Tag Archives: friendship

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

Windfall  by Jennifer E. Smith. May 2, 2017. Delacorte Press, 417 p. ISBN: 9780399559396.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

Alice doesn’t believe in luck–at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday–just when it seems they might be on the brink of something–she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.

At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.

As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
Grades 9-12. Luck isn’t something that 18-year-old Alice is familiar with. When she was 9, her parents died just months apart from each other, and Alice moved to Chicago to live with her aunt and uncle. Alice honors her parents by volunteering and dreaming of Stanford, though her longing to return to California is tempered by her close relationships with her cousin Leo and her best friend, Teddy, whom Alice secretly loves. On Teddy’s eighteenth birthday, Alice jokingly buys him a lottery ticket—and he wins. Teddy, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his single, overworked mother, seems like the luckiest guy in the world. But as much as Alice wants to believe that this newfound wealth won’t change him, a rift grows between them. Smith, no stranger to romance (Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, 2015) crafts another thoughtful story about a girl on the brink of major change. Alice’s struggles are relatable, and her feelings for Teddy ring true. Particularly well-developed secondary characters put the finishing touches on this lucky find. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: When it comes to teen romance, Smith is quickly becoming one of the big dogs; an extensive marketing and publicity campaign will only increase the buzz.

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2017)
When the lottery ticket Alice gives to Teddy, the boy she’s secretly loved for years, wins him a fortune, they discover money really does change everything. Orphaned at 9, Alice has grown up in Chicago with a loving family: her dad’s brother, Uncle Jake; his Latina wife, Aunt Sofia; and their son, Leo. Uncle Jake—white and fair, like Alice, is a painful reminder of her dad. Struggling to live the life she believes her parents would have chosen, remembering them as passionate altruists, Alice tutors an orphaned foster child and volunteers at a soup kitchen, refusing emphatically when Teddy, who is also white, tries to share his winnings with her. For years, since his gambling-addicted father wiped out their savings, Teddy and his mother have shared a cramped apartment. Generous and impulsive, spending lavishly, Teddy enjoys his new fame. Leo, who feels unjustifiably blessed, having lucked out with great parents (they even made coming out as gay easy), views Teddy’s win as just compensation for a bad-luck childhood, whereas Alice refuses to see good or bad fortune as anything but random. Now, unable to prevent the changes fortune brings, she must learn to weather them. While the feel-good ending feels forced—a shoe that doesn’t quite fit—this compelling read, gracefully told, raises issues seldom explored in popular fiction. How can we rationalize life’s inequalities? What do we owe, and to whom, when blessed with good fortune? Smart and entertaining, as to be expected from Smith. (Fiction. 12-17)

About the Author

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of seven novels for young adults, including The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and her work has been translated into thirty-three languages. She lives in New York City.

Her website is www.tinaconnolly.com.

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Orphan Train Girl by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Trial Girl: Young Reader’s Edition by Christina Baker Kline. May 2, 2017. HarperCollins, 228 p. ISBN: 9780062445940.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.6.

This young readers’ edition of Christina Baker Kline’s #1 New York Times bestselling novel Orphan Train follows a young foster girl who forms an unlikely bond with a ninety-one-year-old woman. Adapted and condensed for a young audience, Orphan Train Girl includes an author’s note and archival photos from the orphan train era.

Molly Ayer has been in foster care since she was eight years old. Most of the time, Molly knows it’s her attitude that’s the problem, but after being shipped from one family to another, she’s had her fair share of adults treating her like an inconvenience. So when Molly’s forced to help an elderly woman clean out her attic for community service, Molly is wary. Just another adult to treat her like a troublemaker.

But from the very moment they meet, Molly realizes that Vivian, a well-off ninety-one-year-old, isn’t like any of the adults she’s encountered before. Vivian asks Molly questions about her life and actually listens when Molly responds. Molly soon sees they have more in common than she thought. Vivian was once an orphan, too—an Irish immigrant to New York City who was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children—and she can understand, better than anyone else, the emotional binds that have been making Molly’s life so hard. Together, they not only clear boxes of past mementos from Vivian’s attic, but forge a path of friendship, forgiveness, and new beginnings for their future.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism and racist language, Child neglect and abuse

