Monthly Archives: March 2018

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic Stone. October 17, 2017. Crown Books for Young Readers, 224 p. ISBN: 9781101939505.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League–but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up–way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Racially motivated violence, Racist slurs

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Perhaps a bright young man who is fourth in his graduating class, captain of the debate team, and on his way to an Ivy League school shouldn’t have too many worries. But Justyce McAllister’s grades have no influence on the police officer who handcuffs him while he’s trying to help his inebriated ex-girlfriend. The African American teen is shocked and angered when the officer is cleared of all charges, and so he turns to the written work of Martin Luther King Jr. for direction, inspiration, and therapy. He presents a simple question to the late civil rights leader: “What would you do, Martin?” After Justyce witnesses the fatal shooting of his best friend by an off-duty officer, and his name is negatively spread through the media, he begins to withdraw from friends and family, only finding solace in his teacher, new girlfriend, and his continued ruminative letter writing to Dr. King. Stone’s debut confronts the reality of police brutality, misconduct, and fatal shootings in the U.S., using an authentic voice to accurately portray the struggle of self-exploration teens like Justyce experience every day. Teens, librarians, and teachers alike will find this book a godsend in assisting discussions about dealing with police, as well as the philosophical underpinnings of King’s work. Vivid and powerful.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2017)
“I know your kind: punks like you wander the streets of nice neighborhoods searching for prey. Just couldn’t resist the pretty white girl who’d locked her keys in her car, could ya?” So seventeen-year-old Justyce McAllister, who is black, hears after being shoved to the ground by a police officer (“CASTILLO [the officer’s nameplate] reads, though the guy looks like a regular white dude”). Thing is, the girl is mixed-race and is Justyce’s sometime-girlfriend (and drunk), and he was helping her get home. The opening scene is one of several that illustrate Justyce’s feeling that “no matter what I do, the only thing white people will ever see me as is a nig–an ‘n’-word.” Ranked fourth in his class at exclusive Braselton Preparatory Academy, he’s been accepted to Yale, but his classmates assume it’s only because of affirmative action. In his own neighborhood, people criticize him for being a “race-traitor” who’s “gotta stay connected to the white man for the ride to the top.” To sort his life out, Justyce begins writing “Dear Martin” letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Alternating with the main narrative, the letters are an effective device. What would Dr. King think about recent events surrounding Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the many others who have died and become headlines, the real-life people who inspired this novel? Stone veers away from easy resolutions while allowing hope to reside in unexpected places. dean Schneider

About the Author

Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons. Her website is www.nicstone.info

Teacher Resources

Dear Martin Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

Dear Martin on Amazon

Dear Martin on Goodreads

Dear Martin Publisher Page

Advertisements

Hunger: A Tale of Courage by Donna Jo Napoli

Hunger; A Tale of Courage by Donna Jo Napoli. February 13, 2018. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9781481477499.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lorraine this haunting novel from the award-winning author of Hidden and Hush gives insight and understanding into a little known part of history—the Irish potato famine.

It is the autumn of 1846 in Ireland. Lorraine and her brother are waiting for the time to pick the potato crop on their family farm leased from an English landowner. But this year is different—the spuds are mushy and ruined. What will Lorraine and her family do?

Then Lorraine meets Miss Susannah, the daughter of the wealthy English landowner who owns Lorraine’s family’s farm, and the girls form an unlikely friendship that they must keep a secret from everyone. Two different cultures come together in a deserted Irish meadow. And Lorraine has one question: how can she help her family survive?

A little known part of history, the Irish potato famine altered history forever and caused a great immigration in the later part of the 1800s. Lorraine’s story is a heartbreaking and ultimately redemptive story of one girl’s strength and resolve to save herself and her family against all odds.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Starvation, Death

