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.
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you read a book and it just blows you away. I really enjoy novels in verse even though I don’t enjoy poetry like I probably should. I love how authors who write novels in verse can get across so much information with so few words. Sometimes novels in verse read like short prose paragraphs, but the truly great ones highlight different styles of poetry and draw the reader in completely. Kwame Alexander’s Crossover has been getting a lot of buzz lately and all of it is well deserved. The Crossover is a potent novel that draws readers in and doesn’t let them go.
Josh and JB are twin brother and the stars of their middle school basketball team. Their mom is the assistant principal at their school and their dad is a former basketball star and olympian. The Crossover is told through Josh’s voice as he practices his mad rap skills on and off the basketball court. He is your typical 13-year-old boy with a lot of the same concerns and issues most boys his age deal with. He is cocky about his basketball skills, he is jealous when JB gets a girlfriend and starts spending more time with her, he is concerned about his dad’s health. Things come to a head with JB when Josh takes his frustration and anger out on the basketball court. Concerns about his dad get more real when he realizes just how sick his dad potentially is. When dad has a heart attack and is in the hospital Josh and JB have different reactions regarding basketball. Their team is playing the championship game and they have to decide if they are going to play or spend time with dad. It is heartbreaking to watch Josh win the championship at the same time he loses his dad. A truly heartbreaking story.
Dead, dying or sick parents seems to be a trend in middle grade literature right now. The subject makes for really powerful stories as kids have to deal with situations they shouldn’t have to deal with for years. You really don’t expect to lose a parent until you are an adult yourself. So losing one at a young age is horrible and heartbreaking and makes great literature. While The Crossover isn’t really about the aftermath of losing a parent it is an essential part of this story. The dad was the heart of the family and Josh and JB and the mom have to learn to readjust their life with the heart gone.
One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the fact that the poem styles were all over the place. There are lots of different styles here that make this book so much more interesting than if everything was written in the same style. I really liked the poems where Josh described the action on the basketball court. Even though I am not a sports fan, this style really brought the game alive in a way that regular prose would not have been able to. Hopefully the fact that this story is told through poems will not turn young readers off. It is a wonderful story about family and brothers and basketball and loss and growing up. I highly recommend it.
Brandon is a foster kid who is bullied by his teacher, his classmates, his foster mother and the town thugs. He is a dreamer who could care less about school or any of the people around him. He escapes to the woods where he has built a tree house and daydreams about the Green Man. One day he finds an old man asleep at the base of his tree. He believes he has finally found the Green Man and the man goes along with it. Because he has flunked 6th grade, Brandon has to attend summer school where he meets Shae. She is different from all the other kids he knows and he finds himself a little interested in knowing more about her. Together, Brandon, Shae and the Green Man form a family of sorts in the woods where they are safe and loved. But Brandon is beat up terribly by the town thugs who then go after the Green Man. Brandon must find his courage and step up for what is right.
Some people are just lost. They become disconnected from the world and live in their own minds. Brandon is beginning down that path. He can’t seem to find anything worthy in the real world. He wants to live in his idea of a perfect world where nature matters and the Green Man is there to protect the forest and its inhabitants. It is easy to see why he wants to disconnect from the world. He doesn’t know who his parents are; his mom abandoned him as an infant. He has been shuttled around foster homes his whole life. His current foster mom Mrs. Clancy seems to care more about watching tv shows and doing crossword puzzles than paying attention to Brandon. His teacher is a nightmare who bullies him and allows the other students to bully him. The forest is really his only refuge. Shae isn’t quite as broken down as Brandon, but she too has her issues as does Ed Calhoun/Green Man, a Vietnam vet who became a homeless bun, drinking in the park and living in the woods. Together they start to heal each other. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, but it does have a hopeful ending. Hopeful that things will start to get better.
Lucy and Cam want nothing more than to get out of the Sunnyside Trailer Park. Their plan is to compete in the annual BotBlock competition, win $5000 and 15% college tuition. They have a plan to complete their mission that includes raising the admission fee, building and programming their robot and getting to the beachside competition. Lucy wants to escape a mom with manic-depressive disorder who seems to be off her meds and Cam wants to get away from a house filled with children and his mom’s abusive boyfriend. In addition to their problems at home, they are also hassled by a bully at school. Their road to victory is hit with several roadblocks when Lucy’s mama takes them on a runaway roadtrip to escape the authorities.
