Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I am so glad to be able to begin a new school year with a new Natasha Friend novel.  Her books are incredibly popular with the girls in my classroom, and they are going to love this one.

MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE begins with a car accident that changes the life of one teenage girl.  Lexi, angry at her best friend Taylor, makes the decision to accept a ride from Taylor's brother, and that ride ends with Lexi's face smashing into the windshield.

Used to getting all the attention by being the beautiful girl in the room, now Lexi is struggling with a disfiguring facial injury.  When she is finally released from the hospital, she becomes a sort of hermit spending all her time dressed in her pajamas and refusing to leave her room.  No amount of coaxing from friends or family members can convince Lexi to resume her active teenage life.

Lexi is filled with hate.  She hates her best friend, and because of that friend's actions back on the night of the fateful party, Lexi also hates her boyfriend.  None of their apologies carry any weight for Lexi.  She is sure life is over and only reluctantly begins the new school year because her father warns her that missing any more days will require that she repeat the year after her fellow classmates have moved on.

The painful experiences Lexi encounters after her life changing accident will either make her a stronger and better person or will destroy her from the inside out.  Is is possible to forgive?  Is it possible to move on?

Natasha Friend is a master of realistic fiction.  Once again she takes on a subject with teenage appeal and creates a page-turner that will take readers deep into the life of her characters.  I will be book talking this one on the first day and it won't be gathering any dust on the shelf until every girl has gotten her hands on it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

LIFE HAPPENS NEXT by Terry Trueman

At the end of Terry Trueman's STUCK IN NEUTRAL, readers were left to decide if Shawn's father would kill him.  LIFE HAPPENS NEXT gives them the answer.

Shawn is alive and well.  Well, as alive and well as can be expected for an about to be fifteen year old with severe cerebral palsy.  Shawn has never walked, talked, or been able to care for himself.  Only his dreams and his grand mal seizures offer him a chance to feel free of the body that holds him prisoner. 

Glad to be alive, Shawn is still looking for a reason that would explain why someone with such a disability would even be born.  He gets some pleasure from watching his brother and sister enjoying life.  They include him as much as they can.  Shawn thinks he might have found a reason to live as he watches his sister's friend Ally.  She is amazing, and he just might be in love with her.

It doesn't take long for Shawn to realize that Ally has eyes for his brother, and the feelings seem to go both ways.  Frustrating as it is, Shawn tries to take comfort in knowing his brother is a good choice for Ally and they seem happy. 

When a forty-one year old woman with Down syndrome moves in, Shawn is fascinated with the idea of sharing his home with another "retarded" person.  What is most interesting is that Shawn discovers Debi may not seem connected to the world around her, but she actually sees more deeply than anyone.  She may be the only person to understand what life is like for Shawn.

Author Terry Trueman wowed me when I first read STUCK IN NEUTRAL in 2000.  Through the years it has inspired many of my students.  I never thought about the possibility of a sequel other than CRUISE CONTROL told from the point of view of Shawn's brother.  I'm so glad Trueman chose to continue Shawn's story, and I can't wait to share it with others.

Monday, August 20, 2012

TRIANGLES by Ellen Hopkins

After learning that TILT was a companion to Ellen's adult novel TRIANGLES, I needed to read it to get the full picture.  This is definitely an adult novel on many levels, however, readers who discovered Ellen at the very beginning of her career will no doubt be interested in check this one out.

TRIANGLES begins the story that connects to the teens in TILT.  The focus in TRIANGLES is on three women and the complications they are dealing with in their lives.  The teens in TILT are the children of these women and are suffering the backlash of some of the adults' decisions as well as problems of their own making.

The two novels connect well but can easily be read separately.  Teens can read and appreciate TILT without needing to read the earlier adult novel.  (See previous post for a review of TILT.)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

TILT by Ellen Hopkins

Thank you Goodreads giveaway for giving me the opportunity to read and review TILT by Ellen Hopkins.  It was my first Goodreads giveaway win!

