Roller Girl

This evening, I bring you one more of the 2017-18 South Carolina Book Award nominees. For the second year in a row, the SCCBA committee has chosen to place a graphic novel on the nominee list, a trend I desperately hope continues. This year, the lone graphic novel on the list is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. (By the way, this book is also a 17-18 SC Junior Book Award nominee. Bonus.)

Roller Girl has been on my radar for a while, and I finally made time to read it last night. I found it to be thoroughly relatable, and I think fans of Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, and anything by Raina Telgemeier will devour this book, a book that is essentially about being a good friend and embracing one’s own unique gifts. It could also encourage many young readers to search out a sport that may be unfamiliar to them–roller derby.

Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, do everything together, and Astrid assumes that will always be the case. She’s about to learn, however, that things have a way of changing.

After attending an exciting roller derby bout, Astrid signs up to attend a summer roller derby camp. She assumes that Nicole will join her, but Nicole has other plans in mind. She wants to attend ballet camp. Not only that, but she’ll be at ballet camp with Astrid’s sworn enemy, the vile Rachel. (Rachel is responsible for giving Astrid a particularly terrible nickname.) Astrid is not happy about the situation, but she really wants to go to roller derby camp. Maybe she’ll make some new friends there, friends who will make the growing distance with Nicole a little less painful.

Pain, as it turns out, is something Astrid is about to become very familiar with. Roller derby isn’t exactly all sunshine and roses. It hurts. It hurts even more when one doesn’t really know how to skate. Astrid goes home each day battered and bruised, and she barely has enough energy to fall into bed. Becoming a star roller girl is a lot harder than Astrid thought it would be.

Even though roller derby is more difficult than Astrid ever imagined, she is getting better slowly. She’s also making new friends. She’s growing closer to one girl in particular, Zoey. She and Zoey practice together, hang out, and Zoey even dyes Astrid’s hair blue–something her mother is not exactly happy about.

Things seem to be going okay for Astrid. She’s determined to be the best roller girl possible, and she’s putting in the work to make that happen. But what happens when she comes face-to-face with Nicole (and Rachel) again? What happens when Zoey, her new friend, gets the position Astrid desperately wants for their upcoming bout? What happens when Astrid is forced to face the consequences of everything she’s done this summer?

Will Astrid become the person–the roller girl–she knows she can be? And will she form–and keep–the friendships she so desperately desires?


Roller Girl is a wonderfully engaging book about the importance of perseverance, being a good friend, and being part of a team. It also introduces readers to roller derby, a sport that may be unfamiliar to them. I confess that I knew very little about roller derby before reading this book, but I now want to see if there are any teams in my area. (I have no desire or ability to play, but I bet it would be a ton of fun to watch.)

There is only one thing about Roller Girl that gives me pause. That’s the unfortunate nickname that Rachel saddled Astrid with. As I’m sure you know, kids can be cruel, and Astrid’s name lends itself to an especially rotten nickname–“ass-turd.” (I tell you this now so you’ll know what to expect.) Yes, this is a horrible term and some readers–mainly adults–could have a problem with it, but it emphasizes the dynamic between Astrid and Rachel and helps to explain why Astrid is so hurt that Nicole is friends with a girl who could come up with something so mean. Is this one term going to keep me from promoting this book to my upper elementary students? Nope, but I do believe in being prepared (with collection policies, reviews, Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom information, etc.) should anything be called into question. I urge anyone else to do the same.

With all of that being said, I do highly recommend Roller Girl to upper elementary and middle grade audiences. It’s a quick, entertaining read that emphasizes both individuality and teamwork. You’ll have a hard time keeping enough copies in your libraries. (I know I can’t keep it on my shelves.)

For more information on Roller Girl, visit author Victoria Jamieson’s website. Enjoy!

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Ruby on the Outside

Last night, I finished yet another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. This book, Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin, was a quick but powerful read, and it handled a difficult subject with a great deal of sensitivity.

What is life like for kids whose parents are in prison? Well, Ruby Danes can tell you that it’s not easy. She doesn’t want to tell anyone the truth of her mom’s situation and risk becoming an outcast. That makes forming real friendships very difficult. But Ruby is getting ready to begin middle school, and what she wants more than almost anything is her very own best friend to face the future with her.

As it turns out, Ruby may just get what she wants. A new girl, Margalit, has moved in nearby, and she and Ruby hit it off almost instantly. They spend most of their summer days together, and Ruby thinks she’s finally found the best friend she’s been looking for. Can she trust Margalit with her secret, though? Would Margalit judge Ruby for her mother’s crimes?

