Tag Archives: novels in verse

The Opposite of Innocent by Sonya Sones

The Opposite of Innocent by Sonya Sones. September 4, 2018. HarperTeen, 272 p. ISBN: 9780062370310.  Int Lvl: YA.

Poignant and chilling by turns, The Opposite of Innocent is award-winning author Sonya Sones’s most gripping novel in verse yet. It’s the story of a girl named Lily, who’s been crushing on a man named Luke, a friend of her parents, ever since she can remember.

Luke has been away for two endless years, but he’s finally returning today. Lily was only twelve when he left. But now, at fourteen, she feels transformed. She can’t wait to see how Luke will react when he sees the new her. And when her mother tells her that Luke will be staying with them for a while, in the bedroom right next to hers, her heart nearly stops.

Having Luke back is better than Lily could have ever dreamed. His lingering looks set Lily on fire. Is she just imagining them? But then, when they’re alone, he kisses her. Then he kisses her again. Lily’s friends think anyone his age who wants to be with a fourteen-year-old must be really messed up. Maybe even dangerous. But Luke would never do anything to hurt her…would he?

In this powerful tale of a terrifying leap into young adulthood, readers will accompany Lily on her harrowing journey from hopelessness to hope.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Rape, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2018 (Online))
Grades 9-12. It seems like Lily’s always been in love with Luke, her dad’s handsome, young business partner. Now that she’s 14, imagine her excitement knowing that Luke, who has been away, will return to her hometown and stay with her family until he gets his own place. Lily’s fevered crush on Luke will pull in romance fans right away, but they will notice, well before Lily does, that something about his attentions isn’t right. In her signature verse style, Sones weaves a pulse-quickening tale of sexual abuse from a young victim’s view, made all the more compelling by her innocence and thrill at first “love” as Luke gradually becomes more controlling. By the time Lily recognizes Luke’s menace, she feels hollowed out and trapped—a portrait of suffering that will break readers’ hearts. Friends try to help, but she can’t bring herself to reveal the depth of the crisis. When she does find a way to make that call for help, readers will be able to breathe again. A chilling portrait of predatory abuse.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
A young woman is sexually abused by a close family friend in this latest novel in verse from veteran poet Sones (Saving Red, 2016, etc.). Fourteen-year-old Lily has long harbored a crush on her father’s friend Luke and is thrilled to learn that he is going to stay with her family upon his return from a research trip to Kenya. She fervently hopes that he’ll see she is no longer a little kid, “Now / I feel more like a butterfly— / a butterfly who can’t decide / which wings to wear.” Initially, Lily is thrilled when he seems to be returning her interest, but this gives way to palpable dread and shame as he pushes her into progressively more threatening situations. Factors that often play into sexual abuse emerge within this harrowing story, including Luke’s grooming of Lily from a young age and his use of threats to keep her from telling anyone. She becomes isolated from her best friends, Rose and Taylor, and she is already accustomed to her father’s hurtful emotional absence from her life. While realistic, these details sometimes feel a bit rote. All of the main characters seem to be white by default; Luke is English, Taylor is gay, and a caring teacher of Lily’s is described as having brown skin. A quick moving and emotionally charged but ultimately underdeveloped novel that explores an important subject. (Verse novel. 14-18)

About the Author

Sonya Sones has written five YA novels-in-verse: To Be Perfectly Honest (A Novel Based on an Untrue Story)Stop PretendingOne of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, and its companion, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. Her books have received many honors, including a Christopher Award, the Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award, and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination. But the coolest honor she ever got was when What My Mother Doesn’t Know made it onto the American Library Association’s list of the Top 100 Most Banned Books of the Decade (to see why, see p.46).

She lives near the beach in southern California, and only tells the occasional fib.  Her website is www.sonyasones.com

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Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood

Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood. September 4, 2018. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9781481468831.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.8.

In the tradition of The War That Saved My Life and Stella By Starlight, this poignant novel in verse based on true events tells the story of a boy’s harrowing experience on a lifeboat after surviving a torpedo attack during World War II.

With Nazis bombing London every night, it’s time for thirteen-year-old Ken to escape. He suspects his stepmother is glad to see him go, but his dad says he’s one of the lucky ones—one of ninety boys and girls to ship out aboard the SS City of Benares to safety in Canada.

