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!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Perfect Ruin

Perfect Ruin
by Lauren DeStefano
From the publisher:"On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 16-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan's older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose."

This is a very unique take on the YA dystopian genre. The imagination that came up with it is pretty amazing. For the most part I liked the characters (although I never really trusted any of the side characters) and I thought the plot was interesting and at times intense. Yet for some reason it just didn't grab me. I liked it, but I didn't think it was earth-shattering. It started out pretty slowly and took me a long time to get into it, and then at the end it had some really weird twists that I had a hard time buying into. But all in all it was pretty enjoyable. I doubt I will read a sequel, although I am a little intrigued as to what will happen to the characters in the next book. Maybe I will skim a sequel :) .
I do believe teenagers will really like this book, and a lot of other adults have loved it as well, so give it a try.

Areas of concern:
I don't remember much bad language at all. There is a very sweet and tender romance that involves kissing. The children of Internment are betrothed at birth, and there is some discussion of girls starting to take a pill to prevent pregnancy at a certain age because no one can have children without permission.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

*This author has written another series (The Chemical Garden trilogy) that I don't have in my library because all the reviews said ages 14+ or 9th grade and up due to mature content, but this one is really very appropriate for middle school.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Also Known As

Also Known As
by Robin Benway
From the publisher:
"Which is more dangerous: being an international spy... or surviving high school?

Maggie Silver has never minded her unusual life. Cracking safes for the world's premier spy organization and traveling the world with her insanely cool parents definitely beat high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations. (If it's three digits, why bother locking it at all?)

But when Maggie and her parents are sent to New York City for her first solo assignment, her world is transformed. Suddenly, she's attending a private school with hundreds of "mean girl" wannabes, trying to avoid the temptation to hack the school's elementary security system, and working to befriend the aggravatingly cute son of a potential national security threat... all while trying not to blow her cover.

From the hilarious and poignant author of Audrey, Wait! comes a fast-paced caper that proves that even the world's greatest spies don't have a mission plan for love."

What a fun book this was! I haven't read the Gallagher Girls series, but I'm guessing that they are similar. Also Known As is laugh-out-loud funny, the dialogue is fast and witty, the plot is really exciting (there is a chase scene which is heart-pounding), the supporting characters are awesome, it is set in Manhattan, and the romance is adorable. I loved that the main character had great parents who were very much a part of the story and who expected certain behavior out of their daughter. The main character is snarky and oh so funny, but she loves and respects her parents and tries very hard to live up to their expectations. The best friend has all the classic bad-girl habits, but she improves. I would whole-heartedly recommend this book is it wasn't for the concerns below.

Areas of concern: There is a lot of cussing with many uses of the *s* word and the *a*-*h* words. The *f* word is started but never finished. The best friend character has a "swear jar" deal with her doorman and has to pay 5 dollars for every swear word. He is making a killing off of her.
The best friend has totally absent parents and there is talk of her having slept with her old best friend's boyfriend. She takes her mom's prescription pills, she gets completely drunk at a party, and seems to have a history of pills and alcohol.
The teenagers skip school at the drop of a pin.
There is kissing, not anything too graphic.
This all sounds really bad, but I will say that the main character doesn't drink, refuses pills, and respects her parent's authority (while being snarky about it).   You are left with the feeling that the best friend's behavior will change drastically as she becomes more involved in Maggie's family.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Romeo and Juliet Code

The Romeo and Juliet Code
by Phoebe Stone
From the publisher,
A sudden trip to a seaside house. A boy with brown sugar eyes. And then , a mysterious letter.

Felicity's glamorous parents have a secret. When they leave her with distant relatives in Maine, far away from the battles of WWII, Felicity hopes they won't be gone for long. Her new Uncle Gideon hides things. Her Aunt Miami is star-crossed. And Derek, a kid her age, refuses to leave his room.

But Felicity needs Derek's help. Gideon is getting coded letters from Felicity's parents, and she's sure they're in trouble. Can Felicity crack the code, heal the family and save her parents, all while surviving her first crush? It's a tall order for a small girl, but Felicity is up for the challenge."

There are some things I really liked about this book, and other things that really bugged me.  I liked the setting and the idea of a British girl coming to live with her American relatives during WWII.  The characters were intriguing, but I had a hard time liking most of them.  The main character, who was supposed to be British, kept rubbing that in our faces so much that it felt more like an American girl who was just trying to be British.  And all the "British children do this" stereotypes got old quickly.  Since this review is being written by a confirmed Brit-Lit snob, to say that you could tell it was an American author is not a compliment.  I also had a hard time liking a mother and father who left their small daughter alone and scared at night.  They didn't have any neighbors, friends or family who could have stayed with her?  And then the other revelations later in the book about the parents increased that dislike.  At the end of the book, the heroine takes something very calmly that should have been completely earth-shattering to her.  It was not very realistic at all.  So while it was a good story with some tension in it and I read it quickly, there were definitely things that I wish were different.  I'm not sure the story is gripping enough to keep middle schoolers moving through it.

Areas of concern:
Adultery is hinted at.  I don't remember any bad language.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 5-8
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 9-13

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The 5th Wave

The 5th Waveby Rick Yancey
From the publisher:
"The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up."

