“Prisoner B-3087″ Alan Gratz, Ruth Gruener, and Jack Gruener

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Scholastic Press. 260 pp. (Includes “Afterword”).

PrisonerB-3087In 1939 Krakow Poland, Yanek Gruener lived a good life with his parents in their small apartment on Krakusa Street. He was just 10 years old, and loved entertaining his aunts, uncles and cousins with made up stories from watching American movies. When the German army invaded Poland that year, his life changed forever.

Change began with small things such as being ostracized at school but, gradually, the changes got worse and worse. Soon, Yanek and his family were hiding out in a pigeon coop on the roof of their building to avoid night raids and beatings by the Nazis. They managed to stay together for 3 years, before Yanek lost his entire family and was sent to the first of 10 concentration camps.

In one of the camps Yanek was tattooed with the number B-3087 and, in chronological order, Gratz takes readers to all the places where Yanek was sent when he was just 13 years old. These camps included Plaszow (1942-1943), a barracks at the Wieliczka Salt Mine (1943-1944), Trzebina (1944), Birkenau (1944-1945) and Auschwitz (1945).

With the Allies approaching the Nazis forced their prisoners on two different death marches, which ultimately led Yanek to spend time at Sachsenhausen (1945), Bergen-Belsen (1945), Buchenwald (1945), Gross-Rosen (1945), and Dachau (1945). Along with his hopes and fears Yanek tells of the beatings, starvations and other horrors he endured in these camps and on the forced marches, while the goal of survival kept him alive.

“Prisoner B-3087″ is based on Jack Gruener’s life, and is an important look into the dark past of World War II. We need to remember what happened during the Holocaust while never forgetting those who died, and those who survived.

Recommended for readers aged 12 and older.

“The Tragedy Paper” Elizabeth Laban

September 14, 2014 1 comment

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Alfred A. Knopf (Random House). 312 pp. (Includes “Mr. Simon’s tips on avoiding a tragic ending to your Tragedy Paper” and “A conversation with Elizabeth Laban”).

TragedyPaperTim was a senior transfer at the Irving School in Westchester, New York. On his way there he was snowed in at the airport where he met Vanessa, a senior who also attended Irving. They quickly bonded and he fell in love with her, but knew their involvement would be short-lived because her boyfriend Patrick was jealous and because he was an albino.

When the school year started Duncan was not happy to be given the room in which Tim had spent his senior year. He was also not happy that the treasure each senior was supposed to leave behind for the new occupant turned out to be a bunch of CD’s.

Duncan knew Mr. Simon assigned the seniors in his English class a type of thesis called a Tragedy Paper where students had to define a type of tragedy. When he read Tim’s note referencing Mr. Simon’s upcoming paper, he was ready to listen to the CD’s knowing he had no idea what to write for his paper.

Through Tim’s and Duncan’s alternating voices, readers learn of Tim’s love for Vanessa, his troubles as an albino, problems with Patrick, and how much he wanted to be “normal.” The terrible, real-life tragedy in which he found himself also involved Duncan as intertwined with Tim’s past was Duncan’s present troubles with Daisy. He loved her but was afraid to approach her, plus he had problems trying to continue the senior tradition that went so badly for Tim last year.

Just as Tim’s story kept Duncan glued to his earphones, “The Tragedy Paper” will keep readers glued to its pages. I couldn’t put it down, and read it in one sitting.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

“Scowler” Daniel Kraus

September 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Delacorte Press (Random House). 288 pp.

ScowlerIt is 1981 and, through flashbacks, nineteen-year old Ry Burke tells the story of his twisted home life. His father Walter was a mean and abusive man, not allowing Ry to play with toys and beating him if the farm wasn’t run the way he liked. He regularly beat his wife, and the horror he inflicted on her when Ry was ten years old was something he’d never forgotten. That was the day his mom gathered her courage and tried to escape with Ry and his little sister Sarah, but Walter came home early.

Ry tried to hit Walter with a bat, but his father smashed it into Ry’s forehead then chased him through the wintry woods for hours – intent on killing him. Ry survived the hours in the forest, along with the pain in his forehead and broken leg, by depending on three toys he’d managed to hide in his pockets. Mr. Furrington, a turquoise teddy bear; Jesus Christ, an eight-inch bendy toy from Sunday School; and Scowler, an ugly four inch toy made up of a cone-shaped head, sharp teeth and a metal skeleton. Each of these toys imparts wisdom to help Ry survive, but Scowler gave Ry the strength to attack his father. Ry didn’t want to finish the job, leaving Scowler very angry.

Ten years have passed since that awful night, and the family has survived despite the farm falling into disrepair. Sarah knows a meteorite is going to fall that day, but what she doesn’t know is one has already fallen allowing Walter to escape from prison. When he arrives wanting revenge a meteorite falls on the farm and, what follows, is an uncanny look into the past and present when a fresh evil is released into the world. As Ry’s tortured mind melds into the various personalities that helped him survive the cold winter of 1971, this time, Scowler will not be denied.

Through flashbacks “Scowler” tells the long-term affects of emotional and physical abuse, taking readers on a white knuckled ride and leaving them hoping that the good guy will finally be able to overcome the bad guy.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

“Lily and Taylor” Elise Moser

September 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Groundwood Books. 186 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

LIlyAndTaylorTaylor lives with her older sister Tannis and her son Mason. Tannis is constantly beaten by her boyfriend, but loves him and is sure things will get better. When he winds up killing her in a fit of rage, Taylor moves in with her grandmother and Mason. Little Mason gives Taylor a goal in life as she helps care for him, but she misses Tannis and her boyfriend Devon. Despite the fact that Devon regularly beat her, wouldn’t let her have friends, and made her call him several times a day to “check in” Taylor loved him, and would do anything to make him happy.

