Denton Little’s Deathdate

What would you do if you knew the exact date of your death? I like to think I’d do all the stuff I was too scared, inhibited, or lazy to do normally, but I know myself well enough to realize that’s probably not how things would play out. The more likely scenario is that I would read as much as possible and take lots of naps. Know thyself, my friends.

I say all that to introduce my latest read, Denton Little’s Deathdate. In this morbidly funny book, our title character ponders what to do before he kicks the bucket. As a matter of fact, most people in the world deal with this big question. Thanks to an “advance” in medical technology, everyone knows his/her deathdate. They don’t know the exact minute or how they’re going to die, but the date appears to be set in stone. For seventeen-year-old Denton Little, that date is just a couple days away, and he’s got a lot to process before the big day.

Two days before his deathdate, Denton Little wakes up in a strange bed with his very first (and possibly last) hangover. Why is he in his best friend’s sister’s bed? He remembers flashes of the previous night, but most of it is a blur. Did something awesome happen with Veronica, or did he embarrass himself completely…or both?

Eventually, Denton Little manages to piece together some semblance of last night’s events, but he’s got other things to worry about today. For one thing, he has to get ready for his funeral. Oh joy. A night for everyone to say how sorry they are that he’ll no longer be with them. A night in which he has to make a speech and dole out hugs to relatives, friends, and treasured acquaintances. Denton can hardly wait.

Another thing worrying Denton in his last hours is the weird purple rash that is spreading all over his body. Did his activities with Veronica give him some sort of disease, or is it something else? Whatever it is, his entire body is turning purple, and it seems that he’s spreading this unknown virus to anyone he–ahem–shares saliva with. (There are a couple more people on that list than there should be, especially considering that Denton has a girlfriend whose name is most definitely not Veronica.)

To make things even more confusing for Denton, a weird guy shows up at his funeral, claims to have information about Denton’s mother, a woman who died shortly after giving birth to Denton, and warns Denton to beware of government officials. What could this guy want now, and how could this make any difference to Denton when he’s only got hours to live? And what could the government have to do with Denton or his mother? It’s quite the puzzle, and Denton’s running out of time to solve it.

Join Denton as he and his friends try to piece together what’s going on around them. What’s up with the weird purple rash? What does Denton’s mom have to do with his deathdate? And is there a way for Denton to cheat death when no one else has managed to? It’s a mystery…


Here’s a major spoiler if you’re still reading this post: Denton lives. I don’t feel too bad about revealing that since there is a second book to look forward to. The title itself could be considered spoilery to those who haven’t done their homework. It’s Denton Little’s Still Not Dead, and it was released in February. Given that book one ended on a pretty large cliffhanger, I’m hoping to make time to read book two as soon as possible.

Denton Little’s Deathdate is a nominee for the 2017-18 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. Often, titles on this list are appropriate for middle grade readers. In my opinion, this is not one of those titles. Denton Little’s Deathdate is an awesome book, but I don’t think it’s a good fit for tweens and younger teens. It has a fair amount of sexy times and innuendo, alcohol and drug use, and irreverent humor (which is my favorite part of the book), and all of those things combined make it more suited to a mature teen audience. Before you recommend this book to younger teens, read it for yourself. You likely know best which of your readers are ready for a book like this and which aren’t.

To learn more about Denton Little’s Deathdate, visit author Lance Rubin’s cool, fun website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and Instagram. For an extra bit of fun, check out the video below featuring Lance Rubin singing a lovely song about Denton Little’s Deathdate. The song alone makes me want to read everything this guy cares to write. Enjoy!

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Goodbye Days

There are some books that should really be packaged with a box of Kleenex. Goodbye Days is one of those books. From Jeff Zentner, author of the William C. Morris Award-winning The Serpent King, comes another novel that absolutely rips your heart out. Goodbye Days isn’t one of those books that makes you cry only at the end. No, this one elicits full-on sobbing most of the way through. This novel is at once tragic, poignant, and cathartic, and I adored every last bit of it…even though I was often reading through a veil of tears.

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Goodbye Days a little early, but it’s available for the masses on March 7th. If you’re wondering if you should buy this book, you absolutely should.

Carver Briggs should be getting ready to enjoy his last year of high school with his three best friends, Mars, Blake, and Eli. Instead, he’s attending their funerals and dealing with the knowledge that he played a role in the deaths of those closest to him. How was he supposed to know that sending them a text message–like so many they’ve sent in the past–would somehow lead to the accident that destroyed everything?

