Sunday, April 22, 2018

THE SECRET LIFE OF LINCOLN JONES by Wendelin Van Draanen

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

Stick

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

Wishtree

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.