10. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh, 352 pages, read by Angie, on 02/09/2015

GiGi (Galileo Galilei) and her big sister DiDi (Delta Dawn) have moved from South Carolina to Long Island after DiDi won a million dollars. Their mom died when GiGi was a baby and DiDi has been taking care of her. She doesn’t want GiGi to be like her, never finishing school and a hairdresser, so she pushes GiGi to do well in school and has enrolled her in a prestigious prep school. GiGi decides this is the perfect time to reinvent herself so she changes her name to Leia and decides to make friends. She starts out by tripping over cute boy Trip and immediately becomes part of the popular crowd. She also becomes enemies with mean girl Mace. The only thing GiGi and DiDi have from their momma is a recipe book full of very unhealthy recipes. They know she was also Delta Dawn and a hairdresser and that she loved Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow lipstick. This is the story of GiGi’s new life in Long Island, how she discovered who she really is, and how she came to find out what really happened in her past.

This book is full of recipes which might interest some young readers; however, I found I just skipped them whenever they popped up. I would never make any of them so I wasn’t really interested in finding out what was in a twinkie pie. I did like GiGi’s story even if she wasn’t always the most likeable character. Mace is portrayed as the mean girl, but she actually turns out to be fairly nice. GiGi however is horrible to both her sister and Mace throughout the story. The revelations about GiGi’s past aren’t that surprising, but I think kids will find them interesting. This is a book that is going to appeal more to girls than to boys.

I received this book from Netgalley.

09. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Tammy · Tags: , , , , ,

Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society by Amy Hill Hearth, 259 pages, read by Tammy, on 02/01/2015

miss dreamsville A group of social misfits join together to form a book club at their small town library. Set in the south in a small town in Florida during the sixties the group is made up of a divorcee, an old maid, a gay man, a Northerner, a young black woman, an ex-con and the librarian with secrets of her own. The way these quite different individuals become friends and end up affecting each other’s lives is a lovely tale.

09. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos, 160 pages, read by Angie, on 02/06/2015

This is the fifth and final book in the Joey Pigza series and the first I have read. Joey’s mother is suffering from postpartum depression and decides to check herself into the hospital. She pulls Joey out of school to take care of his baby brother. The dad had plastic surgery that ruined his face, ran off and is now stalking the family and wants to kidnap the baby. Joey’s blind girlfriend Olivia arrives after being suspended from blind school and moves in with Joey and baby Carter. Joey cleans up the roach-infested house, takes care of Carter, does the grocery shopping and is basically the man of the house.

This is a fairly dark book for one aimed at the middle grade reader. Joey has to deal with a lot of things he shouldn’t have to and there is no parental or adult support. I had a hard time believing that he would be able to leave school like he did or that there would be no social services involvement with the family. Both the parents seem like horrible people and truly bad parents. The mom hides Joey’s medication and undercuts his self-esteem at every chance. The dad has basically abandoned the family but wants to start over with the perfect baby. He too is not very nice to Joey. I am not sure how many kids would be able to relate to this story and I am not sure how many fans it will find outside of the Joey Pigza ones. However, I did find there were lots of funny parts to the story and Olivia in particular was a hoot.

04. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

We Are The Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, 208 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/04/2015

Nell and Layla have always been close. They were born scarcely over 9 months apart and were so intertwined as kids that Nell called herself “Nellalya”. Now they’re in high school, Layla a junior and Nell a freshman. Their relationship is starting to strain as Layla becomes more secretive and begins pulling away from Nell. Nell still looks up to her sister and eventually discovers that reason for Layla’s recent behavior. Layla is involved in a romantic relationship with her art teacher. Rumors have been circulating about the relationship, but since the teacher is young and handsome, it’s not the first time such rumors have gone around. This may, however, be the first time the rumors were actually true. Nell is torn between wanting to tell someone about this relationship and keeping her sister’s secret. What’s a good sister to do?
While the plot mostly centers on Nell’s obsession with her sister, We Are the Goldens is really more about Nell coming of age. Nell is learning some very serious lessons while she’s trying to figure out what’s going on with her sister. Prior to high school, Nell’s identity is tied to her sisters and it is only when she realizes her sister’s judgement is skewed that Nell begins to learn who she is as a person. Nell makes some terrible choices too, but she at least learns from them and uses them to inform her decision-making process when Layla’s secrets appear to be getting out of control. Overall, a good read for fans of realistic fiction and family drama. The short length and brisk pacing means this can be read in a single afternoon.

03. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Tracy

Delicious by Ruth Reichl, 400 pages, read by Tracy, on 01/01/2015

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine’s deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the “Delicious Guarantee”-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn’t know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.

Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine’s library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu’s letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu’s courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.

Description from Goodreads.com.

03. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Teen Books

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki (Illustrator), 320 pages, read by Angie, on 02/02/2015

Rose and her family spend every summer at the beach. There she has her summer beach friend Windy. This summer the girls are somewhere between being kids and turning into teenagers. Rose’s family is also having a difficult time this summer. Her parents are fighting and her mom is not acting like she usually does. Rose gets irritated with her mom throughout the summer. There is a also a teen boy that Rose has a crush on. He works at the store where the girls go to get candy and horror movies. Unfortunately the teen boy has gotten his girlfriend pregnant and this is causing all kinds of drama with the kids at the beach and jealousy from Rose.

First of all this is a beautifully drawn book. I love the fact that it is not in your traditional black and white but colored in shades of blue and purple. I love that there are a variety of panels to tell the story depending on what is needed at the time. The story itself was a bit boring to tell the truth. There is drama and some interesting bits, but it is mostly Rose and Windy hanging out and talking about things like boys and boobs and babies and parents and such. It is exactly what two preteen girls would probably talk about, but it doesn’t make for exciting reading. There are a couple of bigger issues going on with the teen pregnancy and the mom’s miscarriage but they weren’t the focus of the story. I really wanted more growth from Rose and Windy. They seemed like the same immature girls at the end of the summer that they were at the beginning.

03. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Jessica, Romance, Women's Fiction (chick lit)

Bright Side by Kim Holden, 423 pages, read by Jessica, on 02/02/2015

71FzY7HQokL._SL1500_Secrets.
Everyone has one.
Some are bigger than others.
And when secrets are revealed,
Some will heal you …
And some will end you.

Kate Sedgwick’s life has been anything but typical. She’s endured hardship and tragedy, but throughout it all she remains happy and optimistic (there’s a reason her best friend Gus calls her Bright Side). Kate is strong-willed, funny, smart, and musically gifted. She’s also never believed in love. So when Kate leaves San Diego to attend college in the small town of Grant, Minnesota, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with Keller Banks.

They both feel it.
But they each have a reason to fight it.
They each have a secret.

And when secrets are revealed,
Some will heal you …
And some will end you.

02. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction

All the Answers by Kate Messner, 256 pages, read by Angie, on 01/31/2015

One day in the middle of taking a math test Ava discovers that if she writes out a question her pencil will give her the answer. This is super helpful with the math test so Ava and her friend Sophie experiment to see what else the magic pencil can help them with. This results in some amusing things like who likes who and when boots are going on sale. It also reveals deeper information like the fact that Ava’s mom is sick and her grandpa is going to die. Ava is a really anxious kid who has anxiety about all kinds of things ranging from tests to jazz band tryouts to school field trips to her parents getting divorced. This anxiety keeps her withdrawn and stops her from participating fully in life. With the help of the pencil Ava conquers some of her anxiety and starts coming out of her shell.

I didn’t like this book nearly as much as I have enjoyed Messner’s other books. I’m not sure I really buy the explanation of how the pencil came to be magical in the first place. It seemed a little too convenient. I did really like the interactions with Ava and her grandparents however. I thought all the scenes at the nursing home where her grandpa lived were very touching and sweet. While it doesn’t quite reach the excellence of Capture the Flag, I am sure this book will be a hit with fans of Kate Messner.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.com.

26. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Mystery, Teen Books · Tags:

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake, 464 pages, read by Angie, on 01/24/2015

Shelby Cooper tells us from the beginning what is going to happen to her. We know she will get hit by a car. What we don’t know is why or what will happen as a result. She gets hit by a car because she is deaf and did not hear it coming. What happens is that she and her mom go on the run and are chased by the FBI across Arizona. There is also a whole thing where Shelby has waking dreams where she is in “The Dreaming”, a Native American type spirit walk where she has to kill the crone and save the child. She has a spirit guide in Coyote, who also happens to be the cute boy Mark she meets at the library. The dreaming helps her come to terms with her life in the real world.

I am not sure what I think about this book. Part of me was really frustrated with the whole dreaming bits and how they kept pulling me out of the story. The other part of me really kind of enjoyed the real bits of the story. While I might not have liked Shelby as a character, she is sarcastic and rude and has definite body image problems. I did like the path her story took. I never knew what was coming next in this crazy ride Nick Lake created. I know his big thing is dual storylines (In Darkness), but I don’t think it was really necessary in this case. I didn’t believe the dreaming like I thought I was intended to and I just wanted those parts to end so we could get back to the real story. It was a compelling read however and I really couldn’t put it down.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.

22. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

My Cousin's Keeper by Simon French, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 01/21/2015

Kiernan wants to fit in with the cool kids at school and he does just barely. That could all change when his strange cousin Bon comes to town. Bon has long, girly hair, wears old, raggedy clothes and likes to draw. He and his mom Renee have moved around a lot and the family has barely seen them. Bon gets bullied at school by Kiernan and his friends. Bon’s only friend is the other new kid Julia who seems to be attending school for the first time and has a secret past. As Bon becomes more a permanent part of Kiernan’s family he has to come to terms with his feelings and decide if he is going to do right by Bon.

This story has a lot going on. Bon is bullied, Kiernan is a bully. Renee seems to have some kind of mental health issue and there is the issue of child neglect regarding Bon. Julie has been kidnapped by her mother from her father who has custody. It is pretty heavy stuff and sometimes handled a bit heavy-handed in the book. I thought the message of the book was great. It is all about being who you are and accepting people for who they are. The only problem was that it came across very messagey and seemed to read like an after school special.

17. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky, 250 pages, read by Angie, on 01/16/2015

Grayson Sender is a sixth grade boy who doesn’t feel like his outside matches his inside. He has always felt like he was more of a girl than a boy. He looks in the mirror and tries to make his over-sized shirts and track pants into long dresses and skirts. He doesn’t fit in at school or have any real friends. When his favorite teacher announces tryouts for the spring play, The Myth of Persephone, Grayson is determined to tryout. He doesn’t want to tryout for any of the male roles however, he tries out for the role of Persephone. This sets off a firestorm throughout his home and school. He lives with his aunt and uncle since his parents died when he was a toddler. His uncle is supportive and wants Grayson to be who he is supposed to be. His aunt however is outraged that a teacher would cast him in a female role and is scared for Grayson’s safety. Grayson finds a home with the drama kids in the play however as they accept him for who he is. Some of the boys in his class are another story as they start teasing him and calling him Gracie. The bullying climaxes with Grayson being pushed down the stairs. He is determined to go on with the play no matter what though as that is the only time he feels like himself.

