“The Getaway” Lamar Giles

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 

Seventeen-year-old Jay, along with his friends Zeke, Connie and Chelle live in Karloff Country. Soon after moving there they met Chelle, the half-Black heiress of Karloff Country, who was looked down on by her grandfather because of her race. Their friendliness helped ground her when being the half-Black granddaughter of the richest and most racist man around became too much to handle. From then on the four of them were inseparable.

People come to Karloff Country to enjoy rides, costumed characters, themed park areas, restaurants, resorts and more. Those who live and work within its protective walls are safe from the food shortages and hunger they experienced before moving there with their families. Everyone’s needs are taken care of while AI technology keeps everything running smoothly. Life is good, until suddenly it’s not.

Things started to go downhill when Connie and her family disappeared. Then jet planes started to land, followed by everyone getting locked in their homes for a few days. The world outside the walls of Karloff Country had collapsed into chaos, and no one inside was allowed to leave. Life inside Karloff Country was expected to continue as usual, with one change. The billionaires and millionaires who had flown in were now considered Trustees, so everyone who worked at Karloff Country is at their beck and call for ANYTHING they want them to do. If any worker dares to resist, the Trustee’s real fun begins and their lives might end. Welcome to Karloff Country, “the funnest place on Earth.”

Though this is a dystopian novel, taking place many years in the future, it was very scary to think our world could end up in the way it was described. The workers unable to leave Karloff Country reminded me of lyrics from the Eagle’s Hotel California song: “You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave.” Cliffhanger endings make this a quick read, and teen readers will stay hooked until the last page. I think a sequel might be in order, and look forward to reading it.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“Wildoak” C.C. Harrington

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Scholastic Press. 309 p. (Includes “Author’s note” with resources “On trees and reforestation efforts all over the world,” “On the sale of big cats and conservation efforts today,” “On stuttering and where we are today,” and “Resources for young people who stutter.”) Published September 20, 2022.

Maggie had a terrible stutter, and would injure herself at school when it was recitation time. After multiple trips to the nurse in several different schools for self-inflicted wounds, her father decided to send her away to an institution where they would make her speak properly. Her mother arranges for her to spend a few weeks in the country with her grandfather where her stutter is supposed to get better or she’ll be confined to the institute. Maggie has no way to tell her father she doesn’t stutter when she speaks to her beloved animals. When she arrives at her grandfather’s house she is thrilled to find a beautiful, old forest where she feels a part of nature. On one of her visits she finds a nearly dead snow leopard caught in a trap, and is determined to be his voice of protection.

Rumpus was a snow leopard cub, living with his sister at Pet Kingdom in Harrods department store in London. When a rich couple buys him for a relative who loves wearing leopard coats, Rumpus has to leave the only home he knows. Unfortunately it takes just a few minutes of exploring to makes a mess of his new owner’s apartment, so Rumpus is dumped in a far away forest. Having never lived alone, Rumpus is bereft. He keeps expecting to find his sister, or food, but neither appears. On one of his trips through the forest his little paw gets stuck in a painful trap. Despite all his efforts, he can’t free himself.

In alternate voices, Rumpus and Maggie tell their stories of sadness and hope. Maggie’s strength of character, the struggles she goes through as a stutterer, and her love for Rumpus, will draw in and educate readers. “Wildoak” will make a great addition to any book club, as it has important discussion material. The author’s resources on reforestation, big cats conservation and stuttering will also give readers opportunities to get involved in these areas.

I hope this book wins an award at the January American Library Association’s (ALA) 2023 Youth Media Awards (YMA). Stay tuned to find out!

Highly recommended for ages 9-14.

“The tryout” Christina Soontornvat; ill. by Joanna Cacao

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Graphix (Scholastic). 257 p. Published September 5, 2022.

Christina was very nervous about being in 7th grade, especially since she didn’t have any classes with her best friend Megan. Her father was born in Thailand, while both she and her mom were born in the United States. However that didn’t stop students from believing she came from China or Taiwan. Daily she was called “rice girl,” and had to deal with the ignorant “go back where you came from” line. A parade of teachers in all her subjects didn’t bother to figure out how to say her last name correctly because it was Thai. Middle school was not shaping up to be great.

