“Ghosts of Harvard” Francesca Serritella

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Random House. To be published May 5, 2020.

Ghosts of HarvardSeventeen-year-old Cady is determined to attend Harvard because it was where her older brother Eric committed suicide. Since she blames herself, she is determined to figure out why he killed himself.  While at school her studies take a back burner to the nagging questions that arise about Eric’s schizophrenia.

As memories of good and bad times with Eric fill her mind, Cady begins to hear voices and music from a bygone era. Afraid she is heading towards the same path of mental illness, she has a small measure of relief when she figures out the voices are the ghosts of a former Harvard slave and two students who attended the school many years ago.

She enjoys having them as company, learning historical aspects about the school that she’d never known. However, as she uncovers more about Eric’s last days, she soon figures out he was hiding something. When his secret is finally revealed, her life is forever changed in even more ways than she’d thought possible.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of “Ghosts of Harvard,” especially since I once worked on campus, and didn’t know about many of the hidden gems revealed in the book. I now want to travel back to Massachusetts to take a leisurely stroll and go to the places mentioned in the book. The storyline about Eric, his secret, and the ghosts seemed a bit farfetched, but the troubling aspects of suicide, mental illness and its weight on families were truthfully articulated.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

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

“The burning” Laura Bates

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published April 7, 2020. 352 p. (Includes “Author’s note,” and “Discussion questions and Conversation starters.”)

The burningAfter the death of her father, in the middle of the school year, Anna and her mom moved to a 400 year-old house in Scotland to start a new life, where she fervently hopes her old life will recede into the past. After spending time blending in at school she meets new friends, and gets involved in researching a history project about Maggie, a local girl accused of witchcraft in the 1600’s. She finds a silver necklace in her attic and starts to dream Maggie’s memories, learning things about her that aren’t in research books. At first she’s frightened because of the realistic scenes, but soon realizes Maggie’s story has to be told.

While learning more about Maggie fills her free time, the new life she’d started for herself at school starts to unravel when the real reason she left England in the middle of the school year becomes known. Soon constant sexual harassment and cyberbullyingthreaten to put her over the edge. When she learns to draw on her own strength, and that of other strong women like Maggie, Anna is finally able to accept herself, to speak truth about herself, and to know it to be so.

This book was powerful, and had me hooked from the very beginning. At times  teachers not caring to respond to situations right in front of them aggravated me. When that happened I had to put the book down and walk away in frustration, reminding myself that there are good ones mixed with the bad.

“The burning” is the #metoo movement and Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Shout” rolled into one. I believe all teenagers (male and female) and all adults should have this on their “must read” shelves. It would make an excellent book club book to openly discuss sexual harassment and the effects of cyberbullying. A copy should be in every public and high school library.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The truth about keeping secrets” Savannah Brown

Rated 3 stars. *** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published April 7, 2020. 307 p. (Includes “A conversation with the author,” and Resources).

The truth about keeping secretsEleventh grader Sydney couldn’t function or sleep because her dad was killed in a horrific car accident, and she was sure someone had killed him. The only thing that kept her sane was beautiful Jane, who appeared out of nowhere to become the friend she needed. Though she started to develop feelings for her, knowing their relationship couldn’t progress further because Jane had a steady boyfriend, she helped Sydney feel more alive than she’d felt in months.

When she began getting threatening texts she was sure her father’s killer was behind it, but no one believed her. Though Sydney was struggling to come out of the hole into which she’d fallen after her dad’s death, and Jane was her lifeline, she began to feel as if Jane was hiding something. Could she trust a girl she barely knew, who had been a psychiatric patient of her father’s? Was Jane hiding something, or was there someone who wanted Sydney dead too?

At first I couldn’t get into the book because it wasn’t holding my interest. It took me a few days to make it through the first few chapters, and it wasn’t until I had plowed through the halfway mark that it finally held my attention long enough to sit still and finish it. I gave it 3 stars instead of 2 because the final few chapters held important points about relationships that all teens need to know.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Clap when you land” Elizabeth Acevedo

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Hot Key Books. To be published May 5, 2020.

Clap when you landThis novel of verse is dedicated to the memory of the 265 people killed when AA flight 587, headed to the Dominican Republic, crashed into a Queens neighborhood on November 12, 2001. Over 90% of the passengers were Dominican. I lived in New York at the time, and remember vividly how this loss shocked the city so soon after the losses of September 11th.

Sixteen-year-old Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt. Her mother died when she was six, and her Papi lives in New York but visits every summer. After he’s killed in a plane crash Camino is beset with grief and worries for her future. Papi paid for private school, but what will happen to them without his monthly checks? When she finds out he has another daughter in New York City Camino is angry because Yahaira had led a rich life while she has to struggle. However, though that girl stole her father, she’s also her sister.