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 8))
Grades 6-9. It’s one thing to read that many Irish people died of starvation during the 1840s potato famine. It’s another thing entirely to watch it happen through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl. Lorraine awakens one morning to hear her father shouting in the field. Overnight, the potato plants’ leaves have blackened. The family rushes to salvage the few wholly or partly edible spuds—their inadequate winter’s food supply. Renting their land from an English landlord who ignores their plight, they are barely surviving, while throughout the country, families turned off their farms die of starvation, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. In this vivid narrative, Lorraine befriends the landlord’s lonely, capricious daughter, who sometimes gives her food, but doesn’t believe or even understand that starvation and death stalk Lorraine, her little brother, their parents, and their neighbors. The first-person narrative portrays Lorraine’s family and community with realistically drawn personalities and relationships as well as fine-tuned ethical dilemmas, while sketching in the backdrop of the wider catastrophe. The back matter includes a glossary of Irish terms, a source bibliography, and a discussion of Irish history through 1851. A somber but uplifting historical novel that views a national tragedy through the lens of a moving personal story.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2017)
A family struggles to survive the Irish Potato Famine in 1846.Following the onset of the blight that caused massive crop failure the previous summer, 12-year-old Lorraine hopes that her family’s efforts on their small tenant farm in County Galway will put enough food on the table to get through winter. Their freshly planted spuds rot practically overnight, though, and Lorraine, her little brother, Paddy, and their Ma and Da join neighbors in a fight to stay alive. Napoli shows her considerable talent for drawing readers into her protagonist’s world through Lorraine’s frank, first-person account of her circumstances. The narrative, like Lorraine, is grounded in the natural world. While foraging meager greens for the family’s supper, Lorraine encounters a girl on the grounds of the English landlord’s manor. Miss Susanna is the pampered landlord’s daughter who tells Lorraine that “you Irish are irresponsible, having children you can’t take care of” and that they are to blame for their own starvation, even as she shares some of her doll’s picnic. Miss Susanna serves as stand-in for the English attitude toward the Irish. Her imperious attitude—giving orders to Lorraine and ignoring the obvious poverty of the tenant farmers—is set against Lorraine’s story, giving young readers a lens through which to understand the history of oppression. The author makes it clear in endnotes that it’s worth noting the similarities to the plight of modern-day refugees. Although the publisher aims this book at teens, Lorraine’s age suggests a middle-grade audience, and there’s nothing about the content or the sophistication of storytelling that skews the age up. A worthy introduction to an important slice of history. (map, glossary, bibliography, timeline) (Historical fiction. 9-13)

About the Author

Donna Jo Napoli is both a linguist and a writer of children’s and YA fiction.

Donna Jo has five children. She dreams of moving to the woods and becoming a naturalist. She loves to garden and bake bread.

She lives outside Philadelphia. Her website is www.donnajonapoli.com.

Around the Web

Hunger: A Tale of Courage on Amazon

Hunger: A Tale of Courage on Goodreads

Hunger: A Tale of Courage Publisher Page

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu. January 2, 2018. Random House Books for Young Readers, 288 p.; ISBN: 9780399549779.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Before he was Batman, he was Bruce Wayne. A reckless boy willing to break the rules for a girl who may be his worst enemy.

The Nightwalkers are terrorizing Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is next on their list.
One by one, the city’s elites are being executed as their mansions’ security systems turn against them, trapping them like prey. Meanwhile, Bruce is turning eighteen and about to inherit his family’s fortune, not to mention the keys to Wayne Enterprises and all the tech gadgetry his heart could ever desire. But after a run-in with the police, he’s forced to do community service at Arkham Asylum, the infamous prison that holds the city’s most brutal criminals.

Madeleine Wallace is a brilliant killer . . . and Bruce’s only hope.
In Arkham, Bruce meets Madeleine, a brilliant girl with ties to the Nightwalkers. What is she hiding? And why will she speak only to Bruce? Madeleine is the mystery Bruce must unravel. But is he getting her to divulge her secrets, or is he feeding her the information she needs to bring Gotham City to its knees? Bruce will walk the dark line between trust and betrayal as the Nightwalkers circle closer.

In this second DC Icons book–following Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer–Bruce Wayne is proof that you don’t need superpowers to be a super hero, but can he survive this game of tense intrigue, pulse-pounding action, and masterful deception?

