Page by Paige

New city. New friends. New Paige?

When Paige’s parents move her family from Virginia to New York City, Paige doesn’t know where she fits in anymore. At first, the only thing keeping her company is her notebook, where she pours her worries and observations, and experiments with her secret identity: ARTIST. With the confidence the book brings her, she starts to make friends and shake up her family’s expectations. But is she ready to become the person she draws in her notebook?

Paige tells her own story, which allows readers to understand her insecurities and struggles. Paige is an extremely likable and relatable main character who worries about many typical teenage problems such as making friends, having a boyfriend, and becoming more independent. As Paige matures, she learns to be comfortable in her own skin and she becomes more confident in sharing her artwork.

Throughout the story, Paige’s doubts and insecurities are shown in thought bubbles. When it comes to her art, she questions herself and thinks, “You’re going to fail, so why even try? What if I have nothing to say? No good at all?” Paige’s self-doubts continue when she begins to make friends. Paige thinks, “I’ve always been scared of revealing too much, saying the wrong thing, screwing up. . .” Paige is tired of always feeling “awkward, behind, sheltered,” so she begins a journey of self-growth and starts to stretch herself and be more open.

One of the best parts of Page by Paige is the black and white illustrations which are beautiful and interesting. Instead of just relying on facial expressions, Paige’s emotions come through her own artwork. For instance, when Paige is afraid of expressing herself, the illustration shows Paige’s mouth sewn shut. The imaginative artwork gives Paige’s emotions a life of their own and the pictures will help the reader understand Paige’s inner conflicts.

Readers can learn a lot about self-acceptance from Paige. At the beginning of each chapter, Paige writes a rule she wants to live by. For example, “Figure out what scares you and DO IT and let yourself FAIL. Don’t take it all so personally.” When Paige allows these rules to guide her behavior, she learns more about herself and begins to overcome her fears. As Paige matures, she realizes, “Bad experiences are like bad drawings. They stay in our sketchbooks. They stay a part of us. You can’t erase your past or who you are. You have to deal with it, I suppose.”

Page by Paige’s format will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. The story includes list and thought bubbles that use simple but expressive vocabulary. Some pages have no words, but allow the illustrations to express Paige’s complex emotions instead. While a few pages are text heavy, most pages have one to eight short sentences. Even though Paige’s struggles are typical, her illustrations elevate the graphic novel’s ability to express emotions.

Page by Paige will appeal to a wide variety of readers because it focuses on issues that most teens face. While the story gives readers a lot of good advice, the story never feels like a lecture. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on Paige’s personal growth. If you’re looking for an engaging graphic novel with interesting artwork, then Page by Paige is the perfect book for you.

Sexual Content

  • When meeting kids at her new school, someone asks Paige, “Are you Irish?” Then the kids tell Paige what their diverse heritage is. Paige says, “Me, I’m just like if all the pale countries got together and had a big orgy.”
  • A boy teasingly tells Paige, “I’ll try not to pop your cherry.”
  • The illustrations show Paige kissing her boyfriend twice. This is her first kiss.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Crap is used four times.
  • Damn is used twice.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

A Wish in the Dark

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Beautiful imagery and compelling characters bring the world of Chattana into clear focus. While the story focuses on Pong, the supporting characters add interest and depth. Pong, who was born and raised in prison, believes that his only chance of living a happy life is to flee Chattana. With the help of Father Cham, Pong realizes that he cannot run from his problems. Father Cham explains, “You can’t run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way to see through it is to shine a light.” Because of Father Cham’s wise words, Pong has the strength to stand up for justice and change his world for the better.

A Wish in the Dark shines a light on social issues such as protest, privilege, and justice. However, the book does not preach a particular doctrine. Instead, Pong’s experiences lead him to understand that one mistake or misfortune does not define a person. For example, Pong sees firsthand how people who have been in prison face discrimination. Once they are released, they find it difficult to find jobs and provide for their families. Because Father Cham lives a life dedicated to helping the poor, Pong learns compassion for those who are poor and downtrodden. Father Cham teaches that “desperate people deserve our compassion, not our judgment.”

As a Newbery Honor Book, A Wish in the Dark will leave readers thinking about many of society’s problems. While the story shows the glaring disparities between the wealthy and the poor, it does not give unrealistic solutions. Instead, readers see how “wealth can be as much a curse as a blessing and no guarantee of happiness.” The conclusion doesn’t end with a perfect happy-ever-after, but instead shows that there is hope for the people of Chattana. The story also leaves readers with this question: “Which is better: being safe or having freedom?”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While in prison, two girls beat up Somkit because he won’t give them a mango. Later, “Somkit touched his bruised cheek and winced.”
  • When the mean girls throw Somkit’s food on the ground, Pong “stomped on her bare foot.”
  • Nok, Somkit, and Pong are held captive in a stable. When the guards catch them trying to escape, Nok, “brought the end of it [her staff] down hard on the stable floor. . . The ground shook like an earthquake. . . All four guards lay on their backs on the floor, twitching like fish in the bottom of a boat.” All three run.
  • When a group of over 1,000 peacefully march over a bridge, the Governor orders his men to arrest everyone. “In the Governor’s right palm, a huge ball of light began to swirl, as blindingly bright as the center of a star. It swelled, bigger and bigger. People in the crowd cried out. . .The Governor reared his arm back, as if getting ready to hurl the enormous mass of light forward . . . Pong knew what to do . . . Pong seized the Governor’s wrist and held on. . . As soon as he grabbed the Governor’s wrist, the raw light swirling in the Governor’s right hand went out.”
  • Angry, the Governor “growled like a beast and raised his other fist to strike Pong. As he brought it down, a streak of jet black shot out from the crowd. Nok flew to Pong’s side and crossed her forearms in front of her, blocking the Governor’s fist.” The Governor flees. The protest and the supernatural events (see below) are described over 14 pages.
  • The Governor grabs Pong. “Two hands gripped his shoulders. The last thing Pong saw was the rage in the Governor’s eyes as he yanked Pong toward him, and then hurled him over the side of the bridge.” Someone jumps in after Pong and saves him.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A girl calls her brother a dummy.
  • Somkit tells Pong, “Don’t be a jerk.”
  • A man calls a group of kids “lazy brats.”
  • Crap is used three times. For example, Somkit calls a boat “a piece of crap.”
  • Heck is used five times.

Supernatural

  • Chattana used to have vendors who “sold all manner of magical treats: pears that made you fall in love, cakes frosted with good luck, even a rare fruit shaped like a sleeping baby that would let you live for one thousand and three years if you ate a single bite.”
  • The governor is the only one who can create light that powers the city.
  • Pong is thrown into the river and is drowning when he has a vision. Then, “The white wispy shape formed the body of a man. . . It was Father Cham. . .Pong turned to follow Father Cham’s gaze and saw a pulsing orange glow hovering on the northern horizon. He knew he was seeing another vision from the past: The Great Fire.” In the vision, Father Cham imparts wisdom to Pong. The vision is described over seven pages.
  • During the protest, Pong grabs the Governor’s wrist and “the Gold light flowed into his palm, down his left wrist and into his arm . . . A liquid Gold light flowed, trapped beneath Pong’s skin . . . The lines of light streamed out of his prison mark.”
  • Trying to help his friend, Somkit grabs Pong. “Light flowed from Pong into Somkit’s hand. The same streams of Gold light poured form Somkit’s crossed-out tattoo.”
  • Somkit, Nok, and Pong were “glowing like human lanterns on the dark bridge.” The people come forward and hold hands. “Each person felt the surge of light flow through them and burst out into the darkness.” By the next morning, everyone’s light had disappeared.

Spiritual Content

  • Father Cham, a monk, puts bracelets around Pong’s wrist. As he does, he gives blessings such as, “May you never get food poisoning from a raw chicken” and, “May wasps never sting the palms of your hands or the bottoms of your feet.”
  • Father Cham blesses a baby and says, “may you walk in peace wherever you are in the world.”
  • When Father Cham dies, a monk tells Pong, “You know that Father Cham is merely leaving this life behind and going on to the next.”
  • After Pong leaves Somkit, “not a day had passed at the temple that Pong hadn’t prayed for his friend and wished he could know what he was doing.”

Run

Bo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and a mama who’s not exactly sober most of the time. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Agnus Atwood has never gone on a date, never even stayed out past ten, and never broken any of her parents’ overbearing rules. These rules are meant to protect their legally blind daughter, though protect her from what, Agnus isn’t quite sure.

Despite everything, Bo and Agnus become best friends. It’s the sort of friendship that runs truer and deeper than anything. So, when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, with police sirens wailing in the distance, desperate to get out of town, Agnus doesn’t hesitate to take off with her. But running away and not getting caught will require stealing a car, tracking down Bo’s dad, staying ahead of the authorities and – worst of all – confronting some ugly secrets.

Bo and Agnus are unlikely friends mostly because of Bo’s bad reputation. Everyone in town believes that Bo is white trash, who drinks too much and sleeps around with anyone and everyone. Even though Bo has done nothing to earn this reputation, she does nothing to dispel it either. Unlike Bo, Agnus is resigned to live a boring life in her hometown that she will never leave. Because of her disability, her parents are overprotective, but Agnus never talks to them about how she feels trapped. The two girls form a strong bond, and readers will enjoy seeing how their friendship progresses and changes them.

Run alternates between Bo and Agnus’s points of view; it also jumps from the past to the present. Bo and Agnus’s voice are very similar, so readers will need to pay attention to the name that appears at the beginning of every chapter. Despite this, the story’s plot is easy to follow. However, while Bo and Agnus are interesting characters, they are not necessarily relatable.

Unfortunately, the girl’s relationship doesn’t necessarily make either one of them better people. Once Agnus begins spending time with Bo, she begins lying to her parents, using profanity, and even drinking beer a couple of times. Although Agnus’s parents come to like Bo, when Bo’s mother is thrown into jail, Agnus’s parents do nothing to help her.

Run will appeal to teenagers because it deals with many teenage issues such as false rumors, gossiping, parent disapproval and trying to find your way in life. However, at times the frequent profanity is distracting and Bo’s unwillingness to correct false accusations is unbelievable. Despite this, Run is an entertaining story that teenagers will enjoy.

Sexual Content

  • Someone tells Agnus that over the weekend, Bo “went down on him in the hayloft at Andrew’s party Friday night.” Later, Agnus wonders if she should be friends with Bo because “Bo was the kind of girl who cussed in front of teachers and stole her mama’s whiskey to bring to parties and went down on other girls’ boyfriends.”
  • In the middle of the night, Agnus’s sister invites a boy into her room. The story implies that they have sex.
  • When Agnus and Bo run away, they are looking for a hotel that will rent to underage teens. Bo knows they can find one because “too many girls get pregnant on prom night, and I know they ain’t doing it in their parents’ house.” They find a hotel that looks like “a lot of drug deals have gone down in [it].”
  • Agnus’s friend can’t take her home from school. Her friend says, “I think today’s the day. I think we’re going to . . . you know.”
  • While at school, a boy asks Bo, “Wanna hang out? I’ll give you ten bucks and some whiskey if you’ll come over and suck my dick. . .. What’s the problem? You do it for every other guy in town. Why not me? Is my dick too big for your mouth?”
  • After dancing with Colt, Agnus thinks about kissing him. “I’d laid in bed remembering the way his hands felt on me and trying to imagine what it would feel like to kiss him.”
  • Agnus goes to Bo’s house. When Bo’s mother comes home, she yells, “Is that why she’s here? You fucking her too? Gone through all the men in town, so you gotta start sleeping with the girls too?”
  • Bo tells Agnus about being in foster care. The dad “was always walking in on the girls while we were changing or. . .”
  • Agnus and Colt start kissing. “He kept kissing me, and eventually, I picked up the rhythm and followed his lead. . . I’m not sure how we ended up lying down, twisted together on top of his bed. Or how my shirt and bra ended up on the floor. . .” The two have sex, but the act isn’t described. Later Angus thinks, “Sleeping with a boy who wasn’t my boyfriend, who’d be gone by the end of the week—it sure hadn’t been part of my plan.” However, she doesn’t regret her choice.
  • On New Years, Bo and Dana “made out in the car.” The two won’t date because, “Her daddy’s a deacon at the church down on Peyton Street.”

Violence

  • When a boy calls Agnus a “fucking fat bitch,” Bo hits him. “So, after I get a few good punches and kicks in, he gets his senses together and shoves me on my back. My head hits the concrete, and for a minute I see stars. . . I might have a black eye, but he’s gonna be missing a tooth.” At one point, Agnus hits the boy with her cane. The fight is described over two pages.
  • While in foster care, Bo saw, “The older kids were always fighting. I saw one of them pull a knife on the other. But the foster parents didn’t do nothing about it.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bo’s family has a bad reputation and many of them are known to be drunks.
  • Before Bo’s father took off, she remembers him drinking. “Then, usually, both my folks would end up getting drunk and yelling at each other.”
  • Bo and Agnus go to several parties where kids are drinking. Bo says that at one party, a boy “spilled beer down the front of my white shirt, too. Still ain’t convinced that was an accident. Kinda a waste, though. Not like I got the boobs to rock a wet T-shirt.”
  • Bo’s mother uses meth.
  • While hanging out by the river, Bo gives Agnus a beer. Agnus said, “It’s kinda what I’d imagine pee tastes like. Why do people drink it?”
  • When Agnus and Bo go to a party, Agnus drinks a beer.
  • When Bo’s father won’t let her stay at his house, she steals a bottle of alcohol and “the first drink burns. The second not so bad. And by the fourth or fifth, I don’t feel a thing.” Bo gets so drunk that she begins throwing up. Despite the rumors, this was the first time Bo had drunk alcohol.

Language

  • Profanity is used in excess. Profanity includes: damn, hell, piss, fuck, shit, goddamn, and holy shit.
  • There is frequent name calling including bitches, asshole, fucking redneck, fake motherfuckers, prick, harlot and dyke.
  • Jesus, Jesus Christ, and Oh my God are used as exclamations a few times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Agnus’s grandmother thinks the Dickinsons are “dirty drunks and thieves. And godless, too. None of them stepped foot in a church in generations. Probably get stuck by lightning if they did.”
  • Christy, Agnus’s friend, calls Bo a slut. Christy says, “God thinks she’s a slut, too.” Bo overhears part of the conversation and Christy says, “Jesus loves you, Bo.” As Bo walks away Christy calls her a “whore.”
  • Bo is bisexual. Agnus thinks, “I’d grown up my whole life in the church, been told it was only all right for girls to like boys. Anything else was wrong.”
  • While at church, Agnus and Christy have a mean conversation about a girl who was a sinner. When Agnus refuses to stop talking, the Sunday school teacher kicks her out of class.

Brown Boy Nowhere

Sixteen-year-old Angelo Rivera is from the bustling city of San Diego where his parents owned a Filipino restaurant. Now, Angelo has moved across the country to Ocean Pointe where Angelo and his family are the only Asian people in the entire town. He’s left behind all of his friends, and his girlfriend Amanda, so his mom and dad can run a new restaurant called Sloppy’s Pit Stop. To make everything worse, Angelo wants to participate in a skateboarding competition in California, but the only way he can go is if he pays for his own plane ticket by working at Sloppy’s. But Angelo has a plan: Convince his aunt to let him stay in California so he can be with his friends and Amanda. He’s determined to leave Ocean Pointe behind for good.

Angelo’s plans go awry when he meets fellow outsiders Kirsten and Larry. All three of them are seen as outcasts by the students at Ocean Pointe High School where football players and cheerleaders are at the top of the social hierarchy. Kirsten abandoned cheerleading for art and Larry is the grandson of a known drug dealer. Both ask Angelo to teach them how to skate, boosting their self-confidence and creating a small group of friends for Angelo. After Amanda breaks up with Angelo over the phone, he begins to grow closer to Kirsten. As a result of bonding with Kirsten, a fight breaks out at OPHS that results in Angelo being more seen than ever.

