Monday, March 4, 2019

Salt in My Soul by Mallory Smith

Smith, Mallory. Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life. Spiegel & Grau, 2019. 978-1-984-85542-8. 288 p. $26.00. Gr. 9 and up.

From the Publisher: 

The diaries of a remarkable young woman who was determined to live a meaningful and happy life despite her struggle with cystic fibrosis and a rare superbug--from age fifteen to her death at the age of twenty-five.

Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of three, Mallory Smith grew up to be a determined, talented young woman who inspired others even as she privately raged against her illness. Despite the daily challenges of endless medical treatments and a deep understanding that she'd never lead a normal life, Mallory was determined to "live happy," a mantra she followed until her death. Mallory worked hard to make the most out of the limited time she had, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University, becoming a cystic fibrosis advocate well-known in the CF community, and embarking on a career as a professional writer. Along the way, she cultivated countless intimate friendships and ultimately found love.

An eloquent writer, Mallory recorded her thoughts and observations for more than ten years about struggles and feelings too personal to share during her life, leaving instructions for her mother to publish her work posthumously. She hoped that her writing would offer insight to those living with, or loving someone with, chronic illness.

What emerges is a powerful and inspiring portrait of a brave young woman who did not allow herself to be defined by disease. Her words offer comfort and hope to readers, even as she herself was facing death. Salt in My Soul is a beautifully crafted, intimate, and poignant tribute to a short life well lived--and a call for all of us to embrace our own lives as fully as possible.

My Review: 


     


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

Immensely positive and determined to live her best life, even in the face of cystic fibrosis and rare bacteria B. cenocepacia, Mallory Smith is a girl everyone loved. From the beginning readers know Mallory tragically dies young; however, it is how she lived her life that will inspire readers. Her "live happy" mantra carries her through frustrating hospital stays and discharges and helps her remain focused on really living. In reading Mallory's most personal thoughts, readers are given a glimpse into the life of someone who struggles with a chronic illness, though not always visible on the outside. 

THOUGHTS: Pair this nonfiction text with the fiction Five Feet Apart which will be even more popular with the March 2019 movie release. Excellent addition for high school nonfiction collections where memoirs and medical stories are popular. 

You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman

Silverman, Laura. You Asked for Perfect. Sourcebooks Fire, 2019. 978-1-492-65827-6. 288 p. $10.99. Gr. 9 and up.

From the Publisher: 

Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. He works hard - really hard - to make his life look effortless. A failed Calculus quiz is not part of that plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.

Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options.

Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.
My Review: 


     


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

Seemingly perfect senior Ariel Stone has everything going for him. He's a great student, musician, and his college application couldn't be more well-rounded, especially since he's expected to be valedictorian. When Ariel earns a 5/10 on his first Calculus quiz and there's no opportunity for redemption, Ariel's careful facade begins to crumble. Accepting help means he's not as perfect as everyone, especially himself, thinks. With a Harvard interview to prepare for, and his top spot on the line, though, Ariel doesn't have much choice. He finds he was wrong about Amir, who is actually nice to be around, and Amir is really great at Calculus. Among a long list of obligations, one more might just be enough to break Ariel. 

THOUGHTS: This should be required reading for every high school student. The internal and external pressures on students to be perfect, to achieve the top rank, to go to the best school is unfortunate. I see many students so stressed that they don't allow themselves room to breathe and relax. Highly recommended for high school collections. 

Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen

Jensen, Cordelia. Skyscraping. Philomel Books, 2015. 978-0-399-16771-3. 352 p. Gr. 9 and up.

From the Publisher: 

A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgiveness

Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he's kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family's fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time. 


Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.
 

My Review: 


     


All of high school senior Mira's plans and dreams slip out of her grasp when she walks in on her father with his male lover. Overwhelming feelings of betrayal dominate Mira's life, and she can't comprehend how her mother and sister can forgive so easily. As more details emerge about her father's deceit, Mira feels farther away from her family - from everything she's ever known - than ever. Struggling between her father's deception and her lifelong adoration of him, will Mira be able to move on, and will it be in time to help her family - and herself - cope with her father's HIV diagnosis? 

THOUGHTS: Told in beautiful free verse, Mira's story is raw and compelling. Mature in content, high school readers will be desperate to learn if Mira forgives her father and gets herself back on track. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott

Lippincott, Rachel. Five Feet Apart. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-534-43733-3. 288 p. $18.99. Gr. 7 and up.

From the Publisher: 

Soon to be a major motion picture in March 2019!

In this moving story that’s perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, two teens fall in love with just one minor complication—they can’t get within five feet of each other without risking their lives.

Can you love someone you can never touch?

Stella Grant likes to be in control—even though her totally out of control lungs have sent her in and out of the hospital most of her life. At this point, what Stella needs to control most is keeping herself away from anyone or anything that might pass along an infection and jeopardize the possibility of a lung transplant. Six feet apart. No exceptions.

