Building a Community of Readers in the High School Classroom

This past week my high school held a professional development summit with two other neighboring high schools. It was a fun way to kick off the school year since teachers had the opportunity to learn from and present to other teachers throughout the day. My friends, Lindsay Grady and Amanda Canterbury and I ran a two part session about the importance of a reading community in the high school classroom.

Lindsay, Amanda, and I are voracious YA readers and love fostering a love of reading in our students. It was my principal who suggested that I put something together for the summit; it was just the nudge I needed to make an inkling of an idea blossom into something more. I had been thinking about creating a PD session that was interactive and revolved around reading, but I wasn’t sure how or where to make that happen. Once my principal mentioned the summit, I knew I wanted Lindsay and Amanda working with me.

Lindsay's Read AloudSince each session ran for 50 minutes, we decided to run it in two parts. The first part would be the why we do what we do and the second part would be the how we do what we do. We focused on read alouds, book talks, a book pass, independent reading projects, and sustained silent reading (SSR). During the first part we explained what each of these are and tips/tricks/books to use. When we moved into the second session the teachers experienced a read aloud, book talks and a book pass. It was relaxed and really fun. Lindsay read aloud the first twelve pages of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, which will definitely hook readers. Amanda book talked Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby and shared why it made her cry. I book talked All the Rage by Courtney Summers and read the first five pages when Romy provides readers with a powerful flashback. We also shared pictures of our classroom libraries, book displays, and different projects students have created in response to reading. The three of us also made sure to express the importance of CHOICE; our students wouldn’t be nearly as excited about reading without choice.Amanda's Book Talk

As the three of us worked on creating this session, I couldn’t help but think about how powerful it would be if the attending teachers could leave with books to add to their classrooms. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and reach out to a few publishers for help. I’ve requested books from publishers, but I have never requested enough books to hand out to a large group before. I didn’t know what to expect and I felt awkward sending the emails. My friends, YA publishers are awesome and generous. Thanks to their overwhelming kindness, the teachers who attended our session left with roughly 10 books each! At one point this summer, I think I had close to 400 books in my basement.

Bags of BooksGrocery bags of books lined the front of the room where we presented. We waited until the end of the second session to surprise the teachers with the books and I really wish I would have taken a picture of their faces. They were SO EXCITED when we told them what was in the bags! A few were excited that the books Amanda and I book talked were included. For the rest of the day teachers approached us to thank us or to say that they were disappointed that they missed our session. It’s priceless knowing that those books are going to reach students across three school districts. I’ve tweeted it a few times already, but I’m going to say it again: Thank you, HarperCollins, Little, Brown & Co, St. Martin’s Griffin, and Candlewick Press!!!

Summit Books

I uploaded the presentation we created onto Slideshare and am including the link here if you’d like access to it. Lindsay, Amanda, and I included a link to Penny Kittle’s Book Love Grant and to ALAN’s website. We also have links to class library book recommendations, graphic novel recommendations (after it was requested by an attending teacher), and read aloud recommendations. If part of the presentation doesn’t work or if images are missing, please let me know.

Top Ten Tuesday: If These Authors Write It, I’ll Buy It

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

It’s not very often that I’ll auto-buy an author’s book, but these 10 authors have made the cut for various reasons. Which authors’ books will you buy automatically? I’d love to know which authors I should add to this list.

Miranda Kenneally

1. Miranda Kenneally–Although the Hundred Oaks series isn’t your typical series, I usually get bored after five books. That’s simply not the case with these books. I can’t get enough of them! I’ve read all six and every single one is different and very much its own book. I’ll buy whatever Miranda writes.

2. Trish Doller–I don’t think I need an explanation for Trish’s books either, to be honest. Her books never fail to make me swoon and/or cry.

3. Matthew Quick–Adult or YA, I will automatically read his books. They are so utterly fabulous, which is why he’s my author crush.

Sarah Dessen

4. Sarah Dessen–Does this choice really need an explanation? :)

5. Amy Fellner Dominy–Amy’s books keep getting better and every time I read one I thoroughly enjoy it.

6. Geoff Herbach–Geoff Herbach’s writing has such a strong and authentic voice that it’s impossible to resist reading his books. Not that I would ever feel the need to resist reading one!

Michelle Hodkin

7. Michelle Hodkin–The Mara Dyer trilogy was too much fun not to trust that the rest of Michelle Hodkin’s books will be great.

8. Laurie Halse Anderson–Maybe not her middle grade since I’m not as drawn to MG titles, but I’ll definitely always buy her YA. There are times that I find myself craving a Laurie Halse Anderson book, which is usually when I decide to read Speak out loud to my students.

