Sometimes you come across a jewel of a book that speaks personally to you.  This book will remind you why you fell in love with reading in the first place.  At least that has what just happened to me. The book I am speaking of is The Miles Between.  I first discovered its author, Mary E Pearson, 5 years ago. I was in the mood for a weepy book and Scribbler of Dreams just jumped off the shelf at me.  It was the perfect book for the mood I was in.  I couldn’t wait to see what else the author had much less wait to read her future endeavors.  Adoration of Jenna Fox was the last book of hers that I read, which by the way, I loved as it was a perfect blend of a medical thriller with complexity of how human relationships work.

Destiny is a girl who is determined not to get close to anybody or anything.  A child of private boarding schools, she feels completely abandoned by her parents.  They never write, call or visit and when things are not going right in one place she is moved to another school as the solution.  Destiny likes order and routine and she rarely strays away from it.  She is also big on the power of numerical coincidences like everything possible will go wrong on October 19. I don’t want to write too much more on the fear of giving something away which probably would happen (knowing me and my big mouth).  But I will tell you there is a road trip, an unauthorized road trip at that, with classmates from school in search of that elusive “one fair day.” The ride, the day and all of their encounters turns out to be the road trip of their lives.  Chance, coincidence or fate? You decide.

Besides the story and the characters, the following paragraph and a few other diddys is why I loved this book.  I read this part aloud to one of my students whose reader like me and she got it, she understands just how much magic words stringed together can have.

“Life has never been explainable.  It’s been a lopsided, illogical, messy affair, where answers are in short supply but maybe that’s the way it is for everyone.  Sometimes the fairness is all bunched up in one place, and all the injustice is bunched up in another, and sometimes it is all bunched up in the most improbable ways, but whatever you get, wherever you are, there are still those moments that pin you to the world when you just want to float away.  Small, in-between moments, where there is magic and purpose and design and they are so perfectly beautiful they ache.  Like the in-between moments of today.  Maybe the good guy doesn’t always win.  And maybe fairness doesn’t always land where it should.  But today felt good, deliciously and wonderfully good.  And sometimes that is enough.”

There is a little bit of everything in this book – separation, love, death, friendship, and hope with a dash of fantasy thrown in. This book, small in size was big in its messages. Besides the paragraph above, I really loved Chapter 34 and what it says about Chance. All in all, The Miles Between was very readable and once I started getting into the story which was profound, compelling and oddly charming, I was swept along and finished it in less than a day. Pearson (as usual) gives us some strong writing and a wonderful set of characters. You got to love Lucky the lamb who thought he was a dog…..

 

I am trying to think of the correct words to describe Justine Larbalestier’s newest book Liar and I promise no lies either.  It’s hard to explain what this part mystery; part supernatural book was about without giving something away. I can tell you reading this book is very similar to peeling an onion.  Just when I thought I figured her and all of her stories out I realized I didn’t – not even close. One of my students finished Liar before I did. We were talking about the book and what I thought so far and all she would say was “keep reading Ms. R. because everything you think is true you will start questioning”

My parents used to tell me that lying wasn’t nice and would only get you in trouble. I think that everyone lies from time to time though.  I have, not major whoppers, mind you but little white lies here and there.  I wonder what a psychologist would make of Micah. I am not sure what I make of her. There is nothing simple about Micah.  She is one very complex character.  I think she would be an interesting case study that is for sure.     

Micah is liar and she is not lying about that.  She readily admits she lies. The problem is that she is the one who is telling the story and that makes her a very unreliable narrator. The book opens with a promise – Micah is going to tell the truth. No lies.  No Omissions. She promises but then again what do promises mean to a compulsive liar? Some of her lies over time have been believable; others though have been so far-fetched that you think only a really gullible person can believe that story.  She is considered a freak at school because of her lying but that doesn’t stop her from doing it.  I understand how her classmates and teachers feel. Shortly into the book I realized that Micah could be lying to me, the reader. Dealing with someone who lies is annoying and can make you angry. You never know whether you should believe the person or just ignore what he or she says. So why the sudden change of heart? Why all of the sudden tell the truth?  Truth is circumstances, a murder, has occurred and if she doesn’t tell the truth fast enough suspicion about her involvement is going to mount.

