“Summer of Sloan” Erin L. Schneider

Rated 3 stars *** 2016. Hyperion. 291 p.

SummerOfSloanEver since they were younger, Sloan and her twin brother Penn travelled to Hawaii to spend the summer with their mother and her husband. The summer before her senior year, Sloan found out her best friend Mick slept with her boyfriend Tyler. Sloan refuses to respond to any of their apologetic texts, emails and phone calls, and escapes to Hawaii to forget about their betrayal.

Sloan soon falls for Finn, the extremely handsome brother of her young swimming pupil. When he’s around, she forgets everything – including her own individuality. As she and Finn begin to draw closer together, her feelings for Tyler and the situation with Mick threaten to undermine her new relationship. Realizing she is the only one who holds the key to her happiness, Sloan will have to make decisions that will forever change her mindset and her life.

Schneider’s in depth look at teenage pain, friendship and heartache will hit a cord with her young readers.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“In the country we love: My family divided” Diane Guerrero

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Henry Holt and Co. 247 p.

InTheCountryWe LoveWanting a better life for their young son, and unable to make a living in Colombia, Diane’s parents obtained a four-year visitor visa and left for the United States. A few years later, Diane was born. Knowing they’d overstayed their visas her parents worked hard at various menial labor jobs, paying people who promised to help with citizenship papers but who ran off with their hard earned money.

Though Diane’s older brother became increasingly disillusioned at the lack of job prospects due to his immigration status, her parents were hopeful. They were sure that if they didn’t get into trouble, stayed below the radar, and kept paying the “lawyer” who’d promised to help, that they’d become legal citizens.

When Diane was fourteen years old, her parents were arrested by ICE for being in the country illegally and deported to Colombia. Left alone, and forgotten by the government, Diane had to figure out how to live without her family. “In the country we love” is the story of people who helped her survive, and the long road of pain and sorrow she endured on her way to becoming a famous television star.

According to the Migration Policy Institute 2016 study, “5 million children under the age 18 have at least one parent who is in the United States illegally. Out of that number, 79 percent are U.S. citizens.” Guerrero puts a face to one of those children. Her story is a must read.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Burn baby burn” Meg Medina

Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Candlewick Press. 300 p. Includes “Author’s note.”

BurnBabyBurnDuring the summer of 1977 New York City experienced worsening poverty and crime, a massive blackout in all 5 boroughs, a stifling heat wave, and unrelenting fear brought on by the Son of Sam murders. Against this tumultuous background, Medina places the story of seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez.

Her father lives comfortably with his new wife and son in a well-furnished apartment in the City, forgetting about Nora, her mother, and younger brother Hector in their rundown Queens neighborhood where Hector has become a thief and drug addict. Often violent towards his sister and mother, neither wants to admit he’s out of control. On top of everything else her mother lost her job, putting them in danger of eviction. Nora suffers through the lack of food and money, as well as Hector’s abuse and crimes, in silence. Desperate to turn eighteen so she could leave it all behind, she turns a blind eye to everything. However will running away solve her problems or make them worse?

I had a hard time getting through this book, as the plot seemed to drag. I also kept getting annoyed at the poor decisions Nora and her mom continued to make regarding Hector. The book had many historical references to the period. Though some were interesting, it seemed to have too many. In general, “Burn baby burn” failed to ignite a bigger spark of interest in me.

I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Black Dove White Raven” Elizabeth Wein

Rated 2 stars ** Hyperion. 2015. 345 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BlackDoveWhiteRavenEmilia and Teo grew up on the road with their stunt pilot mothers in the early 1920’s. Frustrated at the lack of job equality for women, and especially upset with the laws against blacks, Teo’s mother Delia dreamed of freedom in Ethiopia. When she was killed in a freak accident, Emilia’s mother decides to raise Teo as her own and leaves for Ethiopia to fulfill her best friend’s wishes for him to have a better life. For a number of years they all enjoyed their time in Ethiopia until Mussolini’s army invaded in 1935. “Black Dove, White Raven” is Teo and Emilia’s, as well as Ethiopia’s story, during that timeframe.

I had a hard time making it through this book, as I found it to be too slow moving and it really didn’t capture my interest. Writing about Ethiopia was important to Wein, but the enormous amount of material put into the 345 pages was a bit much for me. However I will leave it up to those of you ages 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not.

“The way back from broken” Amber J. Keyser

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner). 207 p.

TheWayBackFromBrokenFifteen-year-old Rakmen’s baby sister died in his arms from an undiagnosed heart murmur. Awash with grief, his parents blame him and each other. His mother begins attending therapy sessions at Promise House, a place that promises to help grief filled; broken parents recover from the loss of their children.

As the broken brother of a lost sister, Rakmen is forced to attend the children’s sessions where he meets nine (or ten) year-old Jacey. Her baby brother was stillborn, throwing her mother (Rakmen’s teacher, Mrs. Tatlas) into a dangerously fragile mindset, and causing Jacey to wonder why she’d been robbed of the opportunity to become a big sister.

For some unknown reason, and to his eternal displeasure, Jacey becomes very attached to Rakmen. Mrs. Tatlas suggests they travel together to her uncle’s cabin in Canada for some R & R so, without any pushback from his parents, the three of them head to the wilderness. When an accident happens, it is up to Rakmen and Jacey to learn to work together to save all their lives.

I couldn’t really get into this book. I found it strange that Rakmen’s parents would let him go off for the entire summer with a perfect stranger, even though she was his teacher. Also, Jacey was supposed to be nine or ten, yet she acted more like six or seven. There were a few other issues, including grammatical errors scattered throughout so, overall, it wasn’t a win for me.

I’ll leave it up to you 14 and older readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Chasing shadows” Swati Avasthi

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Alfred A. Knopf. 305 p.

ChasingShadowsSavitri, Corey, and his twin sister Holly have been friends for the past eleven years. Their fierce devotion to each other, and shared love for freerunning, have made them inseparable. With just a few months left of school, they plan to go to nearby colleges in Chicago. Though Savi has been accepted to Princeton, she is sure she and Corey can continue dating and that she can remain best friends with Holly. However, the day she gathers her courage to tell them she was accepted at Princeton is the day Corey is shot dead, Holly is put into a coma, and she becomes the lone witness to a crime.

Days turn into weeks as Savi tries to come to grips with Corey’s loss and her guilt for not being able to save him, try to remember details for the police, and help Holly through her recovery. Meanwhile Holly’s will to live comes from the voice inside her head that assures her it knows how to bring Corey back from the Shadowlands where she last saw him being taken captive. All she has to do is to listen to the voice and do what it says. If she does, she can bring Corey back home.

Deeply affected by Corey’s loss, Savi and Holly tell their stories in alternating chapters and through graphic novel inserts. Readers will not only receive an education on freerunning, but will also learn about the love between a brother and sister as well as true friendship and how being loyal to someone might involve making tough, unpopular decisions.

It took me awhile to get into this book as I found the detailed freerunning explanations to be boring. However I liked the graphic novel inserts as it helped frame Holly’s thoughts and made them more understandable. Holly and Savitri’s emotions were raw and real, and the author did an excellent job exploring and detailing how each confronted and dealt with their pain.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“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.