9. Neal Shusterman–I still need to finish reading the Unwind dystology and I plan on reading Challenger Deep before school starts, but nevertheless, he’s a staple in my classroom library. His books are smart, insightful and engaging.

10. John Green–It feels like a cliche adding him to this list, but I have to be honest. Even though I’m not into all the hype, I do enjoy his books and know that I will.

Waiting on Wednesday–First & Then by Emma Mills

wow

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I try not to focus too much on book covers, but seriously, this cover is SO PRETTY! It’s what grabbed my attention and drew me to the book. The synopsis sealed the deal. Have you read an early copy? Is it as good as it sounds?

Title & Author: First & Then by Emma Mills

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (BYR)

Release Date: October 15th, 2015

First & ThenSummary (From Goodreads):

Devon Tennyson wouldn’t change a thing. She’s happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon’s cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn’t want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.

Book Trailer Thursday (172)–After the Red Rain by Barry Lyga

Book Trailer Thursday

I just discovered After the Red Rain by Barry Lyga, so I’m happy I stumbled upon the book trailer as well. Admittedly, I’m not as excited about dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories as much anymore, but this one has me intrigued. I’m also interested since it’s co-written by actor Peter Facinelli and producer Robert DeFranco. The story sounds fresh and appealing to my students, plus Barry Lyga writes excellent books.

After the Red RainSummary (From Goodreads):

A postapocalyptic novel with a cinematic twist from New York Times bestseller Barry Lyga, actor Peter Facinelli, and producer Robert DeFranco.

On the ruined planet Earth, where 50 billion people are confined to megacities and resources are scarce, Deedra has been handed a bleak and mundane existence by the Magistrate she works so hard for. But one day she comes across a beautiful boy named Rose struggling to cross the river–a boy with a secretive past and special abilities, who is somehow able to find comfort and life from their dying planet.

But just as the two form a bond, it is quickly torn apart after the Magistrate’s son is murdered and Rose becomes the prime suspect. Little do Deedra and Rose know how much their relationship will affect the fate of everyone who lives on the planet.

Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Suicide Notes from Beautiful GirlsTitle: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls

Author: Lynn Weingarten

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Mystery / Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Gone Girl meets 13 Reasons Why in this stylish, sexy, and atmospheric story about friendship packed with twists and turns that will leave you breathless.

They say Delia burned herself to death in her stepfather’s shed. They say it was suicide.

But June doesn’t believe it.

June and Delia used to be closer than anything. Best friends in that way that comes before everyone else-before guys, before family. It was like being in love, but more. They had a billion secrets, tying them together like thin silk cords.

But one night a year ago, everything changed. June, Delia, and June’s boyfriend Ryan were just having a little fun. Their good time got out of hand. And in the cold blue light of morning, June knew only this-things would never be the same again.

And now, a year later, Delia is dead. June is certain she was murdered. And she owes it to her to find out the truth…which is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

Sexy, dark, and atmospheric, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls will keep you guessing until the very last page.

I’ve been on a mystery kick this summer for some reason, so I decided to give Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten a shot. Simon & Schuster sent me the ARC months ago and it’s been in the back of my mind since I first saw the cover. I’m happy I finally gave it a try because I really enjoyed it.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls takes an interesting look at friendships and relationships. We find out early on that June’s former friend Delia has killed herself, but we don’t know why or why the two girls are no longer friends. June is dating a guy named Ryan and there’s also a hint that he may be part of the reason why the girls’ friendship ended. A couple chapters into the novel the point of view switches  to third person and we get a glimpse of June and Delia as friends. I wasn’t expecting this switch, but it adds an interesting layer of mystery to the story.

These flashbacks of sorts help us see Delia as a character and another side of June. June doesn’t act the same way when she’s with Delia; she often came off as needy and insecure in these scenes. I would describe Delia as a taker and June is very much a giver and a people pleaser. June loves how different Delia is and that Delia wants them to be the best of friends who share everything. As the story progresses it’s easy to see that their friendship isn’t healthy, it’s actually quite toxic. June is wrapped up in Delia, even more so once she learns of Delia’s suicide, and this is when we see just how easy it is to be blind to what’s right in front of you. Delia has an unhealthy hold over June; they are very much co-dependent.

Honestly, it was hard to really like any of the characters in this novel, but that didn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying it. And when I say that it’s hard to like them, it’s because they’re not good people. The characters are written well, but they’re awful to one another and those close to them. In this regard, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is very much like Gone Girl. I loved that book, but those characters are horrendous. I want to go into this more, but Lynn Weingarten wrote a book that’s difficult to review without revealing major spoilers.

