The Competition by Cecily Wolfe

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Originally appeared in School Library Journal, November 2018.

Grade 7 & Up: A diverse cast of characters take part in the Penultimate, an Ohio state writing competition, where 100 teens battle for a full college scholarship. Mary Sofia (a Latina) lives in a shelter. Her mother blames her for the unforgettable, tragic night her abusive stepfather was killed by her older brother Matias, as he protected Mary Sofia. She longs to visit Matias in prison, missing him dearly. Michael, Caucasian, is an introvert who excels at swimming and writing, who is instantly attracted to Mary Sofia. Camera who is shy and biracial carries a secret of being sexually assaulted during a party. Raiden is a Chinese American teen who dreams of becoming a nurse, though his father would rather he be a doctor. The four young people conveniently pair up into couples, forming a foreseeable cozy group for the remainder of the story. One of the contest themes is writing about “a defining moment,” which forces both Camera and Mary Sofia to finally come to terms with their painful pasts. The story line is realistic with hints of tame romance. After an unlikely turn of events for the new friends, the predictable yet hopeful ending offers each an unexpected chance at a brighter future. Compared to other realistic teen fiction, Wolfe’s second novel falls short in pacing and writing quality. Themes of friendship and typical teenage behaviors are represented well. VERDICT A strictly additional purchase.

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Purple Hearts by Michael Grant

y648.jpgPurple Hearts is the final book in the Front Lines trilogy by Michael Grant. This young adult historical fiction story takes place in 1944. Though the Battle of D-Day at Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, and the depiction of German death camps is written with historical accuracy, the one twist in the story is that it takes a place in a world where women are drafted into military service right along with the men. For this reason, the series focuses on three main female characters from the first book when they start out as recruits, through the second book where they receive Silver Stars for bravery and to the final book where they have earned Sergeant status and Purple Hearts. Rio, Rainy, and Frangie (Doc) courageously fight through excruciating conditions and never-ending days of battle, in which the harsh realities of war are not sugar coated. 

Rio, a Sergeant and the first woman to receive a Silver Star recipient, has a boyfriend (an army pilot named Strand who cares more about himself than anyone else), but she begins to develop feelings for Jack, one of the soldiers under her command. This makes for a bit of romantic angst in the midst of so much war, which I rather enjoyed.

Fellow Sergeant and friend, Rainy, is undercover in Nazi-occupied France in order to get closer to the enemy and destroy some of their ammunition stockpiles. She joins forces with the maquis, forming an unlikely partnership in which the end goals are the same. Rainy is a Jewish American who is both bold and brave, not afraid of her mission at all.

Frangie Marr, known as “Doc,” is a black Army medic from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her religious Southern upbringing bodes well for her “bedside manner” with wounded soldiers, making her a friend and favorite to many. Though she is dealing with “separate but equal” segregation back home, as a soldier she is equal, allowing her to really make a difference, saving and comforting wounded soldiers with a fierce, brave tenacity that is unparalleled.

The writing is well-researched as Grant seamlessly weaves together the narratives from Rio, Rainy, and Doc, along with some other lesser known characters that are important to the storyline. Being the final book in the trilogy, the way the author provides closure for each of the characters taking readers through to the end of the lives is well-written and most appreciated, allowing readers to see that the war wasn’t the end for these brave young women. They had so much life left to live and enjoy after serving selflessly for their country. Also included between the narratives are letters written to many of the soldiers from family members they left back home, which really brings the characters to life even more.

Even though it’s intended for a young adult adult audience, it would certainly appeal to adults who enjoy military fiction. The battles and violence are graphic and bloody and the dialogue includes quite a bit of rough language, so I would not recommend this book for younger teens or middle grades. Fans of Ruta Sepetys and Chris Lynch will enjoy this series.

A sincere thank you to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

Hide with Me by Sorboni Banerjee

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Recently released in November 2018 by Razorbill, Hide With Me, a debut novel by Sorboni Banerjee, is a captivating YA thrill ride which I could hardly put down once I had started. Clearly I’m not a young adult, and I would recommend this for both teens and adults.

This book has a bit of everything it it: romance, suspense, family issues, and thrills for days! The plot is gritty & compelling with vividly drawn characters, urging readers forward with breakneck speed. If it were a movie (which it would make a fabulous one, by the way), I would call it a “nail-biter.” Boy meets girl. Boy hides girl. Girl has just barely escaped with her life. Now boy and girl are being hunted.

17 year old Cade, star football quarterback in the small town of Tanner, Texas, has a lot to deal with. His sole focus is being the best he can be on the field so he can get out of Tanner and away from what’s left of his family. His mother left and his father has been drinking and smacking around Cade ever since. On his way home one evening, he and his dog Hunter stumble upon a young girl broken and bleeding in the cornfield. Cade’s instinct is to call for help, knowing she doesn’t have much time, but the two words she whispers, “hide me,” and terrified look in her eyes urge him to do as she asks. Someone hurt her and will be back to finish the job.

