“Ball don’t lie” Matt de la Peña

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Ember (Random House). 280 pp.

BallDon'tLiePeople say a skinny white dude can’t ball, but Sticky don’t pay them no mind. He don’t talk much, but lets his mad balling skills do the talking. Once he steps onto the scuffed boards of Lincoln Rec with his boys and a ball, the world disappears. Balling takes him to a place where no one else can go.

Though shuffled from foster home to foster home all his life, and afflicted with a severe case of OCD, seventeen-year-old Sticky has one thing going for him – he can ball. He’s spent years perfecting his shots and, despite setbacks in his personal life, basketball has always been there for him. Sticky’s dreams of playing college ball and making it into the NBA are threatened on the day he makes the worst decision of his life.

“Ball don’t lie” is raw. It’s honest. It’s gritty. It’s a Broadway play waiting to be cast. It’s waiting for you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older, especially reluctant readers.

“Summer of Sloan” Erin L. Schneider

Rated 3 stars *** 2016. Hyperion. 291 p.

SummerOfSloanEver since they were younger, Sloan and her twin brother Penn travelled to Hawaii to spend the summer with their mother and her husband. The summer before her senior year, Sloan found out her best friend Mick slept with her boyfriend Tyler. Sloan refuses to respond to any of their apologetic texts, emails and phone calls, and escapes to Hawaii to forget about their betrayal.

Sloan soon falls for Finn, the extremely handsome brother of her young swimming pupil. When he’s around, she forgets everything – including her own individuality. As she and Finn begin to draw closer together, her feelings for Tyler and the situation with Mick threaten to undermine her new relationship. Realizing she is the only one who holds the key to her happiness, Sloan will have to make decisions that will forever change her mindset and her life.

Schneider’s in depth look at teenage pain, friendship and heartache will hit a cord with her young readers.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Burn baby burn” Meg Medina

Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Candlewick Press. 300 p. Includes “Author’s note.”

BurnBabyBurnDuring the summer of 1977 New York City experienced worsening poverty and crime, a massive blackout in all 5 boroughs, a stifling heat wave, and unrelenting fear brought on by the Son of Sam murders. Against this tumultuous background, Medina places the story of seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez.

Her father lives comfortably with his new wife and son in a well-furnished apartment in the City, forgetting about Nora, her mother, and younger brother Hector in their rundown Queens neighborhood where Hector has become a thief and drug addict. Often violent towards his sister and mother, neither wants to admit he’s out of control. On top of everything else her mother lost her job, putting them in danger of eviction. Nora suffers through the lack of food and money, as well as Hector’s abuse and crimes, in silence. Desperate to turn eighteen so she could leave it all behind, she turns a blind eye to everything. However will running away solve her problems or make them worse?

I had a hard time getting through this book, as the plot seemed to drag. I also kept getting annoyed at the poor decisions Nora and her mom continued to make regarding Hector. The book had many historical references to the period. Though some were interesting, it seemed to have too many. In general, “Burn baby burn” failed to ignite a bigger spark of interest in me.

I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.

Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.

Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.

“Four-four-two” Dean Hughes

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Atheneum Books. 268 p. (Includes “Preface,” “Author’s Note,” and period photographs.)

FourFourTwoYuki and his best friend Shig were busy being teenagers when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Though American citizens, both suddenly found themselves considered enemies of their own country. Along with thousands of other Japanese American citizens, Yuki and Shig lost their homes and everything they owned when they and their families were forcefully relocated to an internment camp in the middle of a desert.

Eager to gain back the respect they felt they’d lost in the eyes of their fellow citizens, Yuki and Shig joined the army where they were assigned to the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Yuki’s story of love, loss, friendship, and brotherhood will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Hughes’ descriptions of the many battles fought by this extremely brave unit, along with the prejudice faced by these soldiers both in and out of the army, will prove to be eye opening to many readers.

Highly recommended for all high school and public libraries.

“The door that led to where” Sally Gardner

 Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Delacorte Press. 277 p.

thedoorthatledtowhereA.J. has grown up with a missing father and an angry mother. With no future in England’s post secondary education due to failing exams, he takes on work as a clerk at a local law firm. There he discovers a strange key with his name on it and, through a series of circumstances, finds it belongs to a door that takes him into the past.

London of 1830 gets much getting used to, with A.J. soon involved in a series of mysterious deaths – including that of his own father. Discovering his father was also a time traveler leads to more mysteries that set the course for A.J.’s past, present and future.

I enjoyed seeing 1830’s London brought to detailed life, and also liked the title. It’s word play for a door that goes “where” rather than “nowhere” is quite clever.

I was not fond of the open ending which usually leads to a series, as I am not fond of books in a series. I also think the author should have had a glossary. Slang British words were used throughout the book, and a glossary would have been very helpful.

I also thought A.J. and his friends were more like 16 going on 26, instead of “normal” 16 year olds. All of these issues, combined with spoiler complaints listed below, is why  I gave “The door that led to where” 3 instead of 4 stars.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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Mrs. Meacock was the picture of health, ready to institutionalize Esme. Yet, two days later, she was rendered practically unrecognizable, just a few short steps from death. I find it hard to believe she had become crazy so quickly after being relatively sane for so many years.

I also thought the author should have unveiled the professor’s identity in a little more detail. I know he was a time traveler, but he knew a lot about A.J.’s history. Why did he know so much?

“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.