, inspirational read for middle grade readers. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

MR. 60% by Clete Barrett Smith

Mr. 60%

Matt is a wizard at just getting by when it comes to school. His guidance counselor is amazed that he can consistently maintain a 60% in all his classes. What his teachers and counselor don't know is that Matt is the sole caregiver for his dying uncle.

Matt has another secret. He is dealing drugs to his fellow students. The money he makes is paying the rent and keeping his uncle supplied with morphine. Matt has a system all worked out and it has been treating him well, but everything is about to collapse.

An after school extracurricular requirement brings Matt together with Amanda. She's a loner like Matt, but she is able to see through Matt's tough exterior. When she finds out what is occupying his time outside of school, she steps in to help, no questions asked.

MR. 60% is a story about a determined teen willing to make sacrifices for the one person in his life who was there for him. Author Clete Barrett Smith tells a gritty tale that doesn't sugar-coat tragedy and the courage it takes to get through it. This is a powerful, quick read you won't want to miss.

A $500 HOUSE IN DETROIT by Drew Philp

A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City

I heard Drew Philp speak about his experience renovating an abandoned house in Detroit before I read his book. His verbal story was fascinating, and now I know that the written version is just as amazing. Drew's writing reads like fiction and held my attention to the very last page. 

Raised in a middle class home by parents who instilled a strong work ethic, Drew embarked on his journey in Detroit not knowing exactly what he was getting into. Buying a dilapidated house in an all but deserted neighborhood a few blocks from downtown Detroit was quite an undertaking. Drew did his research and was able to purchase the Queen Ann he had his eyes on for the minimum bid of $500.

His story recounts not only the hard work, but also the dangers of renovating a house in a crime riddled area of a major city. He brilliantly describes the people he met along the way. Some helped him by providing him a place to sleep or tools to use. Others were ready with suggestions and actual hands-on labor. There were some who made things difficult by blocking his progress or sabotaging the projects he worked hard to complete.

I was impressed by the Detroit history Drew included - how a once giant of a city fallen into ruin. The courage Drew and others displayed in taking back a neighborhood was inspiring. Their willingness to sacrifice comforts to do things right and not take advantage of mass marketing and commercialism reminded me of the wastefulness of most of us. I know I'm too comfortable in my safe, warm home to attempt what Drew accomplished, but his story has made me think about how I might make a difference in other ways.

Sunday, April 22, 2018


The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones

How can you pass up a book that has this opening line? "Ruby Hobbs came out of her room, dancing and singing, buck naked, again." Gotta take a look, right?

I have been a fan of Wendelin Van Draanen since reading her earlier book SWEAR TO HOWDY. It's the perfect book to grab the attention of middle school readers and hook them on the possibility of books. THE SECRET LIFE OF LINCOLN JONES is also such a book.

Lincoln and his mother have had to relocate. The reason - a man named Cliff. Lincoln's mother is determined that her son will never hide trembling under a bed again. Moving means a rundown apartment with no frills, a new school without Lincoln's old friends, and a new job with long hours for his mother.

School is awful, especially the bus ride every day. Lincoln is called names and pelted with tuna and other disgusting edible delights. The only person who speaks to him is Kandi Kain. Yep, that's really her name. She speaks to him way more than he likes, but he can't seem to discourage her.

After school every day Lincoln goes to Brookside, a residential facility for the elderly. As far as Lincoln is concerned, the people at Brookside are crazies. His mother doesn't like it when he calls them that, but the truth is most of them suffer from some form of dementia, and they act like loons. Lincoln does everything he can to keep the kids from knowing about where he goes every day after school.

Lincoln's life includes multiple secrets that are gradually revealed. Readers will enjoy the ride as they follow Lincoln through his adventures at school, at Brookside, and even in the rundown apartment building he now calls home. There's a lot for him to learn and a lot for readers to discuss in this thoughtful book by Wendelin Van Draanen.

P.S I MISS YOU by Jen Petro-Roy

P.S. I Miss You

Evie and her sister Cilla might not have been all that close over the years, but now that Cilla is gone, Evie is devastated. 

