Memorial Day Reading: YA Novels Featuring Soldiers and War (Updated)

During Memorial Day weekend in 2012 I wrote this post about YA novels featuring soldiers and/or war. Since then I’ve read and discovered even more that I’d like to share with you. Just like last time, I’d love to know if there are more books I need to add to this list.

Some of the books will have summaries and some will have commentary.

World War II novels:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: This is always a popular novel in my classroom, even more so since the movie released. Being written from the point of view of death adds an intriguing layer to a beautiful, heart wrenching story.

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow: Karl’s story is interesting because he’s a Jew hiding in plain sight until the Nazi presence grows stronger. He wants to grow strong and become a talented boxer since he’s bullied. I really enjoyed the cartoons he draws throughout the story.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: The tenth grade teachers encourage students to read this novel during the independent reading war unit. They don’t have to try very hard since it’s almost always a favorite. Students are often very surprised to learn about the Lithuanian ethnic cleansing that took place during WWII.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (Goodreads):

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?
Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner (Goodreads):

With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he’s sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII. Koji’s story, based on true events, is brought to life by Matt Faulkner’s cinematic illustrations that reveal Koji struggling to find his place in a tumultuous world-one where he is a prisoner of war in his own country.

Invasion by Walter Dean Myers (Goodreads):

Walter Dean Myers brilliantly renders the realities of World War II.

Josiah Wedgewood and Marcus Perry are on their way to an uncertain future. Their whole lives are ahead of them, yet at the same time, death’s whisper is everywhere.

One white, one black, these young men have nothing in common and everything in common as they approach an experience that will change them forever.

It’s May 1944. World War II is ramping up, and so are these young recruits, ready and eager. In small towns and big cities all over the globe, people are filled with fear. When Josiah and Marcus come together in what will be the greatest test of their lives, they learn hard lessons about race, friendship, and what it really means to fight. Set on the front lines of the Normandy invasion, this novel, rendered with heart-in-the-throat precision, is a cinematic masterpiece. Here we see the bold terror of war, and also the nuanced havoc that affects a young person’s psyche while living in a barrack, not knowing if today he will end up dead or alive.

Non-Fiction War Novels:

BombBomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Goodreads):
In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned 3 continents. In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

ImprisonedImprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler (Goodreads):
While Americans fought for freedom and democracy abroad, fear and suspicion towards Japanese Americans swept the country after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Culling information from extensive, previously unpublished interviews and oral histories with Japanese American survivors of internment camps, Martin W. Sandler gives an in-depth account of their lives before, during their imprisonment, and after their release. Bringing readers inside life in the internment camps and explaining how a country that is built on the ideals of freedom for all could have such a dark mark on its history, this in-depth look at a troubling period of American history sheds light on the prejudices in today’s world and provides the historical context we need to prevent similar abuses of power.

TrinityTrinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (Goodreads):
Trinity, the debut graphic book by the gifted illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, depicts in vivid detail the dramatic history of the race to build and the decision to drop the first atomic bomb. This sweeping historical narrative traces the spark of invention from the laboratories of nineteenth-century Europe to the massive industrial and scientific efforts of the Manhattan Project. Along the way, Fetter-Vorm takes special care to explain the fundamental science of nuclear reactions. With the clarity and accessibility that only a graphic book can provide, Trinity transports the reader into the core of a nuclear reaction—into the splitting atoms themselves.

The power of the atom was harnessed in a top-secret government compound in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where some of the greatest scientific minds in the world gathered together to work on the bomb. Fetter-Vorm showcases J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and General Leslie Groves, the fathers of the atomic bomb, whose insights unleashed the most devastating explosion known to humankind. These brilliant scientists wrestled daily with both the difficulty of building an atomic weapon and the moral implications of actually succeeding.

When the first bomb finally went off at a test site code-named Trinity, the world was irreversibly thrust into a new and terrifying age. With powerful renderings of the catastrophic events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Fetter-Vorm unflinchingly chronicles the far-reaching political, environmental, and ethical effects of this new discovery. Richly illustrated and deeply researched, Trinity is a dramatic, informative, and thought-provoking book on one of the most significant and harrowing events in history.

The Nazi HuntersThe Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (Goodreads):
A thrilling spy mission, a moving Holocaust story, and a first-class work of narrative nonfiction.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the head of operations for the Nazis’ Final Solution, walked into the mountains of Germany and vanished from view. Sixteen years later, an elite team of spies captured him at a bus stop in Argentina and smuggled him to Israel, resulting in one of the century’s most important trials — one that cemented the Holocaust in the public imagination.

THE NAZI HUNTERS is the thrilling and fascinating story of what happened between these two events. Survivor Simon Wiesenthal opened Eichmann’s case; a blind Argentinean and his teenage daughter provided crucial information. Finally, the Israeli spies — many of whom lost family in the Holocaust — embarked on their daring mission, recounted here in full. Based on the adult bestseller HUNTING EICHMANN, which is now in development as a major film, and illustrated with powerful photos throughout, THE NAZI HUNTERS is a can’t-miss work of narrative nonfiction for middle-grade and YA readers.

