Book Reviews

I wrote the following reviews for publication in The ALAN Review.

 
 

Remember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick                                                          Realistic Fiction / Friendship

Cinco Puntos Press, 2013, 226 pp. $9.95                                                                ISBN: 978-1-935955-58-0

Johnny expects a boring summer when his mom drops him off to stay with Aunt Collette and his cousin Remember. Now his summer job is to watch Remember, who has autism, while Aunt Collette works. Getting to know Remember well is difficult for Johnny at first, but as the summer progresses, Johnny learns how to be friends with Remember despite their differences.

As Remember and Johnny grow closer, they have many summer adventures together: finding a lost ring so the owner of their favorite restaurant can propose, saving a kid from swimming in dangerous riptides, and helping a sick old neighbor back on his feet. Through each other, Johnny and Remember learn to be kinder, more helpful people, and stories of their summertime adventures may just inspire readers to reach out to the many different people in their own communities as well.


The Deepest Blue by Kim Williams Justesen                                               Tragedy / Family

Tanglewood, 2013, 288pp. $15.99                                                 ISBN: 978-1-933718-90-3

Mike has not had contact with his birth mother in years. He sees his father, who has raised him, as his best friend, and he sees his father’s girlfriend, Maggie, as the best example of what a mom should be. When Mike’s dad tells him of plans to propose to Maggie, Mike imagines the whole family he has dreamed about. Mike’s father goes to buy a ring, but a car accident prevents him from ever returning. In the aftermath of his tragic death, Mike and Maggie must learn to move forward together.

Legal drama ensues when Mike’s absent birth mother appears to try to take him to live with her new family. Mike must fight to be adopted by Maggie. During the battle, he recalls painful memories of his childhood, and he must learn how to accept and move beyond tragedy with the help of loving friends and family.


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High & Dry by Sarah Skilton                                                                                  Mystery / Substance Abuse

Amulet Books, 2014, 258  pp. $16.95                                                                        ISBN: 978-1-4197-0929-6

Charlie has not stopped drinking since Ellie broke up with him. He knows alcohol impairs his ability to play on the high school soccer team, but he does not realize how much it impairs his social relationships until he shows up drunk and uninvited to a choir party. At the party, when someone causes a choirgirl to overdose on LSD, accusations of the crime fly toward Charlie.  Now Charlie must investigate to find which of his classmates had a real motive to drug somebody and how the students have access to the illegal hallucinogen. 

The mystery intensifies as clues lead Charlie to realize many students, teachers, and their families may be tangled up in the crime. As Charlie finds information that implicates many people he knows, he must decide – with a sober mind – what must be done to protect the people around him.


Audacious by Gabrielle Prendergast                                                                 Poetry / Identity

Orca Book Publishers, 2013, 327 pp. $19.95                                     ISBN: 978-1-4598-0530-9

Raphaelle wants to leave her troubled past behind. When her family moves, she decides to reinvent herself as Ella, a girl who follows rules and fits in. Ella’s new identity works at first. She excels in art and develops a crush on Samir, a boy in her art class. But when both are asked to create art pieces for a schoolwide show, they create controversy as well. A nude self-portrait and a politically-charged painting lead to trouble, and Ella wonders if she can ever leave behind her rebellious Raphaelle personality.

Written as a series of poems, Audacious explores the angst of being a teen. Ella faces issues regarding family, disease, politics, religion, and love as she navigates her new school and the potential selves she could become. Readers will question what truly audacious behavior looks like as they follow Ella through her decisions and mistakes.


The Candy Smash by Jacqueline Davies                                       Realistic Fiction / Relationships / Poetry

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 232 pp. $15.99                                                ISBN: 978-0-544-02208-9

In this continuation of the Lemonade War series, Valentine’s Day is coming up for the fourth graders in class 4-0, but siblings Evan and Jessie Treski are not ready. Jessie needs to find a big story for her new newspaper, the 4-0 Forum. Evan needs to finish his love poem assignment without revealing his crush on Megan. When somebody starts leaving candy hearts with personal messages in each student’s desk, Jessie sees a lead into writing an exciting story, while Evan only sees embarrassment.

