Hung Up

Hung Up by Kristen Tracy, Simon Pulse, 2014. ISBN: 9781442460775. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

hung up

We’ve all called the wrong number. Usually you apologize and hang up as soon as you realize your mistake, but what if? Lucy never meant to call James. She was trying to reach the deadbeat who accepted her money for a plaque she special ordered, but never received. After leaving several fairly irate messages, James picks up on the next one. This is where 99% of the time that would be the end of it, but this is that magical 100th call and it turns into an ongoing telephone relationship that segues from James identifying himself so Lucy might actually realize she got the person who inherited the deadbeat’s number, to a little bit of everything.

Lucy is extremely guarded for reasons that don’t come out until quite late in the book, but they’re very sad and very real reasons. Fortunately, James is pretty cool with her skittishness and has some quirks of his own. When their plan to go to his formal dance falls through and he fails to contact Lucy for several days, it could easily have been the deal breaker for their fragile, but evolving relationship. Instead, it helps her understand that he has family issues, that, while nowhere near as traumatic as hers, are still distressing to him. By the end of the book, readers will feel like they’ve been on an emotional roller coaster, wondering if these two are EVER going to meet face to face.

This is a smart, emotional read that will appeal to teens who have experienced loss or who are skittish about the dating scene. It has a touch of mystery mixed in with neat dialogue and romance. All in all, it’s another good book for libraries who care about offering decent reads to teens.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

I’ll Meet You There

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios, Henry Holt, 2015. ISBN: 9780805097955. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

I'll meet you there

Most teens growing up, or who grew up in a small rural area well away from ‘civilization’ can relate to Skylar and her two best friends, Chris and Dylan. While Dylan made the mistake of getting pregnant, her two BFFs supported her and now all three have graduated from high school in the isolated town of Creek View, CA. Skylar, AKA Sky, is heading for art school in San Francisco, Chris is headed to the East coast where he’s going to put his math skills to good use at Boston University.

Chris and Sky made a pact several years ago that no matter what, they weren’t going to get sucked into the trap that most of their peers have before them and end up stuck in a dead end life. Chris has been in love with Dylan for years, but knows she’s unlikely to give him more than friendship because she’s all about her son’s dad. Sky has had a total of one fling and that lasted a week and left her wondering whether guys are worth the effort. She envisions herself meeting a smart and dreamy guy when she gets to college and eventually being a museum curator or teaching art. She’s also very good at making things out of paper, collages being her first love.

All Sky needs to do is get through her final three months in Creek View, enjoying her friends and working at the funky motel on the highway where each room has a theme and are often rented by the hour instead of by the day. Too bad life is that thing which happens when we plan. First, Her ex-fling’s older brother returns from his tour as a marine in Afghanistan with one leg missing and a scary haunted look in his eyes. Then her mother who has never really recovered from the night Sky’s dad tried driving home drunk and hit a semi head on, flips out, gets fired from Taco Bell after 18 years and retreats into cigarettes and booze.

Sky has been in a semi-caretaker mode for much of the six years since her dad died, but what’s happening now threatens her dream and her spark-filled connection with Josh has her questioning her sanity and the pact she and Chris thought was bullet proof.

What happens between Sky and Josh, Sky and her mother, as well as between the three best friends, is alternately scary, toe-curling and amazing. By the end of the book, I felt wrung out in spades. Sure, there’s some strong language and a bit of sex in the story, but they fit perfectly, particularly in the flashbacks Josh has to the day he lost both his leg and his platoon buddy when he stepped on an IED. It’s really helpful to read the author’s notes at the end of the book as they are very enlightening in terms of how and why this book came about. Despite the two cautions I noted, this is an excellent book for school and public libraries where staff want readers to get a really insightful view of what goes on when our younger veterans return from what is a very horrific experience.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Beginning of Everything

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Katherine Tegen Books, 2013. ISBN: 9780062217134. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

beginning of everything

Shortly before he was going to be homecoming king, Ezra Faulkner got hit with a double whammy in the same night. First, he catches his girlfriend cheating on him at a party. When he confronts her, she blows his upset off and when he breaks things off, she yells at him that he still has to take her to the prom. Shocked and more than a bit upset, he leaves and when he starts to drive home, is hit by a black SUV that runs a red light. Goodbye prom, goodbye tennis scholarship, goodbye ever walking normally again.

