Audiobook Review: Girl at War by Sara Nović

Audio Review

Girl at WarTitle: Girl at War

Author: Sara Novic

Narrator: Julia Whelan

Publisher: Random House

Release Date: May 12th, 2015

Interest: Alex Award Winner

Source: Audio purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads):

Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.

Audiobook Review: Julia Whelan has become one of my favorite audiobook narrators, especially after listening to Gone Girl last year. Her voice is really easy to listen to and she does a pretty good job changing it for different characters and even using various accents. I decided to listen to Girl at War because it won an Alex Award and also because I don’t have a physical copy (yet). Plus, Julia Whelan as the narrator was an automatic win. It was nice to hear the names and words pronounced correctly since I know I’d butcher them if I read it myself. It was hard at first not hearing Amy from Gone Girl, but after listening for a while that went away and Ana took full form for me.

Book Review: Girl at War is about a war I know little about even though I was alive during that time period. I’m thankful that this debut exists because more readers, especially teen readers, need to know about more wars in history. Our sophomores have an independent reading war poetry unit that requires them to read a novel dealing with war. I’m going to share Sara Novic’s novel with those teachers in my department so they can consider adding it as a recommended book.

There are other qualities that make me want to recommend it to the teachers in my department. The writing it beautiful and full of emotion. I don’t know anything about Sara Novic, but I imagine based on the story she’s written, that this war hits close to home. The end of Part I had me crying and many other scenes caused me to tear up as well. I wish I had a physical copy while I listened because there were plenty of scenes that I wanted to mark based on the writing alone. Girl at War is full of vivid imagery and smart writing overall.

If you’re looking for a novel that will pull at your heartstrings and make you aware of a war, that in my mind hasn’t been covered enough, look no further than Girl at War. I’m looking forward to reading more of Sara Novic’s novels. Even though this is a short review, please don’t let think that I didn’t love this book, because I did. I couldn’t get enough of the audio; I was completely enthralled and connected to the characters.

Review: Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson + additional authors

Violent EndsTitle: Violent Ends

Author: Shaun David Hutchinson + additional authors

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Interest: Contemp / More than one POV / Author(s)

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.

But this isn’t a story about the shooting itself. This isn’t about recounting that one unforgettable day.

This is about Kirby and how one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.

Each chapter is told from a different victim’s viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he’d become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.

This is a book of perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—from the minds of some of YA’s most recognizable names.

It’s been two months since I finished reading Violent Ends and I’m still having a difficult time putting all of my thoughts together. Immediately after finishing it I began tweeting my reactions and thoughts because I had to say something about it to someone right away. So this review is going to be a mixture of those tweets and some written explanation.

One of the primary reasons aspects that makes this an awesome book is that it’s not easy to demonize Kirby. When a school shooting occurs the shooter(s) is almost instantly villainized by the media. And part of me wants to add “rightly so,” but then I think about Violent Ends and all of the stories connected to Kirby, and I find it difficult to type “rightly so.” That’s incredibly hard for me to grapple with as a teacher and parent.

Something that is so smart about Violent Ends is that even though many of the stories could prompt a reader to point to a moment as “the moment” that set Kirby off, we still can’t do that. Take this tweet for instance:

Violent Ends Tweet 3

I won’t say what happens in Elisa’s chapter, but, yeah. I was extremely fortunate to be invited to the Simon & Schuster NCTE dinner that featured Shaun and was able to ask him some questions about this book during the dinner. I asked Shaun specifically about this chapter and even he doesn’t know exactly how it ends. Elisa has purposely kept that quiet because it could sway readers in one direction or not. I bring this up, because it’s a perfect example of how society wants to find the real reason why someone decides to attack a school (or any public place). And often when a suicide is involved we’re left without answers. The authors who wrote this book together crafted it in such a way that while we know Kirby pretty well, we don’t know exactly why. The closest we get to being in Kirby’s head is in a chapter from the gun’s point of view.

There are chapters that made me feel close to Kirby and the characters who were directly involved in his life.

Violent Ends Tweet 4

This chapter, had me on edge like the tweet says, but it also showed an unexpected side of Kirby. I’m still thinking about that character and want Tom Leveen to write a book from her point of view.

There’s also this:

Violent Ends Tweet 2

Mindi Scott’s chapter left me feeling almost everything. And, again, I saw a side of Kirby that made me want to know him more. Mindi was the perfect author for this character and chapter (I’m purposely not naming the character).

