Tag Archives: Fiction

Class Action by Steven B. Frank

CLass Action by Steven B. Frank. April 3, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9781328799203.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.2; Lexile: 720.

NO. MORE. HOMEWORK.

That’s what sixth grader Sam Warren tells his teacher while standing on top of his desk. He’s fed up with doing endless tasks from the time he gets home to the time he goes to sleep. Suspended for his protest, Sam decides to fight back. He recruits his elderly neighbor/retired attorney Mr. Kalman to help him file a class action lawsuit on behalf of all students in Los Angeles. Their argument? Homework is unconstitutional.

With a ragtag team—aspiring masterchef Alistair, numbers gal Catalina, sports whiz Jaesang, rebel big sister Sadie and her tech-savvy boyfriend Sean—Sam takes his case to federal court. He learns about the justice system, kids’ rights, and constitutional law. And he learns that no matter how many times you get knocked down, there’s always an appeal…until the nine justices have the last say.

Will Sam’s quest end in an epic fail, or will he be the hero who saves childhood for all time?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Sixth-grader Sam has had it with homework. He has a valid point; he has so much homework he has no time to play the piano or build a treehouse with his dad. His friends can’t pursue their interests in cooking, math, or sports, and his sister, Sadie, and her high-school friends constantly sacrifice sleep for their studies. Sam and Sadie recruit the widowed, retired attorney who lives across the street to file a class-action suit to abolish homework on behalf of all school-age children in Los Angeles. When their fight goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the scope of the suit spreads to all students in America. Sam and his friends learn about the legal system, including the Supreme Court decisions that have bearing on their cause. Frank, himself a middle-school teacher, gets his characters just right, and the ongoing focus on the issues surrounding homework keeps the narrative centered, even as the premise goes over the top. Sam makes a compelling case in this funny, engaging, and thought-provoking story.

Horn Book Magazine (May/June, 2018)
“Twenty-five math problems, an endangered species report, and a language arts packet—action verbs versus linking, can you feel the joy?” To Sam Warren, doing homework is a Sisyphean task: “We come to school, we work all day, we go home, we work all night. Then we wake up and do it all over again.” He has no time for things he wants to do—have fun, play with friends, build a tree house with his father. What would any angry sixth grader do in such a situation? Take a case to the Supreme Court! With the help of his elderly retired-lawyer neighbor, Sam and his classmates put together a case that becomes Warren v. Board of Education. It is granted class-action status, and they’re off (in a very quick route) to the Supreme Court, where Sam’s older sister Sadie ends up arguing the case. Though hardly credible, it’s entertaining, and readers will learn much about constitutional law and specific cases having to do with the legal rights of students. There’s even a hint at a possible next volume in which the constitutionality of standardized testing will be challenged. Back matter includes a glossary of legal terms and a lengthy appendix listing the Supreme Court cases mentioned in the book. dean Schneider

About the Author

Steven Frank is the author of The Pen Commandments (Pantheon/Anchor Books), a guide to writing that Booklist called “funny, inspiring, personal, moving, and often hilarious.” His middle grade short fiction and plays have appeared Weekly Reader’s Writing and Read Magazines. He is also a beloved middle school teacher at Le Lycee Francais of Los Angeles, where his students often intentionally misbehave because he punishes them with fun writing assignments.

His website is www.stevenbfrank.com.

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Snared: Escape to the Above by Adam Jay Epstein

Snared: Escape to the Above by Adam Jay Epstein. June 5, 2018. Imprint, 320 p. ISBN: 9781250146922.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.0; Lexile: 820.

Chopping blades, scorpion nests, giant spiderwebs—no one makes traps better than Wily Snare.

He has never seen the sun, or blue sky, or even his parents. Wily Snare lives underground, creating traps to keep treasure-seekers away from the gold in an ancient wizard’s dungeon. He spends his days mopping up giant slug slime, avoiding poison darts, and herding undead skeletons. It’s all he knows.

Until an unusual band of adventurers—an acrobatic elf, a warrior with a magic arm, and a giant made of moss—successfully defeat Wily’s traps. And they want the ultimate treasure: Wily himself. His skills can help them invade every other dungeon in the kingdom. He might even aid their fight against the Infernal King, whose gearfolk and prisonauts terrorize the land.

