Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, was published in 2016 by Atheneum.

Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race—and wins—the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he tries to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Rating: 4/5

Ghost is a book I wasn’t sure I would enjoy, but ended up loving. Ghost has a great voice as the first-person narrator, and it’s easy to get swept up in the book. It’s a fast read, but the pacing is good and the balance of light and dark is perfect: there’s angst, but there’s enough healing and light-heartedness to cut through it.

Ghost is the main character, but it’s Coach who’s the real star of the show: he pretty much becomes Ghost’s much-needed father-figure, helping him own up to his mistakes, but also showing compassion when necessary. He’s also not afraid to share weakness or past hardships, which makes him the best sort of adult character. Ghost himself, as I said, has a great voice, and everything he does is completely believable, to the point where I’m so caught up that I can’t even get annoyed at the dumb teenage things he does sometimes. And I love how all the chapter titles mention world records until the last one, to especially highlight how important it is.

Speaking of the last chapter, I do wish that there had been more resolution to the ending. And I know that it’s not really important who won the race, and that the point is that Ghost got there and he’s ready to put the past behind him, but…I kinda wanted to see the race unfold! That’s pretty much my only complaint about the novel: the ending could have been better, in my opinion.

Ghost stars an endearing protagonist, a fantastic adult figure in Coach, and several other fleshed-out side characters (who, I believe, will star in their own books). It’s a fast-paced, fast-read of a book and it’s mostly perfect, except for the ending. Still, I’m ready and willing for the next books to fall into my lap.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2k8mQ99

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First Impressions by Debra White Smith

Disclaimer: First Impressions, by Debra White Smith, was provided by Bethany House. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

In an attempt to get to know the people of London, Texas—the small town that lawyer Eddi Boswick now class home—she tries out for a local theater group’s production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’s thrilled to get the role of lively Elizabeth Bennet…until she meets the arrogant—and eligible—rancher playing her leading man. Dave Davidson chose London, Texas, as the perfect place to live under the radar. Here, no one knows his past, and he can live a quiet, peaceful life with his elderly aunt, who also happens to own the local theater. Dave doesn’t even tryout for the play, but suddenly he is thrust into the role of Mr. Darcy and forced to spend the entire summer with Eddi, who clearly despises him. Sparks fly every time Eddi and Dave meet, whether on the stage or off. But when Eddi discovers Dave’s secret, she has to admit there might be more to him than she thought. Maybe even enough to change her mind…and win her heart.

My rating: 3/5

I was excited when I found out this book was a Pride & Prejudice retelling. I figured I would enjoy it even if it turned out like many of the other mediocre romances I’ve read. I did get a bit of a scare when I reached the second chapter and had a “who thought this way of writing was a good idea?” moment when Smith described a tornado as a “beast,” a “devil,” a “demon,” a “gyrating monster,” a “funnel,” a “ghastly specter,” and, my personal favorite, a “capricious adolescent,” all in the span of three pages. Trust me…I almost stopped reading then and there.

However, I shouldered on, and I’m glad I did. Smith manages to keep a lot of the main characterization of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy and transfers them to her modern characters, Eddi and Dave. I don’t think she quite understands Darcy, but at least her presentation was better than the 2005 Kiera Knightley “shy romantic soul” movie interpretation. A lot of the same issues were addressed, at least in terms of their relationship, and in that regard I quite enjoyed it.

My main quibble was simply the shape of the retelling itself, especially how Smith chose to reinterpret some of the elements. It’s difficult to retell a Regency novel in a modern world, so I can say that Smith did a good job trying to find an equal equivalent to things that happen in the book (though none have done it better than “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” in my opinion). I do think she takes it a bit too far, though, especially in terms of Linda, this story’s Lydia. The Lydia of Pride & Prejudice is naïve and silly, but not worldly. I suppose the closest modern interpretation would be a sort of wild party girl, as is portrayed here, but I still think Smith could have done something a little better than what she does with the Lydia plotline. And I get that Christian novels love redemption stories, but redeeming Wickham (or this story’s Wickham, anyway) was too much. I did like the changing of Georgiana to a boy, though, and the way Smith modernized that event.

