"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

30 June 2014

Something Real

Demetrious, Heather. Something Real. Henry Holt & Co. 2014.

Bonnie Baker is part of the Baker's Dozen - thirteen kids and their parents who had a reality TV show.  After an all-too-brief hiatus from the show, Bonnie discovers that the show is going back on the air, which means her life will be visible for the public eye once again.

I actually stayed up last night to finish this book. I had one of those "finish the book, look at the clock and gasp at the late hour" moments. This book would be a great read-alike for Reality Boy, as it gives another fictional glimpse into the life of a reality TV family. It's funny; until I read these books I didn't think much about what it would be like to be a star in a reality TV show and have cameras all over your house, etc. Now I wonder what'll happen to the kids on Kate + 8 or The Duggars or whatever when they grow up.

Anyway, we don't have this book in my library because I have no budget, but if I did have one, I'd get it because I think this book would appeal to many of my students and it's relatively free of red flags.

Recommended for: teens, fans of reality TV
Red Flags: language; Chloe and her boyfriend do everything BUT have sex, none of which is described but is definitely hinted at
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 stars

27 June 2014

Dorothy Must Die

Paige, Danielle. Dorothy Must Die. HarperCollins, 2014.

Dorothy returned to Oz and stole all of the magic.  Now she's a crazy power-hungry ruler who has turned Oz on its head. Enter Amy Gumm, another girl from Kansas who is whisked via tornado into the land of Oz, where the inhabitants beg her to help them stop the insanity.  In order to solve all of their problems, Amy must kill Dorothy.

If I only had the first 400 pages of this book, it'd be really good. Probably worth 5 stars. I loved the concept - the idea of Dorothy returning to Oz and getting all power-hungry, the mentions of all the different Oz characters that appear in the books even though they don't make it to the movie, etc.


This book had a TERRIBLE endgame. And by that I mean it didn't end. This is going to be another book in a long line of YA novels that just don't need to be made into series. The Kill Dorothy plan should have either gone off swimmingly or failed completely, but this "well, who knows, maybe in the next book they'll actually kill her" ending is made of fail. Sigh.

My students are all eagerly waiting for my to finish this book so they can borrow it. I'm going to have to bite my tongue so that I don't spoil it for them and tell them it's not worth it. But they can certainly borrow this book, since it won't be staying in my personal collection.

Recommended for: young adults, fans of fractured fairy tales
Red Flags: lots of violence (it is a fairy tale war, after all)
Overall Rating: 2.5/5 stars

26 June 2014


Whaley, John. Noggin. Atheneum BFYR, 2014.

Travis had terminal cancer, so he volunteered for a cryogenics project in the hopes that at some point he could be revived and cured. When he wakes up, his head has been attached to the body of another teen who had died.  Travis has been given a second chance at life. Now Travis has to get used to a new world, where his girlfriend is engaged to another guy, his best friend is in college, and his little sister isn't so little anymore.

This was a fairly entertaining story, and I probably got more comments from my students about this particular book than I did about any other book I had sitting on my desk. My students were intrigued by the idea of a "head transplant," and I had a long list of kids who wanted to read the book after I finished it and donated it to my library.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

25 June 2014


Hale, Shannon. Dangerous. Bloomsbury, 2014.

Maisie Danger Brown entered a contest on the back of a cereal box and won a spot at space camp.  However, things start to go very wrong once she's at the camp, and soon she realizes she's signed up for a lot more than lessons on how to be an astronaut. Any more details would provide too many spoilers, but this book is an action-packed page-turner that is sure to thrill science fiction fans.

Recommended for: young adults, science fiction fans
Red Flags: violence in large quantities
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

24 June 2014

The Balance

Wooten, Neal. The Balance. Bold Strokes Books, 2014.

Piri lives in the city in the clouds until one day his transport crashes onto the earth. He meets a people who call themselves the Children. They live a very different life from the one Piri left behind in the sky. And there are things the Children tell him that don't make sense to him, based on what he knows from his life in the city. When Piri is rescued and discovers the horrible truth behind the fate of the Chosen Ones, he knows he must do something to restore the balance on the earth.


I liked this story and found it a decent read-alike for books likeThe Giver and Swans and Klons. The City is where the privileged people live, and their lives are very strictly controlled. They are trained from a young age not to show any emotions. There's no physical affection between family members or couples. All people die at age 80, when they are too old to work or help raise their grandchildren.

