Monday, April 16, 2018

A Few Red Drops by Claire Hartfield book review

This is a very readable YA non-fiction history book documenting and explaining what happened during the Chicago Race Riots of 1919. During the riots 38 people died and 537 were hurt.  This book starts out by explaining how segregation worked in Chicago. There were a lot of unwritten rules and invisible lines. The black community was made up of those who had been living in Chicago for a while and migrants from the south, who were looking for better opportunities.  At the same time, a lot of European immigrants from Lithuania, Ireland and Germany were coming to Chicago to start a better life, but they were treated about the same as the black Americans. They worked in the meatpacking industry and other industries that were popping up in Chicago. It was a competitive job market and both sides were accusing each other of stealing jobs.  Union thugs and corrupt politicians/police officers did little to make life better for blacks and immigrants. Most of these people lived in one room apartments that were like an oven during the summer months. Everyone went to Lake Michigan to cool off.

I think this is a timely purchase for a middle and high school library.  It’s a good introduction to the racial divisions in this country. Students can make connections of how this event compares to more current events.  Since we are in Michigan, students study the Detroit riots. This might be a good book to compare and contrast events. It would be good for a study of housing segregation and/or red-lining in cities.  I think this topic could make for a good History Extended Essay topic. It think it’s important for students to notice that the author is a native of Chicago and wrote this book because she had a personal connection to it.  I would recommend this to a student who read The Jungle and wants to read about more the history of the time period. Overall, I highly recommend it.

Restart by Gordon Korman - student book review by Arav

Where do I even begin with this book? The many interesting characters? The interesting premise? The somewhat satisfying conclusion? I honestly do not know. If I had to be brief, Restart by Gordon Korman is a book that I could wholeheartedly recommend to a lot of people as, barring some slight problems, manages to deliver an interesting ride unlike any other.

The plot of Restart revolves around the character of Chase Ambrose who, due to a fall from the roof of his house, gets amnesia and has to figure out just who he was, and who he wants to be in life. Without going into too much detail, as I fear giving anything away could lessen the book’s impact, what sets Restart apart from other books are a few important details. The first of these “details” is one of the main structural draws of the book - its changing characters. While there are a few instances where the same character has multiple chapters in a row, Korman manages to shift perspective on the plot many, many times throughout the events of the plot. These shifts manage to make the book play out really well for a few reasons. For one, the shifts do not accompany a retelling of previous events from the other character’s point of view. While many other books try to retell the information to demonstrate some of the differences in each character’s personality and in their reliability, Korman simply takes that out to give the plot more focus than before. This break from convention makes the reader read critically and examine both the motivations and the reliability of each character, like how Chase learns to do through the course of the book.

Secondly, they help complicate some of the relationships between Chase and his past. For example, early in the book readers are sure to hate Bear and Aaron, Chase’s old jock friends. However, Korman then surprises us by shifting events to their perspective, forcing us to re-evaluate how we feel about them in the same manner that Chase does. While such chapters do not serve to make their actions seem logical or even reasonable, they do serve to ensure that readers do not make categorizations like “antagonist” without looking at events from their point of view. The shifts, in effect, serve to prompt readers to look at Chase’s story with both renewed suspicion and renewed sympathy, for no set of events are ever as simple as we make them to be. Besides the changing characters, Korman also excelled with the overall pacing of the story. While some amnesia storylines tend to become oversaturated with memories as the amnesiac struggles to figure out what is real and what is false, Korman pushes most of that aside to demonstrate how being a new person does not require much more than a critical look at one’s life.

Due to the many character shifts, Korman manages to selectively reveal key plot elements in a manner that honestly blew me away. While most readers will pick up on most of the subtleties, like some of the burgeoning relationships between protagonists, the overall significance of these to the plot of the book is only revealed much, much later, forcing the reader to understand some of the complexities in human communication and contemplate how hard it is to understand someone else. Additionally, due to certain surprise events, Korman manages to surprise and delight readers by completely exploring the possibilities that revolve around Chase’s situation. From making new friends to losing old ones to even learning new skills, Korman demonstrates some of the promise that life can give us, and some of the problems with trying to completely escape our past. Overall, this book is truly a delight to read, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone struggling to understand who they are in life and where life is taking them.

While the book does not end up banishing any of these problems, it helps readers understand some of the complexities of the manner and shows them that such problems do not need to impede someone from living his or her life. In terms of school usage, it would be a great way to introduce the concept of an “unreliable narrator” and a good way to talk about problems people might have socializing or trying to make friends, especially when people are trying to understand their place in society and their role in a community. In terms of extended study, it also might make for a fun way to compare the realism in literature to that of science for while Korman does make a concerted effort to stay truthful to cognitive science, his focus is on crafting a good story, one which might have some flaws scientifically. Besides these uses, however, it simply is a fun read, one which readers will enjoy for its accuracy to how they feel when entering a new school or job, whether that new locale be something as small as a middle school or as big as a college. While the last chapter could easily have been cut out, as Brendan’s summary of the story simply felt tacked on to the rest of the book, Korman manages to hit a home run on showing all of us that we can be better people, and inspires us to try to improve our lives, one step at a time.

