“Phantom Limbs” Paula Garner

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Candlewick. 352 p.

phantomlimbsOtis was a scared thirteen-year-old when Dara rescued him from himself. After losing her arm in a shark attack, which ruined her swimming career and killed her Olympic dreams, Dara found new hope in Otis. He helped her forget her father’s disappointment, her mother’s death, and what a one-armed life entailed.

At that time his best friend Meg, the love of his life, had just moved away and his three-year-old brother Mason had just died. Therapy wasn’t helping him come to terms with his grief, until Dara’s fierce coaching and swimming lessons gave him a way out of the drain he’d been circling. Over the years they developed a great relationship, forged through pain and understanding, while he developed into a championship style swimmer.

Though three years had passed, Otis never stopped thinking about what life would have been like if Mason had not died and if Meg had stayed. When she suddenly sent a text saying she was returning to town for a short period, Otis was beside himself with joy, fear, hope and various other emotions. Thinking of her reminded him of Mason, which brought its own kind of pain, while wanting to know why she abandoned him and if she still loved him brought its own heartache.

Through humor, angst, and guy problems, Otis tells his coming-of-age story. As we learn of the death of his hopes and dreams, along with Meg’s and Dara’s, Garner’s title and the definition of phantom limb pain become intermingled. Though only one actually lost a limb, all suffer from this pain, making for a very interesting read. In fact, it was so interesting I read it in one sitting.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“Interference” Kay Honeyman

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 27, 2016. Arthur A. Levine Books. 340 p.

interferenceKate Hamilton has spent her life walking a tightrope, as she has had to make sure to never bring scandal on the family name because her father is a politician. When he falls behind in the polls because of something her ex boyfriend did to humiliate her, he take Kate and her mother out of D.C. to spend a few months in his Texas hometown to regroup.

In her quest to get a recommendation to art school to study photography and escape politics forever, Kate winds up volunteering at her aunt’s animal shelter where she meets annoying Hunter, the handsome ex-football player. Joining the yearbook staff to use their darkroom introduces her to handsome Kyle, star quarterback, and shy Ana. With football ruling the school, and politics ruling her home, it’s only a matter of time before football and politics lead Kate into making decisions she’ll soon regret.

Recommended for ages 12-17.

 

 

 

“The other boy” M.G. Hennessey

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 20, 2016. Harper. 234 p.

theotherboyShane and his best friend Josh are in sixth grade. Video games and baseball consume their every waking moment, and girls are making an appearance. Even though his dad hasn’t made too many attempts to be part of his life or to come for visits after his parents divorce, Shane is doing just fine without him. When he and his mom left San Francisco for Los Angeles three years ago, Shane never looked back. With his days filled with baseball, his friendship with Josh, and designing his very own graphic novel, he is finally getting to become the person he always knew he should be.

Despite his rosy outside life, Shane is hiding a secret that would change everything about his life if anyone ever found out about it. With his secret getting closer to exposure every day Shane will soon learn that truth comes with a price, and will have to decide if he is willing to pay it.

Once I started reading “The other boy” I couldn’t put it down, and finished it in one sitting. Hennessey’s young readers have the opportunity to learn about the many difficulties and challenges, as well as the hopes and fears, faced by transgender boys and girls. Through reading Shane’s story in this finely crafted novel, it is hoped they will learn acceptance and tolerance. Every middle school and public library should have a copy of “The other boy” in its collection.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

 

“Gutless” Carl Deuker

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 329 p.

gutlessBrock Ripley is first to back away from conflicts, on the soccer field or off. He hates being gutless, but doesn’t know how to be brave. When he agrees to catch passes for Hunter Gates, the school’s star quarterback, his life becomes even more confusing as he tries to learn football and avoid getting hit on the field, hold off Hunter’s jealous former wide receiver, hide his father’s worsening sickness from his friends, and keep his friendship with Richie Fang.

Though Richie is a star soccer player, wins all types of competitions, is academically gifted, and a great jokester, his talents don’t include ways to stop riling Hunter. The angrier Hunter gets towards Richie, the more Brock retreats into his shell of avoidance. It is only a matter of time before Brock will have to learn how to get himself off the fence and onto the field of life before it’s too late.

