“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.

“Everything, Everything” Nicola Yoon

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Ebook. Delacorte Books for Young Readers (Random House). Published September 1, 2015.

EverythingEverythingEighteen-year-old Madeline Whittier has spent her whole life inside her house after being diagnosed with S.C.I.D. (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) when she was an infant. Maddy’s father and older brother were killed in an accident when she was just a baby so her life revolves around her mother and Carla, her full time nurse. Having S.C.I.D. means Maddy has never smelled the outside air, felt grass between her toes or experienced anything outside of the four walls of her home. However, since this life is all Maddy has ever known, she fills her mind with stories from books, learns about life through the internet, and plays games with her mom.

Her world’s axis tilts when a family moves in next door. Handsome Olly wearing all black, with movements as graceful as flowing water, soon becomes part of her every waking thought. Maddy has fallen in love for the first time in her life, but what can a girl with S.C.I.D. do with a love filled heart?

“Everything, Everything” is a wonderful look at the pain of S.C.I.D., which gives a new twist to the angst of teenage romance. I loved how Olly not only loved but also understood Maddy.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.


I was confused at the end of the book as to how Maddy was able to figure out Olly was in N.Y.C. One minute she was sitting on Olly’s roof, and the next she had bought a plane ticket to meet him. I figured she must have finally sent him an email, but Yoon let readers draw their own conclusions about how they were able to reconnect. However I would have liked to have read more details about their reunion.

“No longer a Slumdog: Bringing hope to children in crisis” K.P. Yohannan

Rated 3 stars *** 2011. GFA Books. 166 p. (Includes an FAQ section, “Believe it or Not” statistics and “Notes.”)

NoLongerASlumdogDrawing comparisons between the poverty of children seen in the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and their own real life experiences, author Yohannan takes readers through the caste system of India which causes extreme distress to be the lot of the Dalit (Untouchables), members of the lowest rung of India’s social system. His focus in writing this book is to describe the life of the impoverished children from this caste, and to tell how they found help through a relief agency he founded called Gospel for Asia. As these children tell their personal stories of homelessness, poverty, prostitution, discrimination and murder, it is difficult to maintain a dry eye in the face of their pain and sadness.

“No longer a Slumdog” incorporates statistics telling of the number of Dalit children sold into slavery, prostitution or forced to live their lives in the streets, as well as their personal stories, to reach its readers. The 60,000 children they have helped over the past 35 years through giving them food, clothing, schooling and education have been saved from their former street lives, and are no longer slumdogs, yet remain a drop in the bucket compared to the millions more Dalit children which still remain to be rescued from their lives of poverty and discrimination.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Pandemic” Yvonne Ventresca

Rated 4 stars **** 2014. Sky Pony Press. ebook. ARC. To be published May 6, 2014. (Includes Resources and Acknowledgements).

PandemicNo one knows the truth about what happened to Lilianna that day except for her parents, her two best friends, the police and her counselor. With her former life now dead, Lil dresses in black and shuts herself off from anything she used to do in the past. To cope she obsesses over real and imagined disasters, stocking up on food and supplies for a catastrophe she knows will come since her life is all about calamities.

With both her parents out of town for the weekend, tragedy strikes in the form of a deadly flu. Within days, thousands in her town and throughout the country have fallen ill and died. With looters ransacking empty houses, neighbors dying, food supplies running low, and no family to help, Lil’s worse nightmare has come true.

To keep her head above water Lil tries to avoid her fear of contagion, agreeing to spend time with Jay, the handsome new student, and other survivors from her high school to help those less fortunate. Unfortunately the continued death of loved ones, and the reappearance of the person who caused her every nightmare, leaves Lil feeling her life should be about more than surviving the pandemic. However, does she have the strength to face her fears head on?

This interesting take on what could happen should the United States be hit with a modern day version of the Spanish influenza of 1918 will leave readers on the edges of their seats. After reading it, I felt like I should stock up on food, water and medicine. Just in case, of course…

Recommended for ages 14 and older.


“Broken” CJ Lyons

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Sourcebooks Fire. ebook. Includes Q & A with CJ Lyons.

