Tag Archives: historical fiction

Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan

Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan. April 25, 2017. Candlewick, 272 p. ISBN: 9780763690342.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Hurricane Katrina sets a teenage girl adrift. But a new life and the promise of love emerges in this rich, highly readable debut.

Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It’s a small life, but it is Evangeline’s.

And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline s aching heart. Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Underage drinking; One instance of strong language; Characters offered marijuana and they declined

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 12))
Grades 7-12. Sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley has a rich and contented life. Tiny Bayou Perdu, a shrimping and fishing town in Louisiana, offers all she needs: best friends, family, salt air, gumbo, and pure peace when she’s on the water. During a local festival, she meets Tru, a Vietnamese boy she can’t get out of her mind; but shortly thereafter, Hurricane Katrina forces evacuation. Chaos and destruction push them away, as the Rileys seek refuge with an aunt in Atlanta. There Evangeline feels lost and restless, craving home and the familiar, while her family struggles to rebuild their lives. When she and Tru discover they attend the same high school with other Katrina “refugees,” they forge an unbreakable bond. However, life remains unstable for them both, and when Evangeline’s family is given a FEMA trailer back home, not everyone in the Riley family wants to return. O’Sullivan’s debut novel excels in its expressive language and the use of place: a colorful home, a city that contrasts with the one Evangeline lost, and the aftermath of the storm that destroyed almost everything she holds dear. Told in a strong, purposeful voice filled with controlled emotion and hope, the impact of Katrina on families is as compelling as Evangeline’s drive to regain her sense of self and belonging.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2017)
Heartache and deracination wrapped in the lyrical sigh of an epic poem unfold into one girl’s story of struggle, devastation, and survival. O’Sullivan’s soulful debut follows the Beauchamp clan of Bayou Perdu from the days before Hurricane Katrina scattered the shores of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast to the aftermath that turned natives into refugees and temporary shelters into homes. Evangeline, a “white, mostly” Cajun girl, loves the tiny speck of paradise she and her family inhabit 66 miles from New Orleans. What separates Evangeline’s story from the myriad others that have come and gone in the wake of one of the nation’s worst natural disasters is O’Sullivan’s deft lyricism. One minute, Evangeline is just a girl managing her crush on Vietnamese-American shrimper and musician Tru, a girl who loves where she lives and doesn’t yearn for much else. Then the swirling white blur on the weather forecast stirs up sediment and trees and lives and hopes and tomorrows. Evangeline and her family go from lifetime residents of a close-knit fishing community to refugees in landlocked Atlanta. Displaced, confused, and resentful, the Beauchamps are adrift. O’Sullivan pairs the ache of her Evangeline with the anguish felt by the Acadian protagonists of the famous Longfellow poem. O’Sullivan’s light touch and restraint will allow readers to follow Evangeline as she stands howling into the wind that howled into her. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Joanne O’Sullivan is a journalist for the Asheville Citizen-Times. She lived in New Orleans for several years and returns to southern Louisiana frequently. Between Two Skies is her debut novel. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband and children.

Her website is www.joanneosullivan.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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Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine by Caroline Starr Rose

Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine by Caroline Starr Rose. February 7, 2017. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 288 p. ISBN: 9780399168116.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.4; Lexile: 750.

Hoping to strike it rich, two brothers escape an abusive father and set out on a treacherous journey to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Desperate to get away from their drunkard of a father, eleven-year-old Jasper and his older brother Melvin often talk of running away, of heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their wildest dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush is calling, and Melvin has finally decided the time to go is now—even if that means leaving Jasper behind. But Jasper has other plans, and follows his brother aboard a steamer as a stowaway.

Onboard the ship, Jasper overhears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley, an old coot who’s long since gone, but is said to have left clues to the location of his stake, which still has plenty of gold left. The first person to unravel the clues and find the mine can stake the claim and become filthy rich. Jasper is quick to catch gold fever and knows he and Melvin can find the mine—all they have to do is survive the rough Alaskan terrain, along with the steep competition from the unscrupulous and dangerous people they encounter along the way.