Fast forward to the beginning of senior year. Ezra isn’t sure who he is any more. So much of his identity came from being the class president and star of the tennis team and party scene. Now all of that’s gone and he’s struggling to find where he fits in, especially after none of his friends from the popular group bothered to visit while he was in the hospital.

Things begin to change when he decides he no longer belongs at the popular table in the cafeteria. Instead, he ends up at the nerd/outcast table where his best friend for years, Toby is willing to forgive him and when he first lays eyes on the new girl, Cassidy Thorpe, his heart does some interesting things. She transferred from a private school where she was a top debater, but she’s evasive about why she no longer wants to participate on a debate team or why she transferred to a public high school.

Despite her mood swings and evasiveness, Ezra falls for her big time. When he jokingly signs her up for a debate competition after Toby added his name to the sheet, Cassidy is initially furious, but won’t tell him why. As they spend more and more time together, Ezra realizes how much he cares for Cassidy, but has a nagging feeling that something bad is going to happen.

That something happens on prom night when they’re supposed to go along with several other couples to dinner and then the dance. It is the start of a wild emotional ride for both of them that changes Ezra’s way of looking at the world completely, leaving him sadder, but wiser. To say more would spoil the reading experience.

This is a beautiful, but extremely painful book and one that will stay with some readers for a long time after the cover is closed. It’s a good one for teens who have had to deal with painful secrets as well as those who like a love story with plenty of bittersweet.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Boys Don’t Knit (In Public)

Boys Don’t Knit (In Public) by T.S. Easton, Feiwel and Friends, 2015. ISBN: 9781250053312. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

boys dont knit

Jiminy Cricket said “Let your conscience be your guide.” For seventeen year old Ben Fletcher, his conscience seems to run 24/7, but it’s pretty hard to listen when your best friends are not very smart slackers. When their attempt to steal four bottles of liquor which they need as the entry fee for a big party, ends up with him hauling the booty in his bike carrier, he makes a split second mistake that results in hitting a crossing guard, damaging a Porsche and lands him in trouble with the law. Because it’s his first offense, he gets probation with certain conditions, among them that he has to keep a diary, take a class to help his social skills and perform public service by helping the crossing guard (an elderly lady that all the kids think is batty).

Ben has been keeping a diary for years, but feels uncomfortable at first sharing it with someone else. That feeling passes, however, but his discomfort takes on a new form when he realizes that he has three choices for a class; An automotive class with his father (so not happening), a knitting class, or pottery. Pottery seems the lesser of the remaining evils, but the pottery class is supposed to be taught by Mrs. Hooper, mother of Megan, the girl that Ben likes. If he takes pottery, will Megan’s mom spill the beans? Besides the knitting class is taught by his hot English teacher, Ms. Sparrow.

Knitting becomes Ben’s choice, but when he arrives for class, he’s horrified to discover that the teachers for pottery and knitting were switched. However, Mrs. Hooper promises to keep his secret and it isn’t long before Ben discovers that he’s a natural knitter and can visualize original patterns in his head as well as fall into a really nice mental zone when knitting. In short order, knitting becomes almost addictive, but is still something he isn’t ready to let his friends know about.

Where Ben takes his new passion, what happens when he does community service with the lollipop lady, how Megan and his slacker friends fit into what happens as well as how the bullies who have made his life at school miserable, get their comeuppance, all make for a funny and feel-good read. This is a nice book for school and public libraries to add where they have teen and tween patrons ho like funny, offbeat protagonists, wacky situations or have been bullied.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Lost Boy

Lost Boy by Tim Green, Harper, 2015. ISBN: 9780062317087. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

lost boy

Ryder and his mom live in New York. They’re happy, but just get by on the money she makes cleaning toilets. Ryder is protective of her, so much so that he has developed a pattern of turning down invitations from the kids on the baseball team he’s on. He gets more of these now that he’s blossomed into the best player on the team. He loves baseball and his dream is to be in the major leagues.

Every time he mentions it, Mom freezes. She keeps telling him he’ll become a doctor or a lawyer. She also refuses to tell him anything about his father. On the way home from a game, they’re arguing about his latest refusal to attend a sleepover at a museum with another boy, when he jerks away from her and she stumbles into the street where she’s hit by a vehicle. Everything becomes surreal for Ryder. At first he can’t believe what’s happening, but when one of the firemen takes him under his wing, Ryder becomes very upset and guilt-ridden because he blames himself.

When Doyle, the fireman, uses his position to get Ryder into the hospital and learn how badly his mom is hurt, things seem pretty grim. Mom’s heart is badly damaged and she needs 2 valves replaced if she’s going to survive. An operation will cost $200,000 and the situation is further complicated by her signing a do not resuscitate order ten years before when she was treated for something else.