Some of the other elements were a little all over the place, such as the Chari/Charlotte and and Conner/Mr. Collins plotline, which seemed thrown in purely for the sake of the retelling as opposed to the plot. To be honest, they could have been cut out completely with nothing lost at all. I also was thrown by the early Catharine de Bourge/Davidson’s aunt scene, and I felt the effect was ruined because of it.

Basically, I enjoyed the main plotline of First Impressions, the barebones Pride & Prejudice romance retelling, but I had more serious problems with the writing and the side characters, as well as some of the ways Smith chose to retell and reinterpret the original. I liked it, but if I want a good Pride & Prejudice retelling, this won’t be the book I turn to.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2Ir5jHJ

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon

The Doldrums, by Nicholas Gannon, was published in 2015 by HarperCollins.

Archer B. Helmsley has grown up in a house full of oddities and treasures collected by his grandparents, the famous explorers. He knows every nook and cranny. He knows them all too well. After all, ever since his grandparents went missing on an iceberg, his mother barely lets him leave the house. Archer B. Helmsley longs for adventure. Grand adventures, with parachutes and exotic sunsets and interesting characters. But how can he have an adventure when he can’t leave his house? It helps that he has friends like Adelaide L. Belmont, who must have had many adventures to end up with a wooden leg. (Perhaps from a run-in with a crocodile. Perhaps not.) And Oliver Glub. Oliver will worry about all the details (so Archer doesn’t have to). Archer, Adelaide, and Oliver make a plan. A plan to get out of the house, out of their town entirely. It’s a good plan. Well, it’s not bad, anyway. But nothing goes quite as they expect.

Rating: 5/5

The Doldrums is a whimsical, light-hearted story about a boy who longs to have an adventure and, especially, to meet his grandparents. He befriends two other children, one a down-to-earth boy and the other an imaginative girl, and together they plot a way to get Archer out of his house and on his way to see his grandparents. A controlling mother who wants to keep Archer from becoming his grandparents and a strict, overbearing teacher help bring in some tension and conflict for the characters.

What really won me over in this book wasn’t the story, though that was delightful. It was really the beautiful color illustrations. I am a sucker for color illustrations, and these were perfect and fit the mood of the book so well. I also love whimsical stories at heart—stories that aren’t too absurd as to be farcical, that are light and funny and charming and interesting. That’s exactly what The Doldrums is, and it is so perfect for anyone who is in “the doldrums” because it will lift them out immediately. It’s a very cheering book, in my opinion.

The Doldrums is one of the more stand-out books I’ve read in a long time. It was delightful and charming, and the color illustrations were gorgeous. There’s absurdity in the book, but it’s more whimsical than anything. Archer learns important lessons about family and imagination, and everything is bright and cheery and lovely. The book entranced me and swept me up. It’s probably not a book for everyone, but it was a delight for me.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

Archer opened his bag and handed Oliver a mobile made of fish.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” Oliver asked.

“Use the headband,” said Archer. “Strap it to your head.”

Oliver considered this and then, like any good sidekick, strapped the fish to his head. “Why am I strapping fish to his head?” he asked.

‘To set the mood,” said Archer.

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2IcQ6ZS

Joey by Jennifer Marshall Bleakley

Disclaimer: Joey, by Jennifer Marshall Bleakley, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

With her fledgling horse ranch, Hope Reins, in dire financial trouble, the last thing Kim Tschirret needed was one more problem. But when she met Joey, a former prizewinning jumper who had been abandoned, neglected, and malnourished to the point of blindness, she saw in him the same God-given potential she saw in every abused and abandoned child her ministry was created to serve. So, despite the challenges that would come with caring for a blind and wounded horse, Kim took a leap of faith and brought Joey home to Hope Reins. But as Joey struggled to adapt to his new surroundings, trainers, and pasture-mate, the staff’s confidence began to falter. Could Joey learn to trust again-to connect with the children who needed him so badly? What if they couldn’t take care of Joey? And how much longer could they afford to try?

My rating: 2/5

I was excited to receive and read Joey because, let’s face it, horse books were my favorite type of books growing up, and even today I still get excited to read one. And it seemed intriguing–a blind horse? Horse-centered therapy? Count me in!

However, I rated this book low for a reason, though it didn’t have anything to do with the horses. In fact, the horses were the best part of the book, though admittedly it did confuse me a bit when the first part of the book focused more on Speckles than on Joey. But I enjoyed reading about the training and the innovative ways the trainers helped Joey overcome his blindness. The interaction of the horses and the children was sweet; Bleakley definitely shows how an animal-centered therapy works, as well as its effectiveness overall.

