The Boy Problem

Readers of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid will likely enjoy The Boy Problem: Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy by Kami Kinard. While it doesn’t have the plethora of pictures, it has relevance and ‘tween appeal in its plot.   Tabitha Reddy, who believes in signs and clues, thinks it’s possible to predict the future and that wishing on a star increases the likelihood of that wish’s coming true.  Her BFF, Kara McAllister disagrees, saying: “Nothing helps your wishes come true unless YOU do something yourself” (11).  She encourages Tabitha, who is in search of a boyfriend, to be proactive.

The social scenes and peer conflicts that Kinard creates at Spring Valley Middle School are so true to life that older readers are bound to revisit their junior high years.  Über-obsessed with her dilemma, Tabbi depends on fortune cookies, various games, a Magic 8 Ball, a Cootie Catcher, a Faceplace survey, a probability project in algebra, and a fortune teller to predict her next love.  This obsession forms the central conflict of the novel.

Despite the drama, the rampant self-interest, and the popularity contests that inundate the lives of middle-schoolers, Kinard also reveals the depth of concern for others that can characterize these early teen years.  When Tabbi learns that a hurricane has struck the tiny town in New England where her Uncle Mike, Aunt Sally, and cousin Maddie live, she is inspired to action.  From her compassion—and that of friends Kara and Pri, Cupcakes for Catastrophes (C4C) is born—a fundraising effort to rebuild her cousin’s school library.  The cupcake sales progress positively until Maybelline moves in on their turf and starts a war with a surprising outcome.

Amidst all her struggles to reach her boyfriend-finding goal, Tabbi learns some extremely important lessons:

  • “It’s hard to move forward when you’re carrying around the extra weight of a grudge” (111).
  • “Just because something worse happens somewhere else doesn’t make it less painful when something bad happens to you” (199-200).
  • “I have myself, my friends, my family, and a house that smells like chocolate.  What more could a girl want?” (200).
  • Posted by Donna

The Freedom Summer Murders

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell was a difficult book to read.  I am always flummoxed by hate, preferring instead to stand up for social justice, to act as Anna Sewell said in Black Beauty all those years ago: “With cruelty and oppression, it is everybody’s business to interfere when they see it.”

Still, this is an important nonfiction book, one that can easily be read alongside The Road to Memphis by Mildred D. Taylor.  As he commemorates the 50th anniversary of the murders of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan, Mitchell provides a look into one of the dark corners of U.S. history, a time when white racists fought ferociously to maintain their supremacy and when Mississippi inspired terror for America’s black population.  The risks of being black in Mississippi were many: mistrust, resentment, jeering, harassment, brutality, and even death.m Summer Murders by Don Mitchell was a difficult book to read.  I am always flummoxed by hate, preferring instead to stand up for social justice, to act as Anna Sewell said in Black Beauty all those years ago: “With cruelty and oppression, it is everybody’s business to interfere when they see it.”

In the summer of 1964, civil rights leaders had determined that a major voter registration effort was a step towards empowering these under-served and marginalized individuals.  The initiative became known as the Freedom Summer. Mitchell captures this history and puts a human face on it by writing the story of three young men: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, “who placed their faith in nonviolence in the service of civil rights and social justice” (14).  These young men decided to stand up for social justice and to act on their beliefs.  Other people in Mississippi joined them—black and white and Choctaw Indian—people with the conscience and the courage took enormous risks in the fight for equality.  In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., these were people who worked to “break the cycle of retaliation and revenge by not hating one’s enemies” (179).  These heroes could not look on and do nothing about the evil they observed, so they forged a strong bond and helped transform a community.

Many of these heroes died a martyr’s death, but their legacy lives on in books like Mitchell’s.  Other awareness comes from films like Mississippi Burning and Murder in Mississippi and from inspirational websites like How to be a Hero, sponsored by the Andrew Goodman Foundation.  The James Early Chaney Foundation is also dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans.  With civic engagement and by taking action against injustice, hopefully we can prevent future atrocities against our fellow men and women.

  • Posted by Donna

Lost Children of the Far Islands

9780375870910One month before their 11th birthday, all is peaceful in Maine for the Brennan twins, Gus and Leo, until their mother develops a mysterious illness and boats begin to mysteriously disappear.  These freakish events are just a beginning, however, as solitude turns to emergencies, screaming, lying, and nighttime visitors.  And Ila, who has never previously spoken in her five years of life, starts to speak nonsense about morays and watchers.

