The Summer I Wasn’t Me

The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi, Sourcebooks, 2014. ISBN: 9781402277887. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS

the summer I wasn't

Lexi never got to tell her father her most important secret and now he’s dead, a victim of pancreatic cancer. Her mother, a teacher, tumbled into a deep depression after her husband’s death and Lexi would do anything to pull her mom back from the brink. When Mom finds a telling sketch in her notebook, one that opens up Lexi’s sexuality, her mother goes completely off the deep end. In order to bring her mom back, she agrees to go to New Horizons Summer Camp, a christian camp that claims it can reprogram gay teens to be straight.

At first, Lexi has some hope. The director of the camp claims he’s been straight and happy for ten years. Most of the counselors also say that the program worked for them. Lexi just wants her mother to be okay again and is willing to do whatever that takes. Her resolve is seriously weakened when she’s placed in a group of four teens with Carolyn, a quiet and beautiful blonde from Connecticut. The two boys in the group, Matthew and Daniel are interesting opposites. Daniel is continually abused both verbally and physically by his dad who drinks. He’ll do anything to feel normal and stop the abuse. Matthew is fine being gay and even has a long-term relationship back home. His father, however can’t stand the thought of a gay son and has issued an ultimatum: Make it through the two month program, or don’t come home.

The story takes you through the exercises designed to reprogram the teens as well as giving the reader an intimate look at how camper ticks and why. As the camp session goes on, Lexi begins to start questioning the methods, and more importantly, the supposed success of the program. When she can’t hide her attraction for Caroline and Matthew steps over the line and is placed in a very frightening and dangerous situation, Lexi, Daniel and Caroline have to decide what’s really important.

This is one heck of a book, but it has the potential to polarize people. Those who are of the mindset that homosexuality is a learned trait, will not like this book, those who are more open-minded may well like it as much as I did. Regardless of how you feel, this is a great book for creating a dialogue about an extremely important issue that many teens and their families face.

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

Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies

Book Cover Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies.  Written by: Cokie Roberts.  Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.   This is a  well-written and illustrated picture book that will make a nice addition to any library.  Cokie Roberts looks at the many contributions that American women have made throughout history.  The author includes a timeline of important events, starting with 1765 (The Stamp Act) and concluding with the end of the Revolutionary War.

It is refreshing to read about lesser known women patriots.  Eliza Lucas Pinckney managed her family’s large plantation during the war, set up a school for enslaved children and even acted as lawyer for locals.   Catharine Littlefield Greene was a general’s wife and, like Martha Washington, she sometimes chose to spend her winter months with the troops, in-spite of bearing children nearly every year.

The illustrator, Diane Cooke, creates lovely pictures in muted naturalistic tones.

Children who love history will surely enjoy reading about these smart, often courageous, patriotic women.

 

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

Swim That Rock

Swim That Rock by John Rocco and Jay Primiano, Candlewick Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780763669058. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

swim that rock

Jake refuses to believe his dad is dead, even though everything points to that being the case since he disappeared at sea. His mother is struggling to keep the diner running because they’ve lost the house and it’s all they have left. Things look grim because they owe the local Mafia Wanna-be $10,000 and have a month to raise it. The story opens right in the middle of a hurricane with Jake trying to find the mysterious man who left him a message in the form of a $50.00 bill stuck to a post with a knife he believes belongs to his missing father. He locates the man in a seedy tavern. He’s drunk, but orders Jake to accompany him on a questionable salvage operation in the middle of the storm that involves salvaging outboard motors and outrunning the Clam Cops.

After the storm passes, Jake goes to work for the mysterious Captain, harvesting illegal Quahogs in a closed area that’s polluted. When they’re chased by the Clam Cops, the Captain hits his head and Jake has to outrun the cops and get medical help.

Jake had planned to go Quahogging with his dad’s best friend Gene, when the area that’s been closed for a long time reopens, but while they’re gathering clams at another location, the long rake handle breaks and Gene almost bleeds to death. Once again, Jake saves someone with his quick action.

Back at the diner, He’s realizing that he likes Darcey, a girl his age who helps out and is terribly self conscious about her severely burned arm.

What Jake does on his own when the closed area reopens, including an impulsive act to help a stranger, coupled with his kindness toward Darcey make the last third of the book a truly engrossing and feel-good read. Tweens and teens will really enjoy this great coming of age tale.

