Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Life With the Walter Boys by Ali Novak

My Life With the Walter Boys by Ali Novak (Sourcebooks Fire 2014)

Summary from publisher:
Jackie Howard does not like surprises. Chaos is the enemy!  The best way to get her successful, busy parents to notice her is to be perfect.  The perfect look, the perfect grades -- the perfect daughter.  And then....
Surprise #1:  Jackie's family dies is a freak car accident.
Surprise #2:  Jackie has to move cross-country to live with the Walters -- her new guardians.
Surprise #3:  The Walters have 12 sons. (Well, eleven, but Parker acts like a boy anyway.)
Jackie is now surrounded by the enemy.  Loud, dirty, annoying boys -- who have no concept of personal space.  Okay, several of the oldest guys are flat-out gorgeous.  But still annoying.  She's not stuck-up or boring -- no matter what they say.  But proving it is another matter.  How can she fit in and move on when she needs to keep her parents' memory alive by living up to the promise of perfect?

Over the course of a school year, Jackie Howard has to figure out her new normal.  After losing her sister and both parents in a car accident, Jackie moves in with her mom's college friend and her large, rambunctious family, a complete 180 from her ordered life in New York City.  Jackie learns to navigate public school for the first time, make new friends, learn to roll with the punches, and to love the sweeping Colorado landscape that she now calls home.

The distractors are the two Walter boys who are vying for Jackie's attention.  This love triangle is somewhat predictable, but love triangles are a staple of YA romances.  The teen girls who are drawn to romance novels expect this type of conflict - consider the "team Jacob" v. "team Edward" of the Twilight years or "team Peeta" or "team Gale" of Hunger Games.  Girls who like this particular genre will not be disappointed by this one.

Overall, I enjoyed My Life With the Walter Boys.  It was a fun and entertaining read.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

#16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler

#16thingsIthoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler (Sourcebooks Fire, 2014)

Summary from publisher:
Heart attacks happen to other people #thingsIthoughtweretrue
When Morgan's mom gets sick, it's hard not to panic. Without her mother, she would have no one—until she finds out the dad who walked out on her as a baby isn't as far away as she thought...
Adam is a stuck-up, uptight jerk #thingsIthoughtweretrue
Now that they have a summer job together, Morgan's getting to know the real Adam, and he's actually pretty a nerdy-hot kind of way. He even offers to go with her to find her dad. Road trip, anyone?
5000 Twitter followers are all the friends I need #thingsIthoughtweretrue
With Adam in the back seat, a hyper chatterbox named Amy behind the wheel, and plenty of Cheetos to fuel their trip, Morgan feels ready for anything. She's not expecting a flat tire, a missed ferry, a fake girlfriend...and that these two people she barely knew before the summer started will become the people she can't imagine living without.

#16thingsIthoughtweretrue is a new take on the friends-on-a-road-trip-that's-really-a-quest story.  Morgan, Amy, and Adam all work together at the local theme park, and at first, none of them really like each other all that much.  Over the course of the book, and the road trip to find Morgan's father, they come to find out that they're really more alike and likable than they first thought.  Though somewhat predictable, the story is an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours on a winter afternoon.

Hand this one to readers who enjoy realistic fiction stories about friends with a little romance thrown in.  Teen readers are sure to find much to like here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi (Philomel, 2014)

Summary from publisher:
A tale of love, honor, and betrayal from foreign correspondent Atia Abawi....

Fatima is a Hazara girl, raised to be obedient and dutiful.  Samiullah is a Pashtun boy, raised to defend the traditions of his tribe.  They were not meant to fall in love.  But they do.  And the story that follows shows both the beauty and the violence in current-day Afghanistan, as Fatima and Samiullah fight their families, their cultures, and the Taliban to stay together.  Based on the people Abawi met and the events she covered during her nearly five years in Afghanistan, this story will stay with readers for a long time to come.