By the time a shape-shifting messenger arrives, Gus is furious, frightened, confused, and full of grief, but she and her siblings step out of their previously idyllic life into something completely unknown.

The Bedell takes them to one of the Far Islands, Loup Marin, where they learn much about their kin, their past, and their fate as part of a prophecy.  They also learn about the Dobhar-chú, King of the Black Lakes, a hideous and evil monster responsible for killing, terror, and desolation.  The spell rendering the king powerless is about to expire, and the Brennan trio must take on the challenge, a battle which involves harrowing experiences, snarling wolves, and charging sharks. 

Tweens will love this book for its adventure , daring exploits, and magic.   Lost Children of the Far Islands by Emily Raabe is a cross between the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull and the Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket.  A perk of the book is its language of sea life. 

  • Posted by Donna

Reader’s Review: Toxic Heart

This is the second book of the Mystic City series, and while I would have liked to have read the first book, not having done so was not a detriment.  This book stands alone perfectly. I am not sure if one could label this a dystopian novel, but there are dystopian elements present. There is a segment of the society that is mystic. The mystics look and act like “normal” humans, but as their name implies, they have mystic powers.  Somehow these mystics have been exploited to, basically, serve the wealthy. OK, as I write this, perhaps it would be better to read these books in order…

Perhaps the layout of the city is fully explained in Theo Lawrence’s first novel, Mystic City, but what I gathered is; Manhattan got too crowded and dirty, so the Aerie Class had a city built on top of / above the original city, Manhattan.  What we’re left with is a striated city, with the elite on top, and the poor and mystics living below.

Manhattan is embroiled in a war, with the mystics rebelling against the elite.  Aria, an elite-born young woman, fell in love with Hunter, the son of a powerful mystic. Huh… now that I think about it, the first book must read a lot like Romeo and Juliet.  Spoken about in Toxic Heart, is their love, the opposition of her parents, the brain-cleaning to which Aria was subjected (in order to forget Hunter).  At the end of Mystic City Aria renounces her family and decides to live among the mystics.

Toxic Heart opens with Aria in hiding, separated from Hunter, who is now leading the mystics’ cause after the assassination of his mother.  After her first hide-out is brutally raided, Aria is back on the run, dependent on the mystics to help her hide.  Aria comes to believe that the best course of action would be to call a truce between the warring factions.  The question is: how can she achieve this while her family and friends are brutally fighting each other?

  • Posted by Karin Mendez

Reader’s Review: Between Two Worlds

In Katherine Kirkpatrick‘s Between Two Worlds, travelers on a race to the top of the world interrupted life during the 1900′s in Greenland.  The Greenland Inuits were amazed at the expansive wooden ships that rammed upon their shores bringing white men, women in impractical dresses, and canned food. Billy Bah was not exempt from the amazement. She followed the captain of the ship – Captain Peary – and spent time with his wife, especially after the birth of their daughter in the barren tundra of Greenland.  When the Peary’s sail home to America they ask to take Billy Bah with them – the first “Eskimo” to go to America. One year later she returned to Greenland and became trapped between the two worlds.

Billy Bah was married young, 14 as was custom, and then watched her parents sail off to see America – never to return. Alone with her husband, Fat Lazy One, Billy Bah hunts and strives to be a good wife, stuck in a young marriage. When one of the large, wooden ships arrives on their shores, her life changes once again.

Billy Bah and the Fat One sail with the ships to another part of Greenland where there is better hunting. While on the ship Billy Bah reconnects with the Captain’s wife and daughter. She is traded for a gun to an American sailor – Duncan. Trapped between two worlds again Billy Bah finds herself falling for Duncan, but knows she could never return to America – the place that killed her parents.

What choice will Billy Bah make? Stay with her lazy husband, go with Duncan, or strike out on her own? Sprinkled with the Inuit dialect and names, it takes a little while to separate all of the characters. The custom of trading wives for supplies is always a little hard to swallow. However, you are sure to become enthralled with Katherine Kirkpatrick’s novel Between Two Worlds – a gripping tale of adventure, love, and coming of age.

  • Posted by Shanell

Boys of Blur

A magical realism tale, Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson is set in Taper, Florida, “where the sea of sugarcane stops and swamps begin” (1). The thick, mucky place intrigues twelve-year-old Charlie Reynolds who is attending the funeral of his stepfather’s father.

