Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (audiobook)

by Benjamin Alire Saenz


Ari is a young man when he meets Dante, who offers to teach him to swim.  Both boys are somewhat lonely, isolated from society in a way.  They quickly form a close friendship.  Their personalities are different, but they compliment each other.  This is a coming of age story, and it is broken up into several parts.  It would be hard to give too much detail without giving the story away.

What I liked about this book was the topic.  It’s not that I particularly enjoy stories about young men or women coming out or discovering their identity, but I enjoy stories about people whom I cannot relate to.  I really think people should read books about characters nothing like them, just to broaden their horizons.  I think exposure to new topics will help to build compassion and empathy for others’ situations.  I am not gay, so I will never understand what it is like for someone to learn to be comfortable with him or herself.

What I didn’t like about this book was the violence.  It hurt my soul to read about Dante being beaten because of his sexuality.

Book 59 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Tell Me Three Things


Tell Me Three Things (ebook)

by Julie Buxbaum


Imagine your mom (your best friend) dying of cancer.  Then your dad remarries someone you’ve never met.  Then he moves you into her fancy home in California, away from your friends and all that is familiar.  Then you have to adapt to a new climate, a new step brother who seems to hate you, a new school, and culture shock.  When you’re on the verge of a breakdown, you start receiving mysterious, but helpful emails from a person named Somebody Nobody, who gives you advice on how to survive at your new school.  Jessie narrows the identity of Somebody Nobody down to 3 people, and the end may surprise you.

What I liked about this book was that the end didn’t surprise me.  I pretty much guessed who it was, and it was who I was rooting for.  This is a cute, romantic story that won’t leave you feeling depressed or angry.  It won’t make you want to throw the book away, and you’ll likely finish it as quickly as I did!

What I didn’t like about this book was that the end didn’t surprise me.  Ha ha… I like and don’t like books that are predictable, depending on my mood.  I didn’t like the idea of being “peened” and the word “peen” to begin with.  That made me feel old and prudish.

Book 58 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

The Hate U Give


The Hate U Give (ebook)

by Angie Thomas


Starr is a 16-year old girl.  She is black but attends a predominantly white (private) school, and lives in Garden Heights, a poor neighborhood with gangs, drugs, poverty, and a tight community.   Starr’s father is a former gang member who wants better for his children, but one night, Starr attends a party and she and her friend are pulled over by a white cop on their way home.  Her friend, Khalil, is shot and she is the witness.  Starr struggles with both internal and external conflicts as she makes the decision to testify against the cop.  This book brings to mind the recent (and not so recent) shootings and examples of police brutality that have been in the news.  It is a fictional story with fictional characters, but it is reality for many, many people.

What I liked about this book was Starr’s character.  I felt like she was well-written, and I appreciate that this topic was written in a manner in which others will learn and be educated without it being shoved down their throats.  I am assuming people of all races and belief systems will be reading it, not just those represented in its pages.  I am a 30-something year old white lady.  I’m not friends with any gang members (other than former students’ parents) and I don’t live in a particularly dangerous neighborhood, so I can appreciate that I was able to see this problem through Starr’s eyes.  I think bringing awareness is one reason to read diverse literature.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way I was constantly questioning myself and what I do.  I don’t think anyone says, “Yeah, I’m racist,” including myself, but reading this book made me wonder if I stereotype or would think the things Starr’s classmates thought, like seeing a person as a gang member and not a friend, brother, son, etc.  I’m sure I generalize, and it was a good reminder to judge people and situations for what they are individually.  My children are mixed-race, and I don’t want them to see one race differently than the other.  It also made me feel old, because Starr’s parents were listening to music that I listened to, and she kept calling them old.

Book 57 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

We Are Okay


We Are Okay (audiobook)

by Nina LaCour


Marin is a college freshman, and she is in her dorm for Winter Break.  Alone.  We slowly find out why- her mother is dead, she never knew her father, and she has no where to go.  Marin also struggles with her relationship with her friend Mabel, but we don’t immediately find out why, although we know that Marin and Mabel had an intimate relationship that ended.  LaCour flips back and forth between the present and the past, alternating chapters.  I love the way that was done.  It was effective and not at all confusing.

What I liked about this book was that it was beautifully written.  It was like reading a poem.  LaCour spent a lot of time going into detail in certain situations, and although it tended to be a quiet, almost depressing book, it didn’t make me want to stop reading, because the description was so beautiful.

