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, November 19, 2020

As Old As Time

As Old As Time
by Liz Braswell


 From the publisher:

"What if Belle's mother cursed the Beast?


Belle is a lot of things: smart, resourceful, restless. She longs to escape her poor provincial town for good. She wants to explore the world, despite her father's reluctance to leave their little cottage in case Belle's mother returns--a mother she barely remembers. Belle also happens to be the captive of a terrifying, angry beast. And that is her primary concern.

But Belle touches the Beast's enchanted rose, intriguing images flood her mind--images of the mother she believed she would never see again. Stranger still, she sees that her mother is none other than the beautiful Enchantress who cursed the Beast, his castle, and all its inhabitants. Shocked and confused, Belle and the Beast must work together to unravel a dark mystery about their families that is twenty-one years in the making.
 "

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, but maybe I shouldn't have been surprised because Belle is definitely my favorite of all the Disney Princesses. This story added to and twisted the events we know so well. I loved that it also became the story of Belle's mother and father and a whole new plotline that wove seamlessly into the story, yet there were moments that came straight from the movie that I could quote while reading. It was like an old friend with many new, fascinating characteristics. Is it a classic that I'm going to read over and over again, or even think about all that often? Nope, but it was fun while it lasted.

Areas of concern:
*I was surprised by a handful of the *d* word and one use of *piss*.
*A couple of main characters, along with many other unknown characters are kidnapped and tortured to try to "take the magic out of them" - not graphic, but intense.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Stepsister

Stepsister
by Jennifer Donnelly
 From the publisher:

"Don't just fracture the fairy tale. Shatter it.


Isabelle should be blissfully happy-she's about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn't the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince's heart. She's the ugly stepsister who cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella's shoe...which is now filling with blood.

Isabelle tried to fit in. She cut away pieces of herself in order to become pretty. Sweet. More like Cinderella. But that only made her mean, jealous, and hollow. Now she has a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

Evoking the darker, original version of the Cinderella story, Stepsister shows us that ugly is in the eye of the beholder, and uses Jennifer Donnelly's trademark wit and wisdom to send an overlooked character on a journey toward empowerment, redemption...and a new definition of beauty."

This book was brilliantly conceived and beautifully written. It was eerie, dark, and deliciously twisted. As a general rule I don't like dark and twisty books, but this one was so incredibly well done that I couldn't help being fascinated by it. It begins with some pretty gruesome scenes of the stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to try to get the glass slipper to fit - I hate gruesome, but it was so engrossing that I couldn't/didn't want to stop reading. Our poor heroine is fighting against some pretty big odds, but she never gives up and I loved..... I was going to say her redemption, but I think reclamation might be a better word. She found herself again. She became the person she was always meant to be, even though she lost her way for a long time.

“They cut away pieces of me," she whispered in the darkness. "But I handed them the knife.”

There was a lot of girl power in the book - in an amazingly great way. Repression turned into freedom and the chance to be who you wanted.

“This world, the people in it- my mother, Tantine- they sort us. Put us in crates. You are an egg. You are a potato. You are a cabbage. They tell us who we are. What we will do. What we will be."
"Because they're afraid. Afraid of what we could be." Tavi said.
"But we let them do it!" Hugo said angrily. "Why?"
"Tavi gave him a rueful smile. "Because we're afraid of what we could be, too.”


There is magic in this book, but it isn't a feel-good magic. This is not your Disney Cinderella story, it is based on the Brothers Grimm version, which is way darker. And I love the point that the author makes, which is that the magic lives in each of us.

“There is magic in this sad, hard world. A magic stronger than fate, stronger than chance. And it is seen in the unlikeliest of places....(spoilers I took out)....It lives inside every human being ready to redeem us. To transform us. To save us. If we can only find the courage to listen to it.
It is the magic of the human heart.”


It wasn't all dark, there were quite amusing parts as well as exciting and poignant parts. There are so many amazing quotes I could have used, but I'll finish this off with something the author had in the acknowledgements section at the end of the book:

“Fairy tales give it to us straight. They tell us something profound and essential - that the woods are real, and dark, and full of wolves. That we will, at times, find ourselves hopelessly lost in them. But these tales also tell us that we are all that we need, that we have all we need - guts, smarts, and maybe a pocketful of breadcrumbs - to find our way home.”

So, do I recommend this book? I hope I haven't talked anyone out of it with all of the talk of darkness because I would say I highly recommend it for 8th grade and up, but I am leery of having my younger students read it.

Areas of concern:
*The *b* word was used several times. I would say there were probably more than 10 but less than 20 cuss words in the whole book - no *f* word.
*The aforementioned self-inflicted maiming of two characters (which I didn't realize was in the Grimm's version).
*War violence which gets a little graphic in a couple of places.
*Sexual situations were rare - one story of a man putting his hand up a girl's skirt when they were seated at dinner.
*Extreme bullying of the main character.


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

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Magyk

Magyk
by Angie Sage


 From the publisher:

"The first part of an enthralling new series leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters, clever charms, potions and spells. Ages 9+.


The 7th son of the 7th son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby's father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a newborn girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son, Septimus?

The first part of this enthralling new series leads readers on a fantastic journey filled with quirky characters, clever charms, potions and spells, and a yearning to uncover the mystery at the heart of this story...who is Septimus Heap?

Angie Sage writes in the tradition of great British storytellers. Her inventive fantasy is filled with humor and heart: Magyk will have readers laughing and begging for more."

I have had these books in my library since they came out and several students have mentioned really liking them, so I thought it was time to read the first one. I'm very glad I did - it was really entertaining and gripping! I liked the plot, the characters, and the world building. It's not hard to guess the big secret, but it is fun to see how it comes about. I think this is a great start to a series for middle grade students. The one drawback is that the books are very fat, and sometimes that is off-putting for middle schoolers. It read quickly, though, with plenty of action and excitement.