By this point, Doyle has fallen under the spell that Mom casts on most men. He’s determined to use the power of the fire department to raise the money, but it must happen within 2 weeks or Mom will likely die.

Meanwhile Ryder asks his crippled and extremely grumpy neighbor for help. Mr. Starr can barely move, but his brain is sharp as is his tongue and he used to be a crime reporter for a big newspaper. When Ryder shows him a ball and a letter his mom hid in her closet, they start searching to see if they can find Ryder’s father who he believes is a pro ball player.

The search involves getting arrested, banned from a couple ballparks, a train trip to Atlanta and more roadblocks that you can imagine. Despite setback after setback, Ryder and his grumpy neighbor persevere and the ending is extremely satisfying. This is a great book for sports fans, kids who wonder about an absent parent and those who love an action filled story. It also does a great job of making a severely handicapped person come to life in sympathetic ways. All in all, a dandy addition for school and public libraries.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

Villainous

Villainous. Written by Matthew Cody. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

A group of preteen friends, most of whom have unique superpowers, are fearful that they will be blamed for the vandalism that is occurring around town.  Daniel Corrigan, the brilliant leader of this strange group of misfits, is the only one without a special power.

Daniel must quickly decide whether the “Supers” should unite with an old nemeses, to overcome a clear and present danger, or go ahead and try to overcome this evil on their own.  This chapter book is a sequel to “Super”.  It offers the reader an entertaining interpretation of the old classic comics and is a good choice for young fantasy enthusiasts.

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

Moon At Nine

Moon At Nine by Deborah Ellis, Pajama Press, 2014. ISBN: 9781927485576. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Fifteen is a confusing age no matter where you live, but for Farrin, it’s extremely so. She’s attending a school for girls in post-revolutionary Iran during their nasty war with Iraq. Her wealthy parents seem to despise each other and hold silly gatherings with their friends where everyone drinks alcohol and talks about the return of the shah in defiance of the new government.

She’s trying to figure out what she believes in and how she feels about life when she meets and becomes friends with Sadira, a new girl in her class. Sadira lost all but her father in Iraqi bombing raids and has spent several years taking care of her grieving father. They moved to Tehran and now that he’s better, she has started school.

There’s an instant bond between the girls because of their ability to talk freely when nobody else is around. Sadira motivates Farrin to become a better and more focused student. However, when they come in first and second academically, they incur the enmity of Pargol, a dour bully who is fanatical about her post as class monitor. She had become accustomed to finishing as the top student and now seems determined to get both of them in trouble.

The girls give her opportunity as their friendship blossoms into a lot more. Farrin soon realizes that she’s in love with Sadira. When she becomes brave enough to tell her friend how she feels, she’s thrilled to hear that Sadira has similar feelings. Same sex attraction is right up there on the list of evil behaviors the revolutionary government thinks are inspired by decadent westerners. When the girls are caught kissing by Pargol, they’re severely reprimanded and they’re prohibited from having any contact with each other while in school.

Love, however, is a very powerful force, even in an insanely despotic and ruthless environment. When they are caught a second time, both families treat them as pariahs and ramp up efforts to get them married as soon as possible. When Farrin decides that it’s worth risking everything to have an evening with Sadira while her parents are partying downstairs, she has her father’s Afghan driver bring her friend to the house.

Unfortunately, they fall asleep after planning to run away and the house is raided by revolutionary guards. What happens to them afterward is scary and eye-opening. The end of the book is a real gut-punch. This is an innocent story about young love in an impossible environment and brings home how barbaric other parts of the world still are. It’s an excellent book for any school or public library and will appeal to teen readers who like recent historical fiction, different love stories or are curious about how teens are treated elsewhere. It’s based on the experiences of a woman who lived during the Iranian revolution.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Louder Than Words

Louder Than Words by Laura Jarratt. Electric Monkey, 2014. ISBN: 9781405269124. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS,

Louder than Words1

Rafi’s fourteen and stopped speaking to most everyone between age four and six. She spoke to her older brother Silas last. As a result, she’s isolated from kids most of the time except for Silas who is a couple years older and a complete computer nerd. They’re on their way home from school on the bus and Rafi is sitting with her brother and his friends when one of them starts showing pictures on his cellphone that a guy posted of his ex-girlfriend. They show her topless and the chatter Raffi overhears starts out trashing the girl, but changes a bit when one of the girls in the group takes everyone to task for jumping to conclusions about the girl’s morality. Silas doesn’t seem to be paying attention.

