Saturday, July 16, 2016

Paper Things

Volume Twenty One in the Books That Matter Series

"Ever since I can remember, I've had this theory that when each person is born, he or she is given an imaginary sack with the same number of happy moments, same number of horrible-news moments, same number of please-let me-die-now embarrassments. So, while some people may have a bunch of bad moments all in a row, in the end, we'll all have experienced the same ups and down. We'll all be even."
- Ari 's reflection in Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Eleven year old Arianna Hazard has had more than her fair share of tough moments. She doesn't remember her father who lost his life while serving his country. Her mother passed away four years ago after being sick, but Ari has never forgotten the promises she made to her. First, she must get into Carter Middle School. It is where her parents, brother, and legal guardian all went but it is now a school solely for the gifted and talented. Second, she must always stay with her brother, Gage. Now, eighteen, Gage is tired of butting heads with Janna, their legal guardian, so when he moves out, Ari goes with him. Only, he has no permanent work and no place to live. Despite Ari's attempts to see it otherwise, she and Gage are now homeless and no one can know.

With her grades slipping and her appearance questionable, Ari tries to be invisible and keep everything a secret, even from her best friend. But as the application deadline closes in, Ari wonders how she is ever going to get into Carter Middle School when she can't even fill out the simplest question on the form: her address. At night, Ari and Gage never know where they will end up: a friend's apartment, a stranger's house, a storage unit, or even a car. Sometimes, they can get into a shelter but only if they sneak in with the help of West, because if anyone finds out, Ari will get taken away from her brother.

It is her paper things that get Ari through. Ever since her mother died, Ari has created a paper world by cutting out people and furniture from catalogs. To most people, they appear to be nothing more than paper dolls, but to Ari, they are a large family, each member with names and stories. They are the home she's always wanted but never had. Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is the touching and heartbreaking story of a young girl caught in the middle of the promises she made to her dying mother, the love she has for her struggling brother, and her own needs to just be a child.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Art of Being Normal

Volume Twenty in the Books That Matter Series

Fourteen year old David Piper has only ever had one wish: to be a girl. Fifteen year old Leo Denton is about to start a new school and just wants to be blend into the crowd and be left alone. But when their worlds collide in the school cafeteria, it becomes clear that Leo will not get his wish.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson is a must read book. I found it tucked away on the bottom shelf of the young adult section at a fairly new independent bookstore. All I could see was the spine. Between the title and the tiny bit of design, I fished the book out away from the others and read the jacket description. I had not heard about it before but I instantly knew I wanted to read it. I bought it Saturday afternoon. I was in the middle of another book, but by Saturday night, I decided I couldn't wait to read it. Within twenty four hours, I had finished it. I didn't want to put it down.

These characters will stay with you after the book is over. David and Leo were instantly likeable. They face insurmountable struggles that are both sad for the reader and devastating for the character. But there are also positive moments that shine through, including some excellent British humor. The Art of Being Normal should be in every bookstore, library, and school. It is truly a book that matters and has the makings for a modern classic.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Season of You and Me

Volume Nineteen in the Books That Matter Series

The Season of You and Me is a young adult love story. Two teenagers meet on a beach, one in a car and the other with her bike. Their encounter is brief but then they meet up again at a summer camp where they will both be working. Sounds like a classic boy meets girl romance. Only, the girl is spending the summer at her father's bed & breakfast,  trying to escape a bad break-up back home. And the guy, he is paralyzed.

Bryan, a former surfer, had an accident a year and a half ago that left him in a wheelchair and he is just getting back to work at the summer camp. Parents have concerns about whether he will be up for the physical demands of camp but Bryan doesn't let that stop him. He refuses to let anything hold him back, except when it comes to surfing. Despite the encouragement of his friends, Bryan has not surfed since the accident and doesn't want to talk about making the adjustments that would be needed to make it happen.

Cassidy 's boyfriend has cheated on her and her answer is to flee for the summer. Leaving her mom and Nan, Cassidy moves in with her father, step-mother, and half-brother.  When school starts again, her ex-boyfriend will be away at college and she won't have to see him again. Running sounds like the perfect plan...until it isn't.