But for a boy who has never been outside, dungeons aren’t nearly as scary as the world above. Or an evil king who builds the trickiest traps of all . . .

Snared: Escape to the Above is the first book in a new fantasy adventure series from bestselling author Adam Jay Epstein.

Part of series: Willy Snare (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (May 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 18))
Grades 3-6. An acrobatic elf, a warrior with a magic arm, and a moss giant walk into a dungeon. They walk out with its buried treasure, a hobgoblet, and Wily Snare, who has lived his entire life underground. Together, they embark on a journey requiring Wily’s skills as a trapsmith (think security expert) to steal treasure from other dungeons, with the goal of leaving the kingdom and escaping the evil Infernal King. But all the people Wily meets in the Above are not who they seem, and he must decide how he really wants to use his trapsmith talents. Epstein’s series starter is a fun and creative story with surprisingly deep plot twists. Readers get to experience the world for the first time with Wily, and they’ll enjoy discovering the land through his eyes. The villain is reminiscent of Valentine from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, though for a decidedly younger audience; and the ending wraps up the story nicely, so it will be interesting to see where these characters are headed next.

Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2018)
Intruders in the dungeon! Five unlikely heroes unite for a treasure hunt but find themselves on a quest to save the kingdom instead. Wily Snare has spent his whole life cleaning up slime and maintaining the deadly traps in Carrion Tomb to protect the treasure hoard from foolhardy adventurers. No invaders have ever escaped capture until Odette (a cunning, blue-haired elf), Pryvyd (a one-armed ex-knight with olive skin), and Moshul (a moss golem who communicates through sign language) cheat their way past the tomb’s defenses and change Wily’s future forever. The ragtag gang of thieves whisk Wily (a white human boy) and his adopted hobgoblet sister off into the Above, a land ruled by the tyrannical Infernal King. With Wily’s expertise with traps, the group plans to plunder their way to riches and sail far away from the evil infesting their home. Wily’s naively unreliable perspective adds refreshing humor as he discovers the world doesn’t function with the predictability of a tomb full of traps. The notion of chosen family plays a significant role in the story and ultimately directs the characters on a new quest. While the group of adventurers includes two disabled characters, Pryvyd’s severed arm is enchanted (it fights independently of him), and Moshul is an object of pity. For the first book of a new series, the plot arrives at a curiously neat and abrupt resolution. A lighthearted fantasy with a strong start and a hasty conclusion. (Fantasy. 8-12)

About the Author

Adam Jay Epstein spent his childhood in Great Neck, New York, when he wasn’t aboard his father’s sailboat. He spent many days sitting in the neighborhood park, traveling to fantasy lands in his head (occasionally when he was supposed to be doing his homework). In college, he circled the world on a ship and studied film at Wesleyan University. He is the co-author of the internationally bestselling middle grade fantasy series The Familiars, the middle-grade sci-fi series Starbounders, and the middle grade fantasy series Snared. He has written film and television projects for Disney, Sony, Fox, MGM, Paramount, MTV, HULU, SYFY, and Disney Channel. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and dog, Pixel.

Her website is www.thefamiliars.com

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Snared: Escape to the Above on Amazon

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Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey

Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey. April 17, 2018. Swoon Reads, 330 p. ISBN: 9781250145659.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 780.

Shy aspiring artist Imogene Chively has just had a successful Season in London, complete with a suitor of her father’s approval. Imogene is ambivalent about the young gentleman until he comes to visit her at the Chively estate with his younger brother in tow. When her interest is piqued, however, it is for the wrong brother.

Charming Ben Steeple has a secret: despite being an architectural apprentice, he has no drawing aptitude. When Imogene offers to teach him, Ben is soon smitten by the young lady he considers his brother’s intended.

But hiding their true feelings becomes the least of their problems when, after a series of “accidents,” it becomes apparent that someone means Ben harm. And as their affection for each other grows—despite their efforts to remain just friends—so does the danger. . .