In an endearing, funny, pitch-perfect middle grade voice, Caroline Starr Rose tells another stellar historical adventure young readers will long remember.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence; Alcohol

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2017)
News that gold’s been discovered in northern Canada has just arrived in 1897 Seattle; learning that his brother, Mel, has joined the stampede of amateur prospectors, Jasper, 11, follows him north.With their mother dead and their father alcoholic and unemployed, Mel, 16, was the family breadwinner. Feeling hurt and abandoned, afraid Mel might send him home, Jasper sneaks onto the ship that will take them to Skagway, Alaska. Jasper’s brought along their father’s gold pocket watch and mother’s washboard; resourceful and determined, he trades his laundry services for a place to sleep and money for food, avoiding capture as a stowaway. The prospectors embarking on this long, dangerous journey to the Klondike as winter approaches are rough, dishonest, and highly credulous (even Jasper questions whether Yukon gold litters the ground or grows on trees). But like them, Jasper’s spellbound by the story of One-Eyed Riley, an unhinged prospector who abandoned his valuable claim but left clues to its whereabouts. Untold riches await the miner who solves the riddles. Jasper narrates in the present tense, his homespun voice evoking both emotion and adventure. Rose milks the setting for all it’s worth. Jasper and Mel are both white. Villains and allies provide colorful melodrama, but it’s the brothers’ struggle to survive the Yukon wilderness with its harsh beauty and unforgiving cold that will keep readers entranced. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

School Library Journal (February 1, 2017)
Gr 4-7-The dreams and dangers of the 1879 Klondike gold rush fuel Rose’s first novel in prose, and it’s a rousing historical adventure. By the end of the first chapter, news of the strikes reaches 11-year-old Jasper and 16-year-old Melvin’s rural Washington town. The brothers quickly forsake their abusive father and set out for the gold fields of Canada. Harsh weather and physical challenges aren’t the only perils along the way. Stampeders are more likely to steal from than help one another, especially two boys traveling alone. Tall tales of gold that grows on trees keep the brothers’ hopes high; Jasper is spurred on by the legend of a million-dollar stake abandoned by miner One-Eyed Riley, who left behind a series of riddles leading to the gold. It’s unlikely that readers will be able to solve the riddles and locate Riley’s claim on the included map, but that won’t deter them. Rose’s carefully plotted clues, along with colorful supporting characters and narrow escapes, keep the pace brisk until Jasper finds Riley’s mine in a suspenseful climax. Complementing a narrative rich in details about life on the frontier, the author’s note provides more intriguing facts, including profiles of characters in the book who were true historical figures. VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of adventure and historical fiction, or as a classroom read-aloud.-Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem -Public Library, Holbrook, NY

About the Author

Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. As a girl she danced ballet, raced through books, composed poetry on an ancient typewriter, and put on magic shows in a homemade cape. She’s taught both social studies and English in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. In her classroom, she worked to instill in her students a passion for books, an enthusiasm to experiment with words, and a curiosity about the past. She is the author of the critically acclaimed novels in verse May B. and Blue Birds. Caroline lives in New Mexico with her husband and two sons.

Her website is www.carolinestarrrose.com.

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Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine on Amazon

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Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. May 2, 2017. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 368 p. ISBN: 9780399171635.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

Part of Series: Flame in the Mist (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War; Violence; Strong sexual themes; Alcohol; Criminal culture

 

Reviews

Publishers Weekly (March 13, 2017)
Ahdieh delivers an elaborate fantasy set in feudal Japan, where a resilient young woman defies class conventions and gender roles in a quest for vengeance and autonomy. At 17, Mariko, the perceptive and intellectual daughter of a notable samurai, has been promised to the son of the emperor’s favorite consort. While en route to meet her betrothed, she narrowly survives an assassination attempt, which fuels her determination to unmask those responsible. Disguised as a boy, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan, soon recognizing that its reclusive members are much more than thieves and murderers. Occasional chapters are told from the perspective of Mariko’s twin brother, Kenshin, a samurai known as the Dragon of Kai, adding complexity to Mariko’s actions and revelations. Ahdieh (The Wrath & the Dawn) is immensely skilled at crafting vibrant settings inhabited by sympathetic characters with rich pasts, and she also treats readers to a slow-burning romance that does not impede Mariko’s independence or goals, illustrating the power of a well-matched pairing. While the final pages provide some closure, readers will enthusiastically anticipate the next installment. Ages 12-up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Literary. (May)

About the Author

Renée Ahdieh is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. In her spare time, she likes to dance salsa and collect shoes. She is passionate about all kinds of curry, rescue dogs, and college basketball. The first few years of her life were spent in a high-rise in South Korea; consequently, Renée enjoys having her head in the clouds. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their tiny overlord of a dog.

