Friday, November 28, 2008

If you are looking for one of those "ripped from the headlines" type stories, you'll be interested in LOOKING FOR JJ by Anne Cassidy.

It starts with Alice Tully, formerly Jennifer Jones, six months after being released from a juvenile facility and relocated for her own protection. Six years ago Alice (JJ) murdered her best friend. Now she needs to start over, but that may be easier said than done. The world is curious and perhaps freakishly attracted to stories like hers. Why does a 10 year old murder another youngster? What motivates such an attack, and is it possible for someone like that to change?

To this day Alice doesn't know what caused her to snap while holding that baseball bat, but it happened and it changed her life forever. Growing up with an emotionally unstable and often neglectful mother may have contributed to Alice's brief loss of sanity, but no one will probably ever know. She just knows that this chance to start over is a gift, but one wrong move may have jeopardized the opportunity. After innocently sending her mother a birthday card, sensitive information about Alice's new life is now in the hands of the newspaper people. Now her fate may rest in the hands of those out to cash in on her fascinating and violent past.

Anne Cassidy is able to creatively combine both the past and present stories of 10 year old Jennifer Jones and teen Alice Tully. Readers learn about the tragic event that shaped the life of Jennifer and her current desire to resume a peaceful life as Alice. LOOKING FOR JJ would be a worthwhile addition to any age 14 and up collection.

Monday, November 24, 2008

THE WAY HE LIVED by Emily Wing Smith

THE WAY HE LIVED is about Joel, only Joel isn't around anymore. He died in a tragic camping accident. Those left behind are trying to make sense of it all and decide how to continue on without him.

Written from six different points of view, it reveals Joel piece by piece. His sisters Tabbatha and Claire tell what life is like for them since his death. Both are confused that their parents chose this difficult time to move the remaining family from the house where they grew up to a luxurious seven bedroom house in the high-end part of town. Their father throws himself into his work, and their mother who always had her "bad days" seems to only find solace by locking herself away in her room and letting the family muddle on without her. Emotionally sensitive Tabbatha gradually finds a reason to slowly move on toward a possible college life, and Claire has to runaway before she is ready to come back and face what is left behind.

The other voices of the novel belong to Joel's friends and acquaintances. They include Adlen, Miles, Norah, and Lissa. Their stories link to Joel through direct personal relationships or by way of others connected to him. Each person has their version of this respected but slightly mysterious individual.

Much like our own lives, each person presents a unique picture to each different person with whom we connect. Can a true picture ever be created of anyone after they are gone? It seems only you might know the real you.

Emily Wing Smith is able to capture each personality. The flow and tone of each chapter is unique to the individual. She presents their pain and their fear of moving on without this missing person who so touched their lives. There is a feeling of true loss and sadness, but it is coupled with hope and the human desire to carry on.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BLISS by Lauren Myracle

Bliss is a child of the hippie culture. Raised on a commune, she is now living with her straight-laced grandmother in a small southern town. Her parents have escaped to the wilds of Canada to avoid participation in the Vietnam War.

Life as the new girl at Crestview Academy is difficult at first. Everything is a bit strange when you've been raised away from modern-day society. But Bliss is a friendly soul and soon makes friends with a nice group of girls. They show patience as they help her learn the ways of everyday southern life. However, life on the commune didn't prepare Bliss for the prejudice and sometimes mean-spirited nature of the south. She likes her new friends, but often doesn't understand their hateful treatment of others.

After a strange encounter on the deserted third floor of the possibly haunted Hamilton Hall, Bliss develops an unusual friendship with Sandy, the school outcast. Thinking Sandy represents something different and rebellious is at first a welcome attraction for Bliss. However, she soon begins to wonder if Sandy is different in a more dangerous way. Could there be a connection between Sandy's odd behavior and the voices Bliss hears when she comes too close to Hamilton Hall?

Set in 1969, BLISS is filled with late 60's references. Everything from Andy Griffith show quotes to the horrors of the Charles Manson murders are slipped in on eerie black inserts between the chapters. The book is a fast read and creates disturbing images that make it a real chiller that will capture readers on the very first page.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


EVERY SOUL A STAR is the story of three teens and a total solar eclipse. They are three strangers brought together by a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Ally has lived at the Moon Shadow campground for as long as she can remember. Her parents, dedicated star watchers, bought the campground when they discovered that it would be ground zero for an upcoming total solar eclipse. Over the years they created a stargazer-friendly atmosphere and now are expecting over a thousand people to spend time at their campsites. Ally can hardly wait to welcome the crowds and observe this amazing act of nature.

