Seventh grader Matt Pin is a child of war. Airlifted out of Vietnam by American soldiers and adopted by a loving American family, he carries within hi...moreSeventh grader Matt Pin is a child of war. Airlifted out of Vietnam by American soldiers and adopted by a loving American family, he carries within him inescapable visions of chaos: “the smell and the smoke and the sound of someone crying,” his mother’s “thin, shrill staccato” voice when she urged him away from her to safety “through sounds of whirring helicopters and open prayers,” and his 3 yr. old brother’s burned, dismembered body.
At the center of these visions is a dark secret, one Matt keeps tightly wound up inside.
Luckily, he has baseball. When his “new” father introduces him to the sport, they discover Matt’s talent for pitching unhittable sliders. Against all odds, Matt makes the middle school team – led by a tough, fair-minded coach who rejects prejudice – and his first time on the mound he pitches a perfect game.
He also has piano. “When I play the piano, I’m sheltered in that safe place where the only thing that matters is music.” His teacher, Jeff, a virtuoso who gave up a prestigious musical school to serve as a medic in the war, knows something about the darkness Matt carries inside (”Jeff’s Vietnam is my Vietnam, the Vietnam nobody talks about on Saturday mornings”) and encourages Matt to talk.
Above all, Matt has his new family. His mother sings to him when he awakens screaming at night (You are safe, my precious child. You are safe now, you are home) and his proud father stands quietly by at all his games. But, falling in love with a new family begs all sorts of questions that add their own pressure: How can I love two families at once? How could my mother give me away if she really loved me? Will my new family give me away if I’m not perfect? Did anyone here spray Agent Orange on the people I loved? Only through a series of simple, yet powerful encounters with a racist teammate and a group of war-wounded vets (not to mention remarkable support from the adults in his life) does Matt finally find some sweet, much needed relief.
All the Broken Pieces is an exceptionally beautiful novel that captures the physical and emotional wreckage left in the wake of the Vietnam War. Written in free verse form, the novel moves at a quick pace through sharp, disarmingly poetic fragments that fit Matt’s intense feelings of confusion. Everyone in this story has been disfigured in some way by the war. But, remarkably, many of the characters also reveal their persistent good hearts and act out of love towards one another in quiet, unexpected ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one wins the Newbery. Gr 6 and up. (less)
Mau thought he was paddling his dugout canoe home to his small island to be greeted by the elders eager to celebrate his “passage into manhood.” But a...moreMau thought he was paddling his dugout canoe home to his small island to be greeted by the elders eager to celebrate his “passage into manhood.” But a tidal wave ravages his island, located somewhere in the South Pacific, and Mau returns home only to find dead bodies, his entire family gone. But wait - he is caught off guard when ”trousergirl” Daphne (an English girl), whose ship was deposited on the island by the wave, suddenly appears before him. Then a pregnant woman, and next a woman with a baby. Still others make their way to the island, and Mau has to help, because if he doesn’t, who else will?
Imagine desperate Mau wrangling milk from a mother pig to feed a human baby. And “demon boy” Mau wrestling with the gods, and barely escaping a shark attack. The survivors reinvent civilization, exploring language, religion, and science as they struggle to survive. Deeply philosophical and laugh-out-loud funny, the inimitable Terry Pratchett has crafted an original, masterful tale, reminiscent of Robinson Crusoe and Lord of the Flies, and with all the nail-biting tension of The Hunger Games and Lost.(less)
Physical Condition: I was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5 (for more details, read Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, but that book is mostly about my brother Stephen and how hard it was for him when he was in eighth grade for me to have cancer, FYI). My cancer is in remission, but, like I say in this new book that’s out about my eighth grade year, After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick, “Treatment is nothing compared to what happens after you’ve been ‘cured.’ . . . Being a cancer survivor can be a life sentence all its own.” Because of all the intense radiation and chemotherapy I received, I walk with a limp on my right side and have some neurological damage that basically makes me “a little scrambled up” and I can’t focus in class for any period of time. So if you want me to figure out math, or be some sort of math genius like my dad, the accountant, well, you can forget about it.
Oh, yeah: I’m short, chubby, and I wear glasses. Do those count as conditions?