Part of Series: D.C. Icons (Book 2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Criminal culture, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. Lu (The Young Elites, 2014) continues the DC Icons series with this second installment; this time, the focus is on Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. Lu’s take on the caped superhero imagines him as a restless high-school senior who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when he witnesses criminals escaping a crime scene and gives chase himself. Following his reckless (but ultimately successful) vigilantism, Bruce is sentenced to community service at—where else?—the infamous Arkham Asylum. Housed there among Gotham’s roughest criminals is brilliant but troubled Madeleine, who makes Bruce question everything he thinks he knows about the nature of evil. Familiar faces will be welcome to Batman fans, but none stand out save for Madeleine. Even Bruce, from whose perspective the story is told, is somewhat bland. However, Lu excels at making action sequences come alive and feel immediate, and this latest is no exception. An action-packed thriller from one of YA’s preeminent voices. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Lu’s a blockbuster in her own right; when combined with this high-interest series, she’s unstoppable.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Young Bruce Wayne has a pre-Batman adventure.Famed boy billionaire Bruce Wayne has just turned 18, officially inheriting his deceased parents’ vast fortune. But Bruce doesn’t have time to give his coming-of-age much thought: a gang calling itself the Nightwalkers is terrorizing the elite citizens of Gotham City, and Bruce is determined to shut them down. Bruce’s antics earn him a community-service sentence in Arkham Asylum, where he cross paths with Asian-American Madeleine Wallace, an accused murderer with ties to the Nightwalkers. Madeleine remains silent when the cops are around but speaks privately to Bruce. As the two grow closer Bruce works to shine a light on the mysterious gang and perhaps get a possibly innocent Madeleine released. Lu effectively mixes familiar Batman characters and locations with the new Nightwalkers and Madeleine, avoiding overstuffing the narrative with future villains and excessive Batman foreshadowing. The trickiest aspect of any Batman narrative is getting into Bruce Wayne’s head, and she doesn’t miss a beat. Bruce is headstrong, haunted but not overwhelmed, and capable of improvisation, but he isn’t yet the fully formed Caped Crusader. The building blocks are there, but the author doesn’t rush to assemble them too quickly. Bruce’s terrible, self-destructive taste in women travels from the comics to this novel, making his relationship with Madeleine suitably complex and a bit frustrating at the same time. An engaging character piece with enough Batman allusions to intrigue fans and newcomers alike. (Fantasy. 12-16)

About the Author

Marie Lu is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Legend, Prodigy, and Champion, as well as The Young Elites. She graduated from the University of Southern California and jumped into the video game industry, working for Disney Interactive Studios as a Flash artist. Now a full-time writer, she spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing Assassin’s Creed, and getting stuck in traffic. She lives in Los Angeles, California (see above: traffic), with one husband, one Chihuahua mix, and two Pembroke Welsh corgis.

Her website is www.marielu.org.

Around the Web

Batman: Nightwalker on Amazon

Batman: Nightwalker on Goodreads

Batman: Nightwalker Publisher Page

Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten

Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten. October 31, 2017. Simon Pulse, 320 p. ISBN: 9781481418607.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 690.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls comes a stylish thriller about the darkness that lurks inside all of us.

When I looked up, his smile was wide and real. “Ready?” he said.
I faked a smile back. I had gotten so good at faking things.
I thought: You brought this on yourself, Sasha. You will have to pretend forever now.
He squeezed my hand again. He couldn’t begin to imagine what this actually was. He had no idea what I’d done. What any of us had.

When Sasha’s best friend Xavier gets back together with his cheating ex, Ivy, Sasha knows she needs to protect him. So she poses as a guy online to lure Ivy away.

But Sasha’s plan goes sickeningly wrong. And she soon learns to be careful of who you pretend to be because you might be surprised by who you become…

Told in multiple points of view, Bad Girls with Perfect Faces is sexy and twisted with shocks at every turn

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Marijuana

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 9-12. Sasha would do anything to help her best friend, Xavier, and in the month following his seventeenth birthday, she does. After having his heart broken by Ivy, a volatile, sexy, commanding, former ballerina, Sasha has almost gotten sweet Xavier back on his feet, and she is almost ready to tell him how she really feels about him. Then Ivy pulls Xavier back to her, and Sasha is dead set on proving to Xavier that Ivy hasn’t reformed her cheating ways. Sasha’s alcohol-fueled online snooping quickly morphs into catfishing. She soon realizes that not only is she right about Ivy but she’s in too deep to turn back, and if she wants her relationship with Xavier to survive, she needs to take desperate measures. This stylish, edgy novel of mistaken identity told in three voices takes a dark, lurid turn, with the second part ricocheting into psychological suspense with devastating consequences. Readers will revel in the twists and turns as the characters attempt to gather the pieces of their shattered lives.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2017)
A love triangle takes a turn for the dark. There never seems to be a good time for Sasha to tell her best friend, Xavier, that she is desperately in love with him—not while he’s depressed after Ivy dumps him, not when Ivy decides she wants him back, not even when Sasha comes up with a beastly plan to entrap Ivy into revealing her selfish and cheating ways. Ivy is “a tornado, unpredictable and cracklingly alive.” Sasha tells herself that she has Xavier’s best intentions at heart when she uploads a picture of a hot guy with a “muscular bicep” and sends Ivy an Instagram follow request. Ivy takes the bait and starts a text flirtation, but she continues to lure Xavier deeper into a naughty relationship. “Come to my house,” she tells him. “I promise we won’t get caught.” Sasha goes to extreme lengths to free Xavier from Ivy, and these pretty girls create some very ugly situations. Weingarten draws provocative characters with searingly sharp writing, but underneath the stylishness, the plot twists are abrupt and may leave readers with vertigo. The absence of specific racial or ethnic markers implies a white default. A teen love story that flits through a titillating social scene and wanders into a murky moral swamp. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Lynn Weingarten is a writer and editor. She is the author of Wherever Nina LiesThe Secret Sisterhood of HeartbreakersThe Book of LoveSuicide Notes from Beautiful Girls, and Bad Girls with Perfect Faces. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Her website is www.lynnweingarten.com

