“Every hidden thing” Kenneth Oppel

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Simon & Schuster. 357 p.

everyhiddenthingWith the Westward Expansion of the 1800’s came land grabbing and Native American battles, along with the discovery of dinosaur bones buried in rock. At that time the study of dinosaurs was relatively new, with fame and bragging rights associated with their unearthing. The intense rivalry by paleontologists Edward Drinker [Drinkwater] Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, to find the biggest and best of these bones and claim them as their own, became known as the “Bone Wars.”

Using these real life occurrences as background for his historical novel, Oppel introduces readers to Professors Bolt and Cartland. After being sent fossils from the largest dinosaur he’d ever seen, Professor Bolt and his son Samuel travel west to find the “Rex,”. Unbeknownst to him Professor Cartland and his daughter Rachel were on the same train, also seeking the Rex.

While engaging in regular conversation as a way to spy for their fathers, Samuel and Rachel fall in love. However, with the competition between their fathers heating up as each gets closer to discovering the Rex’s location, Rachel and Samuel’s love will be tested in ways neither had ever expected.

I really enjoyed learning about these paleontologists, as I had never known fossil hunting happened during the Westward Expansion. Besides the rivalry of two historical paleontologists, Oppel’s carefully researched novel also includes the impact of the expansion on the lives of the Sioux Indians and how some reacted. Though billed as a Romeo and Juliet type novel, “Every hidden thing” is much more. It is history come to life.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Projekt 1065: A novel of World War II” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic. 309 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

projekt1065In 1938 Michael O’Shaunessey moved to Berlin, Germany with his parents when his father was named Irish Ambassador. Over the 6 years of living there he’d seen the Nazi Party became stronger, changing its people for the worse. It is now 1943, and things have gotten bad as Jews and other dissenters are being taken to concentration camps. Michael had never known his parents were spies for the Allies but now, at the age of 13, he found himself working with them.

When a British RAF pilot was shot down over the city, Michael and his parents discovered the Nazis had been secretly building a plane with engines instead of propellers, which could fly faster than any country’s planes and would turn the tide of the war towards Germany.

Accidentally finding the plane’s blueprints accelerated Michael’s spy role within the ranks of the Hitler Youth. As things heat up, it soon becomes evident that Michael and his parents are in grave danger. Michael will have to do all he can to make sure the Nazis don’t succeed in their plan for world domination before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed reading “Projekt 1065.” Its short, cliffhanger, fast paced chapters make it a great choice for reluctant readers, while its storyline is very interesting.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

“To stay alive: Mary Ann Graves and the tragic journey of the Donner party” Skila Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Candlewick Press. 304 p. (Includes a Map of the Donner Party’s route West“Author’s Note,” and a list of individuals in the Donner party.)

tostayaliveIn mid-Spring 1846, nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves left Illinois with her parents and eight brothers and sisters because her father wanted to begin a new life in California. Accompanied by horses, cattle, oxen, and almost everything they owned stuffed into three wagons, the family began their 1900-mile long walk.

As there was safety in numbers, they later joined up with a wagon train led by George Donner. Together they continued heading towards California, certain the trip would only take a few more months. If they had known of the dangers and the cost to their families that lay on the road ahead after they became lost for 32 days, they would all have stayed in Illinois…

Mary’s account of the horrors of their trip, which included death, starvation, freezing cold and mountainous terrain, will transfix readers. One hundred and seventy years later, all that they faced are brought to life in poetic verse.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Ashes” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Seeds of America #3. Published October 4, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Appendix includes Questions and Answers as well as lists of books and websites for more reading.)

ashes“Ashes” continues the stories of escaped slaves Curzon and Isabel. First introduced in “Chains,” more of their lives and the cruelty of slavery was documented in “Forge.”

After escaping from their masters once again, the two have spent years making their way through the wilderness seeking news about Isabel’s sister Ruth who’d been sold away from her by a cruel mistress when she was just a little girl. Their plans of a reunited and peaceful life are interrupted by war and the cruelties of fate. The Patriot’s fight for independence causes Isabel to question how those seeking freedom for themselves could deny it to thousands of their slaves, while Curzon is sure the war will mean freedom for all.

As time passes, Isabel’s former closeness with Curzon dissipates as they remain at odds over the war and its meaning to them as slaves. As they learn to survive in the midst of chaos, they are left wondering and hoping about a future in a world turned upside down.

Anderson has done her research well, bringing readers fully into Isabel and Curzon’s time and place. The plight of escaped slaves, found on both British and Patriot’s sides, black soldiers fighting for General Washington, and other historical events are incorporated into the storyline of “Ashes.” If Laurie should choose to continue Isabel, Curzon and Ruth’s story in another set of books about their life after the war, I would be a very happy reader of them. Laurie can you hear me?

Highly recommended for ages 11 to 15.

