The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

Eleven years old. The beginning of everything!

For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she’s one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It’s time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing’s impossible when you’re future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?

maggie

This middle grade book is essentially a memoir of eleven-year-old, Maggie Mayfield’s year. It is a life changing year for this very intelligent protagonist; she discovers that her father is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). While it does deal with a serious topic, the story is mostly upbeat. It also doesn’t hurt that Maggie’s quirky voice is so distinctively funny, that readers will be laughing along. Maggie also includes footnotes throughout the story for extra laughs!

Maggie’s family dynamics are also explored through her relationship with her older sisters, Layla and Tiffany. I thought their relationship was completely realistic. Although Maggie takes vitamins, reads the paper, and owns stock, there are still moments where she is naive and immature. She states, “I’d thought knowing where the sidewalk ended and where the red fern grew and where the wild things were would help me figure out LIFE (p.243).” However, she quickly learns that everyone in the family, must “pull up their bootstraps” to assist their dad.

Although the story is set in 1988, it feels very contemporary. I totally missed the old library stamp card on the front cover! Besides the few dated references, it’s ultimately a timeless story about growing up.

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza #5) by Jack Gantos

The fifth and final book in the groundbreaking Joey Pigza series brings the beloved chronicle of this wired, wacky, and wonderful boy to a crescendo of chaos and craziness, as everything goes topsy-turvy for Joey just as he starts to get his feet on the ground. With his dad MIA in the wake of appearance-altering plastic surgery, Joey must give up school to look after his new baby brother and fill in for his mom, who hospitalizes herself to deal with a bad case of postpartum blues. As his challenges mount, Joey discovers a key that could unlock the secrets to his father’s whereabouts, a mystery that must be solved before Joey can even hope that his broken family might somehow come back together—if only it doesn’t pull him apart first.

joey

I picked up this character driven, middle grade book after continually reading about its starred reviews.  I hadn’t read the previous four titles in the series, so I didn’t have that long term connection with Joey.  I found the book really dark and depressing.   There is family dysfunction, mental illness, poverty, child abandonment, and a depressed blind girlfriend who needs Joey to buy her panties.  I’m astonished that Joey could have such a “paw-si-tive” outlook surrounded by such drama.   The ending could be interpreted two ways.  Some may see the ending as optimistic, but sadly, I find it hard to believe that things will be OK.  There are too many unresolved issues for his family to deal with on their own.  The Pigza family is in need of serious help.  Although Joey does have a distinct voice, this book was a little too depressing for me.

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

rain

I (eye) adored this contemporary middle grade read about a girl with high functioning autism and her dog, Rain (Reign). Rose is in fifth grade, and obsessed with homonyms (words that are pronounced the same but are spelled differently), rules and numbers (especially prime ones).   Told from Rose’s point of view, readers learn the struggles of living with OCD and Aspergers in school and at home.  While Rose’s dad may want to do well, he lacks patience and understanding for raising a special needs daughter. So when Rose’s dad brings home a stray dog as a present, Rose is overjoyed and forms a special bond with the dog (Rain) immediately.  When Rain goes missing after a storm, her kind uncle Weldon helps in the search. Eventually Rain is found, but a search for Rain’s original owners must now begin.

It’s the relationships in this book that really tug at your heart. I wished that Rose’s grief stricken father would get some professional help, and to try to understand his daughter instead of spending his time at the bar. Luckily, Rose has a kind and thoughtful uncle and Rain to make life more bearable.  As a huge animal lover, I totally understand the special bond between a dog and child.  I know how difficult it would have been to be brave and ‘do the right thing’ by giving back Rain to her rightful owners.  Rose is one special fifth grader for sure. Her voice is authentic, and it is obvious Martin did quite a bit of research to pull it off flawlessly. The frustrations and reactions to Rose’s behaviour and outbursts can help children understand what life is like for someone with Autism. This in turn, may help readers stand up to bullying, and be more accepting of differences.

