Tag Archives: family problems

Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee

Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee. September 5, 2017. Aladdin, 247 p. ISBN: 9781481478519.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 3.5; Lexile: 620.

A cancer survivor must readjust to “normal” middle school life in this hopeful novel from the author of Star-Crossed and Truth or Dare.

Norah Levy has just completed two years of treatment for leukemia and is ready to go back to the “real world” of middle school. The hospital social worker warns her the transition back may be tricky, but Norah isn’t worried. Compared with battling cancer, how tricky can seventh grade be?

Very. Everyone is either treating Norah like she will break at any second, or acting weird about all the attention she’s getting. Her best friend, Harper, does her best to be there for Norah, but she doesn’t get it, really—and is hanging out with a new group of girls, leaving Norah feeling a little unsteady. Norah’s other good friend, Silas, is avoiding her. What’s that about, anyway?

When Norah is placed with the eighth graders for math and science she meets Griffin, a cute boy who encourages her love of drawing and Greek mythology. And Norah decides not to tell him her secret—that she was “that girl” who had cancer. But when something happens to make secret-keeping impossible, Norah must figure out a way to share her cancer story. But how do you explain something to others that you can’t explain to yourself? And then, once you find the words, how do you move forward with a whole new ‘normal’?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 5-8. Norah has lost two years of school to a battle against archvillain Lou Kemia, her vision of acute lymphoblastic leukemia personified. Now she’s rejoining her class as they begin seventh grade, but social alliances have reformed during Norah’s absence. Compounding the problem, because of the academic progress she made with her tutor, Norah is placed in eighth grade math and science, where she quickly bonds with a cute new kid, Griffin. Meanwhile, Norah’s concerned parents remain deeply involved in monitoring her daily life, which becomes problematic as Norah needs space to navigate the ordinary challenges of seventh grade, such as mean girls, baffling boys, and clueless adults. The authenticity of Norah’s story can be credited to the author’s own experience as the mother of a cancer patient. But this is not a book about cancer; rather, it’s about the process of moving forward in its wake. Readers who appreciate well-wrought portrayals of transformative middle-school experiences, such as Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye Stranger (2015), will find a story in a similar spirit here.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 15, 2017)
Norah Levy is 12 and entering seventh grade, but she hasn’t been in school for the past two years: she’s been busy fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and now she’s figuring out how to re-enter the “normal” world. Norah has difficulty making the transition from cancer patient to normal middle schooler. Everyone in her grade knows her as “The Girl Who,” and Norah is tired of people treating her differently. She makes a new friend, Griffin, who shares her taste in books and mythical creatures. But she’s doing everything in her power to avoid telling him about her cancer or talking about cancer with anyone at school. She doesn’t even explain things to her best friend. Readers will feel with her as Norah struggles with how, when, and to whom she should tell her story—if at all. The moment that really sings is when Norah realizes that there are some life experiences that change you forever, and that’s not always a bad thing. Dee, whose acknowledgments hint at family experience with childhood cancer, does an exceptional job accurately depicting Norah’s struggles in a way that is translatable to those with varied understanding of illness. Norah and Griffin are white, but their school appears to be a fairly diverse one, mostly conveyed through naming conventions. A powerful story not only about illness, but about accepting yourself for who you are—no matter the experiences that shaped you. (Fiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Barbara Dee is the author of Everything I Know About YouHalfway NormalStar-CrossedTruth or DareThe (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect BoysTrauma QueenThis Is Me From Now OnSolving Zoe (Bank Street Best Children’s Books), and Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life (Publishers Weekly, starred review). Barbara is one of the founders and directors of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives in Westchester County, New York, with her family, two naughty cats, and a rescue hound dog named Ripley.

Her website is BarbaraDeeBooks.com

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And Then There Were Four by Nancy Werlin

And Then There Were Four by Nancy Werlin. June 6, 2017. Dial Books, 416 p. ISBN: 9780803740723.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 730.

Let’s not die today. Not even to make things easier for our parents.