Brown Boy Nowhere is a prose-style novel that is told from Angelo’s first-person perspective. As a result of being told in Angelo’s perspective, the reader will experience the same prejudice and violence Angelo does. This allows readers who aren’t Asian to understand the unique situations Asian people face in a racialized society. The story hits close to home for many Asian readers who understand what it’s like to be the only Asian person in a majority white town, school, or area.

Readers who aren’t Asian will also learn that some “jokes,” such as Asian people eating dogs and cats, are microaggressions that create lasting scars for their Asian peers. Even simple questions can be microaggressions depending on the person to whom they’re directed. For example, when Angelo first meets Larry, Larry asks Angelo where he’s from. When Angelo says he’s from California, Larry responds with, “No. I mean, where are you really from?” Such a question insinuates that Asian people do not, and will never belong in America and isolates Asian peers from their white peers.

Angelo also does his best to educate his new friends Kirsten and Larry on anti-Asian racism and microaggressions, calling them out on their blanket statements about Asian people. Angelo even tells Kirsten that saying, “I do not see race” is a microaggression and explains to her why. Angelo says, “I get that some people who say it mean well. But saying you don’t see race disregards my identity. I’m Asian. I’m proud of it. If you don’t see race, then you’re ignoring that part of me.”

Brown Boy Nowhere is a fascinating novel that tells a story about an Asian teenager finding himself in a town where he feels like he does not belong. The book has many early 2000s references, such as Angelo comparing Kirsten to actress Kirsten Dunst, and even has the feel of a 2000s teen movie. The book is not set in the early 2000s, but it provides Angelo with another interest and supplements his thoughts. It also tackles the incredibly complex issue of anti-Asian racism and the unique experience of a member of the Asian diaspora. Some events in the novel, such as the star football player named Grayson, vandalizing Sloppy’s, feel unrealistic and have unrealistic consequences. However, the novel is a perfect read for people who like coming-of-age dramas and want to learn more about the challenges Asian teenagers face in a world that expects them to be invisible.

Sexual Content

  • Angelo recalls that on his last night in San Diego, he had sex with his girlfriend Amanda. “Heat creeps into my cheeks. I don’t know what I expected losing my virginity would be like, but my fantasies certainly didn’t include me blubbering like an idiot, telling her how much I’d miss her.”
  • After Angelo saves Kirsten from being hit by a car, she gives him a kiss on his cheek. “I frown curiously as she takes a giant step toward me, letting out a soft gasp when she presses her soft lips against my cheek.”
  • While in the warehouse together, Angelo expresses a desire to kiss Kirsten. “My gaze flits down to her bottom lip. I want to kiss her. I want to kiss her more than anything in the world. More than skate competitions, burger patties, and even plane tickets to California.”
  • When Kirsten takes him to the beach, Angelo finally kisses her. “Pushing all second-guessing aside, I finally lean forward. I press my lips against hers. She takes a sharp breath against my mouth, stiffening for a second. Quickly, she relaxes and kisses me back, raking her fingers through my wet hair, tugging at the ends lightly.” They continue to make out for a page.
  • Angelo’s ex-girlfriend, Amanda, accidentally sends him a sext which includes “a photo of her chest with nothing but a tiny bikini top covering her, um, assets.”
  • After clearing up the misunderstanding because of the sext, Angelo and Kirsten kiss again. “Kirsten opens her mouth to speak, but before she can say anything I reach over and cup my hand over the back of her neck, pulling her into me. I press a kiss into her lips, quieting any lingering doubt she might have about me. My feelings for her. Us.”

Violence

  • Angelo decides to skate away from a group of boys who are harassing him. One of the boys throws a rock at Angelo which results in him falling off his skateboard. “The next thing I know, something jams against my front wheels. Before I can react, I’m flying off my board. On instinct, I stick my hands out to stop my fall, but I’m at a weird angle and land cheek first into the parking lot.”
  • When Grayson learns that Angelo and Grayson’s ex-girlfriend are friends, Grayson punches Angelo in the school hallway. Angelo tells Grayson he’s being racist. The scene lasts for 8 pages. Angelo doesn’t “even get to finish my thought. A blinding pain hits me square in the jaw. Sharp and intense. I stagger back, gasping for anything to hold on to, only to smack my open palms against the cold locker . . . Grayson keeps his fist up to my nose. His knuckles are bright red.”
  • To prevent Kirsten from being seen by the Sheriff, Angelo tackles her onto the grass. “Without thinking twice, I push off my board and tackle Kirsten onto the grass lining the street. We crash and find ourselves rolling into a ditch.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When exploring Ocean Pointe, Angelo ends up at the high school where he sees a group of guys holding cigarettes. “Cigarettes glow from between their fingers as they stare me down, scanning me from head to toe.”

 Language

  • The word “shit” and other variations of the word are used frequently.
  • The words “ass” and “asshole,” along with their variations, are used often.
  • “Bitch” and “bitchy” are used often in the novel, typically in relation to female characters.
  • “Fuck” is thrown around a lot by the characters in the story.
  • Angelo faces multiple microaggressions from his white peers, many of them relying on the racist stereotype of Asian people eating cats and dogs. A football player even says, “Guess that makes this here brown boy the dog, huh? You are what you eat.”
  • The football players who bully Angelo often call him “brown boy” as an insult due to Angelo being Filipino and having brown skin.
  • Angelo calls his friend from San Diego, Mackabi, a “dipshit” affectionately.
  • Angelo says he “feel[s] a bit dickish” for objecting to teaching other students how to skate.
  • When Kirsten implies that Angelo’s bullies confront change by being aggressive, Angelo says, “That’s bullshit. Being scared isn’t an excuse to be racist. That’s just damn ignorant. You don’t call someone ‘brown boy’ or say he eats dogs just because he’s new to town.”
  • When Grayson says he isn’t racist, Angelo calls Grayson a “delusional dick”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

Annie John

Annie John is a young, genius schoolgirl who wants to grow up to be just like her mother. Annie finds her mother beautiful – physically and internally – and her greatest wish is to stay forever with her, in their matching dresses, repeating their familiar daily routine of preparing dinner and washing clothes. They even share the same name: Annie. However, as young Annie starts to come of age, she is hit with the realization that she and her mother are not so similar after all.  When Annie points out a fabric to make a pair of dresses for them both, her mother replies, “You are getting too old for that . . . You just cannot go around the rest of your life looking like a little me.”

Annie’s world crumbles. As she advances to a new school, the differences between Annie and her mother become more apparent. Annie likes girls – especially those who don’t have to bathe and comb their hair every day like Annie is forced to. She likes to play marbles – even though her mother forbids it, since it isn’t ladylike. And Annie steals. To have what she wants, Annie is forced to steal things like trinkets, money, and marbles. She begins to resent her mother’s strict ways and desires her own, free existence.

When Annie falls ill for a long time, she is nursed back to health by her mother. After which, she leaves her family in Antigua behind to go to England to become a nurse, since she “would have chosen going off to live in a cavern and keeping house for seven unruly men rather than go on with [her] life as it stood.”

While Annie’s young teenage rebelliousness sounds familiar to many, she struggles deeply with the divide between the life she wants and the life her mother wants for her. Annie says, “In the year I turned fifteen, I felt more unhappy than I had ever imagined anyone could be. My unhappiness was something deep inside me, and when I closed my eyes, I could even see it . . . It took the shape of a small black ball, all wrapped up in cobwebs. I would look at it and look at it until I had burned the cobwebs away, and then I would see the ball was no bigger than a thimble, even though it weighed worlds.”

Annie John is not a difficult story to read in terms of language or length, but as a story it is tough to swallow since it is about growing up, which comes with the heavy realization that you must become your own being. Mostly, the story focuses on events from Annie’s life that are narrated rather than her depression and related illness. These topics are not discussed in detail, rather left open for the reader to think about.

Annie John is not told chronologically, which can be confusing at times. This story is historical fiction and showcases some of the culture of Antigua, an island in the Caribbean, whose native population has been impacted by colonization. This is most apparent in the strict gender norms emphasized by Annie’s mother and the teachings in Annie’s school. This story is wonderfully crafted. While these issues seem like major ones, they are carefully blended into Annie’s life so subtly that the reader can fully understand what it’s like to live as Annie John. The events of the story are personal to Annie’s life, however, the sadness that comes with growing older is universal. Because of that, this story is timeless and a must-read for those who seek to understand a genuine, flawed character, as she escapes from her restrictive past and sails to a new future.

Sexual Content

  • The schoolgirls wonder when their breasts will grow larger. Annie tells the reader, “On our minds every day were our breasts and their refusal to budge out of our chests. On hearing somewhere that if a boy rubbed your breasts they would quickly swell up, I passed along this news. Since in the world we occupied and hoped to forever occupy boys were banished, we had to make do with ourselves.”
  • Later, Annie thinks about spending time with her friend, Gwen, who she is in love with: “Oh, how it would have pleased us to press and rub our knees together as we sat in our pew . . . and how it would have pleased us even more to walk home together, alone in the early dusk. . . stopping where there was a full moon, to lie down in a pasture and expose our bosoms in the moonlight. We had heard that full moonlight would make our breasts grow to a size we would like.”
  • The Red Girl, one of Annie’s crushes, pinches her, then kisses her. “She pinched hard, picking up pieces of my flesh and twisting it around. At first, I vowed not to cry, but it went on for so long that tears I could not control streamed down my face. I cried so much that my chest began to heave, and then, as if my heaving chest caused her to have some pity on me, she stopped pinching and began to kiss me on the same spots where shortly before I had felt the pain of her pinch. Oh, the sensation was delicious – the combination of pinches and kisses. And so wonderful we found it that, almost every time we met, pinches by her, followed by tears from me, followed by kisses from her, were the order of the day.”

Violence

  • Annie torments a girl she likes. “I loved very much – and used to torment until she cried – a girl named Sonia . . . I would pull at the hair on her arms and legs – gently at first, and then awfully hard, holding it up taut with the tips of my fingers until she cried out.”
  • Annie recounts an incident with one of her friends. “In a game we were making up on the spot, I took off all my clothes and he led me to a spot under a tree, where I was to sit until he told me what to do next. It was long before I realized that the spot he had picked out was a red ants’ nest. Soon the angry ants were all over me, stinging me in my private parts, and as I cried and scratched, trying to get the ants off me, he fell down on the ground laughing, his feet kicking the air with happiness.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • After Annie’s mother sees her talking to boys, she calls Annie a slut. Annie narrates the event like this: “My mother said it had pained her to see me behave in the manner of a slut in the street and that just to see me had caused her to feel shame. The word ‘slut’ was repeated over and over until suddenly I felt as if I were drowning in a well but instead of the well being filled with water it was filled with the word ‘slut,’ and it was pouring in through my eyes, my ears, my nostrils, my mouth. As if to save myself, I turned to her and said, ‘Well like father like son, like mother like daughter.’”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The kids sometimes go to choir and church on Sunday, and carry bibles, but this is rarely described, only referenced. For example, Annie’s mother “checked my bag to make sure that I had my passport, the money she had given me, and a sheet of paper placed between some pages in my Bible on which were written the names of the relatives with whom I would live in England.” Annie does not discuss God or her beliefs.
  • When Annie is sick, an obeah woman from her family tries to help her by giving her herbs and using other remedies, although Annie is too sick to note them.
  • The obeah women of Annie’s town believe that Annie falls ill because of a “scorned woman” from her father’s past. There is no further elaboration on this topic.

by Madison Shooter

 

Everything I Know About You

Thirteen-year-old Talia “Tally” Martin, along with her class and her friends Sonnet and Caleb “Spider,” is going to Washington, D.C. for a class trip. Only there’s one catch: the teachers are assigning rooms, and Tally, Sonnet, and Spider end up rooming with their least favorite classmates. This means that Tally and popular girl Ava are roommates, and neither is happy about the situation.

As Ava and Tally are forced to spend time together, Tally notices Ava’s strange habits—working out all the time and at weird hours of the night, rarely eating, and her scribbling in a notebook. When Tally confronts Ava about her odd behavior, Ava threatens to blackmail Tally. Tally struggles to decide if being a good friend means telling a secret she promised to keep.

Everything I Know About You deals with topics such as body image, eating disorders, and what it means to be a good friend. Tally is unflinchingly honest, and her straightforward view of the world sometimes clashes with the people around her. Although Tally is a deeply loyal friend, she is also jealous when Sonnet and Spider befriend their roommates, who they once hated. Despite her flaws, Tally grows as a person, and through her experiences and interactions with her roommate, Ava, Tally gains a more nuanced understanding of the people around her and her deepening friendships.

The main event hovering around the edges of the book is Ava’s eating disorder, although Tally doesn’t articulate it as such in the beginning. However, Ava’s struggles are present throughout, and Barbara Dee does a good job presenting the issue through Tally’s eyes as well as the eyes of the other students and Ava’s mom. Although Tally doesn’t make any connections between Ava’s eating disorder and Ava’s mother’s obsession with public image and weight, Dee added these elements to give more context to Ava’s life. In addition, the supporting characters—Ava’s mom, Spider, Sonnet, and Ava herself—are interesting and complex. The strengths of Everything I Know About You are the subtle details that Tally glosses over but that the reader can still recognize, like the details about Ava’s mom, or the fact that another boy on the trip, Marco, clearly has a crush on Tally, even if Tally herself doesn’t notice it initially.

Everything I Know About You is an intelligent book that addresses eating disorders. Tally and her classmates have other struggles and strengths, which make the discussions about eating disorders and body image more nuanced. Everything I Know About You captures a multi-faceted slice of the middle school experience, and young preteens and teens will learn the importance of loving yourself, including your flaws.

 Sexual Content

  • According to Tally, “some dumb relative told [Spider’s mom] that if [Spider] kept hanging around with me, he’d ‘turn gay,’ like you could catch it from being friends with girls.”
  • Sonnet thinks that another student, Marco, likes Tally. Tally responds with, “Don’t be preposterous.”
  • Sonnet later asks Tally if Tally thinks Marco is cute. Tally responds with, “Maybe a little,” but she is still angry that Marco bullied Spider so badly the previous year. It is also clear from her constantly asking that Sonnet might also think that Marco is cute.
  • Marco seems to like Tally, though Tally has no idea. He often blushes when speaking to her, and one time she “saw Marco staring at [her] hair, as if bun-making were a complicated math problem he wanted to watch me solve.”
  • Tally starts to have a crush on Marco. Now, like Marco, her “cheeks flush” when she sees him. She admits that he’s “preposterously cute.”

