“How it ends” Catherine Lo

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. ARC. 2016. HMH Books for Young Readers.

HowItEnds

Now 15, Jessie has been bullied since 7th grade by her former best friends. They have helped convince her that she’s a loser and will forever remain friendless. Her mother constantly gets on her case about her anxiety attacks, while she keeps all her feelings bottled up inside herself. When Annie befriends her Jessie can’t understand why a popular girl, who has her act all together, would want to be friends.

Annie was popular in her former school, and is not looking forward to being in a much smaller school. Her mother died when she was young, and her father married an evil stepmother. With her home life in turmoil she is thrilled to hang out with Jessie and her wonderful mom. She is sure Jessie is confident and the kind of girl she wants to be. Together the girls conquer the world, until they allow the influence of others to ruin their friendship.

In alternating voices, Jessie and Annie tell their stories. On their tumultuous ride from besties to enemies and back again, both ultimately learn the value of honesty and true friendship.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

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“Refugee” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published July 25, 2017. Scholastic. 337 p. (Includes Maps and Author’s note.)

RefugeeJosef was almost thirteen-years-old in 1938 when Kristallnacht sent the strong message that Jews were not welcome in Germany. Soon afterwards, he, his father, mother and little sister, along with hundreds of other Jews, boarded the MS St. Louis bound for Cuba where they hoped to escape bigotry and start a new life.

In 1994 Isabel lived with her mother, father and grandfather in Cuba but, with the fall of the Soviet Union, food, gasoline and medicine had become scarce and people began to starve. After riots began, Castro allowed them to leave without fear of arrest. Knowing their only chance of survival was to flee to Miami, Isabel and her family joined their neighbors on a rickety homemade boat. Their 90-mile trip would be dangerous, but they were willing to risk everything to be free.

Twelve-year-old Mahmoud lived with his father, mother, little brother and baby sister in Aleppo Syria in 2015. Four years ago people revolted against their dictator president, which led to war and constant bombings. Their apartment building was blown apart and they had nowhere to go, so Mahmoud and his family joined thousands of other Syrians on a long march to Germany, hoping to start a new life without fear of war.

Real-life occurrences from World War II, the early 90’s, and current events are combined in alternating voices to tell the story of three children who all hope to grow older. This well-researched book will get conversation flowing about immigrants, xenophobia, acceptance and intolerance. It is excellent for book clubs, especially in middle schools.

Highly recommended for ages 11-15.

 

“The stolen marriage” Diane Chamberlain

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook.St. Martin’s Press. To be published October 3, 2017. (Includes “Author’s notes and Acknowledgements.”)

TheStolenMarriageIn 1943 twenty-three year old Tess DeMello was set to marry Vincent, the love of her life, in their Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore where they’d grown up together. He had become a doctor and she was studying to be a nurse so, when a severe outbreak of polio struck children in Chicago, Vincent volunteered his services for several months. His absence set the stage for Tess to visit Washington D.C. where she met Hank Kraft, a rich furniture maker from Hickory, a small North Carolina town. When she becomes pregnant she abandons Vincent, marries Hank, and moves to Hickory.

Hatred from her mother-in-law, as well as from Hank’s sister, former girlfriend, and all their friends greeted her, causing loneliness to cloud her every move. In addition, Tess soon realized Hank seemed to be hiding secrets, and had no feelings for her. Anxious to find a way to relieve the pressure of her marriage, Tess disobeyed Hank to volunteer her services as a nurse at the hospital the town built in 54 hours when polio struck their part of the state.  There she learned to stand on her own again, finally able to become the person she was meant to be.

Many themes are at work in this book, ranging from infantile paralysis (what polio used to be called), religion, mediums, relationships, racial inequalities and more. Readers will definitely have much to ponder, making this a great choice for a book club.

As a child my mother suffered from polio in the mid 1940’s, which caused her to be in a leg brace. To this day, she still has problems with that leg. This is the first book I’ve ever read about infantile paralysis/polio, which helped me understand what she and thousands of other children had to endure. Thank you Diane Chamberlain for enlightening readers on the subject through your excellent research and, of course, a huge round of applause is reserved for Jonas Salk.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Girl in snow” Danya Kukafka

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Simon & Schuster. To be published August 22, 2017.

GirlInSnowFifteen-year-old Lucinda Hayes is found murdered on a snowy carousel in the park. The police have a list of suspects, but no firm leads. In alternating chapters, three people who are close to the case tell their stories. As they talk readers learn more details about their lives, as well as Lucinda’s life.