I was excited to read this book as it is on a topic I haven’t read in middle grade books before. Usually you don’t start getting into LGBT issues until teen novels. Grayson’s story is a wonderful one and one I would definitely recommend. It is handled very well and is presented at the correct level for the intended readers. I am not familiar with the journey transgender tweens/teens would take to become who they are meant to be but I found Grayson’s story to be realistic. I liked the fact that he was not just magically accepted by his peers and family but did receive negative reactions. This made the story that much more realistic. I enjoyed the interactions Grayson experienced with the other kids in the play; I always knew drama kids were inclusive and this just proved me right. I also thought the plot with the teacher was handled really well. There was bound to be consequences for his actions and they seemed appropriate. This is not a book for everyone but it is a book that should be read by everyone. It is more than a book about a transgender tween; it is a a book about being yourself and accepting people for who they are.

16. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Tammy · Tags: , ,

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin , 260 pages, read by Tammy, on 01/10/2015

storied life A heart-touching story about a curmudgeon who owns a bookstore on a small island. His wife has died (she was the people person)and the bookstore is experiencing its worst financial year ever. On his own, he’s not sure if he and the bookstore will make it. Does he even want to? Especially after his favorite, most valuable book is stolen. But then a special package arrives and his life will never be the same. Sections of the bookseller’s life are related to books or passages in books that have helped him throughout his life. Illustrates how literature can influence your everyday life and how love can change everything.

15. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 380 pages, read by Angie, on 01/14/2015

Willow Chance is a special girl; she is interested in plants and medical diagnosis; she is an undiscovered genius. Willow has just started middle school when she aces a standardized test and is accused of cheating. This sends her to Dell Duke, incompetent counselor, and allows her to meet her only friend Mai, whose brother Quang-ha sees Dell as well. These are the people around her when her world is destroyed. Her adoptive parents are killed in a car crash. Suddenly Willow is alone in the world with no family and no place to go. Mai takes charge and convinces her mother to allow Willow to stay with them, pretending she is a family friend even though they have never met. Mai’s mother Pattie is from Vietnam and operates a nail salon. The family lives in a one room garage behind the salon, which would definitely not pass a social services inspection. So Pattie convinces Dell to let them pretend to live in his apartment. She takes charge and transforms it into a home. Before you know it Willow, Mai, Pattie, Quang-ha and Dell are like a real family. Willow slowly comes out of her grief as the family comes together, but will she be able to stay with her new family or will the state take her away and destroy all she has known again?

This is one of those books that will break your heart. Willow’s grief on losing her parents is real and visceral. You can feel and understand her pain as she shuts completely down. Willow is also very strange; her interests are strange; she doesn’t interact with people in what is considered a normal way; she doesn’t fit in. But she fits with this new group of people and she brings them together as a family.

After reading this book for the second time I am still torn about my feelings for it. On one hand I really love the how Willow is able to build a family after tragedy. On the other there are several things that really bothered me about the book. First is the fact that Willow is not forced to go to school for months. Her case worker, the school district, Pattie, Dell, none of them make her go to school. She tells them she isn’t ready and they drop it just like that. She is supposed to be homeschooling during this time, but no one checks on that either. Second is the fact that Dell is completely incompetent as a counselor and yet is given all the tough cases to deal with. He doesn’t even attempt to help these kids and who knows what becomes of all the others besides Willow and Quang-ha. Third is the fact that Willow is immediately suspected of cheating on the standardized test she aces even though she has tested as gifted in the past. There is no retesting or attempts to figure out if she is just truly genius. She is just labeled a cheater and sent to counseling. This seemed off to me. Fourth is the fact that Willow’s house and the parents’ estate is never mentioned. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean the bills stop. Who is taking care of that? At some point you assume the house will be sold, but surely Willow will be consulted. I just really wanted to know what happened to that house and the garden that Willow so loved. I thought it was wrong that she completely abandoned it even after she started coming out of her grief. The last thing is the ending…it is way too Disney-perfect. The entire time I was reading it I assumed Pattie would somehow get custody of Willow. There was no way the book was going to end with her losing her family again. However, at the end Pattie somehow ends up being rich; rich enough to buy an apartment building in California. Seems she was forcing her family to live in the garage so she could save up some cash. Really!!???! She always came across as a hard-working mom trying to build up her business and keep her family going. Plus she makes Dell pay for everything! The bonus of this is one is Pattie’s romance with Jairo which also seems to come out of left field. Suddenly there is a built-in wealthy family for Willow to become a part of. I still really like this book and will recommend it, but I wish the ending wouldn’t have been so perfect. Willow could have still been adopted by Pattie even if she wasn’t wealthy right?

13. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Magic Trap by Jacqueline Davies, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 01/12/2015

Jessie and Evan Treski are over a year apart in age but in the same class at school. Jessie is smart and skipped a grade. They live with their mom in a big, old house that seems to always need something fixed. Mom is getting ready to go on a trip when dad suddenly shows up. Dad has been out of their lives for a while. He is a war reporter and always gone. Since the divorce he might pop in for a day every once in a while but never stays long. When their babysitter has an accident and can’t stay with them, dad decides he can handle the kids for a week while mom is gone. The only problem is dad is not real good with parenting. He is always on the phone and does a lot of things mom would not approve of.

Evan has become obsessed with magic and wants to put on a magic show. He needs a big finally however to make the show great. Dad actually helps out when he gets Evan a bunny and a magic box. Jessie volunteers to be the assistant and they prepare for the magic show in the backyard. Only problem is a hurricane is heading up the east coast right for them. Dad needs to catch a plane before the airport closes so he takes off unexpectedly leaving the kids by themselves. Mom’s flight home is cancelled because of the hurricane. The kids are left on their own to endure the hurricane and the damage it causes.

I haven’t read the rest of this series but I don’t think you have to in order to enjoy this book. I liked how resourceful and intelligent Jessie and Evan were. They were fine on their own in incredible circumstances. I thought the dad was a bit over the top. I’m not sure even the worst parent would leave two kids home alone with a hurricane approaching, but you never know. I liked how Evan really worked with Jessie when she got over-excited. I am assuming she is somewhere on the autism spectrum even though it was never stated. I thought it was good that it was portrayed as just a part of their everyday life. Evan knew how to calm her and get her back on track.

12. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 01/09/2015

Treasure is heart-broken when her dad takes off and doesn’t come back. He has left before but never for this long. He has itchy feet and can’t seem to stay in one place for very long. Treasure’s mom decides she is going to go look for him. She takes Treasure and her sister Tiffany to great aunt Grace’s house. Grace is an old, cranky woman whose house is full of dust and cigarette smoke, which aggravates Treasure’s asthma. She runs a candy store where she makes Treasure and Tiffany work while they are staying with her. Treasure is sure their father is just looking for the perfect place for them to finally settle down for good. She holds onto that dream until she can no longer overlook the obvious.

I loved Treasure’s story. She is spunky and out-spoken and perfect. Great aunt Grace is a wonderful character as well. I loved how cranky she was with everyone even though she secretly has a pretty soft heart. I thought the story was pretty realistic with Treasure and Tiffany trying to fit into their new circumstances and come to terms with the new reality of their lives. Treasure has created a hard shell around herself because they move so often, so she doesn’t want to make friends or become attached. I thought the two bullying girls were handled really well. It is often the ones who look perfect on the outside that are the biggest bullies. I also liked that the other girl struggled with how mean they were being. Wonderful story that I highly recommend!

12. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 01/10/2015

Casey Snowden loves baseball. His dad and granddad run the third best umpire school in the country (out of three). He likes nothing better than seeing the students come in, getting back together with the instructors and You Suck Ump Day. This year the ump school coincides with Casey starting middle school. Casey loves baseball but doesn’t want to play or be an ump, he wants to be a sports reporter. Now that he is in middle school he thinks he’ll get the chance to write for the school newspapers. His hopes are dashed when he is told that sixth graders don’t get to write. They have to pay their dues by selling ad space before they become reporters. Casey doesn’t want to give up his dreams and works hard to come up with the most amazing story ever to get in the paper. Things aren’t going so well at home either. Fewer students have signed up for umpire school this year, which means some of the instructors haven’t been rehired either. Casey has to plan You Suck Ump Day himself with the help of his best friend. Casey’s mom is also back in the picture. She left them for Bob the Baker and has been absent for a while. Casey is still mad at her and wants nothing to do with her, but his dad is forcing him to spend time with mom.

