Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Highly Illogical BehaviorHighly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to this book on the Axis 360 app available through the NSHS Library. Solomon is agoraphobic and hasn’t been seen by his peers since middle school. Lisa, a high school junior, decides she is going to “fix” Solomon in order to use him as fodder for her college application essay. This idea may seem far-fetched in some places, but I’ve heard crazier “getting into college schemes” in our area. Somehow Lisa’s boyfriend Clark gets pulled into the scheme — I don’t quite remember how. The three become fast friends until they’re not… This a quick, funny read that also speaks to more serious issues such as mental health. It is a great pick for fans of realistic fiction by John Green and Robyn Schneider. ~ Ms. Steiger

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Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, by Matthew Dicks

Memoirs of an Imaginary FriendMemoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a clever premise! Budo is 6 year-old Max’s imaginary friend, and he has survived longer than most imaginary friends (who typically disappear in kindergarten, when children make their own, real friends) because Max is “on the spectrum” and doesn’t have any real friends. Budo helps Max navigate the confusing social environment of school, and protects him as best he can from bullies and from “getting stuck.” But there are limits to Budo’s power in the real world, and when Max faces some serious danger, Budo feels helpless and incapable of mounting a rescue effort. Budo is also in danger, but of a different kind. If he is successful at getting Max to be independent and help himself, will Budo cease to exist like so many other imaginary friends? The book gave me great insight into the thoughts and challenges faced by autistic children while at the same time telling a faced-paced and thrilling story of manipulation, deceit and derring-do. I could have done without the author’s obvious agenda when it comes to certain styles and strategies of teaching, but it didn’t detract too much from the good story. ~ Ms Dimmick

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book covers a lot of ground and it does it very well. Starr is a 16-year old African American girl living in a poor inner-city neighborhood while attending a private school for mostly white students about 45 minutes from her home. That alone could be a book as Starr describes the balancing act of straddling all her worlds — home, with her close-knit family (dad owns a grocery in the hood and mom is a RN, uncle is a cop); school, with her mostly white friends (who are sometimes inadvertently racist and often clueless), and in the neighborhood, where she tries to maintain relationships with her two oldest friends, Khalil and Kenya. Starr’s parents had enrolled her in private school after her best friend was gunned down in a drive-by shooting when they were ten. But that won’t be Starr’s only brush with violence. The bulk of the novel covers the aftermath of Khalil’s death, which Starr also witnesses. Angie Thomas has written a very balanced and well crafted story that should move to the top of your “To Read” pile. – Ms. Steiger

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The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of DolssaThe Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Positively delightful. Historical fiction at its best — tastes like fiction, imparts knowledge like nonfiction. Dolssa, a naive, noble young mystic, barely escapes being burned for heresy in late 13th century France, and is taken in and nursed back to health by Botille and her two peasant sisters in the seaside village of Baja. First repelled by the course sisters and their unfamiliar ways, Dolssa loses her passionate connection to Jhesus and fears that he has forsaken her forever. Circumstances force Dolssa to call upon her beloved to aid villagers in need, including the kindly but strange sisters, and she discovers a mystical ability to heal others. Word of Dolssa’s miracles quickly spread to the Christian inquisitors from whose grasp Dolssa narrowly escaped, and Botille fears that her act of charity toward the young mystic will bring tragedy upon the entire village. If you’re curious about domestic Crusades in Europe, the Inquisition, and you enjoy stories about strong women facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, then you’ll love The Passion of Dolssa. ~ Ms Dimmick

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My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, by Stephanie Perkins

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday StoriesMy True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A perfect holiday read — stories you can chip away at during the margins of your day. Most are very sweet, heart warming romances. A few cross the border into syrupy and are almost offensive in their use of teenage romance tropes, but they’re easy to skip past in favor of the next. There’s a nice mix of contemporary realistic fiction, mystical realism and pure fantasy, and while they are holiday-themed, they do not focus exclusively in Christmas (though it does dominate). The authors, a veritable who’s who of YA fiction, seemed to genuinely enjoy crafting their contributions to this delightful collection. ~ Ms Dimmick

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The Memory Book, by Lara Avery

The Memory BookThe Memory Book by Lara Avery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to this book on the Axis 360 app. The book originally came to my attention from a book review I read last spring. But when I was ready for a new book, I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted another book about a sick teenager. Yes, 18-year old Sammie was recently diagnosed with a genetic brain disease that will cause dementia and eventually death. Normally kids with this disease don’t even make it to high school. This has thrown quite a wrench into Sammie’s plans, which were big since she is a national-level debater and had already been accepted to NYU.

