Tag Archives: family life

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.

Around the Web

Just Fly Away on Amazon

Just Fly Away on Goodreads

Just Fly Away on JLG

Just Fly Away Publisher Page

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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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life on Amazon

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life on Goodreads

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The Inexplicable Logic of My Life Publisher Page

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

 

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick. September 27, 2016. Scholastic Press, 272 p. ISBN: 9780545863247.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile 860.

It’s not easy being Claire. (Really.)

Claire’s life is a joke…but she’s not laughing. While her friends seem to be leaping forward, she’s dancing in the same place. The mean girls at school are living up to their mean name, and there’s a boy, Ryder, who’s just as bad, if not worse. And at home, nobody’s really listening to her—if anything, they seem to be more in on the joke than she is.

Then into all of this (not-very-funny-to-Claire) comedy comes something intense and tragic—while her dad is talking to her at the kitchen table, he falls over with a medical emergency. Suddenly the joke has become very serious—and the only way Claire, her family, and her friends are going to get through it is if they can find a way to make it funny again.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Book Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (June 1, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 19))
Grades 7-10. Claire feels left behind when her best ballet-school friends are unexpectedly elevated to a higher class. She spends the first day of eighth grade coping with menstrual cramps, a zit on her nose, and sniping classmates. But the worst is yet to come: her father has a stroke, making speech and movement difficult. After months of looking inward and trying to carry on normally, Claire realizes she’s been avoiding the obvious: she has a role to play in her father’s recovery. Although tentative at first, her response enables her to get beyond paralysis, weather the next storm, and move forward with her life. Sonnenblick has a knack for smart, droll first-person narration, and that’s as true here as in his earlier books featuring male protagonists. He portrays a diverse group of middle-school kids as interesting individuals, while creating a believable web of relationships among them. From her driven-to-perfection older brother to a vindictive teacher to a mean-girl classmate, the characters and their dialogue are convincing and often entertaining. The book’s beginning sounds so much like other, sunnier novels that readers, like Claire, will feel a jolt when the first crisis comes. But they’ll stay with her every step of the way.

Publishers Weekly (July 4, 2016)
After the trauma of witnessing her father have a stroke, 13-year-old Claire Goldsmith and her family struggle with their new reality. Claire must simultaneously navigate dance-class drama, getting braces (which still manages to feel like the worst day of her life even after her father’s affliction), and boys, including former friends and her frustratingly perfect older brother. Told from Claire’s perspective, Sonnenblick’s story delivers an achingly vivid portrayal of her wide range of emotions as her father returns home still recovering, suffering from aphasia and having trouble with simple tasks like eating with a fork. Claire is a bluntly honest narrator, never holding back even when anger turns to depression and her father starts to waste away (“If I were being a hundred percent honest, I couldn’t really say I was thankful he was alive in this condition”). But Sonnenblick (After Ever After) incorporates a message of hope, too: Claire’s ordeal gives her new appreciation for the power of music and a more empathetic view of those around her. It’s a powerful and profound look at a family coping with unexpected change. Ages 12-up.

About the Author

Jordan Sonnenblick attended amazing schools in New York City. Then he went to an incredible Ivy League university and studied very, very hard there. However, due to his careful and well-planned course selection strategies, he emerged in 1991 with a fancy-looking diploma and a breathtaking lack of real-world skills or employability.

Thank goodness for Teach for America, a program which takes new college graduates, puts them through ‘teacher boot camp’, and places them in teaching positions at schools in teacher shortage areas around the country. Through TFA, Mr. Sonnenblick found his place in the grown-up world, teaching adolescents about the wonders and joys, the truth and beauty, of literature.

Mr. Sonnenblick lives in Bethlehem, PA with the most supportive wife and lovable children he could ever imagine. Plus a lot of drums and guitars in the basement.

His website is www.jordansonnenblick.com.

