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?

Newbery Award Winner Book Review: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame AlexanderTitle: The Crossover

Author: Kwame Alexander

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Release Date: March 18th, 2014

Interest: Verse novel / Guy appeal / Diversity

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

This is the first year that I’ve read many of the books honored and awarded by the ALA Youth Media Awards. To say I was thrilled by this revelation is an understatement. I’m incredibly behind on my reviews, so I’ve decided to *finally* write the reviews for the books which won or were honored.

Newbery contenders aren’t often on my radar since I teach high school students, so the fact that I read two out of the three books blew my mind. I was sitting in my pajamas watching the live stream since we had a snow day and I threw up my arms and cheered when The Crossover was announced as the winner.

Kwame Alexander’s newest release has been on my radar for quite some time for many reasons despite its younger audience. I adore novels written in verse and have been waiting to find one that appeals to boys. The Crossover is the book I’ve been waiting for. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching freshmen or seniors, the boys in those classes often want to read a book with a story line revolving around sports. The fact that I can now offer them a “sports book” that’s written in verse is really exciting. The Crossover will hopefully be the exposure to verse novels that these students need.

Speaking of the verse, Kwame Alexander’s verse impresses me just as much as Lisa Schroeder’s does. It’s rhythmic and smooth and even visually appealing. The verse in Brown Girl Dreaming is beautiful, but the writing in The Crossover bowled me over. It’s playful, it’s poignant, and at times it even rhymes. It’s a prime example of why I love novels written in verse.

In years past I’ve noticed that many of the books honored at the ALA Youth Media Awards aren’t always books that my students will immediately gravitate to. The books honored this year are more accessible. The Crossover may have won the Newbery, and Josh may be a twelve year old character, but this story is one that appeals to a wide range of readers young and old. Many readers will connect with Josh and his close relationship with his twin brother. Readers will empathize with Josh as he faces the dilemma of choosing between family and sports. As he realizes how truly important family is. I can’t wait to share this with my students.

Run Much? YA Titles Featuring Runners

When I think about sports books I’m typically thinking about football, basketball, and baseball. I honestly have a difficult time getting into those stories, but I’m try to read at least a few titles under that category each year. I think, however, that it’s easy to forget about our students who don’t participate in those sports. I need to remind myself that I also have runners, soccer players, swimmers, etc. in my classes. Thankfully I caught myself reading a few books in a row featuring runners. I’m going to guess that I’m not the only teacher or librarian who forgets about this, which is why I decided to write a post about YA characters who run for one reason or another.

Anna from Moonglass by Jessi Kirby (Goodreads): Anna runs on a team (cross-country, I believe), but she’s also running to clear her head. I liked this part of the story because while it added another element to the plot, it also added another layer to the conflict.

Jessica from The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen (Goodreads): I listened to the audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. Jessica’s story is so much more than a story about a runner. It’s about overcoming adversity, friendship, family, and more. I was really touched by how much of a family Jessica’s track team was to her.

Felton from Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach (Goodreads): If you’ve followed my blog for a while then you know how much I love this book. Felton is a stupid fast runner who runs on the track team (how his speed was discovered) and is a fast runner on the football team. Sports in general help Felton work through his family troubles and his personal conflicts.

Alice from On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor (Goodreads): Alice is a fun and quirky character who has decided she’s going to be a runner when her college plans don’t work out. I like that she’s goal-oriented and driven because so many of my students are. This is a great book for my seniors who are overwhelmed and stressing out about college, especially those who haven’t been accepted to their first choice schools. I’m not a runner by any means, but Alice’s story made me feel like I could be a runner, too.

Annie from Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally (Goodreads): Annie has decided to train for a marathon in honor of her boyfriend who died tragically. Miranda Kenneally’s characters continue to become more interesting with each book that she writes. I really enjoyed watching Annie become a marathon runner and watching her work through her grief.

Kate from Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson (Goodreads): Kate’s plate is more than full. She’s in charge of taking care of her family, she’s only applied to one college, her mother has passed away, and her father has taken in a family who she doesn’t get along with. Running is a way for her to calm her nerves and keep some control in her life. This is one of my favorite books written by Laurie Halse Anderson and one that I wish more of my students would read.

