Melody Bird’s favorite place is the graveyard.  It’s full of history and beauty, not sadness, and it’s always peaceful and absent of shouting. After her parents split up because of Dad’s deceit, team MC—Melody and her mom Claudia—support one another. One day while walking in the graveyard with her dachshund Frankie, Melody discovers a house overgrown by weeds and vines. After some research, she learns that this is a plague house, a quarantine facility that is hundreds of years old. Melody can’t wait to share her find with her best friend, Matthew Corbin. Matthew has a fear of germs and a tendency towards obsessive compulsiveRead More →

Set in North Carolina, The Ghosts We Keep by Mason Deaver is a book about coping with grief. It confirms that healing is a complicated process different for everyone. When Liam Cooper’s brother, Ethan is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Liam loses the normal in his universe.  The sixteen-year-old, non-binary musician can find no life outside the music he makes with the aid of GarageBand software. Even his friends Joel and Vanessa consider him too morose. Feeling like he doesn’t belong anywhere and trying to navigate the grieving process alone, his anger and depression consume him. Initially, Liam believes that he will move through theRead More →

A form of cognitive efficiency, labeling helps people make sense of their worlds. Although labels give our brains the ability to categorize and to draw useful conclusions, they can also limit thinking and lead to stereotypes. With labels like normal, mentally ill, or bipolar, we not only make assumptions about others but about ourselves and our potential abilities. These assumptions can even influence our identities. It is this identity labeling that concerns Journey Smith, the seventeen-year-old protagonist in Faith Gardner’s novel Girl on the Line. Journey doubts the truth about many of the things the world tells her and believes that her brain ruins everything asRead More →

Robert Lang (aka Bobby) lives in a green house in the junkyard at the dark end of a godless trail amidst trees so thick “the sun gets stuck in the branches” (9). Because the junk molders around him and because young people are often cruel, his peers nickname him Junk; his dad, Jimmy, calls him Slug. Bobby feels inadequate to meet the demands of the world in which he finds himself, one where his father is a drunk and lives with a limp, his mother abandons him a year after his birth, and he appears lost, empty, and friendless. At fifteen, Bobby is short, somewhatRead More →

Set in Ashfield, Australia, The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim features the story of the Chiu family and the challenges they face with a mother who endures mental illness and a “wrapped-up-blanket sadness” (58). Anna (16), Lily (14), and Michael (6) watch for signs that mark good days and bad days and dread the days when Ma has a psychotic episode. Their father, who knows the work ethic of a provider, immerses himself in his work at the Jade Palace, a Chinese restaurant that he owns in a distant city. Because Baba rarely comes home, preferring to sleep on the cotRead More →

In an effort to share with readers the challenges faced by a person who endures the misbehavior of brain chemicals, Bill Konigsberg writes his novel The Bridge in a nonlinear form. Under the influence of his pen, the reader’s brain trips over itself, unclear and unsure of reality. Does Tillie Stanley—a girl with a beautiful, smart, funny, and magnetic personality—jump from the George Washington Bridge to drown in the Hudson River in New York? Does Aaron Boroff—a creative, friendly, musically-inclined seventeen-year-old with a sense of humor commit suicide? Or do both decide to put their broken lives back together? Just when the reader believes he/sheRead More →

A story of resilience, Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist addresses the issue of homelessness from a child’s perspective. The Dunn family’s homelessness is brought on by the death of Isaiah’s and Charlie’s father, Gary Dunn, on November 24 due to a heart attack. Gary’s wife, Lisa subsequently falls into a debilitating depression accompanied by a bout with alcoholism. While his mother is incapacitated by grief, Isaiah is expected to watch and entertain his four-year-old sister and to keep up in school at Woodson Elementary.  This ten-year-old young man is forced to accept other responsibilities, as well.  Hoping to get the fundsRead More →

The balance between humans and nature is a recurring theme in The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco.  In her cautionary tale about the long-lasting and detrimental consequences of man-made climate change, Chupeco also includes hope and redemption.  Furthermore, she poses the question: What if the world didn’t tilt?  Although the book is targeted more towards young adults than fifth graders, that’s an awesome inquiry question since fifth graders would soon discover that without Earth’s tilt, humanity would be in a sorry state. Set in both the sand-locked Golden City—where the sun is relentless and resources are scare—and in Aranth—where ignorance is a strength andRead More →

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker tells the colorful story of Olympia, a twelve-year-old artist who is named after a painting by French painter Manet.  Olympia’s (aka Ollie) dad Graham is an art restorer and her mom Doll is a sculptor.  The family lives in the Soho neighborhood in Manhattan, New York. Ollie’s best friends are Alex, an agile young man who Spiderman’s his way up a wall and who practices jumps like a stuntman in training; and Richard, a monster aficionado fascinated by science who is developing a scrapbook that he calls the Taxonomy.  Using her sketching talent, Ollie will occasionallyRead More →