Book reviews of YA lit and more

As a middle school librarian and hopeful reader of Missouri's high school award books (Gateway nominees), I am reading and reviewing as many young adult and middle grade novels as I can while working on my own writing for this age group.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stoner & Spaz- Ron Koertge

I have to admit my interest in this book came about when I read an interview with the in School Library Journal this month.  He has written a second book about 10 years after this first one was published.  I figured I might as well read the first one first.
Ben Bancroft has cerebral palsy and is dubbed "spaz" by his classmates.  He lives with his grandmother and has always been on the outside of every social circle.  He spends his time watching old movies at the Rialto Theater.  Enter Colleen, a stoner is his high school.  From the first night they spend at the Rialto Colleen turns Ben's life upside down.  These two unmatched high school students learn a lot about life from each other.  This book reminds me of Terry Trueman books (Stuck in Neutral).  This is a great book for high school students- even ones that don't like to read.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where the Truth Lies- Jessica Warman

I have now read all three Jessica Warman books, and I really enjoyed them all.  I especially thought it was clever how she tied a character from Breathless loosely to this book.  Emily Meckler seems to have the perfect life.  She lives and attends Stonybrook, an upscale boarding school in Conneticut where her father is the headmaster.  She has a great group of friends that live together in a suite in a small dorm, and though she doesn't have quite the money or brains of all the students, she fits in and has a good time.  Enter into the picture Del Sugar.  He has bounced around the foster care system and now has been adopted by parents who are enrolling him Stonybrook.  He is incredibly smart, yet doesn't play by anyone's rules.  When he and Emily fall in love nothing but trouble can follow.  Despite her parents and friends' warnings, Jessica lets herself get involved with Del and it leads where she never thought she would go.  Del is the catalyst for her discovering more about herself than she ever wanted to know and forces her to face up to the nightmares she has been struggling with since she was a little girl.  This book, like Warman's others, have some twists that although you are kind of prepared for are still enjoyable.  Her portrait of boarding school life is very accurate, although because of that this book is much better suited to a high school collection instead of middle school.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Identical- Ellen Hopkins

As all of Ellen Hopkins books have been for me, I couldn't not put this one down.  I usually read her books in one setting, so it helps to have a little bit of time carved out if you are going to start any of them.  This book follows identical twins that are dealing with the aftermath of a horrible accident, and the devastasting effects of their father's sexual abuse.  There is a twist at the end that I felt like I should have seen coming, but didn't.  I love her books in that way.  They are addictive and feel like an addiction have to have it, yet hate that you do.  If you have never read Ellen Hopkins, you definitely need to give her books a try.  Their sparse poetry form is amazing.  They are like works of art that are so hideous you need to look, but are sickened by at the same time.  She is a one of a kind author for sure.  Definitely would not put this book in a middle school collection though (or any of hers in my opinion).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Breathless- Jessica Warman

Katie Kitrell appears to have the perfect life as she lives it up at boarding school.  She is captain of the swim team, has a gorgeous boyfriend, and is best friends with the most popular girls.  She spends her weekends partying with her rich, popular friends, yet none of them would ever guess the secret Katie is keeping about her brother.  Only Mazzie, her roommate with her own set of problems, knows the truth about Katie's family.  As Katie pretends all is fine and goes through high school spending all her time at school and the summers swimming at Yale, she never suspects that one day all the secret keeping will catch up with her.  This is an enjoyable book, definitely for the high school crowd (much drinking, drugs, and some sex).  This book didn't keep me guessing as much as her later books, but for a first novel I thought it was great.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Between- Jessica Warman

Elizabethz Valchar has everything going for- she's beautiful, rich, a talented cross country runner, and the most popular girl in her high school.  The only problem is she is now overlooking her dead body and has no idea how she ended up face down in the lake by her father's yacht.  As Liz realizes she is dead, she also meets up with Alex, another high school student from her small Conneticut hometown that was killed a year ago in a hit and run accident.  As Alex and Liz travel invisibly throughout their town and back and forth from the present to the past through their memories, Liz is able to piece through downward spiral that lead to her death.  This book had me guessing to the end, and even when I was beginning to figure it out I was more than happy to follow along with Liz as she pieced her memories together.  I'm looking forward to reading the other two novels that Jessica Warman has written.  This book is more aimed at high school students- not completely suited to middle school due to the drinking, drugs, sexual content.  It isn't explicit, but enough that I would rather it not be in my middle school collection.  Fantastic read!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Matched- Ally Condie