When Ruby begins to piece together what led to her mother’s incarceration, she doubts that Margalit could ever want to be best friends. It seems that Margalit’s family may be closely tied to the crime that landed Ruby’s mom in prison. This devastates Ruby, and it forces her to finally deal with some deep feelings that she has toward her mother.

Will Ruby be able to forgive her mother for the decisions she made in the past? Will she be able to reveal her secret to Margalit and find the friend she needs? Find out when you read Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin.


Ruby on the Outside is an important book to add to upper elementary and middle school library collections. It addresses a situation that is often overlooked, but, like it or not, that situation is all-too-real for many children, even those in our own spheres of influence.

This book is not preachy, overly optimistic, or terribly gritty, but it does offer a simple, realistic, and touching look at the life of one girl dealing with her mom’s imprisonment. That one thing colors nearly everything in Ruby’s life, and it’s interesting to see how she looks at things that most of us may take for granted. Something as simple as “Have your mom sign this permission form,” for example.

Ruby on the Outside is a powerful little book with many big lessons. I hope many students and teachers in my school–and many others–will give this book a chance and use it to foster discussions about empathy, forgiveness, and friendship.

To learn more about Ruby on the Outside and other works by Nora Raleigh Baskin, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. You can also hear more about this book from the author herself in the video below. Enjoy!

The Great Greene Heist

I picked up The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson in March at my school’s spring book fair. I finally decided to read it this week. (I was in the mood for something a little lighter than the other books I was reading.) I finished it earlier today, and I now want to settle in for an Ocean’s 11 movie night. That’s a good thing.

If you’re looking for a contemporary middle grade novel featuring a diverse cast of characters, The Great Green Heist is what you’re looking for. If you want to read a book about kids scheming, using their wits, and getting one over on bullies–both kids and adults–this is the book for you. And, if you’re in the mood to read a light-hearted novel that has some marked similarities to the Presidential election, you’ve once again got a winner in The Great Greene Heist. (Note: This book was published in 2014. I doubt the author meant the book to so closely resemble the 2016 election, but it does nonetheless.)

Jackson Greene was one of the greatest con artists Maplewood Middle School had ever seen. Due to fallout from his last con, however, Jackson has put his conning days behind him…or has he?

When word gets out that Keith Sinclair, a nemesis of Jackson’s, is running for Student Council President, Jackson knows he has to step in. You see, Keith is running against Gaby de la Cruz, Jackson’s former best friend. Jackson knows Gaby will be a great president and run an honest campaign. Keith, on the other hand, is sure to use every dirty trick in the book–including blackmailing the principal–to make sure he wins.

As Jackson gets more proof that Keith is up to no good, he assembles a crew to pull off the greatest election showdown in middle school history. Their mission is to make sure Gaby wins the election and expose Keith Sinclair for the rat he is. If Jackson happens to get back in Gaby’s good graces in the process…well, that’s a bonus.

Will Jackson and crew be able to pull of such a complicated con? Will everyone stick to the plan? Who will win the school election, Gaby or Keith? Find out when you read The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson.


I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was entertaining from start to finish, and there was a fair amount of geeky humor that I absolutely adored. (I’ve always wanted to learn Klingon, and this book may have given me a push toward making that happen.) All of the characters are smart in their own ways, and, in my opinion, use their intelligence for the greater good. Definitely Starfleet Academy worthy.

The book also invites discussion on the election process–be it school, local, or national–and what characteristics qualify someone to be a public servant. I definitely saw similarities between Gaby, Keith, and our two current Presidential nominees. I have a feeling other readers will as well. (Is there a real-life version of Jackson Greene behind the scenes of our national election? I guess that remains to be seen.)

I would highly recommend The Great Greene Heist to readers in 4th or 5th grade on up. Some of the humor–particularly the nerdier stuff–may not resonate with younger readers, but they’ll still find much to enjoy in the antics of Jackson and his crew.

For those who think this book is their cup of tea, there’s more to love. The second book in the series, To Catch a Cheat, is already out. Perhaps I’ll buy this one at my next book fair (which is coming up in November).

If you’d like more information on The Great Greene Heist, visit author Varian Johnson’s website. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

Always, Abigail

Today, I bring you one more of the nominees for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. (I’ve still got six left to read. Sigh.) This post is devoted to Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh.

