Middle school students have reading interests that run the gamut from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Twilight. Sometimes as a parent it is hard to know what is age appropriate for your child. Through this blog, I will try to help parents make informed decisions about what is available in our library. I am hoping that this blog will be a resource for our parents, and that we can all work together to make our students life-long readers!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Thief

The Thief
by Megan Whalen Turner
From the publisher:
"The king's scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king's prison. The magus is interested only in the thief's abilities. 

What Gen is interested in is anyone's guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses."

I've been in a YA reading slump lately. It's been a long time since something has reached out and grabbed me enough to keep me reading until I finish. We have a winner! I really liked this book and found it interesting, exciting, surprising, and full of fun. It is with horror that I have realized I don't have the second book of the series in my library. I will be remedying that oversight. This isn't a series that gets checked out a lot, so I will need to start pointing it out to students I know will love it. 

Gen was an interesting main character. There were times when he was obnoxiously cocky, but somehow you still love him. The other characters were a slow burn, but you learn to love them as well. I'm still surprised by a couple of things that come out in the end. Did not see those coming.

The world-building was very cool. I felt like I was actually seeing the dystopia (glad the author explained that) and the river ebbing and flowing, not to mention trying to come down a mountain on loose shale. I found the different countries' governments a little confusing, but I think that will all be explained more fully in the rest of the series. 

I actually liked the stories of the gods. Sometimes those kind of things slow the book down for me, but I felt like it really set things up for the story and helped me understand things better. 

All in all, I really enjoyed this and highly recommend it.

Areas of concern:
*The religion in this book consists of several gods, and the term Oh Gods, or gods-damn it is used several times.
*Some violence - nothing graphic.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dark Breaks the Dawn

Dark Breaks the Dawn
by Sara B. Larson
From the publisher:
"On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless.

But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn onto the throne much sooner than she expected.

In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price."

I liked this book, but didn't love it. People kept referring to it as a retelling of Swan Lake, and I was trying throughout the book to figure out how it was. After I finished I discovered it was like a prequel to Swan Lake, so the next book will probably be more like the story of the ballet. 
I found the world that was created very intriguing, although there was a lot I didn't understand. I enjoyed the characters, and liked reading from the points of view of several of them. It took me quite a while to get into the story, but once I did I liked it. But it was weird because most of the book is leading up to one big event, and then that event is over incredibly quickly. This was no The Two Towers where the battle scene lasts forever. It's hard to say too much about it without giving anything away, but I was very sad at the end and I want to know what happens in the next one, although some things can't be fixed. So, do I recommend it? Sure, I think there are a lot of people who will really love it.

Areas of concern:
*Violence and death.
*Talk of the queen needing to "bind" with someone and procreate quickly to save the kingdom.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-10
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Dividing Eden

Dividing Eden
by Joelle Charbonneau
From the publisher:
"Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

I have really enjoyed Joelle Charbonneau's other books, so I was looking forward to this one. I was very disappointed and almost didn't even finish it. I really hate it when I don't like the main characters. Why keep reading if I don't care what happens to these two stupid people? However, I soldiered on and did mildly enjoy the story and action, and did end up caring about one of the main characters when something was explained. 
I found the world building confusing and have no idea what the Xhelosi (I have no idea if I spelled that correctly, and I don't really care) were, or why or how they exist. I didn't understand how the kingdom and ruling family came to be, or how the kingdom interacts with other kingdoms. So many confusing things! 
I didn't hate this book like I thought I was going to for about 1/2 of it, but I definitely didn't love it. 

Areas of concern:
*A 17 year old main character who will sleep with anything in a skirt.
*Drug addiction in a character. 
*Some violence.
*Horribly dysfunctional family dynamic.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mustaches for Maddie

Mustaches for Maddie
by Chad Morris &
Shelly Brown
From the publisher:
"Maddie is a normal twelve-year-old girl. Well, except for the fake mustaches she carries in her pocket. She likes to make people laugh and slapping on a mustache, especially a fuzzy pink or neon green one, always gets a smile. Maddie hopes that the class queen, Cassie, will find her mustaches as funny as she does and want to play with her at recess. She's been self-conscious lately because her right arm only feels normal when it's curled against her chest and she's constantly tripping over her feet. But that's probably just part of growing up and not something weird, right?

When Maddie's arm continues to bother her, her parents take her to a doctor who gives them a shocking diagnosis: the cause of the abnormal behavior of her limbs is a brain tumor and she must have surgery to remove it. She's understandably afraid as he describes the procedure, but knows she must find a way to be brave and must face her fears--all of them--at the hospital, at home and at school.

She will need all of her courage not only to face her illness, but also to face Cassie at school. Both Cassie and Maddie are auditioning for the same role in the school play, but when Cassie accuses Maddie of lying about her tumor in order to get attention, Cassie's bossiness turns into bullying.

And as Maddie's surgery approaches, she begins to worry more and more about the outcome. What if something goes wrong? What if the doctors don't get all the tumor out of her brain? What will happen to her family? What will happen to her?

It will take all of Maddie's vibrant imagination, a lot of kindness-both given and received-and of course, the perfect mustache to overcome the tough stuff ahead of her."

I read so many amazing reviews about this book that I think I was expecting too much..... the new Wonder or something. It definitely was not that. It was a sweet, relatively cheesy story about a young girl with a brain tumor. Some parts felt very, very young, so I'm not sure how middle schoolers will feel about it. There is the requisite "mean girl", who is really so horribly mean that I'm not sure why we should care about what happens to her. There is the whole mustache thing that would be mocked mercilessly in middle school. So even though this book is based on the authors' daughter and her experiences, it didn't feel real at all. However, it may transfer to all of our students who love realistic fiction about medical issues. We'll see. It's a very safe, tame read.

