Category Archives: Fiction

Goodbye, Mr. Spalding by Jennifer Robin Barr

Goodbye, Mr. Spalding by Jennifer Robin Barr. March 26, 2019. Calkins Creek Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9781684371785.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.8; Lexile: 650.

Set in Philadelphia during the Great Depression, this middle-grade historical novel tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy and his best friend as they attempt to stop a wall from being built at Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics, that would block the view of the baseball field from their rooftops.

In 1930s Philadelphia, twelve-year-old Jimmy Frank and his best friend Lola live across the street from Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team. Their families and others on the street make extra money by selling tickets to bleachers on their flat rooftops, which have a perfect view of the field. However, falling ticket sales at the park prompt the manager and park owner to decide to build a wall that will block the view. Jimmy and Lola come up with a variety of ways to prevent the wall from being built, knowing that not only will they miss the view, but their families will be impacted from the loss of income. As Jimmy becomes more and more desperate to save their view, his dubious plans create a rift between him and Lola, and he must work to repair their friendship.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Anti-Polish sentiment

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 13))
Grades 4-7. His whole life, 12-year-old Jimmy Frank has been able to see into Philadelphia’s beloved Shibe Park from his bedroom window. But when the owner of the Philadelphia Athletics fears sales on the rooftop bleachers atop homes like Jimmy’s are cutting into profits, they plan to erect a wall. The Great Depression has already tightened Jimmy’s family’s finances and the so-called “spite wall” is sure to further jeopardize their well-being. Jimmy is willing to do just about anything to stop the Athletics from building the wall, but is his partner in crime, his neighbor and BFF Lola, just as willing? Or is the spite wall also erecting a wall in their friendship? This appealing historical middle-grade novel is perfect for fans of beloved baseball-centered novels like Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score (2008). Barr knows her baseball history and brings rich detail to mid-1930s Philadelphia. While the plot may follow a predictable arc, sports fanatics will eat up the appended material. A sweet debut about friendship and the love of the game.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2019)
Twelve-year-olds Jimmie and Lola will always be best friends forever. That’s Rule No. 12. Shibe Park’s very short right-field fence is across the street from the flat-roofed houses where they live, allowing them to see all the home games of their beloved Philadelphia Athletics from a unique perspective. Homeowners set up bleachers on the roofs (Rule No. 11), charging a small fee for fans who can’t afford stadium tickets, which provides essential income for the families struggling in the Great Depression. Now Mr. Shibe wants to build a high spite fence to block their view, which will endanger their economic survival. Influenced by his other rules involving responsibility and commitment, Jimmie comes up with several harebrained schemes to stop Mr. Shibe while staying constantly watchful of the Polinski brothers, frightening neighborhood bullies (Rule No. 19). Lola abets him in his schemes, but when the dangers seem to outweigh any benefits, their friendship is nearly destroyed. Barr carefully constructs a well-paced adventure, involving some real events in a very specific time and place, while making Jimmie’s worries about negotiating that world completely accessible to modern readers. All the characters, assumed white, are well-developed, even the real Connie Mack and Jimmie Foxx. Quotes from the 1934 Sporting News that head many chapters further illuminate the actual events. The wall gets built, but friendship endures. Life lessons, baseball, and good friends; it’s all here. (author’s note, photographs, resources) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Jennifer Robin Barr is the author of two how-to books for adults. Goodbye, Mr. Spalding is her debut middle-grade novel. She is drawn to writing about little-known nuggets of history. She lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Her website is jenniferrobinbarr.com.

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Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Women Talking by Miriam Toews. April 2, 2019. Bloomsbury Publishing, 216 p. ISBN: 9781635572582.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women―all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in―have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?