Around the Web

Bad Girls with Perfect Faces on Amazon

Bad Girls with Perfect Faces on Goodreads

Bad Girls with Perfect Faces Publisher Page

March Forward, Girl by Melba Pattillo Beals

March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Pattillo Beals. January 2, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 224 p. ISBN: 9781328882127.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.5; Lexile: 950.

From the legendary civil rights activist and author of the million-copy selling Warriors Don’t Cry comes an ardent and profound childhood memoir of growing up while facing adversity in the Jim Crow South.

Long before she was one of the Little Rock Nine, Melba Pattillo Beals was a warrior. Frustrated by the laws that kept African-Americans separate but very much unequal to whites, she had questions. Why couldn’t she drink from a “whites only” fountain? Why couldn’t she feel safe beyond home—or even within the walls of church?  Adults all told her: Hold your tongue. Be patient. Know your place. But Beals had the heart of a fighter—and the knowledge that her true place was a free one.

Combined with emotive drawings and photos, this memoir paints a vivid picture of Beals’ powerful early journey on the road to becoming a champion for equal rights, an acclaimed journalist, a best-selling author, and the recipient of this country’s highest recognition, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Sexual harassment

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 5-8. Beals (Warriors Don’t Cry, 1995) wastes no time getting into the deep, choking horror of living under Jim Crow in 1940s and 1950s Arkansas. Likening her fear of white people to an ever-growing monster consuming her nights, she reflects on how the Ku Klux Klan rode through her black neighborhood, plucking friends and neighbors from their homes to be lynched for minor infractions of the codes or for fun. That fear morphed into anger and motivation to find a way out, eventually helping her to become one of the Little Rock Nine. Beals has a way with short, powerful sentences that efficiently capture her roiling emotional inner life. She also outlines the interplay of racism and sexism in a harrowing recounting of the time she was herself a target of the Klan. The narrative stops short of the integration of Little Rock Central High School, featuring it instead in the epilogue. Young readers will be gripped by Beal’s personal courage and determination to march forward for civil rights at such a young age.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2017)
One of the Little Rock Nine describes her childhood in the years leading up to the 1957 event.Beals’ moving adult memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry (1994), painted a harrowing portrait of her experience as one of the African-American students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Here she shares her memories of growing up in the segregated South and what led her to challenge Jim Crow laws. She describes a warm, loving family environment where church and education were highly valued. These positives are not always enough to outweigh the darkness she feels from witnessing and experiencing racism from whites in stores or even those doing business in and around her home. There are episodes involving the Ku Klux Klan and even the lynching of a family acquaintance, experiences that leave Beals with a desire for justice and an abhorrence of the treatment of blacks at the hands of whites. When she is among those chosen to integrate Central High School, the determination she needs has been building for years. This narrative is told in a conversational tone, full of personal stories and remembrances. Beals pinpoints clearly the injustices and pain of her early years and shows how they prepared her for the challenges of making history, intertwining these stories with more personal coming-of-age recollections. Archival photographs and Morrison’s drawings punctuate the pages. (Final art not seen.) A valuable addition to the stories of life in Jim Crow America. (Memoir. 10-16)

About the Author

Melba Pattillo Beals is the author of the bestselling Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High and the recipient of the 1995 American Library Association Nonfiction Book of the Year award and the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. Dr. Beals was given a Congressional Gold Medal for her role, as a fifteen-year-old, in the integration of Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Her website is http://melbapattillobeals.com/

Around the Web

March Forward, Girl on Amazon

March Forward, Girl on Goodreads

March Forward, Girl Publisher Page

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway. January 9, 2018. Knopf Publishing Group, 688 p. ISBN: 9781524732080.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the widely acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World andTigerman, a virtuosic new novel and his most ambitious book yet–equal parts dark comedy, gripping detective story, and mind-bending philosophical puzzle–set in a not-too-distant-future, high-tech surveillance state.

