Tag Archives: family life

The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena

The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena. February 26, 2019. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 368 p. ISBN: 9780374308445.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Susan is the new girl―she’s sharp and driven, and strives to meet her parents’ expectations of excellence. Malcolm is the bad boy―he started raising hell at age fifteen, after his mom died of cancer, and has had a reputation ever since.
Susan’s parents are on the verge of divorce. Malcolm’s dad is a known adulterer.

Susan hasn’t told anyone, but she wants to be an artist. Malcolm doesn’t know what he wants―until he meets her.

Love is messy and families are messier, but in spite of their burdens, Susan and Malcolm fall for each other. The ways they drift apart and come back together are testaments to family, culture, and being true to who you are.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking, Cigarettes, Domestic abuse



Booklist (February 15, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 12))
Grades 9-12. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Susan attended an all-girls school where she excelled in her studies, striving to meet the high expectations of her parents. Now, however, Susan and her mother have moved to Mississauga, Ontario, for Susan’s final year of high school. It’s all joltingly strange, from the absence of Susan’s father, who keeps pushing back his arrival date, to the presence of boys everywhere. One boy, Malcolm, manages to befriend Susan despite her resistance. Malcolm has his own demons, rendering him defiant and academically disengaged. The two make wary progress towards a relationship, with each teen narrating alternating chapters. Both of them are of East Indian heritage, as are many of their friends, and the portrayal of transplanted culture heightens the appeal of their story. Their struggles with expectations and traditions born in a faraway land will ring true for any reader with immigrant parents. At the same time, both Susan and Malcolm bear witness to their own parents’ marital failings, in contrast with the stereotype of traditional families. A good recommendation for readers interested in romance.

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2018)
Opposites attract in this teen romance shaped by immigration, grief, and loss. Susan Thomas and Malcolm Vakil could not be more different. Susan is a shy, bookish Malayali Christian perfectionist who grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, before moving to Canada for her senior year of high school. Malcolm is a hell-raising Parsi Canadian still reeling from his mother’s death, his father’s abuse, and his ex-girlfriend’s betrayal. Despite their better judgment, the two teens strike up a tentative romance, their feelings quickly deepening from infatuation to true love. But as Susan grapples with her parents’ impending divorce and her desire to go to art school and Malcolm confronts his conflicted feelings for his ex-girlfriend and his damaged relationship with his father and stepmother, the two must learn to overcome their insecurities to support each other. The story is told from each of their points of view, and each perspective is nuanced and distinct. Susan’s character arc is convincing and compelling, defying her initial characterization as a clichéd, overprotected Indian girl. But while the action is fast-paced and the characters refreshingly diverse, Bhathena’s (A Girl Like That, 2018) clumsy prose and stilted dialogue limit the narrative’s emotional impact. The Parsi elements of the book ring true, particularly refreshing considering how little Parsis are represented in Western YA literature. In contrast, the book is riddled with cultural inaccuracies and stereotypes about southern Indians that unfortunately render those characters less believable. A diverse, entertaining love story that falls just short of extraordinary. (Romance. 14-18)

About the Author

Tanaz Bhathena was born in Mumbai and raised in Riyadh, Jeddah and Toronto. Her short stories have appeared in various journals, including Blackbird, Witness and Room Magazine. A Girl Like That is her first novel.

Her website is tanazbhathena.com

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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. November 20, 2018. Doubleday Books, 226 p. ISBN: 9780385544238.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Satire meets slasher in this short, darkly funny hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends.

“Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.”

