Hawthorn Creely is a bit of an outsider. She doesn’t really have a lot of friends, and most people consider her to be a bit strange. Her older brother, Rush, though, is a part of the popular crowd and even used to date the seemingly-perfect Lizzie Lovett. When Lizzie disappears, nevertheless, it is Hawthorne who becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened. How obsessed? Well… She kinda decides to go and apply for a job at the diner where Lizzie worked — they *obviously* have an opening! — and to try and get close to Lizzie’s boyfriend, whom many people suspect of foul play. After all, her boyfriend was the last person to see her when they went camping together. Maybe if she spends enough time around the same people and places as Lizzie, she will be able to uncover some clue everyone else is missing. The thing is, though, Hawthorn has a completely crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie… I’m talking, I think she needs some serious mental help. But she is utterly convinced that she is right and that by spending enough time living like Lizzie, she will be able to prove that she is right. If you like mysteries and enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you should get this book when it comes out. [It is slated for a January 3, 2017, publication.]
Nina Armstrong didn’t think much about being biracial until her parents split up. She didn’t think much about her creamy mocha skin and curly brown and red hair. Until her parents decided to divorce, she didn’t really feel the need to “pick a side.” Now that her darker-skinned brother, Jimi, has moved out with their [black] dad and she has stayed living with her [white] mom, though, she is starting to question things much more. Especially with racial tensions in Oakland rising at the same time as her parents’ split, Nina starts to feel like she doesn’t belong anywhere. She begins to feel too black around the white kids and too white around the black kids. Some of her best friends suddenly start to treat her differently, and she can’t seem to coexist peacefully with her mom or her dad. She is also worried about Jimi, who seems to have fallen in with the wrong crowd, but she is worried that seeking help for him will make matters worse, or at least drive him away. The only person she seems to feel a connection with is her great-great-grandmother, Sarah Armstrong — about whom she hadn’t even know until her father shared the manuscript for the book he was writing. As she reads about the lengths to which Sarah went, to learn how to read and to escape slavery, she finds the courage she needs to face her own struggles.
I thought this title was perfect to share right during #BannedBooksWeek, considering Sarah Armstrong’s epiphany that she had become a “feared posession: property that could read.” Modern day activists like Malala Yousafzai are quick to remind us ignorance makes people unable to make educated decisions about their own lives and the world around them. If the masses are kept ignorant, it is easier for the people in power to control them. This book is also a good conversation starter for people who are interested in delving more deeply into the history of race relations in the US and the #BlackLivesMatter movement that is still/currently making headlines.
Hamster is ACTIVE
Hummingbird is HOVERING
Hammerhead is CRUISING
Hanniganimal is UP!
This is the way the story opens, and the method Mel Hannigan uses to track her bipolar disorder. The hamster represents her mind/thinking, the hummingbird represents her energy level, the hammerhead represents her physical health, and the Hanniganimal is how they all come together to form “The Hannigan Animal” (aka Mel). As someone who is only mildly familiar with bipolar disorder and who hasn’t experienced it herself, I thought I would find it difficult to insinuate myself into the mind of a character who was experiencing constant and vast swings between mania and depression. Though Mel’s experiences with Bipolar Disorder were different than my own mental health issues with “Pure O” OCD, though, these analogies helped me to relate better than I expected.
I truly appreciate that more authors are writing books like this to provide readers with a healthy dose of information that contributes to compassion and empathy toward people suffering from mental health disorders. We can’t #EndTheStigma if no one will talk about it! Even better, I like the fact that this book did so without feeling clunky or didactic. One of my favorite characters in this story is Dr. Jordan — a resident at the nursing home at which Mel works (who was a therapist, but is not *her* therapist). He tells it like it is, but he is gentle and diplomatic enough that Mel doesn’t completely shut him out when she is vacillating between moods. This isn’t just a book about Bipolar Disorder, though. It’s also a book about navigating life, love, and friendship through the tumult that is adolescence. After reading and loving both this book and Not If I See You First, I can’t wait to see what will be next from Eric Lindstrom. (I may have to wait a while, though, since this book is not even due for publication until February 2017…)
I don’t know how honor students in high school today manage not to have nervous breakdowns on a regular basis. I went to a school that had a fairly good “enrichment” program starting in elementary school and followed that program straight through taking AP level classes in high school. Perhaps it is only because I attended a relatively small school (with a graduating class of just under 100 students), but I never felt any extreme pressure to work the system for the highest possible GPA. We were all encouraged to do our best, to take AP exams to save on time/money in college, to apply for college and scholarships based on our interests, and to also participate in other extra-curricular activities. My classmates and I had the general knowledge that extra-curricular activities could impact our college applications, but we didn’t spend every waking moment calculating which activities would look best on college applications — we just chose the activities that supported our interests. (What a concept!)