In the world of Gnomon, citizens are ceaselessly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of ‘transparency.’ When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody during a routine interrogation, Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector, is assigned to the case. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, she finds a panorama of characters and events that Hunter gave life to in order to forestall the investigation: a lovelorn financier in Athens who has a mystical experience with a shark; a brilliant alchemist in ancient Carthage confronting the unexpected outcome of her invention; an expat Ethiopian painter in London designing a controversial new video game. In the static between these mysterious visions, Neith begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter–and, alarmingly, of herself, the staggering consequences of which will reverberate throughout the world. Gnomon is a dazzling, panoramic achievement from one of the most original voices in contemporary fiction.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Kidnapping, Murder, Gore

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2017)
Beguiling, multilayered, sprawling novel that blends elements of Philip K. Dick–tinged sci-fi, mystery, politics, and literary fiction in a most satisfying brew.In surveying, a gnomon is a set square used to mark right angles on a chart. “By extension,” writes the genre-hopping British novelist Harkaway (Tigerman, 2014, etc.), “it means something perpendicular to everything else, such as the upright part of a sundial.” It is different from its surroundings, and so is everything that police investigator Mielikki Neith (as in ’neath, where hidden things are to be found) learns about the case just assigned to her: it involves a dissident, now deceased, in a near-future society where citizens patrol each other by means of social media, totalitarianism with a thin veneer of friendly hyperdemocracy, all committee work and political correctness. In this world, Diana Hunter, “a writer of obscurantist magical realist novels” read in fragmentary samizdat editions, harbored antinomian thoughts—and, given the recent news that the brain remains conscious for at least a short time after death, it makes sense that Neith should try to get inside her brain to ferret out subversion. That’s not easy, for Hunter has laid land mines throughout in the form of odd diversionary characters: ancient mathematicians, Roman legionaries, and other formidable obstacles who share Hunter’s “bad attitude.” The possibilities in the story are endless, and Harkaway looks into most of them, it seems, firing off brilliant lines (“The universe has cancer,” “Thousands and thousands of years, thousands of bodies, thousands of minds combined into one, and your best answer to pain is still revenge?”). Although he doesn’t go out of his way to advertise the fact, Harkaway is the son of John le Carré, and from his father he has inherited a feel for the world-weary tediousness of police work. Yet there’s no Smiley in the smiley-face future world where being a fascist busybody is a badge of honor—though enigmas abound, to be sure. Fans of Pynchon and William Gibson alike will devour this smart, expertly written bit of literary subversion.

Library Journal – web only (January 19, 2018)
This latest from Harkaway (Tigerman) is set in a near-future Britain managed by the Witness, a pervasive surveillance system connected to instant plebiscites that has taken the place of government. This system is perceived as the ultimate rule of the people by the people, but, disturbingly, the Witness can see into your mind. When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies under interrogation, investigator Meilikki Neith mentally ingests neural recordings made by the interrogators and thus relives the experience. The book then launches into multiple narrative streams, revealed in the recordings, involving macho Greek banker Kyriakos; fifth-century alchemist Athenais, mistress of Saint Augustine; and Ethiopian expatriate artist Bekele. These narratives are woven together to create a tapestry of meaning and of mystery. The theme of katabasis, the descent and emergence from the underworld, is central. Verdict The book functions as a riposte to the dangers of the surveillance state, demonstrating the interconnectedness of consciousness and the triumph of the all, the gnomon, over totalitarian control of the few. This work goes so far as to invoke the reader’s role in creating the narrative, which is simply astonishing; to be read at all costs! -Henry Bankhead, San Rafael P.L., CA

About the Author

Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall, UK in 1972. He is possessed of two explosively exciting eyebrows, which exert an almost hypnotic attraction over small children, dogs, and – thankfully – one ludicrously attractive human rights lawyer, to whom he is married.

