Book Trailer Thursday (95)–Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I’ve been reading tons of rave reviews for Seraphina, so I’ve been looking forward to reading it.  I even bought myself a copy with one of my Christmas gift cards.  I like the cover, the concept, and the book trailer.  I started reading Rachel Hartman’s debut the other day, though, and I think Seraphina is better suited for a weekend when I’m not distracted.  So far it’s pretty dense, but it’s interesting.  Have you read it yet?  I’d love to know what you think!

SeraphinaSummary (From Goodreads): Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.

Flash Reviews (20)

Personal EffectsTitle: Personal Effects

Author: E.M. Kokie

Source: Finished copy received at ALAN Workshop

Summary (From Goodreads):

After his older brother dies in Iraq, Matt makes a discovery that rocks his beliefs about strength, bravery, and honor in this page-turning debut.

Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, Matt feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life — failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, but Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, he’d be able to make sense of his death. But as Matt searches for answers about T.J.’s death, he faces a shocking revelation about T.J.’s life that suggests he may not have known T.J. as well as he thought. What he learns challenges him to stand up to his father, honor his brother’s memory, and take charge of his own life. With compassion, humor, and a compelling narrative voice, E. M. Kokie explores grief, social mores, and self-discovery in a provocative first novel.

Flash Review:

Personal Effects is a strong debut, so strong that I’m looking forward to reading more of E.M. Kokie’s books.  Matt is a a well-written character with a believable male voice; Personal Effects will appeal to both my male and female students.  I loved watching his character grow and I enjoyed the supporting characters as well.  I do think there’s slightly too much focus on T.J. and the answers Matt discovers.  I appreciated this part of the story, but I wanted more from Matt at the end of the book and less of T.J.  T.J.’s story overshadows Matt’s towards the end.

Also, is it just me or is the “tough military dad” trope getting old?  I understand why Matt’s dad is written this way and how it’s necessary to the story, but overall I’m bored with it, especially with all of the military YA being released.  There has to be some kind military fathers out there, right?

Overall, Kokie has written a solid and enjoyable book that I know my students will love.

Ask the PassengersTitle: Ask the Passengers

Author: A.S. King

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better.

In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.

Flash Review:

There’s a reason A.S. King is one of my favorite authors and Ask the Passengers is a prime example.  She really knows how to write true, honest characters that resonate with readers.  Astrid is a wonderful character who wants to send love to people, even to the passengers on the airplanes above.  She’s loyal to her friends and patient with her family even when they treat her poorly.  Readers will connect with Astrid because she’s so easy to like and understand.

What I really like about Ask the Passengers is the way Astrid looks at love.  She doesn’t want to be defined as a lesbian because 1. she doesn’t know if she really is or not, and 2. she wants to be able to love who she loves; she doesn’t think there needs to be a label.  In this case, Astrid is trying to figure out who she is while also trying to figure out when/if to tell her friends and family.  There’s pressure on both ends which really drives the story and develops both Astrid and the supporting characters.  I love it when more than just the main character shows growth; A.S. King wrote many of the supporting characters as more than static characters.

I absolutely loved this book and hope it gets more acclaim than it already has.  If you haven’t read any of A.S. King’s books, Ask the Passengers is a great place to start.

 

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Review: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Love and Other Perishable ItemsTitle: Love and Other Perishable Items

Author: Laura Buzo

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Release Date: December 11th, 2012

Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Contemp / Aussie YA

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Love is awkward, Amelia should know.

From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.

Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?

Through a year of befuddling firsts—first love, first job, first party, and first hangover—debut author Laura Buzo shows how the things that break your heart can still crack you up.

I hope Laura Buzo is working on another YA novel and publishing it in the United States soon.  Love and Other Perishable Items is a smart and sweet literary debut that I can’t wait to recommend to my students.

I love character driven novels and the development of Amelia and Chris did not disappoint.  Amelia is a well-written 15 year old, and I think I’m a good judge of this considering I teach sophomores all day long.  She’s smart, awkward, confused, and sometimes very self-involved.  Watching her grow into herself really made Love and Other Perishable Items an enjoyable experience because even when she said and did some cringe-worthy things, I could see her learning from it.  I didn’t expect to read from Chris’s point of view, but I’m so happy Laura Buzo gave us his perspective.  Since he’s so much older and more experienced than Amelia, it’s good to see how he’s reacting and what he’s really feeling.  I love his journals and how brutally honest he is in them.  It wasn’t too long ago that I was 21 and wondering how my life was going to turn out.  Like Chris, I contemplated life after college and whether my degree was right for me.  It doesn’t seem like six years is that wide an age gap, but the differences in experiences and feelings and thoughts between ages 15 and 21 are vast.  It was so smart for Laura Buzo to let us see Chris from more than Amelia’s eyes.