Ms. Cavanaugh is not new to the SCCBA list. Her previous book, This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, was on the list a couple of years ago. I liked that book, so I figured I would enjoy Always, Abigail. As usual, I was right.

Told in lists and letters, Always, Abigail is the tale of–you guessed it–Abigail. This young girl is entering sixth grade, and she and her two best friends are obsessed with making the school’s pom-pom squad. Her life will be over if she doesn’t make it. (Anybody recognize the middle school melodrama?) It’s bad enough that she and her BFFs aren’t in the same homeroom and she’s been saddled with the school loser for a year-long project. Surely the universe wouldn’t take poms from her too?!

As you may have guessed, Abigail doesn’t make the pom-pom squad. She is devastated and doesn’t really know what to do anymore. Her friends are always busy and now have inside jokes that she’s not privy to. Abigail is feeling left out, bored, and depressed, and she’s not sure how to change things. Her partner for her class’ “Friendly Letter Assignment” doesn’t help matters.

Gabby Marco is the outcast of the sixth grade, and she’s Abigail’s letter partner. At first, Abigail wants absolutely nothing to do with Gabby, but, as Abigail’s friends drift away, she and Gabby form an unlikely friendship. The two girls learn more about each other and realize they have more in common than they thought.

But Gabby is still an outcast, and Abigail’s so-called “friends” delight in tormenting this girl, not knowing anything about what she’s going through at home. But Abigail knows…and she stays silent. She knows she should stand up for Gabby, but she doesn’t want to risk becoming an outcast herself. Abigail is sick about the entire situation, and she feels like she’s about to explode.

When Abigail’s luck looks like it’s starting to change, she’ll be forced to make some truly difficult decisions. Will she continue to go along with the crowd, or will she stand up for a friend who’s been nothing but kind to her…even if it means losing all she’s ever wanted? Find out when you read Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh.


Always, Abigail is a super-fast read that will appeal to fans of Dork Diaries, Dear Dumb Diary, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Readers who like lists–myself included–will also find something to enjoy.

I think many readers may grow a little weary of Abigail and her obsession with being part of the “in crowd,” but I also think they’ll see themselves in this thoroughly relatable character. This book could lead to some discussions about what they would do to be popular. Would they be willing to bully another student? Stay silent when others are mistreated? How far would they go to be included?

If you’d like to learn more about Always, Abigail and other books by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, be sure to visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, check my YouTube channel later to see what I come up with for an Always, Abigail book trailer.

Happy reading!

Never Always Sometimes

Yesterday, I finished reading Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid. (You may recognize the name from his previous book, Let’s Get Lost.) Anyway, this latest book, which comes out next Tuesday, is sort of a coming of age story that John Green fans will probably eat up. In fact, at various points, this book reminded me a bit of Paper Towns. If you’re a Nerdfighter, that’s probably all the recommendation you need.

In Never Always Sometimes, readers are introduced to Dave and Julia, best friends who have done their best to avoid becoming high school clichés. Before they even darkened the doors of high school, Dave and Julia made a Nevers List, a list of things they vowed never to do during their time in high school. Some of the items were:

  • #2 – Never run for prom king/queen, student body president, or any other position that would have its own page in the yearbook.
  • #5 – Never dye your hair a color found in the rainbow.
  • #8 – Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school.
  • #10 – Never date your best friend.

Now, almost four years later, just months before graduation, Dave and Julia have done a fairly good job of sticking to their Nevers List. Or so it seems.

Dave, for his part, has been in love with Julia for what seems like forever–breaking Never #8–but he keeps his feelings a secret so that he won’t ruin his relationship with his best friend.

One day, thinking she and Dave are missing out on the authentic high school experience, Julia suggests that they use the time before graduation to cross off every Never on their list. As is usually the case, Dave goes along with Julia’s crazy idea, and pretty soon, the two are dying their hair (and Dave is shaving his shortly thereafter), stalking a teacher, running a campaign for prom king, going to wild parties, and doing all the other things they’ve been disdainful of all this time.

Through all of this, Dave starts to realize that maybe he really has been missing out. This typical teenage stuff isn’t so bad, and it’s even pushing him to be social with people–girls–other than Julia. One girl in particular, Gretchen, catches his eye, and Dave begins to think that, as much as he still loves Julia, maybe he should let that hopeless crush go and move on.

What Dave doesn’t know (yet) is that Julia is coming to her own realizations. Maybe she too wants something more from her best friend, the guy who knows her better than anyone else. Maybe they should finally cross of Never #10 and see what happens. What could possibly go wrong?

