“Scowler” Daniel Kraus

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Delacorte Press (Random House). 288 pp.

ScowlerIt is 1981 and, through flashbacks, nineteen-year old Ry Burke tells the story of his twisted home life. His father Walter was a mean and abusive man, not allowing Ry to play with toys and beating him if the farm wasn’t run the way he liked. He regularly beat his wife, and the horror he inflicted on her when Ry was ten years old was something he’d never forgotten. That was the day his mom gathered her courage and tried to escape with Ry and his little sister Sarah, but Walter came home early.

Ry tried to hit Walter with a bat, but his father smashed it into Ry’s forehead then chased him through the wintry woods for hours – intent on killing him. Ry survived the hours in the forest, along with the pain in his forehead and broken leg, by depending on three toys he’d managed to hide in his pockets. Mr. Furrington, a turquoise teddy bear; Jesus Christ, an eight-inch bendy toy from Sunday School; and Scowler, an ugly four inch toy made up of a cone-shaped head, sharp teeth and a metal skeleton. Each of these toys imparts wisdom to help Ry survive, but Scowler gave Ry the strength to attack his father. Ry didn’t want to finish the job, leaving Scowler very angry.

Ten years have passed since that awful night, and the family has survived despite the farm falling into disrepair. Sarah knows a meteorite is going to fall that day, but what she doesn’t know is one has already fallen allowing Walter to escape from prison. When he arrives wanting revenge a meteorite falls on the farm and, what follows, is an uncanny look into the past and present when a fresh evil is released into the world. As Ry’s tortured mind melds into the various personalities that helped him survive the cold winter of 1971, this time, Scowler will not be denied.

Through flashbacks “Scowler” tells the long-term affects of emotional and physical abuse, taking readers on a white knuckled ride and leaving them hoping that the good guy will finally be able to overcome the bad guy.

Recommended for readers aged 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).

“The Sin-Eater’s Confession” Ilsa J. Bick

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner Publishing Group). 287 pp.

TheSinEater'sConfessionStationed with his Marines unit in Afghanistan, Ben plans to volunteer to infiltrate a Taliban-filled unit in the morning. Knowing that those who volunteer for these assignments usually don’t survive, he has decided to unburden his soul from a deep, dark secret he’s carried for 3 years.

Ben spends all night penning a “To All Whom This Might Concern” letter in which he recounts what happened in his Wisconsin hometown three years ago the summer he was seventeen. Up to that point he’d been living a robot-like life going to school, taking classes at the university, getting high grades and working two jobs trying to please his mother by getting into the college of her dreams. When Del, a classmate, was killed in an accident Ben volunteered to mentor his younger brother Jimmy.

Through a series of events, Jimmy was murdered. Ben was a witness to the events of that fateful night, yet couldn’t be sure of what he’d seen. Through fear he stayed silent but through his letters he questions himself, his actions, and everyone who played a part in Jimmy’s murder. As he struggles to figure out why Jimmy was killed and who did it, he rails against rumors, his cowardice, his inability to make decisions, his parents and life in general.

“The Sin-Eater’s Confession” is full of questions, innuendoes, and half-truths leaving readers scratching their heads while feeling strong empathy towards Ben and Jimmy.

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).

“Steering toward Normal” Rebecca Petruck

Rated 3 stars *** To be published May 13, 2014. ARC. Amulet Books.

SteeringTowardNormalDiggy was left on his father’s doorstep when he was born, then his mom left town on a tractor. Over the years, he has managed to hide the hurt of being abandoned (and many tractor jokes) while establishing a great relationship with his dad who everyone calls Pops. Diggy and Pops prank each other with tricks and jokes in preparation for their yearly April Fool’s Day assaults, and enjoy their time together.

As a member of 4-H he takes pride in training steers and competing with them at various county fairs, pretending his sudden interest in steers and 4-H had nothing to do with the beautiful (but older) July Johnston. Now that July has moved on to a greater leadership role in the organization, Diggy has been picked as her successor to win the purple ribbon and the $12,000 prize at the upcoming Minnesota State Fair with his steer, Joker, and he will do everything in his power to make her proud.

Everything is going great for Diggy until Wayne Graf gets dumped in his driveway by his drunken dad. Fourteen-year-old Wayne’s mom has just died so his father dumped him because he is angry that Pops is his real dad. Diggy is incensed to learn he has a half brother but soon gets even more upset when Wayne decides he wants to also compete against Diggy in the upcoming fair with a steer of his own. On top of that he insists Diggy should find his real mother who dumped him 13 years ago, starts looking up information about her without Diggy’s permission, starts hogging up Diggy’s personal time with Pops, and horns in on Diggy’s time with July.

With all of these issues piling up Diggy and Wayne quickly become enemies, trying to outdo the other and win the State Fair with their steers. What follows are hilarious pranks, fights, arguments and general mayhem as they set about learning what it really means to be brothers and what it means to be a family.

“Steering toward Normal” is a good read for boys, especially boys interested in learning about country life, how to train steers, and learning more about 4-H.

Recommended for ages 11-14.

 

“Prairie Evers” Ellen Airgood

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published May 2012. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Group Inc.) 215 pp.

Prairie has always been a free child, growing up with her beloved Grammy and parents in the North Carolina mountains while being homeschooled. When her parents relocate to a farm in New Paltz, N.Y., Grammy returns to North Carolina and 10-year-old Prairie enters school for the first time. Life in 5th grade is very hard, especially for someone who’s never been to school before but, when she becomes best friends with Ivy, things become bearable.

Prairie loves sharing the raising of her chickens and farm life with Ivy, and can’t understand her sadness. When she realizes Ivy comes from a bad home life, Prairie is determined to change things to help her become happy once more.

“Prairie Evers” is a story about change and growth in a young girl’s life, and will be enjoyed by students aged 9-12.