Bree is into make-up, nail polish, and clothes. She keeps a scrapbook of clothes and pictures of models and studies it faithfully, since her life's dream to become a runway model. She is incredibly popular at school and can't understand her younger sister, the science geek. Bree's life comes crashing down around her when her scientist parents announce that the family is moving to the Moon Shadow campground. They will be living there for at least the next several years, since the family currently running the place is relocating to the city. How can they be serious? Bree can't imagine life without the mall, tons of friends, and TV.

Jack is pretty much an outcast at school. He's overweight and not at all interested in sports. He's smart enough but he'd rather listen to his music than pay attention in class. When he is offered another option instead of summer school to make up his failing grade in science, he finds himself boarding a tour bus filled with science nerds all headed to the country to witness a some crazy eclipse.

Author Wendy Mass works her magic as she intertwines the lives of Ally, Bree, and Jack. Using alternating chapters, she tells the stories of the three teens as they become forever connected by an eclipse. She successfully captures the frustrations of her characters as they meet the challenges of their changing lives. Her descriptions as they experience the rare total solar eclipse will have readers googling to see if they will ever be close enough to witness such a spectacle.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

DEADVILLE by Ron Koertge

First of all, gotta love the cover on this one. Second, Ron Koertge has always been able to capture me by the end of chapter one, and this book is no exception.

The most popular girl in school fell off a horse and she's now in a coma in a nearby hospital. Ryan finds himself drawn to her bedside even though he is most definitely not in her social circle or even the distant stratosphere of her world. Does he visit her because she is perhaps the hottest girl in school or because he hopes to move in on her absent boyfriend's territory or because two years ago he lost his own sister in her battle against cancer? The strange thing is that Ryan doesn't really know why he visits this girl in a coma. It's just something he feels he must do.

Running parallel to the Charlotte Silano coma-girl story are several other captivating plot lines. Ryan's visits to the hospital allow him to meet and develop a relationship with Betty, another girl from school who previously didn't really hang in the same crowd with Ryan. There is also the strained relationship between Ryan and his parents. He maintains a fairly normal mother/son relationship, but the connection between father and son has deteriorated to almost nothing since the death of his sister Molly. It's not just a problem for Ryan since his father has seemingly cut ties with his wife as well. He has changed his whole lifestyle right down to his choice of a vegan menu. Ryan's mother has chosen to throw herself into yoga and meditation to cope with the loss of her daughter. It seems a healthy avenue to stress relief, but she appears to be getting a bit to close to her instructor, causing Ryan to fear for his parents' marriage.

One benefit of Ryan's frequent visits to Charlotte's hospital room is that he is putting some distance between his so-called friend Andy and the never-ending supply of pot that has so far been getting him through his periods of grief. Is it possible to stay sober and confront tough times enough to pull himself together? That's the question facing Ryan for most of DEADVILLE.

Ron Koertge successfully takes readers into Ryan's world of emotional stress and pain. Everyone has their own way of coping and DEADVILLE illustrates them all in a direct, straight-forward style.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

LIVING DEAD GIRL by Elizabeth Scott

LIVING DEAD GIRL is the heart-wrenching story of a girl whose life ended when she was abducted by a stranger. Alice tells the story of the five terrible years she spends as the prisoner of a sick, pedophile. Her emotional experience will tear at your heart and send chills down your back.

Not quite 10 years old, Alice is on a school field trip to the aquarium. After an argument with her friends, she finds herself alone - the perfect opportunity for Ray. He offers to help her find her classmates, and she is soon trapped in a terrifying situation.

Ray has done this once before. The other Alice spent years as his captive until she was no longer the "little" girl he desired. Now he has found a new Alice to take her place. He uses threats to her family's safety to manipulate her. His abuse is both emotional and physical. Although vaguely described, it is obvious how Alice suffers. Since five years have passed, Alice is no longer as pleasing as she once was, and Ray has decided to use her to help him find a replacement.

Most would think that even a young victim would find some way to escape this horrible situation, but Alice explains that an easy escape is made complicated by emotional torment and the general apathy of those around us. This is a powerful story very carefully created. It has been adverstised as YA (young adult) and does have it's place in that genre, however, I would caution it deals with an incredibly sensitive and heinous topic suited for the mature reader.

Monday, November 10, 2008

BOOST by Kathy Mackel

OK, I'll admit I judged this book by the cover. When I saw a girl with a basketball, I immediately thought, "Hey, there's something you don't see every day. A sports book about a girl." Anyway, I bought it, and now that I've read it, I can say my money was well spent.

