Category Archives: sports

This Is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell

not-a-love-letterJessie thought that she and Chris needed a break.  Just for a week.  Just to get a little perspective before graduation.  Chris seemed to think they should get married right away, but she thought he was wrong.  Why?  Because Chris was being scouted for a full-ride baseball scholarship and could likely end up playing in the big leagues.  She thought that she would just weigh him down, regardless of how often he told her that she would only make his life complete.  And she was pretty sure her own college and career aspirations would not work out if she followed Chris off to college, since his school didn’t have the environmental conservation major she had her heart set on.  Besides, she wasn’t really sure what she could truly offer him since she thought of her upbringing as “white trash” and was embarrassed to even bring him into her home, which was dangerously full of her mom’s hoarding piles.

When Chris disappeared, though, Jessie had to find the courage to speak out about the secrets Chris had been keeping and to dig deeper.  She knew that Chris had been jumped a few weeks prior, by some other local baseball players who accused him of only getting a scholarship because he was black.  Even though she told the police about how they had used hate speech while they attacked him, and that she was concerned that those same guys were involved in his disappearance (since he was running in that same area when he disappeared), the police seemed content to think he ran away.  After all, those other guys came from good families and had an alibi for the night in question…

Every week, Chris had written Jessie a love letter.  As she struggled to work through her emotions and to try and figure out what happened to Chris, she decided to write him a letter of her own — but she insisted that it was NOT a love letter.  If he wanted a love letter, he would need to come back to her.  This book would make a great conversation starter about racism, mental health, friendships/relationships, communication, and more.

Happy Reading!

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When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

when-i-was-the-greatestGrowing up in Bed Stuy, NY, meant being surrounded by a lot of “bad” stuff.  Ali knew about the criminal activity all around him — from fencing stolen goods to prostitution to dealing and using drugs — but he wan’t into any of that.  His thing was boxing, hence his nickname.  It wasn’t because he actually liked fighting or anything, though, but because he liked training.  In fact, Ali wasn’t really into sparring at all and didn’t do particularly well in the ring.  Aside from boxing, he mostly just wanted to hang with his friends, Noodles and Needles.  Obviously, those are not their real names, but I’ll let you read the book to get the back story of how they got those nicknames.  I will also leave most of the plot out of this review because I don’t want to spoil anything.  Just know that there are plenty of teachable moments about family, friendship, loyalty, and choosing to rise above your surroundings.

I think what I liked the most about this story was how the author acknowledged the seedier side of urban life without glorifying crime and violence.  Much like Greg Neri’s Ghetto Cowboy, this book laid out all the best reasons kids should aim higher and also showed that it is possible to come back from bad choices instead of simply giving up.

Happy Reading!

The Big F by Maggie Ann Martin

the-big-fDanielle had always planned on going to Ohio State.  And, since her mom was renowned for her work as a “college psychic” (who helped families pick the perfect school), she didn’t bother applying to any back-up schools.  Although no one was surprised to find out that she got accepted, she wasn’t sure what to do when she was notified that they rescinded her acceptance.  How could that even happen?  Well, Danielle failed AP English.  So, she had to find a way to replace that failing grade if she wanted to earn back her acceptance.  Plus, you know, find a way to tell everyone that she was no longer going away to Ohio State in the fall.  Ack!

I was very pleased to see that Danielle took it upon herself to come up with a new plan and that her new plan involved redemption rather than admitting defeat.  I was also happy to see that, though this is definitely a romance, Danielle didn’t intend to rush out and find herself a boyfriend…  It just kind of happened when she least expected it.  Readers who enjoy a coming of age story with light romance and family/friend drama should definitely check this one out.

Happy Reading!

Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy

divided-we-fallDanny Wright signed up for the Army National Guard when he was 17 years old because he felt compelled to both serve his country and to honor the memory of his father, who died while serving in the Army.  At first, he was proud to wear his uniform and excited to get to train with high-powered guns… but that all changed only a short time after he finished bootcamp.  Why?  He was called in by the Governor of Idaho to help with protests in Boise (about a proposed new federal ID card) and things got very out of hand very quickly.  One accidental shot turned into a firefight in which civilians were injured and killed, and people started making comparisons to the Kent State shootings that took place during a Vietnam War protest in 1970.  Knowing that he fired the shot that started it all, and seeing how quickly people snapped to pass judgement when they did not have all the facts, he was glad that the Governor pledged to protect the identities of the guardsmen who were involved.  But, how long would the Governor be able to protect them when the President of the United States of America was demanding answers?

I especially appreciated the way Reedy worked in both extreme news coverage and polarized social media reactions.  I was impressed to see a YA novel tackle the very complex topic of federal government/federal laws vs state government/states’ rights, but the audiobook impressed me even more.  Much like Countdown, this audiobook uses a variety of sound effects and multiple readers to create sound bites that mimic news broadcasts and to set apart the non-narrative portions of the book.  The only “down side” to listening to this audiobook all at once (on a road trip) was that the “near future” setting seemed entirely too plausible and actually made me feel a little anxious as if I were really listening to the news.  :-/

Happy Reading!

