When I Was the Greatest


When I Was the Greatest (paperback)

by Jason Reynolds


I just love Jason Reynolds.  When I Was the Greatest took me a bit longer to get into, though.  It is about a boy named Ali and his friends Noodles and Needles.  Ali is a teenage boy living in Brooklyn.  His mom works two jobs to support him and his sister while his dad lives in his car, stealing clothes and selling them.  He was once in jail for armed robbery, but this is not the life Ali wants.  He had a good friend named Noodles who lives next door.  Noodles has a brother with Tourette’s named Needles, and he knits to keeps his ticks under control.  Ali is a loyal friend, and does his best to keep himself and his friends out of trouble.  The three boys go to a party and get themselves into a bad situation, and face tough consequences where they learn several life lessons the hard way.

What I liked about this book is the way Reynolds developed his characters.  The relationship between Needles and Noodles, and Ali’s relationship with them, the frustration Noodles felt with his brother… there’s a backstory to it all, creating people and not just flat characters.  Also, with a gun on the cover, one would expect to read a book about gun violence, but the irony was that the gun in the story wasn’t even loaded.  This isn’t a story about violence, but choices and growth.

What I didn’t like about the book was the treatment of Needles.  I have a hard time when someone with a disability is mistreated.

Book 76 of 40

(Book 42 of 2018)


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (audiobook and hardcover)

by Erika L. Sanchez


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is an award-winning novel about a teenage girl named Julia who lives with her parents in a bad part of Chicago.  We learn immediately that her older sister Olga has just died from being hit by a semi, and Olga was the preferred daughter.  Julia is left alone with her grieving parents, and she is ignored and left to fend for herself emotionally.  Julia soon discovers that Olga was keeping secrets, and she’s determined to find out what they are.  In the meantime, she falls into a deep depression that no one notices, and every slight opportunity for happiness is dashed by her mother or sabotaged by herself.

What I liked about this book was the main character, who was so well-developed, I felt all of her feelings with her.  Julia also has a great sense of humor, and even when she’s angry or frustrated or sad, and her rants and internal thinking made me feel so much better about myself.  I really liked the author’s voice, and it made me think that maybe she was Julia.  I could tell she was definitely writing from some personal experience, at least.

What I didn’t like about this book was not knowing about Olga for most of the story.  I was left to speculate and guess what happened, and then I started wondering if I was missing clues, because I couldn’t remember what my predictions were and what actually happened in the story.  When it ended, I was left wanting a prequel to the story.  I was also SO frustrated with Julia’s family, especially her mother, that I kept begging Julia in my head to tell her therapist or her teacher about how terrible her mother was.  Then I started wondering if I acted like Julia’s mother, and that made me sad.

Book 74 of 40

(Book 40 of 2018)

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (audiobook)

by Mackenzi Lee


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is about a young man named Henry “Monty” Montague who was raised to be a gentleman, but he isn’t what his parents expect.  He is bisexual and in love with gambling, over drinking, and risky behavior with women and men.  He is in love with his best friend Percy, but he is unwilling to admit it to himself or anyone else.  When his abusive father sends him on tour (a trip around Europe before settling into his position as a wealthy heir), he, Percy, and his sister Felicity find themselves in a predicament that takes them to parts of Europe they didn’t expect to see.  In this story, you will fall in love with Monty, despite his behavior and bad choices.

What I liked about this book… there were a few things.  First, I liked learning about a period of time I am familiar with, but learned more about from different perspectives.  I know that being gay or bisexual was not only frowned upon, but considered unacceptable.  I did enjoy reading about the clothing style, “modern” technology, and ideas of the time.  Second, Monty is a character you are rooting for.  He’s got a wicked sense of humor, and I feel like the author was watching a lot of Hugh Grant romantic comedies while writing this book.  Third, the narrator was spot on.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it ran a little long for me.  I had to stop part way through, listen to another audiobook, and then come back.  It was good, but I got a little bored and lost interest in the middle, which I feel bad about, because I really did enjoy the book.

Book 71 of 40

(Book 37 of 2018)

Emmy & Oliver


Emmy & Oliver (audiobook)

by Robin Benway


I picked up this book, because I loved Far From the Tree so much, and I appreciated that Benway wrote an engaging, award-winning young adult novel that was NOT a romance.  Emme & Oliver has romance, but it is much more than that.  Emmy and Oliver have been friends since babies, and are even neighbors with parents who are close friends.  When Oliver is kidnapped by his dad after school when they’re in second grade, Emmy is left empty, devastated, and incomplete.  The novel begins with Emmy 10 years later, when she hears that Oliver has been found and is returning home.  She is wary that they won’t have the same connection she has felt in their missing 10 years, but she isn’t disappointed when they renew their friendship.  Emme helps him adjust to life back home, while he helps her struggle for freedom from her over protective and oppressive parents.

