Sunday, December 30, 2018

SPEECHLESS by Adam P. Schmitt

Speechless

Thirteen year old Jimmy is told he is expected to give a speech at the funeral of his cousin Patrick. What do you say if your cousin has caused nothing but trouble for you, and to be honest, you couldn't stand to be around him?

The funeral is the next day. Jimmy has never even attended a funeral let alone given the eulogy. His introduction to death is Patrick's wake. Dressed in a suit with dress pants so small he is afraid the button will pop leading to injury and embarrassment. As he tries to find a quiet place to write the dreaded speech, Jimmy observes those who attend the wake.

Jimmy is surprised by who comes to pay their respects. (He isn't really sure what "paying respects" even entails.) He is surprised by how the various mourners act and what they say. Some walk quietly by Patrick's body and then embrace Patrick's parents expressing their condolences. Others avoid the casket and simply visit in the vicinity of his cousin as they chat about their own lives and activities. Yet others whisper about the mystery of how Patrick died in the way folks would gossip over a backyard fence. Jimmy takes it all in as his mind wrestles with memories of Patrick and what he could possibly say in his speech.

Author Adam P. Schmitt vividly captures the first time wake/funeral experience. Those who have already had the misfortune of attending this kind of sad event will relate to the sights, sounds, and uncomfortable feelings. Those who haven't, may be better prepared should the time come. SPEECHLESS deftly combines reality and humor and is perfect for readers middle grade and up.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

FIG PUDDING by Ralph Fletcher

Fig Pudding

Clifford "Cliff" Abernathy III is one of six children in the Abernathy family. Being the oldest of his siblings, Cliff has many responsibilities. Sometimes he enjoys being a role model for the younger kids, but other times it isn't easy.

FIG PUDDING is a collection of stories about Cliff's life in a large family. Each member of the family has their own unique personality, and the stories do a great job explaining how everything works, and sometimes doesn't work.

Readers will enjoy hearing how family members learn to understand little Josh's needs and wants, Teddy's sometimes wild behavior, Brad's mostly quiet, calm attitude, and what it's like to be Cyn as the only girl in the clan.

Author Ralph Fletcher hits the highs, lows, and humor of living in a large family. As an only child, I enjoyed reading about Cliff and the gang. The short story format makes FIG PUDDING perfect as a read-aloud for elementary and middle grades.

Monday, December 24, 2018

SWING by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess


Swing
Best friends Noah and Walt have plans. Those plans include earning spots on the varsity baseball team and being cool. Girlfriends would be nice, too.

When the baseball team roster is posted, Noah and Walt have not been chosen for the fourth year in a row. That doesn't stop Walt. He starts a workout routine that involves frequent trips to the batting cage. Unfortunately, the nickname he chooses for himself, Swing, doesn't prove to be true when it comes to actually hitting the ball.

Secretly, Noah has another goal. He wants to hookup with Sam, the girl who has been his friend since third grade. Noah would like to take their relationship past friendship, but that means asking her to ditch the popular baseball star who is her current boyfriend.

Inspired by some old love letters he finds in a thrift store handbag, Noah starts creating love letters for Sam. His romantic intensions become known when Walt secretly slips Sam one of the letters without Noah's knowledge. Now Noah must decide if he has the nerve to reveal himself as the author.

Author Kwame Alexander teams up again with poet/artist Mary Rand Hess to create this unique love story. Readers of their previous collaboration SOLO will be thrilled to see this new novel in verse. Readers will root for Noah and Walt as their story unfolds, and as is typical with Alexander's books, it isn't all fun and games.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

HEARTS UNBROKEN by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hearts Unbroken

Louise "Lou" has recently moved to Kansas from Oklahoma and Texas, and she is adjusting to some changes. Lou knows she is lucky to be the girl friend of the popular Cam Ryan, but her decision to break up with him via email comes as a result of learning his true feelings about Native Americans. Lou is proud of her heritage and her place in the Muscogee Nation.

When the director the school musical version of The Wizard of Oz decides to create a cast featuring actors of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, Lou's younger brother Hughie is cast as the Tin Man. A group of parents organizes a protest group that threatens to tear the community apart. Several families and individuals, including Lou and her family, recent threatening messages telling them to go back where they came from.

