The Memory Book by Lara Avery

memory-bookThis book hit a little too close to home…  Kinda.  It’s not that I know any young people who have dealt with a “Niemann-Pick Type C” diagnosis, but I have had all too much personal experience in knowing and loving people with varying forms of dementia.  Both of my father’s parents suffered from Alzheimer’s before they died.  My mother’s dad is currently living with Alzheimer’s.  And my own father had a ruptured brain aneurysm [nearly] two years ago that has left him with an “unspecified” dementia related to the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) he sustained from the rupture, several open-brain surgeries, etc.  As far as I am concerned, it might as well be Alzheimer’s, but it seems that his doctors don’t want to pigeon-hole him into a specific diagnosis after a TBI.  What’s the point of me bringing my personal life into this?  Well, I think it speaks to my ability to say whether this book portrays dementia accurately.  And, sadly, I think Lara Avery must have some firsthand experience(s) of her own — because she was spot on.

It is, quite frankly, gut-wrenchingly awful to watch a parent or grandparent fall victim to dementia.  There are some “good” days, when the person will recognize people, be steady on his/her feet, and generally seem OK.  But, then there are the days when your own father doesn’t know who you are, remember where he is, or even recall that he already ate lunch today.  It is frustrating and heartbreaking to watch my father [who used to do construction for a living] struggle to stand up from a chair or take a short walk from the living room to the kitchen.  The only way I could imagine a worse scenario is if it would happen to one of my children, as it does to Sammie McCoy in this story.  Sammie has always been a good kid, gotten good grades, excelled in debate club, and had a plan to go off to NYU after graduation.  But, when she starts to suffer from both failing memory and failing health, her entire life plan starts to crumble.  This “memory book” is Sammie’s way to record her journey through the end of high school so that “future Sammie” will know the stories even if she can’t remember them.  FYI — don’t read this book in public if you’re worried about strangers seeing you cry…

Happy Reading!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

23599075[1]I find it funny that people are comparing this book to Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games but not to the Graceling series. Game of Thrones makes sense because of the crazy king who thirsts for power, uprisings from conquered peoples, and mystical power that comes into play… But I don’t think Hunger Games is too similar. I mean, yes, there is a competition in which people are trained to fight and then whittle down to a single champion — but they aren’t forced to join the competition in the first place and not everyone who loses the game will end up dead. The Graceling series, on the other hand, has a badass heroine who was trained as an assassin and used as a weapon of sorts by the king. Sounds an awful lot like Celaena Sardothien!

Celaena was known throughout Erilea as one of the greatest assasins of all time, but her legend didn’t include the fact that she was both beautiful and very young. When the Crown Prince, Dorian, went to see her in the salt mines of a prison camp called Endovier — where most people last only about a month, but she had already managed to last over a year — he came with a rather strange proposition. Even though she had been sent to Endovier by order of the king, he asked Celaena to enter the competition to be the king’s champion. There was a catch, of course… She had to use an alias so that the people of the kingdom wouldn’t know they had all been “petrified of a girl” all along, and she had to return to Endovier if she lost. Though it was tempting to simply refuse, Prince Dorian’s offer also came with a pretty awesome reward; if Celaena won the competition and served the king for a number of years, she could actually earn her freedom. She would have been a fool to refuse, but she also worried that she had been foolish to accept — especially once champions started turning up murdered… shredded by some unknown beast.

Happy Reading!

The Young World by Chris Weitz

young-worldEver 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.

Happy Reading!

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!