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

Althea and Oliver

Althea & Oliver by Christina Moracho, Viking, 2014. ISBN: 9780670785391. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

Althea and Oliver

Coming from single parent homes helped Althea and Oliver become best friends. They’ve been that way for years, but now that they’re edging toward adulthood, things have changed…at least for Althea. She’s had new feelings for Oliver for some time now, scary, exciting and frustrating ones. She’s falling for him, but, oddly enough, their closeness has gotten in the way, making her fearful of telling him how her feelings have changed.

When it becomes clear that Oliver’s sleeping jags, some lasting as long as two weeks, are symptomatic of a serious underlying illness, she’s even more frightened, especially when something painful and shocking happens. Oliver’s mom finds a doctor up north in New York City who has been researching teens with similar symptoms. He’s willing to include Oliver in his study, but can’t promise anything will change.

Desperate to get his life back, Oliver starts shutting Althea out of what is presently passing for one and goes to NYC, leaving her hurt, scared and desperate. Realizing that drastic measures on her part are called for, she takes what money she’s saved and lies to her father, telling him that she’s going to drive out west and spend some time with her estranged mother. She figures that she can lie in phone calls home about her actual location because dad is pretty much wrapped up in his own stuff and her mother is so narcissistic that she could care less where her daughter might be. Pretty sad stuff for a teen in a world of hurt.

Oliver settles in at the research facility, hoping for good news, but seemingly falling into research limbo. Meanwhile, Althea sort of loses her way and ends up as part of a household of semi-lost teens who share a rundown house and have a regular route on which they gather discarded and left over food that they prepare each day to feed the hungry. Althea begins to settle in and feel some of the emotions she wanted to experience at home and with Oliver.

What happens to reconnect them and what each realize about themselves, each other and what is and isn’t possible in their relationship is sad, but ultimately liberating. Yes, there’s a great deal of rough language and some sex, but the story’s message easily transcends them in my opinion. Some of the narrative is really striking, like this bit near the end: “If this were a movie, she thinks, it should end here. With champagne, by the water, while everyone is celebrating, while she has everything she needs. Before the sun muscles its way through the clouds, before her hangover springs to life, before her new tattoo starts to scab over and itch and she has to help clean the house. And then she would never have to watch Oliver go, or wake up after he leaves, terrified that she did the wrong thing. It should stop now, before her choice becomes a reality and she has to prove that she’s strong enough to live with it….”

This is ultimately a book about teens being forced to make tough and painful choices, well before they should have to and gaining the kind of wisdom that sometimes only real, deep emotional pain can teach.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Poppy, 2012. ISBN: 9780316122382. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

the statistical probability

We seldom think about how much a chance change in plans or timelines can affect our lives. Getting held up for five minutes or turning onto the wrong road can change life in unexpected ways. Seventeen year old Hadley Sullivan discovers just how impactful one of these moments can be. She’s totally not excited about flying to London for her father’s 2nd wedding. Heck, she’s still stung and hurting from what she feels is his betrayal of her and her mom. Dad had a chance to teach there on a sabbatical, but things started getting odd and the next thing Hadley knew her parents were divorced and she was feeling a bit at sea.

When she arrives a few minutes late at the airport in Boston, her first impulse is panic, mixed with a tiny bit of relief. Maybe she won’t be able to get there in time, but fate steps in and she’s given a seat on a plane departing in three hours.

Still feeling mixed up, she catches the eye of Oliver, who is a couple years older. He offers to watch her bag while she uses the restroom. They begin talking and discover that he’s returning to London on the same flight. After the elderly woman who was to sit between them, moves so they can be next to each other, they spend most of the flight talking and by the time they land, both of them realize that there’s some sort of connection between them. In fact, when they split into different lines at customs, Oliver impulsively kisses her before heading off.

Hadley barely makes it to the wedding on time, but can’t stop thinking about Oliver. She thought he was going to another wedding, but when another guest makes a casual remark about there being a funeral in Paddington, the place where Oliver was headed, Hadley gets a bad feeling and bolts from the reception.

Finding the church where the funeral, which is for Oliver’s estranged father is being held, isn’t easy, but she finds it, and him. While things between them are pretty uncomfortable, when she leaves to return to the wedding, she’s even more convinced there’s a strong connection, but is also beginning to suspect it might not go anywhere.

What happens after she returns to the reception, how her perception of her father and her new stepmother change and what happens between her and Oliver make for a delightful and totally feel-good story. This is a great book for teens who like a romance with a happy ending. This is the fourth book I’ve read and really liked by Jennifer E. Smith. She has a great way of making you focus on her main characters and really care about them a lot.