In New York City Yahaira’s father is killed in a plane crash, but sorrow is mixed with anger because she’d found out a year earlier that he had another wife in Santo Domingo. When she finds out he had a daughter there too she’s angry that this girl stole her father, but is happy to have a sister. Against her mother’s wishes she’s determined to travel to the Dominican Republic to meet her new sister, Camino.

In alternating voices, Yahaira and Camino tell their stories of grief, loss, love, discovery and forgiveness as the beauty of the Dominican Republic, and the love its people have for their country, is clearly verbalized. Once again Acevedo weaves a story that will keep readers glued to their seats. I finished it in just a few short hours, feeling a great affinity for all the strong women described in its pages. I won’t be surprised if this book wins a few more awards for its author in the 2021 ALA Youth Media Awards.

Highly recommended for ages 15 and older.

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

 

“Four days of you and me” Miranda Kenneally

Rated 1 star * ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published May 2020. 340 p.

Four days of you and meIt took forever to finish this book because it was so disjointed it lost my interest. The storyline of two high schoolers (Lulu and Alex) who either hate or love each other during their high school years is a good one, but I have a problem with how their stories are told.

Each section of the book focuses on Lulu and Alex during the same timeframes of different school years (freshman, sophomore, etc.), but too much of their story doesn’t take place in real time. In each section Lulu’s interactions with Alex are either taking place in real time, in the very near past, or months ago. I found it too confusing to switch my brain back and forth from a memory to real time and back again. In addition Lulu was too whiny and insecure for me.

If the author had just stuck to a school year, telling Lulu and Alex’s stories in order during that specific year, I would have been able to give the book at least 3 stars. As it stands I gave it 1 star because she had a good idea, but it wasn’t well executed.

I didn’t like it, so will leave it up to teens, ages 16 and older, to decide if you want to read it or not.

“The Dozier School for Boys: Forensics, survivors, and a painful past” Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD

Rated 5 stars ***** Twenty-first Century Books (Lerner Publishing). 2020. (Includes Photographs, Source Notes, Glossary, Selected Bibliography, Further Information [books, audio/video, newspaper/magazine/web articles], and an Index.)

The Dozier School for BoysAs mentioned in an earlier post, I read Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys,” and wanted to find out more about the school on which he’d based the book’s events.

Survivors from the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida formed support groups, which gave them the strength to contact the media about the years of abuse they’d suffered as young boys. After the media got involved the state of Florida allowed teams from the University of South Florida to investigate the school cemetery and exhume bodies for identification purposes.

Interviews, primary sources and detailed forensic techniques combine to give a view of the school that was eye opening because the town in which it was located knowingly allowed the abuse to continue over the years. To me this is similar to how towns, in which Nazi concentration camps were located, willingly allowed atrocities to happen with their full knowledge. It was interesting how the town of Marianna kept denying their culpability, when they were just as guilty in covering it all up for decades as were the school staff and the state of Florida.

Highly recommended for teens ages 14 and older, as well as for Adults.

“The Nickel Boys” Colson Whitehead

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2019. 210 p.

The Nickel BoysElwood Curtis lived in segregated Tallahassee Florida with his grandmother. He was studious, obedient, and a deep thinker with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. resounding in his head. In 1963, when he was a high school senior, his love for learning made him a candidate for free college classes. On his first day he had to hitchhike, and the car he rode in turned out to be stolen. Elwood’s innocence didn’t mean anything to the arresting officer, and he was sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy for juvenile offenders.

The segregated prison presented itself as a comfortable looking place, but hid a long, twisted history of student beatings, sexual abuse, starvation, and murder. With a cruel, sadistic staff it wasn’t long before Elwood was beaten so badly it took the doctor 2 hours with tweezers to remove pants fibers from his legs. Though he eventually recuperated, his soul was broken.

How could Dr. King expect him to love the people who daily tortured him and his fellow captives? Would they all be rescued if he wrote down what he knew of the school’s inner wrongdoings and gave it to state inspectors? Would there finally be justice for the boys of the Nickel Academy? Could he survive his time there?

Whitehead uses events from a real Florida reform school to supplement Elwood’s story, leaving readers fully engaged. It’s hard to believe this evil school, with its atrocities, was allowed to operate for so many years without state interference. After reading Elwood’s partly fictional story I was inspired to find out more information about the school on which this book was based. Colson inspired me, so my next book will be “The Dozier school for boys: Forensics, survivors and a painful past” by Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD. Stay tuned to this blog for its review.

I highly recommend “The Nickel Boys” for mature teens, ages 16-18, and for Adult readers.