Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I have no idea how to review Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity without giving away all the twists and turns of the plot.  So, I won’t be summarizing the book much, that’s for sure.

I avoided reading Code Name Verity for a few months, even though I had purchased a copy, because it was receiving so much praise. (Sometimes, I can be quite contrary).  When I taught 6th grade, we studied WWII and the Holocaust in literature, and it played a large part in our curriculum.  Because of this, I’ve read a lot of WWII fiction aimed at middle grade and young adult readers.  I’m pretty picky when it comes to books set during the time period because there are so many choices.   But I finally sat down to read Wein’s book a few weeks ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I closed the cover.

I started the book and read a few pages here and there for about a week.  Be forewarned- this one starts slow.  So slow, that I considered abandoning it.  But when I did sit down and give it my full attention, I found that I was fascinated, even if it did move very slowly.  It took about 100 pages before I was completely sucked in. But at that point, I couldn’t stop reading.  I stayed up way past my bedtime, on a school night, and read the rest straight through.

Maggie Stiefvater said in her review that this book is unlike anything else she has read before.  I have to agree.  The book defies categorization.  It’s historical fiction but it’s immensely personal and internal.  It’s about WWII but it’s not really about the war.  Instead, it’s about two girls who join the war effort because it allows them to do what they love- fly, flirt, and gain power in some relationships.  It’s about friendship; true, never-dying, I’ll do anything for you friendship.  It’s about once-in-a-lifetime friendship and love.  It’s a haunting book that you will want to reread.

Code Name Verity isn’t perfect, but I expect to see it on many mock Printz lists at the end of the year.  It’s a slow book, and it’s not a typical YA.  I think it will appeal to adult readers and I plan to recommend it to some of my colleagues.  I also think my STEM students will love this one, because of the intense focus on pilots, engineering, planes, and and radios.  It would make a fabulous cross-curricular read, and I am thinking about ways to use it with my seniors during their 21st Century Human Condition unit.

Highly recommended for YA and adult readers.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

One for the Murphys was recommended to me by many of my Twitter friends.  A lot of my middle grade reading had to take a backseat for last few months, as I finished my National Board work and tried to keep up with the reading my students were doing.  I finally had a chance to sit down and read Hunt’s debut novel and I’m so glad that I did.

Carley is placed in temporary foster care after her mother’s boyfriend almost beats the two of them to death.  While her (neglectful and abusive) mother is in a coma, Carley is sent to live with the Murphy family.  What I loved about this book is that Hunt doesn’t place Carley in the family and then turn this into a happy, everyone-loves-each-other story.  It’s realistic, which means you will want to keep your tissues close.  Carley is angry, hurt, and lost when she arrives at the Murphy’s house and she has a lot to process.  The Murphy boys also have to learn to deal with this new “sister” who has temporarily invaded their lives, taking their mother’s attention and time from them.  And Mr. Murphy isn’t all that sure that they are doing the right thing, either.

But this isn’t just a book that will make you cry.  Hunt’s lyrical prose will also have you laughing out loud, sometimes while tears are running down your face.  Carley is a pip, and her attitude will remind you of many tweens in your own life.  She has an attitude, but she is also vulnerable.  She thinks she knows everything, but she’s also lost.  In other words, she is a girl on the cusp of becoming a teenager but she has been forced to grow up too fast.

One for the Murphys was nothing like I expected it to be.  It’s not just another middle grade novel to hand off to girls who like contemporary tales.  I would not hesitate to give this to my freshman, because I think they could get a lot out of it.  Readers are almost forced to empathize with Carley and to contemplate the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt.  We can never know what another person is going through, so it’s important to be understanding and compassionate.  At the same time, Carley shows the reader how important it is to let your guard down sometimes and let the world (or at least one person) in.

 

Highly recommended.  I also think this would make a fabulous read aloud in middle school classrooms.

 

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

 

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

It’s appropriate that I am publishing this review today, as I watch severe weather warnings scroll across the bottom of my TV.  Kate Messner’s Eye of the Storm is a science novel (a term coined by Betsy Bird) about a dark future where storms have taken over the weather pattern and have pushed people out of their homes and into planned communities.

I loved this novel.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have a weak spot for the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre.  But I am also a huge science geek.  I struggled to choose a major in college, because I loved biology and English.  I went to a pre-engineering academy for high school.  And even today, I still raise monarch butterflies and subscribe to too many science blogs to list.  I was excited when I read that Kate was writing a book heavily based on meteorological science and I begged an ARC off the publicist at NCTE.