What I liked about this book was that it was so much more than a love story.  Perhaps the real story was Emmy’s struggle with her parents, which is way more relatable than being kidnapped for 10 years or being soul mates.  I did, however, love the love part of it, and found myself smiling and giggling like a teenager while I listened to it on my run.  Sometimes I need a story that I can escape in, that isn’t too deep, and this idea of having a connection with someone that goes beyond physical connection is romantic in itself.

What I didn’t like about the story was that I wanted to know more about where their future was headed.  I really enjoyed the story, so I can’t say anything but I wanted more of it!

Book 70 of 40

(Book 36 of 2018)

Far From the Tree


Far From the Tree (audiobook)

by Robin Benway


I listened to the audiobook of Far From the Tree and it was 9 files, which is about 11ish hours.  I finished in 2-3 days.  Normal 6 file audiobooks normally take me at least a week.  I just couldn’t stop listening!  If you are a fan of the show This is Us, this book will give you the same feelings.  Feelings like you want to cry (but you’re not depressed), root for the characters (like they’re real people), and shake them when they’re being dumb.

This story follows three characters, who all happen to share a birth mom, but have different dads.  The youngest is Maya, and a lesbian who was adopted at birth by parents who are having marital problems.  Grace is the middle child, and she recently gave a baby up for adoption after her boyfriend dumped her and his parents shamed her.  Joaquin is nearly 18, and he has been in 17 foster homes and is ready to say no to being adopted by his currently foster family.  The three meet and realize that family isn’t just who you’re biologically related to, nor who you live with.  Family can take many different shapes.

What I liked about this book was pretty much everything.  I loved the witty dialogue and banter, the way the author made me really care about each character, and how I didn’t want it to end.  I wanted more of Grace and Peach, more of Maya’s struggle to find peace with herself, and Joaquin’s transition into a stable family.  I did not want the story to end, but I thought Benway did a great job at closing each person’s storyline to give them a future, and us hope that they would be okay.

What I didn’t like about this book was the emotion that it made me feel.  I don’t like to cry, especially not sitting in the parking lot of the nail salon, because I don’t want to stop listening to get my nails done (something I do so rarely, anyway).  I neglected all of my responsibilities to listen to the story instead.

Book 62 of 40

(Book 28 of 2018)

Love Hate & Other Filters


Love Hate & Other Filters (ebook)

by Samira Ahmed


In Love Hate & Other Filters, Maya is a senior in a small city in Illinois.  She is the only Muslim Indian girl in town, and her parents are immigrants who are very traditional and expect Maya to learn to cook and find a suitable Muslim Indian man to marry (after her studies).  They even try to set her up with the son of their friends.  Maya, however, is determined to go to film school at NYU and date a non-Indian boy at her high school.  When a suicide bomber drives a truck into the federal building in Springfield, Maya and her family are threatened, because the supposed bomber had the same last name as Maya.  She fears for her life when she is threatened by a classmate, which cause her parents to change Maya’s plans.

What I liked about this book is that it was easy reading, but I was caught up in the romance and the points of view.  Alternating chapters told the story of the suicide bomber and his aftermath.  I also learned about Indian culture and the pressures and expectations of desi women and their families.  I feel like books that are engaging like this are the best, because the reader is so caught up in the storyline, they don’t realize they are learning about something they didn’t previously know about, as well as give perspective and increase understanding and tolerance.  I would share this with my students if it didn’t discuss condoms.  I don’t think sixth graders are ready for that yet (at least not the ones that would be picking this book up!).

What I didn’t like about this book was the end.  It’s not the story I didn’t like, but I felt like after the climax ended, the story ended abruptly, and there was an epilogue that dragged on and on when it didn’t need to.  It was only the last 5% of the book, though, and that’s a small “dislike” for a meaningful and engaging book overall.

Book 60 of 40

(Book 26 of 2018)

One of Us is Lying


One of Us is Lying (audiobook)

by Karen M. McManus


One of Us is Lying is a murder mystery that is told from multiple perspectives.  Simon is a jealous, angry boy with a peanut allergy who dies at the beginning when he is poisoned with peanut oil and his epi pen goes missing, as well as all of the epi pens in the nurse’s office.  Four students find themselves in detention when phones are placed in their backpacks and found by a strict teacher.  Bronwyn is a future valedictorian with a perfect record.  Nate is a drug dealer on probation.  Cooper is a star baseball player who is being scouted.  Addy is the beautiful girlfriend of another star athlete.  All four are under investigation for the murder of Simon, and all had reason to hate Simon, but someone isn’t telling the truth.

What I liked about this book was that it kept me going, because I wanted to see how it ended.  I’m one of those people who will watch a horrible reality tv show just to see how it ends (especially if it’s a home rehab show).  I really wanted to see how it ended.  The end was kind of surprising, and it was interesting to see how the pieces fit together.  There was pretty good character development, too, especially with Addy.

What I didn’t like about this book was that I predicted the ending.  I shouldn’t be able to predict the ending.  There were also parts that were kind of slow, so I wasn’t too worried when I missed parts when my kids were loud or I tuned out.

Book 59 of 40

(Book 25 of 2018)