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!



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Forgetting

The Forgetting
by Sharon Cameron
From the publisher:
"What isn't written, isn't remembered. Even your crimes.

Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person's memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.

In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn't written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.

But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her."

There I was, calmly reading what I thought was a normal, run-of-the-mill, YA dystopian novel, when all of a sudden a twist hit that I was totally unprepared for. What?! So, while I enjoyed the beginning, it wasn't anything that I hadn't read a hundred times. But then, BAM, and all my perceptions were changed. 
This book pretty much has it all. Corrupt government, evil rulers, intense situations, sweet romance (with some pretty steamy kissing), strong heroine and funny, handsome hero, strong supporting characters and a surprising twist in the plot. I read and loved this author's book Rook , but didn't ever finish The Dark Unwinding . I think you just have to have patience at the beginning of her books, because they all seem to start very slowly. But believe me, they pack a punch later on. The premise in this one is so interesting and has so many facets. I was worried when I heard that there was another book in the series because I wanted resolution and ANSWERS in this one. Luckily the next book is just a companion book and not a sequel, so you don't have to worry about a big cliff hanger. 

Areas of concern:
*A scene of torture which is intense but not graphic.
*A pretty gruesome stabbing.
*An attempted suicide.
*Talk of floggings and a war in the past.
*A character witnessed some horrible events in the past and tries to describe some of it.
*Attempted mass murder.
*The afore-mentioned steamy kissing.
(All of that together sounds pretty terrible, but it was nothing worse than many other dystopian/science fiction books out there. They can get pretty violent.)

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
From the publisher:
"Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she's learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she's placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she's blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It's easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she's there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determinded to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighbourhood bullly and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she's feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world."

I read this book in one sitting and really enjoyed most of it. Some things didn't ring true for me, but I am not familiar with the foster care system (unless you count TV shows), so maybe some of the things that bothered me really could happen. 
To begin with, this book is extremely popular in our middle school library, and believe me, I would rather have 6th - 8th graders reading this over A Child Called It . It is a kinder, gentler look at abuse and the foster care system. Middle school students do love reading these kinds of books. I hope it teaches them empathy and compassion for other students who might be in this situation. 
I thought the main character, Carley, was very believable in her feelings and the walls she had around herself. I cared about her immensely, and had teary eyes several times throughout the story. I was happy to see a foster family that was so functional and normal. I loved Mrs. Murphy and the whole family of Murphys. And I was thrilled to see a best friend who was a Musical Theatre Nerd! That was an un-looked for bonus. I loved the reference to track 18 on the WickedCD, which is the song For Good . However, I thought it would have been better to mention some of the words from it that make it so meaningful to Toni and Carley's situation. Practically every word in the lyrics fits their friendship.

The things that bothered me:
*The police officer who came to the house and pretty much bullied her. I have a feeling that would never happen in real life with an unrepresented minor - at least I hope so.
*The nearly absent social worker. Aren't they supposed to check up on them quite frequently? Especially right after being placed with a new family? 
*I definitely didn't like the ending and would have loved an epilogue 10+ years later.

Areas of concern:
*This is a book about a girl placed in a foster home because of violent abuse at home, so there is talk of the abuse and the damage it has had on the main character.
*Bullying at school.

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Shadow Bright and Burning

A Shadow Bright 
and Burning
by Jessica Cluess
From the publisher:
"I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she is brought to London to train with Her Majesty's sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she's the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city--and the one she loves?"

