Waiting on Wednesday–Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally

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

July is a (sadly) far in the future, but I have to share Miranda Kenneally’s upcoming Hundred Oaks novel now that it has a cover. My students and I fangirl over this group of books on a regular basis because they’re so much fun to read. I’m extra excited for Defending Taylor since its main character is a soccer player. The high school I teach at has a really strong soccer program; the girls who play will want to read Taylor’s story.

Defending TaylorTitle & Author: Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally

Release Date: July 1st, 2016

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Summary (From Goodreads):

Taylor’s always felt pressure to be perfect. That’s what happens when you are a senator’s daughter. So when she’s kicked out of private school for covering for her boyfriend’s not-so-legal behavior, she is devastated.

Things go from bad to worse as she joins what used to be her rival soccer team at Hundred Oaks High. The only person who seems to understand all that she’s going through is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra. But Ezra has secrets of his own. Will Taylor repeat past mistakes, or can she score a fresh start?

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

Waiting on Wednesday: Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky

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

I left NCTE/ALAN with piles of books, but I didn’t get a copy of Kill the Boy Band which I’m bummed about. My friends have raved about it and said I should have it on my 2016 reading radar. I’ve come to realize that I don’t read as many humorous books as I should and this debut strikes me as something my students will want to read. I’m often drawn to serious/heavy topics, so I’m going to challenge myself to read a few more books on the lighter side in 2016. I think this debut will be a great way to meet my new reading goal!

Kill the Boy BandTitle & Author: Kill the Boy Band by Goldy  Moldavsky

Release Date: February 23rd, 2016

Publisher: Pointe (Scholastic)

Summary (From Goodreads):

From debut author Goldy Moldavsky, the story of four superfan friends whose devotion to their favorite boy band has darkly comical and murderous results.

Okay, so just know from the start that it wasn’t supposed to go like this. All we wanted was to get near The Ruperts, our favorite boy band.

We didn’t mean to kidnap one of the guys. It kind of, sort of happened that way. But now he’s tied up in our hotel room. And the worst part of all, it’s Rupert P. All four members of The Ruperts might have the same first name, but they couldn’t be more different. And Rupert P. is the biggest flop out of the whole group.

We didn’t mean to hold hostage a member of The Ruperts, I swear. At least, I didn’t. We are fans. Okay, superfans who spend all of our free time tweeting about the boys and updating our fan tumblrs. But so what, that’s what you do when you love a group so much it hurts.

How did it get this far? Who knows. I mean midterms are coming up. I really do not have time to go to hell.

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.

Waiting on Wednesday–Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

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

I adore Jessica Spotswood’s historical fiction trilogy, The Cahill Witch Chronicles, so discovering that she’s written a contemporary realistic novel has me over the moon excited! I like that the summary provides a mysterious vibe to the story and the idea of legacies and curses. I just know this is going to be a fun book to read!

Wild SwansTitle & Author: Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

Release Date: May 1st, 2016

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Summary (From Goodreads):

The summer before Ivy’s senior year is going to be golden; all bonfires, barbeques, and spending time with her best friends. For once, she will just get to be. No summer classes, none of Granddad’s intense expectations to live up to the family name. For generations, the Milbourn women have lead extraordinary lives—and died young and tragically. Granddad calls it a legacy, but Ivy considers it a curse. Why else would her mother have run off and abandoned her as a child?

But when her mother unexpectedly returns home with two young daughters in tow, all of the stories Ivy wove to protect her heart start to unravel. The very people she once trusted now speak in lies. And all of Ivy’s ambition and determination cannot defend her against the secrets of the Milbourn past….

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.

 

Waiting on Wednesday–Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

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

I saw an ARC of Love & Gelato when I was at NCTE last month and knew as soon as I saw the cover that I would want to read it. The fact that gelato is part of the title grabbed my interest right away because who doesn’t love gelato?! A road trip across Tuscany, however, sold me on the book. This sounds like the perfect book to read as winter turns to spring.

Title & Author: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Release Date: April 12th, 2016

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Love & GelatoSummary (From Goodreads):

A summer in Italy turns into a road trip across Tuscany in this sweeping debut novel filled with romance, mystery, and adventure.

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then Lina is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept from Lina for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and ever herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

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.

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