The Sun Is Also A Star – Nicola Yoon

alternating narration, diversity in YA, families, love, Safe Bets

“Do you have idea what it’s like not to fit in anywhere?”  For our characters, they all do.

Natasha is Jamaican and came to America as a child with her family.  Daniel’s family is Korean, but he was born in America.  Both struggle with living in America as outsiders.  For her it’s due to the location of her birth and for him it’s trying to learn how to be both American and Korean.  Life for Natasha is worse than trying to live the American life, she is trying to stay in America.  Natasha’s family is to be deported – tonight – when the story begins.  As a senior in high school who only knows of her life in Brooklyn, Natasha has gone from looking at colleges and planning prom to trying to find a way to remain.

This is more than a YA “meeting a stranger-turned-romance” tale, it shows the depth of families, the struggles when a teenager takes on parental roles, but what makes this second novel by Yoon amazing, and hold up to Everything, Everything is the way she writes of the side characters to show everyone has a story and how lives are connected.  This novel has so much enjoyment to offer from the budding friendship/romance of Natasha and Daniel to the way they spend a day when one is blessed with the freedom of teenagers out of school for a day as they answer questions and experience different parts of Brooklyn and New York City.  Natasha is strong and believes in science.  She values facts over emotion.  When she meets Daniel, who believes in emotions, dreams, poetry, and fate, at first it’s with amusement, but as the day continues, they both begin to understand their view of the world isn’t the only way to view it at all.

The story of these two and their immigration background, family cultures, and day together is a great story on its own, but what I appreciate of this story is that we learn about side characters in alternating narrations, yet characters who seem to have no connection somehow affect each other’s lives.  A side character story line from the security guard to an immigration lawyer having an affair show how people are connected. Yoon also manages to make us see people and circumstances from another view.  As the title suggests, the sun is more than the sun. In a story focused on people coming into a country seeking a home, the real story is the humanity between people – no matter where they are from.

 


Click here for an interview with Nicola Yoon

Going Rogue (Also Known As #2) – Robin Benway

Action, Best "best friends", families, Female Leads, love, Middle Grade Romance, Safe Bets, Series, spies, Young Readers

In this second novel of the Also Known As series focused on the average family out the outside, super spies on the inside, we find 16-year-old Maggie in a good place.  She still loves living in New York, her best friend Roux, and her boyfriend Jesse.  She has great parents (spies) and a friend-uncle (also a spy) and her skills at opening safes are amazingly honed.

……. and of course that can’t last…….

Soon her parents are facing false accusations of stealing and Maggie must face her next challenge without them.  Don’t worry for our girl though, she’s a quick thinker and has a new team to help her.  This tale takes us to Paris, a new twist with the Collective, and also the typical high school challenges that Maggie, Roux, and Jesse face – as well as the secret world that awaits our favorite spy family.  Maggie is a little more experienced than the first novel and faces more grown up issues once she is on her own.  However, she is still a character with heart who puts the protection of her friends and family above her own.

It’s a safe series that keeps the reader’s attention.  Roux is, thankfully, a voice of realism and sarcasm and even she finds some happiness and acceptance in this sequel.  The intrigue continues not only throughout this book, but enough that I will continue with the series (as soon as there is word on Book #3, which there isn’t as of today).  It’s funny, smart, loyal, and adds adventure and mystery.

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel – Deborah Hopkinson

Action, death, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Life for Eel is difficult as he tries to survive the streets of London as an orphan, doing odd jobs and being a “mudlark” who searches along the River Themes for trinkets to sell.  With a cruel man after him, no parents to protect him, and a little brother he pays lodging for, life is worse than for most 13 year olds.  And then an outbreak of cholera (“the blue death”) occurs the streets of his friends and community.