Love and Other Perishable Items is, I think, for “smart” readers.  And I mean that in terms of readers looking for something more literary and maybe something that will make them think.  I plan on handing this to my John Green fans.  I think fans of Arlaina Tibensky’s And Then Things Fall Apart would enjoy this book as well.  It’s full of wit and humor, but the lack of major conflict in Chris and Amelia’s lives may make some readers question the point.  I’ve faced this when my YA Lit students read Looking for Alaska; some complain that nothing happens and all they do is talk (in the Before).  The readers who “get” this will appreciate Laura Buzo’s book.  Some of them, I hope, will be drawn to read the classics Chris and Amelia read and discuss.  I do feel the need to add, since many of my readers work with middle school students, that this is a book for high school students.  Sex is discussed in a mature way, not so much explicitly, but in a way that mature readers would understand.

I can this being a “quiet” book in terms of the amount of hype it receives, so I’m really excited that Love and Other Perishable Items is a William C. Morris shortlist book.  Like I said, it’s a strong debut, so I hope it receives more attention and a larger audience.  I know I’m happy I read it :)

Review: This Is Not A Drill by Beck McDowell

Title: This Is Not A Drill

Author: Beck McDowell

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Release Date: October 25th, 2012

Interest: Debut Author / Realistic Fiction / Blog Tour

Source: ARC received from the author for blog tour

Summary (From Goodreads):

Two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD

When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the gunman threatening them–a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he’s denied access to his son because of a custody battle. The children’s fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake’s alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war.

What I Liked:

  • The suspense and characters.  Emery and Jake are developed well enough to distinguish who is speaking when.  The different font and the names at the beginning of the chapters helps, but the characters voices are developed enough to know the difference.
  • Reading from both Emery and Jake’s point of view keeps This Is Not A Drill gender neutral, which I always love.
  • The fast pace.  Despite the circumstances, the situation doesn’t take up that much actual time, so the quick pace really fits the plot.  The action gets started soon after the book starts which will capture and hold my students’ attention.
  • Brian Stutts’ background.  Learning his background adds a layer of understanding when, as the reader, you don’t want to understand him and feel bad for him.  He’s expected to be this evil person when really he’s suffering.  It’s hard to look at Stutts as a suffering, wounded character.

What I Disliked:

  • The background romance between Emery and Jake.  It took away from the suspense of the shooting and didn’t feel like it added any important depth to the story.  I know the characters better now, which I always appreciate in a story, but I don’t know if it was really necessary.  I found myself skimming those parts.  It just didn’t work for me as a reader.
  • The length. It’s unusual for me to criticize a book for not being long enough, but I think This Is Not A Drill would be an even stronger book if it was a little bit longer.  After all the suspense and build up, the ending felt rushed.

Overall, I think my students will enjoy Beck McDowell’s debut.  Despite not caring for the romance between Jake and Emery, I think my students will enjoy it.  They always want to know more about the characters, so I know they’ll appreciate it.  This is definitely a great book to add to your library/classroom and hand off to your students, especially your reluctant readers.

Book Trailer Thursday (85)–What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang released on September 18th from HaperCollins.  I’m becoming more of a sci-fi fan, and this one sounds especially interesting.  The summary reminds me a little bit of Neal Shusterman’s Unwind.  Have any of you read this yet?  I’d love to know what you think!

Summary (From Goodreads):

I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

Review: Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

Title: Time Between Us

Author: Tamara Ireland Stone

Publisher: Hyperion

Release Date: October 9th, 2012

Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Time Travel

Source: ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley

Summary (From Goodreads): Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett has the unique ability to travel through time and space, which brings him into Anna’s life, and with him a new world of adventure and possibility.

As their relationship deepens, the two face the reality that time may knock Bennett back to where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate, what consequences they can bear in order to stay together, and whether their love can stand the test of time.

Fresh, exciting, and deeply romantic, Time Between Us is a stunning, spellbinding debut from an extraordinary new voice in YA fiction.

Sigh.  Time Between Us is a wonderful debut!  It’s romantic, fast-paced, and time travel done right.