Savvy Christopher is in the eighth grade. Right there you know the odds are stacked against her. The middle school years have never been known as the easy years. Savvy is battling more than just her age. She is the new girl in town. Her family is bankrupt and has had to leave their very nice home in New Mexico to move in with an aunt who runs a sheep farm in New England. Talk about a lifestyle change! On top of that, Savvy is a startling 6' 1" , soon to be 6' 3" in her stocking feet. She lives and breathes basketball, but she doesn't exactly blend into the crowd.

Savvy's story begins in July. She goes to the tryouts for the local 16 and under basketball league. She's pretty sure she has a chance at making the team, but then she runs into Gonzo, another 13 year old trying out for the team. The twist is that Gonzo doesn't plan to actually tryout. Her plan is to head on over to the other tryout being held for the 18 and under group. She convinces Savvy they have a chance with the big leagues. Amazingly, both girls show their stuff and get a call from the coach offering them a spot on the team. Now the challenge is being accepted by the older players and getting a chance to do more than just ride the bench.

In between the basketball challenges, Savvy is faced with issues at home. She finds herself helping out on the farm when Aunt Betty is laid up with a broken ankle. The hours she spends hauling around bales of hay, herding sheep, and cleaning out the barn help Savvy develop some needed muscle for the basketball court. But as the summer ball season heads into tournament play, Savvy's newly developed strength is called into question and earns her accusations of possible steroid use.

Readers who follow the plot carefully will most likely come to the logical conclusion well before the end of the book, but the non-stop action will keep them turning pages right to the end. I was pleased to see a sports book focus on girl players. Many of the girls I have as students gladly pick up the books featuring boys and they don't complain, but I'm anxious to share this one with them because they deserve to see themselves at the center of attention, too.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

PAPER TOWNS by John Green

John Green, author of LOOKING FOR ALASKA and AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, has outdone himself. His latest YA offering PAPER TOWNS is fantastic!

The clever crafting of this novel is amazing. The search for Margo Roth Spiegelman takes readers on an incredible journey revealing that we may think we know a person, even ourselves, but no one truly sees through the many layers that make up who we are.

Quentin believes he has a few short weeks left of his senior year, and what follows will be a typical summer and then college. That is until Margo appears at his bedroom window one night and changes his world.

He has never been part of the popular crowd - those who orbit around Margo. As her childhood friend and neighbor, Quentin remembers a time when they were quite close, and frankly, he has spent many hours daydreaming that that closeness could develop into something on a more serious level. But he is a nerd who hangs out around the bandroom about as far away from the world of Margo as possible. When she comes asking for his help, he can hardly believe it.

The night with Margo is incredible. Not what one would expect - but well worth giving up a good night's sleep and having to drag himself to school the next day. After several days back at school, it becomes clear that Margo has disappeared, and Quentin may have been the last person to see her. Her family only seems annoyed with her disappearance since it is not the first time she has pulled this sort of stunt. Their reaction is to report her missing and then change the locks so whenever she decides to return from her latest adventure, she'll know they don't appreciate her inconsiderate absences.

Unlike everyone else, Quentin can't stop thinking that Margo has done more than just run away. He begins to believe she is dead. Puzzling clues reveal a number of possibilities, and with the help of a few friends, he begins to follow the clues. In his determination to find her, Quentin discovers Margo may not be who he always thought she was. He is also discovering some startling things about himself.

John Green combines Walt Whitman, Dylan and Guthrie, some fabulous pranks and spot-on humor with the delights and pains of high school romance into a clever and sensitive coming-of-age story. This book takes YA literature to a whole new level.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


According to my students, these books are definitely worth reading. Included with the title and author is the suggested interest level (MG=middle grade and UG=upper grade) and the AR point value for each book.

Happy reading!!

DEEP, DARK, AND DANGEROUS by Mary Downing Hahn (MG, 7 pts.)

ZANE'S TRACE by Allan Wolf (UG, 3 pts.)

DAEMON HALL by Andrew Nance (MG, 8 pts.)

THE BOXER AND THE SPY by Robert Parker (UG, 5 pts.)

HIT AND RUN by Lurlene McDaniel (UG, 4 pts.)


HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff (UG, 8 pts.)

TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE by Zoran Drvenkar (UG, 8 pts.)

DEADLINE by Chris Crutcher (UG, 10 pts.)

HOOT by Carl Hiaasen (MG, 9 pts.)


HARMLESS by Dana Reinhardt (UG, 8 pts.)