Friday, May 8, 2015

Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye Stranger is the third Rebecca Stead novel I've read. I had to read one of her earlier novels, When You Reach Me, during an undergraduate course. I read Liar and Spy a while ago, and loved it, as did several of my students.

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger is about several different characters and how their stories intertwine, but at the heart of the novel is Bridge Barsamian. Bridge survived a terrible accident in elementary school and was told by her nurse in the hospital that she must have survived for a reason. So, she's hard at work trying to figure out what that reason is. Bridge has two best friends, Emily and Tab, who have been by her side through it all. However, the novel starts when they're in 7th grade and things are changing. Emily has newfound popularity and curves, and is beginning to experiment with more mature things - sending nude pictures, boys, etc. Bridge and Tab aren't quite ready for that yet, and seem a little less "advanced" than their good friend Emily. But, the three of them navigate this uncharted territory together and come out still friends in the end. This was the only mildly unrealistic part of the novel - I don't think most pre-teen friendships would survive under these circumstances. But maybe it will give readers some hope and a model of how things could work out.

I really loved all the different themes, conflicts, motifs, and stories that blended together during the novel. It keeps things interesting and propelled me to keep on reading. I think my students, specifically female students, will enjoy reading this novel.

Also Try: Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead; Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick

Monday, May 4, 2015

Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen

When I was student teaching in an Honors, single-gender girls program, Sarah Dessen was the fan favorite - my students were constantly passing around her novels, looking for similar authors, and talking about her characters and stories. It's been a while, though, since I've read one of her novels, so I was excited to give Saint Anything a try on NetGalley. 

Saint AnythingSaint Anything is about high schooler Sydney, who's trying to survive in the aftermath of her older brother's terrible decision. Her brother, Peyton, despite paralyzing another boy in a drunk driving incident, remains perfect in her mother's eyes. Sydney, obviously, feels utterly invisible and neglected. I think a lot of kids can relate to that feeling, of being constantly overshadowed by a sibling, and never feeling like they're "good enough". Sydney switches schools from her private, snooty school, to the local public school, and makes a group of friends who help her navigate through the wake of her family's experiences. At the heart of this group of friends are brother and sister duo Mac and Layla, who have family issues of their own. Their guidance and attitudes help Sydney better understand her own problems and her parents' reactions. 

I think that readers who are already Dessen fans will love this novel. However, I'm not sure that new readers will find it as thrilling. The novel had a more psychological slant to it than some of her other romances, and it just didn't seem to 'move' as much as some of her other novels did. I will still recommend it, though!

Also Try: Anything by Sarah Dessen, Susane Colesanti

Monday, March 2, 2015

Read Between the Lines, by Jo Knowles

I participated (quietly) in Teacher's Write the past few summers, so I'm always excited to read new novels from any of the hosts - Jo Knowles is one of them.

Read Between the LinesI was certain that I'd love this novel after reading and enjoying Living with Jackie Chan on NetGalley a few summers ago, and I was right!

For readers who like fast-paced action, this isn't really the novel. But, for readers who like a slower-paced novel, more like a character study, this is the book for you! Read Between the Lines really almost read like a mystery. It's told from the points of view of numerous characters who live in the same town - a high school cheerleader, a graduate of the town's high school, that boy's neighbor, a teacher, and others. I found myself throughout the whole novel trying to guess how these various pieces would come together, and was really excited when I figured them out. I couldn't believe how seamlessly Knowles knit together the very different lives of her characters into a cohesive story with a few shared experiences.

A commonality throughout the novel is the middle finger - characters are on both the giving and the receiving end of the finger in nearly every section of the novel, and it has varying degree of emotional context for each character. I didn't realize when I started the novel that that's what the title was about - that's one downside to NetGalley, I didn't see the cover. When you see the cover, you realize that "reading between the lines" in the image would leave the middle finger raised. I thought that was an interesting and current way to link the characters together. It all starts when one of the characters, Nate, breaks his middle finger in P.E. class. The middle finger sightings just increase from there, culminating in the literature teacher's  holding up the "Girl Scout Pledge" to her class, but really telling the students to "read between the lines" as she attempted to gain control of them.

There was some mild language, teenage boys fantasizing about the hot English teacher, and a character who's struggling with his sexuality, but other than that, the novel was pretty tame. I'd recommend it to advanced 8th grade readers and up.

Also Try: Living with Jackie Chan, by Jo Knowles; Fish in a Tree, by Linda Mulally Hunt

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dead to Me, by Mary McCoy

Dead to Me

I just finished Dead to Me, by Mary McCoy on Netgalley. It's due to be published on March 3, 2015.

The publisher lists as ages 12+, but I think that's far too young for this book - I would put it more along the lines of 14+ as it includes lots of mature content: drug use, mild pornography, abuse, and lots of language. I'm not sure that I would house this book in my classroom because it would be inappropriate for the majority of my students.

HOWEVER, I did enjoy reading Dead to Me, which follows the story of Alice, a 16 year old growing up in the shadow of Hollywood's glitz and glam. Alice's father has always been involved in showbiz, and she grew up watching her parents try desperately to catapult her older sister, Annie, into the family business. Alice, though, was never quite talented or pretty enough. So it was a huge surprise to Alice when her sister disappeared mysteriously 4 years before the novel's beginning. Alice had kind of given up hopes of finding Annie, until she received a mysterious summons and indication that her sister was hospitalized and had nearly died.