Well, here's an exciting book for you.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I love the relationship that we see right away between Henrietta and Rook, although more is revealed later on, it is nice to see their practically symbiotic relationship. They need each other. But it is also fun to see Henrietta have new experiences. I loved all of the characters! "The boys" are awesome, but I felt like it was Magnus, Blackwood, and then all the others that we didn't get to know as well until quite a bit farther into it. I'm sure they will all have major roles in the next book. On the description from the publisher it says, "One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her." I really thought I knew which one it was that was going to betray her, so I was nervous throughout because I really like the one I suspected, but so far, so good on that head. Ugh, it is so hard to write reviews without spoilers!! But regardless, the characters were all so important in their different ways, from sorcerers to magicians to we-thought-you-were-dead people. And everyone's backstories were also very crucial to the story as a whole.
The setting of Victorian England almost put me off of this book because I hate steampunk, but there was no steampunk here, just magic. It was so interesting to see the alternate, magical, warding-off-demons Victorian London and the queen herself. 
All in all, I was very impressed with this book. I believe it is a debut novel by a new author and I very much look forward to what she brings in the future. There is action, magic, horror, fear, possible romance (from several different places), humor and all sorts of twists. I think I see where several things are going in the next book, but I have no idea how we're going to get there. All of that was done in a way that still kept it appropriate for a middle school audience. Well done, Jessica Cluess, you are on my radar.

Areas of concern:
*I only noticed one use of the *d* word and no other bad language.
*Terrifying monsters that attack. 
*Intense situations
*Mild sexual harassment at the very beginning of the book, but the character escapes from that environment.
*There is one quite big make-out scene and mention is made of a hand going up a leg, but that is as far as it goes.

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina and the
Black Cloak
by Robert Beatty
From the publisher:
"“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past."

I'm just going to start this by putting it out there that this book is quite scary and eerie. It starts out with a lot of discussion about rats. I have (luckily) never had a run-in with a rat, but since I am scared witless by mice, I was very disturbed by all of the rat talk. But that is just me, there is a lot more than rats here to terrify middle schoolers. I have a couple of students who LOVE the Lockwood and Co. books, and to tide them over between those books I think I'll steer them towards Serafina. There is definitely no lack of action and atmospheric creepiness. A black-cloaked, zombie-like monster who steals children, a creepy forest with an abandoned village and a mysterious and scary cemetery. Who can you trust? There are many people who could be suspect. 
The setting of the Biltmore estate was a fun part, and now I want to go visit it.... but NOT live in the rat-infested basement. 
I like the character of Serafina, she is brave and good and strong, but let's face it, sometimes pretty foolish. I felt sorry for her poor pa, who loved her and was always worried about her as she went off and left without telling him. I also liked Braeden and had a lot of compassion for his story. While I figured out some things quite easily, the way the author got around to explaining them was gripping. I really enjoyed this book, but it is not for the faint of heart. 

Areas of concern:
*Children disappearing in a very scary way.
*Atmospheric tension
*Blood and gore play a small part.
*Animal attacks
*Very little parental supervision
*Rats! Creeping, crawling, being caught, being killed.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12 (Wow!  8 years old?  Really?  Way too young, in my opinion.)
School Library Journal - Grades 5-7

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Six

The Six
by Mark Alpert
From the publisher:
Adam's muscular dystrophy has stolen his mobility, his friends, and in a few short years, it will take his life. Virtual reality games are Adam's only escape from his wheelchair. In his alternate world, he can defeat anyone. Running, jumping, scoring touchdowns: Adam is always the hero.

Then an artificial intelligence program, Sigma, hacks into Adam's game. Created by Adam's computer-genius father, Sigma has gone rogue, threatening Adam's life-and world domination. Their one chance to stop Sigma is using technology Adam's dad developed to digitally preserve the mind of his dying son.

Along with a select group of other terminally ill teens, Adam becomes one of the Six who have forfeited their bodies to inhabit weaponized robots. But with time running short, the Six must learn to manipulate their new mechanical forms and work together to train for epic combat...before Sigma destroys humanity."


Sometimes science fiction books are chilling and un-nerving because they show things that could actually happen in our world. I felt like that with this book. Technology is increasing so quickly, and who knows what things are being worked on that we know nothing about? I'm pretty sure there is a lot of work going on in the Artificial Intelligence area that I am unaware of. This book is science fiction in the truest sense of the genre. It isn't dystopian, it isn't time travel, it is science. I loved that it made you think of all the ethical questions that would arise in these circumstances. 
Aside from all of the science, this was a gripping, exciting book. There is a ton of action and conflict. 
I cared about the characters - robot or not - and the plot was believable and intriguing. As a parent, I can only imagine the roads I would be willing to go to save my child, so I definitely had a lot of empathy for Adam's dad. I am ordering books 2 and 3 for our library.