Areas of concern:
*A viciously mean girl.
*Serious medical issues for a young girl.
*If religious references concern you, there is talk of a family praying for their daughter. No prayers are stated, just that prayers are being said.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-11
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea

Beyond the Bright Sea
by Lauren Wolk
From the publisher:
"From the author of the critically acclaimed Wolf Hollow comes a moving story of identity and belonging.

Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift on a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow's only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.

Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn't until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.

Vivid and heart wrenching, Lauren Wolk's Beyond the Bright Seais a gorgeously crafted and tensely paced tale that explores questions of identity, belonging, and the true meaning of family."

I am in a huge minority about this book because it has great ratings, but I thought it was very slow until well into it, then there was a plot with jewels and thieves that seemed ludicrous, and then the whole thing just petered out with a massive amount of unanswered questions. Were there moments of beauty? Yes. Were there moments of insight? Yes. Do I see this getting checked out by middle schoolers? Not unless a librarian talks it up to them, and then I see it being returned with a bookmark still in chapter 2 or 3. 
I'm probably also in the minority in disliking how authors right now are forcing our 21st century sensibilities on people in history. I don't care how politically incorrect the Little House or Sue Barton books were, I loved them. Are the stereotypical generalities of Native Americans and NYC Italians portrayed in those books the way we look at things now? Nope. Leprosy was/is a horrible disease. It was highly contagious and there was no cure. It could also be latent in a person for years. So the actions of the people on Cuttyhunk were understandable at that time. I really appreciated it when, towards the end of the book, Crow and Osh were having a conversation about all the people who wouldn't help the lepers on Penikese:

Osh sighed. "Time to let that go now," he said.
"I can't," I said. "It's not right."
Osh turned to go into the house. "Maybe not," he said, "But I've said all I've got to say about it." He paused. "Except this: Those lepers were out there for years while we were right here, just across the water. But we never sent peaches or figs or blankets. We never stepped foot out there, either." 

So instead of being all 21st century judge-y, Osh was pointing out that they weren't any different than the other islanders. I'm glad that little conversation happened.

Mark my words, this will get at least a Newbery Honor. Whenever I'm not impressed by a book that has a lot of hype, it usually gets a Newbery nod. But please read it for yourself because a lot of people disagree with me and think it is wonderful and beautiful. 

Areas of concern:
*Some pretty intense moments with a very evil man

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Running Dream

The Running Dream
by Wendelin Van Draanen
From the publisher:
"An award-winning and inspiring novel.  When Jessica's dreams are shattered, she puts herself back together—and learns to dream bigger than ever before. 

Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She's not comforted by the news that she'll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?

As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don't know what to say, act like she's not there. Which she could handle better if she weren't now keenly aware that she'd done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she's missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.

With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that's not enough for her now. She doesn't just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her

Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award"

Another nearly perfect book by Wendelin Van Draanen. I loved this book! My only disappointment lay in the fact that it ended. I wanted to hear more about Jessica's future and how her parents coped. Once you begin reading this book you will be sucked in like Jessica's suction sock and it will never let go. I appreciate the massive research the author obviously did on the loss of a limb - not just the medical treatments, but the emotional and mental aspects of it. I thought the different stages Jessica went through were very realistically portrayed - the loss, the anger, the self-pity, the loss of self-worth, and on and on. And I loved that those stages didn't just end and another begin, but she had to keep battling all of them for a long time. At one point she says, 

It's disturbing how fast weeds take root in my garden of worthiness.
They're so hard to pull.
And grow back so easily. 

I was happy that Jessica had such strong support:
*From her family..... how her parents coped with nearly losing their daughter, then having to help her through the recovery, having to worry about money and medical bills - they were wonderful.
*Her best friend, Fiona...... what an amazing friend! She was ALWAYS there for Jessica. I loved this character!
*Her coach...... he didn't coddle her, he pushed her and helped her to get back to her running.
*Her teammates........ even though she tried to push them away, and succeeded pretty well, they were there for her when she was ready for them to be, and were so happy and excited to help her.
*Jessica would be upset if I didn't mention Rosa. Rosa helped her in so many ways, even though before the accident Jessica had never really "seen" Rosa. 

Another thing I love about this book is that it teaches us important truths. Here's one:

That's all anybody with a disability wants. Don't sum up the person based on what you see, or what you don't understand; get to know THEM." 

Having just seen the movie Wonder (I read the book several years ago) and now reading this, I hope it has made me more cognizant of how to treat people who might be different than I am. 

Please read this book....... by yourself, with a friend, as a family, or in a classroom. You will not regret it.

Areas of concern:
*Loss of a limb
*Death of a teenager
*A very brief period of prescription drug dependency, but it was quickly squashed by her parents
*One brief kiss

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+
**EVERYONE should read this book!**

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Ethan I Was Before

The Ethan I Was Before
by Ali Standish
From the publisher:
"Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.

I didn't like this one as much as I expected to, and I'm not sure why. The writing was lovely and I cared about poor little Ethan, but there was just some disconnect for me. Maybe it is that I wasn't completely invested in the extreme grief of 2 of the characters. Life goes on, and children in particular are incredibly resilient. For most children I have seen, the loss of someone close sometimes doesn't even compute, and if it does there are days of intense grief which fade into moments of sadness. So at the beginning I felt badly for Ethan, but that faded into "Oh my gosh, quit doing stupid things!". And I don't even want to get started on Grandpa Ike. Be a man and take care of your family! There were also way too many things going on, so it was hard to get emotionally involved in all of those story lines. 
However, it was a good, clean story with lovely writing. 

Areas of concern:
*Loss of a close friend
*Dysfunctional family issues
*Stupid choices by the main character
*Heavy grieving

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6