Based on real events and told through the “minutes” of the women’s all-female symposium, Toews’s masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humor to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Rape and statutory rape, Sexual assault, Strong language, Suicide, Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
They have to meet in secret, and time is tight. They are grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and daughters in the Molotschna Colony, a Mennonite community in an unnamed, Spanish-speaking country. These girls and women have been attacked and raped. The bishop declared it the work of “ghosts and demons” and suggested that the women were being punished for their sins. Or perhaps they’d just imagined it, injuries notwithstanding. But the truth has finally emerged: the rapists are colony men. Husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons who snuck into the women’s rooms at night, drugged them with an animal anesthetic, and beat and raped them, even assaulting a three-year-old girl. The women are traumatized and afflicted by a sexually transmitted disease (there’s no medicine to treat it), forced pregnancies, and the suicide of one rape victim’s mother. Some men are in jail; others are in town raising their bail. The women have been given an ultimatum: forgive the rapists and go to heaven, or forfeit salvation and leave the colony, the only world they know. Eight courageous women gather clandestinely in a hayloft to decide their future. Canadian author Toews, whose six previous best-selling novels include All My Puny Sorrows (2014), grew up in a Mennonite community, and Mennonite life permeates her fiction. This sharp blade of a novel was inspired by actual events in a Mennonite colony in Bolivia. Although their way of life, with horses and buggies, creates the ambience of several centuries past, the assaults took place between 2005 and 2009, making them all the more appalling. Toews’ eviscerating fictionalization of this incendiary reality focuses not on the violence but, rather, on the keen, subversive intelligence of the Mennonite women, their philosophical casts of mind, clashing personalities, and deep concerns about family and faith. Toews’ choice of narrator is also counterintuitive. August Epp is the colony’s schoolteacher. The son of progressive, excommunicated parents, he has returned after a rather disastrous stay in London because of his love for Ona, one of the brave rebels meeting in the hayloft to discuss their options. While the colony’s men mock August as effeminate, the women trust him so much they’ve asked him to take minutes so that there will be a record of their debate. The women’s predicament is complicated by the fact that they speak Plautdietsch, a medieval language now only known to Mennonites, and they cannot read or write. But they are incisive, eloquent, passionate, and caustically funny. August can hardly keep up with their nuanced yet rapidly deployed arguments, insults, jokes, stories, and analyses of the possible consequences of their difficult choices. Temperamental and generational differences emerge, as do degrees of fury, pain, and determination. The women talk, one man listens, and readers read wide-eyed as Toews’ dissenters confront the fact that they don’t actually know what’s in the Bible, only what the men tell them it says. Still, they fully intend to remain true to their faith, unlike the men, including the sect’s vow of pacifism. And one of their priorities going forward is securing the freedom to think. Toews’ knowing wit and grasp of dire subjects aligns her with Margaret Atwood, while her novel’s slicing concision and nearly Socratic dialogue has the impact of a courtroom drama or a Greek tragedy, which brings to mind Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling (2011). Novels loosely linked thematically include The Break (2018), by Katherena Vermette; Haven’s Wake, by Ladette Randolph (2013); Prayers for the Stolen (2014), by Jennifer Clement; and In the Kingdom of Men​ (2012), by Kim Barnes, whose memoirs address an isolating Pentecostal upbringing. ​“Women talking” has always been potentially revolutionary. Women are now speaking out …

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2019)
An exquisite critique of patriarchal culture from the author of All My Puny Sorrows (2014). The Molotschna Colony is a fundamentalist Mennonite community in South America. For a period of years, almost all the women and girls have awakened to find themselves bloodied and bruised, with no memories of what might have happened in the night. At first, they assumed that, in their weakness, they were attracting demons to their beds. Then they learn that, in fact, they have been drugged and raped repeatedly by men of the colony. It’s only when one woman, Salome, attacks the accused that outside authorities are called—for the men’s protection. While the rest of the men are away in the city, arranging for bail, a group of women gather to decide how they will live after this monstrous betrayal. The title means what it says: This novel is an account of two days of discussion, and it is riveting and revelatory. The cast of characters is small, confined to two families, but it includes teenage girls and grandmothers and an assortment of women in between. The youngest form an almost indistinguishable dyad, but the others emerge from the formlessness their culture tries to enforce through behavior, dress, and hairstyle as real and vividly compelling characters. Shocked by the abuse they have endured at the hands of the men to whom they are supposed to entrust not only their bodies, but also their souls, these women embark on a conversation that encompasses all the big questions of Christian theology and Western philosophy—a ladies-only Council of Nicea, Plato’s Symposium with instant coffee instead of wine. This surely is not the first time that these women are thinking for themselves, but it might be the first time they are questioning the male-dominated system that endangered them and their children, and it is clearly the first time they are working through the practical ramifications of what they know and what they truly believe. It’s true that the narrator is a man, but that’s of necessity. These women are illiterate and therefore incapable of recording their thoughts without his sympathetic assistance. Stunningly original and altogether arresting.

