All the Bright Places

Last night, I finished yet another of next year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominees, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.

Like The Last Time We Say Goodbye–also a SCYABA nominee–All the Bright Places deals with the subject of suicide. The two books differ, however, in how they approach the topic. While The Last Time We Say Goodbye takes a look at what happens after a loved one commits suicide, All the Bright Places kind of shows readers what leads up to it. Yes, this book also gives a glimpse of the fallout, but the bulk of the book focuses on the “before,” for lack of a better word.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the school’s bell tower. Both of them are there thinking about doing something drastic. In Finch’s case, he never really stops thinking about ending it all. Violet, for her part, is overcome by grief following her sister’s death and simply wants to escape.

On that fateful day, this unlikely duo eventually climbs down from the bell tower, and, though their classmates think they know what happened up there, no one but Finch and Violet knows the truth. Who really saved whom?

After the “bell tower incident,” Finch and Violet partner up for a class project. Their assignment is to explore the wonders of the state of Indiana. At first, Violet is less than enthused about the project…and working with Finch. Ever since her sister’s accident, Violet won’t get in a car. That sort of limits just how much of Indiana she and Finch can explore. Finch doesn’t let that stop them. He’s determined to enjoy every moment with Violet. After all, how many moments do they have left together?

As reluctant as she was in the beginning, Violet is enjoying her time with Finch. There’s something about his seemingly boundless energy that makes her want to join the world again. But while Violet is starting to live again, Finch wonders how long he can stay “awake.”

Finch is pulling Violet out of her self-imposed shell, but he’s also retreating into his own. Violet senses something is “off” with Finch, but she doesn’t know how to help him…or if he’d even accept any help. And his friends and family don’t seem to find anything amiss.

What can Violet do if no one will admit that anything is wrong? And is there any way to stop Finch from doing the unthinkable and leaving Violet to wander this crazy world alone?


So, you’ve probably surmised by now at least a little of what happens in this book. No, there’s not some magical happy ending, but it doesn’t leave readers feeling totally hopeless, either. As someone whose life has been touched by suicide, I really appreciate that.

Another thing I appreciate about this book is the very realistic way it portrays bipolar disorder and the stigma attached to it and other mental illnesses. Some people–often even those suffering with mental illness themselves–don’t think they have an actual medical problem. After all, it’s not like they have cancer, diabetes, or anything like that, right? Wrong. People need to pay attention to the signs of mental illness and treat it as the serious medical–and treatable–issue it is. Would attention and treatment have been enough to change the outcome of All the Bright Places? I don’t know, but it might be what it takes to save someone you know and love.

If you’re a librarian, teacher, parent, or other adult wondering if this book is a good fit for middle grade readers, I would honestly say that I’m not sure. There is some cursing, a couple of sex scenes (which for some reason freaks people out way more than graphic depictions of violence), and very frank talk of death, but that’s reality for lots of kids. Yes, even those in middle school. I would say to know your audience. Use your best judgement when recommending this book to anyone, but especially those not yet in high school.

I definitely enjoyed the time I spent with Finch and Violet, and I’m so glad the SCYABA committee chose to place this book on next year’s nominee list. All the Bright Places elicited a lot of feelings–not all of them comfortable–and I went through my fair share of tissues while reading. I predict that lots of other readers will have the same experience.

Apparently, we’ll be able to see Finch and Violet on the big screen sometime in 2017. Pre-production has already begun on the film adaptation of All the Bright Places, and Elle Fanning has been cast as Violet. I’m sure more will be revealed soon on the book’s website (which has tons of great information), but that’s all we know for now. This has the potential to be a great movie. I just hope Hollywood doesn’t screw it up (like they tend to do).

Everything, Everything

I decided to read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon on a whim. It wasn’t on my to-read list. It was barely on my radar. Basically, it was the first available book I saw when I logged onto Overdrive the other day. (By the way, if your school or public library offers Overdrive, USE IT! If they don’t, ask for it. It’s awesome!) I read the synopsis and said to myself, “Why not?” That impulse served me well.

Everything, Everything, which has been out for a few months now, is a quick, easy read, but it does pack an emotional punch. It’s a great piece of contemporary YA fiction, and I think it will find an audience with fans of  wonderful authors like Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman, and many others. Also, I think it’s pretty great that the main character, Madeline, comes from a background that we don’t see a lot in books for teens. (Her mom is Japanese American, and her dad is African American.)