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 3-6. In this middle-grade adaptation of Kline’s best-selling adult novel, half Penobscot Molly, a modern foster child in rural Maine, finds a kindred spirit in the wealthy nonagenarian Vivian. Caught stealing The Secret Garden from the public library, Molly is forced to help Vivian clean out her attic. Though she’s wary of the elderly lady, she learns the two have something in common. Vivian herself is an orphan, having come to the U.S. from Ireland during the potato famine. When a fire destroys Vivian’s NYC tenement, killing the rest of her family, she’s sent off to Minnesota on an “orphan train.” Third-person passages alternating between Molly and 10-year-old Vivian, born Niamh and renamed by each of the families that takes her in, further flesh out common threads to their experiences. Though the book doesn’t quite pack the powerful emotional punch readers may expect, the muted emotions are situated in the context of the many hardships faced during the Great Depression. Back matter provides further historical context, useful for classroom instruction and enhancing the reading experience. Quietly moving.

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2017)
In a young readers’ version of Kline’s Orphan Train (2013), sixth-grader Molly, a foster child on the coast of Maine, helps an elderly woman, Vivian, sort through boxes of keepsakes in her attic.Molly, quietly introspective, is performing community service, assigned (surprisingly) for trying to steal a battered paperback from the public library. In Vivian, she discovers a kindred spirit. The elderly white woman is an orphan too and traveled west in 1929 on an orphan train. In the attic, Molly unwraps objects from Vivian’s childhood, each providing the vehicle for a transition to Vivian’s arduous experiences, first in New York, then on the orphan train, and finally in Minnesota, where she’s shunted from one desperate foster home to another. By comparison, Molly’s experiences under the care of her emotionally abusive foster mother, Dina, seem almost mild. The tale is painted with a broad brush, lacking the gentle nuance of the adult version. Molly, half Penobscot Indian and half white, prefers goth dress and is a vegetarian, but it’s never quite clear why angry, white, unnuanced Dina so dislikes her. Vivian’s more richly evoked story of immigration, poverty, and occasional kindness is more compelling but also simplistic, partly because her character is only about 10 or 11, even at the end of her story. Although interesting, this effort may leave readers wishing to explore unplumbed depths. (Fiction. 10-12)

About the Author

Christina Baker Kline is the author of New York Times instant bestseller A Piece of the World (2017), about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World. Kline has written six other novels — Orphan Train, Orphan Train Girl, The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines— and written or edited five works of nonfiction. Her 2013 novel Orphan Train spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list, including five weeks at # 1, and was published in 40 countries. More than 100 communities and colleges have chosen it as a “One Book, One Read” selection. Her adaptation of Orphan Train for young readers is Orphan Train Girl (2017). She lives near New York City and on the coast of Maine.

Her website is www.christinabakerkline.com.

Teacher Resources

Orphan Train Discussion Questions

Orphan Trail Reading Guide

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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.

Teacher Resources

Bang Discussion Questions

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Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence by Alice Osman. March 28, 2017. HarperTeen, 496 p. ISBN: 9780062335715.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl.

I just wanted to say—we don’t.

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying. When she’s not studying, she’s up in her room making fan art for her favorite podcast, Universe City.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As. But no one knows he’s the creator of Universe City, who goes by the name Radio Silence.

When Frances gets a message from Radio Silence asking if she’ll collaborate with him, everything changes. Frances and Aled spend an entire summer working together and becoming best friends. They get each other when no one else does.

But when Aled’s identity as Radio Silence is revealed, Frances fears that the future of Universe City—and their friendship—is at risk. Aled helped her find her voice. Without him, will she have the courage to show the world who she really is? Or will she be met with radio silence?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Underage drinking; Cyberbullying

 