The girls have been raised in a strict Catholic home. When it is discovered that sixteen year old Cilla is pregnant, she is shipped off to live with Aunt Maureen. Evie knows Cilla claimes to love her boy friend and wantes to marry him, but Cilla was told that no sixteen year old could possibly know what it means to be in love. Evie is also informed that after Cilla has her baby, it will be put up for adoption and she will be attending a Catholic boarding school until she graduates.

Lost without her sister, Evie begins writing letters and sending them to Aunt Maureen. In the letters she pours out her feelings about the whole situation and begs Cilla to write back. As the months pass without any answering mail, Evie continues to write. She writes about her daily life, friends, activities, and thoughts and worries about the future. Still, Cilla doesn't answer.

It is amazing how author Jen Petro-Roy is able to weave together a tale about two sisters using only letters from one girl. Evie's letters are so passionate and heartfelt that readers come to know her as well as Cilla and their domineering parents. Although, I suspected some sort of major event would take place at some point in the letters, I was still surprised by the twist Petro-Roy presents. P.S. I MISS YOU is a great read for girls looking for something a bit different.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

LOSERS BRACKET by Chris Crutcher

Losers Bracket

Annie Boots lives with her foster family but longs to be able to fix her own family and live a normal life. Even though the couple who took her in make her feel like part of the family and have even offered to help her pay for college after she graduates next year, she still sneaks off to meet up with her crazy mother, her drug abusing half-sister, and her wild little nephew. 

One of the methods Annie has concocted to keep in touch with her bio family is to make sure her summer hoopster team is forced into the losers' bracket when they compete. This assures that she and her teammates play the maximum number of games so her relatives can come to watch the games. Crazy to some, but perfect for Annie's needs.

Readers of LOSERS BRACKET are sure to relate to Annie and her determination. Her desire to improve her life is admirable, as is her wish to stay connected to the people she came from. Throughout her story, readers can read the notes taken by Annie's therapist documenting her struggle to dodge the anger of her foster father who doesn't want her to associate with the family that has caused her so much pain and her often misplaced concern for her abusive mother. Thanks to a few supportive friends and her estranged mother's current boy friend, Annie is able to muddle through even when her little nephew "disappears."

LOSERS BRACKET is classic Chris Crutcher. It is easy to see that much of his life has been spent working with troubled teens. His love of literature is also evident in multiple references to books most of his fans will recognize. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

I HAVE LOST MY WAY by Gayle Forman

I Have Lost My Way (B&N Exclusive Edition)

Up and coming music sensation, Freya, tumbles from a bridge in a New York City park and falls on Nathaniel, and Harun, despite his reluctance, steps forward to help. Three strangers are now connected, and their adventure has just begun.

Freya is on her way to becoming a pop star. Discovered on the YouTube channel she and her sister started, Freya is being groomed by a well-known music manager. Unfortunately, in the middle of her recording session, she has suddenly lost her voice. Trips to specialists and therapists have not uncovered the problem, and the pressure to perform is overwhelming. On the day she meets Nathaniel and Harun, she believes she has lost her way and is about to give up.

After finally coming to terms with his true feelings and finally meeting his true love, Harun has been dumped. He feared coming out to his family which frustrated his boy friend James. James's reaction was to walk away and end the relationship. Harun now feels lost and would give anything to get James back.

Nathaniel's life has been anything but normal. When he chose to live with his bipolar father, he knew things wouldn't be easy, but he felt his father needed him. As his father disappeared into his mental illness, Nathaniel became more and more isolated from those who might have provided help. When his father accidentally overdoses, Nathaniel is left to find a way to move on. He is definitely lost.

I HAVE LOST MY WAY by Gayle Forman is one of the best books I've read so far this year. Her smooth yet intricate prose is perfect as she shapes the impromptu relationship that involves three desperate young people. Their experiences will ring true with readers even though their fateful meeting is one in a million. This is sure to be as popular as Forman's earlier books.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X

April is Poetry Month. THE POET X is the perfect choice to celebrate the power of words and poetry. Debut author Elizabeth Acevedo is now on my watch list. I can't wait to see what she gives to her readers next. 