Violence

  • Sonnet passes cookies to Trey and Marco, two bullies sitting in the bus seats behind Sonnet and Tally. Tally “kicked [Sonnet] in the shin” as a response.
  • The previous school year, Tally’s friend Spider “was bullied so much he had panic attacks.”
  • Spider and Tally have been friends since childhood, and other kids would often bully Spider and take his toys. Tally recounts that “I’d have to get [Spider’s things] back for him. Even if it meant punching the kid.”
  • Tally spends half of a chapter describing the harassment that Spider endured. For instance, two of the bullies often left Spider “gifts” of dead spiders, causing Spider to have panic attacks, and he’d “start gasping and wheezing.”
  • One day, Tally “punched Trey in the mouth” because she caught him and Marco bullying Spider. Tally received a two-day suspension, but she “didn’t care. The bullying had stopped, and Marco even apologized, for Trey and for himself.”
  • At the buffet, Trey says that he’s going to eat until it’s “coming out of [his] eyeballs.” Another student then slaps his arm and tells him not to be disgusting.
  • Trey suggests that they leave Spider at the hotel. Then Marco “punched [Trey’s] arm and told him to shut up.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • In lieu of swearing, Tally prefers to say, “Oh, bleep” as a stand-in phrase.
  • Tally refers to a group of popular girls in her grade as “clonegirls.”
  • Ava tells Tally that the rest of the grade cares about spirit day, to which Tally responds, “The rest of you can stuff it.”
  • Mean language is used often. Language includes suck, dumb, weird, omigod, stupid, idiot, jerk, ignorant, and freak.
  • Tally calls a rom-com that her classmates want to watch “ultra-insipid.”
  • Tally says that “this whole ‘class unity’ thing is a pile of dog poop.”
  • Tally is unusually tall for her age, recalling how she stood at “five foot eight” in sixth grade. As there is intense discussion of body image and eating disorders in this book, it is important to note that even Tally acknowledges her tall size often and that Ava makes fun of her for it. Tally notes that “Mom told me I was ‘big-boned,’ but I was muscly, too, with a squishy belly and a big butt.”
  • Ava tells Tally that she doesn’t eat sweets because there are too many carbs, and Tally laughs and calls her a “stick.”
  • Spider’s mom, Mrs. Nevins, makes comments about Tally’s body to Tally’s mom when they think Tally isn’t in the room. Mrs. Nevins says, “Some of the cute styles the girls are wearing must look so wrong on her. You know, with her body type.” This comment infuriates both Tally’s mom and Tally.
  • While at dinner, the clonegirls spend the majority of dinner talking about how “fat” they’ll get eventually and the food that they’re eating. For instance, Haley says, “Seriously, you guys, I’m just squish. My arms are balloons, my hips bulge out, and my belly is, like, disgusting. This summer I had to throw out all my favorite skinny pants.” This conversation lasts for several pages.
  • Ava tells Tally that Nadia is “pre-fat” This term is never clarified, but it seems to refer to Nadia as not being fat yet.
  • Ava has an eating disorder. This is detailed throughout the book, with her eating very little at dinner one night, working out compulsively, and Tally even describes Ava as “emaciated.” Tally doesn’t have the vocabulary initially to describe what she and her classmates are seeing, but Ava’s eating disorder is clearly lined out in the book’s details.
  • Tally says that she’s not feeling well enough to go to a baseball game, and Trey says, “What’s wrong with you, Tally? You got your period?” Marco then tells Trey to “shut up.”
  • Tally calls Trey a “microbe” because of his period joke.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Alli Kestler

Ways to Make Sunshine

Ryan’s name means “king,” and she is determined to grow into the name her parents gave her. She is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, sister, and friend. But Ryan has a lot on her mind.

For instance, Dad finally has a new job, though money is still tight. That means moving into a new house, and Dad working the night shift. Also, with the fourth-grade talent show coming up, Ryan wonders what talent she can perform on stage in front of everyone without freezing. As more changes and challenges come her way, Ryan always finds a way forward and shows that she is a girl who knows how to glow.

Ryan deals with real issues, including arguing with her brother and having stage fright. The story hits on several difficult topics such as family financial difficulties and having a best friend move away. Despite this, none of the topics are well developed. However, Ryan does tackle each obstacle and tries to see the bright side of things.

Most of the conflict comes from Ryan arguing with her brother as well as some friendship issues. While the conflicts are realistic, none of them are very exciting. The story portrays Ryan’s family in a positive manner and her parents always encourage her to do her best. Despite this, Ryan still has stage fright and is unable to say a poem during church. Ryan’s mother doesn’t reprimand her but instead encourages Ryan to try again. In the end, Ryan is able to gain confidence and overcome her stage fright.

Ways To Make Sunshine shows how Ryan uses the power of positive thinking to overcome many obstacles. Another positive lesson the book teaches, is that beauty doesn’t come from looks. Ryan’s grandmother says, “Your kindness makes you beautiful and the way you’re always willing to offer help makes you beautiful.” Another positive aspect of the story is the cute, black-and-white illustrations that appear every 4 to 11 pages.

Ryan is a relatable African-American character. However, the story is realistic fiction and does not have much action or adventure. If you like cooking disasters, sibling squabbles, and friendship drama, then Ways To Make Sunshine will entertain you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a book with similar themes but more action, take a look at The Friendship War by Andrew Clements or Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Ryan and her brother, Ray, find a container with keepsakes inside. Ray thinks it belongs to a dead person. “Maybe the spirit of whoever lived here before is angry because we went through her things. Maybe she’ll haunt me every night till I put them back where she left them.”

Spiritual Content

  • At church, Ryan and the other children say a speech every Easter and Christmas. None of the speeches are shown in the book.
  • When Ryan is unable to say her speech, she runs off the stage and wonders “why Jesus’ love for us has to be celebrated by torturing children to memorize poems.”
  • At dinner, Ryan’s father prays. “God, we thank you for this food. Please bless it and bless the hands that prepared it.”
  • When Ryan’s father prays, Ryan wonders “if God will bless me even though I’ve made Ray’s food extra, extra, extra hot.”
  • When Ryan and Ray’s parents announce that they are having another baby girl, Ray asks why the baby isn’t a boy. Their dad says, “Because God blessed us with another girl.”

Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Everyone in Port Coral knows that the Santos family is cursed by the sea. After all, two generations of Santos women have loved men who were lost to the ocean. Which is why, even though she’s lived in a coastal Florida town for most of her life, eighteen-year-old Rosa Santos has never even stepped foot in the ocean.

Rosa has the next few years of her life all planned out. In a few months, she’ll be graduating from high school with both her diploma and a two-year degree from the local community college. Then it’s off to a four-year university where she’s been accepted in a study abroad program at the University of Havana. She’ll finally be fulfilling her lifelong dream of traveling to Cuba, the island of her ancestors. She just hasn’t quite figured out how to tell her Grandmother. It won’t be an easy feat. After all, Mimi Santos has always refused to talk about Cuba.

But when an offer to buy the Marina threatens to destroy Port Coral, Rosa must set her plan aside and help put together a fundraiser to save her beloved hometown. It might be more difficult than expected, considering she’ll be working side by side with the distressingly cute Alex Aquino. Her growing crush wouldn’t be that bad, except Alex happens to be the one thing that ought to be strictly off limits to a Santos girl like her: a boy with a boat.

Rosa struggles with some uniquely heavy issues like inherited grief and the immigrant experience of feeling like she doesn’t quite fit into her own culture. Although these issues might be difficult for some readers to fully comprehend, they are important, especially for Latinx teens looking to find themselves in a story. These tough themes are balanced out by the more “everyday” issues Rosa deals with, including the college application process and harboring a secret crush.

Although there are plenty of adorable and romantic moments, the story itself goes beyond the typical rom com. Moreno makes a beautiful exploration into the many ways that love can manifest itself; from the years of love and loss that bind the Santos women together, to the thrill of a relationship just beginning, to the overarching love that creates a community. The characters are all well developed and both Port Coral and Cuba come alive on the page.

Readers are sure to fall in love with the complex story of the Santos women, which is equal parts heart wrenching and hopeful. Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a wonderfully diverse story about family, identity, and finding your place in the world.

Sexual Content

  • Mimi tells Rosa that if she could go anywhere in the world, she would go to Hawaii because “I like The Rock. He is very handsome.”
  • Jonas kisses his fiancee hand.
  • When Rosa is being teased about boys, she thinks “There had been kisses at parties and group movie things, but nothing to write home about.”
  • Rosa’s mother says, “You haven’t had a crush in forever.” This prompts Rosa to reflect on her recent crushes: “An older guy in my calculus class at Port Coral Community who always held the door open for me, and a girl from the ice cream shop who never wore the same name tag and told me I smelled like strawberries.”
  • Rosa’s friend Mike teases her about “running away with an Argentinian sailor.”
  • Rosa asks Mike if he would date her. She says, “I was just curious if you’d ever think of me like that.”
  • Rosa describes Alex, the love interest, as “a very cute sailor tattooed with the sea.”
  • Rosa runs into Alex at the dock. He asks her to sit, and she decides to stay because “I needed a moment and this little seed of a crush really wanted me to sit with him.”
  • Alex runs a hand over his beard, and Rosa finds herself “wondering how it might feel to run my fingers across his beard and maybe press my face to his neck. I frowned, surprised at myself. Talking by moonlight softened a lot of edges.”
  • Rosa and her friend have a conversation about Alex in which her friend describes him as “super hot.”
  • While stuck on the side of the highway, Alex and Rosa kiss for the first time. “He smiled and ducked his head. He captured my lips in a kiss that already tasted bittersweet.” The kiss is described for about half a page.
  • Rosa’s friend tells the boys that they missed their chance with Rosa because she is “out here getting kissed by cute boys with man beards and baked goods.”
  • When Rosa is getting ready for her first date with Alex, she is advised to “Scoop him up and throw some sprinkles on that. Drizzle the caramel. You get me. Doodle his name in that little journal of yours. Doodle it hard.”
  • At the end of their date Alex tells Rosa, “I like you like you.” The two kiss briefly at the end of the scene.
  • When Rosa agrees to be Alex’s second for the regatta, he kisses her “quickly.”
  • When Alex and Rosa win the regatta, he “pulled me against him and dropped a hard, grateful kiss on my lips.”

Violence

  • During an argument, Rosa’s mother opens up about the death of Rosa’s father. “Tell [Rosa] that my love killed him. . . I loved him too much, so the sea took him. When this whole town cried for the lost boy at sea, you looked at your own daughter and her growing middle and said it was the cures. That it was me.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Rosa says that the vejitos, a group of old Cuban men living in Port Coral, act “like a person could live forever on coffee, rum, and cigars.” She later describes them as smelling like “sharp aftershave and cigars.”
  • Rosa says that Junior, one of the Peña Cousins, “used to sell weed, but now he was focused on getting his mixtape to go viral.”
  • Rosa’s mother returns home drunk after she “bought a bottle of wine and sat at the end of the dock where I drank the whole thing before slipping a note inside and chucking it into the water.”

Language

  • Oh my God, God, Dios mio, Por dios, and Jesus are all used frequently as exclamations. For example, when Mrs. Peña mentions jazz band, Ana replies “God, don’t say that so loud.”
  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: damn, hell, crap, and asshole.
  • Ana tells her brother that her drums “cost more than your shitty car.”
  • Ana tells Junior not to be “a dick.”
  • Mimi gets angry about the current state of Cuba and exclaims “Carajo qué mierda.”
  • Rosa’s mother says “Come mierda,” a phrase that literally translates to “shit eater” which Cubans often use to mean “dumbass.”

Supernatural

  • The Santos Women believe that they are cursed. The men they love are destined to die at sea. Rosa explains, “The lullaby of my life is that to know the sea is to know love, but to love us is to lose everything. We’re cursed, they still whisper, but whether it’s by an island, the sea, or our own stubborn hearts, I don’t know.”
  • Rosa’s grandmother acts as the neighborhood curandera. According to Rosa “The neighborhood curandera oversaw concerns about struggling gardens, bad dreams, career changes, and terrible luck, and she brewed hope frothier window that smelled like herbs and dryer sheets.”
  • Mimi owns a magical wind chime. “There was a wood and steel wind chime that was steady when the day was nice, a little wilder with the rain, and as agitated as a scared kid when bad luck was coming.”
  • Rosa owns a magical backpack. “Mimi had sewn it before I started high school, enchanting it with powerful words so it would always carry whatever I needed and never get lost.”
  • Rosa’s mother coming home has interesting consequences. “She and the house were like warring siblings, and it always knew when she returned, because it stopped working. Food burned, candles wouldn’t stay lit, and worst of all, my laptop always struggled to find the Wi-Fi signal.”
  • Rosa’s mother practices tarot. “Sometimes there was a knock at the door, late at night when she was home, and a sad eyed soul waiting on the other side. Mom would sit with them, cards spread across the old wood table. My mother was a storyteller fluent in spells and heartache.”
  • Mimi keeps a notebook that has “ingredients listed for different oils and potions,” as well as accounts of miracle helpings back in Cuba.
  • Rosa says that she puts acorns on windowsills “so lighting won’t strike my house.”
  • When Ana loses her drum sticks, she asks Rosa to “Give me some brujeria, Rosa. Throw down some shells, fire up some smoke! I need that tracking-lost-things spell!”
  • Mimi uses magic to create a replica of Havana in the middle of Port Coral.
  • When Mimi is describing Cuba, she says that Tia Nela warned her not to leave. “She warned me our land was bleeding and the sea would demand a sacrifice.”
  • Rosa knows something is wrong because the wind chime “was wild with panic.”
  • Rosa and her mother participate in a ritual where they see and hear Mimi and Alvaro’s spirits. The description lasts for about three pages.

Spiritual Content

  • When Rosa asks if Mimi would ever return Cuba Mimi responds, “My spirit will, mi amor.”
  • Rosa has an altar set up in her room, which includes, “a couple of pastel candles and fresh flowers sat beside a faded sepia picture of my grandfather and the single Polaroid I had of my father.”
  • When he sees Rosa, a sailor makes an old warding sign, “To keep evil away.”
  • After Rosa’s mother returns home, Mimi cleanses the house. Rosa’s mother claims it’s because of her “bad juju.”
  • Mimi and Rosa both pray to saints and ancestors throughout the story. For example, when Rosa’s mother comes home drunk, “Mimi reached for the saint medallion on her nightstand and muttered a prayer.”
  • Rosa and Ana perform a cleansing spell. “[Rosa] exhaled a shaky breath before asking for protection and guidance. Anna dimmed the lights, watching me. With the swipe of a match, I lit the wick and held the egg over the flickering candle light for a few seconds before closing my eyes and mindfully holding it to the top of my head.” The description of the full ritual is spread out over about six pages.
  • Rosa cleans off her altar and asks her deceased father and grandfather for advice. She says, “I could really use some help with college. Can you see the future? Yeah, it probably doesn’t work like that. But maybe you can get together with my other ancestors and let me know what you think? Some clarity on this would really help.”
  • Rosa listens to one of Mimi’s patients talking about a healing miracle. The patient says that it was “like listening to someone describe a version of la Virgen.”
  • When Mimi is describing Cuba, she says “If her cities fall, if we’re all gone, may God watch after her.”
  • While at the hospital, Ana and her mother pray silently.
  • When Alex offers to spend the night, Rosa says that she needs to lose herself in “inherited rituals.”

by Evalyn Harper

Beverly, Right Here

Fourteen-year-old Beverly has run away from home before. But this time, she plans on leaving for good. Beverly wants to make it on her own. She finds a job and a place to stay, but she can’t stop thinking about her drunk mother and her dog Buddy, who is buried under the orange trees back home. She also worries about her friend Raymie, who she left without saying a word.

Beverly doesn’t want to make friends. She doesn’t want to care about anyone. In a world where everyone has left her, Beverly decides to only care about herself. But soon, she realizes that there are good people around her. There are people that care about her and depend on her. As she begins to find a sense of community, she learns about herself as well.

It’s 1979 and Beverly hops in a car with her cousin, who drops her off in a random town. She has no money, no friends, and no idea where her steps will take her. Luckily, Beverly finds Iona, who takes in Beverly and treats her like a beloved niece. Iona is funny, truthful, and an overall wonderful person. However, the story never hints at the dangers of running away and trusting complete strangers.

Set in 1979, Beverly, Right Here does not show the dangers of the modern world. For example, in one scene, when an older man pinches Beverly’s butt, the waitress tells her not to complain. Another troubling aspect of the story is Beverly’s relationship with Elmer. Although Elmer’s age is never revealed, he is preparing to go to college. Even though Elmer is a sweet soul, and Beverly and him only dance and hold hands, the age difference is alarming.

Unlike its companion book, Louisiana’s Way Home, the characters and themes in Beverly, Right Here are not as developed, which leaves too many unanswered questions. Even though Beverly’s mother is a drunk, it is unclear why Beverly felt the need to run away. In addition, Beverly talks about the death of her dog; however, the reader doesn’t know how the dog died and why the dog’s death had such a negative impact on Beverly. Lastly, at the end of the book, Iona’s son shows up, questions her decision-making skills, threatens to take away Iona’s car, and tells Beverly she is “nobody” and must leave.

