Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

beholding bee“The way I got the diamond on my face happened like this.

I was sleeping in the back of our hauling truck one night after Pauline shut down our hot dog cart and Ellis closed the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel, and then, after every one of the stars had blinked out for the night so no one could see, that is when an angel came and kissed me on the cheek.

That is the way Pauline sees it.

Other folks say different things, like ‘What a shame, what a shame.'”

Bee tries to hide the birthmark on her face from the customers that come to her hot dog cart at the carnival.  But sometimes, they say cruel things or tease her, and it hurts her feelings.  It’s not all bad: she has her little dog, and Cordelia, the pig; and there’s Pauline, the young woman who found her-the closest thing she has to a mother.

Bee spends her time looking for the home she dreams of, a nice place for her and Pauline.  And she’s learning to run, too, which helps when she is feeling sad.  No matter how difficult her circumstances are, Bee tries to remain hopeful. She knows it will be better someday.

When Pauline unexpectedly leaves, Bee takes refuge with her mysterious “aunts”, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter.  There’s something a bit strange about them, though: no one else seems to be able to see them.  They make a cozy, if unusual, family, and Bee settles down.  She even is able to begin school for the first time! However, it’s not as easy as she was hoping.

 This gentle novel explores friendship, beauty, and bullying, against the interesting backdrop of World War II.   The character development is natural and thorough, and the historical details are fascinating.  This book would be great in a classroom, and presents an interesting perspective on wartime combined with a story laced with meaning.  It’s also a good way to open a dialogue on differences and bullying.  I loved it, even though it made me cry about every other page!  I think you’ll love it, too.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Fusco, Kimberly Newton. Beholding Bee.  Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2013. 327 pp.  Ages 11-14.

If you liked this book (and I think you will!) try these:

Sorta Like a Rockstar

The One and Only Ivan

The Magician’s Elephant

Advertisements

How to Pick an Awesome Book

How do you decide what to read?  People don’t talk about it enough, but I think that picking up a new book creates a bond of trust between an author and a reader (and, if someone recommended or assigned it to you, with the third party, too).  You’re hoping that whoever handed you the book knows what she’s talking about, and-more importantly-knows what you like.  You are also hoping that the author isn’t going to let you down, right?  “This is a horrible story that pushed me ten hours closer to death with nothing but grumpiness to show for it” is the flip side of “This book was so amazing that it changed my life and I want to name all of my children after the characters”.

To protect you from the Potential Misery of Picking a Book You Don’t Like, I’ll tell you what I like to do to find the good stuff.  But, as LeVar Burton would say, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

Guide to Finding Books That Aren’t Awful

1. Judge by the cover.  Totally. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s a good way to find books like the ones you’ve already read and enjoyed.  Want a supernatural teen drama?  Look for the books with girls in puffy dresses against dark landscapes.  A quirky mystery, like A Series of Unfortunate Events?  Check out the ones with quirky illustrations and unusual words in the title. (Think The Mysterious Benedict Society  and  The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place).  

2. They win awards for a reason. Did you ever notice those shiny medal stickers on some book covers?  There are a ton of awards a book can win.  You can click on the specific award to the right of this webpage to see some winners.  The big ones are the Michael L. Printz awards, for “literary merit”.  You can’t really go wrong with these books!  Another biggie is the National Book Award.  Personally, I find these winners to be a little bit darker than other awards-some of them may cover difficult subjects, but are well worth the time.  The ALA “Best Book” awards are some of my favorites; they’re chosen by the American Library Association every year.  Other favorites of mine? The Coretta Scott King award-winners, for authors of African descent, the Pura Belpré awards, for outstanding works written by Latino/a authors, and the Jane Addams winners, for books promoting social justice and peace.  The Stonewall Book Award is given to amazing GLBT books, and the Alex awards are for books written for adults that have special appeal to the YA crowd.  If you’re trying something new, the award lists are a good place to start-you’ll be assured of the quality of writing and you’ll know that other people have also loved it.

3. Find ones like the books you already love.  There are some great websites out there that recommend new reads based on the ones you loved before.  Try typing your favorite book into these sites:

What Should I Read Next?