About the Author

Miriam Toews is the author of six previous bestselling novels, All My Puny SorrowsSummer of My Amazing LuckA Boy of Good BreedingA Complicated KindnessThe Flying Troutmans, and Irma Voth, and one work of nonfiction, Swing Low: A Life. She is winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award. She lives in Toronto.

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Isla de Leones (Lion Island) by Margarita Engle

Isla de Leones (Lion Island) by Margarita Engle. February 26, 2019. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 176 p. ISBN: 9781534446472.  Int Lvl: 5-8.

The Spanish translation of this “beautifully written, thought provoking” (School Library Journal, starred review) novel in verse by Young People’s Poet Laureate Margarita Engle, which tells the story of Antonio Chuffat, a young man of African, Chinese, and Cuban descent who becomes a champion for civil rights.

Asia, Africa, Europe—Antonio Chuffat’s ancestors clashed and blended on the beautiful island of Cuba. The country is fighting for freedom from Spain. Enslaved Africans and near-enslaved Chinese indentured servants are forced to work long, backbreaking hours in the fields.

So Antonio feels lucky to have found a good job as a messenger, where his richly blended cultural background is an asset. Through his work he meets Wing, a young Chinese fruit seller who barely escaped the anti-Asian riots in San Francisco, and his sister Fan, a talented singer. With injustice all around them, the three friends are determined to prove that violence is not the only way to gain liberty.

Asia, África, Europa: los ancestros de Antonio chocaron y se mezclaron en la hermosa isla de Cuba. El país lucha por independizarse de España. Los esclavos africanos y los chinos bajo servidumbre por endeudamiento son forzados a trabajar largas horas, rompiéndose el lomo en los campos de cultivo.

Por eso Antonio se siente afortunado de haber conseguido trabajo como mensajero, haciendo que su rica mezcla cultural sea una ventaja. A traves de su trabajo conoce a Wing, un joven chino vendedor de frutas que escapó a duras penas de las revueltas contra los asiáticos en California, y su hermana Fan, una talentosa cantante. Con la injusticia rodeándolos por todas partes, los tres amigos han decidido que en estos tiempos de rebelión violenta y esclavitud, las armas no han de ser el único modo de ganar la libertad.

Perturbadora, a la vez que hermosa, esta es la historia de un muchacho que se convirtió en campeón de los derechos civiles de quienes no podían hablar por sí mismos.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism, Violence

 

About the Author

Margarita Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor. She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN Literary Award for Young Adult Literature winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture book Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award. Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She continues to visit Cuba as often as she can.

Her website is www.margaritaengle.com/

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Barely Missing Everything by Matt Méndez

Barely Missing Everything by Matt Méndez. MArch 5, 2019. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781534404458.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 800.

In the tradition of Jason Reynolds and Matt de la Peña, this heartbreaking, no-holds-barred debut novel told from three points of view explores how difficult it is to make it in life when you–your life, brown lives–don’t matter.

Juan has plans. He’s going to get out of El Paso, Texas, on a basketball scholarship and make something of himself–or at least find something better than his mom Fabi’s cruddy apartment, her string of loser boyfriends, and a dead dad. Basketball is going to be his ticket out, his ticket up. He just needs to make it happen.

His best friend JD has plans, too. He’s going to be a filmmaker one day, like Quinten Tarantino or Guillermo del Toro (NOT Steven Spielberg). He’s got a camera and he’s got passion–what else could he need?

