Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

Jaden was adopted from Romania at the age of 8. He is now 12 years old and he still remember how it felt to be abandoned by his birth mother. His parents in the United States have loved him and cared for him, but he has trouble connecting with them or anyone else. In this book, Jaden and his parents travel to Kazakhstan to adopt a new baby. Jaden doesn't expect to care about a new sibling, and he certainly doesn't expect to feel attached to a special-needs toddler at the orphanage. Jaden has deep-seated problems for which there are no easy solutions, but this is a story about the power of love and the ability of people to change and grow. I enjoyed this book as an adult reader and I think students will also empathize with Jaden's complicated emotions.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

SYLO by D.J. MacHale

If you like action, mystery, and kids fighting against evil, SYLO may be the perfect book for you. Tucker is a 14-year-old boy who lives on Pemberwick Island off the coast of Maine. The first sign of trouble is when one of Tucker's teammates drops dead during a football game. Next a stranger encourages Tucker to taste something called the ruby, which temporarily gives him almost super-human abilities. When another islander dies mysteriously, the United States Navy swoops in, quarantines the island, and tells residents it is all for their own safety. But Tucker and his friend Quinn see a strange flying aircraft explode in the night and begin to wonder if the government takeover (by a group called SYLO) may just be a cover for something much worse than a deadly disease. Tucker, Quinn, and a tough friend named Tori make an unsuccessful attempt to leave the island, then are taken prisoner. The teenagers are constantly risking their lives to uncover the truth and get help from the outside world—and the author keeps you guessing up through the end. You're going to want to pick up the sequel immediately because the questions just get bigger and bigger. Great for middle schoolers who love action and dystopia.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

There is a lot of interest in the Selma voting rights march and this memoir makes Selma and the preceding marches come alive from the perspective of a young person. Lynda Blackmon was actively participating in civil rights protests in Selma before the famous march to Montgomery. In this memoir she talks about how those marches were organized and how her black teachers helped students leave school to participate. Lynda was jailed numerous times and often was fearful, but she continued to participate and was supported by her family and friends. She was beaten on Bloody Sunday, and then became the youngest person to march all the way from Selma to Montgomery. It was on that march that she turned 15 years old. This story is told in the first person and is easy to read. It is written in chapters but it reads like a personal essay. Students as young as fifth graders will have no problem understanding Lynda's story and will learn a great deal about the events surrounding the Selma march, including the deaths of Jimmie Lee Jackson and Viola Liuzzo. This would be an excellent addition to a middle school Civil Rights unit.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

This book grabbed me and I finished it within one day. I am interested in human rights and women's rights in particular, and this provided a fascinating look at the life of a girl of Pakistani heritage. Naila is an American girl with Pakistani parents. She is bright and ambitious and looking forward to college. She also has a boyfriend that she keeps a secret from her strict parents. But one night of fun gets her a consequence that she would not have believed. She thinks that her parents are taking her and her brother to stay with relatives in Pakistan for a short time, but the trip expands and all her future plans are up in the air. I found myself imagining how I would have gotten out of such a situation and I suspect that in real life Naila wouldn't have had a good outcome. I am curious how Pakistani readers react to this book. I imagine some would find it to be an indictment of their culture while others would welcome the story that exposes how girls can be treated differently in other cultures. I think American students will enjoy the story and learn something at the same time. I also must put in a plug for one of my all-time favorite books, Shabanu by Suzanna Fisher Staples. It's also about a girl Pakistan caught up in a world where she can't make decisions about her own future.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Tesla's Attic by Neal Shusterman

If you like science, action, fantasy, and mystery, this may be the book for you. Nick moves into an old house with a lot of intriguing junk in the attic. After he sells a lot of items at a garage sale, he realizes that each one has special power and that he needs everything back in order to avoid world destruction (yes, it's true). There's an evil society out to stop Nick and his new friends and each item has amazing and unique properties. How the items work together and how famed scientist Nikola Tesla is involved are questions that will be answered by the end of the book. Recommended for middle schoolers who like science fiction and fantasy.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Cadence doesn't remember the accident she had the summer she was 15. She's trying to piece things together, but her family members won't talk about it and there is a sense of uneasiness hanging over the private island where her wealthy family spends every summer. Cadence, her two cousins, and a family friend, are "the liars" from the title and for years they have enjoyed their privileged existence brought about by their well-to-do grandfather and his three daughters who will inherit his wealth. Now that Cadence is 17, she is desperate to know the truth and you, the reader, must also try to figure out who is telling the truth and who is a liar. This is essentially a really good mystery that will likely surprise you in the end. A great book for grades 7-up.