Xiomara "Xio" is the daughter of Dominican immigrants. She and her twin brother are often referred to as miracle children since their parents are older than most of their peers' parents. Actually, Xaiver who Xio calls Twin is the true miracle. Born first, his delivery was easy and uneventful in comparison to Xio's breech entry into the world. Her mother often comments that she should have known that her daughter would prove to be a challenge.

Xio learns quickly she would need to protect herself, with her fists if necessary. She is tall and curvy and her woman's body attracts many unwelcome advances from boys and men. Her overprotective mother sees religion as the answer to protecting her Xio. Church several times a week as well as first communion classes are Xio's mother's idea of the proper activity for a high school girl. 

Fortunately, Xio has her best friend Caridad to help convince her parents that something like an occasional movie outing is safe for teenage girls. Twin's gift of a leather covered journal also provides relief for Xio. The poetry she spends hours penning lets her express herself and her frustrations. When she meets Aman, she is also able to record the new and exciting thoughts and feelings that come with young love.

Encouragement from Ms.Galiano, her English teacher, helps give Xio the confidence to deal with pressure from her mother as she learns the power of words in shaping who she hopes to become.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

THE DEAD INSIDE by Cyndy Etler

The Dead Inside: A True Story

THE DEAD INSIDE is the true story of Cyndy Etler's experience in a drug rehab facility called Straight, Inc. Centers for drug rehabilitation are necessary and useful facilities in battling today's drug and alcohol abuse, however, the cult-like, brainwashing methods of Straight, Inc. no doubt leave its residents scarred for life.

Cyndy begins her story with her fourteen year old attempts to survive the advances of her step-father while trying to fit in and be popular at school. Desperate for friendship, Cyndy made numerous poor choices that landed her in a group of older teens into drugs, alcohol, and sex. Cyndy wasn't tempted by the weed, pills, and alcohol and mostly faked her way through the parties where everyone was either high or drunk.

Sex was a different story. Fearful and disgusted by her step-father's advances, Cyndy found something comforting and also powerful about the effect she had on the older teen boys. Thinking she was forming real relationships, she gave herself completely to the attention.

When Cyndy's mother discovered her daughter's activity, she needs a way to get rid of the competition for her own husband's attention. She bought right into the ministry of Straight, Inc. and didn't mind that her daughter ended up there for over a year.

Cyndy reveals the helplessness and frustration of being pushed and shoved and ordered to perform senseless rituals for hours and hours at a time. Straight, Inc. eventually wears down its clients without truly treating their addictions. As the cover states, "The only way to get out is to give in." 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

STICK by Andrew Smith


Thirteen year old Stark McClellan is tall and skinny. That's why most people call him Stick. Another thing about Stick that catches the eye is the fact that he was born with only one ear. Most of the time he wears a cap since growing his hair long enough to cover it up isn't an option Stick's dad will allow.

On the outside Stick's family looks normal. Most people believe that Stick and his older brother Bosten live in a loving home with parents who are happily married. People don't know about the spare bedroom that serves as a torture chamber of sorts for Stick and Bosten if they break any of the crazy rules created by their parents. Not even Emily, Stick's best friend, or Paul, Bosten's best friend, know what life is really like for the two brothers.

When Stick and Bosten are sent to stay with their aunt over spring break, they learn that life can be very different. Their aunt takes them shopping so they can dress like normal teenage boys hanging out at the beach. She lets them sleep in and relax and introduces them to two friendly teens, Evan and Kim.

During their week with Aunt Dahlia, Stick and Bosten learn to surf. Wearing their wetsuits and learning the surfing lingo give the two a sense of what life is like away from their controlling parents.

Returning home, they find themselves in a new situation. Their parents have decided to divorce so the boys will now be living with their father. When it is discovered that Bosten has been living with a secret, he runs away. Stick feels his only recourse is to follow, but even though things at home are horrible, life on the road proves to be even worse.

STICK is a true page-turner by author Andrew Smith. Stick and Bosten grabbed my heart right from the start. I found myself cheering for them even when their choices were questionable. Their grit and determination are sure to inspire anyone lucky enough to pick up a copy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

MERCY RULE by Tom Leveen

Mercy Rule

In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this new release by author Tom Leveen provides a powerful read that should be shared with teens and adults alike. The story it tells reinforces the fact that every school is made up of a vast variety of individuals each with their own backgrounds and issues. As human beings we need to be more conscious of our interactions as we go about our daily lives. One supposedly innocent comment or act could be the trigger for someone dealing with more than we could ever imagine.

