Very Bad Things

Cover ArtVery Bad Things. Written by Susan McBride. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

In spite of the fact that the main character in the story seems a bit too naïve and “good”, this book will still be a satisfying read to those who enjoy a suspenseful tale.

The story is set on elite prep school campus, where an unlikely pairing occurs between a popular jock name Mark and Katie, a quiet girl, much further down on the social scale.

As these two fall in love, it seems that outside forces are conspiring against them. Mark is suspected of having cheated on Katie during a wild party at his house,  but when girl from the wrong side of town ends up dead, Katie can’t bring herself to believe that Mark would actually murder anyone.

Due to language and adult situations, I would recommend this suspense novel to older teens and adults.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty

Cover ArtThomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty by Albert Marrin. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin. This is an informative, excellently-written book on Thomas Paine, a key Revolutionary figure and author of some of the most influential written pieces in American and European History (Common Sense, Rights of Man and The Age of Reason).  The reader gets a true sense of the brilliance of Paine’s political arguments in addition to insights into the man himself – his personal strengths and foibles. Every day people, historical leaders and soldiers have all been inspired and motivated by Paine’s insightful words, “These are the times that try men’s souls”.

Though not typically drawn to books on American History, I was pleasantly surprised at the richness of the text and the author’s ability to breathe life into a subject that is all too often reduced to boring statements of facts and incomprehensible, lofty ideals. I believe this book would make an excellent resource for any and all public and school libraries.

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Filed under Grade 10-12, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9, Nonfiction

Hungry

Hungry by H.A. Swain Feiwell & friends, 2014. ISBN: 9781250028297 . reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

Hungry

Thalia lives in the future at a time when humanity has messed things up enough to alter the ecosystem sufficiently to kill off most plant and animal life. Her parents helped create Synthamil, an artificial nutrition supplement that eliminates normal hunger. It was in response to a drastic food shortage, but a company, One World, gained control of the market, got some draconian laws passed and now everything is tightly regulated and privileged members of society like Thalia, are living in a materialistic, buy-driven technoworld, ignorant of how difficult survival is for the less fortunate.

She’s uncomfortable about most of the commercialism, particularly when talking with her grandmother about the way life was when people still farmed and raised their own food. When her long dormant stomach starts making hunger noises. She’s upset, but one night when she and her best friend Yaz are at a club, her stomach starts growling so loudly she’s worried everyone can hear it over the music and games being played, so she leaves to wander around the nearby abandoned buildings. When she smells something mysterious, she follows the beguiling scent and comes upon a building with a sign that says FLAV-O-RITE. Intrigued, Thalia opens the door and startles a boy standing by a long table.

Meet Basil, resident of the part of the city where life is a constant struggle and not everyone accepts the laws pushed by One World as necessary. He’s invented a machine that creates food smells. It doesn’t take long for Thalia to be as entranced by them as he is. She’s also pleasantly shocked to discover how easy it is to talk to him, because in her world, everyone is so consumer crazy and addicted to the buzz and flash of technology that she feels odd most of the time. Basil is a whiz with most anything mechanical, but Thalia has her own secrets. Thanks to watching her dad who invented the ubiquitous communication device known as the Gizmo, she’s turned into a very adept hacker and is part of an underground group called the Dynosaurs who use their skills to derail product blitzes from One World.

Their chance meeting not only sparks feelings of attraction, it forces Thalia to begin some serious questioning of everything she has assumed was true. In short order, she’s sent by her parents to a bizarre treatment facility, escapes, finds Basil again and the two of them break out of the inner city where the privileged live and they flee into the unknown outside the city. What they find and how they have to re-examine everything each of them grew up believing, while almost losing each other makes for a really interesting read.

Teens who like technology rich dystopian stories with lots of action, a well designed world and decent plot twists will like this one big time.

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Filed under Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Science fiction

Unbroken: An Olympian’s journey from airman to castaway to captive

Cover ArtUnbroken: An Olympian’s journey from airman to castaway to captive

Written by Laura Hillenbrand. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.  Recently released as a movie, this true tale of Louis Zamperini’s life will inspire readers of all ages. This biographical story will take the reader on a journey that starts in Louis’ childhood, goes from his time as a troubled youth,  as talented runner in the Olympics, a castaway and a courageous prisoner of war to his personal struggles and the achievements of his latter years.

This version of the New York Times bestselling book has been adapted specifically for young adults.

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

The Question Of Miracles

The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold. Houghton Mifflin, 2015. ISBN: 9780544334649.

