Category Archives: award winners

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

Far from the treeGrace was an only child who had been adopted at birth. Her parents were open about the fact that she was adopted, but that didn’t mean they told her everything. Like, for instance, the fact that she had two biological siblings.  So, what was it that drove them to make such a stunning revelation?  Well…  It was the fact that Grace got pregnant and put her own baby up for adoption.  Although she knew she had chosen a very capable and loving couple to adopt her baby, she was still completely heartbroken to see that piece of herself taken away.  So heartbroken, in fact, that it made Grace start to question the conditions under which her own mother had given her up for adoption and whether her biological mother would be interested in meeting up with her.  Though Grace’s parents didn’t have any way to get in touch with her biological mother, they were able to tell her that she had an older brother, Joaquin, and a younger sister, Maya, who were located relatively close by! 

I loved how Benway was able to create such unique voices for each of the three siblings so that their alternating narratives didn’t get too confusing or too redundant.  I also appreciated how she was able to present such a depth and breadth of experiences for these teens, who had been adopted or spent a long time in the foster care system, without making it sound like she was merely ticking off items on a list.  The problems that faced each of the siblings, both personal and interpersonal, were both realistic and varied.  I think what I liked the most about this story was the fact that there was just so much *stuff* for readers to grab onto.  It is so important for YA books to present a variety of characters and situations so that readers can both relate and learn to empathize with situations they have never faced.  I am not the least bit surprised that this book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Happy Reading!


All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

All-American-BoysReynolds and Kiely have written a fantastic primer and conversation starter for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  By alternating between two perspectives — Rashad, a victim of police brutality, and Quinn, who was both a witness and a close family friend of the officer involved — they even helped to address the #BlueLivesMatter rebuttal.

Rashad was a good kid.  He did well in school, was in JROTC, and generally stayed out of trouble.  All it took was one moment of confusion in a corner store for a police officer to think he was a thief and a punk who may have attacked an innocent woman.  The next thing he knew, he was pinned to the sidewalk and getting pummeled.  Mind blown and body battered, Rashad had to face both his physical recovery and his awakening to the racism that still existed within his country and even his own community.

Despite having witnessed the arrest/beating and [later] the videos that other people had captured, it was still very difficult for Quinn to process.  He had always thought of Paul as a good guy.  He knew that what he saw went over the line…  And yet, how cold he turn his back on someone who had helped him so much when his own father died?  With friends and family pressuring him to side with the officer and his conscience begging him to side with the victim, Quinn had some very tough decisions to make.  Would he join the protest march?  And could he live with himself if he didn’t?

After finishing Long Way Down, I knew that I had to read something else by Jason Reynolds, and the cover of this book jumped right out at me.  I definitely wasn’t disappointed.  I look forward to reading more from both of these great authors.  After all, what’s a few more books added to my never-ending TBR list?!?  😉

Happy Reading!

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

long-way-downWith a gun tucked into the waistband of his pants, Will gets into the elevator of his apartment building and heads down to go and get his revenge.  On whom?  The person who murdered his brother, Shawn, of course.  He knows the rules of the hood.  “No crying. No snitching. Revenge.”  So that is what he sets out to do.  But, he doesn’t take the ride alone.  At each floor, the elevator stops and a ghost gets on to ride along with him.  As each ghost enters, they share their own story and how it relates to Shawn’s death.  These stories help to provide a wider picture of how the cycle of violence in their neighborhood has been perpetuated thus far and, much like the computer’s epiphany in War Games, that the only way to win is not to play this game.  But will this elevator ride be enough to change the heart and mind of a boy who has never known any other way?

Timely, thought provoking, and powerful.  It’s no wonder this book has received so many awards.  

Happy Reading!

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld

spill-zoneOh. Em. Gee!  I didn’t even know this book was out until I saw something about the second book coming out this July.  Even though I am not a huge graphic novel reader, I try to push myself to read at least a couple a year so that I can stay in touch with what it out there for my library patrons who do prefer graphic novels.  Since I am also a huge fan of Scott Westerfeld’s work, especially the Uglies series, I figured it was a good bet that I would enjoy this one.  I am happy to report that reading this was a lot more fun than work!  😉  In fact, I read this entire book in only three sittings because it was so hard to put down.

In Poughkeepsie, NY, there has been a Spill.  No one really seems to know what exactly happened.  They just know that it is no longer safe inside the Spill Zone.  Military personnel guard the perimeter and people don’t tend to go inside except government scientists in hazmat suits.  There are all sorts of weird things happening.  Animals morphing into strange creatures.  Inanimate objects moving around despite a lack of wind.  And, in the words of Addison Merrick, the dead have become “meat puppets.”  Though she was not in town when the Spill happened, he little sister was.  Because they are allowed to stay in their home, which is inside the Spill Zone, Addison has taken to exploring and taking pictures she can sell to support her sister.  But, how long will it be before her explorations take her too far?!?

