I’m trying to read more books that I choose for my own reading enjoyment. Not for review, but because I’ve been wanting to read them or they caught my attention. Most of them have been talked about ad nauseam or have been on my to-read list for a long time so they don’t really need a full review. But, I’d still like to give them some space here on the blog, so instead, I’m offering mini-reviews of the books that won’t get full-page space here.
I ran out of time last month to share my recent reads, so I’ve got two months worth to share with you. My current reading time has been drastically cut short as I am teaching English this fall. So, many of the books I’m listing below were books I was reading to prepare to teach. I’ve got lots of YA books as well as a few I was finishing up this summer. My currents reads are OTHER FIRES for book club (we were gifted early copies) and CRAIGSLIST CONFIDENTIAL just came up in my library holds on audio. I’ve heard it’s pretty depressing, so not sure it’s the right time for a listen, but I’ll try it.
THE BOOK OF LONGINGS
By: Sue Monk Kidd
Published: April 21. 2020
Format: Hardcover through library
This was our book club choice for July…actually most of the summer because of COVID, but we finally got to meet in July. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about this one. Thinking of Jesus having a wife and retelling the story of Jesus’s life with that piece added. But, it wasn’t like that at all. I actually really liked it and it was much more than the story of Jesus’s wife, but the story of Ana. It was beautifully written and well researched and I really was moved by Ana’s life story.
THE BOY ON THE WOODEN BOX
How the Impossible Became Possible…on Schindler’s List
By: Leon Leyson
Narrated by: Danny Burstein
Published: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
This came up in my library holds and was a quick listen. Leon Leyson was the youngest person to be on Schindler’s List. He and most of his family were saved by being on that list and this is his story, much abbreviated, of his time during WWII. It would make a great family read/listen as well. The details aren’t too graphic and offer a child’s perspective of WWII that is often missed.
By: R.J. Palacio
Published: October 1, 2019
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
This one has been on my list since I heard about it. Palacio is the author of WONDER and has since written about other characters from the book. This time she writes about Julian’s grandma. As a young Jewish girl, she was hidden by a family in Nazi-occupied France. I really loved the graphic novel format and thought the illustrations were very well done and conveyed the reality of WWII, the fear and trepidation of the people of France, and the lesson conveyed to Julian now in the present day. Very moving and well-written.
An American Memoir
By: Kiese Laymon
Published: October 16, 2018
This was our August book club choice and unfortunately, it wasn’t a book for us. Heavy is a good description of this memoir. The material is heavy, sad, depressing, and there are numerous instances of abuse discussed. Heavy also describes the author’s difficulties surrounding his weight and eating issues. I must say there are numerous trigger warnings in this book and it may not be for everyone. I am clearly in the minority with my thoughts about this book, but it just wasn’t for me.
The author appears to be writing a letter to his mom about his disappointments in life, yet he jumps around so much, it felt more like random journal writing than a focused memoir. There were several parts of the novel that made me angry and if it wasn’t for my book club, I would have stopped reading it. But, maybe that was the author’s intent, to make those of us, especially white people, angry while reading. I’m just frankly not sure of the message he was sending. It definitely didn’t leave me feeling hopeful for him or for black men. It left me feeling sad and wondering why, even those men with an education, have such a hard time getting out of their cycle of poverty, abuse, and addiction. It just left me feeling sad and with too many unanswered questions.
ALL AMERICAN BOYS
By: Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Narrated by: Guy Lockard and Keith Nobbs
Published: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
This story is ripped right from the headlines. Two young men, one white, one black are trying to navigate high school with high expectations from parents, coaches, and peers. Rashad, a black ROTC teenager, is arrested, beaten by a police officer, and hospitalized after he was accused of shoplifting. Quinn, a white teenager from the same school, witnesses the incident and can’t get it out of his mind. Their lives come together as their families and the family of the police officer intersects over the course of a week after the incident. The audiobook is well done with two separate narrators for Quinn and Rashad. It was an intense story and kept me wanting to listen longer. A great teaching book that will offer lots of opportunities for discussion.
