“Every falling star: The true story of how I survived and escaped North Korea” Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Abrams. 316 p. (Includes Glossary as well as a list of Places and proper names.)

everyfallingstarSungju lived with his father and mother in a fine apartment in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. His father held a high office in the army and, as devout followers of esteemed leader Kim Il-sung, Sungju and his parents had a happy, easy life. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, Sungju went to a very good school and studied tae kwon do with other future leaders of the military.

In 1997, his father was kicked out of the army for unknown reasons. Forced to move to the slums of the town of Gyeong-Seong, life rapidly deteriorated. With hunger as their constant enemy, his father, soon followed by his mother, left in search of food. At the age of twelve, Sungju was left to fend for himself.

In his own words, Sungju tells how he learned to survive on the streets of various cities for four years with his gang of street “brothers,” despite starvation, beatings, and imprisonment. The story of their friendship and love, along with Sungju’s musings on governmental policy, hope, and Korean legends are woven together to create a powerful story of survival that will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“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.

 

 

“Piecing Me Together” Renee Watson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Bloomsbury. 260 p. To be published February 14, 2017.

piecingmetogetherJade is starting her junior year at a very exclusive high school located on the other side of her neighborhood. She did not want to leave her old school or friends, but accepted a scholarship because she wanted to learn Spanish and travel with their study abroad program.

As one of a handful of black students at the school, Jade finds that because she is black and poor she is expected to act, speak and think a certain way. She is even expected to participate in a mentorship program offered only to African American girls, causing her to feel that her classmates and teachers disregard her, and are unable to understand why their expectations are hurtful. Prejudices and stereotypes at school as well as in the news cause Jade to create beautiful artistic collages from her self-examinations, as she reflects upon the state of the world for herself and other blacks.

Watson’s thoughtful observations about a young girl finding her voice, while telling her story about what it means to be black, will be an eye opener to many who don’t understand white privilege. I especially loved her poem “Things that are Black and Beautiful” on page 136. I can’t quote it here, because this is an ARC and the author/publisher might choose to change it for the final version of the book, but it is lovely. The beautiful cover art is also striking, while the title of the book excellently conveys Jade’s talent and her actions as she seeks to express herself.

I predict “Piecing Me Together” will win the Coretta Scott King Book Award at the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards, as well as a few other book awards.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The Cresswell Plot” Eliza Wass

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. To be published June 7, 2016. Disney-Hyperion.

TheCresswellPlotCastley Cresswell and her 5 brothers and sisters live with their father and invalid mother in a rundown shack in the middle of the woods. Their father is convinced he is a prophet of God, and that his children need to marry each other because they are the only ones who will make it to heaven. Everyone has spent their lives praying, reading Father’s religious writings, shunning everything from “the outside,” and allowing him to punish them in ways that redeem their souls.

Now a junior, Castley is looking forward to taking Advanced Drama with her sister which is a release from her life. When their schedules clash her teacher partners her with George, a local boy. Knowing Father has expressly forbidden her to be with boys, Castley decides to overlook the rule so she can enjoy class.

Over time Castley begins to enjoy normalcy, as George helps her see she could be more than a Cresswell. She begins to question her life, but her brothers and sisters believe she is the devil. They don’t want to leave their Father’s grip, even when he announces they have to go to Heaven. With time running out Castley will have to put on the biggest performance of her life to save her family from the man she once loved.

“The Cresswell Plot” is an interesting read, but started out very slowly. It took me a little while to get “into it” but, when I did, it sucked me in.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Crossing into Brooklyn” Mary Ann McGuigan

Rated 2 stars ** Ebook. Published June 1, 2015. Merit Press.

CrossingIntoBrooklynRich and pampered sixteen-year-old Morgan Lindstrum is upset because her mother and father aren’t talking to each other, and not spending time at their beautiful home in Princeton, New Jersey. She is also confused about feelings she’s been having for her best friend Ansel and, on top of everything, her beloved Grandfather passed away.

While trying to make her way through the minefield that has become her life, Morgan discovers her mother has a secret centered in Brooklyn. Her curiosity about her mother’s past leads her to discover poor Irish relations, which include her real grandfather Terence Mulvaney. Her mother is reluctant to forgive her father for past wrongs, but Morgan is determined to bring the family back together.

While seeking a bridge of reconciliation she soon discovers her newfound relatives may soon become part of Brooklyn’s homeless population. Morgan must call on all of her resources to try and reconcile her family, but it may come at a price she cannot pay.

Though “Crossing into Brooklyn” realistically described the city’s homeless population, contrasting its poverty with Princeton’s upper class, fake exterior, I thought Morgan’s constant references to what happened in Chicago did not lend merit to the storyline and were a distraction. In addition, though she came across as a heroine, there were aspects of her story that did not come across as believable. Her encounter with Carlos, as well as the fact that she managed to come and go many times through a very poor, rough area of Brooklyn without once being challenged by area residents for being a richly dressed girl in a poor neighborhood did not ring true to this Brooklynite.

I have mixed feelings about this book, so will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“Forgetting Tabitha: The story of an orphan train rider” Julie Dewey

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. 2013. JWD Press.

ForgettingTabithaIn 1860 Tabitha Salt was just 10 years old. When her father was killed in an accident, her mother sold their farm in Westchester N.Y. and moved them to Manhattan where she hoped to find work as a laundress.

This section of NYC, known as Five Points, was filled with poor immigrants and homeless orphans roaming the gang-filled streets. When Tabitha’s mother suddenly died, Tabitha found herself out on the street as one of these orphans. With nowhere to turn, she was befriended by the Sisters of Charity who sent her and dozens others on an orphan train to be adopted out West. There she will have to draw on her strong character, courage and perseverance to survive the unknown and make a future for herself. “Forgetting Tabitha” is her story.

Before reading this novel, I knew about the terrible poverty facing NYC immigrants, but didn’t know about the orphan trains. Julie Dewey makes Tabitha’s and the orphan’s stories come alive, making me eager to find out more about them as I read.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“On the other side of the bridge” Ray Villareal

Rated 4 stars **** 2014. Arte Público Press. 227 pp.

OnTheOtherSideOfTheBridgeThirteen-year-old Lon Chaney Rodriguez was named for an old horror movie actor, as he and his dad shared a love for horror movies his mother didn’t understand. His dad drank a few too many beers after he lost his trucking job, which really bothered his mom as she had to work extra hard as a security guard to make up the difference in their income. Things were a little rough at home, and Lon wasn’t doing too well at school, but everything seemed okay until the night his mother was killed at work. Suddenly Lon’s life was a mess.

With his dad refusing help from family members, and drinking heavily every day, Lon was at his wit’s end. His biggest fear was that they would become homeless, which seemed to be next on the horizon if his dad didn’t get his act together.

Villareal takes a typical seventh grade boy and thrusts him into an arena of responsibility, which should never be the lot of a child. As he tells Lon’s story readers are educated about poverty, homelessness and the ability to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Recommended for ages 11-14.