Madeline Whittier may as well live in a bubble. Seriously. Madeline has SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency), so the least little thing could make her extremely sick. She can’t remember the last time she left her house, and her only human interaction is with her mom and her nurse.

It’s not all bad, though. Madeline reads all the time, she has game nights with her mom, and she can connect with the world online. She’s never really known anything different, and she’s (mostly) accepted that this is her life.

All of that changes when she hears the moving truck next door. With one look out her window, Madeline knows that her life will never be the same. One glimpse at Olly is all it takes. (And the feeling seems to be mutual.)

They start out just looking and gesturing at each other through their bedroom windows. (Nothing creepy, I promise!) They then progress to texting and emailing. But soon that’s not enough for either of them. They want to meet in person. But how can they when Olly would have to get past Madeline’s mother and undergo a fairly extensive decontamination process just to get in the door? Well, as it turns out, Madeline’s nurse can be persuaded to keep a secret…

It doesn’t take long for Madeline to realize that she could be in some serious trouble with Olly. Her growing feelings for him–and his for her–could turn out to be very inconvenient. Aside from the fact that her mom would freak out if she knew of their relationship and his visits, Madeline doesn’t see how they can have a future together with her illness getting in the way. It’s not like they can go out on dates, take a walk, or do anything “normal” young couples do.

Or can they?


I’m going to leave you hanging on that note. If I keep going, I’ll give too much away…like how the ending totally threw me for a loop. ;-)

If you’re looking to add Everything, Everything to your library, I would have to say that I recommend it for teen and adult readers. There are some sexy times–which are obvious but not gratuitous–that some middle grade readers may not be ready for (I hope).

For more information on Everything, Everything and Nicola Yoon, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Serafina and the Black Cloak

My latest read, Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty, was recommended by several of my students (and one teacher). It takes place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Now, given that I live roughly 80 miles from the historic home, you’d think that I would have visited it more than twice in my life. You would be wrong. (Tickets are kind of expensive, and I hate driving.) If my memory serves me, the last time I toured the Biltmore Estate was on a field trip when I was in the third grade. (Yeah…it’s been a while.) Now that I’ve read Serafina and the Black Cloak, though, I may have to remedy that situation. It would be nice to rely on fresh memories when envisioning the events of this book.

The year is 1899. Serafina lives at the famous Biltmore Estate. The only person who knows of her existence is her pa, one of the home’s maintenance men, and no one realizes that the two of them secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore. Serafina’s pa cautions her to remain out of sight. Should her presence be discovered, it could mean the loss of her father’s job and their home.

When children begin disappearing from the estate, however, Serafina may need to make herself known. She witnesses a strange figure in a black cloak take a child, and she knows she must tell someone what she saw. But who would believe her? And can she confide in someone without losing the only home she’s ever known?

Serafina finds an unlikely ally in the form of Braeden Vanderbilt, the nephew of the Biltmore’s owner. He vows to keep her secret and somehow help her discover who–or what–is taking children from the house and grounds. The two look all over the estate for clues as to the identity of the mysterious figure in the black cloak, but children continue to disappear without a trace.

Serafina’s search for answers leads her to the forest surrounding the Biltmore. Her pa always taught her to fear the darkness of the forest, but Serafina feels oddly at home here. Yes, there are strange things happening in the forest, but it may just hold the key to the mystery of the black cloak…and Serafina’s past.

What will Serafina discover about herself during the course of her investigation? And can she and Braeden uncover the terrifying truth…before they are the next victims of the Man in the Black Cloak?


It’s easy for me to see why Serafina and the Black Cloak is so popular with my students. It’s an enthralling, multi-layered mystery–with some spooky supernatural elements–set in a fairly familiar place. Many of the kids requesting this book do so after they’ve visited the Biltmore Estate. This book might also make a good class read-aloud or novel study before a field trip to the estate.

Local connection aside, this book is a great fit for those who devour the works of Mary Downing Hahn. If you have upper elementary or middle grade readers looking for a good scare, point them to Serafina.

