Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers

Darius and Twig are best friends growing up in Harlem. Life isn't easy, but Darius and Twig aren't like a lot of the other boys. They each have something special that they think will enable them to achieve college scholarships and leave Harlem behind.

Darius, the narrator, is a talented writer and lives with his alcoholic mother who is struggling to keep her family together. Twig is a runner who has an infectious smile. Both have to survive and are desperately trying to leave Harlem unscathed. A college scholarship is their only way out.

There is violence and realistic graphic language that adds to this gritty realistic novel.  One thing for sure: you won't forget Darius & Twig.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Mia has synesthesia and sees colors in sounds, letters, and shapes. She thinks she is the only one who sees this and after she is laughed at in grammar school, she tries to hide her "condition."  But then Mia meets  five-year-old Billy in a grocery store who tells her, "Mia is a pretty name. It's purple with orange stripes." Billy's mother pulls him away and shushes him but Mia begins to believe she's not the only one with this condition.

Although I have never heard of this before, synesthesia is a real condition. And although it's not always easy having synesthesia, when Mia temporarily loses this ability, she misses it and the world seems rather drab.

This is a wonderful book and quite short and easy to read. There are arguments with Mia's best friend, sorrow over the loss of her grandfather, and an unlikely romance with a boy Mia meets in an online support group. All-in-all, a lovely book and highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What I Call Life by Jill Wolfson

 Cal Lavender is not your average eleven-year-old. She's a pro at hiding her emotions and she definitely can take care of herself. She can, in fact, take care of both herself and her mother because her mother has "episodes." The latest episode took place at the library and was so outlandish the police were called.

Cal was taken away in a police car and brought to the Knitting Lady's foster home. She is sure her mother will be there to pick her up before nightfall, but learns from the social worker that her mother must follow certain rules if she wants to have Cal come home. Cal is certain her mother won't be able to follow the rules without Cal being there to help her. But Cal is stuck at this foster home with a strange lady who likes to tell stories and knit, and four other girls, all with stories of their own.

This is a wonderful, well-written, heartbreaking story - I loved it and so will many middle school girls!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter by J. C. Carlson

Fifteen-year-old Laila and her family have always had servants, lived like royalty, and was always told her father was king of the country, just like her grandfather. Her younger brother, Bastien, is looking forward to when he will grow up and be king.
But everything changes when her father is killed and war breaks out in her country. Her family flees to the United States where they must get used to living in a small apartment on very little money. Laila also hears the truth about her father. Instead of being a beloved leader, he was a dictator and responsible for many deaths. In fact, her uncle is responsible for her father's death, and now he is the ruler.
Laila and her brother now must attend American schools and try to fit in as best they can. Both Laila and Bastien can't get over the sheer number of items at an American grocery store. Bastien can't stop eating sugary cereal, and Laila at first feels almost naked dressed like an American teenager.
This is a novel of political intrigue and espionage. People double-cross each other and the reader finds it hard to really know what exactly is happening. Does  Laila's mother really forgive her brother-in-law for killing her husband? Will Bastien (who is only nine) become king? This is a smartly-written novel that not only deals with teenage issues, but also larger issues that impact our world. Mature readers will love this one!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

Jaden is spending the summer with her father and stepmother in Placid Meadows, a community where she can be safe from the horrific storms that have become very intense and very frequent.

In Placid Meadows no one has to worry about the storms that are plaguing the rest of the country. Storms approach Placid Meadows, then take a turn just when they reach the outskirts of the town. People who live in other places all have storm shelters where they go when they receive a storm warning. Children can't go far from home or ride bikes because they must be able to reach a storm shelter quickly.

The year is 2053 and things seem very much like they do today with a few exceptions.  Everyone reads and stores data on DataSlates (which remind me of iPads), there are very few paper books, and food has been genetically modified so it always looks perfect.

Eye of the Storm is an adventure that will keep you reading. Jaden suspects her father is not only altering storm patterns but is also able to intensify and direct storms to the location he wants. Jaden's father wants to  build another community like Placid Meadows but can't because some farms in the area won't sell their land to him.

This book blends adventure, meteorology, and technology with a good mystery. Add a feisty librarian to the mix and this book had me hooked! Suitable for all middle school - boys and girls will equally love it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Oh boy, I loved One for the Murphy's!  It's deceptively simple but very moving. It's not often I think about the ending of a YA book for days afterward, but I can't get  Carley, the young narrator, off my mind.     I really wanted a happier ending for this book!  Twelve-year-old Carley has had a  very difficult life. Her mother neglects her and her step-father has physically abused her - she ends up in foster care.
Thank goodness for the Murphys who take Carley into their family. With three boys of their own, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy open their home to her. It's not easy for Carley to adjust to this rather boisterous family, but slowly she opens her heart.

When Carley's mother, who is in the hospital, asks to see her, every fiber of my being was telling her to stay away. Does Carley's mother want her back? And should she go? I'd love to talk about the ending of this book with someone, so if you read it please let me know!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

“I knew if I ate anything of hers again, it would likely tell me the same message: help me, I am not happy, help me -- like a message in a bottle sent in each meal to the eater, and I got it. I got the message.” 

 Rose Edelstein has a very unusual talent. When she eats anything, she can taste the feelings of whomever cooked or baked the item. The first time this happened to her, she took a bite of a delicious lemon cake her mother baked and tasted sadness and longing. She begins to dread eating because she never knows what she will discover when she tastes the food. Rose's family isn't what it seems. Her entire family has secrets they don't want to share.

This book mixes magic and realism. Bender's writing is so beautiful I wanted to read slowly and savor the language. This is an adult book, but I first read it when an eighth grade student recommended it and I think mature eighth graders (especially girls) would enjoy it.