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

Mark of the Dragonfly

Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson, Delacorte Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780385376150. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

mark of the butterfly

Piper is a scavenger and a caretaker…And an orphan. She lives in one of the towns near the mysterious and dangerous area where strange meteors rain from the sky, meteors that seem to come from other worlds and often leave valuable things behind that scavengers can sell for food, clothing and other things necessary for survival. Her father, hoping to earn enough so the two of them could settle down and have a better life, was, instead, killed by the toxic emissions from the factory he worked at in Noveen, capitol of the Dragonfly Territories.

When a meteor shower is imminent, everyone has to hunker down in cellars to avoid getting killed or poisoned by dust kicked up when the strange objects land. Micah is Piper’s best friend, a boy she trusts, but worries about because of his impulsiveness. When Piper she realizes that he’s not in the town shelter, she breaks the law by leaving as the shower is about to begin, so she can be certain he’s safe. She finds him and as they’re hiding under a ledge, she sees a strange wagon get hit right in front of them and a piece of debris hits Micah in the head. When it’s safe, she hurries to check out the wagon and discovers a girl near her age that has the mysterious Dragonfly Tattoo on her arm. The girl is unconscious, so Piper somehow manages to drag both her and Micah back to town where she has Micah’s brother get a healer while she hides the girl.

Thus begins one of the best books I read in 2014 (and I read well over 200). It involves mystery, scary creatures, rebels, a fascinating train known as the 401, Piper’s skills with mechanical contraptions, her growing friendship with Anna, the girl with the tattoo who turns out to be more than anyone realizes as well as Gee, the orphan boy who is a changeling and part of the crew running the 401.

This is worthy of an Edgar nomination and is an excellent choice for any library because of the skillful way the story evolves and the extremely likable characters. I look forward to reading more from this author.

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

Far From You

Far From You by Tess Sharpe, Hyperion, 2014. ISBN: 9781423184621. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

far from

Sophie Winters has been in pain since age fourteen. That pain has been physical, spiritual and emotional. It started when her best friend’s brother was driving and they were hit by another driver. Sophie wasn’t wearing her seat belt and was terribly injured. Her leg and back will never be the same. Trev and his sister Mina weren’t badly hurt and he’s felt guilty ever since.

Sophie ended up addicted to pain medication, but the only person who noticed was Mina, but then Mina reads her like nobody else can. They became friends when she moved to town after her dad died. Sophie saw her sitting alone and tear-faced at lunch and befriended her. They’ve been extra close ever since. When Sophie crashes and burns from drugs and Mina finally dares to confront her, she goes to Oregon and rehabs with her aunt. It’s brutal going through withdrawal, but she holds on by reminding herself how long it’s been: six months, three days, nine hours. When she returns home, gaining everyone’s trust isn’t easy. One night she and Mina make a detour on the way to a party and Mina is murdered by a man in a ski mask and Sophie’s world destroyed. Not only has she lost her best friend, and when she’s able to be honest, the person she really loved, but the killer planted Oxycontin in her pocket after beating her senseless.

Sophie is stuck in a rehab facility even though she never relapsed. Neither of her parents believe her, but she’s determined to fight back and find out why Mina was killed and who did it. Her efforts to do so are alternated with flashback chapters that flesh out her relationship with Mina.

With Trev’s reluctant help, he’s been in love with her for years, after all, she unmasks the killer and in the process solves another murder case, the story Mina was working on that got her killed. Sophie darn near gets killed herself in the process.

This is an amazing first book. It combines mystery, a girl’s struggle with addiction and a love story seamlessly as well as doing a very good job of making it next to impossible to figure out who the killer is. Sure there are sexual references and some strong language, but if you’re a librarian, do not let them prevent you from adding this book to your collection. This is a sweet, but sad love story blended with a dandy mystery. It will appeal to lesbian and bisexual teens in particular, but should have a much wider audience and serious consideration for a young adult Edgar nomination.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Burn Out

Burn Out by Kristi Helvig. Egmont, 2014. ISBN:9781606844793.

burn out

Seventeen year old Tora Reynolds faces an incredibly bleak future. When an attempt to deflect an asteroid that was headed directly at Earth goes awry, sending it into the sun, it speeds up the nuclear process, shortening its life immensely. As a result, the seas dried up, most people caught in the daytime were fried and small compounds became the last bastions of humanity.

