Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).
Her parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.
Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.
Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.
Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.
Rated 3 stars ***** 2010. Peachtree. 199 p.
What could have happened to her mother, and why did she leave? That’s the conversation seventeen-year-old Jen had been having with herself ever since her mom disappeared fourteen years ago. For a few years she received untraceable letters and gifts but, when that stopped, she managed to put her mother into a locked section of her brain.
Now working as a helper for the summer at her grandmother’s bed and breakfast, Jen finds herself immersed in her grandmother’s annual mystery weekend. This year the mystery revolves around the idea that someone killed her mother, which is shocking to Jen. Was her mom murdered or did she choose to leave? Before the weekend is over, Jen will have an answer that will forever change her life.
There were good clues in this whodunit mystery, but I had a hard time getting into the storyline and the various relationships. It felt more middle schoolish than high school.
Despite this I’ll recommend it for ages 12-16, leaving it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 1 stars * ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic Press. 305 p.
Sammy’s junior year is ruined when protestors at her father’s bank hack its server. Along with personal texts and emails, her online journal (where she’d written her deepest thoughts and crushes) is revealed to her entire high school world. Besides having to deal with the fallout of having her personal thoughts shared on social media, she’s lost her best friends, and has to deal with the stress of upcoming AP exams, as well as the loss of her crush. She is officially persona non grata, and it looks like there will never be any relief. Just when she thinks life can’t get any worse, it does.
I wasn’t a fan of this book. Sammy sounded much more immature than a junior in high school, as her issues and constant whining sounded middle schoolish to me. Her brother RJ also presented as immature. Though he was supposed to be 14 years old, his dialogue and behavior was more like a 6 or 8 year old.
Overall I felt the storyline wasn’t interesting, and Sammy’s petulance didn’t help. However I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic. 309 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)
In 1938 Michael O’Shaunessey moved to Berlin, Germany with his parents when his father was named Irish Ambassador. Over the 6 years of living there he’d seen the Nazi Party became stronger, changing its people for the worse. It is now 1943, and things have gotten bad as Jews and other dissenters are being taken to concentration camps. Michael had never known his parents were spies for the Allies but now, at the age of 13, he found himself working with them.
When a British RAF pilot was shot down over the city, Michael and his parents discovered the Nazis had been secretly building a plane with engines instead of propellers, which could fly faster than any country’s planes and would turn the tide of the war towards Germany.
Accidentally finding the plane’s blueprints accelerated Michael’s spy role within the ranks of the Hitler Youth. As things heat up, it soon becomes evident that Michael and his parents are in grave danger. Michael will have to do all he can to make sure the Nazis don’t succeed in their plan for world domination before it’s too late.
I really enjoyed reading “Projekt 1065.” Its short, cliffhanger, fast paced chapters make it a great choice for reluctant readers, while its storyline is very interesting.
Highly recommended for ages 11-14.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Harper Collins. 256 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)
In Afghanistan, there exists a tradition called “bacha posh.” If a family doesn’t have a son, and are down on their luck, they are encouraged to change a daughter into a bacha posh, which brings good luck. The daughter must be young enough to not have reached puberty because she is expected to look and act like a boy. Gone are long skirts, headscarves, and all dainty girl behaviors. As a bacha posh, she is free to run, get dirty, and do things girls would never be allowed to do in Afghani society.
Ten-year-old Obayda becomes her family’s bacha posh after her father loses his leg in a car bombing and is unable to work. With only four daughters, the family desperately needs the luck a bacha posh can bring them. At first Obayda is terrified of her new role, not sure how to be a boy. However, with the help of Rahima, a thirteen-year-old bacha posh, Obayda soon comes to love the freedom of being a boy. Unfortunately they can’t remain a bacha posh forever. Soon they must change back into a girl and forget they were ever boys, but how does one go from freedom to shackles?
The world of gender inequality is explored in “One half from the East,” while readers are also introduced to the culture of Afghan people. It is sure to be a conversation starter, and offers great lessons on gender roles and expectations.
Recommended for ages 9-14.
Rated 5 stars ***** Lee & Low. 2016. 40 p. (Includes “Author’s Note,” “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” “Author’s Sources,” and “Quotation Sources.”)
Though not directly involved in World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor Mexico aided the United States with shipments of oil and war materials. As retaliation for these shipments, German U-boats torpedoed two of their ships. Mexico entered the war on May 28th, and volunteered its best air force pilots to assist the United States.
No military unit in Mexico’s history had ever left the country to fight, but Air Fighter Squadron 201 became the first to do so. Nicknamed the Aztec Eagles, the almost 300 pilots and support crew set off for the United States to be trained. When their training was completed, they went on to support General MacArthur in his Philippines campaign.
Through period photographs, interviews, and careful research Nicholson tells the story of the courageous men of the Aztec Eagles. Her inspiration for their story was the unusual request from one of the support crewmembers, Sergeant Angel Bocanegra a former teacher, who asked the President of Mexico to build a school in his small village of Tepoztlán. The school still stands in their honor, and this book also honors those brave men who fought on behalf of both the United States and Mexico.
Highly recommended for ages 10-14.
Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 27, 2016. Arthur A. Levine Books. 340 p.
Kate Hamilton has spent her life walking a tightrope, as she has had to make sure to never bring scandal on the family name because her father is a politician. When he falls behind in the polls because of something her ex boyfriend did to humiliate her, he take Kate and her mother out of D.C. to spend a few months in his Texas hometown to regroup.
In her quest to get a recommendation to art school to study photography and escape politics forever, Kate winds up volunteering at her aunt’s animal shelter where she meets annoying Hunter, the handsome ex-football player. Joining the yearbook staff to use their darkroom introduces her to handsome Kyle, star quarterback, and shy Ana. With football ruling the school, and politics ruling her home, it’s only a matter of time before football and politics lead Kate into making decisions she’ll soon regret.
Recommended for ages 12-17.