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Excerpt

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Booklist starred (March 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 13))
Grades 8-11. “I was study machine Frances Janvier. I was going to Cambridge . . . Uni, job, money, happiness. That’s what you do. That’s the formula,” Frances mulls to herself as she spends an uncomfortable evening with friends, trying to relax and enjoy herself. Not that there’s much chance of relaxation or enjoyment, ever. Frances is a superstressed British teen, and the only thing she really loves is drawing and Universe City, a mysterious YouTube podcast with a haunting voice and a story that echoes her pain. Anonymous narrator Radio Silence describes a bleak world, seemingly a university campus that he or she is trying to escape. When Frances is invited to add her online fan art to the podcast, the story moves into high gear. Turns out the creator is neighbor Aled Last, twin brother of Frances’ former friend Carys. What emerges is an intense, highly engaging, well-plotted story of relationships, explorations into gay and bisexual identities, family trauma, a straitjacketlike education system, and, mostly, kids yearning to be their truest selves despite it all. Though a companion title to Oseman’s Solitaire (2015), this story stands alone and features believable characters in a unique setting. Readers this side of the pond will enjoy the school system comparisons and identify with the stress their witty, cyberworldly peers undergo as they hang on for dear life.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
Two teens connect through a mysterious podcast in this sophomore effort by British author Oseman (Solitaire, 2015).Frances Janvier is a 17-year-old British-Ethiopian head girl who is so driven to get into Cambridge that she mostly forgoes friendships for schoolwork. Her only self-indulgence is listening to and creating fan art for the podcast Universe City, “a…show about a suit-wearing student detective looking for a way to escape a sci-fi, monster-infested university.” Aled Last is a quiet white boy who identifies as “partly asexual.” When Frances discovers that Aled is the secret creator of Universe City, the two embark on a passionate, platonic relationship based on their joint love of pop culture. Their bond is complicated by Aled’s controlling mother and by Frances’ previous crush on Aled’s twin sister, Carys, who ran away last year and disappeared. When Aled’s identity is accidently leaked to the Universe City fandom, he severs his relationship with Frances, leaving her questioning her Cambridge goals and determined to win back his affection, no matter what the cost. Frances’ narration is keenly intelligent; she takes mordant pleasure in using an Indian friend’s ID to get into a club despite the fact they look nothing alike: “Gotta love white people.” Though the social-media–suffused plot occasionally lags, the main characters’ realistic relationship accurately depicts current issues of gender, race, and class. A smart, timely outing. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Alice Oseman was born in 1994 in Kent, England. She completed a degree in English at Durham University in 2016 and is currently a full-time writer and illustrator. Alice can usually be found staring aimlessly at computer screens, questioning the meaninglessness of existence, or doing anything and everything to avoid getting an office job.

Her website is www.aliceoseman.com.

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Radio Silence on Amazon

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The Football Girl by Thatcher Heldring

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

Team Statistics:

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

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

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

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

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

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Her website is www.spitballinc.com.

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The Football Girl on Amazon

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The Football Girl  Publisher Page

The Last Spell by J.A. White

The Last Spell by J.A. White. April 4, 2017. Katherine Tegen Books, 504 p. ISBN: 9780062381392.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.1; Lexile: 750.

The spellbinding conclusion to the critically acclaimed Thickety series. In The Thickety #4: The Last Spell, Kara and her brother Taff must find the hidden pieces of Princess Evangeline’s grimoire to defeat Rygoth and her army of witches in one last good versus evil battle.

Kara and Taff have discovered that the Spider Queen is searching for Princess Evangeline’s grimoire, the Vukera. Legends say that any witch who wields its dangerous magic would be indestructible. Kara and Taff have to stop the Spider Queen from finding the ancient weapon—and destroying everything.

They will travel through time with an old enemy, come face-to-face with the creatures that guard the grimoire’s pages, and unravel a king’s dangerous secret, before one final battle against the Spider Queen. But can Kara save the people she loves and cast a spell that could change magic forever?

Sequel to: Well of Witches

Part of series: The Thickety (Book 4)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (April 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Kara is more powerful than ever, but Rygoth, too, has made steady progress: she has one of the four pieces of the Vulkera, an incredibly powerful grimoire that could make her unstoppable. Kara and Taff follow clues all over the kingdoms of the world to find the remaining pieces, but Rygoth is at their heels at every turn. White’s fanciful world building is as rich as ever, though his characters travel so much that many intriguing locations get short shrift, and some key explanations are glossed over. Still, the mechanics of magic in White’s world are fascinating, and series fans will surely be satisfied by this empowering final installment.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2017)
This long-anticipated finale to the Thickety fantasy series will provide readers with as much excitement, monsters, evil characters, and constant change as they need to stay glued to the page.Fans of the series will wonder what disasters befall Kara Westfall and her brother, Taff, in this volume. Long before this chronicle began, the grimoire Vulkera was torn in four parts and dispersed to Sentium’s four regions to prevent its power from falling into malevolent hands. As the siblings travel from the Hourglass Tower to Dolrose Castle and the Museum of Impossible Things, each place yields information; but all throw Kara and Taff into serious danger. Their visit to the museum, for instance, offers a close call from capture by Rygoth as well as a terrifying airborne battle. A huge battle follows on the discovery of the last piece of the Vulkera—and a grand wrapping up of narrative threads creates a satisfying ending. Although some readers new to the series should begin with Volume 1, more-experienced fantasy readers will be able to catch up quite well. Differences in skin color appear to exist in this fantasyland, but Kara and Taff seem to be white. Magic, suspense, and close calls—what could be better? (Fantasy. 8-12)

