Tag Archives: family life

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. May 2, 2017. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 304 p. ISBN: 9781101994856.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.0; Lexile: 770.

From the author of the critically acclaimed Wolf Hollow comes a moving story of identity and belonging.

Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift on a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.

Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn’t until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.

Vivid and heart wrenching, Lauren Wolk’s Beyond the Bright Seais a gorgeously crafted and tensely paced tale that explores questions of identity, belonging, and the true meaning of family.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Violence, Kidnapping

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 18))
Grades 4-7. Crow was a mere baby when she drifted to the shore of one of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts in the first quarter of the twentieth century. She has since grown up with the painter Osh as her stand-in father; their only other friend is Maggie, who teaches Crow. Nearby Penikese Island was home to a leper colony at the time of Crow’s birth, and most of the island folk assume her birth parents were lepers and shun her. Now a 12-year-old and uncertain of her parentage, Crow becomes increasingly curious following a fire on the now supposedly vacant Penikese. Where did she really come from? What happened to her parents, and is there a chance she has any surviving blood relatives? Crow’s quest for answers as she grapples with her uncertain identity shapes the 2017 Newbery Honor Book author’s sophomore novel. While this quiet, affecting story lacks the palpable sense of dread and superb pacing that made Wolf Hollow (2016) so impossible to put down, there’s still plenty to admire in this more classic-feeling historical novel, which calls to mind Natalie Babbitt’s The Eyes of the Amaryllis (1977). Wolk has a keen sense for the seaside landscape, skillfully mining the terror the ocean can unleash as a furious nor’easter heightens tension in the novel’s climax. Historical fiction fans awaiting her follow-up will be pleased.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 15, 2017)
This book will make people want to run away to the Elizabeth Islands.It’s the 1920s. Crow and her adoptive father, Osh, live in a tiny house on a tiny island off Cape Cod, but her descriptions make it seem strange and mysterious. The cottage is “built from bits of lost ships,” and it’s full of found treasures: “a pair of sun-white whale ribs arched over our doorway, a tarnished ship’s bell hanging from their pinnacle.” Every chapter in the book has a new mystery to be solved: why was Crow sent away in an old boat when she was a baby? Why is a fire burning on an abandoned island? Did Capt. Kidd really hide treasure nearby? But some readers will love Wolk’s use of language even more than the puzzles. Crow says her skin is “the same color Osh [makes] by mixing purple and yellow, blue and orange, red and green.” (The race of the characters isn’t always identified, but Osh says, “I came a long, long way to be here,” and his native language and accent make him sound “different from everyone else.”) The pacing of the book isn’t always as suspenseful as it should be. There are a few lulls, which the author tries to fill with heavy foreshadowing. But the mysteries—and the words that describe them—are compelling enough to send readers to the islands for years to come. A beautiful, evocative sophomore effort from Newbery honoree Wolk (Wolf Hollow, 2016). (Historical fiction. 9-13)

About the Author

Lauren Wolk is an award-winning poet and author of the bestselling Newbery Honor–winning Wolf Hollow, described by the New York Times Book Review as “full of grace and stark, brutal beauty.” She was born in Baltimore and has since lived in California, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Canada, and Ohio. She now lives with her family on Cape Cod.
Her website is www.laurenwolk.com

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Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman. May 2, 2017. Sourcebooks Fire, 350 p. ISBN: 9781492646860.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 790.

Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves .

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 9-12. Anise has few needs in life. Just the surf, her board, and her tight-knit posse of friends. Then Anise’s aunt is in a terrible car accident and needs them to come help care for her children in landlocked Nebraska. One place her younger cousins enjoy is the skate park, where Anise meets a handsome black skater boy, Lincoln. After Anise claims that surfing is harder that skateboarding, Lincoln challenges her to give skating a try. It’s a fiasco, but Anise becomes determined to learn to skateboard, and Nebraska slowly grows on her. Debut novelist Silverman realistically captures Anise’s love for her surfing life and the terrible sacrifice she makes when leaving it behind for a whole summer, and her relationships with her family are bittersweet and loving, giving her depth of character. Meanwhile, Lincoln is a charmer, and thanks for Silverman’s excellent portrayal of a boy who is not defined by his disability, like Anise, readers will easily forget that he is missing an arm. Hand to fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2017)
Silverman’s debut offers several takes on a good question: “Why do so many people equate growing up with leaving?” Unlike her mother, who enters and exits her life at whim, white, 17-year-old Anise has lived—and surfed—in Santa Cruz her whole life. Her easygoing father and a diverse group of friends provide stability—especially Eric, her white best friend, who’s turning into something more. As the friends plan their last summer together before college, Anise’s plans are shattered. Her aunt has been in a car accident, and Anise and her dad will be spending the summer in Nebraska caring for her aunt and high-spirited cousins. Anise’s reluctance to leave, rooted in worries of forgetting home and being forgotten, will resonate with readers who’ve ever been homesick. While babysitting her cousins, she meets Lincoln, a black, smart, handsome, witty one-armed skateboarder whose personality quirks are rattled off in lists rather than revealed through interactions. As Anise trades surfing for skating, she gradually matures, feeling a responsibility to her cousins and sympathy for her aunt and father. Nomadic, nature-obsessed Lincoln, whose only flaws seem to be a messy glove compartment and an inability to sing, is an ever patient teacher, showing Anise how to adapt to new places and call them home. A quick summer read to reassure teens who worry about college or blooming where they’re planted. (Romance. 14-18)

About the Author

Laura Silverman is a writer, editor, and publishing consultant. She is a lover of all things bookish. Silverman suffers from chronic pain and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Her website is laurasilvermanlovesbooks.tumblr.com

 

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. May 30, 2017. Simon Pulse, 380 p. ISBN: 9781481478687.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

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

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
Grades 9-12. It’s not always as easy as boy meets girl. In the case of Rishi Patel and Dimple Shah, it’s more like boy is arranged to marry girl, and girl attacks boy with iced coffee. In her delightful debut, Menon tells the story of two Indian American teenagers, fresh from high school and eager for adulthood. While Rishi’s version of growing up involves happily following his parents’ life plan (giving up art for engineering and accepting an arranged marriage to Dimple), Dimple sees college as her chance to escape her immigrant parents’ stifling expectations (which include little more than wearing makeup and finding a suitable Indian husband). And yet, when Dimple and Rishi finally meet, they are both shocked to realize what it is they truly want—and what they’re willing to sacrifice to get it. While Menon’s portrayal of the struggles of Indian American teens is both nuanced and thoughtful, it is her ability to fuse a classic coming-of-age love story with the contemporary world of nerd culture, cons, and coding camp, that will melt the hearts of readers.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 15, 2017)
A clash of perspectives sparks this romantic comedy about two first-generation Indian-American teens whose parents set an arranged-marriage plan in motion, but it backfires big time—or maybe not? In the alternating voices of her two protagonists, Menon explores themes of culture and identity with insight and warmth. Seamlessly integrating Hindi language, she deftly captures the personalities of two seemingly opposite 18-year-olds from different parts of California and also from very different places regarding life choices and expectations. Insomnia Con, a competitive six-week summer program at San Francisco State focused on app development, is where this compelling, cinematic, and sometimes-madcap narrative unfolds. Dimple Shah lives and breathes coding and has what she thinks is a winning and potentially lifesaving concept. She chafes under her mother’s preoccupation with the Ideal Indian Husband and wants to be respected for her intellect and talent. Rishi Patel believes in destiny, tradition, and the “rich fabric of history,” arriving in San Francisco with his great-grandmother’s ring in his pocket. He plans to study computer science and engineering at MIT. But what about his passion for comic-book art? They are assigned to work together and sparks fly, but Dimple holds back. Readers will be caught up as Rishi and Dimple navigate their ever changing, swoonworthy connection, which plays out as the app competition and complicated social scene intensify. Heartwarming, empathetic, and often hilarious—a delightful read. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Sandhya Menon, a New York Times and national Indie bestselling author writes books for teens (and those who still feel like teens inside!). She lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.