Her website is www.reneeahdieh.com.

Around the Web

Flame in the Mist on Amazon

Flame in the Mist on Goodreads

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Flame in the Mist Publisher Page

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli. January 3, 2017. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 352 p. ISBN: 978375931994.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 3.2; Lexile: 550.

Cammie O’Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison–not as a prisoner, she’s the warden’s daughter. She spends the mornings hanging out with shoplifters and reformed arsonists in the women’s excercise yard, which gives Cammie a certain cache with her school friends.

But even though Cammie’s free to leave the prison, she’s still stuck. And sad, and really mad. Her mother died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. You wouldn’t think you could miss something you never had, but on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, the thing Cammie most wants is a mom. A prison might not be the best place to search for a mother, but Cammie is determined and she’s willing to work with what she’s got.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Murder; Suicide; Shoplifting

 

Author Talk

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 4))
Grades 4-7. Most people would hate to call the Hancock County Prison home, but 12-year-old tomboy Cammie O’Reilly wouldn’t have it any other way. As the warden’s daughter, she lives in an apartment above the prison entrance with her father and has a commanding presence that’s earned her the nickname Little Warden. Set in 1959, just before Cammie turns 13 and enters junior high, this is a story about facing hard truths and growing up. In the background swirl issues of race, treatment of prisoners, and the arrival of a high-profile murderer, but Cammie’s mounting anger over her mother’s tragic death takes center stage. Spinelli’s latest gives readers an interesting, often heartbreaking glimpse into the 1950s and the timeless need for a parent’s love. Narrated by Cammie as an adult, the carefully constructed story seems a little too neat and purposeful at times, but readers will love the details of having a prison compound for a home and adore the many secondary characters who help keep Cammie’s head above water during her desperate search for happiness.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2017)
It’s 1959, and Camille, a lively, determined, self-described tomboy, is twelve. She lives in a suite inside a prison where her father is the warden. Spinelli makes the most of this distinctive setting as Camille becomes a kind of mascot or pet for the female inmates, has access to historical criminal records, and gains status at school when it is presumed she has inside information on crime and criminals. The driver of the story is Camille’s hunger for a mother to substitute for her own, who died in an accident when Camille was just a baby. It’s a busy, multi-strand plot, including a mystery from the past, Cammie’s growing friendship with a family from the wrong side of the tracks, a framing story involving Cassie as a grandmother looking back (“But now, more than half a century laterâ禔), a friend who gets to appear on Bandstand, and a re-spin of the plot in diary form from the housekeeper/mother-substitute’s point of view. Spinelli’s gift for humorous chaos and his trademark magic realism touches are showcased here, and it is exhilarating to read about kids with so much freedom, but Cammie and her female friends don’t always ring true. For example, discussing Cammie’s flat chest, they come up with three solutions: stuffing her sweater with a pair of socks, holding her breath to make her breasts pop out, and refraining from going to the bathroom for the same effect. This is a good joke, but it sounds more like one a boy might make. Without a convincing main character, the complicated narrative structure doesn’t cohere. sarah ellis

About the Author

When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.

He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.
Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Spinelli, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Spinelli decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.

In most of his books, Spinelli writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids! Spinelli and his wife, Eileen, also a children’s book author, live in Pennsylvania.

Her website is www.jerryspinelli.com.

Teacher Resources

The Warden’s Daughter Teaching Guide

Around the Web

The Warden’s Daughter on Amazon

The Warden’s Daughter on Goodreads

The Warden’s Daughter on JLG

The Warden’s Daughter Publisher Page

An Eagle in the Snow by Michael Morpugo

An Eagle in the Snow by Michael Morpugo. January 17, 2017. Feiwel & Friends, 144 p. ISBN: 9781250105158.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 3.8.