In all honesty, it’s been a few months since I’ve read Tamara Ireland Stone’s debut, and I didn’t write my review right after I finished it like I should have.  For that reason, I’m making a list of everything I loved about it.

  • Time travel has been a popular plot element in YA lately, but most of the ones I’ve read have been lacking.  The time travel has been interesting, but there’s usually something missing.  That’s not the case in Time Between Us.  I loved the pacing and the format.
  • I hope this is chosen as a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers because I know I’ll be able to hook my reluctant readers with Time Between Us.  The boys, maybe not, but the girls will definitely love it.  They’ll be intrigued by the mysterious beginning set in 2011 and the transition to 1995 in the next chapter.  I read this chapter and couldn’t help but wonder how it was going to tie in later.  I was so excited when I made the connection!
  • Anna is immediately drawn to Bennett because he appears mysteriously when she’s running and then shows up at school, but denies being at the track.  This is intriguing and kept my attention.  What I really appreciate about this set up is that there isn’t insta-love.  Sure, Anna wants to know more about Bennett, but their attraction and romance builds.  Their romance is sweeping and sweet.  It isn’t over the top and unbelievable.
  • This quote is a good example of how the relationship starts & how Anna feels about Bennett’s time traveling abilities in regards to their relationship: “I’ve spent the whole night thinking about how it will end, but right now, there’s only one thing I want to think about: there will be a middle.”  Isn’t that how many of us feel about relationships?  We don’t know where it will go, but we know there’s a middle to enjoy.
  • Anna is dynamic and a character readers can look up to.  She’s forced into tough situations that require her to be independent and make decisions she normally wouldn’t make.  There’s one decision I was afraid she was going to ignore, but I ended up being impressed with the action she took.  It’s one that some girls might not make in fear of what could be missed, but she does what’s right for her as an individual.

I read Tamara Ireland Stone’s debut in a day.  It’s romantic, exciting, mysterious, hard to put down, and at times heart breaking.  It’s a must read that I’m most definitely buying to share with my students.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.

Review: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

Title: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone

Author: Kat Rosenfield

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile

Release: July 5th, 2012

Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Contemporary

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):  An arresting un-coming-of-age story, from a breathtaking talent.

Becca has always longed to break free from her small, backwater hometown. But the discovery of an unidentified dead girl on the side of a dirt road sends the town–and Becca–into a tailspin. Unable to make sense of the violence of the outside world creeping into her backyard, Becca finds herself retreating inward, paralyzed from moving forward for the first time in her life.

Short chapters detailing the last days of Amelia Anne Richardson’s life are intercut with Becca’s own summer as the parallel stories of two young women struggling with self-identity and relationships on the edge twist the reader closer and closer to the truth about Amelia’s death.

I love a good mystery, especially when it’s a richly written contemporary mystery.  Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone has a lot going for it, but it also has a few flaws as well.

Books with more than one point of view almost always win me over and pique my interest.  There’s so much to gain from the story when we can read and learn from more than one character.  Kat Rosenfield provided us mainly with Becca’s point of view, but she also gave us Amelia Anne’s point of view hours before her death.  What made this added perspective even more interesting is how much Amelia Anne’s life paralleled Becca’s.  The pacing for this worked well also since we have it every two or three chapters.  It’s just enough to make us want more from her story and to see how it connects to Becca’s.

Something that begs to be mentioned is the setting of Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone.  Bridgeton is a very small town with a tight-knit community.  The idea of either being an outsider or an insider is abundantly stressed in the story.  Becca feels like an outsider in her own town and has dreams of leaving, but once that opportunity grows nearer it becomes that much scarier.  Amelia Anne is an outsider which makes her murder in their town all the more shocking.  No one knows who she is, where she’s from, or who killed her.  The murder throws all of Bridgeton into a frenzy of gossip and pointing fingers; Becca even starts to feel more attached to her town.  I had a hard time believing how much this murder affected everyone, but I’m also not from a small town.  Regardless, the setting really becomes a major character in the story.  The stress and tension grows to the point that I could feel it while reading.