Recently I was watching VH1 early in the morning since nothing good was on TV while I played with Jack and the music video for “Cool for the Summer” by Demi Lovato came on. I love the song, but I had never watched the video before. As I watched it, I instantly thought of Delia. She’s wild, shameless, and daring. If anyone else has read this book, please let me know if you think this is off-base or if you agree. I watched the video again before I started writing this review and I still feel the same way.

Anyway, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a page turner for sure.  It will keep you guessing until the final page. When I finished my instant reaction was “I need to discuss this ending with someone ASAP!” I have spoken with two friends about it, but I’m still not sure what I think. I’m leaning mostly towards one idea, but there’s still a small part of me that thinks something else could have happened. Read it and let me know what you think!

Similar Reads: Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, You by Charles Benoit

Review: Jesse’s Girl by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Jesse’s Girl

Author: Miranda Kenneally

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Author / Contemp / Series

Source: eARC provided by the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.

But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?

Miranda Kenneally, thank you for writing such good books! Okay, I had to get that out of my system so I could start writing this review.

But seriously, Miranda Kenneally writes such good books. She really does. And they get better every time. I really enjoy that the majority of the Hundred Oaks series features girls playing sports since we need more books like that, but it was refreshing to read about a Hundred Oaks character who’s a musician instead.

Before I get into why I like the musical side of Jesse’s Girl, I want to point out that while this is part of a series and though it references Jordan from the first book Catching Jordan, this could be read on its own. I like to point this out since I know many librarians and teachers read my reviews and students often ask me about the order of these books. And if one student has been waiting patiently for Catching Jordan to come back so she can start the series, I know I can hand this one or even Breathe, Annie, Breathe to her while she waits.

To the musical side of Jesse’s Girl. Many parts of it reminded me of Where She Went by Gayle Forman. Jesse is a passionate musician much like Adam, but he’s also troubled and doubting himself like Adam does. Maybe it was the country music aspect, but I also found myself thinking of Open Road Summer by Emery Lord while reading Jesse’s Girl. Both books are sweet and honest and down to earth.

When it comes to music and Maya, I really enjoyed how independent and adventurous she is. Although she’s scared to attempt any solos, she wants to put herself out there and branch out. She wants to try different sounds and genres of music. I’m not much of a musician, but I know it’s not always easy to leave your comfort zone no matter the situation. I can’t imagine it’s any easier for an artist, especially a musician, who’s being judged right there in the moment while performing. This made Maya an admirable character.

Maya’s a great protagonist and she has a fun cast of secondary characters who support her. Catching Jordan has maintained the spot as Favorite Hundred Oaks Book since I read it, so I’m not surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed reading more about Jordan and her life this far in the future. I’m also a fan of Maya having supportive parents. Those are sometimes hard to find in YA even though many teens have great relationships with their parents and siblings.

If you still haven’t introduced yourself to Miranda Kenneally’s books, I hope you change that soon. They’re great books to read during the summer (or any time of the year). And my students absolutely adore them, so if you’re working with teens make sure you get your hands on this one.

Review: The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The FixerTitle: The Fixer

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Mystery/Thriller

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

This thriller YA is Scandal meets Veronica Mars.

Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather’s ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess’s classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.

Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for this compelling teen drama with a political twist.

I forgot how much fun it is to read a good mystery until I read The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. This is going to be a class favorite this upcoming school year.

I’ve only watched the show Scandal a handful of times, but I know enough about the show that fans will enjoy The Fixer. The political intrigue is there, as well as the personal backstories. The suspense is paced well and nothing was ever in-your-face obvious about how the story would end. In fact, one element of the plot really surprised me.

Something I really appreciate about Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s latest release is that there isn’t a strong love element. I thoroughly enjoy a good love story, but it’s refreshing to read a book without love at the forefront of the story. And while I encourage my students to see books not as books for girls or books for boys, but as books for readers, I do understand that many of my boys don’t want to read a romance. Not all of my girls want to read a romance. I know those students will be thrilled to read The Fixer and know that they can focus on the fun of the mystery.

As much as I enjoyed the mystery, I really enjoyed the characters and their relationships in this story. Tess is tough and independent like her older sister Ivy, but despite their similarities they have a tense relationship. Watching their relationship grow and evolve was a definite highlight for me. Tess’s friends really made The Fixer shine. The friendships allow readers to see Tess as a champion for the underdog, Vivie and Henry in particular. Asher really brings out Tess’s quick wit.