England, 1940. Barney’s home has been destroyed by bombing, and he and his mother are traveling to the countryside when German planes attack. Their train is forced to take shelter in a tunnel and there, in the darkness, a stranger― a fellow passenger―begins to tell them a story about two young soldiers who came face to face in the previous war. One British, one German. Both lived, but the British soldier was haunted by the encounter once he realized who the German was: the young Adolf Hitler.

The British soldier made a moral decision. Was it the right one? Readers can ponder that difficult question for themselves with Michael Morpurgo’s latest middle-grade novel An Eagle in the Snow.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War; Xenophobic epithets

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 6))
Grades 5-8. Morpurgo’s gentle WWII tale is loosely based on a real British soldier who may or may not have spared Adolf Hitler’s life during WWI. Barney and his mother are traveling to Cornwall by train after their home in Coventry is bombed. Another passenger joins them in their compartment, and when the train takes refuge from German fighter planes in a tunnel, to pass the time, the man tells them about his friend Billy Byron, who, during WWI, let a German soldier go instead of shooting him. Later, he learns that the soldier was Adolf Hitler, and he missed his chance at preventing WWII. The narrative is deceptively simple, and while Barney is the narrator, most of the narrative consists of the man telling Billy Byron’s story. The casual tone of the story the stranger tells is in compellingly sharp contrast to the powerful questions it raises about duty and honor. A couple of light twists at the end are not entirely unexpected. Morpurgo concludes the book with information about Henry Tandey, the real Billy Byron.

Publishers Weekly (November 14, 2016)
What if a British soldier had a chance to shoot Hitler on a WWI battlefield but opted to let him go instead? Morpurgo’s incisive historical novel draws inspiration from the life of Henry Tandey, the war’s most decorated British private, who allegedly had just such an encounter. Naming his protagonist Billy Byron, Morpurgo tells the story in flashbacks, as a boy named Barney and his mother flee Coventry on a London-bound train in 1940. Another passenger, who introduces himself as one of Billy’s lifelong friends, describes Billy’s self-doubt, guilt, and dismay when lingering battle wounds prevented him from serving in WWII, since “as far as Billy was concerned, this whole war is his fault.” The stranger’s descriptions of Billy’s compassion and emotional turmoil are gripping in their own right, but Morpurgo will catch some readers off guard with supernaturally tinged twists he drops in the final chapters and epilogue. Originally published in the U.K. in 2015, this is an intricately crafted contemplation of the wrenching consequences of good intentions gone awry. Ages 10-14. (Jan.)

About the Author

Michael Morpurgo is the author of many books for children, five of which have been made into films. He also writes his own screenplays and libretti for opera. Born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1943, he was evacuated to Cumberland during the last years of the war, then returned to London, moving later to Essex. After a brief and unsuccessful spell in the army, he took up teaching and started to write. He left teaching after ten years in order to set up ‘Farms for City Children’ with his wife. They have three farms in Devon, Wales and Gloucestershire, open to inner city school children who come to stay and work with the animals. In 1999 this work was publicly recognized when he and his wife were awarded an MBE for services to youth. He is also a father and grandfather, so children have always played a large part in his life. Every year he and his family spend time in the Scilly Isles, the setting for three of his books.

Her website is www.michaelmorpurgo.com.

Teacher Resources

An Eagle in the Snow Teacher Resource Kit

Around the Web

An Eagle in the Snow on Amazon

An Eagle in the Snow on Goodreads

An Eagle in the Snow on JLG

An Eagle in the Snow Publisher Page

The Valiant by Lesley Livingston

The Valiant by Lesley Livingston. February 14, 2017. Razorbill, 384 p. ISBN: 97804484893787.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War; Violence; Alcohol