There is a lot going on in this book which makes it pretty heavy at times. Casey seems to go from one issue to the next: school problems, bullies, financial problems at home, mom issues, questions about whether dad is moving the school to Florida. All the issues fit into the story, but because there is so much going on it feels like nothing is ever truly developed well. Maybe with fewer issues, the ones remaining could have been truly fleshed out. I liked the uniqueness of the umpire school. I’ve never even heard of it or read anything with it as a subject. I really liked the relationship between Casey and his best friend. It added a lot of humor to the otherwise kind of heavy story.

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin, 256 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/20/2015

Addison was the most promising artist of her generation. Her death, a fall from a bridge, is a crushing blow to everyone who knew her. The prologue explains that the author, Griffin, was intrigued by Addison and thus began interviewing a wide variety of friends, family, exes, teachers, family acquaintances, etc. to gain a better understanding of who Addison was and what led to her death. Did she slip and fall? Was it intentional on her behalf? Did someone want her dead? Accounts of Addison vary depending on who is being asked, though everyone seems to agree that she was a phenomenal artist with some serious mental health issues. The narrative of the book is entirely commentary from the people in Addison’s life and begins more or less at the beginning with Addison’s early elementary school years. Also included are examples of Addison’s artwork and photos of Addison throughout her life.
We may never really know what caused Addison’s fatal slip, but we do get a much better idea of who she was and what brought her up on that bridge. Addison comes across as the quintessential “manic-pixie-dream-girl”. Everyone seems to want to know her, but she’s frequently aloof. Her art is clearly the most important part of her life, so much so that people, even those she cares about, come in at a distant second. Those who don’t like her come across as jealous of her magnetism and talent. She was clearly not the easiest person to be friends with; being her friend involved a lot of work.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I don’t really get into books that have this many different narrators. It’s incredibly difficult for me to warm up to any of the peripheral characters as we only know them through their relation to Addison and not on their own terms. While I felt like I learned a lot about Addison, I never felt like I knew her as a person, which was likely the intent. This is, however, an interesting experiment in form. There were a lot of themes at play here: the cult of celebrity, the connection between mental illness and creative genius, the effects of being precocious in a city like New York… As a thought experiment, the novel works, but I didn’t really love it.

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, 336 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/13/2015

It began as a day much like any other. Tariq Johnson was walking home after a trip to the local market, something he had done dozens of times before. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a car pulls up. A white man gets out of the car and shoots Tariq. Tariq is dead by the time the EMTs arrive. The community, which is predominantly black, is thrown into an uproar. Violence is nothing new to the gang-ridden neighborhood, but this shooting is different. Tariq was only 16 years old and he was, by many accounts, unarmed. As the news picks up the story, it becomes apparent that this act of violence was about far more than just the two individuals involved. The incident quickly becomes national news and the lives of everyone connected with Tariq and his shooter are changed forever.
Tariq’s story is told from multiple perspectives, including his best friend, his family members, old friends, local gang members, the store clerk, the shooter’s friend who lives down the street, the girl who tried to give Tariq CPR…the list goes on. There’s even an Al Sharpton-type character in the mix. It becomes abundantly clear from early on that the narrative of the day’s events shifts significantly depending on who is doing the talking. The gang members want to believe that Tariq did have a gun and that he was planning on joining up with them, so his death signals an act of war to them. Tariq’s best friend wasn’t there, but can’t wrap his head around the idea of Tariq carrying a gun. The friend of the shooter swore up and down that he saw a gun in Tariq’s hand. Others are sure they didn’t see a gun; that Tariq had a Snickers bar in his hand instead. How It Went Down certainly feels timely and does much to emphasize patterns of racism, both conscious and subconscious. As with many other incidents like this (that were not captured on film), what actually happened is difficult to discern. Each narrator has a very specific point of view shaped by their perceptions not only of Tariq himself, but of the neighborhood and the stereotypes associated with young black men in living in poor areas like Tariq’s. Ultimately, there are only two people who have any real answers – the shooter and the shot- and neither one is talking. This is a great novel to teach the ways in which our preconceived notions can shape our interpretation of events, but it’s not the most literary of novels out there. It’s an important read, but only if the reader is willing and able to sort through a very large number of narrators only to find that there aren’t any “real” answers. In the end, I felt that it might have been better to develop fewer characters rather than confuse the issue further with so many individual points of view.

