Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

…poignant story, told in free verse, of eleven-year-old Jett. Last year, Jett and his mother had moved to a new town for a fresh start after his father went to jail. But Jett soon learned that fresh starts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When he befriended a boy with a difficult home life, Jett found himself in a cycle of bad decisions that culminated in the betrayal of a friend – a shameful secret he still hasn’t forgiven himself for. Will a summer spent with his unconventional grandmother help Jett find his way to redemption?

ebbIt’s clear to see how Smith’s east coast roots have inspired this heartbreaking middle grade read.  It brought me back to my many visits to Nova Scotia and hunting for sea glass.

Told in poetic form, I read about Jett’s “rotten bad year” in one sitting. I admired how sparsely-worded pages were able to cover such a wide range of serious topics: bullying, incarceration, abuse, and more. There were so many beautiful passages that I had to restrain myself from dog-earring all the pages. As a librarian, I especially loved the passage:

I said,

I only read comics.

She said,

What’s a comic if it’s not a book?

Jett’s betrayal slowly unfolds and his courage and responsibility ultimately turn this sad story into one of forgiveness and hope. Ebb & Flow has such a powerful impact that it may take some readers some time to fully process the story.

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Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle

Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he’s wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he’d settle for *seeing* a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby’s help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There’s an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.

nate

Better Nate Than Ever has racked up an impressive list of honors and awards. Although targeted at middle graders, readers of all ages will enjoy this hilarious book.  Through Nate’s eyes, readers are given a glimpse of how fabulous New York City can be. It brought back memories of navigating the busy streets, and experiencing the wonder and magic of the bright lights, loud noises and interesting smells!

Nate’s NYC audition adventure reminds us all the have the courage and heart to follow our dreams.  He is quite the comedian, and I found myself laughing a long with him. Although there are plenty of laughs to be had, Federle also covers serious ground through Nate’s questioning sexuality and his mothers’ unresolved family conflict that has hindered Nate’s relationship with his Aunt Heidi. I too have experienced family tension with an estranged aunt, so I could totally connect with Nate and cheer for their reconciliation.

I thought both serious matters were handled perfectly and age appropriately. Although Nate hints at his sexuality, it is never declared. In fact, Nate asserts, “I am undecided… and frankly don’t want to declare anything other than ‘Hey, jerks. I’m thirteen. Leave me alone. Macaroni and cheese is still my favourite food-how would I know who I want to hook up with? (p.27)” YES! I think Federle deserves a BIG round of applause for including that line.

I urge you to pick up this hilarious and inspiring book. I can’t wait to read the sequel- Five, Six, Seven, Nate!  to find out about Nate’s showbiz debut!

 

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)

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