The people on earth, the Children, serve those in the city by providing them with crops and volunteers who are chosen in a weekly ceremony. The Children are barely scraping by, but their lives are rich with family and market days and emotions. Also, the Children read from a Book that tells them the rules to live by. They even have a Westboro Baptist-esque subgroup of fundamentalists. The Book is very obviously paraphrased from the Bible, so readers coming from a Christian tradition may find the Children's religion offensive.

I enjoyed the dystopian part of this book, as well as Piri's inventions to help the Children. I liked that Piri is gay and marries Niko, but that it isn't a big deal in his society at all. There could easily be more books in this world, but this book can also stand alone, which I think is a good thing for a YA book.

Recommended for: fans of dystopian lit, young adults
Red Flags: some violence, mentions of cannibalism (the Scavs eat the Chosen, which is pretty obvious early on but some people may be unpleasantly surprised when they find that out)
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

23 June 2014


Chayil, Eishes. Hush. Walker Childrens, 2010.

Gittel is part of the Chassidim, a sect of Hassidic Jews who live very separate lives from their gentile neighbors. When Gittel is nine, she discovers that her best friend is being raped every time her brother comes home. Her friend then hangs herself, and Gittel is told she must never talk about what she saw and that she should forget her friend. Years later, Gittel gets married and then starts having PTSD flashbacks to her friend's rape and suicide. She starts speaking out against the cover-ups of rape and abuse within the Orthodox community.

I think this is an excellent book, not only for its discussion of abuse and the subsequent coverups, but also for its description of the Orthodox Jewish community. I would easily recommend this book as a read-alike for Speak, and it will definitely be popular among my girls who enjoy reading "books about kids with real problems." The chaste way in which the Orthodox community approaches life makes even the rape scenes readable for younger teens. By the time they graduate from high school, 1/4 of my female students and 1/6 of my male students will have been raped or molested. For this reason alone, this book needs to be a part of my collection.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Gittel's best friend is repeatedly raped by her older brother, but there aren't any salacious details; this same friend also commits suicide; Gittel's sex life as a married woman is discussed, but again, no details are really given even though it's obvious what's going on
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The World Outside and How Mirka Got Her Sword for the Orthodox Jewish culture; Speak and Sold for the topic of rape; the best combination of these elements makes Chanda's Wars an excellent read-alike.

20 June 2014

The Life of Glass

Cantor, Jillian. The Life of Glass. Harperteen, 2010.

This was quite possibly the most boring YA book I've ever read. The MC's dad recently died, and she lives with her mom and her older sister. Yep, that's about it. Mom starts dating, and the girls aren't sure what they think of mom's boyfriend. The girls are both in high school, but apparently the MC doesn't have any emotions, because this book flatlines pretty early on and doesn't revive. Also, the MC's biology class spends AN ENTIRE SEMESTER dissecting on frog. For one class period, their assignment was to cut out the heart of the frog and draw a picture of it. I can't imagine a frog specimen lasting that long. Ever.

Really, nothing happened in this book, and I will not add it to my library's collection or book talk it to my students. I was unpleasantly surprised at how boring it was.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 1/5 stars

19 June 2014


Lo, Malinda. Inheritance. Little, Brown BFYR, 2014.

This second installment in the Adaptation series follows Reese and David as they face a media storm and as the American people begin to discover more of the truth behind the Imria's involvement in human history. Reese and David uncover more of their adapted abilities and have to decide whom to trust.

SPOILER ALERT: You have been warned.

I probably would have enjoyed this book more if I had read it directly after finishing Adaptation, as it took me a bit to remember what exactly was happening in the story and to get back into the characters' brains. The story itself was fairly interesting, especially if the reader happens to be a conspiracy theorist or UFO enthusiast. I am neither, but I love Malinda Lo's writing, and I found her details of San Francisco to be accurate, which made them add to, rather than detract from, the story overall. Mainly, though, I read this book for its LGBTQ+ content. And it really is a + in this situation. In the first book Reese falls in love with Amber, one of the Imria who has been sent to watch over her, and then Reese decides that she must be a lesbian. In this book, Reese decides she likes David more than Amber, so then she decides she must be bisexual. This bothers David but doesn't bother Amber at all because the Imria practice polyamory (definition: a grouping of more than two people in a romantic relationship); for example, Amber has one mother and two fathers. In the end, Reese decides to try a polyamorous relationship with David and Amber. David and Amber aren't interested in each other, but they both love Reese, and Reese loves both of them, so they have a lot of communication about their relationship. It isn't without its struggles, but they wouldn't have it any other way.

For this reason alone, I would want to put this book on my shelves. We have three perfectly rational main characters who choose a polyamorous relationship even though it will complicate things and bring them under a certain amount of scrutiny from the community. This book does not promote or discourage polyamorous relationships, but simply presents them as another possible option.

