Category Archives: contemporary

Sidekicks by Jack D. Ferraiolo

SidekicksThanks to my recent stint at Batgirl at the YSS Spring Conference, I finally remembered that I need to post a review of this book!  Let me just start off by saying that I liked this book, but I was a bit put off in the beginning.  I think it’s because the cover had me expecting something that would be more accessible to tweens and younger teens but the story left me feeling uncomfortable recommending this book to someone who specifically asks for a “clean read” for their child.  Perhaps I found the beginning of the book so off-putting just because I am female and just don’t *get* it as much as if I had grown up as a guy.  But, as it stands, I thought that the first several chapters were a bit much.  I mean, does it really take several chapters to get across the point that Bright Boy was embarrassed about an erection showing through his spandex costume? I think not…

For the most part, though, I really enjoyed this book.  I especially appreciated the fact that good and evil were not as typically “black and white” as in many super hero stories.  Sometimes, heroes do very bad things; sometimes, villains are actually misguided altruists.  I loved that Phantom Justice was a campy parody of Batman, whom I think my husband takes entirely too seriously, and Dr. Chaotic reminded me quite a bit of Dr. Horrible.  If you’re looking for a funny story with action and adventure, mystery and suspense, and a hint of romance, you should give this one a try.

Happy Reading!


It’s so funny how things work out sometimes.  After finishing this audiobook two days ago, I saw [yesterday] that the author was featured in a CNN article about 10 visionary women!  I am taking this as a sign that I need to post … Continue reading

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

this star won't go outEsther Grace Earl was an exceptional teenager.  She was a kind, thoughtful, and generous Nerdfighter who managed to bring out the best in herself and the people around her while simultaneously battling thyroid cancer.  Esther bravely endured lengthy and painful treatments with the hope that she could live long enough to “make a difference, to help someone.”  Well, she definitely succeeded.  Not only did she inspire people while she was alive, but her legacy continues via a charity called This Star Won’t Go Out.

This book is a collection of Esther’s blog posts, letters to her family, CaringBridge entries from her family, and reflections from people who knew her, interspersed with photos.  There is an introduction by John Green, which explains how he met Esther and the role she played in inspiring him while he wrote The Fault in Our Stars.  I found it difficult to read this story because I found myself getting depressed and angry about the unfairness of it all.  How can there be healthy “bad people” in the world while innocent children and teens die from cancer?!?  As I finished the book last night, and I came to the section where Esther’s parents recalled her final words and moments, I couldn’t help but sob.  Thankfully, there was a small samples of stories Esther had written to lighten the mood at the end of the book.

Happy Reading!

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach [ARC]

fat boy vs the cheerleadersIn honor of Teen Tech Week, I decided to review a book that I read as a digital ARC.  (If there are any teachers/librarians out there who would like to get digital ARCs, by the way, I highly recommend checking out Edelweiss and NetGalley.) Though I was reluctant to use an e-reader, I really have come around.  Though I still prefer “real” books, I am learning to appreciate my e-reader — especially when it means that I will have a better chance of receiving, and sometimes even instant access to, a review copy!

I don’t recall where I first saw the cover of this book, but I was intrigued by both the title and the cool cover.  I wanted to find out more about it and whether it might be a good fit for my library’s YA collection, but I couldn’t find any professional reviews.  So, I decided to get a digital review copy from Edelweiss and read it myself.   I am SO glad I did!  I loved the main character, Gabe/Chunk, and thought the unique way the story was told — in the form of a written statement/police interview — worked surprisingly well.

Gabe’s “friends” call him Chunk [a reference to a character from an 80s cult classic, The Goonies], and he has long accepted that moniker.  After all, he is fat.  Huge.  Beyond hope.  After his mom left, he and his dad both began to feed their feelings.  One of Gabe/Chunk’s biggest problems is his addiction to soda — but the money from the soda machine in the school cafeteria helps to fund the school pep band, so he is OK with wasting his money and drinking all the extra calories… until the day he finds out that they’ve been bamboozled.  Without public knowledge, the school board decided to take the money from the soda machine and give it to the cheerleaders for a new dance squad!  Gabe/Chunk decides that he is not only going to enlist the help of his friends to win back the money for the band, but he is going to let his grandfather [a former champion body builder] help him win back his body.  Though I admit that the description sounds like it could get a little preachy, I am pleased to report that this story was often hilarious and that Gabe/Chunk had an authentic teen voice.  I’m definitely hoping for more from this author.