Lou, her best friend Shelby, and her new friend Joey use the school online newspaper The Hive to defend the Oz production and point out the threats aimed at cast members and others. The resulting tensions could end Lou's budding romance with Joey and cost a teacher her job as advisor of the school paper.

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith gives readers a unique view of diversity by revealing Lou's Native American ancestry including a look at the native language of the Muscogee Nation. (See included glossary.) HEARTS UNBROKEN also exposes L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, as an outspoken racist in favor of genocide. Smith's newest novel definitely illustrates the need for diverse books.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: A Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham


To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel
What a wonderful adaptation! Fred Fordham takes the classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and gives it a truly honorable new look and feel.

In this graphic novel version Fordham tells Harper Lee's story almost verbatim. Those familiar with the novel will feel as if they are rereading the time-tested classic. The characters are drawn in a way that suggests the characters' appearances as they are portrayed in the film starring Gregory Peck. This adds to the comfortable reading experience.

As a former teacher who taught this book to high school freshmen, I highly recommend it as a way to "sell" the book to readers who shy away from the length of the original. The tone and culture of the original is still present and offers more to reluctant readers than merely skimming the SparkNotes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

FOUR THREE TWO ONE by Courtney Stevens

Four Three Two One

Golden "Go" Jennings and three other teens are the sole survivors of a bus bombing in NYC. Each had a different reason for being on the bus, and each has a different reason for feeling survivor's guilt.

Go and her boyfriend Chandler are in NYC headed to Ellis Island to recreate a photo taken many years ago when Go's grandparents entered the country as immigrants. Their destination is the same, but as they enter the bus, their relationship is crumbling. Each is feeling guilty about something and wondering how to be honest about what they feel.

Rudy is sightseeing. He thinks his life may be about to change because he just met Go, but in minutes it will be changing for an entirely different reason.

Caroline is boarding the bus with her abusive boyfriend knowing her recent actions may be the reason people are about to die.

The four survivors are on a return trip to NYC to attend a sort of memorial for the bus bombing victims. The journey is complicated by emotional as well as physical challenges. Each teen is hoping the trip will answer questions and provide closure, but they will have to be willing to open their minds to the possibility of a future they may not be ready to confront.

Author Courtney Stevens takes readers on this journey filled with painful memories and often paralyzing fear. She deftly creates each character's story and reveals them in a way that is sure to mesmerize readers and keep them thinking long after the book is finished.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

I'M OK by Patti Kim

I'm Ok

Ok Lee and his mother have been struggling since his father died in a freak roofing accident. Ok's mother works three jobs just to make ends meet. Their apartment is filled with the sound of the sewing machine as she sews cuffs on sleeves until they are piled on every surface, and the place perpetually smells of spicy kimchi that she makes daily and sells to friends and neighbors. Ok misses his father and wishes he could find a way to make things easier at home.

When his efforts to sew like his mother fail, he devises a plan to learn how to braid hair like a woman in the neighborhood hoping to make a killing braiding the girls' hair at school. Unfortunately, the girls he knows can only afford to pay him in change so his dream to help his mother quit at least one of her jobs fails miserably.

Things do finally get better financially, but that's because his mother starts dating a deacon from their church. Ok thinks the man tries too hard and when his plan to break up the happy couple fails, Ok moves to plan B which involves saving enough money to buy a tent and supplies so he can run away.

I'M OK takes readers into the Korean culture. Ok, pronounced like Pork, but without the P or the R, deals with multiple problems many of which revolve around the fact that most of the people he knows don't really understand what it means to be Korean. A couple of unexpected friends, Mickey and Asa, may turn out to be accepting and supportive if Ok will just let them in.

Author Patti Kim combines humor, resourcefulness, and determination to create Ok and the people who surround him. I know this reader has a better understanding of what it takes to make kimchi as well as the importance of friendship and family.

Monday, November 26, 2018

HOW WE ROLL by Natasha Friend

How We Roll

Quinn McAvoy knows that people have problems. Her brother Julius is on the autism spectrum so she knows he has bigger problems than she does. When her family moves from Colorado to Massachusetts so he can attend a special school, she knows that is what's best. She knows Nick, a boy at her new school, who lost both his legs in a snowmobile accident, has bigger problems than she does.

