Bumped by Megan McCafferty

I am a huge Megan McCafferty fan.  Like, ridiculous fangirl, over-the-top, absolutely love her.  Jessica Darling is in my Top 10 Favorite Fictional Characters.  I recommend Sloppy Firsts: A Jessica Darling Novel (the first in the series) to everyone I know.  So when I saw that Megan was writing a dystopian YA novel, I was pretty much in heaven.  One of my favorite authors writing in my favorite genre?  I was guaranteed to love it!  Then, when Megan offered me an ARC (thank you!), I jumped on it.  When the package arrived, I was almost afraid to read it- what if I was disappointed? What if I had built it up too much? Could it be as good as I imagined it would be?

I was silly to worry. Bumped is fantastic and novel read, unlike anything else I have read.  The publisher’s summary does a great job, so I will let it do its job:

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

I was immediately intrigued after reading the back copy a few months ago.  For a long time, I have been fascinated by MTV’s Sixteen and Pregnant and Teen Mom. I feel like those two shows are a great way for parents and schools to begin talking to teens about safe sex and pregnancy.  I know that Megan was partly inspired by her own similar idea, so Bumped doesn’t shy away from some tough issues. Needless to say, I love that Megan takes on the hot-button issues, injects some sarcasm and humor, and still manages to make her reader think, and I mean really think, about the issues at hand.

Bumped is not for the faint of heart.  The reader needs to understand that the world in which Melody and Harmony exists glorifies teen pregnancy.  McCafferty doesn’t shy away from sexual language, but every word and scene choice is carefully made.  This is not a book that is meant to glorify and celebrate teen pregnancy.  Yes, that is the world it is about. But that’s not what the book is actually about, if you understand what I mean.  I think teens who read this will think about what these girls go through, and the choices they make.  There was a fantastic article in the NY Times this weekend which focused on the use of MTV’s Teen Mom in the classroom. While many adults are horrified by the popularity of the show, the article points out just how many teens are learning from the experiences of the girls on the show and the conversations that result from watching the show.  I think Bumped can and will do the same.

I’ve read a few reviews of Bumped and it seems they are mixed. But from what I see, many reviewers/readers don’t understand that McCafferty has her tongue planted firmly in cheek for the duration of the book.  This is a satire, and a very effective one at that.  Bumped is a critique.  It’s a critique of a juxtaposition- the focus on purity in religion coupled with secular society’s focus on sex and sexuality.  It satirizes the world we live in,pointing out the ridiculous path we are headed down. I loved it! I found myself putting the book down and thinking a lot as I read, and I was dying to talk to someone about it after reading.  It’s that type of book.

In the foreword, McCafferty refers to Bumped as her first “young adult” novel.  This is definitely a book that straddles the line between young adult and adult.  It’s certainly not a book for middle school students.  However, my more mature high school readers have rated it 5 stars on Goodreads.  They inherently understood that it was a satire and appreciated how much it made them think.  This may be a classic case of a book that is so perfect for YA readers that many adult gatekeepers think it is too much for them.  McCafferty does a fantastic job and I highly recommend Bumped, though I would be sure you read it yourself before putting it in your classroom library.



*ARC courtesy of the author

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

Before you read any further, just know that this is an instant classic. Okay for Now is a book that will remain on bookshelves for a very long time, and it has both kid appeal and enormous literary appeal.

Okay for Now is a sequel to Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars, but it stands on its own just fine.  I read and loved The Wednesday Wars, but I don’t think you have to read it in order to appreciate and love Okay for Now.

Doug Swieteck has just moved to a small town, Marysville,  in upstate NY.  He has no friends.  He is living with his angry, abusive father, and an older brother who is walking a fine line between right and wrong. He finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer, whose father offers him a job delivering groceries.  Doug begrudgingly takes the job because he has nothing else to do.  But his life is forever altered when he wanders into the library and comes face to face with  the plates of John James Audubon’s birds in a book under glass.