Recommended for: young adults, fans of conspiracy theories or aliens
Red Flags: the aforementioned polyamorous relationship may be difficult for some to accept
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

18 June 2014

To The End of June

Beam, Cris. To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

This book was frighteningly dry. I expected lots of statistics, descriptions of programs, and with a book this length, dozens of stories as the results of interviews. What I got what a painfully in-depth look at three families, with their stories retold from the perspective of each family member. Is the foster care system in need of help? Absolutely, but this book didn't do anything to convince me, nor did it add anything to my knowledge that I hadn't already learned from watching The Fosters.

Recommended for: adults
Red Flags: discussions of drug use, etc.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5 stars

17 June 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly

Johnson, Jaleigh. The Mark of the Dragonfly. Delacourte BFYR, 2014.

Piper lives in a world where most of the people barely eke out an existence by being scrappers, scavengers who dig through the remains after the monthly meteor showers, hoping to find treasures. Piper herself is a tinkerer who repairs some of the treasures people find. Her father died of lung disease from working in the factories, and Piper's mother died long before Piper was old enough to remember her. So when Piper rescues a mysterious girl after a meteor shower and discovers the girl bears the mark of the dragonfly, a special tattoo given only to the king's favored, she hopes she can return to the girl to her home and earn a reward that would pull her out of poverty. Will Piper be able to outrun the man who is seeking the girl and return her to her home? And will this girl ever remember why she has the mark of the dragonfly or what makes her so important?

This book started out a bit slowly and lacked in world-building that would have helped it along, but once I had read a few chapters, I was hooked. This wasn't a book I could pick up and read for fifteen minutes at a time; I needed extensive time to sit and focus on the world Piper lives in to truly enjoy the story. And I did enjoy it. I think my students would enjoy it, too - with the fantasy, mystery, and adventure elements, this book has something for every reader.

Recommended for: tweens, middle grade
Red Flags: violence - the girls are kidnapped and almost sold to slavers and several other times face what movie raters would call "mild peril"
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purposes of review.

16 June 2014

The Rules for Breaking

Elston, Ashley. The Rules for Breaking. 2014.

Anna has finally gotten her old life back and things are returning to normal when suddenly the people who were chasing her show up again. She is kidnapped along with her boyfriend and her sister and must find a way to protect them and also save herself.

This book read much like the first one, with slower moments interspersed between very intense scenes. I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read it right after the first one, but it's still not a bad story. I'm not sure that this series merits a third installment, as the first two were so very similar to each other.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: lots of violence, minor language, reference to someone wearing a necklace which had a pendant shaped "like a man's private parts."
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this novel through Netgalley for the purposes of review.

13 June 2014

Rebel Belle

Hawkins, Rachel. Rebel Belle. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2014.

Harper Price is a model student, a cheerleader, vying for homecoming queen. In the wake of her sister's death due to drunk driving, Harper has become the perfect daughter. She is involved in every club, has just the right friends, and even snagged the perfect boyfriend. But when disaster hits on the night of the prom, Harper becomes a Paladin, complete with fighting skills that would make Chuck Norris run for cover. When she discovers that her skills are to be used in protection of her arch enemy, however, Harper has second thoughts. How can she fulfill her destiny as a Paladin and maintain her image as the model student and perfect daughter, especially if she doesn't want to ruin her makeup?

If Lemon Breeland from Hart of Dixie had a love child with Percy Jackson, the result would be this book. Loved it, regardless of its very pink status. I'm sure the kids in my library will love it, too. Now I just have to decide where to shelve it - in paranormal with the Hex Hall series by the same author, in mythology since it seems very Percy Jackson-like, or in chick lit with all of the "pink books."

Recommended for: teens, tweens, fans of mythology and action books
Red Flags: lots of action violence and near death experiences; Harper uses euphemisms for her cussing, but occasionally mentions that someone said "the f word" without spelling out the word itself
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Penguin's Young Readers Program.

12 June 2014

The World Outside

Wiseman, Eva. The World Outside. Tundra Books, 2014.

Chanie is a Hasidic Jew and lives in a sheltered community with others of her sect. She is in her final year of high school when she meets a boy who suggests that she might want to consider something more. She loves to sing but is not allowed to do so in her community, and David convinces her to audition for Julliard. She is accepted into Julliard, but then she has to decide if her love of singing is more important to her than the community where she has grown up.