Beverly, Right Here is realistic fiction that highlights the importance of making connections. The short chapters and easy vocabulary help propel the action forward. Although there are several interesting characters, including Iona and Elmer, Beverly’s actions are at times confusing. The abrupt conclusion leaves the reader wondering what will happen to Iona and Beverly. Beverly, Right Here is a companion book to Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home. However, each book can be read as a stand-alone.

Sexual Content

  • While working at a restaurant, “a fat old man with a cigar in his mouth pinched [Beverly] on the butt.”

Violence

  • Beverly’s friend, Elmer, tells her about a school bully who “beats the crap out of you, for being a poetry-loving sissy.”
  • When Elmer was in high school, he was bullied. A boy duct-taped Elmer to a chair and locked him in a janitor’s closet. When the janitor found him and let him loose, “he cried. And I cried.”
  • A man comes into a restaurant and threatens the owner with a whiffle bat. As the man leaves, he yells, “If you call the cops, I’ll come back here to this stupid fish place and break everybody’s bones. I promise you I will.” After the owner gives the man money, one of the employees chases the thief down and tackles him.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Beverly mentions that her mother was “drunk all the time.”
  • When Beverly calls her mother, she thinks that her mother “didn’t sound too drunk.”
  • Beverly thinks about her mother “sitting on the back porch, drinking beer and cigarettes. . .”
  • Beverly tells a friend that her mother is “drunk most of the time.”

Language

  • Beverly’s cousin yells at her, “Dang it! You always did think that you were better than everybody else on God’s green earth.”
  • When a woman sees Beverly’s wet, sandy clothes, the woman says, “Lord, child. What have you been doing?”
  • When Beverly was younger, she would eat glue because “it was just a way to piss the teachers off.”
  • A woman calls Beverly “con artist trash.”
  • Crap is used six times. For example, Beverly wonders, “why was there so much crap in the world?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Spin the Dawn

Maia loves to sew. She dreams not only of becoming a master tailor but becoming the imperial tailor. However, it’s a far-fetched dream as only boys are allowed to become tailors in A’landi. As her father’s only daughter and youngest child, Maia is expected to be quiet, obedient, and eventually raise a family. After her older brothers die in war and her father becomes too sick to sew, the burden of caring for her family becomes even greater, and her dream of becoming a tailor fades.

Maia cannot think of anything more abhorrent than abandoning her sewing, but she sees no alternative until her father is called upon by the emperor. The emperor is getting married and needs a new imperial tailor to create his betrothed’s wedding gowns. There is to be a competition of the best tailors in the land, and her father is invited to join. Maia’s father is too sick to travel to the capital, so Maia disguises herself as her father’s son and goes in her father’s place. Soon she finds herself competing with tailors who are decades more experienced than herself, who are willing to cheat, and who would possibly even be willing to commit murder in order to become the next imperial tailor.

Spin the Dawn has a lovable, interesting cast of characters that will hook readers. The land of A’landi is foreign, beautiful, and magical. The rich characters, court intrigues, and mysterious Lord Enchanter keep the tailoring competition from becoming cliché. Readers will be delighted when magic becomes a part of Maia’s life and will understand her moral struggle in deciding whether or not to use it.

While Part I of Spin the Dawn is a delightful read focused on the tailoring competition, Part II takes an entirely different track with Maia going on a journey to create three magical dresses for the emperor’s betrothed. The lore behind the dresses is fascinating, but the journey feels rushed and some conflicts are resolved too easily to be believable. Still, the Lord Enchanter accompanies Maia on her quest and their relationship is enchanting to watch. While Part II is weaker than Part I, the delicious dynamic between Maia and the Lord Enchanter will be enough to keep readers reading until the end.

Sexual Content

  • When speaking of the emperor, Maia’s brother says, “So you’ve heard how handsome he is from the village girls? Every one of them aspires to become one of the emperor’s concubines.” Maia says, “I have no interest in becoming a concubine.”
  • A village boy wants to marry Maia. “I thought with dread of Calu touching me, of bearing his children, of my embroidery frames collecting dust . . . I stifled a shudder.”
  • There are rumors that the emperor’s betrothed has a “lover. But it’s all court gossip. No one knows for certain.”
  • While pretending to be a boy, Maia had “been wearing at least three layers to help obscure my chest.”
  • When Norbu finds out that Maia is a girl disguised as a boy, he “touched my cheek and pressed his thigh against my leg. ‘I always thought you were a pretty boy. Perhaps a little kiss?’ “
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanter almost kiss. “He pressed a gentle kiss on the side of my lips, just missing my mouth. His lips were soft, despite the desert’s unrelenting dryness. A shiver flew up and down my spine, even though his breath was warm, and his arm around me even warmer.”
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanter kiss several times. “His lips pressed against mine. Gently at first, then with increasing urgency as I started to respond with my own need. His hand was tight on my waist, holding my wobbly knees steady.” Another time, “he tilted my chin and kissed me. Heat flooded me from my lips to my toes, and my heart hammered, its beat rushing and skipping to my head.”
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanter sleep together. “He kissed me, exploring my mouth with his tongue, then tantalizing my ears and my neck until I was dizzy and feverish. Finally, when my knees weakened and I couldn’t bear to stand any longer, Edan eased me onto his cloak against the soft, damp earth. Our legs entwined; then we became flesh upon flesh. All of me burned, my blood singing wildly in my ears.”
  • When Maia is captured by bandits, one of them says, “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve felt a woman?” Maia is then rescued.
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanter kiss goodbye. “I crushed my mouth against his, wrapping my arms around his neck and my legs around his hips. His kisses moved to my cheeks, my neck, my breasts, back to my lips. Passionate, then tender. Then passionate again, as if we couldn’t make up our minds.”

Violence

  • A man breaks Maia’s hand. “Norbu stepped on my wrist, pinning my hand to the ground . . . He was carrying one of the heavy metal pans we used for smoothing our fabrics. I tried to yank my wrist away, but he was too strong. Too quick. He raised the pan high, then brought it crashing down onto my hand. Pain shot up from the tips of my fingers and flooded my brain. I screamed.”
  • When it’s discovered that Maia is a girl, she is thrown into a dungeon. The guards “struck me in the ribs and kicked me to my knees so that I landed in a rotten pile of hay, coughing and whimpering.”
  • Maia is whipped for lying to the emperor. “The guards tore my tunic and ripped off my chest strips—so fast I’d barely crossed my arms to cover myself when the whip burned into my skin, a stinging line of fire. Blood splattered onto the cold stone floor. . . Each lash bit into me, gashing my back, and I chewed on my lip so hard my mouth grew hot with blood.”
  • Maia is chased by wolves, which then turn on each other. “Soon I was forgotten as the wolves fought one another. The sight was gruesome, blood on fur on sand. I buried my face in my hands until the snarls became whimpers, then nothing.”
  • Maia stumbles upon an old battlefield. “Broken drums, slashed war banners, mounds of bones—human bones. And bodies . . . Some of the men had frozen to death. I could tell from their ashen faces, tightly drawn blue lips, and curved-in shoulders.”
  • Maia and the Lord Enchanters are attacked several times by bandits. Once, the Lord Enchanter “fired three arrows in quick succession. Vachir eluded each shot, but the men behind him weren’t as lucky. Two fell.”
  • Maia fights a demon. “I lunged forward and slammed my dagger into his shoulder. He cried out, an anguished scream that made my blood curdle.”
  • Maia is attacked by bandits. “I slashed at the one who’d spoken, but I missed his throat and scored his cheek instead. I made a long, jagged gash.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A fellow tailor “reached into his robes for a flask. He offered it to me, and after I declined, he took a long drink.”
  • Maia turns in early one night. In the morning, she discovered “It was a good thing I’d refused to go out with Norbu and the others. After their bath, they’d gone to the local drinking house, where Master Taraha and Master Garad drank themselves into a stupor. Now they were spending the day retching. Even from my table, I could smell it.”
  • While traveling, Maia and the Lord Enchanter stay the night with a group of travelers. The travelers pass around a wine gourd after dinner, and Maia accidentally gets drunk. “I was so mortified I simply took another drink. And another. The more I drank, the less it burned my throat . . . Normally I wouldn’t have stared at him so obviously, but the wine had washed away my caution.”

Language

  • Variations of the phrase “demon’s breath” are used a few times as profane exclamations.
  • A man says a country’s wine “tastes like horse piss.”
  • Damn is used a few times. The Lord Enchanter says, “I want to get out of this damned place.”

Supernatural

  • Maia “repaired amulets for travelers who asked it of me, though I didn’t believe in magic. Not then.”
  • A man says to Maia, “The A’landans are superstitious people. Constantly praying to their dead ancestors. If you believe in spirits and ghosts, I don’t see why you wouldn’t believe in magic.”
  • Maia meets the emperor’s Lord Enchanter. Maia “knew little of enchanters, lord or not, other than that they were rare and drifted from land to land.” Longhai tells Maia, “The Lord Enchanter advises Emperor Khanujin on many matters. He served the emperor’s father for years, yet he hasn’t aged a day!” Maia later finds out that the Lord Enchanter can transform into a hawk, which is his spirit form. “Feathers sprouted over his skin and spine. A pair of wings erupted from his shoulders and fanned down across his arms.”
  • Maia discovers that the scissors passed down from her grandmother are magical. “The scissors glided over the shawl, possessed in a way that my hands could only follow. Invisible threads repaired the cloth’s damage, giving it life anew, and colors from my paint pots soaked into the silk . . . Impossible as it appeared, the scissors not only cut but embroidered . . . My hand wouldn’t let go of the scissors, no matter how much I tried to pry them away, no matter how much I wanted to put them down. I was under a spell, drunk with their power.”
  • In Part II of Spin the Dawn, Maia is forced to go on a journey with the Lord Enchanter. On this journey, magic becomes a part of daily life. From enchanted carpets that fly, using magic to heal, and a magical tablecloth that creates an entire meal from nothing, Maia’s journey is filled with magic.
  • Maia is given an impossible task by the emperor’s betrothed. She is told to make a dress out of the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars. These three dresses are called Amana’s dresses, and it is said that whoever possesses them will receive a wish from the goddess Amana herself.
  • Maia goes to an island filled with ghosts. While there she meets a demon—a creature who used to be a sorcerer but was cursed when he killed his master. The demon steals a piece of Maia’s soul, which means he can follow her anywhere.
  • When Maia finishes the dresses, the goddess Amana speaks to her. Amana’s statue in the temple glows and a “low and powerful, yet kind” voice says, “Ask me your heart’s greatest desire, Maia. And I shall grant it.”

Spiritual Content

  • It is mentioned in passing that “Toward the end of every month, [Maia] helped the women who were preparing their gifts for the dead—usually paper clothing, which was tricky to sew—to burn before the prayer shrines in honor of their ancestors.”
  • Maia lives in a land with many gods. The gods are often mentioned in passing. A tailor says, “The gods are listening to us, masters. Do you want to invoke their wrath?” The emperor’s betrothed says, “The imperial tailor is a master chosen by the gods. I expect him to be able to work with any material, whether it be glass or silk.” Another time, a man says, “The gods watch over me, I am very grateful.”
  • Two gods are more developed and become part of the plot. The first is the goddess Amana, whose magical dresses Maia is tasked with sewing. People often say, “Amana be with you.” The other is the sun god, who Maia indirectly encounters during her search for the laughter of the sun. While in the desert, the Lord Enchanter says, “The sun is worshipped in many lands. He’s a brilliant, brutal deity. And now we are in the heart of his kingdom.”
  • The Lord Enchanter says, “Pigs are smarter than people give them credit for! Where I grew up, we almost worshipped them.” Maia “couldn’t tell if he was joking.”
  • Maia confesses that she doesn’t “even trust the gods. Not to listen, anyway. My father prays to Amana every morning, every night. . . But Finlei and Sendo died.”
  • The Lord Enchanter grew up in a monastery. “The monks I grew up with were different from the ones here. Not generous and kind. And the gods we worshiped were harsh and unforgiving.”
  • Maia asks a monk, “What if there are no gods? What if there is only magic, only enchanters and demons and ghosts?” The monk replies, “You must keep your faith . . . The gods watch over us, but unlike the spirits of this realm, they do not interfere in our lives. Not unless we anger them greatly, or impress them.”

by Morgan Lynn

 

Guts

Raina wakes up with a terrible stomachache. Because her mom is also sick, no one is really worried. But Raina’s stomach continues to hurt, even after she’s returned to school. Raina worries about throwing up at school. She’s worried about her classmates giving her an illness. She worries about eating something that will make her sick. She’s worried about her best friend moving. Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away. All this worrying is making Raina sick. What will it take for Raina to conquer her fears?

Raina doesn’t just have tummy trouble; she is also being bullied by Michelle. Every time Michelle says something mean to Raina, she explodes and ends up in trouble. Raina only talks to her best friend about Michelle’s mean words. Everything gets worse when Raina’s best friend begins talking and giggling with Michelle. Many readers will relate to Raina’s fears and anxiety. In the end, Raina and Michelle learn that they actually have a lot in common, and they might just be able to become friends.

As Raina’s stomach problems become worse, her parents take her to the doctor and eventually to a therapist. Even though Raina is “perfectly healthy,” she learns that her constant worrying is making her sick. With the therapist’s help, Raina learns breathing exercises to calm herself down. When she tells her friends that she is in therapy, Raina thought her friends would freak out, but instead, they think it’s “no big deal.”

Guts deals with the difficult topic of panic attacks, anxiety, and puberty. Using both illustrations and text, Telgemeir tackles the problem with compassion and humor. Each page contains eight or fewer sentences. The easy vocabulary, simple sentences, and bright pictures make Guts accessible to all readers. The brightly colored pictures do an amazing job at showing the facial expressions of the characters, which brings the character’s emotions to the forefront. The engaging story explores feelings and lets readers know that sometimes people need help to conquer their fears.

Readers who enjoyed Guts should pick up Telgemeier’s graphic novel Ghost which shows a healthy sibling relationship and has a positive message. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is also an excellent graphic novel that contains a positive message.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a sleepover, the girls share their secrets. One girl says, “my dad gets drunk sometimes. He’s never dangerous, but a couple of times he’s yelled at me and my brother. It’s scary.”

Language

  • A girl at school calls Raina a “poopy diaper baby.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Focused

Clea can’t control her thoughts. Some days, her thoughts repeat in an endless loop. Other days, her mind jumps from topic to topic. Either way, she can’t focus on her homework. Even when she tries to focus really, really hard, she still gets distracted. Someone is always chewing their gum too loudly or making annoying noises.

But that’s not her only problem. Everything that Clea thinks pops out of her mouth. She can’t seem to keep the words from jumping out. Clea’s issues are starting to cause problems in other areas of her life—when she’s playing chess, or when she’s hanging out with her best friend. What’s worse is that other kids are starting to notice.

When Clea keeps doing poorly in school, her parents want to have her tested for ADHD. Clea is convinced that she doesn’t have ADHD. If she tried a little harder, everything would be fine. Then, when Clea has an epic fight with her best friend, she knows that something has to change. But how do you change something that is in your head?

Anyone who has struggled in school will be able to relate to Clea. Even when Clea tries her best, she still can’t focus. She constantly berates herself, thinking that she’s just too dumb to do well. Told from Clea’s point of view, Focused allows Clea’s frustration to take center stage. With the assistance of a cast of helpful adults—psychologists, teachers, parents, counselors—Clea gains new time management skills and learns how to speak up for herself.

Even though the story focuses on Clea’s difficulties, the reader will be drawn into the conflict between Clea and other characters in the story. Clea’s best friend is dealing with family problems while one of the chess players constantly puts Clea down. The story also adds a little romance, a little chess, and a host of imperfect characters. Clea’s sister Henley is one of the best parts of the story. The sweet little sister who struggles with talking is always cheering for Clea. Clea realizes that having a person love you unconditionally is amazing. She thinks, “It feels like magic that there’s a person in the world who thinks I’m definitely going to win, no matter what, just because I’m me.”

