Wednesday, October 27, 2010

YOU ARE NOT HERE by Samantha Schutz

I was excited to see Samantha Schutz had written a novel.  Her memoir I DON'T WANT TO BE CRAZY revealed her talent as a writer and her tremendous ability to describe her own very raw and painful experiences. 

YOU ARE NOT HERE is a novel in verse.  The focus is on Annaleah and the sudden and tragic death of someone near and dear to her. 

If pressed, Annaleah would not be able to articulate her true relationship with Brian.  They've been seeing each other for a short while and have shared a first kiss and much more, but to say he is her boyfriend still doesn't seem quite right.  Their relationship has not included any outsiders.  When Annaleah visits Brian, he always hustles her out before his father comes home.  She hasn't really shared her budding romance with friends either.  Her one attempt to describe her feelings about Brian brought harsh criticism from her closest friend, Marissa.  And as far as introducing Brian to her mother, forget about it.  Better to leave that woman in the dark.

Because of the secretive nature of their relationship, when Brian suddenly dies while playing basketball, Annaleah has nowhere to turn.  Since no one truly understands, she withdraws, spending all her time either in her room or visiting his gravesite.  Their relationship was viewed as casual causing Annaleah's mother and friends to look upon her continued grieving as unnecessary and ridiculous.  Unable to explain, Annaleah sinks deeper and deeper into despair as she mourns the loss of a young man she realizes may not even have loved her.

Schutz explores the human reaction to death and loss in YOU ARE NOT HERE.  The process of grieving is such a personal experience, and Schutz demonstrates that fact as she takes Annaleah on this often lonesome journey.  Readers looking for a "problem" type novel will find this fast-read satisfying, although rather predictable.

CRAZY by Han Nolan

Memories from before his mother died and before his father went crazy are the only things keeping Jason going, but his grasp on reality may be slipping.  A cast of characters inhabit his mind; their voices constantly whisper commentary on his every thought and action.

Jason's life is a complicated mess.  He's trying to keep up his grades, write for the advice column of the school newspaper, and keep an eye on his father.  It had always been his mother's responsibility to keep track of his father's erratic behavior, but now she's gone so Jason is in charge of damage control when his father dons his Greek war helmet as he rants and raves against the Furies who he believes killed his wife and are out to destroy him.

The stress of juggling his own life and his father's has Jason talking to the voices in his own mind.  Giving him advice, criticism, and sometimes comfort are characters named Crazy Glue, Fat Bald Guy with a Mustache, Aunt Bee, Sexy Lady, and Laugh Track.  They are his only "friends" until he joins a therapy group at school and finds he does have other friends who are there to provide support and encouragement.

It is not easy for Jason to open up to strangers, but when his fellow group members pitch in to help when it is revealed that his father has stolen a multi-million dollar violin, Jason learns the true value of friendship.  When things get so bad that Jason's only recourse is to admit his father needs medical help, his new friends continue to cheer him on.

CRAZY is the story of a young teen's struggle to keep together what's left of his family.  Author Han Nolan uses the unique voices in Jason's head to vividly portray the emotional torment he experiences as he watches his own father crumbling before him.  Readers will come to know and love Jason and admire his courage and determination to hold it all together under unbearable circumstances.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Author Ned Vizzini whose book IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY was just released as a major motion picture will be visiting Stair Public Library in Morenci, MI.

This will be Ned's fourth visit to the tiny Michigan community. He will be speaking on Saturday, November 13 at 2:00 pm as part of a program entitled New York City in a Tiny Midwest Town.

Please come join us if you are in the area.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ZORA AND ME by Victoria Bond & T.R. Simon

Two authors, Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon, take on the impressive and creative task of presenting a unique view of well-known author Zora Neale Hurston.  Hurston, renowned author of such books as THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD and JONAH'S GOURD VINE, is memorialized in this new fictional version of her childhood.  In ZORA AND ME Bond and Simon attempt to imagine the great storyteller's early years.

The story is told by Carrie, a childhood friend of Zora's.  According to Carrie, Zora began her storytelling career as a child and used her talent to fascinate and entertain everyone both young and old.  Always ready with a tale, Zora's favorites usually seemed to involve the folklore of the area.

ZORA AND ME forces on a creature half gator/half man thought to stalk victims in the marshes and swamps.  When a headless dead man is discovered along the railroad tracks, Zora's imagination soars.  She creates a tale combining this recent discovery with other unexplained events that is sure to raise the hairs on many an arm.  Young and old in her tiny community are drawn into her story, and everyone fears for their safety.