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.
A kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where Korede works, is the bright spot in her life. She dreams of the day when he will realize they’re perfect for each other. But one day Ayoola shows up to the hospital uninvited and he takes notice. When he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and what she will do about it.
Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite has written a deliciously deadly debut that’s as fun as it is frightening.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Domestic abuses


Book Trailer

Video Reviews


Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Ayoola is beautiful, charismatic, and popular, everything her long-suffering older sister, Korede, is not. Ayoola is also a killer, and Korede is growing used to literally cleaning up her messes when Ayoola ends her relationships with their father’s ceremonial knife. Korede’s life has few pleasures, but she looks forward to her nursing shifts at the hospital where she can be near the handsome Dr. Tade Otumu. Then Tade meets Ayoola and falls under her spell. Braithwaite’s debut is written in quick, economical chapters that brilliantly render the setting: the crowded streets of Lagos, St. Peter’s hospital, the languid heat on Korede and Ayoola’s family estate. This is a darkly, darkly funny novel—​for example, Ayoola invites Tade over to play Cluedo just weeks after the sisters were bleaching bathroom tiles and dumping a body in the river. It strips away the romanticism of the complicated sisterly relationship but perfectly illustrates its complicated contradictions: Korede cannot stand Ayoola, but she would do anything for her.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2018)
From the hospital rooms and living spaces of Lagos, Nigeria, comes a dryly funny and wickedly crafty exercise in psychological suspense. Introverted, sensitive Korede is a nurse, a very good one from what we see of her at work. She feels such a connection with her patients that she finds herself taking a coma victim named Muhtar into her confidence. There’s one secret in particular that pours out of Korede like scalding liquid: Her flamboyantly beautiful younger sister, Ayoola, has this habit of killing the men she dates. (Three, so far.) She hasn’t been caught yet because Korede cleans up after her. They both disposed of the most recent victim, a poet named Femi, so efficiently that nobody in his family or with the police know his whereabouts. So that, as Korede is concerned, is that; except there’s this single good-looking doctor named Tade at the hospital where she works who has his eye on Ayoola—even though Korede has tried her best to win Tade’s attention. Now she tries to warn Tade that her sister’s relationships “tend to end, badly.” His response: “Oh…guys can be jerks.” (Yes, they certainly can.) As Tade and Ayoola begin their romance, Korede’s the one who has to answer questions about Femi’s disappearance, and, seemingly out of nowhere, Ayoola acquires yet another suitor named Gboyega, prompting both Korede and the reader to wonder which of these unwary gentlemen Ayoola will favor and what will happen to him. Generations of gothic mystery aficionados have attended these uneasy and insidious events before. But besides the setting, what makes Braithwaite’s first novel stand out from others in this genre is the unobtrusively sly approach she takes to the conventions of “black widow” storytelling and the appealing deadpan voice of the jittery yet world-weary Korede. Along the way, there are scattered glimpses of life in Lagos, most acidly when Korede deals with the routine corruption involved in a traffic stop. Even your most extravagant speculations about what’s really going on with these wildly contrasting yet oddly simpatico siblings will be trumped in this skillful, sardonic debut.

About the Author

Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo, a Nigerian publishing house, and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top-ten spoken-word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam, and in 2016 she was a finalist for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

Her website is writeratworkng.com

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That Night by Amy Giles

The Night by Amy Giles. October 23, 2018. HarperTeen, 320 p. ISBN: 9780062495778.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

An evocative story by acclaimed author Amy Giles about tragedy, love, and learning to heal.

The year since a mass shooting shook their Queens neighborhood has played out differently for Jess and Lucas, both of whom were affected by that night in eerily similar and deeply personal ways.

As Jess struggles to take care of her depressed mother and Lucas takes up boxing under the ever-watchful eye of his overprotective parents, their paths converge. They slowly become friends and then something more, learning to heal and move forward together.

But what does it mean to love after an unspeakable tragedy?

