Wait for Me by Caroline Leech

9780062459886_b8b2dReview first appeared in School Library Journal, November 2016.

LEECH, Caroline. Wait for Me. 384p. Harper Teen. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062459886.

Gr 8 Up- In 1945 Scotland during WWII, Lorna Anderson is tending to the family farm alongside her father while her older brothers are fighting at war. Her mother passed away when she was young, leaving Lorna to grow up quickly, assuming some motherly responsibilities in the household. Lorna’s initial uneasiness upon meeting Paul, a German solder with a badly burned face assigned to work at Craigielaw Farm, turns into a mutual respect and friendship. Then, a forbidden romance begins: the daughter of a Scottish farmer and a German prisoner of war. Tension between Lorna and her best friend Iris increases as each grow into young women and fall in love for the first time. Lorna longs for an end to the war, but the end is bittersweet, as her future with Paul is uncertain. Though missing his mother and younger sister, Paul is unsure whether he will have a home to return to after Dresdyn was left in ruins. Even though the war moves slowly, the narrative flows quickly as readers are immersed in the innocent love of Lorna and Paul. Leech includes historically accurate details, and a helpful notes section as well. Fans of Ruta Sepetys and Laurie Halse Anderson will enjoy Leech’s debut novel. VERDICT Historical fiction, forbidden romance, and a coming-of-age tale combine into a memorable story perfect for young adults. Recommended as a first purchase for all libraries.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

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I’m not one to re-read books. One of the reasons for this is that I always have so many books in my TBR pile, that I must keep moving forward. However, there is one particular book, which is more of a short story really, that I re-read every year around Christmas. What is even more special, perhaps, is that every year I have the pleasure of reading it aloud to my grandmother, Mary. Each year we enjoy it more so, even though we could recite many of the passages by heart. For over 15 years, we have been reading A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is our own Christmas tradition, a Christmas memory I hope to pass down to my children and to their children as well someday.

When people think of Capote’s work, most likely they think of In Cold Blood, a famous story with a very graphic murder scene. However, A Christmas Memory, is a personal memoir based upon Truman Capote’s young life. A Christmas Memory is about as different as can be genre-wise from In Cold Blood. The story tells of a young boy named Buddy and the time he spent with a beloved, much older relative before he was sent away to boy’s school as a teenager. (The far left book cover photo above shows a young Truman Capote and his older relative and friend.)

The story is set in Alabama during the Great Depression. Buddy, age 7, and the older Miss Sook, who was in her 60’s but had a child-like mind, lived in a house with other distant relatives who didn’t approve of them or pay much attention to them. Though they had the essentials (food, water, shelter, and clothing), Buddy and Miss Sook lived a no-frills, but enjoyable lifestyle, delighting in simple pleasures such as collecting ingredients and then making fruitcakes in the winter, playing with their old dog, Queenie, and even killing flies in return for pennies from the other relatives in the house. Perhaps their favorite time of the year and fondest memories are during “fruitcake weather” when they focus all their time, energy, and scant funds to making fruitcakes to send to friends, acquaintances, and even some people they have never met. My personal favorite is Mr. Ha-Ha Jones, who donates some liquor in exchange for “one of them fruitcakes.” Another poignant memory is making gifts for one another every Christmas, where they always realize that their friendship with one another is better than any gift money could buy. The story is pretty short, but it is filled with descriptive details which allow readers to close their eyes and easily imagine the scenes throughout. This is one of the reasons it is such a great read-aloud book. The writing is beautiful, raw, and it flows seamlessly from one scene to the next. If you haven’t ever read this story, I would highly recommend it. There is actually a movie out now, but the book is so much better! Read it before you watch the film.

The first time I had ever heard of A Christmas Memory was back in high school. Our English teacher read it aloud to our class, and I am so thankful that she did. Something about the story really resonated with me. I was at a used bookstore a few months later and happened to find a copy of it. My grandma and I have always talked about books and both love literature, so I shared it with her one year and we have read it every Christmas season since then! Reading this with my grandma every year is something we look forward to and enjoy so, so much. In recent years, other family members have listened in a few times, including my oldest son who is now 7 years old, Buddy’s age during the time of the story.

My grandma has always encouraged me to write, even from when I was little writing her poems and notes (which she has no doubt kept safely preserved in a box all these years). I’ve always had a special, close friendship with my grandma and she is so dear to me. And literature and the written word have always been a big part of our bond. For both of these, I am truly thankful. Below is a picture of my grandma with each of my sons when they were very young.

Is there a book or story that holds a special place in your heart? One that you have read multiple times? Please let me know in the comments!

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems

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Am I all set to tell you why I love Nanette’s Baguette? You Bet!