Around the Web

Falling Over Sideways on Amazon

Falling Over Sideways on JLG

Falling Over Sideways on Goodreads

 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. September 13, 2016. Harper, 336 p. ISBN: 9780399550492.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Alcohol; Arson; Misuse of over-the-counter drugs

 

Author Interviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 21))
Patchett’s seventh novel (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013) begins with the opening of a door. Fix Keating expected all the guests, including many fellow cops, who are crowded into his modest Los Angeles home to celebrate his younger daughter Franny’s christening, but why is deputy district attorney Bert Cousins, a near-stranger, standing at the threshold clutching a big bottle of gin? As soon as Bert, married and the father of three, with a fourth on the way, meets Fix’s stunningly beautiful wife, Beverly, the foundations of both households undergo a tectonic shift. As Patchett’s consummately crafted and delectably involving novel unfolds, full measure is subtly taken of the repercussions of the breaking asunder and reassembling of the two families. Anchored in California and Virginia, and slipping gracefully forward in time, the complexly suspenseful plot evolves exponentially as the six kids, thrown into the blender of custody logistics and ignored by the adults, grow close, “like a pack of feral dogs,” leading to a resounding catastrophe. The survivors grow up and improvise intriguingly unconventional lives, including Franny’s involvement with a writer, which raises thorny questions about a novelist’s right to expose family secrets. Indeed, this is Patchett’s most autobiographical novel, a sharply funny, chilling, entrancing, and profoundly affecting look into one family’s “commonwealth,” its shared affinities, conflicts, loss, and love.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2016)
Two families are fused, atomized, and reconfigured by a stolen kiss, a child’s death, and a bestselling novel.In her seventh work of fiction, Patchett (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, 2013, etc.) turns from the exotic locales and premises of Bel Canto (2001) and State of Wonder (2011) to a subject closer to home: the evolution of an American family over five decades. The story begins on a very hot day in Southern California at a christening party for Beverly and Fix Keating’s second daughter, Franny. A lawyer named Bert Cousins shows up uninvited, carrying a bottle of gin. With its help, the instant infatuation he conceives for his stunning hostess becomes “the start of his life.” After Bert and Beverly marry and move to Virginia, the six newly minted stepsiblings are dragged unhappily into new relationships and settings. On another hot afternoon, one of the children dies from a bee sting–a tragedy compounded by long-kept secrets and lies. Jumping ahead, we find Franny in her late 20s, having an affair with a Saul Bellow-type novelist 32 years her senior. “Other than the difference in their ages, and the fact that he had an estranged wife, and had written a novel about her family which in its final form made her want to retch even though she had found it nothing less than thrilling when he was working on it, Franny and Leo were great.” Since Patchett comes from a blended family with the same outlines as the one in this book, the problems created by Leo’s fictionalized family history, also called Commonwealth, are particularly intriguing. The prose is lean and inviting, but the constant shifts in point of view, the peripatetic chronology, and the ever growing cast of characters will keep you on your toes.A satisfying meat-and-potatoes domestic novel from one of our finest writers.

About the Author

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 1990, she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. In 1993, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Patchett’s second novel, Taft, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994. Her third novel, The Magician’s Assistant, was short-listed for England’s Orange Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship.Her next novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year. It sold more than a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She was also the editor of Best American Short Stories 2006. Patchett has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times magazine, Harper’s, The Atlantic,The Washington Post, Gourmet, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Karl VanDevender.

Her website is www.annpatchett.com

Teacher Resources

Commonwealth Reading Group Guide

Commonwealth Discussion Questions

Around the Web

Commonwealth on Amazon

Commonwealth on JLG

Commonwealth on Goodreads

 

A Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel

A Blind Guide to Normal  by Beth Vrabel. October 11, 2016. Sky Pony Press, 272 p. ISBN: 9781510702288.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.2; Lexile: 670.

Richie “Ryder” Raymond has a gift. He can find the punchline in any situation, even in his limited vision and prosthetic eye. During the past year at Addison School for the Blind, Ryder’s quick wit earned the respect and friendship of his classmates. Heading to mainstream, or “normal,” school for eighth grade is going to be awesome.

After all, what’s not to like? At Addison, Ryder was everyone’s favorite person. He could make anyone laugh, especially his best friend Alice. So long as he can be first to make all of the one-eyed jokes, Ryder is sure he’ll fit in just as quick at Papuaville Middle School, home of the Fighting Guinea Pigs. But Alice warns him fitting in might not be as easy as he thinks.