When a building collapses around five teenagers—and they just barely escape—they know something strange is going on. Little by little, the group pieces together a theory: Their parents are working together to kill them all. Is it true? And if so, how did their parents come together—and why? And, most importantly, how can the five of them work together to save themselves? With an unlikely group of heroes, sky-high stakes, and two budding romances, this gripping murder mystery will keep readers guessing until the last page.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes

 

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Reviews

Booklist (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 8-12. Five teens at a private school are invited to a Leader’s Club orientation at a dilapidated campus building, and then the roof falls in—literally. Someone, maybe plural, is trying to kill them, but what does this unlikely group have in common? Except for Antoine and Evangeline, they barely know each other—although Saralinda does have a crush on Caleb. Those two are the alternating narrators, and from them we learn that diabetic, physically challenged Saralinda lives with a smothering mother who would like her daughter to be dependent on her. Caleb’s father is a celebrity psychiatrist who has convinced his son that the boy is a bad seed, a danger to everyone around him. Although the psychology of the kids—and their parents—is a huge part of the story, it’s the nonstop action that sweeps readers along. People are on the run, bodies are piling up, and murder is in the air. Up until the last moment, it’s not clear who is going to make it out alive. Over the top, definitely, but also a compulsive read.

Horn Book Magazine (July/August, 2017)
After a three-book detour through the fantasy genre (Impossible, rev. 9/08, and sequels), Werlin (The Rules of Survival, rev. 9/06) returns to her mystery/thriller roots for another psychological page-turner. Five students at a private boarding school are called together under mysterious circumstances to a remote, dilapidated building on campus. The building collapses, and they all survive, but one of them dies shortly afterward in an automobile accident. The remaining students band together, pool their information, and come to a horrific conclusion: each of their parents is involved in a conspiracy to murder them. Werlin simultaneously deepens characterization and unfolds the plot in alternating narrative voices from two of the teens, Saralinda and Caleb; they are attracted to each other but slow to act on it. Saralinda has diabetes–and a cane–but she is a hopeless romantic and a keen observer of her classmates. She loves her overbearing single mother but wishes for a greater measure of freedom. Caleb is aloof and harbors a dark side, but is fiercely loyal to his friends; his second-person narration is unsettling and underscores the notion that he might have sociopathic tendencies. His famous psychiatrist father has cowed both Caleb and his mother, and harbors a mean streak of his own. The other three teens, Antoine, Evangeline, and Kenyon–along with their parents–are similarly complex. Indeed, the entire cast is also notable for its diversity (in terms of ethnicity, sexuality, ability) in ways both organic and incidental to the plot. And if that plot occasionally strains credulity, it taps into a deep-seated teen paranoia that adults are out to get them. jonathan hunt

About the Author

Nancy Werlin has written 10 young adult novels, including New York Times–bestselling fantasy (Impossible), Edgar-award winning suspense (The Killer’s Cousin), and National Book Award-honored realistic fiction (The Rules of Survival). Her newest book is And Then There Were Four, a suspense thriller that marks her return to suspense after writing the fantasy trilogy Impossible, Extraordinary, and Unthinkable. Nancy grew up in Peabody, Massachusetts, received her bachelor’s degree in English from Yale, and now lives with her husband near Boston.

Her website is nancywerlin.com

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Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. May 9, 2017. Balzer + Bray, 492 p. ISBN: 9780062418357.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 780.

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Underage drinking, Criminal culture, Homophobia, Racism

