Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus

5 stars Middle School

This sequel was just as enjoyable as the first book in this series and I enjoyed hanging out with Aven as she began her first year in high school.  If you haven’t read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can still read this sequel, but I highly recommend that you read the first book, as you’ll enjoy this story more.

I liked how the author kept the characters real.  Their voices rang true to their feelings and they never sounded flat.  Each character felt important and their stories were important to each other.   They each struggled yet they didn’t lose all hope.

I remember seeing a girl in my high school who also, had no arms.  She was a few grades ahead of me and she amazed me.  I remember trying to watch her from a distance (I didn’t want to stare at her), as I just couldn’t believe that she was actually going to “my school!” This was in the early 1980’s and I don’t ever remember hearing a negative comment about her in fact, this girl was quite popular. She was also a great swimmer on the school’s swim team.  I think it’s interesting that after all these years of being out of school, I can remember this girl’s name yet, other individuals I saw everyday or hung out with, I can’t.  This unique individual, left an impression with me which at the time, I didn’t realize.    

This is a great book that I highly recommend.  If you haven’t read the first book in the series, I recommend you read that first, if you can.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

5 stars Middle School

This book is about accepting what is life and creating your own journey. It’s about the friendships that are real, the ones that really matter and about appreciating these individuals. This book is about seeing the sun on a cloudy day. This was a book that was hard to put down.

Mark wants a courageous and beautiful life yet a fight has been going on inside Mark’s body for quite a while. Unfortunately, the war is winning. It’s now or never, as Mark decides to attempt one of his dreams. With his dog Beau accompanying him, Mark attempts to climb Mt. Rainer.

It’s an incredible journey: a journey of discovery and emotion. I would love to talk about the ending as it was incredible but I’m not going to spoil the book. I will say that the emotions that I felt, the character’s frame of mind, and their emotions, were the finishing touches on this fantastic book.

Caleb and Kit

4.5 stars Middle School

I felt more compassion for the secondary character in this book than the main character. At first, I thought perhaps Kit was imaginary but then as the story progressed, I wanted to know more about Kit’s situation as it seemed she had no one, except the rock.

Caleb’s best friend is now into sports, leaving all the things they used to do together behind. Caleb feels like he lives in the shadow of his perfect, older brother Patrick.  To escape his brother, Caleb heads off into the woods by their house.  Spying some crawfish, Caleb stops to try to catch them.  He thought she was an angel the way the sun surrounded her face, but it was only Kit, the new girl who was now telling Caleb how to fish.

This was where she hung out at.  This area inside the woods. She invited him to return the next day and he definitely would!  Finally, he had someone to hang out with and a special place that no one knew about. 

I liked reading about the friendship these two started and how things progressed. They both had issues that they were trying to hide/avoid.  Kit was doing a great job of hiding hers and then, there was Caleb, who couldn’t get away from his.  Caleb had a father who was unpredictable, a mother who was over-protective, and a brother who thought he could do no wrong.

Caleb starts to question Kit about her carefree life and her responses were short and matter-of-fact. I felt there was some kind of jealousy at times, as Caleb watched Kit.  I wanted and needed to know about Kit, as there’s something going on there.  Yet, Kit remains silent, not questioning Caleb about his life.  Caleb wonders if she notices that he’s different than other kids.

It’s a great book that covers a lot of different topics. Caleb has cystic fibrosis and Kit is being abused and neglected but these issues don’t take center stage.  It’s quite an adventure.

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama Lockington

4.5 stars Middle School

It’s hard walking in Makeda’s shoes.  The body that occupies those shoes, misses her best friend that she had to leave behind, when she moved with her family this summer.  That same body, is stared at and harassed by her peers when she begins 6th grade at her new school.  That same body, feels that no one understands exactly what she goes through, not her mother nor her sister, even though they think they do.  That same body, doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs. The battles that Makeda faces are real, they’re typical of what’s happening in our world today and that’s important.  It’s looking at these conflicts through the eyes of Makeda, that makes this book significant.   

Makeda, is an 11-year-old African American girl who was adopted by a white family. Before they moved, Makeda had a best friend named Lena, who was also adopted. This connection, linked the two girls and they became very close to one another.  Now, Makeda feels as if she’s connected to no one and her connections with Lena are now long-distance.  It’s hard being a teen and moving into a new neighborhood but for Makeda, the situation becomes even more difficult when she’s questioned about her parents on the that first day of school.