The government, called the Coalition following the disaster, scared and focused on finding an alternative Earth, had her father develop some secret super weapons in case they encountered hostile species. When he realized the government had ulterior motives, her father keyed the weapons to her energy waves, preventing anyone else from firing them. He took the money he got and built a super strong, secret bunker where he moved his family and the weapons. Unfortunately Tora’s mom and sister died when trapped outside and her father was murdered by the government. She believes that she’s the last person on a dying planet.

When her old family friend, Marcus, appears and tells her the government was successful in finding a clone to Earth, she’s immediately suspicious and his attempt to get the weapons validates her distrust. She drives him away, but is more convinced than ever she’s going to die alone.

When he returns with others to wrest the weapons from her, she can’t figure out James, one of the accompanying mercenaries. He’s kind, then cool, but hints at as much pain in his past as she has in hers. They’re ambushed by a Coalition ship, intent on getting her and the weapons. What follows is tense, high adventure of the best kind, leading to a cliffhanger ending that screams for a sequel.

This is an excellent YA entry into the Dystopian fantasy/science fiction genre. There’s violence, but even mature tweens won’t find that a deal breaker. Great addition to any library.

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

Panic

Panic by Lauren Oliver, Harper Teen, 2014. ISBN: 9780062014559. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

Panic_HC_JKT_des4.indd

Heather’s watching her fellow high school seniors who are crazy enough to take the jump from the edge of the quarry that will get them into this year’s Panic. She’s angry and hurt because her boyfriend, who she was about to declare her love for, dumped her. She grinds out the climb to the top in utter darkness, an absence of light that mirrors her soul. She jumps. Panic is a town tradition in a place where there’s little to look forward to since the factory closed. Lucky teens leave and never come back. Really lucky teens win Panic and leave with a ton of cash.

Nobody is really sure how Panic started, but everyone in the high school kicks in a dollar a day for the year. Seniors crazy enough to compete in some really scary challenges, are eliminated, one by one, until two are left. The identities of the two judges is a closely guarded secret and later challenges are tailored to force the remaining players to face their biggest fears. Dodge’s sister was a finalist two years ago, but her opponent sabotaged her car and she’s paralyzed from the waist down as a result. He wants to win and extract revenge. Heather wants to win because her home life stinks and she feels like she has to protect her little sister from her useless, drugged and drunk party animal mother. Bishop, her only guy friend wants to help her win, but he has secrets of his own. Nat, Heather’s best friend, wants to win so she can go elsewhere and maybe become a model, but the challenges scare her silly.

The story follows these four teens through the challenges as well as looking at how they start to figure out their relationships. What some thought was friendship, becomes more, what others thought was more, becomes confusing. Each challenge is scarier and more difficult. After someone dies during one in a haunted house, the remaining ones go underground because the cops are out with a vengeance.

This is a gritty, immersive read. The romance portion is intriguing because there are so many assumptions that get tested and a few don’t survive the test. The way Lauren Oliver takes readers through the challenges and the events in between, will force readers to really get caught up in the suspense and uncertainty. The ending is a toe-curling dandy. This is not a book for the squeamish, but older teens who like an engrossing plot with plenty of suspense will really like this book.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Fangirl

Fangirl by Ken Baker, Running Press Kids, 2012. ISBN:9780762443444 Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

 Image

Josie Brant is quiet, except in her head where she writes really great songs. She and her younger brother live with their mother, but spend some time with their ex-hockey player dad who tries, but has substance abuse and maturity issues. When her best friend ‘borrows’ one of her songs and enters it in a contest to win a trip to Las Vegas to get top drawer treatment at a rock concert, Josie doesn’t know. She’s enamored of the rock star, sixteen year old Peter Max, herself, but lets most of the fantasy stay in her head.

However, when she and her best friend, Ashley, go to see Peter in concert, she really gets into singing along and when Peter notices her enthusiasm and the t-shirt she’s wearing that says “Rock and Roll is my boyfriend,” something interesting begins, even though her rational side says it could never be possible.

Impossible starts to unfold when Peter comes to their school to award the trip prize to Ashley. Josie feels like a deer in headlights. Not only has her best friend stolen her song, she’s won a trip to see Peter up close with it. Ashley has to come clean and Josie gets to go to Las Vegas after all, but not without some pretty wild things happening along the way, including her dad getting arrested for growing marijuana and a secret person leaking things to the press that make her life almost impossibly painful. The story ends in a feel good fairytale way.

While this book is not the tightest one ever written, it has lots of good things going for it. Teens who have crushes on famous rock and movie stars will like it a lot and those who have divorced parents or a secret talent, but are too shy to share it with the world will also relate well to Josie’s story.

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