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

THE DOGS by Allan Stratton

Cameron and his mom have been on the run for five years. His father is hunting them. At least, that’s what Cameron’s been told. When they settle in an isolated farmhouse, Cameron starts to see and hear things that aren’t possible. Soon he’s questioning everything he thought he knew and even his sanity. What’s hiding in the night? Buried in the past? Cameron must uncover the dark secrets before they tear him apart.

dogs

Influenced by his own past, author Allan Stratton discloses his personal connection to the book’s themes in the included Q+A.  Heavy themes like: domestic abuse, bullying, and mental health issues are portrayed throughout this eerie, teen thriller.

After moving in, Cameron quickly realizes that the creepy (just look at that front cover!), isolated farmhouse has a strange history. As a reader, it was easy to be immediately hooked by the mystery of the farmhouse, and like Cameron, I was curious to uncover the truth. The plot moves at warp speed; especially when Cameron makes one little mistake and sets of a frightening chain of events!

More praise:

“It’s about ghosts and terrifying danger and going mad all at once. I didn’t know what was real and what was imagined until the very last page. I loved it!” —Melvin Burgess, author of Carnegie Medal winner Junk

“It is increasingly rare to find genuine, convincing narratives that have us looking over our shoulders. The Dogs is such a narrative…What would it be like if the most frightening thing in your world lay at the heart of your own family? Stratton imagines this horror full and convincingly.” —Quill & Quire, starred review

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing. 

song

Happy (early) Valentines Day! If you are without a date, you can always spend the night with a reliable book boyfriend.  Or, check out TSWSYL if you share in Elise’s love of music. ♥

I devoured TSWSYL in two sittings.  I was so caught up in Elise’s story that I never felt like I was reading. Immediately, I was able to connect to Elise’s real and relatable character.  Elise struggles to fit in with her classmates, and spends a summer trying to learn how to be ‘cool’.  Unfortunately, her doubts and insecurities become too much to bear and she turns to self-cutting.  Luckily, music enters her life and the story begins to change from heartbreaking to inspiring. Elise finds her true passion in being a DJ, and slowly begins to accept her true self.  My friend has a tattoo that reads, ‘music mends broken hearts’ and I think it’s definitely true in Elise’s case.   In addition to the music, an interesting cast of characters (all with their own faults) help Elise realize her potential.  Although I doubt a few hours of practice can turn anyone into an amazing DJ (especially at 16), I am willing to overlook this.

Overall, I adored this contemporary, coming of age novel. It is powerful, and emotional. Readers are reminded to discover and embrace themselves and find comfort in the power of music. Don’t forget to check out the recommended indie dance song tracks listed in the back! I’m listening to ‘Come on Eileen’ as I write this review.  TSWSYL is my favourite 2014 read, thus far.  Pick it up today!

Creeps by Darren Hynes

Fifteen-year-old Wayne Pumphrey wishes he were courageous enough to actually send the heartfelt letters he writes to friends and family. He also wishes his father would drive on the right side of the street, his mother would stop packing her suitcase to leave, and his sister would stop listening to Nickelback. But most of all, he wishes that Pete “The Meat” would let him walk to school in peace. After all, how many times can one person eat yellow snow?

Then one morning, while facing Pete and his posse, Wayne is rescued by Marjorie, the girl with a dead father and a mother who might as well be. Together, the two of them escape Pete’s relentless bullying by rehearsing for the school play, and an unlikely friendship is formed. As they grow ever closer to one another, they begin to dream of escape from their small town and restricted lives. But Pete now has plans for both of them—and after a moment of sudden violence, nothing will ever be the same again for Wayne, Marjorie, or Pete himself.

creeps

Named after a Radiohead song, this Canadian book realistically portrays the affects of bullying on victim, perpetrator, and their families.  Set in Labrador, this story is mostly told in third person narrative, but also includes letter entries from fifteen year old Wayne Pumphrey.  He writes to his family, teachers, bullies, God and his only friend Majorie. I enjoyed this addition as it allowed insight into Wayne’s world, including his nightmare home life. The letter to his bully, Pete the Meat (on pg. 104) was particularly heartbreaking as Wayne tries to understand why he had become the target of their aggressive bullying.

Dear Pete The Meat,

Is it the way I walk? Talk? Is it because I’m small? Is my laugh strange? My voice? Do I smell funny or dress stupid or style my hair the wrong way? Are my eyes too far apart? WHAT?

I found Wayne’s letters to carry more maturity than how he typically acted and spoke, so it’s a real shame that he never found the courage to send them out.  Although, I’m not sure how much of an impact it would have had on his bullies, but maybe, just maybe it could have prevented the awful, terrible, horrific scene involving Wayne and Majorie. I quickly moved from being extremely uncomfortable to utter shock with the surprising ending!

