All’s Faire in Middle School


All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson


All’s Faire in Middle School is the story of Imogene’s journey through the first few months of middle school.  Remember when you first started middle school and you didn’t know who you were yet?  I personally remember buying clothes and shoes that looked like everyone else’s, and being embarrassed of my family, although they weren’t any better or worse than my friends’ families.  I knew who the popular kids were and aspired to be friends with them, and looked down on the awkward ones.  These are the struggles that Impy faces when she starts Middle School after being homeschooled for all of elementary.  Impy’s parents aren’t rich, and they aren’t like her friends’ parents in that they are a part of the local annual Renaissance Faire.  Although Impy loves being part of the Faire, she isn’t sure if being herself is the right thing to do.  She finds herself hurting people she cares about and making a fool of herself to impress people she doesn’t really care about in the first place, and she has to find her way out of this very relatable situation without making everything worse.

What I liked about this book is that it’s very relatable.  It’s been awhile, but I can remember the sting of being embarrassed in middle school when what other people thought was the most important thing.  I remember my parents offering to buy me running shoes when I joined the cross country team, but I wouldn’t let them, because the running shoes were neon and ugly, and I only wanted the suede shoes with the star on the side (Converse).  I left the shoe store disappointed.  In this graphic novel (that is perfect for my sixth graders, by the way), Impy makes some choices that she has to live with, and that is a very important thing to expose sixth graders to.

What I didn’t like about this book was the angst I felt.  Regardless of the choices Impy made, not everything was her fault, and that irritated me the way it would irritate a middle schooler.  There was a situation where Impy faced consequences when others at fault were not caught!  Ugh- the frustration of being a tween came back to me.  That is a sign of good writing if it can bring out those emotions after so many years!

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P.S.  This is book 82 of 2017!  But who’s counting?

Salt to the Sea


Salt to the Sea (ebook)

by Ruta Sepetys


Salt to the Sea… so good!  I had heard of this book, seen the cover, etc., and finally decided to read it when I saw it was on my husband’s high school’s potential summer reading list.  (To clarify… he’s a teacher, not a high school student.)  Although I’m madly trying to read all of the notable 2017 books before the ALA awards, I paused to read this one, and I’m so glad I did.

This book is told from four different points of view.  Joana is a Lithuanian nurse, Emilia is a 15 year old Polish girl, Florian is a 19ish year old who restores art, and Alfred is a German sailor.  Joana and Emilia are refugees escaping the Russians, and Florian has stolen an important piece of art in retaliation against his boss, who is just under Hitler himself.  Alfred appears to be a dim-witted, brainwashed Nazi who writes mental letters to the girl next door about how important he is, although we see through the story, he is the lowest on the totem pole.  They travel together to board a boat of refugees escaping the war, along with the shoe poet, a large woman, and an orphan named Klaus.  This is a snapshot of one group of people- refugees of world war II, displaced due to the Nazis and Soviets closing in on their homes.

What I liked about this book was… everything.  I really enjoyed this book.  I’ve read that Sepetys writes about the untold stories, the ones we’ve never heard of.  The fictional refugees in the story board a doomed boat, and it was a boat that really did sink with nearly 10,000 refugees aboard in 1945.  I really liked the chemistry between Joana and Florian, and I could see it becoming a movie someday.  This book reminded me of The Book Thief, and anyone who’s asked me for a recommendation should know my feelings on that book.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I felt like the ending was abrupt.  There was a chapter of many years later, but I wanted another book to tell me about the many years after.  I also felt the beginning could be confusing for someone who didn’t have the patience to learn the characters right away.

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Orphan Island


Orphan Island (hardcover)

by Laurel Snyder


Orphan Island is a mysterious setting where 9 kids live without adult supervision.  Each year (?… time is slightly ambiguous, seasons are virtually non-existent, and days are marked by rocks and slashes inconsistently), a young child is sent to the island in a green boat.  The boat knows where to go and moves on it’s own, although it is its own entity.  When the new Care arrives, the Elder (oldest orphan) gets into the boat and goes off to… well, we don’t know where, but it is assumed some sort of civilization.  The 9 orphans learn to care for themselves, and the Elder teaches his/her Care (youngest arrival) how to survive on the island.  It is very Peter Pan-like, an island where kids are free from adult supervision, and live happily without cares in the world.

When Jinny says goodbye to her best friend, Deen, she is the new Elder.   She takes Ess, her new Care, under her wing, but Jinny has several character flaws.  She is inherently selfish without realizing it, because she isn’t thinking of the greater good, but her own feelings.  She fails to teach Ess to swim or read, and doesn’t show Ben how to take over when she’s gone, her most important jobs as Elder.  Jinny is left with a huge decision once it’s her time to get into the green boat, and we are left wondering whether we’d make that same decision.

