Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

sunny-side-upI don’t generally read a lot of graphic novels. I used to read some now and again to stay on top of what I needed to order for my collection, but now I just get to read for pleasure. My son is a big fan of both graphic novels and manga, though, so I tend to keep an eye out for recommendations of books he might enjoy. Recently, a colleague recommended this book and I requested it without even reading the description. (She has never failed me before, and I didn’t think she was about to start anytime soon!) When the book came, I saw that the blurb by Raina Telgemeier said the book was “Heartbreaking and hopeful…” I decided to see what about the story might be heartbreaking and whether this story might be too mature. If my son had specifically asked for it, I might have handed it straight over without even noticing, but I figured it warranted a little look if I was giving him a recommendation.



As it turns out, Sunny was sent to spend the summer with her grandfather in Florida because her parents didn’t want her to have to deal with the fallout as they attempted to intervene and get help for her brother’s substance abuse problem.  I definitely believe that books are a fantastic way to broach tough subjects, and I think this book did a superb job of letting readers figure things out both gradually and without too many unnecessary details.  Though the story didn’t hold back, the storytelling [via words and illustrations] was both subtle and sensitive enough for somewhat younger readers.  Though I initially got this book simply because it was another graphic novel from the author of the Babymouse series and came as a recommendation by a trusted colleague, I’m planning to use this book to jump-start [another] candid conversation with my fifth grader about drugs and alcohol.

Happy Reading!

How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras

how-to-be-braveIf you look back over my reviews through the years, you will notice quite a bit of doom and gloom — dystopian fiction, post-apocalyptic/survival stories, and realistic/depressing novels tend to be my bread and butter.  I have found that reading and/or listening to too many depressing stories in a row can actually affect my mood, though, so it’s nice to throw a story like this into the mix.  While it had enough to satisfy my strange cravings for doom and gloom, this book left me with an overall feeling of hope.  Georgia was a great example of the fact that, while we can’t control what happens to us, we absolutely have control over the way we react to our circumstances.

Though Georgia was reeling from the loss of her mother, she was also determined to follow her mother’s final advice to “be brave.”  For Georgia, that meant creating a list of fifteen things she wanted to accomplish — like approaching the boy she had secretly been crushing on.  In the context of her mother’s recent passing, one could easily call it a bucket list.  I preferred Georgia’s take, nevertheless, that this was not a list of things to do before she died so much as a list of things to do so that she could truly live.  And while I certainly don’t wish my mother had died while I was in high school, I do wish that I had had the epiphany to stop caring so much what other people thought and to simply focus on living life to the fullest before I reached my 30s.  Granted, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had come out of my shell sooner… but I lament the time I wasted on caring what everyone else thought when my choices would only, ultimately, effect me.

Happy Reading!

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

hatchetI am almost embarrassed to admit that I had never read Hatchet before.  I’ve handed this book out to countless kids operating under the mistaken impression that I had actually read it back when I was in elementary school.  I mean, I clearly remember talking about it in 4th grade… But, as it turns out, I only knew the basic premise of the story and filled in the rest of my so-called memory with bits and pieces from another survival story we read at the time — My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  Luckily, I decided to take the time to listen to this story to “refresh my memory” now that my son was reading it in school.  (Oops!)

Brian was a fairly typical “modern day” kid.  He spent most of his time on school and leisure activities, and he depended on adults much more than he ever realized.  He wasn’t fat, necessarily, but he wasn’t exactly fit either.  Finding food always meant going to the fridge or the pantry — at most, to a grocery store.  So, when his flight to visit his father for the summer ended with a crash in the Canadian wilderness, Brian was not sure he had what it would take to survive.  The only other passenger had been the pilot, and the plane crashed because the pilot had died of a heart attack.  With nothing more than the clothes on his back and the hatchet [a gift from his mom] on his belt, Brian had to find both shelter and food enough to last until he was rescued…  If he even *could* be rescued.  Because no one, including Brian, knew exactly where his plane went down.

It’s no wonder Hatchet is the “gold standard” for survival stories.  Paulsen masterfully balanced Brian’s hope and drive to survive with suspense surrounding the real-life dangers of the Canadian wilderness.  I think this book would be an excellent precursor to lessons on disaster preparedness and survival skills, and it’s also sure to be a hit with kids who already enjoy wilderness-based activities like hiking and camping.

Happy Reading!

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

persepolisI am always frustrated when people try to ban books that speak about the harsh realities of human history.  I can sort of understand wanting to shield children from those atrocities, but to what end?  Especially when those books are being challenged at the high school level, at a time in their academic careers when students are supposed to study the events of global history.  I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t remember much of what we learned about Iran from the lectures of my global history class, but I am fairly certain I won’t ever forget Satrapi’s story.  Not only does this graphic novel provide an accurate timeline, but it also illustrates, with both words and images, how the Iranian people were affected by the Islamic Revolution.  Sure, I found some of the stories/images to be upsetting — particularly the scenes in which men recalled the ways in which they were tortured — but no more so than stories and images from my studies of the Holocaust.  The way I see it, we owe it to our children to be real with them so they can fully appreciate the current situation in Iran.