So, it wasn’t the horses that I had a problem. It was the rest of the book–the humans, basically, and the overly preachy and sentimental tone. I had an incredibly difficult time telling the three main characters apart (Kim, Sarah, and Lauren), as their voices all sounded the same. I soon learned to differentiate by various traits always brought up–Lauren and her knee, Sarah and her inner monologues about her inadequacies. However, what also confused me was the voice of the characters. I initially thought Sarah was a teenager until she brought up a husband, which really threw me for a loop. Her voice just sounded like something more akin to a teenager’s than an adult’s to me. There was also a random romance thrown in with her that came out of nowhere; I understand that this is more nonfiction, but at least hint that she’s getting into a relationship with the vet before suddenly mentioning them holding hands when they rarely appear “on page” with each other and exchange conversation. Lauren also sounded younger, but she mentions a husband and kids earlier on so it was easier to adjust.

I also didn’t much like the sentimental, preachy tone of the book, and this is definitely more reflective of my personality than of anything really wrong with the book itself. I hate preachiness, especially extended preachiness that sounds scripted, and I’m not fond of sentimentality. If a grief scene stretches for longer than a paragraph, I already think it’s overdone. I recognize the sadness of the book, and what losing horses means to the people who work at Hope Reins, but I’d prefer not to linger on one particular scene for pages at a time.

I really didn’t like the tone or the confusing characters who blended into one another, but the book is focused on the horses, and the horses really do shine. This is a great advertisement for Hope Reins, if nothing else.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

You can buy this here:  https://amzn.to/2KuCE20

1947 Newbery Medal: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

Miss Hickory, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey, was published in 1946 by Viking.

When Great-granny Brown packed up and moved to the Women’s City Club in Boston, Miss Hickory was faced with the problem of spending a severe New Hampshire winter alone. This might not have been so bad if Miss Hickory had not been a country woman whose body was an apple-wood twig and whose head was a hickory nut. Also, if her house had been built of stronger material than corncobs, however neatly notched and glued together. This is the story of how she survived those trying months, in the company of neighbors like Crow, who was tough, wise, and kindly; Bull Frog, who lost his winter clothes; Ground Hog, a surly man afraid of his own shadow, and a host of others. It is a fantasy full of the peculiar charm of the New Hampshire countryside, seen from an angle which most of us, city-bound in the winter, know little about.

Rating: 2/5

I’ve mostly liked and enjoyed all the Newbery Medal books so far, with a few notable exceptions (The Dark Frigate, *shudder*). Miss Hickory, unfortunately, falls on the side of the ones I didn’t like so much. It’s not that the quality is low or the messages are poor. I actually thought the message was quite good; there was a delightful little scene in the middle where Miss Hickory realizes the cost of hardheadedness.

My main problem with Miss Hickory is that the premise is strange (a living wooden doll existing alongside animals, with no explanation as to how she got there or as to why there isn’t any creature like her) and there is nothing that reconciles that strangeness, and the ending is downright creepy. Seriously, I read the end and almost couldn’t believe what was happening; there is also a rather frightening picture to go along with the event. If, as an adult, I feel creeped out by a book, how much more so would a child be frightened? I don’t think Bailey meant it to be frightening, of course, and the story does end happily, if strangely, but nevertheless, it was the wrong tone to end the book on.

Miss Hickory should have been like Hitty, Her First Hundred Years or similar, but the premise was too strange and unexplained (why does Miss Hickory even exist? Why aren’t there others like her?) and the ending was frightening. I enjoyed the book, I suppose, but it’s definitely not a standout nor is it a book I would recommend to anyone anytime soon. Not every Newbery can be perfect, but it’s still a little disappointing.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None, unless you count the end where Miss Hickory loses her head and then her headless body walks around.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Children’s

“You have seen through Great-granny Brown’s kitchen window how deep the snowdrifts are in New Hampshire. I’ll wager that there were days when you could not see through the windows. The winters are long and hard here, Miss Hickory. “

“What could one do?” she begged. She would not believe him yet.

“Don’t feel too badly, as if they had forgotten you,” he said kindly. “Ann has other matters than dolls to fill her mind now. Great-granny Brown was born and bred in New Hampshire. She expects you to be equal to any weather. You’ll have to move, Miss Hickory.”