Overall, Violent Ends is smart and timely, which is one of the reasons it was one of my favorite books of 2015. I’m impressed with variety of authors Shaun David Hutchinson pulled together and the amazing story they created. I never felt like I was reading something written by a group of authors, which is quite the feat.

Violent Ends Tweet 1 Violent Ends Tweet 5

Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow BlyTitle: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Author: Stephanie Oakes

Publisher: Dial Books

Release Date: June 9th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it’s clear that Minnow knows something—but she’s not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

Gorgeously written, breathlessly page-turning and sprinkled with moments of unexpected humor, this harrowing debut is perfect for readers of Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me and Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us , as well as for fans of Orange is the New Black.

I’ve wanted to read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes since the publisher sent me an ARC, but somehow it ended up sitting in my TBR stack for a while. Finding out that it’s a William C. Morris finalist is what pushed me to read it over Christmas break. I wish I would have read it sooner!

The first few pages grabbed my attention and never let it go. I couldn’t possibly turn away after this first sentence: “I am a blood-soaked girl.” That line is going to hook some reluctant readers. From there readers find Minnow Bly surrounded by blood in a snow bank and also discover that she no longer has hands. But it’s not her blood.

This debut is often gruesome and haunting. There are lines about the popping of burning skin and we discover how Minnow’s hands were taken from her. But these lines–and many throughout the novel–are also lyrical and written beautifully. Some scenes reminded me of Grimm’s fairy tales, which makes sense after finding out that this story was inspired by the Grimm fairy tale “The Handless Maiden.” It’s a book unlike any other I’ve read before.

Minnow’s story is told mostly through flashbacks while she’s in juvie remembering and detailing her life in the Kevinian cult. As I was reading I kept thinking how unbelievable it is that people fall into cults, but when Minnow meets Jude, an outsider, and they discuss the Bible and the Prophet, I wonder if some people think that about those who believe in God. Some of the flashbacks were so outrageous I sometimes wondered if Minnow was an unreliable narrator. It’s going to be interesting hearing what my students have to say about this after they read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

It’s interesting to me that Minnow Bly’s hands (I assume they’re Minnow’s hands) are at the forefront of the cover considering her hands have been cut off. I also noticed many references to hands, fingers, nails, etc.:

“Fingernail-sized flakes of snow”
“Bulbous knuckles”
“Rigid finger”

I’m going out on a limb and assuming that was done purposefully. I love noticing imagery like that when I’m reading.

Towards the end I was teary and distraught, but I was able to remain hopeful for Minnow. She becomes friends with her juvie inmate, Angel, whose story broke my heart. It’s her friendship with Angel that helps Minnow see the world differently even though she’s told that Angel is a bad influence. Stephanie Oakes wrote a mystery about a cult, but it’s really more than that. Ultimately it’s about a girl who learns to trust herself and find independence.

I completely agree with The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly being a Morris finalist because it’s an impressive debut. I can’t wait to read The Arsonist which is set to release from Dial/Penguin in fall 2016.

Some read-alikes: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (minus the magical realism), The Giver by Lois Lowry, and the short essay “Salvation” by Langston Hughes

Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, EverythingTitle: Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: Finished copy received at ALAN

Summary (From Goodreads):

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I’ve been looking forward to reading Everything, Everything since I started reading early reviews during the summer, so when I received two copies at ALAN I was over the moon thrilled. I brought them to school and ended up giving both copies to students which were immediately and quickly passed from student to student. Thankfully I was able to snag one of the copies and read it!

First, I thoroughly enjoyed the multigenre approach used to tell Madeleine’s story. As I was reading this I kept thinking back to my seniors’ memoir multigenre essay and wishing I would have had a copy of this then to share with them. I don’t know exactly why Nicola Yoon chose to write her book this way because it doesn’t really feel like it was necessary for the story, but it worked for me. It upped the interest level which I know has been a big factor in its popularity among my students.

Because I didn’t finish Everything, Everything before Christmas, my momentum was slowed and consequently I found myself growing impatient with the movement of the story. It didn’t help that while I was on Goodreads one day I noticed someone shelved this book a certain way that made me question what was happening in the story. It was kind of an unintentional spoiler so I was anxious to figure it out. Instead of enjoying the relationship between Madeleine and Olly blossoming I was rushing to get further in the book to figure out if my suspicion was right after seeing that shelf designation. Anyway, I think that’s why I ended up really liking this as opposed to loving it.

