“Because of the sun” Jenny Torres Sanchez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published January 3, 2017. Delacorte Press. 261 p. (Includes “Author Note.”)

BecauseOfTheSunDani grew up with Ruby, a mother who hated and blamed her for everything that went wrong in her life. She was a mom with an itchy foot, constantly moving from place to place, always with a different man on her arm. She wore skimpy clothes and drank a lot, and Dani hated her. She hated herself for hating her until the day Ruby was mauled to death by a bear and Dani was left alone with her mixed up thoughts.

Sent from Florida to live in New Mexico with an aunt she’d never known, Dani falls into the abyss of despair. She is alone, except for her dark thoughts and the bear that killed her mother, who seems to follow her everywhere. Dani must face her own hopelessness and learn to feel the anguish of others, because only through their pain can she live.

I found this book to be dark and full of symbolism, with some fantastical elements as seen through Dani’s Don Quixote-type imagination. As she constantly wanders in the sun and thinks contemplative thoughts about the bear, I felt that this book would be perfect to dissect in an English class. A high school English teacher would ecstatically tear it apart for her students.

Even though it was a little too complex for me, I will recommend it for ages 16 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.

“One was lost” Natalie D. Richards

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Sourcebooks Fire. 304 p.

It was supposed to be a simple three-day senior camping wilderness trip and hike for Jude, Emily, Lonewaslostucas, Sera, Haley, Madison, and their teachers Mr. Walker and Ms. Brighton. After a day spent slogging through rain and mud, the group is separated by a torrential downpour taking out the only bridge across a raging river.

The next morning Sera, Lucas, Emily and Jude groggily awake to find descriptive words inked onto their wrists, camping supplies and phones destroyed, and their teacher too drugged to communicate. When they set out to find the others, Haley, Madison and Ms. Brighton are missing, leaving the remainder to wonder how to complete a three day journey without supplies. With dehydration, hunger and despair setting in, the clock starts ticking down the days set by a mysterious stalker. With no help in sight, the start to turn on one another but will have to learn to band together to find safety before the stalker finds them.

I took away 2 stars because the author had members of the group constantly refer to a time when they listened to stories of a missing girl and a ghost around a campfire, but failed to actually write about this event. She had them circle back to these stories many times, making it feel as if part of the book was missing since I was left to guess at the details. I also didn’t like how Sera always compared herself to her mother, ad nauseam, and was not happy with how the author handled Emily’s story – especially at the end.

However I did like the suspense and cliffhanger endings, which is the only reason I gave it 3 stars.

Recommended, with reservations, for ages 14 and older.

“Gilt Hollow” Lorie Langdon

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 27, 2016. Blink. 341 p.

gilthollowWhen Ashton Keller was 14 years old, he was accused of killing his friend by pushing him over a cliff. None of his three friends vouched for him and, despite protesting his innocence, he was sentenced to 4 years in a juvenile detention facility. Abandoned by his parents and his best friend Willow, Ashton was forced to grow up quickly and learn to defend himself in the facility. Released at the age of 18, he is determined to return to Gilt Hollow, where he grew up, to find out who murdered his friend and why he was framed.

Gilt Hollow is full of torturous memories of former good times, but his worst memory is that of Willow. They’d grown up together, and Ashton was crushed when she never contacted him in prison. His bad boy persona and good looks attracts lots of attention from the female set, but Willow is all Ashton can see. For her part, Willow is angry with him for ignoring her when she was the only one in town who believed in his innocence. However she can’t keep her eyes off him.

As Willow and Ashton attempt to reconnect, strange things start happening in Gilt Hollow. Each seems to have been perpetrated by Ashton, making it seem as if someone wants him back in prison for good. With the local police chief and his former best friends seemingly out to get him, Ashton needs Willow’s help before it’s too late. Will they be able to reconcile and get to the bottom of the strange events before it’s too late for Ashton?