For all the above reasons, I think Creeps is a great conversation starter about bullying for high school students.  For more books on bullying, see: Hate List by Jennifer Brown & 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

eleanor photo

Tons of buzz happenin’ for this quirky YA book about two misfits falling in love.  It’s mostly a love story, but serious issues like self-esteem, bullying and domestic abuse are also covered through Eleanor and Park’s alternating points of view. I did enjoy their romance (and the brilliant hand holding scenes), but I didn’t get the extremely quick progression from barely looking/speaking to each other to being super in love. Not just in love, but the deep intense infatuation kind of love. It gets so cheesy, as ‘“I don’t like you, Park,” she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. “I…”-her voice nearly disappeared-“think I live for you.” (P.111) and “I don’t think I even breathe when we’re not together,” she whispered. (p.111)   

As individuals, both Eleanor and Park are both interesting and flawed teens.  Eleanor is a red-headed, overweight girl with Goodwill clothes and a twisted family dynamic. Park is a small, quiet, insecure Asian kid that feels like an outsider in his own community. The character building was phenomenal and I loved that they weren’t the typical bad boy/hot girl combo we usually get in YA.

One other thing- the story takes place in the year 1986. If it weren’t for the continuous references to 80’s music and the cassette player, I could have easily imagined it to take place in the here and now. It reads very current and contemporary. I’m still not sure if that’s a good or bad thing… bad because I didn’t feel the 80’s vibe, or good because falling in love is timeless? Regardless, I would love to find out why Rowell set her story (besides being totally rad) in the 1980’s.

In the end, Rowell leaves Eleanor and Park’s heartwarming/heartbreaking love story for the reader to interpret.  Plenty of obstacles complicate this awkward, weird, quirky, touching love, but I can’t help but root for these two eccentric outcasts. 

Wonder by R.J Palacio

From Goodreads:

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

wonder

Inspired by all the other ‘Auggies’, Palacio wrote this Wonderful funny, contemporary, junior fiction book about a boy born with a facial deformity.

Divided into eight parts, August’s story is told by a variety of intertwining characters:  August himself, Via (his sister), Summer (his friend), Justin (Via’s boyfriend), and Miranda (Via’s old friend).  Some perspectives were a curious addition, as I didn’t feel they were completely necessary to provide insight into August’s struggles.  I was expecting to come across the bully’s (Julian) point of view, and hoping for August’s parents.  Sadly, I was disappointed.

I loved reading about August’s loving and supportive family. The dynamics are interesting, especially with the insight to Via’s feelings of neglect and the special bond with her grandmother.  Coming second to August all the time would be extremely difficult. However, being born with a facial deformity would be even more challenging. I think August’s enduring spirit and his ability to poke fun of himself is what readers will fall in love with.  Although it is classified as ‘junior fiction’, it has an important message of acceptance, fitting in, inner beauty and bullying that makes it a great read for all ages.

As the story closes, the uplifting ending was just a tad too perfect and a little unrealistic.  However, the overall warm message about courage and love really tugged my heart strings so I’m willing to let my critiques go. I know everyone has their own insecurities (often not as obvious as August’s) but it’s a nice reminder to ‘always try to be a little kinder than necessary’ to all those you come in contact with.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

From Goodreads:

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

forgive me

I picked up this advanced reading copy (to be released August 2013) at OLA this past January.  At first, I noticed the interesting cover, and then I recognized the author, Matthew Quick (author of Silver Linings Playbook).

I found the book to be an honest, yet difficult read. The storyline boils down to a day and half of Leonard planning a murder/suicide. Immediately, I found Leonard to be a very unlikable pessimistic character until we finally learn why he has such hatred toward his classmate, Asher.  Leonard demonstrates all the warning signs of suicide (change in appearance, giving away possessions) and only his teacher Herr Silvermann and elderly neighbour Walt seem to notice.  His family situation saddened me.

His teacher recommended that Leonard write letters from the future to help him imagine his future and serve as a reminder that his life can get better. Although I think the idea behind it makes sense, I didn’t enjoy the inclusion of his sci-fi letters. I found them so out there and I’m not even sure how that could even help him as it won’t even come close to resembling his true future. Also, the letters were never explained until after the first one, so I was very confused when I first came across it.   I also didn’t enjoy the over use and length of the footnotes. I have never seen such lengthy footnotes; some take up the majority of the page.

Overall, I think a lot of reluctant readers (especially teen boys) would enjoy this book.  It is a contemporary read that includes: curse words, a WW11 Nazi handgun, threat of violence, a mysterious Holocaust teacher, and the questioning of religion and adult happiness.  I found the ending very fitting and true to the story and characters, even if it wasn’t the happiest.

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last.