Lily has spent years taking care of her brain-injured mother, helping her recover from abusive boyfriends, but has managed to hide her troubles. She and Taylor become fast friends as Taylor gradually becomes a better student, leaving her to think she can live a normal life, but Devon has other plans.

Unhappy with Taylor’s inability to visit due to finances, Devon decides to unexpectedly show up with his friend Conor and insist Taylor go for a ride. After inviting herself along to keep Taylor safe, the girls wind up being held captive in a freezing cabin in the middle of the snow covered woods. As events unfold, readers wonder if Taylor will ever gain the strength to love herself more than she loves her boyfriend and break the cycle of abuse in her family.

“Lily and Taylor” paints a true picture of the ugliness of domestic abuse in teen and adult relationships. To drive this point home the author includes statistics, tips and hotline information, hoping her readers will make the call that will let them out of their own abusive situations. I hold out the same hope as the author.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

“Sex & Violence” Carrie Mesrobian

September 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner Publishing). 294 pp. Finalist for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) 2014 Morris Award.

Sex&ViolenceSeventeen-year-old Evan has been dragged all over the country by his father’s jobs. He uses his New Kid status to scout out girls who’ll Say Yes with the least amount of trouble, knowing he’ll soon be gone and won’t have to form any attachments. While at a boarding school in North Carolina Evan meets Collette, a beautiful girl on the track team. They begin a secret relationship that is ruined when Tate and Patrick, two jealous classmates, viciously assault him.

His father decides to move them to his old family home on a lake in Minnesota, to help Evan heal. Evan begins to see a psychiatrist to work through his issues and, on her advice, begins writing letters to express himself addressing them to Collette, who we soon find out had also been assaulted.

As Evan learns to work through his trauma and sexual issues, he begins calling himself “Dirtbag Evan” as he remembers the many one-night stands of his life and fluctuates between his old persona and trying on a new one with a group of friendly teens who take him under their wings. In “Sex & Violence,” readers gain insight into the mind of a young man trying his best to unlearn his violent sexual past and reinvent a calmer future.

I was disappointed that the boys who assaulted him and Collette did not get their “due,” as readers were left with a nebulous court date and no closure on the crime. It was also a bit discomfiting to see “you’re” for “your” and “they’re” for “their” several times in a book that was not an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). If the book gets a second edition run it would be nice to see these misspellings corrected as well as a chapter or two describing a trial that would send Tate and Patrick to jail for an indeterminate amount of time for their crimes.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

If I ever get out of here” Eric Gansworth

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic). 356 pp. (Includes “Playlist & Discography”.)

IfIEverGetOutOfHereIt is 1975, and Lewis desperately wants to fit in with his 7th grade classmates. Tracked into the smart classes of his junior high, he is separated from his reservation friends and shunned by his white classmates because he’s Indian. He is hopeful a new student will arrive who will be his friend, and is rewarded when George, a military kid from the nearby Air Force base, shows up in class. Despite being warned that befriending Lewis would be a social disaster, the two become close friends sharing a love for The Beatles and Wings.

As the years pass, despite their closeness Lewis is not ready to share the poverty of his home with George, constantly making up excuses for why George can’t come visit. As Lewis spends more time with George and his parents in their home, he begins to question his own home life and poverty. His Uncle Albert warned him that once he tasted the white man’s way of life he’d now see his own in a different light. Lewis scoffed, but soon began feeling a mixture of pride for his status as a Tuscarora Indian and guilt for wanting that life to be better.

As he struggles to find his place in between the white man’s world and reservation life, Lewis’ days are filled with bullying, as he is tested in ways he’d never thought possible.

“If I ever get out of here” is a wonderful coming-of-age story, with incredible insight into reservation life and the race relations between Indians and whites. It should have a place in every middle and high school library.

Recommended for ages 12-15.

“Loud Awake and Lost” Adele Griffin

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Alfred A. Knopf. 289 pp.

LoudAwakeandLostSeventeen-year-old Ember almost died the day her car went over the bridge. After 8 months of recovery and therapy from her operations, Ember is finally getting to return home. Her parents and best friend Rachel assure her she is back to normal, but Ember feels as if she’s missing something. A few months of her memory have been lost due to temporary amnesia and, when she finds out a passenger named Anthony had been killed in the accident, Ember is determined to try and regain her memories to find out more about why they’d been in the car together.

Little by little pieces of memory come floating up to the surface of her mind, bringing more questions than answers. Rachel, her parents, her friends and her ex boyfriend Holden want her to be the girl she was before the accident, but Ember is not comfortable dropping back into the mold they made for her life. Despite not being able to dance anymore, she wants her own identity and is sure her hidden memories hold the key to her past and her future. From the hints people have been dropping, she is sure Anthony was more than just a friend but can’t put together the missing pieces of their relationship.

While striving to remember Anthony she meets Kai, who shares her dreams of wanting to break out from the mold society has planned and envisions a whole new world for them. Together they begin the romance of their lives, effectively frustrating Rachel, her parents and Holden as Ember feels herself drawing away from them as she draws closer to Kai.

When Ember finally regains her memories, I was shocked at what Adele Griffin had planned out all along, as I had never seen it coming. “Loud Awake and Lost” leads readers on a roller coaster ride of Ember’s emotions as she seeks to find herself amidst the missing parts of her life, and will keep readers eagerly turning pages to discover more of Ember’s memories and insights.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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