This easy-to-read story explains how ADHD works and teaches management skills as well. Best of all, it shows that having a learning disability is nothing to be ashamed about. Anyone who reads Focused will come away with a better understanding of ADHD plus empathy for those who struggle with their emotions. The story also highlights the importance of perseverance and forgiveness. Anyone who has ever struggled with feeling inferior or has struggled with school work should read Focused. The story will encourage young readers to ask for help when needed as well as never to give up.

Sexual Content

  • Red’s father moved to Colorado and has a new girlfriend. Red finds out that his dad married his girlfriend and that she is going to have a baby.
  • While talking to Dylan, Clea slips her hand into his, and “he wraps his fingers around mine and squeezes, like he doesn’t want to let go. My stomach flips.”
  • After Dylan asks Clea to be his girlfriend, they kiss. Clea smiles at him, and then “before I know it, his lips are on mine and we’re kissing. It’s soft and sweet and mint chocolate flavored, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with my hands, so I leave them exactly where they are, because I never want the kissing to stop. I want to stay like this forever.”
  • Clea and her friend talk about kissing a boy. It was both of the girl’s first kiss. When Clea’s friend worries that she was bad at kissing, Clea googles “Am I bad at kissing?” Clea then asks her friend, “Okay—did you bump teeth? Or move your head all over the place? Or slobber?” When Clea’s friend says no, the girls laugh and decide they are good at kissing. The conversation takes place over a page.

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Clea thinks she is “an idiot.”
  • Jerk is used four times. Once Clea thinks a boy is a “jerk.” Later she tells the boy that he was acting like “a jerk.”
  • OMG is used six times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

The Friendship War

Grace and Ellie have been best friends since second grade. Grace doesn’t mind that Ellie always gets her way and is always the center of attention. When it comes to Ellie, Grace is used to tagging along and doing what Ellie wants.

Everything changes when Grace shares part of her button collection at school, and accidentally starts a new fad. Soon students in her grade, and then the entire school is trading and fighting over buttons. Grace has always been okay with fading into the background, but when button fever hits her, she just has to have the button with a blue pinwheel. Soon Grace and Ellie argue over a button, and it looks like their friendship might just be over. Button collecting may have cost Grace one friend, but it also leads her to a new one—Hank, the biggest button collector in the sixth grade. Is there any way the two new friends can figure out how to stop the button craze?

Readers will relate to Grace, who connects to the world through math. Grace is always counting, collecting, and overthinking. Her unique flaws and the way she connects with others will give readers a unique perspective as well as show how people with different personalities and interests can still be friends. Throughout the book, readers will learn new words because Grace explains several scientific words and ideas. The vocabulary is so ingrained into the plot that learning new concepts never feels like a school lesson. Learning about science, math, and the history of buttons has never been so much fun!

Another positive aspect of the story is Grace’s strong relationship with her family, who understands her crazy collections. Her family relationships extend to her grandfather, who writes letters and texts to Grace. Scattered throughout the story are conversations about Grace’s recently deceased Gramma, which gives insight into the grieving process.

The Friendship War, which is written by the same author of Frindle, is a fast-paced story that highlights the complicated nature of friendship. Through Grace’s experiences, the reader will learn not only the value of friendship but also how friendship should not be one-sided. At one point, the school principal tells Grace, “It’s a great thing to have one good friend, but to have two looking out for you? That’s nothing short of wonderful.” The story also highlights the importance of forgiveness and taking responsibility for your actions. The Friendship War is a highly entertaining story that not only shows the family in a positive light but is also packed with life lessons that are so ingrained in the story that the message is never preachy.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Grace thinks that her brother is “acting like a jerk today.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Grace and her mom have a two-page conversation about what happens after someone dies. Grace’s mom says, “If you’re asking me if your grandmother is still herself, still somewhere, then I would say yes, I believe she is. But do I know that, the same way I know that the sun comes up every morning? Then, no, I don’t know it like that. . . I believe that Gramma is still herself, still thinking, still loving you and Ben and your dad and me and Grampa. . . And I guess I won’t completely know any of this for sure until that moment when I die, or rather, when I don’t die—when I figure out that I haven’t stopped thinking or stopped being myself. Where I will be at that moment, or what any of that will be like—I have no idea.”

 

 

Sweeping Up the Heart

For spring break, Amelia wants to go on a vacation to Florida. But Amelia’s father doesn’t like to travel. He’d rather spent his time peacefully at home. Amelia wants adventure. Amelia already feels like a freak at school, and she isn’t thrilled about being the only seventh grader sitting at home, doing nothing over spring break.

Amelia plans to spend as much time as possible at Louise’s art studio. When she works with clay, she forgets all about her quiet, lonely house. When Amelia goes to the art studio, she meets Casey. Amelia is looking forward to the break now that she has a new friend to spend time with. While sitting in a cafe, Casey begins a game where he and Amelia make up names and stories for those who are passing by. Casey sees a woman, who looks similar to Amelia, and thinks the woman could be Amelia’s dead mother. Amelia begins to imagine that the woman is her mother and all of the ways that would impact her life.

Sweeping Up the Heart is a simple, beautiful story that deals with the complicated nature of family life. Amelia is insecure and often lonely. Although she has outgrown sleeping with her stuffed lamb, Dr. Cotton, she still tells him her secrets. Amelia, like many younger kids, wants a more exciting life. She doesn’t understand why she doesn’t have more friends. When she meets Casey, she is eager to have a friend to talk to. Like herself, Casey’s family life is not perfect. Casey has been on a campaign to keep his parent’s marriage from falling apart.

Although Amelia and Casey are relatable characters, who deal with grief, some readers may not like the slow pace of Sweeping Up the Heart. Much of the story focuses on the characters’ interactions, as well as Amelia’s struggle with her often silent father. The story is creative, interesting, and heartfelt, but lacks action. Amelia struggles with missing a mother she doesn’t remember, as well as wishing for more adventure in her life. Amelia relies heavily on Mrs. O’Brien, who takes care of the house and meals. Amelia’s loneliness is described in lovely language that allows the reader to understand Amelia’s longing for something more. However, the conclusion comes too soon and there are so many unanswered questions that will leave the readers with mixed emotions. Although Sweeping Up the Heart is an easy-to-read story, younger audiences may have a difficult time finishing the quiet story that focuses on Amelia who is dealing with the changes that come with adolescence. The story will resonate with anyone who feels like an outcast, has family problems, or just longs for more adventure in life.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Amelia has a stuffed animal that she talks to. She thinks, “she talked to him the way she supposed some people talked to God.”
  • Amelia’s mother wanted to name her Epiphany because “I was born on January sixth, the Feat of Epiphany. . . It’s the day the Three Kings supposedly visited Baby Jesus with their gifts. But we’re not very religious and my father thought it was an odd, trendy name.”

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Nothing ever happens in Toby’s small Texas town. When Zachary Beaver comes to town, almost everyone is willing to give up their money to see the “fattest boy in the world” who weighs over 600 pounds. Toby and his best friend Cal try to befriend the boy, who says he’s been everywhere including Paris. Toby realizes that most people only see Zachary’s large size, not the sad boy underneath.

Zachary isn’t the only thing on Toby’s mind. Everyone seems to be leaving. His mother leaves home to chase her dream of being a country singer. His best friend Cal’s older brother is fighting in the Vietnam war. Toby doesn’t want anyone to know that his mom isn’t coming back, so he makes up a crazy tale. It is then that Toby realizes that he and Zachary might not be so different after all.

Set during the Vietnam era, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town gives the reader a glimpse into life in a small Texas town, where everyone knows everyone. Although Zachary Beaver is the main focus of the story, there are other subplots that weave their way into the story. Toby is dealing with teen love, his mother leaving, as well as his best friend fighting in a war and eventually being killed.

Even though all of the events are told in a kid-friendly manner, many younger readers will find the character-driven story less than exciting. The beginning of the story introduces many, many characters who are difficult to remember. Toby, who tells his story, is interesting and brings humor to the story. Even though the story is told by a 12-year-old narrator, the story deals with some heavy topics including feelings of abandonment, death, dementia, and forgiveness.

Readers will eventually fall in love with Toby and the community; however, readers who are looking for an action-packed adventure will be disappointed in When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. The story highlights the importance of not judging others and forgiveness. The ending of the story will leave readers in tears as it highlights the importance of striving to make your dreams come true. There is a reason When Zachary Beaver Came to Town is taught in schools—it gives readers a picture of the time period as well as teaches important life lessons.

Sexual Content

  • Toby makes a joke about Miss Myrtie Mae who wears a “wide-brim straw hat.” Toby says it’s to “protect her virgin skin.” Cal laughs, “That ain’t the only thing virgin about her.”
  • Toby talks to a girl he has a crush on. He thinks, “I want to reach for her, pull her toward me, and tell her it will be all right. I want to smooth her hair, massage her neck, kiss her toes. Instead, I wrap my arms around my knees.” They dance and then she “kisses me on the cheek.”
  • After Toby accidentally sprays himself with a girl’s perfume, someone tells him, “You smell like a French prostitute.”

Violence

  • Some kids start hitting Zachary’s trailing and yelling insults, so Cal and Toby throw rocks at them.  Toby’s “rock sails through the air and hits a perfect target. Mason’s hands fly to his porky bottom. ‘Ow!’ When Cal hits Simon Davis’s leg, Simon takes off crying, his hand pressed against his thigh.” Toby and Cal accidentally break a window.
  • Cal rides his bike to the lake, hoping to outrun Toby. When Toby appears, Cal kicked water in his face. When Toby doesn’t leave, Cal “slugs me on the arm. I still don’t move and he punches me again. My arm throbs in pain.” The two friends make peace.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the adult characters, Ferris, got a tattoo when he was drunk. “He said he got them the night he met Jim Beam. Cal thought he was talking about a real person until I explained that Jim Beam was whiskey and Ferris was drunk as a skunk when he got the tattoos. That was before Ferris met Jesus and got religion.”
  • While the townspeople are at a funeral, Ferris stays in his restaurant and gets drunk. He tells Toby, “Don’t ever start drinking, Toby. Next to money, it’s the root of all evil.”
  • Cal gets a letter from his brother who is fighting in the Vietnam war. His brother writes, “it doesn’t seem like anyone wants us here. Not even the people we’re protecting. They just want to sell us cigarettes, booze, and anything else we’re willing to put down our money for.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Before Ferris was hurt, he “wanted to be a preacher. He even went a semester to a Bible college in Oklahoma. Now he never goes to church, but Mom says he knows the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.”
  • Ferris owns a restraint and his “chalkboard hangs near the kitchen window behind the counter. . . Beneath the menu is the daily Bible verse. ‘It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.’ Proverbs 20:3. Mom says some people wear their religion on their sleeves. Ferris posts his on the chalkboard.”
  • Toby includes Wayne, a boy who is fighting in the Vietnam War, in his nightly prayers.
  • Toby asks about baptism. Miss Myrtie Mae tells him, “The good Lord knows what state our mind is in when we make such a commitment. But it’s a wonderful commitment, Tobias. The Christian life is not an easy life, but it brings such joy. And of course, there is the gift of eternal life.” She then tells him the steps involved and hands him a paper with John 3:16 written on it.
  • Toby prepares to baptize Zachary, in case Ferris doesn’t show up to perform the ceremony. Toby reads the Bible looking for a verse. “But as I read the story, I forget about searching for verses. I read that Jesus goes to John the Baptist and asks to be baptized, but John doesn’t think he’s worthy enough to baptize Jesus. Then Jesus says, ‘Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.’ So, John baptizes him.” Toby calls Ferris and tells him to read the verse.
  • Zachary is baptized. As part of the ceremony, he must agree to “take the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior.”

Fangirl

Cath is the world’s biggest Simon Snow fan. Simon Snow is her everything—his magical world consumes Cath until her entire world revolves around it. Ever since she was little, she and her twin sister Wren poured over the series, continually reading and re-reading, and eventually writing. In Cath’s case, writing an extremely popular fanfiction that has hundreds of thousands of followers. Cath loves being immersed in this fictional world with her sister, but she must soon face reality.

Cath’s freshman year of college is quickly approaching, and in addition to having to pull herself out of her Simon Snow hole, she has to deal with an entirely new obstacle— her sister. As they have been best friends for the entirety of their lives, Cath is shocked when Wren suddenly decides that she does not want to be roommates for their freshman year. This causes Cath’s social anxiety to spiral as she attempts to survive in a new collegiate world without her sister.

Cath is grappling with her pressure-filled, Simon Snow fanfiction and the rough transition to college. Additionally, her emotionally fragile, single father is alone for the first time in eighteen years, and she can’t help but worry about what might happen to him in her absence. She also must confront new feelings towards a male classmate who only seems to want to talk about writing, and a wild roommate with a fascinating best friend.  Can Cath hold it all together while the world around her feels like it is all falling apart?

Fangirl is a delightful coming-of-age novel that accurately encapsulates the strong emotional response to the transition to university. Cath’s struggles with her mental health and social anxiety are relatable to modern-day teens, particularly those leaving home for the first time. Her relationship with her sister represents the drifting apart from friends and siblings that can occur as a person grows up.

Despite this novel’s enthralling story and heartfelt characters, Fangirl may not be appropriate for younger audiences. As it is set in college, there are mature events and themes. Sexuality, alcohol, and drugs are discussed often, making the story more appropriate for older readers.  Fangirl is also a long and semi-difficult book due to more advanced vocabulary and complex plot lines, making it tough for less advanced readers. For mature readers, Fangirl will be a highly enjoyable read that delves into the depths of a teen’s emotions and life.

Sexual Content

  • When Cath’s roommate has a guy waiting outside their room on move-in day, she is very uncomfortable. She tells him, “I can’t just let strange guys into my room. I don’t even know your name. This whole situation is too rapey.”
  • Cath writes fanfiction about the homosexual romance between Simon Snow and his nemesis Baz.
  • Cath had a boyfriend in high school named Abel, but they weren’t particularly serious or romantic. Wren always calls him an “end table” and accuses Cath of not liking to kiss him.
  • Wren’s high school boyfriend Jesse never seemed all that interested in her, which made her crazy for him. Cath laments, “He never had eyes only for Wren, not even after they had sex last fall. It threw off Wren’s game.”
  • Cath’s roommate Reagan asks if she has, “gay homemade Simon Snow posters.”
  • Levi wants to walk Cath to the library at night because she has a “little red riding hood vibe.” Cath responds by saying, “I don’t think rapists care about self-confidence.”
  • When writing with Nick, Cath tells him that she doesn’t want, “to write about, like, dead bodies or . . . naked bodies.”
  • Cath talks to Wren about the first time that she kissed Abel. “He kissed me that day, on our seventeenth birthday, for the first time. Or maybe I kissed him… I remember thinking… that he made me feel safe.”
  • Cath tells Wren about her writing sessions with Nick. Wren responds by asking, “Does it involve kissing?” Cath thinks to herself, “Wren wouldn’t leave the kissing thing alone. Ever since Abel had dumped Cath, Wren was on her about chasing her passions and letting loose the beast within.” After this point, Cath sees boys everywhere and as a constant distraction to her, particularly their physical qualities.
  • Cath gets a ride home with a girl named Erin who talked too much. “All she talked about was her boyfriend who still lived in Omaha and who was probably cheating on her.”
  • Cath writes Simon Snow fanfiction for her creative writing professor. A friend responds to this information by laughing and asking, “Do you really expect an elderly English professor to be down with gay Simon Snow fanfiction?”
  • Levi wants her to read fanfiction aloud to him. She searches her computer for something, “not too romantic. Or dirty.”
  • Cath describes the time after her mom left their family and says that Wren, “scratched a boy who said they were gay in the eye.”
  • There is an excerpt from Cath’s fanfiction that carries sexual innuendo. Baz asks, “Have you ever done this before?” Simon responds, “Yes. Not like this.” Baz then asks, “Not with a boy?” and Simon responds, “Not when I really wanted it.”
  • Levi leans against Cath when she is reading to him, making her nervous about what their relationship status is. This is followed by Levi sleepily kissing her. A half-page make-out scene follows.
  • When Cath tries to convince herself that she does not want romantic involvement with Levi, she says, “He’s different… He’s older. He smokes. And he drinks. And he’s probably had sex. I mean, he looks like he has.” She then proceeds to think that the last person that he slept with was Reagan.
  • When Reagan helps Cath get ready for a party, she discusses her hair, saying, “If you’re not going to blow it out… you may as well look like you’ve just been fucked.”
  • When Cath gets to a party, she sees Levi kissing a girl, “with his mouth smiling and open. He made it look so easy.”
  • Every time Cath sees Levi, she is reminded of the relationship that they almost had. “She tried not looking at him— because every time she did, she imagined him kissing someone, either her or that other girl, and both memories were equally painful.”
  • When Cath tries to tell her father that she doesn’t want to go back to school, he first asks, “Are you pregnant? Are you gay? I’d rather you were gay than pregnant. Unless you’re pregnant. Then we’ll deal.”
  • After Cath makes up with Levi, Reagan asks, “Did you sleep with him?” She proceeds to ask about their relationship, to which Cath responds, “Things you pressure me to do: one, underage drinking; two, prescription drug abuse; three, premarital sex.” Reagan then tells Cath that she lost her virginity to Levi.
  • Cath talks about her feelings towards Levi and says, “God, she wanted to tackle him and roll around in him like a cat in a field of daisies.” She also says that his eyebrows are, “pornographic.”
  • There are several make-out scenes, each lasting about a half-in page in length. They are fairly detailed.
  • Cath’s mother told her daughters about her unwanted pregnancy. Cath wonders if her mom told them as a warning to, “Stay away from men? Maybe just ‘use a condom.’ Or ‘stay away from men who don’t know how to work a condom.”
  • Levi and Cath talk about having sex, but she is not comfortable with it, so she consents to “touching.” Even in this situation, she must read fanfiction with him to feel comfortable.