He likes: oceans, mountains, lakes, valleys, and those little pigs made of marzipan they have in Switzerland at new year.

He does not like: bivalves. You just can’t trust them.

His website is www.nickharkaway.com

Around the Web

Gnomon on Amazon

Gnomon on Goodreads

Gnomon Publisher Page

Lighting Up the Brain by Marc Zimmer

Lighting up the Brain: the Science of Optogenetics by Marc Zimmer. January 1, 2018. Twenty First Century Books, 80 p. ISBN: 9781512427523.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1120.

What if neuroscientists could look inside the human brain and watch individual brain cells send signals to one another? What if they could then control these brain cells to direct thoughts and actions?

This may sound like science fiction, but it’s actually a scientific revolution called optogenetics. Neuroscientists would like to use this new technology on human brains to uncover secrets about how the brain processes information and drives human behavior. Doctors hope to use optogenetics to restore sight and to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and other debilitating or deadly health problems. Discover how the innovative work of leaders in the field is poised to radically transform science, medicine, and human health.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 8-11. In concise text, this book explains optogenetics, which uses light to control cells in living tissue, particularly the neurons in the brain. It also explores the groundbreaking innovations and tools developed to do this and how they work. Neuroscientists genetically modify lab animals so specific neurons within them will produce light-sensitive proteins. When flashes of light are directed onto these neurons, it triggers them to send signals to other neurons, helping scientists map the brain’s neural circuitry and explain how the brain directs behavior and processes information. Inherent risks are acknowledged, and the controversy over animal testing is mentioned, but the hope is that this will ultimately lead to treatment of certain disorders and diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, narcolepsy, and perhaps even visual impairments. This attractively designed book is full of color photos and includes a table of contents, source notes, a glossary, a selected bibliography, further information, and an index. It will be useful for students doing reports on new research techniques in the field of neuroscience.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
It may soon be possible for neuroscientists to look inside the human brain and see exactly what it is doing thanks to pioneering technology called optogenetics. Neuroscientists are already using optogenetics in mice and other laboratory animals, activating neurons inside their brains. In a two-step process, animals are genetically modified in such a way that certain neurons produce light-sensitive proteins. Researchers can direct flashes of light onto these neurons, triggering them to send signals to other neurons. Using optogenetics on human brains would allow neuroscientists to map the brain’s complicated neural circuitry for the first time in history. It could conceivably enable scientists to control neurons to direct thoughts and actions. Optogenetics also has the potential to be used to treat conditions such as blindness and neural disorders like Parkinson’s, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Zimmer’s accessibly written text offers a good deal of background information to put the subject in context. He includes a discussion of the ethics of using animals as test subjects. Well-organized and appealingly designed, the text is complemented with numerous color charts, diagrams, and photographs. An intriguing and informative introduction to the field of neuroscience and the frontiers of modern brain research. (photos, source notes, glossary, bibliography, further information) (Nonfiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Marc Zimmer is Professor of Chemistry at Connecticut College. He has published articles on science and medicine for the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and the Huffington Post, among many other publications.

Edgar, Marc’s glowing axolotl, accompanies him to most local book/science talks.

Around the Web

Lighting Up the Brain on Amazon

Lighting Up the Brain on Goodreads

Lighting Up the Brain Publisher Page

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West. December 26, 2017. HarperTeen, 384 p. ISBN: 9780062675774.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

What do you do when you’ve fallen for your best friend? Funny and romantic, this effervescent story about family, friendship, and finding yourself is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings, Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list, she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being.