What I liked about this book was that it was very well thought out.  It’s clear that Snyder has a backstory for the island, and she did a good job of asking questions through the story that makes me as the reader wonder what I would do.  Think of when you were 12… If you were ever angry at your parents, confused about what you were feeling of what was happening to your body, you will be able to relate to Jinny.  That can be a good and a bad thing…

What I didn’t like about this book was Jinny’s character.  It’s hard reading a story where you don’t really care for the protagonist.  Normally, you’re rooting for the protagonist in the story, but as an adult, I wasn’t agreeing with Jinny’s decisions.  As a 12 year old, I might really be able to relate to her selfishness, and the way she felt about the others on the island.  She was looking for someone to relate to, and found solace in a letter written by a previous resident, Abigail.  Although it bugged me, I can see why this is a well-received novel.  I look forward to the reactions by my students.

Book 32 of 40

Me and Marvin Gardens


Me and Marvin Gardens

by Amy Sarig King


Me and Marvin Gardens is about a boy named Obe living in Pennsylvania along a creek leading to a river.  His family has lived on Devlin land (their land) for generations, but they have lost it year after year, mainly due to a relative with a drinking problem, who would have to sell it to cover his debts.  Now, there are homes being build in phases, and Obe cleans the creek daily due to the trash left behind.  One day, he discovers a new animal, and a curious trait of this new animal makes Obe imagine how it can impact their environment.  In the meantime, Obe is suffering nosebleeds and is being bullied by a former friend.  He is a thoughtful sixth grade boy with good intentions who needs someone to believe him.

What I liked about this book is it gives kids a great picture of how we impact our environment.  The theme of bravery also reminds students that they can stand up for themselves and what they believe in, no matter the potential consequences.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way it dragged at parts.  The voice was interesting, but I’m not sure how many of my students could relate.

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Three Pennies


Three Pennies (hardcover)

by Melanie Crowder


In Three Pennies, Marin is a child in the foster care system, and her social worker is determined to find her a forever home.  After going through three potential parents, she settles on a doctor who lost her partner and is looking to add a child to her life.   However, Marin isn’t as willing to BE adopted, because she hasn’t given up hope that her mom still wants her.  She uses 3 pennies and the I Ching (a book) to tell her future, and it is never positive.  Marin sets out to meet her real mother before conceding to her adoption.  This book sounds like it would be sad, but really, it felt hopeful and ended on a positive note.

What I liked about this book was the way Marin’s character was resistant to being adopted.  It seems like we feel like foster kids should automatically be happy they’re being adopted, but we have to understand that they’re feeling loss and rejection.  Marin’s mom made the choice to abandon her child.  It wasn’t like she was in a bad position or died.  I’ve had foster children in my class, and this story helps me understand the feelings of rejection they may be going through.

What I didn’t like about this book was the fact that the mother and her friend were even in it.  I don’t think it should have been that easy for her to get ahold of them, and it was frustrating that her mom met her and then rejected her to her face.  That wasn’t just heart-breaking, but it seemed a bit unrealistic.

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What To Say Next


What To Say Next (audiobook)

by Julie Buxbaum


What to Say Next is what David and Kit don’t have to worry about.  David is an unpopular junior with Aspergers and Kit is one member of a trio of semi-popular girls.  David is nearly invisible and near the top of his class.  Kit recently lost her dad to a car crash, and she finds herself unable to blend back into her group of friends upon returning to school after the funeral.  Instead, she sits with David, and while he is blunt and honest, she appreciates that he doesn’t ignore her obvious pain.  David finds himself in love with Kit, and his sister gives him a makeover to help Kit see him in a new light.  David helps Kit solve a mystery of her father’s death, and that leads to more pain and heartache for both.

What I liked about this book is that it was a quick, easy read.  When in the mood for something fluffy and entertaining, this is the way to go.  I believe it was the same for her first book, Tell Me Three Things.  I liked that it was told from multiple perspectives and that we were able to see into the mind of someone with Aspergers who is fully aware of his Aspergers.

What I didn’t like about this book was how cliche it was.  Popular, meat-head football players, popular snotty girls, etc.  There was an odd love connection, and all worked out in the end.  This is normally the kind of book I wouldn’t pick up, somewhat equivalent to a romance novel for adults.  However, sometimes that’s just what I’m in the mood for.

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Enchanted Air


Enchanted Air (paperback)

by Margarita Engle


Enchanted Air is a memoir about a girl named Margarita whose mother is Cuban and father is American/European.  She spends her summers in Cuba riding horses, playing with cousins, and being an adventurous, outgoing girl.  Back in California, she is quiet, withdrawn, studious, and loves nature.  She is torn between two countries, two worlds, and two versions of herself.  Set during the Cold War, Margarita fears for her Cuban family when war breaks out, and she isn’t sure if she’ll ever see her relatives again.

What I liked about this book is that it teaches a lot about the time period that I wouldn’t normally know.  I got to see what it was like for a Cuban American living during this time- the hostility, the fear, etc.  There was mention of the Japanese internment camps during World War II, and she was afraid that would happen to her mother.  I didn’t think about having to write letters in code.  I think this would be interesting to teach students about since they don’t generally know much about wars other than World War II.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it wasn’t as memorable for me.  It was very well-written and it had it’s merits, but I think memoirs aren’t my genre.  That isn’t a drawback of the book… it’s personal taste.

Book 28 of 40