Football was huge in their Texas town, so Christina and Megan decided to try out for the cheerleading squad. They were sure it would lead to instant popularity. Megan was a natural because she was already a gymnast, while Christina struggled to complete the routines. She was terrified of what would happen if Megan made the squad and she didn’t, so Christina put her heart and soul into the auditions. Along the way she learned about persistence, opening herself to others, and the importance of saying “I’m sorry.”

Middle schoolers will relate to the struggles faced by Christina, especially those who have been “othered” because they’re not cookie cutters editions of their classmates.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

“Island of spies” Sheila Turnage

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House). 372 p. (Includes “Author’s note.”) Published September 20, 2022.

Twelve-year-old Stick, along with her friends Neb and Rain, are members of the Dime Novel Kids in Hatteras Island, North Carolina. They formed their group after reading dime store novels about detectives, and hope to be discovered by the F.B.I. for cracking a big case.

World War II hadn’t yet reached their small island in any major way until January 1942 when German U-boats torpedoed a ship, killing all aboard. Suddenly the war was real. As more and more ships begin to be torpedoed in the following days and weeks, islanders began to get suspicious of one another. They felt someone had to be helping the Germans, so Stick, Neb and Rain are determined to find the spies.

They’re sure the mean postmistress is a spy, while she believes two out-of-town boys are spies. Meanwhile several Islanders set their prejudiced eyes upon Rain and her mother because she’s dark skinned and her mother isn’t like the other women. Through all the uncertainty going on in their personal and detective lives, the Dime Novel Kids stick with their plan to follow the evidence, catch a spy, and get noticed by the F.B.I. When the friends find real spies they start to follow the evidence, but soon learn that following Nazis can be very dangerous.

Young readers will be drawn into the storyline, eager to see what the friends find themselves mixed up in next, as their determination to crack the case often means they find themselves in deep water. I had no idea German U-boats came ashore in North Carolina during World War II for months, torpedoing hundreds of ships and killing thousands, while reports of the events were censored from the public by the U.S. government. “Island of spies” is an interesting read, and was very educational.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

“Attack of the black rectangles” Amy Sarig King

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Scholastic Press (Scholastic). 258 p. Published September 6, 2022.

Mac is in 6th grade. His town has rules about a curfew, white houses, pizza delivery, Halloween, and much more. When he’s assigned to read “The devil’s arithmetic” by Jane Yolen with his friends Marcie and Denis he’s excited because he loves reading about time travel. When they realize someone has crossed out specific words they are angry, but their teacher doesn’t care. She believes they need to be protected from the words she crossed out, while they believe they need the whole truth to learn what’s truth.

While Mac struggles with the anger he feels about being lied to by adults at school, he’s also grappling with his feelings for Marcie and the love/hate relationship he has with his angry father. Though he has a lot going on he’s grounded by his mother’s love and the talks he has with his grandfather. Mac, Marcie and Denis are determined to stand up to their teacher for the right to read uncensored books, but they face an uphill battle.

“Attack of the black rectangles” is very timely because of the upheaval going on in school districts across the country. A few parents who don’t want their children to read certain books have been banning them at hundreds of public schools and libraries. These parents have the right to decide what their child should read, but do not have the right to make that decision for thousands of other children. Unfortunately they are like Mac’s teacher, believing everyone who doesn’t look like or speak like them is wrong, and only seeing their own point of view. It’s up to us to be like Mac, Marcie and Denis. Stand up, force these adult bullies to open their eyes, and speak truth against lies.

Highly recommended for ages 11-15.

“They call her Fregona: A border kid’s poems” David Bowles

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Kokila (Penguin Random House). A border kid’s poems #2. 244 p. (Includes “Glossary” and “Author’s note.”) Published September 6, 2022.

In this sequel to “They call me Güero,” winner of the 2019 Pura Belpré Honor award, thirteen-year-old Güero continues sharing stories about life in a small Texas border town. Joanna, his lovely no nonsense girlfriend, is front and center in his 8th grade poems.