Readers and fans of the adult Zora Neale Hurston will be captivated by this imaginative portrayal of the young Hurston.  It doesn't take much of a leap to believe that this little storyteller could grow to be an award winning author.  Bond and Simon are to be applauded for their efforts.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

ITCH by Michelle D. Kwasney

Leaving Florida and moving to Ohio?  Delores is sure that it represents the end of the world.  Her beloved Gramps died, and Gram has put the house up for sale so they can move into a mobile home next door to relatives in some tiny Ohio town.

Delores's memories of Gramps include her nickname, Itch, his 1957 convertible, and his smelly cigars.  They spent endless hours sitting together in that old car, listening to the radio and talking about everything.  Missing Gramps is bad enough, and now she has to leave her best friend Bailey behind, too.

Gram and Delores settle into their new home.  According to Gram, they have to sell the Florida house and Gramps car to make ends meet.  Life also changes when Gram decides to use her old hairdresser skills to get a job in a local beauty parlor.  Delores starts school where she begins to make friends with several of the girls in her grade.  She misses Bailey, but once she meets Gwendolyn "Wendy", she hopes she might be on her way to finding a new best friend.

Wendy is a champion dancer and baton twirler who lives in a fancy house the total opposite of Delores's trailer park home.  As their friendship begins to blossom, Delores suspects that Wendy's storybook life might have a dark side.  When evidence surfaces that Wendy is being abused by her mother, Delores looks to advice from Gramps about how speaking up takes courage.

ITCH by Michelle D. Kwasney describes one young girl's grit and determination to make the best of a difficult situation.  Moving was the last thing Delores wanted to do, but with the help of her supportive grandmother and her own generous spirit, she meets her challenges head-on.  She not only adapts to her new surroundings, but also steps up to help a new friend.  Delores is sure to inspire middle grade readers as well as entertain them with her story.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Tween girls will get a kick out of this one.  With all the middle grade angst involving boyfriends and popularity, Kristina Springer has hit the nail on the head.

Tori is feeling totally abandoned by her best friend Sienna.  After all Sienna spent the summer at some fabulous house in Florida getting a tan, and apparently, getting an amazing boyfriend, while Tori stayed at home doing absolutely nothing as she waited for Sienna's dwindling texts and emails.  Now seventh grade is about to begin, and Tori doesn't even know if they are still friends.

It quickly becomes obvious that all Sienna is planning to do is talk about Antonio.  He sends the best emails.  He gives the best presents.  He's the best kisser.  Tori is getting more jealous by the minute, until she realizes that this long-distance boyfriend might not really exist.

The more Tori listens to Sienna, the more she begins to believe that Antonio is make-believe.  Tori decides two can play that game, and she invents Sebastian.  Now the battle is on!

Kristina Springer takes all of the worst parts of seventh grade behavior and brings them together in MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS.  All the feelings of insecurity and inferiority of not fitting in and not being popular are present in the characters of Tori and Sienna.  Even though the ending is fairly predictable, readers will find the journey there an interesting one. 


After Iris lost her mother to tuberculosis, she spent all her free time working in the family shoe store.  She planned on spending even more time working with her father once school was out for the summer.  Much to her surprise, Iris learns that her father has other plans.

Iris is going to be taking the train to live with a doctor and his aging mother for the summer.  She will be helping with patients and caring for the old lady.  While she is away, someone else will be running her father's store while he and his girlfriend spend time in Kansas City opening a new store. 

Iris finds herself living in a strange town with people she's never met.  It is painfully obvious that she doesn't know the first thing about housekeeping and cooking, much less about helping the doctor care for patients.  Fortunately Dr. and Mrs. Nesbitt understanding and are willing to give her time to adjust.  What follows is a summer filled with new and different experiences.

It is soon clear that Mrs. Nesbitt is not as helpless and ailing as Iris thought.  Young Iris seems to be just what the doctor ordered.  His mother and Iris become fast friends as she teaches Iris the things she missed due to the early death of her mother.  Iris feels a sense of family she has always missed, and it allows her to discover just how strong a person she real is.

Author Barbara Stuber creates Iris's story using both humor and tragedy.  CROSSING THE TRACKS illustrates how Iris takes what appears to be an uncomfortable and unwanted situation and turns it into the experience of a lifetime.  Readers will be touched by Iris as she changes from a shy, unsure young girl into a confident young woman.