 

 

 

“Girl on a plane” Miriam Moss

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Houghton Mifflin. 277 p. (Includes a Postscript and a Q & A with the author).

girlonaplaneAnna’s father works for the Army, and has been stationed all over the world. Since she had to move all the time, schoolwork and making friends became challenging. So, 4 years ago, she began going to boarding school in England. That fateful September day in 1970 started out like any other trip to school. Her parents drove her to the airport, she kissed them and her little brothers goodbye, and boarded the plane thinking about how much she would be missing their stay in Bahrain.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take longer before her plane was hijacked by the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). Seeking public support for their cause, they had been regularly hijacking planes, but Anna never thought her plane would be on their list. “Girl on a plane” is Anna’s story of the four harrowing days spent with the hijackers, without much food or water, not knowing if she and the other passengers would get blown up with the plane in the middle of the desert.

“Girl on a Plane” is a fictional story, based on a real life hijacking experienced by the author when she was 15 years old. During the Postscript and Q & A, readers learn of many similarities between Anna’s story and Miriam’s real life story.

I never knew there were so many hijackings in 1970, which made me very upset that the United States never thought to secure their own planes from hijackers. If they had done so back in 1970, 9/11 would never have happened. Yes these hijackings took place outside of the U.S. while we were busy in Vietnam, but one would think that we would’ve thought about securing our planes. Hindsight is 20/20, but knowing what I now know about these hijackings doesn’t make our inaction any easier to stomach.

Recommended for 14 and older.

“Shame the Stars” Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Rated 5 stars ***** Tu Books (Lee & Low). 2016. 288 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note”, “Book Recommendations”, “Newspaper Clipping Sources,” and a “Glossary.”)

shamethestarsBefore Texas became a territory and then a state, it was part of Mexico. As happened when European immigrants took control of land occupied by its original inhabitants, the Anglo American colonists who settled in Tejas, Mexico in the early 1800’s decided they wanted the land upon which they had settled, and fought to get it from Mexico. Ultimately the land they conquered became the state of Texas. Just as Native Americans had their lands stolen from them, so too did the Mexicans who had originally lived and farmed their own lands in Tejas for generations.

“Shame the Stars” is set in 1915, and tells the story of Tejano families struggling to understand and survive brutalities inflicted upon them by the Texas Rangers (a group of “lawmen” who randomly killed and raped Mexican Americans, imprisoning them without trail, and stealing their land.)

Joaquín Del Toro and Dulceña Villa are teenagers in love during this tumultuous time in the fictitious city of Monteseco. Though suffering from the devastation brought upon them and others by the Rangers, they refuse to keep their heads bowed low in servitude. They, and many others, determine to make a difference for their people and stand for their rights. “Shame the Stars” is their story.

This book is marketed as a “rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet,” but I feel this simplistic overview is a disservice to McCall. “Shame the Stars” is so much more than this, as the author’s rich and powerful narrative opens the eyes of her readers to an atrocious chapter in the history of the United States that had been a secret for many years. It is closer to the history of Segregation and the crimes committed by segregationists than it is to Romeo and Juliet.

The “Refusing to Forget” Project, started in 2013, created an exhibit of this time period called “Life and Death on the Border 1910-1920.” It was on view in Austin, Texas from Jan. 23-April 3, and was a visual complement to the events in the book.

I sincerely hope McCall’s excellently written and researched book will win an award of some type at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in January, as it deserves a place in every high school and public library. McCall is a previous winner of the Pura Belpré award however, since “Shame the Stars” is intended for a much older audience, my fingers are crossed that it will receive a Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from YALSA.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received a copy of this book from Lee & Low in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The alienation of Courtney Hoffman” Brady Stefani

Rated 1 star * ARC. Published June 7, 2016. SparkPress.

TheAlienationOfCourtneyHoffmanCourtney used to love being with her grandfather, listening to his strange stories about aliens visiting Earth, until he tried to drown her when she was just a little girl. Now that she’s 15 years old, she still hasn’t come to grips with the traumatic events of that day.

When her childhood imaginary friend reappears in her mind, and aliens begin to constantly attempt to communicate, Courtney is sure she’s going insane. A new friend convinces her to visit a doctor who understands aliens and who will solve her problems. Before she knows it, Courtney is involved in a race to help the aliens save the world from destroying itself.

Courtney was so immature. I lost count of how many times she pulled her hair in frustration, and I don’t know any 15 year olds who pull their hair. Her friend Agatha was 19 years old and her vocabulary, which consisted of saying the word “dude” in every sentence, was grating and just as bad.

Courtney is 15, has a 19-year-old friend, says bad words, and has a mother who doesn’t listen to anything she says. That means it has to be a YA book. Right? Wrong! The storyline was boring and not believable, the characters were flat and immature, and it could have easily passed for a lower middle grade book. I was looking for an interesting YA book, but this was not that book. A sequel is planned, but I won’t be reading it. I’m sorry I read this one.

I didn’t like it, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.