Life aboard the luxury ship is grand—nine-course meals, new friends, and a life far from the bombs, rations, and his stepmum’s glare. And after five days at sea, the ship’s officers announce that they’re out of danger.

They’re wrong.

Late that night, an explosion hurls Ken from his bunk. They’ve been hit. Torpedoed! The Benares is sinking fast. Terrified, Ken scrambles aboard Lifeboat 12 with five other boys. Will they get away? Will they survive?

Award-winning author Susan Hood brings this little-known World War II story to life in a riveting novel of courage, hope, and compassion. Based on true events and real people, Lifeboat 12 is about believing in one another, knowing that only by banding together will we have any chance to survive.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war, Suicide by drowning

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2018)
An escape from war-torn Britain becomes a struggle for survival when a ship is torpedoed off the coast of England. In June 1940, Great Britain formed the Children’s Overseas Reception Board to transfer Britain’s children away from the encroaching war to safe harbors around the world. Over 200,000 children between the ages of 5 and 15 applied for just 20,000 spots. Thirteen-year-old Kenneth Sparks is chosen to travel on the City of Benares, a luxury ocean liner, to Canada, where he will live with his aunt in Edmonton. The children are distracted by rich food, new toys, and soft beds, but the accompanying convoy of war ships is a constant reminder that while the blitzkrieg might be behind them, German torpedoes are a very present threat. Three days into their voyage, the Benares is hit, sending crew and passengers into the lifeboats and the water. Ken, along with a handful of others, all white except 32 Asian sailors of varied ethnicity (called Lascars at the time), must survive with little water, food, or shelter if they are to make it out alive. Told in verse, the story of Lifeboat 12 is lyrical, terrifying, and even at times funny. Hood makes effective use of line breaks and punctuation to wrap readers up in Ken’s tale. Copious research, including interviews with the real Ken Sparks, went into the making of this fictional recasting of a true story of survival. Backmatter offers further information, including the racism experienced by the Lascars. A richly detailed account of a little-known event in World War II. (Historical verse fiction. 9-12)

School Library Journal (May 1, 2018)
Gr 4-7-It’s 1940, the beginning of the Blitz, and 13-year-old Kenneth Sparks is selected to go to Canada as part of a program to send British children to the safety of the U.K.’s overseas dominions. When his ship is torpedoed, Kenneth, five other boys from the program, and about 40 adults make it aboard Lifeboat 12, one of the only lifeboats remaining after the evening’s gale-force winds. Together, they must survive the North Atlantic in a boat with limited supplies. Evocative verse perfectly captures the horror of their situation, the agonizing disappointment of near-rescues, and the tedium of daily life aboard a cramped lifeboat. For example, immediately following the shipwreck, Kenneth spies the red rocking horse that had been in the children’s playroom floating in the wreckage: “It rears up from the sea,/the red horse of war,/its mouth open,/silently screaming/at all it sees,/rocking up and down/in the waves,/past the bodies of those/I now know/are already/dead.” Adding to the appeal of this work is an exceptionally well-curated and organized array of back matter that includes an author’s note, a nonfiction account of the real-life Lifeboat 12, photos, an essay on the author’s sources and research technique, and documented source notes for a significant amount of the book’s dialogue. VERDICT This stirring novel-in-verse based on a true story is an edge-of-your-seat survival tale, an extensively researched work of historical fiction, and an exemplar of the form.-Eileen Makoff, P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School, NY

About the Author

Susan Hood has written more than 200 picture books. She has received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and her book Spike, The Mixed-Up Monster won the 2013 International Latino Award and was selected for the Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended List. The Tooth Mouse was named a 2013 Best Book of the Year by Bank Street and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Prior to becoming an author, Susan was a children’s magazine editor at Scholastic and Instructor Magazine, a book editor at Sesame Workshop, and the Children’s Content Director of Nick Jr. MagazineAda’s Violin is her latest nonfiction picture book and Lifeboat 12 is her first novel in verse.

Her website is www.susanhoodbooks.com

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Orphaned by Eliot Schrefer

Orphaned by Eliot Schrefer. September 25, 2018. Scholastic Press, 305 p. ISBN: 9780545655057.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Before humans, and before human history, there were the apes.

Snub is a young gorilla, living in the heart of what will eventually be known as Africa. She is jealous of her mother’s new baby . . . and restless in her need to explore. When a natural disaster shakes up her family, Snub finds herself as the guardian of her young sibling . . . and lost in a reshaped world.

