“Gap life” John Coy

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published November 22, 2016. Feiwel & Friends.

gaplifeCray’s father expects him to go to the college he went to, become a doctor just like him, and carry on the tradition of having doctors in the family. Cray has just graduated high school and is miserable. He doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, but knows he definitely does NOT want to be a doctor.

When he finally gets the nerve to tell his parents he’s decided to take a “gap year” and will not be going to college in the fall, his father blows his top and insists he get a job to pay rent. His foray into the world of work puts him into contact with Rayne, a beautiful, free thinking fellow graduate who knows exactly what she’s going to do during her gap year.

Cray lands a part-time job at a home for developmentally disabled adults; soon learning that the acceptance he wishes for at home is fully his with the residents. As he works to figure out his future, figuring out how to stand up to his father, the independence Cray seeks finally falls into his lap.

I liked how adults with disabilities were shown in a positive light, but found Cray to be extremely whiny and immature. The more I read, the more I saw him as a spoiled rich boy and was annoyed. The morals of the story were to believe in yourself, make a decision, then get it done. It took WAY too long for him to believe in himself enough to actually make a decision.

Recommended, with reservations, for ages 14 and older.

“In case you missed it” Sarah Darer Littman

Rated 1 stars * ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic Press. 305 p.

incaseyoumisseditSammy’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.

“Phantom Limbs” Paula Garner

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Candlewick. 352 p.

phantomlimbsOtis was a scared thirteen-year-old when Dara rescued him from himself. After losing her arm in a shark attack, which ruined her swimming career and killed her Olympic dreams, Dara found new hope in Otis. He helped her forget her father’s disappointment, her mother’s death, and what a one-armed life entailed.

At that time his best friend Meg, the love of his life, had just moved away and his three-year-old brother Mason had just died. Therapy wasn’t helping him come to terms with his grief, until Dara’s fierce coaching and swimming lessons gave him a way out of the drain he’d been circling. Over the years they developed a great relationship, forged through pain and understanding, while he developed into a championship style swimmer.

Though three years had passed, Otis never stopped thinking about what life would have been like if Mason had not died and if Meg had stayed. When she suddenly sent a text saying she was returning to town for a short period, Otis was beside himself with joy, fear, hope and various other emotions. Thinking of her reminded him of Mason, which brought its own kind of pain, while wanting to know why she abandoned him and if she still loved him brought its own heartache.

Through humor, angst, and guy problems, Otis tells his coming-of-age story. As we learn of the death of his hopes and dreams, along with Meg’s and Dara’s, Garner’s title and the definition of phantom limb pain become intermingled. Though only one actually lost a limb, all suffer from this pain, making for a very interesting read. In fact, it was so interesting I read it in one sitting.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“Watched” Marina Budhos

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Wendy Lamb Books. (Random House.) 264 p.

watchedNaeem was 5 years old when his mother died and his father moved from Bangladesh to New York. He waited for his father to send for him, but it took another 6 years before he found himself on a plane to Queens, New York. There, he was reunited with his father and met his new little brother and stepmother.

He loved New York, spending years hanging out and roaming the streets instead of helping his parents in their little store. It’s now his senior year of high school and he expects to go to college, but is told he can’t graduate due to low grades. His future is staring at him bleakly until he gets arrested.

To avoid jail time he agreed to work undercover with cops, as they were sure terrorist attacks were being planned. They felt he could blend in and pick up information at mosques. Naeem thought by working with them he could prove Muslims were regular law-abiding citizens but, the deeper he got into play acting, the more he realized he enjoyed learning about his culture.

As time passed Naeem became more and more anxious. Who was he? Was he a traitor to his people, or was he helping them be seen in a better light? Would his work make the world a better place for his little brother, and for his parents, or would he incriminate innocent people?

“Watched” takes readers into the life of a Muslim family and into Muslim neighborhoods, describing an insider’s view of what it feels like to always be watched and judged by others. It will cause readers to think about their own prejudices and, perhaps, make them think twice before passing judgment on others.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“Every falling star: The true story of how I survived and escaped North Korea” Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Abrams. 316 p. (Includes Glossary as well as a list of Places and proper names.)

everyfallingstarSungju lived with his father and mother in a fine apartment in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. His father held a high office in the army and, as devout followers of esteemed leader Kim Il-sung, Sungju and his parents had a happy, easy life. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, Sungju went to a very good school and studied tae kwon do with other future leaders of the military.