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 7-10. Gentle and shy Imogene Chively is awaiting the arrival of the Steeple brothers at her family’s home in England, the older of whom, Ernest, she expects to propose to her. Imogene is anxious, however, about accepting the proposal until she gets to know him better. After the brothers’ arrival, Imogene finds herself attracted to the charming younger brother, Ben. As the two become closer, a series of “accidents” occur with Ben as the obvious target, which makes Imogene wonder if someone is trying to harm him. Anstey is back with her third novel set in the Regency period. Engaging details abound as Anstey vividly describes the landscape of the English countryside, the period fashion, and eighteenth-century society. Mystery and romance are delightfully intertwined as Imogene tries to both investigate the incidents and examine her own heart. Taking inspiration from Jane Austen novels, Anstey’s latest is a lighthearted and romantic read.

School Library Journal (March 1, 2018)
Gr 8 Up-Imogene Chively is being courted by Ernest Steeple, the eldest son of a wealthy family-but when Ernest and his younger brother Benjamin come to stay at the Chively estate, it is Ben who captures Imogene’s interest. Ben and Imogene have artistic endeavors in common; Ben wants to be an architect, but lacks artistic skill. Imogene is a talented artist but as a woman in the 1800s, has no clear career path available to her. She agrees to help teach Ben, and it is during those lessons that the two begin to fall for each other. In addition, a series of accidents plague Ben until it becomes obvious that someone is trying to purposefully harm him. This attempt at a Regency romance with a dash of mystery fails to be either romantic or very mysterious. The relationship between Imogene and Ben lacks heat, and the mystery doesn’t start until well into the middle of the book. This cliché-filled narrative about the privileged world of landed gentry doesn’t offer anything new to the genre. VERDICT Not recommended.-Laura -Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, MA

About the Author

Cindy Anstey, author of Love, Lies and Spies and Duels & Deception, spends her days painting with words, flowers, threads, and watercolors. Whenever not sitting at the computer, she can be found―or rather, not found―traveling near and far. After many years living as an expat in Singapore, Memphis, and Belgium, Cindy now resides with her husband and their energetic chocolate labrador, Chester, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Her website is www.cindyanstey.com

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Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko. May 8, 2018. Wendy Lamb Books, 240 p. ISBN: 9781101938140.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.2; Lexile: 540.

Return to Al Capone’s Alcatraz with Newbery Honor-winning author Gennifer Choldenko in this charming addition to the beloved series about the son of a prison guard.

Moose Flanagan lives on a famous island in California: Alcatraz, home to some of the most dangerous prisoners in the United States in the 1930s. It’s the summer before he starts high school, and Moose is going to play a lot of baseball and win a spot on the high school team. But he still needs to watch his special older sister, Natalie–and then the warden asks Moose to look after his two-faced, danger-loving daughter, Piper.

In the cell house there are rumors that the cons will a strike, and that Moose’s father might step up to a new job. Moose is worried: What will this mean for their family, especially for Natalie, who’s had some scary run-ins with prisoners? Then the unthinkable happens: Natalie winds up someplace she should never, ever go. And Moose has to rescue her.

Sequel to: Al Capone Does My Homework

Part of Series: Tales from Alcatraz (Book 4)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (March 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 13))
Grades 5-8. Choldenko may throw readers for a curve by adding a fourth volume to her acclaimed A Tale from Alcatraz trilogy, but its quality is as reliable as ever. Now 13, Moose Flanagan is gearing up to start high school, and he and Scout desperately want to make the baseball team; but as freshmen, their odds are slim to none. When Scout scores them a spot on a summer pickup game with some high-schoolers, their chance of being officially added to the team improves but hinges on Moose being able to prove that he knows Al Capone—a next-to-impossible task. Further complicating Moose’s summer is his assignment to keep an eye on Piper, the warden’s cute, trouble-making daughter—not to mention watching over Natalie. Choldenko ramps up the drama when rumors that Mr. Flanagan could become the new warden put Nat and Moose in serious danger. This story is really Nat’s, who, as a young woman on the autism spectrum, has more obstacles than the average teen to surmount when it comes to spreading her wings. Yet, it’s her family that truly struggles to accept that she’s capable of more than they believed, and they must learn to let her go. This worthy “second ending” finishes on a hopeful note that series fans will embrace.