After reuniting with her now-comatose sister, Alice vows to figure out the truth about what happened to Annie. This leads her on a sort of wild-goose chase through the very seediest sections of LA, introducing her to dangerous and untrustworthy characters at every turn. Alice is even introduced to drugs, a mildly pornographic photography ring, and the like. She constantly questions who she can and cannot trust.

In the end, things work out as well as they can. I found myself kind of skimming the last third of the book - it just didn't hold my attention and I knew it wasn't something I'd be recommending to my students.

Also Try: Belle Epoque, by Elizabeth Ross; Strings Attached, by Judy Blundell

Monday, February 9, 2015

Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina, by Rodman Philbrick

As I've mentioned before, I love a good story about Hurricane Katrina. I love a story about Hurricane Katrina EVEN MORE when I see that it's written by Rodman Philbrick. I've been able to get even the most reluctant of readers hooked into Philbrick's characters and novels, so I knew this one would be good.

Zane and the HurricaneZane and the Hurricane has an interesting twist in that Zane is accidentally in New Orleans when Katrina hits. He's visiting a relative he barely knows and has never been to the city before. When the mandatory evacuation notice is announced, he and his great-grandmother attempt to leave the city, but he's left behind when he chooses to follow his canine companion. Zane weathers the storm in his great-grandmother's house, alone except for his dog. Shortly after, he's picked up by some passers-by in a canoe. These aren't Red Cross workers or anything, they're just a man and a girl who were left behind as well. Zane comes to learn that they are acquainted with some unsavory characters, and he's put into some extremely dangerous situations. However, it all works out in the end.

What I love the most about the story is the way the "ugly" parts of Katrina's aftermath are captured, but not dwelled upon. For instance, the trio find themselves near a wealthy section of town. They're hoping to use a phone or bathroom, but instead are accosted by a group of helicopter-borne vigilantes, who are paid to protect the prestigious homes from looters. Zane and his friends are far from looters, but the whole city is suspicious, especially of African Americans.

That's another part of the story that's so interesting - Zane is half white and half black, at a time when racial tensions in the city were heightened. This is constantly brought to light as he struggles to survive in the wake of the hurricane. Additionally, during his time in New Orleans, Zane learns things about his family and his family's past (his father is dead) that he never knew and that help him understand where he's from.

Also Try: Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes; St. Louis Armstrong Beach, by Brenda Woods; Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Morgue and Me, by John C. Ford

The Morgue and Me, by John C. Ford, has such an interesting plot and cover that I know several of my students will want to try it out. I already had a few students say they wanted to read it just based on the is a really cool cover!

Main character Christopher lives in small-town Petoskey, Michigan, and is trying to save money for college. Instead of taking a typical employment route, he decides to work part-time as a janitor at the local morgue, under slightly-eccentric Medical Examiner Dr. Mobley. After a short time at the morgue, Christopher discovers that something must be awfully amiss when he witnesses Dr. Mobley falsify a death certificate. He rules the death a suicide, but Christopher knows that the multiple gun wounds the chest can simply NOT be the result of a suicide - it's murder. So, he sets out to find the truth about this supposed nobody's death and set the record straight. Along the way, Christopher learns a lot about his town, his friends, and politics - sometimes more than he'd like to know. Christopher vows to determine the true story behind the death of this mystery man, no matter what it takes.

I loved Ford's characters and the way he developed them, although the strange relationship between Christopher and the reporter he begins to work with frustrated me throughout the entire novel. It did keep me guessing constantly, which I like in a mystery - I never felt like I could predict the outcome, which is fun.
There was some strong language and hints at sex, so I'd recommend this for more mature YA readers. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Full Ride, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I must admit that despite her wild popularity among my students (they love Among the Hidden), I've never read anything by Margaret Peterson Haddix before. Full Ride was my first venture into her writing. I loved her writing style and her characters, but there were some parts of the plot that just bothered me.

Full Ride is about Becca Jones, who is unfortunately paying for the crimes of her father. Becca's dad is in jail for extortion, and he is famously quoted for providing paying for his daughter's college tuition as a major motivator behind his crimes. After his arrest and imprisonment, Becca and her mother have to leave their hometown of Atlanta, because there are threats against them and they can't manage to live them anymore. So, they fled to Deskins, Ohio, just in time for Becca to start out her freshman year. Becca goes through high school in self-imposed isolation, not letting herself get close to anyone in fear that her mother's and her true identities might be found out. For the three years, Becca and her mother have been advised by her father's attorney, Mr. Trumbull. But when Becca starts applying for colleges, she realizes that Mr. Trumbull might not have her best interests at heart. So, she does the unthinkable, and goes to visit her father in prison. He's able to shed light on Mr. Trumbull's true character, and Becca becomes determined to bring him to justice.

While I did really enjoy Full Ride, there were certain parts that frustrated me. I couldn't quite figure out how to feel about Becca's dad, or how Becca even felt about him. I'd imagine, though, if your dad did something like hers, you'd feel uncertain, too. So maybe this was intentional. Additionally, I felt like some of the interaction with Mr. Trumbull was just too coincidental.

Also Try: Blood Wounds, by Susan Beth Pfeffer