Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Candlewick. 352 p.
Otis 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.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Abrams. 316 p. (Includes Glossary as well as a list of Places and proper names.)
Sungju 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.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Harper Collins. 373 p.
“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.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 20, 2016. Harper. 234 p.
Shane 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.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 329 p.
Brock Ripley is first to back away from conflicts, on the soccer field or off. He hates being gutless, but doesn’t know how to be brave. When he agrees to catch passes for Hunter Gates, the school’s star quarterback, his life becomes even more confusing as he tries to learn football and avoid getting hit on the field, hold off Hunter’s jealous former wide receiver, hide his father’s worsening sickness from his friends, and keep his friendship with Richie Fang.
Though Richie is a star soccer player, wins all types of competitions, is academically gifted, and a great jokester, his talents don’t include ways to stop riling Hunter. The angrier Hunter gets towards Richie, the more Brock retreats into his shell of avoidance. It is only a matter of time before Brock will have to learn how to get himself off the fence and onto the field of life before it’s too late.
This action packed book about football, bullying, true friendship, and learning to stand up for yourself is bound to pique the interest of readers – especially reluctant readers.
Recommended for ages 11-18.
Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Viking.
Robert was born July 21, 1972 with a giant tumor covering his face, underdeveloped legs, and missing toes. His mother refused to accept him, while his father left the decision of whether or not to keep him up to her. It wasn’t until many weeks later, when his four brothers and sisters were allowed to take part in the decision, that he was finally taken home.
Using simple explanations, Robert’s many operations and “aha!” moments are documented from elementary to high school. Despite being vague on the details of why he was born this way, and what happened after age 14, he clearly documents how he worked hard to live an ordinary life despite his physical limitations. He is an inspiration to those facing similar struggles.
Recommended for ages 9-14.
Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. St. Martin’s Griffin. 305 pp.
Luke Grayson hates the little town of Ashland, Tennessee where he had been sent to live by his mother after a series of unfortunate events at his Washington, D.C. private school. His dad is a Baptist preacher who he hasn’t seen in years, and neither he nor his stepmom are happy to have Luke living with them.
All Luke wants to do is make it through the final months of his senior year and get out of town but, from his first day there, he is targeted by Grant Parker, star football player, son of the richest man in town, and the biggest bully in school. Everyone has learned to steer clear of Grant, but Luke follows the beat of a different drummer. Tired of his forced status at the bottom of the social ladder, Luke turns an unfortunate event with Grant into an opportunity to rise to the top. With his newfound power Luke can be anything he wants to be, so why is he having so much trouble learning to fit into his new role? Isn’t this what he’d always wanted?
The age-old question of “when is a lie really a lie?” is brought to life through humor and teen angst as Luke tells his story. Male readers will find much in common with Luke’s quandaries, questions and continued series of unfortunate events.
Recommended for ages 14 and older.