Her website is www.sandhyamenon.com.

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Just a Girl by Carrie Mesrobian

Just a Girl by Carrie Mesrobian. March 28, 2017. HarperCollins, 304 p. ISBN: 9780062349910.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 700.

Senior Rianne Hettrick-Wynne has had her share of hookups and parties in small-town Wereford, Minnesota. Now volleyball season is over and her once-solid friendships are unraveling, while an all-of-a-sudden relationship with Luke Pinsky is weirdly becoming serious. Add to that the possibility of getting kicked out of her house, and Rianne is desperate to make a plan that doesn’t include going to college or working at Planet Tan for the rest of her life.

At the same time, her divorced parents have started cohabiting again without any explanation, making Rianne wonder why they’re so intent on pointing out every bad choice she makes when they can’t even act like adults.

That’s not the only question she can’t answer: How is it that Sergei, a broken-English-speaking Russian who makes his own vodka, is the only one who seems to understand her? And why, when she has Luke, the most unattainable boy in Wereford, all to herself, does she want anything but?

Perhaps most confounding is the “easy girl” reputation that Rianne has gotten stuck with by doing the same things that guys do without judgment or consequence. If they’re just being guys, then why can’t Rianne just be a girl?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Drugs; Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 10-12. Rianne’s spent her whole life in Wereford, a small, nothing town in the Midwest, living with her divorced mom, getting up to mild trouble with her friends, casually sleeping around, and not trying terribly hard in school. By the time senior year rolls around, she still doesn’t have any plans for her future, and she finds herself in a relationship with notorious playboy Luke Pinsky, who’s kind of loyal and sweet, if oblivious to her needs. But when she meets Sergei, a 25-year-old Russian man who’s studying agriculture at the community college, she’s immediately entranced by his assured worldliness and, later, the confident way he touches her, which she keeps a secret from everyone, especially Luke. When she’s faced with making a definitive choice about her future, can she decide between what she truly wants and what’s been deemed “good”? Mesrobian is at her best plumbing the depths of what happens between big choices and elevating those potent moments of transition, and she does that beautifully here. Rianne’s rich inner life, especially when it’s at odds with what’s expected of her, is captivatingly full of meaningful, compelling drama, and Mesrobian’s frank, realistic depiction of teenage sexuality is a particular bright spot. There’s nothing simple about being just a girl, and this resonant, thoughtful novel makes that abundantly, stunningly clear.

Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2016)
A high school senior whose mother has given her an ultimatum that she must leave home immediately after graduation struggles to decide what she will do next. Bright and tough but at times self-loathing, Rianne stumbles into a serious relationship with her hook-up buddy, Luke, during their last few months of school. However, she also has several electrifying sexual encounters with Sergei, a Russian student studying at a nearby college. Despite enjoying a small, tightknit group of friends, Rianne has had to deal with being labeled a slut, and while she recognizes it for the unfair double standard it is, she is still shamed by it. The alcohol- and pot-fueled hangouts that make up a lot of the social scene in their small Minnesota town will ring true to rural teens. Rianne is a complex, conflicted character, and her third-person narrative voice keeps her at a bit of a remove even as she grapples intensely with her thoughts. All of the central characters are white with the exception of Rianne’s friend Kaj, who is Hmong-American, and each is interesting in his or her own right. The unexpected ending may leave some readers wondering, but it’s not a surprise that this slice-of-life novel leaves things slightly ambiguous. An authentic, smart read for older teens. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Carrie Mesrobian teaches writing to teens in Minneapolis, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, was named a Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, in addition to being nominated for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award. She has also written Just a Girl, Perfectly Good White Boy, and Cut Both Ways.

Her website is www.carriemesrobian.com.

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The Football Girl by Thatcher Heldring

The Football Girl by Thatcher Heldring. April  4, 2017. Delacorte Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9780385741835.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 540.

Team Statistics:

Caleb McCleary. QB. Following in his brother’s “baller status” footsteps.

Tessa Dooley. Any position that needs filling. Her motto: “Be afraid.”