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



Booklist (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. One year after a mass shooting, Jessica and Lucas, along with their families, deal with the aftermath of the event that changed their worlds forever. Shy and withdrawn Jessica struggles to recover from the loss of her brother, while also caring for her grieving mother. Angry and anxious, Lucas turns to boxing in order to release his frustrations at being a survivor and losing his brother. Jessica’s and Lucas’ paths cross, and together they form a bond that is characterized by love, healing, and moving forward. Giles’ novel is one of surviving terrible losses and of healing. As in her previous novel, Now Is Everything (2017), Giles writes from the perspective of young adults trying survive the unexpected. Told in alternating perspectives from Jessica and Lucas, the mass shooting is not the main focus; rather, the lives of those affected by the mass shooting and its aftermath take center stage. Readers will find the latest from Giles a pleasing read.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
Two teens who survived a mass shooting find love as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives in the wake of loss and tragedy. It has been a year since a shooting at a movie theater left 18 people dead. Lucas survived but lost his brother, a star football player. Jess survived, but her brother didn’t, and her mother has been debilitated by grief. Lucas tries to make sense of his survival by keeping a daily record of his random acts of kindness. Therapy helps, and boxing releases a lot of the negative energy, but he still suffers from panic attacks and avoids talking about his feelings with his parents. Jess finds a job to help with the overdue bills that keep piling up since her mom stopped working, but she can’t convince her mother to spend a full day out of bed, and she occasionally depends on weed to get her through her toughest moments. When Jess and Lucas meet at work they are wary of each other, but over time they become close, helping each other through feelings of shame, guilt, and ambivalence about living normal lives after their losses. This sensitive portrayal of the complications of journeying through grief is convincing and moving. Little physical description of the main characters, combined with the awkwardness with which the diversity of very minor characters is made known, accentuates the white default. Thoughtful and thought-provoking. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Amy Giles is a young adult author. She lives on an Island that is Long with her husband, two daughters, and rescue dog.

Her website is www.amygiles.net


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Padres Parasimos, S.A. (Perfect Parents, Inc.) by Jamie Alfonso Sandoval

Padres Parasimos, S.A. (Perfect Parents, Inc.) by Jamie Alfonso Sandoval. August 27, 2018. Progreso Edelvives, 241 p. ISBN: 9786077460404.  Int Lvl: 5-8.

You imagine a world of extravagant parents. Would you like it?

Have you never had the desire to change your parents? What would you think of millionaires ?, or superheroes? And what about great detectives? Well, I change mine and … Ah …! Do you want to know more? So, what are you waiting for? Discover a world of different parents.


Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



About the Author

Jaime Alfonso Sandoval, Mexican author. He studied at the University Center for Cinematographic Studies of the UNAM and in the writers school of the SOGEM. His professional work has been almost twenty years and ranges from journalism to television script.

In his literature, Jaime Alfonso devotes special attention to works intended for children and young people and has the 2006 Barco de Vapor Award, twice the Gran Angular Literature Prize of 1997 and 2001, organized by Ediciones SM and Conaculta; the Story Prize FILIJ 1998; the National Prize of Children’s Literature 2001 of editions Castillo-McMillan; the Science Short Story Award for children of the Institute of Science and Technology of Mexico City in 2009; the National Prize of novel for young FeNal-Norma 2011, among others. Several of his books are in Classroom Libraries and he also wrote texts for the reading books of the SEP. Some of his works are translated into Dutch and French.

His website is www.jaimealfonsosandoval.com

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A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson. October 23, 2018. Simon Schuster, 336 p. ISBN: 9781501194368.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl is a poignant novel about three generations of the Wise family—Evelyn, Laura, and Grace—as they hunt for contentment amid chaos of their own making.

Evelyn set aside her career to marry, late, and motherhood never became her. Her daughter Laura felt this acutely and wants desperately to marry, but she soon discovers her husband Gabe to be a man who expects too much of everyone in his life, especially his musician son. Grace has moved out from Laura and Gabe’s house, but can’t seem to live up to her potential—whatever that might be.

In A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl we see these women and their trials, small and large: social slights and heartbreaks; marital disappointments and infidelities; familial dysfunction; mortality. Spanning from World War II to the present, Thompson reveals a matrilineal love story that is so perfectly grounded in our time—a story of three women regressing, stalling, and yes, evolving, over decades. One of the burning questions she asks is: by serving her family, is a woman destined to repeat the mistakes of previous generations, or can she transcend the expectations of a place, and a time? Can she truly be free?