But, here's the thing, Quinn has some equally big problems. She just doesn't want to bother her parents or get unnecessary sympathy, or rejection, from her friends. When Quinn was about to start eighth grade, she lost all her hair. It was discovered that she had an autoimmune condition known as Alopecia areata.When everyone at her old Colorado school found out, she became the butt of jokes and felt uncomfortable even with her best friends. Now she's about to enter a new school, and the only outlet she has for complaining is a message board called alopeciasucks.com.

Dealing with wigs, her parents' total focus on her brother's autism, making new friends, and an unexpected attraction to the kid in the wheelchair, makes for a roller coaster of emotions for Quinn. Will she make new friends she can trust? Will she make the basketball team? Will she ever get over what she still calls that One Stupid Night?

Author Natasha Friend has been a favorite of mine and many of my students. PERFECT, LUSH, and BOUNCE have "spoken" to a lot of the teens in my classroom over the years. HOW WE ROLL focuses on the struggles of several teens and their desires to fit in and be normal in a world that doesn't always welcome differences. HOW WE ROLL is a definite winner!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

SADIE by Courtney Summers

Sadie
Everyone thinks nineteen year old Sadie ran away. She did gather her belongings, buy a used car from a sketchy couple, and head off on her own, but she has a mission. She has vowed to find and kill the man who killed her little sister Mattie.

The body of thirteen year old Mattie was found by the schoolhouse in Cold Creek, Colorado. Her death was definitely the result of foul play, but Sadie isn't convinced that the local authorities are doing everything they can to find her killer.

Both girls were raised by a surrogate grandmother after their drug addicted mother took off. Sadie doesn't remember much about her father, and Mattie's dad took off and can't be of any help in solving the mystery of his daughter's death. That leaves Sadie. She's determined to get revenge if she has to use the switchblade she's carrying to do it herself.

Following what few clues she has, Sadie goes from stop to stop asking questions and gathering new details as she goes. With only a little money for food, etc., Sadie choices are not always wise, but she's willing to do anything for Mattie.

Author Courtney Summers builds suspense by alternating Sadie's experiences with transcripts of from episodes of a podcast by a local radio personality highlighting the little known details of Mattie's death and the search for the missing Sadie. This is a psychological thriller you won't want to miss.

Friday, November 23, 2018

WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF by Elana K. Arnold

What Girls Are Made Of

*Fair warning - I would suggest age 16+ as readers for this book.

Author Elana K. Arnold doesn't pull any punches in WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF. Life as a girl today is not all "sugar and spice." Nina Faye's story is filled with issues girls today should be discussing. Sex, orgasms, emotional abuse, pregnancy, and more are brought out into the open as Nina experiences them all.

At age fourteen Nina began to question love when her mother declared "there is no such thing as unconditional love." Not a particularly involved parent, Nina's mother shares her pearls of wisdom, but usually denies having said them when Nina wants to discuss them further. This leaves Nina floundering when it comes to her first serious relationship.

Some may criticize the direct and often explicit nature of Arnold's book, but she makes it clear that girls need to stand up for themselves and take charge of their own minds and bodies. WHAT GIRLS ARE MADE OF offers readers a chance to experience some of the scarier aspects of being a girl on the page rather than first hand. Nina's is a cautionary tale that just might prevent some girls from making the wrong choices.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

HEY, KIDDO by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo
HEY, KIDDO is Jarrett Krosoczka's tale of his family and dealing with drug addiction. Never knowing his father and having a mother who was either in rehab or jail, Jarrett grew up living with his grandparents. Their love for him was obvious, but it wasn't always smooth going. His mother was in and out of the picture so he never truly learned to count on her for anything.

From the time he could hold a pencil, Jarrett loved to draw. It helped him pass the time and also helped him express himself. His grandparents made sure he had the opportunity to take art classes at the art museum, and he was introduced to comics. In high school he was offered a chance to draw for the school paper and loved every minute of it.

Jarrett describes finally getting to meet his father. Finding out he had a half-brother and sister was the best thing about finally connecting with his dad.

Despite an often tumultuous life Jarrett graduates and heads off to college to study art. He explains that the experiences of his early life taught much about himself and what it takes to be a family. In several narrative sections at the end of the book, Jarrett explains his inspiration and the process required to create this graphic novel.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

THAT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENED by Kody Keplinger

That's Not What Happened
Three years ago nine people were shot and killed at Virgil County High School when one lone shooter fired a gun for a reason not understood by anyone. Six students survived and are now living with feelings most of them can't even express.

