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.