The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman

schwa was hereAnthony “Antsy” Bonano was one of the few people in the world who ever noticed Calvin Schwa (aka The Schwa).  As Antsy said, The Schwa was “functionally invisible,” and it seemed that he was right.  Kids would walk right past him without seeing him, even if he wore ridiculous clothing.  Teachers would look past his raised hand or even mark him absent despite his presence/attempted participation in class.  And his own father would often not realize he was home.  Antsy first tested his hypothesis — with the aforementioned ridiculous clothing — and then he did his best to capitalize on The Schwa Effect.  He figured people would pay good money for someone who was able to spy without getting caught or who was capable of slipping a late assignment into a teacher’s bag unnoticed, and he was right.  The only thing he didn’t really consider was the fact that The Schwa was a person with emotions like everyone else.  Sure, it was cool that he could sometimes get away with things other kids couldn’t… but being invisible can get pretty lonely, too.

Fans of the Unwind Dystology might have a hard time believing that this book was written by the same author, but they won’t likely be disappointed — as long as they can appreciate a wry/sarcastic sense of humor, that is.  Here’s a little taste of Antsy for people who are on the fence:

“Life is like a bad haircut. At first it looks awful, then you kind of get used to it, and before you know it, it it grows out and you gotta get another haircut that maybe won’t be so bad, unless of course you keep going to SuperClips, where the hairstylists are so terrible they oughta be using safety scissors, and when they’re done you look like your head got caught in a ceiling fan. So life goes on, good haircut, bad haircut, until finally you go bald, and it don’t matter no more.
I told this wisdom to my mother, and she said I oughta put it in a book, then burn it. Some people just can’t appreciate the profound.”

Happy Reading!

Knockout Games by G. Neri [ARC]

Knockout GamesAfter reading and enjoying Surf Mules and Ghetto Cowboy, I was looking forward to seeing how Neri would handle this topic.  Once I downloaded the ARC and started reading it, though, I second-guessed my decision.  Some of the depictions of violence literally made me sick to my stomach.  When I got to the very first knockout, I had to put the book (well, Kindle) down and just read something else because I was so utterly disturbed.  I was talking to a friend about it and saying that I didn’t know if I could handle reading this story, but he reminded me that this is an important story to have available to teens and that pushing myself beyond my comfort zone to finish this story would make me better able to recommend it to those who needed it.  After all, this isn’t a fantasy or science fiction story with gratuitous violence; this is a contemporary, realistic story about an actual problem in urban neighborhoods.  Real teens are “playing” the knockout game, and Neri’s story can help people — whether players or outsiders — better understand the factors that lead people to play and the faulty logic many players use to justify their participation.  People who don’t actually read the story might fear that Neri glorifies the game, but anyone who reads the whole book will understand that, though he humanizes the players and explains the motivations they might have in playing this deadly game, he makes it clear that their cop-outs and excuses do NOT justify their destructive actions.  So glad I made myself go back and finish this one.  Hopefully, the timely publication of this book will succeed in educating and deterring would-be players.

Happy Reading!

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion For Life by Crystal Paine

Say Goodbye to Survival ModeI know my blog is primarily for reviews of books written for tweens and teens… but I also know that there are adults (parents, teachers, librarians, and writers) among my readers.  Therefore, I am taking some liberties and sharing this book review on my own blog as well as my library’s Staff Picks blog.  If any of my readers could stand to benefit from knowledge of a book, I think it’s worth making an exception once in a while.  :-)

Earlier this summer, a patron came in looking for this book because one of her friends swore it was a life changer. I was in over my head with both personal and professional commitments, sleeping poorly, and desperate for anything that could help me change my “barely keeping my head above water” style of living. As soon as I placed a request for the patron, I added another for myself. The very day that I started reading this book, I read the first couple of chapters and started making lists of my priorities, goals, and routines so I could set up a concrete plan for moving forward. I am sure I probably could have worked through things on my own, but it was so much easier to have a step-by-step plan that was created by an author who had “been there, done that.” Although I would like to say my life turned completely around in the week it took me to finish this book, I have to be more honest and say that I’m simply on my way. I’m working on saying no to things that don’t help me reach my goals rather than over-committing myself; I’m working on finely tuning my morning and evening routines to get all of my “must do” stuff done (while letting go of the stuff that doesn’t truly matter); and I’m trying to live by the OHIO (Only Handle It Once) rule I once learned at a workshop about organizing — don’t put it in a pile or on a list if you can just get it done right now. So far, so good. Wish me luck!

Happy Reading!

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

necromancerSam was always a bit of a loner.  He found it difficult to connect with other people and had only a few friends.  One night, while Sam was working at his fast-food job, he had an unusual encounter with a customer who took one look at him and started asking strange questions about where he came from and whether he was granted permission to move to Seattle.  But, Sam had always lived in Seattle.  And why would he have needed permission to move there anyway?  So weird!  Then, at the end of their shift, Sam and his friends got attacked by a huge man with superhuman strength.  Things went from weird to scary pretty fast.  It turned out that Sam never knew it but that he was a necromancer.  Suddenly, many of the quirky things about himself and his family had supernatural explanations and started to make more sense.  Sadly, “making more sense” and “making sense” aren’t exactly the same.

Lots of action, a bit of mystery, and sarcastic/twisted humor made this book hard to put down.  Readers who enjoy books like Killer Pizza and I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It should definitely check this one out.  I know I’m looking forward to reading the sequel (Necromancing the Stone) when my “to be read” pile gets a little shorter, though I’m a little afraid those chapter titles will also get a bunch of songs stuck in my head.  ;-)

Happy Reading!

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Port Chicago 50Before hearing Steve Sheinkin speak at the 2014 YSS Spring Conference in White Plains, NY, I had never heard of the Port Chicago 50.  When Sheinkin told us about the Port Chicago disaster and then went in to explain how the 50 men who had been too afraid to return to work were charged with mutiny, I was dumbfounded.  I *had* to know more about this story and how it was that the charge of mutiny actually stuck.  I don’t often find non-fiction books so compelling, but I found myself sitting in my driveway after I got home and popping in my ear buds during lunch breaks at work because I just couldn’t tear myself away from this story — especially when I got to the court trial.  It was like I was listening to an episode of Law & Order: Historical Case Files.  (If they end up starting a spin-off show with that title, y’all are my witnesses that I came up with the idea and deserve some royalties!)

I especially appreciated how Steve Sheinkin pointed out the fact that the members of the Port Chicago 50 were early, and largely unsung, heroes in the Civil Rights Movement.  Not only did their plight shine a light on the unfairness of the segregation of duties within the Armed Forces, but their treatment by civilians once they left the base was sometimes atrocious, regardless of the fact that they were putting their lives on the line to fight for their country.  One of the quotes that best summarizes how these men effected change in the people around them actually came as the answer to a question between friends.  When Joe Small (the so-called leader of the Port Chicago 50) asked his friend Alex (a formerly racist Alabaman) what had changed his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied, “I found out something. A man is a man.”  So simple a statement, yet so profound.

Happy Reading!

 

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

great and terrible beautyFrom looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel.  I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix.  And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off.  Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life.  While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!

Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace.  Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide.  Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit.  After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy.  Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.

Happy Reading!

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate‎

One and Only IvanWhen this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it.  It just sounded too depressing.  Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it. I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp.  (We share a parking lot with the Y!)  This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit.  So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.

Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny.  The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light.  My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball.  You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?”  Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course!  ;-)  He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals.  The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan.  I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.

Happy Reading!