“The weight of feathers” Anna-Marie McLemore

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Thomas Dunne (St. Martin’s Press). 308 p.

TheWeightOfFeathersDark magic and superstition rule the world of the Palomas and Corbeaus, reminding readers of the long-standing Montague-Capulet and Hatfield-McCoy feuds. In McLemore’s fantastical version the Palomas and Corbeaus planted seeds of anger and mistrust amongst themselves 20 years ago, which grew into the current tangled web of superstition and hatred.

The Palomas have always travelled the countryside entertaining audiences with their life-like mermaid shows, while the Corbeaus did the same as fearless, feathered birds in trees. Born into this world of distrust, Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau learned to carry on the mantle of animosity that has long defined their families. In alternate chapters they tell their stories of anger, suspicion, loneliness and love.

I wasn’t a fan of this book as I found the action to be slow moving, which made me take longer than usual to read since I wasn’t “feeling it.” In addition many French and Spanish phrases and words scattered throughout should have been translated in a Glossary. Some were easily figured out using the context, but the meaning of many remained hidden as I didn’t have time to look them up while trying to read.

Thus, I will leave it up to readers 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

 

“Suspect” Kristin Wolden Nitz

Rated 3 stars ***** 2010. Peachtree. 199 p.

SuspectWhat could have happened to her mother, and why did she leave? That’s the conversation seventeen-year-old Jen had been having with herself ever since her mom disappeared fourteen years ago. For a few years she received untraceable letters and gifts but, when that stopped, she managed to put her mother into a locked section of her brain.

Now working as a helper for the summer at her grandmother’s bed and breakfast, Jen finds herself immersed in her grandmother’s annual mystery weekend. This year the mystery revolves around the idea that someone killed her mother, which is shocking to Jen. Was her mom murdered or did she choose to leave? Before the weekend is over, Jen will have an answer that will forever change her life.

There were good clues in this whodunit mystery, but I had a hard time getting into the storyline and the various relationships. It felt more middle schoolish than high school.

Despite this I’ll recommend it for ages 12-16, leaving it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“Because of the sun” Jenny Torres Sanchez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published January 3, 2017. Delacorte Press. 261 p. (Includes “Author Note.”)

BecauseOfTheSunDani grew up with Ruby, a mother who hated and blamed her for everything that went wrong in her life. She was a mom with an itchy foot, constantly moving from place to place, always with a different man on her arm. She wore skimpy clothes and drank a lot, and Dani hated her. She hated herself for hating her until the day Ruby was mauled to death by a bear and Dani was left alone with her mixed up thoughts.

Sent from Florida to live in New Mexico with an aunt she’d never known, Dani falls into the abyss of despair. She is alone, except for her dark thoughts and the bear that killed her mother, who seems to follow her everywhere. Dani must face her own hopelessness and learn to feel the anguish of others, because only through their pain can she live.

I found this book to be dark and full of symbolism, with some fantastical elements as seen through Dani’s Don Quixote-type imagination. As she constantly wanders in the sun and thinks contemplative thoughts about the bear, I felt that this book would be perfect to dissect in an English class. A high school English teacher would ecstatically tear it apart for her students.

Even though it was a little too complex for me, I will recommend it for ages 16 and older.

“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.