While the family is in Florida, Charlie notices a look on his mother’s face, the old look of fear, placed there by an abusive father. He knows his mother does not like this place, so when the townspeople ask Prester Mack to coach the football team, a position vacated by the death of Willie Wisdom, Charlie worries that the place will dredge up old fears: “Somewhere in this broad, flat land of muck and cane, there was a man she had one loved,” a man who had beaten her and given her both physical and emotional scars. Still, Charlie doesn’t belong in Buffalo, New York, or to any other place; he belongs to moments.

Moments spent in the swamp are memorable ones because the swamp becomes a place of reunions and unusual meetings; it also becomes a place for conditioning for the football team.  Chasing, reacting, and exploding after rabbits that bolt the burning cane, the boys learn to juke and jive, to practice the moves needed for football flexibility and speed.

In the swamp, Charlie encounters Lio who tells him of Gren, which Charlie calls Stank because of their rotting, musky, skunky, sewer stench.  The Gren are men, transformed after death to haunt the swamps.  Their hunger and hate, born of destructive forces like envy, rage, and self-pity, have transformed them.  Now, they prowl for other souls to corrupt.  His mind overloaded with worries and wonderings and confusions, Charlie decides to confront their queen mother to save his cousin Cottonmouth Mack—a risk he’s willing to take; “I’d rather die than not try” (125), he says.

The quest takes Charlie on an epic trek, one of challenges, poison, blood, and monsters.  Rich with allusions to Beowulf, Wilson’s story will treat readers to adventure and danger and magic.

  • Posted by Donna

Reader’s Review: The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days

Nina finds herself at one of the many crossroads of life: that weird time between middle and high school, where we all begin to experiment with who we are, and what we want to be.  The thing is though; Nina doesn’t feel as though she is really changing.  She is the quiet observer to the chaos around her.

What began as a way to honor her grandmother’s memory becomes Nina’s summer project.   She decides that she will do something nice for someone – one thing for each of the 65 days of summer.  In better observing her neighbors, in order to discover what she might do for them, she learns some of their secret truths… those little things that we live with, that we never talk about, or maybe even admit to… What Nina does not anticipate is the larger change that her little good deeds create.

I have no idea how this would read to a thirteen-year-old, but as an adult, I have to say that this is a super cute, feel-good book.  Michelle Weber Hurwitz’s story resonates so sweetly because we have all been there; feeling as though we don’t quite belong, as well as discovering the little hurts adults quietly carry with them.

  • Posted by: Karin Mendez



Sixteen-year-old Calliope Knowles is a self-described bitch, but that word hardly describes her true self, a traumatized young woman who is a ward of the state of Illinois and a clinically diagnosed graphomaniac.   Graphomania is a compulsion to write; Callie writes “for the same reason most of us breathe” (3).  Although she feels like a carnival side show and hates being a slave to the words in her head, the words motivate her to remember.

Ever since her father disappeared, Callie has been compelled to write.  Although the authorities don’t believe she killed her father, they do think she knows something about his disappearance and about twelve-year-old Hannah Rynes, who disappeared at the same time.

As Callie’s story unfolds in Oblivion by Sasha Dawn, readers learn that her father is/was Reverend Palmer Prescott, founder of the Church of the Holy Promise.  Palmer abuses his position of power to manipulate and to control women.  Callie clearly remembers occasions of such manipulation and for what purpose her father uses his confessional box.  For stabbing Palmer in the thigh while trying to castrate him, Callie’s mother has been institutionalized.  When her father turns up missing, Callie is sent to County Juvenile Hall, until she is taken in by the Hutch family.

Callie feels like an unravelled sweater beside the “got it together” Lindsey, who has looks, money, charm, and social collateral at Carmel Catholic.  Lindsey “lives under the illusion that life is like a cupcake—sweet, delicious, uncomplicated, and not a bite more than she can handle” (180).  All is idyllic in Callie’s new family dynamic until she dares to cross Lindsey and becomes the target of Lindsey’s wrath.

Although she lives in oblivion, Callie hates the prodding, the poking, the nosiness of therapy, and the antianxiety drug Ativan, prescribed by her therapist, Dr. Ewing, fogs her memory.  “Medicate me, and you might as well have my soul,” (69), claims Callie, who needs her memory to remember, to solve the mystery of these missing persons.  But her psychosis so disrupts her life that she can’t eat or sleep; she cannot focus or function without a pen in her hand—a red Sharpie, to be exact.  Callie only feels safe in the arms of Elijah Breshock, a boy she met at County who himself has been taken in by a family of wealth and privilege.  His kisses give Callie clarity when every nerve in her body hums, when her daydream/nightmare sequences threaten to push her over the edge, to suffocate her.