Fabi doesn’t have a plan anymore. When you get pregnant at sixteen and have been stuck bartending to make ends meet for the past seventeen years, you realize plans don’t always pan out, and that there some things you just can’t plan for…

Like Juan’s run-in with the police, like a sprained ankle, and a tanking math grade that will likely ruin his chance at a scholarship. Like JD causing the implosion of his family. Like letters from a man named Mando on death row. Like finding out this man could be the father your mother said was dead.

Soon Juan and JD are embarking on a Thelma and Louise­-like road trip to visit Mando. Juan will finally meet his dad, JD has a perfect subject for his documentary, and Fabi is desperate to stop them. But, as we already know, there are some things you just can’t plan for…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Abortion, Drugs, Marijuana, Mild sexual themes, Racism, Strong language, Underage drinking, Drunk driving, Police violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 12))
Grades 10-12. Mendez’s gut-wrenching YA debut follows three narrators—Juan, JD, and Fabi—who are struggling to get by in El Paso, Texas. They each have a goal: Juan’s best shot at college is a basketball scholarship, JD dreams of becoming a filmmaker, and Fabi, Juan’s mother, just wants to make ends meet despite an unexpected pregnancy. But, as they know too well, the world is unforgiving, and troubles like sprained ankles, broken families, and lost jobs are heaped upon them. They begin to doubt if any of their hopes and dreams will ever come true, or if the lives of three brown people matter to anyone besides themselves. Mendez minces no words as he presents issues that are all too real for many Latin American communities. Although the characters are sometimes frustrating, Mendez’s attention to raw detail in plot and diction is both painful and illuminating. With its shades of social justice, this will appeal to readers of Matt de la Peña and Jason Reynolds.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2019)
Born on the poor side of El Paso, Juan and JD fight for their dreams, knowing the odds are stacked against them. Mendez (Twitching Heart, 2012) tells the touching story of two teenage buddies, their troubled families, and the injustices they endure as a result of being poor and brown. Juan wants to play college basketball. JD wants to be a filmmaker. But following a single bad decision at a party in a wealthy neighborhood, their dreams begin to fall like dominoes. In a setting of police profiling and violent streets, it becomes obvious that the pain in this community is intergenerational. The boys must cope with parental secrets—Juan’s mother never told him who his father is, and JD’s father makes him an accomplice in a dishonest affair. As they seek answers, readers see that the future is a tidal wave pushing them to the brink even as they act with courage and good intentions. Studying, working hard on the court, impressing coaches and teachers, the teens come to understand that the world has labeled them failures no matter how hard they try. In this novel with a deep sense of place and realistic dialogue, characters who are vivid and fallible add deep psychological meaning to a heart-wrenching story. At once accessible and artful, this is an important book about Mexican teens holding onto hope and friendship in the midst of alcoholism, poverty, prejudice, and despair. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Like his characters, Matt Mendez grew up in central El Paso, Texas. He is the author of Barely Missing Everything, his YA debut novel, and the short story collection Twitching Heart. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Tucson, Arizona.

Her website is mattmendez.com

Teacher Resources

Barely Missing Everything on Common Sense Media

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The Shadowglass by Rin Chupeco

The Shadowglass by Rin Chupeco. March 5, 2019. Sourcebooks Fire, 449 p. ISBN: 9781492660606.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The epic finale to The Bone Witch series! As Tea’s dark magic eats away at her, she must save the one she loves most, even while her life―and the kingdoms―are on the brink of destruction.

In the Eight Kingdoms, none have greater strength or influence than the asha, who hold elemental magic. But only a bone witch has the power to raise the dead. Tea has used this dark magic to breathe life into those she has loved and lost…and those who would join her army against the deceitful royals. But Tea’s quest to conjure a shadowglass, to achieve immortality for the one person she loves most in the world, threatens to consume her.

Tea’s heartsglass only grows darker with each new betrayal. Her work with the monstrous azi, her thirst for retribution, her desire to unmask the Faceless―they all feed the darkrot that is gradually consuming her heartsglass. She is haunted by blackouts and strange visions, and when she wakes with blood on her hands, Tea must answer to a power greater than the elder asha or even her conscience. Tea’s life―and the fate of the kingdoms―hangs in the balance.