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 1, 2018)
Most people’s lives (and the best books) have more than one plotline. As in Choldenko’s first three books set on Alcatraz Island during the mid-1930s, (Al Capone Does My Shirts, 2004, etc.), Moose, 13, has plenty of issues to handle. Among them are: his 17-year-old autistic sister Natalie’s growing awareness of her own sexuality; warden’s daughter and perennial thorn-in-his-side Piper’s predilection for causing trouble in spite of his best efforts; his passionate hunger to make the high school baseball team; and a prison strike that could spell the death sentence for Fastball, a good-natured prisoner who’s up for parole. These conflicts and more threaten to crush Moose under their combined weight as they’re deftly recounted in his attractive and always believable first-person narrative. When a guard’s ambitious wife lures far-too-trusting Natalie into the prison, the tale goes from suspenseful to desperate as Moose struggles to rescue her. Although the Al Capone books were intended as a trilogy, this welcome fourth volume gives Moose the opportunity to help launch Nat into a hopeful future. Even secondary characters are full of life, inspiring empathy, and the never-demeaning depiction of Natalie’s emerging maturity is particularly notable. The primary cast is a white one. It’s earnest Moose, always striving to do the right thing, who elevates this tale, like a hard-hit baseball, into the stratosphere. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Gennifer Choldenko was the youngest in a family of four kids, where her nickname was “Snot-Nose.” Her quirky sense of humor made its debut at the dinner table when Gennifer was a very little kid. She is the author of seven children’s books, including Notes from a Liar and Her Dog, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period; and Al Capone Shines My Shoes.

Her website is www.gennifercholdenko.com

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Al Capone Throws Me a Curve on Amazon

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve on Goodreads

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Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Rebound by Kwame Alexander. April 2, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 416 p. ISBN: .  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.0; Lexile: 780.

Before Josh and Jordan Bell were streaking up and down the court, their father was learning his own moves. In this prequel to Newbery Medal winner The Crossover, Chuck Bell takes center stage, as readers get a glimpse of his childhood and how he became the jazz music worshipping, basketball star his sons look up to.

Prequel to: The Crossover

Part of Series: Crossover (Book 0.5)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (March 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 14))
Grades 6-9. It’s the end of the school year in 1988, and Charlie Bell is flattened by the death of his father. Charlie tries to hide in the pages of his comic book collection, much to his mother’s despair. Finally she ships him off to stay with his grandparents for the summer. At first it’s just a fresh form of misery, as Charlie’s acidic grandfather goads him into physical activity in the stifling heat. Then his cousin Roxie coaxes him onto the basketball court. It’s the combination of family, friends, and mad new skills that finally help Charlie begin to rebound from his father’s death. Charlie Bell is the father of twins Jordan and Josh Bell, stars of Alexander’s Newbery Medal–winning novel Crossover (2014). Fans of Crossover will remember that Chuck “Da Man” Bell played professional basketball, and they’ll be intrigued by his initial resistance to learning the game. But this is an Alexander production, so the plot, as rich and satisfying as it is, is outdazzled by the brilliance of wordplay and syntax. There is a rhythm to each page, whether it’s the snappy give-and-take of dialogue, the throbbing of Charlie’s bottomless melancholy, or the rushing excitement of a basketball game. In addition, comics-style illustrations by Emmy-­winning artist Anyabwile bring Charlie’s fantasies of basketball glory to life. Librarians who delighted at Crossover’s popularity will be thrilled with this pitch-perfect follow-up. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Alexander is unstoppable, and his fans will be too. Have extra copies at the ready.