I can honestly this book is not like anything I have read before. Liar is an excellent book.  I found the premise of this book to be fascinating. I just can’t tell you truthfully if I liked it or not.

I am a complete sucker for animal stories.  Let me rephrase that I am a complete sucker for heartwarming animal stories not animal stories that make my hair stand on end with each turn of the page. I only say this because my student reminded me of Stephen King’s book Cujo. I don’t read them that often cause I am crier.  Charlotte’s Web – cried. Old Yeller – cried. Marley and Me – cried.  Anywhere from a little watery eyed to uncontrolled stream, page after page after page. I was warned before I started the Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain that I was going to cry.  I was warned and so I steeled myself. It didn’t work.

I was told that this book was a biography of a dog but in actuality it was so much more than that.  It was a story of love, friendship, family, strength and hope and yes, the narrator was a dog named Enzo.  You really couldn’t ask for a better narrator either. It was absolutely impossible and I dare you to try, not to fall in love with him. Enzo’s voice was totally refreshing.  His words come across immensely introspective  as well very witty, brilliant and sensitive. Enzo is very smart dog – I guess that ‘s what happens when you watch the weather channel all day.  There are many studies on the power of the connection between people and their pets.  Enzo with all of his small acts of affection, concern, loyalty, and furriness showed Denny and reader that their life together was so much more than just gestures and companionship.

This book was not all doom and gloom, mind you.  While there is tragedy, there is also so much happiness and hope embedded into the story and it can be seen in the interactions Denny has with Enzo, his wife Eve, Zoe, their child and his friends.  No matter what adversity Denny faced he faced it head on with grace and true strength.  You don’t have to be a racing fan to enjoy this book.  Racing in the rain, if you can do that, prepares you for all the twists and turns life throws at you.There is alot of wisdom in this book.

 I now want a dog.  I want an Enzo.

Jennifer Hubbard’s The Secret Year has gotten a lot of hype as a book “you must read when it comes out” and with that kind of attention attached to it there was no way I was going to let it pass me by.  The day I picked the book up was a perfect day for reading, you know the cold dreary ones where you just want to wrap yourself in your favorite blanket and not move all day which is essentially what I did.  3 hours later I was finished with the book.  I guess you can say it held me interest…..

Basically, The Secret Year is the rich person-poor person love story with a little bit of a twist.  Black Mountain and “the flats” may be close together location wise but they are really worlds apart.  If you live on Black Mountain, you socialize with Black Mountain folks and if you live in the flats that are who your people are.  Sometimes relationships between the two groups work out but not very often.  Usually if you are hanging with the folks from the flats, it is considered slumming.  Julia is a child of wealth having grown up on Black Mountain in her fancy house, with her fancy car and all the niceties being well off allows.  Colton is from the flats living in a house that is the size of just one of her rooms.  His family struggles at times to pay the bills.  What could those two possibly have in common?  Technically, no one could say that they can’t date. They weren’t breaking any laws by hooking up.  Their friends and social class boundaries were really the only thing that stood in their way.  Oh wait there was one more thing…Austin Chadwick, Julia’s boyfriend.  Yes…. you read that right…..Julia has a boyfriend but every Friday night for the last year, the duo still got together down by the river in Colton’s world.  The rest of the days of the week, he is pretty much a non entity, not privy to the happenings of Julia’s world.   Things come to a head when tragedy strikes and Julia is killed.  No one knows about them, so he can’t mourn publically. All he has is the memories of their nights together.  Julia’s brother is the only one who knows about them after coming across a secret journal Julia was keeping.  Colt’s name was never spelled out but Michael figured out who CM was easily enough and gives him the journal.  The journal, through letters, details very intimate details of their relationship ( if that is what you want to call it) and Colt is stuck in limbo of wanting to stay in the past with her and moving forward with his life and possibly someone else.