Now, Carver’s life without his friends is almost more than he can bear. He’s a mess of grief, guilt, and fear. Grief over the loss of his friends; guilt over his role in this tragedy; and fear of what may happen to him if the authorities decide to bring criminal charges against him. Carver doesn’t know how to cope with everything, and he’s experiencing panic attacks for the first time in his life. Something’s got to give.

Thankfully, Carver isn’t completely alone. He’s supported by his parents (even though he doesn’t really confide in them), his wonderful sister, Georgia, and Jesmyn, Eli’s girlfriend, who shares her grief with Carver. He’s also started seeing a therapist–at his sister’s urging–and that’s helping him to explore his feelings about everything that’s happening.

Then there’s Blake’s grandmother. She, unlike some of his other friends’ family members, doesn’t blame Blake for what happened. She comes up with the idea of having a “goodbye day” for Blake, and she wants Carver to share one final day saying goodbye to her grandson. They’ll tell stories about Blake, visit his favorite spots, eat his favorite foods…basically, spend one day devoted to Blake’s memory.

At first, Carver is apprehensive about this, but he finds the experience somehow cleansing, and he wonders if it’s a good idea to have “goodbye days” with the families of his other friends. Some are willing; others are not. Not everyone forgives as readily as Blake’s grandmother. Even Carver feels that he’s somehow deserving of everything being heaped on him: the criminal investigation, the panic attacks, being a pariah at school, and the thoughts that plague him on a daily basis.

Will Carver ever be able to forgive himself for his role in this horrible tragedy? Will others be able to forgive him? Can a series of “goodbye days” help Carver and his friends’ families make some sort of peace with their loss? Will a cloud of grief hover over Carver forever, or will he be able to find a “new normal” with a little help?


I don’t know what more I can say about this book without telling everything that happens. It wrecked me, maybe more than The Serpent King did…and that’s saying a lot.

I think Goodbye Days is a great read for fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Gayle Forman. Basically, if you like books that tear your heart out, this is the book for you.

In my opinion, Goodbye Days is more suited to a YA audience than a tween crowd. If you plan to market this book to a middle grade audience, read it first. The book is written from a teen guy’s perspective, so there is some language and frank talk of “personal growth.” (I don’t think I need to explain that, do I?) Know your readers, and plan accordingly.

For more information on Goodbye Days and Jeff Zentner (who is now one of my go-to authors for contemporary YA), visit the author’s website. You can also connect with Jeff Zentner on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Warden’s Daughter

Yesterday, Jerry Spinelli’s newest book, The Warden’s Daughter, was released. I started reading it a bit earlier (thanks to NetGalley), but I didn’t manage to finish it until last night. It took a little while for me to gain traction with this book, but I flew through the latter half after school yesterday. As I got closer to the end, I was reading through a veil of tears. I needed a good cry, and this book delivered.

Cammie O’Reilly doesn’t exactly have a normal home. She is the warden’s daughter, and she and her father live in a little apartment attached to the Hancock County Prison. A prison trustee, Eloda Pupko, takes care of Cammie, and Cammie is friendly with many of the female inmates. As much as she wishes differently, though, none of them can really take the place of the mother who died when Cammie was just a baby. Or can they?

During the summer of 1959, Cammie does whatever she can to get someone, preferably Eloda, to mother her. It doesn’t seem to be working out for her, and this just adds to Cammie’s general sense of unhappiness. Sure, she has things she enjoys–talking about American Bandstand with her friend Reggie, playing baseball, eating junk food until she’s sick, and talking to Boo Boo, one of Hancock’s most colorful prisoners–but Cammie is not really happy.

This summer, big changes are in store for Cammie, and it’s not just turning the big 1-3. A new, controversial prisoner enters Hancock’s gates. Reggie, Cammie’s best friend, becomes obsessed with fame. Cammie finds friends–and an odd sense of family–in an unlikely situation. And Cammie’s entire world is rocked by a loss that no one could have anticipated.

Cammie struggles to cope with everything happening around her, and she lashes out at those close to her. Her anger and sorrow make her reckless, and she begins doing things she never thought she would. Her life seems to be spiraling out of control, and she doesn’t know how to get back on track.

What will it take for Cammie to become truly happy? Perhaps someone who’s been looking out for her–loving her–all along will give her just the push she needs…


The Warden’s Daughter is a great piece of historical fiction that is ideal for middle grade collections. Would I place it in an elementary library? Probably not. I’m not sure that my students are developmentally ready to tackle the question of capital punishment–an issue that is addressed in this book. There are also a few other situations in the book (suicide, rebellion, smoking, etc.) that, in my humble opinion, make it more suited to a middle grade audience.