Violence

  • Wren’s boyfriend Alejandro punched a “drunk pervert right in the chin” when they were at a bar.
  • Cath gets hit in the ribs by the doorknob of her dorm room door when Reagan barges in. She is not injured.
  • In Cath’s fanfiction, Simon fights a rabbit with his sword. Baz later kills it. “He ran toward the rabbit, holding his sword with both hands over his head, then plunged it with all his strength into one red eye. The rabbit collapsed, utterly limp, a paw falling into the fire.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cath discusses the observation that all of the upperclassmen and professors wear black Ray-Ban frames. “If Cath got a pair of black Ray-Bans, she could probably order a gin and tonic around here without getting carded.”
  • Cath says that Reagan smokes.
  • Cath asks if engineering fraternities, “get drunk and build bridges.”
  • Wren declares that “drinking tequila is more about the journey than the destination.”
  • Reagan asks Cath if she is on drugs. When Cath responds with no, Reagan says, “maybe you should be…” Reagan later proclaims that she is on drugs and that they are, “a beautiful thing.”
  • Cath discusses illegal drinking on campus. She said that it didn’t matter on campus as “there was booze everywhere. Wren already had a fake ID.”
  • When Cath calls her dad, he says, “Don’t hang out with frat guys, Cath, they’re terrible. All they do is get drunk and watch
  • On weekend mornings, Reagan always looked like a mess because she, “drank too much and slept too little… She still smelled sweat and cigarette smoke.”
  • Cath is harassed by drunk perverts in a bar. The scene lasts several pages and many characters are inebriated.
  • Cath says that she does not want to go to Levi’s party because she doesn’t want to “drink, smoke, or get high.”
  • When Cath objects to dating Levi, Reagan says, “You’re making him sound like he’s some rowdy mountain man who like, smokes cigars and has sex with prostitutes.”
  • Cath’s date struggles with mental health issues and is supposed to take medication for his problem, but it never lasts as he believes it blocks his creative process.
  • Reagan tries to quit smoking by never lighting the cigarettes that are in her mouth.
  • Wren gets alcohol poisoning and is taken to the hospital. When Cath arrives, she has to answer a list of medical questions. “Was Wren a regular drinker? Did she often drink to drunkenness? Yes. Did she black out? Yes. Did she use any other drugs? I don’t know. Was she on any medication? Birth control.”
  • Nick always writes about girls with nicotine-stained fingers.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently throughout the novel. This includes shit, fuck, fuck off, thank god, bitch, damn, hell, crap, ass, asshole, goddamn, and horseshit.
  • During move-in day, Reagan says, “If you’ve got feng shui issues, feel free to move my shit.”
  • Simon Snow calls Baz a, “complete git.” He also later calls him a “prat.”
  • Wren’s roommate says that she is on the “skinny bitch
  • Levi has an, “especially shitty truck.”
  • Wren flips off a drunken pervert at a bar.
  • When Cath looks in the mirror before going to a party she thinks she, “looked like exactly who she was— an eighteen-year-old nerd who knew eff-all about boys or parties.”
  • One character is always referred to as, “fucking Kelly.”
  • God, Jesus, oh my god, godforsaken, and Jesus Christ are all used frequently.

Supernatural

  • Cath is a huge fangirl for a book series about teenage magicians. Their exploits are often described, as are their uses of magic. This series is very similar in content and tone to Harry Potter.
  • Baz, a character from Simon Snow, is revealed to be a vampire.

Spiritual

  • Reagan tells Cath, “If God put me in your life to keep you from wearing a fucking tail… I accept the assignment.”
  • Levi calls the town that he is from, “god’s country…All the gods. Brahma and Odin would love it there.”
  • When Cath wears a ponytail, Reagan asks her, “Do you have to wear your hair like that? Is it some kind of Mormon thing?” Cath is not Mormon.
  • Cath’s English professor talks about the power of writing. She says, “Think about it, Cath. That’s what makes a god—or a mother. There’s nothing more intoxicating than creating something from nothing.”
  • The English professor says, “I can do whatever I want with my student’s grades. I’m the god of this small thing.”
  • Levi’s mom is active in her Baptist church.

by Morgan Filgas

 

The Nature of Jade

After moving and starting at a new high school, Jade begins having panic attacks. Jade is trying her best to stay calm and focus on her senior year of high school. One thing that calms her down is watching the elephants at a nearby zoo on her webcam. That’s how she sees Sebastian for the first time.

Even before they meet, Jade feels drawn towards Sebastian, a twenty-year-old who has a baby. When she finally meets him, she quickly falls in love with him. She begins spending her free time with Sebastian, his son, and his grandmother. Even though Sebastian’s life is complicated, getting to know him has helped alleviate Jade’s panic attacks. Then Jade discovers that Sebastian has been hiding a terrible secret. Will their new love be able to survive?

Jade’s work at the zoo gives an interesting aspect to their romance. Jade compares the animal world to the human world and her insights can be interesting. Working with the elephants helps Jade deal with her anxiety disorder. Her inner reflection illuminates her thought process and shows how a random thought can lead her down a spiral of fear. However, too much of the story is told through Jude’s inner dialogue, which makes the story drag. Although many teens may be able to relate to Jude’s anxiety, others will find her constant inner dialogue difficult to wade through.

Jade’s story bounces from her family life, her school life, her zoo life, and finally her relationship with Sebastian. Each aspect of her life seems completely separated. This separation doesn’t allow the author to fully develop the other characters in the story. Even though Jude has come to realize that many of her high school relationships are based on familiarity and habit instead of true connections, the reader is left wondering why they should care.

Jade, her parents, and her boyfriend all have destructive secrets. Jade comes to realize that lives are complicated and messy. She discovers that not all actions can be labeled as good or bad. Sebastian and his grandmother both wonder if they are doing the right thing when they hide their whereabouts, which allows the reader to reflect on what they would do in a similar situation. As Jade grows, she learns that people cannot be seen as just a stereotype, because all people are more complicated than that.

Readers who want to look at the complicated workings of the inner mind will enjoy The Nature of Jade. However, the majority of readers may struggle due to the lack of character development, absence of action, and slow pacing of the story.

Sexual Content

  • Jade’s friend has become boy crazy. Jade thinks, “God, sorry if this is crude, but she had begun to remind me of those baboons that flaunt their red butts around when they’re in heat.”
  • Jade’s friend thinks a boy has “the sweetest ass.”
  • Michael tells his friends, “Some of us want to go to med school and become doctors and not just meet some guy and have sex.” His friend replies, “Some of us want to have a social life. You’ve been more intimate with your laptop than an actual female.”
  • Jade thinks that fathers don’t show compassion when their kids are hurt because of a fear that “compassion equals homosexuality.”
  • Someone teases a boy saying he might be gay.
  • When Sebastian found out his girlfriend was pregnant, he would have considered other options, but she hid the pregnancy from him.
  • A girl doesn’t think her friend can have fun at a Christian school. She wants to go to a college that has “Guy fun. Party fun. Drinking fun.
  • Jade and Sebastian kiss several times. The first time they kiss “for a while, not long enough. His mouth is chili-warm. . . He puts his hand behind my neck, pulls me to him and kisses my forehead.”
  • Jade and Sebastian have sex. “Sabastian strokes my hair. We start to kiss. We kiss for a long while. His hands are gentle. I guess that’s the only thing that is necessary to know about Sebastian and me on that hard dock, the blanket around us. He is careful, so very careful with me.”
  • While in the high school library, someone sees Jade’s mother kiss the librarian. The girl tells Jade, “Someone had their tongue down someone’s throat, is what I heard.” When Jade confronts her mother, she doesn’t deny it.

Violence

  • During a football game, Jade’s brother is hurt. He tells Jade, “Number forty-six. Jeez, he just bashed his shoulder into my chest, and when I was on the ground, he steps on my leg with his cleat.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Michael went to a party that had “more booze than a liquor store convention.” While there he “had half a beer and I could barely talk.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often when the teens talk. Profanity includes ass, bastard, bitch, crappy, damn, goddamn, fuck, and shit.
  • Jesus, God, oh my God, and for God’s sake are frequently used as exclamations.
  • When Jade hears baboons scream, it frightens her. When her dad shows up, he says, “God, Jade. Zoo animals! Baboons, for Christ sake.”
  • Jade tells her counselor that she feels “like shit.”
  • Jade tells her brother that the guy that tackled him in football is a “bastard. The minute he gets off the field I’m going to kick him in the balls.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Jade’s friend Jenna has begun going to church. Jenna gets upset when some of her friends “take the Lord’s name in vain.”
  • A couple of Jade’s friends think it would be fun to be the Pope for a day.
  • While watching the webcam, Jade sees Sebastian praying.
  • Jade lights candles to different patron saints and prays to them. “There’s a saint for everything . . . They got these cool candles for each different one, a column of tall glass with a picture of the saint on the front, and a matching prayer on the back, one in English and one in Spanish.” Jade says several of the prayers.

 

 

 

According to Aggie

For 11-year-old Aggie, life is routine. She spends her time with her family and her best friend Fiona. When Fiona begins acting differently, Aggie isn’t sure what’s going on. They didn’t have a fight. Nothing has really changed, but Fiona isn’t spending time with her. Aggie wonders why Fiona is canceling plans and ignoring her. How should Aggie act around Fiona? Will she be able to make new friends?

Written in graphic novel format, younger readers will enjoy According to Aggie’s easy-to-read format and the cute colored pictures. The story has eight or fewer sentences per page, which makes the story accessible to even the most reluctant readers. Plus, readers will relate to Aggie’s fear that she will not be able to make new friends. Aggie is afraid that others won’t want to be her friend because they will think she is “weird” and “will catch the no-friend disease.”

All of the parents in the story are portrayed in a positive light and give different examples of healthy relationships. Three different mothers appear in the story, and although they make a brief appearance, they are clearly portrayed in a positive, caring light. Aggie’s mother helps Aggie work through her problems and suggests that Aggie write her feelings in a diary.

Because the story is told from Aggie’s point of view, the reader will understand her confusion and fear. The illustrations do an excellent job of portraying Aggie’s emotions. Even though the story focuses on Aggie’s internal struggle, there is enough action to keep readers interested. According to Aggie uses delightful illustrations and an interesting story to teach about the struggle to make friends.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Outward Blonde

Sixteen-year-old Lizzie wants to forget the father who abandoned her and the mother who lives in a drug-induced fog. She spends her time shopping and partying with her best friend. One of Lizzie’s drunken escapades is caught on camera, and her bad behavior is shared with gossip sites.

Lizzie’s mother wants to make sure Lizzie doesn’t cause the family any more scandal, while her father wants her to get help. So in the middle of the night, two strangers whisk her away to Camp Smiley, a gritty wilderness survival program for troubled teens. Lizzie’s only goal is to escape. She doesn’t think she has anything in common with the other teen campers, and she has no desire to deal with her own demons. Will Lizzie escape back into her party life or will Camp Smiley be able to turn around this troubled teen?

Portrayed as a typical rich girl, Lizzie believes money can get her out of any situation. Lizzie’s only life goal is to shop and party. This spoiled, snotty rich girl spends much of her time whining—about her parents, the campers, the conditions of the camp, and everything in between. Even though Lizzie is portrayed as a wild, boy-crazy girl at the beginning of the book, Lizzie later gets upset that others think she is sexually active when she is still a virgin. The inconsistencies in Lizzie’s character are one reason Lizzie is a difficult character to care about.

Other characters are difficult to connect with as well. The camp staff is stereotypical; such as the ex-military camp director, who doesn’t think Lizzie can complete the program. Lizzie’s parents are also portrayed in an unrealistic, stereotypical manner. At one point, Lizzie’s dad says “and rather than allowing you to fall into the depths of despair, we’re sending you to a place where you can reconnect with the light inside you and find greater meaning in life.”

Although there are some funny scenes, much of the plot seems unrealistic. For example, when Lizzie and the other campers run away, a random stranger picks them up, takes them to his store to exchange their camp uniforms for clothes, and drives them to Vegas. Ultimately, too much time in this book is focused on Lizzie’s escape plan and partying, and not enough time is spent on her dealing with her issues.

The diverse cast of characters deals with some serious issues, including understanding one’s sexuality, gambling, bullying, and addiction. Outward Blonde has a lighthearted tone and shows readers the importance of forgiveness, accepting yourself, and helping others.