Cassia has been waiting for her Match Banquet for 17 long years.  She can hardly wait to see the face that shows up on the screen as her match for life.  When it turns out to be her best friend, Xander, she feels happy.  It is unique to be best friends with your soul mate, but at least she knows Xander and would be happy with him.  She decides to view his information on the computer, yet it is not only his face that comes up on the screen, but another boy also.  Ky, an aberration, that is not supposed to be matchable.  Cassia struggles with living under her society's rules that dictate everything from what she eats to who she will marry, what she can read, and ultimately when she will die.  This book is excellently paced and Cassia is a very real character.  You feel right along with her as she develops her relationship with Ky, yet feels awful about hurting Xander.  I get tired of books that do not stand alone, but in this case I find myself hoping for a sequel.  I want to know what happens to Cassia, her family, Ky, and Xander.  I'm rooting for her to be strong enough to go against her society and exercise her own freedom of choice!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cinderella Ate My Daughter- Peggy Orenstein

I have to say that I think every mom and/or dad of daughters really should read this book.  I know for myself it is so easy to let your daughters slip into the girlie girl culture of today's society.  In many ways Peggy articulated so much of what has bothered me about the princesses, Disney Channel culture, and marketing to girls that I couldn't put into words myself.  I have a 6 and a 9 year old girl and this book caused me to look at what I encourage them to do, wear, watch, etc.  It is very thought provoking and also quite funny at times.  This is a very readable book and must for parents of daughters!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Alice Bliss- Laura Harrington

This book was heart-wrenching, yet wonderful.  Alice is a very likable 15 year old that is dealing with her father going to Iraq.  The book is part her dealing with not having him and part her growing up.  It takes you back to that age in an instant.  It reads more like an adult book than YA, even though Alice is 15.  I feel like bringing a certain maturity that comes from being an adult adds to the story, but I could see some teenage girls liking it also.  My only warning is be prepared to cry- and I'm not a crier!

Adventurers Wanted: Slathbog's Gold- M.L. Forman

I think I could sum up this book in two words: The Hobbit.  I felt like I was rereading Tolkien the whole way through.  Yes, there are some differences in plot; however, I feel like for the differences The Hobbit was much better.  For fantasy lovers that need another book with elves, dwarfs, wraiths, and a quest this would work, but it doesn't really offer anything special or different.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Without Tess- Marcella Pixley

Lizzy's older sister, Tess, is everything to her.  She is the inventor of a magical world where the sisters become pegasus, selkies, werewolves, anything they can imagine.  All seems like well until Tess seems to take the imagining farther and farther, trying to drag Lizzie along with her.  The pills and trips to doctors do not seem to cure Tess and she finally ends up dead.  You learn in this book as Lizzie goes through Tess's journal full or poems and drawings, how twisted Tess's world was and how difficult it is for Lizzie to pick up the pieces of her now seemingly empty life even five years later.  It does end on a more hopeful note and Lizzie begins to deal with Tess's death.  This book is very artfully written.  The characters are beautifully descripted.  I think adults and teenagers would both love this!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Butterfly Clues- Kate Ellison

Penelope is troubled.  Her brother is gone, her parents are basically checked out of life in general, and she is having a hard time controlling her "urges".  Urges to steal things, urges to tap, bow, say certain words, and always in 3's, 6's or 9's.  She spends most of her time outside of school wandering and finds herself in "Neverland", the run-down part of town, and she overhears a murder.  'Lo becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of this murder.  The murder of Sapphire, a 19 year old dancer in a club called The Tens.  It is in following leads on the murder that she meets Flynt.  Finally someone who gets her and all her quirks, yet who he really?  She finds herself falling in love with Flynt, yet holding back as she tries to understand who Bird is in Sapphire's journals, the truth behind her brother's death, and unwind the web that left Sapphire dead.

I couldn't help but love Penelope as a character.  She is so flawed, yet so real.  The murder mystery is very suspenseful, but I think the character development is what makes the book outstanding.  I hope this author has many more books to come.  

Bull Rider- Suzanne Morgan Williams

Cam's brother, Ben, has always been the bull rider in his family- following in the footsteps of his dad and grandfather.  Cam's thing is skateboarding.  It is what he loves to do with his best friend, Mike, despite the fact that he lives on a ranch in the Nevada desert.  Everything changes when Cam's brother decides to enlist in the Marines and is sent to Iraq.  Ben is severely injured and his coming home to recover is harder than Cam ever imagined.  Cam feels he has to do something big to inspire his brother to not give up on life, but big becomes riding the bull, Ugly.  A bull so mean no one has ever rode him for 8 seconds, but there is a lot of prize money to be given to a bull rider that is able.  There is a lot of bull riding in this book, which I realize will not be every kids' thing.  However, there is a lot of other more universal themes about war, love between siblings, the power of family, and how a boy becomes a man.  I enjoyed it, even if it wasn't my favorite book ever.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rot & Ruin- Jonathan Maberry