I do think that this book could start some interesting discussions on how people in prison are treated. Cammie’s father, the warden, doesn’t treat his inmates as if they are subhuman. He treats them, even those who’ve committed the most heinous crimes, with respect. That’s something very different than what I’ve seen portrayed on the news and in various other forms of media. It might be worthwhile to have readers examine Callie’s father’s mindset with how today’s prisons are run or how they are portrayed in the media. Which way is better, and how can prisons be reformed? It’s thought-provoking to say the least.

If The Warden’s Daughter sounds like your cup of tea, I encourage you to give it a read. Given that I’m not normally drawn to historical fiction, I liked it a lot. I hope you will, too.

To learn more about this book and others by Jerry Spinelli, visit the author’s website. Enjoy!

The Sky Is Everywhere

I became a Jandy Nelson fan about two years ago when I read the unbelievably moving I’ll Give You the Sun. (Read it. Seriously. And have lots of tissues at the ready.) I was in a weird mood this week, so I looked to one of her other books, The Sky Is Everywhere, to get me through. It worked.

I guess I needed a good cry–without resorting to cheesy holiday Hallmark movies–and The Sky Is Everywhere definitely delivered. It explored concepts like loss, grief, love, family, hope, and the power of words and music in a way that really resonated with me. I hope it will do the same for you.

Lennie Walker is going through the worst time of her life. Following the death of her older sister, Bailey, Lennie is completely adrift. She doesn’t know which way to turn, and she doesn’t know how to go on without the most important person in her world. She’s lost interest in almost everything. Her only solace comes in the form of poems she leaves on the walls, on scrap pieces of paper, all over town.

While Lennie struggles to reconnect to her life, she looks for comfort in the arms of Toby, her sister’s boyfriend. He seems to be the only person who truly understands her grief, and maybe both of them are seeking a piece of Bailey in each other. Lennie knows it’s wrong to be so wrapped up in Toby, but she can’t seem to help herself. (To be fair, neither can he.)

When a new guy enters the picture, though, Lennie’s world is once again thrown into chaos. Joe Fontaine brings sunshine into Lennie’s life for the first time in a while, and he seems to bring her back into the world of words, music, and living. She begins playing her clarinet again, talking to friends and family, and contemplating a future of her own. It’s both exhilarating and, on some level, agonizing.

A big part of Lennie feels guilty for feeling any kind of happiness when her sister is gone, and an even bigger part of her is guilty over her continued connection with Toby when she’s falling for Joe. She knows she must end whatever is happening with Toby before it destroys her relationship with Joe…but that may not be up to her.

As her romantic life flounders, Lennie must also deal with secrets her sister was keeping, her feelings on her absent mother, how she relates to her family, and even how she views herself. Who is she without Bailey? Can she find the girl she is now before she loses Joe, the boy who may just be the love of her life? It’s time for Lennie to find out.


The band geek and word nerd in me really loved the character of Lennie (even though I wanted to shake her a few times). I have a feeling a lot of readers out there may feel the same way. If nothing else, maybe Lennie’s taste in music and literature could inspire readers to explore–or at least revisit–the classics.

While I think The Sky Is Everywhere is an excellent book for teens and adults–especially music and book lovers or those who’ve ever been in love or experienced loss (doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?)–I do think it’s geared toward more mature readers. This book doesn’t shy away from what may be deemed “salty language” or frank talk of sexuality. Yes, I know that’s reality for many tweens and teens. Some mature middle grade readers may be okay with this book, but others may not. As usual, know your readers and recommend books accordingly.

If you’d like to know more about The Sky Is Everywhere and other books by Jandy Nelson, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

With that, I’m going to wrap things up…which is the only wrapping I’ve managed to do. It’s Christmas Eve, and I haven’t wrapped a single gift, so I guess I’ve got work to do. So long for now, and I’ll be back in a few days. Happy holidays to you all!

The Last Time We Say Goodbye

On Monday, the latest nominees for the South Carolina Book Award program were announced. For the first time in probably ten years, I had not read any of the books listed in the Young Adult category. (I may work in an elementary school now, but I still love YA literature…as you may have noticed.)