But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 7-10. Artistically gifted Abby has two goals the summer before senior year: getting accepted into the prestigious art show at the museum where she works, and getting best friend (actually secret crush) Cooper to realize he likes her as more than a friend. Expect a rocky road and stinging rejection on both fronts before Abby digs in and tries harder. Told her paintings have insufficient depth and “heart,” she, with the help of her mom and grandpa, composes an intriguing list of life experiences to enrich her artistic sensibilities: face a fear, learn a stranger’s story, and try five things she’s never done before, for starters. The list is a clever plot device to drive the story forward, and it offers surprises along the way. Readers will be touched by West’s handling of the mother-daughter relationship, especially given Abby’s mom’s anxiety and agoraphobia, while the list, of course, tells all of us a thing or two about busting up routines and grabbing unexpected returns.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2018)
A year ago, Abby confessed her love to her best friend, Cooper—and it didn’t go well. Abby tried to laugh it off. Each pretends it never happened, but Abby’s feelings are unchanged. She’s doubly blindsided when her other passion, art, hits a roadblock. Her paintings are rejected for inclusion in an art museum show, deemed technically proficient but lacking in heart. Determined to turn that around, and with family brainstorming support, she creates a to-do list of activities to deepen her emotional expression, enlisting Cooper’s intermittent participation. They watch a mountain sunrise, read books outside their comfort zones, audition for a musical, and more. Abby makes friends, including classmate and sculptor Elliot Garcia, and her work shows progress. Abby worries about her mother’s agoraphobia; it’s worsened during her father’s long deployments overseas, especially since the family moved off-base, away from supportive military families. A refreshing departure from teen-literature tropes, Abby’s no brainy polymath acing AP English (the book she chooses is A Tale of Two Cities) and destined for Stanford. However, plotting is shaky: subplots go nowhere; outcomes negate what came before. Cooper’s friendly, romantic disinterest in Abby feels very real—its explanation and resolution, less so. Most characters are white or appear so by default. Elliot Garcia has dark, curly hair and a Spanish last name but lacks ethnic assignment. Abby’s friends Rachel, who’s black, and Justin, who’s Latinx, are minor characters. Abby’s likable, but her romantic passivity and hijacked artistic endeavors send a disempowering message. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Kasie West is the author of several YA novels, including The Distance Between UsOn the FenceThe Fill-in BoyfriendP.S. I Like YouLucky in Love, and By Your Side. Her books have been named as ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and as YALSA Best Books for Young Adults. Kasie lives in Fresno, California with her family.

Her website is www.kasiewest.com

Around the Web

Love, Life, and the List on Amazon

Love, Life, and the List on Goodreads

Love, Life, and the List Publisher Page

The Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O’Connor

The Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O’Connor. March 6, 2018. Oni Press, 152 p. ISBN: 9781620104507.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 300.

What happens when you can finally get everything you ever wanted?

Willow Sparks and her best friend Georgia Pratt are at the bottom of the social ladder at Twin Pines High School, just trying to get through each day relatively unscathed. But when Willow finds a mysterious book that allows her to literally change her life, it feels like her luck is finally turning. As she becomes more and more popular with each entry into the book, her old life, including her friendship with Georgia, seems miles away. Yet as Willow will discover, every action has a reaction, and the future has unusual—even dangerous—ways of protecting itself

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Underage drinking, Bullying

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
Relentlessly bullied by the popular clique, the titular protagonist discovers an unexpected way to change her future.Plagued with tragically uncool hair and unfortunate acne, Willow Sparks certainly is not a member of the popular crowd. However, her two best friends, Georgia and Gary, are loyal, and together the trio navigates the social atrocities of their high school. While at her job at the local library, Willow finds herself cornered by her mean-girl nemeses and, after a violent episode, unearths a secret library within the library that’s filled with unusual books. She finds a mysterious tome bearing her name that allows her to write her own future—but with devastating effects. While the semi-Faustian trope certainly is not new, O’Connor’s graphic-novel spin on it is fun and captivating. Her art is expressive and deftly captures all the angst and action through a cinematic lens. However, as Willow’s self-conceived plans unravel, the plotting goes with it, leaving the strong beginning floundering through a hasty resolution. While Willow is fully fleshed out, the secondary characters—including best friend Georgia and Willow’s librarian boss—are frustratingly not as well-developed. Despite these quibbles, O’Connor’s offering is an enjoyable and quick dip into the dark side of wish fulfillment. Main character Willow is white, as is Gary, and Georgia is Asian. An intriguing and incisive plot that starts promisingly but ultimately falls flat. (Graphic fantasy. 12-16)

Publishers Weekly (November 20, 2017)
Willow Sparks just wants to get through high school without students in popular cliques harassing her and teachers embarrassing her. After bullies show up at the library where she works and push her down a flight of stairs, she discovers a secret underground wing-and a book with her name on it. By writing in the book, she can reshape her future, and soon she’s ditching her best friends Georgia and Gary to hang out with the cool kids. The pale lavender-gray coloring of O’Connor’s two-tone cartooning fits the eerie, brooding atmosphere of this magic-inflected cautionary tale. But although O’Connor’s talents as an artist aren’t in question-the torments that Willow and her friends face in gym class, school bathrooms, and elsewhere feel painfully real-the overall story is rushed and too-tidily resolved. Even considering the influence of the magical book, the speed with which Willow drops her friends is jarring, and their own subplots get short shrift (Georgia is moving out of town, and Gary is nervously starting to come out to family and friends). It’s an intriguing story that doesn’t have enough space to reach its full potential. Ages 13-up. (Feb.)