Sequel to: The Heart Forger

Part of series: The Bone Witch (Book 2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking, Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 12))
Grades 9-12. Chupeco brings her Bone Witch trilogy to a bittersweet close in this final volume of dark asha Tea’s saga. It begins in medias res with characters previously loyal to Tea now turned against her and Tea’s whereabouts unknown. These scenes, filled with confusion and anger, are juxtaposed with letters Tea sends to her bard, detailing her activities and revelations since leaving him behind. Thus, readers bounce back and forth in time, growing ever nearer to the “present” moment while cobbling together her story. Tea’s desire to expose corruption within asha society drives her as much as her determination to create a shadow glass for the sake of saving her brother, Fox. Her dual quests take her to various kingdoms, but her increasingly dangerous, unpredictable behavior fractures her supporters. Chupeco really digs into asha mythology here, challenging characters’ beliefs—none more than Tea’s. While this builds tension and further enriches the world, it decidedly slows the story’s action. Nevertheless, it remains required reading for fans of the first two novels, whose many questions will finally be answered.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2018)
Tea prepares to make the greatest sacrifice in this impassioned finale to the Bone Witch series. In the present, Fox angrily searches for his bone witch sister, Tea, who will stop at nothing to save him from the half-life he has been living since she raised him from the dead. In the past, Tea is on a quest for First Harvest, the magical plant she needs to revive her brother, which she can only use after acquiring shadowglass. Conjuring shadowglass requires a black heart, and Tea’s darkens as she continues to wield dark magic to achieve her goals. More and more lose faith in her when she becomes plagued with haunting visions and, in her sleep, kills an innocent with her own hands. But someone is using a blight rune to transform people into terrifying daevalike monsters, and it may very well be the same traitor in Tea’s inner circle who has been poisoning her. Though the storylines never truly converge, readers gain insight into Tea’s destructive choices and their aftereffects. Exhaustive explanations of asha history are important to the plot but weighty. Transgender Likh’s exploration of her identity honestly complements Tea’s own journey toward self-discovery, and readers will root for both their romances. Characters have a variety of skin tones, but race is not significant in this world. A worthy conclusion to a story that is, at its core, about love and letting go. (maps, kingdom guide) (Fantasy. 13-adult)

About the Author

Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband.

Her website is www.rinchupeco.com.

 

Teacher Resources

The Shadowglass on Common Sense Media

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Trail of Crumbs by Lisa J. Lawrence

Trail of Crumbs by Lisa J. Lawrence. March 26, 2019. Orca Book Publishers, 256 p. ISBN: 9781459821217.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 650.

After moving into a dank and drafty basement suite in West Edmonton with her truck- driving father, nasty stepmother and taciturn twin brother, Ash, seventeen-year-old Greta doesn’t have high expectations for her last year of high school. When she blacks out at a party and is told the next day that she’s had sex, she thinks things can’t get any worse. She’s wrong.

While Greta deals with the confusion and shame of that night, her stepmother and father choose that moment to disappear, abandoning Ash and Greta to the mercy of their peculiar landlord, Elgin, who lives upstairs. Even as Greta struggles to make sense of what happened to her, she finds herself enjoying her new and very eccentric family, who provide the shelter and support that has long been absent from her life. Much to Greta’s surprise, she realizes there is still kindness in the world—and hope.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Marijuana, Mild language, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities, Sexual assault

 

