Friday, December 14, 2018

My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace

Thrace, Mischa. My Whole Truth. Flux, 2018. 978-1-635-83024-8. 256 p. $11.99. Grades 9-12.

From the Publisher: 

Seventeen-year-old Seelie Stanton never wanted to kill someone. She never wanted to be invisible in her own family, never wanted to crush on her best friend Alyssa, and she definitely never wanted to know how effectively a mallet could destroy someone’s head.

But the universe doesn’t care what she wants. Shane Mayfield doesn’t care what Seelie wants either. When the former high school basketball star attacks her, she has no choice but to defend herself. She saved her own life, but she can’t bring herself to talk about what happened that night. Not all of it. Not even when she’s arrested for murder.

My Review: 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

“I need help,” seventeen year old Seelie Stanton whispers to the 911 operator after escaping her attacker. Brutally attacked while alone at work, Seelie saves herself and in the process kills Shane Mayfield, son of a well-connected family. When she wakes up in the hospital and is questioned by officers, Seelie isn’t even sure if Shane is living. All she knows is that she had to save herself. While one officer seems to empathize with Seelie, the other twists her words. Upon Seelie’s release from the hospital, she’s arrested and is being charged as an adult for murder. Seelie thought the loft of the barn was her worst nightmare, but really it was only the beginning. 
THOUGHTS: Fans of thrillers will appreciate the mystery that the title implies. Clearly, readers do not have the whole truth from the beginning. Due to the graphic nature of her attack, this is recommended for mature high school readers. 

Someone Like Me by Julissa Arce

Arce, Julissa. Someone Like Me: How One Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream. Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 978-0-316-48174-8. 223 p. $16.99. Gr. 5 and up.

From the Publisher: 

Born in the picturesque town of Taxco, Mexico, Julissa Arce was left behind for months at a time with her two sisters, a nanny, and her grandma while her parents worked tirelessly in America in hopes of building a home and providing a better life for their children. That is, until her parents brought Julissa to Texas to live with them. From then on, Julissa secretly lived as an undocumented immigrant, went on to become a scholarship winner and an honors college graduate, and climbed the ladder to become a vice president at Goldman Sachs.

This moving, at times heartbreaking, but always inspiring story will show young readers that anything is possible. Julissa's story provides a deep look into the little-understood world of a new generation of undocumented immigrants in the United States today-kids who live next door, sit next to you in class, or may even be one of your best friends.

My Review: 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Having been born in Mexico in a bathroom stall two months early, Julissa’s indomitable spirit carries her throughout her life. She begins telling her story on her presentatcion de los tres aƱos, the day she turned three years old. Throughout her childhood, Julissa’s parents travel to festivals all over Mexico, selling cantaritos. In the close knit town of Taxco, Julissa and her two older sisters have many relatives to help watch after them; though, they primarily are cared for by their beloved nanny Cande. Eventually, Julissa’s parents gain work visas and begin traveling to the States to sell their Taxco’s sterling silver. While Julissa’s parents spend most of their year in America, Julissa and her sisters visit for summers on tourist visas. When Julissa’s sisters return to Mexico at the end of the summer before she enters middle school, her mom informs Julissa that she’ll be staying in Texas with them. Thrilled to be with her parents and her baby brother Julio (born in America), Julissa is enrolled in a Catholic school, though there is no ESL program. With an understanding teacher and one classmate who speaks Spanish, Julissa begins her American education. Met with many challenges and frustrations over the next several years, Julissa perseveres with hopes of eventually achieving her American Dream. 
THOUGHTS:  Through descriptions of her life in Mexico and America, Julisssa’s story helps readers understand why families want to achieve an American Dream, even when they’re not born in America. This “own voices” story is an excellent addition for middle or high school libraries where heartfelt memoirs are popular.  

Monday, November 12, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post: Lucia DiStefano

Borrowed by Lucia DiStefano is out now! 

