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.

 

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

My Best Everything

Today, thanks to NetGalley and the Great Southern Ice Event of 2015 (hopefully, the only ice event of the year), I bring you yet another post on a recent read. That book is My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp and is due to be released on March 3rd.

I finished reading My Best Everything at about 10:30 this morning, and I’ve been thinking about it since then. After a few hours, I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. It’s certainly an interesting read, but parts of it really bugged me. The entire scheme cooked up by the main characters seems thoroughly implausible to me, and the ending, while somewhat satisfying, was kind of anti-climactic. I expected a bigger fallout, especially considering exactly what our protagonists were involved in.

On a positive note, though, My Best Everything wasn’t at all the love story I was anticipating. It went much deeper than that. This book–which needs a better title, by the way–gave me a story that did touch on first loves, but it also delved into things like self-control, looking to the future, escaping one’s past, and making hard–and sometimes dangerous–choices to achieve one’s goals.

All Lulu can think about is getting out of her small town. She doesn’t want to be one of those girls who stays in Dale, Virginia, and never leaves. Lulu’s plans to go to college in San Diego, however, have just hit a major snag. Her father, a traveling businessman, has just lost all of Lulu’s college money. It looks like Lulu may have to stay in Dale after all.

Or will she? When a moonshine still is sent to the junkyard where Lulu works, Lulu and her friends cook up an insane–and totally illegal–money-making scheme. What if they make and sell moonshine this summer? How hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, there’s more to making moonshine than Lulu, Roni, and Bucky thought, so they turn to Mason, a troubled young man whose family has a long history as shiners in Dale. Lulu is intrigued by Mason, his past, and his vast knowledge of moonshine, but she’s also drawn to the man he’s trying so desperately to become.

Even as she and her friends are getting more caught up in making moonshine, Lulu worries that her great plan could ultimately be Mason’s downfall. Can he, with all of his personal demons, handle what they’re doing? Can Lulu? And can their fledgling relationship survive all of the pressures to come? Lulu is still focused on leaving Dale forever, but what will that mean for Mason? Is she ready to say good-bye to this young man who has quickly become so important to her?

This summer, changes are on the way for Lulu, Mason, and their friends. Nothing will end up quite like they expect, and their moonshining venture will impact everything they thought about themselves and their plans for the future.

Will Lulu make it to San Diego? Will she stay with Mason? What will become of their business as moonshiners? Can a small group of kids really make something like this work? Or will all of their efforts blow up in their faces? Read My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp to find out.

_______________

Maybe I’m alone in my sheltered little world, but I find the very thought of successful teenage moonshiners to be something of a stretch. In this book, though, the characters not only became moonshiners, but they also became pretty good at it. Yes, sometimes things didn’t go according to plan, and things didn’t quite end up like they’d hoped, but they really made a go of it. It was impressive…and disturbing.

Also, aside from the impact on the characters’ personal lives and relationships with others, there weren’t really any consequences for their highly illegal activities. I think that’s what bothered me the most about this book. The authorities weren’t even a real presence in the book, and some of the characters didn’t acknowledge being found out as a legitimate threat. I guess the rule-follower in me expected some sort of punishment for their actions, and, even though I would have likely rooted for the characters to escape the long arm of the law, I did want that arm to be present. Quite the conundrum.

I did like the way My Best Everything was written. Almost from the beginning, we know that the book is essentially a letter to Mason. But what kind of letter? Is Lulu telling him goodbye? Is she writing him a love letter? Is she simply trying to explain why things happened as they did? The reader never really knows, and that’s part of what I enjoyed about this book. Lulu lets us know that things didn’t happen the way she wanted them to, and, even at the end, we still don’t know what the future ultimately holds for her and Mason. It’s up to the reader to fill in those blanks.

For those who are considering purchasing this book for their libraries, I would urge some caution. My Best Everything is not a book I’d recommend to middle grade readers. In fact, I doubt I’d give this book to anyone under age sixteen. There are some complicated, adult situations–and loads of illegal activities–so this is definitely a book for older, more mature teen readers. Do with that what you will.

If you’re interested in learning more about My Best Everything and author Sarah Tomp, check out the author’s website, Twitter, and Goodreads. Enjoy!