Snub may feel orphaned, but she is not alone. There are other creatures stalking through the woods — a new form of predator, walking on two legs. One of their kind is also orphaned, and is taken in by Snub. But the intersection of the human world and the gorilla world will bring both new connections and new battles.

In his boldest work yet, two-time National Book Award finalist Eliot Schrefer shows us a riveting, heartbreaking early encounter between ape and man — told from the ape’s point of view. It is a journey unlike any other in recent literature.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence and death among animals in the wild

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2018)
The last entry in a quartet by Schrefer (Mez’s Magic, 2018, etc.) chronicles an imagined early encounter between a human child and a gorilla family. The setting is Africa’s Great Rift Valley 600,000 years ago, when volcanic eruptions changed the landscape, bringing early humans into contact with apes for the first time. The story is written in free verse from the point of view of a young female gorilla, Snub, whose family group consists of Mother; Brother; baby brother, Breath; two older females, Wrinkled and Teased; and Silverback, the alpha male. A volcanic eruption disrupts the little group, and Snub becomes a leader, in charge of baby Breath and Brother, as she negotiates a perilous, rapidly-changing landscape in search of hospitable habitat for her family. The main threat comes not from the volcano but from the “not-gorillas,” early humans who, although physically weaker, have superior skills and use rocks as tools and missiles to attack the gorillas. The titular orphan is a young girl who befriends the small gorilla family and helps to protect and defend them with her human abilities. Scientific accuracy paired with lyrical, subjective language describing the young gorilla’s impressions of her surroundings and bodily needs make this book an imaginative, eloquent evocation of a little-known era in prehistory from an animal’s viewpoint. A plausibly authentic account skillfully avoiding risk of excessive anthropomorphism. (Novel in verse. 12-16)

School Library Journal (October 1, 2018)
Gr 4-7-In this fourth installment in Schrefer’s quartet, early humans make contact with apes many thousands of years ago. Written in verse, the story centers on Snub, a young female gorilla who lives with her extended family in Africa’s Great Rift Valley. When a natural disaster strikes, Snub is left as the head of her family and she must protect the younger apes from violence by the “not-gorillas” (the humans). Snub eventually befriends an orphaned human girl who uses her unique skills to help the ape family. Schrefer’s deep knowledge and passion for biology, geology, history, and geography is on full display in this emotionally complex tale. Each word is intentional and every shift in the narrative filled with dramatic (though never heavy-handed) purpose. The ways in which Schrefer explores the meaning of home and how it evolves through the introduction of humans is breathtaking. Schrefer’s ability to articulate an anthropological rendering of a gorilla’s first experiences with humans is both beautiful and brutal. Embedded within the narrative is the story of a daughter taking on the role as head of household and developing confidence in herself, her perspective, and her decisions. The integration of the gorilla’s own language is brilliant and elucidates ineffable moments. VERDICT Filled with deeply resonant moments that move and challenge; highly recommended for all middle grade and young adult collections.-Alpha DeLap, St. Thomas School, Medina, WA

About the Author

Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered and Threatened were named as finalists for the National Book Award. He is also the author of RescuedThe Deadly SisterThe School for Dangerous GirlsGlamorous Disasters, and The New Kid. He lives in New York City.

His website is www.eliotschrefer.com/

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Rebound by Kwame Alexander

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

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

Prequel to: The Crossover

Part of Series: Crossover (Book 0.5)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Author Interview

Reviews

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

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

About the Author

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

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

His website is www.kwamealexander.com.

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Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough. March 6, 2018. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 304 p. ISBN: 9780735232112.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

A debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 10-12. McCullough’s exquisite debut, a novel in verse, follows the heartbreaking but inspiring true story of gifted Roman painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Raised since she was 12 solely by her volatile, abusive, and less talented artist father, Artemisia spends her days as her father’s apprentice, grinding pigments and completing most of his commissions. At first, she thinks she has found solace with her charming new painting instructor, Agostino Tassi, who awakens a dormant passion in her. In carefully arranged, sophisticated verse, McCullough deftly articulates Artemisia’s growing fear of Tassi as he asserts control over and ultimately rapes her. Woven through Artemisia’s poems are short prose chapters featuring Susanna and Judith, bold ancient Roman heroines from her mother’s stories. The strong females’ stories guide Artemisia through her harrowing trials with Tassi, show her how to paint her truth, and eventually inspire most of her iconic paintings. With dazzling surrealist overtones, McCullough manages to vividly capture a singularly brave, resilient feminist who became an icon during a time when women had almost no agency. Her story and the stunning verse in which it is told will resonate just as strongly with readers today. A captivating and impressive book about a timeless heroine.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
Baroque artist and feminist icon Artemisia Gentileschi is given voice in a debut verse novel.Only 17, Artemisia is already a more gifted painter than her feckless father. But in 17th-century Rome, the motherless girl is only grudgingly permitted to grind pigment, prepare canvas, and complete commissions under his signature. So when the charming Agostino Tassi becomes her tutor, Artemisia is entranced by the only man to take her work seriously…until he resorts to rape. At first broken in body and spirit, she draws from memories of her mother’s stories of the biblical heroines Susanna and Judith the strength to endure and fight back the only way she can. Artemisia tells her story in raw and jagged blank verse, sensory, despairing, and defiant, interspersed with the restrained prose of her mother’s subversive tales. Both simmer with impotent rage at the injustices of patriarchal oppression, which in the stories boils over into graphic sexual assault and bloody vengeance. While the poems (wisely) avoid explicitly depicting either Artemisia’s rape or subsequent judicial torture, the searing aftermath, physical and mental, is agonizingly portrayed. Yet Artemisia’s ferocious passion to express herself in paint still burns most fiercely. Unfortunately, those who lack familiarity with the historical facts or context may emerge from this fire scorched but not enlightened. McCullough’s Rome is a white one. A brief note in the backmatter offers sexual-violence resources. Nonetheless, an incandescent retelling both timeless and, alas, all too timely. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

Joy McCullough writes books and plays from her home in the Seattle area, where she lives with her husband and two children. She studied theater at Northwestern University, fell in love with her husband atop a Guatemalan volcano, and now spends her days surrounded by books and kids and chocolate. Blood Water Paint is her debut novel.

Her website is www.joymccullough.com.

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Blood Water Paint on Amazon

Blood Water Paint on Goodreads

Blood Water Paint Publisher Page

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. October 24, 2017. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781481438254.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Smoking, Gun violence

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Grades 7-12. Spanning a mere one minute and seven seconds, Reynolds’ new free-verse novel is an intense snapshot of the chain reaction caused by pulling a trigger. First, 15-year-old Will Holloman sets the scene by relating his brother Shawn’s murder two days prior—gunned down while buying soap for their mother. Next, he lays out The Rules: don’t cry, don’t snitch, always get revenge. Now that the reader is up to speed, Will tucks Shawn’s gun into his waistband and steps into an elevator, steeled to execute rule number three and shoot his brother’s killer. Yet, the simple seven-floor descent becomes a revelatory trip. At each floor, the doors open to admit someone killed by the same cycle of violence that Will’s about to enter. He’s properly freaked out, but as the seconds tick by and floors count down, each new occupant drops some knowledge and pushes Will to examine his plans for that gun. Reynolds’ concise verses echo like shots against the white space of the page, their impact resounding. He peels back the individual stories that led to this moment in the elevator and exposes a culture inured to violence because poverty, gang life, or injustice has left them with no other option. In this all-too-real portrait of survival, Reynolds goes toe-to-toe with where, or even if, love and choice are allowed to exist.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2017)
After 15-year-old Will sees his older brother, Shawn, gunned down on the streets, he sets out to do the expected: the rules dictate no crying, no snitching, and revenge. Though the African-American teen has never held one, Will leaves his apartment with his brother’s gun tucked in his waistband. As he travels down on the elevator, the door opens on certain floors, and Will is confronted with a different figure from his past, each a victim of gun violence, each important in his life. They also force Will to face the questions he has about his plan. As each “ghost” speaks, Will realizes how much of his own story has been unknown to him and how intricately woven they are. Told in free-verse poems, this is a raw, powerful, and emotional depiction of urban violence. The structure of the novel heightens the tension, as each stop of the elevator brings a new challenge until the narrative arrives at its taut, ambiguous ending. There is considerable symbolism, including the 15 bullets in the gun and the way the elevator rules parallel street rules. Reynolds masterfully weaves in textured glimpses of the supporting characters. Throughout, readers get a vivid picture of Will and the people in his life, all trying to cope with the circumstances of their environment while expressing the love, uncertainty, and hope that all humans share. This astonishing book will generate much needed discussion. (Verse fiction. 12-adult)

About the Author

After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he gets home. His website is www.jasonwritesbooks.com.