Benny is 15 years old, and it is time for him to get a job or he will no longer get the rations he needs to survive.  After failing at multiple jobs he decides to become an apprentice to his older half-brother, who happens to be a zombie bounty hunter.  Benny first trip with Tom out into the great Rot & Ruin proves to be eye-opening experience that changes Benny's view of Tom and his entire world since the "First Night" forever.  With the help of two girls, Nix and Lilah, they set out to begin making the Rot & Ruin and their world a better place.  I never thought I would enjoy a book about zombies, but I fell in love with these characters and their world.  My only hope when finishing it was that there would be a sequel, and much to my delight there is...Dust & Decay came out about a week ago.  I only hope it is as good as the first one.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Annexed- Sharon Dogar

This book is an absolute must to be paired up with reading The Diary of Anne Frank.  It is the story of the Franks and Van Pels time in hiding and beyond from Peter's point of view.  It is every bit as compelling as the original diary and alternates between Peter being at the death camp and his memories of being in hiding with Anne and her family.  I was just as disturbed at the ending of this book as I was the first time I read Anne's diary.  The story is so haunting- they get so close to making it, yet only Otto Frank (Anne's father) makes it.  There are a few references to Peter being afraid he will die or not get out of hiding before he can be with a girl, but other than that it is middle school appropriate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

forever- maggie stiefvater

Finally I was able to get the last book in this trilogy from my local library.  I have to say it is as beautifully written as Shiver and Linger.  I enjoyed how the author ended the series.  It was a relatively happy, or maybe satisfying is a better word, ending with Grace and Sam.  Cole and Isabel both become more likable characters to me in this final book.  I also appreciated knowing this would definitely be the final book instead of it morphing from a trilogy to a series, which seems popular now.  There are quite a few sexual inuendos between Sam and Grace that makes me hesitant to add it to a middle school collection, but high school would be fine.  I think 8th graders could handle it, but not 6th.  Maggie Stiefvater also did a nice job of putting some information about Minnesota and wolves in the author's note at the end.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Million-Dollar Throw- Mike Lupica

I have to admit I have been recommending Mike Lupica's books to boys for years, but this is the first one I have actually read.  Terrible, I know.  But now I don't feel so bad because this is a great book for boys (and maybe some girls as well).  Nate plays quarterback for his 8th school football team.  He has an amazing arm, and hopes to be like his hero, Tom Brady, when he grows up.  It is his love for Tom Brady that leads him to buy the autographed football for sale at a sports store that is having a drawing to give one person a shot at throwing a football through a target during half time of a Patriot's game.  The prize is of course one million dollars.  At this point it doesn't seem much different than Dan Gutman's "million dollar" books (which I do like and so do kids), but then the character of Nate is further developed.  His parents are struggling since his dad lost his job, his best friend Abby has an eye disease that is going to leave her blind soon, and he is in a quarterback slump.  You can't help but feel for this character and root for the happy ending.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mudville- Kurtis Scaletta

I must admit up front that I am not a huge baseball fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It has been raining in Moundville (aka Mudville) for years.  Twenty-two years to be exact.  Ever since the big game between Moundville and Sinister Bend was postponed due to weather.  Is Moundville cursed due to an old Indian legend, or is it just statisically odd that it's been raining for decades?  Roy McGuire loves baseball, but has to spend his time helping dig ditches in the mud to help his dad's business.  That is until Sturgis moves in.  Sturgis is also Roy's age and taken in as a foster child.  Next thing everyone knows it has stopped raining, the baseball fields have been rebuilt, and a big rematch between Sinister Bend (with Sturgis as pitcher) and Moundville (with Roy as captain and catcher).  The game is exciting and there is a twist at the end that made me smile.  Definitely a book to suggest to baseball fans!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Potato Chip Puzzles- Eric Berlin

My first comment about this book is thank goodness there is an answer key provided at the end of the book.  I am not the greatest at solving puzzles and I like to just have the answer, so I don't get too frustrated.  I'm sure some kids are like me and will look at the answers quickly, but I have other students that don't ever want you to tell them the answer because they love to figure it out.  This book is a mystery about a group of kids trying to solve 6 puzzles set out by a potato chip company owner.  The prize is $50,000 for their school, and their teacher chaperones are almost more competitive about the contest than the kids.  There are tons of puzzles along the way for readers to solve, as well as the mystery of who is trying to sabotage the groups' puzzle solving.  I would like to share this book with an entire class because the puzzle solving aspect is so much fun.  There is also a website ( that has even more fun puzzles.  The other book about Winston is The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Love, Aubrey- Suzanne LaFleur

This book will be perfect for my elementary and middle school girls that are always looking for sad books.  Yes, believe it or not I have a group that request this genre.  There has been an accident in Aubrey's life and it has turned everything in her life upside-down.  She finds herself living on her own until her grandmother discovers she's alone and comes to take her to Vermont.  Aubrey lives with her grandmother there as she deals with the accident and the aftermath.  Writing letters to her younger sister's imaginary friend is how she deals with her feelings about life.  Aubrey is a character you just want to hug and make everything better.  She is strong and does come out stronger in the end.