Interests: My girlfriend, Lindsay. (WHOA, IT’S WEIRD TO WRITE THAT! Seriously, who would have thought a girl, let alone Lindsay, the coolest, most down-to-Earth, and hottest girl in the school, would ever like me!?! Did I mention I’m spacey and chubby with a limp? You could call me Chubby Limp! Why would Lindsay go for a kid named Chubby Limp? Shrug, but it’s pretty cool.
Oh, yeah, I love riding my bike: “I can’t walk too well, but when I’m on my bike, I fly.”
Hero: My brother, Stephen. Stephen is currently wandering Africa banging on some hand drums “to find himself” while I suffer through 8th grade, the second worst year of my life. I used to depend on Stephen for everything, but now that I might not pass the eighth grade because of some stupid state test in math (Mom and Dad don’t know about this because I, er, shoved the letter from the school about the tests down the garbage disposal) and a girl actually likes me for the first time in my life (seriously, holy crap) where is he? AFRICA!
I wish I could only be angry at him, but truth is, I really miss him.
Inspiration: Um, if you ever tell him this I’ll ride my bike off a pier, but my inspiration is my friend Tad who’s also a cancer survivor. Tad’s also got a whole bunch of messed up problems from his treatment, (his leukemia was even worse than mine, so he’s in a wheelchair and has brain damage, which may or may not be the cause of a serious bitterness problem), but we’re trying to help each other live life to the fullest (and pass eighth grade) which means I have to put up with him while he tutors me in math and he has to put up with me yelling at him to try harder on the exercise bike during gym class because I want to see him walk across the stage at graduation. That’s right, Tad: walk. Together we’re gonna make our goals for each other happen. Read After Ever After to see how we do.(less)
This short, spare book is a beautiful portrait of a young, 16 year old father named Bobby living in New York and the struggles he faces as he tries to...moreThis short, spare book is a beautiful portrait of a young, 16 year old father named Bobby living in New York and the struggles he faces as he tries to be a good parent to his baby while surviving high school. Angela Johnson wastes no words in this simply told story. She alternates chapters depicting the struggles shared by Bobby and his girlfriend Nia during pregnancy ("Then") and life after the baby is born ("Now"), in which Nia is mysteriously absent. Johnson starkly captures how now, with the huge responsibility of caring for a child on his hands, Bobby stands apart from his former life - he must set aside the life he'd planned out for himself, set aside the carefree times he used to share with his friends, and truly grow up by caring for another. Bobby does this all remarkably, but the pressure gets to him. One memorable scene depicts Bobby cutting school one day and, almost in a timeless, dreamlike state, blowing off steam by painting a giant graffiti mural in an alley. It's a beautifully written segment in the book that captures just how much weight Bobby carries with him. He's a good kid and the learning curve is steep, but where his missteps in his former life might have been irritating to those around him, now they have serious implications because of the helpless being who so depends on him. What's most remarkable, in the end, is the love Bobby feels for his baby daughter, how, despite all the hardships, that love always wins out in his heart. That love teaches him that whatever he may have lost from his old life, he has gained something more meaningful, more essential than anything that came before. Anyone can be a halfway decent artist, but few can be a great father. Bobby is well on his way. This one had me in tears and I read it in one sitting.(less)
What would it be like to lose yourself in a foreign country only to realize you had lost others, too? This graphic novel is honest, heartbreaking and...moreWhat would it be like to lose yourself in a foreign country only to realize you had lost others, too? This graphic novel is honest, heartbreaking and terrible. I am not sure if it is all true or not--- but it is amazing and you won't believe it! Soooooo good!(less)
The instant Bobby sees the abandoned Skoda(car) in the driveway, he starts formulating a plan. It was his ma’s decision, not his, to leave Dublin; awa...moreThe instant Bobby sees the abandoned Skoda(car) in the driveway, he starts formulating a plan. It was his ma’s decision, not his, to leave Dublin; away from his friends that maybe aren’t the best influence, away from ma’s own set of problems. Well, she may have moved them down to Ennis, but he would get back to Dublin. In Dublin, there’s his cousin Fluke, Psycho Mick, and Beetle; his gang. They steal cars and wallets, and use the proceeds to get high.