By: Gary Soto
Published: December 1, 2006
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Eddie is a Hispanic/American living in Fresno on his own as a 19-year-old. He is trying his best to avoid the gangs and violence that is so much a part of his neighborhood. This is a short book with a heavy story. Eddie tries to do his best and things continue to go wrong for him. It would be so much easier to join the life of crime that his friends are part of, but he wants all the violence and killing to end. The title made me curious and I liked the metaphor of the city of Fresno having onions buried underneath of it. The author uses lots of figurative language and his descriptions of settings, emotions, and situations were spot on. Eddie’s story broke me and the ending left me a little frustrated. I’ll be anxious to hear what the students think of this one.
By: Laurie Halse Anderson
Published: October 22, 1999
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux
SPEAK has been on my shelf for a long time and I’m glad I finally had a reason that pushed me to read it. Melinda is starting her freshman year of high school as the outcast. Her friends no longer speak to her after an incident from the summer. Unfortunately, they don’t know the real reason behind it. I read this book in one sitting. Even though it’s a tough topic, it’s an important one and will offer up lots of opportunity for discussion.
By: Todd Strasser
Published: September 15, 1981
Publisher: Laurel Leaf
THE WAVE is based on a true incident that happened in a high school classroom in 1969. The novel is short with a bit of an abrupt ending. But, it offers an opportunity for conversations about peer pressure in high school.
EVERY LAST WORD
By: Tamara Ireland Stone
Narrated by: Amy Rubinate
Published: June 16, 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Sam has OCD and even though she looks normal and hides her compulsive tendencies to her friends, she does believe she is crazy. When she comes across a hidden room at her school and finds a new group of friends, she realizes this just might be what she needs to feel normal again. But, then something happens that makes her question her new normal and if she can ever be “normal” again. The audio was a little rough for me as I really disliked the narrator’s voice. Even my daughter heard me listening once and commented on the tone of it. I liked the story but probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d read it in print.
By: Jennifer Brown
Published: September 1, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Wow, this was a page-turner for me. It flips back and forth from the present and the past…the day of a school shooting. Valerie’s boyfriend, unbeknownst to her, brings a gun to school and starts shooting. She can’t believe it is happening and ends up being shot herself by him. As she is recovering, she begins to replay their relationship and that life-changing day. She is forced to return to the school where it all happened and face the classmates that have conflicting feelings about whether she was involved or whether she really did try to save everyone. I couldn’t put it down and appreciated the author’s look at a different perspective of a school shooting novel.
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES
By: Jennifer Niven
Narrated by: Kirby Heyborne and Ariadne Meyers
Published: January 6, 2015
Publisher: Knopf Books
Format: Audiobook and Paperback
I started this one on audio but ran out of time in my library loan so I finished it in paperback. I liked the audio version though. Kirby Heyborne also narrated THE BRIGHT HOUR, which I loved a lot.
This book begins with two students about to commit suicide and both end of saving each other even though one didn’t know the other before that day. They end up being assigned a project together and start to get to know each other and their stories. Finch and Violet both have their own reasons for thinking about committing suicide. Finch has family issues and Violet survived a car crash that killed her sister. The chapters go back and forth from Finch and Violet’s perspectives with Finch sharing a lot about ways to commit suicide. I would be hesitant to recommend this book to just anyone since suicide is such a central piece of the story. I plan to watch the movie version as well.
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Posted Under Amy Rubinate, Ariadne Meyers, audiobook, Brendan Kiely, Danny Burstein, fiction, Gary Soto, Guy Lockard, historical fiction, Jason Reynolds, Jennifer Brown, Jennifer Nivens, Keith Nobbs, Kiese Laymon, Kirby Heyborne, Laurie Halse Anderson, Leon Leyson, memoir, non-fiction, R.J. Palacio, Sue Monk Kidd, Tamara Ireland Stone, Todd Strasser, WWII, YA