Between Two Skies

Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan, Candlewick (April 25, 2017). ISBN: 9780763690342. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

between two skies

Evangeline Riley is mostly satisfied with her life in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Granted, her older sister is irritating and tends to shirk her way out of chores, but Ev, as she’s sometimes called, can take her small boat into the bayous and get lost while fishing among the birds to feel a sense of place and peace. She also has her father and often helps out on their shrimp boat. Then, there’s her beloved grandmother or Mamere, who is loving, wise and laid back.

Despite it not really being her thing, she’s about to become Fleet Queen as well as celebrating her sixteenth birthday. Even better, she escapes when the festivities get to be a bit too much and meets Tru, a Vietnamese boy visiting cousins. He and his borrowed boat are stuck. While helping him free it, she gets to know a lot about him, including an awareness that she’s attracted.

Then Hurricane Katrina threatens, then hits Louisiana. Ev’s family takes refuge in Atlanta to ride things out, expecting to return home soon. When they realize their town has been almost completely destroyed, it’s the first of many changes to their lives.

She must adjust to a new school, her parents distance from each other, her sister’s meltdown, loss of her best friends, loss of Tru and most importantly, her whole way of life. Recovering isn’t quick or easy, but this book does a stellar job of following Ev and everyone else as they try their best to figure out what’s realistic and what’s not as they rebuild their lives.

It’s a perfect book for any and all libraries to own because of the way it shows how many ways a disaster can affect families and communities.

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

Swinging At Love

Swinging At Love by Kendra Highley, Entangled Publishing (March 6, 2017). ISBN: 9781682814499. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Alyssa knows hitting and pitching, even though she doesn’t do either any more. When the ballet bug bit her, she gave up her spot as a star softball pitcher because there’s something about dancing that makes her feel alive and amazing. She gets her vicarious fill of sport by helping her dad at Swing Away, the batting cage facility he owns. Unfortunately, a new, shiny multi-sport facility was built two years ago in Suttonville where they live and it has been sucking away business to the point where Swing Away’s continued viability is in jeopardy.

Tristan Murrell is a star outfielder on the high school team, but his swing has gotten messed up and the more he stresses over missing pitches, the worse it becomes. One afternoon he tries getting untracked at Swing Away, hoping to avoid being seen by any of his team mates. Alyssa spots his problem immediately and when she convinces him she knows what she’s doing, he’s relieved…and intrigued. She’s unlike any girl he’s encountered. Unfortunately her best friend, also a ballerina, is hot for Tristan, while his buddy and the star pitcher on the baseball team is attracted to Alyssa.

Getting together while trying to avoid irate friends, performance declines on the diamond and at the dance studio, not to mention navigating the waters so they can have a relationship, allows Tristan and Alyssa to have quite the adventure.

Sports loving teens and those who like intrigue in their romance will enjoy this quick, fun read. A nice addition for any library catering to teens.

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

Bionic

Bionic by Suzanne Weyn, Scholastic Press (October 25, 2016). ISBN: 9780545906777. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

Bionic

Mira thinks her biggest decision is whether to give up playing in Electric Storm, the rock band she loves in order to focus more on lacrosse where she has a shot at a scholarship. She’s on her way to their last gig when Matt, the driver, panics and makes a too sharp turn into a gas station. Mira hears screaming and senses horrific pain, then nothing.

When she returns to consciousness some days later, her mind is fuzzy and the pain level beyond anything she could imagine. It’s the beginning of a long and painful (both physically and emotionally) journey. She’s lost an arm, a leg, a cheekbone and suffered a broken nose and brain damage.

At that point, giving up looks like her only viable option because all her dreams have evaporated. When she and her mom are approached with the possibility that she can be a test person for new and experimental prostheses as well as a brain implant that might help her become better than new, it’s an offer too good to refuse.

It comes, however with many unexpected gotchas. Other teens see her as a cyborg, she faces accusations of unfairness when she competes as a swimmer, her boyfriend isn’t what she remembers him to be, and she starts having emotional disconnects. How she navigates this giant minefield makes for a fast, but intriguing read that involves a new look at her autistic brother, learning to connect with a group she’d never have believed she had anything in common with, as well as regaining the really important pieces of her live while gaining a new appreciation for them.

It’s a good read for teens liking realistic science fiction as well as heroines who really have to struggle.

