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 →

Ember Williams leads an active life at Heller High. She covets a 4.0 GPA, runs track, and captains the debate team. On the surface, she looks like a high-achieving teenager with a bright future. But there are secrets at Heller High. Secrets that Ember wants to uncover and force into the light. The Red Court is a rumor, smoke vanishing into nothing under the fluorescent lighting of Heller High’s hallways. It’s rumored to be a secret society made up of female students, led by a mysterious ‘Queen of Hearts.’ They say the Red Court grants wishes. Desperate students can stuff a note in an unclaimedRead More →

Given the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the world, Katharyn Blair‘s novel Unchosen is eerily relevant. Fans of Suzanne Collins, Scott Westerfeld, Mercedes Lackey, and Brandon Sanderson will also cheer for the strong female characters and appreciate the engaging and action-packed story. In Blair’s dystopia, someone has knowingly or inadvertently unleashed the Crimson, a virus-like curse that causes the end of the world as we know it. Rather than wearing face masks, people wear blindfolds because looking into the wrong eyes is a death sentence. When infected, a person’s irises turn from their natural color to purple and then to red. That individual has only oneRead More →

Living in Brazil, Felipe cannot think about other people’s suffering because he has too many issues of his own, so being gay is a small detail in a truckload of crises. He is a shy, anxious, socially-challenged young man with low self-esteem, conditions which largely center around his obesity.  Given these challenges and his experiences with bullies, jumping to the worst-case scenario is Felipe’s specialty. Instead of having to endure this life in which he lost out in the talent lottery and his dad gave him the fat gene before abandoning him, Felipe wishes he were a superhero, one who could create force fields soRead More →

Set in Vermont, the novel How to Pack for the End of the World by Michelle Falkoff revolves around the lives of several students who attend Gardner Academy, a prestigious private school in the city. During a Game Night ice-breaker activity held for first year students, readers encounter various personalities as the group engages in a series of Would You Rather inquiries. Deviating from questions which predominantly carry themes about something gross or sexual, Wyatt Christiansen asks: “If you knew the world was going to end tomorrow, would you rather die along with your friends and family and everyone you’ve ever known, or live amongRead 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 →

The Ninth Life by Taylor B. Barton is a book about hope, family, grief, friendship, romance, and identity. But most of all, it is a book about fighting for love—that raw, untamed, and messy emotion—and a book about the monstrosity of being human, which is both horrible and beautiful. As Caesar’s feline life is coming to a close, a life bursting with endless amounts of love, he can’t imagine living without Ophelia Matherson and her dog Missy. His life as Ophelia’s cat was a full one; it had taught him kindness and brought him friendship. In that life, he loved a girl who loved himRead More →

Although Cynthia Voigt’s newest book, Little Bird, has a target audience of middle-grade readers, with its anthropomorphism, it joins beast fables like Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti and Watership Down by Richard Adams, adding its own brand of commentary on human societies and behaviors. The title character, Little Bird belongs to a small flock of crows who forage, guard against danger, and live out their short lives near Old Davis Farm. However, Little Bird doesn’t have the sharp-beaked, sharp-clawed, and sharp-spoken way of other crows. She discovers additional differences between herself and other crows, when the flock loses a good luck charm called Our Luck,Read More →

Through her newest middle grade novel, One Time, Sharon Creech reminds us all how our lives can be forever impacted by a highly effective teacher. She also reminds readers of the power of writing, while inspiring the imagination with two explicitly asked questions: 1) Who are you? and 2) Who could you become? Miss Lightstone poses these questions to her class. Because they are ingrained by “doing school” a certain way, the class initially resists. However, with intentional lessons, well-executed pedagogical moves, careful chosen words, and key dispositions on Miss Lightstone’s part, soon they are experimenting, engaging, and performing without grades in what feels likeRead More →