Hero

It’s no secret that “dog books” circulate heavily in my school library. Most of the time, all I need to do is display a book with a dog on the cover, and it doesn’t stay on the shelf very long. Well, thanks to Sarah Lean, I now have one more “dog book” to share with my students. That book is Hero, and it was released to the masses this past Tuesday.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Hero through Goodreads First Reads, but I didn’t make time to finish it until last night…and I did read the bulk of the book in a single evening. It was a quick, engaging read suitable for anyone–young or old–who has ever imagined themselves to be extraordinary, struggled with fitting in or standing up for what’s right, or had a special bond with a beloved animal. (I’m pretty sure that covers everybody.)

Hero highlights heroic actions–from both humans and canines–in everyday situations…and in circumstances that defy even the most vivid imaginations.

Leo Biggs often imagines himself as a gladiator, fighting in the Roman amphitheater and trying to win the favor of Jupiter. In real life, though, Leo is a bit of an outcast. He only has one real friend–at least, just one human friend–but Leo longs to be seen as brave, popular, and extraordinary. And one day, he thinks he has his chance…

After a rather interesting episode at school, Leo gains the notice of Warren Miller, probably the coolest guy at school. Warren invites Leo to hang out after school…but Leo has to prove himself worthy of being in Warren’s crowd. Even though Leo is hesitant about what is asked of him, he’s willing to do just about anything to be popular. Leo couldn’t know, though, that his actions would lead to more trouble than even his powerful imagination could conjure.

One day, Warren and his crew try to convince Leo to have a little “fun” with Jack Pepper, his neighbor’s dog. Leo knows what’s going on is wrong, and he doesn’t really want to participate. What happens next changes everything Leo feels about himself and what the people in town think of him. Leo takes credit for saving Jack Pepper’s life (even though it was really the other way around), and now everyone thinks he’s some kind of hero. Only Leo, Warren and friends, and little Jack Pepper know the truth…but none of them are talking.

Leo is enjoying his new status as a town hero, but part of him knows that he’s living a lie. One day, however, something happens that puts Leo’s vision of himself as a hero to the test. A catastrophic event hits the town, and Jack Pepper is put in real danger. Leo knows it’s up to him to save this little dog, but what can one boy do in a truly perilous situation?

Will Leo finally step up and be the hero that Jack Pepper needs? Will Leo–or anyone else–ever reveal what actually happened when he “saved” Jack Pepper to begin with? And will Leo ever discover what it really means to be a hero? Answer these questions and many more when you read Hero by Sarah Lean.

_______________

Hero is a good book for illustrating the importance of being true to oneself and standing up for what’s right…even when it’s not easy. This book also emphasizes the value of all types of friendships–those with kids, adults, and even animals. As the story progresses, Leo begins to realize that real friends are loyal, even when he doesn’t deserve it, and he needs to do whatever is necessary to prove his loyalty as well. Sometimes, that simply means being upfront and honest about his mistakes and doing whatever he can to make things right.

I think Hero is a good fit for most elementary and middle grade readers. It deals with issues like bullying, honesty, popularity, imagination, bravery, friendship, and, of course, caring for animals. I’m sure this book will be a big hit in my own school library.

For more information about Hero and other books by Sarah Lean, check out her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @SarahLean1.

 

 

Published in: on February 6, 2015 at 1:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Inked

Most of the books that I’ve read through NetGalley have been fairly good. Some have been stellar (The Kiss of Deception, We Were Liars, The Fourteenth Goldfish, Gracefully Grayson, and others). Some have been less so. (I won’t link those because…well, I don’t want to.) The book I just finished, in my most humble opinion, falls into the latter category.

Inked by Eric Smith has a really interesting premise–tattoos that determine one’s destiny–but the book itself just didn’t grab me. I found it really easy to put aside, and it took me over three weeks to finish. Now, some books take a while because I want to savor every page. This one wasn’t like that, at least for me. Maybe you’ll feel differently. (If you do, let me know in the comments. I welcome a good argument!)

Caenum’s life is on the verge of great change. His birthday is approaching, and that means that he’ll soon receive his Ink. In Caenum’s world, Ink determines destiny, and he is nervous about the magical tattoos he’ll end up with. So nervous, in fact, that he is considering leaving everything behind to avoid being Inked.

