Tight

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Tight (paperback)

by Torrey Maldonado

 

Tight is about a boy named Bryan who lives in the projects in Brooklyn, New York.  His dad is in and out of jail for fighting and teaches Bryan it is better to be feared than liked.  His mom and dad introduce him to a boy named Mike who seems great at first, but soon pressures Bryan into doing things he doesn’t want to do, but Bryan doesn’t want to be “soft” in front of Mike, so he does them.  Bryan just wants to live drama-free where he can draw and read comics, but Mike wants to go subway surfing and skip school.  Bryan finds himself in a tough position and has to make some tough choices for himself.

What I liked about this book is that I was picturing who I was going to hand it to in my class first.  It has everything that many of my sixth grade boys need- drama, not wanting to look soft or like a snitch, bulling, peer pressure, etc.  What I really appreciated was that there was no talk of drugs, alcohol, sex, or violence with weapons, elements that could push this into more of a YA or mature book.  This was just about a sixth grade boy and common pressures on him, things my own students are dealing with.  Plus, it’s easy reading, and short.  I already have a student to hand this to.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I really wanted Mike to get busted.  I know this had more of a lesson at the end, which was really, really awesome, but the teacher in me wanted Mike to get caught and disciplined.

Book 6 of 2019

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Spinning

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Spinning (paperback)

by Tillie Walden

 

Spinning is a graphic novel memoir about the author, Tillie.  She says her book is about ice skating, but it is really about her youth while ice skating.  Tillie struggled with coming out as gay to her conservative family and friends in Austin, Texas.  She also struggled with a mother who seemed less than supportive and her absent family.  Tillie needed a place to fit, but didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere.  Although she was a successful ice skater, she didn’t enjoy it, and ended up quitting once she started to take control of her life.

What I liked about this book was the emotion Tillie put into her memoir so the reader feels her struggles.  I am not gay, I have never been sexually assaulted, and I have never been pressured in a competitive sport, but the author writes so we can have compassion for Tillie’s experiences.  That is the one thing that people wrote when reviewing this graphic novel- we feel Tillie’s heartbreak, depression, frustration, embarrassment, etc. as we read her words.  Although it is kind of an aside, I also enjoyed learning more about competitive figure skating.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way people were so unaccepting of Tillie when they weren’t in a place to have a say in her life.  I hate when people are bullied and the bullies aren’t punished, or the protagonist isn’t avenged.  However, that’s life.  My bullies are probably still bullying, or basically being awful people to others.  I wanted to see her mother redeem herself or her girlfriend get back into contact with her, or the man who assaulted her- he needed to be caught and punished!  Those things never happened (in the book).

Book 3 of 2019

Echo’s Sister

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Echo’s Sister (hardcover)

by Paul Mosier

 

Echo’s Sister‘s name is Laughter, or El, for short.  On El’s first day of seventh grade at a new school, she finds out her younger sister Echo has cancer, and this news devastates her.  She goes through all of the emotions- abandonment, fear, grief, resentment, anger, etc. as Echo goes through chemo and her family learns to deal with the news and reality of cancer.  However, El finds herself surrounded by love and support, but it takes her awhile to realize it.

What I liked about this book was the positivity the characters had, despite the cancer.  It really made me want to go and join a group to support cancer patients, or fundraise for someone who needs the support.  I think that if you aren’t directly affected by cancer, it is something you just won’t think about supporting, but there are so many needs that the families have.  Cancer is honestly my biggest fear, and I hope and pray no one in my family ever has to experience it.  This book gives a perspective that makes me really feel for the families of patients.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it gave me a sore throat, because I kept trying not to cry!  I hate crying.  My throat hurts, my nose is running, and my eyes are still watery.  Plus, I used many tissues.  Ugh too many emotions!  😉

Book 2 of 2019

The Science of Breakable Things

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The Science of Breakable Things (audiobook)

by Tae Keller

 

Natalie is an average middle school student.  She has a very excited science teacher who has everyone think of a question and answer it via the scientific method.  Natalie lives with her therapist father and her botanist mother, but she is a bit lost when her mother falls into a depression and Natalie is afraid she stopped caring about her.  Because neither of her parents are communicating with her, Natalie fears she is to blame for her mother’s depression, and she sets out to make her happy again by winning an egg-drop contest to buy the orchid her mother once loved to research.  Natalie uses the scientific method to try and solve the mystery of her mother’s depression.