Mental illness is a hard topic to cover in middle grade fiction. It isn’t often written about and when it is sometimes it is overblown or completely unrealistic. Chasing the Milky Way does not suffer from either of those problems. It is a very realistic look at what it is like to live with a mentally ill parent. Lucy deals with so much more than most kids will ever deal with, but I am sure kids with mentally ill parents will recognize a lot of her story. It is a book that was a bit hard to read because it seemed so realistic. I just knew disaster was around the corner and I kept not wanting it to arrive. I wanted Lucy and Cam to succeed but knew there was very little chance it was going to happen. It was almost like watching a horror movie where you knew the bad guy was going to attack at any moment. You cover your eyes or hide behind the chair and peak out at intervals. That is kind of like how I felt reading this book. Mama is not the bad guy of course, her illness is, but it still felt like it could jump out at you at any moment, which I am sure is how mental illness sometimes feels. This book is going to be a hard sell to a lot of readers, but the ones that tackle it are going to have their eyes open to a world I hope they never experience.
Violet Diamond is growing up different. She is a mixed race child in a predominantly white family and town. Her Black father died before she was born and she has never met his family. Her white mother and sister and grandparents love her and treat her like normal, but Violet often feels anything but normal. She gets frustrated when people look at her funny when she is out with her blond haired mother or sister. She gets frustrated when people think she is adopted instead of her mother’s natural child. Her family tries to tell her that race doesn’t matter, but to her it does since she is the one who is different. One day she overhears her mom and grandma talking about her other grandmother. She convinces her mom to let her meet the grandmother who has rejected her her entire life. At first Bibi is standoffish and distant as she blames Violet’s mother for her father’s death, but she does warm up to Violet and invite her to visit. Violet gets to meet her African American family and get to know her grandmother.
Even though I am white as can be, I did feel like I understood Violet just a bit. I grew up in a small town that had exactly two Black families. There was only one Black kid in my high school when I was there. I always wondered how they felt when they looked around the classroom or the cafeteria and saw no one like them. At least the one Jewish kid could hide in plain sight, but they were not able to blend in. Thankfully my small town as become more diverse in the past twenty years, but I am sure there are other towns out there just like it. Living in a city with a more diverse population you don’t think about race nearly as often. I see people of many colors, religions, and economic circumstances everyday. That isn’t to say there aren’t still problems, but it feels more like there shouldn’t be.
I thought this book did a wonderful job of portraying Violet’s frustration with her situation. There is never any doubt that she loves her family or that they love her. It is the people outside her immediate circle that bother her. Mixed race families can make people curious and sometimes rude; they will wonder if the children are biological, fostered or adopted. There are so many blended families today that I do wonder if this will become less and less of an issue. I thought this book was a good introduction to race for young readers. It doesn’t delve too much into negative aspects of black vs. white, but does show how it can impact a child’s life.
Nate loves musicals and dreams of being on Broadway. He concocts a scheme with his friend Libby to escape Jankburg, PA and run away to New York City and audition for E.T. the Musical. Nate is bullied at home and at school for being gay even though he says he is undecided on his sexuality. In New York, Nate realizes just how different the big city is. He is exposed to both the good and bad of city life as he sees how diverse the city is. His audition goes better than expected, but is still wonderfully strange. Nate’s dreams are coming true just as his scheme is coming to light at home. He is helped along the way by Libby and his Aunt Heidi. Then his mom shows up in New York and family secrets come to light.
I actually loved Nate. I thought he was an awesome mix of innocence and curiosity. I admit I laughed out loud when he did his first audition. I also really liked how Federle brought up the issue of sexuality in such a nonissue kind of way. It is a topic I think needs to be dealt with more in middle grade fiction. Thankfully it is slowly making its way into the mainstream, but there are still very few books that deal with it for this age group. Nate is called a fag and lady Nate and homo and all the other terrible words you can think of. Even his family uses derogatory language with him. I like that Nate is undecided, but obviously kind of interested in boys; he at least checks them out occasionally. Even so this is a very gentle introduction that is couched more in bullying then exploring your sexuality. I think it is a good way for kids to think about it and wonder how much bullying they do themselves without realizing it.
Arty is obsessed with space and finding life on Mars. His best friends Tripp and Priya support his obsession as does his dad who works in an observatory. When dad loses his job and decides to move the family to Las Vegas, Arty is devastated. There are too many lights in Vegas for stargazing. Arty is left with a mysterious neighbor when the parents go house hunting. Turns out the neighbor is not a zombie who will eat your face, but a retired astronaut who never made it to space. Arty and Cash bond over the stars and build a machine to make alien contact.