Adoption.  Moving.  Racial tension.  Teen and school issues. Mental illness (suicide attempt).  How much more can an 11-year handle?

No one can walk in Makeda’s shoes.  Her situation is her own.  She’s unique and special but she doesn’t see it that way. She feels alone, isolated and hurt. 

This is an important book to read and I highly recommend it.    

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

4 stars Middle School

Everything her mother ever said about Zoe’s father was negative when she asked. Zoe knew where her father was but she didn’t know what he did, to end up in prison.  Now, on her 12th birthday as Zoe grabs the mail from their mailbox, she finds an envelope addressed to her with a return address from the Massachusetts State Penitentiary.  That envelope could only contain one thing, something from her father. 

This book had an excellent flow to it and the story was fun to read. I thought the author did a great job showing us the different emotions that Zoe experiences throughout the book and I liked how grandma tried to do the balancing act with the different characters.  I understood exactly why/how grandmother felt the way she did, as she maneuvered around the individuals in her life. Zoe’s friend Trevor, was good for her.  I was surprised how quickly he forgave her and how willing he went along with her suggestions.  I don’t think Zoe gave enough credit to Trevor. 

There were a few instances in the book that didn’t make sense to me.  These were based on the characters and our current time period.  I don’t want to spoil the book by mentioning them but Zoe is only twelve-years old and some of the things that she was doing just didn’t seem feasible for a person of that age.  But, if you let your imagination take you away, anything is possible.

In the book, Zoe begins to secretly write her father in prison, asking him a variety of questions.  Her father claims that he’ll be honest with her in his return letters but Zoe is torn between believing what her mother has said and the man, who she has never known.

Her grandmother accidently discovers Zoe’s secret and grandmother strikes up a deal with Zoe and now, who knows where this will all end.  I understand grandmother position in this mess but I also feel that there’s going to be fireworks, if and when Zoe’s mother finds out (and she will eventually find out, she has to, you just know she will).

If that’s not enough, Zoe told her parents that she would do a summer internship at her aunt’s bakery.  She needs to prove to them that she’s ready to enter a kid’s cooking competition on the Food Network. Did someone say cooking competition?  Zoe believed that this would be a great opportunity for her, yet when she arrives, it’s not what she expected.

It’s an eventful summer for Zoe with her internship and secretly corresponding with her father in prison.  It jumps into high speed when she learns some interesting information about her father and decides to explore it further it.  A conflict with her best friend Trevor, will need to be resolved quickly as she can’t do this alone.

Revenge of the Red Club by Kim Harrington

Middle School 4.5 stars

Riley has always had a way with words, she uses them to get her point across.  In Riley’s school, The Red Club, has been meeting for years, but this year it’s under attack. This challenge was just the first of many that were revealed and challenged under the roof of Riley’s middle school.  Riley and her friends want an equal playing field, they have excellent points to back themselves up, so watch out Hawking Middle School, the battle has just begun.

I enjoyed how this middle school book addressed a variety of controversial and important issues.  The Red Club is a long-standing club at this school yet this year, it’s coming under fire.  The club is for girls who have started their menstrual cycle.  If you haven’t experienced “Aunt Flo,” you can’t be a member of the Red Club.  There are positives and negatives to being a member of the club and as the students respond to the club and its members, I learned what some of these reasons were.  The book centers around this club but the book also addresses bullying, double standards, dress-code, self-absorbed individuals, pressure, communication, family, and friendship. I know, it’s quite a list.

One day, Riley offered some female help to Julia.  Being new to the school, Riley then told Julia about the Red Club, who seemed excited about it.  Yet, Julia informed Riley later her mother didn’t like the idea of the club therefor she wouldn’t be attending the meetings.  What?  Why is that?

It isn’t long before the principal closes down the club which ticks off the members.  Some of the girls still decide to meet off-site (love this!).  Riley, an excellent investigative reporter for the school’s newspaper wants to investigate but, the newspaper is now shut down.  What!?  Riley is good at exposing the truth, her articles have raised a few eyebrows including the principals.  What can Riley do now? It’s time for the girls to unite. 