MERCY RULE takes readers into a typical high school. The students come in all shapes and sizes with a multitude of personalities. The jocks or athleaders as they are known in this particular school are looked up to as role models, but some of them are anything but. There are students striving to be at the top academically no matter who they have to trample on to get there. There are the lowly freshmen longing to find their niche or at least someone to invite them to sit at their lunch table. The stoners, the drama nerds, the misfits, and all the rest combine to make up a world in which nice words and respectful behavior are not the norm.

This reader was drawn immediately into the lives of the characters as view points switched every few pages. For some characters there was instant understanding and for others instant dislike. Knowing that tragedy was eventually going to strike, judgements were made about who was who and the role each would play, but Tom Leveen's plot doesn't always follow a predictable course which elicited a significant number of surprised gasps as I read.

Overall, I believe this is the most powerful YA novel involving a school shooting that I have read. Leveen captures the normalcy of the school setting and the naivety of many of the players when it comes to predicting a tragedy of this kind. No one ever imagines that someone they know could be capable of this horror, but therein lies the problem that we must somehow solve.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

SPEAK THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

Speak: The Graphic Novel

I have always been a fan of SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson. Many of my students have benefited from reading it and discussing it with friends. The arrival of the graphic novel is thrilling! This new format will extend Anderson's message to readers less comfortable with the printed word. I can't wait to share it with even more readers in the future.

Melinda's story remains true in this illustrated version. In fact, the message is even more powerful and stirring. Images that struck me were her report cards with the sinking grades, the angry faces of her parents, and her increasing isolation as she hides in her clothes and the shadows.

This graphic novel truly exemplifies the power of this genre in the future of YA literature. It's a must have for every location serving teen readers.

BEFORE I LET YOU GO by Marieke Mijkamp

Before I Let Go

It seems like living in a small town in Alaska would be idyllic and peaceful, and it may have seemed so at first for best friends Corey and Kyra. The two girls were inseparable. Corey was an average, everyday kind of girl, but Kyra was different, special in her own unique way.

The town of Lost Creek included the girls as small towns do, but Kyra's uniqueness was lost on most. What came across as the annoying highs and lows of her personality, were really the symptoms of her disease. Kyra was bipolar. 

Corey had always been there for Kyra, ready to fly with her during her manic periods and stay close by to support her when she fell into the depths of depression. At least Corey was there until her mother decided it was time to move. Corey began attending a boarding school far from Lost Creek, but she promised that if Kyra would just hold on and wait for her, she would return.

Before Corey could keep her promise, Kyra took her own life in the lake. When Corey returns for Kyra's funeral, she can't believe the natives of Lost Creek are telling her Kyra's death was meant to be.

Author Marieke Mijkamp, known for her riveting novel THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS, has hit the mark again. Friendship, mental illness, and people desperate for a better future combine to create a mysterious tale about two teens separated by tragedy.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

RAMONA BLUE by Julie Murphy

Ramona Blue

Having read and enjoyed DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy, I was excited to read RAMONA BLUE. It did not disappoint. The characters were well-developed and I became attached to them immediately. Ramona's story is no doubt the same as many teens out there which makes her current and relatable.

Facts about Ramona - 1) she is over six feet tall, 2) she lives with her father and sister - her mother left them years ago, 3) her sister is pregnant, and 4) she is pretty sure she's a lesbian, but events unfold that leave her questioning just where she fits in sexually.

Uber responsible, Ramona works hard to add money to the family's stretched budget. With her sister pregnant, Ramona knows she will have to pick up the slack for the baby daddy's lazy attitude. Ramona doesn't have aspirations beyond high school because she's pretty sure her life will just be continuing as has already been established.

The summertime love of her life, Grace, leaves to returns to her own family's home with promises to keep in touch, but Ramona knows that since Grace has not officially "come out" chances are slim that the relationship will survive the long distance. To block some of the pain of their separation, Ramona spends even more time than usual with Freddie. Their close friendship begins to show signs of more than just a platonic connection. Add that to the other confusing things in Ramona's life, and this teen reflects the angst of multiple teens, not just those who live in Eulogy, Mississippi.