There is at least one more Serafina book to look forward to. Serafina and the Twisted Staff, which also takes place in and around the Biltmore Estate, will be released on August 6th. I’ll definitely need this sequel on hand when we start back to school in the fall.

To learn more about Serafina and the Black Cloak, visit author Robert Beatty’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. While the video totally captures the mood of the book, I think it gives a little too much away. Proceed with caution.

If you’re intrigued by Serafina and the Black Cloak and would like to visit the home that inspired the book, click here. I have a feeling I’ll be paying the Biltmore Estate a visit myself in the not-too-distant future.

 

Shingaling: A Wonder Story

Read Wonder by R.J. Palacio before proceeding with this post. (Actually, read Wonder anyway. This is a book that everyone–regardless of age–needs to read.)

Last night, I finally made time to read Shingaling, the third “bonus” story that goes along with Wonder. At first glance, I wasn’t totally sure which character I’d be reading about. The title, which refers to a dance I’d never heard of before, doesn’t immediately give that away.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this story is told from Charlotte’s perspective. You might recall that she served as one of Auggie’s “welcome buddies” during his first days at Beecher Prep. That’s not the only thing that was going on in Charlotte’s life, though. While Auggie was dealing with his first year at school, Charlotte was wading through some issues of her own…

Charlotte has always been a nice kid. She gets good grades, she’s polite to adults, she helps the new kid at school, and she tries to stay out of all the drama that comes with middle school. Does she sometimes try a little too hard to be liked? Sure, but it’s just because she wants to belong.

Charlotte’s best friend, Ellie, has been accepted into the most popular group in school, and Charlotte feels like she’s been left behind. It doesn’t help that Ellie’s new friends are sometimes mean to Charlotte and other students in school. Charlotte knows she shouldn’t care what this group thinks of her, but she can’t help it. She really wants them to like her.

When Charlotte is given the chance to dance in a very special performance–based on the shingaling–she also gets the opportunity to get to know Ximena, one of the popular girls, and Summer, one of Auggie Pullman’s closest friends. All three girls are spending hours each week practicing their dance, and they gradually learn that they have more in common than they thought. They become friends and talk about their interests, their fears, and their perceptions of the people around them.

It’s during these conversations that Charlotte realizes hat the kids at school think of her as a goody-two-shoes who’s only nice when teachers are looking. Charlotte tries to be nice to everyone around her, but maybe that’s not the same thing as being kind.

Join Charlotte as she learns what kindness, friendship, and even empathy really mean when you read Shingaling: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio.

_______________

The little synopsis above is one of the most difficult I’ve ever written…and I honestly can’t pinpoint the reason for that. Even though this story was less than 70 pages long, it covered a lot, and I know I’ve left out a bunch of stuff and glossed over even more. I apologize for that.

If you’ve read Wonder and The Julian Chapter, you know that the boys of Beecher Prep had their own brand of drama going on during Auggie’s first year of school. Well, in Shingaling, we get to see the girls’ side of things. We see what they think of the “boy war” and how they are dealing with the cliquey girl drama that is so common in middle schools the world over. (This story definitely made me reflect on my own horrible experiences in middle school. I imagine other readers will have similar experiences.)

Auggie is barely a blip in Shingaling, and that, in my opinion, helps fans of the original book to realize that there was more going on at this school than just Auggie’s story (even though it’s an extremely important one to tell). Sure, Auggie’s journey had an impact on the character of Charlotte, but it wasn’t the sole focus of her year. She had her own issues to sort through, and, while Auggie had a small part in how that played out, Charlotte had to forge her own path and learn several lessons in her own way (as we all do).

As far as I know, Shingaling is the last of the Wonder stories. It’s actually now part of a print collection known as Auggie & Me, which includes The Julian Chapter, Pluto, and, of course, Shingaling. If you’re a fan of Wonder, I highly recommend reading each of these extra stories. I think they definitely add some depth to what we saw in Wonder. You might also want to check out 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. I haven’t read that one yet, but I understand that it’s a book of sayings–or precepts–supposedly compiled by Auggie’s teacher, Mr. Browne.

For more information on all things Wonder, visit author R.J. Palacio’s website.

Published in: on January 5, 2016 at 12:48 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

The Terrible Two Get Worse

This time last year, I had the opportunity to read a hilariously funny book from the team of Jory John, Mac Barnett, and Kevin Cornell. That book was The Terrible Two. As soon as the book was released, it earned a place on my library shelves, and, to be honest, I haven’t seen it since. (My students know a good book when they see one.)