The only thing Will Newman wants to be in control of is getting out of this hospital. He couldn’t care less about his treatments, or a fancy new clinical drug trial. Soon, he’ll turn eighteen and then he’ll be able to unplug all these machines and actually go see the world, not just its hospitals.

Will’s exactly what Stella needs to stay away from. If he so much as breathes on Stella she could lose her spot on the transplant list. Either one of them could die. The only way to stay alive is to stay apart. But suddenly six feet doesn’t feel like safety. It feels like punishment.

What if they could steal back just a little bit of the space their broken lungs have stolen from them? Would five feet apart really be so dangerous if it stops their hearts from breaking too?

My Review: 


     


Stella is meticulous about managing her cystic fibrosis. Her med cart is impeccable, her treatment routines are precise, and Stella is a rule follower. Combined, this ensures Stella lives. Enter Will. Resentful of the myriad hospitals and fancy trials around the world that his mother has gotten him into, Will just wants to live. Initially drawn together to fix the other's flaw (Stella to help Will see the importance of treatment, and Will to help Stella see the importance of actually living), opposites attract in this sweet romance. Life for these two never really leaves the hospital grounds, and when it does catastrophe can strike. For Will, the sterile air inside no longer seems so limiting, while Stella begins to dream bigger than she thought she could. Where can they really go, though, when they have to be five feet apart. 

THOUGHTS: Though serious in its discussion of a progressive, genetic disease, this sweet romance will appeal to a variety of middle and high school readers. A must-purchase where romance novels are popular. The movie in spring 2019 will also draw in additional readers. 

I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall

Marshall, Kate Alice. I Am Still Alive. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-425-29098-9. 314 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.


From the Publisher: 

Cheryl Strayed's Wild meets The Revenant in this heart-pounding story of survival and revenge in the unforgiving wilderness.

After Jess is alone. Her cabin has burned to the ground. She knows if she doesn't act fast, the cold will kill her before she has time to worry about food. But she is still alive--for now.

Before
Jess hadn't seen her survivalist, off-the-grid dad in over a decade. But after a car crash killed her mother and left her injured, she was forced to move to his cabin in the remote Canadian wilderness. Just as Jess was beginning to get to know him, a secret from his past paid them a visit, leaving her father dead and Jess stranded.

After
With only her father's dog for company, Jess must forage and hunt for food, build shelter, and keep herself warm. Some days it feels like the wild is out to destroy her, but she's stronger than she ever imagined.

Jess will survive. She has to. She knows who killed her father...and she wants revenge.
 

My Review: 




I listened to the audiobook version of this title via my public library. 

Surviving the accident that claimed her mother's life and left her injured and scarred, Jess has to come to terms with her grief and accept her new life. With her father absent for most of her life, Jess thinks she'll be left to finish high school with a friend or a foster family. Instead, she's shipped off to the Canadian wilderness
 to live with her father. Only reachable by sea plane and forced to live with a father she doesn't know, Jess is angry about her situation. As she adapts to the intense physical requirements of her new home, Jess begins to get to know her father. His secrets and mysterious absence from her life catch up to him though, and Jess must learn how to survive truly on her own. 

THOUGHTS: 
Though primarily about survival, this novel is so much more. Told in brief before and after chapters, survivor's guilt, grief, loneliness, action, and adventure all take their turn in this fast-paced "will she make it" novel. 

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Krosoczka, Jarrett K. Hey, Kiddo. Graphix, 2018. 978-0-545-90247-2. 320 p. $24.99. Gr. 9 and up.


From the Publisher: 

In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father is a mystery -- Jarrett doesn't know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents -- two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.

Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what's going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father.

Hey, Kiddo is a profoundly important memoir about growing up in a family grappling with addiction, and finding the art that helps you survive.

My Review: 


     


Full of heart and heartbreak, this biographical graphic memoir tells the author's story of growing up in a family of addition. Taken from his mother at a young age, Jarrett "Ja" Krosoczka is raised by his grandparents (who struggle with addition issues of their own). Seeing his mother sporadically throughout his life leaves Jarrett full of unanswered questions about who he is. Jarrett's only solace is in his art, and his grandparents recognize and encourage this through his life by ensuring Jarrett is enrolled in a variety of art courses and camps. This love is demonstrated even more by the inclusion of original art and letters spanning Jarrett's life. 

THOUGHTS: Hand this one to readers looking to be inspired by one man's struggle to overcome his situation. Krosoczka's honesty will change the way readers define family and view addiction. A National Book Award Finalist, this graphic memoir is a must-have for high schools. Middle school libraries should preview due to language and mature situations. 

Friday, February 1, 2019

Sam and Ilsa's Last Hurrah by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Cohn, Rachel, and David Levithan. Sam and Ilsa's Last Hurrah. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-0-399-55384-4. 211 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.


