Friday, May 30, 2014

No Place by Todd Strasser

I am so glad I read this book. I loved how the author wove teen issues AND homelessness into a plausible storyline. In a long-and-drawn-out-breath, Dan's family moves from their middle-class (and somewhat snobby) lives to living at his uncle's house (a less-than-desirable-home) to Dignityville, a homeless encampment established with support of the city where Dan lives. The real issue of the book becomes clear the further in you read: people have differing beliefs about homelessness and they will go to all sorts of lengths to defend their stance.

Dan is your average white teen, buff from working out as a star athlete and happily draped on an equally narrow-minded girlfriend. But he shades homelife from his friends: his mother never regained employment after losing her job 5 years ago, and now his dad is unemployed and can't find work. Things go from bad to worse in the money department, and finally the family loses their home. They move into Dan's mother's brother's house, only to find the uncle's attitude toward homelessness fiercely judgmental and his parenting heavy-handed at best. After a giant blow-up, Dan's family moves to Dignityville, the exact place Dan has spoken unkindly of. And Dan's living situation becomes no longer hideable. No spoiler alert gotta seek this one out yourself to see what happens next.

This book helped me stand a tad bit closer to what life could be like for a teenager living without a home. I realized while I was reading this book that I don't often lay my hands on YA books with homelessness in them and will be looking for them more in my book hunts. This book is winning awards too: International Reading Association's Young Adults' Choice award and American Library's YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Award and recommended as a quick pick for reluctant readers. I can certainly see why. Strasser, an accomplished author, wrote a sweet yet difficult text in No Place.

*Special note: author Strausser created a Pinterest page on homelessness. Check out his website to see what he put together.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Edge of The Water by Elizabeth George

Looking for a little light/ not-so-light YA mystery? Eager to add a reading experience with a selkie to your collection? This second in a series captures alure and intrigue, all for readers to engage and tussle with.

The story picks up where it left off with Becca still sort of hiding out on Whidbey Island, Derric being her heartthrob, and a decent group of both supporters and flimseys all circling around the two. They are kinda outcasts, Becca and Derric: Becca landed on the island because her mother dumped her there hoping she would hang out with some friend who had in fact died, and Derric had been adopted from Rwanda. Becca has some keen friends though who don't seem too bothered by her "aud box," how she deflects the inner speakings of those around her. The twist of who they are together continues throughout the book.

Life heats up from the start as some marine biologist shows up on the island hoping to get up-close footage of a jet-black sea lion. The mystery ensues from there: what is this non-shedding sea creature? Who can get close to her? What makes Annie tick? Who is protecting whom on the island? How long can Becca live in a treehouse? And what will Seth's grandfather do if he finds out? These questions and so many more....all waiting for you in The Edge of the Water. 

Friday, May 16, 2014


Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Roomies is the wonderful tale of two girls who live on opposite sides of the country creating a relationship over email after finding out they are going to be roommates their freshman year of college. Elizabeth, or EB, is thrilled when she finds out who her roommate is and quickly sends her an email. Growing up as an only child, EB longed for a roommate to go through the experience of having a basically crazy mom and an absent dad. She's a little nervous to move all the way from New Jersey to San Francisco but she is confident that she will have at least one new friend in her roommate Lauren. Lauren on the other hand DIDN'T want a roommate. After living with six siblings, a roommate was the last thing she wanted and now her new roommate EB is emailing her and asking her to show her around San Francisco because she has lived there her whole life. Lauren's initial skepticism turns into wonderment as she develops a strong friendship with EB. Neither of the girls are really sure why they feel so comfortable sharing things with each other that they wouldn't tell anyone else, but both anxiously await the next email. From new romances, college worries and family problems, Lauren and EB share it all. 