Reviews

Booklist (February 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. Greta, 17, is already trying to deal with a recent trauma—date rape—on her own, when her father and stepmother abandon her and her twin brother, Ash, in their basement apartment. Now she has to deal with her troubles internally while externally trying to survive. Unexpected help arrives in the form of their elderly and eccentric landlord, Elgin; his tough-talking daughter, Alice; and Nate, a classmate who lives across the street. Greta and Ash eke out their existence and continue with school, a form of torture for Greta as she tries to avoid her former “in group” friends. Finally, the threads come together in an affirming resolution. Lawrence’s novel is a subtle riff on Hansel and Gretel: abandonment by parents; hope represented by a trail of crumbs to lead her out of the labyrinth of her trauma; and the cabin where the date rape occurs is like the gingerbread house, promising on the outside but concealing a threat. With realistic and appealing characters and a delicately constructed plot, this is a well-told story of strength, grace, and growth.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2019)
Fire up your Coleman lanterns: Greta needs all the light and warmth she can get in this story of abandonment, poverty, and sexual assault. Greta and her twin, Ash, have every element of a tragic life: a very wicked stepmother, a spineless and pathetic father, and being abandoned in the middle of a brutal Edmonton winter with no heat except from an oven, no food, and no rent money. As if that wasn’t enough, Greta is also suffering following a sexual assault and the subsequent ostracism and bullying by the cool kids at her high school. The cast of supporting characters in Greta’s story have enough emotional issues to keep a team of psychologists working around the clock: Greta’s withdrawn brother, an elderly, track-shorts–wearing landlord, his estranged tough-talking daughter, and a lonely neighbor kid. Greta longs to re-create a family that has only been a memory for years but still possesses enough grit to get some sense of closure and justice from those who harmed her. Nothing is candy-coated: The writing includes the blunt language one would expect in this treatment of the very important topics of sexual assault and victim blaming that will resonate with and inform readers. Main characters present as white, but names suggest some diversity among Greta’s classmates. Lawrence (Rodent, 2016) has an admirable relationship with the written word, and after many chapters of sharp edges and dark corners, readers will discover reason for hope. (afterword) (Fiction. 14-19)

About the Author

Lisa J. Lawrence grew up as a free-range kid in small towns in British Columbia and Alberta. She currently works as a writer and Spanish teacher in Edmonton, Alberta, where she lives with her husband and three children. Her first novel, Rodent, was nominated for numerous awards.

 

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The Same Blood by M. Azmitia

The Same Blood by M. Azmitia. August 1, 2018. West 44 Books, 200 p. ISBN: 9781538382523.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 620.

Twin sisters Elena and Marianella couldn’t be more different. Marianella goes out of her way to actively participate in their Puerto Rican culture, whereas Elena is embarrassed by their traditions. Marianella is also fighting a very private battle with mental illness, and takes her own life not long after their fifteenth birthday. As Elena mourns her sister, she tries to live her life without the limitations and rules Marianella set for her. When her life spirals out of control, Elena realizes the depth of her roots and the guilt of not helping her sister before it was too late.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Racism, Suicide, Underage drinking, Underage smoking

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
Puerto Rican teen Elena grapples with guilt about her twin sister Mel’s suicide in this novel in verse for reluctant teen readers. Elena doesn’t connect to her Puerto Rican identity: She straightens her hair to fit in and (while ashamed of herself for not speaking up) never defends her culture from white peers’ mockery. Conversely, Mel always wears her natural curls and revels in their heritage. By 11, Elena notices that, “The nervous feelings / came to [Mel] more often.” Six months after their quinceañera, Mel dies by suicide. Elena’s haunted—she knew Mel was suffering but didn’t do anything. Their parents hadn’t helped Mel either: Their “Papi had no patience / for her,” and Mami “told her to pray.” Evocative poems—all narrated from Elena’s perspective—connect readers to her overwhelming guilt and shame, which quickly lead to reckless drinking. Elena’s arrested for drunken driving and subsequently sent to rehab, which turns out not to be a safe space—the only other brown-skinned person is the groundskeeper and an aggressive, racial slur–slinging white boy shows up. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the lack of safe spaces for people of color to deal with mental issues isn’t fully explored, and the book ends rather abruptly. An examination of Latinx identity, family bonds, mental health, suicide, grief, and guilt that will hopefully spark much-needed dialogue. Necessary. (Verse novel. 14-18)

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Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige

Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige. April 2, 2019. DC Ink, 192 p. ISBN: 9781401283391.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Princess Mera is teenage royalty and heir to the throne of Xebel, a penal colony ruled by the other no-so-lost land under the sea, Atlantis. Her father, his court and the entire kingdom are expecting her to marry and introduce a new king. But Mera is destined to wear a different crown….