Nastya from The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (Goodreads): This is one of my favorite books and it’s because I got to know the characters so well. Nastya is dealing with more than her fair share of issues and running helps her feel in control. Running has also led her to Josh Bennett who is also dealing with too much. This is a wonderful story that I couldn’t get enough of.

Nico from Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder (Goodreads): Nico is another character who runs to escape. His brother has died and so has his friend. Running helps him clear his head and relieve some of the anger he feels.

Super Bowl Sunday Post: Football in YA

Football fans across the nation (and lots of commercial fans) are gearing up for the Super Bowl tonight. I’m not a huge football fan, but I do love snacking and watching great commercials 🙂 Since it’s a football-themed day, I figured it’s the perfect day to share some YA football titles that my students enjoy reading. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, so I’d love it if you could share more titles in the comments. Read-alikes are welcome as well since my students are always looking for more.

I have a family party to get ready for (I didn’t have enough forethought to write this post last night), so I’m simply including the title, author, cover image, and summary.

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen (Goodreads):

A timely book about bullies, their victims, and a high school football team where winning is the only thing that matters

This intense sports novel will strike a chord with those who followed the tragic football stories that broke in 2011. In this heart-pounding debut, Joshua C. Cohen conveys the pressures and politics of being a high school athlete in a way that is both insightful and compelling. At Oregrove High, there’s an extraordinary price for victory, paid both on and off the football field, and it claims its victims without mercy. When the unthinkable happens, an unlikely friendship is at the heart of an increasingly violent, steroid-infused power struggle. This is a book that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.

Deadline by Chris Crutcher (Goodreads):

Ben Wolf has big things planned for his senior year. Had big things planned. Now what he has is some very bad news and only one year left to make his mark on the world.

How can a pint-sized, smart-ass eighteen-year-old do anythingsignificant in the nowheresville of Trout, Idaho?

First, Ben makes sure that no one else knows what is going on—not his superstar quarterback brother, Cody, not his parents, not his coach, no one. Next, he decides to become the best 127-pound football player Trout High has ever seen; to give his close-minded civics teacher a daily migraine; and to help the local drunk clean up his act.

And then there’s Dallas Suzuki. Amazingly perfect, fascinating Dallas Suzuki, who may or may not give Ben the time of day. Really, she’s first on the list.

Living with a secret isn’t easy, though, and Ben’s resolve begins to crumble . . . especially when he realizes that he isn’t the only person in Trout with secrets.

Gym Candy by Carl Deuker (Goodreads):

Mick Johnson is determined not to make the same mistakes his father, a failed football hero, made. But after being tackled just short of the end zone in a big game, Mick begins using “gym candy,” or steroids. His performances become record-breaking, but the side effects are terrible: Mick suffers ‘roid rage, depression, and body acne. Gym Candy’s subject matter is just as hard-hitting as its football scenes. You’ll find yourself unable to look away as Mick goes down a road that even he knows is the wrong one to travel.

Payback Time by Carl Deuker (Goodreads):

Through the eyes of a distinctly non-athletic protagonist—a fat high school journalist named Mitch—veteran sports novelist Deuker reveals the surprising truth behind a mysterious football player named Angel.  When Angel shows up Lincoln High, he seems to have no past—or at least not one he is willing to discuss.  Though Mitch gets a glimpse of Angel’s incredible talent off the field, Angel rarely allows himself to shine on the field.  Is he an undercover cop, wonders Mitch?  Or an ineligible player?  In pursuit of a killer story, Mitch decides to find out just who this player is and what he’s done.  In the end, the truth surprises everyone.

Stupid Fast trilogy by Geoff Herbach (Goodreads):

I, Felton Reinstein, am Stupid Fast. Seriously. The upper classmen used to call me Squirrel Nut, because I was little and jumpy. Then, during sophomore year, I got tall and huge and so fast the gym teachers in their tight shorts fell all over themselves. During summer, three things happened all at once. First, the pee-smelling jocks in my grade got me to work out for football, even though I had no intention of playing. Second, on my paper route the most beautiful girl I have ever seen moved in and played piano at 6 a.m. Third, my mom, who never drinks, had some wine, slept in her car, stopped weeding the garden, then took my TV and put it in her room and decided she wouldn’t get out of bed.