This is a lovely story about friendship not just with people your own age but who share your interests. It is also a story about not giving up on your dreams or letting others destroy them. I really enjoyed Arty’s family and their obsession with space. All the kids are named after stars even though they have shortened their names. I liked Arty’s friends as well. Tripp provided a nice comic relief and Priya was a great girl friend who isn’t a girlfriend. Cash was probably the most interesting character as he went from a gruff, unfriendly possible zombie/serial killer to a dying man trying to encourage his young friend. One editing quibble: at one point Arty says something about realizing Cash was as interested as he was in astrology…pretty sure it should have been astronomy. That threw me off and really stuck with me.
So I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this book. I found the story itself intriguing, but there were aspects of it that were kind of annoying. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t truly hate it either. We Were Liars is the story of four cousins who spend their summers on a the family’s private island. So yes they are the rich elite of the East Coast. Grandma and Grandpa Sinclair have built houses on the island for all their pretty daughters and grandchildren. But of course the daughters are not happy with their lots in life basically because they are selfish, self-centered and living off daddy’s money. Their children aren’t as bad yet but you can see the potential. For of the kids are all the same age: Cadence (the oldest), Johnny (the first boy), Mirren and Gat (the sort of Indian step-cousin). Cadence and Gat fall in love the summer they are 15, but something happens that summer. Something no one will talk about to Cadence. All she knows is that she woke up on the beach with some kind of head trauma and now suffers from amnesia and migraines. She heads back to the island two years later and tries to figure out what happened and what no one is telling her.
So that all sounds intriguing and it is. However, you are told from the beginning that there is some kind of twist; the book was marketed that way so of course you know there is some kind of twist. I figured out the twist early on but not the how or the why of it. The truly annoying thing about the book was Cadence herself. She is our narrator and a very unreliable one. She is also prone to being overly dramatic and imaginative. The first time she describes being shot and bleeding out on the lawn you wonder what the heck just happened. When it keeps happening in different ways you realize she is talking about her feelings. Then there is the way the book is written. I listened to the audio which I think helped tremendously as you don’t notice the weird structure of the prose as much. It seems to be written in a very conversational tone with streams of consciousness and lack of punctuation or sentence structure. I can definitely see where that would get old fast. The other problem with the book, and this could have been completely intentional, was that the characters were not likeable. Cadence is a poor little rich girl who did something stupid and got away with it. She is almost as selfish and self-absorbed as her mother and aunts. All the adults in the book are manipulative and greedy. I am not sure who we are supposed to empathize with if anyone but I found I really could have cared less about the beautiful, special Sinclairs.
It has always been just Abby and her mom, but an allergic reaction to coconut makes Abby wonder about the father she has never met. Turns out he never knew she existed and has become a huge Bollywood start in the past fourteen years. Naveen wants to meet Abby and arranges for her to travel to Mumbai during Thanksgiving break. India is a completely different world than Abby is used to in Houston. She discovers a second family with Naveen, his mother and his loyal staff. However, the world doesn’t know about Abby either and they have to be careful how the reveal the truth to the press. Naveen has a movie premiering and the plan on reveal the secret at the same time. Of course things don’t go according to plan.
The cover and description of this book led me to believe it was going to be a lighter read. And while it does have its humorous moments it is really a touching story about a girl connecting with her father for the first time. I really enjoy books that give the reader a glimpse into a new culture and this look at Mumbai was wonderful. The book doesn’t shy away from revealing the good and the bad of Indian culture. Abby is exposed to the extreme poverty of India as well as the wealth of her actor father. I like that even though Naveen was an absent father for most of her life (not by choice of course), he doesn’t come across as disinterested. This is really a story about a girl with very loving parents and a good home life, one just happens to be half a world away.
Lucy has the biggest day of her life when she meets Tom behind the shed and kisses him in front of her entire 4th grade class. It is sure to cement her as one of the popular kids. Then her mom has her baby sister Molly and Lucy has to miss a couple of days of school. When she gets back her status has fallen. Tom has broken up with her and her best friend Becky treats her like dirt. If that isn’t bad enough her home life is in an uproar because Molly has Down’s Syndrome and her parents were not prepared at all. Lucy loves her little sister no matter what and can’t understand what the fuss is about. At school Lucy is firmly in with the dork crowd and her only options are nose-picker April and super-quiet Sam. When she and Sam team up to do a project on wolves Lucy learns all about packs and forms her own pack of dorks with the outcasts from her class.