Lee decides that writing down an account of what happened might help answer some of her questions. One thing she knows is the death of her best friend Sarah has been misunderstood by everyone in Virgil County, even Sarah's own parents. Since a book is about to be released placing Sarah on the pedestal of a martyr, Lee decides it is time to tell the real story of what happened in the girls' bathroom that fateful day.

Thinking it might be easier if the other survivors tell their versions of what happened, Lee asks Denny, Miles, Ashley, and Eden to write letters that she can include with hers. She wishes most that she could ask Kellie to share her story, too, but after the way people treated her, Kellie left town and Lee doesn't know where she is.

Kellie's story is the key to revealing what happened that day. Can Lee find her and will she agree to add a letter to that will answer everyone's questions? Or, should Lee just forget the whole thing?

Author Kody Keplinger weaves a twisted tale involving Lee and the other survivors. With school violence becoming all too common, THAT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENED will strike a cord with readers. Keplinger keeps the focus of the story on the small group of survivors and the nine victims, not on the shooter which gives this school shooting tale a different angle.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

BLENDED by Sharon M. Draper

Blended

Isabella "Izzy" knows both her parents love her, but she also knows that their constant fighting that ended in divorce is a fact of life she must accept. Since her father moved back to Ohio, her life is a back and forth tug of war. One week she lives with her mom. One week she lives with her dad. In between there's Exchange Day when everyone meets at the mall in front of the Apple Store for the handoff.

Both her parents have new significant "others" and there's even Darren whose mother is Izzy's dad's new girlfriend. Izzy has a room in each house, clothes in each closet, and even a different backpack for each week.

One thing has been bothering Izzy a lot lately. Her mother is white and her father is black. This never used to be an issue, but recently Izzy has been feeling like she doesn't really belong anywhere. Her skin tone identifies her as black to most who see or know her, but is that who she truly is and does it really matter? She knows, of course, it does, but with the rest of the turmoil in her life, Izzy isn't sure how to talk about it.

BLENDED is author Sharon M. Draper's latest book. Izzy's story highlights how lucky she is with loving parents and an awesome ability to play the piano, however, even when outward appearances indicate happiness, Draper draws attention to issues that often lurk in the shadows. Labeled for an 8-12 year old audience, BLENDED has much to offer for readers of any age. It is definitely one to check out soon.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

SAVING WINSLOW by Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow
SAVING WINSLOW is the latest book by author Sharon Creech. It is the heartwarming tale of a tiny donkey and the boy who promises to love and care for it. Creech fans will want to add this to their already awesome collection of her books.

Louie has had some rather depressing experiences with animals in the past. Whether it is fireflies, worms, goldfish, hamsters, or kittens, they either die or run away within a few days. When Louie's father brings home a tiny, newborn donkey, Louie swears this time will be different. No one else seems to be supportive, but Louie begs them to "Think positive!"

There are some rough patches, but the donkey Louie christens Winslow thrives. Many positives come from raising the little fellow. Louie makes a new friend, Nora, who gradually warms up to Winslow and the rest of Louie's family. Winslow also helps Louie occupy his mind when he is missing his older brother who is far away in the army.

At just over 100 pages with short chapters, SAVING WINSLOW is perfect for any reader or animal lover looking for an inspiring read. I'll be sharing it with some 5th graders in the near future. I'm sure they will love it.


COUNT ALL HER BONES by April Henry

Count All Her Bones

The all-star cast of characters from GIRL, STOLEN is back! Author April Henry returns to Cheyenne's story to let readers know what happens next.

Several years ago Cheyenne and her mother were in an accident that left her mother dead and Cheyenne blind. Not long after the tragedy, Cheyenne was mistakenly kidnapped when the family car was stolen with Cheyenne sleeping in the backseat.

Griffin Sawyer stole the car for his father's chop shop, but when it's discovered that the daughter of the head of Nike is part of the package, Griffin's father, Roy, decides to demand a ransom.  Cheyenne is ultimately rescued and Roy is sent to prison.

COUNT ALL HER BONES picks up with the start of Roy's trial. Cheyenne and Griffin are scheduled to testify, but Cheyenne's trusting nature results in a second kidnapping. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as the imprisoned Roy sets a complicated plan into motion. Will Cheyenne's self-defense training pay off? Is Griffin part of the new plot or is he also a victim?

