Category Archives: sports

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton

neanderthalCliff Hubbard was probably the biggest loser in his school, both literally and figuratively speaking.  He was 6’6″, 250 pounds, and had a physique that earned him the nickname Neanderthal.  And, ever since his brother Shane killed himself, his life at home had become increasingly terrible as well.  So, how did he end up getting a girlfriend and becoming friends with the über cool and extremely popular quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman?  Well, it all started when Aaron met God.  After awaking from a coma, which resulted from a drunken boating accident, Aaron Zimmerman claimed that he had met God and that God had entrusted him with a list of tasks to complete in order to make Happy Valley High School a better place.  And The List, as it was often called, apparently required the assistance of Cliff Hubbard.

While I don’t think there are a ton of teens out there who will suddenly be called upon by God with specific lists of ways to make their own schools suck less, I think it is entirely possible that this book could inspire greatness.  And although the circumstances of HVHS might not align exactly with the circumstances of every high school, readers can certainly draw some parallels between The List and the ways they could reach out and help out people in their own schools and communities.  I highly recommend that Nerdfighters who want to end Worldsuck check this book out when it’s published in May.

Happy Reading!

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Winner Take All by Laurie Devore

winner-take-allNell has always been an overachiever.  Whether training hard so her team could advance to and win the state volleyball championship or studying hard to become her class valedictorian, Nell has always given her all.  And that was why she couldn’t stand Jackson Hart.  He never seemed to try nearly as hard, but he always got what he wanted.  Jackson was the captain of his baseball team, one of the most popular guys at school, AND he was beating her by a fraction of a percentage in the class rankings.  Not only that, but Jackson came from money, and she only attended their elite prep school because her mother was the principal.  Talk about opposites!  But, as the saying goes, opposites attract.  Nell had always been frustrated by the fact that no one else could seem to see past his charming exterior to recognize the slime ball that he was inside.  Until even she started to fall for his charms.  And she fell hard…  But then she began to suspect that their relationship might be just another of Jackson’s games.  And, if it *was* a game, Nell was determined to win.

This book was a great read on so many levels.  It touched on honesty — between friends, between family members, and with one’s own self.  It addressed what can happen when competition is taken beyond a healthy level.  And it explored how perfectionism and toxic relationships (familial and dating) can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.  This is definitely a book you’ll want to add to your #ToBeRead list so you can be sure to check it out when it’s released at the end of January.

Happy Reading!

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!

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!