I loved this book! I thought Vrabel truly captured the world of 4th grade girls and just how unpredictable they can be. I sympathized with Lucy when Becky turned against her. She leaves school on Friday on top of the world and comes back the next week at the bottom of the pack. I also really enjoyed her reaction to her sister. There aren’t a lot of books that deal with siblings with disabilities and this one was really touching. Lucy is a character that readers really take an interest in and want to come out on top. I think her journey of discovering herself and what is really important to her was a very satisfying one. Definitely a book I would recommend.
Grace has always moved around a lot with her mother. She thought they had finally found their forever home with Mrs. Greene and Lacey when her mom decided to move again. Grace is finally able to stand up to her mom, but ends up losing her in a tragic accident. Grace is sent to live with a grandmother who she has never met and who kicked her mother out when she was seventeen and pregnant. Grace does everything she can to sabotage her new home and get back to Mrs. Greene. However, he new home keeps creeping into her heart as she makes friends and finds out more about her family. She embarks on a treasure hunt throughout the town and hopes it is a message from her mother who used to always create treasure hunts for Grace. Along the way Grace comes to terms with her situation and her family’s past.
I loved this book. I seem to gravitate towards dead parent stories and this one ranks up there with Counting by 7s and A Million Ways Home in my list of favorites. Grace is a character that sticks with you and makes you hurt along with her. Her reactions to her mother’s death and her growing awareness of her family’s past seem so realistic. Your heart will break with her and slowly mend as she becomes more and more a part of her new family. My only complaint about the book is one I think kids will make and that is that it is a bit long and a slower story. This isn’t a book with a lot of action and some readers might get bored by the slower pace. The right readers will really appreciate the story though.
From the highly acclaimed author of The Book of Summers comes a tale of love, lies and innocence lost.
For Hadley Dunn, life has been predictable and uneventful. But that is before she spends her second year of college abroad in Lausanne, a glamorous Swiss city on the shores of Lake Geneva. Lausanne is imbued with the boundless sense of freedom Hadley has been seeking, and it is here she meets Kristina, a beautiful but mysterious Danish girl. The two bond quickly, but as the first snows of winter arrive, tragedy strikes.
Driven by guilt and haunted by suspicion, Hadley resolves to find the truth about what really happened that night, and so begins a search that will consume her, the city she loves, and the lives of two very different men. Set against the backdrop of a uniquely captivating city, The Swiss Affair is an evocative portrayal of a journey of discovery and a compelling exploration of how our connections with people and with places, make us who we are.
Star Mackie has just moved from Oregon to California. The kids at school make fun of her because she lives in a trailer park and has a blue mullet (even though she insists it is a layered cut!). Her sister Winter is going to an alternative school after being expelled from public school for writing violent stories. Star decides to start a club in order to make friends, but her first effort of the Trailer Park Club doesn’t go over so well. After a poetry lesson on Emily Dickinson, she decides to start an Emily Dickinson Club. Through the club Star finally starts making friends with brother and sister Genny and Denny and older boys Langston and Eddie. Star is also on the hunt for her father. She has only ever had one glimpse of him so she and Winter make a plan to visit him. The visit doesn’t turn out like they had hoped as several things are revealed during the visit that rock Star’s world.
Star Mackie is one of those characters that doesn’t come around that often. She comes from a loving family, but is poor and doesn’t make excuses for that. There is a lot of discussion on single-parent families, food banks, shopping at thrift stores and wearing hand-me-downs, and all the other things that go along with not having enough money. This isn’t a book with a lot of action or huge revelations, but it is a wonderful story. I really enjoyed Star’s journey through the book as she comes to terms with her family life and starts to make friends at school. This is a story about hope and dreams and how you have to work towards both.
Hope is a Ferris Wheel –
It takes you Low and High;
And when you reach the Top,
It’s like you can touch The Sky!
And when it takes you Down –
Hope becomes A Thing
That, When you’re getting Off,
You take With you to Bring.
Zane is visiting his great grandmother in New Orleans when Katrina hits the city. He and Miss Trissy and his dog Bandy are being evacuated when Bandy leaps out of the van and heads back to Miss Trissy’s house. Of course Zane follows his beloved dog and ends up in the Ninth Ward at the worst possible time. The flood waters send him to the attic without food and water. Fortunately, he is rescued by musician Tru and his ward Malvina. They navigate the flood waters in search of supplies and shelter evading drug dealers, private security and looters. They end up at several shelters including the Superdome before trying to get out of the city.