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (March 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 13))
Grades 9-12. Julie Murphy (Dumplin’, 2015) knows a thing or two about navigating the worlds of girls on the brink of self-discovery. In Ramona Blue, that girl is Ramona Leroux, over six feet tall and sporting blue hair. She’s also one of only two out lesbians in her little town of Eulogy, Mississippi, where she lives with her father and sister in the FEMA trailer they never left after Hurricane Katrina. Her sister, Hattie, recently pregnant, jokes that Ramona can do whatever she wants with her future, but Ramona has no such illusions. “My sport—” she thinks, “the special skill I’ve developed my whole life—is surviving.” Because of this pragmatism, Ramona has never doubted herself. It’s not easy being gay in Eulogy, but it’s a label she owns proudly, until her childhood friend Freddie moves back to town. Freddie’s a straight guy, African American, and well off, but a love of swimming connects the two. Freddie talks Ramona into spending time at the pool, and as she falls more in love with the sport, she realizes she’s falling in love with him, too, questioning everything she knows about herself—everything she’s fought to make her town and family accept. Murphy mines Ramona’s inner workings with particular skill. Ramona’s often-fraught relationships with her family are carefully, lovingly crafted, and her connection with Hattie is an especially important one. Her growing feelings for Freddie come slowly and organically, never feeling contrived. For many teens, Ramona will be a worthy companion as they undergo their own emotional journeys.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
In Murphy’s (Dumplin’, 2015, etc.) third novel, a teenage girl navigates the complexities of romance and identity.Ramona “Blue” Leroux—6 foot 3, white, blue-haired, and gay—has always known who she is and where she is (or isn’t) going. Living in a trailer in post-Katrina Eulogy, Mississippi, Ramona does her best to save and provide for her dad, older sister, Hattie, and soon-to-be niece. One of only three queer kids in town, she’s always been sure she’s attracted to women, and Ramona feels lucky that her coming-out experience was nothing more than “a blip.” But this year, everything is changing. She’s losing her sister to the coming baby and to Hattie’s irresponsible, irritating baby-daddy, who has squeezed into their trailer. Her summer fling with closeted, white out-of-towner Grace may not withstand distance. And then Ramona’s black childhood best friend, Freddie, unexpectedly moves back to Eulogy, and, as they reconnect through their shared history and a passion for swimming, she is surprised to find her desires and feelings for Freddie growing deeper. Ramona’s first-person narration is tender and compelling, and the love she feels for the diverse cast of secondary characters is palpable. Murphy beautifully incorporates conversations about identity and diversity—including the policing of Freddie’s black body, heteronormative expectations, and diverse sexualities (Ramona’s white friend Ruth identifies herself explicitly as homoromantic demisexual)—with nuance and care. An exquisite, thoughtful exploration of the ties that bind and the fluidity of relationships, sexuality, and life. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Julie lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cat who tolerates her. When she’s not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she works at an academic library.

Her website is www.juliemurphywrites.com

 

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Bang by Barry Lyga

Bang by Barry Lyga. April 18, 2017. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 304 p. ISBN: 978316315500.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

One shot ruined his life. Another one could end it.

Sebastian Cody did something horrible, something no one—not even Sebastian himself—can forgive. At the age of four, he accidentally shot and killed his infant sister with his father’s gun.

Now, ten years later, Sebastian has lived with the guilt and horror for his entire life. With his best friend away for the summer, Sebastian has only a new friend—Aneesa—to distract him from his darkest thoughts. But even this relationship cannot blunt the pain of his past. Because Sebastian knows exactly how to rectify his childhood crime and sanctify his past.

It took a gun to get him into this.

Now he needs a gun to get out.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Accidental shooting of an infant; Suicidal thoughts; Cyberbullying; Islamophobia

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 7-10. Fourteen-year-old Sebastian lives in the past: when he was four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four-month-old sister. This haunts him, leading to obsessive self-hate and suicidal feelings. He is waiting, in fact, for the voice in his head to tell him it’s time to effect his end. That time seems imminent as his past and future seem to come together, faster and faster—until he meets Aneesa. The two become friends, bonding over a YouTube channel they create that features Sebastian making pizzas. As time passes, Sebastian finds himself falling in love and feeling a strange emotion: hope. “For her,” he thinks, “For her, yes, I could stay.” But does he deserve happiness, and what might happen if she doesn’t return his feelings? Lyga manages his intensely emotional material well, creating in Sebastian a highly empathetic character, though his voice seems far too sophisticated for a 14-year-old. Nevertheless, the psychology that drives his decisions is acutely observed, and his story is highly memorable.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 1, 2017)
Ten years ago, when he was just 4, Sebastian accidentally killed his infant sister with his father’s unattended handgun. Now a teen, he struggles to cope with the far-reaching effects of this horrific experience. Though on the surface they’ve moved on with their lives, Sebastian and his family are still lost in their grief. His father moved out many years before, and Sebastian and his mother have eked out a daily routine, but anguish underpins their every move. When his lighthearted, wealthy, white best friend, Evan, leaves for summer camp, Sebastian thinks that the time is almost right to end his own life, as he’s long planned. However, the auspicious arrival of a new neighbor, Aneesa, changes things for him in ways he couldn’t have predicted. Rich characterization anchors this explosive novel, from white Sebastian’s likable, brainy, but at-times acerbic intensity to Aneesa’s upbeat, intelligent kindness. Aneesa is Muslim—her dad is Turkish-American—and she and Sebastian discuss everything from Islamophobia to their families to how to turn his pizza-making hobby into a YouTube Channel. If such details as Sebastian’s love of all types of antiquated pop culture seem odd to some teens, they are rooted in his deep desire to turn time back, and there will be others who appreciate these genuine quirks. Regardless, readers will root for him to find some sort of peace. Heartbreaking and brutally compelling. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Barry Lyga is a recovering comic book geek. According to Kirkus, he’s also a “YA rebel-author.” Somehow, the two just don’t seem to go together to him.