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z- Kate Messner

Gianna is one of my favorite characters in a middle grades reader I've found in a long time.  She is not your typical girl.  She is a star cross country runner, but struggles with school deadlines.  Her best friend, Zig, is quite the opposite.  He is very organized and saves Gianna many times when it comes to homework and projects.  She is currently struggling with a leaf project she left until the last minute, and to make matters worse if she doesn't get it turned in on time she will lose her spot to go to cross country sectionals.  Her arch rival, Bianca, will be glad to take her place.  In the midst of her school problems she begins to notice that her grandmother's forgetfulness is getting worse.  This is a wonderful story about a young girl dealing with family and school issues that I think most kids would relate to.  I plan to read this one out loud to my fifth graders this year.

Captain Nobody- Dean Pitchford

The next few books are a break from the young adult literature and are more middle grade novels.  This one happens to be on Missouri's state award nominee list this year, and I plan to read it to my fourth grade classes later this year.  Newt Newman feels like a nobody.  His older brother, Chris, is a football star and very popular in high school, while Newt is a nothing fourth grader.  This all begins to change though when Chris is knocked into a coma during an important footbal game.  Newt's two friend decide to take his mind off his brother by having him come up with a unique, one-of-a-kind Halloween costume.  As a result of that night Newt becomes Captain Nobody.  This identity not only helps him deal with his nothingness and his brother's coma, but leads to some interesting escapades around town.  This book is light-hearted and fun.  I know my fourth graders will enjoy it.  He has also written The Big One-Oh, which the kids love.

The Shifter- Janice Hardy

This is book one of a series called the Healing Wars.  Nya and her younger sister, Tali, are both orphaned Takers in their society; they have the ability to take people's pain and heal their injuries with just a touch.  Tali is part of the Takers that become Healers, but Nya is different.  She is unable to push the pain into the pynvium (metal that stores the pain); however, she can shift it to other people.  None of this seems too big of a problem until Healers begin mysteriously disappearing, including Tali.  Nya has to make some decisions on how far she will take her ability in order to get her sister back.  This is not my favorite genre of literature, but I will say I enjoyed Nya as a character.  She is likable and strong.  I am not dying to read the second book (Blue Fire), but I may have some kids that like it.  There is a letter from the author in the back of the book, which is interesting and some extra tidbits.  I always wonder if kids actually read this extra stuff or not.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beckoning Light- Alyssa Rose Ivy

Charlotte seems like a normal girl- one I could really relate to in that she does not enjoy the social situations of high school and is concerned with doing the right thing.  She has recently moved back to Charleston, South Carolina to live with her uncle and older brother because her mom is dead and her dad is off doing research.  It is the gate near her historic home that calls to her, and this gate leads her to a new world where she means everything.  This is a great fantasy- a nice change from all the vampires and werewolves that seem to be prevalent in YA fantasy.  It will almost remind you more of the C.S. Lewis and Tolkien fantasy genre.  The narrative swings between Charlotte and her brother, Kevin, so I could see it appealing to guys and girls.  There is action and romance.  I can add it to my middle school section of the library easily- there is no strong language or sexual exploits.  This is the first in a trilogy, and I can't wait for the second one!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Double Eagle- Sneed B. Collard III

Mike is visiting his dad for the summer, but instead of spending the few months at his dad's home in Pensacola, they headed to Shipwreck Island where his dad is teaching marine biology summer classes.  Shipwreck Island is off the coast of southern Alabama and is rich in Civil War history.  It isn't long before Mike meets Kyle and the two of them find themselves in a hunt for Confederate gold.  This mystery leads them to an old Confederate fort and even proves to be dangerous as other treasure hunters want to find the "double eagles" as badly as the boy do.  The question is can the boys find the gold before the hurricane hits the island and destroys everything.  This book is very exciting and has a plethora of history that can be researched.  If I was still teaching social studies I would love to use this book as a launch pad for Civil War studies.  There is Confederacy minting, ship wrecks, war forts,  marine life in the gulf, etc.  But for kids that just want a fast, fun read this book is also great.  The author spent a lot of time researching for this book and does a great job explaining the facts vs. fiction in the author's note.  Fun read and very well done!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jane in Bloom- Deborah Lytton

When I first began this book I thought, "Oh great.  Another book about eating disorders."  However, as I got farther into it I liked it because it is told from the younger sister's point of view.  The opening chapter is Jane waking up on her 12th birthday.  She is excited about this birthday for many reasons, but especially because she is going to finally get her ears pierced.  You quickly find out though that this birthday is not going to be about Jane, but rather her older sister, Lizzie.  It seems to always be about Lizzy.  Lizzy is 16, beautiful, smart, obedient, and struggling with an eating disorder that kills her shortly after Jane's birthday.  The rest of the book is about Jane and her family dealing with Lizzie's death.  The book ends of a very hopeful note, and it ends up being a very sweet story.  Jane is a very likable character.  I would recommend this book to my girls that are always asking for sad books.  It is on our state's middle school book award nominee list this year, but I definitely have some upper elementary girls that would love it.