COUNT ALL HER BONES is a must read for fans of April Henry. A big thank you from this reader for letting us know what happens next.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P by Alex Gino

You Don't Know Everything, Jilly P!

Jilly can't wait until her little sister is born. She is already planning how she will teach her little sis how to make the perfect PB&J sandwich.

The day finally arrives. Her sister is born and she approves of the name her parents choose, Emma. Before Emma even leaves the hospital, it is discovered that she has a significant hearing loss. Special doctors and audiologists quickly become part of Emma's young life. Once Jilly's parents find a support group, some the confusing information begins to make sense. Jilly gets busy researching and vows to learn how to sign (ASL) so she and Emma can communicate.

Jilly also finds a source of information and support in the chatroom of the online game she plays. It  turns out that "Profound" as she knows him is a member of the support group. His real name is Derek, and he is as just as dreamy in real life as he Jilly thinks he is when he's gaming online.

Jilly's colorful extended family welcomes baby Emma, but another uncomfortable situation develops at a holiday meal when her uncle and even her grandmother make hurtful, racist remarks toward Jilly's aunt and cousins. There is much to learn about people's feelings and how hurtful words are often disguised as innocent comments. Jilly is beginning to understand the need to speak up and take a stand when others need her help.

One thing Jilly learns is that not everyone makes hurtful comments on purpose. Aunt Alicia explains,
"It's like the difference between stepping on someone's foot by mistake and kicking them. Only one is mean, but they both hurt. Sometimes you don't have to be trying to hurt someone. You just have to say the wrong thing."

Author Alex Gino covers quite a bit of controversial territory in YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING, JILLY P. Hopefully, readers will be inspired by Jilly's commitment to speak up and make a difference in the world around them.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

DEAR EVAN HANSEN: THE NOVEL by Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul

Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel (B&N Exclusive Edition)
I'll be perfectly honest and say that I knew nothing about the hit show of the same name, but after reading the novel, I'd now love to see the Broadway version.

Evan is in therapy and medicates himself to get through the day. He is happiest when he is blending in and not the center of attention. However, there are times when he wishes someone would "see" him. His mother is always working or attending classes. His father has remarried, moved to Colorado, and is about to have another child. Evan dreams of Zoe Murphy but knows she'll never give him the time of day.

According to Evan's therapist, writing letter to himself will help him deal with his depression. During the summer he wrote one of the letters every day, but it didn't seem to help. Lately he's been ignoring the therapy assignment. On the day Evan decides to type up a letter while in the computer lab, Connor Murphy picks up the letter from the printer and keeps it. Evan doesn't think too much about it until he realizes he won't have a letter to show his therapist.

What follows is a complicated web of lies stemming from Evan's letter. After Connor commits suicide, Evan finds comfort in leading people to believe that he was Connor's only friend. Thinking this will somehow help comfort Connor's parents and sister Zoe, is the main motivation for the lie, but Evan finds strange comfort himself when the Murphy family begins including him in their lives.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN illustrates the lengths a lonely person will go to be seen by others. Connor's emotional issues and Evan's depression are all too common. This novel may help bring the problem to light.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

KNOCKOUT by K. A. Holt

Knockout
Levi is back! When he appeared (and almost died) in HOUSE ARREST by K. A. Holt, he was only a sickly little kid. Now he is in middle school and his health has improved. His older brother Timothy is studying for the MCAT test and hoping to head off to medical school. His mother is busy working, and he has been able to connect with his dad who he sees every other weekend. Things are definitely looking up.

Levi loves to make people laugh and he loves hanging out with his best friend Tam. Unfortunately, Tam has discovered a new friend, Kate, and Levi worries that people are laughing at him more than with him at times. One weekend his dad suggests that Levi find a sport. He even offers to pay for fees and equipment for any sport Levi wants to try.

Sports have never been on Levi's radar. He's always been on the small side. His lungs have always been his worst enemy. He still makes regular trips to a Cincinnati hospital to have his airway checked. There are times when he describes breathing like trying to breathe through his mother's coffee stirrer. Exactly what sport would be possible?

Turns out that boxing has a special appeal for Levi. Being small has its advantages when it comes to speed and agility. His dad is all excited, except for the cost, but Levi thinks he's figured a way around that problem. The real issue is his mom. There's no way she is going to approve of a contact sport like boxing, and Timothy is so wrapped up in his studying that he might as well not even exist.

