Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dear Martin by Nic Stone: A Review

Dear Martin by Nic Stone follows a young African-American teen named Justyce McAllister.  The opening chapter focuses on Justyce trying to help his drunk ex-girlfriend get home safely from a convenience store parking lot.  He attempts to take her car keys away from her so she doesn't drive and hurt others or herself, but his ex-girlfriend fights him.  Once he is able to get her into the passenger side of the car, a police officer comes up and handcuffs Justyce for hours.  He is eventually released, but he is obviously shaken by the event.

This book follows Justyce, a top student at his private school, as he does a year of experimenting; he wants to be more like Martin Luther King, Jr.  In his classes, Justyce often discusses current events and issues with his teachers and classmates.  Discussions of police brutality take on new meaning and urgency for Justyce after his experience with the police.  As events unfold around him, Justyce often stops to write letters to Martin describing his feelings, whether it is his feelings about a police officer in the news NOT being indicted for shooting an unarmed black teen or his feelings about his classmates' racist remarks.

This is an extremely powerful book. I loved Justyce and the characters who surround him.  I don't want to spoil the book, but at a certain point something just horrible happens and Justyce's life is turned upside down.  I was riveted by the events and Justyce's reactions to them. 

This is a perfect book for readers who are interested in current events and the Black Lives Matter movement.  Readers who have read The Hate U Give will likely connect with this novel.   

Available at AHS, BCHS, and GVHS.

Monday, March 19, 2018

People Like Us by Dana Mele

Kay Donovan was looking forward to her friends' annual tradition of jumping in the lake to swim after the Halloween dance.  This was before her friend Brie lets out a blood curdling scream. Kay knows instantly that something is wrong.  She rushes to the water's edge and sees it.  

There is a body in the lake, and that body belongs to a fellow student at their boarding school, Bates Academy.

Kay and her friends are visibly upset about the discovery, but call their headmistress and the police.  Not only do they promise to say that they were all with each other the whole night, but they also agree to say that they didn't know the victim, Jessica Lane.  

The following day Kay receives a email.  The sender threatens to spill Kay's deep dark secrets if she doesn't do as the sender says.  Kay has to go to a website and follow its instructions.  The email is signed by Jessica Lane.  It came from her email address. 

Once the website is opened, Kay sees that is about revenge being a dish best served cold.  Six menu items are listed.  Kay clicks on the first and a recipe is revealed as well as a countdown timer.  Kay learns an explosive secret about one of her best friends.  She must get the secret out and her friend kicked out of Bates Academy.  

There are five more recipes just like it. 

Kay is torn.  She doesn't want to hurt her friends, but she also cannot have her secret revealed.  It is a secret so horrible that it will ruin her life.  Can she figure out who is behind the Jessica Lane email and website?  Will her friendships be destroyed?  Will more students lose their lives?

This terrific psychological thriller keeps the reader guessing.  Not only does the reader want to know who killed Jessica Lane, but the reader is dying to know the details behind the deaths of Kay's best friend and brother in the time before she transferred to the Bates Academy. Even though the book is filled with mean girls being mean girls, the reader hopes that some of them will grow and mature. 

You won't be able to put down this juicy tale of revenge.

Currently available at AHS, ECHS, GVHS, and MHS.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

In the opening of this novel, readers meet Grace who is ruminating on the fact that it is the night of the homecoming dance.  She wonders about her ex-boyfriend Max and what he might be wearing. The reader is wondering what could be keeping Grace away from the dance.  Could it be a bad breakup with Max?  It turns out to be something more painful.  While her classmates are at the dance, sixteen-year-old Grace is giving birth to Max's daughter and then giving her up for adoption to another couple. 

This event in Grace's life motivated her to talk to her parents about a serious issue:  Grace wants to locate her own biological mother.  The process of losing her own daughter has made her curious about how her bio mom felt about giving Grace up. 

Grace soon discovers that she has siblings: an older brother named Joaquin and a younger sister named Maya.  The three siblings meet and grow to support each other through their various conflicts. 

Maya is dealing with her parents' impending divorce, an alcoholic mother, and her girlfriend, Claire.  Joaquin was never adopted and has been in the foster system since their mother gave him up.  He struggles to trust his foster parents.  Grace struggles with the loss of her daughter and whether she should tell her new siblings that she had had a baby and given her up.