Your Next Read

Whichbook

4. Ask! Ask your librarian, the workers at the bookstore, your friends, your teachers.  I make a habit of asking everyone I meet what their favorite books is, and then trying to read them.  You never know who already loves your next new favorite book.

5. Try Something New. Explore a little! Every time I go to the library, I pick out some books that are on my To-Read list, and then one book that I’ve never heard of before, but that caught my eye.  I’ve found some great surprises that way!

6. Keep Track. Have you heard of Goodreads? It’s a great website where you can keep track (and rate) books you’ve read and the ones you want to read.  After you rate a few, it will start making recommendations for you.  Also, you can befriend people, so you can see what they are reading.  You can look me up and friend me, if you’d like!

7. You Don’t Have to Keep Reading if You Hate It. I mean that.  Some books, no matter how many awards they’ve won or who loves them, just aren’t going to be for you.  And that’s totally ok!  Don’t force it.  My rule is: read as many pages as your age.  If you still hate it, it’s ok to quit.  So, if I don’t love something in 28 pages, I can be done with it and not feel the least bit guilty.

Friends, I hope this list helps you find your new favorite book! Do you have any other tips on how to find great books?  I’d love to hear them!

Happy Reading!

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

“He whispers, ‘Want to hear a secret?’

I nod.

‘You’re safe with me anywhere, at all times.’

It turns out, our ‘anywhere’ is the basement, and our ‘at all times’ is the entire day.  We don’t go to school.  We play checkers and make out.  My parents are upstairs watching the news.  And even though it feels like the entire world is freaking out, and even though the entire world is really just our area, and no one else anywhere gives a shit, and they definitely don’t give a shit that there are two boys making out in a basement, that’s what we are, we keep doing it, and there is something sort of beautiful about the fact that we keep doing that even now that we know it’s not what the world is about.

If I could take all the machine guns in the world and bend them into hearts, I totally totally would, even if I got grazed by bullets in the process, which knowing me I probably would, because I’m a little bit of a klutz, but Lio thinks I’m cute.”

A year after 9/11, a sniper is targeting inhabitants of the D.C. area.  Parents are keeping children home from school, and people hurry to their cars after leaving the grocery store or bank.  Everyone is uneasy, hunkered down and hoping for the threat to pass and leave loved one unharmed.  In the midst of it all, Craig and Lio find each other.  Craig’s exuberant nature and generosity help Lio forget about his dead twin, the specter of cancer that still haunts him, and his estranged mother.  Reflective, calm Lio patiently searches the entire city for Craig’s lost menagerie, a motley collection of pets that escaped during a break-in earlier in the year.  However, both boys are frightened and have suffered great losses in their past; being vulnerable is a true challenge for the pair, especially during such frightening times.

This is a story about untidy, realistic love in an unpredictable world.  In that aspect, I feel like it is an incarnation of Every Story Ever Told, and I love Hannah Moskowitz for it.  The text is full of sad-sweet details that instantly disarm the reader, such as Lio’s patchwork-dyed, multicolored hair.  Instead of maintaining such an off-putting hairstyle out of rebellion, Lio does it because he does not want to look like his twin, who died of cancer.  Craig’s big brother still lives at home, quietly working the night shift at a suicide hotline and looking after the family.  Details like that give the story depth, without feeling manipulative or precious.  As Lio and Craig negotiate their various issues against a backdrop of a world that seems to have lost all sense, a quiet optimism emerges in the text.  Yes, the book seems to say, the world is awful sometimes, and our families and loved ones aren’t always what we hope. But somehow it is going to be ok.

I loved this book for several important reasons, but the primary one is the author’s treatment of ethnicity and queerness.  This is a post-race, post-queer book, in which there is no need for coming out, and the characters’ ethnicities are mentioned only briefly and in passing.  This is not a story about an African-American character falling in love with a Caucasian character, nor a story about a gay boy who falls in love with another gay boy.  Instead, it’s just about love.  Furthermore, the book acknowledges something that adults often find uncomfortable: the  depth and intensity of feelings young people experience.  The story affords young readers dignity, validating their relationships and emotions, and I like that very much.

Oh, please read this! It’s such a beautiful and tender story. I really think you’ll like it!

