February 22, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
How do I count the ways that I love this book? While I fell instantly in love with Eleanor and Park, it took me a little longer to get to know and adore Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. However, Fangirl (St. Martin Griffin 2013) is one of those books that lingers in my mind and heart. I haven’t wanted to pick up another book to read because I don’t want to leave Cath and Levi yet. There are so many things I love about this book. I think I will count them for you…or at least begin to count them.
- Cath is not just quirky. She might just cross over the line a time or two. After all, she lives more in the fantasy world created by a best-selling series than she does in the real world. In fact, she often spends more time and effort avoiding the real world because new people and new places creep her out. Despite her weaknesses, Cath shows strength and determination when it comes to protecting her dad and her sister. Did I mention that Wren is her twin sister–her identical twin who promptly dumps her once they arrive at college.
- Fanfiction weaves in and out of this story in poignant and hysterical ways. Yes Simon Snow is a boy wizard off to learn magic at a boarding school and destined to save the world from the evil Humbdrum. Rowell treats us to “Encyclowikia” entries about the series, excerpts from the first seven (of eight) books in the series), and best of all, excerpts from the highly popular fanfiction series Carry On, Simon by Magicath. (You guessed it. Cath writes this incredibly popular fanfiction that gets thousands of hits daily.)
- I wasn’t sure what I thought of Reagan at first. She did terrify her freshman roommate, Cath, at first, but I came to relish her tough love. Her brusque, matter-of-fact view of life is just what Cath needed.
- Levi is the perfect (slight spoiler alert) boyfriend. I appreciate the fact it took half the book for the romance to blossom. (I never liked that Nick guy anyway.) Besides being absolutely adorable, he respects Cath for who she is–quirks and all–and will drop everything to be with her. He’s even adorable when he messes up.
- Rowell deftly handles sensitive issues–mental illness and homosexuality–as part of the story but without making them ISSUES. Cath worries about her dad and about herself, but there different ways of seeing the world are just that–different, sometimes a challenge and sometimes a gift. Most of all, I cheered for Cath as she discovered the strength of her own voice.
There is much more I love about Fangirl, but you should really read it for yourself. Go get a copy while I wait for more books by Rowell.
February 6, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
I already have a line of students waiting to read The Raft (Scholastic 2012) by S.A. Bodeen. If they are looking for a gripping survival story, they will not be able to put this book down. I picked the perfect time to read it, too, with the news story yesterday of the fisherman who survived a year at sea in his fishing boat before coming ashore on the Marshall Islands.
Robie thinks she is tough. The fifteen year old survived the pain of getting her nose pierced by thinking of something worse. It’s how she gets through unpleasant experiences. She thinks she’s ready to say a week by herself in Honolulu while her aunt goes away on business, but once a homeless man attacks her, she gets herself on the next flight back to her home on Midway Island. She’s an experience traveller and knows the pilot. The co-pilot, Max, is new, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, the cargo plane runs into a thunderstorm and loses an engine. Max shoves a life vest at Robie and prepares the life raft as the plane goes down. She hits the water and Max pulls her into the raft, and their struggle begins.
Robie and Max don’t have a lot of options–no water and little food (Skittles, anyone?). If they’re lucky, they might hit an island, but Robie soon realizes that no one knows she got on the plane. Robie must learn just how tough she is if she has any hope at all to survive.
February 5, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
When I picked up From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun (Puffin Books 1995) at the Authors as Artists series with Jacqueline Woodson, I didn’t know much about it. I chose it because I connected with the description of Melanin on the back cover. Melanin Sun sometimes has trouble getting his words out when he speaks, so instead he writes them in his notebooks. I sometimes stumble when I have to speak deep truths aloud, but if I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, the words flow much easier.
I loved how the first person narration and the excerpts from Melanin’s notebooks give glimpses into his mind and heart. Melanin is happy with his life with his mother in their Brooklyn, New York apartment. He hangs with his friends Raphael and Sean when he’s not poring over his stamp collection of endangered amphibians. He carries Angie’s phone number in his pocket, dreaming of having the nerve to actually call her. Then his mother brings home Kristen for dinner and reveals a secret that will change Melanin’s life forever.
Through Melanin’s eyes and words, Woodson explores sensitive topics of racism and sexuality with compassion. In learning to accept who is mother is–opposed to who he thought she was–Melanin must find his own voice and strength. He learns which friends he can count on and that he can open his mind and heart to more that he thought possible. Woven through it all is an exploration of the power of words–power to shut out and to open up, the power to hurt and to heal.
Now that I’ve read all the books I bought, I’m ready to hit the shelves in the library to discover more.