The summer before Caleb and Tessa enter high school, friendship has blossomed into a relationship…and their playful sports days are coming to an end. Caleb is getting ready to try out for the football team, and Tessa is training for cross-country.

But all their structured plans derail in the final flag game when they lose. Tessa doesn’t want to end her career as a loser. She really enjoys playing, and if she’s being honest, she likes it even more than running. So what if she decided to play football instead? What would happen between her and Caleb? Or between Tessa and her two best friends, who are counting on her to try out for cross-country with them? And will her parents be upset that she’s decided to take her hobby to the next level?

This summer, Caleb and Tessa figure out just what it means to be a boyfriend, girlfriend, teammate, best friend, and someone worth cheering for.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
Grades 8-11. Tessa loves football, and she’s been honing her skills with cute boy-next-door Caleb. She’s always accepted that she’d have to opt for something other than football, like cross-country, to participate in school sports. But now that she’s getting ready for high school, she wants to make some decisions for herself, so in spite of her demanding parents’ wishes, she insists on going to football camp. Heldring alternates between Caleb’s and Tessa’s perspectives, nicely exploring their struggles with self-determination, family conflict, and the importance of teamwork as well as their efforts to balance their burgeoning relationship with the pressures they each encounter regarding Tessa’s football dreams. Meanwhile, Tessa faces extra scrutiny—her mother is running for mayor, so her football aspirations put her at the center of a local media frenzy. Though Caleb and Tessa’s voices occasionally sound quite similar, there’s enough fast-paced football action, realistic family drama, and sweet romance in this slim novel that readers looking for girl-powered sports stories should find plenty to like.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2017)
If any girl can make Pilchuck High School’s football team, it’s fourteen-year-old wide receiver Tessa Dooley. She’s fast, runs good routes, catches well, and knows how to play head games with defenders. But so far all she has played is summer-league flag football. She doesn’t know if she can handle tackle football—she’s never even worn a helmet. As the summer unfolds, she finds herself having to defend her love of the game (her parents want her to concentrate on more serious things); she also finds herself becoming the girlfriend of quarterback Caleb McCleary. In alternating first-person narratives, Tessa and Caleb give voice to their feelings about each other and about football. Though the back-and-forth, he said/she said of the narrative feels like Ping-Pong at times, it does serve to illuminate the appropriately complicated emotions both of a young romance and of pursuing a dream. Heldring writes with insight and restraint, letting complicated feelings remain complicated. There are no heroics in Tessa’s first official school game, but a satisfying performance and a realization that she has been an inspiration for a younger girl who decides she, too, wants to play football someday. Interviewed in the local paper, Tessa says, “I guess what matters is that I have a choice…Whether I play football in high school or not, I’ll never have to wonder what was possible.” As of now (according to the book), sixteen hundred girls across the country are playing high-school football and, like Tessa, pushing themselves to see what’s possible. dean schneider

About the Author

Thatcher Heldring grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where he taught himself to write and play sports—though not at the same time. Heldring has had several jobs in publishing. He has also worked as a grocery bagger, a ditchdigger, a small forward, a goalie, a scorekeeper, a coach, a rabid fan, a benchwarmer, and a shortstop. He lives with his wife and son in Seattle, a good place for indoor sports.

He is the author of Toby Wheeler: Eighth-Grade Benchwarmer, Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate, The League, and The Football Girl.

Her website is www.spitballinc.com.

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Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy

Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy. March 28, 2017. Algonquin Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9781616206291.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

“Ever wish that you could just fly away?”

When fifteen-year-old Lucy Willows discovers that her father has a child from a brief affair, a eight-year-old boy who lives in her own suburban New Jersey town, she begins to question everything she thinks she knows about her home and her life. How could Lucy’s father have betrayed the entire family? How could her mother forgive him? And why isn’t her sister rocked by the news the way Lucy is?