This was an interesting story. The same storyline has been repeated in multiple young adult novels, but this was the first time I had read a book about a Hasidic community, and it was interesting to learn about their customs and practices. I didn't agree with Chanie's decision at the end of the story, nor for her reasons for making it, but I think this book would definitely have appeal in my library and would broaden the horizons of my readers, most of whom have not met any Hasidic Jews.

Recommended for: tweens, young adults
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purposes of review.

11 June 2014

Steering Toward Normal

Petruck, Rebecca. Steering Toward Normal. Amulet Books, 2014.

Diggy is an 8th grader who lives in a small farming community in Minnesota. He raises steer through 4H and shows them at the State Fair, and he's hoping to have a chance to win this year. Then his world explodes when he finds out he has a half brother who moves in with him and Pop and starts taking Pop's attention away. Not only that, but Wayne also wants to enter a steer in the State Fair. How will Diggy manage to win the state fair now?

This book sounded like it should be hilarious, and being from Minnesota myself, I hoped that there would be lots of references that would make me smile and imagine the characters speaking with heavy accents. As it turned out, this book moved very, very slowly. Grass-growing slowly. Since the main character is an 8th grader, this book should appeal to middle schoolers, but I doubt that many of my middle school students would have the patience for this story. It's a good story, and with families moving away from nuclear and into a new normal, it's probably a story that needs to be told, but it has to be done in a way that will hook the readers, and this story simply did not do that.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: the man who raised Dwayne is an alcoholic and frequently gets drunk or shows up drunk; the boys (and Pop) play lots of pranks on each other that occasionally involve cow poop
Overall Rating:2/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

10 June 2014

Moon at Nine

Ellis, Deborah. Moon at Nine. Pajama Press, 2014.

Imagine that Annie on My Mind took place in Iran during the 1980s, and that instead of living unhappily ever after, the main characters face much worse fates due to the laws of the land. This is what awaits the reader of Moon at Nine. Farrin goes to a school for gifted girls, and when Sadira begins attending her school, Farrin realizes that she loves her. Amid all of the political upheaval in her country, she is caught kissing Sadira and the two are punished: they are to be kept separate and advanced quickly through their programs while their parents try to find husbands for them. Farrin thinks she can't survive without seeing Sadira, but can she survive if they stay together?

Wow. This book is set in a different culture than my own and a different time period. The girls are living through historical events that I can barely begin to imagine. And to think that if my wife and I had lived in that place, we could have suffered the same fate as Sadira and Farrin - it's unimaginable. This is an excellent book to give a picture of live in a different country under a different government where people are not granted the same freedoms we are given in the United States. Although the subject matter is difficult, this book is amazingly free of graphic red flags that could naturally occur in such a story.

Recommended for: teens and adults
Red Flags: some alcohol use (by adults), Farrin witnesses executions when she is in jail, minor language
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-alikes for: Annie on My Mind, If You Could Be Mine

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

09 June 2014

Big Fat Disaster

Fehlbaum, Beth. Big Fat Disaster. Merit Press, 2014.

Colby's the odd man out in her picture-perfect family. Her older sister has a full-ride scholarship to college, her little sister is the cookie-cutter image of her mother, and her father is running for a seat in the senate. But when it is discovered that her father stole money from his campaign to fund his relationship with another woman, Colby's life falls apart. Colby, her mother, and her younger sister have to move into a trailer behind her aunt's house, and Colby's habit of drowning her feelings with food spirals out of control. When some bullies use YouTube to humiliate Colby, she has to decide whether she will continue to be the "big fat disaster" her mom calls her.

Wow. This book has a lot of issues all in one place. First, Colby's dad's infidelity and misuse of money - an issue which sets the story in motion but soon fades into the background. Second, Colby's mother is a mess. She is very similar to the other abusive moms so popular in young adult literature these days: deluded and controlling and obliviously cruel. Then we have Colby's aunt and cousin. Some football players at Colby's new school raped a girl at a party the year before, and her cousin reported them. Everyone at his school hates him for telling on the boys, and he hates Colby and her family because of the way they treated him afterwards [those passages really made me want to scream since they so perfectly echo the rape culture we're living in]. Then there's Colby. She's overweight and becoming more so because of her binge eating, which she does to hide from all the trauma around her. And she's bullied. So everything that she's dealing with really is a "big, fat disaster."

The thing I most appreciated about this story is that at the end, when Colby decided to take charge of her life and face her problems, the book didn't resolve with Colby losing a ton of weight and being accepted by everyone. In the end, she's still overweight, her mother is still evil and self-centered, and her dad is still facing prison charges, but Colby is owning up to her mess and acknowledging that she needs help.

