My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros

my year of epic rock

This is a pretty adorable middle grade debut. Perfect for girls ages 10-13, My Year of Epic Rock is all about choosing those who make you happy over those who are popular and being confident in yourself. Great messages overall, especially aimed at younger middle school readers. Totally clean and positive – well suited to any young reader.

Find it on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller!

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

falling into place

Written by author Amy Zhang while she was still in high school, Falling Into Place explores the life of Liz Emerson,  a high school it-girl willing to do just about anything to stay at the top of the social ladder. Liz develops a conscience as she notices the way her actions affect the lives of her peers and, feeling like nobody really knows her or cares about who she really is, she decides it would be better for all involved if she just killed herself. So she plans it out and goes through with her plan.

Now, a book like this has the potential to be horribly depressing, but this one isn’t. Zhang’s writing is raw and gritty (language, casual sexual references, drug use, and more) but it’s also intriguing and ultimately hopeful. The way the story is constructed, told in chunks hopping around from months before her suicide to childhood memories to the moments before the crash, allows the reader a chance to really understand Liz and her closest friends and family members. Through these snipers of story we come to know Liz’s whole story, and we can see that she’s not nearly as alone as she believes that she is.

Falling Into Place is gut-wrenching and honest and relevant in a way that must come from the author’s age – in high school herself when it was written – which makes it impossible to ignore. SE Hinton wrote about the Greasers and the Socials, rumbles and drive-ins, when she was just a teenager herself, and Falling Into Place will do much the same for today’s world. The issues of drugs, promiscuity, bullying, social media, depression, and suicide are all very real in the lives of today’s high schoolers, and it’s in books like this that those issues find a solid voice.

The stories of Liz, Julia, Kennie, and Liam will not be soon forgotten. This is a remarkable debut from a talented writer; Zhang is definitely one to watch for the future.

I highly recommend checking out Falling Into Place, which is out now. You can find it here on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

FourteenthGoldfish_Cover

The Fourteenth Goldfish is a perfect example of everything a middle grade novel should be: fun, family, school, adventure, and quirk. I’ve already started spreading to word to my middle school Science teacher friends this would be a great way for Science teachers to support reading instruction, or a great way for ELA teachers to incorporate some Science concepts.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

Some Boys by Patty Blount

some boys

Mostly I want to say that Some Boys handles the topic of rape with intelligence and great storytelling, which is so often the most effective way to teach on such a sensitive subject. In the vein of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Some Boys tackles the difficult issues of rape, bullying, slut shaming, etc. which are all incredibly important topics for teens (and parents, teachers, and more) to be aware of and discuss openly.

I was troubled, though, by how teachers and school administration were portrayed in this. I am a teacher. I have worked in several schools and with plenty of different types of teachers so far in my career. I can’t speak for all schools, obviously, and it saddens me to know that there probably are some teachers and administrators who would choose to look the other way rather than get involved, but I can say with certainty that it’s not the norm. Teachers teach because they care. Administrators too. In that way, I felt like that aspect of this book was unfairly represented. There would have been more than just the Coach who tried to help, and it would have been before he finally actually stepped in. Also, schools do have the ability to intervene and discipline students based on social media harassment when it impacts what’s happening at school, as this obviously does. Grace may not have felt like there were caring adults around her, but I want to urge all of my teenage readers to seek out help at school – we’re there because we want to help, not to shame you.

All of that aside, I do think there’s a valuable message here, and I’d encourage high school girls, especially, and parents of teenagers to read it. And, I think the most valuable lesson here is to urge students and parents to communicate with authorities, whether police or school based, when they know minors are being harassed. Most of the adults in this earn a giant F from me in how they handled Grace’s situation.

Grace’s story is immediately compelling and engrossing, and ultimately is a sweet story of healing and love. Find it here on Amazon.

The Swift Boys and Me by Kody Keplinger

Summary from Goodreads:

Nola Sutton has been best friends and neighbors with the Swift boys for practically her whole life. There’s the youngest, Kevin, who never stops talking; the oldest, Brian, who’s always kind and calm; and then there’s Canaan, the ringleader and Nola’s best-best friend. Nola can’t imagine her life without the Swift boys — they’ll always be like this, always be friends.

But then everything changes overnight.

When the Swifts’ daddy leaves without even saying good-bye, it completely destroys the boys, and all Nola can do is watch. Kevin stops talking and Brian is never around. Even Canaan is drifting away from Nola — hanging out with the neighborhood bullies instead of her.

Nola just wants things to go back to the way they were — the way they’ve always been. She tries to pull the boys back to her, only the harder she pulls, the further away they seem. But it’s not just the Swifts whose family is changing, so is Nola’s, and she needs her best friends now more than ever. Can Nola and the Swift boys survive this summer with their friendships intact, or has everything fallen apart for good?

Nola’s struggle to save her friends, her unwavering hope, and her belief in the power of friendship make Kody Keplinger’s middle-grade debut a poignant story of loss and redemption.

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This is a really sweet and beautifully written middle grades novel. The only thing keeping me from giving it five stars is that I felt like the ending, while hopeful and complete enough to resolve the book, didn’t quite do Lola and Canaan justice. They were such great characters – there should have been more resolution, both in their relationship and in Canaan’s family life.

I definitely recommend The Swift Boys and Me to kids in the 4th-6th grade range! The adorable cover will no doubt appeal to lots of young girls, but the messages and themes are perfect for boys, too. For my fellow teachers, this would make a great summer reading choice for students coming into 5th and 6th grades!