This is an excellent look at what it was like in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. Philbrick doesn’t shy away from the horrible details like bodies in the flood waters and the dangers the survivors faced. I really enjoyed Zane and his companions journey through the flood. I liked the look at the different neighborhoods of the Big Easy and how they responded to the disaster. I did think it was a little unlikely that a big time drug dealer would care so much about a little girl like Malvina to come after her in the flood, but it added an additional element of risk to their story.
I wanted to see what all the hype was about this book, and I was certainly not disappointed. It is now one of my all time favorite chapter books! If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid–but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.
“Wonder is the best kids’ book of the year,” said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate.com and author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” –indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.
Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family, bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna, have arrived for their inheritance. But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls.
The sequel to If I Stay, the story starts three years after the last book. This time the story is told entirely from Adam’s point of view as well. Adam is still dealing emotionally with what happened after Mia’s accident. The story tells how he is coping (or not) with his band’s sudden fame and his own popularity in the midst of his sadness and anger. A moving work that has a lovely ending.
Imagine the most extraordinary library filled with wonderous things including holographic images and a dewey decimal ceiling. Now imagine that you live in Alexandriaville which has been without a public library for twelve years. Luigi Lemoncello, a famous inventor of games and puzzles, grew up in Alexandriaville and loved the public library so much he has turned the old bank into the most amazing library ever. To celebrate its opening he holds a contest where twelve lucky12-year-olds will get to attend an overnight lock-in at the library. The lock-in turns into so much more when Lemoncello announces a new competition. They have to solve their way out of the library using only the things in the library and not leaving the way they came in. Kyle is one of the twelve lucky kids selected to participate in the lock-in and is a huge fan of Mr. Lemoncello’s games. He is joined by other kids from school, some friends some not. The kids eventually pair up into two teams to work together and solve the puzzles. The kids must learn to cooperate with each other and use the library if they want to have a chance of winning.
This book is a librarian’s dream full of puzzles that require library knowledge to solve. The kids learn about the Dewey Decimal System and how the library is set up. The games are tricky using books, rebuses and library cards. The library itself is more wondrous than any library could ever be. I especially loved how the characters are constantly referencing book titles; you could create a pretty good reading list from the titles listed in these pages. There are obvious comparisons to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and fans of books like the Potato Chip Puzzles and Gollywhopper Games will definitely enjoy this book. My only complaint was that the characters; other than Kyle, are all pretty stereotypical with little depth or growth; the villain Charles is especially one-dimensional. However, book and game lovers will surely enjoy this one as they try to solve the puzzles and find all the book references.
What if you live for the moment when life goes off the rails—and then one day there’s no one left to help you get it back on track?
Althea Carter and Oliver McKinley have been best friends since they were six; she’s the fist-fighting instigator to his peacemaker, the artist whose vision balances his scientific bent. Now, as their junior year of high school comes to a close, Althea has begun to want something more than just best-friendship. Oliver, for his part, simply wants life to go back to normal, but when he wakes up one morning with no memory of the past three weeks, he can’t deny any longer that something is seriously wrong with him. And then Althea makes the worst bad decision ever, and her relationship with Oliver is shattered. He leaves town for a clinical study in New York, resolving to repair whatever is broken in his brain, while she gets into her battered Camry and drives up the coast after him, determined to make up for what she’s done.
Their journey will take them from the rooftops, keg parties, and all-ages shows of their North Carolina hometown to the pool halls, punk houses, and hospitals of New York City before they once more stand together and face their chances. Set in the DIY, mix tape, and zine culture of the mid-1990s, Cristina Moracho’s whip-smart debut is an achingly real story about identity, illness, and love—and why bad decisions sometimes feel so good.
Eleanor is best friends with Pearl and gets to spend several afternoons with her each week. That all changes when Pearl is assigned to be the buddy of new girl Ainsley. Now Pearl and Ainsley are spending all their time together and Eleanor is feeling left out. She has also been given the lead in the school play where she has to sing and she has to hug Nicholas, a boy she may or may not like. Eleanor his having a hard time dealing with all of this and makes a big mistake. She tells a secret she isn’t supposed to know and may have just ruined her friendship with Pearl forever. She has to work really hard to make up for what she has done.
This is a novel in verse that doesn’t read like one. It reads more like a regular book with very short paragraphs. I really like novels in verse so this style made the book a bit awkward for me, but I think will make it easier for kids to grasp. Eleanor is one of those characters that seems to be pretty common right now. She is a regular girl dealing with regular problems like school and friends and boys. It is a an awkward time for girls and she is a character that I think girls that age can relate to.