Recommended for: teens, tweens
Red Flags: Colby attempts suicide twice, there is talk of the girl being raped the year before (with lots of victim-blaming thrown in); one of Colby's friends is bulimic and vomits in the school bathroom after lunch; language (in both English and Spanish)
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

06 June 2014


Korman, Gordon. Ungifted. Balzer + Bray, 2012.

This book is hilarious along the lines of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and The Wednesday Wars. Donovan is an 8th grader with what the school counselor calls "poor impulse control." He does a lot of crazy things without thinking about the consequences, which is why he smacked the school's statue of Atlas with a stick, which caused the rusted bolt to fall off, which caused the globe Atlas was holding to roll down the hill into the gym, causing thousands of dollars in damage. After the incident, Donovan is accidentally sent to the district's academy for gifted students, and hilarity ensues.

This book would make an excellent read aloud book for a class. The characters are likable and entertaining, and there are enough of Donovan's hijinx sprinkled throughout the book to keep even a reluctant reader interested. I am going to book talk this one to my students, and I'm hoping to get the Wimpy Kid fans interested, which might help them to expand their palette.

Recommended for: tweens, middle grade
Red Flags: a couple of minor violent scenes involving a school dance where a fight breaks out as well as a robotics competition where a child smashes a chair onto a robot's head.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

05 June 2014

The Summer Experiment

Pelletier, Cathie. The Summer Experiment. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014.

This book is a good read-alike for My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer or Bluffton. It takes place in Maine during the summer, and two kids are trying to get abducted by a spaceship for their science project. In between, not much else happens. The pace is pretty slow, but I could see this book being popular with girls who are finally literate enough to read chapter books on their own. I won't be getting this book for my library, but if I worked in an elementary school, I might.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags:none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

04 June 2014


Wilkinson, Lili. Pink. HarperTeen, 2011.

Ava has very progressive, very supportive parents who let her call them by their first names and threw a coming out party for her when she told them that she's a lesbian. She also has a girlfriend who is very anti-establishment and enjoys wearing all black and reading obscure literary texts.

But Ava isn't sure she wants all of this anymore. So she gets a scholarship to an elite private school and goes to school in a pink sweater, not telling anyone that she's a lesbian and hoping to be "normal" for a change. Of course, all of these plans blow up in her face and she ends up picking up the pieces and righting wrongs and trying to figure out what she is.

This was a surprisingly good book. I enjoyed following Ava's self-discovery and appreciated what her friends did for her. I felt like the story had a good, satisfying ending. I would put a copy of this book in my library, and may still do so if I can find one for cheap/free.

Recommended for: fans of chick lit, theater nerds, fans of LGBTQ+ lit
Red Flags: lots of drinking, Ava's girlfriend smokes, Ava almost has sex with a boy who then complains that he is a virgin, language
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

03 June 2014

Golden Boy

Tarttelin, Abigail. Golden Boy. Atria Books, 2013. 

Max is intersex. Max is raped by a childhood friend around page 10 of this book. Max tells no one, goes to the doctor to get the morning after pill and STD testing. Then Max figures out that he's pregnant b/c he vomited after he took the pill so it never got a chance to terminate his pregnancy. He has to tell his parents. The rest of the book is Max dealing with the trauma of rape as well as trying to navigate difficult gender decisions as well as learning what his parents had decided to do when he was born, etc.

This book is told from multiple viewpoints, and it reads a bit like a Jodi Picoult book, except for the very graphic rape scene at the beginning of the book. For that reason alone, I recommend extreme caution when reading, especially if you are a rape survivor. Otherwise, this is an okay book, and it does feature an intersex character, which is fairly unusual even in LGBT literature. I will NOT be putting this book in my junior high library, nor would I likely recommend it to teens, but it's a good book to have in a public library's adult collection.

Recommended for: adults, older teens
Red Flags: Graphic rape scene
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

02 June 2014

Grasshopper Jungle

Smith, Andrew. Grasshopper Jungle. Dutton Juvenile, 2014.

A teen boy living in a small town in Iowa tells the story of his discovery that he might possibly be bisexual. Meanwhile, a virus is accidentally unleashed in his town, turning the inhabitants into giant, hungry, horny grasshoppers. Interspersed between his thoughts about how much he wants to have sex with his girlfriend and his best friend are tales of his great-great grandfather's emigration to the United States.

This story does not flow well, and the eponymous grasshoppers barely appear until the last third or so of the book. This book is a trip through a drug-addled horny teen boy's brain, and it's not a pleasant journey. I would avoid this book; there are much better science fiction books featuring LGBT characters.

Recommended for: adults
Red Flags: violence, sex, language
Overall Rating: 1/5 stars