Evelyn, Laura, and Grace are the glue that binds their family together. Tethered to their small Midwestern town—by choice or chance—Jean Thompson seamlessly weaves together the stories of the Wise women with humanity and elegance, through their heartbreaks, setbacks, triumphs, and tragedies.

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



Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
With low-key yet piercing humor, caustic observations balanced with compassion, and entrancing storytelling mojo, Thompson (She Poured Out Her Heart​, 2016) masterfully uncovers the contrary emotions surging beneath the flat, orderly landscapes and tidy homes of the Midwest. Grace, the youngest of three narrators who propel this college-town tale of duty and regret, muses on her “legacy of unhappy women,” and she doesn’t know the half of it. Both her grandmother, Evelyn, who is dying, and Grace’s mother, Laura, have kept secrets about why they married men they did not love. As conflicts escalate among Laura; her angry, hard-drinking husband; and their drug-addicted musician son, Grace works in a health-food store and tries to be helpful while keeping her distance. As storms, gardens, and trees punctuate and embody the richly reverberating family drama Thompson so astutely orchestrates, she unflinchingly examines desire and resignation, death and inheritance, while tracing women’s generational struggles for genuine independence. As Evelyn tells Grace approvingly, “You’re not the suffering type.” Like those of Jane Hamilton and Antonya Nelson, Thompson’s embracing domestic novel invites reflection and discussion.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
Thompson (She Poured out Her Heart, 2016, etc.) constructs her latest novel around the parallel themes and variations in the unhappy lives of three generations of women in an unnamed Midwestern college town. Pillar-of-the-community Evelyn, her frazzled, overstretched daughter, Laura, and Laura’s independent-minded daughter, Grace, appear to have little in common, but when scrutinized in separate sections, their lives follow an alarmingly similar pattern of deferring dreams for disappointing men. As a young woman, Evelyn has serious academic ambitions and is working toward a Ph.D. when World War II ends. Then she falls into a love affair with Rusty, a veteran who’s attending college on the GI Bill but has no interest in academia. He’s left town to return to farming before Evelyn realizes she’s pregnant. In desperation she quickly manipulates straight-laced and clueless Andrew, a smitten law professor, into marrying her. Ironically, she miscarries. She considers leaving Andrew but doesn’t, for reasons left unexplained. Instead, she commits to her marriage and eventual children but never quite overcomes her unrealized academic aspirations. Laura, who considers Evelyn “detached,” lacks her mother’s career ambitions and is perhaps too attached. She loves her computer-whiz husband, Gabe, but early in their marriage, his off-putting behavior alienates her friends. In her loneliness, she carries on a short, passionate affair with her brother’s former high school friend Bob, a car mechanic. Grace is the result. As Laura trudges on in her marriage, she carries the weight of care for the dying Evelyn, increasingly alcoholic Gabe, and Grace’s younger brother, Michael, a talented musician with addiction issues. By the time family crises turn tragic, Grace has not yet defined her career or romantic ambitions. She falls into an affair with an inappropriate man who, unlike Bob or Rusty, is genuinely creepy; fortunately, 25-year-old Grace avoids pregnancy. She also stumbles upon family secrets and begins to imagine a future with possibilities. Thompson, who wrote movingly about another Midwestern family in The Year We left Home (2011), here creates a plot and characters that feel more diagrammed than lived.

About the Author

Jean Thompson is a novelist and short story writer. Her works include the novels A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl, She Poured Out Her Heart, The Humanity Project, The Year We Left Home, City Boy, Wide Blue Yonder, The Woman Driver, and My Wisdom and the short story collections The Witch and Other Tales ReTold, Do Not Deny Me, Throw Like a Girl, Who Do You Love (a National Book Award finalist), Little Face and Other Stories, and The Gasoline Wars. 

Thompson’s short fiction has been published in many magazines and journals, including the New Yorker, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Pushcart Prize. Thompson has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and other colleges and universities.

She lives in Urbana, Illinois. Her website is www.jeanthompsononline.com/

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Olor a Perfume de Viejita (The Smell of Old Lady Perfume) by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

Olor a Perfume de Viejita (The Smell of Old Lady Perfume) by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez. September 18, 2018. Cinco Puntos Press, 320 p. ISBN: 9781941026960.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.7; Lexile: 730.