Mo Willems has done it again – created a hilarious tale with lasting characters and unique illustrations. Willems, rock-star author and illustrator of many favorites including the Elephant & Piggie series, Knuffle Bunny, and the Pigeon picture books,  never fails to delight young readers and adults alike. Nanette’s Baguette is written completely in rhyme, sparking silliness and creating a build-up in tempo with every new page. The story follows young frog, Nanette, on her very first trip to the bakery to get the baguette. Sure, Nanette is able to get the baguette with no problem (you bet!), but it’s what happens after she gets the baguette that will have readers in stitches. Perhaps my favorite scene from the story reads like this, “This is as bad as it can get. Maybe Nanette will move to Tibet. Tibet is as far away as you can get. Nanette would need a jet.”

The illustrations of the French village are completed by paper-model, allowing Nanette and the other characters to really jump off of the pages in a lifelike manner. Nanette’s Baguette is a joy to read aloud, even though it’s easy to get tongue-tied if you read it too quickly. This adds to the humor of the situation, of course, making it one of the best read-alouds to come across my desk in a long time. Also, I have to mention that I am hungry for a warm baguette each time I read Nanette’s Baguette. The story would pair nicely with a bread tasting time! Fabulous work, Mr. Willems!

The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

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Emma, a young Jewish woman living in Poland during WWII, is forced to assume a new identity as a Polish girl named Anna. A newlywed, Emma’s husband Jacob is in the Jewish resistance group and he is forced to go into hiding just a short time after they are married.  Emma and her parents are taken into the Jewish ghetto to live in cramped quarters with no comforts of home. Luckily, Emma is secretly taken out of the ghetto in the middle of the night by one of the resistance group members. She assumes the role of a Polish gentile named Anna, a niece to a wealthy Catholic woman named Krysia, who is Jacob’s aunt. Krysia is also involved with the resistance but Emma is much safer in her care than in the Jewish ghetto. Fearing for Jacob’s safety, the uncertain future of her aging parents in the ghetto, as well as her own future, Emma must press on, living a life of lies and secrets in order to remain safe from the Nazis.

To complicate matters further, Emma is introduced at Krysia’s dinner party to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking, powerful, and extremely handsome Nazi official. Emma knows she should loathe the Kommandant, but he is sweet, caring, and very much interested in her. “Anna” goes to work for the Kommandant, which allows her to secretly assist the resistance group in gathering information from the Nazis. She never dreamed she would be so comfortable in the presence of a Nazi official, much less spend all her time with him and become his “girl.” As the war intensifies in and around Krakow, Anna gets even closer to the Kommandant in order to carry out a most dangerous mission for the resistance group. Torn between her vows to Jacob and her feelings for Richwalder, Emma must decide which path to take.

When the secrets of her true identity threaten to come out, Emma’s life will never be the same again. The ending will have readers reeling. I cried for Emma, who lost so  very much, but still had the courage to carry on despite the circumstances.  This is a beautifully written story with a fast-paced story-line which readers will enjoy from beginning to end.

Thank you to Harper Collins MIRA for an advanced digital review copy.

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

9781250121004_9c076.jpgI was excited to see Lara Avery had a new novel coming out, because I read A Million Miles Away and loved it. Now The Memory Book has become my favorite Lara Avery novel. I devoured it in just over one day. The chapters are short, mostly written as journal entries into Sammie’s memory book, making for quick, easy reading. Avery’s characters seem so real that readers will have no trouble loving them, despite their flaws.

This is the story of Sammie McCoy, a high school senior and valedictorian of her class, who is preparing for the national Debate finals and starting college at her dream school. She has worked tirelessly for the past 4 years, planning out everything so her future would be bright. Sammie’s family plays a big part in her life, and she enjoys time spent with her parents and three siblings.

However, Sammie is writing everything down hoping to never forget. She is hoping Future Sam will be able to read and remember all the things she likes, dislikes, and all the things she has experienced. True to her personality of being a go-getter, perfectionist, planner, and fighter, Sammie plans to keep living as best as she can, even after she is diagnosed with a rare genetic disease (Niemann-Pick Type C) which will cause her to lose her memories and eventually die. She doesn’t tell anyone about the disease at first, keeping it from her best friend and even her boyfriend. Sammie doesn’t want to be pitied, because she is determined to beat the odds and go ahead to college and chase her dreams.

Sammie is inspiring and brave. She is determined to spend her remaining time on earth really living, and being with the ones she loves. Even as her health declines, she still records all of the everyday moments in her memory book. She wants it to be real, showing both the ups and downs of her life.

One of the most memorable parts of the story was the scene where Sammie and Coop are together and Coop is reviving Captain Stickman, a character who made his appearance often when they were children. The way the scene is written with the back-and-forth shouting is hilarious, but also touching because it shows how Sammie can and has always been able to truly be herself with Coop, even if they have grown into young adults with pressure and responsibility. I was laughing out loud during this scene because it was a perfect way to capture Sammie and Coop’s easy-going relationship.

I also cried a lot while reading Sammie’s memory book, especially near the end when all of the people she loves are writing in the book. Fans of All the Bright Places and The Fault in our Stars will love this story, as it touches on some similar themes. However, I found it to be unique and an absolutely beautiful, touching story. I’ll be recommending The Memory Book wholeheartedly to all of my students when school starts up again in August.

Thanks to Little, Brown, and Company for the Advance Review Copy.