 

The Effects of War at Home:

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson: I included this book on my previous list, but I hadn’t read it yet. I’ve read it since then and absolutely loved it. It’s not only a compelling story that deals with slut-shaming, but it also looks at life in a military-infused town.

Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie: Kokie’s debut looks at what life is like for a military family when a son/brother has died overseas. Matt is dealing with grief, a strict father who won’t discuss Matt’s brother’s death, and Matt’s need to understand his brother more. I thoroughly enjoyed this debut and so do my students.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: Hayley’s father suffers from PTSD and consequently they move from place to place since he struggles to escape his past in Iraq. Sadly, Hayley is also basically suffering from her own form of PTSD stemming from her father’s outbursts and her troubled past. Laurie Halse Anderson fans waited a long time for a new YA novel and this was worth the wait.

Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo (Goodreads):

Her sister was captured in Iraq, she’s the resident laughingstock at school, and her therapist tells her to count instead of eat. Can a daring new girl in her life really change anything?

Angie is broken — by her can’t-be-bothered mother, by her high-school tormenters, and by being the only one who thinks her varsity-athlete-turned-war-hero sister is still alive. Hiding under a mountain of junk food hasn’t kept the pain (or the shouts of “crazy mad cow!”) away. Having failed to kill herself — in front of a gym full of kids — she’s back at high school just trying to make it through each day. That is, until the arrival of KC Romance, the kind of girl who doesn’t exist in Dryfalls, Ohio. A girl who is one hundred and ninety-nine percent wow! A girl who never sees her as Fat Angie, and who knows too well that the package doesn’t always match what’s inside. With an offbeat sensibility, mean girls to rival a horror classic, and characters both outrageous and touching, this darkly comic anti-romantic romance will appeal to anyone who likes entertaining and meaningful fiction.

It has been awarded the Stonewall Book Award-Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award for 2014.

I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios (Goodreads):

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

Review: Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

Rapture PracticeTitle: Rapture Practice

Author: Aaron Hartzler

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: April 9th, 2013

Interest: Memoir / LGBT

Source: Finished copy received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Aaron Hartzler grew up gay in a home where he was taught that at any moment Jesus might come down in the twinkling of an eye, and scoop his whole family up to Heaven. As a kid, Aaron was thrilled by the idea that each day might be his last one on planet Earth. He couldn’t wait to blastoff and join Jesus in the sky!

But as he turns sixteen, Aaron finds himself more and more attached to his life on Earth, and curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn’t want the Rapture to happen, just yet; not before he sees his first movie, stars in the school play, or has his first kiss. Before long, Aaron makes the plunge from conflicted do-gooder to full-fledged teen rebel.

Whether he’s sneaking out, making out, or at the piano playing hymns with a hangover, Aaron learns a few lessons that can’t be found in the Bible. He discovers the best friends aren’t always the ones your mom and dad approve of, and the tricky part about believing is that no one can do it for you.

In this funny and heartfelt coming of age memoir, debut author Aaron Hartzler recalls his teenage journey to find the person he is without losing the family who loves him. It’s a story about losing your faith, finding your place, and learning your very own truth–which is always stranger than fiction.

If more memoirs were written like Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, I would read more memoirs. His debut novel is humorous, heartfelt, and honest.

Something I like best about Aaron’s story is that it exposed me to a world I’m not very familiar with. I did have a friend in elementary school who was a very strict Baptist, but even her lifestyle wasn’t as extreme as Aaron’s. I grew up in a religious home, so I understand and appreciate the importance of it, but reading about Aaron’s family and their beliefs was eye-opening and also frustrating. I can’t imagine getting into an argument with my dad about whether or not I wore socks to church. My parents were strict about the music I listened to, mostly when I was younger, but I was never made to feel guilty or ashamed about it. Aaron Hartzler does a wonderful job helping the reader understand where his parents are coming from, but he also does a fantastic job making the reader feel for him. I can’t tell you how many times his parents made me angry while reading this memoir. I will admit, however, that I sometimes felt bad for being angry at them since I know they felt they were doing what’s right.

I hope some of my students will read Rapture Practice. First, it will most likely be an eye-opening experience for them just as it was for me. Second, I want them to read more memoirs and this is a great book to get them started and help them understand what a memoir is. Third, Aaron Hartzler’s story will probably resonate with many of them. Even if they aren’t living in a strict religious household, I’m confident many of them are questioning religion, rebelling against their parents, figuring out where they  fit in the world, etc. They’ll likely find a piece of themselves in this book.

I do, however, wish Rapture Practice included more about Aaron realizing that he’s gay. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to read his memoir. Unfortunately, this part of his life is brought up, but it’s not as fleshed out as I wanted. I’m assuming his real revelation happened after this book ends, but I’m not entirely sure about that. I’d love it if he chose to write a second memoir which goes into more detail about his self-discovery and how that affected his life and family. I’d read another one of Aaron Hartzler’s books regardless of what it’s about.

