New Books in Juvenile Literature reviewed June 2013

Posted on August 13, 2013 by

These evaluations were written by community members who volunteer on the Juvenile Literature Review Committee.

Fitz written by Mick Cochrane


Fifteen-year-old Fitz, for Fitzgerald, buys a gun to threaten his dad into answering some questions. Curtis, his dad, has always sent a monthly check b

ut, to Fitz’s knowledge, he has never shown any interest in his son. So Fitz kidnaps his father at gunpoint. Curtis, a handsome, wealthy lawyer is frightened at first but soon shows himself to be caring but very puzzled.

Mick Cochran knows how “to use his words” to explain thoughts, feelings and actions. His depiction of each character—from the waitress in the diner to Fitz’s musician friend Caleb–are so quickly shown that the action never slows down. I liked and understood his mother and his father. When I finished reading I knew everyone was on the right track.


Gingersnap     Gingersnap written by Patricia Reilly Giff

Patricia Reilly Giff’s slim novel, Gingersnaps, is a sigh or maybe a whisper, a creation of heart and history with the tender power to lift the reader into a different time and place—World War II and New York. This is storytelling at its best, with all the magic that that entails—an orphan girl, a war, a brother who must leave to fight, a mystery, the desperate uncertainty of life, the dream of connection and of belonging—not to mention a turtle named Theresa. And there is a ghost—a ghost whose being is slipped so easily into the story that she just belongs. Part of Giff’s genius is that she doesn’t over explain the ghost—she’s just part of Jayna’s experience.

Oh, such a deft touch, a light touch, the author brings to this story which carries us through hope, fear, disappointment, recovery…and lots of good soup recipes. Chicken soup for the soul? I think this is it.


Kindness for Weakness written by Shawn Goodman   Kindness Weakness

As a school psychologist I believe the author must have an awareness and an understanding of teenage boys—their language and their problems. It was just very hard to read about. Written in the voice of James, who loves good books and who gets sent to juvenile detention as a result of running drugs for his big brother, Louis. The cops are really after Louis but James doesn’t give him up.

The language of the other boys in juvie and their unsettling behavior is relayed in a way that puts the reader right there. The behavior of the guards is frightening but the rules are all in their favor. James becomes smarter and stronger but he doesn’t stand a chance. This is a very painful book to read but I could not stop reading it.

   LanguageInside  The Language Inside written by Holly Thompson

Emma, an American raised in Japan, is forced to return to the US not long after the tsunami in Japan so that her mother can seek treatment for breast cancer. Not only does she hate leaving the place that feels like home and where she knows she can be of service, but she also finds herself as an outsider in Massachusetts where her family stays with her grandmother. Her struggles are compounded by migraines that leave her temporarily blind and helpless with pain.

This story, told through a soft, easy-flowing verse, camps the reader easily and swiftly into Emma’s world as she struggles to find her way. Volunteering to help a disabled woman write poetry at a long-term care center becomes the key to her beginning to find herself in this new life. She meets Somnang there, a fellow high school volunteer who helps with Cambodian residents of the center.

Thompson weaves together Emma’s identity with Japan and Japanese language with Somnangs’s identity with brutal Cambodian history and its lovely culture (particularly dance) with their journeys of self-discovery through poetry and their writing. The tapestry that results is lovely and touching. As Emma finds ways for the language outside to match the language inside she comes of age and makes a decision that adds the final thread to the weaving—a satisfying artifact, indeed.


Manicpixiedreamgirl written by Tom Leveen              mpdgirl

Tyler Darcy falls in love with Becky the first day of freshman year. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the guts to do anything about it…for three years! This sad tale follows this otherwise bright boy through his years of frustration as he fantasized about Becky through his writing, creating a girl in his stories that doesn’t really exist. In the meantime, he lazily stays in a relationship with Sydney who loves him despite his obvious pining for Becky. Everything breaks loose when Ty’s Becky’s Story is published. Through a long night he is forced to realize Becky is not the girl he has created in his mind.