With references to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans tourist attractions, and small town living in Mississippi, RAMONA BLUE has a little something for everyone. The action isn't of the roller coaster variety, but more like typical day to day drama that touches all our lives at one time or another.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

ONE OF THE BOYS byDaniel Magariel

Title: One of the Boys, Author: Daniel Magariel

After a nasty divorce, a father gains custody of his two sons. They move from Kansas to Albuquerque to start fresh. For the twelve year old and his older brother life should be improving, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The boys start at their new school. They attend classes, play sports, and do their homework. All these things should please their father, but he has problems of his own. Weeks go by with the boys taking care of themselves while the father locks himself in his room taking care of "business."

When he does emerge, he is violent and abusive. He demands that one of the boys stay home with him to help him keep his books in order. The older boy tries desperately to hold onto his job at a local store so they have enough money to keep the power on and keep food on the table. Any money the father has goes to drugs and alcohol.

Author Daniel Magariel weaves the tragic tale of two kids trying to hold their fragile family unit together. Convinced by their abusive father that he is a better bet than their mother, they eventually realize how wrong he is, but will it be possible for them to escape and return to her in hopes of something better. ONE OF THE BOYS is story that will make you angry and tear at your heart from start to finish.

Monday, January 1, 2018

WISHTREE by Katherine Applegate


What happens when a two hundred and sixteen year old oak tree decides it is time to speak? You listen and learn from her story.

Red, as her friends call her, has been known as the "Wishtree" for generations. Every year on the first day of May, folks from the neighborhood write down their wishes on scraps of paper or pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches in hopes that their wishes will be granted. Red loves the tradition and looks forward to it every year. 

This year Red has a wish of her own. She has witnessed much during her long life, but recently she experienced something hateful. Shortly after a Muslim family moved into the blue house on Red's street, a boy carved the word "Leave" into Red's bark. The act caused quite a stir. Red and the critters that live within her branches observed the act and realized it was probably directed at the new family. Red now wanted more than anything to help the little girl in the blue house to find a friend. But, can she succeed while her own life might be in danger?

Author Katherine Applegate tells a lovely tale of friendship and courage and what it means to take action instead of just standing by when others are threatened. The images of Red and her animal families are adorable and also educational as they represent diversity. tolerance, and acceptance in a world often lacking those qualities. WISHTREE is a must read for all ages.

FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway

Far from the Tree

As an adoptive parent, I'm always interested in new books that feature adoption. FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway did not disappoint.

When three teens suddenly discover they are siblings, their lives are changed forever. Grace, Maya, and Joaquin are all living their respective lives when they learn that they share a biological mother.
Grace and Maya were both adopted by two separate families, while Joaquin has lived in a series of foster homes.  

Grace has experience with adoption from two perspectives - as an adopted daughter and recently as a teen mother making the decision to give up her own daughter for adoption. When Grace realized she was pregnant and that her boyfriend and his family wanted nothing to do with the baby, she decided the best thing for the tiny life she had been calling Peach was to find a couple who could give the baby the same positive life she had had with her own adoptive parents. Thankfully, her parents were understanding and supportive making her decision a little less traumatic when Peach was born.

Maya was adopted by a loving couple. When they discovered they were having their own biological child shortly after adopting Maya, things between them didn't change. Maya and Lauren grew up as any sisters, bickering but loving and defending each other every day. Family life only became rocky when their mother started drinking and their parents' marriage began to fall apart.

Joaquin entered the foster care system as a toddler. He doesn't remember anything about his earlier life. Moved from home to home, he did have some good experiences, but tragedy stuck creating a long-lasting scar that made trust difficult for Joaquin. He is now with a couple committed to being his "forever" family, but Joaquin has personal doubts that continue to stand in the way of his ability to trust in a positive future.

Finding out that they are biological siblings offers the three teens an opportunity to form bonds of their own. Getting to know one another and share their secrets takes true trust and ultimately tests their willingness to open their hearts to what it means to be family.