“VERDICT: Both literary and sensational, this will appeal to thoughtful readers looking for a little fun.”—Beth McIntyre, School Library Journal

“In the first two acts of the novel, the combination of debut author DiStefano’s lyrical prose and effortlessly nuanced characters makes for a gripping and heart-wrenching read.”—Kirkus Reviews

“The premise is engaging and contains an interesting concept of memory and humanity with beautifully written prose.”—Booklist

Guest Post

As I write this, Borrowed, my debut YA novel, has only been in the world for one week: an exciting week—and a bit of a surreal one, as I think about people picking up my work without me putting it in their hands first. Recently, I participated in my first author panel at the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) conference in Salt Lake City, where one of the questions really got me thinking.

The question was about failure: “Tell us about a time when you failed hard.”

I nearly shot out of my seat to volunteer (and I’m not quite sure what that says about me, that I was so eager to publicly talk about my failures). Maybe the reason I was so quick to engage with that question is that I feel like I have finally, finally learned something from failing so often and so hard, and I wanted to share it with others who might be similarly struggling. And when I talk about “failure,” I’m not referring to the failure to get a novel published for so long (which is true enough, since I actively tried for over ten years with several different novel manuscripts and with only near-misses to show for it)—but failing to recognize where my true control—and therefore my peace—really lies.  

And I answered it something like this:

Many years ago, my agent sent over a rejection she’d received for my second novel manuscript (we hadn’t sold the first, and I’m not talking about the first I’d written—but about the first to have gotten shopped around). The editor included this slaying statement in her email: “Lucia’s writing style is overwrought and self-conscious.”

Gulp. She could’ve just said no, right?

Well, instead of just allowing myself to be doubled over for a bit, finding comfort in a butterscotch sundae, shaking it off, and deleting the damn note, I sank really low—to a depth that surprised even me. Weakly telling myself that that was just one person’s opinion, I decided I needed a colorful way to rid myself of those words. I printed out the email and then made a big deal of burning it in the fireplace (only after relocating the cat to the laundry room; she had a thing for crawling into the fireplace, which is why, other than for that ceremonial slash-and-burn, I never used it).

As I watched the paper curl and char and finally disappear, I imagined I felt better. Lighter. Freer.

That didn’t last long.

Somewhere along the way, I had given an inordinate amount of power to anyone in the publishing industry. I had confused their opinions with fact—and even worse, with indictments. So I told myself I wasn’t a good enough writer and that I therefore needed to stop writing, even though, when it came to pursuits, reading and writing had been the only rewarding constants in my life for as long as I could remember.

That was the failure: that I stopped writing—not that I received a lousy rejection (heck, I had a copy of Rotten Reviews and Rejections on my bookshelf; I knew that some of the most celebrated works ever had been trashed before or after they were published).

I told myself that, by quitting, I had really showed “them” (as if “they” even knew I’d stopped—never mind cared!). I told myself I was better off without writing in my life. I told myself I didn’t need the stress associated with writing for publication. I told myself that the words I’d watched burn didn’t mean anything at all (and yet incinerating them didn’t erase them from memory).

But despite all that I’d told myself, I grew less and less like myself as the writing-less days wore on. The symptoms mimicked those of caffeine withdrawal: headache, fatigue, irritability (lots of that one), feeling blah all the time. And because I had conflated writing with trying to get published—and because I wanted to prevent myself from hurting that way again—I stopped writing for several months. The fact that I divorced myself from what I really wanted to do (dream up stories and shape them into novels) was the biggest failure of my professional life.

But I shall not leave you at failure! The debut author panel ended by circling back to that question and flipping it over to this one: “Talk about a time you succeeded and were proud.”

It would be easy to say that my biggest success was winning the 2018 Helen Sheehan Book Prize and therefore finally breaking into print. However, beyond putting in the work and writing the best manuscript I could, the judges’ decision was beyond my control. The winning wasn’t success; the fact that I kept writing, despite so many extrinsic defeats, was the real success for me.

Considering how agonizing the business end of writing can be, I don’t know exactly why I had decided all those years ago that I wanted/needed to keep writing, even in the face of rejection after rejection. But maybe that wasn’t mine to figure out. It was enough to know that the act of writing fed me somehow. It made me feel connected—connected to the most authentic part of myself and connected to the world at large. And no cranky editor could keep me from writing and reaping the intrinsic rewards.