Happy Reading!

Living With Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles

Living With Jackie ChanI usually hate admitting when something makes me feel this stupid, but I just have to share this crazy story with y’all.  I got about half way through Living With Jackie Chan and actually got into a conversation with a friend about how much I love Jo Knowles’ books before I realized this was a companion book to Jumping Off Swings!  Seriously…  I was telling her about how Jumping Off Swings affected me so much that I literally could not put the book down before I finished it, woke my husband up with my crying, and then had to go in and cuddle with my sleeping son [at 2am] before I could calm down enough to sleep.  (I was pregnant for my daughter at the time, so I guess you can blame some of it on the hormones too!)  When I started to describe this story, I stopped talking mid-sentence and said, “OH MY GOD!  Josh is the guy from the first book!”  Yeah…  I’m quick like that!  Maybe it wasn’t mentioned in the book review I read when I ordered this book?  And, I know I didn’t read the book flap before starting to read the book when I picked it up off the shelf…  But, still, I loved Jumping Off Swings so much that it’s hard to believe I forgot the character names and also didn’t put two and two together when I first started this story.  /sigh

Living With Jackie Chan is a continuation of Josh’s story.  After getting Ellie pregnant, he feels like a horrible person and finds it difficult to move on with his life.  His Uncle Larry agrees to let Josh live with him while he finishes high school.  And, while starting over in a new city with a “clean slate” seems like a good idea, Josh finds it impossible to embrace this fresh start.  Even if no one at the new school knows what happened last year, HE knows what he did and can’t manage to forgive himself.  Fortunately, Uncle Larry convinces Josh to help out with his karate classes at the local YMCA — which provides Josh with a positive new focus and a chance to make a new friend, Stella.

Happy Reading!

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

Somebody Up There Hates YouWhen people ask Richard Casey what’s wrong with him, he likes to reply that he has SUTHY syndrome.  He waits an uncomfortable beat and then explains that SUTHY stands for “Somebody Up There Hates You.”  After all, what other reason would there be for a 17-year-old to be in hospice care with a terminal cancer diagnosis?  If I hadn’t already read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I may not have believed it was possible that Seamon could have written so much humor into this story.  Between Rich’s wry sense of humor and his bumbling romance with a girl named Sylvie [the only other teen in the hospice unit], I laughed out loud often enough that my cat gave up on falling asleep in my lap — and that never happens!  If you already read TFiOS and need something to hold you over until the movie comes out in June, you will probably enjoy this story too.

Happy Reading!

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

If you find meCarey grew up to be a remarkably mature teenager.  That’s not exactly surprising, though, if you consider the fact that she spent much of her childhood raising her little sister, Jenessa, in a broken-down camper in a national forest she affectionately referred to as The Hundred Acre Wood.  Although her mom frequently ran off and left the girls to fend for themselves with little more than a meager supply of canned beans, she still managed to brainwash Carey into believing that she was better off living in the squalor of the camper than if they had stayed with her father.  She had Carey convinced that her father was physically abusive and that leaving was the only way to protect themselves.  I thought it was quite clear that Carey’s mom was lying about her father and that she had major mental health issues — after all, what sane mother would leave two little girls to fend for themselves in the woods?  Still, I recognized how easily Carey could have been manipulated in that situation and understood why she just *had* to believe that her mother had the best of intentions, regardless of what her actions indicated.  After the girls were found by Carey’s dad and a social worker, based on clues in a letter from their mother, Carey had a hard time adjusting to life in the “real world.”  She did her best to help Jenessa adapt, but she also did her best not to reveal the harsh realities of what life had been like in The Hundred Acre Wood and why, exactly, Jenessa suddenly stopped talking about a year prior to their discovery.  Though I readily admit that this was an extremely difficult read at times, I can happily report that the ending left me feeling hopeful.

