“Spirit run: A 6,000-mile marathon through North America’s stolen land” by Noé Álvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Catapult. To be published March 3, 2020. 213 p.

Spirit runMigrants, and the hard labor of low paying jobs in fruit factories, abound in the lush apple country of Selah Washington, near the author’s childhood home of Yakima. Noé is a smart student, and wants to make life different for his family. He has dreams of going to college and earning enough money to free his mother from her monotonous, back breaking job at the apple factory. He wants to make a difference.

When his dreams get tangled up in the stress of reality, Noé  likes to run. He dreams of the day he can escape Yakima yet, when he gets a full scholarship, dreams turn to nightmares. He believes his insecurities that say he’s not good enough and, soon, can’t keep up with the workload. When he finds out about a run from Alaska to Argentina for Indigenous Indians Noé decides to drop out of college to participate. In the process he discovers the good and bad of human nature. His journey of self discovery, as well as his foray into understanding his parents, is chronicled in this book.

The problems he encountered, as well as the agonies of running an ultra marathon, are interspersed with reflections of his place in the world. The open ending, the seeming lack of a concrete plan for his life, along with continued disappointment that he’s working class made the book a bit of a disappointment. There will always be those of us who will never get to live a life of leisure without having to work, and I hope Noé can come to peace with that reality.

Despite my misgivings I will recommend this book to Adult readers as there are lessons to be learned, and experiences to be hashed through, which would make for good discussions in book groups.

“Shout” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** Viking (Penguin Random House). 2019. 291 p. (Includes Resources on Sexual Violence and Mental Health for readers.)

ShoutIn free verse, Laurie Halse Anderson tells her story of constantly having to move due to her father’s job, of being poor, of having to attend many different schools, and of being raped by someone she considered a friend at the young age of 13. After her assault Anderson details the many coping mechanisms she used to try to cover the raging anger she now felt, including getting high, cutting classes, and getting drunk. It was only after spending 13 months in Denmark as an exchange student, during her senior year of high school, that Laurie finally began to feel some of the scar tissue within begin to heal.

Anderson’s journey towards healing, and how those healing steps helped her become a writer, are interspersed with outrage towards those who foist themselves on boys and girls, friends, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, cousins and anyone who didn’t say “yes” to those advances. She offers strong encouragement and strength towards those who suffer in silence from the pain of sexual assault or rape.

Laurie doesn’t pull punches as she shouts out her outrage, calling out the Principal who cancelled the rest of her appearances at his school, after the first of three sessions “because those things [sex, rape, bodies touching, consent, and violence] don’t ever happen in his school” (p. 187). Censorship of “inappropriate books” also met the steely beam of her eyes, reminding us (and censors) “Censorship is the child of fear, the father of ignorance, and the desperate weapon of fascists everywhere.” (p. 191.)

In short, “Shout” loudly, lovingly and firmly gives victims of sexual assault the strength to stand firm, to speak their pain, and to rise up from the ashes knowing they’re not alone. The #MeToo movement gave voice to that which had had been hiding in the shadows for too long. However, with her memoir, Anderson takes that movement and puts it on an amplifier, giving knowledge and courage to her readers, infusing them with power and strength so they can also #MeToo and shout out their pain as they heal.

“Shout” is raw and truthful; a description of what happens when a slice of life is stolen from unwilling victims. Anderson’s pain from being a victim of sexual assault is your pain. Her fight to rise above her pain is your fight. Her courage to keep going forward is your courage. Her voice to educate others is your voice. Her healing is your healing. Her shout of victory is your shout.

I am going to predict “Shout” will win the 2019 YALSA Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature at the upcoming American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, along with many other awards. When it wins, remember you read it first on my blog. I will be at that conference, and plan to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY at the ALA Youth Media Awards for Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Shout.”

Highly recommended for teens ages 14 and older, as well as Adults.




“First & then” by Emma Mills

Rated 4 stars **** Henry Holt and Company. 2015. 267 p.

First & thenDevon and Cas have been best friends for years and, though she’s secretly in love with him, she keeps that part under wraps. Frustrated at her inability to feel any interest in everything that comes with college plans, she takes it out on Foster, her 14-year-old nerdy cousin, who has just moved in with them.

The worst part about school for Devon is having to take gym with a bunch of freshmen – including Foster. She and Ezra Lynley, the football team’s newest star, are the only seniors in the class but seem to rub each other the wrong way. It seems as if every conversation ends in disaster. When Ezra discovers Foster can kick a football extremely far, he becomes his mentor and helps Foster join the varsity team.

As Foster becomes cool with his fellow freshmen, Devon struggles with her feelings towards Cas, Lindsay and Ezra. Though he annoys her, she likes his protectiveness towards Foster. In time, Devon realizes she needs to look outside of the box she’s placed around herself in order to discover a real life instead of the make-believe one she’s fashioned for herself.

I empathized with Devon in her complicated feelings towards both Lindsay and Cas, and was glad she got her act together in regards to both Ezra and Foster, as they deserved more chances than life had given them. It was a good book and a quick read, though I’m a bit confused as to what the title is supposed to mean.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.


“Trees make perfect pets” by Paul Czajak; pictures by Cathy Gendron

Trees make perfect pets

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published March 2020.

On Abigail’s birthday she announced that she wanted a pet. Agreeably her family came up with different types of pets for her to get, but Abigail wanted a tree. Despite their arguments that trees can’t be pets, she reminds them that trees help us breathe and insists on getting a dogwood tree.