He brings Jane Doe, “Jane,” to an old barn on the far edges of his farm, one that hasn’t been used for years and a place he goes to escape when his father is using Cade as a punching bag. As Jane starts to heal and make a plan to escape North before those looking for her can find her, Cade is able to get only small details about her past. He wants to help her, but she’s like a scared rabbit, afraid to trust anyone. Jane has spent her life in foster homes. She got in with the wrong crowd, and ended up in Mexico with a boyfriend who was working with the drug cartel. Now she knows too much, and the leader of the drug cartel, vicious and ruthless Wolf Cub, wants her dead. She knows that Cade and anyone else who tries to help her is putting themselves in terrible danger. But something about the way Cade cares for her and spends time with her makes a tenderness stir in her that she’s never felt before. Talk about a predicament!

I promise you’ll love this book. The story moves along quickly, snowballing into a whopper of an ending. What an awesome debut novel; I look forward to future books by Sorboni. I can’t wait to share it with my students!

Thank you to Penguin Young Readers Group for providing me with a review copy of this title.

Till it Stops Beating by Hannah R. Goodman

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Librarian Laura’s Review

Till it Stops Beating, a young adult realistic fiction from author Hannah R. Goodman tackles some very heavy themes including mental illness, alcoholism, sickness (cancer), and loss. The language and scenes are very mature, so I would not recommend it for readers under the age of 16. It is, however, a great book for teens to relate to for a variety of tough situations that may come up during high school or teenage years. 

Maddie Hickman, a 17 year old senior can not stop thinking about the boy who got away. No matter who she dates or that it’s been years since she’s laid eyes on him, Justin is the one for her. Her best friends, fun-loving Susan and handsome, gay Peter attempt to keep her mind off of Justin, to no avail. Added to her constant anxiety about Justin is the fact that Maddie has a major Senior Project due soon, which involves writing a book about the one that got away…Justin. Her older sister, Barb, has battled alcohol addiction for most of her adult life, which ultimately led to her marriage falling apart. To complicate matters, Barb starts bringing around her new beau, who is a bit overbearing for Maddie’s taste. And then, Maddie receives a phone call from Bubbie, her beloved grandmother who lives in Florida, to let her know that she has cancer. This announcement sends Maddie over the edge into a full-blown anxiety attack, which leaves her feeling unmoored and shaken. Come to find out, her father has suffered from a similar mental illness, so Maddie begrudgingly sees a therapist at her parents’ request. 

In the midst of all of these issues surrounding her, Maddie ends up taking a life-altering road trip with her friend Peter and his current boyfriend. On the way, she decides to take a risk and really start living her life the way she wants to live it. I won’t give you any more plot details because you’ll have to read it yourselves. The author does a great job of bringing the characters to life, in a way that readers can identify with them. 

My favorite quote from this book: Bubbie tells Maddie “Never worry about your heart, honey, till it stops beating.” (Good grandmotherly advice.)

Thank you to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

About the Book

Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).

Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.

Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/dp/1684330807/‬‬

About the Author

Often referred to as “the teenage whisperer”, Hannah R. Goodman’s twenty-year career working with teenagers includes the titles teacher, tutor, coach, and, more recently, mental health counselor. Hannah has written essays about mental health for various online publications. Her work has appeared on MindBodyGreen, OC87 Recovery Diaries, Zencare.co, and The Mighty. Though she has previously earned the title author with her first three books, the last was released in 2009 and all were self-published. This time around, indie publisher Black Rose Writing released her novel Till It Stops Beating this summer.

Hannah’s first YA novel, My Sister’s Wedding, won the first place award for The Writer’s Digest International Self-Publishing Contest, 2004, children’s book division. She published the follow-up, My Summer Vacation, in May 2006, which went on to win a bronze IPPY in 2007. The third Maddie book, Fear of Falling, was released in the fall of 2009 and was praised by teachers and readers for tackling subjects like homophobia and coming out. She’s published young adult short stories on Amazon’s Shorts, in an anthology entitled Bound Is The Bewitching Lilith, and in the journal Balancing The Tides. She also has written columns for The Jewish Voice & Herald. Recent, previous projects include Sucker Literary, which features emerging YA authors and All The Way YA, a group blog of writers telling the real deal about writing and publishing YA fiction.