Author Website:

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser - book review

The story starts on December 20 (coincidentally the day I started this book, somewhat on purpose 😁) and is set in Harlem. Readers will get to enjoy a detailed map on the inside of the book cover. The characters include twins Isa and Jessie (12 years old), Oliver (9), Hyacinth (6), and Laney (4). They are close to their parents and they seem to be a biracial family living in a diverse area. Mr. Beiderman, their landlord and upstairs neighbor, decides not to renew their lease and they have 11 days to move out. The children have never lived anywhere else and they love their neighbors and school. They react with disbelief, a bit of guilt, and plenty of indignation so they embark on Operation Beiderman, a plan to quickly to win over their landlord. What makes it even worse, is that it is so close to Christmas time.

The children overhear their parents worrying about what they are going to do, so they take it upon themselves to try to help. The plan is put into action and Mr. Beiderman is showered with secret gifts. The children never really see him because he never leaves his apartment. He is a bit of a recluse. As the children start to investigate Mr. Beiderman’s past, they find out he used to be different. He had a life, family and friends. Only a few people really know what happened. The reader will find themselves hoping for a happy ending and the mystery of Mr. Beiderman to be revealed. The details of this book are funny, sweet, descriptive and moving. The kids seem to be wise beyond their years (but it is fiction) and they are charged with some pretty adult things, like making Christmas dinner for a large family. Everyone has their thing that they are good at. The kids like their parents, siblings and school, which makes this a refreshing, upbeat story. The dialogue flows and I think that all ages will appreciate this story. It is perfect to read just before Christmas, but it really can be read at any time of the year.

It is a great addition to the school library because it addresses diversity, it is age appropriate, it teaches kindness and it helps readers realize they can prevail through the hardships life throws at them. This is the authors first book, but based on the hype and publicity, I think it will have a place in school libraries for years to come. The cover is illustrated in a non-gender specific tone. The characters are both boys and girls. I would make for a good classroom read aloud. It would also be a good choice for school book clubs, literature circles and free read choices. I personally loved this book! It was well written and just heartwarming to read.

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger - student book review by Alyssa

Change Places with Me is an intriguing example of speculative fiction, set in the near future, 2029, and exploring the idea of a future technology and the impact it could have on our lives. The main character, introduced to the reader in part one of the book as Rose, wakes up to find herself a completely different person than she was before. She’s happier, more outgoing, more normal - and she’s enjoying every minute of it. However, as time goes on, she starts to find things about herself or her memories that seem just plain wrong, and starts to get suspicious. The remaining two parts of the book focus on revealing exactly what happened to “Rose”, with Part 2 going back to before she woke up as a new person, and Part 3 returning to after she finds out what happened and how she deals with it.

When I first began the book, I found myself rather confused with this structure, especially with how part 1 was written. The reader is immediately thrown into the life of Rose, introduced to references to her past and confusion on Rose’s part that initially, until part 2 is read, tend to make little sense to the reader. However, after reading the whole book, I actually really appreciate this choice in structure, and find that it actually makes the book a whole lot more intriguing, as the reader gets to experience the confusion alongside Rose without knowing exactly what happened to her.

In terms of the futuristic part, I thought the idea of the new technology that changed Rose was very profound and well thought out. It deals with not necessarily the removal of memories, but the separation of emotion from the memory of a traumatic event, allowing the patient to move on with their lives without grief or fear of an event hanging over their head. It brings in a lot of interesting questions regarding the nature of our memories and how we should deal with grief itself. Overall, the book was a very quick and easy read. The main sensitive content to consider in regards to audience are regarding grief and the death of a family member. Personally, I found that in the end I really enjoyed the novel, and would definitely recommend it.

With Malice by Eileen Cook student book review by Alyssa

With Malice is the sort of book that, when you finish it, you’ll have to sit there for a few minutes completely blown away by how it ended. It follows the story of Jill Charon, a senior in high school who was accused of murdering her best friend while on a trip in Italy - but has no memory of the entire trip. Throughout the novel, Jill is faced with undeniable evidence that she was, in fact, the murderer: a motive, involving jealousy and a boy; fingerprints; even bystander confirmation; despite the fact that she knows in her heart that there is no way she would hurt Simone, let alone kill her.

The evidence in the story, for one, was very well written. As I went through the novel, I ended up going back and forth multiple times about whether or not I thought Jill was guilty, and by the end they had me so convinced of one side that I was amazed with how it actually turned out. Additionally, the relationship that is built between Jill and Simone was very well done, as I found that, through the use of not only Jill’s perspective and memories, but small excerpts of files from the police including interviews with classmates and others who had gone on the trip, I was able to form a good idea of both their personalities. I found it interesting how there was a lot of play on the bias of the mind, and the untrustworthiness of memories, and Jill had to figure out not only how to get her memories back, but whether the memories were actually real, or influenced by outside sources.