It’s too quiet out in the country, and there’s nothing to do. There’s always something to do in Dublin; a car ‘to borrow’ and take for a ride, something, anything. PJ Dooley, the man who owns the cottage they’re renting seems decent enough, if not a little bit too trusting.
His mother, Mrs. Dooley pays them a welcoming visit. Along with the eggs, she brings the story of the only child to have lived in their cottage, a little girl; a little girl who was never allowed outdoors, and was never seen by anyone except her parents and a nurse. This is the same child, whose cries would wake Mrs. Dooley and cut her to the bone with the pain in them. To make the visit stranger still, as she leaves, Mrs. Dooley tells them to be sure to put out the little green bowl full of milk each night for the fairies. To city folk like Bobby and his mum, this seems ridiculous, but his little brother Dennis is happy to play along.
The idyllic country scene is shaken like an Etch a Sketch when Bobby steals the Skoda and high tails it back to Dublin. Things don’t go as planned. Bobby ends up being hauled into a police station after Mick crashes the car. Smooth talking and a bit of finger pointing get him off the hook, and a ride back to Ennis. This is where things change.
Lars, the Skoda’s owner may have mysteriously disappeared, but he’s not forgotten. PJ Dooley is determined to have Bobby work off the value of the car, in order that he should be able to send it to Lars’s mother.
Remember the bowl of milk to be left out for the fairies? Dennis, Bobby’s little brother does. Bobby is woken up night after night by the sound of Dennis down in the kitchen, chattering away to someone. Dennis says he’s talking to the little woman.
As the story progresses two things are clear: hard work is good for Bobby, and there’s a mysterious force at work. As you turn the pages, you can feel it tightening around your chest. Something is going to give; the picturesque scene can’t and won’t stay as is. Will it be Psycho Mick, the creditors, or someone else from their past in Dublin? Maybe the girl who lived in their house; Bobby heard a disturbing story about her. Or what about that ‘little woman’ Dennis is always going on about?
Short chapters make this book fly by. Bobby isn’t always the most upstanding citizen, but you can’t help liking him. His voice rings true. You find yourself desperate to find out what or who is the creature of the night.
Bullied constantly during his freshman year in high school, Cameron’s anger and isolation grows, leading to deadly consequences. Intense, urgent, and...moreBullied constantly during his freshman year in high school, Cameron’s anger and isolation grows, leading to deadly consequences. Intense, urgent, and shocking, this brutal novel furiously races across the page as fast as Cameron’s tortured thoughts. You’ll never feel safe in a locker room again after reading this portrait of a boy going up in flames.(less)
Imagine taking Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade and placing them in middle school - that’s how you end up with Matt Stevens. Matt is a no-nonsense private...moreImagine taking Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade and placing them in middle school - that’s how you end up with Matt Stevens. Matt is a no-nonsense private eye working the halls of the ‘Frank’- that’s Franklin Middle School to you.
Matt has the unenviable task of trying to track down who took out Nicole Finnegan, or as she was known up until the end of last year, Nikki Fingers. You see, Nikki was the fastest squirt gun shot around, but as her younger sister Jenny is about to start classes at the Frank;,Nikki gave up the life of squirt gun assassin extraordinaire in an effort to set a good example for Jenny’s sake.
It could be anyone. There’s Vinny Biggio, Nikki’s old boss, who’s in charge of anything and everything not on the level. Then there’s Kevin Carling, Vinny’s right-hand man, and Nicole’s old flame. We can’t forget Liz Carling, Kevin’s little sister either. Or maybe it was one of the kids that Nikki put in the Outs.
The Outs? Let’s just say it’s the social leper colony. Once you’re on the Outs, there’s no coming back.
Matt only has a few days to solve the case. The weekend is approaching and by Monday this case will be as forgotten as last week’s math quiz.