Before Caenum can go through with his plan to run away, though, something happens that will make Caenum question everything he thought he knew about himself, his family, his friends, and the world around him.

After angering the Scribe tasked with giving Caenum his Ink, events are set in motion that reveal that the entire Inking process isn’t at all what it seems. Ink is a way to keep people under the Citadel’s iron control, and there are some that want to see that control come to an end.

Caenum and some friends, after witnessing the destruction of their homes and families, go on the run from the Citadel. During their journey, it becomes clear that Caenum and his friends possess the special abilities that make them so dangerous to the Citadel and all those who fear magic. Caenum can control the earth; Dreya, Caenum’s best friend, is a healer; and Kenzi, the very Scribe that was supposed to give Caenum his Ink, has the power of lightning. What do these powers mean, and why are they so important to and feared by the Citadel?

As Caenum and company journey toward an uncertain future, they encounter both friends and foes…and it is often difficult to differentiate between the two. One thing, however, is certain. Caenum’s world is changing in ways that he never expected, and he’ll have to step up and make some hard decisions in order to make his own way in the world.

Who will try to stop Caenum’s quest for freedom? Who will work with him? Who will be sacrificed in the battle to come, and will those sacrifices work for the good of Caenum’s world…or its eventual demise?

Read Inked by Eric Smith to learn just how skin-deep one young man’s destiny really is…

_______________

I think if Inked had been a little more fleshed out, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It just felt too rushed for me. Yes, it was action-packed, and I think many readers will enjoy that, but I wanted to see more. More character development, more explanation of the Inking process, and more back story would have made an okay story into a spectacular one.

Given how Inked ended, I’m sure we can expect further installments from Caenum and friends. Hopefully, future books will address the issues I had with Inked. I guess we’ll just have to see.

Published in: on January 26, 2015 at 2:12 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek

The title of this book alone should have told me that I would love it. (I did.) I am an unapologetic band geek, and I probably always will be. Notes from an Accidental Band Geek allowed me to relive some of the happiest memories of my adolescence, and I imagine that any former or current marching band members will feel the same. This book could also show prospective band members–and maybe even those who look down on this bunch of dorks (I’m looking at you, Jim Rome)–just how awesome marching band really is. Seriously, band geeks are the coolest people in any school, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

Now, on with the show…

Elsie Wyatt lives and breathes music. Her main goal in life is to take over her father’s position as principal French horn player for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She’s just got a few things to get through first…like band camp.

As part of the requirements for the prestigious Shining Birches summer music camp, Elsie must take part in a musical ensemble. For Elsie, that means joining her new high school’s marching band. She’s confident in her ability to play her horn, but that confidence takes a big hit on her first day of band camp. Not only is she encountering a musical culture that she never expected–one in which she’s humiliated before things even get started–but she’s also being forced to trade in her gorgeous French horn for a mellophone, a poor substitute that will require her to essentially start from scratch. Yeah…this is going to be a blast.

Now, Elsie must worry about perfecting her audition piece for Shining Birches as well as learning a new instrument, marching techniques, even more music, and navigating the tough waters–and friendships–that come with entering high school. And the friendship thing seems to be the hardest thing for Elsie to handle. Her horn has always been her best friend, and she doesn’t really know how to really talk to people, how to focus on someone other than herself, or how to control her temper when she’s having a troubles (musical or personal). She has to find a way to be a better friend, something that is becoming more and more important to her.

Even as Elsie is learning–and loving–more about the marching band and the friends she’s making, she’s still struggling with the pressure to be great. While part of her really wants to hang out with her band friends and let loose a little, she knows she must stay focused if she wants to earn a spot at Shining Birches and prove to her father that she’s a worthy, serious musician. She knows he doesn’t think she has what it takes, and Elsie will do just about anything to prove him wrong.

All of her intense focus, though, is turning Elsie into someone she doesn’t like or even recognize. (The people around her aren’t so crazy about her, either.) She’s snapping at everyone, even the people who would be there for her if she’d only let them, and her increasing anxiety is about to cause her to break. And when one more thing is added to Elsie’s already full plate, she has to decide whether she’ll rise to the occasion or buckle under the pressure.