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho, 366 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/05/2015

Althea and Oliver have been best friends ever since Althea moved in down the street from Oliver at the tender young age of six. Now in their senior year of high school, they are still inseparable, but complications are arising in their usually-easy friendship. Althea is starting to develop a romantic interest in Oliver. Oliver, while not adverse to the prospect of advancing his relationship with Althea, is busy dealing with a strange illness that causes him to fall asleep for weeks, even months, on end. Althea has been helping him through many of his episodes, but finds herself flailing in the meantime. She literally doesn’t know how to live her life without Oliver by her side. Oliver, on the other hand, is profoundly disturbed by the fact that he is missing vast chunks of his life. Even when he wakes up in the midst of a sleeping episode, he has no recollection of what has happened during his semi-conscious state. Right before one of Oliver’s episodes, he and Althea finally become physical. Then, of course, he loses consciousness and they are unable to even discuss what has just happened or what the next step will be. While Oliver is out, Althea does something that she knows she will regret, something that might ruin her relationship with Oliver forever. When Oliver eventually finds out, he is furious and attempts to cut Althea out of his life altogether. He decides to participate in a two-month sleep study in New York for those who have the same disease: Kleine Levin Syndrome, or KLS. When Althea figures out that Oliver has left town, she packs up her old Camry and heads off to New York to apologize and attempt to salvage her friendship.
Althea and Oliver’s story is completely unique. It’s easy to go into this book thinking that you know where it will end up, but this story never seems to go quite where you think it will. It’s not exactly a romance or a love story, but there’s a ton of heart. Althea isn’t always the most likeable of characters, but she’s absolutely relatable and her growth as a person is one of the highlights of this fantastic novel. Oliver’s development comes in fits and spurts, as could be expected for someone who literally loses months of his life at a time. The impact that Oliver’s illness has on Althea is almost as heartbreaking as its effect on Oliver, though I would hesitate to say that the novel is about Oliver’s KLS. In fact, it takes over half of the book to even get Oliver to the sleep study. In the meantime, Althea is learning to live her life on her own terms and not as Oliver’s counterpart. In New York, she makes friends of her own for the first time in her life and begins to realize that it might be possible for her to exist outside of Oliver’s shadow. Oliver begins to learn how to move forward in spite of an exceedingly uncertain future. Moracho takes some major risks with both of these characters, but they come out all the more realistic for it. Nothing is sugar-coated here. Althea and Oliver’s relationship is consuming, messy and complicated, much like real-life. Their story is simultaneously a train-wreck and a heartfelt bildungsroman. It’s not for every reader, but for the right readers, it’s utterly perfect.

06. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline

Schooled by Gordon Korman, 224 pages, read by Madeline, on 12/15/2014

Homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Capricorn (Cap) Anderson has never watched television, tasted a pizza, or even heard of a wedgie. But when his grandmother lands in the hospital, Cap is forced to move in with a school counselor and attend the local middle school. While Cap knows a lot about tie-dyeing and Zen Buddhism, no education could prepare him for the politics of public school.

Description from Goodreads.com