Great, engaging story of friendships, opening up to new things, and healing from old wounds. The artwork is excellent, and I found myself going back t...moreGreat, engaging story of friendships, opening up to new things, and healing from old wounds. The artwork is excellent, and I found myself going back to revisit all the shadows that follow the main character throughout the story. Fun read, with a strong message - I'll be passing this one along to my daughter next. (less)
“Maybe we only tell our scary secrets when we have no choice.”
Piddy Sanchez lives with her mother, in a broken-down apartment in Queens. She’s happy w...more“Maybe we only tell our scary secrets when we have no choice.”
Piddy Sanchez lives with her mother, in a broken-down apartment in Queens. She’s happy with her school, but once her mother decides to finally move them to another building in town, her life takes a turn for the worse. At Daniel Jones High School, she doesn’t know anyone, and through no fault of her own, one of the roughest kids in the school, Yaqui Delgado, decides she doesn’t like Piddy. When Yaqui and her friends jump and beat Piddy on her street, not only is Piddy battered and scarred, but video of the beating appears online. Piddy begins to skip school, hoping to not only avoid Yaqui, but to avoid any semblance of her old life. It’s only when she is forced to open up to an old family friend, that she can begin to make any changes to her situation.
This is certainly a powerful book about bullying, but it’s also a tale of family and friendship. We learn much about Piddy’s mother, her past with Piddy’s absent father, and Piddy’s relationships with friends from both her old and new schools. For me, though, the emotional investment wasn’t quite there, although the depiction of school culture is perfectly drawn. Good book for younger readers as well as older. (less)
"They all have their secrets, I thought. Each person's real life is a mystery.
The fireworks exploded, commemorating a war for independence, while all...more"They all have their secrets, I thought. Each person's real life is a mystery.
The fireworks exploded, commemorating a war for independence, while all around me people fought their private battles. Even the Mean Boys. Sister versus brother, friend versus friend, son versus father ... they all had private battles that no one understood except for them.
I wanted to understand. But the more I spied, the more mystery I uncovered. I'd never know the whole story. There was so much I couldn't guess."
It's summer vacation, and Minty and her best friend Paz want to have as much fun as they can. They'll be entering middle school next year, and Minty is afraid that with that, everything may change. Their dream has always been to join a roller derby team, but as Paz starts hanging out with some older girls, she begins to act differently around Minty. In addition, strange things are happening around the neighborhood. When Minty catches someone spying on her from the nearby woods, she gives chase, and comes face to face with Raymond, a boy her age, who claims to live in a still-under-construction home on the other side of the woods. Minty and Raymond also find the tree in the woods: the Secret Tree, one with a ghost inside it, who can make all the secrets placed in the tree disappear. Minty and Raymond begin to find the secrets piling up inside the tree, and take it upon themselves to uncover who they belong to. As they spy on neighbors and family members, they not only discover the secrets' owners, but they learn other things they never anticipated.
I've loved Natalie Standiford's books for older readers, and was interested to see what she would do with a MG book. This is an incredibly sweet, touching look at childhood, and how changes, both immediate and gradual, can affect friendships. Minty's voice has an innocence and earnestness, and doesn't want to rush into growing up too quickly. The way she and Raymond use the secrets isn't malicious at all - they honestly want to help the people around them. Standiford uses humor well throughout the book, balancing out some of the more serious themes. An excellent story about how complicated childhood can be; I'm looking forward to passing it along to my daughter. (less)
"It's Friday afternoon, last period. Gym. Ms. Warner and I have done our Friday high five. We do it every week, because I hate school and she hates wo...more"It's Friday afternoon, last period. Gym. Ms. Warner and I have done our Friday high five. We do it every week, because I hate school and she hates work, and we both live for Friday.
We're playing volleyball, with an exclamation point. Ms. Warner has written it on the whiteboard outside the gym doors: Volleyball!
The combination of seeing that word and breathing the smell of the first floor, which is the smell of the cafeteria after lunch, creates some kind of echo in my head, like a faraway shout.
In the morning, the cafeteria smells fried and sweet, like fish sticks and cookies. But after lunch, it's different. There's more kid sweat and garbage mixed in, I guess. Or maybe it's just that, after lunch, the cafeteria doesn't have the smell of things to come. It's the smell of what has been."
Georges (the "G" is silent) is in seventh grade, and his family has just moved from their house in Brooklyn to a nearby apartment, because his father lost his job. He misses his old house, his former best friend who now ignores him at school, and his mom, who's away every night at the hospital, where she works double shifts. But then Georges meets Safer and Candy - brother and sister who live a few floors up; they're homeschooled, Safer is a self-proclaimed spy, and he immediately introduces Georges to the high level of intrigue that exists in their apartment building. If Safer is a loner at home, then Georges is a loner at school, where he's dreading the soon-to-come Science Unit of Destiny, which may solidify his standing as the biggest outcast in the school. But as he finds a tribe of his own at school, things begin to intensify at home: Safer's spy games escalate, and reveal a secret about Safer - a secret that brings Georges's own secret bubbling to the surface.