Listen, I have not had much success in my life. But suddenly I’m riding around in a jock’s pick-up truck? Suddenly I’m invited to go on walks with beautiful girls? So, it’s understandable that when my little brother stopped playing piano and began to dress like a pirate I didn’t pay much attention. That I didn’t want to deal with my mom coming apart.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (Goodreads):

What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line?

**Update–I can’t believe I forgot this title!** Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg (Goodreads):

Star quarterback Bobby Framingham, one of the most talented high school football players in California, knows he’s different from his teammates. They’re like brothers, but they don’t know one essential thing: Bobby is gay. Can he still be one of the guys and be honest about who he is? When he’s outed against his will by a student reporter, Bobby must find a way to earn back his teammates’ trust and accept that his path to success might be more public, and more difficult, than he’d hoped. An affecting novel about identity that also delivers great sportswriting.

Dairy Queen
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
(Goodreads):

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D. J. can’t help admitting, maybe he’s right.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won’t even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

Student Book Review: The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

The Berlin Boxing ClubTitle: The Berlin Boxing Club

Author: Robert Sharenow

Publisher: HarperTeen

Student Reviewer: Ayla

Summary (From Goodreads):

Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew; after all, he’s never even been in a synagogue. But the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin don’t care that Karl’s family doesn’t practice religion. Demoralized by their attacks against a heritage he doesn’t accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth.

Then Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German hero, makes a deal with Karl’s father to give Karl boxing lessons. A skilled cartoonist, Karl never had an interest in boxing, but now it seems like the perfect chance to reinvent himself.

But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: family protector. And as Max’s fame forces him to associate with Nazi elites, Karl begins to wonder where his hero’s sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his boxing dreams with his obligation to keep his family out of harm’s way?

Student Review:

In The Berlin Boxing Club, Karl, a young Jewish boy, becomes a boxer to defend himself from the “Hitler Youth” and figures out he wants to become even more than that. As he is trying to strive for perfection in techniques, he finds himself striving to protect his entire family from the SS and getting them out of Nazi Germany.

The Berlin Boxing Club was a perfect story to show how Jewish people were treated and how they personally felt during World War II. The novel was very sad and had an effect on me because Robert Sharenow made the feelings of the characters very lifelike and I felt the emotions of the characters. THE BERLIN BOXING CLUB would be perfect for almost anyone. Especially those who are learning about the Holocaust or learning about the push against Jews in Germany.

The characters in this book were perfectly put together. The most realistic character to me would be Karl’s mother. She goes into a depressed mood any time something bad happens in her life. The book starts right when the Jews are starting to be excluded from mostly everything and she will just lock herself in the bathroom and sit in the bath for hours. I think she would be a real character because she knew there was nothing she could do. The government and the police would have it however they wanted it and the rules were just not in her favor.

Also, I liked the character of Karl’s little sister. She was getting the worst out of all of the characters because she apparently looked like a Jew so there was no way she could actually hide the fact that she was one. She gets tortured in the book and it was realistic because she was tired of being the kind of human she was and she took it out on those who didn’t look like she did and they looked normal. Karl didn’t look Jewish so he got away with it longer than the rest of his family. I could almost relate to her because sometimes I wish I didn’t look they way I do, but don’t we all think that sometimes?

I loved all f the fighting scenes in the book. Karl becomes a great fighter and Robert Sharenow wrote The Berlin Boxing Club so all of the boxing scenes play like a movie in your head. All of the scenes were as if they came out of a Rocky movie. Every detail was thought of and every moment was captured.

This book was shocking and inspiring by the way it was written and the show of determination in the eyes of a young boy going through the worst part of his life.

Review: Who I Kissed by Janet Gurtler

Title: Who I Kissed

Author: Janet Gurtler

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: October 1st, 2012

Interest: Contemporary / Blog Tour

Source: Finished copy received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Samantha didn’t mean to hurt anyone. She was just trying to fit in…

And she wanted to make Zee a little jealous…

But now things will never be the same unless she can find a reason to start living again.

Who I Kissed is the first book I’ve read by Janet Gurtler and I enjoyed it.  I have two of her other books on my shelf right now, and after finishing Who I Kissed, I’m looking forward to reading those other titles.  Despite enjoying this book, I still have a few issues with it so I’m breaking my review into likes and dislikes.