The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. Living the last day of her life seven times during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death–and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

Before I fall by Lauren Oliver was one of those books that have forever been on my ‘to-read’ list.  Described by many as a cross between ‘mean girls’ and ‘groundhog day’, I wasn’t super motivated to be transported back to my high school days where popularity was key, and rumours ran rampant. However, I must admit that I was missing out on this wonderful, thought provoking book! It is based on heavier subjects like death, suicide, and bullying, yet also touches on peer pressure, eating disorders and dysfunctional families too.

This is a rather lengthy book (470) pages, with only 7 chapters (1 for each day Sam re-lives). Sam has seven opportunities to understand what went so wrong, and how she can make it right. She fails miserable the first couple of times, but slowly begins to self reflect and understand how her actions can affect other people. Readers follow her path to redemption and along the way experience a wide range of emotions (frustration, anger, hope, etc.). 

I wasn’t sure how Oliver would be able to keep multiple days lived over and over again from being repetitive. Yet, she does this effortlessly.  There are different choices and events to give Sam the opportunity to make a difference.  Sam is by no means a perfect character, so her character growth from the beginning to end is believable.

There were so many lines and quotes that I loved, but my favourite was:

“So many things become beautiful when you really look (p. 344)”.  This book truly reminds us that our actions do affect others and to not take life for granted.  A recommended read for all.

 

 

Review: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things she and Nick hated. The list he used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

Inspired by the Nickleback song ‘If everyone cared,’’ this heartbreaking, emotional book is an absolute must read.  The book jumps between the past (day of school shooting) and present (the aftermath).  Also included are newspaper style articles that serve to give readers background information about the injured and slain students.

Although based on the school shooting, the book is mainly character driven.  Valerie struggles with her identity after her boyfriend uses their ‘hate list’ to kill classmates. By adding layers of dimension to the characters of Valerie and Nick, Brown made it impossible to classify them.  At some points, I saw them as victims of bullying, other times, as the perpetrator.  I guess that’s the whole point though—everyone has good and bad in them.  Throughout the story, I really felt for Valerie (despite her total selfishness).  Her awful parents made me so angry! The majority of time, Val is so broken and sad that I couldn’t help but wish for healing and recovery.  However, it’s likely that Val will never fully recover after that experience. To me, the open-ended conclusion to the story was a perfect ending.

Although I loved this book, I’m still wondering about Nick’s mysterious friend, Jeremy. Who exactly was Jeremy and did he have any influence on Nick?  Readers are told that they were spending more and more time together before the shooting. However, after the shooting he just disappears. Why bother introducing him at all?

Unfortunately, school shootings are an all too real tragic experience.  I definitely teared up a bit, especially during the graduation ceremony scene. This is not light read, but I would recommend this thought-provoking book to anyone.  No wonder it made multiple award lists, including:  YALSA best books for young adults, and School Library Journal’s Best book of the year.  Check out more reviews below.

 

“[A] riveting debut.” (starred review) (Publishers Weekly )

“Startling, powerful, and poignant.” (starred review) (School Library Journal )

“This novel ought to be the last written about a fictional high school shooting because it is difficult to imagine any capable of handling it better . . . A story that is as sensitive and honest as it is spellbinding.” (starred review) (VOYA)

Bookit Review: Playground by 50 Cent (with Laura Moser)

From Goodreads:

Thirteen-year-old Butterball doesn’t have much going for him. He’s teased mercilessly about his weight. He hates the Long Island suburb his mom moved them to and wishes he still lived with his dad in the city. And now he’s stuck talking to a totally out-of-touch therapist named Liz. Liz tries to uncover what happened that day on the playground—a day that landed one kid in the hospital and Butterball in detention. Butterball refuses to let her in on the truth, and while he evades her questions, he takes readers on a journey through the moments that made him into the playground bully he is today.

Coming from 50 Cent I was expecting a story more elicit with violence, gang peer pressure and hard to read content about abusive relationships. However, I found Butterball’s story in touch with the school peer pressure and bullying faced by many urban teens. Butterball is sent to see a therapist for a violent act he commits at school, but through his sessions with his therapists both the protagonist and the reader come to understand why he has acted out in certain ways and how he comes to make more thoughtful decisions about what is important to him in life.

This story offers teens who have been bullied, and more importantly teens who do bully, the chance to learn and be inspired by the life of an artist who has achieved the urban American Dream. The language of the book is street lit credible but with a light tone (i.e. the word ‘shit’ is as bad as it gets) and the story is aided with images that look they have been created in a spray paint caricature cartoon look.

Overall it was a 3 out of 5 book for me.

Happy reading,

Bookit

Previous Older Entries

Blog Stats

  • 31,988 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 138 other followers

Goodreads

Check out my books on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3608158-brie