Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Becuase of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Mr. Terupt is the teacher we all wish we had. For some, he’s that teacher who touched the lives of students and changed them forever. The narrative alternates between Mr. Terupt’s seven 5th grade students. Each voice adds a unique perspective on what it means to be a student, on making and keepings friends, and how to forgive.

When disaster strikes midway through the year, the students are pushed to the emotional edge. They are hard pressed to put all of Mr. Terupt’s teachings into action when life crashes down on them.

Buyea’s writing captures the student’s voices exceptionally well. Tweens will no doubt identify with one or more of the characters. Readers are given the chance to see one disastrous event through the eyes of many. Empathy is evoked as we see how one person’s perception of events can be vastly different from another’s but they are all affected. Though the story became a bit slow, there is a lot worth discussing with a group of tweens. From grief and guilt to isolation and hope, Buyea offers a lot of thinking matter in this thoughtful novel.

Publisher: Delacorte, 2010     Pages: 288  
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Public Library

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

This was possibly the best book I’ve read in years. I rarely give a “5 Star” status but didn't even have to think about it. There were many reasons for me NOT to like this book. It’s contemporary fiction (I’m drawn to fantasy). It’s about “depressing” subjects, it’s akin to a “problem novel,” which I tend to find forced with see-through agendas taking on too many issues. But I loved this book. It wasn’t forced, it was genuine. Not depressing, but uplifting.

When children ask questions, and adults won't or can’t answer, they are left to make their own assumptions about life. Ten-year-old Jamie has a lot of questions and the first person narration captures his observations.

His older sister, Rose (a twin), died five years before the novel begins in a London terrorist attack. Jamie can hardly remember Rose, but his family has fallen apart because of the loss. His father harbors fear and hate for Muslims and holds onto his grief, forcing it onto others. His mother has checked out and left the family. His older sister, Jas, does her best to make sure Jamie knows he is cared for.

What shined was Jamie’s relationship with his classmate and best friend, Sunya, who wears a hijab to school. Though this relationship is a risk for Jamie (how furious would his father be if he knew?), it is Sunya who strengthens Jamie’s spirit when he is at his lowest. She sticks up for him, plays into his fascination with superheros and even calls Jamie out when he acts like a fair-weather friend.

Jamie’s belief that things can get better and that friendship is important carry this book. He loves his family despite their glaring problems and takes action, doing the best a 10-year-old can, to make things better. I laughed and I cried in no small part to Annabel Pitcher’s writing but also because of David Tennant’s amazing narration. Just fantastic.

The mantelpiece, the hearth, is supposed to be the center of home which conjures feelings of warmth and belonging, love and security. But in Jamie’s home, his dead sister lives on the mantelpiece and her ghostly presence looms large, scattering all positive emotions. But with help from Sunya and Jas, Jamie finds a way to make his presence known and remind a family what it means to be family. 

Though targeted at middle-grade readers, I'd recommend this book to anybody. Anybody! <3

Publisher: Findaway World, 2012     Length: 6 hours
Rating: 5 Stars     Source: Public Library

Friday, December 27, 2013

Review: The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck

Mice make such endearing characters. Jack and Gus from Cinderella, Mickey Mouse, Despereaux from DiCamillo’s book. And now, enter “Mouse Minor,” a mouse with unknown origins and an affection for alliteration.

Set during Queen Victoria’s reign, Mouse Minor (lineage: unclear; stature: decidedly small) sets off on an adventure spanning the the grounds, outbuildings and buildings proper of Buckingham Palace to seek his place in life. He overcomes fears and perseveres when answers are not quickly revealed. A large cast of delightful animals helps Mouse Minor find his way. If you know a child who enjoys adventure stories with more daring than danger, more thrills and less chills, this tender-hearted read may be what you need.

Richard Peck is an established children’s author with awards under his belt. He does not disappoint with The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail. I picked this story up on a whim, looking for something a little different to read, and was not disappointed. I may have even teared up once or twice… those mice. Small characters with big things to prove! They get to me every time!

Publisher: Dial, 2013     Pages: 224
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Public Library

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder was one of my favorite reads for 2013 and hit with my teen book club. The book was a surprising treat. Meyer stays close to the original Cinderella fairy tale in that several characters and the story arch are all similar. But she weaves in a science fiction aspect with skill. Cinder(ella) as a cyborg? Yes!

Cinder is a heroine with spunk, grit and serious determination. Unlike the Cinderella most of us know, Cinder’s goal in life isn’t to get hitched to the prince. Rather she spends her days learning her craft -- expert mechanic. And it is her skill which puts her in the Prince’s sights.

Humans have colonized the Earth and morphed into hybrids called Lunars. They threaten Earth while it is succumbing to a mysterious plague. Cinder finds herself caught up in dubious research for a cure in a political landscape that is quickly changing. An evil stepmother, an android fairy godmother, a coach of Cinder’s making and a race to the ball that is sure to bring laughter… Cinder is a clever YA novel with a lot to discuss, and many comparisons for those who have read various versions of the fairy tale.

The sequel, Scarlet, is already out and the third book, Cress, is out February 2014. Teen guys and girls alike enjoyed this novel in my book discussion. Definitely a thumbs up!

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, 2012.     Pages: 390
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: Public Library