Now, almost a year later, I’ve been lucky enough to read the sequel to The Terrible Two, aptly named The Terrible Two Get Worse. (Thank you, NetGalley!) This second installment will be released a month from tomorrow, and, just like its predecessor, it will be added to my school library as soon as I can manage it.

I must confess that I liked the first book in this series more than the second, but the sequel still managed to keep me chuckling and eager to turn the page. It’s a quick read that will definitely appeal to any budding pranksters or anyone who enjoys a good laugh.

Miles and Niles make up the Terrible Two, the most excellent pranking team Yawnee Valley has ever seen. Their legendary pranks are sure to be recorded in the history books of the International Order of Disorder, especially since their primary target is Principal Barry Barkin (and his insufferable bully of a son, Josh).

Unfortunately for Miles and Niles–and Principal Barkin–the pranking has come to the attention of the school board. They wonder if Principal Barkin has what it takes to run the school if he can’t figure out who’s pulling so many pranks and bring them to justice. It doesn’t help that the former principal, who happens to be Barry Barkin’s father, agrees with the school board and decides to take matters into his own hands.

Now, Miles and Niles have to contend with a new leader in their school, Principal Bertrand Barkin, and this guy is not messing around. He vows to put an end to pranks…once and for all.

At first, the Terrible Two figure they can get something over on this new guy, but the elder Barkin proves to be one tough customer. He simply doesn’t react to any of their pranks, and what good is a prank without a reaction?! Pretty soon, pranks are a thing of the past at the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy, and Miles and Niles simply don’t know what to do with themselves. Something’s gotta give, right?

The Terrible Two eventually figure out what they must do to end Bertrand Barkin’s reign of terror…but they’ll need some help. That help, though, may have to come from an unexpected source. Could Miles and Niles possibly–*gasp*–join forces with their former principal, one Barry Barkin, to prank someone who is virtually unprankable? Find out when you read The Terrible Two Get Worse!

_______________

As with The Terrible Two, this second book is a perfect book for any reader with a bit of a mischievous side. The text and illustrations mesh perfectly, and the book also emphasizes such important concepts as creativity, teamwork, perseverance, and friendship.

I would say that The Terrible Two Get Worse is highly recommended for any collection that serves readers from 4th grade on up. Some of the humor resonates more with older readers than with kids, but there’s definitely something here for everyone. I, for one, am hoping that we’ll see even more Terrible Two stories in the future.

For more information about this awesome series and its creators, check out the websites of Jory John, Mac Barnett, and Kevin Cornell. And make sure to pick up your copy of The Terrible Two Get Worse on January 12th!

 

Angels Twice Descending

If you are not totally caught up with all things Shadowhunter, go no further. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that should tell you something. Stop right now, go to your nearest library or bookstore, and read everything Cassandra Clare has ever written. Start with City of Bones.)

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s proceed, shall we?

Last night, I read Angels Twice Descending, the tenth and final installment in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, a collection of short stories centered on Simon Lewis, his struggle to restore his memories, and his journey toward becoming a Shadowhunter. This last novella focuses on Simon’s Ascension, and, while I was expecting something big to happen, I wasn’t totally prepared for how hard it would hit me. (After reading so many of these stories, one would think I’d know better. One would be wrong.)

Simon and his fellow Academy students are getting ready to finally enter the world of the Nephilim. For mundanes like Simon, this means going through the Ascension ceremony and drinking from the Mortal Cup. After two years of grueling work, it should be a no-brainer on whether or not to go through with this final step…except for the whole “drinking from the cup could kill you” thing.

After one of the mundane students decides not to Ascend, Simon is forced to reflect on his own feelings. Does he truly want to become a Shadowhunter? Who is he doing all this for? Will he get his memories back once he Ascends? If he does, what could that mean for the person he is now? How will he deal with never seeing his mom or sister again? And what if the worst happens? What if he doesn’t have what it takes to be a Shadowhunter and drinking from the Mortal Cup destroys him?

In the end, Simon follows his heart and decides to become a Shadowhunter. But the Ascension ceremony is not without its heartbreak. One of the Academy students does not survive the process, and Simon is once again faced with the question, “Is it worth it?”

