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I apologize for my lacking presence here, but summer graduate classes are insane. I just finished two five-week courses - one of which being Libraries, Literature, and the Child which required an immense amount of reading, and, less than 24 hours later, I started two more five-week courses. How much I will be around between now and the middle of August will be hard to predict. In the meantime, though, many of the books I elected to read for the aforementioned class, though technically adolescent literature, were astonishingly captivating. Those that I thoroughly enjoyed and felt as though their material was weighty enough to include, I decided to bring my reviews over to here and share them. Unlike before, though, these comments are much briefer, more condensed, but I like the style and might elect to continue to respond to books I read in a similar fashion. Also, I now have a Goodreads accounts. Feel free to check it out (it is nowhere near completely updated yet) and friend me. Until next time....

~ by: Kathryn Erskine

Her brother is dead, she has Asperger's, and Caitlin just doesn't Get It – feelings, people, or how they work together. With the help of her school counselor, though, and her first friend, Caitlin strives to find closure. Despite the tragedy of her brother's death, losing him forces Caitlin to start interacting with others. Something “good, strong, and beautiful” is created from something terrible, and, in the process, Caitlin starts to heal herself... and her community; she gives everyone hope. Using stream of consciousness, Erskine allows Caitlin to freely share her thoughts. In doing so, Caitlin says many things that others only dream of admitting. It should be a freeing experience for readers and a learning one, too, as the audience experiences life through the eyes of someone who approaches the world differently than they do. A winner of the National Book Award, Mockingbird is an emotional revelation.

5 out of 5 Stars

A Wrinkle in Time
~ by: Madeleine L'Engle

Lessons abound as Meg, her prodigious brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin travel through a wrinkle in time to rescue the siblings' father. Throughout their travels, they learn: sometimes children must save themselves rather than depend upon their parents; being different does not make someone a monster; and love is powerful enough to conquer all. L'Engle also uses her novel to warn her readers against the dangers of destroying the environment and submitting to conformity and government control. The work, thanks to Charles Wallace, also features a wonderful vocabulary, presented in a non-didactic manner. Despite the many possible ways A Wrinkle in Time presents its readers with the means to learn, the fact that the three Mrs. W's never quite say what they really mean is frustrating, Meg's whining throughout most of the novel is vexing, and there is a strong presence of Christianity which could be alienating.

4 out of 5 Stars

~ by: Ingrid Law

Savvy is an odd book with characters who have strange powers, strange names, and the most unconventional yet realistic country dialect, complete with metaphors, similes, and cliched expressions. And, oddly enough, it's this unusualness which makes the book work. As Mibs approaches her thirteenth birthday, the year her family develops their savvies – special talents, her father is in a terrible accident, leaving her desperate to get to his bedside. During their roundabout journey to the hospital, Mibs, two of her brothers, and two friends learn some very important life lessons. Despite the fact that that the idea of powers is a fantastic one, those powers make Mibs and her family different – outsiders, and that is something all teenagers can relate to. Just as Mibs' mother says, “you can't get rid of part of what makes you you and be happy,” Savvy shows readers it's okay to be unique.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Summer of My German Soldier
~ by: Bette Greene

In The Summer of My German Soldier, it took a twelve year old Jewish girl and her black nanny to recognize the fact that a person cannot be defined by a label. The book takes place during 1941 in segregated Arkansas where anti-semitism feelings, though not as overt, were still lurking underneath all the nice-as-pie Southern pleasantries, and Patty and Ruth were the only people capable of seeing Anton, an escaped Nazi prisoner of war whom they helped, as not the face of their enemy but as the kind, intelligent man that he was. Their outsider status bonded them together – a theme readers can relate to, and it was their compassion, goodness, and faith in one another which made them friends. What's more, the book does not whitewash the issues; rather, it is sometimes harsh in its honesty. That is the beauty of this novel: emotional and social truth.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Graveyard Book
~ by: Neil Gaiman

A staccato introduction, made so with short phrases, short sentences, and short, powerful words, and a classic film noir vibe, complemented by black and white, gothic illustrations from Dave McKean, set the tone of an intriguing, supernatural mystery. It started with promise; it ended with disappointment, though. Following the systematic murdering of his family, Nobody Owens sought refuge in a neglected graveyard, its ghostly denizens protecting, rearing, and loving him as he grew up a boy trapped between two worlds – one living and one not. Yet, after the initial introduction of the book's mystery, it was abandoned in favor of Nobody's supernatural adventures. While his exploits eventually serve him well in his final stand against his enemy, for most of the novel, readers are left in the dark, and Nobody's experiences slow the pace of the story, making it a chore to reach the climatic and on point conclusion.