Happy Reading!

Speaking of Westerfeld’s Uglies series…  Check this out!  (#squeeeeeeee)


Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

unbecomingAlthough I loved this story, I understand that it may not be for everyone.  It jumps back and forth between the past and the present, and there are multiple points of view, so some readers might not be able to follow so easily.  Plus, there isn’t much in the way of action and adventure, which might turn some people off.  But there is love, and loss, and yearning, and learning about self and family and friendship.  So much emotional depth!  I hadn’t really heard anything about this book before I saw the audiobook was immediately available for download via my local library, but I did recognize Jenny Downham’s name because I recalled sobbing my eyes out as I read Before I Die.  (I often search and see which YA titles are “available now” rather than searching specific titles because I like to find hidden gems and, well, I am impatient!)  So, yeah…  I decided to give it a go. And, boy am I glad I went for it!

Katie is seventeen and she is struggling with several things.  First, and foremost, she is struggling with her sexuality.  Not only is she not totally sure how she identifies, but she is being bullied at school because of it.  On top of that, she has an overbearing mom (Caroline), who often needs her to help care for her special needs brother (Chris).  And, as if that all wasn’t enough, she also discovers that she has a grandmother (Mary) whom she never really knew and who now requires a place to live and constant care because she has Alzheimer’s and her long-time partner/caregiver (Jack) just died of a heart attack.  When Katie decides to record stories in a memory book, to try to help preserve Mary’s memories, she discovers so much more than family history and secrets.  She uncovers a variety of reasons her mother is so up-tight and the realization that “truth” varies greatly with perspective.

Happy Reading!

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

words-in-deep-blueHenry and Rachel were best friends.  And they were falling in love.  But neither of them was brave enough to admit it out loud.  Henry found it much easier to fall back on dating his on-again-off-again girlfriend Amy.  And Rachel took a chance on a love letter placed inside one of Henry’s favorite books.  This idea was kind of brilliant, actually, since Henry’s family owned a book shop called Howling Books which was well-known for its letter library.  (The letter library was a room full of books that were not for sale but rather left there for people to read, leave notes in the margins, and even exchange letters with other readers.)  When Rachel moved away and Henry never replied to her letter, she assumed that he didn’t care.  But, little did she know he never received her letter.

A few years later, after Rachel’s brother Cal died and she dropped out of school, she moved back to town.  She was sent to live with her aunt so she could get a job and try to move on with her life.  When the job her aunt originally lined up fell through, though, she ended up getting Rachel a job at Howling Books.  Amy had just dumped Henry, and Rachel was silently grieving the loss of her younger brother, so the tension was pretty thick, but they both decided to try and make it work.  After all, Rachel was hired because the shop was going to be sold and Henry’s father wanted/needed her to catalog the letters in the letter library.  I really enjoyed the samples of letters people had left one another.  And I also loved how true-to-life these characters were.  Their feelings rang true, their interactions were painfully realistic, and the evolution of their relationship was very believable.  I recommend this book to fans of All The Bright Places and/or Eleanor & Park.

Happy Reading!

Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart by Tamsyn Murray

second-hand-heartJonny needed a new heart, but he wished someone else didn’t have to die just so he could live.  Well…  Truly live.  He was technically alive while he was in the hospital, but it wasn’t much of a life being connected to a machine that acted as his heart.  Though Jonny had made some good friends, he missed his life outside of the hospital and longed for a time when he would not feel sick and tired all the time.  Besides, he hated to see his parents so worried.  He wished he could just get a new heart so he could move on and start the rest of his life already.

Neve was sick of her twin brother.  Leo was just so good at everything — music, school, making friends — and she felt like she was living in his shadow.  Until she wasn’t.  When Leo suddenly died from a freak accident while their family was on vacation, Neve realized she didn’t really want him gone, but it was a bit too late for that realization.  The good news is that Leo had discussed his desire to be an organ donor and his parents followed through to honor his wishes.  The better news is that his heart was a match for Jonny, who had a rare blood/tissue type that made finding a donor especially difficult.  And while that all seemed to work out pretty well, the good news certainly didn’t take away the grief.

I don’t like spoiling plots, and I don’t really feel like I can say much more without ruining the experience for y’all.  But, based on the book description it’s pretty obvious that Neve and Jonny meet up and help one another through this difficult stage in their lives.  Readers who enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars and/or Somebody Up There Hates You should definitely check out Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart.  Murray’s depiction of chronic illness and the stages of grief were spot-on, and this bitter-sweet romance is sure to stick with readers long after they turn the last page.

Happy Reading!