Tag Archives: school

A Heart in a Body of the World by Deb Caletti

The only Recently there was a fire which killed a young boy, a member of my extended family by marriage. It was a horrendous accident where no one was to blame, but everyone was left feeling a sense of guilt – a series of “what if’s”.

When a tragedy like this happens, how do you move on? Deb Caletti explores this very presumption in her novel A Heart in a Body of the World.

While not this particular scenario, our heroine Annabelle is dealing with a situation which is beyond her coping abilities. She tries to pick up on her previous routines, but life after trauma just isn’t the same. Some little irrelevant detail reminds her of what she is trying to forget until all she wants to do is run. So that is just what she does, starting in Seattle and making strides towards Washington, D.C. despite her overprotective mom pleading with her to return home where she can be monitored (although there are others who are sympathetically cheering her on). Her grandfather follows in his mobile home – a safe place to recoup for the next day’s travels across a somewhat brutal terrain. Her little brother sets up a GoFundMe page with friends, teachers, and family members, even total strangers, donating cash to show their support. While she can’t change the past, at least Annabelle can have some small control over her life – complete with blisters, aching feet, as well as sore muscles to show for her efforts. The further she travels, the stronger her “statement” and everyone starts to take notice.

While the reader isn’t privy to the actual ordeal responsible for such a strong response until the end of the book, we are wrapped up in the emotional dilemma which motivates this footrace across the United States. This one will appeal to both teens and adults.

Four stars and a thank you to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

Our story, The Light Between Worlds, begins in London during the Blitz (the bombings of England’s capitol during WWII) where three children huddle together in an Air Raid Shelter waiting for their parents to join them when suddenly they find themselves in the “Woodlands” where the indigenous  creatures give them haven. Promised that they can return home at any time  to their original time and place, they take up residence in a castle, assisting in diplomatic discussions to prevent a war (which eventually breaks out anyway). After six and a half years, the two older siblings, James and Alexandra, decide its time to return home bringing the surprised and reluctant Evelyn with them. 

Back home they never quite readjust, especially Evelyn, who is living between the two worlds, longing for one while trying to find some sort of peace in the other. Six years later, Evelyn and James are both at their respective boarding schools while Alexandra has escaped the trauma of caring for her despondent  little sis by going to college in America. 

Told in two sections, from both Evelyn’s and Alexandra’s point of view, the past is featured in Italics. Most of the text is introspective as both girls reflect on their behaviors and their relationships. Poor James is also lost, not knowing what to do, and their parents are besides themselves, never understanding why their children are emotionally falling apart. When tragedy strikes, nobody is surprised, but there is enough guilt to go around. 

The author, Laura Weymouth, is from Western New York, my general location, and I was rooting for her debut novel to succeed. Unfortunately, C S Lewis did it so much better, so I recommend the YA population read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to see how it should be done. I don’t understand why Weymouth would write a book which has so many parallels to the classic The Chronicles of Narnia series. Perhaps this could be forgiven if the text were dynamic, but there is too much lamenting and not enough action. I would have liked to read  a lot more about The Woodlands so I could perhaps understand the attraction. To top it all off, at times I found the narrative confusing. Sorry, it just didn’t come together.

Two stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review,  This review also appears on Goodreads.

All That I Can Fix by Chrystal Chan

Squirrels falling from the sky, a ten year old stalker, problems with parents, and a friendship torn apart over a girl – these are some of the elements of the YA novel All That I Can Fix by Chrystal Chan. Yes, the Chrystal Chan who has adapted many old time favorites for the Manga Classics series.

Chan tackles numerous social issues such as drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, child abuse, runaways, suicide, racism, gun control, all wrapped up with the normal teen angst thrown into the mix. To push things up a notch, there is a group of dangerous wild animals on the loose (ones you normally only get to see in the zoo or on a safari) who are actually attacking and killing the local citizens.

