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Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the tag “Friendship”

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three ThingsJulie Buxbaum’s YA debut, Tell Me Three Things, may be one of the most popular young adult contemporary reads this year.  We all know what it’s like to have our world turned upside down; that’s exactly what happens to Jessie, our heroine, whose mother dies. Jessie’s father elopes with a woman he met online, leaving her with a step-monster (oh, I meant stepmother). And now Jessie has to attend a super-intimidating Los Angeles prep school, Wood Valley High School, on the other side of the country. Jessie’s new step-monster has a teenage son to top it off, who is not interested in helping her adjust to her new life in the least.

When Jessie is just about ready to give up and head back to Chicago, she gets help from an anonymous source who calls themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN). SN emails her and offers to be her lifeline at Wood Valley High School.  Is someone out to get Jessie, or can she truly rely on what seems to be her only ally in life?  Will Jessie ever be able to call Los Angeles home?

This is such a funny, relatable book, and a quick read.  Plenty of characters and a great storyline will keep you hooked to the end.  Tell Me Three Things is a definite addition to your shelf this spring.

– Becky

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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent KingIt’s hard to find your way when your dad is a Pentecostal minister who insists you handle poisonous rattlesnakes. Dill Early struggles to survive his senior year in the Bible Belt, while grappling with his secret feelings for a fellow outcast. He and his two misfit friends have their own methods for surviving senior year.

But a sudden tragedy soon leaves Dill wondering if his love for music, as well as his secret feelings for Lydia, are enough to see him through these dark days. Dill soon find his own faith, leading to a final confrontation with his devout mother about his shifting beliefs on God and the future that is pulling him away from the home that has long stifled him.

This coming-of-age story shows how the pain of the past need not dictate the long path forward. Dill’s struggle to make it through the school year grows more difficult as his parents pressure him to live by the faith with which they face each day. Dill’s own brand of faith finally gives him the courage to move on.

The Serpent King will resonate with fans of Me, Earl, & the Dying Girl, as well as readers seeking a heartfelt story of overcoming life’s challenges to forge one’s own path.

– Travis

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Ninja Timmy by Henrik Tamm

Ninja TimmyThis fantastical tale centers on an orphan cat named Timmy and his ragtag team of animal friends. We’re introduced to Timmy’s best pal Simon, who is a mink, and also to Jasper and Casper – affectionately known as the pig brothers. Together they’ve just finished work on their latest invention, an automated orange peeler that they’re hoping to sell to a local merchant.

As they’re carrying the contraption through the streets of Elyzandrium, they’re approached by a gang of bullies and the invention is stolen. The robbers are wild boars known as the Gribble cousins and they’ve been causing trouble for many of the town’s residents. Luckily, Timmy and his pals get some much needed help from new friends, Alfred, a kindly old toymaker, and Flores, a brave and skilled feline pilot.

Together the group sets out to retrieve the machine, but in their search they unexpectedly uncover an evil plot by a character known as the Blue Rabbit. The Blue Rabbit has been using the Gribbles to kidnap the town’s children so he can steal their laughter and try to make a soul for himself. Timmy and his fellow ninjas will need all of their skills to save the children, defeat the Blue Rabbit, and restore order to the town.

Debut author Henrik Tamm is no stranger to the animal fantasy genre as he’s helped create the worlds of Shrek and the Chronicles of Narnia in his role as a conceptual designer in the film industry. Ninja Timmy was initially published in Tamm’s home country of Sweden and although the prose may be a bit clumsy at times, the abundance of rich, full-color illustrations fill the book with detailed character images, intricate looking machines, and stealthy action sequences.

– Mark
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Drowning Is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley

Drowning is InevitableThis is the heartbreaking tale of a 17-year-old girl named Olivia. Her teenage mother (Lillian) committed suicide just three days after giving birth by walking into the Mississippi River in the middle of the night. Olivia’s grandmother, who she lives with, suffers with dementia and thinks that Olivia is actually Lillian. Many of the townspeople draw similar comparisons between daughter and mother and it feels like they’re just waiting to see if Olivia will suffer the same fate as her mom when she turns 18.

Fortunately for Olivia, she has a strong group of friends who are more like family than her own kin. We’re introduced to a boy named Jamie, who is Olivia’s closest friend along with Maggie and Max. Each friend has their own share of life problems. Max is Olivia’s on-again, off-again boyfriend who struggles with alcohol issues. Maggie is a bit of a wild child who just wants to have a relationship with her absentee mother. Jamie has major struggles with his father who is a violent alcoholic.