Teacher Resources

Long Way Down Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

Long Way Down on Amazon

Long Way Down on Goodreads

Long Way Down Publisher Page

Vanilla by Billy Merrell

Vanilla by Billy Merrell. October 10, 2017. Scholastic, 320 p. ISBN: 9781338100921.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Vanilla and Hunter have been dating since seventh grade.
They came out together,
navigated middle school together,
and became that couple in high school
that everyone always sees as a couple.

There are complications and confusions, for sure.
But most of all,
they love each other.

As high school goes, though,
and as their relationship deepens,
some cracks begin to show.

Hunter thinks they should be having sex.
Vanilla isn’t so sure.

Hunter doesn’t mind hanging out with loud, obnoxious friends.
Vanilla would rather avoid them.

If they’re becoming different people,
can they be the same couple?

Falling in love is hard.
Staying in love is harder.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Underage drinking, Smoking, Strong and pervasive sexual themes, Online pornography

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Hunter and Vanilla have been boyfriends since middle school, but, now 17, their relationship has begun to fray. Ostensibly this is because Hunter is ready for sex, while Vanilla is not. But perhaps there’s something deeper here that the reader will learn along with the two boys. Merrell’s first novel—in verse, of course, Merrell being an accomplished poet—is a sometimes melancholy exercise exploring the enigmatic face of love and its various meanings. The two boys, though alike at first in their love, are two different people—Vanilla being a shy introvert, Hunter an outgoing though sensitive poet. Their story is told in alternating first-person voices, although in the book’s second half, a third voice is added to swell the duet to a chorus: that of a flamboyantly gay boy named Clown, who is, at first, Vanilla’s bête noire, teasing and making fun of him. But, like Vanilla and Hunter, he changes. A strength of Merrell’s thoughtful book is how he dramatizes the many changes the boys go through in terms of their fluid relationships and growing maturity. An important part of this is their evolving sexuality, a process not without surprises and satisfactions. The book is, in sum, a feast for those hungry for character-driven literary fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2017)
Falling in love was the easy part for Hunter and Vanilla…staying together’s the challenge.“You two have been married / since the seventh grade,” says their in-your-face queer classmate Clown. Hunter and Vanilla progressed slowly from being friends to being a couple, and now, at 17, everyone thinks of the two white boys as inseparable. Clown and another aggressively gay classmate regularly throw sexually charged, all-male parties for The Gang. The boys don’t usually attend though Hunter seems to want to. He’s ready to take their relationship beyond kissing and petting; Vanilla is not. Merrell’s debut novel for young adults explores the rocky relationship of the duo in minute emotional detail from both boys’ perspectives as well as from the outside through Clown’s eyes—which gives readers a more nuanced view of gender-fluid Clown as well. Different typefaces indicate the point-of-view character for each free-verse poem as they remember the early days of their relationship and coming out and as they fumble through first romance and new sexual-identity issues. The verse is at times beautiful, touching, and though-provoking but at other times feels merely like prose broken into short lines. It presents a mature and frank (though not explicit) picture of a relationship struggling to survive. Tighter construction might have added more punch to the poetry, but teens will identify with the quest for identity and ground in that most groundless of times. (Verse fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Billy Merrell is the author of Talking in the Dark, a poetry memoir published when he was twenty-one, and is the co-editor (with David Levithan) of The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, which received a Lambda Literary Award.

Merrell is also a contributor to the New York Times-bestselling series Spirit Animals, and has published fiction, poetry, and translations in various journals and anthologies. Born in 1982, he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and received his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his husband, author Nico Medina.  His website is talkinginthedark.com

Around the Web

Vanilla on Amazon

Vanilla on Goodreads

Vanilla on JLG

Vanilla Publisher Page

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo by Kwame Alexander. July 25, 2017. Blink, 464 p. ISBN: 9780310761839.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 640.

When the heart gets lost, let the music find you.

Blade never asked for a life of the rich and famous. In fact, he’d give anything not to be the son of Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star and drug addict with delusions of a comeback. Or to no longer be part of a family known most for lost potential, failure, and tragedy. The one true light is his girlfriend, Chapel, but her parents have forbidden their relationship, assuming—like many—that Blade will become just like his father.

