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.

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.