I will say, however, that I’m excited to read future books written by Nicola Yoon. The story and the format are original and fresh which makes me confident that I’ll enjoy more of her novels. It’s also noteworthy that Everything, Everything isn’t really about SCID like some may expect. It’s more about relationships and self-discovery, which I loved. I felt like I knew Madeleine really well and understood her motivations. I foresee this debut being a perennial favorite in my classroom.

My 2015 Reading Year

In the past I’ve written a few posts summing up my favorite reads of those years. Honestly, I don’t have time to do that this year so I’m going to compile it all into one post.

I’ve read 71 novels in 2015, 29 of which were audiobooks. I’ve read at least 55 picture books this year (courtesy of Jack), and most of those have been read over and over and over again. I’ve also abandoned a handful of books.

This year I’ve focused on expanding my repertoire of different genres/authors and am happy with the results:

Mystery: 10 novels
Historical Fiction: 4 novels (not many, but all within this school year)
Fantasy: 6 novels
Memoir: 4 novels (I have a couple in queue for 2016)
New to me/Debut authors: 40 novels

Based on my list of top ten favorite books of 2015, it’s obvious that contemporary realistic fiction is my favorite genre to read. This list is in no particular order because it would be way too hard to narrow it down.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (my review): I can’t imagine my list of favorite 2015 reads existing without this book on the list. It’s outstanding and Willowdean will probably stay one of my absolute favorite characters for a long time. Plus, it was a great audiobook.

Violent Ends by Shaun Hutchinson and 16 additional authors: I still need to write a book review for this, which I’m mad at myself for not having done sooner. This is the type of book that all teachers should read. It’s being passed from reader to reader in one of my senior classes right now and I couldn’t be happier about that. There are a number of characters in this novel who are still on my mind even a month or so after reading it.

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (my review): This read more like historical fiction to me than fantasy, which worked perfectly fine. The audio is fantastic and really kept me hooked. I’m a huge Rae Carson fan which is one of the reasons I’m using The Girl of Fire and Thorns as a hero’s journey book club book with my freshmen. In one class, however, only two students chose to read that (totally surprised me) and one of students ended up being unsure about whether she wanted to stick with it. That student didn’t want to leave her peer behind though, so she didn’t know what to do. I had my copy of Walk on Earth a Stranger handy, so I suggested she try reading it instead so she and her other group member could maybe at least read books by the same author. My student came in the next day and was so excited about Walk on Earth a Stranger that she realized since it’s so awesome The Girl of Fire and Thorns must be just as great too. She’s now reading both books. Total win.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han: Here’s another book that I wish I would have reviewed after I finished reading it. I loved The Summer I Turned Pretty and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but P.S. I Still Love You officially made me a Jenny Han fangirl. I felt like I was right there experiencing everything with Lara Jean as I read it. Jenny Han made me feel like I was part of Lara Jean’s family; I was left feeling kind of sad when I finished reading because I wasn’t ready to leave those characters behind. It would be perfectly okay with me if she writes a third book or even a book written from Kitty’s point of view. I’d pre-order either book!

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby (my review): I feel like all I’ve done this year is spread the book love for Things We Know by Heart, but I love it so much it’s hard not to. Thankfully my students trust my recommendations and have been thoroughly enjoying it as well. One of my freshmen has read it more than once and even created her own playlist for it. Another teacher in my building was reading it at the same time as one of her students and told me about how much fun it was to discuss Quinn’s story as they both read it.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (my review): My goodness, if you want to read a steamy fantasy, add this one to your list. I was seriously bummed when I found out that ARCs weren’t going to be made for the sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury, because I have been wanting to read it for almost a year now!

Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin: Time got away from me and I didn’t write my review after listening to this audiobook. Oh my goodness, is this debut funny and engaging! I didn’t want to stop listening to the audio because it was seriously that good. When I was at NCTE I requested the sequel, but they didn’t have it. Honestly, I’m kind of glad they didn’t have it because I think I want to listen to the audio again. If you’ve been wanting to read more sci-fi, but it isn’t really your cup of tea, I’d read Denton’s story; it’s what I like to call sci-fi lite. The idea behind the story could be classified as science fiction, but the story reads very much like realistic fiction, if that makes sense.

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Fixer over the summer which is also written by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. It was actually the first book of hers that I’ve read. Because I enjoyed it so much and because many of my friends have read and recommended The Naturals, I decided to give the audio for it a go. I have to say, Jennifer Lynn Barnes is fast becoming one of my favorite mystery authors. The narrator for this was really good and paced the story well. It’s a little bit predictable, but the reveal was still fun. This is perfect for fans of the TV show Criminal Minds and the books I Hunt Killers and The Body Finder. The only complaint I have is that I’ve been told there most likely won’t be audiobooks made for books two and three in this trilogy.

