Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Unbelievable FIB: Over the Underworld

Volume Twenty Four in the Books That Matter Series

As I have stated before, fantasy can be a powerful portal into the world of books that matter. Adam Shaughnessy's second book in The Unbelievable FIB series once again proves that it belongs in this category. In the sequel, readers are reunited with Pru, Mister Fox, Odin, Thor, Ratatosk (the insult squirrel), and even Mrs. Edleman but this time the events are told from ABE's point of view. The Unbelievable FIB: Over the Underworld has many twists, turns, and cliffhangers that will leave the reader yearning for more. Join ABE, Pru, and Mister Fox for this next tale. It is a new year, a new grade, a new teacher, and a new adventure. So much can (and does) happen.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Seventh Wish

Volume Twenty Three in the Books That Matter Series

A couple months ago, I bought The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner. At the time, I was reading another book so I put it in my to be read pile, not realizing what a gem I had waiting for me. Then last week, when a friend said that she'd read the book and would let me borrow it, I remembered I had it so I fished it out of my pile and started reading it.

The Seventh Wish is a middle grade fantasy novel with a much deeper reality. Charlie Brennan is a normal middle school student with an older sister in college, several close friends, and a passion for Irish dancing. But one day when Charlie is ice fishing with a friend and his nana, she catches a magical fish that grants wishes. Having read stories of people who make wishes through other magical sources, Charlie understands the risks but still gets caught up in the allure of her wish-fish. However, Charlie's addiction is not the only one faced in this story. There is a more serious situation working its way into her life, but you must read the book to find out what it is.

I met Kate Messner a few years ago at a conference where she gave an inspirational speech. Then, she was talking about her book, Eye of the Storm, and of course I read it after that. So I was excited when I heard that she was releasing a new book, this one a fantasy. I was surprised--though I should not have been--by how serious this novel was and how much parallel there was between the fantasy elements and the true life moments. The Seventh Wish proves that fantasy can be a powerful vehicle to bring forth deeper real world problems that many are struggling with today. There is an author's note at the the back of the book that provides important information for people who are seeking additional resources. The Seventh Wish is a must read and a book that truly matters.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Still A Work In Progress

Volume Twenty Two in the Books That Matter Series

Author, Jo Knowles, is the master of books that matter. Her new middle grade novel, Still A Work In Progress, proves to be anything but that. Much like See You At Harry's (Volume Five in the Books That Matter Series), there is a clear before and after to this book. The story opens with Noah, a seventh grader going about everyday activities with his two best friends, Ryan and Sam; his older sister, Emma; her dog, the Captain; the school's hairless pet cat, Curly, who wears various handmade sweater vests; and his parents who live by Emma's ever growing vegan food rules. Throughout the beginning, Noah hints at a scary problem under the surface of his everyday life and refers to it as "the Thing They Don't Talk About."

With his two best friends becoming more interested in girls and Emma's well being a growing concern on everyone's mind, Noah often feels unnoticed. He's the one who is not supposed to cause waves, not give his parents any trouble, and not complain about Emma's demands when it comes to food. He's the one who blends into the background, only allowed to shine through his artistic abilities.

Still A Work In Progress is heart wrenching and Noah's devastation is palpable. It moved me to tears several times, but also made me laugh out loud in other moments. It balances humor and everyday life with the heartaches and struggles of a family just trying their best to help a loved one through a serious illness. But this is not Emma's story, it is Noah's.

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.