Tag Archives: genre:realistic fiction

Digital Library: Better Nate Than Ever

better-nate-than-ever-9781442366206_hrBetter Nate Than Ever by Time Federle; read by the author

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013. 5 hours, 54 minutes. ISBN 9781442366206

Odyssey Honor Audiobook Award Winner, 2014.

Synopsis: Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom. – from Amazon.com

I always think it is a treat when an author performs the audiobook version of their own work because you can get a feel for how they hoped to portray the characters on the page. Federle brings across the exuberance, hopefulness, and nervousness of Nate’s character as he embarks on what becomes a journey of major ups, downs, and even some other surprises along the way. I had a laugh out loud at Nate’s internal voice telling him to stop talking when he knew he was starting to ramble – and I’m sure other readers will identify with this part of Nate’s character as well. It was hard not to root for Nate as he is going through the audition process, which seems somewhat nerve-wracking when you consider the sheer number of people in the casting office – some of whom he is competing with. I also had to admire Nate’s starry-eyed view of New York and the way he instantly falls in love with the city even though Kristin Chenoweth is not at the Greyhound station to welcome him with a song. I absolutely loved everything about this audiobook and would recommend it to anyone with big hopes and dreams to help encourage them.

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Turtles All The Way Down Review

turtles_all_the_way_downTurtles All The Way Down by John Green

Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0525555360

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts. from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: It was a selection for one of my book clubs and I figured it was time I got around to finally reading Green to see what made him so popular.

Why I finished it: I fully expected an emotional punch from Green, being familiar with the premises of most of the rest of his body of work. I did get the emotional punch I was expecting, but the book didn’t hit me the way I thought it would. Aza suffers from extreme anxiety and depression issues and the thoughts that worm their way into her brain make it often impossible for her to seem like she is anything but self-absorbed and maybe a little out of it – something, I am sure, thousands of readers experience every day. What gets me about Aza is her mental illness and that’s really the beauty of the book. Green, who also suffers from mental health issues, reaches past Aza’s issues on the surface and really confronts what it can be like to live with a mental health disorder. He doesn’t stigmatize the issues, nor does he go at it from a purely clinical angle like most of the rest of popular media. The readers gets the feeling that he is writing from the perspective of someone who has been there, someone who has reached into the deepest, darkest places in our brain, past all of the hangups and insecurities, and helped us find a light at what seems to be a gradually shrinking tunnel. Turtles truly captures what it is like to be stuck in your own head, with no real language or emotions with which to describe how we are thinking or feeling. I’m so happy that Green wrote a book like this because I think it will better help us understand how those with mental disorders are suffering and gives us insight about how we can best show our love an support. For more cool John Green Stuff, check out his website – the vlog is pretty awesome.

Other related materials: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green; Paper Towns by John Green; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan; An Abundance of Katherines by John Green; Looking for Alaska by John Green; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephn Chbosky; Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher; Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow; Every Last Word by tamara Ireland Stone; A List of Cages by Robin Roe; Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

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The Hate U Give Review

the_hate_u_giveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Balzer + Bray, 2017. 978-0062498533

Synopsis: Starr Carter and her childhood friend Khalil are on their way home from a party when the pair are pulled over by a police officer. The traffic stop takes a turn when Khalil is shot and Starr becomes the only witness in what rapidly escalates into a hate crime. In the aftermath of Khalil’s death, Starr must decide whether she will use her voice to speak out or to stay quiet and deny that she was even there.

Why I picked it up: It was a selection for my online book club.

Why I finished it: Given current events, this book and its subject matter hit me as a rather poignant commentary on how society treats each other. As a white girl that grew up in middle class neighborhoods, I didn’t relate to Starr, a 16-year-old black girl who lives in a neighborhood known for its crime and drug dealers. Yet, the differences in our races and backgrounds didn’t prevent me from understanding the struggle Starr is going through. Even before the shooting turns things upside down, she had to find a way to separate her home life and her school life – she lives in a questionable part of town but her parents have enrolled her and her siblings in an affluent high school whose primary population is rich white kids. Plus, her boyfriend is white, something she knows is not going to go over well with her father. The numerous cultural references to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Starr’s favorite show), Harry Potter, Friday, and a slew of (mostly) nineties rappers help ground the reader – Thomas is giving us something familiar to latch on to in order to better relate the circumstances in which Starr finds herself. I thought it was especially apropos that Thomas used Tupac lyrics to push the main theme of the story: “…The Hate U-the letter U-Give Little Infants F***s Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society gives us as youth, it bites them in the [butt] when we wild out”  (Thomas, 17). Pretty mind-blowing. So, really, if we think about all the forms of hate in the world, I think that it’s definitely a combination of nature and nurture, because we learn from both our immediate family and from our neighbors and friends. It makes one think about what we ourselves are putting out into the world that could end up biting back at us later. Granted, we cannot always show the compassion and kindness that we would like, but I still feel it’s an important message in a world that seems to be turning on its head as of late. It’s a powerful story about bravery and our ability to cope with tragedies in our lives.

