“Ball don’t lie” Matt de la Peña

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Ember (Random House). 280 pp.

BallDon'tLiePeople say a skinny white dude can’t ball, but Sticky don’t pay them no mind. He don’t talk much, but lets his mad balling skills do the talking. Once he steps onto the scuffed boards of Lincoln Rec with his boys and a ball, the world disappears. Balling takes him to a place where no one else can go.

Though shuffled from foster home to foster home all his life, and afflicted with a severe case of OCD, seventeen-year-old Sticky has one thing going for him – he can ball. He’s spent years perfecting his shots and, despite setbacks in his personal life, basketball has always been there for him. Sticky’s dreams of playing college ball and making it into the NBA are threatened on the day he makes the worst decision of his life.

“Ball don’t lie” is raw. It’s honest. It’s gritty. It’s a Broadway play waiting to be cast. It’s waiting for you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older, especially reluctant readers.

“Burn baby burn” Meg Medina

Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Candlewick Press. 300 p. Includes “Author’s note.”

BurnBabyBurnDuring the summer of 1977 New York City experienced worsening poverty and crime, a massive blackout in all 5 boroughs, a stifling heat wave, and unrelenting fear brought on by the Son of Sam murders. Against this tumultuous background, Medina places the story of seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez.

Her father lives comfortably with his new wife and son in a well-furnished apartment in the City, forgetting about Nora, her mother, and younger brother Hector in their rundown Queens neighborhood where Hector has become a thief and drug addict. Often violent towards his sister and mother, neither wants to admit he’s out of control. On top of everything else her mother lost her job, putting them in danger of eviction. Nora suffers through the lack of food and money, as well as Hector’s abuse and crimes, in silence. Desperate to turn eighteen so she could leave it all behind, she turns a blind eye to everything. However will running away solve her problems or make them worse?

I had a hard time getting through this book, as the plot seemed to drag. I also kept getting annoyed at the poor decisions Nora and her mom continued to make regarding Hector. The book had many historical references to the period. Though some were interesting, it seemed to have too many. In general, “Burn baby burn” failed to ignite a bigger spark of interest in me.

I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Black Dove White Raven” Elizabeth Wein

Rated 2 stars ** Hyperion. 2015. 345 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BlackDoveWhiteRavenEmilia and Teo grew up on the road with their stunt pilot mothers in the early 1920’s. Frustrated at the lack of job equality for women, and especially upset with the laws against blacks, Teo’s mother Delia dreamed of freedom in Ethiopia. When she was killed in a freak accident, Emilia’s mother decides to raise Teo as her own and leaves for Ethiopia to fulfill her best friend’s wishes for him to have a better life. For a number of years they all enjoyed their time in Ethiopia until Mussolini’s army invaded in 1935. “Black Dove, White Raven” is Teo and Emilia’s, as well as Ethiopia’s story, during that timeframe.

I had a hard time making it through this book, as I found it to be too slow moving and it really didn’t capture my interest. Writing about Ethiopia was important to Wein, but the enormous amount of material put into the 345 pages was a bit much for me. However I will leave it up to those of you ages 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not.

“The way back from broken” Amber J. Keyser

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner). 207 p.

TheWayBackFromBrokenFifteen-year-old Rakmen’s baby sister died in his arms from an undiagnosed heart murmur. Awash with grief, his parents blame him and each other. His mother begins attending therapy sessions at Promise House, a place that promises to help grief filled; broken parents recover from the loss of their children.

As the broken brother of a lost sister, Rakmen is forced to attend the children’s sessions where he meets nine (or ten) year-old Jacey. Her baby brother was stillborn, throwing her mother (Rakmen’s teacher, Mrs. Tatlas) into a dangerously fragile mindset, and causing Jacey to wonder why she’d been robbed of the opportunity to become a big sister.

For some unknown reason, and to his eternal displeasure, Jacey becomes very attached to Rakmen. Mrs. Tatlas suggests they travel together to her uncle’s cabin in Canada for some R & R so, without any pushback from his parents, the three of them head to the wilderness. When an accident happens, it is up to Rakmen and Jacey to learn to work together to save all their lives.