Turns out, Alice was right. In just the first hour of “normal” school, Ryder is attacked by General MacCathur II (aka, Gramps’s cat), causes his bio teacher to pass out cold, makes an enemy out town hero Max, and falls for Jocelyn, the fierce girl next door who happens to be Max’s girlfriend. On top of that, Ryder struggles to hold onto his dignity in the face of students’ pity and Gramps’s non-stop practical jokes.

Ryder quickly sees the only thing worse than explaining a joke is being the punchline. But with help from his stuck-in-the-70s Gramps and encouragement from Alice, Ryder finds the strength to not only fight back, but to make peace.

Sequel to: A Blind Guide to Stinkville

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Death of a child

 

Reviews

School Library Journal (October 1, 2016)
Gr 4-6-Richie Ryder Randolf is used to being a big fish in a small pond. At the Addison School for the Blind, he’s hilarious, he’s smooth, and he’s popular enough to serve as a social mentor for others. Relocated to a middle school in suburban Washington, DC, for eighth grade while his scientist parents go on assignment, he’s flopping on the shore and gasping for air. Between navigating the challenges of his limited vision (he wears an artificial eye owing to complications from cancer) and being a social disaster, Ryder is seriously struggling-and he’s not the only one. His grandfather, who’s supposed to be taking care of Ryder while the boy’s parents are away, talks to his decades-dead wife, lives as if he’s still in the 1970s, and insists on calling the protagonist by his full name, Richie Ryder. Ryder’s parents are immersed in work to the point of benign neglect. In this sequel to A Blind Guide to Stinkville, Vrabel injects just the right goofy mix of hormones and pain into Ryder’s mounting rages, fervent emotional deflection techniques, and confusing romantic ups and downs and gives equal weight to the foibles and dramas of those around him. As any reader of middle grade fiction might expect, the title is a red herring-nobody’s normal, and everybody’s just trying their best. VERDICT A sweet, thoughtful, and funny read. Hand this to fans of Vrabel’s previous novels and those who enjoy a heartfelt tale without the typical saccharine coating.-Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2016)
When Ryder graduates from the Addison School for the Blind, he and Artie—his artificial eye, courtesy of cancer—look forward to being normal, whatever that is. Wisecracking, white Ryder is forced to stay with his eccentric, equally sarcastic grandfather when his parents, both avid research biologists, accept new assignments. His arrival at Papuaville Middle School is a shock—to the teacher he causes to faint and the semibully he inadvertently provokes. Fortunately, crushing on white, tough-but-wounded Jocelyn and wielding his increasingly desperate sense of humor help him to withstand bullies, distant parents, and cringeworthy good intentions. Karate classes provide an outlet, humor, and further character development, and a surprise quilting class provides surprising insight. Readers may groan at Ryder’s jokes, but the pranks he pulls with his narration are great fun, calling out “very special episode” clichés and blindness stereotypes. But the “relentless positivity” trope is dismantled with care as Ryder interacts with equally vulnerable characters and sees his clowning for the defense mechanism it often is—and acknowledges the anger it’s masking. Like Alice of the preceding A Blind Guide to Stinkville (2015), Ryder and his family and friends all experience disorientation—this time from the shock of moving forward as well as away—and learn how to grieve in their own ways. As Ryder might say, Vrabel has an eye for sympathetic, offbeat characters—and a knack for feel-good resolutions. (Fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Beth Vrabel grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. She won a short-story contest in fourth grade and promptly decided writing was what she was going to do with her life. Although her other plans–becoming a wolf biologist, a Yellowstone National Park ranger, and a professional roller skater–didn’t come to fruition, she stuck with the writing. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in journalism, she moved through the ranks of a local newspaper to become editor of two regional magazines and a lifestyle columnist. Beth now lives in Connecticut with her wonderful husband, two charming children, a spoiled rotten puppy, and two guinea pigs, Winn-Dixie and Pippin.

Her website is www.bethvrabel.com.

Around the Web

A Blind Guide to Normal on Amazon

A Blind Guide to Normal on JLG

A Blind Guide to Normal on Goodreads