For three teens the world is tilting out of control.  Ellen Hopkins gives voice to Harley, Shane, and Mikayla and relates their struggles to hold on to what remains of their lives despite the messes created by the adults in their world.

Harley's dad is about to remarry and her mother attempts to hid her unhappiness with fanatic workouts when she isn't focused on her writing.  When Lucas starts paying attention to Harley, she is amazed that someone so cool would be interested in her.  His gentle concern soon turns daring as he takes Harley over to the wild side.  Even warnings from her best friend and her soon to be step-brother aren't enough to convince Harley to slow things down.

Shane is getting involved with his first boyfriend.  It doesn't set well with his father, but Shane is quick to remind dear old dad that just when his wife needs him, he has been noticeably absent.  Shane's mother has spent five long years caring for his terminally ill little sister, and with the end near, she sure could use more support than her teenage son is able to give. 

Then there's Mikayla.  She is deeply in love with Dylan.  He is everything to her.  The relationship has become serious enough to involve sex.  Dylan is always responsible and prepared with a condom until one night that changes Mikayla's life forever.  She is now pregnant and struggling with what to do.  Dylan threatens their relationship will be over if she doesn't have an abortion, but she can't go through with it.  True to his word, Dylan is gone, and Mikayla is left deciding how and when to tell her parents and friends the truth.

TILT is a companion novel to Ellen Hopkins's adult novel TRIANGLES.  The three teens in TILT are the children of characters dealing with their own personal pain and poor decisions.  Hopkins's fans who became serious followers since reading her first novel CRANK, will be glad to know that they can continue to follow her through her adult novels, too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose

May B. would love to be a school teacher some day, but school isn't easy for her.  Reading is her biggest challenge.  If the time was 2012 instead of the pioneer days on the Kansas prairie, her teacher would recognize she has a reading disability and probably suggest a remediation program to address the problem and help May.  Unfortunately, her teacher announces that May is just not able to learn, embarrassing May and dashing her dreams.

Even though reading is difficult, May carefully packs her school materials as she prepares to leave home.  Her family's failed wheat crop has resulted in her father's decision to send May to a neighboring homestead fifteen miles away to help the Oblingers.  Her responsibilities include cooking, cleaning, and helping Mrs. Oblinger who is barely older than May herself to manage the household duties.  May isn't thrilled, but she knows the money she earns will help her family.

What May and her family don't plan on is that Mrs. Oblinger will hate homestead living causing her to run away.  Mr. Oblinger follows his wife hoping to bring her back, but neither return leaving May alone in the shabby sod house as winter sets in.  Will she survive?  Can she travel the fifteen miles home on her own in the middle of the Kansas winter?

Author Caroline Starr Rose paints a stark picture of May's prairie world.  Harsh conditions, back-breaking chores, and loneliness combine to make the pioneer life a nightmare for most.  MAY B. is written in verse and quickly pulls the reader into May's world.  Excellent for anyone with an interest in historical fiction or simply in search of a good story.

Monday, August 13, 2012


This is one of those books that really makes me admire authors.  The teaser on the back cover promises that the lives of two characters will collide creating a "harrowing climax."  How do authors do that?  Written in a style with alternating chapters, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how author John Corey Whaley would connect these characters, but he did.  Amazing!

Cullen Witter lives in a small Arkansas town changed forever when a famous ornithologist believes he has spotted a long extinct woodpecker.  All the excitement about the bird eclipses the fact that Cullen's cousin recently OD'd and his younger brother has simply vanished.  Cullen watches as his parents and his aunt mourn their losses while at the same time he tries to hold himself together. 

The other storyline in WHERE THINGS COME BACK begins with Benton Sage, a young missionary.  Readers will follow him to college and his eventual disillusionment with religion.  After his suicide, his roommate Cabot and his problems become the focus.