Find it here on Amazon or at your preferred bookseller. Enjoy!

Behind the Scenes with Me, in honor of Dalhia Adler’s Book Birthday! #BtSWeek

BehindtheScenesBlogTour3

 

I’m so excited for Dahlia’s book release and honored to be a part of her book blitz for release week! So, for the release of her Behind the Scenes, here’s a behind the scenes with me…

I want to give you a glimpse into where it all begins for me: Inspiration. Where do ideas come from? How do little sparks of inspiration turn into entire novels and stories worth being told? There are lots of ways ideas come to me, but I’d say these three are the main ones that really set me off when it comes to a new project:

  •  Music. I love music with smart, descriptive lyrics. Nothing gets my imagination off and running like clever phrasing in a catchy song – it basically begs for a story to be written. Once I actually start thinking about that story, creating characters in my head and visualizing their stories, I build a playlist of songs and artists reflective of the feeling I’m going for with that particular story. Throughout the writing process, the playlist changes depending on the course the plot takes until, by the end, it finally becomes a finished list of songs that match up with the plot arch – it’s pretty cool. This is a small sampling of the playlist for the book I’m working on now:

playlist 1playlist2

  • Teenagers. As an English teacher, I spend a ridiculous amount of time with teenagers, and I never seem to get tired of them. They’re fun. Hearing their stories, their hopes and dreams, their struggles… They’re smart and they care about life and the world in general way more than most adults realize.I’m never at a loss for ideas because of them, and writing dialogue is as simple as listening to my students.
  • Pinterest. What did we do before Pinterest existed? I can tell you that I am definitely a visual thinker, so having a virtual bulletin board to organize what things are going to look like is such a huge help to me. I love that I can search for just about anything in the world and find a related pin. For example, for my current work in progress, one of the main characters is a Latino senior in high school who talks about her quinceanera… and, because Pinterest is awesome, I found a picture of a girl I’ll use as inspiration for my character. My boards for this WIP is still private, but here’s a small glimpse just for you:

pinterest 2

 

So what inspires you? What gets your creativity going? I’d love to hear it!

Make sure you also check out Dahlia’s book, Behind the Scenes. I really, really enjoyed it and highly recommend it for high school readers and up! All the links you could possibly need are pasted below:

Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery by Abby Sher

breaking free

First and foremost, let me start with this: This book is important. It should be read by teenage girls and their parents because human trafficking is one of the scariest and least talked about issues facing our girls today, and so many people don’t know what it really is and how easily could happen to those they know and love. Sex slavery is not just something for third world countries and far-off places; it’s everywhere and can happen to anyone.

Breaking Free is well composed and full of power. Sher brings together three stories of incredible women who have survived unspeakable horrors in a way that is raw, jarring, and eye-opening. What makes this book great, though, is her ability to successfully make us aware of the all-out pervasiveness of trafficking while also providing us with hope through the testimonies of strong women and through practical, informative ways to get involved in ending this practice.

As a teacher, I wish I could require all parents (and their children, when they’re ready) to read this. I know it’s making me hold my daughter a little tighter tonight, and I wish parents would educate themselves as to the dangers around their children. Abby Sher has done an amazing job putting together a valuable resource and an answer to the questions of what trafficking is, how it can happen, and why we can’t ignore it.

I strongly urge you to check out Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery!

The Book Thief, the book and the movie

book thief

 

I’m usually fascinated by and really connect with Holocaust literature, but when I tried to read The Book Thief a while back I just couldn’t get into it. I don’t know why, and many people would think that’s insane, but I just didn’t like it.

When the movie came out, though, I was intrigued… and just got around to watching it recently. And, while the book didn’t hold my interest, I found that the movie really did. It was well done, and the casting/acting was superb. If you didn’t get into the book, like me, you should definitely check out this movie!

 

book_thief movie

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

maze runner

 

With the movie version of The Maze Runner coming out in September, which looks amazing based on all I’ve seen so far, I wanted to get started with actually reading the series.

In The Maze Runner, a teenaged boy named Thomas suddenly wakes up in a sort of elevator. He has amnesia – he doesn’t remember anything about who he is or how he got there, but he remembers basic things about how to live, the names of things, and feels like he recognizes stuff but doesn’t know why. At the end of the lift, the doors open to reveal a group of other teenaged boys stuck in a maze. Just as Thomas starts to figure out how the maze society works, another unexpected thing happens: a girl is delivered in the box the very next day, the first girl ever to be sent to the maze, and she has a scary message to deliver. Throughout the course of the book, Thomas tries to remember anything that would explain why they’re there and how they could possibly make it out of the maze.

I don’t even really know how to classify this book – it’s not dystopian as there’s nothing seemingly “perfect” about the society Thomas suddenly finds himself in, and Dashner doesn’t reveal much to us about life outside of the maze until the very end so I hesitate to call it a post-apocolytic novel, but it’s pretty clear that something big is happening. As the reader tries to figure it out along with Thomas and the other kids trapped in the maze, we’re a part of and adventure that is definitely thrilling.

Fans of books like the Divergent and Hunger Games series’ will find The Maze Runner interesting, though it doesn’t have the romantic element found in those. I’ll definitely be adding this title to my 8th grade summer reading list – it’s a great option for students probably 7th grade and up.