When the Xebellian military plots to overthrow Atlantis and break free of its oppressive regime, Mera seizes the opportunity to take control over her own destiny by assassinating Arthur Curry–the long-lost prince and heir to the kingdom of Atlantis. But her mission gets sidetracked when Mera and Arthur unexpectedly fall in love. Will Arthur Curry be the king at Mera’s side, or will he die under her blade as she attempts to free her people from persecution?

An astonishing graphic novel that explores duty, love, heroism and freedom, all through the eyes of readers’ favorite undersea royalty.

From New York Times best-selling author Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die) and artist Stephen Byrne comes a Mera and Aquaman origin story that explores Mera’s first steps on land, and her first steps as a hero or villain, forcing her to choose to follow her heart or her mission to kill.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes; Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 8-12. Mera is the princess and successor to the throne of Xebel, a nation under the rule of Atlantis. Mera’s mother was a warrior killed in battle, and her father tries to protect her from the same fate. Eager to prove herself, she secretly takes on the task of killing Arthur Curry, unknowing heir of Atlantis, until she realizes she loves him more than she hates his lineage. Mera is a compelling, easy-to-admire character. She readily proves her worthiness as a warrior, and readers will see in her plenty of parallels to Wonder Woman. The forbidden love theme plays out in the contention between the Xebellians and Atlanteans (and, more specifically, Arthur and Mera), which bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the Montagues and Capulets. Mera’s and her family members’ red hair is the focus of the illustrations, since it is the brightest thing in each of Byrne’s muted, bluish-gray panels. What with Aquaman’s introduction in last year’s Justice League movie and his own feature to pique extra interest, this graphic novel is likely to be a hit.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2019)
A feisty undersea princess must choose between love and duty. Bestselling author Paige (The Queen of Oz, 2017, etc.) reinvents Mera, the fierce, fiery-tressed heir to the throne of Xebel, an undersea realm ruled by the Atlanteans. The Xebellians yearn to be free of the Atlantean reign and plot to kill their missing royal heir, Arthur Curry (also known as Aquaman), who has been living among the humans. Singularly focused Mera comes to the surface to murder him but is ultimately touched by his intrinsic kindness. As Xebel and Atlantean tensions crescendo and romantic feelings grow, will Mera be able to slaughter the boy she now loves? Paige has rendered a sassy, take-no-prisoners heroine who may look like Disney’s Ariel but who is imbued with grit and substance. Artist Byrne’s tidy illustrations utilize a spare color palette, with cool gray marine tones save for the dramatic splashes of Mera’s red hair. Arthur and Mera’s backstory in the DC Universe is rather intricate, and while this volume explains it as well as possible, certain details are still a bit hazy. Those turned off by insta-love may want to pass; Mera and Arthur’s relationship and its ensuing tension are easily foreseen. Nearly all main characters are white and straight, however secondary and background characters portray a sampling of different skin tones and orientations. Though a bit convoluted, this mashup puts a fresh spin on a lesser-known superhero. (Graphic fiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Danielle Paige is the New York Times bestselling author of the Dorothy Must Die series, Stealing Snow, and the upcoming Mera book with DC Entertainment. In addition to writing young adult books, she works in the television industry, where she’s received a Writers Guild of America Award and was nominated for several Daytime Emmys. She is a graduate of Columbia University and currently lives in New York City.

Her website is daniellepaigebooks.com.

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I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis

I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis. January 29, 2019. Scholastic Paperbacks, 144 p. ISBN: 9781338317398.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.2; Lexile: 630.

This installment in the New York Times bestselling I Survived series from Lauren Tarshis shines a spotlight on the Normandy landings, just in time for the 75th anniversary of D-Day!

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Lauren Tarshis shines a spotlight on the story of the Normandy landings, the largest seaborne invasion in history and foundation for the Allied victory in World War II.