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 6))
Grades 8-12. Fallon, a 17-year-old Prydainian princess, runs away from home, only to be snatched by slavers who take her to Rome, where she is sold into service as one of Julius Caesar’s gladiatrices (female arena fighters). If she can earn enough fight money, she can purchase her freedom and seek vengeance on Caesar for his role in destroying her family during his conquest of Britain. It’s a great plan, but the Morrigan (Celtic goddess) has other ideas, and Fallon ends up fighting for more than just herself. Livingston has written an exciting and absorbing tale that is deftly paced and deliciously detailed without being overwhelming; the presence of a strong female character and light romance will extend its appeal. The book is tethered to history—there really were female gladiators, though the author’s note doesn’t point to any sources. Link this to Kate O’Hearn’s Valkyrie series or Julia Golding’s The Silver Sea (2010), but don’t limit recommendations to fans of historical fiction and mythology; try it with fans of the American Ninja Warrior television show, as well.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2016)
A Celtic princess is abducted, enslaved, and sent to a gladiatrix school in Julius Caesar’s Rome.  Fallon wishes to follow in the footsteps of her warrior older sister, Sorcha, who was lost leading a war band to recover their father, the king, after he was taken prisoner during a Roman incursion into Prydain. But, unwilling to risk losing another daughter, he has other plans—plans that spiral into devastating, unintended consequences, culminating in Fallon’s abduction by slavers bound for Rome. While she doesn’t make it easy for them, they do get her to Rome, where she is sold at auction to a school that trains women to fight in the arenas. She grapples with her sense of honor while dealing with rivals, romance, a big surprise, and a bigger, hidden threat. Fallon’s warrior development follows a familiar trajectory in which her potential is annealed through hard work; the amount of rescuing she needs early on may frustrate. The forbidden romance isn’t as convincing as the lush setting, which includes a complicated depiction of Roman slavery in which even slaves have mixed opinions on the institution. The ending resolves the immediate crisis while leaving plenty of threads up in the air for sequels. An author’s note credits the 2001 discovery of evidence of real-life woman gladiators as the jumping-off point for this work of fiction. A familiar-feeling historical adventure elevated by use of setting. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Lesley Livingston is a writer and actress living in Toronto. She has a master’s degree in English from the University of Toronto, where she specialized in Arthurian Literature and Shakespeare. She frequently performs with the Tempest Theatre Group, of which she is a co-founder. She is also the author of Wondrous Strange and Darklight.

Her website is www.lesleylivingston.com.

Around the Web

The Valiant on Amazon

The Valiant on Goodreads

The Valiant on JLG

The Valiant Publisher Page

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. March 8, 2016. Candlewick, 320 p. ISBN: 9780763674670.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 680.

After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.

Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.

And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

Award-winning author Meg Medina transports readers to a time when New York seemed about to explode, with temperatures and tempers running high, to discover how one young woman faces her fears as everything self-destructs around her.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs; Domestic abuse; Racism; Murder

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. It’s 1977 in New York, and almost-18-year-old Nora is about to graduate high school and is saving up for her own place. Of course, it’s not as easy as just moving out. Her Cuban immigrant mother, who only speaks Spanish, relies on her to navigate everyday life. Meanwhile, she coddles Nora’s firebug younger brother, Hector, whose short temper is getting more violent by the day. No matter what Nora tells her mother, she does nothing about Hector and faults Nora for his delinquency, and, before long, his terrifying, uncontrollable rages become too scary to handle on her own. Medina artfully links Nora’s escalating domestic turmoil with the infamous summer of 1977, marked by blackouts, sweltering heat, racial tensions, arson, and the Son of Sam killings, all of which simmer menacingly in the background. Medina weaves historical context throughout Nora’s first-person narrative, expertly cultivating a rich sense of atmosphere while still keeping her characters sharply in the foreground. Nora herself is wonderfully multifaceted—hardened by responsibility, delighted by disco, crazy about the handsome boy at her job, and, all the while, stalwart and determined to make her life on her own terms. Powerfully moving, this stellar piece of historical fiction emphasizes the timeless concerns of family loyalty and personal strength while highlighting important issues that still resonate today.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2016)
This vividly evoked coming-of-age story is set against actual events in 1977 New York City, when tensions rose throughout a city enduring an oppressive heat wave, culminating in the historic blackout of July 13th. Seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez faces an insecure future after graduation. The very real fear of an at-large serial killer is magnified by the violence at home, where her brother Hector’s increasingly volatile behavior is dismissed by her mother as merely hormones. College seems impossible: Nora’s mother barely scrapes by with her unstable (and decreasing) factory hours. Nora helps out financially with her job at Sal’s Deli but also manages to stash away some cash in hopes of someday getting away. For now, she escapes by hanging out with best friend Kathleen, going to the movies, and planning a big night out to celebrate their eighteenth birthdays. Nora even starts to fall for Pablo, the sweet new stock boy at Sal’s (and “a stone-cold Latin fox,” according to Kathleen), but the looming fear of a killer targeting young couples and the weight of her family’s secrets make her pull away. Nora is an empathetic character, and Medina depicts her troubled family and their diverse Queens neighborhood with realistic, everyday detail. Numerous references to New York’s budget crisis, arson wave, and “Son of Sam” newspaper articles deliberately ground the story in a real time and place, while an ample sprinkling of seventies disco and funk song references creates a brighter soundtrack for the dreams and romance of teenage girls, hinting at a hopeful future for Nora. lauren adams

