Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

“I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting there crying when another car rolls up in front of me. I look up, and it’s Peter Kavinsky’s black Audi with the tinted windows.” page 36

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.
Simon and Schuster BFYR imprint, New York, 2014.
YA Romance/realistic fiction, 355 pages plus recipes and excerpt.
Lexile:  630L  .
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 12.0 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would recommend this book for high school students and not elementary school.

Lara Jean is the middle of three sisters and her mother has passed away.  Her oldest sister, Margot, is moving to Scotland, leaving Lara Jean in charge of her younger sister and father.

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I am probably the only person ever to read this book because I first enjoyed Jenny Han’s middle grade book Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream.  This series has been hyped so much that I thought it would be another Everything, Everything, but after reading and liking Clara Lee, I grabbed this at Target.

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Review: Monster

“Violence in here is always happening or just about to happen. I think these guys like it – they want it to be normal because that’s what they’re used to dealing with.” p. 144

Monster by Walter Dean Myers.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York, 1999.
Teen fictional chapter book/screenplay, 281 pages.
Coretta Scott King Award Winner, Michael L. Prinz Award, National Book Award and more
Lexile: 670L.
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 5.0 points).

Monster is a complicated novel of a story-within-a-story.  At first glance it is the straightforward tale of a boy who is accused of assisting in a murder during a robbery-gone-wrong, mostly expressed through his recreation of the trial as a screenplay and his diary notes from prison.  But it is also the story of a criminal justice system where the mostly white cast assumes all the power over the mostly black “monsters.”  Then there are also flashbacks that add more information about Steve Harmon and the other characters which call into question his real role in the murder.  Meanwhile, we are seeing all of this through the lens of one desperate young boy – what is the truth?

Monster

Honestly, for a book to get this many awards and never attract my attention is very unusual.  This book also has never been checked out of the school library I got it from.  But opening the book, I’m not surprised.  The format is challenging, the language certainly above the level indicated in many places, and the content seems aimed more at high school students in terms of the complexity of thought required to process the novel.

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Review: A Time to Dance

“There are no dancers / on this temple’s walls. / Here, even Shiva / stands still.” page 99

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2014.
Novel in verse, 307 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  4.8 (worth 5.0 points)  .

Veda is a classical dance prodigy starting out on a glorious career in Bharatanatyam when her leg has to be amputated.  But dance is her life and the center of her being.  Can she forge a new life?  Can dance be part of it?

A Time to Dance

Pretty sure this is going on my favorite 2017 reads list although the competition will be steep this year.  Not what you expected me to say about a novel in verse, right?

My biggest problem with novels in verse is that they are incredibly difficult to balance.  I love novels, and I love poetry, but inevitably most novels in verse lose out either in plot or in poetry.  This book has ample plot and appropriate narrative arc, while still having generally gorgeous poetry.  I’m in awe of how Venkatraman pulled this off, because it is very, very difficult to do.

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Review: Absolutely True Diary Part-Time Indian

“Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. // I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.” page 118

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Novel by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2007, my edition 2009.
YA realistic fiction, 230 pages not including extras.
Winner of many awards including a National Book Award.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  4.0 (worth 6.0 points)  .
NOTE: Due to content, this is not generally recommended for middle school students.

Junior is a Spokane Indian with a life from a Greek tragedy – medical woes, funerals, poverty, and picked on, he still tries to find the humor in life and look for the hope in his future in this semi-autobiographical novel.

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Despite all the accolades, and my recent positive experiences of Alexie’s work, I did not expect to love this book the way I did.  Alexie seems mostly known for his literary fiction.  Diary is a YA book still interesting to the general adult fiction reader.  Unlike The Sun is Also a Star, which I might recommend to certain adults, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is a teen coming-of-age story that I would recommend to almost any adult reader.  Arnold Spirit, Junior, is a Spokane Indian with hydrocephalus, a stutter, and a few other challenges, like dire poverty and 30-year-old textbooks.

Despite a life where the cards seem stacked against him, Junior perseveres, chasing his hope through tragic deaths and ridiculous logistics (how do you get to school 22 miles away when you’re incredibly poor and there’s no bus?  Answer: sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you walk.)

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Review: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

“When I first got my library card and wrote Blackbird Farm on the form, she didn’t know I was Dad’s daughter or Jim Brown’s grandniece, and she asked me how long my family was working there. I think she still feels bad about that.” page 76

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath.
Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, New York, 2015.
Speculative/realistic fiction epistolary novel, 216 pages.
Lexile:  880L
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 5.0 points)

Sophie Brown’s family has moved from LA to Gravenstein, California.  They’ve traded their apartment for a house and farm filled with all the many things her great-uncle Jim had saved.  A farm doesn’t feel right without any animals, but they’ll have to be cheap because money is tight since Dad lost his job and they started relying on Mom’s income as a freelance writer.  Then a chicken turns up… a very special chicken.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Amazon kept recommending this book to me since I started buying diverse books.  Nothing in the description suggests a PoC is in this book and in the tiny cover preview, Sophie didn’t look dark-skinned.  Eventually I ordered a copy – but mistakenly got a hardcover instead of the paperback.  Once it arrived I was glad for the mistake, because as soon as he saw this book, our reluctant reader started insisting that I read it to him that night.  I don’t turn down his book requests, and they are loving it so far.

This book was a wonderful surprise.  The format is unusual (just like those chickens).  There also is a paranormal/science fiction aspect that would be a major spoiler to discuss.

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Review: On the Edge of Gone

“My good hand flaps against my thigh as we walk. I keep my eyes averted all the way, like if I don’t see other people, they might not see me.” p 57

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis.
Amulet Books Imprint, Abrams, New York, 2016.
YA apocalyptic science fiction, 456 pages.
Lexile:  HL640L (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level: Not yet leveled.

Teen Denise just wanted to work in the cat shelter and make it through her daily life.  But then they found out about the comet.  Since then, she’s been trying to figure out how to survive the apocalypse – and bring her family with her.  But it isn’t easy.  Her sister is missing, her addict mom is running so late they can’t get to the shelter, and her autism makes all these changes even more confusing and distressing.

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Wisconsinite Review: Amina’s Voice

Amina’s Voice is a great new Muslim #ownvoices MG novel. Here’s my take on the Wisconsin references in the book.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan.
Salaam Reads imprint, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 197 pages.
Lexile:  800L .
AR Level:  Not yet leveled.

Amina is shy and a little afraid of some of the big changes coming with middle school, like a chance to enter a singing contest or her uncle coming to stay.  Her best friend is Soojin, a Korean immigrant who’s finally becoming an American citizen and wants to change her name.  They find that their different cultures have some cultural norms in common, and they bonded over having unusual names.  But if Soojin changes her name, is she also going to change her best friend?

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There are going to be lots of reviews of this book, so I thought for my review, I’d take a different perspective. Kirin at Notes from an Islamic School Librarian reviewed Amina’s Voice and had only one issue with it, which confirmed my idea that this #ownvoice novel is a great representation of Muslim culture.

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