Sexual Content

  • When Lizzie goes on a Tinder date, her friend tells Lizzie the man might kill her, and if she was murdered, her friend would tell others “What I miss most about my BFF Lizzie Finklestein is sneaking out with her on school nights, using our never-fail fakes to get into all the best bars, doing body shots until we puke, and making out with random college guys who have no idea we’re still in high school.”
  • Lizzie sends a man a picture of herself highlighting her cleavage. When her friend won’t go to the bar with her to meet him, Lizzie says “I think you’re missing out. Because I’m pretty sure James Franco would be up for a threesome. Just think of the picture we’d get pretending we were going to go through with it—“
  • Lizzie meets a 25 year-old-man at the bar. While on the dance floor, “I turn around, grab his cheeks, and kiss him. He’s not half bad.” She later leaves the bar with him.
  • A boy nods toward a girl and says “I’d like to work her hole.”
  • When the group gets to camp, they are told “there is no inappropriate physical contact amongst anyone, whether of the opposite sex or same sex.” One of the teenagers asks “Can you define inappropriate? . . . And also if there are certain acts that are still considered appropriate? Like, maybe, blow jobs are out but hand jobs are okay?”
  • Lizzie thinks the camp counselors “want to roll their eyes and complain about what a big pain in the ass she is. And then jump each other’s bones.”
  • When a camper gets upset, a boy says “I’d tell you to calm your tits, but I just realized maybe glass blowing reminds you of why you ended up here. . . You know, using your God-given talents for evil instead of good. Blowing people.”
  • Lizzie wants to run away, but she doesn’t want to go alone. So she sneaks into a boy’s tent. When a counselor is outside the tent, Lizzie hides in the boy’s sleeping bag. The boy “grabs my hand, and puts it on his bulge. I snatch it back and punch him in the balls. He grunts.”
  • Later the boy apologizes and then his “lips graze mine. I’m still mad but I can’t resist; it’s an expert-level kiss. Just enough tongue. A nibble here and there. He licks my earlobe. I nuzzle his neck. He presses himself closer.” When he asks if Lizzie “wants to do it,” she gets angry and leaves.
  • One of the campers guesses that a girl is at camp because she is obsessed with “masturbating.” When the girl denies it, the camper says “Why not? I mean, who knows better than you what you like and how you like it?”
  • A camper is nervous about showering in front of others, but another girl thinks she is afraid to shower with a lesbian. She yells “Just because I’ve dated a lot of girls doesn’t mean I see every single person on Earth with a vagina as a potential partner, so it’s not your concern. . . You are not even close to being my type. For one, I dig blondes. Two your butt. Three, your tits. Not big enough.”
  • Lizzie threatens to “call your parents pretending to be the gyno and tell them your yeast infection is actually gonorrhea you got from banging all the guys at camp.”
  • While in Vegas, Lizzie, and Ari schedule “private time.” Lizzie goes into the bathroom to freshen up. When she comes out “Jem is on the bed. With Ari. They are intertwined. A tangle of tongues and hands and body parts.” Jem apologizes. Ari says “Hey, no need to fight over me, girls. There’s more than enough to go around.”
  • Jack and Lizzie kiss three times. One time, Lizzie leans down and “kisses the top of his head. . . and I kiss both his eyelids. And then I lay the softest one ever on his lips. . .”
  • When Lizzie was in elementary school she took a book to class for a book report, but she didn’t know what it was until she opened it in class. “. . . It turned out to be the Kama Sutra, which is like an illustrated Indian sex guide. So I basically taught my third grade class how to get laid. All because I didn’t actually read a book. . . “
  • One of the campers took “a picture of the nerdiest kid ever jerking off in the bathroom stall at school and sent it to his lax bros.” That kid tries to commit suicide because of the picture.

Violence

  • One of the girls is at camp because “the GUY I banged couldn’t stop bragging about it to the entire school. So I scratched fuckboy into his car and took a bat to his taillights.”
  • Lizzie and Sam plan to run away. Another camper hears them and threatens to tell. Sam “clamps a hand over her lips. . . Chandra peels Sam’s hand away. And then bites her.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lizzie’s mom is addicted to drugs. Lizzie doesn’t mind because the “anxiety disorder that required daily doses of Klonopin x Ambien = me being able to do whatever with whoever I want to, whenever I want to.”
  • When Lizzie’s mom comes to check on her, “her eyes are glassy and she’s a bit wobbly—both sure signs the medicine is already taking effect.”
  • Lizzie goes to a bar and drinks enough vodka clubs that “everything’s funny. Not to mention fuzzy. And fun.”
  • A group runs away from camp and goes to Vegas. While there, they drink Miami vices.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bitch, bullshit, crap, damn, dick, fatass, fuck, motherfucking, shit, smartass, and WTF.
  • “Oh my God” and “OMG” are used as exclamations.
  • Lizzie’s dog likes to eat bull sticks. Lizzie thinks, “Whoever decided dried bull dick might be a good dog snack is a certified psycho. . . “ Later, Lizzie refers to the dog treat as “bull penis.”
  • When a police officer pulls over a car that Lizzie is a passenger in, she is “appalled at my extreme-level dumb-assery.”
  • After a police dashcam video is released of Lizzie’s bad behavior, she is dubbed “the Rich Bitch Billionairess.”
  • The director of the camp tells Lizzie, “I can’t wait to see your spoiled candy ass trying to make it through the solo overnight trip you’ll have to complete to graduate.”
  • Lizzie calls a boy a “jerk.”
  • A boy calls someone a “fag” and says, “I had you pegged for a dyke.”
  • A boy says his “balls are so chafed, I’m going to be walking like I fucked a horse today.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • After a police dashcam video is released, Lizzie is “shaking and praying—to who or what I don’t know—that it won’t hurt too much when they [her parents] kill me.”
  • When someone suggests that Lizzie pray, she responds, “I’m not really the praying type.”
  • The counselor says “Mother Earth, today another group of beautiful young people with unlimited potential joined us on our journey . . . Allow us to light their way back to happiness, to anoint them with love and laughter, to help them manifest their true and perfect selves.”

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade

Sixth-grader Maverick dreams of being a superhero. The only problem is that he’s weak, friendless, and has a host of problems. His father died in the war in Afghanistan. His alcoholic mother brings home abusive boyfriends. His mother’s love of alcohol and inability to keep a job often leaves Maverick hungry and wearing dirty clothes.

Maverick holds on to a plastic sheriff’s badge that his father gave him. The badge reminds him to fight for those smaller than him—even if it’s hard to find someone that small. However, every time Maverick tries to defend someone else, his efforts always take a wrong turn.

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade quickly pulls readers into the story because it’s told in a first-person point of view and showcases Maverick’s self-deprecating attitude and desire to help others. Even though Maverick has a host of problems, he has the heart of a hero. Readers will laugh out loud at his mishaps, cry at his misfortunes, and root for him every step of the way.

The supporting characters are so well developed that their unique personalities jump off the page. As Maverick gets to know other people, his perception of them changes as he realizes that their actions are often misinterpreted. For example, the assistant principal who Maverick originally thinks is terrible, turns out to have a kind heart.

Domestic abuse and alcoholism are weaved into the story in a kid-friendly manner, which allows the reader to see the devastation caused by the two without giving frightening details. At one point, Maverick wonders if he will become an abuser like his dad. His aunt tells him that changing the patterns of your life is difficult. “It’s hard. Sometimes making the right choices is super hard.”

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade is a fast-paced, powerful story that shows the importance of kindness and standing up for others. In the end, Maverick realizes that he is not just a “shrimpy loser,” but an imperfect boy that can impact others through acts of kindness. Maverick learns that “Maybe I didn’t need webs to be a hero—or rippling muscles, or a bulletproof shield. Maybe, at the end of the day, I could just keep trying to look around for people who needed a hand, and then grab on to theirs with my own.”

Readers will keep turning the pages of The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade. Maverick is an unforgettable character that readers will remember for a long time to come. Maverick’s lessons of kindness and persistence will leave the readers with a sense of optimism. The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade is a must-read book for middle school readers.

Sexual Content

  • A girl tells Maverick that he can’t fight Bowen, but she was going to “kick his (Bowen’s) butt.” Then someone said, “Oh, she’s feisty, too! Is that how you like your women, Maverick? Big and spicy?”

Violence

  • Maverick’s mother has a string of “loser” boyfriends, who physically abuse her. Maverick gets home and sees his mom, “clutching at her left eye, and sobbing. Johnny was leaning over her, shouting so loudly that I could see the spit flying out of his mouth into her hair. . . His hand whipped through the air and cracked across my mother’s face so hard her head smashed against the couch cushion and bounced forward again.
  • Maverick sees a kid being picked on in school. In order to help, he “dropped my book bag, put my head down, and charged at Bowen . . . Too late, I dimly realized I had just knocked the little guy into a row of lockers. Oops. A split second later, my head and shoulders slammed into Bowen. . .“ Bowen is knocked into a trash can, and then the principal shows up and ends the fight.
  • Maverick’s father was a “firefighter on an artillery base. A mortar round came in at night, hit some gas cans, and set the barracks on fire.” His father died trying to save the men.
  • A father, who is a police officer, hits his son. “Before Bowen could say another word, his head rocketed sideways toward me and I heard him whimper. . . Bowen’s father had hit him, really hard, on the side of the head.”
  • Maverick comes home and finds his mother, “Holding a bloody towel under her nose . . . Mom looked down at the towel in her hand, and almost seemed surprised to see it there. Maybe she was. I could smell the alcohol rolling off her from across the room.” His mother passes out.
  • Maverick and Bowen meet at the park after school so they can fight. “He punched me, extremely hard, once. . . I felt a crack, and a slicking stab of pain. I stopped swinging, started to reach for my chest with one hand, and bent forward. As I did, Bowen swung his knee up, into that same spot of my chest. The impact jerked me fully upright. . . the entire left side of my sweatshirt was already soaked through with blood.” Bowen calls his father, who races Maverick to the hospital.
  • Maverick’s mother’s ex-boyfriend comes to the house. The ex-boyfriend and his mother argue. Before violence begins, Maverick “squirmed my way between them, and said, ‘hit me, Johnny.’” Johnny leaves. His mother celebrates by drinking “something clear that was not water.”
  • Maverick’s house burns when “your mother fell asleep with a lit cigarette.” Maverick’s pet is killed in the fire. Maverick thinks it’s his fault because, “I check in on her in the morning, and everything looked fine.”
  • Maverick thinks back to when his dad was alive. When Maverick was little, his parents began to argue, and “then I heard a sharp smack and a gasp from the porch. . . My mother had whipped a hand up to cover one side of her face. . .”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Maverick’s mother has a drinking problem, which Maverick thinks about often. Once he had to “drop out of T-ball when my mom drank up the fifteen-dollar T-shirt fee.”
  • When Maverick gets sent to the principal’s office, he doesn’t want to call his mom because “she didn’t have a car. She was probably hungover. Or still sleeping. Or, worst of all, drunk again.” Maverick calls his aunt and promises to tell his mother about being in trouble. He thinks, “I didn’t say that my plan was to wait until she’d had a bunch of drinks and was about to pass out.”
  • When assigned to make a poster about his life, Maverick thinks, “if I had been totally honest, I would have cut out a pile of vodka bottles. . .”
  • When Maverick’s mom loses her job, she “started drinking. And drinking. And drinking. . . Nothing got my mother up off the couch until the eighth day, when she ran out of alcohol.” His mother sold his father’s military medal of honor to pay for more alcohol.
  • Max is upset because his friend complained about his mom not doing laundry and now “his favorite clothes were dirty.” Maverick’s mother didn’t do his laundry, and Maverick had to worry about “when scary teen gangsters were smoking and drinking in front of the laundry room of our apartment complex, so I was afraid to do my laundry and had to wear dirty stuff to school.”
  • When Maverick’s mother’s ex-boyfriend shows up, he wonders, “Do I let him in? Should I offer him a beer?”
  • When Maverick’s aunt goes to his house, he worries, “What if there were bottles of booze all over the place? What if it reeked of cigarettes and last night’s garbage?”

Language

  • Crud, darn, jerk, and holy cow are all used twice. Freaking is used seven times. Bonehead is also used.
  • “Oh, my god,” is used as an exclamation once.
  • Maverick is upset when the P.E. coach yells at him for not having the money to pay for his P.E. clothes. He thinks, “I don’t freaking have ten dollars.” Later, he thinks that the P.E. teacher had “Been a jerk about my problem.”
  • In a humorous scene, Maverick calls someone a “cheese tool.” Someone tries to explain what a cheese tool is. “A cheese tool is the little plastic rectangle that comes in a packet of cheese and crackers.” The group of kids that heard the comments were confused. “Half the kids seemed to be muttering things like, ‘Cheese tool? What a moron!’ But the other half were like, ‘Dang! Bowen got called a cheese tool!’”
  • Someone yells at a group of boys, “We’re all going to get in trouble, just because you three boneheads couldn’t control yourselves.”
  • Someone calls Maverick a “shrimpy little idiot.”
  • When a teacher talks about having a guest speaker, a student refers to the “special guest” as “special dorks.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Speak

Instead of looking forward to starting high school, Melinda is dreading it. She attended an end-of-the-summer party, which got busted after she called the cops. Now she is an outcast. Her friends, and even random strangers, hate her. Something terrible happened at the party. And one day, Melinda will speak about the terrible events. And that will change everything.

Because Speak is written in the first person, Melinda’s personality comes to life. Although Melinda often is sarcastic, the pain and uncertainty she feels come through. The reader knows that something terrible has happened to Melinda, and they know it has to do with “IT” and the end-of-the-summer party. However, the reader is left in suspense until the end of the story, when the horrible events of the party are revealed—Melinda was raped.

Melinda is dealing with some heavy issues—parents who only talk to her through sticky notes, feelings of depression, and the overwhelming desire to have someone like her. Speak focuses on Melinda’s struggle to understand what happened to her. At one point she questioned, “Was I raped?” When Melinda finally tells a friend about her experience, Melinda is accused of being a liar. And because no one knows what happened, Melinda’s rapist is able to continue to terrorize her. Although the story is told in a realistic manner and is teen-friendly, the events in the book may still be upsetting to some readers.

Much of the story focuses on Melinda’s inner dialogue, which allows the reader to understand her thoughts and feelings. Many of the adults in the story just don’t know how to deal with Melinda’s problems, which makes it harder for Melinda to talk. Even as Melinda struggles to speak, the message of the story is clear— “don’t expect to make a difference unless you speak up for yourself.” Melinda’s story will have a major impact on readers. Speak will be remembered long after you finish reading it.

Sexual Content

  • The school board decides to change the school mascot because “Home of the Trojans didn’t send a strong abstinence message, so they have transformed us into the Blue Devils. Better the Devil you know than the Trojan you don’t, I guess.”
  • While watching the cheerleaders, Melinda thinks, “the cheerleaders are much better at scoring than the football team is.”
  • Melinda thinks the cheerleaders “have parties wild enough to attract college students. . . They rent beach houses in Cancun during Spring Break and get group-rate abortions before prom.”
  • During biology class, the class laughs when the teacher says the word “reproduce” because “they have figured out it is related to sex.”
  • Melinda’s friend has a model shoot and Melinda thinks that her friend’s, “goosebumps are bigger than her boobs.” During the shoot, “the photographer keeps saying ‘Sexy, sexy, very cute. . . think boys.”
  • At lunch, a group of girls talks about a boy who is gorgeous and dangerous. One of the girls said, “Rumor—he sleeps with anything.”
  • When the school changes the mascot, the cheerleaders come up with a new cheer, “We are the hornets, horny, horny hornets.” During the cheer, they wiggle and shake. When the cheer makes it on the television, “the TV sports guy thought the song was cute, so he did a segment showing the ‘Hornet Hustle,’ with the cheerleaders shaking their stingers, and the crowd bumping and grinding their horny Hornet heinies.”
  • Melinda sees a girl kiss a boy in the hall, the girl “smiles and then she kisses him wet. Not a Girl Scout kiss.”
  • Melinda tells her friend about her experience, “I was stupid and drunk and I didn’t know what was happening and then he hurt . . . he raped me.” Melinda’s friend thinks she is a liar.
  • On the bathroom wall, someone writes that a boy “should get it (diprosomething) every morning in his orange juice I went out with him to the movies—he tried to get his hands down my pants during the PREVIEWS!”
  • When Melinda’s friend goes to the prom with a boy, he “was all over her with his hands and his mouth.” Melinda’s friend ditched the guy.