If you’re looking for a fun page-turner, then look no further than The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Other reviews of The Fixer:

The Fixer easily becomes one of my favorite reads this year. Without doubt, this book is joining my Top Ten Favorite Reads of this year.” ~Young Adult Hollywood 

“It’s fast paced, tense, brilliantly plotted and filled with a whole host of intriguing characters.” ~The Review Diaries

Blog Tour Book Review: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom

DEC

Click here for blog tour info (reviews / giveaways / related posts)

Don't Ever ChangeTitle: Don’t Ever Change

Author: M. Beth Bloom

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / New Adult

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Eva has always wanted to write a modern classic—one that actually appeals to her generation. The only problem is that she has realized she can’t “write what she knows” because she hasn’t yet begun to live. So before heading off to college, Eva is determined to get a life worth writing about.

Soon Eva’s life encounters a few unexpected plot twists. She becomes a counselor at a nearby summer camp—a job she is completely unqualified for. She starts growing apart from her best friends before they’ve even left for school. And most surprising of all, she begins to fall for the last guy she would have ever imagined. But no matter the roadblocks, or writer’s blocks, it is all up to Eva to figure out how she wants this chapter in her story to end.

Perfect for fans of E. Lockhart, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell, Don’t Ever Change is a witty, snarky, and thought-provoking coming-of-age young adult novel about a teen who sets out to write better fiction and, ultimately, discovers the truth about herself.

I’ve decided to switch up my review style for this post and focus on reasons why teens might enjoy Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom.

1. I consider Don’t Ever Change as a new adult novel (although it’s still YA) because Eva has just graduated from high school and most of her conflicts stem from her preparing for college and wanting more life experiences. This is a book I’ll hand to my seniors this coming school year since I’m sure many of them will relate with Eva.

2. Eva is a writer and wants to improve as a writer. So many of my students read and write fanfic, they journal,  and they work on their own novels. I know many of them struggle with wanting to improve as writers, but they also don’t necessarily want to know what they’re doing “wrong”, much like Eva.

3. Eva is worried about losing her friends when they all move on to college, so she’s trying desperately to keep their friendships close. I can’t tell you how many times I hear my seniors talk about “the last this” and “the last that.” It’s hard moving away from friends and not knowing if those relationships will stick.

4. There were times as I was reading Don’t Ever Change and thought it felt a little hipster-ish. It was something about the voice. I’m not saying E. Lockhart or David Levithan are hipsters (not by any means!), but the voices of some of their characters fit that of Eva’s, as the summary says. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and the Ruby series by E. Lockhart seem like good comparables. Their characters are witty and upbeat and smart.

5. The cover will definitely pull in some of my readers. I polled my students about book covers and many of them stated that they like covers that stand out and that have brighter colors. Don’t Ever Change utilizes both of those criteria.

Combining Reading, Discussion, and Technology as Summer Homework

One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is the reflection that’s involved. This past school year was different and challenging since I was on maternity leave at the beginning and wasn’t able to create the same community that I could have had I been there all year. My long-term sub did a fantastic job setting the tone and getting my students excited about reading, but I personally still felt like something was lacking on my end. I didn’t have as much time to make an impact on my students as readers. Thankfully I discovered through my students’  reading reflection essays at the end of the year that I did help some of my students discover a love of reading. Below are two excerpts from those reading reflection essays.

Margaret's response

Renae's response

On top of being on maternity leave for part of the school year, I returned to school  and encountered new technology. Through a millage, our school district has acquired many Chromebooks and is now using Google Apps for Education. I stepped out of my comfort zone and started using Google Classroom with great success. My students and I utilized Docs, Slides, Forms and more this year, but I hadn’t yet tried Groups. After reflecting over the success of Google Classroom and wishing I had more time to build my community of readers, I knew I had to explore ways to bring those elements together in my summer homework assignment for my incoming honors freshmen. I want more of my students to have experiences like the students who wrote the letters pictured above.

I took over the honors freshmen course (Literature and Composition I Honors) this past year, so this was my first opportunity to design the summer homework assignment. In the past, the students were required to read various short stories and write paragraphs analyzing those stories. That’s not my style. I wanted them to have choice in their reading and I knew I wanted them to be familiar with Google Classroom since we’ll be using it this coming school year. I also wanted to find a way to build our reading community before we even met one another on the first day of class.

After reflecting and conferring with my peers, I came up with this (there are two other parts to my summer homework assignment outside of the reading):

Part III–Reading:

Reading throughout the summer will help you avoid “summer setback” and keep you in better academic preparedness for the 2015-2016 school year. Instead of requiring one book for all of us to read I’m expecting you to read widely and read often this summer. Like I noted at the beginning of this assignment, I work diligently to create a community of readers; we’re going to start building that community this summer.

