In the aftermath of a school shooting, Valerie Leftman is both victim and victimized. Her boyfriend Nick was, after all, the school shooter, who took his own life as well as those of their classmates. Valerie did what she could to stop the shooting, ending up shot herself in the process. That doesn’t matter to the police and the public – she helped Nick compile their “hate list,” and so Valerie is also implicated in the crime.
Jennifer Brown’s Hate List takes a long, hard look at the survivors of a heinous school shooting. Valerie not only has to deal with her own emotional response – she did love Nick, despite the tragic ending – she also has to face her own guilt as an accomplice to the list that led to the shooting. Her family is broken apart – Dad’s moved in with his new girlfriend, and little brother Frankie practically lives at his best friend’s house. At school, many of her peers look at Valerie as part of the problem. One of the intended victims, a girl whose life Valerie saved, is determined to make Valerie her friend. Even talking to a psychiatrist on the regular doesn’t seem to be helping.
The aftermath through Valerie’s eyes gives perspective to what hate can build to. Along the way, Valerie learns about herself and who she really is, as well as who she wants to be. Brown’s skillful characterization of Valerie shows both the selfishness and latent selflessness that Valerie learns to recognize as part of the healiing process.
Definitely a book worth reading.
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I admit up front that I was biased going into this book – I have loved everything Jordan Sonnenblick has written, and as a teacher, have a warm place in my heart for him since he offered to give me advice on a student when I was new to the profession.
That being said, THIS BOOK ROCKS. We all remember how much eighth grade can suck, right? Well, Claire’s eighth grade year isn’t going too well. There are mean girls in her homeroom, a boy she used to be friends with who somehow became her enemy and has been so all through middle school, and her dance friends were moved up into the high school classes early, while Claire stayed behind in the “baby” dance classes. Her older brother Matthew is the perfect son – perfect athlete, perfect student, perfect boyfriend – and Claire just can’t catch a break. In fact, one night, she yells at her father (what teenage girl hasn’t?) and tells him maybe he needs to struggle some more after he tries to lift her spirits by cracking some jokes. The next morning over breakfast, a medical emergency strikes her father, and not only is Claire wracked by guilt, now her whole world has tilted on its axis.
Sonnenblick is incredibly skilled at taking serious medical topics (pediatric cancer in Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie) and adding just enough wit and humor that the story makes you cry not from depression, but from the sheer joy of the writing. Claire’s interactions with her family, friends, frenemies, and enemies are realistic and have true depth. I cried a couple of times in the reading of this book. You’ll have to read it yourself to see where, but trust me – Falling Over Sideways is another Sonnenblick winner. And no, he didn’t pay me to write this review.
Though this is young YA – Claire is still in middle school – I would still recommend it highly. A skillfully woven story with beautiful humor to balance out the struggles of the characters as they try to rebuild their life with a Dad that’s not quite who he was before the medical emergency that changes . . . well, everything.
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The first in a series by Danielle Paige, Dorothy Must Die is a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz. Our new protagonist, Amy Gumm, is another Kansas resident who grew up believing the L. Frank Baum books about Oz were fiction. But when a tornado does to her what it did to Dorothy Gale, well, Amy learns that Dorothy was, in fact, real – and that she, Amy, has been recruited to take Dorothy out.
Upon Amy’s arrival in Oz, she thinks that much like Dorothy in the book/movie, she MUST be having a fantastical hallucination when she is greeted by an odd road of yellow brick and a boy who welcomes her to Oz. But this is not Dorothy’s Oz as we know it – the true princess, Ozma, has deferred to Dorothy’s rule. Dorothy has become very power hungry and is sucking the magic right out of Oz, with the help of Glinda the not-so-Good. Amy meets some non-flying monkeys (the only way to escape Dorothy’s control is to cut the wings off) and others who tell her of the decline of Oz since Dorothy’s return.
While imprisoned for treason, Amy is recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked – a coven of witches and others who want to restore Oz to pre-Dorothy rule – as the one who must kill Dorothy. Her mission is fourfold – Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart, Steal the Scarecrow’s brain, Take the Lion’s courage, and then kill Dorothy.
So in this crazy world of Oz, Amy has to figure out who to trust, how to take on this mission to restore Oz, and how she can get back to Kansas – if she actually WANTS to go back. Dorothy Must Die is the first book, and the series continues with The Wicked Will Rise and The Yellow Brick War.
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In Sarah Darer Littman’s novel, Backlash, the protagonist, Lara, has been devastated to find out the guy she thought liked her really doesn’t. The thing is, Lara didn’t actually know Christian – she met him online. And when he was so mean to her, it reminded her of what happened to her in middle school, and she felt so badly about herself that she tries to take herself out of the picture – permanently.