 This is one of those books I think you are going to love or going to hate. If I had to base it on those extremes I would be Switzerland remaining neutral.  I really liked Ms. Hubbard’s style of writing but Julia left a bitter distaste in my mouth.  It seemed to me that because she was rich a different set of rules applied. She sat on her Black Mountain throne and thumbed her nose to the people below her – even Colton.  Her moral compass was a little of whack and could use a little adjusting.  You can’t always have your cake and eat it too.  I did, however, like Colton but then again real down to earth guys is what I am attracted to.  I would take a guy is a pair of jeans and laid back attitude any day over a guy driving around in his littler beemer with an attitude.  I felt bad for Colton at a few points throughout the book but I also thought that he brought it upon himself by settling for those secret trysts.  He had a piece of Julia but not the whole thing and it is all because of where he came from.  He would never fit into her world and she wasn’t willing to risk making it happen. I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship based on conditions like that.  

My students, especially the ones that like to read about star-crossed lover books, will gravitate toward this book. Some guys may be turned off by the cover with the couple kissing and think it is more of a chick book but telling the story from a male’s point of view was refreshing because not often enough are emotions and relationships shown through that point of view. Afterall guys, as well, fall in love. The Secret Year shows that love  is not simple and can’t always fit in a nice closeable box.  All in all, Ms. Hubbard shows the world she can write with this debut novel. I look forward to her future endeavors.

I just finished the book Muchacho by Louanne Johnson.  I picked it up in the bookstore on the sole basis of who the writer was. Years ago when I first started teaching I read a book by the same woman called My Posse Don’t Do Homework. It was about a teacher who had to use very unorthodox methods of teaching to gain the trust of her students in an inner city school. Later it became a movie called Dangerous Minds with Michelle Pfeifer.   When I was booktalking this book the other day, giving background infomation, most all of my students had a blank look on their faces…. I guess I really aged myself 🙂 
 
Eddie Corazon is a juvenile deliquent and I like him. He also happens to be very smart but being smart is not necessarily the thing to be in his neighborhood.  Eddie attends Bright Horizons an alternative high school in the area where smart people are ridiculed and in order to avoid that he keeps his intellect on the down low. Still he promised his Mami that he would graduate high school and he plans on sticking to his promise.  Sometimes though it seems like an awfully hard promise to keep.   
 
Ms. Beecher taught at Bright Horizons for a short time before she was run off. It’s too bad too cause she was one of the good ones. The kids could’ve learned a lot from her.  She made an impression on Eddie whether he admits it out loud or not.  She taught with books, had thought provoking discussions and he even took ballroom dancing lessons because of her. Ms. Beecher was one smart lady cause if Eddie didn’t take that ballroom dancing class, he would have never met Lupe, a girl that totally ends up rocking his world.

A few things led to Eddie’s change of direction in school.  Lupe, who completely believed in him and who saw things that others didn’t have the opportunity to was the biggest influence. She knew he had a good heart which she learned through the poetry he writes.  She brings out the best in him.  I really loved all the poetry written by Eddie that was sprinkled throughout the book, especially the one title Lupe Full of Grace. 

There are just a chockful of authors who write books who have Mexican or Mexican American YA protagonists.  The first author that comes to mind is Gary Soto.  I think it is vital that teens from minority backgrounds have characters with life experiences that reflect their own and as a media specialist, I would recommend this book. Muchacho was a  good read because it modeled incredibly good behavior and actions.

