“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.

“Holding up the universe” Jennifer Niven

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Alfred A. Knopf. 391 p.

holdinguptheuniverseAfter her mother died when she was 11-years-old, Libby Strout felt so sad and burdened with grief that only food could lessen her pain. Her father used cooking to assuage his own grief, and the combination soon caused her to balloon to 653 pounds.

Jack Masselin spent his life building things from scraps, but nothing could help him build up his own life as everyone, including his own brothers and parents, were strangers.

Libby and Jack meet under unusual circumstances, gradually learning to depend upon each other for mutual support. As high school life threatens to tear them down, the two of them face their worst fears in order to move forward.

Through alternate chapters Libby and Jack tell their stories of feeling different for circumstances out of their control, while learning the importance of unity in the face of diversity.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Girl mans up” M-E Girard

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Harper Collins. 373 p.

girl-mans-up“Girl mans up” is a coming of age story with a twist. Pen, a young teen, has always identified as a boy. Ever since she was a little girl, she dressed as a boy, played with boys, and really thought she was a boy. Her old-fashioned immigrant Portuguese parents assumed she’d outgrow her tomboyish ways, but their disappointment and anger grew as they demanded she show them proper “respeito” (respect.)

Unable to accept the girly mold they want her to fill, and lacking courage to completely forge a manly mold of her own, Pen takes readers on a journey of self-discovery to find a girlfriend and finally “man up” to become the person she was meant to be. Her story helps readers understand the struggles felt by young trans teens beginning to truly self identify. It also shows the importance of having friends and family with whom these teens can feel safe as they navigate through uncharted territory in their quest to have “respeito” for themselves.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“Best friends through eternity” Sylvia McNicoll

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Tundra Books. Hardcover. 182 pp.

BestFriendsThroughEternityPaige is fourteen, adopted by Canadian parents shortly after she was abandoned at an orphanage in China. As a result she feels as if something is missing from her life, coping with her insecurities by shunning affection and anything Chinese.

One snowy Monday the girl’s volleyball team decides to beat her and her best friend Jasmine up in retaliation for something they believe Jasmine did to a teammate. In order to avoid the route where she knows they’ll be waiting, Paige takes a shortcut along the train tracks – even though it means Jasmine will be left alone with them. Oblivious to the world around her due to the loud music on her iPod Paige doesn’t hear the train’s warning horn and is hit, leaving her in an irreversible coma.

From there Paige is given the gift of a week to return to her old life and right the wrong she did to Jasmine, with the caveat being she can’t let anyone know she will die. Paige’s new life takes many twists and turns as she desperately tries to help Jasmine, finding unexpected results from her last, fate filled week.

I was very upset the volleyball team got away with very serious bullying, as some of their antics could have gotten the girls killed yet no adult noticed. On the other hand I was pleased to see Paige’s transformation, as it could encourage some readers to rethink their own lives in a positive manner. I also liked the cover.

Recommended for ages 11-14.

“If I Fall, If I Die” Michael Christie

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. ARC. Published January 20, 2015. Hogarth.

IfIFallIfIDieInside has always been part of Will’s life. His mother Diane is afraid of everything, including Outside. When the fear is strongest she disappears into her own darkness, which he nicknamed the Black Lagoon. Extremely possessive and paranoid, she makes him take every precaution to avoid the same fate which befell her brother and father.

Schooling consists of listening to his mother read books, painting his masterpieces, listening to music and watching videos. Everything they need comes straight from deliverymen, courtesy of Diane’s credit card or checkbook. Life on the Inside has always been satisfying to Will, until the day he decides to investigate a strange Outside noise where he meets Marcus.

Soon Marcus is reported missing. Unable to bear the thought of his very first friend being lost, Will braves the Outside to attend school for the first time to find him. There he meets Jonah, who has been written off by the town because he’s Indian. Their friendship bonds around their mutual love for drawing and skateboarding, and the boys are soon inseparable. However as their search for Marcus intensifies, they realize there is something dark and dangerous happening in their town. Someone is not happy with his investigation and, if Will and Jonah continue to uncover secrets from the past, it may cost them their lives.

“If I Fall, If I Die,” is a rather unusual novel in that the main characters are both children and adults. Through flashbacks readers learn of Diane’s early life and her struggles against mental illness, while most of the book is centered around Will, Jonah and their friendship. It will give reader’s much to think about.

Recommended for High schoolers and Adults.

“Hush” Stacey R. Campbell

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. 2012. Lakeview #1. Green Darner Press.

HushPrincess Olivia Cosimo of Tamura has been sent, in disgrace, to give birth to the child she conceived with a commoner. Whisked away to a family in the United States, she is given the name Blakely Henry.

Seventeen years later, Lord Winslow Byron had the entire royal family of Tamura murdered, believing his family deserved the throne. With no heirs, he is poised to become the next King of Tamura.

As these events unfolded, Max Ryder, a student in Investigative Reporting at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, finds out his aunt used to be Princess Olivia’s nanny. His curiosity leads him to discover the Princess’ long-lost secret. Excited at the thought of getting a good grade for a research project, he goes undercover at Blakely’s Canadian boarding school to find out if she really is the unknown princess and heir to the Tamuran throne.

Max followed clues to discover the identity of Blakely’s birth parents, but did not expect to fall in love with her and to enjoy himself at Lakeview Academy. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy to discover there may be a new Tamuran princess. It is only a matter of time before Blakely’s life is in danger.

Many girls fantasize about being long-lost princesses, rescued by a handsome knight in shining armor. Campbell’s “Hush” modernizes this beloved fantasy of theirs with a few twists of fate.

Recommended for ages 12 and older.