“The weight of Zero” Karen Fortunati

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Delacorte Press. 375 p. (Includes “Author’s Note,” and a list of Sources.)

theweightofzeroCatherine, a seventeen-year-old high school junior used to be a dancer, used to have two best friends, and used to have a normal life. Everything changed her freshman year when her grandmother died and she was diagnosed as bipolar. Now life revolves around therapy, counseling, medication and loneliness.

After unsuccessfully trying to commit suicide during an especially bad case of depression, Catherine is sure she can never live a normal life. Depression, which she calls “zero,” will always suck her dry so she has decided it would be best to have an escape plan. Her plan consists of stockpiling pills to use when Zero rears its ugly head.

Catherine thinks being bipolar means she can never drive, go to college, have a boyfriend or live the life she was meant to live. As she prepares for Zero and her pills, she begins to live in ways she’d never thought possible. Should she dare to dream of life beyond Zero, or will Zero continue to erase every one of her hopes and dreams?

Fortunati offers hope to teens suffering from bipolar depression. I hope Catherine’s story  will be a beacon to lead them to safer waters.

Recommended for 14 and older.

“Every falling star: The true story of how I survived and escaped North Korea” Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Abrams. 316 p. (Includes Glossary as well as a list of Places and proper names.)

everyfallingstarSungju 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.

“Maya’s blanket/La manta de Maya” Monica Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Illustrated by David Diaz. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). Includes a Glossary and Author’s note.

MayasBlanketYoung Maya loves the beautiful blanket Abuelita stitched for her when she was a baby. When the blanket gets old, she and Abuelita make it into a lovely dress. As the years pass by readers see Maya growing up as the blanket changes into many different items, which have their own significance to Maya. What always stays the same is that each newly created item always has the stamp of love placed upon it by Abuelita and Maya.

David Diaz’s bold, colorful, jewel tone, full page illustrations complement Monica Brown’s bilingual picture book about a young girl’s love for her grandmother and her gift. “With her own two hands and Abuelita’s help” is a refrain repeated during each transformation of the blanket, clearly showing their special relationship. As they read, young children will enjoy reciting it and talking about how they can recycle their own special gifts.

Recommended for ages 6-10.

“A dictionary of mutual understanding” Jackie Copleton

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published December 1, 2015. Penguin Books.

ADictionaryOfMutualUnderstandingAmaterasu Takahashi has had a tough life, and has spent 40 years in the United States trying to forget about the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki that killed everyone she held dear, including her daughter and grandson. With her husband now dead, and everyone she loved gone, Amaterasu drinks herself into oblivion hoping to forget the pain of her memories. Her life is turned upside down when a very burned, heavily scarred man knocks on her door, insisting he’s her long-lost grandson Hideo, forcing her to relive the memories she’s been trying desperately to forget.

Amaterasu’s story is told through flashbacks, as multiple voices painstakingly remove layers to reveal the truth about herself she’s buried for 40 years. Each chapter begins with a definition of a Japanese word, followed by either a present day interaction between Amaterasu and Hideo or a flashback. These flashbacks from different characters sometimes got me confused but I learned much about August 9, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped, as well as a little of Japan’s history and traditions.

Though a bit confusing due to the constant back-and-forth narratives, “A dictionary of mutual understanding” is a good cross-cultural, historical look at Japan and the people of Nagasaki. Amaterasu’s character is very believable, and the reasons she had to act the way she did will generate much empathy from readers.

Recommended for Adults.

“The book of Laney” Myfanwy Collins

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Ebook. Published May 17, 2015. Lacewing Books. (Includes Reference materials.)

TheBookOfLaneyWest and his best friend Mark hated high school, and planned revenge for all the times jocks ignored or made fun of them. After spending time researching terrorists, both homegrown and abroad, they were ready to make their mark on the world. Using knives, machetes and homemade bombs, they worked their way through a school bus filled with high school kids, and forever changed Laney’s world.

With West and her mother now dead, joining the father she’d never known, fifteen-year-old Laney is sent to live with her grandmother, Meme, in the woods of upstate New York in a place upon which civilization has not dared to encroach. Meme is not an exceptionally friendly woman, but she and Laney soon come to an understanding. It is with her help that Laney learns to put herself in the shoes of those who have gone before and to rely on nature for her needs. She also learns to quiet her own mind and regain the glimmer of a path for her life, which West had taken in his quest for revenge.

“The book of Laney” gave great insight into the minds of terrorists like West and Mark, as the author used real diary entries from homegrown terrorists to help readers understand why people would behave in such an horrific way. The life which Laney now found herself living, and how she saw herself after the murders, were all realistic topics.

However, I felt the book lost its attempt at being believable when Laney’s paranormal visions become its highlight. It would have been better if the author had found a realistic way to help Laney find a way to cope with her issues without having to resort to make believe. Struggling teens who may have looked to this book for insight into their own situations will not find solace through the paranormal.

I would have given the book a higher rating if the author had stayed true to the book’s premise of a young girl learning to cope with life after facing death one too many times, instead of letting it deteriorate into these visions. In addition the cover is very “blah,” and would have been lovely if it had looked like the beautiful Adirondack woods into which Laney poured so much of her heart and soul.

Because of having a major issue with this hugely unrealistic topic in the midst of realistic ones I can’t recommend this book, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“We never asked for wings” Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. Published August 18, 2015.

WeNeverAskedForWingsLetty Espinosa never learned to be a mother to her fifteen-year-old son Alex and six-year-old daughter Luna. Ever since she got pregnant at the young age of 18, she left them with her mother so she could get drunk and go out on the town. When her parents decided to move back to Mexico, Letty is desperate.

Certain her children will come to harm if she’s in charge, Letty realizes she will have to grow up and learn how to be a mother before it’s too late. However getting mixed up with undocumented immigrants, and Alex’s first love crisis, will strain her resolve and make her realize she is not alone in the struggles of motherhood and life.

“We never asked for wings” is a heartfelt look at the struggles of a single mother as well as those of undocumented immigrants. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.

Highly recommended for Adult readers and mature teens.

“House of Echoes” Brendan Duffy

Rated 5 stars ***** Ebook. ARC. Ballantine Books (Random House). Published April 14, 2015.

HouseOfEchoesBen Tierney and his wife Caroline live with their baby boy and eight-year-old son Charlie in a Manhattan apartment. When Ben’s grandmother dies, he and his brother inherit a sprawling mansion called the Crofts built between two mountains in the small upstate New York town of Swannhaven. Charlie has endured severe bullying at his school, so Ben is sure he and his family should start a new life at the Crofts. In a short time, the Tierney’s move to Swannhaven to renovate and turn the mansion into an inn has become a reality.

As time goes on creepy things begin to happen at the Crofts, and Ben finds himself facing questions that don’t seem to have any answers. Why does Charlie keep disappearing into the forest? Why do the villagers look at them so strangely? Why does it feel like someone is watching his family? What is really going on at Swannhaven? These questions and more will keep readers at the edges of their seats.

“House of Echoes” has many similarities to the 1973 novel “Harvest Home,” by Thomas Tryon. It is such a creepy and shocking read, I suggest you read during the day. If you must read at night, make sure you have plenty of lights on in the house! Duffy doles out the creepiness in enough doses to keep readers turning pages, eagerly trying to find out what will happen next to the Tierney family.

Recommended for Adult readers.

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