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.untilhannah.com/

Moskowitz, Hannah. Gone, Gone, Gone. Simon Pulse: New York, 2012. 251 pp. Ages 15 and up.

You might also want to try Brooklyn, Burning, With or Without You or The Perks of Being a WallflowerThey have queer content and also the same “feel” to them!

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey

 

“‘Observe the frontal lobe, Will Henry.  The sulci-these deep crevices you see covering the rest of the brain-have all disappeared.  The thinking part of his brain is as smooth as a billiard ball.’

I asked him what that meant.

‘…We may assume it is a manifestation of the toxin.  This aligns perfectly with the literature, which claims the victim, in the final stages, becomes little more than a beast, incapable of reason but fully capable of a murderous, cannibalistic rage.  Certain indigenous tribes of the Lakshadweep Islands report whole villages wiped out by a single exposure to the pwdre ser, until the last man standing literally eats himself to death.'”

Dr. Pellinore Warthrop is a monstrumologist, a scientist specializing in horrors, a monster-hunter.  He and his apprentice, Will, are current on the trail of the “Holy Grail of Monstrumology”-a beast whose very saliva causes those infected to lose their faculties for reasoning, and become filled with the desire to destroy and eat each other.  The search brings them to the locus of the infection, a remote island where packs of the sick roam, preying on each other.  Together, the pair faces a nightmare beyond anything they’ve experienced.

I am the kind of person who keeps her eyes clamped shut during bloody scenes in movies, and I’ve only read one Stephen King book.  Horror just isn’t really my thing.  That said, I am powerless in the gravitational pull of The Monstrumologist series.  This is the third installment, and it didn’t disappoint.  Rick Yancey crafts a gory, chilling literary world full of original monsters, literary references, and characters so real that you’d know them instantly if you saw them in the street.  The books are narrated by the young Will Henry, the son of Dr. Warthrop’s previous assistant.  Will was orphaned and the doctor took him in and began initiating him into the world of furtive autopsies, international travel in search of things that undoubtedly want to kill them, and scientific research on the stuff comprising nightmares.  It’s not a life for a child, but Dr. Warthrop is all Will has in the world. Where else would he go?

The brilliant part of the series is the setting: the stories take place during the later half of the nineteenth century, during the Industrial Revolution. This is the time of scientific societies, Darwin, and empiricism (only believing in what you can measure with numbers), concepts that form the backbone of Dr. Warthrop’s belief system.  Reason is his deity, and the scientific method is his salvation.  Will and Dr. Warthrop live in a gritty New England, with frequent trips to the dirty, rough London that appears in Sherlock Holmes stories.  Actually, Dr. Warthrop is a contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the poet Rimbaud. (They both make appearances in this story!)  The books are saturated with the scientific beliefs of the time; the interweaving of philosophy and moral issues adds another level of appeal.  In short, these are gruesome horror stories told by a master who carefully frames his gore in a meticulously accurate historical setting. Horror fans will want to stay up all night, and the writing is compelling enough to snare poor non-horror lovers like myself, too.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so: the first book in the series is a Printz award winner.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.rickyancey.com

Yancey, Rick. The Isle of Blood. Simon & Shuster: New York, 2011. 558 pp.  Ages 16 and up (a brave and unsqueamish 16).

If this sounds like a good book, you should try the others in the seriesThe Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo.

 

 

 

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

“I was born into all that, all that mess, the over-crowded swamp and the over-crowded semetary and the not-crowded-enough town, so I don’t remember nothing, don’t remember a world without Noise.  My pa died of sickness before I was born and then my ma died, of course, no surprises there.  Ben and Cillian took me in, raised me.  Ben says my ma was the last of the women but everyone says that about everyone’s ma.  Ben may not be lying, he believes it’s true, but who knows?”

Todd is the youngest male in the settlement of Prentisstown, a town with no women left and ravaged by a disease called Noise.  Not only does Noise broadcast everyone’s thoughts out loud, it also caused all the women to sicken and die.  Todd was taught that Noise was caused by a germ carried by native inhabitants of the New World, a race called the Spackle.  However, right before his birthday, his adoptive parents hand him a notebook written years before by his mother-a notebook that tells an entirely different story about Noise and warns against the sinister preachings of Mayor Prentiss.