What I didn’t like about this book was the character of Gramps.  It wasn’t her description of him.  He just really bothered me.  I can understand mental illness and depression, but I felt so sad that Marin was so lonely. I wanted her to have a good relationship with her grandfather.  I am not sure why this bothered me so much.

Book 56 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Home of the Brave


Home of the Brave (paperback)

by Katherine Applegate

AR Level 3.5, 3 points


Kek is a refugee from Africa (Sudan, I believe).  He has lost his mother, brother, father, and his whole life as he knew it.  The story begins with him arriving in Montana, a white state (due to the snow), and we realize Kek has a lot to learn about life in America and the English language.  He takes everything literally, and relies on his friend, cousin, and sponsor to teach him about his new culture.  Kek makes friends with a cow, which leads him to a job.  Throughout the story, we are hoping for word on Kek’s mom, who was lost during the war, and assumed dead.  There are sad parts, happy parts, funny parts, and parts that need to be shared with people who want to ban refugees.

What I liked about this book was that Applegate wrote the whole thing in prose!  I’ve never read aloud a book written in prose before, so it was a fun read aloud.  My sixth graders appreciated his mistakes and misunderstandings due to the language barrier.  There are parts that made us laugh out loud, and parts that made us want to cry.  It is very emotional.

What I didn’t like about this book was that there could have been more to it.  I felt like Kek was believable as a character, but there could have been more to his story.  The end is feel-good, but I’m not sure how realistic it was.

Book 55 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Holding Up the Universe


Holding Up the Universe (audiobook)

by Jennifer Niven

AR Level 4.9, 12 points (not for kids!)


Jack is a senior in high school who appears to have it all- he’s good looking, he has an on-again/off-again girlfriend, and he’s a ladies man.  Libby is a junior, and holds the title of (former) world’s largest teenager and about 600 pounds.  She was cut out of her house a few years ago, and lost half of her body weight.  Despite appearances, Jack has a brain disorder called face blindness, or prosopagnosia, which means he can’t identify people by their faces.  This puts him at a disadvantage, and he is scared and overcompensates with his “big man on campus” persona.  Libby has a larger than life personality, loves dancing, and isn’t afraid to tell people what she’s feeling.  When Jack bullies Libby, they have to confront their weaknesses, and enemies become friends.

What I liked about this book was the message.  Jack and Libby were opposites in many ways, but both learned lessons about not judging books by their covers.  Despite Libby’s physical appearance, Jack loved her for who she was, which made her beautiful.  Despite Jack’s persona, Libby discovered Jack had a kind heart and loved him, even with his face blindness.

What I didn’t like about this book was the language.  I felt like it would’ve been a great book for my sixth graders to read, except for the cussing.  I understand they are high school students, and that’s how high school students talk, but I also think a broader audience could have been reached if the language was more appropriate.

Book 54 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)

Orbiting Jupiter


Orbiting Jupiter (ebook)

by Gary D. Schmidt

AR Level 4.4, 4 points


Orbiting Jupiter is told from the perspective of Jack, a sixth grade boy in rural Maine, living on a farm during the winter.  However, the story is really about Joseph, an eighth grade boy his parents are fostering.  Joseph came from a boys’ detention home, because he tried to kill his teacher.  He is a new father, and longs to meet his newborn daughter, Jupiter, but he cannot.  He also has an abusive father who comes back into the picture, and he plays an important part in the climax of the story, which was a pretty… climactic climax.  Jack does not know Joseph’s feelings or thoughts, but he is observant and tells us details that help us infer what Joseph is going through, and Schmidt’s style really made this book memorable for me.

What I liked about this book was Schmidt’s style.  I can’t say I’ve ever read one of his books, and the simple narrative style was really unique.  It was almost like dry humor- Jack would say something, and I could picture a kid with a straight face, no emotion.  I enjoy that type of writing.  There was also repetition of words and phrases to emphasize points, which was another feature I enjoyed.

What I didn’t like about this book was the shocking climax.  I’m not sure I didn’t like it, but it came out of left field, and I wanted to throw my phone (since I was reading the ebook on Overdrive).  I can’t tell you what happened, but I will say I wouldn’t have liked the book any less had there been a different ending!

Book 53 of 40 (40 Book Challenge)