Monday, September 28, 2015

Guys Read Other Worlds

Scieszka, Jon ed. Guys Read Other Worlds.  NY: Walden Pond Press, c2013.  331 pages.

This is a collection of short stories written by some of the most famous young adult writers.  While the stories are meant to appeal to boys, any fan of science fiction (although this book was described as "speculative fiction") will enjoy them.  Some of the authors include Rick Riordan, Neal Shusterman, Kenneth Oppel and even Ray Bradbury.  

From the comic story called Rise of the Roboshoes to the more chilling space travel story called The Dirt on our Shoes, these stories challenge your imagination and make you wonder "what if...."
Recommended for grades 7 and up.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Blue Hour

Evans, Elizabeth.  The Blue Hour.  Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, c1994.  347 pages.

From the publisher:  "What is the Blue Hour?  For Penny Powell, it's the time when Father doesn't Know Best. It's the morning after Queen for a Day. It's 1959, the year when she becomes the family barometer, absorbing for later reflection every rise and dip in the homefront weather. When her parents buy a house that matches her father's ambitions--if not his wallet--her mother must reinvent herself to keep up with the Joneses. Later Penny will remember everything about that time, so tightly wound around her father's hard-driving ambition and judgment that it all broke loose and spun out of control."

If you've ever wondered what life was like in the late 50's, this book gives a pretty good glimpse of it.  From clothing styles to attitudes about many things, we see things through the eyes of young Penny.  A couple of themes are males as head-of-the-household, infidelity, and drug use for weight loss.  Another theme is living beyond your means.   If you like historical fiction, this is a good choice.  It is a more recent time period than many, but one which many have never experienced.

Recommended for 8th and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Girl With All the Gifts

Carey, M.R.  The Girl With All the Gifts.  NY: Orbit, c2014.  

From the publisher:  "Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius."Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh."

In this very disturbing book, we find out that there has been an invasion on earth but not everyone is affected in the same way.  The reader is pretty much forced to have an opinion on the sanctity of life and the ethics of medical research.  While it is very easy to sit back in a comfortable chair and excuse medical researchers on the premise that saving millions of lives at the expense of one is worth it, but when you are mentally dumped onto the operating table, you are forced to re-evaluate.

Because of the gruesome and violent content, this book is recommended for high school and above.
Review by Mrs Belknap

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Hiaasen, Carl.  Scat.  NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers, c2009.  384 pages.

In typical Carl Hiaasen fashion, this book takes place in Florida where Hiaasen lives, and he keeps his humorous manner of writing.  Nick and Marta are in a biology class taught by Mrs. Bunny Starch.  When they go on a field trip into the swamp, the trip is cut short by the smell of smoke and an emergency evacuation because of a wild fire.  Mrs. Starch goes back to get a lost asthma inhaler and disappears.  Nick and Marta try to figure out what happened to her and find themselves in danger.  They meet up with an unusual character, and find out that their main suspect is not what they expected.

Hiaasen feels strongly about the environment, and Florida has a unique one.  His books often have some environmental issue at stake, so even while you're laughing, you can't escape the moral point.

This book was on the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2010-2011.

Recommended for 7th and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap


Erskine, Kathryn.  mockingbird.  NY: Puffin Books, c2010.  235 pages.

Winner of the National Book Award.

This moving novel is shared from the head of Caitlyn Smith who has Asperger's Syndrome.  Caitlyn's mother died several years ago and now her brother, who helped her with everything, has been killed.  Caitlyn and her dad are just going through the motions until Caitlyn begins to focus on the word "closure."   She eventually figures out a way to help her father and herself achieve that.

If you've ever wondered what it might be like inside the head of someone who has this frustrating syndrome, this is a good glimpse.  The author includes details of how Caitlyn's thinking process is different from most people and how frustration manifests itself in her behavior. Even with all her difficulties, you will love Caitlyn and cheer for her as she figures things out. Because of how her brother Devon died, this book has a lot of current relevance.

Recommended for grades 7 and up or anyone wanting to read about Asperger's Syndrome.

Review by Mrs. Belknap

Full Ride

Haddix, Margaret Peterson.  Full Ride.  NY: Simon & Schuster, c2013.  343 pages.

Right after I finished reading this book, there was a news item about new regulations changing the FAFSA (financial aid form) rules for financial aid.  It seemed coincidental that Full Ride was all about that stressful time of filling out college applications and hoping for scholarships and financial aid.

For Becca Jones, the process is not only stressful, it may be dangerous.  Her father is in prison, and she and her mother have been in hiding for the past three years.  Becca's mother is terrified that someone will find out where they live through her online applications.  When a special scholarship opportunity  arises, Becca takes the risk and applies.  Find out what happens in this book by acclaimed writer, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

This book is on the Iowa High School Book Award reading list for 2015-2016.

Recommended for grades 9 and above because interest in college is still far away for junior high.

Review by Mrs. Belknap


Headley, Maria Dahvana.  Magonia.  NY: Harper Collins, c2015.  309 pages.

Did you ever wonder about random things that happen with no rational explanation?  Some historical accounts document strange happenings and attribute them to hidden things in the sky like mythical sailors in ships in the clouds who steal crops.  Aza knows nothing of this as she struggles just to breathe.  She has severe asthma-like symptoms that sometimes cause her to land in the hospital.  She takes high powered drugs to help.  That is why, when she sees a ship in the clouds and hears a voice in her head, everyone believes that it is nothing but drug-induced hallucinations.  Everyone but her life-long best friend Jason.  In this complex story, you may find yourself at first saying it's all make-believe, but as you read, a sliver of doubt will worm it's way into your head.  The next time you think you must have imagined something, you may recall Magonia and wonder if there really IS something up there.

Recommended for 7th grade and above.  Review by Mrs. Belknap

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Crossover

Alexander, Kwame.  The Crossover.  NY: Houghton Mifflin, c2014.  237 pages.  Newbery Medal winner for 2015.

Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court.  They play almost as one person until Jordan finds a girlfriend.  Josh feels left out and when he takes it out on Jordan during a game, he is suspended for a few days and off the team.  At the same time, he is worried about his dad, a former NBA star player.

Though the book appears to be poetry, it is really more of a tightly worded stream of consciousness.  If you love basketball, you will probably love this book as Josh zooms around the basketball court making his moves and having his head in the game.  It isn't just about basketball though, but also about making good choices, dealing with family situations and just growing up.  Winner of multiple awards, the style and flow are refreshing and the story is powerful.

This book is recommended for grades 7 and up.   Review by Mrs. Belknap