Join Elsie in the wonderful world of marching band–band camp, rehearsals, passing out, bizarre rituals, parades, football games, competitions, pranks, bus rides, and much more–and learn how the one thing she thought would be nothing more than a means to an end has the power to change her entire life.

_______________

My time with the marching (and concert) band was my favorite part of school. Most of my friends were in the band, and I spent every spare moment with them in the band room. I have so many fond memories of band camps, football games, and competitions, and I still try to take in at least one marching band or DCI (Drum Corps International) competition every year. (I’ve blocked out most of the sunburn, dehydration, soreness, yelling, running laps, crying, and all the other not-so-great stuff that comes with being part of this tight-knit group of awesomeness.) Not to be too melodramatic or anything, but marching band is a way of life, and it’s something that stays with you long after your last show. Erin Dionne, the author of this amazing book, totally gets that.

If I have any issues with this book, it’s with the main character herself. I just wanted to knock Elsie upside the head sometimes. (If I’d been her section leader, I probably would have.) She was just so mean to everyone around her, and, at least until the end, she didn’t see how her words and attitude impacted those around her. I know she had to display some personal growth throughout the course of the book, but, man, was that journey ever rocky. (Her parents didn’t help matters, either, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.)

Even with my desire to give Elsie a good wallop, I confess that I absolutely adored this book, and I will be recommending it to all of my fellow band geeks. I think it’s safe to say that Notes from an Accidental Band Geek will give every one of them some pretty awesome flashbacks. I know it did for me.*

For more information on Notes from and Accidental Band Geek and author Erin Dionne, check out her website and Twitter. Enjoy!

*Sadly, my time in the band came before digital photography was huge, so I have very few pictures of these wonderful moments. Here’s one, though, that I’m willing to share with the masses.

band_photo

Yep, that’s me in all my seventeen-year-old glory. I was tuba player and Band Captain for the Mustang Regiment of Palmetto High School. I loved every minute of it.*

All the Answers

I’m a world-class worrier. I can obsess over the smallest thing and make it into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. This has been a skill of mine for years (and still drives my mother crazy). I have to force myself to stay away from things like WebMD because a cough is never just a simple cough. In my head, it’s always much, much worse.

No one–including myself sometimes–really understands why I worry so much, so it’s often refreshing for me when I encounter someone–real or fictional–who “gets it.” A couple of days ago, I finished reading a book about a character who definitely “gets it.” In fact, she may worry more than I do. The book is All the Answers by the always entertaining Kate Messner, and the character is young Ava Anderson.

Ava Anderson knows what it means to be anxious. She worries about everything. She panics before every test, and this morning is no different. She’s got a big math test today, and Ava knows she’s going to flub her way through it. She knows the material, but when tests roll around, Ava’s anxiety always gets the best of her. This morning, however, is going to be a little different…

It looks like an ordinary pencil, the kind someone would pick up at a conference or something, but this one turns out to be very different. When Ava grabs it out of her parents’ junk drawer, she has no way of knowing that this pencil is going to change her life.

Ava uses the pencil during her dreaded math test, and, wonder of wonders, when she presents questions to this strange pencil, it gives her the answers! For the first time in forever, Ava feels great about how she performed on a test. But does this magical pencil only work on math questions? Well, Ava and her best friend Sophie are about to find out…

Ava and Sophie soon realize that the special pencil will only answer factual questions, and it won’t answer anything with free will involved. The girls decide to use their new “power” to get some important information. For instance, which boys at school have a crush on Sophie? (This information leads to some rather sticky situations, as you can imagine.) They also use the pencil to figure out what would make Ava’s grandfather and his friends at the nursing home truly happy.

One day, though, Ava asks the pencil a question, and the answer rocks the girl’s entire world. This information has the power to change Ava’s entire family, and Ava can’t stop herself from worrying about what it could mean. Is Ava strong enough to handle what is coming, or will panic take over?

As Ava deals with everything revealed by this mysterious pencil, she begins to wonder if having all the answers is really so important. Does knowing so much make things better, or does it give people even more to obsess over? Can Ava put her worries–and her pencil–aside and finally trust in her own strength? And will that strength get her through the tough times ahead?