The Martian by Andy Weir

This book was recommended to me by several high school boys. It's not something I normally would pick up, but I listened to it as an audiobook, and found it very compelling. It is hands-down the most science-filled science fiction book I have ever read, and as a matter of fact, it's almost nothing but science. The plot is simple. Mark Watley, an American astronaut, is left for dead during a mission to Mars. He's not dead, though, and he must figure out a way to survive on Mars for as long as it takes NASA to rescue him. Things go wrong. He almost dies. He fixes the problems. Then more things go wrong. There's not a lot of characterization or dialogue, but his survival story kept me hooked and all the science sounded believable to me. I'm pretty sure this will appeal to people who don't like novels dripping with symbolism and emotion and deep meaning. Highly recommended to boys from grades 7-up (not that girls won't like it but it definitely has strong guy-appeal).

Friday, February 27, 2015

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Today's blog entry is from Noah, a high school senior. I wish I could say I wrote this book review, but I must give credit where credit is due. I did read the book and enjoy it more than I thought I would, and this captures why smart high school guys love Steelheart

Rarely do stories engender in me as many conflicting emotions as Brandon Sanderson’s sci-fi/fantasy novel Steelheart, the first of the Reckoners series. Tapped by Drew E. as the Galloway Book Club’s choice for the month of February, I approached the 400 page novel expecting a campy, melodramatic plotline with the approximate literary value of Go Dog Go, bound tenuously together by intermittently hard-to-follow action sequences and a poorly constructed romantic subplot. I found exactly what I expected.

And I couldn’t put it down.

Steelheart is a fantastical dystopian novel, set ten years after the appearance of a glowing red star in the heavens, known as Calamity. Roughly a year after Calamity’s appearance, certain humans began manifesting various powers—such as flight, the ability to create forcefields, super agility, impervious skin, and other equally ridiculous capabilities—and, for one reason or another, those individuals became implacably evil with no regard for human life. Such people are known as Epics.

I’m sure that description prompted many of you to role your eyes back into your head; the plot does, I wholeheartedly agree, sound patently ridiculous. But it is a siren, my friends, luring any readers within its range to dash their brain upon the rocks of literary mind candy. Seriously, after the first chapter I began counting down the time until I could read again. My sleep suffered. Had the novel been longer, a significant decline in my academic performance wouldn’t have been surprising. Throughout the course of reading the book, I suppressed the part of my brain that steadfastly reminded me how, objectively, I should find the novel silly rather than engrossing.

Sanderson’s protagonist, David, whose biblical name is possibly the only allusion in the entire book, was an eight year old when the High Epic Steelheart, now emperor of Newcago (used to be Chicago), killed his father. Now, David is an 18 year old with a deep-seated hatred for Epics and an even more intense desire for revenge. He has dedicated his adolescence to studying epics and a mysterious group, the Reckoners, who wage war on them. With incredible predictability, when a Reckoners cell appears in Newcago, David manages to join them and lobby for an attack on Steelheart.

I just read the above paragraph, and once again, I’m amazed at how much I enjoyed the book. I don’t know how it happened. What came over me? Surely IQ points dripped out of my ears whenever I cracked the novel—but, after some soul-searching, I regret nothing. Sanderson knows how to weave a tacky plotline into a web of suspense, wind up his readers, and force them, against their better judgement, to revel in a narrative brimming with superpowers, vendettas, and dramatic confrontations. To read Steelheart is stare down the darker demons of our literary tastes, which we all need to do once in a while.