The problem with Noise, of course, is that no one has any secrets.  As soon as he sees the notebook, Todd must strike out through the swamps and across the countryside, in the hopes that he will be able to outrun the other men of the town.  He knows they will come after him as soon as they hear his Noise and know he is trying to escape.  During his flight, he meets a young woman named Viola, whose parents’ ship had crashed in the swamp.  Viola had been trying to survive on her own in the hostile environment.  Todd is fascinated (he has never seen a girl before!), but also terrified that he might infect her with the Noise germ.  Companionship wins, and the two proceed across the New World, trying to reach the town of Haven that Todd’s mother mentioned in her notebook.  They are in a desperate scramble to outrun the militia of Prentisstown men, who are convinced that Todd, as the last male in the village, is a vital part of their salvation plan.  When Todd learns the truth about Noise, what happened to the women, and what the men of Prentisstown expect him to do, he will face an ethical dilemma that nothing could have prepared him for.

This is a fast-paced, post-apocalyptic story that reads like a cross between Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and M. T. Anderson’s Feed.  The book explores colonization, racism, religious extremism, and the idea that just knowing about something ethically wrong, but not acting to right it, makes one complicit in the crime.  Does that sound too philosophical?  Don’t worry-I promise you won’t want to put this book down.  Not only is it a compelling story,  it is also a graphically interesting book.  The Noise of different villagers is depicted with distinct fonts, and the spelling of Todd’s words and thoughts is quite phonetic, rather than conventional.  Plus, if you really loved it, there are already two more out in the series, which is called Chaos Walking. The second installment is The Ask and the Answer and the final book is Monsters of Men.

This book was short-listed for the Carnegie award and was also recognized by Booklist, among others.  I found it a nice change from the technology-heavy dystopian novels out there, and loved the creative presentation of the Noise.  I hope you like it!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.patrickness.com

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2008. 479 pp. Ages 14 and up.

If you liked the conspiracy theory part of this book, you would probably like M. T. Anderson’s Feed.  For a suspenseful futuristic escape story that also explores issues of racism and colonialism, try Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. It’s amazing!

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

“‘What do you have, then?’ I asked.

‘Oh, spindles and straw and beans and tears.  A glass coffin. A golden egg.  A number of things.  The Grimms were serious and thorough collectors, and of course we’ve added to the collection a great deal over the years, objects associated with other fairy tale and folklore traditions.  I’m especially proud of our French holdings-we have the best collection outside the Archives Extraordinaires in Paris.'”

Elizabeth has a new job as a page at the New York Circulating Materials Repository.  It may sounds stuffy, but it is far from it! The Repository is a very special lending library for objects of all kinds, including magical ones collected by the Brothers Grimm.  Patrons can visit and borrow anything from chess sets and egg cups to magical table settings that offer never-ending food and the slippers of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (though, I don’t know why they’d be useful, as the soles are all worn through).   For the most part, Elizabeth’s  job is straightforward-she puts items in their proper places and helps patrons find what they need.  However, when a coworker begins acting suspiciously, and magical objects are being replaced with clever fakes, Elizabeth decides to act, in order to protect the collection.  She’s not sure whom she can trust, but she knows she has to do something to solve the mystery and prevent the Grimm treasures from being lost forever.

I’ll admit it-I’m terribly jealous of Elizabeth’s job! Not only does she get to do things like speaking to the magic mirror of Snow White, she even earns borrowing privileges for the Grimm Collection.  Wouldn’t you love to take home a mermaid comb or try out some seven-league boots?  The descriptions of the magical objects were the best part of this book; I even learned about fairy tales I’d never heard of before (the Spirit in the Bottle, anyone?).  The library sounds like my idea of paradise; there’s even a special science fiction object collection, and a magical indoor forest.  The plot is original, and the details won’t disappoint you.