Chela Gonzalez, the book’s narrator, is a nerd and a soccer player who can barely contain her excitement about starting the sixth grade. But nothing is as she imagined-her best friend turns on her to join the popular girls and they all act like Chela doesn’t exist. She buries herself in schoolwork and in the warm comfort of her family. To Chela, her family is like a solar system, with her father the sun and her mother, brothers, and sister like planets rotating all around him. It’s a small world, but it’s the only one she fits in.

But that universe is threatened when her strong father has a stroke.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (September 1, 2008 (Vol. 105, No. 1))
Grades 4-6. As she starts sixth grade, 11-year-old Chela is straddling two borders, the figurative one between childhood and adolescence and the real one that divides Ciudad Juarez from El Paso. Chela is devastated when her new classmates in Texas laugh at her accented English and jeeringly call her a Juaranota. Then her best friend, Nora, abandons her to join a clique of popular girls. These problems pale, however, after her beloved father suffers a stroke and can no longer work. Her grandmother comes to help (it is her perfume that pervades the household), but fear and worry surround the family. Martinez’s highly episodic first novel is a quiet story that is, perhaps, a bit too predictable, filled with such coming-of-age staples as mean girls, popularity contests, first romances, sibling rivalries, and more. However, readers will also find the book’s loving portrayal of Chela’s family, its nicely realized setting, and its artful exploration of the problems of assimilation, to be both engaging and heartfelt. —Michael Cart

Horn Book Guide (Spring 2009)
Chela Gonzalez is highly anticipating sixth grade. She’s especially excited about being part of the A-class, the only all-English class in her El Paso school. But when her father has a stroke, Chela’s year grows complicated and painful. Short, well-crafted chapters offer perceptive glimpses into life on the border, the dynamics of middle-grade girls, and a family in turmoil.

About the Author

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez grew up in El Paso, Texas. She learned that letters form words from reading the subtitles of old westerns for her father. She went on to graduate from college and moved to Chicago to become one of the city’s youngest non-profit executives.

Her website is claudiaguadalupemartinez.com

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Squirm by Carl Hiaasen

Squirm by Carl Hiaasen. September 25, 2018. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 288 p. ISBN: 9780385752985.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.5; Lexile: 740.

Snakes, grizzlies, a missing dad, a menacing drone… Carl Hiaasen delivers a wickledly funny, slightly subversive tale in his latest New York Times bestseller. 

Some facts about Billy Dickens:
*  He once saw a biker swerve across the road in order to run over a snake.
*  Later, that motorcycle somehow ended up at the bottom of a canal.
*  Billy isn’t the type to let things go.

Some facts about Billy’s family:
*  They’ve lived in six different Florida towns because Billy’s mom insists on getting a house near a bald eagle nest.
*  Billy’s dad left when he was four and is a total mystery.
*  Billy has just found his dad’s address–in Montana.

This summer, Billy will fly across the country, hike a mountain, float a river, dodge a grizzly bear, shoot down a spy drone, save a neighbor’s cat, save an endangered panther, and then try to save his own father.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals, Mild language, Reference to domestic abuse


Book Trailer


Booklist (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Grades 5-8. Billy Dickens isn’t your typical tween—unless your typical tween has a thing for rattlesnakes. His dad’s been out of the picture for as long as he can remember, but when Billy gets ahold of his address—Montana, not far from Yellowstone—the savvy, brave oddball flies out there solo to track him down. What he finds instead is his stepsister, Summer Chasing-Hawks, and his dad’s new wife, Little Thunder Sky, aka Lil, both Crow Indians. Unfortunately, his dad’s not so easy to track down. As the story spans from Montana to Florida and back, Billy continues to find and lose his father, who’s in a bit of a wild goose chase himself, hunting down rich-boy poacher Lincoln Chumley Baxter. As always, Hiaasen’s latest is richly steeped in the natural world and all the peril it contains, from rattlers to grizzlies. Still, what may be most satisfying for readers are the personal connections Billy makes, whether it’s getting to know his new stepsister or making peace with his dad. Hiaasen’s fan base will relish his latest tale.