About the Author

J. A. White lives in New Jersey with his wife, three sons, and a hamster named Ophelia that doesn’t like him very much. When he’s not making up stories, he teaches a bunch of kids how to make up stories (along with math and science and other important stuff). He wishes dragons were real because it would be a much cooler way to get to work.  His website is www.jawhitebooks.com.

 

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The Last Spell on Amazon

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Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank

Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank. March 7, 2017. HMH Books for Young Readers, 304 p. ISBN: 9780544826083.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.5.

Charlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. After all, if he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll be older than his older brother ever was. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. This year, he’ll have to wake up at 5:30 to ride a bus to an all-white school in the Hollywood Hills.

When Armstrong and Charlie are assigned seats next to each other, what starts as a rivalry becomes a close friendship. Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds. Different, yet the same.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language; Violence; Mild sexual themes; Racism and racist language; Antisemitism; Inhumane treatment of animals

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 5-8. When an all-white school in the Hollywood Hills experimentally takes a busload of African American students from South Central L.A. (this is 1974), two sixth-graders from very different backgrounds work their way over a decidedly rocky road towards friendship. Both are on emotional knife edges: for Charlie, who is white, it’s because his adored older brother died a few months ago, and now his friends are all suddenly transferring. Meanwhile, African American Armstrong, angry about his own transfer, is inclined to solve problems with his fists. Armstrong’s adjustment isn’t made any easier by his reception, which ranges from playground chants to an ambush after he kisses a white girl. Frank has his two protagonists share narrator duty (interspersed with multiple transcripts of incident reports) as they move from mutual hostility and incomprehension to respect. In the end, social and racial gulfs remain, but a closing wash of warm graduation-day sentiment leaves a sense of hope that they may one day close.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2017)
Two sixth-grade boys from different worlds are brought together by school desegregation in 1970s Los Angeles.“Opportunity Busing” brings Armstrong and nine other middle schoolers from South Central LA to integrate the previously all-white Wonderland Avenue School in the Hollywood Hills. Armstrong, a witty and sharp-witted black boy, plays fast and loose with the rules at his new school, where not everyone is welcoming. Charlie, one of Wonderland’s white students, has earned the nickname “Rules Boy” and is curious about the tough-talking Armstrong. Charlie lives with his parents, who are grieving the death of Charlie’s older brother. Armstrong lives with his parents and a house full of older sisters. The boys find that their many differences can be bridged and that friendship is possible, if not easy. For Armstrong, Charlie, and their classmates, this memorable school year is a time of discovery and disappointment, fistfights, and first kisses. Period details from the ’70s and hilarious dialogue will draw readers in from the very first pages. Inspired by the author’s own sixth-grade experience, the story perfectly captures the full spectrum of budding adolescence; Armstrong and Charlie are as sensitive as they are daring as they figure out who they want to be in the changing world around them. Unforgettable, well-drawn titular characters are the heart of this deeply moving and laugh-out-loud funny story about family, friendship, integrity, and navigating differences. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

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.

Teacher Resources

Armstrong & Charlie Playlist on Spotify

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Armstrong & Charlie on Goodreads

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Armstrong & Charlie Publisher Page

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour. February 14, 2017. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 234 p. ISBN: 9780525425892.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes

 