January 30, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
My daughter picked this book up from our latest trip to the library. As soon as she finished it on one of our many snow days, she handed it to me and said, “You have to read this, and you have to put in your classroom library. It will be powerful birth control.”
Caela Carter gives an intimate look at the heartbreak caused by an unplanned, teen pregnancy in Me, Him, Them, and It (Bloomsbury 2013). Evelyn is a good girl turned bad. She’s still in the running to be valedictorian, but she has shortened her skirts and started drinking at parties in order to get back at her silent parents, who are no longer speaking to each other or to her. As part of her bad-girl makeover, Evelyn hooked up with Todd, a friend with benefits. She didn’t plan on falling for him–or to become pregnant–or to lose her best friend. Now that her world is crashing down around her, Evelyn withdraws further and further into herself.
Evelyn is funny and heartbreaking all at the same time as she tells her story and tries to sort out what has happened to her and to her family. She has no idea about what to do with this new life growing inside of her, and she is afraid to let anyone–even her beloved Aunt Linda–close enough to help her. As the baby grows bigger and bigger, she is running out of time to make decisions.
I’m not sure any book is enough to be used as book control, but this novel certainly offers an eye-opening look at the changes an unplanned pregnancy can bring, and it does so without being preachy. Thank you to my daughter for introducing me to another great book and author!
January 16, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
When I got the mail on Saturday, I had a dilema on my hands as I opened my package:
It really wasn’t much of a question. I knew I would be reading–and finishing–The Impossible Knife of Memory (Viking 2014). As my Twitter friends suggested, I couldn’t go wrong with Laurie Halse Anderson. Indeed, this might be my favorite book of hers yet, though I hate to choose between them.
I liked Haley from her first appearance in detention, where she writes “Correcting a teacher’s mistake is not a sign of disrespect.” No, that wasn’t quite the assigned lines to write, but rather her interpretation of events.
Hayley is trying to survive–high school (where the zombies outnumber the freaks) and home (where her miltary father is haunted by his battles in Iraq and Afghanistan). She and her dad had been on the road for the past five years, trying to outrun the ghosts, but now that they have settled in Andy’s hometown, the past is catching up with them. Will a childhood friend and a quirky new guy offer enough hope for Hayley to cling to through a life that is spiraling out of control?
Laurie Halse Anderson has opened my eyes and my heart to the struggles of our country’s veterans, especially those struggling with PTSD, and their families with a powerful story that crackles with humor and heartbreak.
Here is a word from Anderson herself on the book:
January 15, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
After getting busted for all his lies in Liar, Liar, Kevin is back with even grander schemes to solve his newest problem: he is Flat Broke. Now that everyone he lied to is mad at him, his income stream has dried up. His parents have suspended his allowance for a month. His Aunt Buzz isn’t speaking to him, which means no work for for her design business. He still babysits Markie, but because of his parents’ divorce, they can no longer afford to pay Kevin.
Of course, Kevin doesn’t let this stop him. After browsing through is dad’s business books, Kevin decides to go into business and become a gazillionaire before he reaches high school. He is full of money-making plans: organizing poker games for money, managing his sister’s new makeover business and Katie’s new tutoring business (Can you believe they provided these services for free?), cleaning out garages in the neighborhood, and selling snacks through the college dorms. He even has hired staff–his best friend John Paul and his new girlfriend Sam. Oh yea, there’s also Tina, the girl of his dreams that he wants to impress with his new tycoon status. What could possible go wrong?
Gary Paulsen nails Kevin’ voice with wit and humor. Kevin is endearingly confident rather than obnoxiously cocky. His heart is so obviously in the right place, it’s hard to get too mad at him when everything blows up in his face. Of course, I’m not on the receiving end of any of his schemes, just a bystander enjoying the laughs. I can’t wait to see what Kevin is up to next in the third installment.
January 11, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
Reading See You at Harry’s both broke my heart and nourished my soul. Jo Knowles has crafted a story of family and friendship and grief that will stay with me and haunt me in all the most beautiful ways. If you haven’t read this gem yet, go get a copy and read it now!
Fern feels invisible in her slightly crazy family. Her father is constantly coming up with over-the-top schemes to boost business at the family restaurant, usually embarrassing ones like the television commercial with the whole family. Her mother escapes the chaos of family and family restaurant by seeking inner peace through meditation. Her older sister Sara is too busy flirting with the bus boy at work and too grumpy at home to pay much attention. Her older brother Holden constantly runs out on family to avoid conflict over the bullying he receives and school and the happiness he finds with a new “friend.” Then there’s three-year-old Charlie, a surprise baby who now is the center of everything. Thank goodness Fern can count on her best friend, Random. His calmness and positive energy sustains her in the bumpy transition to middle school.