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2018)
Billy Dickens is not the kind of kid who suffers bullies or poachers or absent parents. Billy’s dad left when Billy was 3. Checks arrive on the 10th of every month, but Billy’s mom destroys the envelopes to keep the return address from Billy. Shortly before summer vacation, Billy pieces one together and discovers his father’s in Montana, so he leaves Florida to find him. Billy’s tired of his mother’s evasiveness about his father—all he knows is that he’s got a new wife and family—and Billy’s ready for answers. In Montana, Billy meets Lil, his stepmother, and Summer, his stepsister, both members of the Crow Nation. But not his dad. Lil and Summer profess to know as little as his mother about his dad’s actual job, but they don’t mind having Billy wait with them for him to return (they even give him a little primer on U.S.–Native Nations relations). When his father’s truck is found abandoned with slashed tires, they get a message via drone: “See you in Florida.” Billy’s had enough. He tracks his dad down, but that turns out to be just the beginning of his adventure. Hiaasen’s newest wildlife-centered caper for middle graders is characteristically entertaining—and, just as characteristically, genially improbable. Narrator Billy’s white, a sarcastic outsider with a strong sense of justice and a deep affection for snakes. Humorous, self-deprecating narration and convoluted exploits will keep pages turning till the satisfying close. (Fiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in Florida. After graduating from the University of Florida, he joined the Miami Herald as a general assignment reporter and went on to work for the newspaper’s weekly magazine and prize-winning investigations team. As a journalist and author, Carl has spent most of his life advocating for the protection of the Florida Everglades. He and his family live in southern Florida.

Her website is www.carlhiaasen.com

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Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak. October 9, 2018. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 544 p. ISBN: 9780375945595.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 650.

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge–for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

Written in powerfully inventive language and bursting with heart, Bridge of Clay is signature Zusak.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Underage smoking, Domestic abuse, Sexual harassment, Homophobia


Book Trailer


Booklist starred (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 10-12. Here are the five Dunbar brothers: reliable Matthew, the oldest and the eloquent narrator of this extraordinary book; incorrigible Rory; Puck, with a pair of fists; Henry, who—with a talent for making money—knows the odds; Clay, the fourth son and protagonist, is “the best of us,” according to Matthew; and youngest Tommy, the animal collector. Their mother is dead, and their father has fled, until, one day, he returns to ask for help building a bridge. Only Clay agrees to help, and their bridge quickly assumes symbolic value. Zusak (The Book Thief, 2006) offers up a narrative that is really two stories: one of the present, the story of the bridge and of Clay’s love for the girl across the street; and the second of the past, occupied by the boys’ childhood and stories that Clay loves—The Iliad, The Odyssey. The tone is sometimes somber and always ominous, leaving readers anxious about the fates of these characters whom they have grown to love. Zusak pushes the parameters of YA in this gorgeously written novel: a character has scrap-metal eyes; rain is like a ghost you could walk through. In the end, it always comes back to Clay, that lovely boy, as a neighbor calls him. A lovely boy and an unforgettably lovely book to match.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2018)
Years after the death of their mother, the fourth son in an Australian family of five boys reconnects with his estranged father. Matthew Dunbar dug up the old TW, the typewriter his father buried (along with a dog and a snake) in the backyard of his childhood home. He searched for it in order to tell the story of the family’s past, a story about his mother, who escaped from Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall; about his father, who abandoned them all after their mother’s death; about his brother Clay, who built a bridge to reunite their family; and about a mule named Achilles. Zusak (The Book Thief, 2006, etc.) weaves a complex narrative winding through flashbacks. His prose is thick with metaphor and heavy with allusions to Homer’s epics. The story romanticizes Matthew and his brothers’ often violent and sometimes homophobic expressions of their cisgender, heterosexual masculinity with reflections unsettlingly reminiscent of a “boys will be boys” attitude. Women in the book primarily play the roles of love interests, mothers, or (in the case of their neighbor) someone to marvel at the Dunbar boys and give them jars to open. The characters are all presumably white. Much like building a bridge stone by stone, this read requires painstaking effort and patience. (Fiction. 16-adult)

About the Author

Markus Zusak is the author of six books, including The Book Thief, which spent more than a decade on the New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into more than forty languages.

