“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.

“Rainbow weaver: Tejedora del arcoíris” Linda Elovitz Marshall; illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Rated 5 stars ***** Children’s Book Press. 2016. (Includes “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” and “Author’s Note.”)

rainbowweaverThis bilingual picture book tells the story of Ixchel, who lives in the mountains above Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. She comes from a long line of Mayan weavers, and wants to weave with her mother to help pay for her schooling. Ixchel is too young to weave, and her mother can’t afford thread for her attempts, so she decides to create her own loom and thread from various materials. Her early results are disappointing but she persists and, through recycling colorful plastic bags littering her village, winds up with an item of beauty.

Scans and photos of actual Mayan weavings are used in Chavarri’s drawings. These works, incorporated into her full-page colorful drawings, beautifully illustrate Ixchel’s story and show how Mayan designs resemble rainbows.

Though Ixchel is fiction, a group of weavers in Guatemala create purses, baskets and more from plastic bags and threads, which they sell through cooperatives in the United States and other countries. In the 1980’s an organization called “Mayan Hands” was formed to help these weavers sell their products. Proceeds from the sale of “Rainbow weaver” will not only help weavers, but also help pay for medical care and for their children to go to school.

Recommended for ages 5-10.

“The Possibility of Somewhere” Julia Day

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. St. Martin’s Press. 308 pp.

thepossibilityofsomewhereEden has had to work three days a week to help her father and stepmom make ends meet after her dad was laid off, while still managing to keep a 4.0 average in school. Despite her stellar school record, her classmates keep her at a distance because she lives in a trailer. Knowing they see her as trailer trash, Eden created a prickly armor of self-defense focusing all her energies on getting nominated for a prestigious scholarship that could offer her a full ride to college.

As if trying to get good grades and working didn’t carry enough stress Eden finds out that Ash Gupta, an Indian student and fellow overachiever, is also seeking the same scholarship. Resenting his interference, knowing he has rich parents, Eden sets herself against him to do battle but soon finds herself drawn towards him in a way that surprises everyone. Within a short time their racial differences threaten to tear them and their racially divided town apart.

I really enjoyed this book, and saw it as a modern day “Romeo and Juliet.” My heart ached for Eden and her dead end life, knowing she is representative of thousands who find themselves in the same circumstances. Their story of romance is told in a poignant and eye opening manner, which should cause teens to question their own thinking towards interracial relationships.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

 

“Best friends through eternity” Sylvia McNicoll

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Tundra Books. Hardcover. 182 pp.

BestFriendsThroughEternityPaige is fourteen, adopted by Canadian parents shortly after she was abandoned at an orphanage in China. As a result she feels as if something is missing from her life, coping with her insecurities by shunning affection and anything Chinese.

One snowy Monday the girl’s volleyball team decides to beat her and her best friend Jasmine up in retaliation for something they believe Jasmine did to a teammate. In order to avoid the route where she knows they’ll be waiting, Paige takes a shortcut along the train tracks – even though it means Jasmine will be left alone with them. Oblivious to the world around her due to the loud music on her iPod Paige doesn’t hear the train’s warning horn and is hit, leaving her in an irreversible coma.

From there Paige is given the gift of a week to return to her old life and right the wrong she did to Jasmine, with the caveat being she can’t let anyone know she will die. Paige’s new life takes many twists and turns as she desperately tries to help Jasmine, finding unexpected results from her last, fate filled week.

I was very upset the volleyball team got away with very serious bullying, as some of their antics could have gotten the girls killed yet no adult noticed. On the other hand I was pleased to see Paige’s transformation, as it could encourage some readers to rethink their own lives in a positive manner. I also liked the cover.

Recommended for ages 11-14.

“The Witches: Salem 1692” Stacy Schiff

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 27, 2015. Little, Brown & Company. (Includes “Cast of Characters,” “Notes,” “Selected Bibliography,” and an “Index.”)

TheWitchesSalem1692The Salem witch trials are looked at through their historical time and place with the lives of the accused and accusers, as well as that of ministers and judges, held to a magnifying glass. Readers are taken through the years before the trials began to set the stage for why they occurred, and are led beyond 1692 to the present time to show the influence they had on America’s overall history. Schiff’s extensive research is carefully documented in the Notes section, as well as through footnotes, while her Cast of Characters helps readers better understand the almost 100 people who played key roles in this tragedy.

“The Witches: Salem 1692” is heavy, historical reading. The real Puritans, not the Thanksgiving Day Pilgrims of our history books, will appall readers. Prepare to be enlightened, shocked and saddened as Schiff carefully peels away layers of history and lays bare the souls of those who played a part in sending 19 innocent people to their deaths.

Highly recommended for Adults.

 

“If I Fall, If I Die” Michael Christie

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. ARC. Published January 20, 2015. Hogarth.

IfIFallIfIDieInside has always been part of Will’s life. His mother Diane is afraid of everything, including Outside. When the fear is strongest she disappears into her own darkness, which he nicknamed the Black Lagoon. Extremely possessive and paranoid, she makes him take every precaution to avoid the same fate which befell her brother and father.

Schooling consists of listening to his mother read books, painting his masterpieces, listening to music and watching videos. Everything they need comes straight from deliverymen, courtesy of Diane’s credit card or checkbook. Life on the Inside has always been satisfying to Will, until the day he decides to investigate a strange Outside noise where he meets Marcus.

Soon Marcus is reported missing. Unable to bear the thought of his very first friend being lost, Will braves the Outside to attend school for the first time to find him. There he meets Jonah, who has been written off by the town because he’s Indian. Their friendship bonds around their mutual love for drawing and skateboarding, and the boys are soon inseparable. However as their search for Marcus intensifies, they realize there is something dark and dangerous happening in their town. Someone is not happy with his investigation and, if Will and Jonah continue to uncover secrets from the past, it may cost them their lives.

“If I Fall, If I Die,” is a rather unusual novel in that the main characters are both children and adults. Through flashbacks readers learn of Diane’s early life and her struggles against mental illness, while most of the book is centered around Will, Jonah and their friendship. It will give reader’s much to think about.

Recommended for High schoolers and Adults.

“No longer a Slumdog: Bringing hope to children in crisis” K.P. Yohannan

Rated 3 stars *** 2011. GFA Books. 166 p. (Includes an FAQ section, “Believe it or Not” statistics and “Notes.”)

NoLongerASlumdogDrawing comparisons between the poverty of children seen in the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and their own real life experiences, author Yohannan takes readers through the caste system of India which causes extreme distress to be the lot of the Dalit (Untouchables), members of the lowest rung of India’s social system. His focus in writing this book is to describe the life of the impoverished children from this caste, and to tell how they found help through a relief agency he founded called Gospel for Asia. As these children tell their personal stories of homelessness, poverty, prostitution, discrimination and murder, it is difficult to maintain a dry eye in the face of their pain and sadness.

“No longer a Slumdog” incorporates statistics telling of the number of Dalit children sold into slavery, prostitution or forced to live their lives in the streets, as well as their personal stories, to reach its readers. The 60,000 children they have helped over the past 35 years through giving them food, clothing, schooling and education have been saved from their former street lives, and are no longer slumdogs, yet remain a drop in the bucket compared to the millions more Dalit children which still remain to be rescued from their lives of poverty and discrimination.

Recommended for Adult readers.