Monday, February 23, 2015

I Was Here

I Was Here is so incredibly readable. I opened it up and suddenly I had zoomed through a third of the book. Bravo Gayle Forman for grabbing me and hooking me.

Cody's best friend committed suicide and now she is picking up the pieces of Meg's life. Meg always shone brighter than Cody, but hid a dark side that comes to the surface when Cody starts to investigate her death. I wanted to know more about their relationship and why Meg would choose to end her life. I found their friendship to be believable and perfect for the small town setting.

I was disappointed by the romance in the book. I understand that the target audience is young adults, but it felt inauthentic for Cody to fall for this guy who seemed fairly unlikable and was involved with her dead friend. Ben just didn't have enough of a spark to make that big leap. The only thing I can think of is that her mother has terrible taste in men and Cody shares it. The story didn't need Cody and Ben to fall in love for people to read it.

I Was Here isn't on the same level as If I Stay, but it was the most engaging book I've read lately.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Long Walk to Water

I'm sure every book reviewer has that moment when they wonder, "Am I a bad person if I don't like this?" For me, that book is A Long Walk to Water. As I was procrastinating writing this review, I saw a tweet that said, "A Long Walk to Water is so good! It sparked a thoughtful discussion about if reading helps us become better people :-) #titletalk" Oops.

I really wanted to love it. There were many Sudanese "Lost Boys" that worked at the Trader Joe's near where I grew up. I had a vague idea of why they were in Massachusetts and always marveled at them, so tall and friendly. I was eager to read a story that I could share with my students, but I just didn't get it from Linda Sue Park's short novel.

I wanted more in-depth information, especially since it is based on the true story of Salva Dut. Perhaps it is because the book is targeted at children, but I wanted to know about Salva's time in a refugee camp. Since he spent six years there, it merited more than one sentence. While I admit that the book picked up at the end, for me, most of the book was similar to Salva's journey across Sudan: a grueling slog. I won't be recommending it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Nest

I had heard that Nest by Esther Ehrlich was a sad book, and it's true. This was probably the most dismal middle grade novel I've come across. Beautifully written, but it's dark.

Chirp's mother has an illness that will never get better, and it's affecting the entire family. Her psychologist father is trying to hold things together, her older sister is going to adult parties, and Chirp tries to make her mother happy. She's too young to understand that choreographing dances and baking pies can't touch the sadness of depression.

Ehrlich makes you feel for the characters. Poor Chirp and her friend Joey, the bad kid from a bad family, just want to be normal children, but the odds are stacked against them. Joey, in particular, was just a raw wound of a character. I wanted to bundle him up and bring him home with me. Unfortunately, we don't get to write the endings to the books we read.

In my classroom, I post the covers of all the books I read, so I know my students will ask me about Nest. I am hesitant to recommend this book to anyone--I don't know many fifth graders who like to be sad and finish a book feeling unsettled. Still, it was well written and any book written in Cape Cod gets bonus points from me.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Spy School

Ben Ripley is like many kids who think it would be cool to be a spy. When the CIA selects him for a top secret spy school, he's surprised, because math is his only strength. If he thought he was unqualified before arriving, he knows it once assassins start trying to kill him and all his fellow students seem suspicious. When a genuine crisis occurs, Ben has to use everything he knows to prove he belongs, and to stay alive.

I dove right into Spy School after finishing Stuart Gibbs' book, Belly Up. I found them to be very similar: funny, clever, and full of adventure. When I told the premise to my 5th graders, they were all very eager to check out the book when I finished. It is perfect for their age group, as all Gibbs' books seem to be.

Now, I'm torn. Do I read the sequel to Belly Up or do I read the sequel to Spy School first?