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.”
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: As the school year winds down, Derek Fallon finds a newspaper clipping in the attic about a girl who drowned 12 years ago off of Martha’s Vineyard. Derek is curious to find out more about the girl but is stonewalled by his parents. On top of that, because of his poor grades and general misbehavior, his parents decide to send him to Learning Camp over the summer. Derek struggles through the daily lessons and math games at the camp and in his spare time investigates the mystery of the drowned girl. When he convinces his parents to take a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Derek hopes that he will be able to get to the bottom of the mystery.
My Take: I had difficulty enjoying the character of Derek Fallon. In several instances throughout the book, he engages in behavior that is hurtful to others, but he never seems to have a full reckoning with it. The author’s intent was probably for comic effect directed at younger readers, but I couldn’t get past that Derek has a side to him that was cruel and selfish. The author showed little interest in exploring this side of Derek (which, honestly, would probably have made a more interesting read!) or the consequences of his actions. His immature behavior subsides for several chapters near the end when he is finding out the truth behind the mystery. Rather than it being a convincing character change, however, I found these chapters to be distinctly out of place with the rest of the book and I never believed Derek’s transformation to be earned. I would be hesitant to recommend this book to young readers unless they enjoyed sarcasm and poor choices on the part of the main character.
One Interesting Note About The Author: The My Life book series is illustrated by her son Jake.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Due to a last minute change of plans, Cat and her younger brother Chicken must spend 3 weeks of their summer vacation with grandparents whom they have never met. They live on an island in North Carolina, which is at once an idyllic setting, but also presents challenges to Cat who must manage Chicken special needs, including his tendency to run off. As Cat struggles with her brother’s behavior, she draws closer to her grandparents and to other children on the island. Through these relationships, she discovers new things about herself, but also wounds that hopefully her time on the island can help heal.
My Take: This is a strong first novel by Gillian McDunn and makes a respectable entry into the canon of realistic juvenile literature. The central story of the book is Cat’s growth and change over the summer and her struggle to understand the things that have pulled her family apart in the past. McDunn makes a strong argument that the youngest members are sometimes the best ones to offer an opportunity for a family’s fresh start. The author is adept at exploring several heavy themes — such as the inherent loneliness in care taking, the way that bullies themselves are victimized, the need to control, etc. — without making this into an ‘issues book.’ I would happily recommend this to any reader around 11 years who is ready to consider some heavy themes.
One Interesting Note About The Author: The book Caterpillar Summer is in part inspired by McDunn’s relationship with her brother who multiple disabilities.
The 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.