Shortly after they get off the bus they encounter a new girl who is obviously distressed. It’s Josie who just moved into their neighborhood. She’s the same one whose semi-nude picture has been splashed over the internet. Silas is unusually gentle with her and invites her to stop at their house, in part to help vent and in part because he seems to sense that Raffi might have just found her first real friend.

It turns out he’s right, but then Silas goes a step further, utilizing his computer skills to completely trash Josie’s ex-boyfriend in a way that has him begging her for forgiveness very quickly. Josie and Rafi do find that they’re comfortable with each other and when Josie drags her off and buys her a text-capable phone, it opens up a new world of communication for Rafi.

Meanwhile, Silas, who has never really been turned on by any of the girls he’s dated, is completely floored when he meets black-clad and beautiful Lara at one of their mother’s art shows. She plays hard to get, but it’s not long before she seems to relent and pulls him into the underground movement called ActionX, which is devoted to bringing government corruption and the inequitable treatment of poor in other countries into the public eye. Silas is intrigued, but can’t quite figure Lara out. She’s warm, then distant, so much so that he’s completely hooked, so much so, that he seems to have abandoned his friends.

Meanwhile, Josie has begun to break down Rafi’s walls to the point where the younger girl shows her some of her short stories, something she’s never even shared with her brother. Josie’s impressed and convinces Rafi to consider writing about the reason why she stopped talking.

The story, told in alternating chapters for much of the book (Rafi vs Silas’ viewpoints) pulls the reader into twin story lines. On the one hand, readers follow the developing friendship between the girls that leads to Rafi deciding that trying a speech therapist again, while scary, might be worth the possibility that she’d finally have a life and a future. On the other, you’re sucked into the new and scary world of anarchy that involves Silas and his enigmatic girlfriend. Readers will, I suspect, find the way the author braids the two together at the end, very satisfying, if a bit sad.

Laura is a gifted YA storyteller. This, like her first two books, is an excellent choice for both school and public libraries.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 4-6

A Math Journey Through Planet Earth

A Math Journey Through Planet Earth. This is part three in a series of four books that takes a specific science concept (in this case Earth Science) and uses those ideas to teach early math skills.
This particular informational text takes the reader on a journey throughout the Earth, where the young reader can practice inequalities, tallying figures, money concepts, volume, the Roman numeral system, etc. as he/she also learns about planet Earth.
Although the ideas presented in each book seem haphazardly chosen, any book that keeps readers engaged in learning general math skills is a good resource to have.
This book is written at a guided reading level of R.
Other titles in the series are:
A Math Journey Through the Human Body. Written by Anne Rooney. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin. Part two in a series of four books, this informational text takes a specific science concept (in this case Health) and uses those ideas to teach early math skills.
This particular informational text encourages the reader to develop number sense, learn how to use percentages, order of operations, and other general math skills within the context of nutrition, the respiratory system, skin and bones, etc.
Although the ideas presented in each book seem haphazardly chosen, any book that keeps readers engaged in learning basic math is a good resource to have.
This book is written at a guided reading level of R.

A Math Journey Through Space. Written Anne Rooney. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin. This is part four in a series of four books that takes a specific science concept (in this case space) and uses that content to teach early math skills.
This particular informational text includes a journey into space where the moon, astronauts, rovers and a trip to mars will lead the learner though a number of fun math activities. The active learner will discover how to round numbers, figure time, measure angles, add integers, work with decimals, etc.
Although the ideas presented in each book seem haphazardly chosen, any book that keeps readers engaged in learning general math skills is a good resource to have.
This book is written at a guided reading level of R.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade K-3

A Math Journey Through the Animal Kingdom

A Math Journey Through the Animal Kingdom, by Anne Rooney. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin. This is part one in a series of four books that takes a specific science concept (in this case the animal kingdom) and uses that content to teach early math skills.

This particular informational text includes a journey to various habitats where bugs, tigers, birds, meerkats, and other fascinating animals will lead the learner though a number of fun math activities. The active learner will discover how to add, find the perimeter and area, write an expression, find a pattern or shape, draw a basic stem-and-leaf plot, use a map, etc.

Although the ideas presented in each book seem haphazardly chosen, any book that keeps readers engaged in learning general math skills is a good resource to have.

This book is written at a guided reading level of R.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade K-3, Nonfiction