In reality, the only thing Blade has in common with Rutherford is the music that lives inside them. But not even the songs that flow through Blade’s soul are enough when he’s faced with two unimaginable realities: the threat of losing Chapel forever, and the revelation of a long-held family secret, one that leaves him questioning everything he thought was true. All that remains is a letter and a ticket to Ghana—both of which could bring Blade the freedom and love he’s been searching for, or leave him feeling even more adrift.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Sexual innuendo, Mentions of drug use, Mentions of underage drinking

 

Author Interview

Related Videos

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 9-12. Blade Morrison begins his story by disclosing, “I am / the wretched son / of a poor / rich man.” Master storytellers and poets Alexander (The Crossover, 2014) and Hess (The Day I Met the Nuts, 2009) have joined forces to pen a rhythmic, impassioned ode to family, identity, and the history of rock and roll. The only things 17-year-old Blade can count on as the wealthy but neglected son of famously erratic rock god Rutherford Morrison are his soulful guitar ballads and his girlfriend, Chapel. When Rutherford disappoints Blade one time too many and they end up fighting, Blade’s sister reveals a long-guarded family secret. Suddenly the music leaves him; when Chapel is no longer there to anchor him either, Blade sets out to discover more about his own past. A mix tape of classic rock hits guides him from Los Angeles all the way to the small village of Konko, Ghana, where a delay in his journey brings him unexpected fulfillment. Scattered throughout the novel in verse are some of Blade’s original rock ballads, though every poem feels like a song, pulsing with Alexander’s signature lyrical style. Blade ends up finding much more than what he expects: self-discovery, community, and a deeper understanding of what family means.

Kirkus Reviews starred (May 15, 2017)
The 17-year-old son of a troubled rock star is determined to find his own way in life and love.On the verge of adulthood, Blade Morrison wants to leave his father’s bad-boy reputation for drug-and-alcohol–induced antics and his sister’s edgy lifestyle behind. The death of his mother 10 years ago left them all without an anchor. Named for the black superhero, Blade shares his family’s connection to music but resents the paparazzi that prevent him from having an open relationship with the girl that he loves. However, there is one secret even Blade is unaware of, and when his sister reveals the truth of his heritage during a bitter fight, Blade is stunned. When he finally gains some measure of equilibrium, he decides to investigate, embarking on a search that will lead him to a small, remote village in Ghana. Along the way, he meets people with a sense of purpose, especially Joy, a young Ghanaian who helps him despite her suspicions of Americans. This rich novel in verse is full of the music that forms its core. In addition to Alexander and co-author Hess’ skilled use of language, references to classic rock songs abound. Secondary characters add texture to the story: does his girlfriend have real feelings for Blade? Is there more to his father than his inability to stay clean and sober? At the center is Blade, fully realized and achingly real in his pain and confusion. A contemporary hero’s journey, brilliantly told. (Verse fiction. 14-adult)

About the Author

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

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

His website is www.kwamealexander.com.

Around the Web

Solo on Amazon

Solo on Goodreads

Solo on JLG

Solo Publisher Page

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Booked by Kwame Alexander. April 5, 2016. HMH Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9780544570986.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 3.9; Lexile: 660.

Like lightning/you strike/fast and free/legs zoom/down field/eyes fixed/on the checkered ball/on the goal/ten yards to go/can’t nobody stop you/
can’t nobody cop you…

In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel The Crossover, soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.

This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match!

Sequel to: The Crossover

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2016)
Eighth grader Nick Hall is quite a wordsmith, thanks largely to his father, a linguistics professor and the author of Weird and Wonderful Words, which Nick is required to read page by page: “You’re the only kid / on your block / at school / in THE. ENTIRE. FREAKIN’. WORLD. / who lives in a prison / of words. He calls it the pursuit of excellence. / You call it Shawshank.” Nick would rather be shining on the soccer field with his best friend Coby Lee, trying to talk to April Farrow, or playing Ping-Pong with his cool mom. Nick is blindsided when his parents suddenly separate and Mom moves away, leaving him to live alone with his stern dad. Then things worsen at school, too, as he and Coby (whose dad is from Singapore and mom is from Ghana) are targeted by the racist Eggleston twins (“pit-bull mean / eighth grade tyrants / with beards”). Like Alexander’s slam-dunk Newbery Medal winner, The Crossover (rev. 5/14), this novel in verse offers sports action combined with spot-on portrayals of middle-school life; warm, believable family and friend dynamics; and hip, down-to-earth adult secondary characters, such as The Mac, an eccentric rap-producer-turned-cool-librarian who supports Nick through his many trials. Alexander understands reluctant readers deeply, and here hands them a protagonist who is himself a smart, reading-averse kid who just wants to enjoy the words that interest him on his own terms. With accessible poetic forms and engaging formatting, Booked’s pages will be turned swiftly and enthusiastically. Katrina Hedeen