I waited a long time to review it, though; there were just a few things that concerned me about this otherwise lovely book.  First, a positive: there is a very diverse cast of characters in this text.  Elizabeth’s friend Marc is black, and her other friend, Anjali, is Indian.  While I dearly, passionately love to see racial diversity in young adult literature, there was something about the way the characters were presented that made me feel uncomfortable.  On the one hand, it was refreshing to see a cast of characters that wasn’t all white.  On the other hand, the repeated mentions to characters’ races made the text seem as though it was too conscious of its own diversity-at times, I felt like I was unable to focus on the story, or see the characters as having other qualities outside of their ethnicity.  Sometimes, the text seemed to be exoticizing Marc and Anjali; Marc turns out to be an African prince, while Anjali is an Indian princess, and there is a lot of focus on the maxims of Marc’s tribe, for example, and Anjali’s exotic beauty.  When a story presents “outsiders”, or characters from another culture, but does so in a way that draws a lot of attention to the differentness of those characters, it can be patronizing.   Furthermore, I felt that Marc’s characterization was stereotypical; he was a basketball star, which isn’t negative in itself, but I would like to see authors presenting us with images of young black men involved in other activities besides sports.

With that said, I do not think this is an intentionally prejudiced book.  I only wanted to draw attention to the way race was treated in the story.  When you’re reading, you can start thinking about how minority characters are described: are the characters well-rounded, rather than being flat or reduced only to their race?  Do descriptions of the character seem to align with common stereotypes, or is he or she treated as an individual?  The way race, gender, and any other identity categories are presented in the media can contribute to stereotypes, and that’s why I felt I had to bring it up.  If every African American character we read about is a basketball player, it limits our perceptions of them -what about African American chemists?    Is it awesome that Shulman had such diverse characters?  Absolutely!  However, if we are moving to an ultimate goal of eradicating prejudice, it would have been more effective to have a diverse cast without dwelling on their respective differences and how exotic and interesting they are because of their ethnicity.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:pollyshulman.com

Shulman, Polly. The Grimm Legacy. Puffin: New York, 2010. 325 pp.  Ages 11-15

This is a creative story with skillful fairy tale references and creative details.  If you’d like more on fairy tales, try A Tale Dark and Grimm.  You could also try any of the books by these authors: Eva Ibbotson, Shannon Hale, and Gail Carson Levine! Here’s a nice list of good books in the genre from Goodreads, too.  This is one of my favorite genres and I’m always hunting for more like this, so I’ll keep you posted!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

“‘I want to tell the rebels that I am alive.  That I’m right here in District Eight, where the Capitol has just bombed a hospital full of unarmed men, women and children.  There will be no survivors.’ The shock I’ve been feeling begins to give way to fury. ‘I want to tell people that if you think for one second the Capitol will treat us fairly if there’s a cease-fire, you’re deluding yourself.  Because you know who they are and what they do.’  My hands go out automatically, as if to indicate the whole horror around me.  ‘This is what they do! And we must fight back!’

Panem is a chaotic and dangerous world.  After the Quell, District 12 has been razed; nothing but ash and rubble remains.  The few survivors (Gale and Prim included) have taken refuge in the bunkers of District 13.  Peeta, who had been captured by the Capitol and brainwashed into believing Katniss is a deadly enemy of his, is still shaky in his beliefs.  The tracker jacker poison used to implant false memories of Katniss in his mind is hard to reverse; there are times when he cannot discern reality from fiction, and he is overwhelmed with the urge to kill her.

After the Quarter Quell, Katniss discovers that she was part of an elaborate revolutionary plot, without her permission or knowledge.  Though uncertain who to trust, and infuriated by the deception, she agrees to aid the rebels in their attempts to overthrow the government and bring an end to all future Hunger Games.  As the Mockingjay, the figurehead of the rebels, Katniss undergoes combat training and prepares to undertake a mission to assassinate President Snow.  The mission itself is dangerous; if Katniss or her companions are spotted, they will be lucky to be killed instantly.  If they are not so lucky, they will be tortured to death.

