“My Jasper June” by Laurel Snyder

Image result for my jasper june"The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: The past year has been rough for Leah as her family deals with tragedy and her friendships are changing at school.  As the summer begins, she finds that she and her best friend Tess have drifted apart, leaving a hole in her life.  Luckily Leah soon meets a curly redhead girl her age named Jasper who is new in town.  The girls become instant best friends, but Leah discovers that Jasper’s life is full of  hurtful secrets. As each girl grapples with the broken parts of their lives, they realize that being a true friend is neither simple nor easy.

My Take:  This book convincingly portrays a friendship between two girls who are each grappling with pain.  The story is less of a thrill ride and more of an unfolding of the characters as the reader gets to know each of them.  I was most interested in the sense of co-dependency that forms within moments of the girls’ meeting.  Each senses in the other something that they are missing and that they desperately need and want. This urge is so powerful that at times they end up hurting the other person.  I knew from the start that the friendship between Leah and Jasper would not be smooth, but I definitely enjoyed the bumpy relationship between them.  Highly recommended to girls around the age of 11 – 13.

One Interesting Note About The Author: Ms. Snyder lives in Ormewood Park in Atlanta which is the setting for “My Jasper June.”

“Eventown” by Corey Ann Haydu

Image result for eventown by corey ann hayduThe Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less:  Twin sisters Elodee and Naomi are moving with their mom and dad to a new place called Eventown. While the girls are ambivalent about leaving their old house and changing schools, they soon find that Eventown is an amazing place.  The weather is always perfect, the residents are inevitably cheerful, and school has never been more enjoyable.  Eldoee, however, soon begins to sense that something is off, that no risks are ever taken, and nothing much seems to change.  As she becomes more acquainted with Eventown, she decides that the price people pay to live there is too high for her family.

My Take:  I felt that this book worked well on a metaphoric level, so long as the reader does not think too much into it.  Haydu introduces some elements of magical realism into the narrative at certain points and the reader will need to accept these to enjoy the book.  The author asks that we not examine too critically such plot devices as the the cause of the collective psychological fog which embraces Eventown.  When I accept that this is not a book based strictly in realism, I can appreciate that the story does a pretty decent job of exploring the themes of how families deal with change and grief, of how the drive for safety forces people to sublimate other emotional needs, and how deeper meaning derives from the messiness of life.  Astute readers will notice clear parallels to Lois Lowry’s The Giver.  While I’m not crazy about the plot mechanics behind the book, I would recommend Eventown to young people looking for a more serious read.

One Interesting Note About The Author: According to the bio on her website, Corey lives in Brooklyn with her family and “a wide variety of cheese.”

“Shiloh” by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Image result for shiloh by phyllis reynolds naylorThe 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.

 

“Shouting At The Rain” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Image result for shouting at the rain by lynda mullaly huntThe Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less:  Delsie enjoys so many things about her life on Cape Cod:  the fishing, the storms that roll in off the ocean, and the close knit community of her small neighborhood.  Still, she can’t help but think about her mom who left her years before with her grandmother and what the reasons may have been for this abandonment.  Her relationships are also changing as her good friend Brandi begins hanging out with an older, mean girl.  Delsie finds companionship with a boy new to the Cape that summer who seems to harbor as much hurt inside himself as she does.  As new information comes forth about her mother, Delsie finds that she must choose whether to hold on to pain and resentment or to focus on the smaller blessings in her life.

My Take:  I found Shouting At The Rain to be a solid entry in the field of realistic fiction for young readers.  As an adult reader, I enjoyed learning about life on Cape Cod and how the ‘Capers’ and the tourist get along.  Hunt has a talent for conveying blue collar life without making it overly sentimental or pushing it too far.  One character, for example, must move with his family into a campground every summer because their landlord rents their house out to tourists for more money.  It’s an indignity that is mentioned only a few times, but it really serves as an example of what Delsie and the people in her community grapple with.  I would recommend this book to any younger reader interested in a book on changing friendships and life in the summer.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  As she notes on her website, Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s first forays into creative writing were after the passing of her brother, who died shortly before his 4th birthday.   She “wrote songs about him for years–songs about when he was alive and songs speculating where he went after he died. I had always imagined him sitting on a cloud watching me.”  She admits that not a day goes by when she does not think about him.

“Liar & Spy” by Rebecca Stead

Image result for liar and spy by rebecca steadThe Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Georges is a 7th grader in Brooklyn whose family has just experienced job loss and moved from a house to an apartment building. Life at school isn’t much better because he is lately the target of the class bullies.  At the new apartment building, a strange boy named Safer ropes him into spying on a tenant nicknamed Mr. X.  As Georges grapples with the school bullies and struggles to understand Safer’s behavior, he finds that navigating the social waters of adolescence is often times confusing but also rewarding in the oddest of moments.

My Take:  I greatly admired Stead’s Newberry Winner When You Reach Me (2009) and consider it one of my favorite middle grade books.  I enjoyed Liar & Spy, but it was a less pleasurable reading experience for me.  Stead has a gift at creating characters for realistic fiction that are believable, quirky, and endearing to the reader.  I enjoyed getting to know Safer and the odd world that he inhabits in his mind.  I did feel that there were some minor problems with the plot.  Georges’s father seems to contain secrets in his sadness that are never fully fleshed out and there is a plot point involving the mother affixed near the end that feels unnecessary.  Still, this is an enjoyable read about a middle schooler in transition.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  According to her website, before her writing career, Rebecca Stead was a public defender (she thought being a writer was impractical!).

 

“Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate

Image result for wishtree by applegateThe Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Red is a scarlet oak that has stood in a neighborhood for 216 years.  The local people use Red as a wishtree, writing wishes onto scraps of paper or cloth and tying them onto the branches.  When a Muslim family moves into a house close by, Red and its companion animals befriend the daughter named Samar.  But when an act of hate targets Samar’s family, Red finds that she must take a more active role in protecting the people and animals in her neighborhood.

My Take:  Wishtree is an excellent entry into the category of juvenile fiction that deals with immigration and racial tension.   This tale will certainly ring familiar to readers in Trump’s America.  Applegate doesn’t clutter up the tale and instead allows the simplicity of the story and the gentle voice of Red guide the narrative.  Adults who are struggling to explain racism and persecution to children will appreciate this book

One Interesting Thing About The Author:  Katherine Applegate is not only the author of The One And Only Ivan, 2013 Newberry Medal Winner, but also the Animorphs series.

‘The Ethan I Was Before’ by Ali Standish

ethan i was beforeThe Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Ethan and his family are moving from Boston to a small town in coastal Georgia, seeking a new start after a traumatic experience involving Ethan and his best friend Kacey.  As Ethan learns to adjust to his new settings and to try to make peace with the past, he makes a new friend in Coralee, a lively girl who helps Ethan settle into his new life.  But being friends with Coralee also brings its own complications, some that remind him of his painful experience with Kacey.  As Ethan and Coralee’s friendship deepens, they discover that the past has a way of resurfacing in painful ways.

My Take:  This was an excellent read and I can understand it’s inclusion on a lot of mock Newberry lists this year.  Ethan’s pain is convincing and as readers we are pulling for him to find some way to resolve his grief and find solace in his new relationships.   Standish does employ some well worn tropes (the mean girl, the bully, etc.) but none of that should bother younger readers.  I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for good realistic fiction about trying to make peace with the past.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  According to her website, when Ali Standish was young, she and her mother would play a story game.  Ali would give her three things (like blueberries, a panda bear, and a snowy forest, for example) and her mother would be challenged to create a story out of it.