About the Author

Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and Young Adult fiction.

She is a two-time Pura Belpré award winner, receiving the 2016 honor distinction for her picture book, Mango, Abuela and Me, and the 2014 medal for her young adult novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

 

Meg’s work examines how cultures intersect, as seen through the eyes of young people. She brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls.

In March 2014, she was recognized as one of the CNN 10 Visionary Women in America. In November 2014, she was named one of Latino Stories Top Ten Latino Authors to Watch. When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or diversity in children’s literature.

She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.

Her website is megmedina.com.

Teacher Resources

Burn Baby Burn Discussion Guide

Around the Web

Burn Baby Burn on Amazon

Burn Baby Burn on Goodreads

Burn Baby Burn on JLG

Burn Baby Burn Publisher Page

Front Lines by Michael Grant

Front Lines by Michael Grant. January 26, 2016. Katherine Tegen Books, 576 p. ISBN: 9780062342157.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 890.

Teenage witch Cam isn’t crazy about the idea of learning magic. She’d rather be no witch than a bad one. But when a trio of her mother’s wicked witch friends decide to wreak havoc in her high school, Cam has no choice but to try to stop them.

Esmerelda is the mean girl of the witches. Valda likes to drop anvils on people’s heads. And Malkin—well, Malkin is just plain terrifying. Their idea of fun is a little game—they each pick a student from Cam’s high school and compete to see who can make their teen the most miserable. But Cam suspects one of the witches may have an ulterior motive…which means someone at school could be in worse danger yet.

Now Cam’s learning invisibility spells, dodging exploding cars, and pondering the ethics of love potions. All while trying to keep her grades up and go on a first date with her crush. If the witches don’t get him first, that is.

Can’t a good witch ever catch a break?

Part of Series: Front Lines (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Racial taunts; Harsh realities of war; Sexual harassment