_______________

I can’t go any further here without some major spoilers. (I already feel like I’ve written too much.) It’s enough to say that I cried…a lot.

Now that we have all ten of the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy stories, we also have the full picture formed by the covers. Check it out:

shadowhunter academy

As for when the entire volume of stories will be released in print, I’m not sure. From what I’ve heard, it will be sometime in 2016.

So, where do we go from here?

The next Shadowhunter story is the full-length novel Lady Midnight, due out on March 8th. This begins the Dark Artifices storyline and centers on Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs at the Los Angeles Institute. We also have the new TV series to look forward to, and that starts on Freeform (aka ABC Family) on January 12th.

If you, like me, still want more Shadowhunter goodness, click here for the official TV series website and here for the novels’ website.

Enjoy!

Published in: on November 19, 2015 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Because of Winn-Dixie

Full disclosure: As much as I enjoy the works of Kate DiCamillo, I read Because of Winn-Dixie against my will. I did not want to read it. I am not one to pick up a “dog book” if I don’t have to. My friend’s nagging, however, was more than my meager willpower could handle, so I sat down to read this book Sunday night. Two hours later, I was finished with the book, and I reluctantly admitted that Because of Winn-Dixie was a sweet, heart-warming story. I’m glad I took the time to read it, and I now see what all of the fuss was about.

Opal Buloni doesn’t expect to become a dog-owner when she steps into her new town’s grocery store that fateful day. But that’s just what happens. She takes one look at the big, smiling, rough-around-the-edges dog and knows that she has to take him home…and save him from the angry grocery store manager. And so Winn-Dixie, a dog named after a supermarket, comes into Opal’s life and begins to change her world.

Opal isn’t sure how her father is going to feel about Winn-Dixie, but it doesn’t take long for the dog’s smile and gentle presence to do its work. The whole town feels it. This dog leads Opal to make unlikely friends, including the town librarian, a five-year-old who thinks all parties should have a theme, an ex-con who works in the pet store and has a special way with music, and a nearly blind woman who some in town believe to be a witch.

Through it all, Opal grows closer to the people in her new town…even some she made snap judgments about in the beginning. She also begins to learn more about her own mother, a woman who Opal never really got the chance to know. She becomes a more understanding, compassionate, and caring person.

And all because of Winn-Dixie.

_______________

So, yeah…I liked this book even though I really resisted reading it in the first place. I guess that’ll teach me to judge a book by its dog.

I think Because of Winn-Dixie is wonderful if you’re looking for a book that emphasizes things like empathy, friendship (especially those that are rather unlikely), and even forgiveness. It takes a gentle look at all of these things without being too preachy…which is kind of cool since Opal’s dad is actually a preacher.

Because of Winn-Dixie is a great read for any age level. It’s a good read-aloud for younger grades, and kids in upper elementary grades on up will find it to be a quick yet powerful book that will stay with them for years to come.

If you’d like to learn more about Because of Winn-Dixie and other books by the amazing Kate DiCamillo, check out her website.

Happy reading!

Published in: on November 10, 2015 at 7:58 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Fish in a Tree

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I think all of my fellow educators should read…and possibly read aloud to their students. Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea are two such books. Well, I now have another to add to the list: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

The title for this book comes from a famous quote (often attributed to Albert Einstein): “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The main character in Fish in a Tree, Ally, believes that she is stupid, and those around her–her fellow classmates and even her teachers–don’t do much to make her believe otherwise.

Ally Nickerson has a lot of trouble reading, and she usually covers up her problem by making jokes and causing distractions (although she doesn’t always intend to be a troublemaker). Her latest blunder, though, gets her moved to a new teacher’s classroom.

Ally is sure that she can hide her reading difficulties from Mr. Daniels, but this guy is sharper than Ally’s previous teachers. He realizes rather quickly that Ally is having problems, but he doesn’t call her slow or stupid. Instead, he praises her for her artistic abilities and lets her know that it’s okay that her brain sees words a little differently. After all, everyone is unique and learns in their own special ways.

With Mr. Daniels’ help and the support of two very special friends, Ally begins to have confidence in herself for the first time. She may not be the best reader in the world, but she’s working on it. In the meantime, she’s learning to stand up for herself and her friends and appreciate all of the great things in her life.