This action packed book about football, bullying, true friendship, and learning to stand up for yourself is bound to pique the interest of readers – especially reluctant readers.

Recommended for ages 11-18.

“Last man out” Mike Lupica

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published September 15, 2016. Philomel Books (Penguin.)

LastManOutTwelve-year-old Tommy Gallagher and his father Patrick have a very special relationship. His love of football came from his dad, and they bonded over practices, games and watching the Patriots. Dad has always been around for him and his little sister Em, explaining the importance of being a leader on and off the field, helping her become a soccer star, and just being there for them.

When his firefighter father never makes it out of a fire at the beginning of Tommy’s football season, he feels as if all his hopes and dreams died with his dad. Despite their mother’s attempts to keep things normal, Tommy believes things will never again be normal. With football no longer having the thrill it used to have for him, Tommy seeks alternate thrills, which don’t always lead to correct decisions. Em rebels by walking away from her soccer team right in the middle of their championship season.

As Tommy and Em struggle to reinvent themselves after the loss of their beloved father, they also strive to remain true to what he taught them while he was alive. In “Last man out” Lupica, once again, has brought heart, soul and sports together in a way that will leave his young readers engrossed, involved and thoughtful.

Highly recommended for ages 11-15.

“Better off Friends” Elizabeth Eulberg

Rated 4 stars **** Published February 25, 2014. ARC. Point (Scholastic, Inc.)

BetteroffFriendsCan a guy and girl be best friends? Can they really be friends yet not be romantically involved? Can a guy and girl who are best friends ever date if their friendship is at stake? If a guy and girl who are best friends eventually start to have feelings for each does that mean their friendship is doomed? These questions and more are answered in Elizabeth Eulberg’s very insightful story told in the voices of both friends for greater authenticity.

Early in 7th grade Macallan and Levi met when he moved from California to Wisconsin. At first he was just another new kid, but their friendship took off when they discovered a common love for a BBC sitcom. Over the years, their friendship grew stronger as they spent time hanging out after school, laughing at each other’s jokes, and sharing the good and bad events in their lives.

Despite both having boyfriends/girlfriends and outside interests over the years, people always assumed they were dating. Their boyfriends/girlfriends knew about their special friendship, but sometimes these relationships got a little awkward. Of course Macallan and Levi shrugged off these comments, until the day romantic feelings for each other started to rear its head in high school. Can a guy and girl really be best friends?

I loved reading “Better off Friends,” as I’ve run into this same situation with a couple of my own male friends. The interesting questions and scenarios I posed earlier will keep readers turning the pages to find out if Macallan and Levi have the answers.

Recommended for ages 12-16.

 

“The Reappearing Act: Coming out as Gay on a College Basketball Team let by Born-Again Christians” Kate Fagan

Rated 4 stars **** To be published May 6, 2014. ebook. ARC. Skyhorse Publishing.

TheReappearingActKate Fagan, former women’s basketball player for the University of Colorado, tells her story in “The Reappearing Act.” As she grew up she didn’t think she was gay, assuming feelings she’d had for girls over the years were just excited thoughts for possible friendships.

With her life revolving around basketball, Kate thought college life was great. During her sophomore year everything changed when her teammates invited her to join them at a Bible study. These Bible studies became weekly meetings where homosexuality and other topics were discussed. Kate had just begun to realize she might be gay, and these times served to further confuse and frighten her.

Kate was afraid of the feelings she kept having for other women. These feelings, combined with the fear of telling her parents, losing her best friend and of her teammates’ reactions caused Kate to retreat further into herself. As a result, during her college years, she led a double life constantly feeling guilty and confused as she tried to reconcile the Bible with her own feelings and beliefs. This pattern of telling lies and half-truths carried over into her adult working life, until she could finally admit to the world that she was gay.

Fagan’s honest account of her insecurities and internal battles will ring true with readers struggling with their own similar reality. “The Reappearing Act” will serve as a testimony that there is light at the end of their dark tunnels of uncertainty and fear.

Recommended for readers 18 years old and older.