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 →

“Nothing is quieter, or has more secrets . . . than a book that’s closed” (233), writes Avi in his newest novel, School of the Dead.  With each turn of the page, the book whispers its secrets about why Uncle Charlie is so different, why Jessica Richards walks with a limp, and how Tony Gilbert gets in to Penda School, a private school in San Francisco, so easily. Uncle Charlie may be eccentric, but he is the best friend of sixth grader Tony Gilbert, who hates fakery—especially adults who pretend to enjoy adolescent pastimes.  But Uncle Charlie loves kids’ stuff like video games, spooky stories, andRead More →

Getting out from under the intense weight on my chest after reading Matthew Quick‘s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has taken some time.  I felt pulled down into a deep, dark hole, all alone with only my thoughts about the futility of life, the lack of care or concern for myself or others, and a resigned sense of defeat in the face of an untenable future.  The slope down into Leonard’s depression is slippery and quick and getting back out isn’t easy work.  Which is the long way of saying that in Leonard Peacock Quick has expertly captured and painfully portrayed depression, anger, and isolation atRead More →