The Season of You and Me by Robin Constantine is an alternating point of view novel of two teenagers falling in love and helping one another heal from the things that hurt and scare them the most. It is certainly a book that matters.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Volume Eighteen in the Books that Matter Series

Junior year is tough: what with schoolwork, friendships, family, and extracurricular activities. No one knows this better than Simon Spier who is trying to juggle school, his diverse group of co-ed friends, his interesting family, and the demands of the upcoming drama production. But Simon has more than just all of this going on. He is being blackmailed by Martin Addison, one of the theater students who has read Simon's personal email when he forgets to log out at school. Martin wants to date one of Simon's friends. In exchange, he won't tell anyone Simon's secret. Simon Spier is gay. And Martin has screenshots of Simon's personal emails to prove it. If he doesn't help Martin, soon his correspondences with another gay student, who uses the name Blue in his emails, might become public. And neither Simon nor Blue have come out yet.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is thought-provoking, funny in parts, and poignant throughout. Simon is likable and it is easy to feel sorry for him as events spin out of his control. Author, Becky Albertalli, does an amazing job with her characters. Each one has a unique voice and style that is true to teenagers.

This young adult novel is the story of a gay teenager in Georgia, not ready to out himself to the public. And why should he? Because as it is stated in the email correspondence between Simon and Blue, why is that everyone isn't expected to come out-- whether straight, gay, or bi? It is the Homo Sapiens Agenda against Simon. And that is precisely why Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a book that matters.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Out of My Mind

Volume Seventeen in the Books That Matter Series

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is surprising in many ways. It is told from the point of view of Melody, a fifth grade girl with cerebral palsy who is unable to talk, walk, or care for herself.

However, Melody has a photographic memory and an exquisite vocabulary. Only, everything is trapped inside of her, yearning to get out.

Melody endures many people in her life who can't see past her diagnosis but she has some amazing individuals who know her true abilities. When a communication board shows its limitations, Melody discovers the Medi-Talker, a device that allows her words to be heard. Once she has that, she is able to participate in inclusion classes and prove her superior intelligence when she joins a quiz team.

Melody faces many obstacles in this book, and the ending was a complete surprise that moved me to tears several times. This is Melody's story and Out of My Mind is a book that matters.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Don't Touch

Volume Sixteen in the Books That Matter Series

Sixteen-year-old Caddie Finn is scared. She has just changed schools, having been accepted to an arts academy so she can study acting. She has been reunited with a former friend and her father has recently moved away. These might be some of her reasons for being worried but her true fear is that someone might touch her. Caddie fears that any skin contact might cause negative things to happen. Don't Touch explores the inner workings of a teenager dealing with OCD and anxiety.

Caddie is easy to relate to. Like all teenagers, she wants to find a place where she fits in, to have friends, and to be in love, but her fears are keeping her from all of these things. Author, Rachel M. Wilson, has created a believable character who readers will connect with. She uses Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, to parallel Caddie's own journey. As Caddie prepares to play Ophelia in the school play, she finds herself wondering what makes her similar and different from the character she is portraying. It also brings her closer to Peter, the guy she has a crush on, who is playing Hamlet. With her feelings intensifying for Peter but not wanting to be touched, Caddie finds it hard to keep control with her mantra, "Don't touch."

Ms. Wilson's author note at the end of the novel explains her own battle with OCD, answers questions readers may have, and offers important phone numbers and websites where people can go for help. Thank you, Rachel M. Wilson, for writing this novel and shining a spotlight on the struggles that come with OCD and anxiety. Don't Touch is a book that matters.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Leaving a Mark

Volume Fifteen in the Books That Matter Series

Just recently, I received the book, Leaving a Mark, by Nicole DeRosa Cannella and Dorian "D-Strong" Murray. For those of you who don't know, Dorian was eight years old, dreamed of becoming famous around the world, and had cancer. Dorian fought his battle for half his life, diagnosed at the age of four. Nicole DeRosa Cannella started writing this story after her sister was diagnosed with cancer but she teamed up with Dorian after she heard of him and his efforts to become famous. Sadly, Dorian passed away before Leaving a Mark was released but it certainly fits its title. It is a picture book that helps children who have cancer and their families, something Dorian did throughout his battle.

Tim Hodge captures the spirit, energy, and determination of young cancer patients in his vibrant illustrations. The story is age appropriate to even young children facing this fight. It covers the entire journey and shows the positives that may come out of it as well, like the friendships made along the way. Dorian's mom wrote the afterword and gives an important message to families facing this fight with their children. Dorian was only eight years old and he inspired so many with his courage, smile, and faith. Leaving a Mark continues his mission.

If you are looking for ways to help pediatric cancer patients and their families, this book lists several organizations where you can donate including: St. Jude Children's Hospital, Dana Farber Boston Children's Hospital (Jimmy Fund), and Hasbro Children's Hospital (The Tomorrow Fund).

Thank you Dorian, Nicole, and Tim for making this book to help others. And thank you to Dorian's family for sharing his story with the world. Leaving a Mark is a book that matters.