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2HpZHcj

Things I Never Told You by Beth K. Vogt

Disclaimer: Things I Never Told You, by Beth K. Vogt, was provided by Tyndale. I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

It’s been ten years since Payton Thatcher’s twin sister died in an accident, forcing the entire family to cope in whatever ways they could. Now a lone twin, Payton reinvents herself as a partner in a successful part-planning business and is doing just fine—as long as she manages to hold her memories and her family at arm’s length. But with the announcement of her middle sister Jillian’s engagement, Payton’s party-planning skills are called into action. Which means working alongside Johann, her opinionated oldest sister, who always seems ready for a fight. They can only hope a wedding might be just the occasion to heal the resentment and jealousy that divides them…until a frightening diagnosis threatens Jillian’s plans for the future. As old wounds reopen and the family faces the possibility of yet another tragedy, the Thatchers must decide if they will pull together or be driven apart for good.

My rating: 2/5

Maybe I’ve read too many young adult suspense novels, but when I read the summary of Things I Never Told You, I expected something much darker than what I actually got. The title, so reminiscent of popular YA titles, didn’t help. In fact, since I went into the book expecting deep, dark secrets to be revealed, the actual revelation of the “things I never told” seemed cheapened. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

The story is told from multiple points of view: Payton, the focus character, in first person, and Jillian and Zach in third person. I got used to the switching from first to third after a while, but initially it was really jarring. I also wondered why Vogt even bothered with first person if she wanted to use multiple viewpoints; the first person didn’t contribute much to Payton’s character and it seems pointless to utilize if you’re just going to switch to third when you want to convey other characters’ thoughts. The point of first person is that you don’t get the other character’s thoughts.

The story mainly focuses on Payton and the “things she’s never told” regarding the death of her sister (which, contrary to my thoughts, aren’t dark at all, merely the sort of thing you might expect after a traumatic event), though focus is also spent on her relationship with her family, especially her sisters, and her sister’s battle with breast cancer. The characters are all right—perhaps too pointedly flawed, or maybe too pointedly focused on their own inadequacies. If reading this book was supposed to make me feel as if I could relate to the characters and overcome similar thoughts, then Vogt didn’t really succeed. Eventually, all I wanted was for the self-pity and self-deprecation to stop.

I did like how Vogt handled the Thatcher’s lack of faith, and I liked that she didn’t create any sort of conversion scene that are usually so cheesy and overdone. I did think she dropped the ball in terms of Jillian, though. Jillian, I felt, needed the comfort that Payton received from thinking about God just as much, if not more, than Payton. She spends the whole book focusing on happy, positive thoughts that I thought for sure Vogt would connect it to the joy of Christianity. Unfortunately, that never happens, and instead Jillian’s happiness is tied to material things. A missed opportunity, and one that may have proved more powerful than Payton’s story.

Though I expected a dark, thriller-like reveal to the story, and the reveal of what Payton was actually hiding seem cheap in comparison, I did like a few aspects of Things I Never Told You. The family dynamic was interesting, and though I felt there were lots of missed opportunities, the way the book ended was realistic. The take on breast cancer was respectful, but just as shocking and sad as it would be in real life. However, the viewpoint was jarring and poorly executed, the title is too reminiscent of YA novels (and thus juvenile for an adult book), the characters spent too long wallowing in their own perceived flaws, and a beautiful opportunity for Jillian to see where true joy lies is completely set aside in favor of furthering a romantic plotline. It’s an average take on sorrow, buried secrets, and guilt, but is nowhere close to memorable or inspiring.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Christian, Realistic

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2F5wiSZ

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

The Goldfish Boy, by Lisa Thompson, was published in 2017 by Scholastic.

Matthew Corbin hasn’t been to school in weeks. He refuses to leave the safety of his bedroom. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He knows something isn’t right, but he just wants to be left alone. So he watches from his upstairs window as life goes on without him. Matthew’s hopes for solitude are shattered, however, when a young child staying next door goes missing. Suddenly the neighborhood is swarming with police and reporters—and everyone is concerned with what Matthew might have seen from his window. He might just hold the key to solving the mystery before it’s too late. But does he even want to try, if it means exposing his own secrets in the process?