Stand-Off by Andrew Smith: Ryan Dean West is another one of my absolute favorite characters. I’m so thankful that we’ve been gifted with the rest of his story after such a tough ending in Winger. I adored this book and was left completely satisfied when I finished reading it. Of course, if Andrew Smith decides to write a third book about Ryan Dean I won’t complain; I’ll pre-order it as soon as it’s available if that ever becomes an option. What I really liked about Stand-Off is that it’s still laugh out loud funny, but it’s also full of heart and introspective moments for Ryan Dean. It reminded me of what Geoff Herbach crafted in I’m With Stupid as he wrapped up Felton’s story.
P.S. I’m sorry I didn’t write a full review after I finished reading this. I was racing to get all the things read and finalized for NCTE.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner: I received an ARC of this when I was at NCTE and it’s the only 2016 title I’ve read so far. It feels like cheating adding a 2016 title to this list, but there’s no way I can be honest about this list and not include it. In fact, Jeff Zentner’s debut will be on my 2016 favorites list as well because it’s utterly fabulous. I’ll probably read it a second time if my students don’t hog my copy, but I’m predicting this is going to be a book I rarely see during the school year. I promise to write a full review in time for the March 2016 release, but I’ll leave you with this: The Serpent King was reading in almost one sitting–which is nearly impossible to do these days–and it made me ugly cry FOR MULTIPLE PAGES.

And because I can’t stop at ten and because I don’t like leaving good books off my list, here are some titles I’ve read in 2015 that my students are loving this school year:

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon: My students and I really dig the multigenre format to this novel; it makes for a quick and engaging read.

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy: I love it when authors feature athletic girls in their stories and make that aspect of the character a primary focus in the story. There aren’t enough female characters who are student athletes in YA novels, which is a real disservice to our teens. I was a swimmer in high school and the high school I teach at has an impressive swimming program, so Abby’s story really resonates with my students.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I listened to the audio for this before it was announced as the 2015 Printz winner and was over the moon thrilled about it. As usual for the past few years, we had a snow day when the awards were announced so I had to wait to tell my students all about the win. Since last school year I’ll Give You the Sun has been passed from reader to reader in my classroom. My freshmen last year kept a constant waitlist for it and have even told my current freshmen about it. I love it when a book becomes so widely loved that my students recommend it to friends outside my class. Also, the audio for this is fabulous!

 

I’d love to know which books were your 2015 favorites! Happy New Year, lovely readers!

 

 

Review: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last WordTitle: Every Last Word

Author: Tamara Ireland Stone

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Release Date: June 16th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Author / Mental Illness

Source: Finished copy received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

Tamara Ireland Stone was signing copies of Every Last Word at NCTE and she spoke on a panel at the ALAN workshop. When I came home from my trip I was overwhelmed with the sudden large variety of books to choose from, so I kept up my own personal book pass through the Thanksgiving weekend. Before I returned to work I began reading the first chapter of Every Last Word, which I had signed at NCTE. I was hooked within the first few pages of the chapter. The combination of Sam’s stand-out voice and the obsessional thoughts she has in that opening scene grabbed me more than most opening chapters to books do. From that point on I could barely set the book down.

It’s important to me as a teacher that I read books about teens with mental illness because I know many of my students are suffering silently. I haven’t read many books about characters with OCD, especially Purely-Obsessional OCD. I didn’t even know it existed, but after reading Sam’s story I have to believe that more of my students will relate to her character than I could accurately guess. On the surface Sam is concerned with fitting in, wearing the right outfits, earning a swimming scholarship, and doing well in school. Beneath all of that, however, Sam fears that people will discover her OCD and think she’s crazy. Sam fears that she’s crazy. She fears the unfortunate stigmas attached to mental illness and seeking help from a therapist.

I commend Tamara Ireland Stone for writing this book because she’s written it in such a way that teens who are suffering from OCD and anxiety are going to find themselves within the pages. Teens who do not suffer from anxiety or OCD will gain an important understanding about those who do. It’s my hope that my students who read Every Last Word will be more understanding of their friends who are like Sam and won’t judge their peers who seek counseling. I’m thrilled that Sam finds Poet’s Corner because it truly shows how therapeutic it is to write, which is something I tell my students on a regular basis. I hope my students who read this will believe me now (if they didn’t before) when I talk about the benefits of writing. I’m even considering creating some kind of Poet’s Corner in my classroom for my students to share their poems and songs.