Jamie has had enough of his uncontrollable father and upon a violent confrontation, the father is killed. This leads to Jamie and Olivia fleeing their small Louisiana town with help from Max and Maggie. They escape to New Orleans, where they seek to find a way out of their problems while hoping that no one recognizes them as wanted fugitives.

The writing in this book is excellent and is an interesting look at the complexity and richness of the relationships we have with one another.

– Mark

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Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything by Nicola YoonEighteen-year-old Maddy Whittier lives her life in a bit of a bubble. This can be a cliché for some people, but for Maddy, it’s much more than that. SCID is the acronym for “Severe Combined Immune Deficiency” and victims of this dreadful disease must live in isolation from the outside world for fear of germs and contamination that can lead to death. This describes Maddy’s world where she lives at home with her mother, Pauline (who is also her doctor) and Carla, her long-time nurse and friend.

Maddy seems resigned to a lifetime of books, movies, and board games in her sterile but safe home. Her over-protective mom dotes on her and there’s no denying the deep love they share. With the death of Maddy’s brother and father many years before (in a horrible car accident), they are understandably each other’s whole world. That is until a new family moves in next door and Maddy’s curiosity is piqued by a teenage boy she watches from her window. His name is Olly and his family life is a mess, mainly due to an abusive father who torments the family with ugly fits of drunken rage.

Maddy and Olly’s window to window communication leads to online chatting and they quickly develop romantic feelings for each other. These feelings are brand new for Maddy and now the illness she had learned to tolerate becomes a bitter torment that’s keeping her from a life she now wants to experience more completely. There’s plenty of conflict for Maddy as she risks her health and safety trying to break free from her fearful mom and find the courage to face the outside world. Be ready for a significant plot twist that will have a large impact on all the characters in this well-written YA novel.

– Mark

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Dead Boy by Laurel Gale

Dead BoyCrow Darlingson is dead. He knows this because of the maggots, rotting flesh, decaying body parts, and the stench. What he doesn’t know is how he died and why he’s still hanging around at home with his overprotective and clingy mom.  She homeschools her eleven-year-old boy and rarely lets him go outside or have contact with anyone but her.

One day, new neighbors move in and we meet Melody Plympton, who is about the same age as Crow. Both lonely for a friend, the pair quickly bond during late night meet-ups in their adjoining back yards. Melody has a fascination with all things magical and becomes convinced that some sort of a curse is responsible for Crow’s ‘dead but alive’ condition.

Venturing out to a local park one night, they stumble across an abandoned storage shed. Inside they find a creature that is somehow strangely familiar to Crow. After escaping the shed, he presses his father for details of his death and learns that a wish-granting mythical beast called a Meera was indeed responsible for bringing him back to life.

Thus starts a quest for the new friends to challenge the Meera and try to pass a series of tests in hopes of having their wishes granted. It’s not so easy, as they soon find out, and wishes don’t always turn out the way they’re intended.

I found this story somewhat sad in the beginning, but it really pulled me in as I began to root for the friends to pass each of the tests they’re presented with. There are some interesting themes and morals tied into the wishes and overall this was a unique and enjoyable tale.

– Mark

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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye StrangerThis book begins against the backdrop of middle school; the primary focus of which is three girls who are best of friends. The main character, Bridget, lives with her musician mother and coffee shop owner father in New York City.  The story actually starts several years earlier, when Bridget miraculously survives being struck by a car as she skates through an intersection. The incident affected her significantly, as she then begins to view herself differently and wonders if there was a special reason why she survived.

Fast forward several years and Bridge (as she wanted to be called after the accident) along with her best friends, Tabitha and Emily, are trying to navigate the changes and challenges that come with seventh grade and their teen years. With the introduction of new friends (especially boys), the trio finds it’s not so easy to honor the friendship pact they made years earlier.

This book accurately portrays a lot of issues that face youth today, especially those walking the fine line between being a kid and a teenager. A variety of relevant topics are introduced such as friendship, peer pressure, sexting, shaming, bullying, and forgiveness. Many characters are intertwined and the descriptive nature of the writing is intricate and rich.