This wasn’t a female vs. male book, rather it shows the perception of issues.  There were some males who understood what Riley’s and her friends were saying and stood with them as they faced their opponents.

It thought it was a great read and I only had one issue with the book. When Riley talks with her mom, I had an issue with that scene.  It’s definitely a terrific middle school read.    

Crossover: graphic novel by Kwame Alexander

5 stars Graphic Novel

This was fantastic!  You could really feel the energy and the emotions in this graphic novel which is an adaptation of the original novel with the same name.  I think kids will love this book.

This is not your typical graphic novel with text boxes, this graphic novel’s illustrations and text fill up the entire page.  Whether the page includes one illustration or four, it is the exact amount that is needed to get the point across.  With varying sizes of text, you will find yourself catching the rhythm of the book, as the story unravels. Using only shades of orange, black, and white, throughout the book, it’s amazing how captive you will become to Josh’s story.

You see, they were twins, Josh and Jordan.  Great basketball players who did a lot together.  Their father was a legend, on the court, many years ago.  Lately though, Jordan’s eyes have not been on the ball so much.  His eyes are on a girl and Josh feels ignored/left out/abandoned. Josh wants his father to intervene but his father won’t. Dad has some health issues that mom has been riding him on but dad says he’s fine.  I love the word play this couple speaks to one another. 

You can feel the energy soaring through the pages, the pain that’s growing inside of Josh, and witness the relationship that’s building between Jordan and his new friend.  The words were carefully chosen, they fit, they fit like a glove to make this graphic novel pulse.  

Then, he does it.  Josh unleashes his frustration and I hope that he feels better because everyone else doesn’t.  He’s done more harm then good and the repercussions of his anger, he’s paid a price for it. 

Excellent graphic novel!  Very powerful and is one that is definitely worth reading.   

Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

3 stars Graphic Novel

Have you ever read a book and even though it stretches your imagination, you’re actually liking it, and then……bam, they’ve totally lost their minds and you wished, you could undo what you’ve just read?  That’s what I felt as I read Making Friends. This middle school graphic novel was dealing with some typical teen issues in a unique way when suddenly the main character cracked.

Dany’s Aunt Elma died, leaving the family to sort out her estate on their own.  Dany finds herself in the possession of one of her aunt’s sketchbooks, one of the few items the family didn’t fight over. Labeled, “handle with care,” Dany finds many of the pages empty and after a hard day at school, she begins to sketch in it.

Life was easier in elementary school when Dany had Joan and Leah at her side but now in middle school, it was getting more complicated.  Dany decides to draw Prince Neptune, yet she stopped after only drawing his head.  Neptune would protect her, if he was real.  Dany talks to her drawing as her pencil slides over the paper. Admiring her finished drawing, Dany is stunned when the image pops off the paper and becomes a living thing! Remember, she only drew his head so the Prince is now a talking head.

Prince Neptune is immediately head-over-heels in love with Dany and calls her Princess Dany and boy, how fun is this!? Dany is enchanted and scared at the same time.  What has just happened?  The prince is compassionate, caring, and supportive to Dany (even though, sometimes his ideas are a bit extreme) but you need to remember that he’s just a head, that was drawn to protect Dany and he doesn’t know that much about this world and then you’ll understand why he says what he does. 

Having the prince around does help Dany but it’s not like the prince can be out and around everyone else.  Dany wants other friends and she wants to fit in, but how? You guessed it!  She takes her pencil and she begins drawing in her aunt’s sketchbook. I see the dangers of this right away but Dany, she thinks it’s going to work out wonderfully.

Now, Dany is on a roll and she can’t stop now.  It’s as if someone has taken over this girl and she has become a different person, who is she? Dany is this loud, screaming individual who rants and yells. Her face takes up the whole text box.  Someone, please push her off button.  I was liking this book until Dany got greedy.

Overall, it was a fun book that I was enjoying until things got out of hand.  Why Dany had to go extreme, I have no idea but it was a turn-off for me. 

Best Friends by Shannon Hale

5 stars Graphic Novel Middle School

Are your actions and feeling based on how you actually feel or are they based upon how you’re supposed to feel?  It was all so confusing and to Shannon, it seemed that the rules keep changing. 