In the final volume of the trilogy, Collins explores war, violence, and loyalty.  I think she does an excellent job portraying the overall devastating nature of war: starvation, bombs, and bullets are brutal and ugly ways to die.  Furthermore, it is not always possible to tell which side characters are on, and which is the “right” side, anyway.  I feel like that is an accurate depiction, and something that is not always taught.  The rhetoric of war and the lawmakers pushing for it often paints one side as clearly in the wrong, justifying the gross waste of human life, but Collins gives us a more complicated, realistic picture.  Katniss must wrestle with her desire for vengeance, versus the need to end the cycle of brutality.  It’s a challenging read, full of pain and difficult decisions, but a sensitive and engrossing end to a solid trilogy.  Oh, and something I loved?  The epilogue.  I won’t spoil it, but I’m glad she wrote it.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com

Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. 390 pp.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Image“‘And in the meantime and always,’ she counseled me.’–Focus on your strengths’

‘Which is?’

‘Taking pictures, yaar! You are very lucky to have a passion like this and be so good at it.  Now use it.  You know what you want to do.  Now do it. Acts of love will lead you to more love.  Turn your pain and confusion into beauty and power, like I am trying to do with this breakup. ‘”

Dimple is a seventeen-year-old Indian American, and her parents have found the perfect husband for her.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t looking for a husband, nor is she intrigued by the idea.  However, when her supertwin best friend decides that she is interested in Dimple’s future husband, things get sticky.  In the meantime, Dimple sorts out what it means to be South Asian, but raised in the United States. She learns her parents are actually people, with pasts and dreams and hopes for her.  She uses her camera (she calls it “Chica Tikka”-Third Eye. Isn’t that beautiful?) and, in the process of developing her photographs, she tells the story of what it is like to be living in the space between two cultures.

All right.  I’ll admit it. I picked this book up once before and abandoned it because it felt like it was a billion pages long.  However, once you’re into the story, the very lush language and descriptions don’t weigh it down.   It’s a story that meanders, rather than slams you upside the head with a bunch of plot devices, one after the other.  If you approach it with that in mind, I think you’ll love the descriptions of clothing and food and music; they’re very poetic and as I was reading, I felt like the author was also an artist, because of her celebration of detail and composition.  This is a lovely book for summer reading; it begs to be read on the porch or a picnic blanket.

I especially loved Dimple’s relationship with her parents.  Through the course of the story, she begins to learn more about them as human beings-her mother was a beautiful dancer as a young person; her father prays daily for Dimple to find a loving life partner-regardless of gender.  (Dimple isn’t a lesbian, but there are multiple queer characters in the story, so you won’t be disappointed.) It’s a really beautiful thing you realize as you become an adult: the process of growing from dependent child to an equal and a friend of you parents is very special, and it’s often overlooked in young adult literature.  In this book, it is sensitive and nuanced and was one of my favorite threads in the story.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.thisistanuja.com (She’s in the process of making a new website, so this isn’t so interesting at the moment-check back later, all right?)

Hidier, Tanuja Desai.  Born Confused. Scholastic: New York, 2002. 514 pp. (Yes, that’s really how long it is!)

All right, this book was hard for me to match with others, so bear with me, please!  It fills a place in literature that just doesn’t have a lot of content yet.  But, if you liked this book for the queer content-you know, the issues of being a minority of a minority, you might try Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole: the tone is a little lighter, and the protagonist a bit younger,  but it’s about a Cuban-American lesbian and it’s really funny.  If you like the specifically Indian queer content, you might try Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal.  I haven’t read it yet, but it is recommended on the ALA’s Rainbow List.  Do you know of any others?  I’d love to hear!

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

“Rules and Things Number 29: When You Wake Up and Don’t Know for Sure Where You’re At and There’s a Bunch of People Standing Around You, It’s Best to Pretend You’re Still Asleep Until You Can Figure Out What’s Going On and What You Should Do”

Bud (not Buddy, never Buddy) is an orphan, or so he thinks.  His mom died, and she never talked about his dad.  In the middle of the Great Depression, life isn’t easy for anyone, much less for orphans.  When Bud’s prank gets him in trouble at the group home, and he get sent back to the orphanage, he decides it’s best for him to set out on his own.  He tries his hand at train-hopping, eats out of a can in a hobo camp, and is tricked by a mustard sandwich into accepting a car ride that will change his life forever.  See, he’s trying to find the legendary bandleader, H. E. Calloway, the man he believes to be his father, and all he knows is that he has to get to Grand Rapids.  After that, he figures, things will work themselves out.

