This title was on the "Recommended for First and Second Graders" list at the library. I chose Roscoe Riley Rules: #1 Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs by Katherine Applegate, as one of a few titles that have first grade reading levels but are shelved in the Juvenile section, not the brightly labeled Easy Reader section. I also surreptitiously hid the list from Edmund, lest he get the sense that he is not reading 4th grade books.
His choices were this one, and the first Secrets of Droon, which I reviewed ages ago. He chose humorous reality over fantasy. He was very proud of the fact that he read several chapters the first day...until his sister commented, "Yeah, but the chapters are only like a page long."
sigh. I murdered her with my eyes, then I made her go clean out the fridge.
He stuck with it! He finished the whole dang thing! And then he asked me to get the next book in the series too. Happy Dance!
How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart is a book that I hated at first and really kind of liked by the end.
In Chapter One, our unlikely hero, 11 year old David is making a mock Daily Show video for YouTube. Every webisode he makes includes a bit called the Daily Acne Forecast, where he surreptitiously (getting lots of mileage out of this SAT word today) films a close-up of his older sister's face and says something snarky like, "oily with major breakouts later this afternoon." Very cruel. Oh, and the videos he makes go viral and he gets sort of famous.
Well, this is just one small part of what's going on with David. His mother left the family to live on a remote beet farm with no phone. His best friend is suddenly only interested in girls. His transfer from elementary school to middle school is NOT going well with being friendless, and bullied, despite being sort of famous. (Is there a good vocab word for "sort of famous"?)
The whole acne thing with his sister does get addressed. She is righteously hurt and angry, as are his father and grandmother. David does make amends.
And he does get the rest of his life back together somewhat too. Except for the broken home part. His mom has some mental issues like agoraphobia and probably a bi-polar disorder, and she is not coming home from the beet farm, and Marcus, the farmer who runs it, probably ever.
Definitely not the greatest book I've read for middle schoolers, but not the worst either.
The Roar by Emma Clayton reminded me a lot of the 70s classic sci-fi novel, Ender's Game. Both books are about kids playing video or virtual reality games as training for war.
In The Roar, all of the animals on Earth were victims of the animal plague, which basically turned the animals into ferocious monsters. All of humanity has secured itself behind the wall, the largest structure ever made, separating, northern Russia, Europe and Canada from the rest of the planet. To stop the plague, the rest of the planet was doused with a toxic yellow powder that destroyed everything.
The story revolves between twins, Mika and Ellie, who have been separated for about a year, since Ellie was kidnapped by the villainous mastermind, Mal Gorman.
It's a long and complex story. Great writing, but very violent, similar to The House of the Scorpion. I didn't like the ending though. It wrapped up rather suddenly, with some ridiculous twists, and all set up for a sequel. The sequel, The Whisper, is already out. I'm not sure I want to read it. I've had enough dystopian YA fiction for awhile.
One of my most favorite contemporary authors is Matthew Quick. His first YA novel, Sorta Like a Rock Star, is phenomenal. But gritty. Inner city girl and her mom, living in a bus, mom gets murdered one night. The whole community comes together to shower the girl with love and support, including of the best examples of a Catholic priest in literature today. I ugly cried. But I only let my high schoolers read it.
So I was understandably excited to read Quick's next novel, Boy 21. It's also gritty, set in a poor town in Pennsylvania, run by gangs, drug lords, and the Irish mob.
Finley is a quiet white kid who plays a lot of basketball. He does not have a lot of innate talent, but he's worked really hard, training all year round, to get his spot as point guard in the starting line-up. He lives with his dad, and his legless, alcoholic grandfather. He trains with his very talented girlfriend, Erin, who is the sister of someone in the mob, and thus Finley and Erin are "protected."
They also kiss. A lot. Many make-out sessions are mentioned but not described.
What is described are Finley's thoughts, as he glimpses her sports bra covered breast through the armhole of her jersey. Or how after dribbling for five miles, Erin takes off her jersey and lies back in just the sports bra, and Finley wants to run his hands over her abs. This kind of thing gets mentioned in the first few chapters, (I think I've described the only two instances.) but then the season starts and Finley breaks up with Erin during the season. They break up every year for basketball. You can tell that Erin and Finley really love each other, making this sacrifice every year.
I don't think Finley's thoughts are gratuitous, but rather honest. That is what high-school boys actually think about around girls. Quick is writing in Finley's voice, and doing a damn fine job.
The Erin/Finley/arousal motif is a small part of a much greater whole that involves a high school basketball superstar coming to town incognito after his parents' murders. Russ, or rather Boy 21, as he prefers to be called now that he has post-traumatic stress disorder, believes that his parents are in outer space and will come to get his soon.
Finley's coach has asked Finley to look out for Russ, who also happens to be a point guard. Then Erin gets hit by a car, probably as mob payback for something her brother did. After a few days in the hospital, she severs all contact with Finley and virtually disappears.
Finley does help Russ shed his Boy 21 persona and take over his spot on the team. Without Erin and without basketball, he eventually comes to grips with his own traumatic past. But no spoilers.
A beautiful book, not for kids, though. I hold with the idea that books written about eighteen-year-old high school seniors, should be read by eighteen-year-old high school seniors. Or moms. Or other adults. If you liked the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino, you'll like Boy21. You'll find it in the YA section.
Finally! A book that I both liked and would recommend for kids. Dark Life by Kat Falls is also set in a time when most of the earth has been destroyed. This time, earthquakes have sunk most of the land, so people are packed into stack cities. Ty's family was one of the first of the new pioneers, establishing Benthic settlement on the ocean floor, complete with livestock and greenhouses.
A band of underwater outlaws known as the Seablite Gang have been attacking the Commonwealth supply subs, and even the settlers themselves. The Commonwealth has withdrawn all support of the settlement, including the law-enforcement ranger and the only doctor, until the settlers capture the gang themselves.
That's a good plot right there, but add the idea that kids raised on the ocean floor might have Dark Gifts or supernatural powers, and now you have an awesome plot. These rumored dark gifts are said to be caused by water pressure on the brain, causing increased brain function. Ty was the first child to be born down under, and he is adamant that dark gifts do not exist. Yeah, sure he glows a little, but all the kids who eat bio-luminescent fish have a shine. At least that's what he tells topsider, Gemma, who is on a quest to find her older brother, who's last know whereabouts were prospecting on the ocean floor. It just gets better and better.
I can't believe this is Kat Falls' first novel. Ooooh! I just clicked over to her blog and she's already written a sequel, Riptide. Turns out Kat doesn't live that far away from me. If she wants to come pick up some autographed copies to give away on this site, or just meet for crepes or coffee or both, she can find my email by clicking on "View my complete profile" in the sidebar.