As Jessie investigates the mystery, she finds the story she has been searching for, but writing it may expose her classmates’ secret crushes. Readers will be able to relate to Jessie’s and Evan’s exploration of grade-school love and writing. Throughout the book, readers will learn about poetry and news alongside the siblings and pick up writing techniques to try on their own!


The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud                                            Fantasy / Adventure

Disney Hyperion, 2013, 374 pp. $16.99                                                  ISBN: 978-1-4231-6491-3

Ghosts have been appearing in London, and not all of them are harmless. When a haunting becomes dangerous, people call in agencies of kids with psychic abilities to investigate. Lucy, Lockwood, and George make up Lockwood & Co., an agency desperately in debt after a destructive mistake in fighting a ghost. They accept an offer to explore Combe Carey Hall in exchange for paying off their debt. No agent has ever survived its deadly Red Room or Screaming Staircase, but Lockwood & Co. have one night to try.

The Screaming Staircase introduces the Lockwood & Co. series with equal parts horror and humor. Readers will wonder about the origin of London’s ghostly Problem, the background of A.J. Lockwood and his agency, and how Lockwood & Co. will solve mysteries to defeat fearsome foes – both living and dead – before they become ghosts themselves.


Crash Into You by Katie McGarry                                                                                  Romance / Identity

Harlequin Teen, 2013, 474 pp. $17.99                                                                 ISBN: 978-0-373-21099-2

From the outside, Rachel’s life seems perfect. From the inside, it feels like a prison. Her brothers smother her with protection, and her mother forces her to be like the other daughter she lost to leukemia. Rachel feels she must hide her true self – including her love of cars – from all of them. One night, she leaves a party to drag race, and there she meets Isaiah.

Isaiah is a foster child trying to earn money for his own apartment. When somebody calls the police on the drag racers, Isaiah and Rachel escape together. But when they are mistakenly blamed for a robbery that occurred during the races, they must find a way to earn back the money and clear their names. Readers will be swept in by Isaiah and Rachel’s budding romance as they work to pay back their debt, overcome their differences, and fall deeply in love.


Pawn by Aimée Carter                                                             Dystopia / Rebellion

Harlequin Teen, 2013, 304 pp. $9.99                              ISBN: 978-0-373-21055-8

At seventeen, everyone takes a test ranking them I to VII, where VIIs are most useful to society. Kitty Doe’s III assigns her a sanitation job in Denver, where she will never see her family or boyfriend again. Of course, when government officials offer Kitty the chance to become a VII, she accepts.

To become a VII, Kitty is surgically transformed into Lila Hart, part of the family controlling the testing system. There she learns of the factions within it that led to Lila’s death. As both sides of the family attempt to control her actions, Kitty must find a way to prove she is more than just a political pawn. Fans of dystopias and adventures will wonder whether Kitty will follow the government that has taken everything from her or if she will find a way to support the Blackcoat Rebellion and overthrow the system.

 

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The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle                                                                Romance / Identity

Amulet Books, 2013, 336 pp. $17.95                                                                       ISBN: 978-1-4197-0793-3

Wren has always done exactly what her parents want, including studying to get into Emory’s pre-med program and avoiding dating. As she graduates high school, she disappoints her parents with her decision to work in Guatemala instead of going to college in the fall. For once, she needs to make choices completely on her own.

Then Wren meets Charlie. As they fall in love, Charlie learns that not everyone will abuse him as his mother and ex-girlfriend, Starrla, did. Wren and Charlie grow together over the summer as they experience the newness and steaminess of first love. The excitement of their discoveries of themselves and of each other emphasizes the beginnings opening to them. Readers will wonder if Wren and Charlie will stay together beyond the summer as they grow away from the people who have made decisions for them and grow into themselves.


Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale                                                                                    Action / Adventure

Disney Hyperion, 2013, 320 pp. $15.99                                                               ISBN: 978-1-4231-6850-8

Strange things have happened at each of Max’s foster homes to lead to him being kicked out. The only place left that will take him now is the Merry Sunshine Orphanage, which secretly trains orphans to become spies. As Max learns skills like lock-picking and decoding, he receives clues telling him his father may still be alive. Max must rely on his newfound skills and friends to find his father and evade the Merry Sunshine Orphanage’s enemy, the LOTUS organization. But when every spy has his or her own agenda, Max has to choose where his loyalties lie. Thrilling twists abound as Max solves puzzles and learns secrets that reveal hidden plans and motives. When everyone, even his long-lost father, is hiding a secret, Max must determine his own values and figure out which spies to help.


The Quick Fix by Jack D. Ferriolo                                                                                                  Noir / Mystery

Amulet Books, 2012, 208 pp. $15.95                                                                             ISBN: 978-0-8109-9725-7

Franklin Middle School is a typical noir scene. It has its crime lord, Vinny, who runs gambling on basketball games, its shady businessmen, a set of twins who make their own blend of addictive pixy sticks, and its hall monitors trying to keep everything straight. When a popular cheerleader is taken to the “outs,” the irredeemably unpopular clique, via a squirt gun shot, private eye Matt Stevens must figure out who is mounting a takeover of the school underworld and how the plot relates to a tiny box everyone seems anxious to find.

This sequel to The Big Splash stands on its own as mystery readers try to figure out whodunit alongside junior high detective Matt. Plot twists abound as suspects reveal secret motives, hidden identities, and fall into the “outs.” Matt becomes increasingly entangled in mystery as he learns the roots of this crime twist around his own family.


Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers                                                                                                Fantasy / Romance

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, 549 pp. $16.99                                                           ISBN: 978-0-547-62834-9

In fifteenth century Brittany, fourteen-year-old Ismae has learned to fear men for their aggression. She quakes when her father forces her into marriage, but on the night of her wedding, a secret group spirits her away to the convent of Saint Mortain, the God of Death. There she discovers mystical powers and trains as an assassin. Three years later, she leaves the convent on a mission to protect the Duchess of Brittany from French conspirators.

Ismae begins to question her upbringing when she falls in love with someone the convent commanded her to kill. Fans of fantasy and romance will wonder alongside Ismae whether it is more important to follow the convent’s directions or listen to her own heart and trust a man for the first time. As Ismae navigates treacherous political courts and secret passageways, she will discover the power she wields in making her own choices.


Trash Can Days by Teddy Steinkellner                                                                          Realistic Fiction / Friendship

Disney Hyperion Books, 2013, 352 pp. $16.99                                                                   ISBN: 978-1-4231-6632-0

Four middle-schoolers narrate Trash Can Days: Jake Schwartz, his sister Hannah, his best friend Danny, and aspiring writer Dorothy Wu. While Hannah concerns herself with being popular, Jake struggles to make friends in middle school. He and Danny drift apart as Danny becomes a basketball star and begins a secret relationship with Hannah. Jake longs to fit in with Danny’s popular friends until he finds out being popular means joining a gang.

As gang violence increases, the friendship between Jake and Danny strains. Instead of following the crowd, Jake and Dorothy begin a writing club and learn they can be cool just by being themselves. The multi-narrator format of Trash Can Days demonstrates how each child deals with his or her own issues, but some of the topics and language might be too intense for the younger readers to whom this is recommended.


Gum Girl by Rhode Montijo                                                                                                                 Fantasy / Action

Disney Hyperion Books, 2013, 128 pp. $14.99                                                                     ISBN: 978-1-4231-5740-3

Gabby Gomez chews gum all the time. Her mom advises her to take a break, but she does not listen. Then, in a superheroic bubble-blowing accident, Gabby turns into gum. At first Gabby worries about what her mom will do if she finds out, but then she learns that she can use her new power for good and becomes Gum Girl. Gabby must learn to balance her life as a student and superhero without letting anybody know that she is Gum Girl, because the more people she helps, the more villains take notice.

