The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 (ebook)
by Sue Townsend
If you enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series but think that was too “young” for you or your students, you will enjoy Sue Townsend’s series about a boy named Adrian living in the UK during the early 80’s. He is an only child, so he doesn’t have the same family issues that Greg does, but his parents’ marriage in in jeopardy, he faces bullies at school, he has a crush on a girl named Pandora, and he is dealing with the stresses of being an adolescent in a world he doesn’t understand completely. Luckily, Adrian is an “intellectual” and is documenting his day-to-day in a diary, so we read first-hand his views of his mom’s infidelity and his dad’s depression. We feel feelings for his poor dog, and compassion for the old man he is helping.
What I liked about this book was how funny it was! I was rolling within the first page or two of reading it. Unfortunately, my husband did not enjoy it, because I usually read in bed once he’s gone to sleep. It really reminded me of the point of view of Greg in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, because he sees things differently than we might as the reader. This book killed me whenever I read it, even in parts that shouldn’t have been funny in real life. Adrian is a likable character. When I first got this book on NetGalley, I didn’t realize it was a book previously published in 1982 with 11 books in the series. Townsend could probably have gone on if she hadn’t passed away in 2015.
What I didn’t like about this book is that I can’t share it with my students, who are only in sixth grade. I felt there was so much that would either go over their heads (since the lingo wouldn’t be familiar to them) or would be inappropriate for their age (Adrian is several years older and they aren’t quite ready for talk of dirty magazines or measuring private parts). If I taught high school, though, the entire series would be on my shelf.
Book 46 of 40
(Book 12 of 2018)
Saints and Misfits (audiobook)
by S.K. Ali
Saints and Misfits is about a Muslim girl who was sexually assaulted by a family member of a friend. It is more than that, though. It is about a girl navigating high school with the burden of the assault while also dealing with friends, parties, family trouble, the death of a friend, all while being Muslim and misunderstood by people who know her. The monster attempted to rape Janna at a friend’s house in the basement, but she got away, and never told anyone. This left her afraid, kind of angry at the world, and a bit cynical, in my opinion. Her father is remarried and her older brother has just moved back in with Janna and her mom, kicking her out of her bedroom. Janna has a crush on a non-Muslim boy, which means they can never be together. She is also coerced into being part of the quiz bowl at her mosque, and it seems that Janna isn’t getting to make many choices in her life, leaving her voiceless. With the support of some unlikely allies, Janna takes control of her life, and the story leaves us feeling better. Regardless of religion, all teens struggle with similar issues.
What I liked about this book was that although it was about an assault, it was not depressing like it could be. Part of why I chose to pick it up was it was described as “The My So-Called-Life of the Muslim world” and that was my favorite show growing up. I also really liked learning more about Islam and the Muslim culture, something I don’t know a lot about. I think books like these are important for so many reasons, one being that it builds an understanding of something misunderstood, and even feared. I like to think I am respectful and accepting of all people, but I admit that what I don’t know, I have misconceptions about. This book taught me more about chaperoned dates, wearing a hijab, and the expectations of young men and women who are Muslim.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t so much the book, but that I listened to the audiobook. I had to look up the spelling of several of the characters, which means I lost track of them. I also didn’t care for the narrator’s voice. I really enjoyed the book, but I think it would be better reading an ebook or the hardcopy.
Book 45 of 40
(Book 11 of 2018)
The House That Loud Built (ebook)
by Mae Respicio
Lou is a middle school girl who dreams of building her own tiny house. She is Filipina American, living in San Francisco with her mom and Lola (grandmother). Although she lost her caucasian father before she was born, she has a large, supportive family, including best friends and extended family. Her father left her a plot of land, and Lou feels it is the perfect place to build her tiny house, and feels closer to her father when she is there building. When Lou finds out her mother plans to accept a job in Washington, Lou is more determined than ever to finish her tiny house, despite the many obstacles that pop up in front of her.
What I liked about this book was that it gave us a strong female character who wanted to build a house, something males would generally be doing. It is a great girl-power book, because Lou is determined to accomplish her dream, and she makes every effort to learn more about what she aims to do. It seems really far-fetched, but Lou has plans. It is a good lesson for students to see.
What I didn’t like about this book isn’t really a big deal, and it isn’t really something I didn’t like. I think that anyone reading the book who isn’t Filipino or can’t relate to the culture might be a little overwhelmed by the cultural references. Being Filipina by marriage, I was very proud of myself for knowing/understanding every single reference! I have eaten bibinka and I understand the importance of a balikbayan box to the family back in the Philippines. I know this book will appeal to my Filipina students because of the references, but I can see my students getting confused over all of the Tagalog words.