It’s their last year in elementary school and Shannon thought this year would be great yet it’s not starting out that way. She thought that she fit in with her girlfriends but now, she just doesn’t.  Why is it that there’s a difference between what Shannon thinks and what her girlfriends think now? How had they become so different? Shannon starts to second guess everything about herself and it’s painful to see how much she’s working at this. I had to wonder why Shannon was the only one who was excluded in this bunch of girls and why?  The girls, I thought, were mean sometimes to Shannon, yet she didn’t want to be excluded from this group so she worked harder to try to fit in.

I didn’t read the first book in this series but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this graphic novel. I could totally understand how Shannon felt in this book although, I’m not the targeted audience.  I believe many individuals understand this frustration.  It’s only when you start feeling comfortable and accept who you are, do you start doing your own thing and you don’t worry so much about fitting in. I’ve even met older women who still worry about what others think too much. 

Shannon tries to be cool like her friends, she tries to figure out the correct way to act and feel yet, just when she thinks she has it figured out, the rules change!  One minute it’s one way, another minute it’s another way – Shannon just can’t keep up!

It’s a terrific graphic novel with wonderful, colorful text boxes. The flow of the story was easy to follow also.  This graphic novel is definitely one that’s worth reading.   

Here in the Real World By Sara Pennypacker

5 stars Middle School

I really wasn’t sure how I felt about this book until I was a few chapters in and then, well I loved this book!  Ware had just witnessed his grandmother being whisked off to the hospital and now his summer plans were ruined.  He didn’t want his parent’s Plan B for his summer, that is, until he found a tree.  Climbing that tree was the beginning of Ware’s own Plan B.

Ware’s parents had a goal for the summer and they immediately found an alternative plan for Ware when his grandmother could no longer care for him over the summer.  Ware didn’t want his parent’s alternative plan, and he was now, begging and bribing his parents to change their minds. In the end, nothing worked.

Plan B. Most everything looked the same as it did years ago, as the building appeared before him.  Ware knew he couldn’t live out the rest of this summer at the Rec.  This was daycare and he was now 11 ½, this place is not for him. I loved Ware’s attitude; at times, he acted older than he was yet there’s still that child within him.  Ware finds his escape during exercise class, when he spots a huge tree in the lot next door.  Believing that the tree would provide the perfect cover, he scales it.  How long can Ware hide up in the tree?

Ware had studied medieval times at school and he was becoming obsessed with castles, knights and various items from that era.  His plans at his grandmothers to build a replica were now cancelled but now sitting in this tree, Ware remembered the church that was on this lot. Shock came over him, as he noticed that the church had been destroyed and was now lying in pieces.  Ware notices a girl digging in the dirt, behind the church.  Trying to remain undetected, Ware creeps closer yet the girls spots him immediately.

Instantly, Jolene take control of the situation. She announces that this area is hers and that Ware needs to leave immediately!  I thought this was funny when I first read it.  It totally took Ware off-guard.  I wasn’t expecting Ware to fight back but he did.  He also took control.  He told Jolene that the church was his and her response…..well, she would just have to see about that. 

I liked how the two of them fit together.  Ware needed a space and the damaged church provided that for him.  Actually, it provided more than just a space for him to hang out but I’m not going to spoil the book for you.  Jolene needed the space behind the damaged church.  You might be thinking, what is Jolene doing? Well, Jolene is having some issues at home so she needs this space behind the church. They also needed each other, sometimes more than the physical space.  There are also problems because the lot has a sign on it and the sign means problems for more than just these two.  

Jolene and Ware worked hard and tried to transform the area that they were now trying to claim as their own.  I enjoyed reading about this and how they got along.  The references to the baptistry, the “do-over tub, the “sinner” tub, and the moat made this a fun book to read.

I loved how Ware alluded his mother each day when she dropped him off at the Rec.  Ware wanted to tell his mother what he was doing but he overheard her talking one day and he now knows, that he can’t. He then tries hard to be a knight and abide by the Knight’s Code that he has memorized.  I really enjoyed it when Uncle Cy and Ashley were added to the story, they were wonderful characters and I feel that they added a great deal to the story.  

What an excellent story, I really enjoyed it.  It was crazy good!  The ending gave me goosebumps as I was shedding happy tears.

“don’t ask to be normal- you’re better than that.”