Other related materials: Want by Cindy Pon; Flame in the Mist by Renèe Ahdieh; The Inexplicable Logic of My LIfe by Benjamin Alire Sàenz; History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera; 27 Hours by Tristina Wright; Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson; When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon; Queens of Geek by Jen Wildle; Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert; American Street by Ibi Zoboi; Dear Martin by Nic Stone; March books by John Lewis; Monster by Walter Dean Myers; Slam! by Walter Dean Myers

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Review

absolutely_true_diary_of_a_part_time_indianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, art by Ellen Forney

Little, Brown books for Young Readers, 2007. 978-0316013680

Winner of the 2008 National Book Award

Synopsis: Junior isn’t like most people. Born with water on the brain, Junior often suffers from seizures; he wears glasses that don’t fit his face, his feet are too big for his body, and he speaks with a lisp. The one thing he seems to have going for him is his art. It’s how he makes sense of the world. It’s how he’s staying even a little bit sane when he becomes the only Indian at a high school full of white kids, when his best friend won’t speak to him, when his sister runs away to live the life of a romance novel. It’s what gives him hope during a year that seems hopeless.

Why I picked it up: This is another title that came highly recommended to me by my librarian colleagues and I thought it was time I pulled it off my shelf.

Why I finished it: I found out in the first few pages that Alexie wasn’t going to be pulling any punches. He told it like it was, and he didn’t shy away from any of the scary, awkward, gruesome details that come with growing up on an Indian reservation. In a lot of ways, Junior is a stereotype, and he’s willing to acknowledge this to a point. When it is proposed he leaves the reservation, it’s not only a way for him to help fight the stereotype, but a chance for him to make something better than himself, to be the person his parents could have been had someone believed in them. And really, I think everyone needs that: one person in our lives that is willing to believe in us, to help push us away from our comfort zone into the breech. And yet, Junior still feels as though he is living two separate lives, one much more surreal than the other. But despite the tragedies he faces and the challenges he overcomes, Junior finds a way to make sense of it all…well, mostly. Forney’s art is a delightful mix of realism and cartoonish humor, largely to reflect Junior’s mood or state of mind while he is drawing. It’s a way for the reader to truly experience how Junior is making sense of the world and how he is perceiving those around him. It’s a funny, heartbreaking story about how we face life’s challenges and how we learn to control the elements we can while coping with those we cannot.

Other related materials: Flight by Sherman Alexie; If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth; Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Lori Earley; Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell; My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson; Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sàenz; Winger by Andrew Smith, illustrated by Sam Bosma; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine; American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina; Mexican White Boy  by Matt de la Peña; When I Was Young and Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago; Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa  Abdel-Fattah

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Kira-Kira Review

kira_kiraKira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004. 978-0689856402

Winner of the 2005 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Katie Takeshima has always looked up to her sister, Lynn, and the way she makes the world seem kira-kira: glittering, shining. Katie relies on Lynn to help her make sense of the world: their move to Georgia, the reason people stare at them, why it’s important for her to go to school. But when Lynn gets sick, Katie is forced to begin to make sense of things on her own and to make the world seem kira-kira again.

Why I picked it up: I snagged it at a used book store in Newport, Oregon while I was on vacation.

Why I finished it: The two very strong themes that run through this book are the strength of family bonds and the power of positive thinking. Katie and Lynn have a friendship that is unique to sisters, and the ways in which they support one another have a lasting impact on the characters and the reader. Katie might not be as smart as her sister, but Lynn knows that if she works hard and applies herself that Katie can succeed, an idea that becomes more apparent to Katie as she watches her sister decline. Speaking from experience, it can be hard to see the world as kira-kira when everything around you seems so dark and desolate; it can be hard to move on even when it feels like the world is stopping or speeding ahead without you. But what Katie and the reader slowly begin to realize is that Lynn desires for Katie to make her own magic. Katie has the potential to make the world kira-kira for her younger brother and her family in the same way Lynn made the world kira-kira for Katie. Yet, Kadohata’s story runs deeper, mixing grief and helplessness with humor and the special brand of drama that is specific only to families. The first-person narrative gives us a window into one family’s struggle to keep themselves together even though their lives as they know them are changing in ways they could have never imagined. It’s a sweet and heartbreaking story that will leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Other related materials: The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata; Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata; Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata; Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata; Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff; Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm; Criss-Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins; Under the Mesquite by Guadaulpe Garcia McCall; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell

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Stinky Cecil in Terrarium Terror Review

stinky_cecil_2Stinky Cecil in Terrarium Terror! by Paige Braddock

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016. 978-1449471866

Synopsis: Cecil is trying to soak up some sun when he is toad-napped by a third grader and transplanted into a classroom terrarium. Life in the terrarium isn’t so bad – free food, time to rest – but Nesbit the chameleon won’t leave him alone. Meanwhile, his friends at the pond have mounted a full-scale rescue operation, courtesy of Jeff the Hamster’s remote controlled helicopter. Will Cecil be freed by his friends or will he have to live out his life with Nesbit the copycat?

