Sunday, January 15, 2017


Mukherjee, Sonya.  Gemini.  NY: Simon & Schuster, c2016.  324 pages.

     Clara and Haley are conjoined twins.  Their parents have consciously isolated themselves in a small town where they are known and while they may still have people who stare, no one is shocked by them.  They are joined at the midsection and both have separate limbs and most organs except those in the abdomen.  Whatever feelings occur below the waist, they can both feel.  Their mother is obsessed with reading about parents who had their twins separated and one or both of them died, probably as a justification for leaving them joined in infancy. 
     Clara wants to stay in their town and avoid being noticed.  Haley wants to leave town and explore the world.  When romantic interests enter the scene, they seriously consider looking into the possibilities of being separated.  In the end, they figure out how to move forward.
     One of the elements in the story is the emotional bullying they suffer when in junior high a classmate purposely opens the bathroom door at school and sees them trying to pee.  It is a very awkward moment and one which has consequences for both the twins and the perpetrator.
     Although there is dating content, it is tastefully handled and I think junior high students would find it interesting to compare how their lives would be different if they had a sibling joined to their hip 24/7.

Recommended for junior high and above.
Review by Mrs. Belknap


Wells, Robison.  Blackout.  NY: HarperCollins, c2013.  426 pages.

Book 1 in the Blackout series.  Book 2 is Deadzone.
On the Iowa Teen Award reading list for 2016-17.

A mysterious virus has infected various teens across America with unexpected powers.  The powers are wildly varied, from a harmless ability to count things to  being able to cause earthquakes.  Some of the teens are trained terrorists. Several of them find themselves pitted against two small town teens in a struggle that threatens to destroy the world.  Alec, Laura, Jack and Aubrey are the key characters in the fast paced thriller.  There are a lot of moral dilemmas that you will ponder as you imagine yourself in this world gone wrong.

Contains a lot of violence.  Recommended for 8th grade and above.
Review by Mrs. Belknap


Condie, Ally.  Atlantia.  NY: Penguin/Dutton Books, c2014.  298 pages.

Rio and Bay are twins, living in the underwater city of Atlantia.  In an alternate world, pollution became so bad, humans had to divide the population into those who went to the pristine world below and the others stayed on the surface to provide for the undersea Atlantia.

Each year at a certain age, teens could choose to stay below or go above never to return.  It had always been Bay’s dream to go above but she promised her distressed sister that she would not.  Bay assumed it was because she didn’t want to be separated from her.  When the time came, Bay was shocked at what happened and afterward did everything possible to find a way to go above.  She had to battle hidden truths and secrets in order to make it happen.  Part of the mystery involved the mysterious and unexpected death of their mother who was the ruler of Atlantia.

Recommended for junior high and above.
Review by Mrs. Belknap

Looking Back: A Book of Memories

Lowry, Lois.  Looking Back: A Book of Memories.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, c1998, 2016.  259 pages.

Starting each chapter with a photo and often a quote from one of her novels, this autobiographical book gives the reader glimpses into the life of novelist Lois Lowry, the author of Newbery Award Winning book The Giver. 

From childhood stories to things that happened with her own children, Lois writes with her usual flair, drawing the reader into her life and the events that happened.

Recommended for junior high and above.
Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Forbidden Wish

Khoury, Jessica.  The Forbidden Wish.  NY: Penguin Razorbill book, c2016.  340 pages.  In this adaption of the tale of Aladdin and the 1001 Arabian Nights, we meet the jinni Zahra emerges from her lamp at the bidding of Aladdin and thus begins an adventurous tale of court intrigue and the struggle between power and people.     Aladdin steals a ring which mysteriously leads him to the ancient jeweled garden of the long-dead queen of Neruby, Roshanna, whom Zahra called Habiba (dear friend).   Roshanna called Zahra from the lamp but didn’t want gold or jewels, she wanted a friend.  For anyone who is granted wishes, there are always costs.  The cost for wishing a jinni to care for a human is death.  Zahra eventually was forced to kill Roshanna and though she has come to care about Aladdin, she is desperate not to repeat the tragedy of Roshanna.

You are bound to be swept up in this imaginative tale set in the sweeping landscape of desert and luxurious ancient city.

Recommended for junior high and above.
Review by Mrs. Belknap     

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head

Oliver, Lauren and H.C. Chester.  Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head.  NY: Harper, c2015.  362 pages.

     This new series has been compared to the Lemony Snicket books.  It is the first in a series.  The next volume is Curiosity House: The Screaming Statue.  The series was an 2016 Edgar nominee (mystery award) for Best Juvenile book and New York Times bestseller.
     While political correctness should be observed, it is refreshing to see those with unique and unusual traits and skills who have found a place where they are accepted and happy.  I admired their spunk and intelligence.
     Phillipa, Sam and Thomas have happily grown up in Dumphrey's Museum of Freaks, Oddities and Wonders.  They were all rescued from desperate circumstances and while they have some unusual powers, they still feel pretty normal...if you can call performing in a daily museum show normal.  When a new girl arrives, Pippa overhears Dumphrey curiously say "Now I know all four of them are safe."
     What follows is a theft and a series of murders which the four decide they must solve for Mr. Dumphrey's sake.  You will enjoy this fast-paced mystery.

Recommended for junior high.     Review by Mrs. Belknap

The Memory of Light

Stork, Francisco X.  The Memory of Light.  NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, c2016.  325 pages.

Depression is a serious topic and when it causes Vicky Cruz to attempt suicide, she finally gets the help she needs.   After landing in the special wing of the hospital she is paired in therapy with three other teens who all have their own secrets and problems.  Without meaning to, she begins to care about them and that helps her look outside herself but also brings new things to be stressed about.  

Though a serious topic, treated respectfully, the book has enough normal teen talk and soft humor to help the reader through the tough parts.  The book also has glimpses into social class differences, drug abuse and family dynamics and obligations.

The book is recommended for mature junior high and above.
Review by Mrs. Belknap