About the Author

Tara is a cartoonist currently residing in the New Jersey wilderness. When she’s not drawing comics, she’s teaching them. She drinks way too much tea and coffee, and on any given day there’s a 90% chance that every meal she had was cereal.

 

Around the Web

The Altered History of Willow Sparks on Amazon

The Altered History of Willow Sparks on Goodreads

The Altered History of Willow Sparks Publisher Page

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla. February 6, 2018. HarperCollins, 288 p. ISBN: 9780062445797.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.6.

This novel features comic trivia, a safety superhero, and a super-cool scavenger hunt all over downtown San Diego, as our young hero Stanley Fortinbras grapples with his anxiety—and learns what, exactly, it means to be brave.

Nobody knows comics trivia like Stanley knows comics trivia.

It’s what he takes comfort in when the world around him gets to be too much. And after he faints during a safety assembly, Stanley takes his love of comics up a level by inventing his own imaginary superhero, named John Lockdown, to help him through.

Help is what he needs, because Stanley’s entered Trivia Quest—a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt—to prove he can tackle his worries, score VIP passes to Comic Fest, and win back his ex-best friend. Partnered with his fearless new neighbor Liberty, Stanley faces his most epic, overwhelming, challenging day ever.

What would John Lockdown do?

Stanley’s about to find out.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, One instance of the word “hell”

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 6))
Grades 4-8. Stanley is an expert at comics trivia. Comics give him comfort in the world when he feels overwhelmed from sensory overload and his anxiety rears its head. With Stanley’s best friend acting weird and distant, his dad overseas for a job, and his middle school’s alarming safety assemblies, Stanley has a lot to worry about. After fainting during an assembly, Stanley creates an imaginary superhero named John Lockdown to help him overcome his fears. And Stanley needs help because he’s just entered the biggest comics event, Trivia Quest. Partnering with his new neighbor Liberty, he endeavors to tackle his fears, win passes to Comic Fest, and get his best friend back. Stanley’s anxiety and sensory processing disorder are portrayed in a sensitive and relatable way, although, at times, Stanley overcomes his worry too easily, thanks to Liberty’s pushing and some quick breathing. The novel loses steam after the contest ends, but it’s nevertheless refreshing to see a middle-grader tackling SPD and anxiety in an understandable way.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2017)
Superheroes can be found in unlikely places.Middle schooler Stanley Fortinbras has a sensory-processing disorder and experiences anxiety, both of which make the principal’s many emergency preparedness drills difficult for him to handle. When he passes out at a safety assembly, he’s sent to school counselor Mrs. Ngozo, an African-American woman, who creates a Ready Room for him: a quiet place where he can go when school becomes too chaotic. It’s here that John Lockdown, hero of the underdog, is born. Stanley, son of a “dark,” Morocco-born French father and white mother, is no superhero, but he does have a superpower: comic-book trivia. When his best friend, Joon (who is Korean), suggests they enter Trivia Quest, a comics treasure hunt that takes place all over San Diego, Stanley’s mind reels with both possible and unlikely worse-case scenarios. After Stanley and Joon have a disagreement, Stanley asks his new neighbor, confident white girl Liberty, to go with him instead. To get through the stress of the day, Stanley creates his own way to manage his out-of-control thoughts and the resultant paralyzing fear: What would Lockdown do? The story never dumbs down or oversimplifies Stanley; he’s a multidimensional character of great depth who gradually learns how to calm his worried mind, and the book avoids patronizing readers with a false sense of everything’s-right-with-the-world. Add to the growing list of intelligent books about kids whose brains operate outside the norm. (Fiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Sally J. Pla is the author of The Someday Birds (her debut novel) and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine. She has traveled on family road trips to most everywhere in this story. She has English degrees from Colgate and Penn State and has worked as a business journalist and in public education. She has three sons, a husband, and an enormous, fluffy dog and lives near lots of lemon trees in Southern California.

Her website is www.sallyjpla.com.

Around the Web

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine on Amazon

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine on Goodreads

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine Publisher Page