Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

In 1942, eleven-year-old Milada is taken from her home in Lidice, Czechoslovakia, along with other blond, blue-eyed children to a Lebensborn center in Poland. There she is trained to be a “proper German” for adoption by a German family, and all the while she struggles to remember her true identity.

eva

An older book, but an important story and one that shouldn’t be missed. I’ve read other historical fiction books detailing the holocaust, but this book stands out. It was interesting to read about Milada (later renamed Eva) being chosen to attend a special school because of her Aryan looks (blonde hair, blue eyes).

Although the book does offer a glimpse into the horrors of the Holocaust, I think the author did a fantastic job at writing the story for the intended audience of middle graders. The content was handled sensitively yet does not shy away from some more disturbing aspects; like when Eva wonders what the horrible smell is, and is told by her adoptive sister “Prisoners, well, prisoners die. And there isn’t room to bury them. So the smokestacks—“ (p. 134). Understandably, Eva doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. But if readers want to find out more, historical facts are also included in the author’s note.

This book is recommended to readers with interest in historical fiction. That being said, I would not endorse the cover shown on Goodreads. It does not do a great job at ‘selling’ the book. I think the publisher quickly realized this too, as my edition has a more appealing cover.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.   “Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”   Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

fish

I listened to the audiobook.  On the upside, the narrator does a great job at creating unique voices for the full cast of characters. On the downside, clocking in at nearly six hours, the story totally ran longer than required.  I thought the story was resolved at disc three, but was surprised to learn there were still another two discs to go! As a story about dyslexia, I could see the length being frustrating for those with similar reading difficulties.

It is a charming, sweet story, but just didn’t touch me the way it has others. I’m sure teachers will eat this one up, as it’s set almost entirely in a school setting, and features the world’s most inspiring teacher, Mr. Daniels. He patiently works with Ally to improve her reading, and in turn, she begins to bloom and gain confidence.  I did like the emphasis on different learning styles, and appreciated the various problem solving techniques Mr.Daniels uses like chess, and brain games.

This is a book that reminds us of the power of words, and to embrace each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  Overall, a feel- good middle grade story.

More reviews:

* “Unforgettable and uplifting. . . . Deals with the hardships of middle school in a funny, yet realistic and thoughtful manner. Ally has a great voice, she is an unforgettable, plucky protagonist that the reader roots for from page one. This novel is a must-have.”—School Library Connection, STARRED REVIEW *

“Filled with a delightful range of quirky characters and told with heart, the story also explores themes of family, friendship, and courage in its many forms. . . . It has something to offer for a wide-ranging audience. . . . Offering hope to those who struggle academically and demonstrating that a disability does not equal stupidity, this is as unique as its heroine.”—Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

sun

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

Well the hype over this YA title did not disappoint! Often recommended for fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, this book is about art, life, love and pain. The story is told via the alternative voices of twins, Noah and Jude. Noah’s story is told from a 13 year old perspective; Jude at 16.  The three years in between detail the transformation of their relationship.  Each plot unraveling, whether fueled by jealousy or love is done in such an intricate way, for both the characters and readers.

As fictional characters, both Noah and Jude felt so alive. Yes, they were both extremely flawed and broken but readers are able to invest in them and their complex story.  The only thing that irritated me was Noah’s captioning of almost every scene with a portrait title, ex: SELF-PORTRAIT: Boy Gets Fed Piece by Piece to a Swarm of Fire Ants (p.19).  Also, I don’t like long chapters.

Prepare to feel happy, sad, and every emotion in between when reading this beautiful book.  It reminds us of our connectedness, and I too believe that ‘maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story” (p.365).  Thanks Jandy Nelson for sharing NoahandJude’s.

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