This is Ronny’s story, told from his point of view and it’s full of anger. Furious at his dad who is suffering from chronic depression and anxiety, Ronny yearns for the days when he had a real father who actually participated in the family. Suffering the results of a gun shot wound from a suicide gone bad, Ronny watches his pop, the one person he used to admire, shuffle around in his bathrobe doing nothing except sleep and watch TV. With a mom who has to work long hours to pay the bills coming home spent and using medication to erase the reality which is now her life, Ronny has to pick up the mantle of adulthood and taken on the responsibility of the household. A fifteen year old still in high school, he does the home repairs which they can’t afford, watches out for his younger sister Mina, and, in his limited spare time, hangs out with George, the girl he worships from afar, and his best friend Jello, a photography buff. On occasion he even attends school. Oh, let’s throw into the mix the factor that Ronny is mixed race and has to deal with those who object to the shade of his skin. This is one bitter boy.

I can see this book as one of those after school specials for kids. There’s a lot going on and the melodrama would lend itself to a visualized format. From the reader’s perspective, it was difficult to empathize with such a rude, nasty teen who has a bone to pick with the world and doesn’t pull back the punches (at times quite literally). Yes, he has it rough, and yes, he does show some redeeming characteristics when dealing with the troubles of his sister’s friend Sam, but overall he’s a jerk (I had another word in mind but I’ll keep it PG). Since Ronnie is the person telling the story, his attitude tempers the entire piece, forcing the reader to experience his cruel attitude towards life, ultimately directed at his father. Not my cup of tea. As a minor annoyance, the “little” sister Mina, supposedly a genius, is actually ten, but treated more like a six or seven year old. I was actually glad when she ditched the orange ensemble and started dressing more appropriately.

This one showed potential, but it definitely needed some pruning of the subplots, an upgrade to the attitude of the protagonist, and additional depth added to the characterizations.

2 1/2 stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Big Nate: Revenge of the Cream Puffs by Lincoln Peirce

It’s baseball time for the sixth graders and the Cream Puffs want revenge. This time they are going to be champs, they have just one more game to win, but their star player is sick. Going through their entire pitching bench it is up to perennial screwup Nate to close the deal.

All our favorite characters are back at P.S. 38 in Big Nate: Revenge of the Cream Puffs as clever, smart aleck Nate Wright muddles through besting the teachers, acing detention, showing up the know-it-all girl at chess, and helping his team win the above championship, all reflecting the humor of Lincoln Peirce. Middle schoolers will relate and so will their parents as they relive the highs and lows of life in sixth grade.

Nate has his picture in the local paper after hitting a triple, becoming the hero who led his team to victory, but they can’t quite get his name “Wright” with each subsequent retraction containing yet another embarrassing misspelling.

Panels include details where Nate writes a romance novel and films a movie. Other themes deal with being lucky, prank day, and summer vacation. When at the end of the school year it is announced that all outstanding detentions have been cancelled, Nate quips “I like to think all of my detentions are outstanding”. Such are the yucks found in the pages of the Big Nate series!

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Big Nate: Silent but Deadly by Lincoln Peirce

You know those little “f” bombs that sneak up on you when you least expect it, then “poof” they make themselves known, catching you unaware. That’s what Lincoln Peirce does in his latest comic edition, Big Nate: Silent but Deadly, where the jokes catch you off guard, not quietly this time, but with a force which causes an explosive, deafening laugh that the reader can’t quite hold in.

It’s 6th grade (again) for Nate and his friends (there’s even an inside joke about an endless loop of repeating sixth grade, over and over!) and they are at it again with Nate combating his nemesis, teacher Mrs Godfrey, and trying to find ways to outsmart teacher’s pet & know-it-all Gina, such as a Fact Town Smackdown between her and Francis. Of course Nate and his friends are rooting for Francis – “You’re a geek, but your OUR geek!” With a look at Detention (Note on pass given to Nate: The Usual), Class Picture Day (Where Mr Galvin is asked to show us his teeth, and his dentures accidentally fall out – Response: “These scientists are so literal.”), and Romance (Gina has a crush on Chad whose C.Q. – Cuteness Quotient – is off the charts). Holidays are a hoot, from Halloween to Christmas (After taking Nate to buy a present for his sister, his dad quips – “And this is why gift cards were invented.”), to a Monopoly Marathon on New Year’s Eve playing by Nate’s Rules.