I knew I would have a hard time writing a blog post for this book.  It was hard to read.... not because of the writing - the writing is really quite good and draws the reader in.  It's the subject matter and the realization that the events depicted, while fictional, happen every day to girls and young women in Afghanistan.  As a woman who grew up with the freedom to be friends with both boys and girls, to choose my own husband, to be educated and have a career I love, it is hard to put myself in Fatima's shoes, to imagine my own daughters growing up in such a society.

It's important, though, that my daughters and I read books about life in other parts of the world, not only so that we can appreciate all that we have, but so that we can find ways to take action to help other women around who are struggling to gain the rights and freedoms that we take for granted.

Another thing that comes to mind when I read books such as this is the question of authenticity.  How true to the culture and the ways of life of the Hazara and Pashtoun people of Afghanistan is this book?  I'm trusting the fact that the author, Atia Abawi, a foreign correspondend for NBC news stationed for five years in Kabul and a daughter of Afghan parents raised in the US, knows what she is talking about.

Hand this book to older readers who want to know more about the world around them.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl 
(Chronicle, 2014)

Summary from publisher:
Two girls on the brink of womanhood, torn between family duty and self, between love and art....
Emily and Charlotte Brontë are about as opposite as two sisters can be.  Charlotte is practical and cautious.  Emily is curious and headstrong.  But they have one thing in common:  a love of writing. And when two strangers appear on the desolate English moors that surround their home, they must combine the imagination and wit usually reserved for their pens to unravel a string of mysteries.
Is there a connection between a series of local burglaries and rumors that a neighbor's death may not have been accidental?  Can the handsome young man Emily met on one of her solitary walks be trusted?  Or is the equally handsome local landowner that keeps appearing on Charlotte's doorstep the one they should confide in?  And what about the seemingly mad woman that Charlotte encountered at a crossroads on the outskirts of the village -- is she the key?  There are a lot of knots to untangle, and they had better do it quickly -- before someone else is killed.

In Always Emily, Michaela MacColl imagines what life was like for teenaged Emily and Charlotte Brontë in their father's parsonage on the moor.  There's a little bit of romance and a lot of adventure packed in this mysterious story that requires the two sisters to work together to figure out what's going on in the town.

Though I'm not a fan of nineteenth century Brit Lit, I appreciated seeing how the sisters' stories might have reflected certain elements of their own personalities.  As historical fiction, it's well-researched and written in such a way that the historical elements don't bog down the story.

Hand Always Emily to readers who like a touch of romance and adventure.  After reading this, they may even want to try out Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber

Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber  
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014)

Summary from publisher:
When Lily was three, her mother put her up for adoption, then disappeared without a trace.  Or so Lily was told.  Lily grew up in her new family and tried to forget her past.  But with the Korean War raging and a fear of "commies" everywhere, Lily's Asian heritage makes her a target.  She is sick of the racisim she faces, a fact her adoptive white parents won't take seriously.  For Lily, war is everywhere -- the dinner table, the halls at school, and especially within her own skin.
Then her brainy little brother, Ralph, finds a box hidden in the attic.  In it is a baffling jumble of broken antiquities -- clues to her past left by her "Gone Mom."  Lily and Ralph attempt to match these fragments with rare Chinese artifacts at the art museum.  She encounters the artistic genius Elliot James, who attracts and infuriates Lily as he tries to draw out the beauty of her golden heritage.  Will Lily summon the courage to confront her own remarkable creation story?  The real story, and one she can know only by coming face-to-face with the truth long buried within the people she thought she knew best.

Girl in Reverse is a historical fiction story that I had not read before.  Though I have read stories of teens of various ethnicities adopted by white parents trying to find their place not only in their communities, but also in their families, Lily's story has another layer - that of the anti-Chinese sentiment that was part of life in the United States in the 1950s during the Korean War.  Lily has to deal with overt racism and bullying that is ignored by the adults in her life, and for a while she even comes to believe the taunts and put-downs that are thrown her way.  Eventually, though, she finds herself - and her biological father - and learns how to stand up for her own humanity.