I enjoyed the suspense as the mysteries unfolded. I had my suspicions as to who was the instigator, and went down the wrong rabbit hole a few times. Langdon did a good job hiding the truth, but I was not happy with Willow as she seemed a bit too whiny and insecure. I thought she and Ashton made a good couple from the beginning, while she wasted too much time second guessing everything he said or did, as well as her own thoughts and feelings.

I will put a spoiler alert at the bottom because I had some questions about some things that happened which weren’t clear enough for me. Don’t read it if you don’t like to read a Spoiler. These events, as well as Willow’s behavior, made me drop a star in my rating.

Despite my questions and Willow’s annoying behavior, I will recommend this book for ages 14 and older because the suspense was really good.

****SPOILER ALERT!*****SPOILER ALERT!****SPOILER ALERT!*****SPOILER ALERT!

Willow left her solo cup in Cory’s room, and Colin found it. He later told her he knew it was her cup. How did he know? Did he do a fingerprint analysis on it?

Colin said he had a knife from Ashton’s collection in the garage. How did he get into the garage to get it? Earlier Willow told Ashton to come get the key so he could get his motorcycle, thus implying the garage was locked.

When she got the note Ashton supposedly had written, why didn’t she notice it was written “To Willow” and signed “A?” Ashton calls her “Wil” and would’ve signed it by her nickname for him, which is “Ash.” Even I knew it was fake! She later claimed she didn’t know his handwriting, but she should have known their nicknames. Also she had just seen him at the dance. Why would he have slipped her a note when she was standing near him right before she left the party and he could’ve told her in person to meet him?

“To stay alive: Mary Ann Graves and the tragic journey of the Donner party” Skila Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Candlewick Press. 304 p. (Includes a Map of the Donner Party’s route West“Author’s Note,” and a list of individuals in the Donner party.)

tostayaliveIn mid-Spring 1846, nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves left Illinois with her parents and eight brothers and sisters because her father wanted to begin a new life in California. Accompanied by horses, cattle, oxen, and almost everything they owned stuffed into three wagons, the family began their 1900-mile long walk.

As there was safety in numbers, they later joined up with a wagon train led by George Donner. Together they continued heading towards California, certain the trip would only take a few more months. If they had known of the dangers and the cost to their families that lay on the road ahead after they became lost for 32 days, they would all have stayed in Illinois…

Mary’s account of the horrors of their trip, which included death, starvation, freezing cold and mountainous terrain, will transfix readers. One hundred and seventy years later, all that they faced are brought to life in poetic verse.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“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.

“Ashes” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Seeds of America #3. Published October 4, 2016. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. (Appendix includes Questions and Answers as well as lists of books and websites for more reading.)

ashes“Ashes” continues the stories of escaped slaves Curzon and Isabel. First introduced in “Chains,” more of their lives and the cruelty of slavery was documented in “Forge.”

After escaping from their masters once again, the two have spent years making their way through the wilderness seeking news about Isabel’s sister Ruth who’d been sold away from her by a cruel mistress when she was just a little girl. Their plans of a reunited and peaceful life are interrupted by war and the cruelties of fate. The Patriot’s fight for independence causes Isabel to question how those seeking freedom for themselves could deny it to thousands of their slaves, while Curzon is sure the war will mean freedom for all.

As time passes, Isabel’s former closeness with Curzon dissipates as they remain at odds over the war and its meaning to them as slaves. As they learn to survive in the midst of chaos, they are left wondering and hoping about a future in a world turned upside down.

Anderson has done her research well, bringing readers fully into Isabel and Curzon’s time and place. The plight of escaped slaves, found on both British and Patriot’s sides, black soldiers fighting for General Washington, and other historical events are incorporated into the storyline of “Ashes.” If Laurie should choose to continue Isabel, Curzon and Ruth’s story in another set of books about their life after the war, I would be a very happy reader of them. Laurie can you hear me?

Highly recommended for ages 11 to 15.