“The Dozier School for Boys: Forensics, survivors, and a painful past” Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD

Rated 5 stars ***** Twenty-first Century Books (Lerner Publishing). 2020. (Includes Photographs, Source Notes, Glossary, Selected Bibliography, Further Information [books, audio/video, newspaper/magazine/web articles], and an Index.)

The Dozier School for BoysAs mentioned in an earlier post, I read Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys,” and wanted to find out more about the school on which he’d based the book’s events.

Survivors from the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida formed support groups, which gave them the strength to contact the media about the years of abuse they’d suffered as young boys. After the media got involved the state of Florida allowed teams from the University of South Florida to investigate the school cemetery and exhume bodies for identification purposes.

Interviews, primary sources and detailed forensic techniques combine to give a view of the school that was eye opening because the town in which it was located knowingly allowed the abuse to continue over the years. To me this is similar to how towns, in which Nazi concentration camps were located, willingly allowed atrocities to happen with their full knowledge. It was interesting how the town of Marianna kept denying their culpability, when they were just as guilty in covering it all up for decades as were the school staff and the state of Florida.

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

“This promise of change: One girl’s story in the fight for school equality” by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. “Special 2019 ALA Annual Edition.” 310 p. (Includes an “Introduction,” “Epilogue,” “Writing this book,” “Scrapbook,” “Timeline of school desegregation and civil rights landmarks,” “Quotation sources,” “Selected Bibliography,” and “Further reading.”)

This book was published January 8, 2019, but a special edition was given to attendees at the June 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C.

This promise of changeJo Ann Allen and her friends attended a Negro high school 20 miles away from their town of Clinton, Tennessee because they weren’t allowed to attend the all-White school where they lived. Though the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that schools were to be integrated, the law of the land was not applicable in Clinton. Their restaurants, theaters and buses were segregated, and rules that applied only to Blacks continued to be applied.

In 1956, when a judge decreed the town had to integrate the high school, Jo Ann and 11 of her friends became the first Black students to attend the school. They were known as The Clinton 12. Their first few days integrating the school seemed to pass quietly until outside agitators, local protestors, and the KKK arrived. Soon controversy and attacks on the students and Black residents began, as did demands to keep the school segregated.

Racial insensitivities of the time are chronicled in this extensively researched book and very moving book as Jo Ann tells her story in verse. Readers learn about the few White supporters they had in their quest for integration, as well as the support given to them by their church as well as their families and friends. The extensive back matter lends support to Jo Ann’s story, teaching readers more about their struggle, and the struggle of many Blacks to integrate schools across the South. There is also an important reminder that many schools in the United States remain segregated today, 65 years after the Supreme Court decision of 1954.

Highly recommended for ages 18 and older.

“Time bomb” by Joelle Charbonneau 5 stars *****

A week before school officially begins for the year Frankie, Tad, Cass, Diana, Z, Rashid and Kaitlin show up at their high school for different reasons. Some know each other just in passing, but none expect to become survivors of a series of bombings that leave them trapped in the building relying on each other for escape.

Time Bomb

Though disagreeing on many things, they all agree they need to get the severely injured Kaitlin to the hospital and get out fast because several bombs have already gone off. As if worrying about the building collapsing over them wasn’t bad enough, they’re shocked to hear on the radio that the bomber is one of them. With a new level of distrust and suspicion they begin to turn on each other.

Though told from the point of view of multiple characters, it was easy to follow their trains of thought as the chapters were seamlessly woven together, creating a tightly knit story that had just enough loose ends to keep readers on the edges of their seats. The issues of severe bullying, racism, suicide prevention and more make this a book that would work well in a discussion group.

Recommended for high school students.


“That’s NOT what happened” Kody Keplinger 5 stars *****

It’s been over a year since I last posted a review. I haven’t been allowed to do so, because I was on this year’s Newbery Committee and had to stay “mum” about upcoming books. However, now that I finally have the time (and permission) to write reviews again I almost feel as if I’ve forgotten how to write one. It’s vaguely unsettling. Now that I’m back I want to do something new. I want to write my reviews in a more “sitting by the fireplace reading a story” kind of way, rather than in a  “just the facts ma’am,” way – which, by the way, was not spoken by Sgt. Friday.