BrokenScarlet is 15 years old and starting her first day of school. High school is bad enough if you’re normal but for a freak with Long QT Syndrome, it’s a nightmare. With Long QT her heart beats too fast, which could cause her to faint and perhaps die, so her mother (the school nurse) isn’t taking any chances. Scarlet has spent her whole life enduring multiple operations and hospital stays and has to come to school with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on wheels. She also has to report to her mother practically every hour so she can get checked out. It’s not a great way to win friends and influence people, but is a small price to pay to be normal for a little while.

Scarlet knows she could die at any moment because of her broken heart and will not live to graduate, so wants to be a normal teenager. Ever since 3rd grade, she’s stayed home and learned from online classes. Her mother has finally agreed to allow her to have a one week trial period to attend a real school, and Scarlet will do anything to make sure she gets a chance to stay.

High school is not what she’d expected. Football players make her life miserable with bullying but, for the first time in her life, she has friends. Jordan, Nessa, Celina and Tony accept and support her through difficulties and challenges. Through a school project, Scarlet is soon brought face to face with a secret that will threaten to destroy her life in a way Long QT could never do.

CJ Lyons has woven together a story of a young girl’s desire to live, despite the odds, while tossing in a mystery/thriller plot, which will leave her readers gasping in disbelief.

Recommended for 9th grade and higher.

“Blind Spot” Laura Ellen

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). To be published October 23, 2012. Harcourt Children’s Books (Houghton Mifflin). 332 pp.

When sixteen-year-old Roz was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration, she felt like everything in her life was turned upside down. She was kicked off the softball team, lost her best friend and couldn’t even read the numbers on her locker without using a magnifying glass. Getting around school and finding people in crowds was difficult. In order to look someone in the eye, she had to focus on the edges of their face because the spots in her eyes got in the way of seeing them directly, leading some to think she was deliberately ignoring them when, in reality, she just couldn’t see them. Life was not looking up for Roz as she desperately tried to show everyone she was normal and didn’t have any problems.

When Jonathan, the handsome star hockey player started paying her attention, Roz ate it up and believed everything he had to say even though she suspected him of being involved with drugs. When she became friendly with Tricia, a recovering addict, she didn’t expect to find that Mr. Dellian, her special needs teacher, seemed to be awfully close with her. She became very suspicious when Tricia disappeared and turned up dead 6 months later.

Roz was sure Mr. Dellian had something to do with Tricia’s death and enlisted Jonathan’s help. Unfortunately, Roz couldn’t remember anything about what happened the night Tricia disappeared, except that they’d argued. Was she missing something important that had happened that night, or could her lack of memory be because she had something to do with Tricia’s death?

“Blind Spot” is not only a good murder mystery, but also does an excellent job educating teen readers 14 and older about Juvenile Macular Degeneration and how it affects eyesight.

“Regine’s Book: A teen girl’s last words” by Regine Stokee

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). First published in 2010 in Norway. Translated into English for this American edition to be published October 23, 2012. Zest Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 323 pp.

Regine was 17 years old when she was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of Leukemia in 2008. Throughout her struggles with chemo treatments, blood transfusions, a bone marrow transplant, debilitating pain, hair loss, numerous hospital stays and more, she managed to keep writing in her blog. Her entries carefully explained her diagnosis, treatment plans, and detailed the difficulties of living with a life threatening disease. Along with her struggles, she also wrote of her triumphs, hopes and dreams, with her entries running the range of emotions. Regine was also an artist, photographer and poetess, and interspersed these artistic offerings into her blog.

Despite her best efforts to live, Regine passed away at the age of 18 in 2009. One of her last wishes was for her blog to be made into a book upon her death, and her wish came true. Her 18 month fight against cancer garnered her media attention in Norway, along with thousands of blog followers, and helped her raise money for other cancer victims and furthered her request for more blood and bone marrow donors. Her blog is reproduced in its entirety, along with unpublished posts, and comments from friends, family members and blog followers.

“Regine’s Book” is a raw, emotional and honest memoir of a young girl who wanted to live, and what it meant to her to be denied this request. Regine was wise beyond her years, and her insightful comments like “It’s a bit of an art to teach yourself to appreciate the little things in life” and “What’s more important: how you look or who you are?” along with her wit, love of music and flair for life will draw in readers ages 14 and up.