Anyway, I knew I needed to correct that situation immediately, so I asked a friend which of the YA nominees I should read first. Her recommendation was Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Unfortunately, that book was unavailable through Overdrive, so I had to move on to another one. (Luckily for me, Red Queen became available fairly quickly, so that’s my next SCYABA read.) Since I couldn’t immediately dive into Red Queen, I chose to read The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. I’d read her Unearthly trilogy (Unearthly, Hallowed, and Boundless) and enjoyed it, so I trusted that I would like this book as well. I was right…again.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye is not what I would call an “easy” read. The subject matter–suicide and those left behind–is tough to read about. It’s even tougher if one’s life has been touched by suicide. That being said, I feel this is an important book for allowing readers to explore a tough topic…and to know that they are not alone.

Lex thought she knew the path her life was on. She was happy, excelling in school, and hoping to get into MIT. She had good friends and a great boyfriend who really understood her. Sure, things were tense at home since her dad left, but she, her mom, and her brother would get through that eventually. Things were okay.

And then everything changed. From one moment to the next, Lex’s entire world was turned upside down.

When her brother Ty ended his life, Lex didn’t know what to do with herself. How could she ever be happy again when her brother would never be able to? How could she look forward to her future when Ty wouldn’t have one?

As the weeks and months pass, Lex searches for her new normal. She’s forgotten what it feels like to be happy. She’s lost touch with her friends and ended things with her boyfriend. Her grades are beginning to slip. She worries about her mother, and she can’t even deal with her father. Moving on from this tragedy doesn’t seem to be an option.

Lex reluctantly talks to her therapist who suggests she keep a journal. Through writing, Lex begins to explore her relationship with her brother, what may have led to his decision, and her own guilt over not being there when Ty needed her. Could she have done something to stop him? Lex doesn’t know, but the guilt–and the feeling that Ty is still around somehow–are driving her crazy.

If Lex has any hope of moving on and being happy again–whatever that looks like–she knows she must face everything that happened the night Ty died, all of the events that may have led up to it, and the horrible fallout. She has to confront her parents about their actions as well as come to terms with her own. It’s the only way she can possibly have any real peace.

Will Lex’s efforts be enough, or will she forever be haunted by the ghost of her brother? Find out when you read The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand.


The Last Time We Say Goodbye is sure to be popular with fans of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Fall by James Preller, or I Was Here by Gayle Forman. It’s a great book dealing with a difficult subject, and it may be just what someone needs to get through a tough time.

I don’t know that I would recommend The Last Time We Say Goodbye to all middle grade readers, but some may be able to handle it. Use your best judgement when putting this book in young hands, but keep in mind that kids–yes, even those in middle school–have been touched by suicide. A book like this one may be what they need. Trust me on this.

For more information on The Last Time We Say Goodbye, check out author Cynthia Hand’s website. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Finally, if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help. Talk to someone–a parent, a friend, a guidance counselor, a librarian, a religious leader, someone. Go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or It Get’s Better. You’re not alone.

I’ll Give You the Sun

Sometimes, when it takes me a while to finish a book, it’s because I just couldn’t get into it. (See my previous post.) Other times, however, my reasons are more complicated. My latest read, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, took me about six weeks to get through, but the problem definitely wasn’t that I couldn’t get into it. Just the opposite, in fact.

I’ll Give You the Sun–like the works of John Green, Gayle Forman, and Rainbow Rowell–is one of those books with the power to completely take over everything, causing me to forget to sleep or eat and making me resent going to work. So, I had to force myself to only pick up this book when I could devote all of my attention to it…and I was finally able to do a lot of that this weekend. I consider it a weekend well spent…even with all of the ugly crying going on.

This amazing book tells the story of Jude and Noah, twins who have been torn apart by heart-breaking circumstances. Told in alternating perspectives–the earlier years by Noah and the later years by Jude–this story allows readers to see both sides of a tarnished (yet still beautiful) coin.

Through Noah’s eyes, we see Noah and his obsession with the pictures in his head, the enigmatic boy next door, and his fear that both he and his art are simply not good enough. We see Jude, her wild ways, and Noah’s confusion over why she’s drifting away from him. We also see the pain of being different, Noah’s struggle to find–and accept–his own identity, and how secrets big and small have the power to rip a boy’s soul to pieces.

Through Jude’s eyes, readers see what the twins are like just a few short years later. Jude is no longer the wild child of the bunch. That honor goes to Noah. Jude is now the withdrawn, artistic twin, and she wants to find some way to reach her brother and force him to really be his true self. All the while, Jude is also wrestling with her own ghosts and seeking a measure of peace in her life.

What could have caused such a drastic personality switch in these once-close twins, and is there any way to heal the wounds of the past and move toward a happy future?