Dumped by his girlfriend of 3 years, Logan is back on the market which is a good thing for the ladies for in his hometown of Boyer, Missouri. Granted the pickings are slim…..Boyer is a very small town.  The people he goes to school with are kids he has known his whole life.  The whole school population can fit on 3 buses.  Very rarely is there a new student…until now.  Sage Hendricks. You can’t help to notice this new girl.  There is something about her that draws you to her. Sage is amazingly tall, full of freckles and smile that would disarm you in seconds. Describing her a few adjectives just doesn’t do her justice.  Maybe this is exactly what Logan needs to get over his ex.  It’s no surprise that he acts on his feelings – what red blooded young male wouldn’t? But there is something off about Sage like she is hiding something.  Her parents seem super strict with her but not so much with her sister. Sage up until this year has been home-schooled and is not allowed to date. On the other hand, Tammi is allowed to date and has always gone to public school.  

This is the first book I have read about gender issues. Many people have trouble getting their heads around the idea of a person being transgendered.  As open-minded as I like to think I am, I am the first to admit that I don’t understand gender identity issues at all but I think it must be horrible to be born in a body you can’t identify with.  Logan’s confusion about Sage was genuine. At first Logan wants nothing to do with her.  He feels duped, completely disgusted that the girl he has fallen for is really a guy. It has him wondering if he is actually gay.  Eventually the anger subsides and he realizes that he misses having her around. I am betting that probably the hardest thing for transgender individuals is dealing with the people in their day-to-day lives. The decision to become a girl was not a decision Sage easily made. Ultimately though she just felt more comfortable being a girl and wasn’t asking for any special treatment. Sage’s father’s reaction, the anger and disappointment was understandable. Parents must have an awfully hard time moving from having a son to having a daughter and from daughter to son. He knew that life was not going to be easy for her.  He knew how many people would react after-all he reacted the same way. Ignorance breeds prejudice and misunderstanding and you never know how hostile the reaction will be.  

Gender identity issues are tricky. Many issues are brought up in this book that everybody – Logan, his family, Sage and her family that has to be dealt with. Nothing about this is cut and dried. There are many teenagers out there who are struggling with their gender identity.  The book doesn’t shy away from examining the prejudices and misconceptions often held about transgendered people and puts them out there for us to examine. Personally I think people deserve to be treated with compassion, and not made to feel like freaks, regardless of whether you understand what they’re going through or not.

At the recommendation of a colleague I read How NOT to be Popular byJennifer Ziegler and the verdict is….. I liked it quite a bit.  How NOT to be Popular is fun, cute book and in many places outright funny.

A new town, a new school – this is story of Maggie (real name Sugar Magnolia) Dempsey.  The amount of places she has lived in her young life is enough to make your head spin but her parents are hippies and they think living like this is really living.  Right now Maggie does not share that opinion especially when since Trevor, the guy she was madly in love with is now so far away.  Though she keeps it to herself
Mags is outright resentful of this move to Austin.  It completely sucks to move after you are in good with a group of people and in this new place she is determined not to like anybody and have people not like her.  The results make for a very funny book though at times I will say that it was a bit over the top and a little hard to believe. 

The plan Maggie has come up with to end up in social oblivan is not as easy to accomplish as she thought. She knows the social strata of high school down pat and can tell just with one look who rules the school and who is on the bottom rung.  In every school she has attended,  Maggie has mastered the art of fitting in. All she has to do is do the opposite of what she has always done and that includes dressing really really weird (i.e jumpsuits and galoshes to kimons), hanging out with the wrong people and joining clubs that nobody if they were in the upper echelon of the school society would ever join. All of her antics actually backfire because people think she is so cool for having the gumption to be real and uninhibited.

A couple of complaints – I have to deduct points for it being a bit predictable.  I knew that Maggie was going to end up popular – it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Since I found her to be entertaining,  it didn’t surprise me that others found her to be a breath of fresh air as well.  I also knew she was going to sabatoge her new found popularity at the expense of the people that grew to be her friends. I wish Ziegler would have done more with the fallout of Maggie’s betrayal instead of sashaying quickly to the end.

Ultimately, I think teens will like this book as Ziegler gets the high school scene so well.