This book has been on my to-read list since a classmate gave a book talk on it last year, and I’m so pleased to finally have read it.  It’s hilarious! You wouldn’t think that the plight of an orphan runaway during the Great Depression would allow for much levity, but Bud’s constant inner narrative is insightful and droll.  My favorite was his long list of  “Rules and Things”, which are all quite true, and you’ll be happy to read things that you’ve thought, but never been brave enough to say.  Honestly, in setting and resolution, it reminded me of Wonderstruck, which was a really pleasant surprise for me; it would be nice to read these two books right after one another.

This book is written for upper elementary and middle schoolers; it is a quick, funny read with substance.  I enjoyed it a lot!  I think it would be a great read-aloud classroom book: interesting to both male and female students, and set in a historical time period that would be fun to study.

Happy Reading!

Website: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/christopherpaulcurtis

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud, Not Buddy. Random House: New York, 1999. 243 pp.

If you like this, please, please try Wonderstruck!

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Image“I try to keep my mouth shut because the ants are telling me: Stay safe, Lucky Linderman.  Keep your mouth shut. But I talk anyway.  ‘My mother is a squid, so we have to come here because Dave and Jodi have a pool, and my mother has to swim several hours a day or else, as a squid, she will die.  My father has to stay in Pennsylvania because he is a turtle and can’t face anything other than boneless chicken breasts and organic vegetables.

My ninja is smiling at me. ‘You mom is a squid?’

‘Psychologically, yes.’

‘And your dad is a turtle.’

‘Right.’

‘What does that make you?’ she asks.

‘I don’t know yet.’

Lucky Linderman has masterminded a survival plan: Operation Don’t Smile Ever.  It started after his survey project, in which he asked his classmates how they would kill themselves if they could.  The thing is, everyone freaked out and now the school officials think he’s “troubled”.  Combined with a dad who is always working at his restaurant, a mom who would rather swim than engage with humans, and Nader’s incessant bullying, Lucky’s not so sure he has much to smile about anyway.  Oh, and the ants: he also sees an ever-present line of ants who like to comment on everything he does.  As if a squid mom and turtle dad aren’t weird enough.

And that’s without the nightmares.  See, his grandfather is a POW/MIA, a prisoner of war, missing in action.  He went to Vietnam and even his body didn’t come back.  Lucky’s grandma died while pleading for Lucky to find out what happened to him.  But Lucky kind of knows already.  See, he has dreams of Harry, his grandfather.  They’re nightmares, really.  They make traps together, talk about life, and even play Twister.  And from each dream, Lucky carries a memento into real life: a banana sticker, a black headband.  He feels like the dreams have a purpose; he will stop having them when they find his grandfather.

This is a very special book, one that doesn’t ignore the horrific realities of war and the agony of bullying, the feelings of worthlessness and despair that accompany adolescence, or the frustration inherent in being a member of a dysfunctional family unit.  There is no minimization of trauma here, but King shows us a way around the challenges.   Lucky’s story champions the subtle bravery of not throwing in the towel.  It is a novel about what it means to grow up.

We are in the hands of a master storyteller, friends.  We’ve all read books on bullying, on war, on dysfunctional families.  But, I ask you, how many of those books had a line of ants, or dreams that might be real, or a Vagina Monologues ninja in them?  And it’s not just these delightful creative elements that will grab you and suck you in, either.  It is Lucky’s natural voice.  While you’re reading this book, it’s like sitting inside his head.  You’ll look around and say, “Hey! I know this place!” And after you finish this book, I hope you see the ants, too. I hope they’re cheering for you.

A. S. King won the Printz Honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and this book has already gotten starred reviews and the attention of the American Library Association-all for good reason.  I especially love that this book will appeal to reluctant readers (although I do so hate that phrase, because it assumes that people don’t want to read.  No, they just haven’t found the right books yet, I say).  So here, readers-who-might-be-having-a-bit-of-trouble-liking-reading:  this one’s gonna blow your mind.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com

King, A. S. Everybody Sees the Ants. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. 279 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book, I think you’ll love A. S. King’s earlier book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Also, you might want to check out Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like A Rock Star and Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going.  They aren’t so much about war or bullying, but they have the same feeling to them.