What I Liked:

  • The easy writing style is definitely a win for me.  Who I Kissed is a quick read and straightforward.  The characters’ voices are distinct and the story is easy to follow.
  • I was a swimmer in high school, so it’s fun to read a YA novel about swimmers.  I wish there were more that feature swimmers because I really don’t think swimming is recognized enough.  It’s a tough sport!
  • I love Sam’s support system.  Her dad helps in the few ways he knows how, but he’s still supportive and a positive influence in Sam’s life.  Her aunt, however, is fantastic.  She’s the mother figure Sam really needs and is so much fun to read.
  • The ending is “neat and tidy,” but I really liked it.
  • Sam has a really hard time dealing with Alex’s death and allowing herself to recognize that it was an accident on her part, but she really learns how to be strong and independent.  She makes some big mistakes along the way, but she quickly learns from them and keeps moving forward.  I like how Gurtler balances the weak Sam with the strong Sam.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • I understand that this book is about dealing with grief and bringing peanut allergies (and similar allergies) into focus, but Alex’s death happened too fast.  I think the story would have been stronger if we learned more about Sam before she meets and kisses Alex.  Her crush on Zee may have been more believable along with realizing how insecure she is.  It threw off the pacing a little bit because it ends up being lots and lots of grief which wore me out after a while.
  • I don’t know how I feel about Casper’s character.  I understand the intent in adding him as a character, but I don’t know if the story really needed to go in the direction it did with him.  Towards the end it just felt over the top.  (I’m purposely being vague to avoid spoilers.)

Audiobook Review: Swim the Fly by Don Calame

Title: Swim the Fly

Author: Don Calame

Narrator: Nick Podehl

Publisher: Candlewick Press / Brilliance Audio

Release Date: April 14th, 2009

Interest: Student recommended / Guy appeal / Contemporary

Source: Purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads): Matt Gratton and his two best friends, Sean and Coop, always set themselves a summer-time goal. This year’s? To see a real-live naked girl for the first time. As far as Matt is concerned, they’d have better luck finding the lost city of Atlantis. But seeing a girl in the buff starts to seem like child’s play compared to the other summertime goal Matt sets for himself: to swim the 100-yard butterfly (the hardest stroke known to God or man) in order to impress Kelly West, the hot new girl. So what if he can’t manage a single lap, let alone four? He’s got the whole summer to perfect his technique. What could possibly go wrong?
From the Publisher (Brilliance Audio)

Duration: 07:30:46

Do you enjoy laughing out loud?  (I’m going to assume your answer is yes.)  Then you need to read Swim the Fly by Don Calame, or even better, listen to the audiobook.  Seriously.  Do it right now. 😉

I’m pretty sure Swim the Fly was first brought to my attention a year or so ago when someone posted a link about the author and how popular he and his book was at some middle school.  I read the article and decided I needed to add this book to my classroom library since it holds so much guy appeal.  Why did I wait so long to read it?!  I was in an audiobook lull when I decided to give Swim the Fly a shot.  I am SO HAPPY I did.

Nick Podehl is now my favorite audiobook narrator.  He’s simply awesome.  I love that he had a different, distinguished voice for every single character and never slipped when switching characters.  Listening to him narrate Don Calame’s story was like watching a movie, a completely hilarious and entertaining movie.  Honestly, I keep wondering if the book is as funny when reading traditionally as it is when listening to the audiobook.  I have a feeling Nick Podehl read it exactly how Don Calame heard it in his head when he was writing it.

The guy appeal in Swim the Fly is fantastic.  It’s full of “bathroom” humor which may or may not appeal to you, but while I’m being honest, I loved it in this book.  It’s honest humor.  I have a younger brother, so I easily remember the gross jokes he and his friends would tell.  I overheard plenty of their conversations.  Their jokes and conversations very much match the tone, situations, jokes, etc. found in Swim the Fly.  Besides the humor, it has quite a bit of heart too.  Matt may not have the most honorable intentions for his summer, but he’s kind and really a good guy.  He’s loyal to his friends and close with his mom, brother, and grandpa.  The scenes with his grandpa are priceless.  I laughed the hardest because of some of the things his grandpa said and did.  I loved seeing the different sides of Nick that presented themselves when he was with different characters.  He’s stumbling and awkward when he’s around Kelly, but at ease and himself when he’s around Valerie.  He holds back and does his best for his mom.  He’s usually a voice of reason when he’s hanging out with the guys.

