“Step up to the plate” Maria Singh

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Tu Books. (Lee & Low). 276 p.

StepUpToThePlateIt was 1945 and, with World War II going on, all nine-year-old Maria wanted to do was play baseball. Her aunt built planes and women were starting to play professional ball so, when her teacher started an all-girls team at her school, Maria was thrilled. Unfortunately her Mexican mother and Indian father had old-fashioned ideas about what girls could do, so she knew it would be hard to convince them to let her play.

As she learns about teamwork and baseball, Maria also starts to learn about prejudice and racism when her little brother is beat up for being different and a German classmate lashes out at her. When she finds out her father can’t become a U.S. citizen or own the land he’d worked for years, through the confidence earned from playing the game she loved, Maria learns to speak up and make a difference in her world.

This book is an important introduction to the inequalities and discrimination faced by specific immigrant groups, many of which still go on today. Readers are also given insight into the world of adha-adha “half and half,” (Mexican-Hindu families) which also serves to educate. It should be in every elementary and middle school library, and would make for excellent discussions as part of a book club.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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“To stay alive: Mary Ann Graves and the tragic journey of the Donner party” Skila Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Candlewick Press. 304 p. (Includes a Map of the Donner Party’s route West“Author’s Note,” and a list of individuals in the Donner party.)

tostayaliveIn mid-Spring 1846, nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves left Illinois with her parents and eight brothers and sisters because her father wanted to begin a new life in California. Accompanied by horses, cattle, oxen, and almost everything they owned stuffed into three wagons, the family began their 1900-mile long walk.

As there was safety in numbers, they later joined up with a wagon train led by George Donner. Together they continued heading towards California, certain the trip would only take a few more months. If they had known of the dangers and the cost to their families that lay on the road ahead after they became lost for 32 days, they would all have stayed in Illinois…

Mary’s account of the horrors of their trip, which included death, starvation, freezing cold and mountainous terrain, will transfix readers. One hundred and seventy years later, all that they faced are brought to life in poetic verse.

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.

 

“Eight hundred grapes” Laura Dave

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published June 2, 2015. Simon & Schuster.

EightHundredGrapesA few days before her wedding Georgia sees Ben, her fiancé, with his ex-girlfriend and a little girl. Unable to deal with what she was seeing, she decides to run back home to her family in Sonoma. There, amongst the grapes in her father’s vineyard, she is certain to find the respite and peace she seeks.

Instead, once home, she realizes everyone seems to be hiding a secret life of his or her own. As her life gets even more tangled and complicated Georgia will have to figure out how to deal with Ben, her parents, and her brothers as well as her own issues. With the clock ticking towards her wedding day decisions will have to be made that may not turn out the way she, and everyone else, thinks they should.

While reading this book I learned more than I expected about the wine making process and the life of grapes, which give wine its life. In addition the word “synchronization” and it’s definition, used to explain the many plot twists in the book, is the heart behind the story, the grape behind the wine, and the wind behind Georgia’s sails.

Readers will find themselves wondering about their own life’s synchronicity, finding it’s sometimes best to not overanalyze the details, but to seek to understand. “Eight hundred grapes” insists readers scrape below the surface of what things appear to be, so as to see more than what they thought they were seeing.

Recommended for Adults.

“The one that got away” Simon Wood

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Published March 1, 2015. Thomas & Mercer.

TheOneThatGotAwayWhen Zoe awoke that fateful night, she didn’t have any recollection as to what could have happened. In her last memory she and her friend Hollie were traveling through Vegas having fun, but she had no clue as to how they had now wound up captives in a strange place. Managing to free herself she saw Hollie being tortured, but chose to abandon her and run for her life.

In the 15 months since the attack, Zoe’s life has drastically changed. Unable to forgive herself for leaving Hollie behind, and choosing her own life over Hollie’s, she decided to punish herself. She dropped out of graduate school, separated herself from family and friends, and blamed herself everyday for Hollie’s disappearance. However her lonely existence is shattered when she learns of the murder of a young woman, which closely matches what happened to her and her friend Hollie.

Zoe decides to work with the police to find the killer, but she doesn’t know that the killer knows exactly where she lives and wants to finish the work he’d begun fifteen months earlier. Zoe is in his crosshairs as she’s the only one that ever got away from him, and he won’t make the same mistake twice.

As Wood leads readers on a desperate chase to discover the killer’s identity before he can find Zoe, the action-packed chapters had me completely engrossed. With each move on the killer’s part bringing him ever closer to Zoe, I couldn’t help but read faster to find out what would happen next to her. “The one that got away” will make readers take a closer look at their surroundings because we now know there are killers amongst us.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Whistling Women” Kelly Romo

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. To be published November 17, 2015. Lake Union Publishing.

WhistlingWomenNet galley provided me with this book, in return for an honest review.

It is 1935, and Addie Bates has lived in the sanctuary of a nudist colony since 1918. Afraid of her past life in San Diego, she has made a comfortable home for herself amongst other like-minded people. However when their colony travels to San Diego to be part of the World’s Fair, Addie is terrified. She has tried for years to reconcile with her sister Wavey, and knows if she goes with the colony she will have to come face-to-face with the reason why she was suddenly sent away when she was only 14 years old. Heinrich, the colony’s founder, will throw her out if she stays behind so, filled with dread, Addie travels to San Diego where her worst fears are realized.

This is Addie’s story, but it’s also that of Wavey and her daughters Rumor and Mary as their lives are intertwined. I’m not quite sure why the author chose the title “Whistling Women” to describe them, but perhaps she may comment here and enlighten me. There are lots of interesting facts putting the book in its time and place, as well as fun facts about the Fair and Zoro Gardens, which will interest readers.

Recommended for Adults.

**Shortly after my review, the author answered my question about why she chose the title “Whistling Women.” Here is her response: “Hello Alma, Thank you for your review. I titled my novel, Whistling Women, based on an old proverb: “A whistling woman and a crowing hen always come to some bad end.” In the past, independent women who didn’t conform to society’s expectations had a hard life with very few choices.”

“Pretty Girl-13” Liz Coley

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins). 350 pp. (Includes “Afterword” and “Author’s Note.”)

PrettyGirl-13Angie Chapman came home from her girl scout camping trip and was shocked to find out she’d been gone for 3 years. She can’t understand why she doesn’t remember this timeframe, and won’t believe her parents when they insist she is 16 years old. Gradually Angie finds out she has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, and has blocked out her life for the past 3 years.

With the help of a therapist Angie struggles to piece together what happened over these lost years, but facing reality becomes more and more difficult. All she wants to do is to forget what happened in that little cabin out in the woods, but her inner selves won’t allow it. As memories from her personalities begin to be revealed, Angie’s fears and secrets threaten to overwhelm her. It will take great strength, determination and courage to keep her head above water, as well as love and acceptance from friends and family. As Angie discovers why these people came to live inside her head, she gradually realizes they each had a role to play in shaping her life and that without them, she wouldn’t be alive.

“Pretty Girl -13” takes an unflinching, dark, raw, honest, eye-opening look at the effects of DID on the person who is experiencing these multiple personalities as well as its effects on their loved ones. Coley has painstakingly done her research into this disorder, and “Pretty Girl -13” is the magnificent result.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)