April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YA Xpress Reviews | September 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Bass, Karen. The Hill. 256p. ebook available. Pajama. Aug. 2016. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781772780024.

Gr 7 Up –After the private plane Jared is flying in crashes in the wilderness, the first person to reach him is another teen, Kyle, a member of the Cree nation. Desperate to use his cell phone, Jared insists on climbing a hill, though Kyle warns him against it. Kyle ends up going with Jared to protect him. Both boys are thrown into a spirit world; they are pursued by the Wîhtiko, a flesh-eating monster and occasionally helped by the trickster Wolverine as they attempt to find their way back to their own world with Kyle’s grandmother’s prayers as guidance. Along the way, stereotypes are confronted and the boys become tentative buddies in their fight for survival. Told mostly from Jared’s perspective, the narrative shows his personal growth as he follows Kyle’s lead to stay alive. The boys realize that in order to return to their world they must stop the Wîhtiko—or die trying. In the notes, the author explains her use of the Cree language and legends and discusses the individuals with whom she consulted when using them. Kyle often serves as a guide for Jared and helps him realize his own biases, a trope often found in literature. The writing is descriptive and fast-paced, with an impending sense of dread overshadowing everything as the boys try to outrun and outwit the Wîhtiko. VERDICT A survival and buddy story with broad appeal for tweens and teens.–Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

Elliott, Zetta. The Door at the Crossroads. 408p. ebook available. Amazon/CreateSpace. Apr. 2016. pap. $15. ISBN 9781515392163.

Gr 8 Up –This highly anticipated sequel is likely to be a hit among fans who enjoyed Elliott’s A Wish After Midnight. This volume uses time travel, romance, and historical elements to tackle tough topics, such as slavery, racism, and war. The story picks up right where the previous book left off. Genna and Judah find themselves separated by distance within two different time periods and right in the middle of war and tragedy on American shores. While Judah remains in Weeksville, NY, during the 1860s and grapples with what happened to Genna, he decides to fight against slavery in the American South during the Civil War. Genna, however, awakens in Brooklyn on September 11, 2001, just as the Twin Towers have been hit, and is trying to deal with her separation from Judah. She desperately seeks the help of friends and family to find her way back to her boyfriend, but when she finally does, their separation has changed him. Judah seems more concerned about the fight for justice and is hurt by Genna’s absence, which he believes was intentional. Elliott spends most of the work developing the main characters. The alternating chapters and parallel yet intertwining story lines have the makings of an exciting journey, but the plot is sometimes hard to follow because of these elements. However, getting to the last line of the novel will leave teens wanting more. VERDICT For those who appreciate historical fiction with a little fantasy mixed in. It can also be used by educators to encourage discussion among readers who are interested in social justice work.–Nikitia Wilson, Queens Library, NY

Ozkowski, Jane. Watching Traffic. 192p. ebook available. Groundwood. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781554988433.

Gr 10 Up –Everyone in Cavanaugh, Ontario, knows that Emily’s mother killed herself in the local motel and left three-year-old Emily behind, covered in blood. The saccharine sympathy of the adults in town is suffocating, even worse than the cruelty of the young, who call Emily “suicide baby.” It is the summer after her senior year of high school, and the teen’s friends are leaving “Canada’s Armpit” for college and travel. Emily isn’t sure of her next move. She worries she’ll be trapped in Cavanaugh forever, cutting the crusts off sandwiches at Pamela’s Country Catering and watching traffic from the highway overpass. Emily begins her summer binge-drinking at parties, where she meets the new guy in town, Tyler. When Tyler asks Emily about her family, she must choose between the freedom of anonymity and the courage to be honest. The protagonist, her eccentric grandma, her distant father, and her intense best friend Melissa could easily have been clichéd. However, each character in this debut novel is engaging and fully fleshed out. Readers will enjoy Emily’s travails and a surprising subplot featuring Melissa. Ozkowski adeptly captures the absurdity and magic of the last summer before college. VERDICT Recommended for YA and new adult collections at public libraries.–Carly Wiggins, McNeese State University, LA

Paratore, Coleen Murtagh. Roar Like a Girl. 230p. (Always Willa: Bk. 1). ebook available. Little Pickle. Aug. 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781939775078.

Gr 6-8 –When readers last met Willa, she was enjoying a Cape Cod summer, getting to know new stepdad Sam, taking a break from boyfriend JFK, and flirting with handsome Jessie. In this first spin-off of the series that began with The Wedding Planner’s Daughter, Willa is 14, about to start 10th grade, and totally unaware of the changes that are about to throw her into a tailspin. When a fire destroys the beautifully restored Bramblebriar Inn, the family loses everything, including her mom’s business. Sam is offered a one-year position in Troy, NY, so Willa is forced to leave Nana, her friends, her school, and her beloved Salty Dog, who went missing during the fire. Although she rails against the move, she warms to her new home. Its remarkably friendly inhabitants, including a cute neighbor boy, soon make the heroine want to stay in Troy. Willa joins a group of young girls and teaches them to “roar like a girl” when they petition City Hall for a clubhouse. The teen explains a lot of what happened in previous books, wonders about her future, discusses current news events, and offers reading suggestions but faces no real conflicts or adversaries. Although she is an exceptionally bright, likable, and socially conscious young lady who helps those in need, things seem to always go her way and readers know that she will succeed no matter what. VERDICT Fans of the series could be inspired by the protagonist’s positive attitude, curiosity, and kindness to others; this installment lacks conflict to attract a new audience.–MaryAnn Karre, Binghamton, NY

Struyk-Bonn, Chris. Nice Girls Endure. 256p. ebook available. Capstone/Switch. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781630790479.

Gr 8 Up –Chelsea Duvay loves singing and dreams of opening her own shoe store someday. But first she must endure the daily nightmare of high school, where no one sees past Chelsea’s weight. She manages to, as the title implies, endure these indignities and ridicule from all sides. She even begins a tentative friendship with a classmate during their work on a project. Then Chelsea is attacked by the popular boys in her class. They share humiliating photos of her online, but instead of being pushed to the edge, the protagonist reaches inside herself to find her voice and go on. While Struyk-Bonn makes the smart choice not to tie Chelsea’s empowerment to a hokey plot about weight loss, she still spends much of the novel detailing the teen’s mockery and suffering. This doesn’t really advance the narrative, and Struyk-Bonn’s short, declarative sentences make the narrative feel more clinical than empathetic. This technique also seems intended to engage struggling readers, but instead, it fails to fully develop the characters and thus makes it hard to care about them. Even Chelsea’s supposed strength in the face of her abuse ends up reading more like an unrealistic flat affect than an endearing character trait. This protagonist deserves more than endless abuse and humiliation with a small sliver of hinted-at happiness at the end. VERDICT Not recommended for purchase.–Angie Manfredi, Los Alamos County Library System, NM


This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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