“Wide awake” David Levithan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2006. Knopf Books. 221 p.

WideAwakeDuncan and his boyfriend Jimmy, along with their friends, have been working hard on the campaign of Abraham Stein hoping he will become the first gay, Jewish President of the United States. Stein wins by 1000 votes, and everyone is ecstatic – except for the governor of Kansas who insists there was election tampering and hopes to have him defeated. With his opponent refusing to concede the election, hoping to have Stein lose votes in the recount, Stein invites Americans to join him in Kansas to protest the behind-the-scenes politics working to take away the people’s vote.

Jimmy fiercely believes in action when he spots wrongdoing, while Duncan hopes silence will make bad things disappear. Their differences of opinion begin to rise to the surface with Stein’s election issues, and the trip to Kansas seems to be the match that could set them off in different directions. With a strong belief in America’s founding principles of “liberty and justice for all,” the two embark on a trip that will forever change the views they hold of their country, its citizens and themselves.

Levithan mixes politics, romance, relationships and history to give readers a dystopian story that, though written in 2006, is eerily prescient of the 2016 elections. His descriptions of the Kansas rally reminded me of the Atlanta Women’s March, where I joined millions of other women across the nation to march in solidarity for civil rights and liberties. It’s impossible to not compare the hateful vitriol spewed forth from the opposition party in “Wide awake” to that emitted by supporters of our current administration.

Eleven years have passed since Levithan took pen to paper, and many things have happened politically – including the election of our nation’s first Black president. One can only hope America will have its own Abraham Stein to elect in the years to come. Thank you David for opening our eyes to its possibility.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“In the country we love: My family divided” Diane Guerrero

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Henry Holt and Co. 247 p.

InTheCountryWe LoveWanting a better life for their young son, and unable to make a living in Colombia, Diane’s parents obtained a four-year visitor visa and left for the United States. A few years later, Diane was born. Knowing they’d overstayed their visas her parents worked hard at various menial labor jobs, paying people who promised to help with citizenship papers but who ran off with their hard earned money.

Though Diane’s older brother became increasingly disillusioned at the lack of job prospects due to his immigration status, her parents were hopeful. They were sure that if they didn’t get into trouble, stayed below the radar, and kept paying the “lawyer” who’d promised to help, that they’d become legal citizens.

When Diane was fourteen years old, her parents were arrested by ICE for being in the country illegally and deported to Colombia. Left alone, and forgotten by the government, Diane had to figure out how to live without her family. “In the country we love” is the story of people who helped her survive, and the long road of pain and sorrow she endured on her way to becoming a famous television star.

According to the Migration Policy Institute 2016 study, “5 million children under the age 18 have at least one parent who is in the United States illegally. Out of that number, 79 percent are U.S. citizens.” Guerrero puts a face to one of those children. Her story is a must read.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“From where I watch you” Shannon Grogan

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Soho Teen. 291 p.

FromWhereIWatchYouSixteen-year-old Kara is angry with her dead sister and with her mother. When Kellen died, her father left home and her mother retreated into a shell until she found religion. Her newfound faith changed her into a Holy Roller, offering advice and words of hope to strangers in her new cafe, while ignoring her own daughter. Kara doesn’t mourn Kellen because she hated her, hinting at something Kellen did which was unforgivable.

Kara bakes all sorts of baked goods to forget her problems, spending time alternately hurting and loving Charlie, the only boy who’s ever been nice to her, and trying to ignore scary notes randomly left on a daily basis by a stalker. Despite numerous opportunities to take others into her confidence, she continually assures herself she could handle the situation. By the time she realizes she’s in over her head, it’s almost too late.

In alternating chapters readers take a very slow ride through Kara’s memories growing up with Kellen, leading up to the unveiling of her stalker. However, I was not impressed. I found Kara to be annoying because of the countless excuses she gave for not seeking help as the notes got progressively worse. Always second-guessing herself, she also didn’t have any self-confidence. The most interesting character in the book was Charlie.

Thus I will leave it up to you readers ages 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not. I seem to be on a bad roll, as this is the fourth book in a row that didn’t thrill me.

“The way back from broken” Amber J. Keyser

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner). 207 p.

TheWayBackFromBrokenFifteen-year-old Rakmen’s baby sister died in his arms from an undiagnosed heart murmur. Awash with grief, his parents blame him and each other. His mother begins attending therapy sessions at Promise House, a place that promises to help grief filled; broken parents recover from the loss of their children.

As the broken brother of a lost sister, Rakmen is forced to attend the children’s sessions where he meets nine (or ten) year-old Jacey. Her baby brother was stillborn, throwing her mother (Rakmen’s teacher, Mrs. Tatlas) into a dangerously fragile mindset, and causing Jacey to wonder why she’d been robbed of the opportunity to become a big sister.