Author Interview

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
Grades 9-12. It’s the winter break during Marin’s first year at college, and she is facing the holidays thousands of miles from her San Francisco home. Since her grandfather died the previous summer, Marin feels set adrift. Not only has she lost Gramps, her sole caretaker, but he’d been keeping secrets, and when she discovers the truth, it shatters everything she believed was true about her life. Engulfed in pain and feeling alone, she shuns her best friend Mabel’s numerous calls and texts. But Mabel flies cross-country, determined to help her friend deal with her grief. Marin is afraid that Mabel regrets the physical intimacy that had grown between the two girls while she was still in California, and braces herself for more heartache, but Mabel surprises her in more ways than one. With the most delicate and loving strokes in Marin’s first-person narrative, LaCour paints a captivating depiction of loss, bewilderment, and emotional paralysis. Images of the icy winter surrounding Marin in New York contrast sharply with her achingly vibrant memories of San Francisco. Raw and beautiful, this portrait of a girl searching for both herself and a sense of home will resonate with readers of LGBTQIA romances, particularly those with bisexual themes, and the poignant and affecting exploration of grief and betrayal will enchant fans of character-driven fiction.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 1, 2016)
“If only lonely were a more accurate word. It should sound much less pretty.” It’s December in New York, and college freshman Marin is in her dorm room, contemplating a solitary monthlong stay after everyone else has left for winter break. Her single respite will be a brief visit from her best friend, Mabel. Marin is dreading the stay for reasons that are revealed in flashbacks: she fled San Francisco without informing anyone after the sudden death of her beloved Gramps, who raised her. Over the course of three days, secrets about Gramps, Marin’s long-dead mother, and the girls’ complicated relationship are revealed in short, exquisite sentences that evoke myriad emotions with a minimum of words. “I must have shut grief out. Found it in books. Cried over fiction instead of the truth. The truth was unconfined, unadorned. There was no poetic language to it, no yellow butterflies, no epic floods.…The truth was vast enough to drown in.” A surprise arrival at story’s end leads to a tearful resolution of Marin’s sorrow and a heartfelt renewal of her relationship with Mabel and her family. Mexican-American Mabel speaks Spanish, while an absence of markers indicates Marin is likely white. An elegantly crafted paean to the cleansing power of truth. (Fiction. 12 & up)

About the Author

Nina LaCour grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her first job was at fourteen in an independent bookstore, and she has since worked in two others. She has tutored and taught in various places, from a juvenile hall to a private college. She now teaches English at an independent high school.

Nina lives in Oakland, California with her wife and their two cute cats.

Her website is www.ninalacour.com.

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The Guy, the Girl, the Artist, and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams

The Guy, the Girl, the Artist, and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams. March 14, 2017. Groundwood Books, 241 p. ISBN: 9781554989416.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 810.

The Guy decides to have a house party while his parents are out of town. The Girl is adjusting to life in a new country. The Artist has discovered that forgery is a lucrative business. And his Ex, mother of his baby, is just trying to make ends meet.

As Guy, a feckless high-school senior, plans the party of the year, Rafi worries about her mother, who is still grieving over the drowning death of Rafi’s little brother back in Bolivia and haunted by the specter of La Llorona, the weeping ghost who steals children.

Meanwhile, Rafi’s uncle is an art dealer involved in a scheme to steal one of the most famous paintings in the world, but he needs the forgery skills of Luke, a talented artist who has just split up with his girlfriend, Penny, who wants nothing more than to get him back to be a proper father to Joshie, the baby Rafi babysits.

Engaging, provocative, darkly humorous and fast-paced, with a shocking and near-tragic ending, when Rafi’s mother’s grief tips over into mental illness.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Underage drinking; Attempted infanticide

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2017 (Online))
Grades 9-12. The titular guy is a teenage guy named, well, Guy. The girl is Rafi, who lives with her single-parent mother, who has never recovered from the drowning death of Rafi’s little brother. The mother blames La Llorona, the weeping woman of Latin legend, for the death. The artist is Luke—and a successful artist, too. And the ex is Penny, the erstwhile partner of the artist and mother of their baby son. These characters are fleshed out through flashbacks, and then connections are established as the narrative moves from one to the next. Finally they all become involved in one way or another with the theft of an invaluable Picasso painting called—what else?—The Weeping Woman. Then what had started almost as a lark turns serious, even potentially tragic, and readers will find themselves in sudden suspense. Williams does an excellent job of making that transition and subsequently ginning up page-turning excitement. A sophisticated entertainment, this book has intrinsic appeal to adult readers as well as its primary teen target.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2017)
The lives of four young people intersect in unexpected ways as the result of a spectacular art heist in Melbourne. In August 1986, a valuable Picasso painting is stolen off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held for ransom. In alternating third-person chapters, readers learn that Luke, the talented young Artist with his star on the rise, is involved in a plot to steal the painting and return a forgery in its place. He also happens to be the Bastard Ex of Penny, a white 23-year-old trying to raise their baby, Joshie, on her own. Penny lives next door to Rafi, the Girl, a 17-year-old dealing with the eccentricities of her grieving mother, who never got over the drowning death of Rafi’s younger brother in their home country of Bolivia. And who is the Guy (his name as well as his role)? Guy is a white high school senior who unwittingly throws the biggest party of the year, which sets into motion a series of events that gets him mixed up with the lives of the Girl, the Artist, and the Ex. This fully realized cast of characters is rounded out by a supporting cast of sympathetic friends and family, all flawed in their own ways. Williams’ prose is wise, knowing, and sympathetic, her tag-team story moving along at a steady clip toward a heart-thumping climax and a satisfying denouement. A winning, offbeat romp for all ages. (Fiction. 15 & up)