In 1997, his father was kicked out of the army for unknown reasons. Forced to move to the slums of the town of Gyeong-Seong, life rapidly deteriorated. With hunger as their constant enemy, his father, soon followed by his mother, left in search of food. At the age of twelve, Sungju was left to fend for himself.

In his own words, Sungju tells how he learned to survive on the streets of various cities for four years with his gang of street “brothers,” despite starvation, beatings, and imprisonment. The story of their friendship and love, along with Sungju’s musings on governmental policy, hope, and Korean legends are woven together to create a powerful story of survival that will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The other boy” M.G. Hennessey

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 20, 2016. Harper. 234 p.

theotherboyShane and his best friend Josh are in sixth grade. Video games and baseball consume their every waking moment, and girls are making an appearance. Even though his dad hasn’t made too many attempts to be part of his life or to come for visits after his parents divorce, Shane is doing just fine without him. When he and his mom left San Francisco for Los Angeles three years ago, Shane never looked back. With his days filled with baseball, his friendship with Josh, and designing his very own graphic novel, he is finally getting to become the person he always knew he should be.

Despite his rosy outside life, Shane is hiding a secret that would change everything about his life if anyone ever found out about it. With his secret getting closer to exposure every day Shane will soon learn that truth comes with a price, and will have to decide if he is willing to pay it.

Once I started reading “The other boy” I couldn’t put it down, and finished it in one sitting. Hennessey’s young readers have the opportunity to learn about the many difficulties and challenges, as well as the hopes and fears, faced by transgender boys and girls. Through reading Shane’s story in this finely crafted novel, it is hoped they will learn acceptance and tolerance. Every middle school and public library should have a copy of “The other boy” in its collection.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

 

“Shame the Stars” Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Rated 5 stars ***** Tu Books (Lee & Low). 2016. 288 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note”, “Book Recommendations”, “Newspaper Clipping Sources,” and a “Glossary.”)

shamethestarsBefore Texas became a territory and then a state, it was part of Mexico. As happened when European immigrants took control of land occupied by its original inhabitants, the Anglo American colonists who settled in Tejas, Mexico in the early 1800’s decided they wanted the land upon which they had settled, and fought to get it from Mexico. Ultimately the land they conquered became the state of Texas. Just as Native Americans had their lands stolen from them, so too did the Mexicans who had originally lived and farmed their own lands in Tejas for generations.

“Shame the Stars” is set in 1915, and tells the story of Tejano families struggling to understand and survive brutalities inflicted upon them by the Texas Rangers (a group of “lawmen” who randomly killed and raped Mexican Americans, imprisoning them without trial, and stealing their land.)

Joaquín Del Toro and Dulceña Villa are teenagers in love during this tumultuous time in the fictitious city of Monteseco. Though suffering from the devastation brought upon them and others by the Rangers, they refuse to keep their heads bowed low in servitude. They, and many others, determine to make a difference for their people and stand for their rights. “Shame the Stars” is their story.

This book is marketed as a “rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet,” but I feel this simplistic overview is a disservice to McCall. “Shame the Stars” is so much more than this, as the author’s rich and powerful narrative opens the eyes of her readers to an atrocious chapter in the history of the United States that had been a secret for many years. It is closer to the history of Segregation and the crimes committed by segregationists than it is to Romeo and Juliet.

The “Refusing to Forget” Project, started in 2013, created an exhibit of this time period called “Life and Death on the Border 1910-1920.” It was on view in Austin, Texas from Jan. 23-April 3, and was a visual complement to the events in the book.

I sincerely hope McCall’s excellently written and researched book will win an award of some type at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in January, as it deserves a place in every high school and public library. McCall is a previous winner of the Pura Belpré award however, since “Shame the Stars” is intended for a much older audience, my fingers are crossed that it will receive a Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from YALSA.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received a copy of this book from Lee & Low in exchange for an honest review.