As most reviewers have said, Kat Rosenfield has written a lush, beautiful debut novel.  The story is engrossing and vivid and kept me reading page after page.  My big qualm with Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is how jumpy the plot is.  Becca very often flashes back to earlier in the year without any warning.  She also narrates different characters’ stories.  These jumps in time happen without any kind of visual cue.  The reader would benefit from a page break or a different font style when Becca switches time periods and focus.  Overall, I don’t know if I really liked Becca all that much as a character.  She’s incredibly naive, understandably so, and it’s believable but it grew on my nerves.  I wanted her to ask questions.  I found myself relating more to Amelia and enjoying her character so much more.  She’s years ahead of Becca and knows how to go after what she wants.  She’s confident and standing up for herself.  As I was reading I kept hoping that Becca will grow to be like Amelia in those ways.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is a great choice if you enjoy contemporary literary YA.  It’s a fast-paced, gritty debut that I can see becoming quite popular in my classroom.  I’ll feel comfortable recommending this to some of my freshmen, but I don’t think I’d hand this over to middle school students.  The story isn’t overly mature, but it does deal with mature situations and language that might be a little advanced for middle school students.

Review: The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse

Title: The Forsaken

Author: Lisa M. Stasse

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: July 10th, 2012

Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Dystopian

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): A thought-provoking and exciting start to a riveting new dystopian trilogy.

As an obedient orphan of the U.N.A. (the super-country that was once Mexico, the U.S., and Canada), Alenna learned at an early age to blend in and be quiet—having your parents taken by the police will do that to a girl. But Alenna can’t help but stand out when she fails a test that all sixteen-year-olds have to take: The test says she has a high capacity for brutal violence, and so she is sent to The Wheel, an island where all would-be criminals end up.

The life expectancy of prisoners on The Wheel is just two years, but with dirty, violent, and chaotic conditions, the time seems a lot longer as Alenna is forced to deal with civil wars for land ownership and machines that snatch kids out of their makeshift homes. Desperate, she and the other prisoners concoct a potentially fatal plan to flee the island. Survival may seem impossible, but Alenna is determined to achieve it anyway.

The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse is a cool new addition to the dystopian YA genre.  It’s fast-paced, and while there are comparisons to The Hunger Games, The Forsaken is its own book.

Lisa M. Stasse’s debut is full of non-stop action.  Within the first few chapters readers are taken to The Wheel with Alenna and thrown into a precarious situation.  Teen readers looking for a book that’s adventurous and fast-paced are going to love The Forsaken.  So many of my students will stop reading a book because of “the slow parts.”  There aren’t any slow parts in this book.  It actually felt like the story had a rhythm; there would be an intense scene full of flight-or-fight scenarios and then there was a more subdued scene after that.  I’m really expecting my students to enjoy this one, and I’ll be sure to hand it to those looking for something that’s “like The Hunger Games.”

I like the premise of The Forsaken as well.  No one really knows why these kids, like Alenna, have been shipped to The Wheel.  There’s plenty of speculation, but nothing is really understood until the last couple chapters.  There’s also the feeling that everyone on The Wheel is being watched, but no one knows who’s monitoring them or where they are.  The premise and setting made me think of Lord of the Flies and also Variant by Robison Wells.  I haven’t read The Maze Runner by James Dashner, but I think they might be comparable also.  There’s just something intriguing about leaving teenagers to their own devices without any direct adult supervision, especially when they’re stranded on an island.

While I enjoyed the fast pace of this book, the beginning needs more world building and character development.  We’re given a glimpse of what the country is like and how the government has taken over, but we don’t know many details about it.  More are revealed at the end, but I needed something extra to get me more invested in the story.  I also need more time with Alenna before she’s sent to The Wheel.  We barely get a chance to know her before she’s sent there.  The whole process happened in a blink of the eye, although much of that is part of the story and the mystery behind why certain kids are sent away.  The Forsaken felt very plot driven to me and I usually prefer character driven stories.  I want to feel like I connect with the character(s) and I didn’t feel that way at all while reading this.

As a reader, I wanted a little more from The Forsaken, but as a teacher I know many of my students will enjoy it.  The students in class craving an action-packed adventure will love every page of Lisa M. Stasse’s debut.

Other Reviews:

Fountain Reflections

Literally Jen

Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Title: Insignia

Author: S.J. Kincaid

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: July 10th, 2012

Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Guy Appeal

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

If you’re looking for a book that will appeal to guy readers, make sure you hand them Insignia by S.J. Kincaid.  This debut has everything a book needs for guy appeal: humor, action, gaming, and more.  Even better?  Considering this type of book isn’t always my first choice, and knowing how much I enjoyed it, I’m positive girls will like Insignia as well.