Zusak’s books The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Getting the Girl, I Am the Messenger, and The Book Thief have received numerous honors including literary prizes and readers’ choice awards.

In 2013, The Book Thief was adapted to film by Twentieth Century Fox. In 2014, Zusak received the American Library Association’s Margaret Edwards Award, for his body of work.

Markus Zusak grew up in Sydney, Australia, and still lives there with his wife and two children.

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Dive Smack by Demetra Brodsky

Dive Smack by Demetra Brodsky. June 19, 2018. Tor Teen, 336 p. ISBN: 9780765396952.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

Theo Mackey only remembers one thing for certain about the fire that destroyed his home: he lit the match.

Sure, it was an accident. But the blaze killed his mom and set his dad on a path to self-destruction. Everything else about that fateful night is full of gaping holes in Theo’s mind, for good reason. Maybe it’s better that way. As captain of the Ellis Hollow Diving Team, with straight A’s and solid friends, he’s only one semester away from securing a scholarship, and leaving his past behind.

But when a family history project gets assigned at school, new memories come rushing to the surface, memories that make him question what he really knows about his family, the night of the fire, and if he can trust anyone—including himself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Marijuana, Mild sexual themes, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities, Strong language, Underage drinking


Author Interview


Booklist (May 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 17))
Grades 8-11. In this strong psychological thriller, a school assignment sends golden boy Theo Mackey down the rabbit hole of his family’s twisted history. Theo is careful to appear confident, easygoing, and reliable, the way a popular, straight-A student and star athlete should. Inside, though, he’s still wracked with guilt over the only thing he remembers about the night his mother died: he started the fire that killed her. When his teacher assigns a family history project senior year, Theo has few resources. His father died last year, leaving his family’s history in only two hands: his alcoholic grandfather’s and his father’s best friend’s, a psychiatrist who’s treating Theo for PTSD. Both of them seem to be working harder to keep Theo in the dark than help him learn the truth. Theo’s search dredges up buried memories, accompanied by scarily accurate premonitions of danger. Brodsky’s debut combines an engaging school story, filled with best-friend shenanigans, first love, and a fascinating look at competitive diving, with a tense psychological mystery that pivots reasonably well into the paranormal.

Publishers Weekly (April 23, 2018)
In this amnesia-driven psychological thriller, an athlete is haunted by the slowly returning memories of the fire that destroyed his home and killed his mother, a fire he believes he started. Springboard diver Theo just wants to master his mother’s favorite dive in the hope that this accomplishment will help get him into Stanford. However, as he works with several classmates, including his crush, Iris, on a family-history project for school, he discovers numerous mysteries surrounding his mother’s life and death, and he starts to wonder if his adoptive uncle, Dr. Phil Maddox, may know more than he lets on. Furthermore, Theo’s increasingly frequent visions of imminent events are eroding his performance in both school and on the diving board. With Iris’s help, Theo tries to uncover the truth linking his lost memories and the glimpses he receives of the future before things spiral out of control. In an impressive debut, Brodsky injects her teen drama with ambiguity, and a subtle hint of paranormal phenomena, leaving readers to guess at what’s really going on. Strong characters and a compelling mystery make this a real page-turner. Ages 12-up.

About the Author

Demetra Brodsky is an award-winning graphic designer & art director turned writer. She has a B.F.A from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and lives in Southern California with her family of four and two lovable rescue dogs. She is a first generation Greek-American and a member of International Thriller Writers. Dive Smack, her debut novel, is a 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection, a January 2018 ALAN pick, and a Buzz Books 2018: Young Adult Spring/Summer notable mention. It’s also dedicated to Pumpkin, the monarch butterfly she once saved from the brink of death. Once you read the book, you’ll understand why.