School is in the fun zone and there’s lots of chuckles when Nate attempts to be Student of the Month, interviews a teacher for the school paper, and finds himself outmatched at a school basketball game. Chad is able to outsmart a bully by opening Nate’s locker, knocking the jerk over with all the junk unexpectedly spewing out. Nate’s retort: “I might have to start charging a user’s fee.”

Nate’s talents as the Great Nose-Ini are explored as well as his ability to irk all the adults leaving them shaking their heads and lamenting, “I hate my life”, with even the Principal wondering “If could trade jobs with another” once he’s done dealing with Nate.

The one two punch of each cartoon is enhanced by the descriptive illustrations with facial expressions, or lack thereof, lifting the comedy up to the next level.

To sum it up is the line – “He’s confusing me.” To which I respond “Welcome to my world.” But in a good way.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Mutts Spring Diaries by Patrick McDonnell

Mutts created by Patrick McDonnell is one of those comic strips that pleases people of all ages, one which parents can read even to the youngest child without worrying about the content.

In The Mutts Spring Diaries, McDonnell has gathered various strips appropriate for Springtime and put them in one volume. Intended for children, these colorful comics are drawn with yellow lined paper in the background, reminding the reader of a school’s legal tablet.

We have two best friends who are often found together – Earl, a sweet little dog, and Mooch, a cat with a speech impediment. Together they regularly visit the butcher and the local school as well as spend time outdoors or, on rainy days, stare out the window. Sometimes the adorable little birds nesting in a nearby tree make an appearance and even the threatening guard dog (despite his chain) gets some loving from a sweet little girl who visits him on her way home from school. Mooch is featured affectionately playing with a little pink sock and also makes an apoearance as the see it all, know it all – The Mighty Shphinx, demonstrating wisdom with wit:

You will never schmake any progress until you get over all your phobias
I was afraid you’d say that

The humor tends to be the groaning type:

I’m a snapping turtle.
I didn’t even know turtles had fingers!

Veni vidi Oinki – Pig Latin

(When talking to a chicken): Pardon the fowl language.

Cute as a button, what’s not to love. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ice Wolves (Elementals, Book #1) by Amie Kaufman

Through the use of two rugrats, Amie Kaufman has found the means to introduce a new world. In Ice Wolves, Book One of the Elementals Trilogy, twelve year old orphans, Anders and Rayna, are swiftly making their way over the garden-like rooftops, avoiding the increasing number of check points on the streets, to the town square where a large group has assembled, perfect for their daily antics. Pick pocketing is an indispensable lifestyle to ensure survival on the streets where Rayna distracts while her twin brother extracts some coins from the victims’ pockets. Unfortunately, circumstances necessitate a change of plan and the two find themselves amongst others their age reaching for the staff which will determine their fate. So far none that day had been successful in their quest to become a part of the Wolf Guard, so Rayna, without a family history (at least none of which she is aware), is stunned when she shape-shifts into the enemy, a Scorch Dragon. Anders, beside himself, reaches for the staff, expecting to follow her as the same, but instead he shape shifts into one of the revered, an Ice Wolf.

How can this be? The role of Ice Wolf is inherited while only traitors become Scorch Dragons. Anders must muster up all his courage and find his sister who he knows is not the enemy, even though as an Ice Wolf he is required to destroy the evil dragons. Assigned to Ulfar Academy, full of the luxuries (like food, clothing, and a warm place to sleep) his former way of life lacked, the shy Anders must learn all that he can to find a way to rescue his beloved sister. He develops some friendships in his pack where loyalty and obedience are a key requirement. Yet, where should your loyalty lie when you discover that there’s more to the story and the fight against the Scorch Dragons might be based on politically motivated disinformation and prejudices? All Anders knows is that his fealty will always be with Rayna, and his number one goal must take precedence over his role as Ice Wolf.

Ice Wolves follows the basic formula for preteen readers – youngsters (after discovering the deceit of adults) take it upon themselves to save the day. Kaufman has a talent for bringing the characters alive and connecting them to the readers who find themselves rooting for a successful outcome. This will definitely appeal to the middle school crowd, including some advanced elementary aged students, as well as those in high school. Its short length is a plus with an ending which will draw them into the next book of the series. Adults, once they accept the premise that twelve year olds rule, might also appreciate this well written tale.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.