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How do I feel about Never Always Sometimes now that I’ve finished it and reflected a bit? Well, I’m still not sure. I think it’s a good book, maybe a tad unrealistic, but I kind of wanted to punch the main characters in the face several times when I was reading. Especially Julia. (I guess it’s good that I got so emotionally invested.) She seemed so self-centered to me throughout most of the book, and she tended to drag Dave down with her. Granted, he went–if somewhat unwillingly–most of the time, but I wanted both of them to wake up and see just how codependent they were.

As for the ending of the book, it took some doing, but it was sort of satisfying. I wouldn’t exactly call it happy, but given the events that preceded it, it really couldn’t be a totally happy ending for everyone. If anything, I would say that it was fitting and leave it at that.

For those wondering if Never Always Sometimes is suitable for middle grade readers, I would advise against it. It’s great for a YA audience, but the “sexy times” and rather unrepentant alcohol use and rule-breaking make the book much more suited to older teens. Whatever the reader’s age, I’d hope that all of them would have sense enough to know that some of the items on the Nevers List–like “never hook up with a teacher”–should remain Nevers.

As I said previously, Never Always Sometimes will be released to the masses on August 4th. (Many thanks to NetGalley for letting me read it a bit early.) If you’re interested in learning more about this book and author Adi Alsaid, you can connect with the author on Goodreads and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. It’s a pretty good intro to Never Always Sometimes, but it doesn’t give too much away.

Happy reading!

Lying Out Loud

Several weeks ago, I read The DUFF, a highly entertaining read by Kody Keplinger. This past Tuesday, I finished its companion novel, Lying Out Loud. (Normally, it doesn’t take me so long to write up a post after finishing a book. I blame end-of-school-year craziness.)

Anyway, Lying Out Loud, which takes place a few years after the conclusion of The DUFF, revolves around Amy Rush (Wesley’s sister) and her best friend, Sonny Ardmore. The best way I can describe their story is Easy A meets Cyrano de Bergerac. But since that doesn’t really go into how cool this book is, let’s take a closer look…

Sonny Ardmore is a world-class liar. She’s discovered that sometimes lies–especially those concerning her parents–are much less painful than the truth. Not even her best friend Amy knows exactly why Sonny needs to sleep over every single night…and Sonny’s in no real hurry to tell her. Sonny knows Amy would by sympathetic, but telling the truth would mean admitting what’s really going on to herself, and Sonny’s not ready for that.

So…the lying continues, and it’s about to land Sonny–and Amy–into quite a mess.

Ryder Cross is the new kid at Hamilton High. He’s pretentious, standoffish, and totally drool-worthy. And he has a crush on Amy. One night, Sonny and Amy (mostly Sonny) respond to a message from Ryder and basically play him for a fool. When Ryder calls them out on how mean they’ve been, Sonny responds and apologizes. The two end up chatting all night long, revealing pieces of themselves they’ve never shared with anyone else. There’s just one big problem, though. Ryder thinks he’s talking to Amy.

When Sonny realizes that there’s been a mix-up, she initially tries to tell Ryder the truth, but he loathes her and won’t give her a chance to fess up. So, liar that she is, Sonny decides to enlist Amy’s help in turning things around. She convinces her best friend to do everything she can to make Ryder let go of his ridiculous crush and turn his attentions to Sonny.

All the while, Sonny continues to text Ryder all the time–and he still thinks he’s talking to Amy. Sonny knows it’s wrong, but she can’t give up this tenuous connection to Ryder. She tells him things she’s told no one else, and he’s doing the same. Sonny just wishes he’d realize that the girl Ryder’s talking to is right in front of him, waiting to be noticed.

Ryder is very confused about the whole situation, and he’s not the only one. Amy is growing tired of Sonny’s schemes, and even Sonny is having trouble keeping up with all of her lies in her quest to prevent the messy truth of her life from being revealed. But that’s the thing about truth. It has a way of making itself known no matter what a person does…and Sonny’s day of reckoning is fast approaching.

Sonny does everything she can think of–short of being totally honest–to unravel the mess she’s made, but her lies are catching up to her. She’s totally panicked, and she’s terrified that she’s about to lose Ryder, Amy, and any possible hope for her own future.

What will happen when Sonny is forced to face the truth? Have her lies hopelessly damaged her relationships with both Amy and Ryder? And how will Sonny and those closest to her deal with the circumstances that led Sonny to make her life one big lie in the first place?