As her father’s secret becomes her own, Lucy grows more and more isolated from her friends, her family, and even her boyfriend, Simon, the one person she thought understood her. When Lucy escapes to Maine, the home of her mysteriously estranged grandfather, she finally begins to get to the bottom of her family’s secrets and lies.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Drugs

 

Author Interview

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 8))
Grades 7-10. When Lucy learns about Thomas, her half brother, she feels betrayed by her dad’s infidelity and her parents’ secrecy. Lucy finds solace in a new relationship with her friend’s older brother, Simon. Meanwhile, her curiosity about Thomas—who lives mere blocks away in her New Jersey town—motivates her to cross paths with him. She freaks out after meeting him, and takes an impromptu trip to visit her grandfather (who is estranged from Lucy’s dad) in Maine. They enjoy several days together before he suffers a ministroke and Lucy’s dad arrives. The first-person narration emphasizes Lucy’s intense reaction to finding out about her father’s other child. This YA debut suffers from an overload of story—a family drama, a romance, a road trip, and a renewed intergenerational relationship. Other flaws include occasional awkward phrasing, a random musing about race that doesn’t fit the overall tone, and a road trip that drags the pace. Strengths of the book include Lucy’s realistic response to her dad’s revelation, as well as other personal connections, and McCarthy’s fame as an actor will add interest.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2017)
Fifteen-year-old Lucy’s world is rocked when her father confesses to her and her sister that they have a half brother, the result of a brief affair. Though their mother has been aware of the existence of Thomas, who’s 8 and lives in their same New Jersey town, for many years and has made her peace with her husband’s infidelity, Lucy reels when she learns about him. Her realistically described reaction of fury and indignation builds until she finally embarks on an impulsive road trip without telling her parents, ending up at her larger-than-life grandfather’s house in Maine. This family drama is appealingly narrated in Lucy’s wry, confessional voice, and a romance she stumbles into with her friend’s stoner brother is sweetly fumbling and awkward. All the major characters seem to be white; musings about the ethnicities of various people Lucy encounters while on her clandestine trip, including a passage in which she wonders whether her own implicit bias might be at play in an interaction she has with a black man, underscore her new determination to seek out answers to questions that have gone unasked in her sheltered upbringing. A poignant, character-driven coming-of-age novel that, despite a too-tidy ending, will appeal broadly to teen readers. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Andrew McCarthy is the author of the New York Times bestselling travel memoir, The Longest Way Home. He is an editor at large at National Geographic Traveler magazine. He is also an actor and director. He lives in New York City with his wife, three children, two fish, and one dog. Just Fly Away is his first novel.

His website is www.andrewmccarthy.com.

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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. March 7, 2017. Clarion Books, 464 p. ISBN: 9780544586505.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 450.

The first day of senior year:

Everything is about to change. Until this moment, Sal has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican-American family. But now his own history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-altering events force him and his best friend, Samantha, to confront issues of faith, loss, and grief.

Suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and discovering that he no longer knows who he really is—but if Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Underage drinking; Mention of drug use

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 6))
Grades 9-11. Seventeen-year-old Sal has had both bad luck and great luck with family. His mother died when he was three, but she ensured he would be adopted by her best friend, Vicente, a loving gay man who brings with him a large, welcoming Mexican American family. He has also been blessed with his best friend, Sam, a girl with mother issues. Sal has mostly led a tranquil life, but his senior year turns out to contain unexpected upsets and sorrows, though also deeper chances to understand love. Sáenz presents readers with several beautifully drawn relationships, especially that of Sal and his grandmother, who is dying of cancer—there is richness even in their silences. There are also some wonderful moments between father and son, though Vicente’s perfection as a parent can defy belief (not surprisingly, he’s compared to Atticus Finch). There are times when the story is weighed down by repetitive conversations, but there are numerous heartfelt moments as well. Sal is one of those characters you wonder about after the book is closed. Maybe Sáenz will tell us more.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2017)
Seventeen-year-old Salvador has always been close to his single, gay, adoptive father; his loving grandmother, Mima; his extended Mexican American family; and his loyal best friend, Samantha. After getting into two fistfights at the start of senior year, Sal finds that he’s “starting to ask myself a lot of questions that I never used to ask. I used to be okay with everything, and now I was going around hitting people.” Things get more complicated after Mima’s cancer returns, Sam loses her mother in a car accident (and moves in with Sal and his father), and Dad reconnects with an old flame and begins dating again. As mild-mannered, self-effacing Sal narrates his story, readers gradually come to feel the profound importance of family and friends, the dignity and worth of the human spirit, and the transcendent power of love. Saenz’s distinctive prose style is lyrical and philosophical: “Salvie, I have a theory that you can’t sell yourself on an application form because you don’t believe there’s much to sell. You tell yourself that you’re just this ordinary guy…There’s nothing ordinary about you. Nothing ordinary at all.” jonathan hunt