I know our reading lists are long, but I recommend taking the time to read Rapture Practice. It’s easy and enjoyable to read; it’s written very well. Aaron Hartzler is an author I’ll be looking out for in the future.

Top Ten Tuesday: Words/Phrases That Make Me Not Pick Up a Book

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

This might be a tough list to compile since I’m not usually thinking about what I don’t want to read when I’m picking out a book.  I’m always looking for things that make me want to read one.

1. Vampires–I’m over them.

2. Fairytale Retellings–I still try to give them a chance, but most often they don’t work for me.

3. Fairies–I can’t explain why, but I don’t like these stories. The writing can be amazing, but the stories don’t work for me.

4. “Exciting new trilogy/series”–Is anyone else getting tired of new trilogies and series? I’ll still pick them up, but I’m WAY more cautious to start a new one than I ever was before. Besides how expensive it is, it’s hard to keep up.

5. Steampunk–It doesn’t work for me.

6. “The new _______”–Nothing is the same as The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, etc. and that’s OKAY.  I will look into these books because my students will finish one of the big trilogies or series and want something similar, but I don’t like how blurbs do that. It usually sets unrealistic expectations because while I’ve read plenty of great dystopians, none of them are The Hunger Games.  Although some have been better.

7. Insta-love–This almost never works and drives me crazy. Especially when characters get whiny.

8. Non-fiction–I hate saying this, but I don’t like non-fiction. I don’t completely write it off because plenty of my students love it, but it’s rare that I get excited about a non-fiction book.

9. Cancer books that were written to make me sob–Nope. They hit too close to home.  I’ll consider one when it’s not directly about the person dying from cancer, or if it’s more humorous and not a sob-fest, but otherwise I won’t even bother.  It took me a year to pick up The Fault in Our Stars. It was good and apparently I didn’t cry at the “right” part.  No one actually said that to me, but from what I’ve heard, the big “you’re going to cry” moment wasn’t the moment that made me cry.

10. Fiction written by celebrities–Really? Not going to happen.

Top Ten Tuesday: Intimidating Books

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

Today’s post features books that I’ve been intimidated to read even though many of my friends and reviewers have loved them.  I don’t know if all of these books have been loved by many, but many of them have received awards and starred reviews.

The Printz Books:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein–I can only think of one person who wasn’t a huge fan of this book; everyone else I’ve spoken with has raved about it. I can’t explain why I’m scared to try reading it.  I’ve had it on my Kindle for over a year, and I have two copies of it in my classroom.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly–I listened to the audio for Revolution, and while the audio was great, I really didn’t like the story. I want to read as many Printz books as I can, especially considering it’s part of the summer homework assignment for my honors sophomores, but I’m scared to try another one of her books.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey–Horror isn’t really for me, unless it’s Anna Dressed in Blood because that book is flat out great.  I sampled the audio for this book, and it sounded pretty good, so I might try it that way.  Maybe even around Halloween!

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta–Sigh. I’ve tried reading this and listening to the audio and neither worked for me.  But I REALLY want to love this because SO MANY of my friends have raved about it.  What should I do??

So Many Series Books:

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand–I’ve tried reading this a couple times and I can’t stick with it.  My mom has read the entire series and loved it.  My students have read these books and loved them.  My close friends have read this series and loved it.  Should I give it another shot?

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore–I absolutely loved Graceling; I flew right through it. I tried reading Fire THREE times and couldn’t finish it.  I’m scared to try Bitterblue because I’ll be really sad if I don’t like it.  And it’s super long.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman–I sat down and tried reading this a few months ago and I couldn’t pay attention.  It’s really dense, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, but I’m hesitant to try it again.  I really should buckle down and do it this summer.

Historical Books:

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman–I own a copy of this, and I have it sitting on my shelf right now.  The summary sounds really intriguing.  Maybe it’s the size of the book, or maybe it’s the historical part of it, but I’m simply intimidated by it.

Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin–I have a copy of this in my classroom library thanks to a Donors Choose project, and one of my seniors grabbed it right away to read.  He’s a huge historical non-fiction buff, and he absolutely loved it.  This book has FOUR medals on it, yet I’m hesitant to read it mostly because I don’t like non-fiction.  It’s hard to admit that, but I really don’t like non-fiction, although I do enjoy memoirs.

Hits too Close to Home:

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult–I’ve read and enjoyed a few of Jodi Picoult’s books.  I tried reading My Sister’s Keeper when I was in college, but I couldn’t get past the first 100 pages.  My dad had leukemia (thankfully he’s been cancer-free for years) a couple years before I tried reading this.  I couldn’t do it.  I kept crying and crying and finally decided to eat the money I spent on the book and put it away.  It’s hugely popular in my classroom and my students want to talk about it with me whenever they finish.  I haven’t see the movie, but I know what happens in both the book and the movie, so I can at least discuss a little bit with them.  I always tell them why I haven’t read it, but I don’t want to not talk to them about it either.

My Sister's Keeper

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