When he was a kid, everyone told him that comic books were garbage and would rot his brain, but he had the last laugh. Raised on a steady diet of comics, he worked in the comic book industry for ten years, but now writes full-time because, well, wouldn’t you?

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl is his first novel. Unsoul’d is his latest. There are a whole bunch in between, featuring everything from the aftermath of child abuse to pre-teens with superpowers to serial killers. He clearly does not know how to stick to one subject.

His website is www.barrylyga.com.

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Crazy Messy Beautiful by Carrie Arcos

Crazy Messy Beautiful by Carrie Arcos. February 7, 2017. Philomel Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9780399175534.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

When your namesake is Pablo Neruda—the greatest love poet of all time—finding “the one” should be easy. After all, sixteen-year-old aspiring artist Neruda Diaz has been in love many times before. So it’s only a matter of time before someone loves him back.

Callie could be that someone. She’s creative and edgy, and nothing like the girls Neruda typically falls for, so when a school assignment brings them together, he is pleasantly surprised to learn they have a lot in common. With his true love in reach and his artistic ambitions on track, everything is finally coming together.

But as Neruda begins to fall faster and harder than ever before, he is blindsided by the complicated nature of love—and art—in more ways than one. And when the relationships he’s looked to for guidance threaten to implode, Neruda must confront the reality that love is crazier, messier, and more beautiful than he ever realized—and riskier, too, than simply saying the words.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 8-11. Names have power, and for Neruda Diaz, the name of “the Poet,” Pablo Neruda, has shaped his conception of the world. Neruda longs to have a whirlwind romance as described in the Poet’s works, but he must balance his ideas of romantic love with the reality of his father cheating on his mother, being forced to work with his nemesis on a mural, and his growing feelings for edgy goth girl Callie. As that relationship grows, the schism between his desire for love and his doubt in it grows wider. It is in learning more about who the Poet truly was that Neruda comes to understand that love is crazy, messy, and beautiful—like all of life. The book shines most in Neruda’s interplay with Callie, who hides her artistic side behind her hard edges, and Ezra, a repentant ex-convict friend whose regret provides guidance for Neruda’s challenges. Arcos has written a classic story of a budding artist finding out the reality behind the artifice, and does so while keeping a wonderful sense of humor.

Publishers Weekly (November 28, 2016)
For 16-year-old Neruda Diaz, love is a mystery, maybe the mystery. He comes by his fixation honestly: he’s named after Chilean love poet Pablo Neruda, his parents are still in love, and he thinks that beautiful Autumn Cho might be the one for him. Then mystery turns tragic: Neruda’s parents’ marriage is less stable than he thought, and-like her predecessors-Autumn isn’t interested. Neruda gets to paint a mural at school, but has to work with a guy he hates, and he and a girl he barely knows have to interview each other for a class assignment. Arcos (There Will Come a Time) makes Neruda thoughtful and real, and Callie Leibowitz, that near stranger from school, is tough, funny, and interesting. Neruda is half Chilean, his Los Angeles is realistically diverse, and he’s a reflective, engaging protagonist. Arcos capably probes the mysterious without attempting to solve it as Neruda discovers the difference between crushing on someone he doesn’t know and loving someone he does, learning that friendship, too, is a kind of love. Ages 12-up. Agent: Kerry Sparks, Levine Greenberg Rostan. (Feb.)

