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…
Agnes and Moira are just about as opposite as two girls can be, at least as far as appearance is concerned. Agnes is tiny, frail, and pretty much looks like a little old lady [because she has a medical condition called Progeria]. Moira, on the other had, is rather big. Too big, as far as she and the school bullies are concerned. Her bigger size is definitely a benefit of their friendship, though, because she can be a bodyguard of sorts for Agnes — who might be safer if she were homeschooled but prefers to live as “normally” as possible by attending public school. Boone is a guy they both used to be friends with in elementary school, but something happened that caused the girls to stop talking to him. When fate leads them to, unexpectedly, start spending time together again, their past seriously complicates the present. Agnes appears to think Boone deserves a second chance, but Moira seems determined to keep Boone from getting too close again. Since they’re all-too-aware that Agnes has already exceeded the standard life-expectancy of a kid diagnosed with Progeria, though, Moira and Boone begrudgingly give in to Agnes’ pleas to spend more time together.
This book would be a great conversation-starter for so many topics — friendship, bullying, and body image just to name a few. I won’t lie and say that this is an easy read, because it’s clear from the start that Agnes doesn’t have long to live and that Moira and Boone already have some major issues they’re dealing with. I will say, though, that I think McInnes did a fantastic job of weaving together these characters in a story that is both believable and capable of providing some hope and direction to teens who might be handling difficult situations in their own lives.
Jill Charon can’t remember anything that happened in the past six weeks. When she first awakens from her coma, in fact, she is initially concerned that she is waking up with a terrible hangover and that her mother will find out she was drinking the night before. Imagine her shock, then, when she discovers that she is actually waking up in the ICU after a horrific car crash. Jill is worried that her parents won’t let her take her scheduled trip to Europe now that she has a broken leg, but that’s not really a concern. You see, she doesn’t need a speedy recovery to go to Europe because she already took the trip — and the car accident actually took place in Italy. To make matters worse, her parents are acting very strangely and being weirdly quiet about the accident. Why? Because her best friend died in that accident… And many people believe that Jill purposely crashed the car. Will she ever be able to recover the memories she lost? How will she be able to move on with her life if she never remembers? And what if Jill *does* start to regain her memories only to uncover something she would rather not remember?
Liv didn’t just hate the end of the final Starveil movie… It ruined her life. As far as Liv was concerned, Starveil *was* life, and the death of her favorite character (Spartan) might as well have been the death of a family member. Her mom and her best friend, Xander, didn’t really understand, but at least the rest of the fandom got it. For a while, Liv simply moped about and grieved. But then she had some take-out Chinese food and was inspired by a fortune cookie — It’s up to you to make your happy ending. All of the sudden, she knew what she had to do. Armed with a new (anonymous) Twitter account and some awesome , Liv set out to inspire the fandom and to seek out “evidence” that #SpartanSurvived!
Since my husband is one of the biggest Star Wars fanboys around and had a majorly difficult time accepting what happened in Episode VII, I read the description and just *knew* I had to read this book. Whether you are a fangirl/fanboy or simply know someone else who is, this geeky romance is sure to give you #AllTheFeels.
Celestine North has always played by the rules. Perhaps that was why she never really thought too hard about the consequences for people who broke them. I mean, just follow the rules and you don’t have to worry about facing any punishments, right? In her society, people who break the rules are branded Flawed. As in actually branded, with a branding iron! And once they are branded, they are literally second-class citizens who have a different set of rules to live by. While riding the bus one morning, Celestine finally comes face-to-face with a situation that makes her question everything she’s ever known. A woman with an injured leg takes one of the Flawed seats on the bus because it affords her more leg room, and then her friend takes the only other Flawed seat to make it easier to converse. Then an elderly Flawed man gets on the bus, and he is forced to stand. As he nears collapse from a coughing fit, Celestine tries to help him… and all hell breaks loose. She ends up on trial for aiding a Flawed person, which could lead to her own Flawed classification. But how could showing a little human decency ruin her whole life?
Though we don’t actually brand people Flawed in America, I think there are definitely plenty of situations in which Americans turn a blind eye to suffering and persecution under the mistaken impression that those people somehow deserve or earned their lot in life. I think this would be a fantastic book to read to start a discussion about empathy and the ways people can change their views of “other” people.
High school graduation is often a time filled with celebration and excitement. For Jaycee, though, graduation day dredges up feelings of anxiety and depression. Why? Because her older brother, Jake, died on his own graduation day. Jaycee doesn’t know how to handle the fact that she will now, officially, be older than Jake ever was. Though his death came as the result of a daredevil stunt gone wrong, Jaycee finds comfort in emulating his behavior. Instead of seeing Jake’s death as a warning to be more careful, she finds herself repeating his stunts in an attempt to channel his spirit. Jaycee expected to take this journey alone, but she ended up with a motley crew of [former?] friends who also needed to make their peace with Jake’s death. Guided by Jake’s urban exploring journal, Jaycee followed both literally and figuratively in his footsteps and finally discovered that it’s possible to let go of grief without letting go of her loving memories.
I appreciated getting parts of the story directly from the perspectives of different characters, like Jaycee’s childhood BFF Natalie. But, more than that, I enjoyed the different storytelling techniques that were employed — like the pictures of the poems Bishop crafted in his sketches and graffiti or the graphic novel panels that told the story of Mik, who refused to speak aloud but whose actions spoke for him. McCarthy did a fabulous job of showing how the death of a loved one can alternately tear us apart and build us up stronger than before. I recommend this story to readers who enjoyed See You at Harry’s and Before You Go.