“The bridge home” Padma Venkatraman

Rated 5 stars *****. 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). 187 p. (Includes “Glossary” and “Author’s Note.”)

TheBridgeHomeEleven-year-old Viji and twelve-year-old Rukku’s mom was abused by her husband, but always believed him when he said he was sorry. Viji knew Rukku had special needs, and had always taken care of her older sister but, when her father hit them in a fit of rage, she knew they’d have to run away.

With nowhere to go and only a bit of money, they bus to the city where Rukku becomes attached to a homeless puppy, and they become friends with two homeless boys living on a bridge. There they build their own ramshackle tent, and the boys help her forage for recyclables in stinking trash dumps with other homeless children that they sell for pittances.

Hunger dulls their strength but, as time passes, the four forge strong bonds of friendship. Though they wind up living on a grave under a tree in a cemetery after marauding men destroy their home on the bridge, Viji tries to keep believing in her dream of becoming a teacher. Each day of looking for food in trashcans, and hoping to earn money on the dump, makes her dream seem impossible.

This moving story, based on real children’s first-person accounts, is an eye opener for many who might be unaware of the plight of over 1.8 million children living on the streets of India, working and eating from its many garbage dumps while trying to avoid abuse and slavery.

Recommended for ages 10-14.

“Gap life” John Coy

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published November 22, 2016. Feiwel & Friends.

gaplifeCray’s father expects him to go to the college he went to, become a doctor just like him, and carry on the tradition of having doctors in the family. Cray has just graduated high school and is miserable. He doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, but knows he definitely does NOT want to be a doctor.

When he finally gets the nerve to tell his parents he’s decided to take a “gap year” and will not be going to college in the fall, his father blows his top and insists he get a job to pay rent. His foray into the world of work puts him into contact with Rayne, a beautiful, free thinking fellow graduate who knows exactly what she’s going to do during her gap year.

Cray lands a part-time job at a home for developmentally disabled adults; soon learning that the acceptance he wishes for at home is fully his with the residents. As he works to figure out his future, figuring out how to stand up to his father, the independence Cray seeks finally falls into his lap.

I liked how adults with disabilities were shown in a positive light, but found Cray to be extremely whiny and immature. The more I read, the more I saw him as a spoiled rich boy and was annoyed. The morals of the story were to believe in yourself, make a decision, then get it done. It took WAY too long for him to believe in himself enough to actually make a decision.

Recommended, with reservations, for ages 14 and older.

“The peculiar miracles of Antoinette Martin” Stephanie Knipper

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published August 2, 2016. Algonquin Books. 328 p.

thepeculiarmiraclesofantoinettemartinAntoinette is an autistic child with the ability to heal, but develops seizures when she alleviates someone’s pain. She is desperate to heal her dying mother, but is rebuffed.

Lily yearned for the closeness she once had with her sister growing up on their flower farm, but doesn’t know how to deal with her niece. Whenever she’s around, her battles with OCD seem to be heightened, causing a vicious circle of wanting to be with her sister but not wanting to regress into unhealthy behaviors.

Rose knows she is dying. Her sister Lily abandoned her and refused to help her run the farm when Antoinette was just a toddler, yet she is her only living relative. Afraid of Lily’s rejection, she is even more afraid of leaving Antoinette to grow up alone.

Antoinette, Rose and Lily display both physical and mental impairments as they tell their stories. Their hopes and fears will tug at the emotional heartstrings of readers, reminding them that everyone has a burden to bear, a story to tell, and a heart to be loved.

Recommended for Adults.

“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.



“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.

“What you left behind” Samantha Hayes

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. DCI Lorraine Fisher #2. 2015. Crown (Random House.)

WhatYouLeftBehindDetective Inspector Lorraine Fisher planned to have a nice vacation with her sister Jo and nephew Freddie in her childhood country home. Though surprised to find Freddie moody and uncommunicative, she brushes off Jo’s concern he might be suicidal because their neighbor Simon and 5 others killed themselves 18 months earlier. Jo is certain the recent suicide of Dean, a homeless teen motorcyclist, would lead to more suicides.