There are a lot of people who love this book, so I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority here, but I didn't think it was that great. I really hated the hopeless feeling throughout the whole thing. There is no way the puny humans are going to be able to overcome the highly sophisticated aliens without some ridiculous plot twist, so why keep reading? I wasn't overly fond of the main character, Cassie, and the love story was kind of creepy since it involved someone she caught in lies over and over. I actually liked the Zombie parts best (character's name, not actual zombies or I wouldn't have finished the book), even though he was incredibly full of himself. I think Sammy was the only character I really liked. The story had moments of excitement and intensity, but it just wasn't for me.

Areas of concern:
Incredibly violent - mass killings; bodies, blood, guts and gore everywhere; children watching family members die...
Horrible language - I quit marking it because it was on either every page or every other page. It seemed to calm down a little past the middle, or else I was de-sensitized by then. Many uses of the "f" word and all the other bad words you can think of.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 14+
School Library Journal - Grades 9+
*I ordered this book for our library because of all the hype and before suggested ages were posted.  I'm not sure it is appropriate for middle school - definitely not below 8th grade.* 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us
by Kasie West
From the publisher:
"Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her mother’s shop.

So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she's beginning to enjoy his company.

She knows her mom can’t find out—she wouldn’t approve. She’d much rather Caymen hang out with the local rocker who hasn’t been raised by money. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. And that Xander’s not the only one she should’ve been worried about."

I read through a lot of reviews after reading this book, and I am amazingly shocked that no one has mentioned the similarities between this book and This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. I was kind of distracted for most of the beginning trying to remember who I was reading about - Ellie and Graham (poor girl; rich, famous guy; beach town; girl helps run single mother's store; daddy-abandonment issues; movie star old girlfriend; boy not happy with where his life is going; girl who wants to go to college but can't afford it...), or Caymen and Xander (poor girl; rich, famous guy; beach town; girl helps run single mother's store; daddy-abandonment issues; movie star old girlfriend; boy not happy with where his life is going; girl who wants to go to college but can't afford it...). However, I loved This is What Happy Looks Like , and once I got past the confusion and started to feel these characters, I really liked this one, too. I was disappointed in a few things (one kiss was a little too passionate, and everything wrapped up a little too neatly at the end), but all in all I really liked it. A fun, fluffy read.

Areas of concern:  Previously mentioned kiss.  I don't remember any cussing or bad language.  A mother who got pregnant as a teenager and a father who abandons them.

Suggested ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-10
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12-17

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moonby L.M. Montgomery
From the publisher:
"Emily Starr never knew what it was to be lonely——until her beloved father died. Now Emily's an orphan, and her mother's snobbish relatives are taking her to live with them at New Moon Farm. She's sure she won't be happy. Emily deals with stiff, stern Aunt Elizabeth and her malicious classmates by holding her head high and using her quick wit. Things begin to change when she makes friends, with Teddy, who does marvelous drawings; with Perry, who's sailed all over the world with his father yet has never been to school; and above all, with Ilse, a tomboy with a blazing temper. Amazingly, Emily finds New Moon beautiful and fascinating. With new friends and adventures, Emily might someday think of herself as Emily of New Moon."

When the clouds and cobwebs enter my brain from reading so many of the "popular" genres (dystopian or paranormal romances), sometimes I need to take a break and read something beautiful.  This time I chose to re-read Emily of New Moon.  This is a book that should be read by every young teenage girl.  Emily knows from a young age what her passion is, and she never gives up, even though she has to overcome many obstacles along the way.  It is a book full of goodness, loyalty, perserverance, and love.  Although Anne of Green Gables is much better known than Emily of New Moon, I have always had a special place in my heart for Emily.  I have read that Emily is more autobiographical to the author than Anne is.  It is darker than the Anne books, but apparently Maud Montgomery had quite a dark life herself.  Don't worry, though, because unlike the author, by the end of the series Emily's dreams all come true.  Her adventures continue in Emily Climbs, and Emily's Quest

Suggested Ages:

Cinders & Sapphires

Cinders & Sapphiresby Leila Rasheed
From the publisher:
"One house, two worlds...

Rose Cliffe has never met a young lady like her new mistress. Clever, rich, and beautiful, Ada Averley treats Rose as an equal. And Rose could use a friend. Especially now that she, at barely sixteen, has risen to the position of ladies' maid. Rose knows she should be grateful to have a place at a house like Somerton. Still, she can't help but wonder what her life might have been had she been born a lady, like Ada.

For the first time in a decade, the Averleys have returned to Somerton, their majestic ancestral estate. But terrible scandal has followed Ada's beloved father all the way from India. Now Ada finds herself torn between her own happiness and her family's honor. Only she has the power to restore the Averley name-but it would mean giving up her one true love ... someone she could never persuade her father to accept.

Sumptuous and enticing, the first novel in the At Somerton series introduces two worlds, utterly different yet entangled, where ruthless ambition, forbidden attraction, and unspoken dreams are hidden behind dutiful smiles and glittering jewels. All those secrets are waiting ... at Somerton."

Take every plot point from Downton Abbey, make it incredibly stupid, and you have Cinders & Sapphires . The gay valet and master; the conniving, evil lady's maid; the sweet and loyal lady's maid; the foreign lover; the innocent valet being accused of murder; and the list goes on and on. It took every bit of will-power to not quit reading this. I really wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

Suggested ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 8+