Ally and her friends are realizing that being different isn’t a bad thing. Differences keep things interesting. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

_______________

Fish in a Tree is an amazing book that should be shared with all students (and teachers) in upper elementary and middle grades. It’s wonderful for anyone who’s ever felt like an outcast, especially those students who may struggle with dyslexia (the source of Ally’s frustrations with reading).

This book is also great for anyone who has ever had to deal with a bully. Ally and her friends have daily run-ins with mean girls and others who ridicule them, but they learn that their friendship is stronger than anything. They also realize that kindness goes a long way in changing things for the better…and this is a lesson everyone could stand to learn.

In closing, I cannot say enough good things about Fish in a Tree. I will be recommending it for my next faculty book club selection and encouraging everyone I know to give it a read. It’s excellent.

If you’d like more information on Fish in a Tree, visit author Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and view the awesome book trailer below. I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I did!

Published in: on November 3, 2015 at 9:44 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Saint Anything

This next statement may shock some of you. Until a few days ago, I had never read a Sarah Dessen book. I know, I know. It’s a true scandal for someone who loves YA literature as much as I do. The good news is that I have remedied that situation, and I’m now prepared to read everything that Dessen has ever written. Her newest book, Saint Anything, is outstanding, and if her other books are in any way comparable, I’m already hooked.

In Saint Anything, we meet Sydney, a girl dealing with the fallout of her brother Peyton’s mistakes. Several months ago, Peyton, after claiming that he was finally going to get his act together, had a few drinks at a party and proceeded to get behind the wheel of a car. On his way home, Peyton hit a kid named David Ibarra, paralyzing him for life.

Now, Peyton is in prison, and Sydney is left to deal with her guilt and shame over her brother’s actions. And with all of her parents’ focus on Peyton and his issues, Sydney wonders if they really see her. Even her decision to transfer to public school doesn’t seem to faze them. (They don’t appear to realize that Sydney’s decision was based partly on the financial burdens created by Peyton’s actions.) She’s invisible in her own home.

At first, Sydney feels invisible at her new school as well, but that changes rather quickly. When Sydney encounters the Chatham family, she feels like she’s finally seen.

The Chathams are a close-knit family with their own share of issues. The family owns a local pizza parlor, and, almost immediately, they treat Sydney as one of their own. Layla soon becomes Sydney’s closest friend. Layla has no luck with guys, but she’s always searching for the one who will be true to her. (Also, she has a weird obsession with fries.) Then there’s Rosie, a recovering addict who is trying to get her figure skating career back on track. Mr. Chatham runs the pizza parlor and plays in a bluegrass band in his spare time. Mrs. Chatham struggles with multiple sclerosis, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping her entire family in line. And then there’s Mac…

Mac is Layla’s older brother, and Sydney is drawn to his quiet, protective nature. Even though she knows it could damage her friendship with Layla, Sydney can’t seem to help growing closer to Mac…and he feels the same way. Sydney finally feels like there’s someone who really gets her, and she won’t let go of that without a fight.

After an argument with Peyton and discovering Sydney breaking a couple of rules, Sydney’s parents finally turn their attention to their daughter. (I say “they,” but I really mean “her mother.” She leads, and Sydney’s dad sort of follows along.) They don’t want her to go down the same path that Peyton did, and they seem to think that the Chathams have something to do with what they perceive as changes in their daughter’s behavior. (They don’t see their own lack of attention as a problem, in my opinion.) They tighten the reins on Sydney, talk about transferring schools, and basically try to keep Sydney away from anything that could be a “bad influence.” What they don’t realize is that the true danger to their daughter has been right under their noses all along.

Sydney knows her parents are being unreasonable, but she doesn’t know how to convince them that a couple of mistakes do not mean she’s headed for trouble. She’s tired of being punished for Peyton’s actions, and she’s unwilling to let go of the relationships that have come to mean so much to her. What can she do to make her parents finally see her? Can Sydney reconcile her own feelings about her brother while helping her parents to see her for herself? And how will her closeness with the Chatham family help–or hinder–her efforts? Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.