For the answers to these questions and many more, read All the Answers by Kate Messner.

_______________

All the Answers, which will be released on January 27th, is a definite purchase for any libraries serving upper elementary and middle grade readers. Many readers will surely identify with Ava’s test anxiety and her worries about navigating the perils of school, friends, and new experiences.

While being a thoroughly entertaining (and totally relatable) book, All the Answers also delivers an important message. Having all the answers may sound awesome, but it’s not the most important thing in life. Yes, a magical pencil like the one in this book may sound appealing, but it could also be a crutch, something that one learns to rely on instead of developing his/her own inner confidence, strength, and faith. (This was really brought home for Ava when she discovered her grandfather’s history with the pencil. It definitely opened her eyes a bit.) There’s nothing out there that can magically erase anxieties, but, like Ava discovered, there are some strategies that can make it easier to deal with.

As I wrap up this post, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read another book that I’ll be adding to my school library as soon as it’s released. I’d also like to send my heart-felt gratitude to author Kate Messner for writing another story that so many students will enjoy. I wish I’d had a story like this when I was younger. It would have helped so much to read about a girl who worried about stuff like I did.

_______________

Happy holidays to all of my friends out there! Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts about books this year, and I hope you’ll follow me into next year. I’ll be taking the next couple of days off to bake and spend time with my family, but I’m always reading and looking for more awesome books to share with all of you. So…merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a wonderful winter solstice, and a fun Festivus for the rest of us! (And if you choose not to celebrate any winter holidays, I hope you have an excellent time as well!) Happy reading!

 

The Year of the Beasts

I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading The Year of the Beasts. I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads, and the only things I knew going in were that I’d previously enjoyed books by the author, Cecil Castellucci, and the story was told in both prose and comics (drawn by the very talented Nate Powell). I was unprepared, then, for just how hard this book hit me.

At first, I thought I’d be reading a fairly typical tale of two sisters who grow apart because of a guy and then eventually find their way back to each other. Yeah…not so much. To say that this book defied and exceeded all of my expectations would be a gross understatement. The Year of the Beasts threw me for a loop, and I’m still thinking about how the story relates to my own life and my understanding of things like jealousy, love, and grief.

It all started when the carnival trucks rolled into town. That was the unofficial start of summer, a summer that would forever change everything for Tessa and her younger sister, Lulu.

For the first time, Tessa and Lulu are enjoying the carnival without the watchful eyes of their parents. They’re finally free to truly enjoy the food, the rides, the games…the boys. So when Tessa sees the opportunity to hang out with her crush, Charlie, and his friends, she seizes it.

Tessa, Lulu, and Tessa’s best friend Celina join up with Charlie and his buddies for a bit of fun at the carnival, but Tessa couldn’t know that this one outing would change her relationship with Lulu. Why? Well, as it happens, Charlie isn’t interested in Tessa. He wants Lulu…and Lulu wants him back.

Tessa is green with envy, but she tries her best to hide it. She doesn’t want to rain on her sister’s parade, but she can’t be wholly happy for her either. Charlie was supposed to be hers, not Lulu’s…and it feels like Lulu is taking every possible opportunity to throw her new boyfriend in her older sister’s face. It feels like Lulu, the younger of the two siblings, is growing up, moving on, and leaving Tessa in her wake.

Tessa’s only respite from the drama with Lulu, Charlie, and their assorted friends occurs in the arms of Jasper, the school outcast. Tessa finds a measure of peace when she’s alone with Jasper, but she doesn’t see how he can be part of her “real life” outside of the woods where they meet. Neither does he. No one even knows about them, and Tessa fears her friends’ reactions if they did. On top of that, even though Tessa is growing closer to Jasper, she still can’t let go of her jealousy over Lulu’s claim on Charlie. Why does Lulu, now Miss Popular, get to parade around with her boyfriend while Tessa has to keep her tenuous new relationship a secret? Nothing about this is fair in Tessa’s eyes, and she doesn’t know how to cope with all of the jealousy and rage bubbling within her.

Everything is about to come to a head for Tessa, Lulu, and company, and the summer that began with such promise will end in a tangle of envy, sadness, self-loathing, regret, grief, and–when all is said and done–a small measure of hope.