Gum Girl is told in a mixture of words and pictures ideal for younger readers or reluctant readers. Her transformation from ordinary gum-chewer to hero leaves readers wondering how she will keep her secret and how she will solve the next crime that comes her way.


Beta by Rachel Cohn                                                                                                         Science Fiction / Dystopia

Hyperion, 2012, 336 pp. $17.99                                                                                        ISBN: 978-1-4231-7335-9

On the island of Desmesne, emotionless clones serve humans as everything from janitors to nannies. Elysia, one of the first experimental teen clone models, has never known anywhere else but the idyllic island. Humans there have everything they want, but Elysia soon learns having no desires leads many to abuse their privilege. Her human family expects her to take illegal drugs with them and comply with unwelcome sexual advances. Unlike the unfeeling clones they expect, Elysia has opinions and desires, and she soon learns other clones feel, too, and they resent the humans.

As Elysia falls in love with another teen beta clone, she grows to fear her future as a slave on Desmesne and wonder what life exists off the island. Readers will discover the world alongside Elysia and wonder what it means to be human when supposedly soulless clones develop morals while humans act inhumane.


Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge                                                                                        Graphic Novel / Identity

Amulet Books, 2013, 192 pp. $12.95                                                                                    ISBN: 978-1-4197-0546-5

Wilhelmina, known as “Will,” has lived with her aunt Ella since the deaths of her parents. She stays busy creating lamps to avoid her fear of the dark and of her past. She cannot avoid the darkness, however, when Hurricane Whitney blows into town and knocks out all power, forcing Will to confront memories of the accident that killed her parents. Whit teaches Will that her friends and aunt support her, and Will uses this love to create art that uses light and dark to pay homage to her parents.

Will & Whit stands out for its use of entirely black and white pictures. Light and darkness play important roles, as drawings of Will’s shadow show feelings she hides. Will & Whit is charming and thought-provoking as Will transitions from fear about her tragedy to acceptance.


Island of Thieves by Josh Lacey                                                                                         Action / Adventure

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011, 228 pp. $15.99                           ISBN: 978-0-547-76327-9

Two things come easily to Tom Trelawney: getting bored and getting in trouble. When his parents need somebody to take care of him while they go on vacation alone, only his mysterious Uncle Harvey is willing to take in such a troublemaker. But Uncle Harvey is a troublemaker, too. As soon as Tom arrives at his house, Uncle Harvey whisks him off to Peru to seek out a long-lost treasure.

As he searches for secret treasure, Tom learns secrets about his own family. He is also able to help Uncle Harvey find the treasure through his knowledge of history. Island of Thieves links historical theory with action-packed adventure in a way that leads readers to speculate about how what they have learned about the past may impact their present and how they can discover secrets about their own histories.


Brianna on the Brink by Nicole McInnes                                                                                  Realistic Fiction / Identity

Holiday House, 2013, 170 pp. $16.95                                                                                         ISBN: 978-0-8234-2741-3

Brianna has never felt like a part of a family. Her mother kicked her out on her sixteenth birthday, and now she lives with her sister, who pays more attention to her loser boyfriend than Brianna. At least at school, Brianna feels like she fits in. She has worked hard to be a popular, bad-girl cheerleader who everyone respects. All of this changes when Brianna has a disastrous one-night stand with a man she didn’t know was married to her English teacher.

Left deserted by her family and friends in the wake of her mistake, Brianna learns to accept help from the teacher she hurt so badly. Through this experience, she learns to let down her guard and become a part of a real, loving family. Brianna may teeter on the brink of bad decision-making and its consequences, but she learns how to always catch herself before she falls.


Teenboat by Dave Roman and John Green                                                                                Graphic Novel / Humor

Clarion Books, 2012, 139 pp. $14.99                                                                                     ISBN: 978-0-547-63669-6

Teenboat, a high school student with the superpower to turn into a small yacht, wants to be popular so his crush, Niña Pinta Santa Maria, will notice him. His best friend Joey, a girl with secret superpowers of her own, does not like the crowd he wants to hang out with. They use his boat-transformation powers to take them to international waters to gamble, and they almost trade him away to pirates.