The plot is kind of predictable, but I think you’ll be able to overlook that since the story itself is so entertaining.  I’ve only experienced Swim the Fly as an audiobook, so I can’t say how entertaining it is traditionally, but my students have been reading it like crazy.  I honestly think you should listen to the audio if you have the means because it’s that good.  As soon as I finished it I bought the next book, Beat the Band, which takes place at the end of the summer and is told from Coop’s point of view this time.  (Side note–it’s also super funny.)

Spring Break #BookaDay Goals

I didn’t know if spring break would ever arrive, but it’s finally here!  Keith and I talked about going to Chicago for a few days, but because of the weather being a tad sketchy lately we decided to stay home.  I love taking trips with my husband, but I also love being at home with him while relaxing and reading.  Spring break officially starts tomorrow, but I’ve been organizing and starting my #bookaday goals this weekend.  I will admit, however, that I was pretty darn lazy yesterday (I slept for most of the day) and didn’t get much reading done.  The laziness has continued today, but I’m determined to finish a book!  I think I have my list pretty much narrowed down, even if it’s a lofty list.

A majority of the reading I’m doing this week is work-related.  When I say work-related, though, I’m referring to Y.A. titles I need to read for work, which is quite happy-making!  My freshmen are in the middle of reading Romeo & Juliet, but this year we’re including a group of Y.A. titles to read with To Kill a Mockingbird that fit with some of the themes and issues (prejudice, maturity, loss of innocence, etc.).  Most of them I’ve already read, but there are some titles that others in my department have read and I have not, or titles my friends on Twitter recommended when we were deciding on this list that I still need to read.

I’m also working on narrowing down ideas and titles for my Y.A. Lit II class that I’m teaching next year.  My goal for the class is that we’ll still read three novels as a class, but this time the novels will be genre-focused and the students will read an additional title that fits that genre.  I’ll be pretty flexible when it comes to which title they pick as their additional title, but I’d also like to have some new titles that the school can purchase extra copies of for my students.  I know for sure that we’re reading dystopian and fantasy, but I haven’t decided which genre to read for the third genre.  Historical fiction really isn’t very popular, but paranormal fantasy is, so I was thinking about  a title that mixes both of them.  Then I could allow students to choose either another like that or either a paranormal fantasy or a historical fiction title as their additional choice.  I was also thinking about verse novels even though I don’t consider those a genre.  I know sci-fi is a good choice, but I already have a hard enough time reading those that I don’t know if I really want to teach one.  I feel like a bad teacher saying that. :/

Anyway, the real reason behind this post, the books!

Timeless by Alexandra Monir (Goodreads)–The publicist sent this to me, so I’m reading it now and enjoying it so far.  I think there might be a giveaway in the near future as well!

Cover BittersweetBittersweet by Sarah Ockler (Goodreads)–My girls in book club chose this as our next title, and we’re meeting to discuss this after school on the Tuesday we get back from break.  I need to read it ASAP!  I started it a while ago and it’s pretty good, as I expected, so I’m looking forward to finishing it.

Book Cover Out of the PocketOut of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg (Goodreads)–Homosexuality isn’t an issue in To Kill a Mockingbird, but the prejudice involved compares with the prejudice in TKAM.  We also wanted to include some LGBT novels because it relates to some of our students and it’s often ignored or misunderstood.  There’s a good chance there will be upset parents, but we’re preparing ourselves for that.

Book Cover Marcelo in the Real WorldMarcelo in the Real World by Franciso X. Stork (Goodreads)–This is another title we’re using with our TKAM unit.  I think the students should read this book because we have some many autistic students in our building, and the summary makes me think of Boo.  I could be wrong, and that might be a stretch, but it still has many of the issues that TKAM does.

Book Cover StartersStarters by Lissa Price (Goodreads)–I’m thinking about this for my dystopian unit in Y.A. II.  I’ve heard great things about it, so I’m excited to try it.  I hope it’s as good as everyone says it is!