The Sky between You and Me by Catherine Alene

sky-betweenRaesha is not the stereotypical girl with an eating disorder from the “after school specials” of my youth.  She isn’t the super-popular girl who is afraid to lose it all if she gains a few pounds, nor is she the unpopular fat girl who thinks that she will finally be accepted by her peers if she loses some weight.  This story is much more realistic, so I think it’s only fair to provide a *TRIGGER WARNING* for people recovering from eating disorders.

While Raesha doesn’t set out to be anorexic, she is so dedicated to making it to (and winning) Nationals that she decides to lose a few pounds.  After all, being lighter will mean that her horse can run faster.  The worst thing is that she isn’t pressured by anyone else to compete in barrel racing but rather competes to honor the memory of her mother.  Between grieving for her mother and her father’s frequent absences (for work), Raesha is often very lonely.  And, with the change in behavior that accompanies her eating disorder, she only drives her boyfriend and her friends further away.  I would recommend this book for Ellen Hopkins fans and readers of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.

Happy Reading!

Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone

clickdAllie Navarro went away to a CodeGirls summer camp where she learned how to create her very own app, and she was super excited to share it with her friends when she came back home.  Even more exciting?  She would have the opportunity to enter her app into the upcoming G4G (Games for Good) competition!  Her app was eligible because it helped people to find other people near them with whom they “clicked” even if they didn’t know each other yet.  Basically, it was a friend finder and it worked to make the world a less lonely place.

Through a series of questions, much like online dating websites, Click’d was able to match people by their interests.  This way, the kids in her middle school (and anywhere else her app spread) would be able to get to know people outside of their usual friend groups.  When you finished the questionnaire, you would get access to a leaderboard of the top 10 users with whom you Click’d — and then the app would send you on a scavenger hunt to find them!  The app utilized the phones’ geolocation functions to tell people when they were near a match with a series of “bloops” and flashing lights — and then it gave users a photo clue pulled from the user’s public Instagram feed.  Or, at least, that was what was supposed to happen.  Somehow, though, there was a glitch that accidentally utilized private photos from the users’ phones some of the time.  Would she be able to fix it in time to present at G4G?  Would she just present it without admitting to the coding error?  Definitely a good conversation starter about honesty and integrity.

I like the fact that this story raised issues about privacy and phone/internet safety concerns without resorting to R-rated problems.  There were embarrassing photos and screenshots of conversations that were supposed to be secret, but no sex acts or nudity involved.  I am not sure whether that was done intentionally so that parents, teachers, and librarians would feel more comfortable sharing this book with younger tweens, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.  I appreciated that there were no quick fixes, lots of hard work, and plenty of growing pains as the story worked up to the G4G competition.  I also loved the fact that it concluded with a happy yet realistic ending.   I thought that since my own middle-schooler is away at a computer programming summer camp this week, reading (and reviewing) this book was definitely apropos!  And, though the book will not officially be released until early September, I think I might just offer to let him read my ARC when he returns.  🙂

Happy Reading!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready-player-one As a child of the 80s (having been born in 1979), this book felt so much like coming home.  All of the references to 80s pop culture, especially geek culture, were just so spot-on!  I was not an arcade kid, since we didn’t have an arcade close enough to my house, but I definitely played more than my fair share of video games on personal gaming consoles like the Atari 2600 and NES.  I also have fond memories of playing puzzle and sim games on the Commodore 64 and Mac Classic in “computer class” at school.  I also watched waaaaaay too much TV and too many movies, so most of Cline’s references felt like a conversation with an old friend.  It’s beyond obvious that Ernest Cline was a fellow geek and that he loved all the cheeseball 80s stuff just as much as my friends and I did.  For real…  If you are a fanboy/fangirl of geeky 80s pop culture, you NEED to read this book!

Even better than the reminiscing, though, was the foreshadowing of what could come to be if we (citizens of the world) don’t change our reliance on fossil fuels and unplug a little from the world of “social media” to actually interact with the people and the world around us — in real life!  Imagine, if you will, a future in which most people around the world are so immersed in a virtual reality “utopia” known as the OASIS that they rarely leave their houses.  Since most people no longer have their own vehicles or even the financial means to utilize public transportation, the OASIS was the closest thing they would ever get to traveling.  Kids even started to attend school in the OASIS because the virtual world created it’s own schools to let pressure off of the failing public school system.  When I read one quote, I wondered if Cline was really just that attuned to the forthcoming changes in our society back in 2011 or if he somehow traveled through time to 2016 before he finished his story — “Now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”

One of the creators of the OASIS, James Halliday, had very few friends and never married or had any children.  By the time of his death, he had even been estranged from his former business partner and one-time best friend for about a decade.  So, before he died, he crafted an elaborate “Easter Egg” hunt within his virtual world to determine who would receive his fortune.  Halliday’s last will and testament was announced to the world with a video chock-full of 80s references and explained that his heir would need to use their knowledge of Halliday’s favorite things to puzzle out the location of three keys and three gates/trials he had programmed into the OASIS.  Everyone went nuts at first, but excitement waned after the first five years and only hardcore Gunters (a condensation of “egg hunters”) like Wade kept up the hunt.  When Wade finds the first key and his name shows up on the leader board, though, the OASIS is suddenly hopping again and the competition stirs up adventure, danger, and even romance. I can’t wait to see how the movie of this book turns out…

Happy Reading!