Monday, October 11, 2010

DARK SONG by Gail Giles

Ames Ford goes to a fancy, private school.  She has an iPhone, her own brand-new laptop, and more clothes than she could wear in a lifetime.  She lives in a house with a home theater and a bedroom designed by a professional decorator.  She doesn't want for anything.  However, things are about to change...

When Ames's dad announces that his company has downsized leaving him without a job, he tells Ames and her little sister Chrissy that nothing will change.  He tells them he was given a good severance package that will tide them over until he gets a new job.  There is nothing to worry about...

Why are her friends suddenly acting strange and asking her how she is holding up?  How does everyone know that her father lost his job?  And what's this about him making a deal to avoid jail time?

When the real truth comes out Ames's life turns into a nightmare.  The house is up for sale, precious possessions are sold at a yard sale, and suddenly they are leaving Boulder and heading for Texas. 

Ames's reaction is anger and rebellion.  Not usually a troublemaker, Ames begins to explore her wild side when she meets Marc.  He offers her love and protection, but by the time she realizes just exactly what he has in mind, it might be too late.

Author Gail Giles has created another thriller perfect for teen readers.  DARK SONG explores the love/hate relationship most teens have with their parents.  She takes a look at just how far one girl might go to retaliate against controlling parents.  This fast-paced novel is a page-turner that won't stay on the shelf long.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Fifth grade is turning out to be a lot different than fourth grade.  Justin Fisher is used to being the class clown, but his new teacher is treating him like a troublemaker.  What was once funny and earned him a round of laughter, now is getting him sent to the principal's office.

Justin is determined to come out the winner in his self-declared war against Mr. Tripp.  How can a guy with a goofy mustache really expect kids to take him seriously?  Justin vows to break him one way or another.

Unfortunately, Justin's classmates have turned on him.  They are acting like he's more of a disruption than a distraction.  When a school talent show is announced, they discourage him from entering because he will just "ruin everything".  That reaction just makes him more interested in scoring a spot in the program.

Author James Preller describes fifth grade to a tee in JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR!  Every class has a Justin, and at some point, every class begins to object to the disruption caused by a chronic goof-off.  Preller's novel offers excellent read-a-loud potential with ample opportunity for discussion about behavior and its consequences.  I'll definitely be recommending this one to both students and teachers in middle grade classrooms.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Gracie has always been surprised that Savannah considers her a friend, not just a friend, but a best friend.  Gracie lives a fairly boring existence with her father hovering protectively.  She is not really sure why Savannah finds her so fascinating.

Things have changed a bit recently, though.  Frequently forgetful, Savannah seems to be even more scattered.  When she sets a time to meet Gracie at the coffee shop, it has become a common occurrence for her to be late or possibly not show up at all.  Her excuses are pretty lame, even bordering on rude.

On one such occasion when Gracie had been waiting for over an hour for the tardy Savannah, Cooper showed up and invited Gracie to go to a local community center called the Neighborhood.  Gracie and Cooper have always shared a common interest in promoting worthy causes, and now Cooper wants to show off the community center in hopes of recruiting her as a volunteer.  She has a terrific time but is almost discouraged by the careless attitude Savannah has when Gracie tries to share her enthusiasm about the great work done at the center.

Having Savannah "forget" appointments or complain of schedule conflicts is one thing, but when she begins to include Gracie in downright lies to hide her real activities from others, Gracie decides something must be done.

In MY WORST BEST FRIEND author Dyan Sheldon portrays friendship at its worst.  Many readers will unfortunately be able to relate to Gracie as she experiences Savannah's mistreatment.  After her initial shock and disappointment, Gracie shows readers how to deal with an abusive friend.  MY WORST BEST FRIEND provides a peek into an all too common problem in the world of BFF's.

Monday, October 4, 2010

MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine

Caitlin's brother Devon was one of three victims killed by a school shooter.  His death leaves Caitlin and their father alone to pick up the pieces and make some sense of what is left.

Being able to mourn and share their grief is complicated by the fact that eleven year old Caitlin has a condition known as Asperger's syndrome.  She does not recognize most social clues that moderate normal behavior.  Unable to interpret simple facial expressions leaves her clueless about how to interact with others.  Devon has always bridged the gap between his little sister and the rest of the world, but he is no longer there to help.