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2015 (Vol. 112, No. 4))
Grades 8-11. In many ways, Grant’s latest feels like an old-fashioned war novel—it begins with the soon-to-be soldiers at home, worrying about what they are going to face, and saying good-bye to family. Then they arrive at boot camp, building both combat skills and bonhomie. Finally, they find themselves in the thick of it, unprepared for the gravity of death, both witnessing it and serving it, while tapping heretofore unknown reserves of fortitude, resilience, and stony-eyed vengeance. The only difference, and it’s a big one, is that women are in the battle ranks. Though women are not yet being conscripted in this alternate history of WWII, Rio, Jenou, Frangie, and Rainy sign up anyway. Rio’s feeling a bit listless after her sister dies in the battle of Pearl Harbor, and her best friend, Jenou, makes a convincing case for signing up. Jenou says she wants to meet handsome officers, though in truth, she is desperate to escape her rocky home life. Frangie, an African American girl in Oklahoma, sees enlisting as an opportunity to get medical training she otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for. Jewish Rainy is smart, capable, fluent in German, and wants to kill Nazis. Just because women are permitted to enlist, however, doesn’t mean they are treated any more fairly. It’s abundantly clear that Grant has done an impressive amount of research, not only into battle movements and period details—which are exhaustive, vivid, and clearly, grippingly written—but also the prevailing attitudes. In keeping with the historical period, the women face down plenty of prejudice, and Grant doesn’t shy away from ugly language, particularly regarding Frangie, who endures a deluge of hateful slurs and more than one threat of rape. While there are enough military men open to women in their ranks, enlisting alone can’t change deeply ingrained beliefs. There’s no magical eraser for racism or misogyny here, except the rigors of the battlefield, where they prove their mettle. The history is certainly illuminating and fascinating, but where Grant excels even more is in the tight, propulsive, and immersive storytelling and compelling bonds among the multifaceted characters. Grant alternates among the four young women, interspersing their stories with letters and news bulletin–like summaries of historical events, framing the whole thing with commentary from the unnamed narrator, who sits typing the story in a military hospital, offering brief glimpses of the near future. Most of the pages are dedicated to Rio and Jenou, who blessedly get to stay together, ending up in a mixed-company platoon in North Africa. Rainy leaves New York with a stopover in intelligence training before heading to Tunisia to translate incoming communiqués. Frangie heads to North Africa as a medic with an all-black battalion. Finally, the four women meet at the Battle of Kasserine Pass, grittier, bloodier, and tougher than when they set out. Though it’s an epic story with a page count to match, the dynamic characters and urgent plot never get lost in the enormity of the historical moment. Grant’s writing is remarkably tidy, cultivating a staggering amount of feeling out of only a few lines, and imbuing each figure with such depth and personality that, even if a character gets less than two total pages of attention, his or her death is utterly, completely devastating. This is a story about soldiers, and those soldiers never take a backseat to history. Given current headlines about women in combat, it’s natural to assume this novel has an agenda, but Grant trumpets no cause, and while he makes a huge change to WWII history, he so unobtrusively weaves it throughout the story it’s easy to forget that, except in a few special cases, women weren’t fighting alongside men. Rio and Jenou drink and smoke and trash talk just as much as the men in their …

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2015)
Three young women supply a gritty grunt’s-eye view of World War II in the opener to an ultrahistory series. After a court decision declares women eligible for combat, aimless California farmer’s daughter Rio Richlin volunteers for the Army, partly to avenge her sister’s death but mostly to keep her best friend company. Diminutive, compassionate, and determined, African-American Frangie Marr enlists for the paycheck, but she also hopes for medical training. And Jewish Rainy Schulterman just wants to pour all her ferocious intelligence and steely will into killing Nazis. Switching among these three viewpoints, the narrative slowly constructs intimate portraits of each, as the “soldier girls” are tested in body and spirit, overcoming laziness, fear, and cockiness. They suffer through boredom, rough conditions, and incompetent commanders as well as routine sexism, racism, and anti-Semitism (authentically, highly offensive language is employed throughout). A framing device ponderous with foreshadowing–along with such standard teen tropes as love triangles and family secrets–keeps the plot moving, but it’s the immersive, quotidian details that set up the gripping climax amid the chaos of combat. Bestselling science-fiction author Grant did his research (an extensive bibliography is provided), but the odd and likely unintended consequence of his premise is the erasure of thousands of military women who historically served and fought and died. Still, an engrossing portrayal of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances. (Alternate history. 14 & up)

About the Author

Michael Grant is married to Katherine (K.A.) Applegate. They’ve been together for 36 years. Which doesn’t say much for Katherine’s judgment does it? And they’ve been writing for 25ish years, sometimes as partners — Boyfriends/Girlfriends, Animorphs, Everworld — and sometimes on their own.

Michael and Katherine have two kids, Jake 18 and Julia 16. (Feet tall. Get it? 16 feet tall? Ah hah hah. Yeah, okay: not funny.) Anyway, the point is that Michael Grant is the author or co-author of 150 books. Yeah: 150, including most recently the critically-acclaimed Front Lines, and of course the also critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling, Gone series

Her website is www.michaelgrantbooks.co.uk.

Around the Web

Front Lines on Amazon

Front Lines on Goodreads

Front Lines on JLG

Front Lines Publisher Page

Four-Four-Two by Dean Hughes

Four-Four-Two by Dean Hughes. November 8, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9781481462525.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 820.

