Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Title: Black Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA non-fiction (verse)
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (Ohio, South Carolina, New York)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap): Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

Review: I have only read Locomotion and Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson but when this one won the National Book Award and I started hearing the praise for it, I knew it was a book that I wanted to read.

It is aimed at 5th grade and above so it is a fast read. In addition, it is written in verse so as an adult, it feels as if I flew through the book. However, because it is so captivating and so beautifully written I read it quickly, absorbing every word and phrase.

Woodson does a wonderful job of showing what life was like for African Americans in the 1960s and '70s, especially comparing life in the north and south. Through it all she is surrounded by an extended family that takes care of one another and makes sure that she is safe. I realize it's amazing that she ended up an accomplished author!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick

Title: I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
Author: Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA non-fiction
Pages: 224
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)Pakistan

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap): Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren't allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn't go to school. Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive.

Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In this Young Readers Edition of her best selling memoir, which includes exclusive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world--and did.

Review: I don't really have to say much about this book since Malala's story is so well known. I have wanted to read this book for a long time now and am glad that I finally did. I am also glad that I read the young reader version since it means it was a quick and easy read.

Patricia McCormick, a fantastic Young Adult author, is the co-author on this book and I think they did a good job of making a difficult topic accessible to adolescent readers. Life in Pakistan is so very different from life in the US and the issues with the Taliban are complicated, but this book makes it all very easy to understand for US/western readers. The explanations and descriptions of life before the Taliban, how Malala felt about issues pertaining to her religion and culture, and her life did have similarities to our youth are all done well. For example, I love that she watched episodes of Ugly Betty to learn English when her school was closed!

Before I don't this book to one of our school libraries, I will have my daughter read it.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Title: Crossover
Author: Kwame Alexander
Year Published: 2014

Genre: YA fiction (sports)
Pages: 237
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap): "A bolt of lightening on my kicks... the court is sizzling. My sweat is drizzling. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering." raps basketball phenom Josh Bell. Thanks to his dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court, with crossovers that make even the toughest ballers cry. But Josh has more than hoops in his blood. He's got a river of rhymes flowing through him--a sick flow that helps him find his rhythm when everything's on the line.

As their winning season unfolds, things begin to change. When Jordan meets the new girl in school, the twins' tight-knit bond unravels. In this heartfelt novel, basketball and brotherhood intertwine to show Josh and Jordan that life doesn't come with a play book and, sometimes, it's not about winning.

Review: I read Kwame Alexander's book He Said She Said and liked it so when I saw this one on the shelves, I bought it without hesitation. I figured I would donate it to my high school's library when I finished it. Then, about 50 or 60 pages in the character mentions that he is in junior high. Junior high? I thought they would be high school students. They aren't. So I figured I would donate it to one of our junior highs. Then I finished the book and now I plan on giving it to the high school.
  • The book is written in verse, which I really liked. It makes the story move quickly and really sets a mood that fits
  • I liked Josh Bell (JB). He is all about basketball, but also really cares about his parents and his twin brother
  • The basketball storyline is fun: a winning team, a supportive coach, there's no violence, drugs, alcohol, or bullying. There is tension, sadness, and it's intense, but that's good

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Review: Sick by Tom Leveen

Title: Sick
Author: Tom Leveen
Year Published: 2013

Genre: YA fiction (horror)
Pages: 271
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)USA (AZ)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap): The fence around Phoenix Metro High School is for the students' protection. But it also keeps them trapped--unless you're in with Brian and his friends, who know how to break out better than anyone. That knowledge comes in handy when people start getting sick during a pep rally. Really sick. They aren't themselves--they're dangerous. Really dangerous. Ripping each other to shreds. Refusing to die. When the sickness spreads, Brian's stuck in stagecraft class with his best friend, Chad, and a bunch of drama kids. But his sister's out there somewhere, and also his ex, and if he doesn't find them soon, the sick kids will....

Review: I really like Tom Leveen's books! I reviewed both Party and Zero, giving them glowing review; I'll add this one to the list of Leveen books that I recommend. This book was so very different from the other two since it's a horror book. Let me start by saying that horror is definitely not a genre that I choose to read. I am a wimp and don't enjoy reading about monsters, death, destruction, and all that goes along with the horror genre. But I read this one off the recommendation of my friend Kelly who said it wasn't a typical horror book. And, it's Tom Leveen.

Yes, this is a horror story. There are zombies, lots of gruesome death and details that are really gross. So, if you enjoy that stuff this book will definitely satisfy you. However, there is also a good story behind it all and moments of humor and light heartedness that kept me going. More importantly, there are moments of humanity that I find so important in a story. I liked the relationships among the students that we get to know. They aren't all nice to one another, they are homophobic and racist and have the typical social cliques that exist in high school. But some of them are able to see beyond that at times and be human. That's important and it moves the story forward and around the zombies.

I also loved that it's the drama kids that battle the zombies. And that anti-anxiety drugs are a possible antidote. It's the underdogs subtly and steadily fighting their way through the nastiness to triumph.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me by Meredith Zeitlin

Title: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me
Author: Meredith Zeitlin
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2015 Google Reading map)Greece

FTC Disclosure: I was given a digital copy of this book by the publisher for review

Summary (from the back of the book): High School sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they are moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated--he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she's supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks, but no thanks.

Review: I read the first book in this series, Freshman Year And Other Unnatural Disasters by Zeitlin and enjoyed it so jumped a copy from the publisher of this second book. What a fun read!

Zona is an interesting character; she isn't some big rebel, but she also doesn't fall into the standard "high school girl" description. She is bright, interested in the world and writing (she wants to be a journalist after all), and she has a small circle of friends. 2 in fact. When Zona is forced to move to Greece for six months, she is crushed to leave her friends, but she quickly adapts to being there, meets nice people at her new school and enjoys exploring Athens. The positive attitude is a welcome one for YA literature!

One of my favorite parts of this book is when Zona spends two weeks on the island of Crete getting to know her dad mom's extended family (and by extended I mean 100 cousins!). They are loud, fun, eat and cook a lot, and mostly welcome her with open arms. There are those that do not, which is real and gives dimension to the visit. Zona really grows as a character during these two weeks, which is realistic and fun to read.

If you are looking for a quick, fun read (and yes, I got teary with some of the family stuff), this is the book for you!