About the Author

Benjamin Alire Sáenz was born in 1954 in his grandmother’s house in Old Picacho, a small farming village in the outskirts of Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1954. He was the fourth of seven children and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla Park. Later, when the family lost the farm, his father went back to his former occupation—being a cement finisher. His mother worked as a cleaning woman and a factory worker. During his youth, he worked at various jobs—painting apartments, roofing houses, picking onions, and working for a janitorial service. He graduated from high school in 1972, and went on to college and became something of a world traveler. He studied philosophy and theology in Europe for four years and spent a summer in Tanzania. He eventually became a writer and professor and moved back to the border—the only place where he feels he truly belongs. He is an associate professor in the MFA creative writing program at the University of Texas at El Paso, the only bilingual creative writing program in the country. Ben Sáenz considers himself a fronterizo, a person of the border. He is also a visual artist and has been involved as a political and cultural activist throughout his life. Benjamin Sáenz­ is a novelist, poet, essayist and writer of children’s books.

His website is http://faculty.utep.edu/Default.aspx?alias=faculty.utep.edu/bsaenz.

Teacher Resources

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life Discussion Questions

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Hideout by Watt Key

Hideout  by Watt Key. January 10, 2017. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 p. ISBN: 9780374304829.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.2.

In this riveting middle-grade adventure, the son of a Mississippi policeman finds a boy living on his own in the wilderness. Twelve-year-old Sam has been given a fishing boat by his father, but he hates fishing. Instead he uses the boat to disappear for hours at a time, exploring the forbidden swampy surroundings of his bayou home. Then he discovers a strange kid named Davey, mysteriously alone, repairing an abandoned cabin deep in the woods. Not fooled by the boy’s evasive explanation as to why he’s on his own, Sam becomes entangled in his own efforts to help Davey. But this leads him to telling small lies that only get bigger as the danger increases for both boys and hidden truths become harder to conceal.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: References to marijuana use

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 5-8. From the author of Alabama Moon (2006) and Terror at Bottle Creek (2016) comes an exciting adventure set in Mississippi’s Pascagoula River marshlands. When 12-year-old Sam finds another boy, Davey, living alone in an abandoned fishing camp, Sam’s efforts to help him draw the attention of a trio of criminals. Emotionally reeling from a beating at school, Sam wonders if he’s been marked as a loser for good. He wants to do something brave, like his police chief dad, so he’s taken to piloting his boat in the bayou’s unmapped areas, where he finds Davey. Davey claims to be waiting for his father and brother, but as Sam begins sneaking him food and supplies, it’s clear Davey isn’t telling the whole truth. He’s hidden piles of money, which remind Sam of a robbery his dad is investigating. Sam’s struggles to fit in at school, to like himself, and to solve his own problems reflect middle-grade concerns. The boys’ survivalist adventures in the swamps are suspenseful, and the reassuring ending relies on supportive adult intervention.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2016)
Key treads familiar territory in this tale of boys trying to be men, this time in the dangerous swampy bayous of Mississippi.Narrator Sam Ford has been beaten badly by two bullies at his new middle school. With a dad who has just become chief of police of Pascagoula, Sam tries to escape his humiliation by blaming his only friend, nerdy white Grover. Hoping to prove himself, Sam heads to the bayous in his new boat, a present for his 13th birthday, looking for a dead body that search and rescue hasn’t been able to find. Instead, Sam finds Davey holed up in a deserted and rotting old fish camp. Given the absence of racial markers, particularly in this Mississippi setting, readers are likely to conclude that both boys are white. With little heed to common sense, Sam begins to help Davey by taking him supplies he’s sneaked out of his house. The natural predators of the swamp and backwaters combine with human dilemmas to test the boys and their mix of loyalties. The ways they meet such frightening circumstances as thieves on the run highlight the difference that a loving and supportive family can make, and that has nothing to do with what money can buy. The boys are on the cusp of manhood, and navigating those waters is as treacherous as any swamp. It’s man versus nature as well as man versus man in this tale that will have strong appeal to Key’s fans and adventure lovers. (Adventure. 10-15)