I really enjoyed this book and admired how one character was written by Sara Zarr and the other by Tara Altebrando. The book switched between Lauren's point of view and EB's so I found this very clever because the different writing styles made the communication between the characters more realistic. College is quickly  approaching for me personally and this book helped me look forward to that journey and possibly having a roommate. I liked how the book didn't disclude any of those anxious feelings people have as they prepare to leave home and tapped into some of the more raw emotions. Overall it was a great read that I could not put down. I highly recommend this novel.    

Friday, May 9, 2014

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

Popular author Ellis talks about how honored she is that the "real" Farrin shared this story with her. What? It is true?

Of course. Of course it is. And what a heart-wrenching true story it is to hold. I can only imagine what Ellis is referring to. Farrin's story, told as accurately and detailed as Ellis could, took my understanding of all sorts of life experiences and expanded those many times over. Ellis' engaging story telling frames an experience that I believe would change my life; it appears to have changed both Ellis' and Farrin's. And in turn, changes ours.

Farrin is a high-school student in Iran, living with her well-off family and watching her mother snark at the conservative Shah. At school, she meets Sadira, a quiet and yet outgoing, comfortable-in-conflict, studious teen whose father remains her only living family member. The revolution continues to threaten life daily, and nightly air raids and shootings are simply factual. Farrin and Sadira's friendship grows through the trials of fear and power misuse both at their school and in their country; over time as they come closer, they realize the dramatic differences between their two families. Found in each other's arms, they are punished severely. I won't spoil the ending for you. A difficult read, this piece of historical fiction remains important to read and contemplate. And then consider how to change our world.

Thank you, Ms Ellis and Farrin.

Friday, May 2, 2014

the sound of letting go by Stasia Ward Kehoe

My nephew has autism, and I actively seek out resources to learn more about the disability constantly. Those of you who hang with me know that when I start talking about my sister, the conversation will soon turn to Harry. He is amazing to be around---always smiling and engaging and trying to engage me and saying my name and gawd, I just find him amazing. I love to watch him--I could study him for hours. You likely already know how much I get stoked studying young people--I am simply amazed at how they make connections, invest what they know in what they do, how they think. I study them endlessly when I teach young people, and I take a ton of notes and percolate relentlessly. Harry is brilliant (every kid really is), and how he does stuff is so cool. Like when he puts together puzzles or plays with matchbox cars, it is simply amazing to watch how he does it. It is even interesting (for me!) to watch how he hunts down his older brother, the wise and compassionate Will Grey, and smacks him. Seriously---he does this to get Will Grey's attention, to remind Will Grey that he is still there. At seemingly random times. Not surprising--brotherly love--but it is the way he does it. Crafty and wicked smart.  So the question: does this have anything to do with the autism he has been diagnosed with? I think so.

Author Stasia Ward Kehoe has a new fan with her new book. In this sophomore novel, Kehoe frames her protagonist through a world of sister. Daisy loves her brother Steven but because of the seemingly endless challenges her brother offers the family through his autism (not sure if that is the right way to frame it so correct me here if i am off), she plays third parent regularly. At first she figures her parents are getting a divorce but no: an unexpected bombshell hits and explodes within her family and in turn within her. This story captures the challenges of life within a family dealing with teenagers (both Daisy and Steven fit that category), the challenges of a child impaired by autism, and a whole host of other trials known through Daisy's life as a high-school student. I loved how Kehoe writes this one in verse. Some of her phrasing is just gorgeous. There is a deep simplicity to this story, but the author so richly and sparingly uses words that I often simply paused, taking moments to breathe into her writing. 

I have long wondered how my nephew Will Grey might communicate what it is like to have a brother who among other gifts has autism. I wonder if he would choose song or writing. I wonder what he might say. I have seen a number of sweet and informative pieces on TED Talks and You Tube connected to brothers and sisters and autism. This book however seems to take the cake in writing from that particular angle. Sweet and yet phenomenally difficult, it is worthy of reading and digesting. the sound of letting go. Thanks, Ms Kehoe for writing the book.