When an autistic neighbor shows her a drawing he made of the accident, showing there had been two people on the motorcycle when Dean died, Lorraine’s interest is piqued. Soon Lenny, another homeless teen, commits suicide and Freddie disappears, leaving Lorraine to find out what happened. What she doesn’t know is that someone has been very clever and will stop at nothing, even murder, to keep secrets hidden that will turn the town upside down.

This whodunit kept me biting my nails and sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation as Hayes cleverly dropped clues about various key characters. Just when I was convinced I knew what happened, she threw a very clever curveball that left me scratching my head in disbelief. Hayes is an author who does not disappoint, and I look forward to reading more of her books.

Though this book was the second in a series about Detective Lorraine Fisher, it stands alone as each book has its own storyline.

Highly recommended for Adults.


“Counting to D” Kate Scott

Rated 3 stars *** Published February 11, 2014. ebook. ARC. Elliott Books. (Includes “Resources for Dyslexics.”)

CountingToDSamantha can’t read. Up to this point in her life her two best friends had helped her get through school. Her dyslexia has stayed a hidden secret for years, as her mathematical genius skills and audiographic memory has placed her in all AP courses. She is happy with her life until her mother moves her cross country from San Diego to Oregon.

Sam is terrified her new classmates will find out she is not a genius, but a sham. However, as a sophomore taking senior level courses, she gains points with the local brainiacs giving her an “in” to their “we are better and smarter than everyone else” club aka the Brain Trust. There she meets Nate, who takes her under his wing.

Within a short time, Sam has fit into her new group and gained several new friends but her dyslexia is threatening to make itself known. Desperate to hide who she really is Sam denies part of herself in favor of popularity. It takes strong friendships and a completely different mindset for her to finally come to terms with dyslexia and what it means to her life.

I found “Counting to D” to be very informative, as it explained myths and truths about dyslexia in a clear manner. It also gave a positive spin to mathematics, with clearly broken down algebraic equations, which might give hope to those struggling with math.

Despite these positive points, I thought Sam’s personal story was contrived. Her doubts, troubles and fears about dyslexia felt very realistic but her high school popularity seemed to be unrealistic. In just a few short months she manages to date a senior, become good friends with the school’s basketball star, crack into the elite senior Brain Trust, make lots of new friends, and have other “wow!” moments. Perhaps this could all have been accomplished in 4 years of high school but, in my opinion, seemed a bit much for just a few short months of life in a brand new high school. Thus I’ll leave it up to you, when you read it, to decide if her social life felt contrived or not.

NOTE: I’m pretty sure “Counting to D” will be in the running for a 2014 Schneider Family Book Award, given out at the annual ALA Youth Media Awards, because of its great emphasis and explanations about dyslexia. I wish Kate Scott and her publishers the very best of luck.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Pinned” Sharon G. Flake

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). To be published October 1, 2012. Scholastic Press (Scholastic). 228 pp.

Told in alternating voices, “Pinned” tells the love/hate relationship of 9th graders Autumn and Adonis. Autumn is the only female wrestler on her 9th grade team. She loves wrestling, but hates everything else about school because she’s reading on a 6th grade level and is failing math. Wrestling makes her feel powerful and strong, instead of dumb, but her parents tell her if her grades don’t improve she will not be allowed on the team. Autumn doesn’t know what she’ll do if she doesn’t have wrestling. She loves cooking with her best friend Peaches, and planning for their future restaurant, but wrestling is her life.

Adonis was born without legs, and is the smartest student in school. Autumn is in love with him, and is not shy about letting him know this at every possible moment. Adonis does everything he can to avoid Autumn because he thinks she’s too impulsive, talks too much and isn’t smart. He admits she’s good at wrestling, but feels she could do more to improve her grades and believes she is just being lazy.

Autumn and Adonis are complete opposites, but circumstances keep pushing them together. They draw strength, and learn from one another, in surprising ways.

Recommended for ages 11-14.