The story flips back and forth through time, covering the three years in a sometimes confusing presentation. The reading is a bit painful and the story doesn’t move with the grace or energy of his last book, Zero. This reader could have easily closed the book part way through and not suffered angst over what was to become of Tyler, although he is a good guy despite his waffling ways. The portrait of Becky as a broken, wounded loner, who lets boys have their way with her just for the asking, is well written, giving Tyler some saving grace as he realizes she needs a friend more than a lover.


  beautifulHippie                   My Beautiful Hippie written by Janet Nichols Lynch

This realistic novel takes place from the summer of 1967 through the next school year, when Joanne is a junior in high school. She lives in the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco with two older siblings and their parents. This is, of course, “the Summer of Love,” so just blocks away, the Diggers, the hippies, tourists, musicians and drifters are filling the streets and parks. During the story, she survives a crush, explores conformity, strives to become a better pianist, and watches women of all ages cope with change. The author tries to cover a great multitude of issues and events—feminism, hippies, drugs and war. There are some good lines such as the brother-in-law is described as half-straight.




Nobody Asked the Pea written by John Warren Stewig with illustrations by Cornelius Van WrightPea

Retelling a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson can be fun. This story is not for very young children, but will be appreciated by those who are already familiar with the story…probably middle schoolers. There are many characters in this version from Mother Mouse to Patrick the Pea as well as the prince, his mother the queen, and the princesses. Each character speaks his or her mind, advancing the story while informing the reader of a particular point of view. This story would serve as tiny monologues for practicing oral interpretation. The watercolor illustrations are lush.



POphantomThe Phantom of the Post Office written by Kate Klise with illustrations by M. Sarah Klise

The Klise sisters continue their fun and foolish high jinx in The Phantom of the Post Office, book 4 of the 43 Old Cemetery Road series. As with the others in the series, the story is told through letters, messages, drawings and newspaper articles. The conflict? The post office is due to close thanks to a digital wave invention called VEXT-mail which is to be pioneered in the town of Ghastly. It will do away with all traditional postal service. The big problem there is that the ghost stories written by the ghost Olive and her partner, Ignatius Grumply(living) and illustrated by Seymour, their son, are only delivered to their fans by mail.

Wynonna Fye—or Wy Fye—a new character addicted to digital devices, comes to town to visit her librarian uncle who takes away her cell phone. Both Wy and Seymour end up with a mysterious flu which leaves them hospitalized. She learns the joys of written communication. Together they solve the mystery of the ghost in Post Office Box 5, become fast friends and save the post office. Ridiculous puns abound, references to The Phantom of the Opera may lead youngsters to discover that classic, and anyone who thinks there’s just too much texting in the world will be gratified. In the end, the flaws of VEXT-mail are exposed, an old wrong is righted, and the joys of reading, artful language, and friendship (even in the afterlife) triumph. And lest the sisters and the family at 43 Old Cemetery Road be considered total luddites, in the end a telephone is installed at home—albeit one from a much earlier era!

This book is an entertaining read with some laugh-out loud moments. The art is a seamless part of the story.


Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City written by Wendelin Van DraanenSammyKeyesLasVegas

This is a thrilling addition to the saga of Sammy Keyes. She takes off and talks her way through Las Vegas as she follows her mother. There are helpful adults (an Elvis impersonator) and unexpected actions from the people she knows. Secrets are revealed and consequences discovered. As usual in this series, Sammy is bold (shall we say reckless?) as she navigates her life full of ups and downs. The human side of the story is the focus in this book, which gives the sense of being a culminating volume, although there may be more adventures, this episode changes many things for our heroine.


secret cellarThe Secret Cellar (A Red Blazer Girls Mystery) written by Michael D. Bell

In the fourth Red Blazer Girls Mystery Michael D. Bell rounds up his characters for another mystery. Sophie finds a message in the antique pen she buys her father and this sets the mystery in motion as they move from clue to clue and ultimately, into danger. There is a nice blend of decent and creepy adults here—healthy family dynamics, reliable adult friends, and dangerous and untrustworthy types. The girls each have their individual characters and strengths. A nicely complex mystery. Add in a little romantic spice for Sophie and a large dose of loyal friendship, and this is a fine selection for smart middle school girls who aspire to the kind of sophistication and courage these busy, creative girls possess.



Shadowfell written by Juliet MarillierShadowfell

Flint, a mysterious stranger, wins 16 year old Neryn in a gambling bet with her drunken father. He then begins to take her to northern Alban to escape the Enforcers who are hunting for her because of her “magical” gifts. The quest is long and cold and wet. Neryn becomes deathly ill but is helped by the Good Folk whom no one can see but her. They help her learn how her “magic” works (which helps her survive) and how to help the rebels from Shadowfell.

This classic fantasy is well laid out with interesting characters of all kinds. I am eagerly awaiting volume 2 and 3 which are already on the way.

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