Areas of concern:
*The whole premise of the book is that the teenagers all have terminal diseases and will die in 6 months or less.
*The moral and ethical questions that arise from the decisions that need to be made.
*There is fighting and violence.


Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12-16
School Library Journal - Grades 8+

Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus
by Cassie Beasley
From the publisher:
Fans of Big FishPeter Pan, and Roald Dahl will fall in love with Circus Mirandus, which celebrates the power of seeing magic in world.Do you believe in magic? Micah Tuttle does.Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn't want to keep his promise. And now it's up to Micah to get the miracle he came for."


After all the hype and the good ratings for this book, I was definitely disappointed. It took me over half of the book to really get into it, and believe me, middle schoolers will not keep reading that long to get into a story. I was expecting a more magical feel, but it just wasn't working for me. It was a sweet, sad story and by the end I enjoyed it, although I felt like it left too many things up in the air. It would probably work better as a read-aloud for middle grade. I think there are probably students who would like this book, but so far it has just spent a lot of time sitting face-out on the shelf in our library. This may be one of those books that adults like better than kids like.
There are no real areas of concern, except for the death of a character and a very mean relative.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 4-7
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 9-12

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key
by Kevin Sands
From the publisher:
"“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart."

Wow! This was a never-ending thrill ride of a read. I was almost late for work one day because I started reading and lost track of time. Another reviewer described it as a cross between The Da Vinci Code andThe Alchemyst and I definitely agree about The Da Vinci Code . Codes and secret caverns and Knight's Templar..... oh so good! I'm so glad I purchased this for our library because I almost missed it. I also have the 2nd one and will definitely get the 3rd one when it comes out in September. Sometimes I get a little jaded when it comes to middle grade/YA books, so I took quite a break over the summer and this was a perfect one to start back with. It IS intense and there are some gruesome murders going on which happen kind of off screen. I wouldn't suggest it to the sensitive reader. But, wow, it was exciting. And I loved that it had an ending and resolution.
I was very drawn to the characters. There is nothing as good as an incredibly loyal sidekick. The London descriptions of the 1600's were really interesting. It is kind of genre-bending because it FEELS like a fantasy, but isn't really. I won't give too much away, because I was very surprised at some things. But I will be recommending this to my 7th and 8th graders for sure.

Areas of concern:
*Gruesome murders involving torture being committed. (It didn't feel like very graphic descriptions.)
*A torture scene with the main character.
*Intense situations
*Abusive father
*Death of a loved one
*All of the above sounds pretty gruesome, but it didn't really seem that bad. Like I said, I would not steer sensitive students towards it, but others will LOVE it!!
 

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10-14
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6
(*Mrs. Duke seriously disagrees with School Library Journal.  The main character is 14 and the book has some very intense parts.  7th and 8th grade for sure, possibly 6th grade, but 4th?!  Disagree.)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ever the Hunted

Ever the Hunted
by Erin Summerill
From the publisher:
"Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.


However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force."


When I read this with my middle school librarian eyes, I really like it. It has a great story, beautiful cover, exciting action, sweet romance, and good characters. I think middle school students will love it, and I love it for them because there is no bad language or other things of concern, with the exception of some violence and suspense. The sequel will come out in December of 2017, and I will be buying it for our library. I will definitely be talking this one up to our students.

When I read this with my I'm-an-adult-who-reads-too-much-young-adult-literature, then I see the poor world building, the cliched heroine, the beautiful, muscled hero, and the world about to erupt into chaos which is the general rule of thumb for young adult lit. But I'm not concerned about any of that because it is just the thing that will appeal to my students. And it was a fun, clean read.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo)

The Hidden Oracle
by Rick Riordan

From the publisher:

"How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus's favour.