2 out of 5 Stars

Found – The Missing: Book One
~ by: Margaret Peterson Haddix

When strange events start to occur to two adopted friends, they, Jonah and Chip, along with Jonah's younger sister Katherine start to investigate, only to discover that their very existences are the result of time travel. Because Haddix's characters are different solely because they were adopted, the tale becomes more accessible to readers. Likewise, the lack of parental influence is believably excused, because the kids do not want to hurt their parents. Although an adult presence is needed to realistically explain the elevated scientific information involved in time travel theories, Angela, like the children, is marginalized in society, because she is thought to be insane, uniting them. It is only when Jonah, Katherine, Chip, and Angela work together that they start to discover some answers – enough for readers to receive a payoff while still introducing the second book in The Missing Series.

4 out of 5 Stars

The Devil's Arithmetic
~ by: Jane Yolen

As long as we can remember, all those gone before are alive inside us” (p. 113). This – more than the haunting images of despair and death endured under the cruelty of the Nazi regime – is the lasting impression of Yolen's powerful novel. In it, young Hannah opens a door to complete a portion of her family's Seder dinner only to step into 1942 Poland where she lives as the girl who saved her beloved aunt's life and finally learns the importance of remembering. Yolen's use of contrast between the festive wedding celebration and the relocation and concentration camp scenes is jarring, accentuating the horrific nature of the Holocaust, while her emphasis on the importance of observing family traditions is culturally unrestrictive, a unifying theme. Finally, her inclusion of so many Jewish customs and Yiddish words adds validity to the tale, though the language barrier can be frustrating.

4 out of 5 Stars

Olive's Ocean
~ by: Kevin Henkes

Being twelve is complicated. Parents are support and tenderness; parents are frustration. First love is giddy, inarticulate, and innocent until, a few days later, it is love no more. Being twelve is self-absorbing. Martha is twelve when she receives a page from a former, recently deceased classmate's journal. On that page, Olive dreamed about becoming a novelist, of seeing the ocean, and about being Martha's friend. The next day, Martha leaves for vacation at the beach, and, with Olive in mind, she starts to grow, emotionally. Henkes uses short, concise chapters and words such as idiot-scuzzbag-jerk-of-the-world to fully immerse readers into an adolescent mindset. Despite the book's brevity, though, it's long in meaning. Most importantly, as Martha realizes how fragile life is, readers, too, appreciate that, in the face of death, those concerns that once seemed so important are really rather insignificant. Troubles start to fade away. Life is everything.

5 out of 5 Stars

~ by: Cynthia Kadohata

Though she wishes for better things, Katie, a child of poor, Japanese parents, is content with her life, mainly because of her older sister and best friend, Lynn, but, when Lynn becomes sick, Katie's family completely falls apart. Despite the fact that Kadohata foreshadows that Lynn's life will be cut short, she uses the older girl's thoughts to, at times, offer contrast and further insight into the narrator, Katie's, personality. In addition, the author not only depicts a Japanese-American family during the 1950's and 1960's, but she also details how cultural intolerance, deplorable working conditions, and economic hardships further restrict and burden Katie's family. As if this isn't enough misfortune, eventually, Lynn dies. Through the loss of her beloved sister, though, Katie learns that it is okay to hate the disease which took Lynn's life, that life goes on, and that the mundane can be magical; it can be kira-kira.

5 out of 5 Stars

A Corner of the Universe
~ by: Ann M. Martin

When Hattie learns that she has another Uncle, she's confused about the secrecy surrounding Adam and angry about the deception. Soon after his arrival, she realizes that Adam is different but befriends him anyway. To emphasize Adam's eccentricities, Martin uses run-on sentences and oft-repeated words when he talks. She also draws a parallel between the sideshow freaks of the visiting carnival and people who exist on the fringes of society, helping Hattie and readers realize that such labels are hurtful and inaccurate. Unfortunately, though, Hattie's time with Adam is cut short but not before she and the book's readers learn some valuable lessons from him: take the time to enjoy life; go against the grain; things should be talked about, not ignored; and, most importantly, lift the corners of the universe – explore, keep an open mind, and experience the good and the bad, because that's what makes life interesting.