Overall, Rain Reign is a beautiful tale of love, loss, and hope.  The ending was perfect, with readers optimistic about Rose’s future.  As a total standout for the year, I would recommend this book to readers of all ages.

Review: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

From Goodreads:

Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything? Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. She’s stuck at JFK, late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s in seat 18C. Hadley’s in 18A.


Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.

                                  The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Published: January 2nd, 2012

I’d give this book a three out of five.  The title alone made me pick up the book. It is an amazing title but I think the story didn’t really do it justice.  The title actually stems from one of Oliver’s fake summer research topics he tells Hadley in his effort to impress her.  As far as I’m concerned, the book could have also been named ‘The Fermentation Process of Mayonnaise’ or ‘Patterns of Congestion in US Airports’.  However, I doubt the book would have received the same attention! I just felt it was more of a family drama than love story. Sure, they met at the airport and that’s cute and dandy, but I never felt like they were truly in love. They just happened to be at the same place at the same time and it was convenience.  I didn’t feel the chemistry.

I also completely hated the character of Hadley’s father. After moving to Europe, he essentially abandons his wife and daughter when he meets another woman.  I can’t believe Hadley lets her dad off so easy, with his justification ‘because I fell in love’ and ‘love isn’t supposed to make sense. It’s completely illogical’.  Reaaaally?

One more thing—I didn’t enjoy the third person narrative and it really took some getting used to. I felt like I was reading as a spectator rather than a participant.

Overall, a quick, cute read. Maybe I was just hoping it would rank along with Anna and the French Kiss. I wanted the love story, but instead got a story more about reconnecting and forgiving. I think that teens that have felt the effects of a broken marriage would able to relate (and enjoy) the story more than I did.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

When driving the long five hours home, I like to take along an audiobook to pass the time. Like many others, TLC’s shows like ‘Sister Wives’ and ’19 Kids and Counting’ fascinates me, so a story about a polygamous community caught my attention. I quickly grabbed ‘The Chosen One’ by Carol Lynch Williams, but I had NO idea what an emotional journey I was about to embark on.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated polygamous community without questioning her father’s three wives and her twenty brothers and sisters. Or at least without questioning them much—if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her 60-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family.

First off, I must say that Jenna Lamia (the narrating voice) did an excellent job.  I am really picky with audiobooks and the voice reading to me has to be just right. With a little research, I found out that Jenna Lamia also narrates Girl With A Pearl Earring, Linger, The Secret Life of Bees and much more!

Immediately, you feel for Kyra. Her first-person narrative is really effective in describing the confining, controlled environment of her polygamist cult.  Throughout the story, we learn just how powerless the women and children are. When her uncle demands Kyra to punish her baby sister by dunking her head in a bucket of ice cold water, I was screaming in fury! Don’t do it Kyra! Don’t do it! That scene was really difficult to listen to, and I found myself tearing up. In the end, I was so proud of Kyra and her decision.

We all face decisions everyday—some simple and some that require a little more thought. For Kyra, her decision to leave her entire family behind, or marry her 60 year old uncle is completely life changing. Listening to her story, you will find yourself rooting for her to overcome her situation. She is a strong character, always standing up for what’s right and what she believes in. She is willing to risk her life for freedom.  Kyra is an amazing spirit and I still can’t get her haunting voice out of my head.

As a librarian, I loved that Kyra would sneak books from her local bookmobile. There is one part where she is reading Harry Potter and she describes feeling magical because the book gives her strength and courage.  This secret freedom of having access to books, allows a whole new world to be revealed to Kyra. However, her freedom to read is destroyed when her compound follows her one day, and targets the friendly bookmobile driver.

Overall, The Chosen One can be overwhelmingly intense. It has an intriguing, fast-paced storyline (especially at the end). I arrived home right at the story’s conclusion and I found myself sitting in my driveway listening to the ending play out. This book is that intense!

Check out the book trailer to listen to a sample of Jenna Lamia’s voice narrating, The Chosen One.

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