Despite my initial reservations, I was glad to have read this book, even if I ended up weeping in the parking lot as the book drew to a close. The author has structured the narrative in the form of a book that Sammie is writing to her future self to help her remember her life as the dementia sets in. She is sarcastic and funny, and not a little bit hard on herself at times. ~ Ms. Steiger

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Student Review: A Class Divided, Then and Now by William Ernest Peters Jr. (reviewed by Sarina R)

A Class Divided, Then and NowA Class Divided, Then and Now by William Ernest Peters Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is discrimination? In 1968 in Riceville, Iowa, students of all ages had little idea of what the word discrimination meant; and Jane Elliott was determined to change that. In A Class Divided, Then and Now, William Peters addresses the effects of discrimination in education by taking readers on the journey of Jane Elliott’s experiments with her third grade classes. Peters flawlessly appeals to all emotions by making Jane Elliott’s journey understandable and relatable by incorporating details, pictures, and quotes.

Appealing to all emotions, William Peters writes from Jane Elliots perspective, providing intimate snapshots into Jane Elliott’s life. Sparked by Martin Luther King’s brutal murder, Elliott “made her decision in horror, anger, and shame” she decided that “the brutality of race hatred cried out to be explained, understood, committed irrevocably to memory in lesson that would become a part of the life of each child she could reach in it” (13). The author is able to convey Jane’s conflicted thoughts, and does a good job of attaching the reader to her character within the first few pages. Jane ultimately decides to confront the taboo of race and discrimination in the white middle–class town of Riceville, and asks her class to describe African Americans. Immediately a pattern occurs and children answer, they “weren’t as smart as white people,” “they weren’t as clean,” “they weren’t as civilized,” and “they smelled bad” (15). Then, the author uniquely writes that “behind her expression of friendly interest, Jane was appalled” (15). By writing in this way, the author creates a strong relationship with the reader and Jane, even stronger than Jane’s beloved relationship with her students. This relationship between Jane and the reader is maintained throughout the book, which elevates the author’s writing by appealing to the reader’s emotions.

After introducing Jane Elliot’s character, and solidifying the bond that Jane has with the reader, Peters continues on to introduce the experiment. Peters successfully introduces details, pictures, and the results of the experiment in an exciting and surprising way that gives Jane Elliott the recognition she deserves. The reason this book is so enjoyable is because William Peters does not do too much, he tells the story just as it happened, and it elicits a genuine tone into the writing. The experiment that Jane Elliott came up with and did with her third grade class is she assigned her students to one of two groups, the blue eyed or the brown eyed group. Over a two day period students with brown eyes were labeled superior on the first day, while the blue eyed students were labeled inferior, on the second day the roles are reversed. The superior group received special privileges and roles, they got to go back for seconds at lunch time, and have extra time at the recess. As Peters explains, when a student with brown eyes would correctly answer a question, they were told that it was because “brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people. They are cleaner… more civilized… and they are smarter than blue-eyed people”(21). Peters took advantage of the emotional roller-coaster of the experiment, and included all of the heartbreaking details of the experiment. Peters included a quote by Jane Elliott that quoted her groundbreaking discoveries,“by lunch hour, there was no need to think before identifying a child as blue or brown-eyed. I could tell simply by looking at them. The brown-eyed children were happy…The blue-eyed children were miserable. Their posture, their expression, their entire attitudes were those of defeat… they looked and acted as though they were, in fact, inferior” (25). Interestingly, students independently adopted their new roles as inferior or superior, the inferior group even performed worse on work, while the superior group excelled. Peters flawlessly integrates stories of specific students in his writing, but equally as powerful were the pictures included in the book. Peters uses intense imagery to describe the situations, even without the photographs in the book, the writing leaves a clear picture of the effects that the discrimination had on the students in both groups.