Maya Angelou said that “success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” And that, dear readers, is the stuff that’s always within our control, no matter how many times the world outside us says no.  
                                                                                                                               - Lucia

Meet the Author

A former high school English teacher, Lucia DiStefano currently works as an editor, ghostwriter, and writing coach. First-generation Sicilian-American and daughter of an olive farmer, she admits to having recurring pasta dreams. Hailing from central Connecticut, Lucia lives near Austin, Texas with her husband and an old bloodhound named Waffle.

DiStefano, Lucia. Borrowed. Elephant Rock Books, 2018. 978-1-732-41410-5. 264 p. $14.00. Gr. 10 and up.

From the Publisher: 

Love, mystery, and danger collide in this new literary thriller with the dark heart of a Gillian Flynn novel and the lyrical prose of Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun.

A triumph of authenticity, grace, and nail-biting suspense, Lucia DiStefano’s ingenious debut is an unflinching, genre-bending page-turner.

As seventeen-year-old Linnea celebrates the first anniversary of her heart transplant, she can’t escape the feeling that the wires have been crossed. After a series of unsettling dreams, inked messages mysteriously appear on her body, and she starts to wonder if this new heart belongs to her at all.

In another Austin neighborhood, Maxine braces for a heartbreaking anniversary: her sister Harper’s death. Between raising her brothers and parenting her grief-stricken mother, Max is unable to ignore her guilty crush on Harper’s old flame or shake her lingering suspicion that her sister’s drowning wasn’t really an accident. With Harper as the sole connection, Linnea and Maxine are soon brought together in fantastic and terrifying ways as the shocking truth behind Harper’s death comes to light.

My Review: 


I received an eARC of this book from Elephant Rock Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Meet Linnea, almost 18 and not quite at the momentous one year post transplant mark. A budding pastry chef in Austin, Texas, Linnea fears she's on borrowed time. An increasing number of dreams and unusual cravings for things she's never liked make her question if this heart is really hers to keep. 

Across town Maxine is living in a fog of grief. Devastated by the sudden death of her sister Harper, yet unable to focus on her own grief, Maxine is the only thread keeping her family afloat. While her mother is drowning in grief, Max tries to focus on caring for her younger brothers Will and Race. Max has her own feelings to deal with too; even with help from her best friend Shelby and Harper's boyfriend Ezra, Max is barely getting by. 

Harper's death gave Linnea a chance to live, but as the line between dream and reality blurs, Linnea is drawn towards what would have been Harper's life. Is becoming Harper even possible? One desperate to save herself, and one struggling to understand what happened to her sister, Linnea's and Maxine's worlds will collide, taking readers on an unforgettable journey into the unknown. 

THOUGHTS: Honored to be selected for the blog tour, I was excited to read Borrowed because my students are always asking for mysteries. What begins as a seemingly innocent story about grief and life abruptly transitions into so much more. DiStefano's multiple, well-developed narrators vie for attention in this fast-paced, genre-blending thriller. Buckle up because this book will take readers on a wild and unpredictable ride. 

Check out more Blog Tour details below!  

Full Blog Tour Schedule: 
August 1: Cover reveal at YA Interrobang
September 4: Review at Alice Reeds
September 10: Author interview at Alice Reeds
September 24: Cover reveal at BubblersRead
October 8: Review at Liz Loves Books
October 9-15: Giveaway at Miss Print
October 15: Review at BubblersRead
October 17: Guest post at Liz Loves Books
October 22: Excerpt at YA Interrobang
October 25: Author interview at YA Outside the Lines
October 31: Author interview at Katya de Becerra: The Last Day of Normal
November 1: Giveaway and guest post at Carina's Books
November 5: Author interview at BubblersRead
November 12: Author guest post at BubblersRead
November 14: Author interview at Cynsations
November 20: Author interview at The Story Sanctuary

And more to come, including an a podcast special at The Writing Barn and an event with book blogger, reviewer, and YouTuber BookRatMisty

Like Elephant Rock on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for book and blog tour news and updates!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

30 Day Book Challenge

Thanks to Professional Book Nerds for creating this awesome 30 day book challenge. I'm using the challenge to promote 30 books I've read and recommend, many of which can be found in the BSHS library.