_______________

I adored this book. The characters were wholly relatable, and I honestly felt like the Chathams made me a member of their family as I was reading. I was charmed by that entire family, particularly Layla, Mac, and Mrs. Chatham. This family was a beautiful example of how a family should come together in tough times. That provided a perfect counterpoint to Sydney’s own family.

Sydney’s parents, blinded by the experiences with their son, were exasperating. At several points during the book, I wanted to reach through the pages and smack Sydney’s mom. (I’m sure I’m not alone in this.) I know she was dealing with a hard situation the only way she knew how, but it was still frustrating to read, and Sydney’s dad didn’t really help matters. When he was around, he meekly followed along with whatever his wife wanted, even though it was clear that he often disagreed with her. Neither of them paid enough attention to their daughter…until something happened that forced them to.

Saint Anything, which I think is suitable for both middle grade and teen readers, is a wonderful book about a girl discovering herself and what it truly means to be part of a family. The Chathams provide her with the love and attention she’s craved, but they also show her that every family experiences difficulties. Those connections help Sydney cope with what is happening at home. In her own family, Sydney comes to realize that her perceptions, of her brother and her parents, may not always reflect what’s really going on.

I hope you enjoy Saint Anything as much as I did. If you’d like to learn more about it and author Sarah Dessen, click here. You may also want to connect with the lovely Ms. Dessen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

As for me, I’m now going to add every other Sarah Dessen book to my already staggering TBR pile. Wish me luck!

The Fiery Trial

I’m tired of giving spoiler alerts before these Shadowhunter Academy posts. Do what you will.

It’s time, once again, to discuss Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. The latest installment, The Fiery Trial, was released on Tuesday, and I finally have enough energy to share my thoughts. (I actually did read the story on Tuesday, but I didn’t get around to posting on it until today. It’s been a trying week.)

As usual, I enjoyed learning more about Simon’s perception of the Shadowhunter world, and, even more, I loved seeing glimpses of what we might encounter in the next full-length Shadowhunter novel, Lady Midnight. Special appearances by Magnus Bane and Jem Carstairs didn’t hurt, either.

The Fiery Trial continues Simon’s journey through the Shadowhunter Academy. He’s nearing the end of his second year, and he’s thinking of the whole parabatai thing. Two of his classmates have already decided to form this nearly unbreakable bond, and Simon wonders if it is even a possibility for him.

Luckily (depending on one’s point of view), Simon is still eligible to form the parabatai bond, and Clary is his obvious choice. Even with his memory loss, Simon realizes that he and Clary have something special, a relationship that goes beyond that of best friends. They are family, and they’d do anything for each other. Well, that love is soon put to the test.

Unbeknownst to both Simon and Clary, a few familiar characters–Magnus Bane, Jem Carstairs, and Catarina Loss–are about to lead them through a trial of sorts, to see if they are truly suited to be parabatai.

This strange test precedes Simon and Clary serving as witnesses for the parabatai ceremony, or Fiery Trial, of Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs. After his own recent ordeal, Simon looks for signs that Julian and Emma are as close as he and Clary. They are, but…something is a little off. Does it have anything to do with the recent tragedies the two young Shadowhunters have endured? Or could it be something else? And what could it mean for their new parabatai bond?

_______________

If you, like me, have been wondering when/if Simon will get all of his memories back, I think The Fiery Trial offers a little more hope than some of the previous stories. Simon may not always know what some of his glimpses into the past may mean, but, in this story at least, he’s showing signs of understanding. And he’s working harder to really remember. (Clary and Jace help with this a bit.) You’ll know what I mean when you read this story, particularly the “test” Simon and Clary are subjected to.

So, The Fiery Trial is the eighth story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. That means we only have two more to go, and I’m honestly not ready for the end. The next story, Born to Endless Night, will be out on October 20th, and it should revolve around Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood. (Woohoo! Love me some Malec!) The tenth and final story, Angels Twice Descending, out on November 17th, is the tale of Simon’s Ascension. I’ve already got goosebumps over this one, and it’s nearly two months away.

When this collection of stories comes to an end, we’ve only got a short-ish wait for Lady Midnight, book one of The Dark Artifices, which really delves into Emma’s and Julian’s stories in the larger Shadowhunter world. This highly anticipated book will be out on March 8th, 2016.

For more information on this collection and all things Shadowhunter, click here. Have fun out there.

Published in: on September 24, 2015 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 261 other followers