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

The Breaking Light

The Breaking Light by Heather Hansen, Skyscape (April 1, 2017). ISBN: 9781503942684. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

breaking light

Imagine another world, one where sunlight is a commodity and society is rigidly stratified not only in terms of wealth, but by access to light. Those less fortunate either die a slow, painful death, or survive by paying almost everything they have for the light substitute VitD injections. The other alternative, or the palliative for those who have gone too long without, is shine, an inhalable drug made from the same components.

When Arden, a streetwise resident of the undercity, finds a wealthy mark from above on a street one day, she ‘allows’ him to capture her, partly because she’s curious, partly because she feels he needs to know how risky poking about in her realm can be. When she turns the tables and takes away the knife at her throat, they start a conversation that is the beginning of an incredibly difficult romance.

They’re opposites not only in socio-economic status, but in outlook, or so it seems at first. However, Dade, the boy she confronted, can’t get her out of his head and has his own secrets relating to the inequality rampant in their city

Arden is part of a gang that steals from the wealthy families who run the entire city and sell the goods, primarily shine, to finance weapons and intelligence to use in a rebellion. Arden’s brother is leader of the gang and she sees him growing more and more unstable every day thanks to his use of shine. On one hand, she’s terrified that he’ll act recklessly, but on the other, she can’t shrug off her loyalty to him and her best friend who is also a gang member.

Meanwhile, she and Dade can’t keep away from each other and as they spiral toward each other amid growing security and violence, their safety becomes threatened by both factions. How this plays out becomes a violent, action-filled experience that will leave readers gripping the book tightly as they follow along. The ending screams for a sequel which I hope comes soon.

Despite the violence, this is a dandy dystopian entry for school and public libraries to consider.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Science fiction

Falling Over Sideways

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, Scholastic Press (September 27, 2016). ISBN: 9780545863247. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Claire’s life is uncomfortable. Older brother Michael can do no wrong. In fact there are times when she expects to hear a chorus of angels and see the halo when he enters the room. Mom tends to alternate between annoyingly perky and unsympathetic, while her author dad jokes when she wants understanding.

At school, she’s harassed by the mean girls, taunted by Ryder about her being an inferior saxophone player and then comes the worst. Her one emotional haven-the dance classes she loves, turn ugly as well. After spending her summer taking extra classes with her best friends, they get moved up while she has to stay behind and dance with younger kids. Could life get any suckier? Yup.

She’s sitting at the breakfast table with her dad when he starts talking gibberish and falls over. Claire’s terrified, but manages to get it together and after getting Mom’s voicemail, she calls 911. The section describing her panicked, but proper responses makes for emotional reading.

Dad has suffered a stroke and anything resembling normal life comes to a screeching halt. What follows is an empathetic, sometimes funny, often angsty look at life when there’s a major tragedy as seen through the eyes of an eighth grader.

Claire already had a full plate of issues and Dad’s condition, coupled with her anger which turns to depression, pile on a heaping second helping. Told from her perspective, this is a really good look at how a girl navigates the issues surrounding creation of her own identity when rocked by something completely unexpected. Young teens who are struggling with these issues, as well as those where a family emergency upends everything, will really relate to Claire as she sorts out who to tell about Dad, how to be around him when his new reality scares her silly, what to do about mean teachers and kids, as well as sorting out what’s truly important to her. This is a very good book for both school and public libraries to add.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 7-9

That Time I Joined the Circus

That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard, Point (April 1, 2013). ISBN: 9780545433815. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

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Lexi Ryan was blindsided several times. The earliest one happened when her mother left her with her musician father with no explanation. Next came the romantic relationship between her two best friends, Eli and Bailey that made her feel like a fifth wheel. The two most devastating events happened on the same night. She let her feelings for Eli overpower her common sense and her dad was killed by a drunk driver.

If all that wasn’t enough to shatter her emotionally, she soon discovered that her father apparently directed that any money he had was to be sent to Lexi’s absent mom, at least that’s what the lawyer handling her father’s estate tells her. Left with no money, no friends, loss of her place at the fancy private school and her apartment, Lexi does the only thing she can think of. She buys a bus ticket and heads south to find her mom and confront her about why she abandoned her.

All she has to go on is what the lawyer told her—that Mom was working as part of a traveling circus. When Lexi finds the circus, Mom isn’t there, but the possibility of a job and a place to live are. Despite having to deal with odd characters and animal poop, Lexi discovers that she feels pretty good as part of the show and when she breaks through the icy reserve around the owner’s daughters who are trapeze artists, she also discovers that family is a lot more than blood.

