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.

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray won’t be available in stores until March 22nd, but I want to make sure it is on your radar.  Preorder your copy today, because this is a book you do not want to miss.  It’s a heart-wrenching book about a part of history I am ashamed to admit I knew nothing about. Absolutely fantastic. It’s also a debut novel, which just stuns me.

The story chronicles a Lithuanian family’s deportation by the Soviets during World War II and I could not put it down.  It’s making the rounds in my classroom now and getting rave reviews from my students.  Set in 1941, it reads like a memoir.  I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea about any of the history that Sepetys focuses on in the book.  When Stalin decided to annex Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and parts of Finland, he gathered all possible dissenters, had them labeled thieves and prostitutes, and sentenced them to 25 years hard labor in Siberia.  Fifteen-year old Lina’s father is one of these dissenters and their entire family is shipped to Siberia in cattle cars, with no idea where they are going or why.  Their father is separated from them, and Lina uses her love of art to stay connected to him.

This book will open your eyes.  It will break your heart.  It will also send your heart soaring.  Lina is strong and full of life, and her struggles to understand what is going on around her, to understand how humanity can act this way, will tear you apart.  Sepetys is a gifted writer, and I was flagging quote after quote.  We’d been trying to touch the sky from the bottom of the ocean. I realized that if we boosted one another, maybe we’d get a little closer.” (quote taken from ARC).  Gorgeous, right?  That is only a small sample of the gift Rupa Sepetys has given us with this story.  She describe the hardships endured by these people, in gruesome and heart-breaking detail, yet she also highlights their strength of spirit and the love that blooms in their hearts, despite their situation.

Harrowing, heartbreaking, and important.  This is a must-read.  I have read many WWII and Holocaust novels in my time, and Between Shades of Gray needs to be on the canon list.  The Soviet genocide of the Baltic states has been left out of history books for far too long.  Rupa Sepetys has made an important contribution to YA literature (and it also has strong crossover appeal for the adult market).  Highly recommended for teen and adult readers.

*ARC received as a gift from another reader.

Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis

Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis sat on my bookshelf since I received it from the publisher a few weeks ago.  For some reason it never caught my eye, until I recently read Jen’s review.  I started reading the book while watching my puppy play in the grass and finished it the next day.  I can’t recommend it enough!  I am always on the lookout for WWII fiction and non-fiction for our Holocaust unit.  I especially keep my eye out for books that focus on parts of the war that aren’t always mentioned in the history books.  This past year some of my students read about the WASPs and ended up doing their National History Day project on Jackie Cochrane and the learned so much.  Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis is a new novel I can’t wait to add to my classroom library!

High school sophomore Octavia and her seventeen year-old sister, Tali, are being forced by their parents to go on a cross-country road trip with with their grandmother.  Now, maybe if their grandmother was a normal grandma this trip would be fun.  Instead, Mare (no using “Granny” here!), wears high heels, bright red lipstick, wigs, and drives like a bat out of hell.  But it’s during the course of the trip that the girls learn their grandmother was a member of the 6888th African American battalion of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II.  

While the long, meandering ride seems torturous at first, Octavia and Tali find themselves slowly drawn into the story their grandmother begins telling.  It turns out she’s lived a pretty amazing life- one that her granddaughters have never been aware of until this trip.  The story is told in alternating voices- Octavia “now” and Mare “then”.  Even though the narrator changes every few chapters, it rarely jarred me out of the story.  Octavia’s voice is so modern that there were never a doubt I was reading about the present.  Mare’s mid-century, Alabaman voice was pitch perfect for the “then” stories.  

This is different from many historical novels, which are usually a hard sell when it comes to my students.  The modern-day chapters add an interesting dimension to the book and I think that will be a turn-on for my students.  At the same time, Mare’s story is historical fiction at its best.  It’s the perfect mash-up for my readers.  

As Jen noted in her review, this is a novel that begs to be read aloud.  The voices are just so perfect that I could hear them in my head while I was reading.  Tanita Davis has done a great job and I can’t want to share this with my students.  

Personally, I loved this book because I love knowing “what happened” at all aspects of the story.  I want to really know the characters I am reading about and by telling the story through both Mare and Octavia’s voices I felt like I was truly getting the entire story.  I love that!

Books I’m Pining For

Right now, my world is centered around a tiny 6 lb monster who likes to cry and bark.  🙂  I’m reading two puppy training books, Puppies For Dummies and My Smart Puppy: Fun, Effective, and Easy Puppy Training (Book & 60min DVD) without much time for anything else. But here are a few books I am looking forward to reading after he settles down….


Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal- This one has been getting mentions all over the blogosphere so I am dying to get my hands on it!

Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarite Engle- Last year Engle snuck up on me and snatched a Newbery Honor. So when I saw that Betsy Bird had this book on her Newbery 2010 contenders list, I knew I needed to to read it! Plus, I am always on the lookout for new Holocaust stories that focus on aspects of the tragedy that aren’t a part of the general curriculum at our grade level.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson- I hate doctors and hospitals. I love books about medicine. Weird, huh? The novel focuses on the organ donation process and I am dying to read more.



 Nothing but Ghosts by Beth Kephart- “How do you paint regret?” That sentence has been at the back of my mind ever since reading a review of Beth Kephart’s newest novel. I think I’ll be purchasing this one this week!




L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad- So sue me, I love The Hills and Lauren Conrad! I am dying to see how this one is, because I’m hearing good things so far. Plus, who doesn’t love a little light, fluffy reading during the summer?



So, what books are you pining for?

Amazing Experience

I have no voice but tonight was completely worth it.  My teaching team coordinated a fundraiser at a local restaurant where 20% of the checks from tonight will go to our local Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center.  I was at the restaurant from 4:45-8:30 and we had a huge turnout!  We gave out 86 sign-in sheets to our students.  Eighty-six!  Plus we had former students, teachers from throughout the district, and administration.  

It was a fantastic night spent with our students and parents.  Like I said, I currently have no voice, but I think we raised a great deal of money to donate when we go to the museum on our class trip later this week.  It was an amazing feeling seeing our students and their families eating dinner together and making time in their day for such a great cause.  🙂