Overall, this is a compelling novel featuring a strong character, solid friendships, a sweet romance, and a great portrayal of mental illness and coping with said illness. I hope Every Last Word reaches a large audience of readers and lands in many classroom and school libraries.

 

Audiobook Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

Audio Review

All American BoysTitle: All American Boys

Authors: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

Narrators: Guy Lockhard & Keith Nobbs

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dloughy Books

Release Date: September 29, 2015

Source: Audio purchased by Audible

Interest: Authors / Contemp

Summary (From Goodreads):

In an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

Typically for an audio review I break up my post into two parts: the audio review followed by the book review. Today I’ve decided to break away from that. Rashad’s and Quinn’s stories prompted a number of questions to form as I listened to All American Boys, so I decided to list my questions instead of writing a formal review. I think the questions I kept asking myself speak volumes about the story and about our society. All of the questions I’m listing stem from moments in the novel.

  1. Why does American mean white? Why is does it seem like that’s the definition of our country?
  2. Who do you call for help when you witness a police officer doing wrong? Who else can help? Will other police officers come to your aid?
  3. Why aren’t the teachers discussing Rashad’s beating in their classrooms? Why do some teachers avoid openly discussing tough topics?
  4. Is it really “best” to leave it (it=Rashad’ beating / race issues / tough topics) at the gym door? Does this build a stronger team or weaken it? What does this actually communicate to the student athletes?
  5. Who’s on your team outside the gym door?
  6. Why in this day and age are there still “Invisible Men”?
  7. How do we define loyalty? Where do our loyalties lie? When is it necessary to redefine our definitions?

All American Boys is a novel that our country needs right now, which is why I hope teachers and librarians and parents read and share this book with teens. Today’s teenagers will be tomorrow’s leaders, so I hope Jason Reynold’s and Brendan Kiely’s novel lands in their hands.

Audiobook Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Audio Review

Dumplin'Title: Dumplin’

Author: Julie Murphy

Narrator: Eileen Stevens

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: September 15th, 2015

Interest: Contemp

Source: Audio purchased via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Audiobook Review: I listened to the audio for Dumplin’ because I was originally listening to the audio for Dorothy Must Die and it was randomly removed from Scribd. After some frantic searching (I HAD to find a new audiobook), I found the audio for Dumplin’. After a quick sample I knew I wanted to listen to it. The narrator, Eileen Stevens, has an easy and smooth voice and I loved the accent she used; I felt like I was really there alongside Willowdean in Texas. Stevens did an excellent job switching her voice for each of the female characters, but the male characters, however, too often sounded the same which made it difficult at times to follow the story. Besides that, I thoroughly enjoyed this listening experience and finished Julie Murphy’s newest release in a matter of days.

Book Review: First and foremost, all teenagers need access to this book. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed fat girl like Willowdean or not, teens are going to find themselves in her story. There were multiple times I felt myself nodding my head and thinking “Yep, I felt the same way, Willowdean. I worried about that or wished that, too.” Teens need to find themselves in the books they read and I’m sure they will when they read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy.

Willowdean won me over because she’s authentic and honest with herself. She’s true to herself even when she has self-doubts. She’s quick-witted. Julie Murphy wrote a teen character who truly sounds and acts and thinks like a teenager. Just like Willowdean I was self-conscious about my body, especially around boys. Just like Willowdean I was snarky on the outside but not always so confident on the inside. I’m in my 30s now, but I know teens today will connect for many of the same reasons.

If you like books about friendships, read Dumplin’. If you like books with crush-worthy guys, read Dumplin’. If you like books with strained mother-daughter relationships, read Dumplin’.

I basically can’t say enough good things about Dumplin’. It’s been added to my Favorites shelf and will certainly be a favorite of 2015. Just like I want everyone I meet to read Winger by Andrew Smith and fall in love with Ryan Dean, I want everyone to read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy and fall in love with Willowdean.

Audiobook Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Audio Review

Walk on Earth a StrangerTitle: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Author: Rae Carson

Narrator: Erin Mallon

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Release Date: September 22nd, 2015

Interest: Author / Fantasy / Historical Fiction

Source: Audible purchased via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.