Hannah is a member of ARIA (Association of Rhode Island Authors) as well as a graduate of Pine Manor College’s Solstice Program in Creative Writing where she earned an MFA in Writing For Young People. She resides in Bristol, RI with her husband, two daughters, and black and white cat named Zoe

You can find Hannah:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/969127.Hannah_R_Goodman

Twitter: @hannahrgoodman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tillitstopsbeatingnovel/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tillitstopsbeating/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-goodman-76b9596/

Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/Hannah-R.-Goodman/e/B002BLU56K

Website: https://www.hannahrgoodman.com

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

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This is such a cool book. It’s like a modern-day Breakfast Club with a twist – a murder investigation! Five students from Bayview High go into to detention and only four students make it out. There’s Bronwyn, the brainiac who only has time to be successful, Addy, the beauty queen who prefers to be treated as a princess, Nate, the criminal who sells pills and tries to fly under the radar, and Cooper, the star baseball player who is being scouted by the pros, but isn’t quite telling the truth about his stellar performance on the field. After a strange fender-bender outside the school draws their teacher out of the room for a moment, Simon ends up dead. Simon, the social outcast who runs a gossip blog, and as such, he is known but not necessarily liked by many. The other four students, who are as different as can be, are targets in Simon’s blog post set to be released the day after his death, exposing their deepest, darkest secrets and making them all murder suspects. What looked like an accidental death due to a severe peanut allergy at first turns out to be a murder with serious planning and consequences.

As the investigation unfolds, the story pacing gets quicker and quicker, each chapter switching point-of-view between Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper. Readers will try to figure out which of the four students is lying and who really knows what happened to Simon. This is an addictive, can’t-put-down-until-it’s-over kind of thriller which will appeal to both adults and teens. I highly recommend it. Can you figure out which one is lying?

Us In Progress by Lulu Delacre

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I’m very fortunate to have received a complimentary copy (from the author) of Us In Progress by Lulu Delacre in exchange for a book review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day. You can read all about MCBD below.

Us in Progress is a middle grade fictional collection of short stories about young Latinos living in the United States. Not only are the stories beautifully written, but Delacre’s illustrations of each Latino teen shown in black and white are breathtaking. The illustrations really help the stories to come to life. Delacre seamlessly blends Spanish words and phrases into each short story text, creating a rich multicultural reading experience. The back of the book includes a glossary with translation for all the Spanish words and phrases.

To add to the unique nature of Delacre’s story collection, each story has an accompanying refran, which are “Spanish sayings widely used throughout Latin America and often sprinkled in conversation. It takes less time to use a refran to make a point than to find the right words to explain a complex situation (ix-x, Delacre).” A listing of each refran and their meanings is included at the end of the book. Delacre encourages readers to think about each story and how the corresponding refran fits the relationships depicted in the story. There is a fine mix of male and female characters in this book, which appeal to both male and female readers. My personal favorite story is “Selfie,” in which a young Latino girl, Marla, gathers the courage to obtain a bicycle and start biking in order to better her lifestyle and appearance. Along the way, she develops a higher self-esteem, new friends, and respect from her family and friends. It is a beautiful story of perseverance and determination.

Though intended for readers ages 8-12, Us In Progress is an inspiring, moving short story collection that will spark discussion for young adults and adults of all ages. I would highly recommend it for all public and school libraries to add to their collection.

 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. View our 2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors here: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/2106-sponsors/mcbd2018-medallion-level-sponsors/
View our 2018 MCBD Author Sponsors here: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/2106-sponsors/2018-author-sponsors/

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/about/co-hosts/

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Blood and Ink by Stephen Davies

9781580897907_34ab1First appeared in School Library Journal, July 2017.

Though both raised in the Fulani tribe, teens Ali and Kadi are like oil and water when their paths cross in the midst of political turmoil in their home of Timbuktu, Mali. Religiously strict Ali belongs to the Defenders of Faith, a branch of Al Queda. His current assignment is to take control of Timbuktu, destroying any opposition in the way. Equally strict, brave, and feisty is Kadi, a lover of music and literature and the daughter of a librarian. As a Guardian, Kadi must keep ancient manuscripts safe at all costs. While trying to flee Timbuktu with the manuscripts, Kadi ends up in mortal danger. Ali must choose where his true loyalty lies. The ending is abrupt, but hopeful, and it begs for a sequel. Modern-day Timbuktu is brought to life in this timely, fast-paced story of teens falling in love despite being at war with each other. Historically rich background and Islamic culture combine, providing two perspectives on the war in Mali. The drama unfolds in alternating points of view between well-developed characters with multicultural subject matter that is unique, but relevant to current events.  Davies’ writing is authentic, because he spent over a decade with the Fulani tribe. Both a glossary and a fact & fiction section are included to enhance reader’s understanding and provide factual background of Islamic practices. VERDICT: Readers will enjoy the well-drawn characters and fast-paced action of this diverse YA thriller with a hint of romance.