Areas of concern (and I'm reaching for these):
*An evil bad guy. On a scale of 1 to Voldemort, I would put him on par with Count Olaf. There was a lot of humor involved in his evil-ness.
*Disgusting fantasy creatures that love to attack and kill humans.
*The Young Army that trains small boys to become killers and trackers.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 9+
School Library Journal - Grades 4-8

Friday, October 2, 2020

Con Academy

Con Academy
by Joe Schreiber

From the publisher:

"Meet Will Shea, a con artist who has bluffed his way into one of the nation’s most exclusive private schools. But Will isn’t the only scammer at Connaughton Academy—Andrea Dufresne is there too, and the ivy-covered campus isn’t big enough for the both of them.

So they make a bet—and the winner gets more than just a high school diploma. In this twisty tale of secrets, lies, and deception—it’s hard to figure out who’s double-crossing who. May the best con win!"

 

This was a fun, quick read. It was a kind of Gallagher Girls (except the main character is a boy) meets The Sting. What's not to like about that? Boarding school books are always fun, and getting even with spoiled, rich kids is even better. I think student's will really like this for the quick, easy style, the action, and the fun characters. It wasn't the best book I've ever read, but it was entertaining. I've had it in the library for quite some time, but it rarely gets checked out - even when on prominent display. That is usually a cover problem, so I wish the cover reached out and grabbed you more. It is based in a high school, but is also appropriate for middle school readers.


Areas of concern:
*Lying, swindling, cheating.... things you would expect in a book about cons.
*One tense action scene that could be a little scary.

 

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 8-11
School Library Journal - Grades 6-10


C

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything
by Nicola Yoon
From the publisher:
"Risk everything . . . for love.

What if you couldn’t touch anything in the outside world? Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face . . . or kiss the boy next door? In Everything, Everything, Maddy is a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world, and Olly is the boy who moves in next door . . . and becomes the greatest risk she’s ever taken.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He's tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Everything, Everything will make you laugh, cry, and feel everything in between. It's an innovative, inspiring, and heartbreakingly romantic debut novel that unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, illustrations, and more."

Parents, listen up! I am so torn on this book because I loved the story so much and for 99% of it, it is perfectly appropriate for middle schoolers. Alas, in my opinion, that 1% makes it inappropriate. I put off getting this one for several years, but after seeing that 7 of the middle schools in our district had it and after book talking it with an 8th grader who told me that there wasn't anything in it to cause concern, I purchased it. Now I can't decide whether to send it on to a high school, or just put a "Content Warning" label on it. The story is so good! Who wouldn't love Maddy and Olly? I so wanted them to have a happy ending, but had no idea how that could happen. The twist at the end wasn't a surprise to me after book talking with my 8th grader, but I could see it being a big shock to most readers. I did feel disappointed in the ending - it was just suddenly over. However, I loved it, with the caveat that it isn't appropriate for younger readers.

Areas of concern:
* I counted 12 instances of profanity and swearing.
* Abusive parent
* Mental illness
* About 4 pages of pretty descriptive nudity and foreplay with fade-to-black intercourse between 18 year-olds.
 

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 8-11
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
*** Mrs. Duke disagrees!  If it were my child, I would say 16+.***

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Prisoner of Ice and Snow
by Ruth Lauren
From the publisher:
"When Valor is arrested, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s sister Sasha is already serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family and Valor is going to help her escape . . . from the inside.

Never mind that no one has escaped in three hundred years. Valor has a plan and resources most could only dream about. But she didn't count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison."

I really enjoyed this book, but had some concerns. The story is gripping from the first page. The main character, although somewhat likable, seems to make one stupid decision after another and drags people down with her when she fails. But the action is intense, the story interesting, and there was good world building. Everything moves along very quickly. I liked that it had closure with the possibility of more - kind of like Harry Potter in that way. I think middle school students will really like this first book in a new fantasy series, and that is who the book is written for.

Areas of concern:
* A lot of violence and abuse towards children in a prison. I found parts quite disturbing.
* A lack of good adults.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 8+
School Library Journal - Grades 4-7

Monday, April 13, 2020

Dear Sweet Pea

Dear Sweet Pea
by Julie Murphy
From the publisher:
"The first middle grade novel from Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’ (now a popular Netflix film), is a funny, heartwarming story perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.
Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”
Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.
Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.
What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”
This is a very sweet and heart-warming book and I enjoyed it. The characters are so well drawn and vary from eclectic to mainstream and from popular to bullied, but are always relatable. I loved the voice of Sweet Pea, who had some really big things to deal with and sometimes made stupid decisions, but who had many nuggets of wisdom to share with the reader.

"My mom always says that sometimes the best thing you can do to show a bully that they're in the wrong is to live your very best life."

"Sometimes it's easy to forget that quiet moments mean just as much as the loud ones, because it's not always about moving. Sometimes it's about sitting perfectly and quietly still."

I really appreciated the fact that although Sweet Pea's parents got divorced, they tried very hard to do what they thought was right for Sweet Pea. Not everything they did turned out right, but they worked hard and amicably to make the change as easy as possible for their daughter.

I also appreciated matter-of-fact way the author dealt with several issues. Sweet Pea's weight, her father being gay, the diversity of the characters... those things were just a part of the whole story and not the main focus or thrown in your face as politically correct.

Oh, the friend drama of middle school! There are many of my students who will relate to this story and who might actually learn something from it.

Areas of concern:
*Bullying (for a variety of reasons)
*Divorce
*Dishonesty with friends
*A couple of minor swear words
Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 4-8
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12