KNOCKOUT by K. A. Holt is the sequel to her novel in verse called HOUSE ARREST. Fans of the first book will easily fall back into the rhythm of Holt's "shaped poetry" and fall back in love with Levi and his crew. Check out both of these great books!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST by Susin Nielsen

Optimists Die First
Petula's life is filled with crushing guilt. Although no one else does, she blames herself for the death of her baby sister. Since the tragedy, Petula has vowed to be ever watchful. She holds everything together for her mother and father by doing her chores, fixing dinner, and cleaning up after the houseful of cats her mother has rescued. She trolls the internet for stories of tragic deaths and keeps the printouts in a scrapbook.

It isn't until Petula meets Jacob in a small art therapy group at school that she begins to see life with a more positive outlook. Jacob has experienced tragedy of his own, but his passion for film and his ability to convince Petula to face some of her fears opens the possibility of a relationship Petula never dreamed she would have.

OPTIMISTS DIE FIRST is another book by author Susin Nielsen. I'm so glad to have recently discovered her heartfelt yet humorous tales. Her characters are sure to grab readers from the start and make them seem like long lost friends. With just the right combination of tension and lighthearted humor, Nielsen is able to surprise and entertain.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen

We Are All Made of Molecules
Boy-genius Stewart and high school popular girl Ashley are thrown together when Stewart's father and Ashley's mother decide to fall in love and move in together. Stewart's mother died a few years back, and Ashley's father suddenly decided he was gay and moved into the little house in the backyard. Now Stewart and Ashley have to decide if they are going to join forces as siblings or continue to ignore each other as much as possible.

The world conspires to keep throwing the two together. When Stewart transfers from his old school to the one closer to his new home, Ashley is shocked to discover that brainy Stewart gets to skip a grade and lands in her ninth grade classes. How can life get any worse?

Stewart finds a few friends, but he is also faced with bullying especially from a kid named Jared. At the same time Ashley's popularity soars when she begins dating the same person victimizing her annoying, soon-to-be stepbrother. While Ashley is in love, Stewart is living in fear.

Author Susin Nielsen takes readers into the inner workings of a family trying to remake themselves. There are positives and negatives galore. Characters with quirky habits and passionate ideas provide an entertaining and inspiring story.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

FROM YOU TO ME by K.A. Holt

From You to Me
I picked this one up a Scholastic book sale. A fan of K. A. Holt after reading HOUSE ARREST, I needed to read this one.

FROM YOU TO ME focuses on Amelia Peabody and her struggle to recover after the death of her older sister Clara. It's been three years since the boating accident at the lake. During those years Amelia has watched her father spend months shut away in his bedroom before finally quitting his job and throwing himself into becoming a locally famous BBQ expert. Her mother is finally back to work part-time and trying to convince Amelia it is time to move on.

As the new school year begins, Amelia is determined to turn things around. When tradition dictates each eighth grader is given letters they wrote to themselves back in sixth grade, Amelia is mistakenly given Clara's letter. The letter contains a bucket list of sorts. Amelia reads Clara's list of goals for her eighth grade year - goals she never got to complete. Amelia immediately decides she will complete the list for her dead sister.

With the help of family and friends, Amelia discovers that everyone has their own ways of dealing with loss. No one way is better or worse, and that leaves Amelia determined to find what works best for her so she can honor her sister and find a path that will help her carry on.

GREETINGS FROM WITNESS PROTECTION by Jake Burt

Greetings from Witness Protection!

Nicki has been in five different foster homes in the five years since Grammy died. Now she lives at the Center hoping for a placement that might finally work.

Raised by Grammy, Nicki mostly remembers living on the edge and surviving on Grammy's latest con and shoplifting and picking pockets at the mall. Snatching random items is the only thing that keeps Nicki calm and grounded in an otherwise chaotic world.

That chaos takes a different direction the day U.S. Marshals come to the Center looking for a young girl. The next thing Nicki knows she is being whisked away to a training facility where she meets her new "family." Nicki will now be called Charlotte. She now has a mom and a dad and a younger brother named Jackson. She will be a solid B- student and keep a low profile. Nicki is now part of government witness protection.