Part of Series: I Survived (Book #18)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

About the Author

Lauren Tarshis often wonders how she came to spend most of her waking moments thinking about disasters, as the author of the children’s historical fiction series “I Survived.” Each book takes readers into the heart of history’s most thrilling and terrifying events, including the sinking of the Titanic, the Shark Attacks of 1916, Hurricane Katrina, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the San Francisco earthquake, 9/11, the Battle of Gettysburg and many more.

Lauren conducts extensive research to bring her topics to life. She has traveled to most of the locations where her books are set. Her goal is to open readers’ eyes to new chapters in history and to inspire them with stories of hope and resilience.

Her website is www.laurentarshis.com

Teaching Resources

I Survived Teaching Resources

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Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice

Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice. February 26, 2019. Scholastic, 337 p. ISBN: 9781338298505.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 680.

Mega-bestselling author Luanne Rice returns with a ripped-from-the-headlines story of a girl who is kidnapped by her friend’s family.

Emily Lonergan’s best friend died last year.

And Emily hasn’t stopped grieving. Lizzie Porter was lively, loud, and fun — Emily’s better half. Emily can’t accept that she’s gone.

When Lizzie’s parents and her sister come back to town to visit, Emily’s heartened to see them. The Porters understand her pain. They miss Lizzie desperately, too.

Desperately enough to do something crazy.

Something unthinkable.

Suddenly, Emily’s life is hurtling toward a very dark place — and she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to return to what she once knew was real.

From New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice comes a breathless, unputdownable story of suspense, secrets — and the strength that love gives us to survive even the most shocking of circumstances.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Child abuse, Discussion of alcoholism and opioid addiction

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 8-12. After she loses her best friend, Lizzie, to cancer, Emily’s life takes a series of unimaginable turns—all at the hands of trusted adults. A deranged, suspenseful fate awaits her when she accepts a ride from Lizzie’s grieving parents, who kidnap her and try to turn her into the daughter they lost by dyeing Emily’s hair, forcing her to wear colored contacts, and imprisoning her in a room. Emily lives there in fear for 69 days, enduring the worst kind of emotional trauma and plotting her escape once her kidnappers enroll her in school. Rice has created a masterful narrative full of intrigue and heart-pounding moments that will draw in readers and allow them to experience what could happen when depression drives someone to do the unthinkable. Using flashbacks, rich descriptions, and realistic story elements, Rice weaves together a tense tale of mystery and surreal experiences. Reading like a Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010) with a YA twist, Rice’s latest doesn’t disappoint.

Kirkus Reviews (December 1, 2018)
Nearly a year after the death of her best friend, Lizzie, 15-year-old Emily is abducted by Lizzie’s parents to fill the void in their lives. Emily wakes up in Maine, far from her Connecticut home, to find her hair dyed black and her eyes changed to green by contacts, making her look just like Lizzie. Lizzie’s mother tells her that as long as she cooperates, no harm will come to her or her family. Good behavior earns her a television and meals upstairs. Bad behavior means starvation and isolation. Emily begins to play along, determined to keep her family safe while at the same time finding a way to escape. But with Lizzie’s mother, father, and sister always watching, she fears she will be trapped in this nightmare forever. Then she meets Casey, a musically gifted boy who is legally blind. Together they come up with a plan to help Emily escape her prison. In this psychological thriller that studies the depths of grief, Emily’s empathy for her kidnappers keeps the sensationalism to a minimum by personalizing the betrayal. A preponderance of backstory slows the narrative and deflates the tension. Ultimately this is a story about love and loss threaded through with moments of a tense thriller. All main characters are Irish-American Catholics. An intriguing concept overtaken by thin characters and poor pacing. (Thriller. 12-15)

About the Author

Luanne Rice is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-two novels including THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, her first YA novel. Five of her books have been made into movies and mini-series, many have been New York Times bestsellers and two of her pieces have been featured in off-Broadway theatre productions. She divides her time between New York City and the Connecticut shoreline.

Her website is www.luannerice.net

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Pretend She’s Here on Amazon

Pretend She’s Here on Barnes and Noble

Pretend She’s Here on Goodreads

Pretend She’s Here on LibraryThing

Pretend She’s Here Publisher Page