Will Tessa find some way to tame the monster raging within her and find the girl she used to be once again? Or will the events of this one tragic summer change her–and everyone around her–forever?

_______________

I don’t know that the brief recap above in any way captures what happened in this book. It doesn’t even touch on the story presented in the comics. At first glance, the two stories don’t appear to be related, but, as the book progresses, the prose and the comics come together to create a story so intricately woven that I can scarcely believe that I ever thought they could be separate. While the prose tells of that one eventful summer that changed everything, the comics–presented in alternating chapters–show readers how grief and self-loathing can turn a person into something completely unrecognizable. How do the comics relate to Tessa’s story? Well, I’ll leave you with that one surprise, but I will tell you that I felt totally ripped to shreds by the book’s conclusion, and I’ll probably take a second look at the book’s art to see if I can pick up any clues that would have hinted at the emotional wreck that I was soon to become.

Now it’s time to get a little personal…

Truthfully, I think my strong feelings about this book come, at least in part, from my own experiences. Like Tessa, I have a younger sister. When we were teenagers, I sometimes felt like she had everything going for her. (To be perfectly honest, I still feel that way on occasion.) While I was the short, fat, near-sighted, bullied, tuba-playing nerd with braces, my sister was the tall, thin, athletic, blond girl who didn’t take crap from anyone. It was difficult to stand next to her and not wonder if everyone was thinking, “Well, I guess little sister is definitely the pretty one.” (Sometimes I didn’t have to wonder. People said those words out loud.) And things didn’t get any better for me when the guy I was madly in love with (or so I thought) had a thing for my sister. While she did not reciprocate his affections, the mere thought that he preferred her to me turned my overly dramatic teenage world upside-down. (If you’re reading this, you probably think I still haven’t recovered. You’d be right.) It was painfully easy to see my sister and me in the characters of Lulu and Tessa. I think that’s a big part of the reason why this book’s conclusion affected me the way it did. It made me examine what my teenage self would have done if she were faced with the same circumstances, and I have to admit I likely would have felt much like Tessa did.

_______________

If your interest has been piqued by this post, I strongly urge you to give The Year of the Beasts a try. You won’t regret it. I think this is an excellent book for any reader in eighth grade and beyond.

To learn more about this amazing book, you can check out author Cecil Castellucci on her website, Goodreads, or Twitter, and graphic novelist Nate Powell on his website and Twitter.

Published in: on December 9, 2014 at 12:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Iron Trial

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you probably know that I will read anything that Cassandra Clare cares to write. So it should come as no surprise that I was eager to read the first book in her new middle grade series co-authored with Holly Black. Well, I finally got around to reading The Iron Trial, book one in the pair’s five-part Magisterium series, over this holiday weekend, and I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it…and it’s something I can add to my school library and promote to my students. (I think it’s a great read for upper elementary on up.)

There are elements that many readers will find familiar in The Iron Trial. A boy learns he has magical abilities, goes to a hidden school for those of his kind, becomes close to two other kids (a boy and a girl) at this school, gets into a bit of trouble, and works to solve a mystery that could endanger his life and the lives of those around him. Sound familiar? Yeah, the similarities to Harry Potter can’t be ignored…but they can be used to urge Potterheads to pick up this book. Readers will undoubtedly notice the parallels, but I also believe they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how things are different. Clare and Black take the story we expect to read and turn it around on us, and I think most readers will be both shocked and intrigued with how this plays out. I know I was.

What kid wouldn’t want magical powers? What kid wouldn’t want to attend the Magisterium, a super-secret school to learn how to use those abilities? Callum Hunt, that’s who.

For as long as Call can remember, his dad has told him that the Magisterium is evil and that he must do whatever it takes to fail the Iron Trial, a series of tests used to determine who earns a place at this magical school. And Call does his best to fail…and it looks like he’s succeeded. He fails spectacularly and gets the lowest possible marks at the Iron Trial…but he’s selected for the Magisterium anyway. Not only is he accepted; he’s with one of the best mages, in the group with the most gifted apprentices. What’s going on here? Why would anyone want him as an apprentice? What is so special about Callum Hunt, a kid with a bum leg who wants to be anywhere but here?