I couldn’t really get into this book. I found it strange that Rakmen’s parents would let him go off for the entire summer with a perfect stranger, even though she was his teacher. Also, Jacey was supposed to be nine or ten, yet she acted more like six or seven. There were a few other issues, including grammatical errors scattered throughout so, overall, it wasn’t a win for me.

I’ll leave it up to you 14 and older readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

“What she knew” Gilly Macmillan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. HarperCollins. 467 p. (Also includes a Bibliography, Reading Group Discussion Questions, and an Author Q & A.)

WhatSheKnewRachel had never gotten over her husband leaving her for another woman and their subsequent divorce. Their son had been seven years old at the time, and she tried to focus her energies on him but there were days when it was too hard to function. Sweet, gentle Ben knew how to tell when Mummy was having a hard day, and they had bonded over little things that made them their own family.

Now that he was a little older Rachel felt it important to teach him a little more independence so, when he asked to run ahead on one of their daily walks in the woods, she allowed him to do so. Within a few minutes he was out of sight and, by the time she arrived at their meeting place, he was gone.

After a half hour of hysterically searching, she called the police. Her life became a living nightmare as they pulled out all the stops in their investigation to figure out what happened to eight-year-old Ben, while the public reached their own conclusions about her incompetency as a mother on social media, television and in newspapers. Though vilified, misunderstood, abused and harassed, Rachel stood firm on one thing. She would not rest until Ben was back in her arms, and would do whatever it took to find him.

The story of a young child’s kidnapping is told through the alternating voices of his grieving mother, as well as the main detective on the case and his psychologist. Readers will find themselves riveted, alternately rooting for Rachel who is experiencing every parent’s nightmare while wondering what happened to Ben. The answer is a shocker.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Bang” Barry Lyga

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published April 18, 2017. Little Brown. 295 p.

BangFourteen-year-old Sebastian has never forgotten that, when he was four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four-month-old baby sister. Everyone knows he’s a murderer, and have judged him for it. His best friend’s parents look at him funny, people whisper behind his back, and his father walked out because of what he did. He and his mother can’t seem to talk about it, and part of him is glad they don’t.

Despite what his therapist has said, Sebastian knows it was entirely his fault, but has plans to make it right. When he’s gone his mother can be normal again, and everyone will be happy. He’s been planning this for awhile so, with his best friend away for the summer, the time is ripe – until he meets Aneesa.

Aneesa is a distraction, helping him become a YouTube cook, and allowing him to think of something other than his guilt. However, despite everything, Sebastian knows it’s only a matter of time before he answers the voice that’s always there to remind him he doesn’t deserve to be happy. He knows the voice speaks the truth.

Sebastian’s struggles, along with those of Aneesa, are heart rending and real. Both experience things no one should have to struggle through but which, unfortunately, occur and need to be discussed. This is Lyga at his most brilliant.

At the recent American Library Association (ALA) conference, I refused to pick up any ARC’s (Advance Reading Copies) because I had too many to plow through from past conferences. However the cover and summary caught my eye, and “Bang” became my only ARC from that conference. I’m so glad I picked it up because I could not put this book down. Neither will you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Four-four-two” Dean Hughes

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Atheneum Books. 268 p. (Includes “Preface,” “Author’s Note,” and period photographs.)

FourFourTwoYuki and his best friend Shig were busy being teenagers when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Though American citizens, both suddenly found themselves considered enemies of their own country. Along with thousands of other Japanese American citizens, Yuki and Shig lost their homes and everything they owned when they and their families were forcefully relocated to an internment camp in the middle of a desert.

Eager to gain back the respect they felt they’d lost in the eyes of their fellow citizens, Yuki and Shig joined the army where they were assigned to the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Yuki’s story of love, loss, friendship, and brotherhood will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Hughes’ descriptions of the many battles fought by this extremely brave unit, along with the prejudice faced by these soldiers both in and out of the army, will prove to be eye opening to many readers.

Highly recommended for all high school and public libraries.