School Library Journal (April 1, 2018)
Gr 6 Up-In this prequel/companion to the acclaimed The Crossover, readers meet a young Charlie Bell, father of the twins from the first book. It’s 1988, and Charlie just lost his dad to a heart attack. Suppressing his grief and alienating himself from his concerned mother, Charlie gets in trouble, which results in him spending the summer with his paternal grandparents. Granddaddy is a no-nonsense, jazz-loving man, who quickly puts “Chuck” in his place and demands that the sullen teenager help out around the house and spend time with his cousin Roxie shooting hoops. Not a natural baller, Chuck gets schooled by Roxie and slowly improves his game. With firm but loving support from his family and friends, he learns to refocus and get in touch with his emotions. In a high-stakes tournament, Roxie and Chuck learn that “it’s okay/to be down/and upset/as long as/you’re not down/and out.” As in his previous novels in verse, Alexander shows off his expert command of the format, employing staccato breaks with smooth rhymes that mimic the bounce and flow of the sport. Interspersed are several comic panels illustrated by Anyabwile, which serve as fantastical imaginings-Chuck Bell dominating on the court like a superhero from his favorite comic books. As Chuck works his way through deep grief and deals with the consequences of some bad decisions, his voice is always fresh and compelling; Alexander’s poetry is buoyant and optimistic. VERDICT Fans of The Crossover will delight in learning the origin tale of Josh and JB’s dad, while new readers can comfortably jump right into the game.-Kiera Parrott, School Library Journa

About the Author

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including The Crossover, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Passaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. His other works include Surf’s Up, a picture book; Booked, a middle grade novel; and He Said She Said, a YA novel.

Kwame believes that poetry can change the world, and he uses it to inspire and empower young people through his PAGE TO STAGE Writing and Publishing Program released by Scholastic. A regular speaker at colleges and conferences in the U.S., he also travels the world planting seeds of literary love (Singapore, Brazil, Italy, France, Shanghai, etc.). Recently, Alexander led a delegation of 20 writers and activists to Ghana, where they delivered books, built a library, and provided literacy professional development to 300 teachers, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an International literacy program he co-founded.

His website is www.kwamealexander.com.

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Rebound on Amazon

Rebound on Goodreads

Rebound Publisher Page

There There by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange. June 5, 2018. Knopf, 304 p. ISBN: 9780525520375.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Fierce, angry, funny, heartbreaking—Tommy Orange’s first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen, and it introduces a brilliant new author at the start of a major career.

There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.

Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with stunning urgency and force. Tommy Orange writes of the plight of the urban Native American, the Native American in the city, in a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. An unforgettable debut, destined to become required reading in schools and universities across the country

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Explicit discussion of defecation

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 17))
The at-first disconnected characters from whose perspectives Orange voices his symphonic debut are united by the upcoming Big Oakland Powwow. Some have been working on the event for months; some will sneak in with only good intentions, while others are plotting to steal the sizable cash prizes. Creative interludes from an omniscient narrator describe, for example, the names of First Nations people or what it means to be an Urban Indian: “We ride buses, trains, and cars across, over, and under concrete plains. Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.” Opal recalls occupying Alcatraz as a child with her family; today she raises her sister’s grandchildren as her own after their unspeakable loss. With grant support, Dene endeavors to complete the oral-history project his deceased uncle couldn’t, recording the stories of Indians living in Oakland. In his thirties, with his white mother’s blessing, Edwin reaches out to the Native father he never met. While anticipation of the powwow provides a baseline of suspense, the path Orange lights through these and his novel’s many other stories thrills on its own. Engrossing at its most granular, in characters’ thoughts and fleeting moments, There There introduces an exciting voice.

Library Journal (April 1, 2018)
DEBUT Orange’s visceral first novel, set in past and present-day Oakland, weaves more than ten plot lines involving the lives of Native Americans. All intersect in a crescendo of violence at the Oakland Powwow. Tony Loneman starts off the narrative with an honest discussion of his fetal alcohol syndrome, which he calls “the Drome.” He also features in the conclusion piloting a drone. Video artist Dene Oxendene records stories while Orvil Red Feather is a dancer. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield and her sister -Jacquie Red Feather are most central to the novel. Jacquie and Opal were part of the historic occupation of Alcatraz-where Jacquie became pregnant-eventually giving up her daughter for a blind adoption. A chronicle of domestic violence, alcoholism, addiction, and pain, the book reveals the perseverance and spirit of the characters; from Jacquie as a substance abuse counselor ten days sober to the plight of Blue, the daughter she gave up, escaping from an abusive relationship. -VERDICT This book provides a broad sweep of lives of Native American people in Oakland and beyond. Echoes of Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets meets the unflinching candor of Sherman Alexie’s oeuvre; highly recommended.

About the Author

Tommy Orange is a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Oakland, California, and currently lives in Angels Camp, California.