Book 44 of 40
(Book 10 of 2018)
Between Shades of Gray (audiobook)
by Ruta Sepetys
Between Shades of Gray is a companion novel to Salt to the Sea. This novel is from the point of view of Lina from Lithuania. She is Joana’s cousin. In flashbacks, we learn about their close relationship; nearly sisters. Lina is rounded up with her mother and brother (her father being previously taken) and put into a train car, shipped off by the Russians. She isn’t sure why (we later find out how she was discovered). Along the way, she meets several others, including a young man named Andrius. They are sent to Siberia, and suffer through many years in a labor camp. Her mother Elena befriends one of the soldiers, and Lina learns she isn’t the only one who is suffering through this war.
What I liked about this book was that we learn another perspective of World War II that we might not hear about. I didn’t know about people being sent to Siberia, but this showed me more about how horrible it was. Most people only think of the concentration camps, but this taught me how badly they suffered in other camps. It was also painful not to know where your loved ones were. And oh man- to have bodies strewn about, and the wild animals coming at them.
What I didn’t like about this book was that I loved Salt to the Sea, and this one just wasn’t as good. It was good, but if I’d read it first, I would have liked it a lot more. I think one thing I wanted was for the romantic connection to be stronger like it was with Joana. Still a good read, though!
Book 43 of 40
(Book 9 of 2018)
The Nameless City (paperback)
by Faith Erin Hicks
The Nameless City is nameless due to it being conquered about every 30 years. Because of this, people in different parts of the city have given it different names. Kaidu is a boy who was born into his place in society, learning to fight to protect the city. He makes friends with a girl who is considered below him, someone who isn’t from the newer part. When they learn the king’s life is in danger, Kaidu and Rat must find a way to make sure he isn’t hurt, but at what expense?
What I liked about this book was that the characters have to look at priorities and the good of all, despite what has been widely accepted by the majority. They also see each other as friends instead of people from different social classes.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t as engaging as I hoped. It actually took me a long time to finish since I read other books. I wasn’t glued to it like I am with graphic novels.
Book 42 of 40
(Book 8 of 2018)
The First Rule of Punk (hardcover)
by Celia C. Perez
The First Rule of Punk is that there are no rules. That’s what Malu learns from her father. She also learns that when her mom moves her to Chicago, away from her father, Malu has to start over in a school filled with Mexican-American children who embrace their culture more than she does. She also has a run-in with the queen of the school, Selena, who doesn’t hesitate to point out Malu’s faults. When Malu decides to start a punk band to enter the school’s talent show, Malu meets some friends who test her commitment and help her grow.
What I liked about this book was that it was engaging, celebrated Mexican heritage and being Mexican-American (MOST of my class will relate to that!). There was a lot that I learned, about the artist Jose Posada, punk music and philosophy, life as a Mexican-American child, and especially making a zine! I think my students will eat this book up. It is relatable and engaging and a great read overall.
What I didn’t like about this book was it hit a little close to home. I couldn’t relate to Malu in most ways, except for that feeling of wanting to perform in front of an audience but feeling anxious. I always wanted to be a singer, but I wasn’t given any singing talent. I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to, anyway! Then there’s Malu’s mother, who never seemed to be accepting of Malu’s fashion sense or interests, and they ended up with a broken relationship throughout most of the book. Her mother expected Malu to act, dress, behave, etc. in a certain way without allowing Malu to be herself. I wonder… do I do that with my own daughter? She’s extra sensitive, and maybe I need to go easier on her.
Book 41 of 40
(Book 7 of 2018)
As Brave As You (audiobook)
by Jason Reynolds
In As Brave As You, Genie and Ernie leave Brooklyn to stay with their grandparents in Virginia for a month while their parents go to Jamaica. Genie and Ernie are city boys, and aren’t used to the country. Genie, in particular, has many questions, and no access to Google. He wants to know about the stars, why Grandpa wears glasses, what the yellow house is in the woods, etc. Some questions he can Google, while others he has to learn on his own. Genie gets himself into several situations, including murdering a bird and watching his brother get his teeth knocked out, but he also builds a relationship with his grandpa. Everyone in this story learns about family and working through the past.
What I liked about this book was the point of view. I enjoyed listening to Genie’s thoughts, questions, and worries. He is curious and asks questions that many of us wouldn’t ask, like why a blind person wears glasses. Another thing that isn’t specifically about the book, is the voice actor who read the story (since I listened to it as an audiobook). Guy Lockard has narrated many of Jason Reynolds’ books, and he is an excellent choice. He gives the characters a real voice, takes on their accents, and puts emotion and tone into the dialogue that I wouldn’t have caught while just reading. You can’t beat that. I want to listen to Ghost as an audiobook now, just because I appreciate Lockard’s narration.
What I didn’t like about this book was that it kind of stressed me out. Not because of the trouble that Genie got himself into, but because there was a lot of talk about Grandpa’s revolver he took apart and put back together, and a blind man with a gun kind of sets up for a bad accident. Ernie also went into the woods to learn to shoot on his 14th birthday, and that was an accident waiting to happen. Since Grandpa’s father had committed suicide and Grandpa himself appeared depressed at times, I had a little anxiety throughout the story.
Book 40 of 40 (Woot woot!)
(Book 6 of 2018)