Death, disappearance, lost love, and a town hoping to make history combine to create a unique story that will keep readers hooked until the final page.  I can see why this one won the 2012 Michael L. Printz award.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

SKINNY by Donna Cooner

Review ARC ebook courtesy of NetGalley.com
Release date: 10-1-12

Readers will want to head out to the bookstore or library on October 1 to grab a copy of SKINNY by debut author Donna Cooner.  According to the acknowledgment notes, Cooner included a bit of herself as she created Ever Davies.  Having undergone gastric bypass surgery herself, she is able to provide a realistic view of Ever's experience.

Ever weighs 302 pounds.  She had always been a chubby girl, but since her mother's death and her father's decision to remarry, Ever has eaten her way to her largest size yet. 

Diets have never worked for Ever.  She loses a few pounds and then puts it right back on.  She is tired of being invisible as she listens to other girls complain about their excess weight as they strut around in their size 0 jeans.  No one talks to her unless they bump into her in the hall and taunt her about her size.  She dreams of being smaller and finally being able to talk to Jackson, a childhood friend who doesn't seem to remember she even exists.

Ever does have the support of Rat, another longtime friend and neighbor.  When she begins contemplating the idea of gastric surgery, his fascination with all things science gives her the final encouragement to take the risk.  With Rat's support and the support of her father and step-mother, Ever makes arrangements to leave school five weeks early to have the surgery she hopes will change her life.

It is made clear that because of her long history of unsuccessful dieting, she does qualify for the procedure which is usually not performed on someone her age.  The risk factors are carefully explained and precise instructions are given for her recovery and future weight loss success.  Ever knows everything depends on her will power and dedication.

SKINNY takes readers through the experience of one girl determined to change her life.  Ever's emotional struggle with inner voices and periodic lack of self-confidence show how difficult weight loss can be.  Donna Cooner's combination of wit and determination make Ever's story an inspiration.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


THE OTHER NORMALS by Ned Vizzini is going to be just the ticket for reluctant readers with a passion for online role playing games.  I already have a few in mind and can't wait to share it with them when school starts.

Perry Echert's story starts out in typical RPG form.  His parents think he spends too much time playing Creatures & Caverns.  They are concerned about his lack of social skills and what they see as his total lack of friends.  They decide the answer is summer camp.

When Perry arrives at Camp Washiska Lake he is shocked at the search and seizure tactics of the camp officials.  Game-playing books, electronics, and even comic books are off limits.  When he spots the familiar face of a recent acquaintance from school, he thinks maybe things might not be too bad, but he is soon proven wrong.  Sam, a fellow gamer, seems intent on ignoring Perry.

Camp is just as frightening as Perry imagined until a trip into the woods lands him in another world.  The characters and creatures he is used to interacting with online are now real, and they insist he must help them save their world.  They are asking the impossible.  To save their princess, he will need to return to the world of Camp Washiska Lake and kiss the girl of his dreams.  How will he be able to make friends with her, gain her confidence, and kiss her when he can barely talk to her? 

Readers will follow Perry from one world to another and join him in his quest as he battles creatures and learns how to navigate in a reality that resembles his online hobby.  Author Ned Vizzini's ability to use humor and create a completely believable nerdy fifteen year old made THE OTHER NORMALS a captivating read even for this reader who has never played a role playing game.  Look for it in bookstores this October.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Author Emmy Laybourne has written a short story connected to her novel MONUMENT 14.  It is a chilling side-story concerned with testing done on the chemical/biological weapon released during the apocalytic event in MONUMENT 14. 

In DRESS YOUR MARINES IN WHITE scientists at NORAD have scheduled a test of a compound known as MORS.  The frightening events surrounding the test are recalled in a report being written by one of the scientists.  Unable to forget the horror, he relives the terror as he explains following the orders of his superiors, getting set for the test, and remembering the Leavenworth prisoners used as test subjects.

The information in this brief story makes the events in MONUMENT 14 even more meaningful and terrifying.  It will provide great supplemental material in my plan to use Laybourne's novel with my 9th graders this fall. 

DRESS YOUR MARINES IN WHITE is available in ebook format for only 99 cents!