Happy Reading!

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I am MalalaWhen I first heard of the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, I was in shock.  The fact that the Taliban treated women and girls so poorly was no surprise, but the fact that they actually tried to kill a girl who merely fought for girls to be educated was practically unbelievable.  I was so relieved to hear the reports that Malala not only survived but that her fighting spirit was still intact.  While I find it terribly depressing to know that she cannot safely return to her home, it is heartening to know that Malala has the attention of many world leaders and is being kept safe as she travels the world to continue her work — fighting for the basic right to education.  After watching Malala’s interview on The Daily Show — which left Jon Stewart absolutely speechless — I knew I had to read this book!

While I was already familiar with the general history of unrest in the Middle East, I appreciated Malala’s overview of the formation of Pakistan.  I think it went a long way toward explaining how people could have “let” the Taliban take over; how low literacy rates meant that people had to trust what they were told, and how the intolerance and hatred crept in so slowly that many people did not see what was coming.  The overview of her family’s history, specifically how her own father fought so hard for his education and the education of others, also explained how Malala grew up to be so passionate about the right to an education.  Even though she didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s great that she was nominated — her nomination has the possibility to inspire a whole generation.  I can only hope that the youth of the world are paying attention and that Malala’s virtues are contagious, because there’s no limit to what a generation of people with her drive, courage, and enthusiasm can accomplish.

Happy Reading!

Stained by Cheryl Rainfield

StainedSarah had been stared at, teased, and bullied for most of her life because of the “port-wine stain” birthmark on her face and neck.  She often found that adults were just as insensitive as small children.  So she was extremely upset to find out, on the morning that she was to begin treatments to remove the birthmark, that someone embezzled a lot of money from her father’s company and the treatments had to be put on hold.  She felt like her life was over.  Little did she know that her birthmark was the least of her problems.

While Sarah’s insecurity over her “port-wine stain” birthmark reminded me of Terra in North of Beautiful (which I apparently never reviewed), the rest of the story reminded me of Living Dead Girl — namely because Sarah is kidnapped and held captive as a sex slave by a psychopath who admits to having done this before.  Thankfully, the descriptions of her rape are not extremely graphic.  Still, there is no question that she is, in fact, being raped every time her kidnapper visits.  Narration alternates between Sarah and her friend Nick, so readers are able to follow both Sarah’s desperate struggle to survive/escape and her family’s attempts to find her.  So glad I had the opportunity to read this in a single sitting, as I don’t know how I would have torn myself away before getting to the end!

Happy Reading!

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

Water CastleI know I am always telling people not to judge books by their covers, but I am certainly guilty of this infraction from time to time.  Somehow, I saw the cover of this book and thought it would be more fantastic than it was.  Maybe it was the banner that says “Believe in the unbelievable…”  Maybe it was the castle in the background.  But, somehow, I had my mind set that those kids would be involved in mystical time travel.  Yeah…  Not so much!  Although, there were chapters that took readers back to the early 1900s to discover the history of the Water Castle and the ancestors of the main characters, those main characters most definitely did not travel through time themselves.  And that was OK.  Even though this story wasn’t what I thought it would be, I still thought it was extremely cool.

Ephraim Appledore-Smith’s family relocated to Crystal Springs, Maine, after his father had a stroke.  Though his mother had inherited the house quite some time ago, Ephraim and his siblings had never been there before.  His mother decided to move to Crystal Springs because she had hopes that a specialist who lived in that area would be able to help her husband with his recovery.  After their arrival, though, Ephraim became obsessed with the possibility that the local water had special, mystical properties and that he could use it to cure his father.  After all, that was how the “Water Castle” came to be in the first place; his ancestor, Orlando Appledore, built the house because he was convinced that the Fountain of Youth was in Crystal Springs.  After floundering to find his niche in the new town/school, Ephraim became part of an unlikely trio — with Mallory Green, whose family has always worked as caretakers of the Appledore property, and Will Wylie, whose family has long feuded with the Appledores.  First brought together by a polar explorers research project, the three banded together with a determination to find the fountain of youth themselves.

Happy Reading!