Together with the good doctor, Eel uses his wits and familiarity with the locals to try to help the doctor learn more of the disease and how it spreads.  Happy to have a safe place – even though it’s a shed – and two meals a day, Eel feels important in trying to protect his neighbors as he learns the ways of medicine and science.  After losing a few friends he is even more focused with Doctor Snow.  Can Eel get past his station as a mudlark and help the good doctor?  Will Henry remain safe?

I love a good historical fiction, and this doesn’t disappoint.  There is action until the end and things get wrapped up quite nicely as many juvenile books do.  The reader is even lucky enough to have author’s notes at the end and learn more about the mid 1800’s, this real epidemic, and some of the real people – like Doctor Snow.

P.S. I Like You – Kasie West

families, love, Middle Grade Romance, music, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Lily wants to be a songwriter and her constant need to create lyrics eventually leads her to a secret pen-pal who can also talk about music.  For a girl who doesn’t feel she fits in at her high school other than with her best friend and no help to Cade, who singles her out whenever he can, she finally finds a person who she can be completely open with. It begins as a simple doodle and lyric on a desk in Chemistry class, but soon develops to a full note exchange between classes.  This is similar to You’ve Got Mail with pen-pals being school notes left in a desk.

Once Lily learns a few details about her pen-pal, she begins to look at most kids in her school with a curious thought: could he/she be the pen pal?  Juggling school, a music competition, and her overcrowded house with a sister and twin younger brothers, there’s not a lot of time for Lily to write.  Add to this, her best friend and her boyfriend trying to set her up with their friend Daniel.  Soon Lily wonders is her pen pal the cute boy she always sees listening to his headphones or should she stop hiding behind the secrecy of letter writing and focus on Daniel right in front of her?

She is a strong girl who doesn’t mind wearing the clothes she buys from thrift stores or being the odd girl who stands up to Cade.  Still, the mystery of a stranger who she can speak about music with is inciting and causes Lily to act similarly as any teenager with a crush.  It’s honest and real and any teen uninterested in dating or those that don’t mind developing crushes each week will enjoy.  Readers will find themselves in a little bit of Lily.  Characters can be independently strong, yet also susceptible to the actions of peers and the distractions of a first crush.


Read-a-Likes:

 

The Book of Broken Hearts – Sarah Ockler

diversity in YA, families, Favorites, love, mental illness, Safe Bets

Jude Hernandez is 18, the much younger sister of three older sisters who live around the country, and is spending her summer before college in an effort to fix her dad’s old motorcycle.  Why?  Because her dad, Papi, is at the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and Jude sees how each time Papi speaks of his summer riding the motorcycle, he lights up.  The only problem is the 19 year old who is the hired worker to fix the motorcycle is Emilio Vargas – the youngest brother of the Vargas boys who have broken the elder Hernandez sisters’ hearts.

Jude (JuJu) was a 12-year-old preteen when she took the oath to swear off the Vargas family with her older sisters.  Surely now that the eldest sisters are living in different states, and are grown, the juvenile oath doesn’t hold…. the bike can get fixed before the summer and her sisters will never know Emilio Vargas was invited into the Hernandez household.  The only problem is Emilio shares the good looks of the Vargas family, and JuJu not only relies on him to restore the motorcycle, but begins to rely on him during the summer she cares for her ailing dad.

With sisterly humor, family struggles, a light romance, and a daughter’s love wanting to do something for her father who is disappearing from their lives.  Her love for her dad surpasses the sisterly oath.  In a light, entertaining read, this is an entertaining romantic and even silly story of a family and first romance.

The War That Saved My Life -Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Award Nominee, families, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

This is a great historical fiction about the beginning of World War II when Ada and her brother are sent from London to the countryside of Kent with other evacuee children.  The story begins with Ada’s difficult life in London and her transition not only to country life, but also to a life of kindness, education, and love.

