“A List of Cages” Robin Roe

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 308 pp. To be published January 10, 2017. Disney-Hyperion.

alistofcagesBoth of Julian’s parents died in a car crash when he was just 9 years old. Back then he used to sing, draw, write and act silly knowing his parents loved him no matter what he did. With them gone he now lives with his strict uncle, and has learned to keep all his emotions tucked away where no one could see them. Uncle Russell doesn’t like it when Julian does things he believes he shouldn’t do.

Adam remembers when Julian used to live in his home as a foster child when he was just a little boy. Now that he’s a senior and Julian is a freshman, they see each other often at school. Adam has always been a happy person, and knows Julian has special needs, but is determined to enfold him into his life and win his trust. What he finds out about Julian will forever change the course of their lives.

Through alternating chapters, Julian and Adam tell their stories of love, loss, heartbreak, faith, fear and hope. Theirs is a story of friendship, caring and strength that will wring tears from the hardest of hearts. Roe expertly shows her readers what goes on in the mind of a special needs child, reminding us that everyone deserves the same chances at life.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Pretty Baby” Mary Kubica

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published July 28, 2015. MIRA.

PrettyBabyHeidi and Chris Wood had a good marriage until cancer and the loss of her future family took away her dreams. She immersed herself in caring for others through charitable work, longing for the closeness she used to have with her only daughter Zoe who was now a teenager and confided only in her best friend Taylor.

Chris and Zoe were used to Heidi’s many lost causes, but were still shocked when she invited Willow, a homeless teenager, and her baby Ruby to live with them. Willow is very secretive about her past, and the Woods don’t press her, but are sure she is hiding something. However they soon find out the biggest secrets may be those you tell yourself.

“Pretty Baby” was definitely a page-turner as Chris, Heidi and Willow told their stories, but I felt the author did an injustice to Zoe. She picked at her food, barely ate, and was always cold, all signs of anorexia. I thought Heidi’s best friend Jennifer might have noticed something and was trying to talk to Heidi about it, but Heidi was in her own world. Zoe was left to drift at the edges of Chris and Heidi’s worlds; while I felt her obvious need to be noticed should have been one of the stories explored in the book.

Despite this observation, I highly recommended this book for Adults.

“Forgetting Tabitha: The story of an orphan train rider” Julie Dewey

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. 2013. JWD Press.

ForgettingTabithaIn 1860 Tabitha Salt was just 10 years old. When her father was killed in an accident, her mother sold their farm in Westchester N.Y. and moved them to Manhattan where she hoped to find work as a laundress.

This section of NYC, known as Five Points, was filled with poor immigrants and homeless orphans roaming the gang-filled streets. When Tabitha’s mother suddenly died, Tabitha found herself out on the street as one of these orphans. With nowhere to turn, she was befriended by the Sisters of Charity who sent her and dozens others on an orphan train to be adopted out West. There she will have to draw on her strong character, courage and perseverance to survive the unknown and make a future for herself. “Forgetting Tabitha” is her story.

Before reading this novel, I knew about the terrible poverty facing NYC immigrants, but didn’t know about the orphan trains. Julie Dewey makes Tabitha’s and the orphan’s stories come alive, making me eager to find out more about them as I read.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Creed” Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published November 8, 2014. Flux.

CreedDee, her boyfriend Luke, and his brother Mike were supposed to be on their way to a concert when they ran out of gas on a cold winter night in the middle of nowhere. With the weather worsening, they were forced to seek shelter in the small, abandoned town of Purity Springs.

Little did they know that Joseph, the only son of Elijah Hawkins a crazed prophet, had made plans to ensnare them in his own plan of escape. For years Joseph and his mother had been trying to run away from the abuse generated by this man who used his version of the Bible to keep everyone in the town free from “evil” and doing his will.

Joseph thought Dee, Luke and Mike could help him, but Elijah had other plans. Since the four of them had tried to go against his decrees they would have to be purified for their sins – even if purification came at the price of their lives.

The cultish behavior of Elijah’s followers, and the horrors which took place in “Creed,” made me thankful it was “just a book.” However it also made me realize anew that there are many people in the world who actually live this type of reality because of their belief in a “leader” who walks hand-in-hand with the devil while spouting biblical quotes and promising them a life of rainbow and sunshine. It is a fearsome thought.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

“Dare you to” Katie McGarry

Rated 5 stars ***** Pushing the limits, book #2. Harlequin Teen. 2013. ebook.