Her voyage is far from over. It involves falling in love, not once, but twice, pushing through a web of lies she believed were truth, as well as learning how to forgive other people. Following that journey makes for a very satisfying read.

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Filed under Fiction, Uncategorized

The Edge of Everything

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles, Bloomsbury USA Childrens (January 31, 2017). ISBN: 9781619637535. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Zoe loses her autistic brother in a monstrous blizzard. She’s already in a tough emotional place since she’s still angry and grief-stricken because her dad vanished in a treacherous caving expedition and his body was never recovered. As a result, she was distracted and short with Jonah when he insisted on going outside to play with their two dogs. As darkness approaches and it becomes clear her mother won’t be able to get home to their mountaintop home tonight, Zoe’s anxiety spikes, even more so when she can’t find her brother.

After tracking him to their deceased neighbors’ house half a mile away through deep snow, she’s attacked by a very evil man who claims to know her late father. Things look extremely grim until a mysterious figure appears and the frozen surface of the lake in front of the neighbor’s home looks like it’s on fire.

This is Zoe’s introduction to X, an extremely mysterious individual who has been sent from the Lowlands to kill the bad guy and take his soul back. However, Zoe dissuaded him from killing the creep and ends up dragging X home after he collapses.

Thus begins one of the strangest love stories in recent memory. It involves the mystery of why X is different from the other Lowlands bounty hunters, what happens after he and Zoe fall for each other, how that relationship alters the underworld, Zoe and her mom and brother, what happens when X rebels against the Lowlands rulers and how he responds when given an impossible choice.

Teens (and adults) who like a complicated mix of romance, urban fantasy and thriller will find plenty to enjoy here. I hope a sequel is planned because there’s a number of unanswered questions remaining by the time you close this book.

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

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom, Poppy (February 7, 2017). ISBN: 9780316260060. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Right from the opening page, you begin wondering just what in heck happened to Mel Hannigan’s older brother Nolan. You know he’s dead and that the fallout included her parents getting divorced and she and her mother moving 100 miles away, but what really happened is dribbled into the rest of the story like sand slipping through an emotional hourglass.

Mel has bipolar disorder, the rapid cycling kind and is further afflicted with what is called Dysphoric Mania-strong depression with accompanying manic energy, a condition that can be scary and lethal. She’s just lost a year of her life, along with the three friends who saved her after the move. Her obsessive need/belief that hiding her illness is necessary in order to have any life or friends essentially cost her those friends and her rigidity surrounding her feelings toward them and her fear about coming clean, create an invisible prison that just seems to exacerbate her denial.

It isn’t until she finds a boy, David, whose grandmother is moving into the assisted living facility where she works part time and they start to connect, that the rigidity starts showing cracks. How it eventually crumbles takes readers through intense pain, a few scary situations and some teeth gritting over Mel’s refusal to let go of certain beliefs and behaviors.

The author may have tried packing too many scenes and ideas into the story, but as a former mental health professional who worked with teens, I found it a darn good read and one worth handing to young adults struggling with emotional issues or who have friends who are.

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

Explore With Hernando de Soto (Travel with the great explorers series)

Explore With Hernando de Soto (Travel with the great explorers series) by Rachel Stuckey, Crabtree Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 9780778728498. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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This book does a nice job of chronicling what we know about De Soto’s expedition in a very balanced manner. Unlike many of the history books I read in school 50 years ago, this makes no attempt to sugar coat what types of cruelty and harm the expedition inflicted on Native Americans. It goes into great detail about where the Spaniards went, which tribes they encountered and what kinds of wildlife/plants they discovered. Young readers interest in history may well be sparked further by reading this book. It’s a good choice for any library.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Nonfiction

Energy Engineering and Powering the Future

Energy Engineering and Powering the Future by Jonathan Nixon, Crabtree Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 9780778775393. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

energy-engineering

This is an in-depth (for the age group) look at an emerging branch of engineering. It begins by describing the eight step process engineers use to go from a problem to a solution. It then takes readers through each step by combining actual challenges, history of engineering relevant to energy and challenges facing the goal of lowering global warming as well as such aspects of the clean energy challenge as location, environmental challenges and unintended consequences. It does a very good job of exposing readers to the hurdles encountered in such branches of clean or cleaner energy as solar, wind, water, nuclear and geothermal.

Youngsters who take the time to read this book carefully and thoroughly will have a solid place from which to learn more complex and challenging aspects of the subject. It, like others in the series, is a good one to consider for school and public libraries.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Nonfiction