Audio Review: I couldn’t buy a physical copy of Walk on Earth a Stranger yet, but I really wanted to read it so I decided to download the audio via Scribd. I’m so thankful that I did because the audio is great and so is the story. Erin Mallon has a voice suitable for a sharp shooting girl who’s fleeing to the west. It’s just the slightest bit gritty and easy to listen to. Also, the audio is almost 11 hours long and I finished it within a few days because I kept finding excuses to keep listening. There were a few times I walked into work a little late so I could keep listening in the parking lot. And I did the same thing in my garage. I was thoroughly entertained.

Book Review: I’m a big Rae Carson fan so I had high expectations for Walk on Earth a Stranger and I’m sure her other fans feel the same. Looking for epic world building? You’ll feel like you’re trekking into the wild west with Leah. Want to feel a crazy bond with the characters? I haven’t felt so close to a group of a characters in a very long time. I was hoping for more fantasy elements, but this is a stunning piece of historical fiction.

Did any of you play the Oregon Trail game in elementary school? I remember playing in my 4th or 5th grade social studies class and loving it. I clearly remember the wagon I built with my dad for our class project. Reading Walk on Earth a Stranger was like playing the Oregon Trail game on steroids. There’s an especially vivid buffalo scene that made my hair stand on end. I’m sure the audio helped, but I really felt like I was alongside Leah throughout the story. Her magic sense added an extra layer of excitement, but I liked the historical elements even more. For some reason I’m not always quick to pick up a historical fiction novel, but if they were all this entertaining I’d read more from the genre.

Let me tell you, I experienced so many emotions as I read this book. Some of the men in this book made my skin crawl. During the Gold Rush era women still weren’t respected and treated fairly. I love that Leah fights that and so do some of the other women she meets. It was also difficult listening to characters depict Native Americans in such a backwards and bigoted manner, but that’s sadly true to the time period. There were also a few moments that had me tearing up and had my heart swelling. There’s a good reason why Walk on Earth a Stranger is on the long list for the Young People’s Literature category for the National Book Award!

I wish I didn’t have to wait a year to read the second book in the series. I’m expecting more magic as the series progresses, so I know it will continue to be a fun series to read. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson is a must read!

Review: Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt

Dream Things TrueTitle: Dream Things True

Author: Marie Marquardt

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Diversity / Retelling

Source: e-ARC provided by the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A modern-day Romeo and Juliet story in which a wealthy Southern boy falls in love with an undocumented Mexican girl and together they face perils in their hostile Georgia town.

Evan, a soccer star and the nephew of a conservative Southern Senator, has never wanted for much — except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two-years-old, excels in school, and has a large, warm Mexican family. Never mind their differences, the two fall in love, and they fall hard. But when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) begins raids on their town, Alma knows that she needs to tell Evan her secret. There’s too much at stake. But how to tell her country-club boyfriend that she’s an undocumented immigrant? That her whole family and most of her friends live in the country without permission. What follows is a beautiful, nuanced, well-paced exploration of the complications of immigration, young love, defying one’s family, and facing a tangled bureaucracy that threatens to completely upend two young lives.

I really enjoy teaching Romeo & Juliet, so when Dream Things True was pitched as a modern retelling of the famous tragedy I knew I had to read it. Evan and Alma are certainly star-crossed lovers considering Evan comes from a wealthy family and Alma is and comes from an undocumented Mexican family. Alma’s story really captured my attention since I haven’t read many (any?) YA novels focusing on undocumented citizens.

Marie Marquardt brings to light an issue that many of us are aware of, but may not truly know how it affects people. Alma’s family is close-knit and loyal to one another; they look out for one another, even their families still in Mexico. Through Alma readers are able to see what life as an undocumented citizen is like. Marie Marquardt never makes this feel like an issue book, but the tension between politicians, American citizens, and undocumented citizens is evident. I’m looking forward to discussing this with my students as they read Dream Things True, especially since it’s not a topic we typically discuss in class.

The story of Alma, her family, Evan, and his family is a balanced one, but there’s an additional storyline added that deals with date rape. Honestly, I know why it’s included because it’s a good way to make a certain character more antagonistic, but it distracted me from the story. It felt excessive to me. I would have been completely find continuing to read Alma and Evan’s story without it or with a different storyline to layer the conflict.

Other than that issue I enjoyed Dream Things True. I liked making connections to Romeo & Juliet and wondering as I read which scenes and characters my students would recognize. I also appreciate that readers can read this book and not connect it in any way to Shakespeare’s famous tragedy; nothing is lost if a reader isn’t familiar with the story.

 

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