Purple Heart- Patricia McCormick

This is the last of the YA books that I am reading that are part of our state (Missouri) high school award nominee list.  It is a little different from the other YA books on the list because the main character, Matt, is out of high school.  After graduation he went into the army and is stationed in Iraq.  The book opens with Matt recovering in a hospital after being on the receiving end of a RPG (rocket-propelled grenade).  He has a traumatic brain injury and is struggling with his memory of how he ended up in the hospital and how exactly one of the local Iraqi children ended up shot and killed during the incident.  This book is an extremely realistic look at the Iraqi war and the young men and women fighting in it.  I know the author extensively researched the war and life as a soldier over there.  I can think of many boys that are very obsessed with war books (a trend I have noticed since we went to war in the Middle East) that I would love to recommend this book to.  There is some language (what war wouldn't have that?), but nothing over powering the story.  I think this is one I could add to my middle school library for certain boys (and maybe even girls) that need a dose of reality when it comes to war stories.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Last Thing I Remember- Andrew Klavn

This book starts off with a bang.  Charlie wakes up strapped to a chair in a torture room, and he has no memory of how or why he is there.  The last thing he remembers is going to bed after a regular day of high school, karate, and homework.  He has to use all his wits and strength to escape from the torture chamber before they kill him.  He ends up in the woods, then a cave, and when he gets out he thinks he finds help.  Instead it turns out an entire year has gone by since the day he can remember, and not only are there bad guys after him, but the police are tracking him down for escaping prison where he was serving a murder sentence.  The book is the first in the Homelander series, which deals with terrorists, patriotism, and the search for the truth.  I would definitely recommend this to boys.  It reads like a movie, which isn't surprising since the author is also a screen writer.  A couple of his other books have already been turned into movies (True Crime), and I could see this series in a movie for sure.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Faith, Hope, and Ivy June

I have moved on to reading more middle grade novels, so this on again is for that 4th-6th grade age group.  Ivy June and Catherine are both from Kentucky, but they might as well be from different planets.  Catherine lives in Lexington in a very large house in a very nice neighborhood.  She attend the same private school her mother attended as a girl.  She has every opportunity in life and does not want for much. Ivy June is from the Thunder Creek, an area in the Kentucky mountains where they have no phone service, you have to hike to get to the house, and they still use an outhouse.  Ivy June lives up the mountain from her parents in her grandparents house where there is a little more room, and they talk her into doing an ambassador program with Catherine's school.  Ivy June then spends two weeks in Lexington with Catherine, and Catherine spends two weeks living in the mountains with Ivy June.  Both girls write journal entries that are spliced in throughout the book.  They learn about their differences, but more importantly they learn how similar they are through some stressful family moments.  The message in this book is great, and the girls are sweet characters.  I do not see many boys picking up this book, but I can imagine a handful of girls that I would recommend it to.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Invisible Lines- Mary Amato

This is a middle grades novel that has a touch of science in the midst of a great story.  It reminded me a lot of her other novel Naked Mole-Rat Letters.  Trevor Musgrove, along with his mom and younger brother and sister, is forced to move to the Hedley (Deadly) Gardens Apartments after the rent was raised at their last place.  When they arrive a baby has just been found in the dumpster, which sets the tone for what life in this apartment complex will be like.  Trevor has to begin in a new school, which goes well until he shows up Xander (popular boy from the Summit program and nice neighborhood) in soccer.  Xander has it out for Trevor, and Trev has to find a way to deal with him in addition to how to get along with very little money and opportunity.  This book hit home for me because in my school we have kids from very affluent areas mixed with kids from some very rough apartment complexes.  Mary Amato does a good job capturing how hard it can be for these two groups to come together, but it is a very hopeful book about second chances and not letting life get you down.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pop- Gordon Korman

This book is definitely a different style of book than Gordon Korman's other books.  Marcus is a new kid in town.  He has recently moved with his mom from Kansas to New York state.  His love is football, and he wants to make the varsity football team this year.  The only problem is Kennesaw hasn't lost a game in over a year and the only lost a handful of seniors.  Not to mention the quarterback seems to be the golden child, and that is the position Marcus wants to play.  Marcus is willing to work hard and spends all his extra time practicing in the park in Kennesaw.  It's there that he meets Charlie Popovich, a retired NFL linebacker that helps him change his whole attitude about the game.  The only problem is it's Charlie's son, Troy, that is the current quarterback and something is not quite right with Charlie.  This book would be great for those sports-loving boys, but it also brings up a great discussion on head injuries in this sport and the consequences of those later in life.  Gordon Korman says he was inspired to write this book by his grandmother that suffered from Alzheimer's and an article he read about NFL players suffering cumulative affects of multiple concussions.  This is a great read for middle school boys.  It would probably work at the high school level as well.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