This book was cooler than the back of on ice cream truck, funnier than a clown convention, and smarter than a MENSA meeting. (less)
Suburbia has never been so interesting as in Shaun Tan’s "Tales From Outer Suburbia;" painted missiles dot the landscape in one story (every household...moreSuburbia has never been so interesting as in Shaun Tan’s "Tales From Outer Suburbia;" painted missiles dot the landscape in one story (every household has its own intercontinental ballistic missile supplied by the government in support of national security), and a large, endangered marine mammal is found stranded on a front lawn in another. When you open up Tan’s collection of 14 extraordinary tales, you immediately come face-to-face with an ominous water buffalo living in the tall grass of a vacant lot who, when solicited for advice, raises his left hoof and points a girl in the right direction. How does he know? And how do the girl and her friends decipher his directions? Shaun Tan’s "Tales From Outer Suburbia" dazzle the eye and tug at a range of emotions, from aching melancholy to fear and confusion to profound joy. The mixed media artwork masterfully combines Tan’s signature black and white drawings with collage, vibrant paintings and doodles.
After finishing this extraordinary collection, it’s almost impossible not to go right back to the beginning and start over. Upon a second or third reading, the stories change in meaning and texture, making this collection a treasure for all ages to savor again and again. Tan’s bestseller, The Arrival, displayed his unique vision and talent with images, but this collection also has words. Is it possible that his word stories are as wonderfully odd, fresh, original, whimsical and profoundly moving as his artwork? Yes! (less)
Life is as unpredictable as a knuckleball. Molly learns that the hard way — her father has just died in a mysterious car accident. Her mother is in th...moreLife is as unpredictable as a knuckleball. Molly learns that the hard way — her father has just died in a mysterious car accident. Her mother is in that ”distant, ticked-off, unreachable place.” Molly is left to navigate on her own the morass of 8th grade and grief. And the one thing that she knows can help her the most is BASEBALL.
Remembering the long afternoons playing baseball with her father, mastering the art of throwing a knuckleball, Molly decides to try out for the baseball team — the boy’s baseball team: “‘You don’t just aim a butterfly,’ her father used to say. ‘You release it.’ ” He told her that the knuckleball isn’t just a pitch but an attitude toward life, a way of being in the world — a philosophy…
In Mick Cochrane’s The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, the characters are so well-drawn, the descriptions of baseball make me want tickets to the World Series and drew me into the magic of the game, and the rich metaphors and story brilliantly capture the transitions and struggles in the life of an 8th grader. For example, from her father “Molly understood that keeping score was a kind of storytelling, an almost magical translation of loud and dusty events in the world — a stolen base, an around-the-horn double play, a triple — into pencil marks, a kind of secret code, numbers and lines and shapes, like cuneiform or hieroglyphics, the handiwork of some ancient scribe.” From the baseball team Molly discovers that as the pitcher, if there’s a runner on first base, it’s her responsibility to talk to the shortstop and second baseman. It’s her job to call out who should take a bunt if the first and third basmen are both charging it. If Coach Morales touches his forearm, it means steal a base. If he touches the bill of his cap, it means bunt. Molly loves this entire system of wordless communication.
She wonders if she could apply this system to the rest of her life, like when her locker is defaced, or when she’s sitting across the table from her mother at dinner. She would love to try and communicate some of their dinner conversations using signs. But then again there are many nights when she doesn’t see how she possibly could, because half the time she doesn’t even know what she wants to get across.
Even the signs and scorebook don’t show just how nervous a pitcher is, or how exuberant a teammate is when he clears the plate with a double, with all the attendant whistling and cheering. Or how terrible Molly feels if her knuckler has gone completely wild. “You’re cruising along one minute, feeling like you can do no wrong. Life is good, all’s right with the world. And then all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, things change.” Baseball = 8th grade = life.(less)
This is a page turner! Although the end was predictable, it still held my interest and maintained the suspense. The protagonist tells the story from a...moreThis is a page turner! Although the end was predictable, it still held my interest and maintained the suspense. The protagonist tells the story from a coma, which should boost its appeal given the current craze of dead or almost-dead or immortal protagonists.(less)
Having seen the tv series, was curious. The graphic novel gives you insight into how Jim Buthcher, the author sees Harry Dresden. Can't help but love...moreHaving seen the tv series, was curious. The graphic novel gives you insight into how Jim Buthcher, the author sees Harry Dresden. Can't help but love it being from Chicago.(less)