Uncover the truth for yourself when you read Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger!

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Lying Out Loud is a quick, fun, sometimes serious, and always charming read that fans of The DUFF will adore. Readers will especially enjoy the glimpses of Wesley and Bianca in this story. (He’s still charming, she’s still sarcastic, and they’re still really cute together.)

One thing that really stood out to me about this book was that it was just as much about Sonny’s relationship with Amy as it was about her burgeoning romance with Ryder. In fact, I daresay the Sonny/Amy relationship was the most important in the book. If it had come down to choosing between Amy and Ryder, I honestly think Sonny would have chosen to keep Amy in her life. (I’m glad it didn’t come to that, though.) Sonny was kind of horrible to Amy for much of the book, but Amy stood by her side–until even she couldn’t take the lying anymore. When Sonny realized that she was about to lose the greatest person in her life, that’s when she really turned things around. I don’t think Ryder alone would have been able to be that catalyst for change (though he definitely had a part in it).

I think Lying Out Loud is a great read for young adults looking for a book that really delves into relationships–friendships, family (with all of their complications), adversaries, and even one girl’s relationship with herself. Sonny examines her own part in the relationships around her, especially her tendency to lie in an effort to make things easier for her, and I think she eventually realizes just how much she matters to those who really care for her and how much damage she’s truly done. The lies are not necessary. Those who really love her will do so no matter how bad or ugly the truth may happen to be.

If I’ve piqued your interest with this post and you’d like to learn more about Lying Out Loud and other books by Kody Keplinger, check out the author on her website, Twitter, TumblrFacebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube. Have fun!

I Was Here

It’s difficult to describe my feelings on Gayle Forman‘s latest book, I Was Here, but I’ll do my best. Don’t be surprised, though, if this post is a bit different from most others.

I Was Here deals with something that is hard to discuss. Suicide and those left to pick up the pieces. I won’t go into how suicide has touched my own life, but I will say that this book brought back all of the feelings of pain, grief, and guilt. No matter what anyone says, suicide doesn’t just impact the one contemplating or going through with it. It leaves total wreckage behind, and that’s what Cody, this book’s protagonist, is facing.

Cody and Meg were once as close as sisters, so how is it possible that Cody had no idea that her best friend was suicidal? Is there anything Cody could have done to stop Meg from carrying out the elaborate plan that would end her life? How can Cody go on without her other half, the friend who meant the world to her? And how can she figure out just what drove Meg to do the unthinkable?

All of these questions are plaguing Cody, and she is determined to find the answers that she needs. Her search leads her to Meg’s college apartment and a life that Cody was never a part of. She talks to Meg’s roommates and her friends in Seattle, including the enigmatic Ben McCallister, a young man with his own guilt about what happened to Meg. No one seems to know why Meg would have committed suicide, and Cody is growing frustrated with what seems to be a fruitless quest for the truth…until she discovers an encrypted file on Meg’s computer.

With a little help, Cody discovers exactly what Meg was hiding, and her investigation becomes even more intense. Cody becomes obsessed with Meg’s journey to suicide, and she’s getting drawn into something that is taking over her own life. She needs to find a reason for Meg’s decision, someone to blame for this horrible act that threw everything she thought she knew into a tailspin.

But will Cody really be prepared for what she uncovers? What will she do with the information? Will it change anything? And who will be there to help Cody pick up the pieces of her shattered life now that her best friend is gone?

Read I Was Here by Gayle Forman to learn how one young woman tries to live while attempting to find out why her best friend wanted to die.

_______________

I Was Here was not an easy book for me to read. I had to put it down several times because I was, quite simply, getting too emotional. I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about some parts of the book. I guess some things may have hit a little too close to home. I will say, however, that I think this is an important book. It deals with subjects–suicide and depression–that many young people are facing…but not talking about. Nothing is glossed over or treated with the least bit of glamour (something the media tends to do with suicide). I Was Here is an honest look at what’s left behind when loved ones end their own lives. The feelings of guilt, loss, and hopelessness. It’s something that never really goes away.

I hope that this book, like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, opens up a dialog about depression and suicidal thoughts. Young people need to realize that they are not alone, and, as trite as it sometimes sounds, things really do get better. The darkness will eventually pass. The road may not be easy, but it’s worth it, and no one has to walk it alone.

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression or suicide, please talk to a trusted friend or adult. Seek help. Call the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention lifeline at 800-273-TALK. Go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website to learn more about warning signs and how to find local support groups for survivors.