What I liked about this book was the way it approached a sensitive and relevant topic, depression.  Although it is more commonly spoken about these days, it stigmatizes the depressed person and those around them, and so fewer people are willing to admit when they are depressed, much less seek help.  This book shows that depression isn’t something to be embarrassed about, and it isn’t the fault of the family members.  It is an illness that needs to be dealt with professionally.  I feel like many of my students would be able to relate to that.  I, personally, have many family members who suffer from depression, and this might have helped me when I was younger.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way it made me feel very sad for Natalie.  I can’t imagine having a mother and then not.  It made me think twice about whether I abandon my own kids emotionally at times.  It’s not that I’m depressed, but sometimes I have so many other things going on, I am not giving my children the support they need, much like Natalie felt abandoned by both of her parents.

Book 1 of 2019

Tyler Johnson Was Here

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Tyler Johnson Was Here (ebook)

by Jay Coles

 

Tyler Johnson is the twin brother of Marvin Johnson, the main character of the story.  The brothers are living in poverty in a gang-infested neighborhood.  Their dad is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and their mother is struggling to pay bills.  Tyler decides to help his family by working for a drug dealer and then he goes missing.  Marvin, who is college-bound and doesn’t get himself into trouble, is devastated and doesn’t know what to do with himself and his feelings.

What I liked about this book was that it told the perspective of someone we might dismiss.  Tyler was supposedly a thug, drug dealer, dangerous to the community, and a nobody, but through Marvin, we see he was a brother, a son, and a friend.  He wasn’t dangerous- he was trying to live his life while helping his mom.  I love books that give me perspective, despite that perspective being devastating and heartbreaking.  It is important that we as humans see people for being people, whether they are “good” or “bad” in the eyes of the others.

What I didn’t like about this book was the way it dragged in the beginning.  It had a slow start, and I had to actually look up what the book was about to keep me interested, which gave me spoilers.  I will not give spoilers- just read the book, and stick with it, even if the beginning is slow.  It is worth it to see it through to the end.

Book 94 of 2018

All Summer Long

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All Summer Long (paperback)

by Hope Larson

 

All Summer Long is about a girl named Bina and her summer of change.  Her best friend, Austin, has gone to soccer camp for a month, and all of her other friends are busy.  Her mom and dad take her Netflix away, so Bina is forced to spend time with her best friend’s sister.  They bond over music and babysitting until Bina irritates her and is then left to find something to do on her own.  This is a story about Bina finding herself and pursuing her own passions while learning to accept change.  It also shows that friends can still be close, even when they have different interests.

What I liked about this book was that Bina stayed true to herself.  She reacted in normal ways when her feelings were hurt, but at the same time, she didn’t let other people tell her who she should be or how she should react to things.  I also liked that when they got to eighth grade, Bina didn’t conform to her friends’ or peers’ expectations.  She wanted to start a band, and despite fear of rejection, she tried it anyway.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I didn’t feel like Austin really redeemed himself.  He should have been a better friend to Bina!

Book 88 of 2018

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

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The Benefits of Being an Octopus (hardcover)

by Ann Braden

 

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is about a girl whose back is against the wall.  Zoey is a seventh grader who lives with her mom, 3 younger siblings, mom’s boyfriend Lenny, and his dad in a trailer.  They are living in poverty, and Zoey often goes without food or clean clothes.  She has way more responsibility than she should, taking care of her siblings, cooking, and protecting them from Lenny, who isn’t violent, but is verbally manipulative and plain mean.  Zoey does not do homework and does not feel she has any options in life.  When she is given the opportunity to join the debate team thanks to a teacher who takes interest in her, Zoey is reluctant, but it changes her life for the better.

What I liked about this book is the fact that my students will be able to connect to it.  It is a story that needs to be read, because it is reality.  There just aren’t enough stories these days that tell the reality of my students.  Poverty, hopelessness, abusive situations, filth and hunger, etc.  I hope it finds its way to the hands of someone who needs to read it.

What I didn’t like about this book was the hopelessness of the parents.  Both moms in this story were just useless for most of the book.  It made me really angry, being a mother, because my first priority is taking care of my children.  I always wonder how parents can send their kids to school without even washing their faces.

Book 74 of 2018