As Call begins his Iron year at the Magisterium and learns more about magic, he begins to wonder just what his dad had against the school and magic. Call is learning so much…and he’s actually getting pretty good at his studies, despite his rather horrible start. His fellow apprentices, Aaron and Tamara, soon become his closest friends, and that’s kind of a big deal to a kid who really didn’t have friends before now.

Call is becoming more and more comfortable with himself and his abilities, so he’s eager to learn just why his dad didn’t want him here. Since Call is a curious sort with a certain disregard for rules, Call begins to investigate. He stumbles upon a few things that might answer some questions…or they might create even more.

It seems that Call’s past is tied to the most feared being in the magical world, the Enemy of Death. This figure, cloaked in mystery, is responsible for the deaths of many, many mages–including Call’s mother–and he’s still out there, biding his time until he can use the forces of chaos to rise to power. The Magisterium has recently discovered its own weapon in the coming war with the Enemy…but will that be enough? What if the Enemy has already infiltrated the Magisterium? What will that mean for the Magisterium then? And what does all of this have to do with Call?

Soon, Call will come face-to-face with his past, his place at the Magisterium, and what it could mean for his future. He learns just why his father wanted to keep him from magic. What will Call do with this new and disturbing information? Time will tell…

_______________

I hope I haven’t given too much away in this post. I want readers to be just as floored by the ending–and what it could mean for future books–as I was.

The second book, The Copper Gauntlet, is expected to be released sometime in the fall of 2015. I, for one, can hardly wait to read more about the adventures of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, and what they do with everything they learned in The Iron Trial. Should be interesting to say the least.

If you’d like to learn more about The Iron Trial, I encourage you to visit the official website. It has loads of information on the book, the authors, and the world of the Magisterium. There are also some games and other extras that look like fun. You may also want to take a quick peek at the video below. Enjoy!

Published in: on November 30, 2014 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Hidden Enemy

Caution! It is absolutely necessary to read all of the I Am Number Four (aka Lorien Legacies) series if you plan to pick up Hidden Enemy, an anthology of novellas 7-9 in The Lost Files. Here’s a handy reading list for those new to the series:

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read through The Fall of Five, turn back now! (Also, I’m not going do much explanation of back story. If you’re not already familiar with the series, you’ll probably be lost.)

If you’ve read my post on The Fall of Five, you probably know I was a tad frustrated with how things ended. If you read the actual book, you likely share my frustration. Well, in Hidden Enemy, we get a little more information on what made Five the person he came to be.

The first story, Five’s Legacy, gives readers a look at Five’s early life. We see him with his ailing Cêpan (guardian/trainer), Rey, as they move from place to place in an effort to stay healthy and evade the Mogadorians. Five is not happy with his life of isolation, and he’s sure the other members of the Loric Garde are together and training without him. His legacies (special powers) haven’t manifested yet, and he’s getting a little tired of waiting. Finally, though, when things seem most hopeless, Five begins seeing evidence that his legacies have arrived. He’s telekinetic, and he can fly. Those powers will serve him well as he tries to make a new start. That new start will, unfortunately, deliver him right into the hands of those that Rey tried so hard to protect him from. Five is insecure and vulnerable, and certain people know just how to take advantage of that. They play on Five’s feelings of powerlessness and promise him a future that looks brighter than anything he could have imagined. The price? He’ll have to turn his back on his own people…

Return to Paradise, the second novella in this book, is told from the perspective of Mark James. You may remember him as the jock who made Four’s life miserable. He was also Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. Well, you may also remember that he had a rather huge change of heart during the battle at the end of I Am Number Four. This story picks up during the aftermath of that battle. Mark can’t really go back to how things were before. He knows too much now. How can he be expected to care about partying when evil aliens are bent on enslaving humans and destroying the planet? He knows more is going on than the public is aware of, and the only person who he can talk to is Sarah, a girl who is still maddeningly hung up on her alien boyfriend, the guy who dragged them into this mess. Mark also does some investigating of his own, and he discovers that the Mogadorian threat goes deeper than he realized. Can he, a mere human, do anything to stop this? And what will happen when Four returns to town and Sarah goes missing? Is there any way Mark can help Sarah and the Lorien cause?