Book Cover The Girl of Fire and ThornsThe Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (Goodreads)–I have this at school right now, so I bought a copy for my Kindle.  Ever since I challenged myself to read more fantasy, I’ve found that I really enjoy it.  I’ve read mostly good reviews for this debut.  One of my freshmen read it and asked about the second book as soon as she returned it because she enjoyed it so much.  I hope it’s a winner because I’m considering this for the Y.A. II class.  I’m trying to choose a novel that’s newer for this genre study because I have so many avid fantasy readers, and it’s difficult to find a book that none of them have read.  Or at least most of them haven’t read.

This is a pretty ambitious list considering I still have a number of plans this week which involve travel, so I don’t know if I’ll actually read all of these in a day each, but I’m going to try!  I challenged my students to try #bookaday, even if it meant reading 20 pages, one book, or five books.  I hope they update me in the comments of this post, or at least have some exciting stories to tell me when we return from break.  Are any of you on spring break and setting up a reading challenge?  Have you already had spring break?  I know not all of my readers get a spring break, so maybe you’ve read some of these books.  I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Title:Catching Jordan

Author: Miranda Kenneally

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: December 1st, 2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author / Student Recommended

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys, and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university. But now there’s a new guy in town who threatens her starting position… suddenly she’s hoping he’ll see her as more than just a teammate.

When Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally released all I found were positive reviews, so I knew it was a book to buy for my classroom.  I bought Catching Jordan for my classroom back in January, and I haven’t had a chance to read it myself since then!  Every time one of my girls reads and returns it, another girl is standing right there waiting to read it next.  The only reason I was able to read Catching Jordan this weekend is because one of my girls in my 5th hour (our last hour of the day), finished it and handed it back to me.  I quickly stashed it in my bag and the rest is history.

Miranda Kenneally’s debut novel is a quick read that teens obviously love based on what I’m seeing in my classroom.  It has plenty of appeal including sports, friendships, love and relationships, etc.  Most of my girls that have been reading it are very active in sports, but my romance fans have been picking this up as well.  I like the balance of sports and romance because many of my girls ask me for books without too much love.  Based on the amount of football scenes and references, I might even attempt to have one of my boys in class read Catching Jordan.  I teach primarily freshmen, and many of my boys are self-conscious about this sort of thing but it’s worth a shot.  I think some of them would genuinely like it.

I’d like to ask my students what they think of Jordan.  I love her dedication to football and her teammates; her actions as captain are believable and realistic.  I felt for her in regards to her wanting/needing her dad’s attention.  She’s really hurt that her dad doesn’t appreciate all of her hard work and skill in football.  When she meets Ty, she keeps telling herself that she doesn’t want to lose her focus and get too wrapped up in him.  I like this about Jordan, even if this does happen to some degree.  I did worry about her and how quickly their relationship becomes a sexual one.  Part of me thinks I feel this way because of how their relationship is written and how fast that part of the story progresses.  I also didn’t see Jordan acting that way based on what I knew about her at that point in the story.

Speaking of Ty, I definitely liked him and understand why Jordan is attracted to him.  He’s a talented athlete, even if she’s threatened by him, he’s loyal to his family, and he’s really attractive.  I enjoyed getting to know him with Jordan, but I kept wondering about her best friend Henry.  He’s always there for Jordan and sticking up for her.  It’s obvious that he really understands her, and I kept wanting to steer Jordan towards him!  The scenes with Jordan and Henry made me think of my best guy friend in high school.  I kept thinking about him as I was reading this and it made me wonder if maybe he liked me more than as a friend.  He’d come to our house all the time and even called my mom “Mom” although he never slept over.  Another guy I like in Catching Jordan is Jordan’s brother, Mike.  It’s nice to see an older brother character that’s supportive and looks out for his sister.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Miranda Kenneally‘s books in the future.  Catching Jordan is a really cute book that appeals to a variety of readers.  I’m happy I read it and look forward to recommending it to more of my students.

Review–Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

Curveball: The Year I Lost My GripTitle: Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, 285 pages

Author: Jordan Sonnenblick

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Interest: Sports / Guy appeal

Release Date: March 1, 2012

Source: ARC received at the ALAN Conference

Summary (From Goodreads): Sometimes, the greatest comebacks take place far away from the ball field.  Meet Peter Friedman, high school freshman. Talented photographer. Former baseball star. When a freakish injury ends his pitching career, Peter has some major things to figure out. Is there life after sports? Why has his grandfather suddenly given him thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment? And is it his imagination, or is the super-hot star of the girls’ swim team flirting with him, right in front of the amazing new girl in his photography class? In his new novel, teen author Jordan Sonnenblick performs his usual miraculous feat: exploring deep themes of friendship, romance, family, and tragedy, while still managing to be hilariously funny.