Friday, February 13, 2015

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

The story of John Lewis's activism continues in this graphic novel. Book One covered his childhood and the sit-ins. This book continues with the Freedom Rides and ends with the March on Washington. This is also the time period when John is made head of SNCC and is walking the line of representing the will of the young people versus getting along with other civil rights leaders. Most interesting to me were the arguments about the content of Lewis' speech at the March on Washington and the last-minute changes that were made. As in the first book, the story is compelling and the artwork complements it perfectly. This is a book that everyone should know about.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Are You Experienced by Jordan Sonnenblick

Everyone has heard about Woodstock, the most famous concert of the 1960s. Can you imagine being transported back in time and experiencing it for yourself? That's what happens to 15-year-old Rich. And the craziest part of all is that he is attending the concert with his then 15-year-old Dad and his then 17-year-old uncle whom he knows is going to soon die an early death. I love Jordan Sonnenblick and this book is not only a great story with his typical mix of humor and sentiment, but I also learned a lot about the experience of being at Woodstock. Of course, you couldn't describe Woodstock without including some rather mature content, so this book is recommended for 8th grade on up. If you lost music, you will especially love this book with it's appearances by Jimi Hendrix and other legendary musicians.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

If you like Paris, exclusive boarding schools, and young love, this is the book for you. It's actually the third book of three loosely connected novels, including Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. In this book we meet Isla, who has had a crush on Josh for years. They meet by chance in Manhattan before returning to school in Paris, and the stage is set for their romance. In spite of the predictable nature of the story, I enjoyed the characters and the settings (New York...Paris...Barcelona) and was happy with the ending. Recommended for high school romantics.

Next by Kevin Waltman

Next is the story of Derrick Bowen, a high school freshmen with the potential to be an NBA player. He lives in Indianapolis and attends his local high school, where basketball is a BIG deal. This book is the story of his freshman year, in which he struggles to make the starting lineup on his team and he considers transferring to a mostly white private school in the suburbs where he might be more likely to win a state championship. This is a book for basketball fans—it is full of the play-by-play of Derrick's games and descriptions of practices and basketball strategy. Don't look for symbolism or deep meaning here—this book is just straightforward narrative. It's easy-to-read and pretty clean, so I would recommend it to hard-core basketball fans who might not otherwise be interested in reading. (Grades 7-9.)

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

My favorite graphic novels tend to be autobiographical. Two excellent ones from the past year are El Deafo and March Book One. Persepolis, written in 2003, is the story of a girl exactly my age growing up in Iran. Up until age 10 she enjoyed much freedom. But after the "Islamic Revolution" her co-ed secular school is closed and she must wear a veil and attend an all-girls school. Marjane is a rebel, though, and this book chronicles the next few years in which she refuses to be silenced. Readers may need to refresh themselves on some Iranian history as she lives through political turmoil and the war with Iraq. In some ways it is a difficult, disturbing story complete that includes torture and war, but at its heart it is a coming of age story of a girl trying to be herself in the midst of a repressive regime. Recommended for readers interested in history, human rights, and knowing more about the world. (High school and up.)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Trouble by Non Pratt

Hannah is a risk-taking girl who has relationships with numerous boys and finds herself pregnant. She knows the father of her baby but she's not telling anyone who it is (including you, the reader). Aaron is the new kid in school who has a deep dark secret of his own that he is running from. For some reason, Aaron is drawn to Hannah and wants to help her, so he offers to pretend to be the father of her child. It's a relationship that works for a time, but the two teenagers can't keep their lies hidden for long. The heart of this book is their friendship that endures even while both of their darkest secrets get exposed to the world. Hannah is a complex character who makes some really poor decisions. I had trouble liking her but I did enjoy learning more about her and seeing her face up to her problems. This is definitely a high school book for mature readers.

Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner

Francesca (also known as Frankie) is 15 years old and has a lot to deal with. She blames herself for the drowning death of your younger brother, Simon, four years ago. Her mother has become emotionally withdrawn, she suspects her father may be having an affair, and she has a crush on her best friend's boyfriend. A strange thing happens at the beginning of the summer—she meets a 4-year-old boy (also named Frankie) who reminds her so much of Simon that she starts to wonder if he could be the reincarnation of her brother. She gets a job as Frankie's babysitter and finds more and more eerie similarities between the two little boys. At the same time, she slowly lets go of her fear of the water, returning to the beach and the swimming pool for the first time in four years. There is friendship, romance and betrayal in this story, as well. Readers who like realistic fiction that's not too edgy or disturbing will enjoy getting to know Frankie and Frankie.