Category Archives: book review

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger

fuzzyI 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?

Happy Reading!

Binge by Tyler Oakley

20160711_111516It’s funny how life can be so very different and feel so much the same… Last year, I was losing my mind because I was shuffling both kids of to summer camp in the morning so I could work full time doing summer reading stuff at my library.  I had days stuffed to the gills with programs, reference, and other responsibilities, and I had precious little time with my kids.  I did my best to do fun stuff while also keeping up with house work, but it was hard, y’all!  This summer, I’m losing my mind because I’m balancing my WAHM (work at home mom) responsibilities with finding fun and inexpensive ways to entertain the kids so they don’t kill each other.  (Right now, we’re actually at our local public library for LEGO Club and I’m posting from my phone… I hope this works!)  Though I have plenty of time to keep up on chores if I want to let my kids become screentime zombies, that’s not exactly my plan.  So, I’m losing my mind all over again… But in a better way.  I keep reminding myself that it’s OK to feel stressed or overwhelmed sometimes as long as I’m, overall, doing what feels right for me and my family.  Sure, I forgot to post a book review last week — but my kids and I had an awesome week of spending time with friends and family.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I picked this book up at the *perfect* time.  Not only did I want a fun read, but I wanted something with short chapters that I could pick up and read for a few minutes at a time if that was all I could get (which has been the case more often than not lately).  On a previous trip to our public library [so my kids could sign up to actually *attend* summer reading events this year!] I saw this book on display.  Not only did this book meet my “fun & easy” qualifications, but it SPOKE TO ME right in the introduction — “Binge on the things that bring you fulfillment and happiness and satisfaction and make you feel alive.  Binge on people who fascinate you and love that wakes you up from the monotony…  Binge on giving, in all senses.  Binge on indulging.”   Yaaaaaaaas!  

I first heard of Tyler Oakley about eight years ago when one of my library teens asked if I had seen “the Tyler Oakley video about why gay marriage is wrong.”  I was confused because this teen belonged to the GSA at her high school, and I didn’t realize the video was sarcastic.  After watching the video, though, I shared the hell out of it.  While I have seen many of his videos through the years, I’m pretty sure this will always be my favorite.

If you need inspiration to start living your life openly, honestly, and unapologetically for yourself, this book is a good place to start.  Sometimes heartbreaking, but more often than not hilarious, this book gives readers a bird’s eye view of the many “binges” that have led Tyler Oakley to YouTube fame and general pop-culture notoriety, but also, more importantly, to a life he’s happy to be living.

Happy Reading!

Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche

don't fail me nowImagine how difficult life would be if your dad walked out when you were still a little kid and your mom is a druggie who keeps ending up in jail.  Now, imagine that your younger siblings are in danger of being sent to foster care because you’re only 17 and would need to be at least 18 before you could legally take guardianship.  And then, finally, imagine your mom’s sister — your own aunt — won’t take you all in unless you agree to pay her more money than you can actually afford to stay in her tiny, dirty apartment.  As horrible as that may seem, it’s pretty much just another day for Michelle.  She has been doing the best she can to stay on track for high school graduation and she works as many hours as she can at Taco Bell so that she can take care of her family, but Michelle feels like she is about to reach her breaking point.  And that, of course, is when a strange guy walks in during her shift at Taco Bell and informs her that her biological dad, Buck, is dying.  Is it too much to hope that Buck, despite having left all those years ago, might be able to help Michelle and her siblings in their time of need?  And will the sudden appearance of Tim (the guy at the Taco Bell) and his step-sister Leah (who is actually Michelle’s half-sister) make things better or worse?  Only time, and a cross-country road trip, will tell.

Though it may seem like an awful lot to tackle, LaMarche does a fantastic job showing how love and friendship can transcend socio-economic and racial differences.  Though this book was rather heartbreaking at times, it also had moments of hilarity, and I found that it left me with an overall feeling of hope.