There are plenty of stories here, and they all intertwine as the story progresses.  It’s an ambitious book, but Gary Schmidt pulls it off and then some.  Dysfunctional family, war, conservation, small-town politics, love, and so much more: it’s all here. But Schmidt never lets it sound contrived or over-the-top.  Even more importantly, Schmidt is never heavy-handed.  There are plenty of laughs to be had and I found myself laughing out loud more than once.  It’s darker than The Wednesday Wars, but it never *feels* dark, if you understand what I mean.  It’s highly readable and I read it straight through in one sitting.

This one has been slowly making the rounds through my class. I did not get a chance to booktalk it before a student filched it from the ARC basket, but it seems he has been booktalking it for me. He rated it 5 stars on Goodreads and I haven’t seen our ARC back on the shelf since then! So for those who fear that this is one of those books that adults enjoy more than teens, I can say that is definitely not true. My teens are loving Okay for Now!

Highly recommended and definitely on my possibly Newbery/Printz list for this year!

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

National Book Award winner Judy Blundell is one of my favorite authors.  What I Saw and How I Lied is one of my all-time favorite books and I love recommending it to my teens.  When I received an ARC of Blundell’s newest venture, Strings Attached, I was ecstatic. Within 24 hours I sat down with it and read it cover to cover. I immediately handed it to one of my students, who also read it cover to cover in less than a day.

Set in 1950, Strings Attached takes on a lot. It’s historical fiction, a mystery, a romance, and so much more. A summary can’t do the book justice. Yes, it’s about Kit Corrigan setting out on her own and trying to break into show business in New York City. It’s also about the gangsters who control so much of NYC and life up and down the East coast. It’s about class differences. It’s about depression and parental neglect. It’s about love, and what is true love. It’s about Broadway and music. About intrigue and deception, talent and determination.

What an evocative and atmospheric book! This is exactly what I love about Judy Blundell- her writing absolutely immerses you in the time and place of the book. I could smell the salt air in Providence, and smell the smoke in the NYC night clubs. I could hear the street noises outside Kit’s window and smell the coffee she brewed in her kitchen.  While reading, you are Kit, and you see what she sees and you hear what she sees.  The setting manages to overwhelm your senses at times, in an amazing way.

The chapters alternate, jumping from earlier in Kit’s life to her present situation. This nonlinear storytelling could throw some readers off at first, but within a few pages you are invested in Kit’s life and her story, and there is no going back. A slow-building story, it pulls you in, winding and twisting before ripping your heart out at the end. Upon finishing the book, my student rushed into my room and exclaimed, “I just screamed OUT LOUD in the lunch room! When I got to that part! AGH!”. She then stormed out of my room, still aghast. I felt the same way when I finished the book. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Blundell turns the story on its head and you are turning pages faster than you can read. Unbelievable. The suspense builds and builds, keeping you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the book.

This is a book that teens and adults alike will love. I am recommending it to everyone I know. Go out and pick up a copy right now. Do not miss this book. It’s on my Printz and National Book Award list for this year.

Need some more convincing?  Check out this writing:

“We pack away lies in that house like you pack away Christmas. We put them in boxes and tape them over.”

“Faith seems to grab people and not let go, but hope is a double-crosser. It can beat it on you anytime; it’s your job to dig in your heels and hang on. Must be nice to have hope in your pocket, like loose change you could jingle through your fingers.”

The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy

A few weeks ago, I received an email asking me if I would be interested in reviewing an ARC of  Smart Pop’s newest anthology, The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy. I had used another Smart Pop anthology, Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series, when my 6th graders read Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, so I knew it would be a quality collection of essays.

I’m such a nerd, so needless to say I was thrilled when the ARC of The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy arrived.  I immediately dove in and was not disappointed.  This is a collection of essays that examine the deeper issues within and without the Hunger Games trilogy.  I actually used a few of the essays with my classes already, as examples of well-written literary analyses.

Some of the authors included: Sarah Rees Brennan, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Mary Borsellino, Elizabeth M. Rees, Lili Wilkinson, Ned Vizzini, Carrie Ryan, Cara Lockwood, Terri Clark, Blythe Woolston, Sarah Darer Littman, Adrienne Kress, and Bree Despain.

