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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Pena

My latest read was Ball Don't Lie by award winning author, Matt de la Pena.  This is one that I have heard so many good things about, but had failed to pick up until now.  And I am glad that I finally decided to pick this one up and give it a read.  It was a wonderful story that will grab readers quickly and not let go until the last page.  Ball Don't Lie is a story about perseverance, privilege, race, and self-worth.  It is definitely not one to be missed.

This novel is the story of Sticky, a teenager who has bounced through the foster care system since he was little.  Never being able to find a true home and battling the demons of his past, he turned to basketball as a refuge.  What he found out in basketball is that he is good...really good.  He finds a home at the rec center, playing against good competition every day, sticking out not just because of his ability, but because he is the only white boy in the gym.  Sticky has never had much, but basketball may be his ticket out as long as he can come to grips with who he is and what he can be.  Will Sticky get his shot or will everything he has battled in life finally take control?

From Amazon:

Newbery Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Matt de la Pena's Ball Don't Lie "is a must-read." [The Bulletin]

   Sticky is a beat-around-the-head foster kid with nowhere to call home but the street, and an outer shell so tough that no one will take him in. He started out life so far behind the pack that the finish line seems nearly unreachable. He’s a white boy living and playing in a world where he doesn’t seem to belong.
    But Sticky can ball. And basketball might just be his ticket out . . . if he can only realize that he doesn’t have to be the person everyone else expects him to be.
    Matt de la Peña's breakout urban masterpiece, Ball Don’t Lie takes place where the street and the court meet and where a boy can be anything if he puts his mind to it.

"[An] inspiring story. Sticky is a true original, and de la Peña has skillfully brought him to life."-School Library Journal, Starred

"Riveting...Teens will be strongly affected by the action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages."-Booklist

"Stunningly realistic."-VOYA

"Gritty and mesmerizing."-Kirkus Reviews

"I have never before seen blacktop ball depicted so well. In this novel, you will find its flash, its power, and its elegance without chains. This is powerful stuff."-Antawn Jamison, forward for the Los Angeles Clippers

"Truly authentic in its examination of both the game I love and the invariable missteps toward manhood. You cannot fail to be moved by the eloquence and truth of this story."-Rick Fox, former forward for the Los Angeles Lakers

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez

 The Fall of Innocence by Jenny Torres Sanchez is another book I had been waiting on for quite a while.  I remembered the beauty of her last novel, Because of the Sun, and was excited to read her newest novel.  This book was a devastating read.  It was devastating and heartbreaking, yet beautiful as well.  Torres has written an incredible story about trauma and grief and the effects it has on not only the individual, but the family, friends, and community that surround them.  It is a story that shows that tragedy is not always easily overcome, that it sometimes consumes us.  This one has left me feeling numb and I know it is going to stick with me for a long time.

The Fall of Innocence is the story of Emilia, a teenage girl who suffered an unbelievably brutal attack when she was just 8 years old.  This attack not only left her physically damaged, but emotionally and psychologically damaged as well.  After slowly working her way back to just a shell of who she was before, devastating revelations come out about the attack she suffered years before.  And try as she might to "be okay," this news has begun to unravel her.  It has caused her to rethink all that she has come to accept.  And in the end, it all may be too much for one person to overcome. 

As heartbreaking as this story is, it is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year so far. 

From Amazon:

The Lovely Bones meets Thirteen Reasons Why in this gorgeous, haunting, and tragic novel that examines the crippling--and far-reaching--effects of one person's trauma on her family, her community, and herself.

For the past eight years, sixteen-year-old Emilia DeJesus has done her best to move on from the traumatic attack she suffered in the woods behind her elementary school. She's forced down the memories--the feeling of the twigs cracking beneath her, choking on her own blood, unable to scream. Most of all, she's tried to forget about Jeremy Lance, the boy responsible, the boy who caused her such pain. Emilia believes that the crows who watched over her that day, who helped her survive, are still on her side, encouraging her to live fully. And with the love and support of her mother, brother, and her caring boyfriend, Emilia is doing just that.

But when a startling discovery about her attacker's identity comes to light, and the memories of that day break through the mental box in which she'd shut them away, Emilia is forced to confront her new reality and make sense of shifting truths about her past, her family, and herself.

A compulsively-readable tragedy that reminds us of the fragility of human nature.

