“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer 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.

“Seven ways we lie” Riley Redgate

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 2016. Abrams.343 pp.

sevenwayswelieOlivia hates that her mother walked away from her family three years ago. Kat holes up in her room with Internet games. Matt fills his days getting high. Juniper is the perfect queen of Paloma High. Valentine is a loner. Lucas is everyone’s go to guy for beer and weed. Claire wonders why she can’t be like Olivia and Juniper.

When the news breaks that someone is involved in a secret affair with a teacher, everyone is shocked. Each of these students has the power to reveal the truth, yet they all have their own secrets. Are someone else’s secrets more important than your own? As truth and lies blend, this unlikely group of students become bound together in ways they never imagined.

“Seven Ways to Lie” was very thought provoking, with each character having their own chapter to articulate their issues and thought patterns. She challenges her readers to think about the “why” of situations, reminding them that things are not always as they seem.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Girl in Pieces” Kathleen Glasgow

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published August 30, 2016. Delacorte Press.

GirlInPiecesWho are cutters? Why do they cut? What can be done to get them to stop? Do they want to stop? Can they ever live a “normal” life? Will anyone ever love them? Can they ever love themselves? Can “regular” people learn to see beyond their scars? Can THEY learn to see themselves beyond their scars?

Seventeen-year-old Charlotte Davis answers these questions and more as she narrates her personal story of abuse, neglect, fear, despair and homelessness in short, revealing chapters. Charlotte’s narrative is a small window into the souls of the millions of teens who feel the only way they can release their personal pain is through self-mutilation.

“Girl in Pieces” is raw, truthful, despairing and inspirational. It will stay with you long after the last page is turned. Several copies should be in every public and high school library to show these teens they are not alone, and that they are loved.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

“The love she left behind” Amanda Coe

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. EBook. W.W. Norton & Company. To be published July 6, 2015.

TheLoveSheLeftBehindNigel and Louise are all grown up but have never forgotten their mother, who abandoned them for another man when they were just children. Her defection from their family created Louise’s lifelong insecurities and Nigel’s aloofness, leading to a rift in their relationship. Having grown apart through the years, they are thrown together when their mother suddenly dies and they are called to the home she shared with her new husband Patrick.

As they forge through the cluttered remains of their mother’s life, and try to make sense of why she left them so many years ago, they each drift into flashbacks of their younger years not realizing that the past has a way of becoming the present in unexpected ways.

I had a very hard time making it through this book, as it kept boring me. I could never “bond” with the characters, and had more fun trying to figure out the meaning of British words than I had in reading Nigel and Louise’s story. I was determined to finish it for this review, but will leave it up to you to Decide if You Want to Read it or Not.

“Secret of the Sevens” Lynn Lindquist

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. EBook. Flux. Published June 2015.

SecretOfTheSevensEighteen-year-old Talan Michaels is about to graduate from the Singer School for poor, unwanted and troubled children. Having been there since he was 7 years old, his housemates, house parents and friends are the only family he’s ever known. Upon graduation he will face a future of homelessness and uncertainty, which fills him with fear. Thus when an invitation comes to join the Sevens, a secret society at the school, Talan is ecstatic. He is sure the Sevens’ promise of riches will be his ticket to freedom after graduating.

Talan knew that William Singer’s wife, founder of the school, had died under mysterious circumstances. He also knew that William Singer and five of the original Sevens had also died, with the Sevens accused of his murder. He and his house sister Laney embark on a series of secret missions destined to save the school from someone who knows what really happened to William Singer, his wife and the original Sevens. Talan and Laney will have to be careful, or they will share the same fate. With time running out, the two will have to pull out all the stops to save their school before it’s too late for everyone.

The plot twists and mysteries hidden in “Secret of the Sevens” had me mesmerized. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next to the new group of Sevens. Lindquist will keep readers on the edges of their seats.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The Last Passenger” Manel Loureiro

Rated 5 stars ***** EBook. Published January 1, 2015 by AmazonCrossing (first published in 2013).

TheLastPassengerWhen reporter Kate Kilroy’s husband Robert is killed by a drunk driver, she feels like her own life has ended. To give her a new lease on life her editor suggests she take on an assignment researching the Valkyrie, a Nazi ghost ship discovered in 1939 with no one alive on board except for a baby, and which has lain untouched for 70 years. Within a short time she has met the eccentric millionaire, Isaac Feldman, who purchased the ship for millions of pounds and renovated it for some obscure purpose.

Eager to learn more for her story, Kate agrees to accompany Isaac and a group of scientists to recreate the Valkyrie’s last journey. Soon, strange things begin to happen and they begin to realize there is a malevolent spirit on board who wants to recreate what happened in 1939. With time running out, Kate will be called upon to reach deep into her soul for the strength to combat an evil determined to destroy everything and everyone in its path.

Each cliffhanger chapter ending of “The Last Passenger” drew me deeper and deeper into its mystery, keeping me glued to its pages until I reached its satisfying conclusion. It was a wonderful read.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Forgetting Tabitha: The story of an orphan train rider” Julie Dewey

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. 2013. JWD Press.

