The Afterlife by Gary Soto grabs the reluctant reader in the first few pages with the story of Chuy who is stabbed, dies, and becomes the ghostly protagonist of this compelling story.  As Chuy struggles to find the significance of his life and watches his family come to terms with his violent end, he meets the lovely Crystal, also recently deceased.  I read this story with junior high students who “HATE to read” but they were quickly drawn into Chuy’s search for understanding and the question of whether his death would be avenged.  The author of this book, Gary Soto, is a favorite ofRead More →

The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) tells the story of teen twins Sophie and Josh who discover that a San Francisco bookstore owner, Nick Flemming, is really Nicholas Flamel, a nearly 700 year old alchemist who created the elixir of life.  His enemy, Dr. John Dee, steals the Codex, an ancient book containing the secrets of magic, and a prophecy regarding the twins. As Flamel and the twins race to recover the book, they are pursued by Dee and the members of the Elder race who are the source of most of humanity’s ancient myths and legends.  Throughout this riveting book, Elders and other magical creatures line up onRead More →

The Arrival, the newest book by Shaun Tan, tells the the familiar story of an immigrant in an intriguing new way.  Conveyed entirely in detailed drawings which look like sepia-toned, worn photographs, this book feels like paging through an old photo album without the aid of captions or notes.  We follow the immigrant as he packs a small bag, says a heartbreaking goodbye to his wife and small daughter, and boards a steamer ship along with hundreds of others to reach a new land.  The new city is at once recognizable and surreal and recalls the halls and images of Ellis Island and New York City.Read More →

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Sherman Alexie’s first novel for young adults.  It’s based in part on his own experiences growing up poor on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  It tells the story of Junior (known as Arnold to the white people in the world he inhabits on a part-time basis), an Indian teenager coming into adulthood.  When he decides to leave the run-down, dead-end reservation school to attend a rich, white farm town school, his mom tells him “you’ll be the first one to ever leave the rez this way.  The Indians around here are going to be angry with you.”Read More →

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis tells the story of Elijah Freeman, the first freeborn child born in the colony of Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit.  The year is 1860 and when a conman steals the money of a family friend that was intended to buy the man’s family from slavery in the South, Elijah embarks on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the thief and he discovers the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled. As readers have come to expect from Curtis, he delivers superior historical research (the author’s notes at the endRead More →

Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer’s much-anticipated follow up to her highly successful novels Twilight and New Moon, continues the saga rich with vampires, werewolves, and Bella Swan, the girl who loves them both. Picking up right where New Moon left off, Eclipse is filled with danger, intrigue, fighting and plenty of suspense. While the plot is riveting and the book is a page-turner that is almost impossible to set down, Eclipse differs from the first two books in the amount of background and character development Meyer provides. Not only does Meyer delve more deeply into the mythology of the werewolves and vampires, she also picks out individualRead More →

In the Name of God by Paula Jolin is a moving and eye-opening depiction of the struggle to find one’s self and what one believes in. Nadia, the narrator of Jolin’s tale, is a seventeen-year-old girl in modern Damascus who is trying to figure out how to be the best Muslim she can be. Her quest is interrupted when her cousin Fowzi is arrested for speaking out against the government. As she watches her family and their varying degrees of faith deal with her cousin’s arrest, Nadia must figure out what she believes. Jolin’s compelling book provides a far-reaching look into a complex and controversialRead More →