Abigail carts the tree around the neighborhood, listening to others talk about its unsuitability as a pet. Despite the naysayers Abigail loves her tree, and is reluctant to give it an outdoor home until it grows too big. Once its planted all sorts of animals make it their friend, prompting Abigail to say, “A tree is everyone’s best friend!”

Full-page colorful illustrations describe Abigail’s quest to make the tree her pet, and remind readers of why trees are important to everyone.

Recommended for ages 5 to 10.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

“Allies” by Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published Oct. 15, 2019. Scholastic Press. 307 p. (Includes “Author’s Note” with a section titled “A note on Operational names.”)

AlliesAlan Gratz has come out with another riveting book. This time he tackles the complexities of the events of D-Day from different points of view. Through movies like “Saving Private Ryan,” audiences were taken to the horrific landing of American soldiers on Omaha Beach in Normandy. Gratz talks about that landing in detail, but also goes into details about what was happening behind the scenes on that eventful day.

Many cogs had to be put into place for the wheels of the Normandy landings to accurately churn. The Maquis of the French Resistance had to keep German troops and tanks from reinforcing Normandy, which involved lots of sabotage. Thousands of Paratroopers from Allied countries were dropped into Normandy before the landings to capture areas behind the German front and support the Allied flanks.

Gratz educates readers about Black soldiers who fought bravely for their country, despite the segregationist policies of the United States Armed Forces. He also includes the story of thousands of immigrants, many of whom weren’t U.S. citizens, who also fought bravely. Alan Gratz reminds us that it takes many people working together in many different ways to achieve a goal.

The Maquis, paratroopers, an immigrant, a Black medic and more characters fill the pages of “Allies,” a story of survival, courage, hope, despair, and triumph. It’s a World War II story that will resonate forever with its readers; long after the last page has been turned.

Highly recommended for ages 12-18.

“The hunt for the Mad Wolf’s daughter” by Diane Magras

5 stars ***** 2019. Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin Random House LLC). 275 p. (Includes Glossary and Author’s Note).

TheHuntForTheMadWolf'sDaughter“The hunt for the Mad Wolf’s daughter” is a companion to “The Mad Wolf’s daughter.” When last we saw Drest she was on the run with Emerick and her family, chased by his evil uncle who wants him dead. Her adventures begin anew in the village where she, Emerick, her friend Tig, and her family have sought shelter. Drest narrowly escapes capture by a knight who wants the 30 pounds placed upon her “wolf’s head,” which she later learns means that anyone who sees her has permission to kill her for the reward.

With Emerick unable to travel for 5 days due to his wounds, Drest is appointed to watch over him with Tig while her family evades capture until he’s healed. Instead they are forced to flee when the villagers learn of her wolf’s head status. Once again they are adrift in the woods, planning ways for Emerick to avenge himself on his uncle, and regain his title as Lord of the castle.

On their way to doing that Drest rules the show, battling foes for Emerick and managing to escape capture at every turn. Through it all the love she, Emerick, Tig and her family have for each other is foremost as they save each other’s lives. Together they return to the castle in triumph, where he knights her in front of the castle men, her family and villagers from afar – knowing this unusual knighthood will raise eyebrows and cause discontent among his men.

I was so sad when this book ended, as I couldn’t put it down and wanted Drest’s adventures to continue. I hope the author sees this review because I want her to start writing a book 3 for Drest that will tell more about Merewen, allowing them to finally acknowledge each other as mother and daughter. I also hope book 3 will include marriage between Drest and Emerick. Though she’s just 12 years old and he’s just 16, perhaps book 3 can take place a few years in the future so it won’t be cradle robbing for them to marry.

If you haven’t yet read “The Mad Wolf’s daughter,” make sure to read it first so you’ll understand more about the characters and why Drest and Emerick are on the run. Then when you read book 2 you’ll be just as excited as I am for Drest’s adventures to continue. You won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it.

Highly recommended for ages 9 to 14.

“The Mad Wolf’s daughter” by Diane Magras

5 stars ***** 2018. Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin Young Readers Group). 280 p. (Includes Glossary and Author’s Note.)

TheMadWolf'sDaughterA ship filled with knights ready for battle surprises twelve-year-old Drest and her family while they’re sleeping. Her father (nicknamed the Mad Wolf and leader of their war band) and five brothers are kidnapped. Drest is determined to rescue them from their castle prison but, before leaving, rescues Emerick (a badly wounded 16-year-old knight beaten and left for dead by another knight) planning to trade him at the castle for her family’s lives. She and Emerick don’t hit it off but, as they travel through the brutal Scottish countryside, they slowly begin to trust each other.

Though she later finds out Emerick is really Lord of the castle, and ordered the attack on her family, Drest refuses to abandon him. Together they make it there, only to have Drest imprisoned by his knights. She manages to escape, rescue her family and foil another attempt on Emerick’s life.  Now they’re all on the run, pursued by Emerick’s uncle who wants him dead so he can become Lord of the castle.

Magras’ debut novel combines historical fiction, adventure, suspense and cliffhanger endings. Words native to this medieval time in Scotland fill the character’s dialogue as well as humor. I love it! One section I found especially amusing was on page 44 when Emerick argued with Drest that he’d be rescued. In answer she looked at the ocean and said, “I don’t see anyone. Wait, there’s a duck. I think it’s coming to save you.” 

Highly recommended for ages 9 to 14.