But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go... an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood."


I know this is a blasphemous statement to a lot of people, but I'm not a Rick Riordan fan. I read Percy Jackson and thought it was "meh", so I never read any more of his books. However, one of my students promised this one was amazing, so I tackled it. I ended up annoyed with the constant need to be cute and witty. It seemed way over the top. And it seems like the humor is aimed at the wrong audience. There are so many of the quips and one-liners that will go way over the heads of the target readers. Granted, I chuckled at some of them. "A penguin and a nun walk into a Shake Shack"...... come on, that's amusing. However, my middle school students would have no idea what that even means. 
It probably didn't help that I haven't read the entire Percy Jackson collection and didn't know or couldn't remember who most of the people were. 
I really didn't like Apollo, and when the main character annoys the heck out of you, it is hard to enjoy the book. I thought his constant talk of his past lovers (male and female) was totally inappropriate for this age group as well. 
So now that I have made the attempt twice, may I please be released from reading any more of this author? I will leave that to my students, who can't get enough or Rick Riordan no matter how prolific of a writer he is. Middle school students - enjoy! Adults - take a pass. No, wait, I know a lot of adults who love Rick Riordan, so if that is you - definitely read it.

Areas of concern:
*Above mentioned talk of Apollo's past lovers, both heterosexual and homosexual.
*Teenage love stories abound - both heterosexual and homosexual.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 5-8
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12-17

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan
From the publisher:
"In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family. 

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
 "

Holly Goldberg Sloan knows how to tell a story. Characters may be quirky, plot holes may exist, but still you want to read. I very much enjoyed this book, and the students at our middle school really enjoy it, it gets checked out a lot. But to compare it to Wonder is going a little too far. Things are a lot less believable and real in this book. That doesn't mean it wasn't incredibly entertaining and heartfelt, just not that realistic. And, once again, I have to take exception to the way public school employees were treated. A teacher, principal and school counselor who are incredibly stupid is kind of a slap in the face to all the wonderful teachers, principals and counselors we have in the public school system. Really? NO ONE realized that Willow was gifted? So in a way this felt a little farcical, like a Lemony Snicket book. And if you just let it flow and not worry about it being unrealistic, then it is a wonderful, fun read. I loved Willow's voice! She was quirky, annoying, innocent and wise. Her brain doesn't work quite like anyone else's, but because of that she has many amazing thoughts. 

The average teenager was willing to wear very uncomfortable attire. From my observation, the older you get, the more you like the word cozy. That’s why most of the elderly wear pants with elastic waistbands. If they wear pants at all. This may explain why grandparents are in love with buying grandkids pajamas and bathrobes. The outfits worn by my fellow students were, in my opinion, either way too tight or way too loose. Apparently having something that actually fits was not acceptable. 

So put aside the many improbable circumstances and behaviors and just enjoy the storytelling.

Areas of concern:
*A 12 year old dealing with the death of her parents.
*A public school system that fails horribly, over and over again.
*Bullying of main character (only at the beginning of the story).

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-10
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8
(An interesting range.  I would say it is very appropriate for all middle schoolers.)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Star-Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen
by Roshani Chokshi
From the publisher:
"Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself."

While reading this book there were moments where I was so engrossed in the beautiful writing and the music and poetry of it, that I would get to the end of a paragraph and say, "Wait. What just happened?". The writing was stirring and magical and gripping, yet I feel like I am a little clueless about many things that happened. It was weird and other-worldly, but it was supposed to be weird and other-worldly because there is actually a place called The Otherworld in the book. I'm very conflicted about this one! On the one hand there were many things I loved, on the other hand I found a lot of things very confusing. I found the romance believable, very insta-love, but there is a reason for that. The villain was deliciously evil. One of the characters was creepily humorous (a talking horse-thing that wants to eat people.) I loved the sisterly bond, but disliked the rest of the familial relationships. The Indian mythology helped with the magical feeling of the book. All in all, I was very invested in the story and characters, but I'm not convinced that middle schoolers will be that invested. Will they be as enthralled as I was by the pictures the words of this book paint? I can think of a few that will stick with it, but probably high schoolers will do better with it. Not because of content issues, just because of maturity.