Though predictable in some areas, I enjoyed watching Lily piece together the clues of her past, and my heart broke for her as she tried to figure out how to open lines of communication with her closed-off parents.  I appreciated the relationship she had with her little brother, Ralph, who loved her unconditionally and went out of his way to help Lily, even though he wasn't sure if she would stay with the Firestones once she found her birth parents.

Stuber did her research.. the details in the story make it seem real, and Lily feels like a product of her times, not a 21st century girl plunked down in the past.

Hand this one to readers who enjoy stories of teenagers searching for their places in the world.  Though this one is historical fiction, the history doesn't get in the way of the story of Lily and her search for self.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick 
(Roaring Brook Press, 2013)

Summary from publisher:
The feeling that coincidences give us tells us they mean somethin. But what? What do they mean?
Laureth Peak's father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers -- a skill at which she's remarkably talented.  When he goes missing while researching coincidence for a new book, Laureth and her younger brother fly from London to New York and must unravel a series of cryptic messages and frightening clues to find him.  The complication: Laureth is blind.  Reliant on her other senses and on her brother to survive, Laureth finds that rescuing her father will take all her skill at spotting the extraordinary, and sometimes dangerous, connections in a world full of darkness.

This book is really good.  I'll put that out there right now.  It's thought-provoking, engaging, and beautifully written.  Laureth is a character who doesn't give up; she knows something is not right with her dad, and she does what she needs to to to find out what's up.  The problem lies in that she can't do this alone.. she has to bring her little brother along.  She knows what she's doing is dangerous - basically abducting her little brother and flying across the Atlantic to a city she doesn't know -- but she can't NOT do something.

Sedgewick's story is very well written.  He knows how to ratchet up the tension and put the characters in situations that are perilous but not TOO perilous.  The mystery feels within the realm of possibility, though some of the situations are a bit far-fetched.  The only gripe (albeit small) I had with this book is that I wanted to know more about Benjamin and his strange effect on electronic devices.  I was really hoping he would get a bit more attention.

Hand this one to readers who like a bit of mystery with their realistic fiction.  Though the main characters is a girl, this is not a "girly" book; I think readers of both genders will find it to be a worthwhile read.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders

Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach (Sourcebooks, 2014)

Summary from publisher:
Gabe is having a tough week.  Normally the funny kid at the lunch table, he's on edge from trying to kick his soda addiction and ditch his long-standing nickname, "Chunk."  SO when new breaks that his beloved marching band camp has been cancelled due to lack of funding, he's furious.  What makes him even madder?  The school's vending machine money -- which had previously been collected by the band -- is now sponsoring the new cheer squad. 
The war is ON.  And Gabe is leading the charge.  No one will be safe from the Geekers' odd brand of wrath:  not the principal, the band teacher, the local newspaper, and certainly not the cheerleaders and their jock boyfriends.  Like the saying goes, it isn't over until fat boy sings.....

Have you ever read a book that made you feel slightly uncomfortable because you know that it's not that far off from the truth?  Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders is one of those books, not so much in the reality of it's major plot line, but in how the teens in this book treat each other.  Someone might argue that the name calling and bullying is exaggerated for effect, but I would say that based on what I remember from my own high school days and things I see online and on the news, it's really not.

As Gabe works through the right way to protest his anger at funding being yanked from the marching band, he realizes two things -- that he has to take control of his life and how he responds to bullying and stress if he wants to lose weight, and that he can't name-call others if he doesn't want others doing the same to him.  It's a hard realization when Gabe finally sees how much he hurts the people around him when he uses put-downs and mean nicknames.  This summer of fighting back against the school board teaches him not only that he has a voice but also that he has a conscience.

Though this definitely is a book with a moral, it's not preachy or didactic.  Herbach's teens read like many of the teens I know, and while you might think they're somewhat stereotypical in the beginning, you quickly realize that each character has qualities that makes him or her different.

Hand this book to boys or girls who enjoy realistic fiction that is not only humorous but also important.  They won't be disappointed.