Title: Mary Underwater
Author: Shannon Doleski
Publication Date: 2020
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: 13 year old Mary Murphy lives on an island that borders the Chesapeake Bay. Her father is home from prison and as a result, her life at home has become much more unsettled. One bright spot is that she seems to be growing closer to her friend Kip as they work on a science project together. As her father demonstrates increasingly violent behavior, Mary strikes upon a way to focus her scientific mind on a project that will take her off the island: building a submarine.
My Take: I thought that this was a strong debut from author Shannon Doleski. The story is straight forward and the theme of female empowerment is conventional, but Doleski does not waste the reader’s time. At no point does the narrative bog down in heavy description or indulge in extraneous side stories. This is Mary’s story of coming into her intellectual powers and experiencing love for the first time and that is enough. I also found the basic mechanics behind submersibles to be fascinating. Due to the love interest, I found this to be more of a tween than juvenile selection.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Shannon Doleski curses too much.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Marty Preston is an 11 year old who lives in the hill country of West Virginia. While out exploring the countryside, he encounters a beagle who follows him home. Marty immediately takes to the animal and names it Shiloh. He is soon disappointed when he learns that Shiloh belongs to Judd Travers, a neighbor who abuses his animals. Marty’s struggle over the ownership of Shiloh forces him to face questions about right and wrong, loyalty, and friendship.
My Take: Shiloh won the Newberry Medal in 1992 and the quality of Naylor’s writing certainly justifies this award. As I was reading the novel, I found myself wishing that I had read this book years earlier in my library career. The story of a boy and his dog is a well worn theme in juvenile literature, but Naylor’s handling of the material never seems stale or cliche. As readers we immediately appreciate the relationship between Marty and Shiloh and we know that it must endure. Our hearts are invested. Naylor deserves credit for rounding out the character of Judd Travers, a man who has himself experienced abuse. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for the feel of a classic story.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her biography on her website, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was making ‘books’ as far back as the 4th and 5th grade. She would write on scratch paper, draw pictures, and then staple it all together.
Plot: Joey Pigza is a boy who has ADHD. He pulls out his hair, he spins through the hallways at school, and snatches flies out of the air. His home life exacerbates his condition. His father, who is an alcoholic, left when he was in kindergarten and his mother followed right after him. Joey’s grandmother steps in to raise him but, due to her own psychological problems, ends up emotionally abusing him.
When we meet Joey, his mother has returned to raise him, but his behavior continues to deteriorate. Events come to a head when Joey swallows his house key and also, albeit unintentionally, hurts another student with a pair of scissors.
Joey is sent to a special education center across town with children who suffer from sever physical and cognitive disabilities. The question for Joey now is will he be able to pull himself together with the help of medication and return to school?
Personal Reaction: I liked this book because it is written from the point of view of the unreliable narrator Joey. As readers, we understand that we aren’t getting the full story, and yet, through little hints and cues, we can feel the adults’ frustration waft off of the pages. Still, Joey remains a likable character because he does struggle with himself and genuinely wants to get better.
I would recommend this book to ages 9-12. This may be of special interest to children and parents who suffer from ADHD. Published 1998.
Themes: disabilities, social outcast, abandonment, alcoholism, special education
It is the summer of 1959 and Bobby and his brother Ricky are on a road trip with their mother and grandmother driving from Cleveland, Ohio down to Florida. The reason for the trip is to drive grandma back home, but on their way they are touring Civil War battlefields.
Much farther south, an African American boy by the name of Jacob is taking the bus from Atlanta to go visit some relatives that live out in the country in Dalton, Georgia. He will spend a week there fishing with his uncle and spending time with his cousin.
Despite the seemingly pleasant circumstances surrounding both of these trips, each boy soon finds that disturbing events are beginning to affect their lives. Touring Civil War battlefields across the country, Bobby slowly realizes that his mother has decided on this trip to get them away from their abusive father and for her to decide if she wants to end the marriage. While in Dalton, Georgia, Jacob discovers that his big city behavior, his whistling and carrying on, does not sit well with the white people in the small town.
As the book progresses, the reader slowly realizes that we are watching these families geographically moving towards each other and, perhaps, to an explosion of violence. The tension soon rises on both sides. Bobby’s mother crashes the car outside of Chickamauga in a spasm of fear trying to drive away from some well intentioned black people. They will have to take the bus home. Meanwhile, Jacob has turned up missing in Dalton. His family back in Atlanta boards the very same bus in hysteria knowing, just knowing, that their boy has been killed by some country whites.
Author Tony Abbott deftly builds up each of the characters, exposing a history of violence and abuse in both families. The ending is as touching as it is painful and leaves open the questions of how these young men will continue to navigate a world and society that is fundamentally unjust. Excellent YA literature dealing with racism, family ties, abuse, brothers, and road trips.