Then an unspeakable tragedy turns Fern’s world upside down. While she is blaming herself for what happened, grief threatens to tear her family apart as they each struggle through it in their own way. Not even Ran’s mantra of “All will be well” can help Fern now.
Even though Fern thinks she is invisible, she is anything but a wallflower. Like the character (from Charlotte’s Web) she was named for, she has a big heart. That big heart surprises her sometimes, like when she stands up to bullies on the bus. I’m not normally a fan of violence, but in this case, I was cheering her on. Time after time, Fern comes through to take care of her friends and family. Will she be able to let them help her when she needs them most?
January 2, 2014
by Mrs. McGriff
I have the best brother ever. I would love to meet Ellen Hopkins at a book signing or conference, but so far that opportunity has not presented itself. But when I saw that Ellen was going to be signing books at the Barnes and Noble in Phoenix, his new hometown, I started dropping big hints that I would love a signed copy of Smoke for Christmas. Sure enough, he and a friend braved hordes of teenage girls and their mothers to stand in line to get autographed books for both me and my daughter. They were the only men in the bookstore that afternoon.
I devoured mine the day I opened it. She is savoring her copy. Burned has always been my favorite of Hopkins’ books–at least until that ending. Now Smoke may take over. Even better, I’ll just say that the two books together will be my favorites. Smoke picks up Pattyn’s story shortly after Burned ends. Pattyn is on the run after her father is shot. He will never beat anyone in the family again. Jackie, Pattyn’s next oldest sister, is left at home to pick up the pieces of her life after being raped and seeing her father die in the same night in the same shed.
I loved the alternating points of view between Pattyn and Jackie. I especially enjoyed getting to know Jackie’s strength and courage as well as Pattyn’s love and loyalty. Both girls find that their lives have taken unexpected turns and find refuge and help in unexpected places. Despite the violence they have suffered in their pasts, they both find that love can worm its way into a broken heart. The cracks and scars may never go away, but new life can bloom.
As always I am blown away by the poetry. Each word and each line is crafted to hit home with power. Some forms do double duty with words read within the stanza and again down the page. Not a word is wasted, and each word resonates with desperation and hope. Best of all, Smoke is a satisfying end to Pattyn’s story that took me in directions I didn’t see coming.
December 19, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
Are you looking for just the right amount of quirky in your next romance? Then This Is What Happy Looks Like (Little, Brown and Company 2013) by Jennifer E. Smith is the next book you should pick up.
Ellie O’Neill an Graham Larkin “meet” through a chance email about a pet pig inadvertently sent to the wrong email address. Ellie responds to the misfired missive out of concern for Wilbur the pig, and a relationship begins. Protected by the anonymity of the Internet, Ellie an Larkin share details of their lives with each other, but keep their biggest secrets hidden. Ellie and her mom have been hiding from her father in a small town in Maine. Graham lives the rest of his life under the public spotlight as a celebrity. Once Graham pulls some celebrity strings to bring the filming of his movie to Ellie’s hometown, can their relationship survive face to face?
If you can get past the premise of their meeting (Does anyone really respond to random emails?), this is a delightful romantic comedy. The incorrect email address is not the only case of mistaken identity or the only misunderstanding. Gentle humor and witty repartee fill the pages and explore ideas of truth and secrets and dreams. And best of all, it ends with the sun rising on the promise of a new day.
November 13, 2013
by Mrs. McGriff
I just finished two more books in the Theodore Boone series by John Grisham. If you missed the first book in the series, let me introduce you to Theodore Boone, a kid who is already well on his way to being a lawyer. He even takes on cases to defend in Animal Court (where no law degree or bar exam is required). In fact, the Animal Court scenes are some of my favorites in these books.
In Theodore Boone: Abduction (Dutton Juvenile 2011), Theo’s best friend April disappears one night, and Theo is probably the last person who talked with her. While the town searches the streets, an escaped convict (and distant cousin of April) is the number one suspect. While the police pursue false leads, Theo and his Uncle Ike try to track down April themselves. Will they find her before it’s too late?
The tables are turned in Theodore Boone: The Accused (Dutton Juvenile 2012). Some one is after Theo. He finds his bike tires repeatedly slashed. Then the police find stolen computer tablets in his locker. The final straw is a picture sent out over the Internet of Theo leaving the police station after being questioned. Theo knows he is innocent, but even he can see that all the evidence is pointing right at him. Can he figure out who robbed the computer store and framed him for the crime? If not, he may get to experience the courtroom from a different side.
Readers looking for a smart kid detective who knows the law will enjoy these mysteries.