Praise for The Fall of Innocence

* "Sanchez deftly shows the long-lasting impact of the assault. . . . An intimate and tragic look at how traumatic incidents affect individuals, their families, and others around them." --Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

* "Sanchez writes with stunning detail, showcasing the beauty that can be found in small moments, in family interactions, in nature, and in seemingly everyday objects. . . and illustrates how a trauma like Emilia's has widespread effects." --School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

* "It is hard to imagine a more beautifully told, more moving, or more authentic story of one family’s journey through unbearable pain." --VOYA, STARRED REVIEW

"Beautifully written but ineffably sad, Emilia's story is a case study of trauma and its aftermath." --BCCB

"Emilia's inner world both captivates and devastates." --Publishers Weekly

"Internal and contemplative, [this novel's] haunting quality lingers." --Booklist

Monday, June 18, 2018

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay by Nina Lacour was the winner of the 2018 Michael L. Printz Award, the biggest award given in YA literature.  And this is one that has been on by TBR pile for some time.  I'm sad that it took me this long to get to it because it was a beautiful read and well deserving of the award.  It is a story about grief and loneliness and learning how to deal with it.  But it is also about enduring friendship and family and what those things can mean to someone who has been without them for so long.  And most importantly it is about hope for what the future can hold despite the sadness we may be feeling in the present.  This book truly is a beautifully told story that will stick with you long after you have read the last page. 

We Are Okay is the story of Marin, a young girl who has begun her Freshman year of college 3000 miles away from home.  When tragedy struck Marin near the end of the summer, she took off for New York and has not spoken to anyone from home since.  She has even ignored every text message, phone call, and voicemail from Mabel, her best friend.  When it is time for Christmas Break, Marin remains the only one still at school, not ready to return home and face the life she once had.  But Mabel comes to see her and Marin is forced to figure out all that has happened and how to go on living life.  With Mabel's help, Marin is finally able to find a way to make it all okay.  

From Amazon:

Winner of the 2018 Michael L. Printz Award — An achingly beautiful novel about grief and the enduring power of friendship.

Short, poetic and gorgeously written.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A beautiful, devastating piece of art.
" —Bookpage

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother. Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

An intimate whisper that packs an indelible punch, We Are Okay is Nina LaCour at her finest. This gorgeously crafted and achingly honest portrayal of grief will leave you urgent to reach across any distance to reconnect with the people you love.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Family by Micol Ostow

Family by Micol Ostow was a fascinating read.  This was a story that explores the workings of a cult and what may draw people to them.  It is a story about finding a "family" and the lengths one may go to in order to be a part of that family.  But it also tells a story of self-discovery and the realization that we may all be stronger than we think.

Family is the story of Mel, a young girl who can no longer take the abuse she suffers in her home.  She has been subjected to it for too long and decides to get away.  In San Francisco, as she is struggling to find her way, she meets Henry.  Henry is a man full of life and full of charisma.  He tells Mel about his "family" and asks her to come be a part of it.  Since family is something Mel has never really had, the prospects sound enticing.  And once she experiences it for herself, she finds something that she always longed for.  She finds a group of people who care for each other, who share everything.  But she also sees the signs of something more sinister.  And when Henry is wronged, it is up to Mel and others to make them right.  But is Mel stronger than she thought?  Is she not quite as broken as she once believed?

Based somewhat on the Manson Family and the murders they committed, Ostow takes us in to the terrifying world of cults and maybe makes us see the appeal for those who are lost.  Told in verse, Ostow plays with words in an incredible way that make the reader understand how important each of those words are as the story unfolds.  This was a quick and very enjoyable read.  

From Amazon:

I have always been broken. I could have died. And maybe it would have been better if i had.

It is a day like any other when seventeen-year-old Melinda hits the road for San Francisco, leaving behind her fractured home life and a constant assault on her self-esteem. Henry is the handsome, charismatic man who comes upon her, collapsed on a park bench, and offers love, a bright new consciousness, and—best of all—a family. One that will embrace her and give her love. Because family is what Mel has never really had. And this new family, Henry's family, shares everything. They share the chores, their bodies, and their beliefs. And if Mel truly wants to belong, she will share in everything they do. No matter what the family does, or how far they go.

Told in episodic verse, Family is a fictionalized exploration of cult dynamics, loosely based on the Manson Family murders of 1969. It is an unflinching look at people who are born broken, and the lengths they'll go to to make themselves "whole" again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Wow!  Monday's Not Coming is another incredible novel by Tiffany D. Jackson.  Her debut, Allegedly, was a wonderful read, so I was really looking forward to this novel.  And Jackson provided us with a novel that hits with all the same force of her debut.  This is a story about the power of friendship, but also the trauma that comes with tragedy.  It is a story that will leave you sad because of the terrible truth that comes with it, while at the same time fill you with hope in the knowledge that there is always someone out there who won't give up.  This novel has left me with so many thoughts, thoughts that will stick with me for a long time.  This isn't a book that you will soon forget.