After- Amy Efaw

Devon was a regular high school girl.  She got good grades, was responsible, played goalie on her club and high school soccer team.  She had everything going for her.  She was going to be everything her mother (pregnant with Devon at 16 and no college education) was not.  Until she made one bad choice, which she regretted the moment it happened.  This one choice led Devon down a path that most people would never think possible.  In this book Amy Efaw does an excellent job portraying teen pregnancy.  She did an amazing amount of research on "dumpster babies" and teen pregnancy for this book.  The author's note explains where she came up with the idea of looking at what happens "after".  She also explains the research that many teen pregnancies are happening to "good" girls like Devon.  The author explains the background to this book and some teen pregnancy websites and resources on her website:
After website
Although the subject of teen pregnancy is not one we usually want to broach with middle school students, this book handles it so beautifully that I think a mature 7th or 8th graders (probably girl) would enjoy it.  It definitely would cause them to think about their actions and what those consequences could be.

Muchacho- Louanne Johnson

This author also wrote the book Dangerous Minds, which was turned into a movie awhile back (Michelle Pfeifer plays the inner-city school teacher) so I had an idea it would be about a troubled teen.  Eduardo is growing up in New Mexico.  He attends an alternative high school because of a problem he had with one of his elementary school teachers, and though he secretly loves to read he tries his best to fit in with juvenile delinquents that make up his school and neighborhood.  All that changes due in part to a teacher named Miss Beecher and a girl named Lupe.  When Lupe becomes his girlfriend, Eddie decides to try and clean up his act.  I liked this book as an adult, and I can think of a handful of boys I have had in my years teaching and in the library that I would like to think would get something out of this book.  But I'm not sure the kids would love it.  It is more hopeful than Todd Strasser book I read and reviewed earlier this summer, but I'm not sure the kids that need to hear it would be open to the message.  On the other hand, it might be interesting for some teens to learn about how other kids live.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Cupcake Queen- Heather Hepler

This is a fairly simple plot- Penny's parents are separated so she and her mother move out of New York City to the small town where her mother grew up and her grandmother still lives, Hog's Hollow.  Her mother opens a bakery.  Penny is not accepted at first in her new town and school, but she soon finds not only a best friend, but a boy as well.  This is definitely a girly book.  Think fans of Sarah Dessen.  I'm not a huge romance fan; however,  I loved the setting.  There were many side characters that are fun, and Hog's Hollow is an enjoyable place to read about.

Monday, June 27, 2011

We Were Here- Matt De La Pena

This book opens with Miguel in trouble.  He is a half white/ half Mexican boy from California that has landed himself in "juvie".  From there he moves to a group home, where he is to serve his time of one year.  It is in juvie and the group home that he meets Rondell, a very large African-American boy that has bounced from foster home to foster home, and Mong, a Chinese kid that is a wild card.  These three unlikely friends decide to escape the group home and travel south to Mexico and start a new life.  The book is written as Miguel's journal as they travel.  They have some interesting adventures and learn a lot about life, themselves, forgiveness, and facing their demons as they travel.  None of them are the same by the time they reach the border.  This book would work well for high school boys, but I could see girls liking it also.  It is difficult to read about the boys' lives at times, so it wouldn't work for kids that are sensitive.  It makes you look at troubled kids much differently after you read what these boys have been through.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have- Allen Zadoff

Here is another book about a high school student with weight issues.  Do I detect a trend here?  Is childhood obesity becoming so rampant that there are this many book out about kids being overweight?  This was from a boy's point of view, which makes it a little different.  Andrew weighs in over 300 pounds and has never been one of the popular kids.  The only club he has ever participated in is the model UN, where this year he and his best friend are going to be Estonia.  All this changes as the result of a girl.  Andrew ends up going out for football, where his size is put to good use.  In the end he realizes being popular isn't exactly all it's cracked up to be.  This book isn't anything amazing, but it is fun.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

If the Witness Lied- Caroline B. Cooney

I was introduced to this author when I read The Face on the Milk Carton.  In this current book, as in the first on I read, you meet young characters that are faced with tough decisions.  I liked both books for similar reasons.  These kids (in this case a group of 4 brothers and sisters) are facing something awful (death of both parents), and they have to make quick decisions about what to do and how to solve the mystery of their father's supposed accidental death.  I love to live vicariously through the characters.  This is a fast, short read, so it would be perfect for reluctant readers.  The story is told from the older brother and both sisters' points of view, which makes it a good choice for girls or boys.  It also would be a great fit for middle school kids.  Not a lot of real depth, but an enjoyable read.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fat Cat- Robin Brande

Seems like the theme for reading the weekend was eating and food.  This book was much lighter than Wintergirls; however, it had a main character who also felt she was overweight.  "Cat" is a brain, but hasn't cared much about how she takes care of her body.  Through a research project in one of her high school classes she decides to live the next 7 months like a early hominin (even more ancient than a Neanderthal).  This means no modern technology, walking every where (within reason), and eating a diet that consists of fruits, vegetables and grains, which is a huge change from Cat's normal diet of junk food.  This vegetarian diet and constant exercise has some interesting effects on Cat's personal life.  She has some boy problems to resolve as she deals with her body image issues.  This is a fun book, that actually made me more interesting in researching a vegetarian diet.  Definitely a chick book, but a light, fun one.