Reshma Kapoor is a fictional character, but my experiences in working with teens over the last decade or so have shown me that she is absolutely based on reality… I wasn’t even working with teens who attended super elite schools, and many of them were still beyond stressed about which classes they needed to take and which activities would best round-out their college applications. (Some of them actually started worrying about college in middle school!) In addition to the fact that Reshma attends an über elite and highly competitive school, though, she also faces a lot of pressure from her Asian-American parents who believe that studying and doing well in school are of the utmost importance. For nearly her entire life, she has focused on academic achievement with an end-goal of becoming a doctor. Now that senior year is here and Reshma is *this* close to graduating, she is fully dedicated to keeping her position as valedictorian and getting accepted to Stanford. Especially now that Reshma has a literary agent who is interested in helping her publish a book, she is certain that she has an edge on the competition. If only she wasn’t so lacking in life experience and knew more about “typical” teenagers, she might have an easier time writing that book… So, she’ll just have to make a friend and get a boyfriend to get some plot points. How hard could it possibly be?!?
Nina Barrows doesn’t like to sleep at night. A few hours right before school and then a cat nap during the day is fine, but that is about all she is comfortable with. Why? Because falling asleep gives her the ability to connect with the mind of a serial killer who calls himself the Thief. Nina is familiar with his family, his home, his work, and his methods of stalking and killing his prey. When she was little, Nina tried to tell her mother about her connection with this older boy, but her mother just thought she had an imaginary friend. As she got older, Nina realized that people might simply think she was crazy, so she decided not to talk about it any more. But she wonders whether she might be able to stop him; if there might be some way to use her “power” for good. There are just two problems with that, though… One is that she needs to convince her former best friend, Warren, to help her track down the Thief. And the other, of course, is the fact that she may be putting her own life in danger if she manages to find him.
Warren is not so sure that he believes in this psychic connection, but he admits that there are an awful lot of coincidences and he doesn’t want Nina to go off completely on her own. Nina starts to doubt herself, once Warren has sown some seeds of doubt, but she is insistent on following through to see if this man really is the dangerous sociopath, the Thief, she has seen in her dreams. This psychological thriller has so many twists and turns that it will surely keep you guessing all the way until the end.
I have several lenses through which I view the education system in our country. First, as a former student. Second, as someone who has completed a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in library and information sciences with a concentration in youth services and public libraries. Third, nevertheless, is the role that has provided me a completely different [admittedly, more biased] view — mom to two children in public school. Based on my own experiences, the training I have received, the literature I’ve studied on best practices, the work I have done in schools and public libraries, and the ways I have seen my own children navigate the system, I feel extremely confident in my ability to speak about both the successes and shortcomings of recent educational reforms. And while I feel as though most of the reform in the last couple of decades was well-intentioned, I am both concerned about and disappointed by the general trend toward extreme standardization and hands-off learning because of the focus on high-stakes testing. This book spoke right to my heart!
Imagine that the school you attended had an all-seeing, computerized Vice Principal who could track every single student’s educational progress and behavior in real time. For Max, this is her reality. Every time her grades slip, every time she is late to class, and every time she breaks even the tiniest of school rules, the Vice Principal (aka computerized student tracking/evaluation system) Barbara updates Max’s student record. That might not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Barbara also constantly notifies Max’s parents, who are stressing big time and pressuring Max to turn things around before she ends up kicked out of her regular middle school and enrolled in a remedial program. School is nothing but stress for Max… but then Fuzzy shows up.
Fuzzy is a new student at Vanguard One Middle School. The thing that makes him different, nevertheless, is that he is not human; he is a robot. Sure, the school already had robots who perform routine janitorial and cafeteria work, but Fuzzy is something very new. Instead of being programmed for only a few specific jobs and functions, he is programmed with “fuzzy logic” so that he can attempt to adapt his code to the demands of being a middle school student. To help him with his mission, Max has been recruited as a student partner with whom he can interact. She agrees to help Fuzzy better understand the intricacies of navigating middle school, both literally and figuratively, and Fuzzy “decides” he wants to help Max as well. In a world where it seems like administrators would rather their students behave more like robots, you would think that Fuzzy would be welcomed with open arms. But it seems that Barbara is not a fan of the new Robot Integration Program. Perhaps it’s because she’s afraid Fuzzy will catch on to the fact that she seems to be so obsessed with better test scores that she may be taking liberties with student evaluations?
John “Smoke” Conlan is serving time at a juvenile detention center known to most simply as the Y. He’s there because he was convicted of murdering two people — but he didn’t really kill his teacher, Mrs. Cruz, and the boy he killed was an accident. That boy, by the way, happened to be the only other witness to Mrs. Cruz’ murder. Ack! (John feels so guilty about both of those deaths, though, he doesn’t really feel like he deserves any better than the Y.)
John earned the nickname “Smoke” because he seems to have the ability to go anywhere and see anything. No one knows quite how he manages to get all the information he does, but they’re more than happy to enlist his services. In truth, people probably wouldn’t believe him if he told them. You see, ever since his near death experience, John has had the ability to separate himself from his body and to navigate through the world in a ghostly form. That was how he witnessed Mrs. Cruz’ murder in the first place, and that is how he gets information for other people at the Y. If it wasn’t for a run-in with a girl he calls Pink, who can see and communicate with him, he probably would have given up on himself completely. But, because Pink seems to believe in him — and because he wants to protect her, since she wound up in danger after visiting him at the Y — John finds the courage to search a little harder and to try and clear his name…