“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.

 

“Spirit run: A 6,000-mile marathon through North America’s stolen land” by Noé Álvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Catapult. To be published March 3, 2020. 213 p.

Spirit runMigrants, and the hard labor of low paying jobs in fruit factories, abound in the lush apple country of Selah Washington, near the author’s childhood home of Yakima. Noé is a smart student, and wants to make life different for his family. He has dreams of going to college and earning enough money to free his mother from her monotonous, back breaking job at the apple factory. He wants to make a difference.

When his dreams get tangled up in the stress of reality, Noé  likes to run. He dreams of the day he can escape Yakima yet, when he gets a full scholarship, dreams turn to nightmares. He believes his insecurities that say he’s not good enough and, soon, can’t keep up with the workload. When he finds out about a run from Alaska to Argentina for Indigenous Indians Noé decides to drop out of college to participate. In the process he discovers the good and bad of human nature. His journey of self discovery, as well as his foray into understanding his parents, is chronicled in this book.

The problems he encountered, as well as the agonies of running an ultra marathon, are interspersed with reflections of his place in the world. The open ending, the seeming lack of a concrete plan for his life, along with continued disappointment that he’s working class made the book a bit of a disappointment. There will always be those of us who will never get to live a life of leisure without having to work, and I hope Noé can come to peace with that reality.

Despite my misgivings I will recommend this book to Adult readers as there are lessons to be learned, and experiences to be hashed through, which would make for good discussions in book groups.

“Guts” by Raina Telgemeier

GutsRated 4 stars **** ARC. To be published Sept. 17, 2019. Smile #3. 213 p.  (Includes “Author’s note.”)

Raina Telgemeier takes readers into the chaos of her 4th and 5th grade self. She was a nervous child, and afraid of things over which she had no control. At times she’d get so anxious her stomach would be tied in knots. Just the word “vomit” caused bad reactions.

Her best friend announcing she was going to move, the unknown world of puberty, and troubles with a school bully added to Raina’s worries. As her stress level rose Raina’s mother stepped in with a solution, but Raina will have to take the first step to solving her problems.

With humor and sensitivity, Telgemeier reveals a personal side of herself that she details in her Author’s note. Child readers will find they may be suffering some of the same anxieties as little Raina, giving them solutions and hopes for their situations.

Recommended for ages 9-12.

“Like Vanessa” by Tami Charles

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. ebook. 2018. Charlesbridge.

Like VanessaIt’s 1983 and, ever since Vanessa was a little girl, she and her grandfather have watched the Miss America Pageant, though she knows no one who looks like her has ever won. Her amazement knew no bounds when Vanessa Williams became the first Black woman to win the title. Despite her dark skin, wild looking hair and heavy body Vanessa has a secret hope that she could also, one day, walk that famous runway and win if only her skin was lighter.

Meanwhile real life intrudes on her dreams. Her father has ignored her for years, her mother disappeared when she was a little girl, her grandfather is a drunk during the week, and her best friend is drifting away. Vanessa finds ways to cope by journaling, reading, getting good grades in school, and singing at church with her cousin.

When Mrs. Walton, her chorus teacher, organizes a pageant at her middle school and invites her to become a contestant Vanessa is fearful, and unsure. Mrs. Walton takes her under her wing and helps her realize she has many talents. On the eve of participating in her very first pageant, disaster strikes Vanessa’s world in multiple ways, leaving her to figure out the true meaning of family and her role in it.

Recommended for readers ages 13-16.

 

“How it ends” Catherine Lo

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. ARC. 2016. HMH Books for Young Readers.

HowItEnds

Now 15, Jessie has been bullied since 7th grade by her former best friends. They have helped convince her that she’s a loser and will forever remain friendless. Her mother constantly gets on her case about her anxiety attacks, while she keeps all her feelings bottled up inside herself. When Annie befriends her Jessie can’t understand why a popular girl, who has her act all together, would want to be friends.

Annie was popular in her former school, and is not looking forward to being in a much smaller school. Her mother died when she was young, and her father married an evil stepmother. With her home life in turmoil she is thrilled to hang out with Jessie and her wonderful mom. She is sure Jessie is confident and the kind of girl she wants to be. Together the girls conquer the world, until they allow the influence of others to ruin their friendship.

In alternating voices, Jessie and Annie tell their stories. On their tumultuous ride from besties to enemies and back again, both ultimately learn the value of honesty and true friendship.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“The vanishing coin (The magic shop #1)” Kate Egan with Magician Mike Lane

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Feiwel & Friends. 142 p.

TheVanishingCoinTeachers always send Mike to the principal because he can’t sit still or focus on work. He needs to be moving and, when he’s not, he gets upset. His parents have been working with him on coping strategies, but they don’t seem to work. The fresh start he’d hoped for in fourth grade seems to be gone. On top of everything else, he’s being bullied again by Jackson, a neighborhood bully and his parents are making him hang out with Nora, a gifted kid, every day after school.

Just when things seem to be at their worst, Mike discovers magic. Suddenly he finds something he’s good at, and is ready to do what it takes to be the best magician he can be.

I enjoyed this book, and know my fourth graders will too.

 

“Bone Gap” Laura Ruby

Rated 1 star * 2015. Baltzer + Bray (HarperCollins). 345 p.

BoneGapTheir mother abandoned Finn and his big brother Sean when she fell in love and moved out of state after their father’s death. In the two years since she left, Sean gave up his dream of becoming a doctor so he could take care of Finn. Everyone in the town of Bone Gap loves Sean and his quiet ways of doctoring as an EMT, while Finn suffers name-calling and abuse because of being unable to look anyone in the eye. He’s different, and the town doesn’t like someone to be different.

Beautiful Roza left Poland to study in America, never expecting to find herself kidnapped by an insane stranger on her final day of classes. She managed to escape and find a good home with Sean and Finn, but it didn’t take long for the stranger to find her. The only witness to her abduction was Finn but, because he didn’t get a clear view of her abductor, no one believes him. Finn and Sean feel abandoned once again.

Through alternating chapters from Roza, Finn, Sean and others in the small town of Bone Gap, Ruby weaves a tale of love, intrigue, fantasy and magic. Her meandering tale reveals that sometimes what we see with our eyes isn’t really there, while what we don’t see with our eyes is really there – or something like that.

Though this book won the 2016 YALSA Printz Award, I couldn’t get into it. I was confused half the time, as I prefer books to be more realistic than magical. I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.