DareYouToBeth has been taking care of her alcoholic mom in Louisville since she was 8 years old. Her father left them, her mother lives with a drug seller and user boyfriend who beats them, but Beth won’t abandon her. Now that she’s 17, she lives in a nearby foster home with her two best friends Isaiah and Noah, but is always ready to get her drunken mom out of the bar when called by the bartender, to buy her food, and to pay the bills as best as she can because her mother needs her.

When Beth is arrested for something her mother did, her Uncle Scott gets guardianship and moves her to the country town of Grafton. Beth is determined to hate Scott, to hate life in the sticks and to hate everyone there. She carries her hate, and fear, like a shield and everyone stays away from her – except for Ryan.

Ryan is the school’s sweetheart. He’s handsome, tall, strong, and a baseball champion. He and his friends are always daring each other to do things, so when he’s dared to ask her out he takes the challenge. Beth leads him on a merry chase, but he’s determined because he never loses at anything. In time, he finds himself falling for her but Beth is as slippery as an eel. Not ever knowing love or peace, she can’t believe someone like Ryan could ever love someone like her and is not about to fall for his “lies.” She thinks he’s perfect, but Ryan is hiding some secrets of his own. Could two teenagers who are both in pain and lost in their own sorrows find happiness with each other?

I loved the way relationships formed in this book, and know teen readers 14 years and older will too. Though it’s labeled as book 2 in a series, I did not find any references to past events leading me to be happy that I hadn’t read book one beforehand.

“Who I’m Not” Ted Staunton

Rated 5 stars ***** (2013. Orca. 186 pp.)

WhoI'mNotAfter spending his early years shuffling between foster homes, 15-year-old Danny is sold to a con artist. He and Harley spend years on the road where he learns to lie, cheat, steal and scam others. Despite not knowing his own name or birthday, life with Harley is better than what he’d endured in the past so he doesn’t complain.

When Harley is killed in the midst of one of their cons, Danny is in danger of being sent back to what he called the Bad Time. At a youth shelter he gets the idea to take on the identity of Danny Dellomondo, a boy who’d disappeared from his home in Canada three years earlier. Despite not even looking like the real Danny, he is accepted by the family. He manages to nervously fit in while finding a bit of romance with another troubled teen named Gillian.

It doesn’t take long before one of the detectives assigned to the Dellomondo case appears to be suspicious. Danny will have to call on all the scammer tricks in his arsenal if he expects to not wind up in the Bad Time once again.

Interestingly Staunton based this book on a real person who pretended to be a missing teen in 1997, detailed in “The Chameleon” by David Grann.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older, especially reluctant readers.


“Dark Companion” Marta Acosta

2012. TorTeen (Tom Doherty Associates). 364 pp. (Includes Teen Reader’s Guide)

DarkCompanionJane Williams comes from the squalid city of Helmsdale, also knowns as Hellsdale. She has no memories of what happened to her before the age of 6, when she was put into foster care. After bouncing around from home to home, she landed in a group home finally gaining her freedom through a full scholarship to a prestigious school at the age of 16.

Birch Grove Academy is like a dream come true. Jane has an allowance, new clothes, friends, and her very own cottage apartment in the midst of a beautiful stand of birch trees. She has feelings for Jack, the headmistress’s son, but falls hard for Lucian, Jack’s brother.

Jane is drawn into Lucian’s unusual lifestyle, soon finding out two other orphans from Helmsdale once attended Birch Grove. One mysteriously died and one disappeared, leaving Jane to wonder if there is a connection between their disappearances and the strange series of events that soon begin to transpire at Birch Grove.

“Dark Companion” did a good job of describing the heartaches of foster care, while being mysterious as readers attempted to solve the puzzle of the two orphan girls from Helmsdale. However, open endings abounded near the end of the book. Instead of blindsiding readers with some of her “solutions” to these open issues, I think Acosta should have added another 30 or so pages to solve them in more reasonable ways. Perhaps she was deliberately being vague so as to have a chance to write “Dark Companion, Part 2.”

I leave it up to readers 9th grade and older to make a decision as to whether they want to read it or not.