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.   

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.”

Go With the Flow by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann

5 stars Middle School/YA

I also found this book while volunteering at the library and I’m glad that I picked this one up. Now, I know graphic novels touch on a variety of subject matter but this subject matter is a first for me in a long while (thank you, Judy Blume). As I read this book, the first thought I had was, where was this graphic novel when I was younger?

In this graphic novel, a small group of high school friends come together to provoke a change. Abby, the artist in the group, is preparing for the chance to have a display in an upcoming exhibit in the library. The show features feminist voices and activism. Abby doesn’t realize it but today, marks the beginning of her display.

The three girls find Sasha, a new student, in the hallway needing assistance. The girls immediately sweep in, take her under their wings like good Samaritans, and usher her into the bathroom. They’re nice and honest with her and they don’t leave Sasha until things are under control. It’s now that Abby discovers the injustice that marks the beginning of her art display and the movement that she leads with her friends. As Sasha tries to cope with what has happened to her, the girls try to resolve the issue(s) that they no longer want to ignore.

The three girls welcomed Sasha to their group immediately and they come together to try to change the way that their school handles an issue that has been ignored for quite some time. While this task is underway, the girls talk freely about menstruation. This talk is not restricted, they are very open and sincere, they cover quite a few important issues surrounding this topic, issues that aren’t just mentioned but provide great detail and meaning. I loved the honesty and the emotions that came through this graphic novel. No one held back as they provided feedback or told their own stories as each topic was discussed.

This is an important graphic novel, one that covers a subject some individuals find hard to talk about. Why, it’s hard to discuss? There are a lot of different reasons but in honesty, it’s a topic that should be discussed more openly and honesty. I know, they show the movies and have the discussions at school, but to have a fictional graphic novel that covers this topic, in detail like this one does, is fantastic! Kiddos, to the author for writing such a great book. I highly recommend it.

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

4.5 stars Middle School

As Callum bowed, he extended his hand towards Mila and he touched her.  He really did.  He touched her sweater again; Mila was sure of it.  Claiming it was Leo’s birthday, Mila gave him a hug, an innocent hug. It was the words that left his mouth that told her that she had been deceived.  Mila feels alone, why was this happening to her and how can she stop it?

Confiding with her closest friends, Mila finds that their reactions are different which then, play a significant role in their friendship.  It was the action that a few of Mila friends do, after Mila talked with them, that I couldn’t believe they actually did.  What kind of “friends” were they?  Trying to find an adult to talk to, was difficult.  Oh why, did this have to be so hard?

This is a great book that addresses sexual harassment at the middle school level.  If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right and it should stop.  If you need to talk to someone, find someone, anyone and the sooner the better.  Telling someone to stop, doesn’t always work.  This book needs to be read by everyone.

The Year We Fell From Space by A.S. King

5 stars Middle School

This is an important novel that addresses divorce and depression for children, that speaks their language. Addressing the promises, the hopes, the disappointments, the stresses, the anger, the blame, and just about every emotion that a child feels as their parents separate and divorce, this book confronts them directly.  A.S. King delivers another great book.

The arguing the occurs between Liberty’s parents has reached its limit and now, her dad was moving out.  He was making promises to Liberty and her sister, Jilly to smooth out the situation but nothing he could say would ever make this move easy. Liberty and her dad were close.  They spent a lot of time together, they loved to unravel the night sky together.

Liberty’s world begins to fall apart when her father moves out of the house yet she keeps everything inside her.  She continues to try to find comfort in the night sky but like everything else in her world, it just isn’t there anymore.  Wishing upon stars, asking for guidance, Liberty calls upon the night to help restore her balance. Liberty is spiraling.

I liked the difference between the two sisters.  Liberty was the older sister and she tried to keep her emotions inside and in-control. Her younger sister, Jilly made me smile and laugh numerous times, as she’s young, carefree and she’d let’s go with what’s on her mind, when given the chance.  Liberty couldn’t talk openly so what she really needed was to talk privately with some individuals throughout the book but she just couldn’t. 

I enjoyed how the book dealt with all the different emotions that occur during a divorce. Children are a major part of a divorce yet some parents feel that they’re not, forget to include them, or just don’t want to get them involved.  Children need to be able to talk about their feelings, ask questions and get a truthful (as truthful as they can handle) response to their questions.  Children need to feel valued and respected during this time. I think this book addressed these topics very well. 

I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.  Another fantastic book by A.S. King!   

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

5 stars Middle School

I think I inhaled this book! Intrigued by an approaching storm, Lucy (age 8) and her friend Cecel, climb a metal fence to watch it (I thought to myself, who climbs a metal fence during a storm?). When the storm’s lightning came in contact with that fence, both girls lived to tell their story, but Lucy was left with a gift.  Savant Syndrome.

Extremely talented in math, thanks to that severe storm, Lucy has been homeschooled by her grandmother.  Currently, she feels that she’s ready for something else.  Grandmother however, feels differently and challenges Lucy to a year of public middle school.  When the challenge is accepted, Lucy sets the ground rules: she doesn’t want anyone to know about her math abilities.  I think that Lucy believes that she knows what her biggest challenges are but when it all played out, I don’t think she really did. 

I loved that the author addressed many upper elementary/middle school issues, and that, the story itself felt realistic and valid.  These were characters that I felt that I knew; I have heard their stories while I subbed for them and their actions were spot-on. I loved a lot of things about this book: characters, relationships, drama, birthday party and its after-effects, how individuals mature, and the service project. I highly recommend this book.

She Crossed the Line Too Many Times. Too Close by Natalie Daniels

5 stars Fiction/Suspense

If only she had listened to her gut feelings, perhaps her life would have turned out differently.  I had to wonder as I turned countless pages, was this woman really off her rocker or was it something else that pushed her over the edge? This was one of those stories that carried me along, page after page, chapter after chapter (and those chapter are long!) until the very end. 

I met Emma, a forensic psychiatrist, who was assigned Connie, a patient at a mental hospital. Emma has a great professional front but personally, Emma is hiding something. What Connie did to land in the hospital, I have no idea at this point, but Emma’s job was to decide if Connie would be able to stand trial. I immediately liked Connie when I met her but as story progressed, my feelings towards her were all over the place.  Connie was clever, crafty and also manipulative yet at times, I was wondering what had possessed her, her actions were driving me up the wall! 

The story flashes back and forth, from the past to the present. We get the story how Connie ended up hospitalized and also about Connie and her relationships now.  The author threw in a few dramatic punches in the stories which I really enjoyed and I couldn’t get this book out of my head. 

With the doctor constantly visiting, Connie gets tired of her endless questions and battering.  She just doesn’t know the answers and doesn’t want to remember. Then, Connie sees an opportunity and decides to turn the tables. It becomes rather fun now when the doctor arrives, as Connie tries on her own invisible white coat and plays her own version of doctor.  In the doctor’s volatile state, Connie manipulates her way into the doctor’s head rather quickly.  I began to wonder with the door closed, who was the patient and who was the doctor, as the line began to get rather blurry.

It all still comes back to, what did Connie do to land herself into the hospital?  The plot deepens as her children are introduced and their feelings towards her are revealed.  I liked that the author slowly reveals parts of this mystery to the readers throughout the chapters, creating suspense and drama.  I could feel the tension building.  This was a great suspenseful story, one that I really enjoyed and one that I highly recommend.

Thanks to HarperCollins Publishing and BookPage for supplying me a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review. I won a copy of this book in a Sweepstakes at BookPage. I’m sorry that I missed the ARC’s debut deadline.