Tom Raines’ character is written well and is perfect for this book.  At the beginning of Insignia, we find out that he’s conniving and quite the talented gamer.  We also find out that his dad is a short-on-his-luck gambler who isn’t really taking care of Tom the way a father should.  With Tom being left to his own devices, he doesn’t take school very seriously even though it’s obvious that he’s smart.  I think it’s safe to say that if Tom were a real teenager in my class, I’d really like him despite the front he puts up.  He’s full of wit and quick humor and easy to like.  He’s perfect for this book because he’s not over confident, nor is he too down on himself.  He knows he’s talented, but I don’t think readers will find it annoying; I think they’ll connect with him and look up to him, especially if they’re gamers as well.

I’m not a gamer, but I have to admit that the world S.J. Kincaid created is pretty cool.  How cool would it be to interact in a virtual reality?!  Being a superior war machine really isn’t my idea of a good time (pressure much?), but I sure like reading about them!  Kincaid did such a fantastic job creating the setting and the world Tom lives in, it felt like it could be real even though Insignia takes place in the future.  Setting and world building is one of the most important features in science fiction and dystopians because so much relies on these two features.  If they aren’t written well and with detail, then how am I supposed to buy in to the story, especially when sci-fi and dystopias are supposed to be believable?

I was fortunate enough to read Insignia back in November, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release since then.  It’s a page-turning debut that I couldn’t put down, so I’m looking forward to discussing it with other readers.  The release of Insignia is especially exciting because I’m using it in my YA Lit II class this upcoming school year.  I let a few of my students read my copy early to get a feel from them, and was happy to hear rave reviews.  S.J. Kincaid is an exciting new talent in the world of YA, and I can’t wait to read the next book!

More Insignia Reviews:

Wyz Reads

IceyBooks

Heise Reads & Recommends

Review: Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy

Title: Small Medium at Large

Author: Joanne Levy

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release Date: July 3rd, 2012

Interest: Positive Reviews / Debut Author / Middle Grade

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): After she’s hit by lightning at a wedding, twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she can hear dead people. Among them, there’s her overopinionated Bubby Dora; a prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a séance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one big fear: talking to—and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with—her crush, Andrew Finkel.

In all honesty, I’m really picky about middle grade novels.  I don’t know if it’s just that I’m a high school English teacher and therefore more interested in young adult novels, or what, but I don’t always like middle grade novels.  I have a really difficult time connecting with them and enjoying them, so when I find one that I like I want to spread the word all over the place.  I didn’t just like Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy, I loved it.

Small Medium at Large released this week and positive reviews have been all over Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, so on an impulse I decided to get a copy.  It’s a short book, at only 208 pages, but it has the perfect blend of realistic situations, supernatural elements, and humor that amounts to one positively adorable and enjoyable book.  I’m not always sure what’s “okay” for middle grade readers, but I feel secure recommending Joanne Levy’s debut to 5th graders and above because it’s a clean book and the themes in the story aren’t too complex.  The characters aren’t doing anything questionable or using foul language.  There are discussions about “boobs” and kissing but that’s as far as it goes.  Considering I was reading Caroline B. Cooney books and the like in 5th grade, I think this one is okay (not that her books are bad, but there were some “big” issues in her books).

Lilah Bloom is such a cute character.  She ends up with the ability to hear ghosts after being struck by lightning and is pretty level-headed about the whole thing.  The first ghost she encounters is Bubby Dora, her grandmother who passed away four years ago.  I love her interactions with Bubby because Bubby acts as both an authority figure and a helpful friend.  The way she and Lilah spoke to each other made me think of what it would be like if I could talk again with my grandma who passed away when I was six; I think many of our interactions would be the same.  The ghosts, in general, are really amusing and bring out Lilah’s character.  Lilah is a very believable sixth grader simply trying to fit in, but now trying to do that with the ability to talk to ghosts.  She worries about boys, bras, and bullies.  Lilah also wants to help her dad get back into the dating scene; those scenes are some of the cutest.

I like that even though Small Medium at Large might be considered supernatural since Lilah is communicating with ghosts, it mostly reads as realistic fiction.  Lilah is experiencing many of the same things an average 12 year old experiences, only she has ghosts helping her out at times.  She has a close group of friends, she struggles in school sometimes, she’s dealing with a bully, and she’s crushing on a boy.

What really sets this book apart is its execution.  Joanne Levy really makes Lilah stand out and come alive on the page, along with all of the supporting characters.  There wasn’t a dull moment in the book.  Small Medium at Large is my favorite book of the summer so far, and I really hope you read it.

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