Summer is the perfect time to introduce yourself to new genres and authors. Read a graphic novel like Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge or El Deafo by Cece Bell. Open yourself up to a dystopian series like Legend by Marie Lu or The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Travel back in time with some great historical fiction novels like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. If you have younger siblings or babysit young children read aloud a wonderful picture book like You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown and The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty. Ask your parents to read the novels with you to share the experience and open up discussions. Share books with your friends who are enrolled in the class as well. The opportunities for reading this summer are endless.

To help build our classroom community, I’m requiring you to post about your reading experiences via Google Groups. This summer you will post at least twice about what you’ve been reading and also comment on other students’ posts as well. Your individual posts may be book recommendations, questions about books or what to read, great quotes/passages from a book, etc. The comments you make on other posts should be thoughtful in nature and may also consist of questions, comments, recommendations, etc. I will also be reading widely this summer, so you’ll see my posts, comments, and recommendations as well.

After that, I included the guidelines and the dates that I would like them to post by. Their first post on Google Groups isn’t due until July 16th, but we’ve already had a conversation going about The Book Thief.  The picture below is a screenshot of that discussion (student names have been removed).

The Book Thief Convo

Sure, there are some writing rules we’ll need to address at the beginning of the school year, but this type of discussion excites me. This is what I see/hear happening in my classroom after I establish what a reading community is and get them excited about reading. If this sort of dialogue continues over the summer then I know we’ll have an even more successful school year. I want them to feel comfortable talking about books on the first day of school. Too many students enter my room intimidated by reading; it’s my hope that this will erase that intimidation factor.

In my assignment letter I also included the following resources to help them find books to read:

If you need help finding great books to read this summer consider using the following resources:

The first part of their summer homework assignment is to send me an introductory email. Many of them have mentioned books they enjoy and have asked for book suggestions. I love this part of the assignment because I get to see how well they write formal emails and–more importantly–I can start getting to know them. A few students have asked if it’s required that they read a certain number of books or if they are expected to read the books I specifically mentioned in the assignment. Their replies to those emails are full of relief at knowing they have the freedom to read what they want and as much as they want.

I’m looking forward to what the remainder of the summer brings.

Getting Caught Up: Spring Reading

I haven’t been keeping up with my book reviews, but I have been reading as much as I can. Now that I’m on summer break it should hopefully be easier to read more and blog more. I figured now is a good time to fill you all in on some of the books I read this spring.

I’m going to write brief reviews and am including the Goodreads link so you can see the summary.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley (Goodreads): Novels featuring war, soldiers, boot camps, and more have been really popular lately for obvious reasons. When I learned about Rites of Passage I was instantly intrigued because Sam McKenna is a girl joining a previously all male military school. As I’m sure you can imagine, Sam is faced with more than her fair share of conflicts. Because of this I was often mad, dismayed, and frustrated while listening. Sam’s a strong and independent character, however, so I completely admired her and how well she fought to overcome the many obstacles she faced. There’s also an element of romance in the story, which definitely had me swooning from time to time. Rites of Passage is going to be a big hit in my classroom next school year.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (Goodreads): The first thing I need to mention, is that middle school libraries should consider adding Maya Van Wagenen’s memoir to their collections if they haven’t already. I always recommend reading a book first before adding it to a classroom or library, especially at the middle school level, but this memoir is set during Maya’s 8th grade year. She learns so much about self-esteem, friendships, family, and finding herself that readers of any age will relate. I haven’t bought a physical copy yet, but I will this summer so I can share this with my students next school year.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (Goodreads): I’m afraid to admit this: I couldn’t get into Throne of Glass. I met Sarah at a dinner during NCTE in the fall, though, and after talking to her I had a good feeling I was going to enjoy A Court of Thorns and Roses. I was not wrong! Feyre is fierce and intelligent. I loved that she goes after what she wants and that she’s so loyal and protective of her family. There is a heavy amount of romance in Maas’s first installment of this series; I found myself blushing as I read one particuarly steamy scene while reading during class. Fantasy lovers who are looking for more mature fantasy while still hanging out in the world of YA will thoroughly enjoy this. The imagery is lush, there’s plenty of action, and the story is engrossing. I can’t wait to read the second book!

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Goodreads): It’s been at least a month since I finished reading this, and I still don’t know where to begin my review. I own all of Nova Ren Suma’s books, but this is the first I’ve read. Her writing is beautiful and vivid and really pulled me into the story. The story itself is so richly layered, I had to purposely slow down my pace so I could take it all in. Honestly, it’s a difficult book to explain without giving too much away. Readers who enjoy magical realism, mystery, and character driven novels will enjoy The Walls Around Us.

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