For some unknown reason, and to his eternal displeasure, Jacey becomes very attached to Rakmen. Mrs. Tatlas suggests they travel together to her uncle’s cabin in Canada for some R & R so, without any pushback from his parents, the three of them head to the wilderness. When an accident happens, it is up to Rakmen and Jacey to learn to work together to save all their lives.

I couldn’t really get into this book. I found it strange that Rakmen’s parents would let him go off for the entire summer with a perfect stranger, even though she was his teacher. Also, Jacey was supposed to be nine or ten, yet she acted more like six or seven. There were a few other issues, including grammatical errors scattered throughout so, overall, it wasn’t a win for me.

I’ll leave it up to you 14 and older readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

“You and me and him” Kris Dinnison

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Houghton Mifflin. 275 p.

YouAndMeAndHimSeventeen year old Maggie and Nash have been friends for almost all their lives. Nash can’t wait to graduate and leave their little town behind, always hoping to meet the boy of his dreams while he waits. Maggie loves the quaintness of their town, and hopes the future love of her life won’t care she’s overweight.

Over the years the two of them have held each other’s secrets, and were always there for each other. Then they met Tom, a new student. Nash was instantly infatuated and called dibs, leaving Maggie to take on the role of matchmaker even though she thought Tom was cute.

When Maggie finds herself developing feelings for him, she buries herself in baking cookies and her job at the record store so as to leave the road clear for Nash. Meanwhile Maggie’s frenemy Kayla also has her eyes set on Tom, setting the stage for a love triangle with a twist.

I liked Maggie’s character, which was not the stereotypical “overweight teen girl is bullied at school so binge eats for happiness and spends her life alone, wishing she was skinny” storyline. Though sometimes she seemed too good to be true, she gave me hope that overweight teens reading the book would gain strength from her maturity and way of thinking. Nash, Tom, and Kayla, on the other hand, have lots of growing up to do and their behavior should never be emulated.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Every ugly word” Aimee L. Salter

Rated 4 stars **** 2015. Alloy Entertainment. 280 p. Includes A note from the author, and Discussion Questions.

EveryUglyWordFuture Ashley has been seeing Past Ashley in a mirror for five years, trying her best to get her to make different decisions without revealing her future. A psychiatrist is the only thing that stands between her release and being able to help Past Ashley with the most important decision of her life, but Doc wants to hear her whole story from the very beginning. With her heart in her mouth, and an eye on the clock, Future Ashley begins to talk.

Ashley is seventeen, and for the last 5 years has been severely and constantly bullied by former friends both in and out of school. She can’t tell her teachers what’s going on, while her mother blames her for everything. Matt is the only friend she has left, but she doesn’t dare let him know she’s in love with him because she doesn’t want to lose him too.

Spending time with Matt, hoping to get a scholarship to art school, and talking to her future self are the only things keeping her sane. Ashley just wants to make it through the rest of her senior year, but Matt’s girlfriend and friends are determined to make her life a living hell. As the bullying intensifies, will Ashley find the strength to fight back or sink under pressure?

Having been the victim of constant bullying up until 11th grade, I found it very difficult to read about Ashley’s tormented life without reacting. It is my sincerest hope that bullies will see themselves in this book, understand how deeply their actions hurt, and that they will STOP. I also hope bystanders see themselves, and know how much they are needed to help someone who’s being bullied so they don’t feel alone. Finally, I hope victims gain strength from this book and realize they are important and valued.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“What she knew” Gilly Macmillan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. HarperCollins. 467 p. (Also includes a Bibliography, Reading Group Discussion Questions, and an Author Q & A.)

WhatSheKnewRachel had never gotten over her husband leaving her for another woman and their subsequent divorce. Their son had been seven years old at the time, and she tried to focus her energies on him but there were days when it was too hard to function. Sweet, gentle Ben knew how to tell when Mummy was having a hard day, and they had bonded over little things that made them their own family.

Now that he was a little older Rachel felt it important to teach him a little more independence so, when he asked to run ahead on one of their daily walks in the woods, she allowed him to do so. Within a few minutes he was out of sight and, by the time she arrived at their meeting place, he was gone.

After a half hour of hysterically searching, she called the police. Her life became a living nightmare as they pulled out all the stops in their investigation to figure out what happened to eight-year-old Ben, while the public reached their own conclusions about her incompetency as a mother on social media, television and in newspapers. Though vilified, misunderstood, abused and harassed, Rachel stood firm on one thing. She would not rest until Ben was back in her arms, and would do whatever it took to find him.

The story of a young child’s kidnapping is told through the alternating voices of his grieving mother, as well as the main detective on the case and his psychologist. Readers will find themselves riveted, alternately rooting for Rachel who is experiencing every parent’s nightmare while wondering what happened to Ben. The answer is a shocker.

Highly recommended for Adults.