The alternating perspectives made this novel feel like a fast read.  I was continually motivated to read on to see what happened next to each teenager.  Each character felt real to me, and I found myself rooting for each, getting angry at each, and--ultimately--crying for each. 

This National Book Award winner will likely appeal to a broad range of teen readers.  Teens who want This is Us on NBC will like the topics.  Teens interested in teen pregnancy, the foster system, and what it means to be a family will love this book.

Available at AHS, BCHS, ECHS, GVHS, LHS, and MHS.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Satellite by Nick Lake: A Review

Satellite by Nick Lake is one of the picks for the 2019 MUHSD Battle of the Books.

Leo, Orion, and Libra are three teenagers.  What makes these teenagers unique is that they were born in space on an international space station.  They have lived there for their entire lives.  Even though they all have astronauts for parents, they aren't able to see their parents very often.  Adults cannot spend too much time on the space station because of the effects of zero gravity. They have been raised by a rotating set of astronauts have been stationed in space.

Just like all teenagers, the three pursue their various interests on the space station.  They attend school online.  But really, they are looking forwards to returning to a home that they have never visited:  Earth.  They must wait until their sixteenth birthday.  Doctors have determined that their bones are unlikely to handle the crushing effects of Earth's gravity until they have reached their sixteenth birthdays.

Any story set in space will be filled with suspense because when things go wrong on a space station, people's lives are at stake.  And boy!  Do things go wrong on this space station.

Eventually, the three teens move to Earth and are separated.  Leo goes to live with his grandfather, while Orion and Libra, the twins, go to live with their family.  All three teens are like fish out of water.  They are human, but they have never known what it is like to be on Earth.  Natural elements that we all take for granted, such as wind and the sky, are strange and new to the three teens.  Part of the conflict that drives this story is the struggles that these characters face as they try to cope not only with Earth's gravity, but also with the strangeness of a foreign land while being apart from one another.

What I really loved about this book was how it explored the nature of family and belonging through the stories of the three teens.  This book is suspenseful, beautiful, and thought-provoking.

Highly recommend!

Available at AHS, BCHS, ECHS, GVHS, LHS, and MHS.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Well, all I can say is, Neal Shusterman has done it again! I've become a huge fan of his the past couple years since reading Unwind and Challenger Deep. Now, after reading Scythe, my love and admiration for his books has grown even more. 

Citra and Rowan live in a society that has conquered all of the problems that humanity faces today: hunger, disease, poverty, and even death. Their world is governed by an all-knowing-all-seeing artificial intelligence dubbed "the Thunderhead" (think gargantuan cloud) that keeps everything running smoothly. Save for the potential problem of over-population in a world where nobody dies, their lives are nearly pain and worry free.

Enter the scythes. As a means to maintain the optimal number of people on the planet, an elite group of people (scythes) are selected to "glean" their fellow citizens, meting out death with dignity and compassion. Highly respected Scythe Faraday selects teens Citra and Rowan to be his apprentices, preparing them for a life they would never choose but which they both ultimately embrace. 

The success of this society is totally dependent on the moral and ethical behavior of scythes. When a faction of scythes starts to deviate from the accepted code of conduct, the balance of power is shaken and things start to unravel. Both Citra and Rowan become central players in the scythedom conflict, each choosing to fight for what they believe, in very different ways.

Neal Shusterman continues to shine in this book with brilliant writing, engaging and believable characters, genius plot twists, and a thought-provoking premise. I was particularly taken with his treatment of AI, and where our dependence on computers could ultimately lead us as a society.

Note: As soon as I finished Scythe, I read the sequel Thunderhead. It was amazing! Can't wait for the next book to come out!

This book is currently available at AHS, BCHS, ECHS, GVHS, & MHS and is coming soon to LHS.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Warcross by Marie Lu

From the Marie Lu author of Legend, comes a new twist on the not-so-distant future. Emika Chen is living on her own in New York; she has been since her father died seven years earlier. She has an apartment with her friend, but they are barely getting by and face eviction weekly. Emika makes money as a bounty hunter, finding people who bet illegally on Warcross, a virtual reality, world-wide game. For many, Warcross is beyond just a game, it is more a way of life. Emika isn't only a fan and player of Warcross, she's also a hacker... a really good one.

