Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

enter-title-hereI don’t know how honor students in high school today manage not to have nervous breakdowns on a regular basis.  I went to a school that had a fairly good “enrichment” program starting in elementary school and followed that program straight through taking AP level classes in high school.  Perhaps it is only because I attended a relatively small school (with a graduating class of just under 100 students), but I never felt any extreme pressure to work the system for the highest possible GPA.  We were all encouraged to do our best, to take AP exams to save on time/money in college, to apply for college and scholarships based on our interests, and to also participate in other extra-curricular activities.  My classmates and I had the general knowledge that extra-curricular activities could impact our college applications, but we didn’t spend every waking moment calculating which activities would look best on college applications — we just chose the activities that supported our interests.  (What a concept!)

Reshma Kapoor is a fictional character, but my experiences in working with teens over the last decade or so have shown me that she is absolutely based on reality…  I wasn’t even working with teens who attended super elite schools, and many of them were still beyond stressed about which classes they needed to take and which activities would best round-out their college applications.  (Some of them actually started worrying about college in middle school!)  In addition to the fact that Reshma attends an über elite and highly competitive school, though, she also faces a lot of pressure from her Asian-American parents who believe that studying and doing well in school are of the utmost importance.  For nearly her entire life, she has focused on academic achievement with an end-goal of becoming a doctor.  Now that senior year is here and Reshma is *this* close to graduating, she is fully dedicated to keeping her position as valedictorian and getting accepted to Stanford.  Especially now that Reshma has a literary agent who is interested in helping her publish a book, she is certain that she has an edge on the competition.  If only she wasn’t so lacking in life experience and knew more about “typical” teenagers, she might have an easier time writing that book…  So, she’ll just have to make a friend and get a boyfriend to get some plot points.  How hard could it possibly be?!?

Happy Reading!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling

cursed-childAnyone 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.

Happy Reading!

The Killer in Me by Margot Harrison

killer-in-meNina 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.

Happy Reading!

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!