Some of the essay titles?

  • Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist
  • Panem et Circenses
  • The Politics of Mockingjay
  • The Inevitable Decline of Decadence (I used this one as an example in my classes!)
  • Community in the Face of Tyranny

All of the essays are excellent.  You can read them straight through, or pick and choose the essays for you.  Each one is a fantastic example of analysis and will make you think deeply about the series as a whole.

Plus, this is a fantastic book to give to those who say the Hunger Games trilogy is nothing more than child’s play, a silly young adult book.  ;)



Shine by Lauren Myracle

This book is important. It is a book that teens need to read. So do teachers, parents, administrators, and anyone else who works with teens. It’s not an easy book to read- not by any stretch. I found myself repulsed at times, horrified by the actions of some characters. Yet it’s realistic. There are adults who will hate this book, who will call it all sorts of names and demand that it be taken off the shelf. But we must not let that happen. Shine is too important, and I hope it is able to change the way teens think and act.

Cat is damaged. Something happened to her a few years ago, and she has buried the event. However, she knows the ugly is still there and it still changed her. After the incident, she pulled away from her friends and family. She is angry at her family for not protecting her and she hopes that by pulling away from her friends she can heal. Unfortunately, all she did was become a loner.

Now, how (former) best friend, Patrick, has been beaten almost-to-death, the victim of a hate crime. Cat knows that someone in their small town almost killed Patrick and she is determined to find out who it was. Patrick’s sexuality is no secret to the rest of the town, and there is very little acceptance for LGBT people. I hesitate to tell you anymore, but just know that you need to read this book.

Lauren Myracle has crafted a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, reality-checking book. It’s graphic. It’s horrifying. And yet- it’s real. Cat lives in a small town and the people she loves are small-minded. The regularly use derogatory terms around Patrick. Heck, even his friends mock him for being gay. But how many of our teens experience the same thing every day of their lives? How many teens laugh alongside their friends and don’t realize the damage they are doing?

One of my favorite characters in Shine is Robert, a supporting character’s tween brother. Myracle does a fantastic job showing the reader how kids and tweens learn to bully, how derogatory terms become a part of their vernacular even when they don’t fully understand the implications of those words. Then those kids grow up to be teenagers and adults who share their views with their own children. It’s a vicious cycle, and Myracle is trying to show teens that it needs to be stopped.

There will be some readers who are angry about the ending. Know right now that the issues at the heart of the book don’t get wrapped up in a nice little bow. But does life ever end that way? Myracle keeps this book realistic through and through. She is dedicated to changing the culture of hate that flows through so many cliques, high schools, and this country as a whole.

Shine is important. It begs to be shared with teens and to be discussed. I can’t see it being read aloud in school (language, drug references, etc), but high school literature circles and book clubs are the perfect playground for for this book. As teachers and librarians, we need to get books like Shine into the hands of our readers. They have the power to change the world and this book is one that might help get them started.

*ARC provided courtesy of the publisher

Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale

I loved Shannon and Dean Hale’s (and the incomparable Dean Hale- no-relation’s illustrations) Rapunzel’s Revenge. See my review here.
Calamity Jack is the rip-roaring sequel to the first graphic novel and is so.much.fun! Tweens will gobble this one up, as it appeals to boys and girls. A retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, the Hales have rewritten the story with a steampunk twist. This time Jack takes the reins, and he and Rapunzel are headed back to his hometown to settle a few financial issues.  But when they get there Jack learns that a few things have changed since he ran away.  The “giant” tycoons have taken over and the city is dirty, gritty, and full of thieves.  Have no fear, though- Jack and Rapunzel are here to save the day!

Hand this one to graphic novel lovers, fairy tale retelling lovers, and adventure lovers.  The illustrations are gorgeous, the dialogue will have you laughing out loud, and the story is perfect.  Highly recommended for middle school libraries!

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

When Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King won a Printz Honor back in January, I was mad at myself because it was on my TBR-pile and I hadn’t picked it up yet. So I reshuffled the pile and made sure I got to it that week. Boy, am I glad I did!  A worthy-winner, it’s the perfect combination of literary and teen appeal.