About the Author

Gabrielle Williams has worked in advertising, recording studios and television. Her first YA novel, Beatle Meets Destiny, was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and was named a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults and a Booklist Top Ten Romance Fiction for Youth.

Her website is www.bookbookblogblog.com.

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The Guy, the Girl, the Artist, and His Ex on Amazon

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The Guy, the Girl, the Artist, and His Ex Publisher Page

Confessions of a High School Disaster by Emma Chastain

Confessions of a High School Disaster by Emma Chastain. March7, 2017. Simon Pulse, 352 p. ISBN: 9781481488754.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the tradition of Bridget Jones’s Diary, a lovably flawed high school student chronicles her life as she navigates the highs and lows of family, friendship, school, and love in a diary that sparkles with humor and warmth.

I’m Chloe Snow, and my life is kiiiiind of a disaster.

1. I’m a kissing virgin (so so so embarrassing).
2. My best friend, Hannah, is driving me insane.
3. I think I’m in love with Mac Brody, senior football star, whose girlfriend is so beautiful she doesn’t even need eyeliner.
4. My dad won’t stop asking me if I’m okay.
5. Oh, and my mom moved to Mexico to work on her novel. But it’s fine—she’ll be back soon. She said so.

Mom says the only thing sadder than remembering is forgetting, so I’m going to write down everything that happens to me in this diary. That way, even when I’m ninety, I’ll remember how awkward and horrible and exciting it is to be in high school.

Part of Series: Chloe Snow’s Diary

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

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 8-10. As if starting high school wasn’t daunting enough, Chloe Snow has to do it without her free-spirited writer mother—who bolted to Mexico to find her “muse”—and alongside her religious best friend, Hannah, and Hannah’s judgmental, picture-perfect family. Fortunately, Chloe has a caring dad; a new best friend, Tristan; and the lead in the school’s musical! In the spirit of Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series, Chloe’s daily diary serves as the book’s format. Encompassing an overwhelming majority of Chloe’s record is her obsession with Mac, a senior boy with a girlfriend and Chloe’s secret hookup. Chloe, Hannah, and Tristan all have intense relationships with senior boys, which, aside from seeming a little improbable, starts to become how they define themselves. But despite Chloe’s dominating obsession with Mac, and the book’s abrupt ending, Chloe is refreshingly honest and unfiltered about very real issues facing high-school students: unsteady family dynamics, drinking at parties, balancing old and new friends, and the stigma of slut shaming.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
The chronicles of Chloe Snow’s journey from self-absorbed high school freshman to slightly less self-absorbed sophomore.Fourteen-year-old Chloe is technology-addicted and obsessed with getting her first kiss. Her mom has trotted off to Mexico for four months to write, leaving Chloe and her dad behind, which she first presents with nonchalance in her diary. Many of Chloe’s relationships begin to change around the time she unexpectedly gets the lead in the school musical. It becomes clear that her mom is not coming back as promised. She becomes increasingly distant from her best friend in favor of a new one, and she develops a naively close relationship with a senior boy who has a girlfriend, which ultimately brings on a painful barrage of cyberbullying. When Chloe is forced to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about her parents’ relationship, she is startled into seeing her own behavior more clearly as well. The narrative is told through Chloe’s diary, immersing readers in her singular perspective, though a few long passages are much too detailed to be credible as diary entries. What feels like token diversity among minor characters and Chloe’s passing acknowledgment of her own privilege as a straight, white, middle-class girl come across as superficial, though accurately reflective of life in many mostly white communities like hers. Awkwardness, drama, and a pinch of burgeoning self-awareness. (Fiction. 12-15)

About the Author

Emma Chastain is a graduate of Barnard College and the creative writing MFA program at Boston University. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and children.

 

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Confessions of a High School Disaster on Amazon

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