Violence

  • While on the school bus, someone throws a Ho-Ho and it hits Melinda in the back of the head.
  • During a pep assembly, a girl yells at Melinda, and then “the girl behind me jams her knees into my back. They are as sharp as her fingernails. . . The girl yanks my hair.”
  • While at a party, Melinda meets a boy. When he “pulled me close,” she felt dizzy. “He wrapped one arm around my back. His other hand slid down to my butt. I thought that was a little rude, but my tongue was thick with beer and I couldn’t figure out how to tell him to slow down. . .  He kissed me, man kiss, hard sweet and deep. . . He kissed me again. His teeth ground hard against my lips.” Melinda doesn’t like what is happening but isn’t sure how to stop the boy from continuing. “I can hear myself—I’m mumbling like a deranged drunk. His lips lock on mine and I can’t say anything. I twist my head away. He is so heavy. . . I open my mouth to breathe, to scream, and his hand covers it. . . shirt up, shorts down, and the ground smells wet and dark and NO!. . and he smells like beer and mean and he hurts me hurts me hurts me and gets up and zips his jeans and smiles.”
  • The boy who raped Melinda attacks her at school because “you started spreading lies, and now every girl in school is talking about me like I’m some kind of pervert . . . You are one strange bitch, you know that. A freak.” The boy tries to kiss Melinda, and when she pulls away he, “slams his body against mine. . . He curses and turns, his fist coming, coming. An explosion in my head and blood in my mouth. He hit me.” The attack takes place over three pages. In the end, Melinda breaks a mirror and “wrap my fingers around a triangle of glass. I hold it to Andy Evans’s neck.” Finally, the lacrosse team shows up and helps Melinda.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While watching television, Melinda’s dad “drops ice cubes in a heavy-bottomed glass and pours in some booze.”
  • Melinda’s ex-friend, “puts a candy cigarette between her lips. Rachelle wants desperately to smoke, but she has asthma.”
  • Melinda friend tells her, “But you just can’t cut classes or not show up to school. What’s next—hanging out with the dopers?”
  • Melinda goes to a party where she and other teens are drinking.
  • During prom season, some kids talk about “which limo company won’t tell if you drink.”

Language

  • Profanity is scattered throughout the book. Profanity includes: bitchy, bullshit, crap, darn, and pissed.
  • “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation several times.
  • A girl calls Malinda an “asshole.”
  • Someone calls a girl a “bitch.”
  • Melinda is upset with a teacher and thinks, “I’m not going to let an idiot teacher jerk me around like this.”
  • According to the writing on the bathroom stall, a girl has pissed off a whole bunch of people. One person wrote in huge letters that she is a whore.
  • Melinda thinks it’s best to stay quiet because “All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie.”
  • When Melinda’s friend tells her they are no longer friends, Melinda tries “to think of something bitchy, something wicked and cruel. I can’t.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Melinda’s “parents didn’t raise me to be religious. The closest we come to worship is the Trinity of Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. I think the Merryweather cheerleaders confuse me because I missed out on Sunday School. It has to be a miracle. There is no other explanation. Howe else could they sleep with the football team on Saturday night and be reincarnated as virginal goddess on Monday?”
  • When Melinda goes to the mall and finds that it is closed, she thinks, “It’s always supposed to be there, like milk in the refrigerator or God.”
  • A girl Melinda knows is “experimenting with Islam. She wears a scarf on her head and some brown-and-red gauzy harem pants.”

Girl at the Grave

When Valentine was a child, her mother murdered a wealthy man. After her mother was hung at the gallows, Valentine was left in the care of her neglectful father. Forced to learn to care for herself, she lived in a ramshackle house and spent most of her time alone.

Now Valentine is a senior at the prestigious school, Drake Academy. Even though she has earned excellent grades, her mother’s death still haunts her. An outcast among the other students, Valentine relies on Sam’s friendship especially when a local man is murdered and people begin whispering that Valentine may be a murderer like her mother.

As Valentine searches for the truth behind her mother’s death, she soon finds that powerful people will do anything to keep their secrets. Unexpectedly, Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother murdered, begins spending time with her. Because of Rowan’s interest in Valentine, the other members of her school begin to include her in their group. Valentine longs to be accepted by society, but is acceptance worth burying the secrets of the past?

The first chapter grabs the reader’s attention by setting up the mystery, hinting that Valentine’s mother might have been innocent. Valentine and her two love interests are all well-developed. Because the story is told from Valentine’s point of view, the reader has the ability to understand and care about her struggle. Rowan’s character is an unexpected delight because he does not conform to the rich boy stereotype.

As Valentine begins to unravel the mystery of her mother’s death, her discoveries show the different motivations of some of the characters, which adds interest. When Valentine’s father and another woman disappear, the town sheriff, Valentine, and other town people seem uninterested in their disappearance, which seems unrealistic. The lack of drama that surrounded their disappearance made the discovery of their deaths anticlimactic.

The middle part of the book spent so much time on the love triangle that the mystery faded into the background. The ending of the book contained several surprises, which highlighted how far people will go to protect those they love. The fact that Valentine chooses to follow an unexpected path instead of marrying the boy of her dreams is an added bonus. In the end, what drives the story is Valentine’s personal struggle. Even though the story lacks danger and suspense, Girl at the Grave is an entertaining book that is worth reading.

Sexual Content

  • When Valentine pulls away and won’t let Sam kiss her, he says his brothers, “think I’m a right fool, letting you lead me around on a leash. They kiss a different girl every week.”
  • Valentine learns that her father “has a woman across town. When he’s not home, that’s where he is.”
  • Valentine spends time with Rowan. Once while he was at her house, he “reached around my waist. . . I tilted my head, making room for him at my shoulder, and he lingered there . . . If I moved at all, he would do the rest. I felt him wanting it, his lips poised over my skin, his heart only inches from mine. But my body sways with uncertainty.” They don’t kiss.
  • Valentine and Sam kiss twice. The first time, “I leaned forward and touched my lips to his in the kiss that should have happened a long time ago . . . our lips soon warmed and softened, our heads tilting into one another, his arms sliding around me.”
  • Rowan and Valentine kiss several times throughout the story. “He leaned closer and brushed his lips against mine. Just a touch, then drew back. . . Then he kissed me again—and this time our mouths immediately molded to one another, warm and perfectly fitted, as if our lips had been made for this purpose, for this tasting and breathing and exploring one another.”
  • When Valentine tells Rowan she loves him, he kisses her. He “drew me into his arms, kissing me before I could catch my breath. A desperate kiss. A starving kiss. . .”

Violence

  • Valentine’s mother shot a man. She was hung on the gallows three days later. Throughout the story, Valentine revisits the memory. When Mr. Blackshaw was shot, the sound of the shot came from “everywhere, jolting my bones and filling my nostrils with the burning stench of gunpowder. . . I see Mr. Blackshaw sway on his feet, looking startled, then topple slowly backward, landing hard on the walkway, his arms sprawled.
  • Valentine remembers when her mother “hangs by her neck from a rope, her head tilting and her eyes staring fixedly, her hands clasped behind her back. Her boots dangle motionlessly at the bottom of her best black dress.”
  • When Valentine was younger, the Frye boys would torment her by “chasing me in the schoolyard. . . They’d tied me to trees and stolen my mittens.”
  • Valentine finds Mr. Oliver on the floor with a gash in his head. Valentine, “held his cold cheeks and felt his life sliding away beneath my hands, his face sagging, his body relaxing.” Later, she finds out he was poisoned.
  • Mr. Fry hits his wife and kids. Valentine thinks, “I’d seen what a punch from one of his enormous fists could do; Sam had outgrown them, but not Mrs. Fry and the younger boys.”
  • Valentine finds her father’s dead body. He is “on his back, staring upward, his eyes wide but seeing nothing. Icy and damp, both frozen and thawed.” Later she finds out he was poisoned, probably when someone gave him “a swig of liquor.”
  • Birdy’s body was next to Valentine’s father’s body. “A dark gash split the back of her head, separating her thatch of short hair.”
  • A woman attacks Valentine. “She grabbed a kitchen knife and lunged. . . She lunged with a furious screech . . . her knife sliced my upper arm.” They both grab for the knife and fight for control of it. Valentine pushes the woman, and “she stumbled back with a cry, blood flowing from a deep gash above her eye.” The woman falls, “hitting her head with a loud crack, then she crumpled to the floor.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Alvina Lunt’s “drunken father had broken both legs.” While he was in the hospital, Alvina learned about the unfair treatment of “lunatics.”
  • Sam takes his mother to visit her brother. When his brothers took his mother, “they got drunk and beat up the neighbor.”
  • Someone calls the doctor a “drunken fool.”
  • When Valentine was ill, Mrs. Blackshaw drugged her, so she would keep sleeping.

Language

  • Sam calls someone an “arrogant ass” twice.
  • Someone tells Valentine that she was “spawned by that tramp of a woman.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Devotionals are part of the school day on Fridays. During devotionals, Mr. Oliver reads from the Bible. “Man in his natural state . . . unassisted by the grace of God.”
  • When Valentine finds Mr. Oliver, she prays, “Father who art in heaven. . . Please, God. Please help Mr. Oliver.”
  • One of the characters could not get pregnant, and “she’d pleaded with the Lord for twenty years before her precious Philomena arrived, and her husband’s death soon after had only magnified the value of the blessing.”
  • When Valentine’s mother is hung, Mr. Oliver tells her, “But take comfort, for your mother confessed her sins. She is in God’s hands now, and he knows all.”
  • Some men think having a woman run a bank “is against God’s law.”

 

Bob

Five years ago, Livy told Bob to hide in a closet. Since then, he’s built a Lego pirate ship sixty-three times. He’s played chess with a Lego pirate monkey. He began reading the dictionary. And he’s wondered why Livy hasn’t come back.

It’s been five years since Livy visited her grandmother in Australia. Once she’s back, she knows she’s forgotten something very important. She’s forgotten all about Bob.

Bob, a short greenish creature, hasn’t forgotten about Livy, but he has forgotten who he is and where he came from. Five years ago, Livy promised to help him find his home. Now that Livy is back, they work to solve the mystery of where Bob belongs.

Each chapter switches between Livy’s point of view and Bob’s point of view. Hearing the different perspectives of each character adds interest and allows the reader to peek into each character’s world. Younger readers will relate to Livy, who is afraid to stay the night at her friends’ houses and struggles between growing up and remaining a child. Bob adds an interesting perspective showing how Livy has changed since they parted five years ago. In the end, Bob realizes that “Livy’s not just Old Livy or New Livy, she’s every age she’s ever been, and sometimes they get jumbled but they are all there.”

The simple writing style and beautiful pictures will engage even the most reluctant readers. Bob has spent much of his time reading the dictionary and uses his knowledge to explain the meaning of words in a fun way that is completely integrated into the story, so readers will learn new words without feeling like they are sitting through a vocabulary lesson. The story contains short paragraphs, lists, and dialogue that break up the test and keep younger readers interested.

The mystery of where Bob came from and what he is adds interest. The friendship between Bob and Livy will touch reader’s hearts. Bob and Livy are well developed; however, the other characters lack personality and added little to the plot. The ending is a surprise and wraps everything up nicely. Not only does Bob show the value of friendship, but he also realizes that “All the things I choose to put in my head are what make me, me. I plan to choose wisely.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Livy carries a black pawn from a chess set to help her remember Bob. When she doesn’t have the pawn. She forgets Bob.
  • Bob is a well dweller. They live in between wells and are responsible for bringing the rain. Well dwellers are “tied to the earth and the sky . . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Wizard for Hire

When Ozzy was six years old, men took his parents. Since then, he’s lived alone. When Ozzy finds Clark, a robotic talking raven, the two venture into town. All Ozzy wants is to find his parents, but he’s not sure how a fourteen-year-old boy can discover the secrets to his parents’ disappearance.

Then Ozzy sees an advertisement: wizard for hire. Ozzy isn’t sure if wizards are real, but he’s read enough about Harry Potter that he has hope that wizards do exist. When Labyrinth “Rin” appears in his bathrobe and high-top tennis shoes, Ozzy has his doubts. Can Rin cast any magic spells and help him find his parents?

Wizard for Hire will cast a spell over readers, making it hard to put the book down. From the very first page, the story begins with an engaging mystery and a unique character that is easy to love. After living alone for so long, Ozzy struggles with how to talk to others, which is a dilemma many readers will relate to. The surprising appearance of a magical raven brings humor and heart into the story. Clark gives Ozzy encouragement, advice, and a reason to leave his small cabin. Clark’s crushes on metal objects add a fun element to the story.

Once Rin enters the story, Ozzy (and the reader) are both left questioning Rin’s wizardly abilities. Rin could be using magic or modern technology to help Ozzy, but the reader is left guessing about Rin’s magical ability. Rin casts a spell to make Ozzy invisible, which only works because the man is blind. Even though Rin may or may not be a wizard, he embarks on a quest to find Ozzy’s parents. As Rin and Ozzy investigate to find Ozzy’s missing parents, they must avoid the police who are looking for Ozzy, which adds suspense to the story. One additional bonus is Rin’s occasional words of wisdom. For example, when Ozzy is worried about his future, Rin tells him, “Too many of you humans are scared by ghosts that haven’t yet formed.”

Humor, heart, and Harry Potter references make Wizard for Hire a must-read. This coming-of-age story shows the importance of being unique and true to yourself. Although the ending isn’t a happy-every-after, Ozzy does find the answers to his questions. Although there is very little violence, some sensitive readers may be upset by the idea that Ozzy’s uncle was responsible for his parents’ deaths and, in the end, desires to kill Ozzy for greed and personal gain.

Sexual Content

  • Clark, a metal bird, is attracted to metal objects. “Clark sort of gets funny crushes on anything bird-related—or made of metal.” Once he tells Ozzie that “your fork isn’t unattractive. Maybe you could bring it home.” Later in the story, Clark has a crush on a dumpster.

Violence

  • Men came and took Ozzy’s parents. “One of the men put a rag over Emmitt’s mouth. Another did the same to Mia. Ozzy’s parents thrashed and kicked, but their mouths were covered and they were no match for the hulking men who had them bound.” Ozzy hides from the men, who leave him, thinking he will die.
  • A man breaks into Ozzy’s home. Later, Ozzy discovers who the robber was and Clark follows him. “Something hit Ed in the back of the head, causing a good deal of pain and making his sunglasses fly off of his head. Ed swore. . . Something slammed into the right side of his face. Ed spun around twice before regaining his footing. . . Something slammed into and stung his lower back. It took everything he could do to keep the bike under control.” The man crashes the bike, but “he scrambled up screaming and swearing.”
  • There is a car chase. Trying to lose the men who were chasing them, Rin goes into a graveyard. “The SUV followed suit. They were considerably bigger than the white car and kept hitting gravestones on their right side. . .” The SUV crashes.
  • Ozzy finds out that his uncle took his parents “and brought them to a bunker in New Mexico, leaving Ozzy for dead.” When Ozzy’s parents wouldn’t tell his uncle the formula, his uncle ended “his parents’ lives.”
  • During another car chase, Clark “shot through the window” of the SUV. “The bird bounced around inside the vehicle like a possessed pinball. He knocked the driver’s glasses askew and broke a tooth of the large goon with the mean eyes.” The SUV “flipped onto its side and went skidding across the freeway.”
  • The bad guy, with a gun, confronts Ozzy. Clark saves his friend when he “slammed into the right side of Charles’s head. The evil half-uncle swore and waved his gun at the dark sky. . . Clark swooped in again and hit him from the left. Charles spun and shot into the air, hitting the bird and dropping him like a rock down onto the deck.”
  • Ozzy tackles Charles and “the gun flew from his hand and Charles’s head slammed against the railing. Ozzy began to punch him as if he were the root of all his sorrow ever. And since he was, Rin let it go for a few moments before he pulled the boy off.”
  • Charles grabs Rin’s wizard wand and “raised his fist, intending to thrust the wand into Ozzy’s chest, but at that moment, the dark sky opened up and a terrific bolt of lightning snaked down and made contact with the wand. . .” Charles is dead and “Ozzy saw, “his lifeless body smoldering.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When the wizard first discovers that Ozzy lives deep in the words, he tells Ozzy, “Listen, if your family is out here doing something illegal, like making moonshine or fireworks, I want no part of it.”

Language

  • The bad guy yells, “The formula your parents came up with could have changed the world. No more idiots letting their free will ruin things for others.”

Supernatural

  • Ozzy’s dad makes a metal bird named Clark that is alive.
  • Rin said he went to Quarfelt, which is another dimension, where wizards live.
  • Ozzy’s parents thought they “discovered a formula that could help people have better control over their own free will. The formula had the potential to cure apathy and misunderstandings.” They tested the formulas on unsuspecting people. One man, under the influence of the formula, enters a polar bear enclosure and walks towards the bears. “Timsby stood up in the water and began to walk toward the bears. Before he could get to them, four zookeepers entered the enclosure from the door.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

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