Happy Reading!

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

house-of-the-scorpionMatteo Alacran was not simply born; he was implanted in and later harvested from a cow that was designed to incubate clones.  And not only was Matteo a clone, but he was a very special case.  Most clones were lobotomized at birth and simply existed to provide organ transplants to the people from whom they were cloned.  Matteo was the clone of a man called El Patron, the dictator of a land called Opium.  El Patron was born to a poor family in a very poor town and lived a decidedly difficult life, but he worked his way up to be one of the richest and most infamous people in the world.  Though he couldn’t go back in time and change his own childhood, El Patron was able to provide Matteo with tutors and music lessons and to watch a version of himself have the things he never did.

Matteo was so sheltered that he didn’t even know that he was a clone until he was nearly a teen, but then he felt somehow protected from the fate of the other clones because of the time and money El Patron had put into raising him.  After all, who would waste all that time and money on a clone they only planned to kill later?  Even setting that fear aside, though, what else is impacted by his status as a clone?  Can Matteo possibly attain any sort of personal freedom, or will he always “belong” to El Patron?  And, if he does, in fact, belong to El Patron, is he entitled to set any of his own goals or focus on his own happiness?  Readers who enjoyed thought-provoking books of the Unwind Dystology should definitely check this one out.

Happy Reading!

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

unwantedsChildren in the land of Quill are raised in a perpetual state of fear.  They are expected to live by very rigid rules and too many instances of rule breaking could get them labeled as an Unwanted.  Being told that you are “unwanted” may sound cruel in and of itself, but it’s actually much worse than that.  There is an annual Purge, and the 13-year-olds are separated into Wanteds, Necessaries, and Unwanteds.  All of the Unwanteds are then rounded up and sent to the Death Farm.  So, what are these infractions that are worthy of getting a child sentenced to death?  Anything creative, for starters — drawing and singing are absolutely not allowed.  It is also particularly bad if a child displays any curiosity or, worse yet, questions authority and/or the status quo.  After all, “Quill prevails when the strong survive.”

Alex has known for a long time that he was an Unwanted and that his twin brother, Aaron, was a Wanted.  Though he knew that Aaron could have been labeled Unwanted right along with him, he accepted the blame for his brother’s drawing to keep him safe.  Imagine Alex’s surprise, then, when he got to the Death Farm and discovered that it was actually a ruse.  Mr. Today pretended to be the executioner of the Unwanteds, but he was actually a wizard who created a hidden land, Artime, in which the Unwanteds were encouraged to find their happiness and express their creativity.  Had he only known the truth, he would have turned his brother in and actually saved him!  Sadly, he is now forbidden to have any contact with his brother.  They are ALL forbidden from returning to [or even contacting anyone in] Quill because it would surely endanger the entire land of Artime and all the people living there if the leaders of Quill learned that they had been fooled.  But, how can he simply leave his brother in that terrible place?  Especially knowing that another boy in Artime is looking for a way to sneak back into Quill to get revenge on Aaron.  Surely there must be a way to save him…

Happy Reading!

Holding Smoke by Elle Cosimano

holding-smokeJohn “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…

Happy Reading!

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

Vivian-AppleAlthough Vivian Apple never really believed in the teachings of the Church of America, she was forced to re-evaluate when her beliefs when her parents disappeared — especially after she found holes in their bedroom ceiling the morning after the predicted “Rapture.”  She always thought that The Book of Frick (named after the man who created the Church of America) was a bit over the top — especially considering the fact that it touted conservative behaviors and traditional gender roles but claimed that God loved America best because of its capitalistic tendencies.  At times, it was hard to tell if this book was intended to be a parody or simply an exaggerated to make a point.  What I know for sure, nevertheless, is that I’ve never read anything quite like it.  A strong female character who is examining her beliefs while navigating through changing friendships, a developing romance, and the end of the world?  Sign me up!

Happy Reading!