Nicknamed “Fregona” because of her tough girl attitude, Joanna is a strong young lady who stands up for what she believes. She is the wind beneath Güero’s wings. His love of family, friends and culture hasn’t changed, but now his stories are filled with his love for Joanna, and how she inspires him to be better. As he slowly unveils her story of prejudice and injustice Güero’s eyes are opened to the evil that was silently lurking in people’s hearts, forever changing both of their lives.

David Bowles’ ability to have his characters say the right things at the right times in the right ways continue to show the power of words and gives his teen and tween readers much food for thought. Don’t be surprised if it wins a Pura Belpré award, so stay tuned in January 2023 when winners are announced. Remember that you heard it here first!

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

“Music is in everything” Ziggy Marley; illustrated by Ag Jatkowska

Rated 5 stars ***** Akashic Books. (LyricPop). 2021.

Full-color vivid illustrations of multicultural characters and musical instruments accompany song lyrics by Ziggy Marley as he tells us about the many ways music is in everything. From listening to a singing ocean to dancing trees, to pots and pans and clapping hands, everyone will find ways to joyfully express themselves through music.

Through his many suggestions, readers will find a multitude of ways to physically participate in musical activities. They can join in a parade, make shakers, dance, or stomp their feet. They can go outside and listen to nature’s music. “Music is in everything” fills readers with music from their heads down to their toes, and is a great way to introduce children to musical terms like “rhythm” and “tunes,” as well as instruments like the bass, trombone, trumpet, guitar and more. Music really is in everything.

Highly recommended for ages 4-7.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

“Shiny happy people” Song lyrics by R.E.M.; illustrated by Paul Hoppe with Shinyeon Moon

Rated 2 stars *** Akashic Books. (LyricPop). 2021.

Bunny and Fox are happy friends enjoying life, but don’t understand why Bunny’s family forbids them to be friends. They say rabbits shouldn’t be friends with foxes, but Bunny is desperate for them to love his friend. Fox’s family has their own ideas, because rabbits should be eaten. Their plan to do so is foiled when Bunny’s family comes to his rescue. As the families battle, Bunny and Fox break up the fight and show them how to get along. Soon they are all joining hands – shiny, happy and laughing. Simply drawn, full-page illustrations accompany song lyrics by the rock band R.E.M., telling the story of an unlikely friendship between a rabbit and a fox.

The storyline of acceptance for one another is admirable but these lyrics are not the ones that should be used for it, as many don’t match the illustrations and young readers will find it difficult to comprehend. The adult reader who loves R.E.M. will need to explain the lyrics, and what is happening on each page, if they want their reader to get anything from the story.

Though I didn’t care for it, I will leave it to up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

“They call me Güero: A border kid’s poems” David Bowles

Rated 5 stars ***** Kokila (Penguin Random House). 2021. 103 p. (Includes Glossary).

Seventh grader Güero has pale skin, freckles and red hair, so stands out in his Mexican American family, neighborhood and school. Often the target of bullies for not looking Mexican enough, he has learned to contain his anger by expressing himself through poetry. His musings about life, traditions, prejudice, friends and family are true-to-life.

Güero’s poems are a love story to his family, his culture and his people.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

“Tumble” Celia C. Pérez

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Kokila (Penguin Random House). 351 p. Published August 16, 2022.

Twelve-year-old Addie’s mom never wanted to talk about her dad, so she didn’t have answers to her many questions about him. When she found out her mother had been in contact with him for years, but never told her, she began snooping to find information about him on her own. She discovered her dad Manny and his family were famous lucha libre wrestlers, and he lived in a nearby town. Addie was sure they could make up for the eleven years he had been out of her life, and was eager to meet him.

With her mother’s reluctant permission Addie began to spend time with her grandparents, uncles and cousins but Manny kept himself at arm’s reach. As she learned about the strength of the women in her family, she also learned how wrestling had torn her family apart. Addie would grow to realize she also has the strength to love and to make tough choices in her own life.

“Tumble” takes a long, hard look at absentee parents and its affects on children, while educating a new generation of tween readers on the lucha libre world.

Recommended for readers ages 11-14.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review