I just finished reading “That’s NOT what happened” by Kody Keplinger. Written in 2018 and published by Scholastic Press, it tells the story of a group of teenagers who survived a mass shooting at their school where two teachers and nine students lost their lives. Though it’s the third anniversary of the shooting where Lee’s best friend Sarah was killed, she will never forget the terror they felt cowering in the girl’s bathroom as the shooter found his way to them. Denny, a blind survivor, wrote a letter to a college admissions board that told his version of what really happened that day, inspiring her to feel as if the six survivors should also write letters so their stories wouldn’t be forgotten when they left for college that year.

Upset that she spent 3 years hiding the truth of what really happened between Sarah and the shooter in the bathroom, Lee is on a mission to reveal the truth. However no one in town, including Sarah’s parents or Sarah’s Pastor, wants to hear the truth. Even her best friend Miles is strangely reluctant to write a letter telling his story. As Lee slowly peels back the layers of what happened the day a crazed teen gunman invaded their lives, the survivor’s hearts and souls are laid open and bare.

As I read I kept thinking about Parkland, wondering if survivors from that horrific school shooting saw themselves in Keplinger’s narrative. Also, as a teacher, it made me hope all the practice drills I do with my students will never end in the true violence described in the book. Though the topic of gun violence is a sensitive and highly debated subject Keplinger takes it on and lays it open in a way that will forever resonate with her readers.

Reading this was tough, due to being a teacher as well as being able to clearly feel the emotions felt by each character with their flashbacks to the shootings. I felt as if Keplinger did an excellent job describing their lives, hurts, emotions and fears before, during and after the shootings. Her characters had depth, and came across as real people suffering real hurts. For that and more, I gave her 5 stars *****



“The book of Laney” Myfanwy Collins

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Ebook. Published May 17, 2015. Lacewing Books. (Includes Reference materials.)

TheBookOfLaneyWest and his best friend Mark hated high school, and planned revenge for all the times jocks ignored or made fun of them. After spending time researching terrorists, both homegrown and abroad, they were ready to make their mark on the world. Using knives, machetes and homemade bombs, they worked their way through a school bus filled with high school kids, and forever changed Laney’s world.

With West and her mother now dead, joining the father she’d never known, fifteen-year-old Laney is sent to live with her grandmother, Meme, in the woods of upstate New York in a place upon which civilization has not dared to encroach. Meme is not an exceptionally friendly woman, but she and Laney soon come to an understanding. It is with her help that Laney learns to put herself in the shoes of those who have gone before and to rely on nature for her needs. She also learns to quiet her own mind and regain the glimmer of a path for her life, which West had taken in his quest for revenge.

“The book of Laney” gave great insight into the minds of terrorists like West and Mark, as the author used real diary entries from homegrown terrorists to help readers understand why people would behave in such an horrific way. The life which Laney now found herself living, and how she saw herself after the murders, were all realistic topics.

However, I felt the book lost its attempt at being believable when Laney’s paranormal visions become its highlight. It would have been better if the author had found a realistic way to help Laney find a way to cope with her issues without having to resort to make believe. Struggling teens who may have looked to this book for insight into their own situations will not find solace through the paranormal.

I would have given the book a higher rating if the author had stayed true to the book’s premise of a young girl learning to cope with life after facing death one too many times, instead of letting it deteriorate into these visions. In addition the cover is very “blah,” and would have been lovely if it had looked like the beautiful Adirondack woods into which Laney poured so much of her heart and soul.

Because of having a major issue with this hugely unrealistic topic in the midst of realistic ones I can’t recommend this book, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.


“Finding Jake” Bryan Reardon

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published February 24, 2015. William Morrow (HarperCollins).

