“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.

Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.

Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.

“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.

“Code name Verity” (Verity #1) Elizabeth Wein

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Hyperion. 339 p. (Includes a “Brief Bibliography.”)

CodeNameVerityThe story opens with Verity, a secret agent sent to Occupied France by the British, being held prisoner by the Gestapo during World War II. After being tortured for weeks, Verity struck a deal which allowed her to regain a modicum of civility but which also included having her write all she knew about the Royal Air Force (RAF) and her role with the British.

As Verity’s story unfolds we meet Maddie, a rare female pilot in the RAF who became Verity’s best friend. As their stories of bravery, friendship, and survival in the midst of fear and the unknown are revealed, readers will be hard pressed to keep their tears and emotions in check.

“Code Name Verity” won the Michael L. Printz Honor Award in 2013, given by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). It also was listed on the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten list, and won numerous other awards. All are well deserved.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including 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.

“Every hidden thing” Kenneth Oppel

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Simon & Schuster. 357 p.

everyhiddenthingWith the Westward Expansion of the 1800’s came land grabbing and Native American battles, along with the discovery of dinosaur bones buried in rock. At that time the study of dinosaurs was relatively new, with fame and bragging rights associated with their unearthing. The intense rivalry by paleontologists Edward Drinker [Drinkwater] Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, to find the biggest and best of these bones and claim them as their own, became known as the “Bone Wars.”

Using these real life occurrences as background for his historical novel, Oppel introduces readers to Professors Bolt and Cartland. After being sent fossils from the largest dinosaur he’d ever seen, Professor Bolt and his son Samuel travel west to find the “Rex,”. Unbeknownst to him Professor Cartland and his daughter Rachel were on the same train, also seeking the Rex.

While engaging in regular conversation as a way to spy for their fathers, Samuel and Rachel fall in love. However, with the competition between their fathers heating up as each gets closer to discovering the Rex’s location, Rachel and Samuel’s love will be tested in ways neither had ever expected.

I really enjoyed learning about these paleontologists, as I had never known fossil hunting happened during the Westward Expansion. Besides the rivalry of two historical paleontologists, Oppel’s carefully researched novel also includes the impact of the expansion on the lives of the Sioux Indians and how some reacted. Though billed as a Romeo and Juliet type novel, “Every hidden thing” is much more. It is history come to life.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Projekt 1065: A novel of World War II” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic. 309 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

projekt1065In 1938 Michael O’Shaunessey moved to Berlin, Germany with his parents when his father was named Irish Ambassador. Over the 6 years of living there he’d seen the Nazi Party became stronger, changing its people for the worse. It is now 1943, and things have gotten bad as Jews and other dissenters are being taken to concentration camps. Michael had never known his parents were spies for the Allies but now, at the age of 13, he found himself working with them.

When a British RAF pilot was shot down over the city, Michael and his parents discovered the Nazis had been secretly building a plane with engines instead of propellers, which could fly faster than any country’s planes and would turn the tide of the war towards Germany.

Accidentally finding the plane’s blueprints accelerated Michael’s spy role within the ranks of the Hitler Youth. As things heat up, it soon becomes evident that Michael and his parents are in grave danger. Michael will have to do all he can to make sure the Nazis don’t succeed in their plan for world domination before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed reading “Projekt 1065.” Its short, cliffhanger, fast paced chapters make it a great choice for reluctant readers, while its storyline is very interesting.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.