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2016)
Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class. Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer–and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable. A satisfying, winning read. (Fiction. 10-12)

About the Author

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

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

His website is www.kwamealexander.com.

Teacher Resources

Booked Reading Guide

Around the Web

Booked on Amazon

Booked on Goodreads

Booked on JLG

Booked Publisher Page

Moo by Sharon Creech

Moo by Sharon Creech. August 30, 2016. HarperCollins, 241 p. ISBN: 9780062415240.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.3; Lexile: 790.

Zora was chasing us.

Mooooooooo. Mooooooooo.

When we reached the gate Luke scrambled up and over it instead of through it and I was trying to follow when Zora’s ENORMOUS HEAD loomed up below me and bumped me into the air

When twelve-year-old Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents move to Maine, Reena doesn’t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents “volunteer” Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna—and one very ornery cow named Zora.

From Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech comes a lovely and uplifting story of how a little kindness can change lives, reminding us that if you’re open to new experiences, life offers surprises.

Was there room inside for the sights and sounds and smells of Maine?

Would I know what to do and how to be in Maine?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (July 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 21))
Grades 3-6. When 12-year-old Reena, her younger brother, and their parents move from New York City to a small town in Maine, the differences are apparent: a slower pace and a quieter place where the kids are free to bike around town on their own. Almost immediately, their mother volunteers their services to Mrs. Falala, an elderly Italian woman who needs help with her cow. From their first job, shoveling manure, they progress to putting a halter on moody Zora, the Belted Galloway cow they gradually befriend. Reena learns to show her at the upcoming fair. The first-person narrative, written partly in prose and partly in free verse, features a city girl facing challenges that strengthen her body and broaden her thinking. The cover design links it to Creech’s previous novels in verse, Love That Dog (2001) and Hate That Cat (2008), and with its distinctive near-rural setting, this highly readable, down-to-earth chapter book offers a refreshing change of pace from most realistic fiction.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2016)
Newbery Medalist Creech touches on themes of loss, friendship, and belonging in this appealing tale of a young girl’s unlikely relationship with Zora, an enormous belted Galloway.When 12-year-old Reena’s parents lose their newspaper jobs in the big city, they decide to change the flight plan of their lives and move to a small coastal town in Maine. Reena and her brother, Luke, “a seven-year-old complexity,” are volunteered by their mother to help Mrs. Falala, an elderly and ostensibly cantankerous woman whose menagerie of animals includes a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna, and the ornery, stubborn, slobbering, bellowing cow, Zora. Soon Luke is teaching Mrs. Falala to draw, and Reena is preparing to show Zora at the upcoming fair. The book’s playful use of words sets this novel apart. Not only does Creech seamlessly intersperse prose and poetry, but the design manipulates typeface, font, setting, and spacing to paint word-pictures, in some instances creating concrete poetry while in others emphasizing a few words on the page–an accentuation that makes the story come alive and deftly communicates the range of emotions, from humor to sorrow, that the story conveys. Luke, Reena, and most of their new neighbors are likely white; Beat, an older girl who helps Reena learn about cows, is dark-skinned. Fans of Love That Dog (2001) and Hate That Cat (2010) will find much to love in this story of a girl, a cow, and so much more. (Fiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Sharon Creech was born in South Euclid, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.  She is the author of several books for adults and young adults, including the Newbery Medal winning Walk Two Moons.

She currently lives in Maine with her husband, Lyle Rigg, and has two grown children, Rob and Karin.

Her website is www.sharoncreech.com.

 

Teacher Resources

Teach Creech Teaching Guide (Including Moo)

The World of Sharon Creech Teaching Guide (Including Moo)

Around the Web

Moo on Amazon

Moo on Goodreads

Moo on JLG

Moo Publisher Page