Jaden’s dad is a meteorological engineer and he invites her to the middle of storm country to attend a camp for gifted and talented middle schoolers.  She is happy to spend time with her father and his family and as a science geek, she looks forward to camp.  But when she gets to Oklahoma, she realizes that everything is not as it seems.  Her father’s planned, engineered stormsafe community seems to be going above and beyond in order to keep the residents safe from harm. But by avoiding the storms, they may be putting those outside the community in danger.  Once Jaden starts camp, she befriends some of the farm kids from outside the community and they all begin to dig a bit deeper into the storms.

Eye of the Storm  is recommended for middle graders, but I think it will appeal to high school readers, too.  Jaden is a great heroine who is smart, geeky, and fun.  The science in the book is top-notch and Messner keeps you on the edge of your seat.  The teens/tweens read as real kids and as a teacher of gifted students, I recognized a lot of my own students in her characters.  One warning: Be sure to have some meteorology books on hand because when kids finish this one they are going to want to read a lot about storm systems!

Highly recommended for middle school and high school libraries.  A great read for upper elementary students, too!

*ARC courtesy of the publisher at NCTE

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Grab a box of tissues, find a comfy chair, turn off the cell phone and the computer, and settle down to read Jo Knowles’ See You at Harry’s. When Kate Messner advised me to search for an ARC at NCTE, she warned me that the book would make me cry.  I was thrilled to

get an ARC and when I sat down to read, I figured it would be sad but that I wouldn’t cry because it was probably just another sad middle grade book.

This is not a book that’s about what you think it will be about.  It is a book, though, that will take your heart and run it through the equivalent of a paper shredder over and over again.  You will find yourself stifling gasping sobs and weeping on the pages in front of you.  This book will break your heart but you will love it anyway.Oh readers.  How wrong I was.

 

See You at Harry’s is a conversation book.  You will need to talk about it when you are finished.  I passed my ARC to a student reader who came to me the next day raving about how unpredictable the book was.  Today she told me she is going out to buy her own finished copy because even though she already read it, she needs to own her own copy.  It’s just that good.

Highly, highly recommended for middle grade and high school readers.  This one crosses the fence, folks.  Pass it on to the readers in your life and they will be grateful.

 

 

*ARC courtesy of publisher, via NCTE Annual

Thumped by Megan McCafferty

Last November, while at NCTE, I was ecstatic when I checked the program and realized I would have the opportunity to meet Megan McCafferty. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I read Sloppy Firsts (Jessica Darling, Book 1).  Jessica and I are kindred spirits.  I also read and reviewed Bumped when it was released. Megan doesn’t live to far from me but I’ve never been able to make it to any of her local signings.  Needless to say, I was very happy that I would get a chance to meet her, even if it was in Chicago instead of NJ!

I waited on the long line for Megan (one of the only lines I waited on at NCTE!) and I was looking forward to getting a copy of Bumped signed (which I reviewed here).  When I got closer to the table where they were selling the paperbacks, I almost fainted.  They had ARCs of Thumped on the table! Thumped was scheduled for an April release, so I was not expecting to see ARCs at NCTE, in November. My day was pretty much made. The only thing that made it better was getting my ARC signed by Megan, who was a complete sweetheart. She even recognized me from blogging and Twitter. :)

I read Thumped as soon as I got home because I had a waiting list for it. My colleague, who teaches Biology, had really enjoyed the first book in the series, so I wanted to pass it on to him. I read Thumped in one sitting and absolutely loved it.

Thumped is awesome.  Absolutely awesome.  I recommend the series to upper-YA readers and adults.  In a culture where millions of people watch sixteen-year old girls give birth and raise their babies on TV, McCafferty has crafted a speculative dystopian world that resembles our own a little too much.  You know the saying “too close for comfort”? That’s what McCafferty has crafted in these books.
Thumped picks up about eight months after the first volume left off. Harmony is back with her church family and Melody is the pregnant girl.  Think Beyonce’s pregnancy times a million.  Her every move is calculated and tracked by her fans.  Both girls are about to give birth, but it’s not as simple as it seems.  Before either girl gives birth, they are brought together once again and some tough decisions are made.  I can’t tell you much more because it will give it away.  Just know that this is a book you won’t be able to put down once you start it.

The best part of McCafferty’s writing in these books is the world building.  The slang she uses is intense but you quickly slip into the world she has created and the language becomes your language.   I know the word choice made it difficult for some readers to get through the first volume, but it’s really the best part of the book for me.

And you know what else I love?  The sarcasm in these books.  People, I am sarcastic. Seriously. All. the.time.  It’s a problem.  And I know that there were some people who took issue with the premise of these books and seemed to miss the whole point- it’s a satire.  But it’s the best kind of satire; the type that makes the reader really think.  You will close this book and you will wonder how we can ensure this doesn’t happen in our world.  I think teens will read this pair of books and think about the repercussions of having babies when they are still a child themselves. These aren’t books you can finish and file away in the back of your mind.  These books are intended to make you think and think you will!