About the Author

Watt Key received his BA from Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama. He subsequently earned an MBA from Springhill College in Mobile, AL. While working as a computer programmer, he began submitting novels to major publishers in New York City. When he was 34 years he sold his debut novel, Alabama Moon, to publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Watt currently lives with his wife and three children in Mobile, Alabama.

Her website is www.wattkey.com.

Teacher Resources

Watt Key Common Core Guide

Around the Web

Hideout on Amazon

Hideout on Goodreads

Hideout on JLG

Hideout Publisher Page

The Homework Strike by Greg Pincus

The Homework Strike by Greg Pincus. January 3, 2017. Arthur A. Levine Books, 241 p. ISBN: 9780439913010.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.3; Lexile: 790.

Gregory K. has too much homework.

Middle school is hard work, and Gregory tries to be a good student. He participates in class, he studies for his tests — he and his friends even help each other with their assignments. But no matter what he does, there’s never enough time to finish all his homework. It just isn’t fair.

So Gregory goes on a total, complete homework strike. No worksheets, no essays, no projects. His friends think he’s crazy. His parents are worried about his grades. And his principal just wants him to stop making trouble. Can Gregory rally his fellow students, make his voice heard, and still pass seventh grade?

Find out in this book for anyone who thinks school is stressful, gets headaches from homework, or just wants to be heard.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2016 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Taking his American history lessons to heart, a seventh-grader overwhelmed by his workload rebels. Gregory, the hero of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. (2013), does reasonably well in tests and class participation, but try as he might, he just can’t consistently get his homework done. Worse yet, the effort leaves no time for his main passion, which is writing. When he stops doing homework altogether, his personal protest quickly becomes a public act of civil disobedience that draws challenges, news cameras, and hesitant but growing approval from fellow middle-schoolers. In addition to surrounding Gregory with loyal friends and supportive adults (aside from the school’s straw-man principal, who contributes only bland platitudes and cleverly oblique threats), Pincus methodically puts his protagonist through a series of encounters that highlight nonviolent approaches—particularly the importance of being polite and respectful to all sides. If Gregory’s campaign rolls along a bit too tidily for ready belief, it could nonetheless serve as a useful road map for budding activists.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2016)
In this humorous sequel to The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. (2013), the white seventh-grader realizes that his monstrous amount of homework gobbles all his after-school time, interfering with his writing and the other things he loves to do. Although not the exceptional student that his older brother and younger sister are, Gregory actually likes school and works hard; immediately after school he and three friends have a homework club. But Gregory has no time to write poems for open mic night at the local bookstore or to work on the book he is writing. Other kids are missing out doing what they love: painting or building websites. Gregory decides that action is needed, and, with the encouragement of his history teacher, his research into the issue leads him to a homework strike and a resulting notoriety as other kids join and a media blitz occurs. Gregory stays respectful but firm, learning a lesson in civic involvement, standing up for what one believes in, and negotiating. Each chapter begins with one of Gregory’s poems. Gregory is a resourceful, likable narrator with kind friends and a supportive family. The absence of racial or cultural clues will lead readers to infer that the principal characters are white. Readers will be drawn to the anti-homework cause and, while they may well find the realistic resolution disappointingly tame, will enjoy the high jinks along the way. (Fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Greg Pincus is a poet, novelist, screenwriter, volunteer elementary school librarian, and social media consultant. He’s also a blogger, writing about children’s literature and poetry at GottaBook and the social web at The Happy Accident. Through the wonders of social media, he’s sold poetry, helped himself land a book deal, ended up in the New York Times, the Washington Post, School Library Journal (multiple times), and many other interesting places… and also made friends and gotten free cookies on more than one occasion!