Monday's Not Coming is told through the unique narration of Claudia, a girl who seems to be the only one that cares that her best friend, Monday Charles, is nowhere to be found.  When Claudia returns home after a summer spend with her grandma, she can't get in contact with Monday.  And since Monday did not respond to any of her letters over the summer, the worry that Claudia feels is immediate.  And when she doesn't show up to school for the first day, Claudia's fears only intensify.  And as the day's pass with no sign of Monday, Claudia does everything she can to figure out what has happened to her best friend.  But few of the adults in her life seem at all concerned about the sudden disappearance of this young girl.  And Claudia isn't going to give up the search until she has some answers.

From Amazon:

From the critically acclaimed author of Allegedly, Tiffany D. Jackson, comes a gripping new novel perfect for fans of E. Lockhart and Gillian Flynn about the mystery of one teenage girl’s disappearance and the traumatic effects of the truth.

Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried.

When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.

As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I Felt A Funeral In My Brain by Will Walton

I read this novel at the suggestion of Andrew Smith, like I do with anything I see him advocating for.  And with I Felt A Funeral In My Brain, Will Walton has given the reader a novel about the pains of not only losing a loved one in death, but the pains of losing loved ones to life.  Told through both prose and poetry, this is a story that many can relate to.

Our narrator, Avery, has a lot on his plate.  And much of that is grown up stuff that a teenager shouldn't always have to deal with.  But the sad reality is that many teenager are facing the same realities as Avery on a daily basis.  Avery has an alcoholic mother who, due to her addiction, hasn't always been there for him.  At the same time, Avery is also discovering that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  Avery's grandfather, Pal, is also struggling with this same addiction.  But this addiction soon plays a role in the death of Pal, and now Avery is tasked with trying to figure out how to deal with the death of his grandpa, the person who has been there for him since they day he was born.  This novel will explore the many ways that people often try to cope with losing someone we love, while also figuring out how to live at the same time. 

From Amazon:

How do you deal with a hole in your life?

Do you turn to poets and pop songs?

Do you dream?

Do you try on love just to see how it fits?

Do you grieve?

If you're Avery, you do all of these things. And you write it all down in an attempt to understand what's happened--and is happening--to you.

I Felt a Funeral, In My Brain is an astonishing novel about navigating death and navigating life, at a time when the only map you have is the one you can draw for yourself.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold

 I am a huge fan of David Arnold.  His two previous novels, Mosquitoland and Kids of Appetite, were incredible.  Since I have loved his two previous novels so much, I have been waiting for The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik for a long time.  And I have to say, this one was worth the wait.  Arnold has once again given us a novel that is smart and funny and heartfelt.  He has given us a novel that we will be thinking about long after finishing the last page.  As usual, he strikes a place deep within us.  And as usual, I am blown away by another novel by David Arnold. 

This novel tells the story of Noah Oakman, a teenage boy who has grown bored with the life he is living.  He is bored with his two best friends, his little sister, and his parents.  He feels like he is trapped in a life that isn't the one he wants.  One night at a party, he meets a strange boy who gives him an opportunity to change the things that have become so mundane. 

But when Noah starts noticing slight changes in the world that he has always known, he has to figure out why.  Why have all but a few things changed?  Why have his "strange fascinations" remained the same while everything else around him is just slightly altered?  And when all of these questions are answered, we are left with a stunning novel about family and friends and the ways that we often hurt them without even realizing it.  But even more important than that, this is a novel about how we, as family and friends, are always there for each other despite anything else that may happen.  This novel teaches us to live in the present and to not take for granted the things we have in our every day lives.  It teaches us to live in the in between.  That time in between our birth and our death.  It teaches us that the most important moments are the ones we are living in right now. 

From Amazon:

This is Noah Oakman → sixteen, Bowie believer, concise historian, disillusioned swimmer, son, brother, friend.

Then Noah → gets hypnotized.

Now Noah → sees changes: his mother has a scar on her face that wasn’t there before; his old dog, who once walked with a limp, is suddenly lithe; his best friend, a lifelong DC Comics disciple, now rotates in the Marvel universe. Subtle behaviors, bits of history, plans for the future—everything in Noah’s world has been rewritten. Everything except his Strange Fascinations . . .

A stunning surrealist portrait, The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is a story about all the ways we hurt our friends without knowing it, and all the ways they stick around to save us.