FindingJakeWhen Simon’s son Jake was born, he became a stay-at-home dad so his attorney wife Rachel could continue working. When his daughter Laney joined the family Simon’s life became fuller as he strove to be a good dad, take care of the household, deal with his feelings of insecurity and help his children become productive citizens.

Over the years, Simon obsesses about Jake’s withdrawal from the neighborhood kids’ play dates, sensing Jake’s need to be quiet and alone, but silently wishing he were as outgoing as Laney. With Rachel spending more and more time at the office, and Simon working hard with the children, they became as two ships passing in the night.

All changed the day Simon got a phone call that there had been a shooting at the high school. Afraid for Jake and Laney, he races to the school with all the other parents only to find out there had been a massacre and Jake is missing. As more and more children get taken away from the scene, Simon waits in the parent holding area holding Jake up to the light and thinking about his son.

As he recalls Jake’s growing up years, he wonders if there was anything he could have done to make a difference in what had just happened. Is Jake guilty of such a crime? Could Jake have partnered with his withdrawn friend, who Simon disliked from the beginning, to create such a horror at school? Fear, hope, dismay, anger, terror and determination course through Simon’s mind as he grapples with the events of the past and present. His steadfastness culminates in the goal of doing what no police officer has been able to do: find Jake. Perhaps then he can get answers to the questions gnawing at his mind causing him to doubt everything he’d once held dear.

This amazing book had me spellbound from the moment I started to read. Though told from the point of view of an adult, the subject matter is definitely one that needs to be discussed with high school students so as to help students see reasons why teenagers decide to become mass murderers at school and, perhaps, help to avoid future occurrences.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including adults.

“Brutal Youth” Anthony Breznican

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2014. Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press).

BrutalYouthPeter Davidek was an 8th grader visiting St. Michael’s high school when the unthinkable happened. A bullied student went crazy, attacking both faculty and staff by throwing bottles at them from the roof of the building. He and another 8th grader, Noah Stein, intervened and saved the life of a student who had been hit on the head.

Now a freshman at St. Michael’s, Peter and Stein meet Lorelai Paskal, a girl so eager to forget her sad middle school and home life that she’s willing to do anything to be noticed. The three of them quickly become friends as they strive to stand together against the bullying culture where seniors are allowed to “haze” freshmen with the faculty’s blessing.

As the bullying worsens, Peter, Stein and Lorelai find themselves changing. Peter’s parents bully him everyday, causing him to do things he would have never done in the past. Stein is hiding a secret from his father, who seems to resent his son, while Lorelai’s mother beats her for no reason. When Stein falls hard for Lorelai, he doesn’t realize her desire to be popular will come with a price he shouldn’t have to pay.

Breznican’s realistic depiction of bullying and family life leaves his readers to wonder if “Brutal Youth” was based on actual events and, if so, make plans to avoid being a student at St. Michael’s.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.


“Red heart tattoo” Lurlene McDaniel

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). On sale July 24, 2012. Delacorte Press (Random House Children’s Books). 216 pp.

Morgan has been elected Senior Class President and, along with her star soccer and football boyfriend Trent, reside as the untouchable Queen and King Bees of Edison High. Rough and tough Roth is barely making it through high school, but knows a good thing when he sees it – Morgan. He’s had a crush on her for years, and doesn’t care what Trent thinks about it. Kelli, Morgan’s best friend, is supposed to be riding high. She has been dating Mark, star football player, for awhile now and has plans for their future together. Unfortunately, Mark doesn’t see their future in the same way she does.

All of these seemingly important aspects of high school life become trivial on a typically normal day right before Thanksgiving. When someone sets off a bomb in school, nothing is normal anymore. Nine students are killed instantly, scores injured, and one blinded.

McDaniel takes the extraordinary event of this horrific day to explore emotions felt by the victims, their families and the town. Survivors struggle to understand why such an event would happen to them, managing to find ways to go on and live their lives anew. These struggles are contrasted with the mindset of those who caused the explosion.

Red heart tattoo” is a powerful read for students in grades 9-12, and will offer them much food for thought.