Vera Dietz would really like to be invisible.  She is perfectly content going through life without anyone noticing her.  But since the death of her ex-best friend Charlie, that’s been a lot harder to do.  See, Vera knows what happened to Charlie that night.  But can she bring herself to clear his name?  Can she forgive him enough to do that? Part mystery, part coming-of-age, all amazing- this is a book you must read.  No summary can do it justice.

I really loved how King crafted Please Ignore Vera Dietz.  The story is told from a variety of perspectives- the living, the dead, even inanimate objects.  Everything weaves together into a web of intrigue, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.  At the same time, the mystery is not overbearing.

Teens will love Vera and I think most will identify with her in some way. She is sarcastic, quirky, angry, smart, full of love, at times full of hate, and  just… real.  She jumps off the page and it feels like she is telling you her story while sitting next to you.   You can’t help but root for her (and her dad, whom I loved).  I even found myself rooting for Charlie by the end, despite his numerous issues.

A worthy book of the Printz sticker.  Get this one in the hands of your high school readers ASAP!

*review copy courtesy of publisher

Atlas of Remote Islands:Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will by Judith Schalansky

During Christmas break I noticed that Pamela Voelkel (one half of author due J&P Voelkel) tweeted about a book she received for Christmas-Atlas of Remote Islands. My goal in 2010 was to read more nonfiction and to find more nonfiction for my students.  I was intrigued by the title and added it to my Goodreads.  Plus, my husband is a cartographer and we have lots of atlases around the house. I figured it was about time to add one of my own.  Later that week I took a few Christmas gift cards and picked up a copy.

What a fun book!  Atlas of Remote Islands is an expose, an encyclopedia of sorts, of islands around the world that are still cut off from civilization.  The fact that these islands still exist fascinates me.  The book is divided into sections, like an atlas, based on geographic area. Each island receives a page dedicated to a cartographic representation of their location and the opposite page with a write-up of the history of the island.  The cartography is very basic and nothing to be excited about.  The colors are bizarre and actually make it hard to see the maps. But the information about island is what made me love the book. This isn’t a history book, but reads more like a narrative. It’s not Wikipedia- the islands aren’t explained in great detail.  Instead, a one-page anecdote is shared.  But I will admit I was intrigued by almost every page and found myself googling more information on all of the islands.

This is a great book to share with teens.  For those who don’t like to read non-fiction, this book isn’t intimidating and reads like a story.  Teens will find themselves wanting to know more about some of the islands and may go seek out more information about them.  What more can you ask for? The concept of the book is cool and kids will find themselves engrossed in the bizarre stories.

*definitely high school and up

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John was the YA winner for this year’s Scheider Award so I picked up a copy the last time I was at the bookstore.  It had pinged my radar a few times but the award pushed it to the top of my pile.  Thank goodness for the Schneider, because this a book that begs to be read!  So glad it won and more teens will get to read it!

Piper is on the fringe of high school society.  She prefers to be invisible, especially since her best friend moved away.  When Dumb, the latest band to emerge from her Seattle high school,  wins a Seattle music contest, she somehow ends up as their manager.  This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that Piper is deaf.  But while Piper’s deafness is a vital part of the story, this isn’t a book about being deaf.  It’s a book about music, about grunge, about being yourself.

If Dumb expects to get any farther than the high school auditorium, they need Piper’s help.  They are a mess- barely playing in time, constantly fighting, and not even sure of their sound. Piper needs money (her parents raided her college fund to pay for her baby sister’s cochlear implant) so she negotiates a contract- she gets Dumb a paying gig within a month and they share profits.  She only needs 3 weeks to score their first gig, but it doesn’t exactly work out as planned. So what if they are a hard rock band and she books them at the local college soft rock station?