Ada is a ten year old, well maybe ten – the truth is her life in London is difficult and her mother not only is cruel to Ada, but does not even tell the poor girl know her birthday.  Ada was born with a twisted foot and her mother has kept her held up in their one room flat due to shame and ignorance.  When Ada learns from her little brother Jamie that children are being sent to the countryside she is determined to learn how to walk so that she can travel with her brother.  Once they arrive at Kent, they are the last children left to be chosen.  When they are placed with Susan, an education, but single woman in the village, they all must learn what it means to live as a temporary family.

Ada and Jamie rely on each other and through new experiences of country life, community, and love of two new pets, and curious ambition, they adapt to a new life.  As Hitler invades Europe, their oasis in Kent begins to suffer wartime hardships.  Susan helps Ada become a typical child and once they are told that Ada’s foot could be surgically fixed, Susan is sure that Ada’s mother will consent.  War looms, bombs become a daily occurrence, still it is the looming presence of a cruel birth mother that haunts Ada.  How long will she and Jamie get to stay in their new home?  Will Hitler’s armies reach Kent?  And will Ada finally get the medical treatment she deserves or will the cruel nature of her mom return to claim her children and lock Ada up in the one room flat?  Now that Ada has experienced friendship and love and the prospect of a future, does she even want her mom to come for her?

This is a story of how strangers come together and form a family, all saving the other’s and lead to living a better, more fulfilled life of love and joy.


Newbery Honor (2016),  Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School (2016), Odyssey Award (2016), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2017)

The Cipher – John C. Ford

Action, Award Nominee, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Any fan of action plots, computer geeks and techy secrets, and a discovery that would both break into any computer account or basic internet connections will find this fast paced plot entertaining – oh, there’s also a mysterious death and a beautiful girl.

Smiles is the misfit son of a successful, computer systems genius millionaire. On a whim to accompany his neighbor genius to a math conference (because it’s in Vegas and he’s a gambler), Smiles and Ben not only cause a scene at the conference, but Ben has uncovered a cipher that can break into any bank account, computer account, online anything.  And then Smiles has the plan to sell it and make his own millions, away from his father’s company.  So they try to deal with the government, which you know isn’t going to go smoothly.

The other part of the plot is Smile’s ex-girlfriend Melanie who is uncovering a mystery of her own dealing with the company Smile’s dad created and her dad’s employer.  There’s a suicide decades ago that seems to have raised questions recently.  Also,  a secret letter Smiles was to receive when he turned 18 was destroyed by his father and Melanie is piecing together clues of what that suicide has to do with her father and Smile’s dad.

Vegas, disappearances, and a code to break the internet accounts and government records…. it will certainly appeal to fans of mysteries, those who believe in conspiracy theories, and any misfit trying to find his identity.  What makes it special is the twist.  It all comes full circle and besides a lovely plot wrap up, the reader will see how good guys can sometimes be bad and how bad guys can sometimes be good people.  A mind blowing realization that even a cipher couldn’t uncover.

A School for Unusual Girls – Kathleen Baldwin

Female Leads, period pieces, Safe Bets, Series, Young Readers

It’s 1814 and Georgiana Fitzwilliam is not the submissive, dainty, quiet daughter her high society parents expect in a daughter.  In fact, she’s a scientist (!)  and after setting the family’s barn and fields on fire (oops!) from a failed science experiment, she is sent to Miss. Stranje – a woman known for breaking wild girls of their strong spirit and reforming them into high society’s expectations of a well behaved female…… or so the Stranje House is believed to do.

As any smart spy knows, one must have a good cover – and that’s what the Stranje House is: a cover for girls with skills to be honed in an effort to help Britain avoid another war.  Emma Stranje is not the harsh Headmistress who reforms wild girls, as parents believe, but she is a clever, atypical female herself who will train these young females and place them in dangerous situations with some of England’s most secretive of spies. A truly bold woman using the innate skills of young ladies to help her country.  A patriot in a corset!

A period piece, not historical fiction but a story that takes elements of history (not as accurate as a Dateline episode, but far better than a Lifetime movie), but a setting that readers will enjoy dreaming about even once the book is finished. Another tale of young females dreaming of living outside of their sexist, limited options.