Jade hated Lucinda and wanted her gone because her boyfriend was Jade’s former best friend and only true love. To make sure Lucinda disappeared she performed a witch’s spell, and it worked. Did she kill Lucinda with her spell? Cameron loved Lucinda but, though they went to school together, Lucinda never noticed him. He liked spying on her at night but, sometimes, things went fuzzy and he didn’t always remember. He loved her, but did he kill her?

Russ is one of the detectives assigned to the case, even though he’d been partners with Cameron’s father and knows the family. As he tells his story, readers soon realize he is hiding a secret of his own. Each of these three talk about other suspects so, when the killer is finally revealed, readers will be in for a huge shock. Kukafka definitely fooled me.

Though the book has teenage protagonists, there are many themes which tilt the book more towards adult readers. Thus I will recommend it for readers eighteen and older.

Recommended for Adults.

 

“Bang” Barry Lyga

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published April 18, 2017. Little Brown. 295 p.

BangFourteen-year-old Sebastian has never forgotten that, when he was four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four-month-old baby sister. Everyone knows he’s a murderer, and have judged him for it. His best friend’s parents look at him funny, people whisper behind his back, and his father walked out because of what he did. He and his mother can’t seem to talk about it, and part of him is glad they don’t.

Despite what his therapist has said, Sebastian knows it was entirely his fault, but has plans to make it right. When he’s gone his mother can be normal again, and everyone will be happy. He’s been planning this for awhile so, with his best friend away for the summer, the time is ripe – until he meets Aneesa.

Aneesa is a distraction, helping him become a YouTube cook, and allowing him to think of something other than his guilt. However, despite everything, Sebastian knows it’s only a matter of time before he answers the voice that’s always there to remind him he doesn’t deserve to be happy. He knows the voice speaks the truth.

Sebastian’s struggles, along with those of Aneesa, are heart rending and real. Both experience things no one should have to struggle through but which, unfortunately, occur and need to be discussed. This is Lyga at his most brilliant.

At the recent American Library Association (ALA) conference, I refused to pick up any ARC’s (Advance Reading Copies) because I had too many to plow through from past conferences. However the cover and summary caught my eye, and “Bang” became my only ARC from that conference. I’m so glad I picked it up because I could not put this book down. Neither will you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Because of the sun” Jenny Torres Sanchez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published January 3, 2017. Delacorte Press. 261 p. (Includes “Author Note.”)

BecauseOfTheSunDani grew up with Ruby, a mother who hated and blamed her for everything that went wrong in her life. She was a mom with an itchy foot, constantly moving from place to place, always with a different man on her arm. She wore skimpy clothes and drank a lot, and Dani hated her. She hated herself for hating her until the day Ruby was mauled to death by a bear and Dani was left alone with her mixed up thoughts.

Sent from Florida to live in New Mexico with an aunt she’d never known, Dani falls into the abyss of despair. She is alone, except for her dark thoughts and the bear that killed her mother, who seems to follow her everywhere. Dani must face her own hopelessness and learn to feel the anguish of others, because only through their pain can she live.

I found this book to be dark and full of symbolism, with some fantastical elements as seen through Dani’s Don Quixote-type imagination. As she constantly wanders in the sun and thinks contemplative thoughts about the bear, I felt that this book would be perfect to dissect in an English class. A high school English teacher would ecstatically tear it apart for her students.

Even though it was a little too complex for me, I will recommend it for ages 16 and older.

“The girl in the picture” Alexandra Monir

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 15, 2016. Delacorte Press. 260 p.

TheGirlInThePictureNicole Morgan had spent her entire life practicing her violin in hopes of someday getting a scholarship to attend Juilliard, and hadn’t given any thought to relationships. She and Chace seemed to have some sort of electricity that drew them together. With him she felt loved, wanted and alive. Her world shattered when he was found murdered.

Beautiful and rich Lana Rivera spent her whole life living up to her Congresswoman mother’s version of the perfect daughter. She was used to having a certain role in their political life so, when her mother suggested she start dating a rival Congressman’s son to find out family secrets, she did as asked but didn’t realize how hard she would fall for handsome Chace Porter. With Chace she felt loved, wanted and alive. Her world shattered when he was found murdered.

As Lana and Nicole’s relationship grows from being strangers, to roomies, besties and, finally, to mortal enemies, the story of what happened to Chace is slowly unraveled. Their voices speak in alternating cliffhanger ending chapters, which leap from the past to the present. Each of them are suspects in Chase’s murder but, with additional clues, more suspects are added to the drama. Readers find themselves thinking they know whodunit – only to find out they were wrong. The surprise ending will come as a huge shock.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.