I love Piper.  She is mature but real.  Teens will identify with her struggles to be noticed at to fade into the crowd (all at once, if possible). Her issues with her family are easy to understand and typical of many teens. While the issues might vary from teen to teen, the underlying feelings are the same.  And the music. Oh, the music. The nods to Nirvana, Hendrix, and classic rock are perfection. Piper doesn’t know a lot of rock and the journey she takes is one that the reader will be glad to take with her.

This is a book that will appeal to guys and girls alike.  I see no reason not to share it with mature 8th graders and high schoolers.  It’s a book about someone with a disability that doesn’t preach, doesn’t talk down to readers.  Instead, it’s a book that happens to star a character that is deaf.  It affects the plot but doesn’t drive it entirely. For that reason, lovers of realistic and contemporary fiction will adore this book. At the same time, those readers who love a book about “issues” will flock to it.

I highly recommend Five Flavors of Dumb for teen readers. It’s got a fresh voice, a kick-butt heroine, and humor galore. It’s pretty close to perfect!

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

I’ve been hearing about Beth Revis’ Across the Universe for months. No ARC came my way, so I ran out last weekend and bought a copy with a Barnes and Noble gift card I got for Christmas. Before I started reading, I posted the book trailer on our class Edmod0 (something new I have been trying) and immediately had a waiting list of students.  I knew I had to read it before school or risk not getting my hands on it again for a few weeks.  I sat down and read it. And read it. And read it. All in one sitting.  Across the Universe delivers everything it promises and more.  A genre-bending book, it combines science fiction, dystopian, romance, mystery, and action/adventure, blending it all into one fantastic story.

Seventeen-year old Amy has been cryogenically frozen, alongside her VIP parents, on the Godspeed.  She will awaken 300 years in the future, on a new planet.  But when she is awakened 50 years earlier than expected, she knows that nothing is the way it was supposed to be.  The spaceship has become a world unto itself, with new laws, norms, and expectations.  And when Amy realizes that someone unfroze her on purpose and has been trying to kill others in the cargo area, she begins to investigate.  Fearing that her parents will be murdered before she can find the person responsible, Amy risks her own life by standing up to the leaders of the Godspeed.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Amy and Elder, the next-in-line to lead the people of the Godspeed. The ship is massive- it contains a city built for thousands, pastures, farms, labs, and more secrets than anyone has imagined possible.  Elder  has never breathed fresh air, never seen the sun, the moon, or the stars.  He has no parents and is being raised/trained by Eldest, the current leader of the ship.  When he meets Amy, the only person his own age on the ship, his feelings start to confuse him. Why does Eldest seem to hate Amy? Why doesn’t Eldest trust him?

Amy and Elder band together to protect her parents and figure out who is trying to murder the cryos. In the process, they come to find out that that the “truth” that Eldest shares with the people of the Godspeed maybe isn’t so true after all.

This is a science fiction tale for sci-fi lovers and for those who are hesitant to read sci-fi.  The story contains just enough information about ship, and the science behind it, to satisfy the pickiest sci-fi fan. Yet the information isn’t overwhelming for those who tend to shy away from sci-fi.  It’s truly a genre-bender. The mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat and the science will cause you to question where humanity is headed.  Amy and Elder are both realistic characters that are easy to emphasize with, despite the almost 300 years between them.  The story builds slowy and by the midway point it’s like riding a roller coaster- your emotions are constantly twisting and turning, allegiances are changing, and the story becomes unpredictable.  While there is a budding romance between the two, it takes a backseat to the action of the story and should not scare off any anti-romance readers.

Revis raises some intriguing questions.  How does a person effectively rule a group of people on whom the fate of humanity depends? When their survival will ensure the survival of mankind, do the rules change? Is it right to sacrifice the life of the few to save the many? Should the truth always be shared with society at large, or should the rulers decide what is best? When we learn that the people on Godspeed have been taught that Hitler was an effective ruler, one to be emulated, what does that tell us about mankind’s future?

I loved loved loved this book.  I can not recommend it enough.  I’m impatiently awaiting the next book in the series and you will be, too!  Highly recommended for teen readers.

*Definitely a teen read.  There are mentions of sex and an assault scene. Nothing overly-graphic, but not for middle school readers.


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