Rating: 3/5

The Goldfish Boy reminded me a little bit of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, though only at the beginning. The premise of the book is that Matthew, suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder since the death of his baby brother, decides to solve the mystery of who kidnapped his next-door neighbor’s grandson. Along the way, he learns more about his neighbors as well as himself, his parents, and his disorder.

It’s the type of angsty, yet still heartwarming, read that I used to gobble up in college. Now reading these sorts of books, I get a mildly sick feeling. Luckily, The Goldfish Boy didn’t pile on too much angst, and countered the amount it had with lots of therapy and hope. As a book about what might trigger OCD, as well as what it’s like and how to deal with it, it’s very good. It also has a good message about friendship and family.

The mystery at the heart of the plot, however, is not so great. Thompson leaves all the appropriate clues and red herrings, so it’s not that the quality is bad. I just found the motive of the responsible person to be rather weak. It made no sense to me why Teddy was kidnapped at all; the ending was anticlimactic and rushed and I didn’t buy the reason the kidnapper gave. A fault of the exposition, I believe, in not developing all the characters enough so that their motivations and actions make sense.

The Goldfish Boy contains enough angst to make me uncomfortable, but enough hope and heartwarming scenes to alleviate that feeling slightly. I liked the look into a condition that the average person doesn’t really understand or know about, but the mystery itself fell apart a little bit in terms of motivation and behavior. A good book, but not necessarily one I would recommend immediately.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade

“I’ll tell you what, let’s make a deal. I’ll move if you promise to come and see Dr. Kerr tomorrow morning. How does that sound?”

She’d have been in the conservatory this morning, her bare feet padding around the cold tiles where Nigel chucks up fur balls and mouse guts. She must be riddled with germs—germs that were now escaping in their millions into my room. I gripped the edge of the door and thought about slamming it against her toes, but if I did that I might end up with blood on my carpet, and that made me feel dizzy. I didn’t look up.

“Okay, okay, I’ll go. Now can you move? Please?”

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2H9A6UK

The Disappearance of Emily H. by Barrie Summy

The Disappearance of Emily H., by Barrie Summy, was published in 2015 by Delacorte.

Emily Huvar vanished without a trace. And the clues are right beneath Raine’s fingertips. Literally, Raine isn’t like other eighth graders. One touch of a glittering sparkle that only Raine can see, and she’s swept into a memory from the past. If she touches enough sparkles, she can piece together what happened to Emily. When Raine realizes that the cliquey group of girls making her life miserable know more than they’re letting on about Emily’s disappearance, she has to do something. She’ll use her supernatural gift for good…to fight evil. But is it too late to save Emily?

Rating: 2/5

The Disappearance of Emily H. takes a potentially interesting premise and then immediately drags it through the mud, combining teenage drama that’s just a tad too over-the-top (I feel like the author simply watched a bunch of teenage movies about high school and then based her book off of that) with a weak, unnecessary supernatural aspect. I nearly didn’t finish the book.

The protagonist, Raine, has this supernatural ability: she can sense people’s memories when she touches “sparkles.” It’s mentioned briefly at the beginning of the book that this ability of hers has been muted lately. Yet there is no explanation given as to why, nor is this problem addressed or solved later on. Anyway, she uses this ability to help unravel the mystery surrounding a local girl’s disappearance, as well as spy on the people around her and bring down a bully by resorting to bullying.

The one redeemable aspect of this book was that Summy didn’t have the final mystery behind Emily’s disappearance be the dumb reason I thought it was initially. If it had been, I would have ended the book extremely angry. As it was, I ended the book mildly disgusted instead (my exact words were, after closing the novel, “What a dumb book.”).

There’s literally no reason for Raine to have the ability to sense people’s memories; all it does is serve to alienate her so that the Mean Girl Jessica (*Jennifer) can be even more Mean. The mystery could have been solved with just a little bit of extra detective work and if Raine had paid more attention to what people were telling her. I especially didn’t like that Raine and Shirlee dealt with Jessica (*Jennifer) by being bullies themselves, basically blackmailing her into submission. That’s a great way to teach kids about how to overcome their problems.