Author Jake Burt makes his fiction debut with this crazy adventure. Everyone knows the concept of witness protection, but Burt helps readers become insiders in this government program. Tightly controlled by strict rules and regulations, Nicki and her new family must conform for their own protection, but they will find that's easier said than done.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

LOUISIANA'S WAY HOME by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana's Way Home (B&N Exclusive Edition)
A curse, a pet crow, a seedy hotel, and a stuffed alligator are among the interesting things readers will encounter in LOUISIANA'S WAY HOME by Kate DiCamillo.

It was 3:00 AM when Granny hustled Louisiana to the car. She insisted that they needed to hit the road now. Not long after leaving their home state of Florida, Granny begins to complain about her tooth. Soon she has collapsed in the back seat moaning and begging for a dentist. Driving can't be too difficult Louisiana thinks as she gets behind the wheel and heads toward a town she hopes has the needed dentist.

Dr. Fox tells Louisiana that ALL of Granny's teeth are a problem, and he proceeds to pull them all. The Good Night, Sleep Tight Motel is stop number two. Hopefully, Granny can recuperate, and Louisiana can figure out what to do next.

Author Kate DiCamillo reveals that some people are helpful and others are not as she tells Louisiana's tale. Used to lies and secrets, this young girl finds out that telling her story in the best way she knows how might help her end up with the friends and family she has always dreamed of.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

ANYTHING BUT OKAY by Sarah Darer Littman

Anything But Okay
ANYTHING BUT OKAY, author Sarah Darer Littman's newest book, hits home on several current issues. Veterans returning home with mental and physical injuries, the hot button issues of immigration and racism, and the hateful nature of politics and viral social media are all part of the complex plot of this new release. It is chock full of discussion topics for teen readers and adults alike.

Stella's parents both served in the military, and now her brother Rob has just returned from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. Although Rob has no visible scars from battle, he is suffering from PTSD.

Stella doesn't really understand the true impact of her brother's struggle until she invites him to see a movie at the local mall. After the show she suggests getting ice cream at the food court. For most a simple after movie treat, but for Rob it turns into a nightmare. He is arrested and charged with a felony. Now Stella has a better idea about why her parents have been so focused on Rob since his return from the Middle East.

Rob's actions are misinterpreted by a local politician running for governor, and the hate spills over onto Stella's best friend's family. Between what is happening to her brother and best friend, and the discord she sees at school where she is running for junior class president, Stella is completely confused. Why are people so cruel? Why do they believe what they see in the media without checking the facts? And finally, is it better to do the right thing or is it better to win no matter what?

Littman uses first person narrative combined with letters, text messages, and conversational dialogue to capture readers and take them directly into the minds of Stella and her brother. Readers will see glimpses of themselves and no doubt their friends and family members as they observe Stella's world. ANYTHING BUT OKAY is a must read!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

OTHERWOOD by Pete Hautman

Otherwood
Nine year old Stuey loves wandering in the woods his great-grandfather once owned. According to his grandfather, the area was once a golf course until it closed and the wild of the woods took over. Stuey's favorite spot is a deadfall where a number of trees fell creating a tepee-like structure that makes the perfect secret place.

Speaking of secrets, Stuey's grandfather had something to say about secrets, too. He told Stuey that secrets can split reality. If you have a secret from someone, that means that you live in one reality with the secret and they live in another reality without the secret. Grandfather also believed in ghosts.

All of Grandfather's wisdom usually confused Stuey, but after the old man died and Stuey met a new friend named Elly Rose, secrets and ghosts came to have a more important meaning. The threat that the woods were to be destroyed to build a mall and then the disappearance of Elly Rose change things forever for Stuey.

Author Pete Hautman combines reality and fantasy in this unique tale. Readers will ask questions about the real possibilities of parallel worlds and ghostly intervention after they read about the friendship of Stuey and Elly Rose and their adventures in Westdale Wood.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

BANG by Barry Lyga

Bang
What happens when you are the one mentioned in this headline? Boy, 4, Shoots, Kills Infant Sister.

Sebastian Cody was four years old when he picked up his father's gun and aimed it at his four month old sister. He is now fourteen. Every day he asks himself if today is the day. He knows one shot killed his sister, and he knows one shot could end his pain, end his life. So far the voice in his head has told him the time is not right for the final shot.

Meeting Aneesa gives Sebastian a different view of life. She helps him take on his mother's challenge to do something productive this summer. Sebastian combines his love of making pizza with Anessa's creative thinking to launch a YouTube channel that takes his mind off the past. But what will happen when Anessa learns the truth? The voice may be telling Sebastian it's not the right time to fire the final shot, but losing Aneesa might give him a reason.