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick is the first book I’ve read by this author.  A friend of mine told me that she read After Ever After to one of her classes, but other than that I haven’t heard much about Jordan Sonnenblick’s work.  After reading Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, I feel let down that I didn’t know about his other books before.  I adored this book.  I loved the characters, the plot, the balance of sports and family and art, everything.  I just looked up some of Jordan Sonnenblick’s other books and found them at my local Barnes & Noble, which means I have a trip to the book store scheduled for today.  If his other books are great like Curveball, then I can’t go wrong!

Like I said, I love the characters.  Usually when I can’t finish a book, it’s because I don’t connect with the characters.  Peter is a likeable character.  He’s entering his freshman year of high school, and he and his best friend A.J. have big plans.  Peter and A.J. have always played baseball together, and they know they can dominate in high school.  Sadly, Peter’s dreams of playing high school baseball are crushed because of an injury.  This unfortunate injury really sets the pace for Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, because at the very beginning of a new chapter in Peter’s life, he is forced to change more than he planned.  Peter has always identified himself as a baseball player, but now he doesn’t know what to do or who he’s going to be.  Thankfully he has his grampa (an odd spelling, but that’s how it’s spelled in the book), who is a well known photographer.  Peter’s grampa has been teaching him about photography for almost as long as Peter has been playing baseball, so it’s second nature to him.  No more baseball and a depressed Peter leads him to taking a photography class (so he can find something else to focus on) where he meets the lovely Angelika.  Jordan Sonnenblick has a great cast of characters here.  A.J. is completely focused on him and Peter playing baseball together, but Peter can’t find the words to break the bad news to him.  He’s not an overly heavy presence in the book, but when he’s in a scene with Peter, it’s great and usually funny–especially when A.J. wants to give Peter love advice.  Angelika is Peter’s love interest, and while she makes him incredibly nervous, she’s very level-headed and really helps Peter.

While I love all the characters, I need to touch on Peter a little more.  He’s obviously a very talented baseball player, but he’s also very talented in the field of photography.  I love this balance because a majority of the YA I’ve read usually focuses on one ability, like art for example.  Because Peter can’t play baseball anymore, he needs to find a new focus and consequently finds that he’s really good at photography after everything his grandfather has taught him.  Teens who enjoy reading about sports will still enjoy Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip because even though Peter isn’t playing baseball anymore, it’s still a big part of who he is and also because he takes pictures at sporting events.  Peter is simply an endearing character.  He’s loyal to his family and friends and really cares about them.  Readers will love him.

Sonnenblick tackles some big issues in this book, but he does a fantastic job of balancing these issues with humor.  Not all of the humor is laugh out loud funny, but it’s enough to make a reader giggle.  In one scene, for example, Peter’s talking to Angelika and getting ready to take some photos of her.  “‘I think it makes sense to try for some, uh, full-body shots’–UGH, that sounded sleazy–‘and then, if we don’t like what we’re getting, we can get a little closer in.  With this telephoto lens, I mean.  Not like I’d be, uh, getting closer to you. Uh.’ That’s great, I thought. End a freaking sentence with ‘Uh,’ why don’t you?  Smooth.”  Peter’s insecurity around Angelika really brought out some fantastically funny lines and scenes.  A.J.’s advice is an excellent source of humor.  “‘Because, as your wingman and personal hormonal advisor, I have to analyze your moves, her countermoves, your counter-countermoves, her counter-counter-countermoves. . . . Wow, this is really complicated stuff.  Maybe we should stop by Staples on the way home so I can buy a clipboard and some graph paper.”  I read this part at the end of SSR, and one of my freshmen noticed my smiling and giggling to myself.  He asked about it, so I read it to my class.  Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip has been added to my future read alouds list because the characters in this book are funny and their voices are very well defined.

I don’t want to get into the heavier topics because it will spoil a big part of the book.  If you want to read a novel full of humor and heart, then I can’t recommend Jordan Sonnenblick’s newest novel enough.  I absolutely love Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip and can’t wait to read more of his books.

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