Highly recommended for mature readers.  As with the first volume, I’d recommend reading it yourself before placing it in a classroom library, but I think it is a valuable addition to any library.  Definitely a high school book (and even college!), but I wouldn’t recommend it for middle school readers.

Final Four by Paul Volponi

Despite working on my National Board portfolio almost non-stop during March, I did make time to read a few books and watch March Madness.  March Madness is my favorite time of year and I love rooting for the Cinderella teams, the underdogs, the surprises.  When I received a copy of Paul Volponi’s The Final Four from the publisher, I made sure that I put on top of my TBR pile.  I read it between the second and third rounds and it was better than any game I watched on TV.  This is a fantastic book and one I highly recommend for high school libraries.  I also think it will appeal to middle school readers.

The book is told over the course of overtime in a single Final Four game.  The reader sees the game through the eyes of four individual players, with snippets shared from the announcers and newspaper articles.  Malcolm is a boy from the inner city whose sister was killed in a drive-by shooting. He is only interested in looking out for himself and he is a one-and-done player, leaving for the NBA as soon as the season ends. MJ, Michael Jordan (the most unfortunate name for a boy who likes basketbal, who is trying to do well in school and make a better life for himself. Roko, a Croatian teen whose uncle was killed by the mafia in his home country, is trying to honor his uncle’s memory. Crispin is from Louisiana and is engaged to the head cheerleader, but suddenly isn’t sure it’s what either of them should be doing.  All four players come with baggage and they all have to contribute in the final moments of the most important game of their life.

The set-up is spot-on.  I felt like I was watching the game and I was on the edge of my seat throughout the book.  All four players ring true and the background information is great.  And this isn’t just an action-packed story about a basketball game.  Volponi forces the reader to think about the money and prestige that come along with NCAA basketball.  Is it enough to “pay” college athletes with a free education when their school is potentially making millions off of their work on the court? Should college players be allowed to play a single season and then move into the NBA at 18 or 19 years old?

Volponi is a great realistic fiction writer and all of his novels are must-haves for high school libraries.  The Final Four is another slam dunk from Volponi and I can’t recommend it enough.  Even those who don’t particularly like basketball will find themselves pulled into the world that is NCAA March Madness.

 

Boy21

I was fortunate enough to meet author Matthew Quick at NCTE back in November.  I picked up a copy of his book and promised myself I would read it soon.  Then I got the opportunity to head Mr. Quick read a bit from the book and speak about writing it and I was hooked.  I read Boy21 a few days after coming home from NCTE and I’m still thinking about it. I expected to like the book due to Quick being a Jersey boy and the Jersey roots of the story. I’m also a basketball fan and figured it would be good for me to have another go-to sports book for some of my readers. After reading Boy21 I realized it is much more than a sports book. As one of my students said upon completing the book, “Mrs. G, it’s not just a book about basketball. It’s about life. And it’s really good.”

Finley lives in Bellmont, a dying town where racism, the Irish mob, and poverty are a part of life.  Finley is one of the few white kids in his high school, where his team mates refer to him as “White Rabbit” because he’s the only white guy on the varsity team.  He’s a hard worker who may not be the best on the team but just may be the most disciplined and most dedicated.  He hopes that basketball will be a way out of Bellmont for himself and his girlfriend Erin, who is a fantastic basketball player.  They practice together all summer in preparation for their senior year. But things take a turn for the bizarre when Coach shows up one night and asks Finley to look after a new student (and hopefully a new member of the basketball team).

Russ is a weird kid.  Coach explains to Finley that his parents were recently murdered and since then Russ has been shutting the world out.  He’s moved back to Bellmont to live with his grandparents and get a fresh start.  But when Finley meets him, he realizes that Coach was not entirely truthful.  It turns out Russ is one of the top-rated high school players in the country, or at least he was.  Now, he refers to himself as Boy21 and has a bizarre obsession with outer space.  Oh, and he no longer has any interest in basketball.  Coach wants Finley to look after him and convince him to play basketball again, even though that means Finley will probably lose his spot on the team if Russ decides to play.

And then something terrible happens to Erin, and Finley and Russ must deal with the tragedy and loss in their pasts, and the possible losses they may suffer in the future.

As my student said so eloquently when he handed back our classroom copy of Boy21, this is a book about life.  Smart, funny, raw, and touching, it’s a book I can confidently recommend to all of my readers, from reluctant to voracious.  The characters are real and their lives are not perfect.  I found myself wanting to dive between the pages and rescue Finley, Russ, and Erin. But at the same time, I knew that none of them would allow themselves to be rescued.  Boy21 is a book I am looking forward to handing to a lot of my John Green fans, because Quick’s book is smart and witty while still making the reader’s heart break and put itself back together again.

Highly, highly recommended!

 

 

*ARC courtesy of the publisher, from NCTE

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