On the day of the opening games of the International Warcross Championship, Emika accidentally glitches herself into the game, visible to everyone in the world, including Warcross' creator Hideo Tanaka. Tanaka gives her an irresistible offer to help him hunt down another hacker who threatens his entire gaming empire. Emika does it all: player, hunter, hacker, and pawn... but will these roles bring her down??

This book was on-the-edge, non-stop action, and unputdownable. Although it is clearly fiction, real world technology is moving so fast that one cannot help but wonder exactly how close we really are to worldwide VR gaming. Although this type of book is not within my normal genre of reading, I absolutely loved it!

This book is available at AHS, BCHS, ECHS, GVHS, LHS, & MHS
Go to the website for more! playwarcross.com

Monday, December 18, 2017

Book Recommendations to Wrap Up 2017

For the History Buff

  • Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson. Ages 12 to 120. This impeccably researched book offers a rare look not only at the unimaginable suffering of the residents of Leningrad during WWII but also during Stalin’s merciless purges. The writing is amazing.
  • The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller. Grades 7 and Up. All I knew about Lizzie Borden was from a schoolyard rhyme. I was surprised to read the real story. For instance, she was 32 years old when her parents were killed. Beyond learning about the murder and the ways in which it was reported in the news, I found the descriptions of 19th century police work and forensics fascinating. 

For the Social Justice Warrior

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Grades 8 to adult. Starr Carter lives in inner-city New York but attends a fancy prep school in the burbs where she is one of very few black students. Navigating too very different worlds is her superpower. But when Starr witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend she finds it increasingly difficult to keep her two worlds separate. When her friend’s death becomes a flashpoint for riots and protests that separation may be untenable and silence may not be an option. This title is a 2017 Goodreads Choice winner, among many other honors.
  • The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater. Grades 7-12. Sasha and Richard both lived in Oakland, but it was as if they came from different worlds, but their paths crossed on their bus ride home for eight minutes. One day Richard's action would ensure that they would be linked for much longer when he lit Sasha’s skirt on fire. Their story is a story of justice and what it means to forgive. 
  • Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu Grades 9-12. Vivian Carter discovered her mom’s Riot Grrl past while deal with misogyny at her Texas high school. Will her handcrafted ‘zines help start a revolution? A great choice for the teen feminist in your life.
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Ages 12 and up. Publisher’s blurb: "Writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seventeen-year-old college-bound Justyce McAllister struggles to face the reality of race relations today and how they are shaping him."

For People Who Love to Cry

  • Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. 13 and up. It’s John Green. Grab some tissues. Publisher’s blurb: “Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.”
  • Satellite by Nick Lake. Grades 9 and up. Leo, Libra, and Orion are not your average teens. Born on Moon 2, they have been raised by a rotating set of astronauts, but as their 16th birthdays approach they prepare to return “home” to Earth. Although it is written in an unconventional manner, I promise that the emotional punch that the narrative delivers is worth reading all the lowercase i’s and u’s and ampersands.
  • Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner. Grades 9-12. This makes be a great next book to pass on to the John Green fans in your life. This is a lovely portrait of grief and how one teen deals with it. The main character Carver lost his three best friends in a car accident. Could Carver’s text message have distracted the driver? Do the parents blame Carver? A great, powerful read.
  • Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman. Grades 9 and up. James will do anything for his older brother, even deliver drugs and, when he’s caught, keep his mouth shut. But is he tough enough to survive in prison. This is a heart-wrenching story of an abused boy betrayed by those who should protect him.

For the Athlete

  • The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback by Bruce Arians and Lars Anderson. Ages 14 and up. The man who helped turn Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck into household names shares his philosophy, practices, and plenty of anecdotes. NFL fans will eat this up.

For Strong Women and People Who Love Them

  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo. Ages 12 and up. This is NOT a novelization of the movie and it is NOT a graphic novel. This is a standalone novel that features 2 badass females fighting impossible odds to save the world. If you like action, adventure, and good writing this is for you.