Follow along as I post my 6 titles each week, and check out #30DayBookChallenge on Twitter to see more! 

Week 1: 

  1. The One by Kiera Cass - I found this series highly addicting, and read The One in under 24 hours (with two small children). My quick pitch to students is dystopian world meets The Bachelor
  2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - In graduate school I did an author study and read several books by one author. Seeing how popular Speak was with my high school students, I selected Anderson and read Catalyst; Fever, 1793; Speak; Twisted; and Wintergirls. I have since read The Impossible Knife of Memory and Speak: The Graphic Novel and find Speak to be a young adult book that should be required reading. 
  3. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey - What can I say? I have a hard time not finishing a book, but this one scared me! I put it down, leaving it on my TBR list. About a month after I stopped reading, I had terrifying nightmares (aliens were attacking my house, and it was very vivid) and decided to bring The 5th Wave back to the library...I haven't been brave enough to try again. 
  4. Beezus and Ramona  by Beverly Cleary - I have great memories of reading Beverly Cleary books as a child and loved the Beezus/Ramona relationship. Having a little sister who is 5 years younger than me meant I felt a lot of the annoyances Beezus did too. 
  5.  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston - I read this "contemporary" classic in my AP class in high school. It was one of the first books we read that broke the "traditional classic" shell, and I still enjoy recommending this book to students for their enjoyment and literary criticism research. 
  6. George by Alex Gino - I read George this year in honor of banned books week, and I just wanted to reach through the pages and give her a hug. I hope my library is a welcoming environment for all students. I loved this one so much that I purchased it for our collection, even though it's technically an upper elementary/middle grade book. I think George is another book that everyone should read. 
Stay tuned for week 2! 

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Lies They Tell by Gillian French

French, Gillian. The Lies They Tell. HarperTeen, 2018. 978-1-524-71587-8. 352 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

From the Publisher: 

With shades of E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars and Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, this dark and twisted mystery will be the page-turner of the year.

Everyone in Tenney’s Harbor, Maine, knows about the Garrison tragedy. How an unexplained fire ravaged their house, killing four of the five family members. But what people don’t know is who did it. All fingers point at Pearl Haskins’s father, the town drunk, who was the caretaker of the property, but she just can’t believe it. Leave it to a town of rich people to blame “the help.”

With her disgraced father now trying to find work in between booze benders, Pearl’s future doesn’t hold much more than waiting tables at the local country club, where the wealthy come to flaunt their money and spread their gossip. This year, Tristan, the last surviving Garrison, and his group of affluent and arrogant friends have made a point of sitting in Pearl’s section. Though she’s repulsed by most of them, Tristan’s quiet sadness and somber demeanor have her rethinking her judgments. Befriending the boys could mean getting closer to the truth, clearing her father’s name, and giving Tristan the closure he seems to be searching for. But it could also trap Pearl in a sinister web of secrets, lies, and betrayals that, once untangled, will leave no life unchanged . . . if it doesn’t take hers first.

My Review: 


Ever since the unsolved arson that rocked their small Tenny's Harbor, ME town, Pearl and her father have struggled. Caretaker for the Garrison estate (and many other homes along "the row"), Pearl's father has been mostly out of work due to suspicions about his involvement and his reputation at the bar. Determined to clear her father's name, Pearl uses her job at the club to get in with the summer kids. Breaking through the layers of secrecy is easier said than done, but Pearl fights to become more than a local townie fling. Torn between loyalties to her dad, her friends, and solving the mystery of the Garrison murders, Pearl risks her own life to uncover the truth. Some truths are better left alone, and Pearl will have to decide if the truth is worth all she's risking. 

THOUGHTS: Hand this one to mystery fans and fans of We Were Liars. Readers will be drawn to the mystery and unable to put it down until they know if Pearl is successful at uncovering the truth or worse. 

What They Don't Know by Nicole Maggi

Maggi, Nicole. What They Don't Know. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018. 978-1-492-67265-4. 368 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

From the Publisher: 

Three secrets. One decision. A friendship that will change everything.