 

Around the Web

There There on Amazon

There There on Goodreads

There There Publisher Page

Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell

Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell. March 13, 2018. Razorbill, 320 p. ISBN: 9780448494265.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 660.

The autumn morning after sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper loses her virginity, she wakes to a loud, persistent knocking at her front door. Waiting for her are two firemen, there to let her know that the moment she’s been dreading has arrived: the enormous wildfire sweeping through Orange County, California, is now dangerously close to her idyllic gated community of Coto de Caza, and it’s time to evacuate.

Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, as Audrey wrestles with the possibility of losing her family home, she also recalls her early, easy summer days with Brooks, the charming, passionate, but troubled volunteer firefighter who enchants Audrey–and who is just as enthralled by her. But as secrets from Brooks’s dark past come to light, Audrey can’t help but wonder if there’s danger in the pull she feels–both toward this boy, and toward the fire burning in the distance.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Marijuana, Arson, Animal abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. The morning she’s evacuated from her Orange County home to escape an approaching fire, Audrey Harper is already nearing the brink of collapse. After what seemed like the perfect summer romance with her boyfriend, mysterious, brooding Brooks, the autumn has left her with too many questions about who Brooks really is—and who she’d be without him. Unfolding over the course of a single day, the narrative manages to mix the ticking-clock tension of the approaching, unforgivable fire with flashbacks that pull back the curtain on a mystery without slowing the pace. First-time author Ezell has perfectly captured the disquieting feeling inherent to the dawning realization of an undesirable truth. She avoids assigning Audrey’s multilayered pain a neat set of labels or causes, allowing the character space to explore them. This is a gripping novel about finding out who you are under the worst circumstances, and still maintaining hope that your new sense of self will carry you through to better times.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
The Sunday morning after she loses her virginity, white 16-year-old Audrey Harper is home alone when the evacuation order arrives.A wildfire rages in the nearby canyons, and it’s spreading, moving toward the gated Orange County community where she lives with her mother, father, and 13-year-old sister. Audrey’s boyfriend, Brooks, a volunteer firefighter, is creepily euphoric about the prospect of fire; he seems to look forward to it. As Audrey acts to save some of her family’s most cherished belongings, including her sister’s secret pet kitten, and to find a safe place to wait out the fires, she reflects on her sometimes-rocky relationship with Brooks. The story is deftly punctuated with flashbacks of the past several months—from Audrey’s meet-cute with Brooks to falling in love to their ill-fated three-month “anniversary”—showcasing events leading up to the present. As the story moves forward, and the fire moves closer to home, Audrey discovers Brooks hasn’t told her the whole truth about his past. Is he the tortured soul he’s led her to believe he is, or is he a manipulative liar? Clues throughout hint at the fire’s origins; observant readers will have it figured out in no time. Audrey is aware that her gated community is “painfully whitewashed and lacking in diversity”; to that end, characters are assumed white. A decently entertaining story of love, loss, and hope. (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

A Southern California native, Heather Ezell was evacuated for a fire at the age of three and subsequently grew up with an obsessive fear of wildfires. She has been chasing reprieve from California’s heat ever since–from the Rocky Mountains to Interior Alaska. Heather graduated from Colorado College with a degree in English literature and creative writing, and she currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where she writes, practices amateur ballet in the forest, and obsesses over the weather.

Her website is www.heatherezell.com

Around the Web

Nothing Left to Burn on Amazon

Nothing Left to Burn on Goodreads

Nothing Left to Burn Publisher Page

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. May 8, 2018. Nancy Paulsen Books, 240 p. ISBN: 9780399544682.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.9; Lexile: 600.

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Book Talk

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 15))
Grades 4-6. Pakistani Amal loves going to school and looks forward to becoming a teacher in the future. She only becomes aware of nuances in gender roles and the lack of opportunities afforded to girls after her father tells her that she must take care of the household while her mother recovers from childbirth. Amal hopes to continue her schooling once her mother is well, but that goal drifts further away when an accidental encounter lands her in a humongous heap of trouble. In order to spare her family from incurring further wrath and unfair consequences, Amal becomes an indentured servant to the odious Khan family. Readers will find that a little perseverance and a heart filled with hope can eventually surmount a harsh reality. Saeed fills her prose with lush descriptions of Pakistani life, while still managing to connect with readers whose surroundings and experiences will be starkly different. Hand to any reader who struggles with definitive gender roles, norms, and expectations held in place by societal structures.