From the Publisher: 

Siblings Sam and Ilsa Kehlmann have spent most of their high school years throwing parties for their friends—and now they’ve prepared their final blowout, just before graduation.

The rules are simple: each twin gets to invite three guests, and the other twin doesn’t know who’s coming until the partiers show up at the door. With Sam and Ilsa, the sibling revelry is always tempered with a large dose of sibling rivalry, and tonight is no exception.

One night. One apartment. Eight people. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, we all know the answer is plenty. But plenty also goes right, as well…in rather surprising ways.


My Review: 




Though they've lived the same wealthy lifestyle, twins Sam and Ilsa could not be more different. 

Known for their lavish parties, Sam and Ilsa are ready to host the best party yet and celebrate the end - of high school, of their grandmother's Manhattan apartment, and of not being who they are meant to be (though they don't yet realize this). Told in alternating voices, this duo has a lot to learn about themselves and about each other. 

THOUGHTS: The lifestyle of these siblings (and lack of adult supervision) struck me as somewhat unrealistic. Then again, I've always lived the small town life. An additional high school purchase where multi-narrative books are popular. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

Varnes, Allison. Property of the Rebel Librarian. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2018. 978-1-524-77147-8. 275 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-6 and up.

From the Publisher: 

When twelve-year-old June Harper's parents discover what they deem an inappropriate library book, they take strict parenting to a whole new level. And everything June loves about Dogwood Middle School unravels: librarian Ms. Bradshaw is suspended, an author appearance is canceled, the library is gutted, and all books on the premises must have administrative approval.

But June can't give up books . . . and she realizes she doesn't have to when she spies a Little Free Library on her walk to school. As the rules become stricter at school and at home, June keeps turning the pages of the banned books that continue to appear in the little library. It's a delicious secret . . . and one she can't keep to herself. June starts a banned book library of her own in an abandoned locker at school. The risks grow alongside her library's popularity, and a movement begins at Dogwood Middle--a movement that, if exposed, could destroy her. But if it's powerful enough, maybe it can save Ms. Bradshaw and all that she represents: the freedom to read.

Equal parts fun and empowering, this novel explores censorship, freedom of speech, and activism. For any kid who doesn’t believe one person can effect change…and for all the kids who already know they can!
 

My Review: 


     


I listened to the audiobook version of this adorable middle grade read via my public library. June is a reader; the library is her sanctuary, and librarian Ms. Bradshaw is her idol. When June's parents discover her reading an "inappropriate book," they go a little overboard. Taking drastic measures to ensure their daughter is not manipulated by such unacceptable content, her parents (and other parents in their parent organization) convince the school to place the Ms. Bradshaw on leave and close the school library until the entire collection can be reevaluated. Heartbroken by this transgression (are books really that bad?), June hides what little books remain after her parents clear the shelves in her bedroom. Taking the long way to school (because she has free time now that she's not in the library), June stumbles across a Little Free Library and what follows can only be described as a librarian being born. Suddenly, rule following June is loaning books out on the black market, making new friends, and taking risks she never imagined. 

THOUGHTS: Cute and quirky, hand this one to your readers. Classes can create a list of books that June obtains, talks about, or requests she fills. Discussions can follow about what books students would break the rules to read.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

Mills, Emma. Famous in a Small Town. Henry Holt and Co., 2019. 978-1-250-17963-0. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.


From the Publisher: 

For Sophie, small-town life has never felt small. She has the Yum Yum Shoppe, with its famous fourteen flavors of ice cream; her beloved marching band, the pride and joy of Acadia High (even if the football team disagrees); and her four best friends, loving and infuriating, wonderfully weird and all she could ever ask for.

Then August moves in next door. A quiet guy with a magnetic smile, August seems determined to keep everyone at arm's length. Sophie in particular.

Country stars, revenge plots, and a few fake kisses (along with some excellent real ones) await Sophie in this hilarious, heartfelt story.
 

My Review: 




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

Sophie loves everything about her small town and is a proud member of the Marching Pride of Acadia which has been invited to march in the Rose Bowl Parade. Amidst a summer of fundraising for the trip, spending time with her best friends, volunteering at the library, and babysitting the neighbor kids, Sophie meets August. Even though August doesn't know who Megan Pleasant is (Acadia's claim to fame when she made it big after being on America's Next Country Star), Sophie works to convince August of Acadia's appeal. Still, her friends aren't sure August deserves to be added to their WWYSE (where would you spend eternity) text thread. Alternating between the last summer before senior year and a text thread with her sister (who doesn't come home from college for the summer), Sophie's story unfolds. 

THOUGHTS: Much more than the slow burning romance this book seems, friendship and mystery take center stage among the banter of friends. A must purchase for high school fans of realistic, character-driven romances.