Although pirates are always after Teenboat, they seem like the least of his problems as he navigates his first detention, first love, and first job. Dave Roman and John Green present Teenboat as a series of short, comic book-style issues that build upon each other to show Teenboat’s development as a teen and as a superhero. As Teenboat navigates choppy waters and the high school social scene, Teenboat takes readers on a brightly-colored, pun-filled journey through adolescence.


The Wild Book by Margarita Engle                                                                                       Poetry / Historical Fiction

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, 121 pp. $16.99                                                                ISBN: 978-0-547-58131-6

In Fefa’s small community in the Cuban countryside, reading and writing poetry is the main pastime. But Fefa is diagnosed with dyslexia, called “word-blindness” by her doctor. Fefa’s mother believes Fefa can overcome her fear of words. She gives Fefa a “wild book” where she can practice writing. Fefa thinks of her book like a garden where she can plant words and grow her reading and writing skills.

Reading becomes an especially important skill when kidnappers ravage the countryside, leaving ransom notes for children. When a threatening note appears in Fefa’s house one day, she must figure out who sent it before the writer kidnaps her siblings. Based upon author Margarita Engle’s grandmother’s childhood in early twentieth century Cuba, this novel in verse explores what it is like to overcome fear from both the outside and the inside.


My Summer of Pink & Green by Lisa Greenwald                                                     Realistic Fiction / Relationships

Amulet Books, 2013, 259 pp. $16.95                                                                                     ISBN: 978-1-4197-0413-0

In this sequel to My Life in Pink & Green, thirteen-year-old Lucy Desberg is ready to spend summer helping out with the eco-spa her family is building. But her summer doesn’t turn out like she had planned. The adults don’t need her around to help with the spa, and her sister and best friend always seem busy with their boyfriends. The only person left to spend time with Lucy is Bevin, the spa investor’s immature daughter.

When even Bevin gets mad at Lucy for trying to give her a life makeover, Lucy realizes that maybe instead of always trying to makeover other people, she should makeover her own attitude. Lucy learns the importance of appreciating other people for who they are. As she strives to be a better friend, sister, and daughter, she offers tips to readers so that they can become the best versions of themselves, too.


Frostbite by Richelle Mead adapted by Leigh Dragoon                                                   Graphic Novel / Supernatural

Penguin Group, 2012, 152 pp. $12.99                                                                                ISBN: 978-1-59514-430-0

Like other teens, Rose Hathaway goes to school, has a crush, and deals with her embarrassing mom. But unlike most other teens, Rose is a dhampir, a half-human, half-vampire training to become a guardian in the battle between good and evil. Rose’s main goal is to protect her best friend Lissa, a vampire princess with the special power to control the spirit element.

Protecting Lissa is not always easy for Rose as she navigates relationships with boys, family, and friends. However, when some students leave their safe haven to attack the Strigoi, a group of evil vampires, Rose learns how far she will go to protect her loved ones and how she can use her intellect and powers to fight for good. This graphic adaptation of Richelle Mead’s original series tells Rose’s action-packed story in both words and stunningly bright pictures for a comprehensive story experience.


Ichiro by Ryan Inzana                                                                                                         Graphic Novel / Identity

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012, 288 pp. $19.99                           ISBN: 978-0-547-25269-8

American-born Ichiro wants to be just like the soldier father he lost when he was young. He immerses himself in Brooklyn culture and shows little interest in his Japanese heritage. When Ichiro’s mother takes him along on a business trip to Japan and leaves him to stay with his grandfather, Ichiro feels out of place. To him, his grandfather’s stories of Japanese history and ancient shrines seem outdated.

Ichiro gains a new perspective on his grandfather’s culture when a monster drags him down a magic hole into the world of ancient Japanese gods. Through his experiences in their world, Ichiro learns how the past informs the present. Beautifully inked and colored, Ichiro tells the story of one boy’s search for identity and the magical experience that helps him to respect the many parts of his past that contribute to who he is becoming.