Some things to generally be aware of in regards to the maturity of the book is there are a few sexual references and descriptions of gore. The main character also goes through a lot of psychological trauma, especially with the negative media attention and truth of what she’s told she did. However, although that does affect the age range for the audience, I found that the brutal reality displayed in the book really enhanced the meaning of it, and that the book painted a seriously intriguing story that would be great for free reading.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Exo by Fonda Lee - student book review by Rua

This book is set in a very futuristic world, with Sci-fi Elements embedded. It’s about how aliens came to earth and shared the Earth with the humans. They have given the humans very modern technology, including an embedded shield called an exo in a human's body. This exo is like an extra layer on top of the skin that when on can deflect any harm to the body including bullets. It will also regenerate skin/body cells if the body is hurt. However, in return the aliens can reside and live among the humans on Earth. The problem, however, is that not all the humans agree with that. Instead, there are rebel groups who believe it is unnatural to live and use the alien technology and all they want is for the aliens to leave.

This book is set in the Point of View of a 17 year old boy, Donovan, who is and exo and is part of the military working to protect the country and fight against the rebels. He is the son of the leader of the country, and has lived his whole life believing that these aliens are good and that the rebels are the evil ones. The readers will see as they continue through the book how he is put into many scenarios that will give him his own opinions on the topic rather than just being told what is right or wrong. From the first chapter, I was hooked. We are put on this roller coaster with no instructions and are told to just go along with it, which is a really good way for a book to be written because it keeps it’s readers intrigued. This book is set in a completely different world with different rules and societal norms, but instead of describing them in the first few chapters, the author allows the reader to guess what they are and slowly understand them when following the main character’s life journey. This puts the reader on a more interactive level with the book because it feels as if the reader is experiencing everything that is happening in the book with the main character, since it’s almost as if trying to understand and get used to living in a new country, where you have to experience it to understand it rather than someone telling you everything about it.

The author also wastes no time with description and background information, but instead puts conflict into the main characters life from the beginning of the book. This is a really great way to hook the readers in because action leads to more actions and conflicts lead to more conflicts, and now the reader is left questioning what will happen next and how will the character solve the problem without creating a bigger one. Also, it gives a different view on the characters themselves since the readers see them in a different light and we are given no description or information of who they were before the conflict arose and what they experienced in their life, so when they hint to something, it allows the reader to guess what could have happened and who they were in their past life, giving more puzzles and mysteries to solve. In my opinion, this book was written really well and the plot line was really interesting with barely any boring or dull areas that could have slowed the story down.

The characters in the book are very well rounded where there is no true bad guy, but is left up to you to interpret who the antagonist really is because all the characters are relatable and very hard to completely hate or completely love. They are very human like and have many characteristics as well as faults that every human has as well. I believe this book is best suited for students because it opens their eyes to how societal norms are not viewed very differently for everyone and how what one person might think is right, is not always true. They learn that society is not always right, and that what you might think is normal could be really weird and abnormal to an outsider and vice versa. It can be used to teach the students about society, and societal norms.

Author Website:

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet - student book review by Nicole

Following the story of love and friendships, Farrant writes alongside the plot of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Full of drama and small talk, Farrant reflects period habits through the childish view of Lydia. Turning 15, Lydia Bennet, the youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, receives a journal from her older sister Mary. With complete Georgian Era countryside splendour, Lydia describes her experiences interacting with the community such as Wickham, Mr. Darcy, Harriet, and more. Moving from Merytown to the seaside of Brighton, Lydia discovers a new side of life that she never could have dreamed of before.

Farrant completed extensive research on both the novel Pride and Prejudice and the Georgian Era, but the accuracy in fashion and actions was overshadowed by the explicit thoughts of Lydia expressed in her diary.  The explicitness of actions and beliefs could easily help late elementary and early middle school students fall in love with Jane Austen’s setting. It is quite child friendly and anyone above fifth grade could read it without any comprehension problems.

Through the explicit nature of Lydia’s thoughts, this novel could be an easy way to introduce to young children literary analysis. Tracking colors, relationships, and clothing would not be a difficult task for middle schoolers. Specifically, period fashion such as dresses or parasols are described and represent wealth and power. Also, the relationships centered around Lydia are easy to notice. Wickham is the most noticeable as his relationship regarding Lydia’s love shifts as the plot progresses. Furthermore, the plot correlation between this novel and Pride and Prejudice could be used to familiarize younger students with classics and make them seem less daunting. Personally, I have found that books in this genre make me want to read the original classic. I can see a young student become excited in high school once Pride and Prejudice is an assigned reading due to reading this novel at a young age.