Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Candlewick Press. 300 p. Includes “Author’s note.”
During 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 The book had many historical references to the period.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.
Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Waterfall Press. 324 p.
Set in 1901 New York, “Journey’s end” is the story of Caroline St. James, a young woman who grew up poor and hungry on the streets of London. After her mother died, Caroline gambled to get the money to come to America where she planned to confront her wealthy grandfather to find out why he allowed her mother to die in poverty. Her plan takes on a different twist when she meets Jackson Montgomery, a very handsome man who also seems to be hiding something from his past.
I was annoyed at the number of ways the author found to call Jackson “masculine,” as well as the constant references to him as “the man.” The way Caroline responded to him, one would have thought that men existed just so all women could feel happy and secure. I also felt the constant references to sundry Bible verses didn’t belong in the storyline because, from the beginning, Caroline admitted to not having any interest in God. All of a sudden she becomes religious, seeking wisdom from above for every move. It doesn’t feel believable.
The book ended abruptly without revealing why Lucian had left town unexpectedly, why Sally left her past employer, and why Elizabeth and Lucian seemed to be interested in each other. Is a sequel planned? I hope not, because I won’t be reading it.
I wasn’t a fan, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Amulet Books. 354 p.
Seventeen-year-old Amelia and her older brother Toby have always been more like best friends than brother and sister. They love watching all kinds of movies, and their movie quotes drive everyone crazy. Toby comes up with fun, silly ideas of things to do, is the life of the party, and always has an entourage of friends.
She and Toby have always been there for each other so, when he starts cutting school, smoking pot, staying in his room, and acting strangely, Amelia covers for him. She starts to put her own life on hold for him, getting mad at her boyfriend and best friend for suggesting something might be wrong with him. When Toby is diagnosed with schizophrenia, Amelia has to learn how to deal with his diagnosis and to live her life without her brother by her side.
It took some time before I could really get into this book. I started it, put it down for a few months, and then decided to try again one more time. The constant movie quotes, titles of movies I’d never heard of, and constant references to movies at inopportune times were very off putting. It wasn’t until Toby was diagnosed and Amelia decided to stop living her life like a movie that the book became bearable. Only then was I finally able to read without the constant distraction of movie titles and quotes. I also didn’t think the author needed to be so explicit when describing Amelia and her boyfriend’s sexual antics. I thought it was an unnecessary distraction, and the book could have stood alone without their relationship.
I wasn’t a fan of this book, and the only reason I gave it two stars instead of one was because I thought it important for readers to learn about how mental illness affects teenagers.
Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Wendy Lamb Books. (Random House.) 264 p.
Naeem was 5 years old when his mother died and his father moved from Bangladesh to New York. He waited for his father to send for him, but it took another 6 years before he found himself on a plane to Queens, New York. There, he was reunited with his father and met his new little brother and stepmother.
He loved New York, spending years hanging out and roaming the streets instead of helping his parents in their little store. It’s now his senior year of high school and he expects to go to college, but is told he can’t graduate due to low grades. His future is staring at him bleakly until he gets arrested.
To avoid jail time he agreed to work undercover with cops, as they were sure terrorist attacks were being planned. They felt he could blend in and pick up information at mosques. Naeem thought by working with them he could prove Muslims were regular law-abiding citizens but, the deeper he got into play acting, the more he realized he enjoyed learning about his culture.
As time passed Naeem became more and more anxious. Who was he? Was he a traitor to his people, or was he helping them be seen in a better light? Would his work make the world a better place for his little brother, and for his parents, or would he incriminate innocent people?
“Watched” takes readers into the life of a Muslim family and into Muslim neighborhoods, describing an insider’s view of what it feels like to always be watched and judged by others. It will cause readers to think about their own prejudices and, perhaps, make them think twice before passing judgment on others.
Recommended for ages 16 and older.
Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published November 2016. Soho Teen. 312 p.
Seventeen-year-old Che and his 10-year-old sister Rosa have lived all over the world. They’ve lived in Australia the longest, but now his parents are moving them to New York City. At first Che is upset because he’s leaving close friends behind, but soon finds himself at an excellent boxing gym with the most beautiful girl in the world, and is starting to form new friendships. The biggest fly in the ointment of his life is Rosa.
Rosa is not a normal 10-year-old. Her inability to show empathy, or feelings of any kind, as well as her ability to convince people to do her will, has always troubled Che. He is sure she’s a psychopath but no one, including his oblivious parents, believes him. Che loves Rosa, but is tired of years spent covering up her behavior and trying to reason with her. For her part, Rosa feels perfectly entitled to act the way she does, and is confident in her ability to get her way – even when it means that life can never be normal for Che or her family.
I found myself very frustrated with Rosa’s behavior and Che’s inability to get the help she needed. As she became more and more intense, I became more and more upset with the situation, which is why I could only give it 2 stars. I will inject a spoiler alert below to explain my rating but, for those who dislike spoilers, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
********SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT********
Besides the fact that I disliked the way Rosa got away with everything and that no one believed Che, I also HATED the ending. I hated that Che is trapped for the rest of his life, that Sally has checked out of their lives, and that David and Rosa got away with everything.
Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. St. Martin’s Press (Macmillan.) 275 pp. (Includes Author’s Note.)
Terror and helplessness followed the events of 9/11, felt throughout the United States and, especially, in New York City. “The Memory of Things,” released for the 15th anniversary of that tragic day, tells the story of 16-year-old Kyle and the mysterious girl he found cowering on the Brooklyn Bridge as he and others fled the horror of downtown Manhattan. In alternate voices the teens recount their stories and memories, gradually turning their terror, pain and sorrow into a sense of hopefulness and determination while falling in love.
I lived through those days as a teacher in N.Y.C., and managed to spend the past 15 years avoiding graphically descriptive yearly television documentaries or photographs of the time. It took several years before I could listen, or look at, a low flying plane without my eyes filling with tears. Even now, 15 years later, it’s still painful.
Knowing 9/11 hit me stronger than others, I was a bit leery about reviewing a book about 9/11. However, since it was a young adult book, I was hopeful it wouldn’t be too graphic. Polisner covered the feelings of loss and bewilderment that filled the days after this terror attack, while also infusing a sense of hope that radiated through Kyle’s generous nature. As she described New Yorkers’ reactions towards the events that shook us to the core, along with Kyle’s sense of duty and protectiveness towards a complete stranger, readers will get the sense that there will always be a shoulder to lean on when it’s needed to help us through the roughest of storms.
Recommended for ages 14 and older.
Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Kensington. 340 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note,” “Q & A with Kristina McMorris,” and “A reading group guide.”)
The year is 1919. Twelve-year-old orphan Shan Keagan from Dublin, Ireland is living a hard knock life with his Uncle Will, trying to earn money and meals as a singer, dancer and impressionist in local bars. When the two of them decide to immigrate to America his uncle dies onboard, leaving Shan to figure out how he will enter the country of his dreams and find his real father.
Befriended by an Italian-American family who had just lost their younger son, Shan began his new life in Brooklyn, New York as Tommy Capello. As Shan adjusts to his new life with the Capellos, he hopes for a chance to find his father and finally find happiness with a real family. Despite his best efforts, life doesn’t turn out as he’d hoped, and Shan finds himself on the short end of the stick of life once more.
McMorris’ keen attention to detail brings Prohibition, Vaudeville, and Alcatraz, among other happenings of the 1920’s and 30’s, to life. These historical events, along with Shan’s struggles to find happiness while still keeping his own heart pure, will keep readers wishing for more even when the last page has been turned.
Highly recommended for Adult readers.