About the Author

Carrie Arcos writes young adult fiction. Her debut novel, Out of Reach, was a 2012 National Book Award finalist for young people’s literature. She lives in Los Angeles, CA with her family.

Her website is  carriearcos.com.

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Hidden by Miriam Halahmy

Hidden by Miriam Halahmy. Septmber 15, 2016. Holiday House, 224 p. ISBN: 9780823436941.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.8; Lexile: 820.

For fourteen-year-old Alix, life on Hayling Island off the coast of England seems insulated from problems such as war, terrorism and refugees. But then, one day at the beach, Alix and her friend Samir pull a drowning man out of the incoming tide. Mohammed, an illegal immigrant and student, has been tortured by rebels in Iraq for helping the allied forces and has spent all his money to escape. Desperate not to be deported, Mohammed’s destiny now lies in Alix’shands, and she is faced with the biggest moral dilemma of her life.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Violence; Underage drinking; Smoking; Racism and racist epithets; Harsh realities of war

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2016)
A British teen comes face to face with anti-immigrant xenophobia. It’s 2007. Alexandra “Alix” Miller is nearly 15 and admittedly “Number One Nerd in Year 10” when she diverts town bully Terrence Bellows from harassing Samir, an Iraqi refugee new to her school. But Terrence isn’t alone: many people on Hayling Island say and do Islamophobic things, from Alix’s classmates and her boss to her best friend; even Alix herself thinks of Samir and his brother, Naazim, as “foreign,” worries they might be “terrorists,” and jokes that Samir’s a “suicide bomber.” Alix’s opinions—and Samir’s affection—shift as they rescue Mohammed, an undocumented Iraqi immigrant escaping torture and seeking asylum, from drowning and hypothermia, then strive to keep him safe. Unfortunately, in her efforts to bring understanding to Britain’s immigrant crisis and the country’s role in the Iraq War, Halahmy (whose husband is Iraqi) indulges in other stereotypes, such as the broken English of Samir’s Chinese neighbor. Even more unfortunate in a book specifically about cultural awakening, only people of color are described explicitly; all other characters, including narrator Alix, are assumed to be white, an assumption that undercuts the book’s effectiveness and limits its reach. While Alix eventually works to address her cultural cluelessness, her proprietary actions with Mohammed have a whiff of the white savior about them. This all-too-timely book means well, but it may not be the age-of-Brexit corrective it clearly wishes to be. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

School Library Journal (August 1, 2016)
Gr 6-9-When teenager Alix and her new friend, Samir, see a man tossed out of a speeding boat into the churning waters off the coast of their small English island, they leap into the strong current to pull out the battered man. When they realize he’s an Iraqi refugee seeking asylum, Alix is hesitant to help him, but Samir-who himself was once a refugee fleeing Iraq-begs Alix to help harbor the stranger. Over the course of the novel, Alix confronts her own perceptions and prejudices, as well as those of her friends, family, and neighbors. Her development from a self-involved child to a broad-thinking and selfless young adult is gradual and realistic, with Alix making plenty of mistakes-and actually learning from them-along the way. The writing is simple and straightforward, and though it won’t challenge strong readers, this novel will appeal to younger teens as well as to reluctant readers. VERDICT An engaging, fast-paced story that pushes teens to consider all sides of the immigration issue, this is a great choice for middle school libraries or for struggling readers.-Leighanne Law, Scriber Lake High School, WA

About the Author

Miriam Halahmy is a novelist, a former special needs educator and a poet. She writes for adults, teens and children and has published five novels, three poetry collections and many short stories. Miriam is inspired by social and political issues in both contemporary lives and in the recent past. Her writing highlights the dilemmas ordinary young people are often faced with and how they tackle the difficulties in their lives. Miriam is married with two children and two grandchildren. She lives in London, England but she loves to travel and has a great interest in different cultures and languages.

Her website is www.miriamhalahmy.com.

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