Told in alternating points of view from Lara, her sister Sydney, former best friend Bree, and Bree’s younger brother Liam, this novel emphasizes the fact that what hurts us in real life can also hurt us online, and that hiding behind a keyboard to be mean can, as the title indicates, come back to bite you in the butt. Littman explores the fallout of Lara’s suicide attempt as a result of the loss of her budding “relationship” with “Christian.” As the truth emerges, perceptions change and we come to learn that some people are not who they seem to be.
An interesting subplot involves the relationship between Sydney and Liam, who, despite the growing rift between their families, really seem to enjoy each other’s company. The family dynamics here are incredible to read. Lara struggles to overcome the cyberbullying she’s experienced while Mom is trying to make it a criminal offense, not even considering how Lara might feel about her crusade.
At some points this book is difficult to read – it’s sometimes hard to believe that people actually treat each other the way the characters in Lippman’s book do. But then we read articles daily about another child committing suicide due to bullying and cyber-bullying, and we know that as hard as it is to read, we not only NEED to read it, we need to FIGHT it.
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I’ve always admired Laurent Linn as an illustrator; he’s created wonderful cover art for some of my favorite authors. So when I saw his byline on Draw the Line, I had to read it! I’m SO glad I did. Draw the Line tells a funny, touching story about gay-but-on-the-downlow Adrian Piper, an amazing comic artist who thinks of himself as invisible. The story takes us through the evolution of Adrian from his invisible, somewhat afraid self to someone who stands up for what is right, even if he’s the only one standing. The character development is so strong that I wanted to cry when I finished reading the book (in two sittings – would have been one if I hadn’t had a doctor appointment!). I adored all his characters, not just Adrian, but his friends Trent and Audrey, his classmates Kobe, Lev, Carmen and Kathleen, and even the bad guys were so wonderfully constructed I wanted to beat them up myself.
Laurent Linn’s debut YA is not just a great novel, it’s also enhanced by “Adrian’s” comic alter-ego, Graphite, and it’s so beautiful to see the art incorporated alongside the eloquent text.
I’m really glad to see more books emerging featuring LGBTQ characters in major roles. It gives those of us not falling into one of those initials a window into their world – and isn’t that the best function of a good book?
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So clearly, I’m in a retelling/re-imagining mode. But this book caught my eye in the bookstore for several reasons – I have friends who are Wiccan, and I have a fascination with witchcraft and all its forms, plus hello! Salem! I visited Salem many years ago and what a cool place, drenched in history!
And from history is where author Adriana Mather pulls her storyline. Much like Gaby Triana’s Wake the Hollow heroine Micaela, Mather’s protagonist, Samantha Mather, is whisked away to her family’s hometown of Salem by her stepmother, Vivian, after her father falls into a coma and is hospitalized. As the last name may clue in historians, Samantha (and the author!) is a descendant of Cotton Mather, a key figure in the Salem Witch Trials. For this alone, Sam is hated on sight by a group of girls (and one boy) at school who call themselves The Descendants (and you can guess from whom THEY descended to hate a Mather so much!). Living in the house of the grandmother she’d never met, Sam discovers there are mysteries to be uncovered. Her neighbor, Mable, has a son, Jaxon, who befriends Sam when no one else will look her way. With Sam’s arrival in town, members of the families of the Descendants suddenly start dying. What Sam finds out about the reasons why – with the help of a sexy ghost named Elijah – forces an uneasy alliance between Sam and several of the Descendants. Can they undo the curse before more of them die – including Sam’s own father?
How to Hang a Witch leans heavily on the history of Salem and the Witch Trials, though author Mather does take some liberties with fictionalization. However, it’s easy to see the thorough research woven skillfully through the fictional tale of the Witch Trial Descendants. This book, too, has a surprise ending that I did NOT see coming. A great read all around!
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I’m a big fan of retellings and re-imaginings. Author Gaby Triana’s latest, Wake the Hollow, as its title indicates, is a Legend of Sleepy Hollow story. Micaela Burgos left Sleepy Hollow and her mother six years ago to live in Miami with her father. Now, her mother is gone, and Mica returns to Sleepy Hollow intent on finding out Sleepy Hollow’s secrets.
Her return is not met with the open arms of the town, except for her old friend Bram. At first, Mica lives with her father’s assistant in a house he acquired. She registers for school and does double duty as a student and a detective, uncovering clues left for her by her mother as well as from voices and visions she receives from an unknown “other.” A young guest teacher at her school proposes a link between Washington Irving and Mary Shelley, which seems to fit into some of the things Mica is learning. But is Dane friend or foe? Strange things keep occurring, and the closer Mica gets to an answer, the more dangerous the pursuit becomes. Will she find the answers before she, too, meets an untimely end? Who can she trust? Dane? Bram? Betty Anne, her mother’s long-time neighbor? Can she trust anyone in Sleepy Hollow?
Wake the Hollow is part mystery, part paranormal, part romance, and all enchanting. The plot is very well-paced. The characters are well-developed. It is very easy to slip into Mica’s world and ride this strange trail with her. And there are lovely twists and turns that make the ending a complete surprise.
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