Abilene Tucker’s father, Gideon, sent her to live with an old friend for the summer, while he worked on the railroad. While she understood that life on the railroad was not suitable for a “young lady,” she knew she would miss her father terribly. Upon arrival, she was further disappointed to find that the town of Manifest was so dull. After growing up hearing so many stories about her father’s time in Manifest, she had expected it to be a grander and more exciting place. When Abilene found a hidden cigar box full of mementos, though, she found some of the adventure she had been hoping for. After all, there were even a few letters in the box that referenced a spy called “the Rattler.” When Abilene shared the letters with her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, they decided to work together to figure out who had been the Rattler… and then they received an anonymous note telling them to “Leave Well Enough Alone.” Yeah. Whoever wrote that note certainly didn’t understand that the surest way to get tween girls to work hard at solving a mystery was to basically forbid them to do so!
I liked the way Vanderpool wove together the stories of Abilene and her friends with the boys, Ned and Jinx, to whom the mementos in the box had belonged. It was very clever to reveal the past through both newspaper articles and “readings” of the mementos by the diviner, Miss Sadie. Not only did Miss Sadie’s storytelling help to provide details about Ned and Jinx that the girls could never have pieced together on their own, but it added a further layer of mystique as Abilene tried to figure out if Miss Sadie was truly “reading” the items or simply making up a story. I found it a bit painful to watch Abilene struggling to find any hint of Gideon’s existence in both Manifest and the stories Miss Sadie told, I liked the fact that readers are able to look back at the end of the story to see how the various story threads all truly came together. People who enjoy learning about the early 20th century will love the rich, historically accurate details. (Abilene came to Manifest in the 1930s and the stories of Ned and Jinx were from 1917-1918.)
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.]
The O’Sullivan brothers lived alone and did their best to get by, but it was tough having a dead father and an absentee mom (she took off with an orthodontist who didn’t seem to keen on having teen-aged step-sons). Sean had to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold to take care of his younger brother Finn; he worked as an EMT instead. Finn was an awkward boy whom the townspeople all seemed to talk/worry about, and Sean’s resentment was fairly evident. Then, one day, Finn found a girl in their barn. Roza was badly hurt, but she refused to go to the hospital, so Sean took her inside their house and did his best to mend her injuries. They decided to give Roza the keys to the unused apartment in the back of their house, and her presence seemed to help all three of them thrive… until the day Roza disappeared from Bone Gap.
Sean was heart-broken and Finn was devastated because he largely blamed himself. He swore that there was a man who took Roza away, but he couldn’t really describe the man other than the strange way he moved through the cornfields. He felt that if he could just do a better job at describing the man, he could save her. People in town had always called Finn names like “space man” because of he always seemed to lack focus and didn’t really look people in the eye. He also seemed to have a hard time recognizing people, though his vision was technically fine. The only person Finn seemed to get along with was a girl named Petey, whom most of the townspeople teased for being “ugly.” Petey believed Finn when he said that a man took Roza away, and she was determined to help him solve the mystery, but she was so self-conscious she couldn’t help but wonder if Finn was just pretending to like her.
I’m gonna be perfectly honest and admit that I actually had to start listening to this audiobook over again because I was about half way through and all sorts of confused. The book changes perspectives between Finn and Roza — as he looks for her and she deals with having been taken — and also goes back in time a bit, at times, to explain how everything came to be. I mean, I was doing chores like mowing the lawn and folding laundry, so it’s not like I was focused on something terribly exciting that took my attention away… But it was confusing enough that I really couldn’t go on without starting over. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I just figured it was worth mentioning in case any of y’all start to read/listen to this book and end up feeling confused, too. It was totally worth starting over again, in my opinion, so I would recommend doing the same if you also feel lost. Now that I “got” it, it was pretty awesome. If you like books with a touch of magical realism, like Belzhar, you should check this one out.
Ever since I read The Girl Who Owned a City [back in fifth grade], I have been fairly obsessed with dystopian fiction. There’s just something so intriguing about seeing that the world could be *even more* messed up than it already is, you know? The thing about this story that instantly brought me back to The Girl Who Owned a City, of course, is the fact that the entire adult population in this story has been wiped out. In this case, though, all the little kids have been wiped out too. It’s only the teenagers who have survived — and it must have something to do with the particular blend of hormones that exists in teens, because even the survivors die off once they reach full maturity.
This is not just a random disease that struck and went away, by the way. This is something that, if left unchecked, will wipe out the entire human race. Yeah. Let’s hope there are some super-genius teens out there who can figure out what to do to fix it all, right?!? Enter the kids of Washington Square. This story is told from the perspectives of various characters, including an “average” girl named Donna and a guy named Jefferson who has “inherited” leadership of Washington Square now that his older brother has turned 18 and died. Oh yeah… Jefferson is also secretly in love with Donna and just so happens to be think he might have found some information that could lead to a cure. Jeff just needs to convince his friends to join him on a dangerous trip through the city to find more information and, you know, a lab where he can do some research. Witty banter and fast-paced action make this a fairly quick read. I recommend this book to fans of series like Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Monument 14.
Anyone who knows me, pretty much at all, knows that I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I mean, I have a tattoo that incorporates the Deathly Hallows, for goodness’ sake! So, when this book was announced, I must have gotten a dozen emails from people who wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the news. Even though I fully appreciated their thoughtfulness, part of me was like,”Do you even *know* who you’re talking to?!?” 😉
Even though I was slightly concerned that the play format would significantly alter the reading experience, I am happy to report that it didn’t detract from the story at all [for me]. Perhaps that is because I was in the Drama Club in high school and was already used to reading scripts, but I believe that even non-thespians should do just fine with this story. My one complaint? It was too short! I am one of the people who literally cried tears of joy to hear that there was another story in the Harry Potter universe, and then cried tears of despair that JK Rowling said this is definitely her last time writing about the world of Harry Potter. (I can only hope she has a change of heart.)
This story is essentially a continuation of the epilogue from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. And though it delves into the lives of all of the Weasley-Potters and the Granger-Weasleys, it focuses mostly around Harry and Ginny’s son Albus as he enters Hogwarts and tries to find his place in a world where he fears that he will only ever live in his father’s shadow. This is not only a great coming-of-age story, and a touching story about the power of friendship, but it is also a wonderful reminder that we all need to rise above self-doubt if we are going to reach our full potential.
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?