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, January 29, 2015

Compulsion (Heirs of Watson Island, #1)

Martina Boone
From the publisher:
"Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.

All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lives with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead."

I'm not sure why authors have a need to come up with unusual names for their characters. This is one of just several I have read recently where the main character's name is very strange. A girl named Lombard and called Barrie? Really? It was totally distracting to me, and never really explained beyond the fact that she came from San Francisco and was named after the curved street. And the male character's name is Eight. Hmmmmmm.
I was also disappointed by the stereotypical southern-ness going on. I'm pretty sure this author has never lived in the South before, because I didn't ever FEEL the South in her writing. This may have been the fault of the book I read right before this, which was Southern Gothic done right. Several times while reading Beware the Wild  I could almost hear the cicadas and katydids singing in the swamp, and feel the heat and humidity. So this book, with Aunt Pru's annoying habit of saying "sugar" every time she opened her mouth, got old pretty quickly. However, I did like Compulsion , I was just annoyed at a few things. The plot was interesting and the characters likeable, even though a couple of times I was a little confused by the families/relatives and who was who. I really liked Barrie and Eight (in spite of their names), and the character of Mark, although we never meet him in person - just through phone conversations, is so clearly drawn that I can completely picture him. The end was exciting and came to a conclusion (for the most part), which I appreciated.

Areas of concern:
Quite a bit of cussing, but definitely not an every page sort of thing.  No *f* word.
Some pretty intense kissing.
The character of Mark is a transgender cross-dresser.

Several murders occur or are mentioned in the course of the book, and the main characters are put in a couple of very scary situations. 

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 9+

Monday, January 26, 2015

Small As An Elephant

Small As An Elephant
by Jennifer R. Jacobson
From the publisher:
"Jack’s mom is gone, leaving him all alone on a campsite in Maine. Can he find his way back to Boston before the authorities realize what happened?

Ever since Jack can remember, his mom has been unpredictable, sometimes loving and fun, other times caught in a whirlwind of energy and "spinning" wildly until it’s over. But Jack never thought his mom would take off during the night and leave him at a campground in Acadia National Park, with no way to reach her and barely enough money for food. Any other kid would report his mom gone, but Jack knows by now that he needs to figure things out for himself - starting with how to get from the backwoods of Maine to his home in Boston before DSS catches on. With nothing but a small toy elephant to keep him company, Jack begins the long journey south, a journey that will test his wits and his loyalties - and his trust that he may be part of a larger herd after all."

I enjoyed this one. It was at times exciting, heartbreaking, and sweet. I very much cared what happened to Jack, I was disgusted with, yet sympathetic to his mentally-ill mother, and I loved getting a mini-tour of Maine. It was interesting to see the different characters who tried to help him. The only thing that I felt didn't come through enough was what and who exactly was Big Jack? I wish we could have delved a little deeper into who he was and why he was so concerned. All in all, though, I'm glad I read this sad but uplifting little book. 

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 10-14
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Beware the Wild

Beware the Wild
by Natalie C. Parker
From the publisher:
"It's an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp -- the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn't return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.

Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp's done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance -- and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.

While this book wasn't exactly scary, there was an eerie, sinister feeling through the whole thing. In a way, the swamp was the main character. It is a menacing presence on every page. This book kind of reminded me of Chime, but set in the South instead of in England. However, the words in this one didn't sing to me like they did in Chime. I liked it, though. The characters, both main and secondary, were really interesting. Even the character you're supposed to hate grows on you. And the plot was ingenious. Although the ending goes the way you think you want it to, it is still sad. Beware the Wild is a fine first effort, and I look forward to reading what's next for this author.

Areas of concern:
A little bit of cussing.
The main character had an abusive father who left the family years ago, but she remembers instances of abuse.
A couple of mild kisses.
An atmospheric tension throughout.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 8+