This book highlights how discrimination can change a student’s look, performance, and confidence. The experiment that Elliott designed to teach the students what if felt like to be discriminated against, actually informed the rest of the world how discrimination can have a drastic affect on a person. Without William Peters writing, the rest of the world could not have known of the groundbreaking discoveries that Jane Elliott made in her third grade classroom. With the use of beautiful quotes and unbelievable details, the story is exciting to read, and informational. ~ Student: Sarina R

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Student Review: Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools by Jonathan Kozol (reviewed by Nabeel N)

Savage Inequalities: Children in America's SchoolsSavage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools by Jonathan Kozol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inherently Unequal. These are the words Jonathan Kozol uses to describe the education system in the US in his book, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools. This book talks about the discrepancies in the education system and how race, money, and opportunities play big roles in education. The book looks at the everyday struggles that many children with poor backgrounds face when receiving an education. Kozol was a teacher at an all-black school, and found the lack of opportunities for his students alarming. He decided to set himself a new goal, educate students about the unequal opportunities in education. This is an issue that our government claims to be improving. Kozol gets fired for teaching about the differences between richer, white students’ education, and his students’ education. He decides to go tour the US and look into several different school districts and systems. He talks with students, teachers, and superintendents and compares a city education and a suburban education. Kozol finds the differences shocking.

Kozol blames the lack of support from the society for the low levels of academic performance, high rates of dropping out of high school, classroom discipline problems in inner-city schools. He also uses this as an explanation for low levels of college attendance or completion. However, Kozol’s view on inner city school’s issues are not entirely complete. Kozol’s major concern is the lack of funding toward these schools and feels as though, with funding, every student would do better. Although more funding to schools would help, having parents offer support for academics at home is a major key to success for students. The funding would help the teachers and give them more tools to teach with, but the strong support from home would boost the children to do better. Kozol seemed to only talk to the students that had fared well in school.

This book is about the tough realities of our schools and how students in suburban schools, like Newton South, should be thankful and make the most of the opportunity they have. This book should be read by high school students and teachers of all levels. It is not okay that race gets to dictate the chances one has to do better and get farther. This book is worth reading if you are interested in the differences among education systems in different parts of the country. ~ Student: Nabeel N.

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Girl in the Blue Coat, by Monica Hesse

Girl in the Blue CoatGirl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is historical fiction set in World War II Amsterdam. Our protagonist is Hanneke, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenager who works as a receptionist for an undertaker – but is really part of the undertaker’s extensive black market smuggling operation. When one of Hanneke’s regular black market customers asks for Hanneke’s help finding a missing Jewish teen (the Girl in the Blue Coat), Hanneke uncovers a resistance group and begins to understand the war on a whole new level. I liked the characters in this book and always enjoy seeing historical fiction told from an unexpected perspective. Don’t miss the interesting author notes at the end of the book that touch on Ms. Hesse’s extensive research for this novel. ~ Ms. Steiger

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Student Review: Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools by Jonathan Kozol (reviewed by Robin M)

Savage Inequalities: Children in America's SchoolsSavage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools by Jonathan Kozol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

America’s public schools systems are fair, good systems that give children a good education—that is, when those children are white and above the poverty line. Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities: Children in American Schools, began his career in education as a fourth grade teacher in an all black school in the Boston public school system. Kozol lost his job because he gave his 35 students an assignment to read Harlem by Langston Hughes. Kozol got fired because, according to the principal, this poem was too advanced for his fourth grade students; they received reading test scores comparable to a second grade level. After this teaching job, Kozol taught in a school in the suburbs of Boston, and it was completely different— the teachers cared. This difference piqued his interest, so Kozol visited schools in 30 cities around America to make sure that the school systems were doing their part in providing a good educational foundation for the youth of America; however, he found that they were doing the opposite.

According to Kozol, the worst public school systems in America are in major cities and in districts that have high levels of poverty. In addition to the vast difference between the level of education being received by the different districts, the lack of diversity was also very shocking. It does make sense that the schools that perform worse would be in districts of poverty, with less money to fund the schools; however, the representation of white students was almost nonexistent. “Most of the urban schools [Kozol] visited were 95 to 99 percent nonwhite. In no school that [he] saw were nonwhite children in large numbers truly intermingle with white children.” (3). These shocking real life statistics used by Kozol do a good job of providing the reader with real life examples and evoke the feelings of mistreatment that the students feel everyday.

Kozol’s analyzation of these school systems portrays the student’s feelings of deprivation and proves that they are aware of the unfair treatment, ‘“why should I go to war and fight for opportunities I can’t enjoy—for things rich people value, for their freedom, but I don’t have that freedom and I can’t go to their schools?”’ (127). Kozol makes the children feel heard; he gives them a voice. These voices are screaming for help—most of them know their almost inevitable future, drugs, crime and poverty, and only want the chance to prove themselves. ~ Student: Robin M.

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