Rebecca Stead is incredible. She creates distinctly unique and three-dimensional characters, in distinctly New York settings. You can hear the traffic on the streets while reading her books, and the little details about urban living - sticky door locks, corner grocery stores, lobby intercoms - ring true, and become integral parts of the story themselves. And her stories . . . man. Her plots have been compared to onions (peeling back layers, etc.), and while that works, this novel provides what I think is the best analogy to her plot structure. Georges is named after the French artist Georges Seurat, and the family has a print from the pointillist painter hanging above their couch. The idea of composing a canvas through small dots of color, which make a complete picture when viewed from afar, works perfectly for this novel, as well as Stead's earlier When You Reach Me. Stead leaves little dots of detail scattered throughout the text, and it's only upon finishing do they all form the complete picture of what's been going on in the life of Georges, his family and friends. This is an outstanding novel about the lie children and adults concoct, in order to entertain, deceive, or just make it to the end of another day. (less)
Still just as outstanding on a reread. Funny, fast read, with great artwork, and a strong message.
Raina Telgemeir, whose SMILE was such a fantastic mi...moreStill just as outstanding on a reread. Funny, fast read, with great artwork, and a strong message.
Raina Telgemeir, whose SMILE was such a fantastic middle-grade memoir, returns to the middle school hallways with this graphic novel. Callie, a 7th grade theater geek and stage techie, is in charge of set design for her school’s spring musical, MOON OVER MISSISSIPPI. Callie’s comfortable in her role in the crew (she learned long ago that her voice would never win her a leading role), and she loves working with her fellow backstagers, but when she meets Justin and Jesse, twin 8th graders with similar theatre interests, her life becomes more complicated. Add that to the stress of putting the show together in time, getting the cannon prop to fire effectively, and sell enough tickets for the performances, and it’s easy to see how Callie could get overwhelmed.
This is a fun, well-paced, sensitive book, that deals with the vital backstage activities that make up any successful theatre production: middle school, Broadway, and every stage in between. Callie is presented as a 7th grader with self-awareness, who still must deal with all the complications that come with mercurial middle school friendships and crushes. Telgemeir’s lines and coloring fit perfectly for a middle school-themed work (simple figures, lots of brights). And while most of the scenes are realistically drawn, the sequence in which Callie and Jesse imagine themselves inside a theatrical set-design book, and in early 20th-century stage productions, is beautifully original, and a nice break from the drama.
I’m most impressed, though, with the thoughtful way the issue of homosexuality is addressed – it’s probably the element within the book that receives the least amount of fanfare and drama, but it’s still presented to Callie and readers in a straight-forward fashion, one that young readers will be able to understand and appreciate. That was a very welcome surprise in this novel, and one that elevates it far above the usual school-angst tale.(less)
"He shakes his head, and we're quiet for a while. But it isn't our usual comfortable quiet. I know the word...more**spoiler alert** Amazing. Review to come.
"He shakes his head, and we're quiet for a while. But it isn't our usual comfortable quiet. I know the words I need to say aren't the kind we can share without speaking.
'Holden?' I finally say. 'Why do you sit at the back of the bus if those jerks do that to you?'
He rubs out the design he was making in the needles with his fingers. 'It's complicated.'
'I'm not Charlie.'
He shakes his head and leans back against the tree trunk, closing his eyes.
'Why do they hurt you?' I ask, leaning next to him.
He's quiet for a long time, then he finally sits up again and puts his back to me. His shirt is covered with needles and pieces of bark.
'I think you know,' he says."
Fern is starting middle school, and with that comes all the attendant drama and anxiety. However, Fern's life is further complicated by her family, and more specifically the family business. Fern is the 3rd of 4 children, and the youngest, three year-old Charlie, seems to be all anyone can talk about. Her parents own a restaurant, and her father is always coming up with new schemes to expand business, which usually seem to embarrass Fern and her siblings. Sarah, the oldest, is taking a year off after high school, and is working at the restaurant, and fooling around with one of the busboys. Holden, Fern's older brother, is in high school, and coming to grips with his own identity, as he begins to date an older boy. Most of the time, Fern feels overlooked and forgotten in the midst of everything else. When her family is hit with tragedy, though, she needs to come to grips with her own feelings of insecurity and guilt, so that she can help the rest of her family cope.
I'll read anything Jo Knowles writes, without hesitation, and this one did surprise me. I went into it expecting it to be a good coming-of-age middle school novel, and it certainly is that, but also much, much more. The themes of bullying, sexual identity, and coping with overwhelming grief are powerfully and expertly developed, and Knowles never loses sight on the family as a whole, and how their unity and love is tested and confirmed. Each character speaks very clearly in this novel, which is hard to do with so many characters sharing page time. This is a tremendous book, with a lot to offer readers. Easily teachable, I would hope people would want this one in the hands of as many young readers as they can reach. (less)
This book doesn't lose its beauty or heart for me, no matter how many times I read it. It still gets me, every time.