Wintergirls- Laurie Halse Anderson

I'm not sure what I expected when I began this book.  All I really knew was I have always loved the author from the first time I read Speak.  She has an amazing way of portraying what is really happening with teenage girls, despite the fact that some adults don't want to face it and have therefore banned her books.  This particular one is about two girls that have severe eating disorders, and one has recently died.  Anderson's writing from Lia's point of view is so powerful.  Working with middle school girls I see my share of suspected eating disorders and many girls who have such a distorted sense of body image.  This book takes you spirally down with Lia as she eats less and less, exercises compulsively, and cuts herself to stop the pain of losing her best friend.  It does end with her beginning to get well, so it would give hope to girls going through similar situations.  It is a heavy book, and not one I would recommend to every teenage girl, but it definitely needed to be written, if only to offer hope to some girls and give understanding to the adults working with them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Linger- Maggie Stiefvater

I've already reviewed the first book in this trilogy, but I had to go ahead and say that I've read the second and enjoyed it as much as the first.  This book had Sam basically cured, but now Grace is having problems.  It leaves readers very set up for the final book, Forever.  These books again are beautiful, even the font in this one is green (Shiver was blue).  Everything coordinates with the seasons, the music, the cover.  Really they are amazing.  I have to admit I didn't want to love these, but I can't wait to read Forever!

The Morgue and Me- John C. Ford

This is another book where photography plays a large role.  That must be something this year in publishing because this is the third book this month where photography has been key to the plot.  This book is a murder mystery told from a high school boy's point of view.  I do appreciate that so many of the books on our state nominee list this year are geared to boys because that is a change from how it has been.  Christopher is 18 and has decided to get a job in his small town's morgue.  Sounds weird, but he is obsessed with spy novels and wants to become a spy, so it is a good fit.  Especially when a body comes in that he discovers is not a suicide, but a covered up murder.  He befriends a hot, young, rebellious reporter who wants to find the truth and break the story to further her journalism career.  This book is a fairly typical, and somewhat predictable, murder mystery, but still a fun read.  It would definitely be a light read again for a reluctant boy reader.  High school is the most suitable age, but it could probably work with middle school as well.  There is no explicit sexual content and not much language.

Flash Burnout- L.K.Madigan

This book was actually much better than I thought it would be.  Blake's character definitely gave me insight into the high school boy's mind, which might have been helpful during my high school year's.  However, sometimes ignorance is bliss.  Blake is basically a good guy torn between two girls- Shannon, his beautiful girlfriend and Marissa, his friend and fellow classmate in his favorite photography class.  He really does try to do good by both of them.  He does his best to understand Shannon and all of her girl strangeness, and in the meantime gets pulled into Marissa's dysfunctional home life through a picture her inadvertently takes of Marissa's mom.  In trying to be too much to too many people, Blake gets completely misunderstood, and although it does not have a perfectly happy ending, he does learn a lot about himself and life in general.  This is again definitely a high school book due to the sexual content.  This would be a good book to recommend to boys that don't tend to read much.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hold Still- Nina LaCour

Caitlin and Ingrid have been best friends since the beginning of high school.  When Ingrid commits suicide, Caitlin is devastated.  Caitlin finds Ingrid's journal under her bed where Ingrid has left it for Caitlin to find.  This book takes you through the grief process with Caitlin, and thankfully she makes it through the other side.  The author does a great job of making Caitlin's character completely believable.  I was hurting for her.  I do have to say that reading this fairly quickly after 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher was unfair to this novel.  Asher's book handles suicide in such a unique manner that it sets the standard pretty high.  I did enjoy the journal entries as a way to peek into Ingrid's mind.  Suicide is always a difficult subject to write about, and this novel handles it beautifully.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Playing with Matches- Brian Katcher

I met Brian Katcher at the recent MASL conference in Tan-Tar-A (a conference for Missouri librarians).  I attended his session on becoming an author, so it was enjoyable to read his first book that made it to the publishing world.  It was a great first novel- even ended up on Missouri's Gateway nominee list last year (only to lose to The Hunger Games- go figure).  What struck me about this book was the voice.  Brian captures a high school boys voice perfectly.  I learned a lot about what guys must have been thinking back in high school (and perhaps it's better that I didn't know back then).  Leon is a very likable character even when he is trying too hard.  When he befriends Melody, a beautiful girl whose face was disfigured in a fire accident when she was four, I was so happy that he was acting so mature.  But true to most (or all) guys his age he chooses the hot girl over Melody when the situation presents itself.  The ending wasn't fairy tale, but it wasn't depressing either.  He learns his lesson with some definite consequences, but it only made me like him more.  I'm looking forward to reading Brian's next book (Almost Perfect).  He is certainly an author to watch, and I enjoyed meeting him this spring.  I hope to join his ranks as a published author someday!