Her website is www.demetrabrodsky.com

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The Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

The Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. July 31, 2018. Doubleday, 304 p. ISBN: 9780385542722.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A mesmerizing debut set in Colombia at the height Pablo Escobar’s violent reign about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both

Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to their gated community in Bogotá, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city’s guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona’s mysterious ways. But Petrona’s unusual behavior belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls’ families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.

Inspired by the author’s own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricably linked coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras has written a powerful testament to the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol, Criminal culture


Booklist starred (May 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 18))
In this incomparable debut novel, Contreras draws on her own experience growing up in turbulent 1990s Bogotá, Colombia, amid the violence and social instability fueled by Pablo Escobar’s narcotics trafficking. In vividly rendered prose, textured with generous Spanish, Contreras tells the story of an unlikely bond between two girls on the verge of womanhood: Chula, the daughter of a middle-class family, and Petrona, the teenager hired to serve as the family’s maid. While Chula’s family can afford to protect themselves behind the suburban walls of a gated community, Petrona must support her many siblings as they struggle to survive the inner-city slums. Despite their differences, and driven by Chula’s curiosity about Petrona’s odd habits, the two become inseparably close until decisions must be made that will alter their futures forever. Contreras’ deeply personal connection to the setting lends every scene a vital authenticity, and a seemingly unlimited reservoir of striking details brings the action to life, like the trumpets and accordions on Christmas Eve, or the messy Afro of Petrona’s suspicious new boyfriend. A riveting, powerful, and fascinating first novel.

Kirkus Reviews (May 1, 2018)
The perils of day-to-day existence in late-20th-century Colombia—a time of drug lords, guerrillas, kidnappings, and car bombs—are glimpsed through the eyes of a child and her family’s teenage maid, whose relationship exposes two facets of the class divide. Choosing a young girl to deliver a perspective on political chaos and terror is a mixed blessing in Contreras’ debut, set in Bogotá in the lawless era of Pablo Escobar. Her chief narrator is 7-year-old Chula Santiago, whose dreamy insights and immaturity both intensify and limit what the narrative can offer. Chula is the bright younger daughter of an oil worker employed by an American company and whose income allows the family to live in the relative safety of a gated neighborhood. The Santiagos’ maid, Petrona Sánchez, introduces a different perspective. Her family has been destroyed by the paramilitary that burned down their farm and abducted her father and elder brothers. Now Petrona, her mother, and her siblings live in “a hut made of trash” in the capital’s slums, prey to gangs, drugs, and thugs. While the two girls develop a bond, their separate experiences include political assassination, desolation, addiction, and dangers of many kinds alongside the fancifulness, games, and easy, often thoughtless distractions of childhood. Chula and her sister are indulged by their parents and leave town when threats appear at their most extreme. Petrona, struggling to support her family, falls under the sway of a shady but charismatic boy, Gorrión. Through Chula’s eyes, events take place in a drifting, foreshortened present, and her incomprehension at times denies the story a quality of three-dimensionality. But a sudden gear change reorders matters, plunging the narrative into a flurry of dangerous developments from which everyone emerges redefined. A tragic history is filtered through fiction, and the results are patchy: sometimes constrained by invention, sometimes piercing.

About the Author

Ingrid Rojas Contreras is an award-winning author who was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her essays and short stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, Guernica, and Huffington Post, among others. She has been a fellow at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, and has received scholarships and support from VONA, Hedgebrook, The Camargo Foundation, Djerassi Artist Residency Program, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. She is the book columnist for KQED, the Bay Area’s NPR affiliate. She has taught at Stanford University, the University of San Francisco, and currently teaches writing to immigrant high school students as part of a San Francisco Arts Commission initiative bringing artists into public schools.

Her website is www.ingridrojascontreras.com/

Teacher Resources

The Fruit of the Drunken Tree Reading Guide

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The Fruit of the Drunken Tree on Amazon

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