5 out of 5 Stars

Pretty Like Us
~ by: Carol Lynch Williams

All her life, Beauty McElwrath, a shy outcast, has been told by her family that 'pretty is as pretty diz,' but it's not until she meets Alane, a girl her age who suffers from progeria – a rapid aging disorder – that she finally learns what the motto actually means: being pretty isn't about one's looks; it's about what one does. Not only does Beauty have to contend with a less than inconspicuous name and social awkwardness, but her mother was only fourteen when she had Beauty, and her family struggles financially, leaving Beauty shunned at school. Setting the tone, Williams uses colloquialisms and terms of endearment to give her tale its Southern flavor. Even as Beauty and Alane battle wild boars and raging rivers, the novel still maintains its sense of gentility while, at the same time, proving there is nothing like a little adventure to forge a friendship.

4 out of 5 Stars

Homeless Bird
~ by: Gloria Whelan

Because Koly's family is financially burdened, at the tender age of thirteen, she marries. She is soon widowed, though, and, afterwards, mistreated and then eventually abandoned by her mother-in-law. It is only once she is truly alone that she finds happiness. In fact, Koly needed to experience freedom before she could decide what she wanted from her life. That life, though, where women have absolutely no power and are bartered off like cattle, is in stark contrast to that of an American adolescent. Despite this, Koly presents her life in a matter of fact way, offering no apologies, excuses, or explanations as to why a woman's existence in India is so terrible. At the same time, though, there is no climax to the story. While Whelan provides a startling glimpse at life in another country, there is a definite lack of suspense and tension, and the conclusion was notably flat.

3 out of 5 Stars

Roanoke: The Mystery of the Lost Colony
~ by: Lee Miller

In 1587, an expedition of British colonists left for the New World, determined to settle in the Chesapeake Bay area. Instead, their efforts were thwarted, and they were marooned without supplies on Roanoke Island, the site of a former British fort where trust with the local Indians was broken. Despite numerous rescue missions, the lost colonists were never seen again, sparking a great historical mystery. A bestselling author and anthropologist, Miller uses original source material, illustrations by John White – leader of the lost colonists and the only member of the voyage to return to Britain, and present day photos of the North Carolina coast to weave together the Roanoke story. Rather than offering supposition about the historical figures' feelings, Miller poses many questions to her readers, encouraging them to infer for themselves. The text is supplemented by an historical cast list, an index, source notes, and a time line.

3 out of 5 Stars

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood (A Graphic Novel)
~ by: Tony Lee, Sam Hart, and Artur Fujita

Lee, Hart, and Fujita's adaptation of the classic Robin Hood tale comes complete with all the traditional trappings – a man of title becomes an outlaw, and, with his band of men, robs from the rich to feed the poor and helps to return the rightful monarch to the throne – but includes additional details to add depth as well. And there is something for every reader, boy or girl. There is action and adventure, love, friendship, and even a touch of the supernatural. Unfortunately, though, the illustrations are not as entertaining as the text. In fact, by the illustrations alone, the characters are indistinguishable, dense and darkly hued chaos, though the somber colors do reflect the story's setting of the Dark Ages, and all of the various shades of green bring to mind Sherwood Forest. For a graphic novel, though, the graphics are certainly disappointing.

3 out of 5 Stars

Under the Royal Palms: A Childhood in Cuba
~ by: Alma Flor Ada

There are ubiquitous childhood experiences – playing in the mud, using one's imagination to 'explore', struggling in school – that all children can relate to. Ada uses these unifying topics to tell tales of growing up in Cuba, yet, at the same time, it is her different perspective, because of the setting of her memories and her personal feelings, which lend this book its appeal. Though many facts are provided, Ada personalizes them to add interest and relevance. Pictures of Ada and her family, the use of translated Spanish, and comparisons between life in Cuba and America compliment the text, infuse the recollections with a genuineness, and provide a context for readers to better understand the author's shared knowledge, respectively. By sharing the stories of her childhood, Ada invites her readers to do the same – to tell their own stories and discover the personal meanings the recollections represent.

4 out of 5 Stars


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