His website is www.gregpincus.com.

Around the Web

The Homework Strike on Amazon

The Homework Strike on Goodreads

The Homework Strike on JLG

The Homework Strike Publisher Page

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet. September 2, 2016. Candlewick, 400 p. ISBN: 978763688035.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.1; Lexile: 850.

Noah Keller’s ordinary, everyday American life is smashed to smithereens the day his parents tell him his name isn’t really Noah, his birthday isn’t really in March, and his new home is going to be East Berlin, on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It’s 1989, and everywhere all around countries are remaking themselves, but in East Germany the air is full of coal smoke, secrets, and lies. It’s not safe to say anything out loud in the apartment. It’s not safe to think too much about where you came from or who you used to be.

It’s also about the least likely place in the world for a kid from America with a lot of secrets of his own (and an Astonishing Stutter) to make a friend.

But then Noah meets Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives one floor down with her terrifying grandmother. Something has happened to her parents—but what?

Armed with a half-imaginary map and a shared fondness for codes and puzzles, Noah and Cloud-Claudia have to find their way in a world where walls—and the Wall—are closing in.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination; Violence

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 1))
Grades 5-8. Life just got really weird for fifth-grader Noah Keller. In fact, he just got a brand new life—including a new home (East Berlin), name (Jonah Brown), and age (10)—and he’s not happy about any of it, though a severe stutter makes it difficult for him to express his dismay. His parents lay all this on him after school one day while driving straight for the airport. In 1989, few people are allowed extended visits to East Germany, but Mrs. Keller’s research into speech pathology has granted them a six-month stay. A long list of rules accompanies this bewildering trip, including “don’t draw attention to yourself” and not to forget that “they will always be listening.” Nesbet gives readers a glimpse into life behind the Iron Curtain, but her intriguing premise soon languishes from the frequent intrusion of “Secret Files,” which feel like mini history lessons. Noah’s friendship with his neighbor Claudia is genuinely touching, and some truly tense scenes unfold as secrets are revealed and readers witness events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2016)
A sudden adventure to East Germany changes Noah’s life forever—literally, as he assumes a new name and family history.Swooped up by his parents after school one day, fifth-grade stutterer Noah must dump his backpack on the way to the airport and learn his “real” name and history so that his mother can take a sudden opportunity to conduct research in East Berlin. The white American boy becomes “Jonah” and experiences the world behind the Iron Curtain in 1989 with the help of a new German friend, Claudia, also white. Nesbet (The Wrinkled Crown, 2015, etc.) ventures from fantasy into a new genre and unpacks her story slowly, sometimes ponderously, by inserting “secret files” from an omniscient narrator who explains much of the context required to appreciate the history in the fiction. There is intrigue involving the reported death of Claudia’s parents and Noah’s suspicions about his own mother’s story, but the suspense and character development are bogged down by slow pacing. Noah’s stutter effectively portrays him as the misunderstood outsider, but his photographic memory becomes purely plot device as Nesbet unravels a belatedly thrilling ending. Her author’s note reveals the personal history behind the novel, suggesting a labor of love that does show in the carefully crafted details and effective scene-setting. While not fully absorbing, Nesbet’s detail-rich novel offers tenacious readers an interesting window into the fall of the Iron Curtain. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Anne Nesbet is the author of the novels The Cabinet of Earths, A Box of Gargoyles, and The Wrinkled Crown. Her books have received starred reviews and have been selected for the Kids’ Indie Next List, Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best list, and the Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year list. An associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Anne Nesbet lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Her website is www.annenesbet.com.

Teacher Resources

Cloud and Wallfish Discussion Guide

Around the Web

Cloud and Wallfish on Amazon

Cloud and Wallfish on JLG

Cloud and Wallfish on Goodreads