Why I picked it up: I enjoyed the first book so much, I was eager to read about the further adventures of Cecil and his pals.

Why I finished it: This story is part comedy, part environmental tale. The story begins with Cecil rescuing a fellow pond dweller from a rogue water bottle tossed out of a car by a careless litterbug. It’s one of many subtle moments throughout the book where Braddock is making commentary about how humans care for the world around them. Knowing and understanding animals and their environments can help make sure that the natural habitats we find so visually stimulating can be enjoyed for many more years to come. I sympathized with Cecil and his struggle with Nesbit the chameleon: we can see that the chameleon admires Cecil and wants to be around him, but readers can also sense the tension in the terrarium. Personally, I think the disembodied garter snake is the one suffering the most…. The rescue attempt by Cecil’s friends adds a sort of fantasy aspect to the story. It’s somewhat improbable that a remote controlled helicopter could operate without the remote, nor do I think the toy came with headsets, but it’s fun, funny, and imaginative. There’s some cool bonus pages at the end of the book about the new characters/creatures we meet in the story and a how-to about building your own terrarium. Braddock studied for a while under the great Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts comics) and his influence on her art can be seen in the designs for the human characters. Braddock’s attention to detail helps truly bring the characters and their environment to life. It’s a fresh, funny scientific adventure that will engage readers of all ages.

Other related materials: Stinky Cecil in Operation Pond Rescue by Paige Braddock; The Secret Science Alliance books by Eleanor Davis; Alien Invasion in My Backyard: An EMU Club Adventure by Ruben Bolling; Ghostly Thief of Time: An EMU Club Adventure by Ruben Bolling; Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce; Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic by Mark Tatulli; Desmond Pucket and the Mountain Full of Monsters by Mark Tatulli; Desmond Pucket and the Cloverfield Junior High Carnival of Horrors by Mark Tatulli; Snoopy: Cowabunga!: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Charlie Brown and Friends: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Knights of the Lunch Table books by Frank Cammuso; Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle books by Dana Simpson; The G-Man Super Journal books by Chris Giarrusso; Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Zita the Spacegirl books by Ben Hatke

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Copper Sun Review

copper_sunCopper Sun by Sharon Draper

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. 978-0689821813

Winner of the 2007 Coretta Scott King Book Award

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Amari lives a peaceful life in her African village until the day a group of white slave traders steals her, sells her, and sends her on a ship across the ocean to America, where she is sold once again. Polly is an indentured servant who must take on the burden of working off both of her parents’ indentures after their deaths. Both girls have very little left that is their own, except for a small spark of hope that makes them believe that perhaps they will be able to one day be free.

Why I picked it up: I had heard good things about Draper’s work and was eager to delve into her writing.

Why I finished it: Told in alternating viewpoints, Draper has woven together a tale of two unlikely friends whose fates become intertwined. They become forced to rely on each other, though at first they are reluctant to extend the olive branch. Amari is young and carefree until she is confronted with the harsh reality of the world beyond her village. She is forced to watch people she knows and loves die both in body and in spirit, planting seeds of doubt in her mind as to whether or not it is worth staying alive. In contrast, Polly is no stranger to hardship and the blatant unfairness of the system, struggling to become a lady as her mother wished for her. She struggles to seem competent in the face of her new employer, reluctant to accept help from the African slaves. Both girls are striving for the same goals, but it takes a while for them to recognize it. Draper’s characters represent two different forms of slavery in the early 18th century, and both shed light on the difficulties of maintaining a sense of self and a sense of hope. What intrigued me the most about the story was the thoroughness of Draper’s research and the partial list of resources provided in the afterword. The slave trade was an important, if not unfortunate, part of our history, and though this work is fictional, it gives the reader a starting point to do their own research. For many, this is part of a personal history; so many African Americans are descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage, part of who they are, part of their heritage. It’s a touching story that invites the reader to examine the complicated relationships on early American plantations and the idea that hope is eternal though it is often hard to see.

Other related materials: Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper; The Jericho Trilogy by Sharon M. Draper; Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Sold by Patricia McCormick; Nightjohn by Gary Paulson; Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimbery Brubaker Bradley; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Day of Tears by Julius Lester; The Glory Field by Walter Dean Meyers; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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