“The Collector” by K. R. Alexander

Title: The Collector

Author: K. R. Alexander

Publication Year: 2018

The Plot: During the summer, Josie and her younger sister Anna move with their mom from Chicago out to the countryside. They move into a large house with their Grandmother Jeannie whose health is failing. Their grandmother soon warns the girls not to go into the woods because a mysterious presence named ‘Beryl’ lives there. Mom explains that grandmother Jeannie is making stories up because her thinking is impaired. At night the girls hear strange sounds coming from the woods and wonder if their grandmother’s stories are true?

My Take: The strength of this story lies in its narrative momentum. Author K. R. Alexander chooses to stick tightly to the plot and not give extra exposition or characterization. Readers looking for world building or fully developed characters will be disappointed, but those wanting a snappy ghost story with some good scares will be pleased. Recommended to any middle grade readers who want a spooky story.

One Interesting Note About The Author: According to his website, K. R. Alexander has traveled the world and even spent time as a performance circus artist with a focus on aerial and trapeze skills. He has recently joined Ecologi, an organization that offsets carbon emissions, and pledged to plant 500 trees for every book that he publishes.

“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.”

“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!).


‘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.

My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson

My Happy LifeGenre: Realistic Fiction

Series? No
Audience Age: 7-9

Rating (1-5):  4

The story in no more than five sentences:  Dani, a girl who is about to start Kindergarten, lives with just her dad and their cat since her mom passed away.  She is very nervous about starting school, but becomes much happier after she befriends Ella.  They do everything together including swinging, trading bookmarks, and playing with Ella’s hamster Partyboy.  But in the middle of the year, Ella has to move away.  Dani is incredibly distraught until a series of events shakes her from her sadness and moves her towards other, different friendships.

The best part of the book in 1 sentence:  The strongest part of this book is Langercrantz’s plain writing style that perfectly expresses Dani slowly adjusting to her loss.  The pen and ink illustrations by Eva Eriksson also warrant mentioning.

 The worst part of the book in 1 sentence:  I honestly cannot think of anything outrageously bad about this book.

 1 interesting note about the author:  Lagercrantz and Eriksson are both Swedish and have been writing children’s books together for a long time.

My Invisible Sister by Beatrice Colin and Sara Pinto

Image Genre:  Comedy

Series?  No

Audience Age:  8-11

Rating (1-5):  3

 The story in no more than five sentences:

Frank and his family have moved to a new town again because his older sister Elizabeth suffers from Formus Disappearus, meaning that she is invisible.  Because of her condition, she rarely adjusts well to new social environments and consequently makes everyone else in the family miserable until they decide to move.  But this time Frank likes his new school and his new friend Charlie and has decided that he must do whatever it takes to ensure that Elizabeth is happy and that the family stays in place.  He helps the neighbors with babysitting and Christmas displays and makes excuses for Elizabeth’s bad behavior.  In the end, he is put to the test when his mom caters a huge town hall party and everything seems to fall apart.

 The best part about the book in 1 sentence:

The best part of this book is when Elizabeth forces Frank to meet Brucey Bruce, the lead singer of the boy band Boys-R-Us!

The worst part of the book in 1 sentence:

The worst part of this book is that Elizabeth is sometimes a too difficult character to like because she comes across as a jerk with some, but in my view not enough, redemptive values.

1 interesting note about the author: 

Beatrice Colin writes mostly for adults and is refreshingly honest in how writing can be difficult:  “as I make my tenth cup of tea, and it’s only eleven am, check my email again and then download another track from itunes, I feel like a total fraud.” (from www.beatricecollin.co.uk)