With the help of a couple of people with odd connections to the twins’ past, there may be hope for these two siblings to once again find each other. The journey will not be without its painful revelations, but, if they can make it through to the other side, they may just find everything they thought they’d lost.

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As so often happens with books that grab me and won’t let go, this post doesn’t begin to do I’ll Give You the Sun justice. I laughed, I cried, and I roared at the vindictiveness of siblings, twins who claim to love each other more than anything. I’ll Give You the Sun was an intense, emotional roller coaster, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the ride to end. That may be another reason I took my time with this one. On some level, I knew that this book would be one to savor.

For more information on author Jandy Nelson and this amazing book, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

*This amazing book is being touted as one of the great new YA reads, and I totally agree with that. I would, however, caution some librarians, teachers, parents, and others that recommend books to young people that I’ll Give You the Sun does explore some mature themes–sexual identity and alcohol abuse being two of them. Those themes may be par for the course for many teen readers, but I doubt I’d recommend this book to anyone below the high school level…unless that reader showed incredible maturity. Of course, you know the young people in your lives better than I do, so do what you will.*

Summer of the Gypsy Moths

My latest read, Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker, is another nominee for the 2014-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that enthused about reading this book. I didn’t want to read one more book where kids take on too much responsibility because the adults in their lives have–in one way or another–abandoned them. (I kind of got my fill of that when I read Keeping Safe the Stars, another SCCBA nominee.) But, since I do promote all twenty SCCBA nominees, I plowed through, and, while Summer of the Gypsy Moths is not exactly my favorite book on the nominee list, I can say it was a good book, and I know many young readers will enjoy it.

While Stella’s flighty mother is drifting from one town to the next, Stella is sent to live with her Great Aunt Louise on Cape Cod. Even though Louise is kind of grumpy sometimes, Stella likes living with her. Louise keeps things nice, neat, and orderly, something Stella’s mom never did. Stella has high hopes that her mom will eventually settle in Cape Cod with her and Louise, and they’ll be a happy family.

One obstacle to that “happy family” scenario–along with Stella’s mom’s lack of reliability–may be Angel, a foster kid who’s also living with Louise. Angel and Stella are like oil and water, and they seem to work best when they stay far away from each other. Fate, however, seems to have other ideas.

When the girls discover that Louise has suddenly passed away, they must work together to decide what to do. Neither girl wants to go into group homes or anything like that, so they do the only thing they can think of. They keep Louise’s death a secret. They make up plausible excuses for Louise’s absence. They take care of the vacation cottages that Louise was responsible for. Stella takes comfort in cleaning, gardening, and keeping Louise’s prize blueberries alive. Both girls do what they must to survive as long as they can. It’s not easy, but Stella and Angel think they have no other choice. They must learn to rely on each other.

Both Stella and Angel have taken on more than any two kids should, but their predicament is bringing them closer together. They’re communicating, working together, and learning more about each other. They each have their own ways of coping with this horrible situation, and they’re doing the best they can.

But what happens when the secrecy finally becomes too much? When the truth is revealed, what will it mean for Stella, Angel, and their future? Will they find the sense of family and home they so desperately need? Will someone finally take care of them? Find out when you read Summer of the Gypsy Moths, a 14-15 South Carolina Book Award nominee by Sara Pennypacker!

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I think many of my students will draw parallels between Summer of the Gypsy Moths and Keeping Safe the Stars, and that’s a good thing. The two books have different settings and circumstances, but the struggles that the characters experience in each book are very similar. In both books, young children take on way too much in order to avoid being taken away from their homes. I look forward to conversations about the similarities and differences in how each character handles certain situations and what young readers may have done differently.

That being said…

*Spoilers ahead!*

One big issue I had with this book was the neatness of the ending–and how long the main characters got away with deceiving everyone around them. I mean, two girls hide a dead body, bury it in the backyard, and live on their own for nearly two months, and everything essentially works out fine for them! I know it’s fiction, and one can expect a fairly happy ending in a book written for upper elementary and middle grade readers, but this seemed very unrealistic to me. Like many other books I’ve read this summer, the responsible adult in me (don’t laugh) cringes at the entire premise of this book. I’m sure many of my students will be intrigued by the plot–and I know they are the target audience–but Summer of the Gypsy Moths just wasn’t for me.

If you’d like more information about this book and acclaimed author Sara Pennypacker, visit her website. And let me know if you have a different take on Summer of the Gypsy Moths. Maybe you’re seeing something that I missed!