Finally, in Five’s Betrayal, we return to Five’s story. He’s now in the “belly of the beast,” so to speak. He’s becoming more powerful by the day, and he’s earning the notice and respect of the very beings he was always taught to despise. Five is studying war tactics and Mogadorian history, and he knows that the Loric Garde have no chance to best their enemies. His solution? Join the enemy and gain more power than he ever thought possible. The Mogadorians have given Five more attention and freedom than he ever enjoyed as one of the precious Garde, so he’s willing to do whatever it takes to stay in their good graces. Even if that means sacrificing the only friend he has left in the world…

_______________

The highlights of this anthology were, obviously, the first and last novellas. They shed some light on the character of Five and let readers know why he made the decisions he did. I still don’t like Five, though. I think he’s a self-indulgent cry baby. (Maybe I’m being too harsh.) He allowed others to prey on his weakness, and he lost all ability to think for himself. He fell victim to Mogadorian propaganda and didn’t question the line of bull he was being fed. It was all I could do not to scream at him the entire time I was reading his story. (I may be reacting so strongly to this because I read the book during election season. It’s way too easy to see the parallels.)

At any rate, I’m now more than ready to dive into the next full-length novel in this series, The Revenge of Seven. It’s sitting on my coffee table right now, just waiting on me to pick it up. After I finish one more read-in-progress, I’ll journey once more into the fight between the Loriens and the Mogadorians. From what I’ve heard, there will be just one more book after this one, so I’m sure The Revenge of Seven will illicit the same response that The Fall of Five did. I’ll likely want to hurl it across the room at the end. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Red Thread Sisters

I can see the finish line in the distance. Last night, I read my 18th nominee for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Only two more to go!

My latest SCCBA nominee is Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock. It is a short but powerful book that could encourage young readers to explore their differences, appreciate families of all types, and examine the true meaning of friendship.

 “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.” ~Ancient Chinese Legend

Wen has spent the past several years in a Chinese orphanage, but her life is about to undergo a drastic change. She has been adopted by an American family, and she’s leaving her best friend in the world, Shu Ling, behind. Wen promises that she’ll do whatever it takes to find a home for Shu Ling, but that may not be so easy when Wen is trying to adjust to a new family and an unfamiliar country and language.

Wen’s new life in Boston is much more difficult than she could have imagined. She misses her best friend desperately, and she remains distant from her new mom and her little sister, Emily. It’s also hard to make friends at school when she’s so different–and when she can’t understand many of the words spoken around her.

Eventually, though, Wen does make a very good friend…but how can Wen be totally happy with her new life when she knows that Shu Ling is counting on her to find a forever family?

Young Wen becomes determined to help her best friend, but time is running out. In a matter of weeks, Shu Ling will no longer be eligible for adoption. What can one eleven-year-old girl do to make sure her friend, a disabled thirteen-year-old in a Chinese orphanage, is adopted by an American family?

Well, Wen will discover that she’s capable of quite a bit, but will her efforts be enough? Will she find a home for Shu Ling in time? Will these “red thread sisters” ever see each other again? If not, can Wen ever be truly happy with her new life in America?

Read Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock to see just what one young girl will do to ensure the happiness of her best friend…and herself.

_______________

Red Thread Sisters is a great book that is sure to pull at the heartstrings. I think every reader will root for Wen to connect with her new family and find a home for her best friend. The book may even make people stop and think about how they treat those who come from different backgrounds than their own. Maybe they’ll be a little more empathetic after reading this book. Maybe they’ll learn to focus on what connects them instead of what sets them apart.

Any teachers looking to use Red Thread Sisters in their classrooms are in for a treat. The author has an amazing teacher guide on her website that connects this book to so many areas of study. (It even has the Common Core standards addressed by the book included.) If any of my upper elementary or middle grade teacher friends are looking for a new novel study–and you don’t want to do all of the legwork yourself–consider Red Thread Sisters and this wonderful resource (linked directly for your convenience).

If you’re interested in learning more about Red Thread Sisters and Carol Antoinette Peacock, check out the author’s website. You may also want to take a peek at the book trailer below. I know I’ll be using it when I promote this book to my students!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 253 other followers