* Old review:
"'How did you get to...moreThis book doesn't lose its beauty or heart for me, no matter how many times I read it. It still gets me, every time.
* Old review:
"'How did you get to be so smart?'
I shrug. 'I'm really working hard on finesse.'
Then he takes my hands in his and I don't even pull them away because he is looking at my cuts closely and I would want to do that too if I saw cuts on somebody's hands so I let him look.
'Do you still really want to do this?'
I don't know if he means to keep cutting the oak tree or work on the chest but I say, 'Yes,' just in case he means the chest.
'You think this will bring us Closure?'
I shake my head. 'No. I know it will.'
He blows a little air out of his nose and nods. He lets go of my hands and does one more big sigh. 'Maybe we can make something good and strong and beautiful come out of this.'
Good and strong and beautiful. I like those words. They sound like Devon. I want to build something good and strong and beautiful."
I'm surprised that I never wrote a review for this before, but apparently I read it last summer, when I was away from Goodreads, so consider this a catch-up. This novel is told from the perspective of Caitlin, a 5th grader with Asperger's, who has just lost her older brother to a random school shooting. In addition, her mother has died of cancer years before, so now it's just her and her father in the house, and her father is taking the loss extremely hard. Caitlin, however, is struggling to understand the changes that have suddenly taken place in her life, and in addition to having to make it through each day with her condition, she now also has to face the prospect of life without Devon, the only other person who truly understood her, and who made it possible for her to face the world. With the help of a school counselor, some new friends, and her father, Caitlin attempts to find Closure to the events that took Devon out of her life.
I love the narrative voice in this novel, respect the way Erskine treats a character with Asperger's, and appreciate the fact that the book makes me cry. Every time. I think this is a gorgeous book, that does tug at the heartstrings, but with the situations Caitlin is in, it's hard not to have moments like that. There are tremendous lessons in this novel, about empathy, friendships, and generally dealing with people who are different than us. It would be a fantastic novel to teach, and not just for the lessons about disabilities. Larger lessons can easily be drawn from this one. It's a fantastic book, and one of my favorites that I put on my YA syllabus for this semester. I just hope the rest of the class liked it, also. (less)
"Mom's celebrity looks determined. Mom looks scared. Dick Clark is smiling. He's the only one who looks relaxed. He's chatting with Mom for a minute,...more"Mom's celebrity looks determined. Mom looks scared. Dick Clark is smiling. He's the only one who looks relaxed. He's chatting with Mom for a minute, and I know Mom is trying to focus, to lift a corner of her veil so that she'll be able to see the big things. So she can see the thread.
Dick Clark is still talking, and I realize: we never practiced the chatting. I am suddenly afraid. I am hearing the ocean. How can Mom lift her veil and see the magic thread with Dick Clark talking to her about her stupid job? I focus on Mom and try to help her concentrate. Louisa is getting nervous again, and she starts whispering about Dick Clark, 'He doesn't age, I tell you. Dick Clark simply does not age. It's amazing.' I'm chanting to myself, 'Magic thread, magic thread,' and I'm staring at Mom so hard that my eyes are almost aching.
Finally, Dick Clark is done chatting. 'Here is your first subject,' he says. 'Go.'
Then the strangest thing happens."
I love this book, so much. I cannot think of any reason why I wouldn't continue to put it on a YA syllabus. It continues to wow me, every time I read it. My daughter has recently read A WRINKLE IN TIME for 5th grade, and I'm handing her my copy of this novel next.
Original Review (2009):
This was a book that had been hyped so much online, but I really didn't expect to like it as much as I did. And frankly, I loved this book; it's one of the best I've read recently. On one level, it's an outstanding middle grade novel about friendships: how they evolve and dissolve as we grow older. Miranda loses her best childhood friend, Sal, after he gets beaten up on the way back to their NYC apartment building one day. Sal simply retreats into himself, and Miranda is forced to move outside her little world for the first time. On another level, the book provides a great examination of class structures, as Miranda comes to realize the limited resources of her own family, in comparison to the bigger living spaces and situations of some of her friends. Finally, this is an excellent mystery, as Miranda begins to receive strange notes, which ask her to write down her story of what happened (what exactly, she's not sure), in order to save the life of one of her friends (and she's not sure who is to be saved, how, or when). Stead weaves some elements of fantasy, such as time travel, into the book, but it all feels so natural to the story and structure she sets up. Fans of A Wrinkle in Time will also recognize parallels to that classic, as it's Miranda's favorite book.
Truly, this is a book that you'll want to read again immediately upon finishing it, and then you'll want to pass it to a friend, so you have someone else to talk about it with. I would expect to see this title on many "best of" lists at the end of the year, including the Newbery Award.(less)