Caitlin gets some help from Mrs. Brook, a counselor at her school.  They spend time every day working on social skills, manners, and what Mrs. Brook calls empathy.  Caitlin's very literal approach to situations makes her a target for taunting and teasing that only aggravates the problem.  Now, learning to grieve her brother's death is also an important part of her daily therapy.

One thing Devon left behind might prove useful as Caitlin and her father attempt to recover and move on.  Devon's Eagle Scout project sits unfinished in their living room as a reminder that he will never return to complete it.  When Caitlin gets the idea that she and her father could finish the project as a way to find closure, it seems like an impossible task.  But with determination and some breakthroughs at school, maybe they can achieve the impossible.

MOCKINGBIRD is a heart-warming story of loss and recovery.  The addition of Caitlin's struggle with Asperger's adds an amazing element to the tale.  Kathryn Erskine recreates the world as seen through Caitlin's eyes in such a realistic and believable way; readers will be drawn in and inspired by the little girl's courage and strength.  This book is truly a loving work of art.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

SOMEWHERE IN BLUE by Gillian Cummings

Two mothers and two daughters struggle to understand one another and survive what life has dealt them. 

Sandy is grieving the loss of her father and doesn't understand why her mother isn't sharing the same level of grief.  His rapid decline and death from cancer didn't give Sandy the needed time to adjust to what life would be like without him.  They were close in a way that always seemed to exclude her mother, but it took losing him for Sandy to recognize it.  Now Vivian is left without her husband and also without a real relationship with her daughter.

Lennie is embarrassed by her mother.  Teresa is a single mother determined to be an object of desire for men - any men willing to give her the time of day.  The men she allows to escort her home both disgust and frighten her teenage daughter.  Lennie doesn't understand how Teresa can have such low standards and take such irresponsible risks.  In addition to trying to protect her mother, Lennie is knee-deep in trying to help her friend Sandy move on after the death of her father. 

Both Sandy and Lennie are about to discover secrets their mothers have kept hidden for years.  Those secrets could either draw them closer together or tear their delicate relationships farther apart. 

Author Gillian Cummings deftly describes both situations using relatable and realistic mother/daughter vibes that will ring true to readers even if they haven't experienced the suffering and loss felt by Cummings' characters.  SOMEWHERE IN BLUE explores the depths and suffering of loss and damaging stress of hidden secrets.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

FALLOUT by Ellen Hopkins

FALLOUT speaks for three teens whose lives are connected by one woman and the grip of a drug known as the "monster".  Hunter, Autumn, and Summer are three of Kristina's children.  If those names seem familiar, it is probably because you met them in CRANK and GLASS, two novels by Ellen Hopkins.

CRANK and GLASS are the fictionalized story of Hopkins's daughter's addiction to meth.  In this final book FALLOUT, the author imagines the future and how it might look for an addict's children.  What will those children remember of the past, and what will they take with them into the future?

Hunter has been lovingly raised by his grandparents and wants more than anything to take his life in a different direction than his mother.  He has dreams of a career and has found the woman he may want to spend the rest of his life loving, but he fears that through genetic connections he will eventually crash and burn.  Responsibility and commitment were major elements missing from his mother, and now as Hunter approaches adulthood and his own relationships that require those key components, he worries they will be his downfall, too. 

Summer has known some semblance love from her father, and she's been tolerated by his various girlfriends, but it never completely filled the hole left by the mother who moved on without her.  Now her father is serving time for DUI, and his latest girlfriend is in no position to take care of a teenager, Summer finds herself shoved into a foster care family with problems of their own.  It's the last thing she ever thought she would do, but running away seems like the only answer.

Autumn lives with her grumpy grandfather and her Aunt Cora.  Now that her aunt is getting married and moving to Austin things are about to change.  The last thing Autumn wants to do is live alone with an ailing grandfather, and complicating matters is the fact that after falling for Bryce and having unprotected sex, she might even be pregnant.  The last thing she expects to learn is that she has a sister and several brothers - all fellow victims of a mother too focused on her own selfish desires.

Novelist Ellen Hopkins takes her loyal readers on a trip into the future as she gives voice to the children of her famous Kristina.  Hopkins explains in her Author's Note that she has imagined the lives of Kristina's children some years from now to illustrate the impact substance abuse can have, not only on the life of the user, but also on the lives of everyone they touch.  As in CRANK and GLASS, Hopkins's message is loud and clear and will hopefully help others whose lives have been complicated by drugs or alcohol.