Mellie has always been the reliable friend, the good student, the doting daughter. But when an unspeakable act leads her to withdraw from everyone she loves, she is faced with a life-altering choice―a choice she must face alone.

Lise stands up―and speaks out―for what she believes in. And when she notices Mellie acting strangely, she gets caught up in trying to save her...all while trying to protect her own secret. One that might be the key to helping Mellie.

Told through Mellie and Lise's journal entries, this powerful, emotional novel chronicles Mellie's struggle to decide what is right for her and the unbreakable bond formed by the two girls on their journey.

My Review: 


I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. 

Mellie, the quiet, daughter of the ultra-conservative Christian mayor, begins her story with: "Dear Ms. Tilson, You probably think you know who I am, but I'm here to tell you that you don't. I used to be a bright star of a girl, but that girl burned out of existence, like a fire swept through my life and left nothing but ash and smoke...." Told through journal entries that her English teacher will never see, Mellie pours out her soul as she grapples with the life-altering decision she faces. Lise is outspoken, and she stands up for what she believes, which is one of the reasons Mellie's family decided they couldn't be friends many years ago. Now living two very different lives, each keeping her own secret, Mellie and Lise alternately share their secret struggles on the pages of their English journals. Lise can't help but notice Mellie is struggling, but is Mellie ready to let someone, especially Lise, help her. 

THOUGHTS: A fan of multi-narrator books, I loved both of these characters and was deeply invested in their stories. The struggles and pressures they feel will resonate with many readers. This is a must have for high school libraries where intense, emotional books are popular. Trigger warning: This book deals with a sexual assault that has taken place. 

George by Alex Gino

Gino, Alex. George. Scholastic Press, 2015. 978-0-545-81254-2. 195 p. $16.99. Gr. 4 and up.

From the Publisher: 

BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl.

George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part... because she's a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

My Review: 


George, like any sensitive person, becomes emotional when reading Charlotte's Web in her 4th grade class. When told they're going to have a performance, George is determined to earn the coveted part of Charlotte. To the world George may be seen as a boy, but she knows the world is wrong. George is a gear, and she's ready to show the world. With the help of her best friend Kelly, George feels openly accepted as herself and even becomes brave enough to be herself in front of others. While George's mother is slower to catch on, she still shows George love. 

THOUGHTS: This sweet upper-elementary or middle grade realistic fiction will appeal to a wide range of readers and approaches the topic of identity in a gentle, yet grade appropriate manner. Among one of the top ten challenged books in 2016 and 2017, George deserves to be in every library to help readers feel represented and to help students learn acceptance. 

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

Benway, Robin. Far from the Tree. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-062-33062-8. 374p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

From the Publisher: 

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

My Review: 


After giving up her baby for adoption, 16 year old Grace, who was adopted at birth, learns she is actually a middle child. Her older brother Joaquin and younger sister Maya even live relatively close, considering Grace never has known about them. When the three agree to meet and get to know each other, they still guard some secrets about themselves, their lives, or their family. Through multiple narratives, they get to know and trust each other and heal wounds both old and fresh. Beautifully written, Far from the Tree tackles many tough topics like teen pregnancy, adoption and the foster care system, homosexuality, alcoholism, and family dynamics. 

THOUGHTS: Initially drawn in by the cover and the premise of this book, I loved Far from the Tree. Readers will love and root for each character who experiences his or her own heartache in this compelling story. 

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West

West, Kasie. Love, Life, and the List. HarperTeen, 2017. 978-0-062-67577-4. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

From the Publisher: 

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being. But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

This is the first in a set of three standalone books with crossover characters.

My Review: 

Crushed and disappointed after being told her art "has no heart," Abby with input from her family and best friend Cooper, creates a list to help her take chances and prove her art is gallery worthy. The list forces Abby to take risks and experience new things, sometimes with a new perspective. As she finds herself emerging as an artist, Abby begins to re-evaluate her friendship and her life. Is completing the list possible, and will Abby get what she wants? Or will the new Abby have new aspirations? 

THOUGHTS: Kasie West books are essential to popular high school romance collections, but as one of my students put it, "They're no Sarah Dessen book." I enjoyed the characters and idea of this one but I also found it predictable. Purchase where realistic romance is in demand.