Just as a person who stutters suffers from blocking, Callie repeats the same word or series of words over and over.  Are these words turn gibberish or the secret pieces to the puzzle she’s trying to solve?  Scared and confused by the slideshow of snippets, hints of images that she can’t explain, Callie wants to just be normal again.

John Fogel offers her that option when he gives her a note during chapel, a note that connects John to Callie in an eerie way and sets up a pair of love triangles in the novel.  John sees Callie’s compulsion to write as a possible art, encouraging the poetry she produces.  He also becomes her partner in solving the mystery, but at what cost?

Sasha Dawn’s psychological thriller compelled me to read on, to make the connections, to draw the conclusions, and to solve the mystery.

  • Posted by Donna

Reader’s Review: ACID

One hundred years from now, Great Britain will become an isolated police state with the Agency for Crime Investigation and Defense (ACID) controlling everything. People marry the Life Partners chosen for them, work at careers assigned to them, and live in apartments chosen for them, all by ACID.  Speaking out against the System is punishable by law, as are many things that we currently take for granted. Being accused of a crime is a certain prison sentence, as ACID will do everything within its power, and it is all powerful, to protect itself.

Jenna Strong has been behind bars for the past two years, the only girl in an adult male prison. If nothing else, this time has hardened her into a strong survivor, determined to uncover the truth. Getting sprung from prison is only the beginning of Jenna Strong’s unexpected adventure.

There are quite a few unexpected twists and turns in Emma Pass‘s thoroughly entertaining novel. With each attempt at concealing her true identity Jenna uncovers yet another layer to ACID’s overreaching cruelty.

This is what I’d call a hard-hitting, fast paced novel. Luckily for us, Emma Pass has set it up to be the first book in a series.

  •  Posted by Karin Mendez

Sky Raiders

A sixth grader in Mesa, Arizona, Cole Randolph is concerned about fairly typical topics for tweens: homework, sibling rivalry, whether he has feelings for Jenna, and whether he should go trick-or-treating.  He and his best friend Dalton decide to visit the haunted house in Spook Alley, where the guy who just moved in previously performed special effects for Hollywood.   The effects turn out to be more gross than scary at first with bones, black bug juice,  a host that seems a little off to Cole, “not very bright, big creepy-looking, maybe not totally sane” (16), and a whiskered woman who eats venomous cockroaches as if they were snacks and lectures the group about fear, hardship, and bleakness.  When the group descends into the basement and Dalton hears the door lock, he and Cole begin to worry that they may be in genuine danger. 

In the basement behind black curtains, Cole discovers cages packed with kids in Halloween costumes and patrolled by a grubby assortment of villains.  His hope that the haunted house is simply an elaborate hoax plummets when he learns the villainous plan: their time in the world is over, his friends will not see their families again, and their plans and expectations for their lives will forever be unfulfilled.  Although he is hidden, Cole feels responsible for the rescue of his friends—after all, it was his idea that they visit the haunted house, so he follows the kidnappers down a manhole to the Outskirts.

In this mysterious world between worlds, Cole meets a Wayminder, the man responsible for opening the portal, and from him he learns about free marks and bond marks and shapers and about the High King of the five kingdoms who supports slavery.  Still convinced he can perform a heroic rescue, Cole concocts a plan, but he is ratted out and ends up chained behind the caravan that carts his friends in portable cages like circus animals. 

The first slave purchased from the caravan, Cole learns what it means to be an outcast: marked, chained up, caged, and ignored, he feels deeply lonely and less than a person.  When Cole arrives at Skyport, his owner declares he will become a Sky Raider, a dangerous job that involves raiding floating castles.  While living near the Brink and fighting the worry that his life is over, Cole vows to never stop watching for a chance to escape and to find his friends:  Maybe he would lead a slave revolt, maybe he would sneak away on his own, or maybe he would align with Jace and Mira and Twitch to liberate his friends. 

Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull, the first book in the Five Kingdoms series, is an action-packed adventure tale with both science fiction and fantasy elements: cloudwalls, alternate universes, semblances, shapers, jumping swords, floatstones, and monsters like Carnag, scorpipedes, huge spiders, and giant bears that hunt in packs.  Written with the same imaginative spirit as the Fablehaven series, Mull’s book reads like an online game with trials, hazards, risks, and peril at every turn. 

  • Posted by Donna