A Question of Miracles

When you’re eleven, losing your best friend in a tragic accident is a pretty devastating experience. Add to that being uprooted from your home on the California coast and moving to perpetually rainy Corvallis, Oregon and you have the potential for a full bore meltdown. This is what Iris is dealing with as the story begins. In addition to these changes, she has to adjust from living in a house with others close by to an old farmhouse with a long driveway and riding on a school bus instead of walking to school or having one of her parents transport her. Then, there’s the matter of not knowing a single kid at the new school. The move has been easy for Mom, who got a new job as a genetic researcher, while her stay-at-home dad is excited about starting a garden and raising most of their food. Iris has nothing like these to look forward to, just the hurting, angry ache left by Sarah’s death.

On her first day at school, she meets Boris who is friendly, but socially awkward and kind of a know it all. Still, as time goes on, he grows on her and becomes her only real friend. Iris wonders whether he realizes how he’s perceived by the other kids, but isn’t ready to go there with him.

Letting go of her grief is the hardest thing imaginable for Iris. She’s sure that part of Sarah lives in their new house, but no matter how hard she tries, she can’t ‘see’ her. Boris is pretty sympathetic and understanding, partly because of what happened to him before he was born. As Iris gets to know his family, his mother calls him her miracle baby and encourages Iris to have Boris tell her the whole story.

His miracle, coupled with her gradual acceptance about Sarah’s death, thanks in part to a very understanding therapist, and her awareness that they both need to expand their friendship circle, bring the story to a positive and satisfying conclusion. This is a great book about pre-teen friendship and how to get through the grieving process. It’s a great one for both school and public libraries to add.

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

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King, Little, Brown, 2014. ISBN: 9780316222723. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

glory

When your photographer mom imitates Sylvia Plath when you’re a little kid and your dad reacts by removing the stove, giving up his career as an artist and forbids you from using the darkroom in the basement, you can get pretty confused and even a bit angry. Meet high school senior Glory O’Brien. She’s secretly afraid that she’ll end up like her dead mother. She can’t talk to her dad and has decided that there’s only so much she can safely share with her only friend, Ellie who lives in the commune across the street and has been home schooled since eighth grade.

When the girls get slightly drunk one night and Ellie shakes the jar containing a petrified bat the two girls have been carrying around for a while, it turns to dust and in a moment of complete insanity, the girls mix the powdered bat with warm beer and drink it.

What might have been just a gross and impulsive act becomes, a mind altering event. When they wake up the next morning, both of them can see parts of the past and the future when they see another person. Glory tends to see more of their futures than Ellie, but for whatever reason, when she tries to see her future through her father, she comes up blank.

As the story continues, Glory sees things that scare and horrify her, so she decides she needs to write a history of what’s coming as she sees it through all the people she meets. At the same time, this change alters how she sees both Ellie and her dad, leading her to rethink her friendship as well as become a lot more assertive about her desire to use the darkroom in the basement. When she does, she discovers albums her mom left behind that help her understand things a lot more.

This is an unusual book. I liked it and found the bat theme a nice hook to help Glory find her way to freeing herself from the ghosts of her past. I also liked how she found the right guy at the end. This is a good book for teens who like quirky and unusual stories with more than a few secrets.

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 10-12

Sammy Keyes and the kiss goodbye

Cover ArtSammy Keyes and the kiss goodbye by Wendelyn Van Draanen. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.  Well, we knew this day would come, when the beloved Sammy Keyes would have all the problems in her life resolved and everything would end in a “happily ever after”.  Of course the author closes the Sammy Keyes series in a surprising way.  A number of unique, popular “characters” from the past come back to protect the gravely ill girl, who has now become the target of a revengeful villain. Fans will be sad to see this spunky protagonist go, but relieved (for Sammy’s sake) to see how the author ties all the loose ends together.

~A must-read for any Sammy Keyes fan.

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

All The Bright Places

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. ISBN: 9780385755887. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

All the Bright Places

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey would seem to have little in common. That is until they find themselves on opposite 4 inch ledges six stories up in the bell tower overlooking their high school campus. Although Violet gets credit for saving the ‘weird’ kid, both of them know it was more likely the other way around. While Finch is known as the crazy guy around school, his mania and wild brilliance mask a severe depression, one so strong that he spends an inordinate amount of time contemplating statistics on different methods of suicide.