Areas of concern:
*No bad language that I can remember.
*Several passionate kisses between husband and wife. They share a bed, but it is clear that they are only sleeping there. 
*Quite a bit of violence is alluded to, but I never felt anything was very graphic. 
*Bullying of the main character at the very beginning of the book.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 9+

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Truth About Forever

The Truth About Forever
by Sarah Dessen
From the publisher:
"A long, hot summer...

That's what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy's father.

But sometimes, unexpected things can happen—things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister's project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl's world upside down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to question her sheltered life. 

Is it really always better to be safe than sorry?

This is the first Sarah Dessen book I have read, and I'm kind of torn about it. On one hand, I loved the characters and the storyline. I was completely drawn in to the heartache and attraction the 2 main characters shared. I hurt for Macy and her mother and their dysfunctional relationship and loss of self. The secondary characters were beautifully drawn and were every bit as important to the story as the main ones. I loved every member of the Wish team and want to go hang out with them. There is a deepness about this book, and it isn't your ordinary YA contemporary. 

On the other hand, I was not happy about the cussing and partying and sneaking out that was portrayed. Don't tell me that is "normal" teenage behavior, because it doesn't have to be. However, if that is what they are reading in books and seeing in movies and on TV, then it convinces teenagers that that is how they are supposed to act. The whole moral of this book is saying that when Macy was trying to be perfect she wasn't healing and moving on, but when she was sneaking out and drinking then she was really becoming a better person. I was a little uncomfortable with that, even though it wasn't that stark in it's telling. 

My students constantly ask for more of Sarah Dessen, but I'm not convinced she is a good fit for middle school. If my students want YA contemporary, I'll steer them towards Kasie West, who tells the same type of stories without all of the bad language and behavior. 

Areas of concern:
*Quite a lot of profanity, vulgarities and cussing. The *f* word rears it's ugly head twice and it is completely unnecessary.
*Quite a bit of teenage drinking.
*Sneaking out at night.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 9-12 (I agree with this one.)
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story
of Jack
by Kelly Barnhill
From the publisher:
"Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite a long time.

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends -- not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.
 "

Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite a long time.

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends -- not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.
 

I liked this, but I didn't love it. The writing is excellent (as usual with Kelly Barnhill), and the story is unique and interesting, but it just didn't have that magical feel of both The Witch's Boy and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by the same author. Which is kind of unusual because it contained a lot of magic. I didn't connect with the characters very much, in fact there isn't one that stands out in my mind that I really loved. And some of the plot line was quite confusing. However, it kept my interest and I can recommend it to my middle schoolers - not as highly as the other 2 our library has by this author, but I think there are quite a few who will like it. 

Areas of concern:
*Good vs. evil abounds. Children are taken from their families and eventually forgotten.
*One of the taken children is returned with many scars and unable to talk.
*Some bullying takes place.
*One very quick, tame kiss between kids that I think were 12 years old?

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12 (I can't imagine an 8 year old following this complicated story, and I think older than 12 can still enjoy it.)
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8

Monday, January 30, 2017

My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane
by Cynthia Hand, Brodi
Ashton and Jodi Meadows
From the publisher:
"The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England."

I started this book over a month ago and I'm still only at 50%. I just can't take it anymore. Why did they make this about Lady Jane Grey and then completely change history? Why not just make new characters? The whole book is silly, but not in a good Princess Bride-y kind of way, just in a ridiculous way. I can't keep going with it when there are so many good books out there to read.
  
*I have read several reviews from people who have loved this book, so the above review is just my opinion - please read it for yourself to make your own decision.

Areas of concern:
*A lot of talk about bedding, brothels, marriage bed..... nothing graphic, but mentioned a lot.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-11
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+