Publishers Weekly (March 12, 2018)
Saeed (Written in the Stars) infuses this true-to-life story of unjust power dynamics in a poor Pakistani village with a palpable sense of dread regarding the fate of the inquisitive, industrious, poetry-loving titular character. Twelve-year-old Amal is troubled by her parents’ obvious distress that her newborn sibling is yet another girl, and she is vexed that her responsibilities as eldest daughter require her to run the household while her mother is bedridden. Amal unleashes her frustration on the wrong person when she talks back to Jawad Sahib, the wealthy landowner, who demands she work off her debt for the insult . Amal’s experience navigating an unfamiliar social hierarchy in the landlord’s lavish estate exposes her to pervasive gender inequities and unfair labor practices, like being charged for room and board but receiving no pay. While her growing indebtedness makes it unlikely she will ever leave, Amal’s ability to read grants her a dangerous opportunity to expose the landlord’s extensive corruption, if she dares. Saeed’s eloquent, suspenseful, eye-opening tale offers a window into the contemporary practice of indentured servitude and makes a compelling case for the power of girls’ education to transform systemic injustice. Ages 10-up

About the Author

Aisha Saeed also wrote Written in the Stars, and is a Pakistani-American writer, teacher, and attorney. She has been featured on MTV, the Huffington Post, NBC and the BBC, and her writings have appeared in publications including the journal ALAN and the Orlando Sentinel. As one of the founding members of the much talked about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping change the conversation about diverse books. Aisha lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and sons.

Her website is www.aishasaeed.com

Teacher Resources

Amal Unbound Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

Amal Unbound on Amazon

Amal Unbound on Goodreads

Amal Unbound Publisher Page

Deep Water: A Story of Survival by Watt Key

Deep Water: A Story of Survival  by Watt Key. April 17, 2018. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 272 p. ISBN: 9780374306540.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.5; Lexile: 720.

A middle grade survival story about a scuba dive gone wrong and two enemies who must unite to survive.

It’s the most important rule of scuba diving: If you don’t feel right, don’t go down.

So after her father falls ill, twelve-year-old Julie Sims must take over and lead two of his clients on a dive miles off the coast of Alabama while her father stays behind in the boat. When the clients, a reckless boy Julie’s age and his equally foolhardy father, disregard Julie’s instructions during the dive, she quickly realizes she’s in over her head.

And once she surfaces, things only get worse: One of the clients is in serious condition, and their dive boat has vanished–along with Julie’s father, the only person who knows their whereabouts. It’s only a matter of time before they die of hypothermia, unless they become shark bait first. Though Julie may not like her clients, it’s up to her to save them all.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-7. When 12-year-old Julie is descending more than 100 feet below the ocean’s surface, all she can think about is how to complete the dive safely—not how miserable her father, owner of a small diving business, has been since her mother left him to move to Atlanta. But when Julie must lead a dive with two reckless clients whose expensive equipment is as untested as they are, she encounters a nightmare more harrowing than any of her problems on land. This scenario closely matches the events of Key’s Terror at Bottle Creek (2016), this time starring a female protagonist. Julie is a tough, smart, and resilient lead, although her narration does not come across as believably 12. Classmate and client Shane is Julie’s forgettable companion for an oceanic ordeal that Key treats with his signature compelling detail and suspense. Readers hungry for an epic tale of grueling odds will also find lessons in bravery, resourcefulness, and practical survival advice. Just try to stop yourself from committing Julie’s shark-repelling strategies to memory.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2018)
Twelve-year-old Julie supervises an important dive for her father’s scuba-diving business, but she soon learns that when you play against Mother Nature it is for keeps.During the school year, Julie lives with her mother in Atlanta, but her summers are spent with her father in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Unfortunately, although her mother’s law career is taking off, her father’s dive business is struggling. When a wealthy businessman and his arrogant son, Shane, demand to see the artificial reef her father owns, the money is just too important to turn down. Her father, a diabetic, decides Julie should run the dive, so when the anchor pulls, leaving the three of them lost at sea, it is up to Julie to do what she can to save them all. But sharks, hypothermia, dehydration, and exposure might prove more than she can handle. Inspired by a diving accident the author himself experienced, this is a gritty look at what can happen when everything goes wrong. Julie is arrogant and fearful, but she’s also strong and quick-thinking. Shane likewise evolves during the ordeal, but it is the beautiful, terrible, and dangerous Mother Nature who steals the show. Julie is depicted as white on the cover, and the book seems to adhere to the white default. A nail-biting survival tale. (Adventure. 10-14)