Although the majority of the book takes place in the third person, there are chapters written in second person that are set at a time that’s slightly ahead of the rest of the book. Eventually the two narratives do catch up with each other however this was initially confusing and took some getting used to. Ultimately though, this isn’t a major distraction from what was an interesting and believable read.

– Mark

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Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing SecretsThis book drew me in so completely, I did not want to put it down.

We are introduced to Elizabeth Kennedy or Lizzie to her friends, a young girl who aspires to be a scientist. Unfortunately for her, there’s a bit of a problem, it’s the 1900s.

While Lizzie does go to school, it’s a finishing school and not one where she fits in well. The other girls are snobby, and Lizzie has a difficult time making friends.  One of the highlights of her weeks is going on calls with her father, who is a doctor, and encourages her love of science. These outings are frowned upon by her Aunt who helps to take care of Lizzie and her brother William. Her Aunt does not approve of Lizzie’s interest in science and thinks the focus of their father’s attention should be on young William.

Lizzie will soon discover that there is more to life than her interest in science. Like how to make friends at school, or learning more about Noah, the son of her family’s Chinese cook. When Lizzie discovers he is hiding in the servant’s quarters, she wants to know why and how is it that she never knew of him.

Lizzie finds out that Noah has questions of his own. He wants to know if he can go back and live with his uncle in China Town, and why some people are dying of an illness and some survive.  Lizzie and Noah team up to find out if there is a plague in San Francisco and what they can do to help.

So pick up this book and see how Lizzie survives her triumphs and trials and if she will continue on with her in interest in science.

– Ellen

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I Text Dead People by Rose Cooper

I Text Dead PeopleMeet Annabel Craven, a young girl who does not believe in ghosts. Recently, Annabel and her mother moved to a new town and into a new home that was inherited from an estranged uncle. With the move to a new town comes a new school. Anna is excited to start and hopes to make new friends since she was friendless at her last school.

Events suddenly change when Anna finds an abandoned cell phone in the woods near the cemetery.  Anna, never having owned a cell phone, is extremely excited to find it. Thinking perhaps things are starting go her way; she’s even making new friends at the Academy. Suddenly one day at school, Anna receives a text on the new phone. The strangest thing is, Anna hasn’t charged the phone yet, the battery is dead.

The text is just one simple word: “Help”.

The story then introduces us to Lucy, a non-popular girl at the Academy who has a boyfriend named John. One day, Lucy receives a text from John’s number to meet him in the graveyard. She goes, and then mysteriously disappears. Could Lucy be the one sending the texts?

As the story continues, we’re introduced to a handful of new characters. Valerie (Anna’s mother), the Asbury twins (Olivia and Eden), John, and Millie.  Olivia, we find out, is rather mean to her classmates and her sister Eden, whose hobby is practicing witchcraft, is an ‘outsider’. Could any of these characters be the one sending the strange texts to Anna’s new found phone?

Throughout the book we learn a lot about Anna through the texts she receives and the interactions she has with her friends. In the end, we learn that sometimes things are not always what they seem to be and there are many types of abilities that we inherit from our family.

This is a book that I would recommend for ages 9 to 14.  With today’s technology, anything that has to do with cell phones is going to pop out to tween readers. It was a quick read and my daughter finished it in just two days.

– Jodi

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Look! by Jeff Mack

Look!Gorilla is trying to get boy’s attention by being silly, but boy is too busy with his nose in the TV.  Gorilla is saddened, but tries something else.  The boy only gets annoyed and tells him to “Look Out.”  Gorilla only wants some attention, what can he do now?

Gorilla tries to balance on several books but only ends up falling and the boy once again hollers at Gorilla.  The boy kicks Gorilla out of the room and the boy continues watching TV.  Gorilla enters the room standing on a tricycle and juggling books.  This gets the boy’s attention but then things go horribly wrong when Gorilla falls off and lands on the boy and knocks the TV over.

The boy is distraught because now the TV is broken.  Angrily he tells Gorilla to get out.  Gorilla walks away with his head hung low and his heart broken.  Now that the boy doesn’t have the TV, he notices one of the books lying on the ground.  He picks it up and begins reading it.  Gorilla comes back in and the boy is excited to share the story with Gorilla.  They snuggle up and enjoy the book together.  What a perfect ending!

With very few words actually spoken in the book, it’s a sweet and wonderful way for children to use their imaginations to interpret the story and feelings as they wish.  I recommend adding it to your shelf.

  • Amanda

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