“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.

“The door that led to where” Sally Gardner

 Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Delacorte Press. 277 p.

thedoorthatledtowhereA.J. has grown up with a missing father and an angry mother. With no future in England’s post secondary education due to failing exams, he takes on work as a clerk at a local law firm. There he discovers a strange key with his name on it and, through a series of circumstances, finds it belongs to a door that takes him into the past.

London of 1830 gets much getting used to, with A.J. soon involved in a series of mysterious deaths – including that of his own father. Discovering his father was also a time traveler leads to more mysteries that set the course for A.J.’s past, present and future.

I enjoyed seeing 1830’s London brought to detailed life, and also liked the title. It’s word play for a door that goes “where” rather than “nowhere” is quite clever.

I was not fond of the open ending which usually leads to a series, as I am not fond of books in a series. I also think the author should have had a glossary. Slang British words were used throughout the book, and a glossary would have been very helpful.

I also thought A.J. and his friends were more like 16 going on 26, instead of “normal” 16 year olds. All of these issues, combined with spoiler complaints listed below, is why  I gave “The door that led to where” 3 instead of 4 stars.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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Mrs. Meacock was the picture of health, ready to institutionalize Esme. Yet, two days later, she was rendered practically unrecognizable, just a few short steps from death. I find it hard to believe she had become crazy so quickly after being relatively sane for so many years.

I also thought the author should have unveiled the professor’s identity in a little more detail. I know he was a time traveler, but he knew a lot about A.J.’s history. Why did he know so much?

“Die for you” Amy Fellner Dominy

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Delacorte Press (Random House). 292 p. (Includes “Author’s Note” and “Resources.”)

dieforyouAfter Emma’s mother leaves her father for another man, Emma moves across town to be with her dad and help pick up the pieces of his life. Starting her senior year at a new school is rough, but meeting Dillon helped erase the darkness of hating her mom and seeing her dad’s pain. With Dillon she is able to love and be loved.

Emma and Dillon are so happy. They’ve promised to always be there for each other, to take care of each other, and to be together forever. However, it doesn’t take long before Emma finds that “forever” is more than just a word to Dillon. He always follows through on his promises. Always.

Dominy’s fast paced novel about what happens when relationships turn bad is sure to be an eye opener for many readers. The Author’s Note and Resources sections hold information that could unlock the cages of many relationships, making “Die for you” a book that needs to be on the shelves of every high school and public library.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“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.