Gerogie and the other girls of Stranje House all have skills that will help the British army and keep the French Napoleon sympathizers from gaining control of France.  Throw in a few spy scenarios, a ball to attend, and secrets from a few sinister characters, as well as a gallant hero and that’s the story.  But it isn’t as romance-novel as it sounds since, after all, Georgie and the other ladies from Stranje House are some of the most clever, ranging from realistically sloppy to the most naturally beautiful, heroes of this adventure.   It ends with a new foe and challenge even the Strange House ladies do not know how to conquor, but (sweetly) concludes with Georgie finally finding a home among the other “unusual” girls.


A Stranje House series continues with Exile for Dreamers

exile

 

The Unwanteds – Lisa McMann

Fantasy, Favorites, Safe Bets, Series

The cover proudly quotes Kirkus Reviews describing the book as  “The Hunger Games Meets Harry Potter” and that is a pretty accurate statement.

Children, teens, and adults will all enjoy this 7 (about to be 8) book series where children are determined to be “Wanteds”, “Necessaries”, or “Unwanteds” based on intelligence vs. creativity.  For Alex, an Unwanted, he assumed he’d be executed after the Purge – as that is what has occurred for decades, but instead all of the Unwanteds are rescued each year and live peacefully hidden away in a magical part of the forest run by an elected official, who is supposed to execute the very children he protects.

In Artime, the children are encouraged and taught to express themselves and their creativity.  Those with talent for acting, writing, painting, and drawing being to hone their talents.  As they master basic levels, they then begin their magical training [see how Harry Potter-esque this is.]  After about 6 months, their skills have advanced, but Alex still misses his twin brother (a Wanted) and finds a way to communicate with him.  At the same time Mr. Today informs the student body, professors, and magical creatures and statues that he fears someday in the near future they will be found and will be forced to defend one another and Artime.

In a magical, hidden forest, where creativity is encouraged and slam poetry or splatter painting can be magical defenses, who wouldn’t find enjoyment in this story?

Very enjoyable both for the magic and the politics between Quill and Artime.  Only a few deaths in the battle at the end, but similarly as Harry Potter, I suspect it gets darker as the series continues.

_____________________________________________________

unwanteds

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

diversity in YA, Favorites, love, Middle Grade Romance, Read-a-Likes, Safe Bets, Young Readers

boys

A story of sisters, crushes, mean girls, and first loves.  Yes, plural.

When Lara Jean’s secret love letters to all of her crushes (5) are mailed suddenly and accidentally, her love life is all too public.

A week shy of her older sister going to college in Scotland, Lara Jean, who doesn’t like change, realizes her life is about to change drastically.   Their mother died six years ago and Margot, the eldest, has kept the family organized and running.  Besides losing her sister to the Scots, she has lost a dear family friend (and her first crush) Josh when Margot breaks up with him.

Of course all the letters get out and all the recipients come looking for answers.  Lara Jean must explain and hide her true feelings for Josh.  It’s awkward and embarrassing, and totally funny when she and one of her recipients decide to “fake date” so she can save face and he can make his ex-girlfriend jealous.

As the story continues, Lara Jean gets a bit braver and honest with her relationships – with Peter, Josh, and her sisters.  Of course it can’t stay light and funny forever.  Soon Margo returns home and there’s a distance between the sisters from her time away.  A school trip brings a mean rumor and a post-Christmas party of carols and cookies ends up with everything publicly announced.  Kitty, the funny wise-beyond-her-years little sister gets her puppy though. Lara Jean realizes how her boy crushes through the years were all fantasy and that love is messy.

“Love is scary: it changes; it can go away.  That’s part of the risk.” and that’s a lesson everyone should learn.

A cute book.  Sequel: P.S. I Still Love You.  (yes, I’ll probably read it)