BANG by Barry Lyga deals with heartbreak, gun violence, and grief. Lyga reveals Sebastian's pain and his constant struggle to deal with the guilt of having killed his sister. His sketchy memory of the actual event, the breakup of his family, and the fact that his name is forever connected with the tragedy make moving on a challenge that may be more than he can survive.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

HERE TO STAY by Sara Farizan

Here to Stay
Life would be simple for Bijan Majidi if it just involved basketball and figuring out a way to let the popular and beautiful Elle know that he loves her. For Bijan life means going to an elite private school on an academic scholarship and being the son of Middle Eastern parents.

Bijan spends his free time working on basketball skills, reading graphic novels, and hanging with his best friend Sean. Lately, he has been pretending that he's interested in a group of students trying to change the school's mascot, but that's really only because Elle is part of the group. Instead of getting her attention, it seems the group's organizer, Stephanie, is crushing on him.

Usually one to hang out under the radar, Bijan becomes the center of everyone's attention when the basketball coach calls him up from the JV squad to help the team get to the playoffs. Only a junior, Bijan's place on the varsity threatens several of the seniors and he becomes a target for taunts. Things come to a head when someone emails a photo of Bijan dressed as a terrorist to the entire student body.

He wants to find out who is responsible, but it may be safer to just go with the flow and not make waves. Coach wants everyone to focus on the game and Bijan agrees, but this attack on his heritage hurts more than he expected.

Author Sara Farizan captures the hate all too prevalent in today's society. Multiple storylines also highlight further racism and homophobia that make life difficult for some of Bijan's classmates as well. HERE TO STAY is sends a powerful message about the cultural divide and the need to educate people about hateful behavior.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

ALLEGEDLY by Tiffany D. Jackson


Allegedly

Nine year old Mary Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. Now Mary is almost sixteen and has been released from juvenile detention into a group home. She still insists she is innocent, but during her years in detention she remained silent during psychological testing and therapy so no one really takes her seriously.

When Mary is not following orders around the group home, she is attending cosmetology classes and fulfilling required volunteer time at a local nursing home. Her mother visits once every other week, but is more focused on her own craziness than on the rehabilitation of her daughter. The other girls at the home bully Mary, steal her things, and taunt her about her alleged crime. The only friend Mary has is Ted, another volunteer at the nursing home. 

It could be said that Ted is more than a friend. Mary feels safe and loved when she is able to steal alone time with Ted. In fact, she is several months pregnant. When she tells Ted the news, he is excited and the two begin planning how they can be together and raise their child. Mary knows that keeping her baby is out of the question unless she can convince people of her innocence. That means convincing her mother to confess the truth about the death of little Alyssa.

In this debut novel, author Tiffany D. Jackson dives into the psychic of a young girl with a traumatic past. Jackson gives readers a frightening look at the justice system, the detention system, and the hopelessness of a girl attempting to make something of herself despite the odds stacked against her. From the facts of the crime to the resulting punishment, nothing is quite as it seems. ALLEGEDLY will keep readers on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

NO FIXED ADDRESS by Susin Hielsen

No Fixed Address
Felix and his mother Astrid are constantly scrambling to make ends meet. They may not have a lot, but they have each other.

When Astrid loses her two part-time jobs, their precarious financial situation becomes dire. Forced to leave their home, they shuffle around through a series of housing arrangements until they end up living in a VW van Astrid "borrows" from a man named Abelard when he moves to India.

Living in a van is exciting at first, kind of like a long camping trip. But, lack of a toilet and shower, and always having to move to a new location to avoid suspicion, soon gets old. Felix finally realizes he and his mother are truly homeless.

After months of keeping the truth of their nomad existence from his friends and his school, an opportunity to change their lives arises when Felix is selected to be a contestant on his favorite TV game show Who, What, Where, When. If he would win, his life could head in a whole new direction. But, will having no fixed address ruin his chances and be the end to his friendships with his best friends Dylan and Winnie?

Author Susin Nielsen combines a tragic societal issue with heart and humor to create NO FIXED ADDRESS. Readers will find themselves cheering for Felix, booing at the villains he encounters, and laughing at his hijinks. Nielsen's new novel is perfect for middle grade and teen readers.