The Reading Promise

OK, so I've decided to be more myself in these posts and not such a dry reviewer of books.  If it looks like I've read an incredible amount of books this weeks it's because school has just ended and my children are on vacation with my parents.  One of the books I've read this week is actually a Father's Day gift for my dad (yes, I often read books first before I give them as gifts- I'm very careful with the pages.  Surely no one has ever suspected).  It is the most inspiring story as both a parent, daughter and librarian.

Alice Ozma writes the book as a memoir about "the streak" that her and her father started when she was around 9 years old.  Basically it was them trying to read aloud together every night for 100 nights, which then turned into 1,000 nights and beyond.  It ended the night he took her to college and they read one last time in the stairwell of her dorm.  I was teary by that point.  Teary because I was remembering how my own dad and I have shared a love of books (hence the father's day gift idea) and because I want that with my own three kids.  I plan to start our own "streak" at our house this summer.  Conveniently my oldest is 9- obviously the perfect time to start making the read aloud commitment.  The website to check out is

If I Grow Up- Todd Strasser

DeShawn is growing up in the Frederick Douglass Project- land of drug dealers, nightly gun shots causalities, and gangs.  He is a smart kid that does well in school, and he tries to rise above the temptation of joining the gang in his neighborhood- Douglass Disciples.  This works until the day he has a realization that while his grandma, sister, and her new twins are starving at the end of every month when the welfare check has run out, while his friend Terrell is newly inducted into the gang and has a new flat screen tv, new shoes, new clothes, and enough cash to take care of his family.  He makes the decision to save his family the only way he knows how, and that decision ultimately becomes his downfall.  If you are looking for an uplifting story with a happy ending, this book is not for you.  Strasser does an excellent job of telling it exactly how it is.  It is heart wrenching to see the conditions kids are growing up in that live in these projects.  And the ending is realistic for how it must end for most of these kids.  This is definitely more for high school kids than middle school, and it would make for interesting discussion, especially for kids that think the gang life is cool or admirable.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

King of the Screwups by K.L. Going

How can the son of a super model and business genius grow up to become a screw-up?  Liam is Mr. Popular and a chick magnet.  But to Liam's dad it seems like everything Liam tries to do gets screwed up.  When his dad finds him in a compromised situation with a girl in his home office, he finally decides Liam must move out.  Liam's mom comes to the rescue and sends him to his drag queen uncle's trailer to live instead of his strict grandparents in Utah.  He decides to make a fresh start at his new high school by becoming a completely unpopular nerd; however, he can't even get that right.  Everyone loves him anyway.  With the help of his drag queen, glam rocker "Aunt Pete" and pals, Liam finally learns that he is much more than a screw-up no matter what his father may think.

Shiver- Maggie Stiefvater

For as long as Grace can remember the wolves have been there.  Their presence can be counted on every winter in the woods that border her backyard.  Even after being attacked as a child, Grace is not afraid of the wolves, but rather draw to them unexplanably.  But it is the golden-eyed wolf that she is most obsessed with.
Sam, a werewolf from age 7, can't help but watch Grace from his wolf form every winter.  It seems safer than during the summer when he's human.  Grace is his forever summer girl he has never spoken to until the night he is shot and everything changes.
This book is a fresh take on werewolves and it is a wonderful romance.  The sexual overtones makes it high school appropriate (not middle school).  It is also the first book in a trilogy.  It leaves you wondering how Grace and Sam's love will survive.

P.S. There are an amazing book trailers on YouTube that Maggie Stiefvater did for this series.They are beautiful!  There are also playlists that go with every book.  I know it sounds like Twilight, but they are beautifully written!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hate List

Hate List by Jennifer Brown is a debut novel that looks at a high school in the after math of a tragic school shooting.  Valerie and her boyfriend, Nick, have felt like outsiders in their high school since their freshman year.  They both dream of being the winners for once instead of the losers they always feel like.  In order to make herself feel better about the trouble at school and home, Valerie starts the “hate list”, a simple notebook that lists al the people and situations she hates.  Valerie has no idea how serious the “hate list” is to Nick and just how he envisions becoming a winner for once.  This book is definitely for high school students, but it takes a hard look at the consequences for how we treat others and the situations that lead up to violence in youth.  This book is highly recommended, and the author has a second book coming out about a high school girl in an abusive situation.  Definitely an author to look for!