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.