Violet, on the other hand, was extremely popular and involved in all sorts of extracurricular activities until the night she and her older sister were returning from a party. Eleanor was killed when the car hit black ice and crashed. Violet hasn’t been able to let go of a massive wave of guilt because she blames herself. She’s so paralyzed by the aftereffects that she refuses to ride in a car.

When they find themselves as unwilling partners in a class project that involves learning about unique places in their home state of Indiana, it’s an uneasy process, but Finch won’t let Violet wither any further. By teasing, cajoling and worming his way through her protective shell, he’s able to show her just how amazing life one day at a time can be. Unfortunately, as he expands her world and helps bring her back to life, he can’t accept her attempts to do the same for him.

What happens as they fall for each other and Finch finds himself unable to free himself from his demons is both sad and beautiful. If you’re looking for a happily ever after finish, this book doesn’t have one. What it does have is the ability to make you feel an amazing variety of feelings and realize as you close the book that, while life isn’t always fair, it’s all we got.

It’s an excellent book for any school or public library and teens who have struggled with depression, loss or grief may well find a bit of hope and solace if they read it.

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

Subway Love

Subway Love by Nora Raleigh Baskin, Candlewick Press 2014 ISBN: 9780763668457. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

Subway Love

Have you ever seen someone of the opposite sex in a quick passing and had them haunt you afterward? Jonas, in a funk because of his parents’ divorce, is helping himself cope by taking pictures with his estranged father’s old film camera. When he looks up from playing with it while sitting in the subway, a girl’s face on the opposite platform nearly causes his heart to stop. When the train between them has passed, she’s disappeared, but her impression on him is so strong that he begins an obsessive search for her. He has no name, no idea where she might live and no clue which way she went, that is if she actually got on the subway car.

On the other side of the tunnel is Laura. She lives in Woodstock, NY and is nervous every time she comes into New York City with her stoner older brother to visit her father because she tends to get lost asily. Back home in Woodstock, she’s in a frightening situation. Her mom went hippie and is living with Bruce, a much younger guy who has started physically abusing Laura with hints of more and scarier things to come. He manages to hit or pinch her when Mom is out of the room. In short, Laura needs an escape, preferably to a safe place.

This is the story of how she and a boy who loves her find that place. Unfortunately, there are circumstances involved that make a relationship next to impossible, but Jonas and Laura sure try to make that happen. How they do so, what happens when they link up with graffiti artist extraordinaire, Max, and how the book wraps up in a, to me at least, satisfying way, make this a great book for teens and even tweens who like magical realism and a dandy romance. It’s definitely worth adding to any public or school library.

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

I Was Here

I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Viking, 2015. ISBN:9780451471475. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

I Was Here

Friendships are a lot like the weather, hard to control, challenging to adapt to, frequently mysterious and ever changeable. Cody and Meg’s was like that. Best friends since kindergarten, Cody was practically raised by Meg’s parents because she had almost no idea who her own father was and her biological mother, Tricia, has never been capable of much more than putting a roof over her head and being snarky in between her flings with loser boyfriends.

The girls planned on going to Seattle and rooming while in college, but Meg got a scholarship to a different school and Cody stayed behind because money was tight and her grades weren’t good enough for financial help. Communication between them started to drop off and the only time Cody went to see Meg, it felt odd and she came home early. Then Meg killed herself with a rare and highly toxic cleaner in a locked motel room. She set up a final email to go to Cody, her parents and Ben, the guy she had been involved with, telling them what she was going to do and ending with: “This has nothing to do with you and everything to do with me. It’s not your fault.”

Despite what Meg wrote, Cody can’t help being angry and self-blaming. When she reluctantly agrees to go and get Meg’s belongings from the house she shared with several other students, She begins what turns out to be a very torturous and involved role as amateur detective. The more she hears and the more she’s able to dig out of what emails she finds on Meg’s laptop, the stronger her conviction grows that there were others involved and bigger secrets that anyone knows in Meg’s death. Her unlikely co-conspirator, Ben, starts out as someone she hates because she believes he was responsible for sending Meg over the edge. However, the deeper she digs, the less sure she is about her initial feeling and there’s that subtle spark, the one that makes her realize that he feels much the same way she does and every time she’s with him, things seem just a bit better.

Their journey to find what really happened is both physical and emotional, making for a terrific read. Yes, there are a lot of F-bombs, but they shouldn’t deter either school or public libraries from adding this to their collections. It does for teen suicide what Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory does for the devastating effects of PTSD on those close to the one who suffers.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12