From the author of Soldier Boys and Search and Destroy comes a thought-provoking, action-packed page-turner based on the little-known history of the Japanese Americans who fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II.

Yuki Nakahara is an American.

But it’s the start of World War II, and America doesn’t see it that way. Like many other Japanese Americans, Yuki and his family have been forced into an internment camp in the Utah desert. But Yuki isn’t willing to sit back and accept this injustice—it’s his country too, and he’s going to prove it by enlisting in the army to fight for the Allies.

When Yuki and his friend Shig ship out, they aren’t prepared for the experiences they’ll encounter as members of the “Four-Four-Two,” a segregated regiment made up entirely of Japanese-American soldiers. Before Yuki returns home—if he returns home—he’ll come face to face with persistent prejudices, grueling combat he never imagined, and friendships deeper than he knew possible.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War; Violence; Smoking

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 5))
Grades 7-10. In December 1941, FBI agents arrest Yuki Nakahara’s father without cause. By 1943, 18-year-old Yuki and his family have been “relocated” from California to an internment camp in Utah. Despite this, Yuki enlists in the U.S. Army with his best friend, Shig, and they join the Second Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (which comprises only Japanese Americans, as whites refuse to fight alongside them). Yuki initially boasts about becoming a war hero, but is sobered as he sees friends killed by German artillery. After months of relentless battle, Yuki and Shig’s comrades-in-arms suffer countless casualties and gain a reputation as “the Purple Heart Battalion.” Finally, because generals view the nisei soldiers as expendable, Yuki’s battalion is sent on an almost impossible mission to rescue white American soldiers surrounded by German forces. Hughes’ writing effectively evokes the horrors of war and the internal conflict of young men fighting for a country that has treated them unjustly. The challenges of Yuki’s reentry into the States are also well conveyed: the guilt of survival, the difficulty of communicating the war experience to civilians, and the continued widespread racism. Though a couple of conversations seem stilted for the sake of exposition, in general the dialogue reads naturally (even the pidgin English spoken by Hawaiian soldiers is decent). This is historical fiction at its finest—immersive and inspirational.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2016)
The book’s title refers to the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed entirely of Issei and Nisei (first-generation Japanese immigrants and their children, respectively) who served in WWII, and which earned the name Purple Heart Battalion because so many of its soldiers were either wounded or killed in battle. In December 1941, Hughes’s protagonist, Berkeley high-schooler Yuki Nakahara, watches helplessly as FBI agents arrest his father as a spy and unceremoniously haul him away. Less than six months later, Yuki and his siblings, all American citizens, are deported with their mother to the Topaz internment camp in Utah. Yet Yuki decides to join the army because he believes it’s the only way he’ll “ever be respected in this country.” Readers follow him through basic training; the agonies of battle, loss, and injury; and his return home. Events, characters, and dialogue create an indelible sense of time and place. When Yuki’s mother protests her husband’s arrest, an FBI agent spits out: “That’s enough, lady. Your husband’s a sneaky little slant-eyed Jap. That’s all we need to know.” A Denver barber refuses to “cut Jap hair” even though Yuki is wearing his Silver Star and Purple Heart. Yuki’s wish to put it all behind him realistically characterizes so many of “the greatest generation”; his father’s lack of physical affection is a cultural marker; and the sweet, naive romance with the girl back home reflects the times. A predictable story arc lessens the novel’s tension; still, Yuki emerges as a true hero during a dark period of American history. betty carter

About the Author

Dean Hughes is the author of more than eighty books for young readers, including the popular sports series Angel Park All-Stars, the Scrappers series, the Nutty series, the widely acclaimed companion novels Family Pose and Team Picture, and Search and Destroy. Soldier Boys was selected for the 2001 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list. Dean Hughes and his wife, Kathleen, have three children and six grandchildren. They live in Midway, Utah.

His website is www.deanhughes.net.

Around the Web

Four-Four-Two on Amazon

Four-Four-Two on Goodreads

Four-Four-Two on JLG

Four-Four-Two Publisher Page