ForgettingTabithaIn 1860 Tabitha Salt was just 10 years old. When her father was killed in an accident, her mother sold their farm in Westchester N.Y. and moved them to Manhattan where she hoped to find work as a laundress.

This section of NYC, known as Five Points, was filled with poor immigrants and homeless orphans roaming the gang-filled streets. When Tabitha’s mother suddenly died, Tabitha found herself out on the street as one of these orphans. With nowhere to turn, she was befriended by the Sisters of Charity who sent her and dozens others on an orphan train to be adopted out West. There she will have to draw on her strong character, courage and perseverance to survive the unknown and make a future for herself. “Forgetting Tabitha” is her story.

Before reading this novel, I knew about the terrible poverty facing NYC immigrants, but didn’t know about the orphan trains. Julie Dewey makes Tabitha’s and the orphan’s stories come alive, making me eager to find out more about them as I read.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“No longer a Slumdog: Bringing hope to children in crisis” K.P. Yohannan

Rated 3 stars *** 2011. GFA Books. 166 p. (Includes an FAQ section, “Believe it or Not” statistics and “Notes.”)

NoLongerASlumdogDrawing comparisons between the poverty of children seen in the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and their own real life experiences, author Yohannan takes readers through the caste system of India which causes extreme distress to be the lot of the Dalit (Untouchables), members of the lowest rung of India’s social system. His focus in writing this book is to describe the life of the impoverished children from this caste, and to tell how they found help through a relief agency he founded called Gospel for Asia. As these children tell their personal stories of homelessness, poverty, prostitution, discrimination and murder, it is difficult to maintain a dry eye in the face of their pain and sadness.

“No longer a Slumdog” incorporates statistics telling of the number of Dalit children sold into slavery, prostitution or forced to live their lives in the streets, as well as their personal stories, to reach its readers. The 60,000 children they have helped over the past 35 years through giving them food, clothing, schooling and education have been saved from their former street lives, and are no longer slumdogs, yet remain a drop in the bucket compared to the millions more Dalit children which still remain to be rescued from their lives of poverty and discrimination.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Can you see me now?” Estela Bernal

Rated 3 stars *** 2014. Piñata Books (Arte Público Press). 161 pp.

CanYouSeeMeNowAmanda’s life changed forever the day she turned thirteen. On that day, a drunk driver killed her father and her mother decided it was all her fault. Amanda had loved her father, and felt her life crumbling without his gentle, guiding hand, as her mother couldn’t be bothered to spend time with her, sending her to live with her grandmother. Being without her father and mother was hard, but dealing with the bullies at school made everything worse.

After observing the guidance counselor talking with students, Amanda decided she would look for lonely kids to counsel. It didn’t take long to become good friends with Paloma, ridiculed for wearing strange clothes, and Roger, an overweight classmate. Despite missing her father, and resenting her mother’s absence, Amanda learned to draw strength from herself and from her friends, facing life with a new outlook and finding that things aren’t always as bad as they may seem.

“Can you see me now?” shows a young girl’s struggle to reconcile with a loved one’s passing and her mother’s indifference, while trying to empathize with others’ heartaches. Amanda seems to be quite mature for her age, but her real life hopes and dreams will ring true with readers.

Recommended for ages 11-13.

“Steering toward Normal” Rebecca Petruck

Rated 3 stars *** To be published May 13, 2014. ARC. Amulet Books.

SteeringTowardNormalDiggy was left on his father’s doorstep when he was born, then his mom left town on a tractor. Over the years, he has managed to hide the hurt of being abandoned (and many tractor jokes) while establishing a great relationship with his dad who everyone calls Pops. Diggy and Pops prank each other with tricks and jokes in preparation for their yearly April Fool’s Day assaults, and enjoy their time together.

As a member of 4-H he takes pride in training steers and competing with them at various county fairs, pretending his sudden interest in steers and 4-H had nothing to do with the beautiful (but older) July Johnston. Now that July has moved on to a greater leadership role in the organization, Diggy has been picked as her successor to win the purple ribbon and the $12,000 prize at the upcoming Minnesota State Fair with his steer, Joker, and he will do everything in his power to make her proud.

Everything is going great for Diggy until Wayne Graf gets dumped in his driveway by his drunken dad. Fourteen-year-old Wayne’s mom has just died so his father dumped him because he is angry that Pops is his real dad. Diggy is incensed to learn he has a half brother but soon gets even more upset when Wayne decides he wants to also compete against Diggy in the upcoming fair with a steer of his own. On top of that he insists Diggy should find his real mother who dumped him 13 years ago, starts looking up information about her without Diggy’s permission, starts hogging up Diggy’s personal time with Pops, and horns in on Diggy’s time with July.

With all of these issues piling up Diggy and Wayne quickly become enemies, trying to outdo the other and win the State Fair with their steers. What follows are hilarious pranks, fights, arguments and general mayhem as they set about learning what it really means to be brothers and what it means to be a family.

“Steering toward Normal” is a good read for boys, especially boys interested in learning about country life, how to train steers, and learning more about 4-H.

Recommended for ages 11-14.