Experiencing this revolution through the eyes of a child helped me to understand, on a very basic level, both the scope of what happened and the complexities of Iranian history that are glossed over in a classroom.  Things are not nearly as “black and white” as many people would like to believe.  I won’t soon forget the mix of sadness and fascination Marjane experienced, for example, when she listened to her Uncle Anoosh’s stories about his life in exile and then when he was captured and put in prison; nor her anguish when he was sent back to prison and she could be his only visitor.  History textbooks don’t usually appeal to me, but narratives like this are hard to put down!  I was very impressed to see how seamlessly Satrapi included names and dates vital to learning about the revolution within the context of such a compelling story.

I think that a first person account, such as this, makes it much easier for readers to understand how some people could have been manipulated to accept the extreme changes that were made — like the re-writing of textbooks, moving away from bilingual and coed schools, and making women and girls wear veils in public.  (FYI, in case you didn’t already know, fear is an amazingly effective motivational tool.)  Yet, I found that my disgust at the tactics used against these people was outweighed by hope.  It was inspirational to learn about people who found the strength to stand up for what they believed in and to revolt against what they knew to be wrong, despite all they stood to lose.  I can only pray that this message of hope is what young people take away from this story and that future generations turn that hope into actions that will bring about peace.

Happy Banned Books Week!

Need by Joelle Charbonneau

Oh. My. Goodness!  Y’all have GOT to read this book when it comes out!  Sadly, people who are not members of a site like NetGalley might have to wait until the November 3rd release date to get their hands on Need — but, even then, it will be worth the wait.  I’d especially recommend this book to fans of thrillers like Lauren Oliver’s Panic.  I also think this would be a good book to present to your child when s/he asks for permission to start a Facebook (or other social media site) account.  Even though it’s a bit hyperbolic, this story does an excellent job showing just how easily social media brings out the worst in people and could be a great conversation starter about both bullying and personal accountability.

With the anonymity available through some sites, and the simple fact that confrontations aren’t happening face-to-face, cyberbullying has become a huge  problem.  Teens are known for being impulsive and self-centered; those traits are part and parcel of the whole adolescent experience.  So, imagine how easy it would be to convince teens to complete simple tasks in exchange for rewards.  Especially if they were able to name the rewards they wanted AND were able to complete those tasks anonymously.  Let alone the fact that they often had little-to-no information about how their task fit into the big picture.  I kept thinking to myself, “OMG!  Something like this could totally happen!”  Everything started out so simply and innocently but then quickly escalated to get completely out of hand — a bit like Janne Teller’s Nothing.  Do yourself a favor and don’t pick this book up until you have a few hours to read it uninterrupted.  Trust me!  ;-)

Happy Reading!

Reality Boy by A.S. King

reality-boyGerald Faust has a touch more than your typical teen angst.  He has to deal with the fact that his one sister, Lisi, has left home [most likely never to return again] because his other sister, Tasha, is a complete sociopath and constantly tries to kill her siblings.  Sadly, their mom coddles Tasha and refuses to acknowledge the situation.  As bad as that is, though, it’s not quite as bad as the fact that Gerald is also infamous for being “The Crapper” on a Supernanny-like reality show when he was a child.  His mom originally called the show for help because Gerald’s rages would lead to holes in the walls, but he soon escalated to crapping everywhere to get people’s attention when Tasha’s assaults and antagonizing were repeatedly missed/overlooked and he alone was blamed for his anger management problems.  Now, Gerald’s stuck with no friends, continued anger management issues, and placement in a special education class that he doesn’t really need/deserve.  Right as he fears he is about to finally break, though, Gerald starts to become friends with a girl [from school and work] named Hannah who’s dealing with some family dysfunction of her own.

As terribly heartbreaking as it was to stand by and “watch” Gerald suffer at the hands of his sister and parents, I was grateful that his story ended on a note of hope.  It just makes me wonder, though — how *have* all of those kids who’ve been featured on shows like Supernanny been effected by their appearances?  Have there been any others who ended up as infamous as Gerald?  Or is this simply an embellishment of what could have happened?  (Man, I hope none of those kids ends up like Gerald!)  I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed A.S. King’s Ask The Passengers and Chris Crutcher’s Angry Management.

Happy Reading!

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

vanishing-girlsDara and Nick used to be more than just sisters; they were best friends.  Though they used to be practically inseparable, they don’t even speak to one another anymore.  The worst part is that Nick started to lose her other best friend, Parker, at the same time as Dara — all because he and Dara started dating.  One night, during a heated argument, the girls ended up in a car accident and that was the final straw.  Dara’s face and body were forever damaged, just like her relationship with Nick, and she keeps herself hidden away all the time.  Still, Nick is determined to fix things with Parker and Dara this summer.  Before she can even start to work things out, nevertheless, Dara disappears.  It could just be that Dara is messing around, but the disappearance of another local girl, 9-year-old Madeline Snow, makes Nick wonder if there might be something more to the story.  Will she be able to piece everything together?  Will the girls ever be found?  The answers might be more shocking than you can imagine…  Fans of Oliver’s earlier books Before I Fall and Panic are sure to enjoy her latest mystery/thriller.

Happy Reading!