The Disappearance of Emily H. has an unnecessary premise, a mystery that completely falls flat once motives are figured out (though it’s much more reasonable than what I initially thought it to be), boring characters, and over-the-top melodrama that is poorly described and poorly resolved. I probably would not have had the patience to finish this novel if I hadn’t read most of it on a plane without much else to do.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Middle Grade, Mystery, Realistic

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2HfWRar

1999 Newbery Medal: Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes, by Louis Sachar, was published in 1998 by Yearling.

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day, digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize that Camp Green Lake isn’t what it seems .Are the boys digging holes because the warden is looking for something? But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? It’s up to Stanley to dig up the truth.

Rating: 5/5

I love Holes. I consider the movie with Shia LeBeouf to be one of the most faithful film adaptations of a book out there (plus, it has Dulé Hill/Gus from Psych as Sam), so I really enjoyed picking this book up again.

Holes is wacky, unbelievable fun, basically. The whole premise revolves around this detention camp that troubled teenagers are sent to instead of going to jail. At the camp, they dig holes, because why not? While there, Stanley uncovers (dare I say, digs up) secrets about the Warden, the nature of the camp, and his own past.

There’s a whole lot of convenience to the plot, but it’s already so out there as a premise that it’s really not hard to swallow all the convenience, too. And at the end of the book, Sachar pokes fun, a little, at the camp and the things the Warden got away with, so as strange as it is, it works.

I’m not sure why Holes won a Newbery Medal, but I’m glad it did. While the main plot with Stanley is wacky, the story-within-a-story that is told as the novel goes on is heartbreaking. The story of Katherine and Sam is the real jewel of the story; simplistic on the surface, but with so much packed in underneath. Sachar conveys the thoughts and feelings of the time in a few pages that reveals all of its unfairness before you even realize it. Furthermore, the tie-in is good, too; Sachar weaves all the stories together in fantastic fashion, connecting everything together in simple, yet effective, ways.

Holes is a great book. It’s fun, memorable, and has more moments of heartbreak, tension, and emotion than you might expect from the premise. It makes me want to watch the movie, really, but it also makes me glad that I reread this book and got to experience it all over again.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None

Genre: Children’s, Realistic

“I’m finished,” Stanley said, putting his blood-spotted cap back on his head.

“All right!” said Mr. Pendanski, raising his hand for a high five, but Stanley ignored it. He didn’t have the strength.

(…) Mr. Pendanski climbed back into the truck without filling Stanley’s canteen. Stanley waited for him to drive away, then took another look at his hole. He knew it was nothing to be proud of, but he felt proud nonetheless.

You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2IiS1c6

2010 Newbery Medal: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, was published in 2009 by Yearling.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner. But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper: I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message bringers her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

Rating: 4/5

When You Reach Me is a book that, after I finished it, I was surprised to look back and find that I liked it. I mean, while reading it, I was engaged in the story, and I had this overall positive impression throughout the book. So I suppose it’s not really so surprising that I enjoyed the book. But it is surprising that Stead could include such a strange turn of events in the plot and the entire premise and I still wound up enjoying the book despite its oddball reveal.

I don’t want to say too much, because it is such a strange and random revelation that saying it might make the novel seem cheap. It’s not—it’s a Newbery winner, after all—but a simple description or summary really doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know how I felt about the reveal, but Stead incorporates it in such a way that by the time it is revealed, I cared enough about the characters that I could roll with the punches.

Without the “surprise” of the novel, the story itself is delightful—a simple story about a girl growing up, trying desperately to fit into a changing environment and dealing with changing friends, rivalries, and odd and scary neighbors. Stead portrays nicely the changing dynamics of friendships as people grow older. Even though not too much development is given to the secondary characters, Miranda’s friends and family, they’re still interesting enough that her time spent with them seems meaningful. It’s also nice to see a rivalry story that isn’t over-the-top dramatic.

When You Reach Me has a bizarre reveal that actually works with the story as she developed it, so that even as strange as it was, it somehow seemed to fit with the story. It’s a unique sort of novel, and the main story itself, without the twist at the end, is good enough to warrant the Newbery medal, in my opinion. The twist doesn’t make the book better, but it certainly makes it stand out more.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Children’s, Realistic, Science Fiction

I was named after a criminal. Mom says that’s a dramatic way of looking at things, but sometimes the truth is dramatic.

“The name Miranda stands for people’s rights,” she said last fall, when I was upset because Robbie B. had told me during gym that I was named after a kidnapper.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2F62XMf