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

Deep Water on Amazon

Deep Water on Goodreads

Deep Water Publisher Page

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira

In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira. March 6, 2018. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 384 p. ISBN: 9780374305314.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 880.

The author of the beloved Love Letters to the Dead returns with a parallel story of a mother and daughter each at age seventeen. Marilyn’s tale recounts the summer she fell in love and set out on her own path. Angie’s story is about her search for her unknown father.

This sweeping multi-generational love story introduces readers to mother-and-daughter pair Marilyn and Angie. To seventeen-year-old Angie, who is mixed-race, Marilyn is her hardworking, devoted white single mother. But Marilyn was once young, too. When Marilyn was seventeen, she fell in love with Angie’s father, James, who was African-American. But Angie’s never met him, and Marilyn has always told her he died before she was born. When Angie discovers evidence of an uncle she’s never met she starts to wonder: What if her dad is still alive, too? So she sets off on a journey to find him, hitching a ride to LA from her home in New Mexico with her ex-boyfriend, Sam. Along the way, she uncovers some hard truths about herself, her mother, and what truly happened to her father.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Marijuana, Racism, Police violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 9-12. Angie has never known her father, so she doesn’t know that her athleticism is an echo of his own. She does know that he is black; one glance in the mirror confirms that. Her white mother, Marilyn, says that Angie’s father died in a car accident. But a series of discoveries leads Angie to believe that he might actually be alive and living in Los Angeles. So Angie embarks on a secret mission to discover the truth. As Angie’s quest to find her father unfolds, alternating chapters flash back to the doomed romance between Marilyn and Angie’s father, James. Although the lovers share a genuine connection, their relationship is strained by the racist disapproval of Marilyn’s uncle. Both stories are engaging, packed with cultural references from their respective periods. But the most poignant aspect of the story is Angie’s need to connect with the African American side of her family. Like Shannon Gibney’s See No Color (2015), this novel offers a thoughtful examination of racial identity, which will likely be relevant to many teens.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
Mother and daughter move through parallel journeys separated by time but connected by introspection in Dellaira’s (Love Letters to the Dead, 2014) latest. Told in alternating voices and timelines, this narrative explores two young women’s searches for completion. Marilyn Miller, 17 in the late 1990s and dreaming of the freedom of college, must contend with her mother’s plans for her to become a rising star in Hollywood. Stretched to the breaking point between the promise of self-determination and the weight of her mother’s hopes, Marilyn, a blonde white girl, finds relief and unexpected romance with her enigmatic black neighbor, James. Fast-forward 18 years to meet Angie Miller, Marilyn and James’ biracial daughter, who has lived her entire life believing her father was dead. When she discovers that her mother has lied about this, Angie journeys to Los Angeles with her ex-boyfriend Sam (also biracial, with a white father and Mexican mother) to find the missing pieces that have distanced her from Sam. Exploring the dynamic tension between identity and relationships, and the realities of violence and racism (although less so white privilege), the separate narratives converge to tell one family’s story of pain and loss, love and forgiveness. Time jumps occasionally disrupt cohesion, and readers unfamiliar with the ’90s may find Marilyn’s narrative irksomely referential, but overall, this is a compelling intergenerational tale. Achingly vibrant. (Fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Ava Dellaira is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. She believes this book began when she bought her second album ever—Nirvana’s In Utero—which she listened to on repeat while filling the pages of her journal. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California, where she works in the film industry and is writing her second novel.

Her website is avadellaira.com.

Around the Web

In Search of Us on Amazon

In Search of Us on Goodreads

In Search of Us Publisher Page