90 Miles to Havanna
The 1961 evacuation of children from Cuba to the United States in Operation Pedro Pan forms the historical context for this first-person, present-tense narrative. The book opens with the ordinary bustle of a family fishing excursion north of Havana on the edge of the Gulf Stream. Young Julian’s ineptness in this situation sets the stage for his loss, foreshadowing the far greater losses to come, as well as the far greater challenges he will need to face. It’s the last time that he and his brothers will experience anything resembling normalcy in their lives. Through Julian’s journey to Miami and beyond, Flores-Galbis not only draws on his own experiences as a child refugee but also paints the landscapes of Julian’s experience with accomplished ease. Green almonds in Cuba, a drawing book, the camp in Miami, the twists and bends of a rigged tomato-picker’s conveyor belt, and the swift escalation of a schoolyard fight–each of these images is vivid on the page. Whether it’s the threat of separation hanging over the brothers, the machinations of the camp bully Caballo, or the looming shadows of con men or police, Flores-Galbis finds ways to keep the pace tense and the narrative gripping. Through the use of a credible yet wide-ranging first person voice, the novel achieves moments of staggering disappointment and surprising tenderness. Here is a realistic yet loving portrayal of a people, period, and context that remain largely overlooked in American books for young readers. 2010, Roaring Brook, Ages 10 up, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Uma Krishnaswami (Children’s Literature).
Printz Honor-winner Stratton (Chanda’s Secrets) explores the genesis of and fallout from racial and religious discrimination in this thriller about a Muslim boy’s life, which is turned on its head when his father is accused of collaborating with Islamic terrorists in a plot to contaminate the water supplies in New York City and Toronto. But 15-year-old Mohammed “Sami” Sabiri has more to worry about than the resulting media circus and his father’s incarceration. How can he avoid being bullied at school? How will his mother support the family after being fired? And are the allegations about his father true or are they the result of a scared community and a government embracing prejudice at its worst? When Sami goes undercover to verify his father’s innocence, the story reaches a fist-clenching pinnacle before a conclusion that should defy readers’ expectations. Despite the sensitive subject matter and potential for sensationalistic writing, Stratton proceeds with a steady hand. It’s a powerful story and excellent resource for teaching tolerance, with a message that extends well beyond the timely subject matter. 2010, HarperTeen, Ages 12-up, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
Bullying provides a concise storehouse of current research available in a readable and easily understood format. The three roles in a bullying situation–the bully, the target, and the witness–are clearly defined. Targeted students are most often different in some way; they look, sound, or act differently. Bullies focus on that difference to secure their notoriety. Most often witnesses support the bullying by their silence or laughter. All three will be affected by the event, some for many years after. With superior resources and an attention-keeping graphic presentation, the Teen Issues series not only educates those who do not understand these behaviors but also provides strategies and resources to help individuals dealing with these problems. This book is a must-have for school and public libraries to support individuals and prevention programs in schools and communities. Other titles in the series include Self Harm, Gangs and Relationships. (Teen Issues) 2012, Heinemann-Raintree/Capstone, Ages 12 to 18, $33.50.
REVIEWER: C.J. Bott (VOYA).
Bullying and Me: Schoolyard Stories
Photographs by Steven Vote
This powerful book is packed with real-life instances of real kids and adults alike, which either experienced bullying themselves, were witnesses to bullying or were the bully. The 13 participants hail from a wide range of cultures, ethnicities and areas. This book sends the critical message that bullying does not discriminate to only certain groups of people, but rather crosses all human barriers to negatively change the lives of students all across America. It focuses on a wide range of situations, from 16-year-old, Katie, who dealt with both cyber bullying and being a bully herself, to Doug, who wishes that he had helped his friend Sam when he was bullied. Each story includes a full-page, color picture of the featured student or adult. Also included on each page are tips from a psychologist who specializes in adolescent bullying. At the end of book, the author has also included some additional tips for dealing with bullies. In a society where bullying is sadly becoming more and more serious and prevalent, this books serves a resource for both kids and adults alike. As parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and teachers of students today, it is our job to take a stand against bullying. This book provides avenues to open up conversation with students about a very sensitive and serious issue. 2010, Albert Whitman & Co, Ages 8 to 11, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Heather Kelly (Kutztown University Book Review).
Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories
Edited by Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall
In vignettes that range from letters to retrospective memoirs to poems to fictionalized present-tense tellings in words or comics to impassioned admonitions, seventy children’s and YA writers, most of them well known (Rachel Vail, R. L. Stine, Nancy Werlin, Mo Willems) share their collective wisdom on the subject of bullying. Most of the authors were themselves victims, but a range of perspectives is offered, including the stories of people who, to their shame and regret, either participated in bullying or stood idly by while someone else became a target. The attempt to focus on strong survivorhood sometimes undercuts the point by oddly suggesting people are better off for being bullied, but overall there is a forceful admonition that bullying must be stopped and that we all have a clear mandate to check our own bullying tendencies as well as to intervene when we witness acts of bullying. All emphasize the pain victims experience while the bullying is happening, up to and including some suicide attempts and successes, and a few accounts detail how the painful memories can linger into adulthood, even when the perpetrator has long forgotten the torture he or she inflicted. The message that emerges most forcefully is that there is life on the other side of bullying, and that holding out is worth it, no matter how bad things seem. This is a standout for curricular use, as the accounts are short, focused, and varied (though since they’re drawn from the authors’ own childhoods, they don’t touch on cyberbullying); today’s students can do the work of updating current bullying scenarios while these authors provide the much-needed long view for discussion. . 2011, HarperTeen, Grades 5-10, $17.99 and $9.99.
REVIEWER: Karen Coats (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
ISBN: 9780062060983; 9780062060976
This graphic-style memoir focuses on the author’s years of adolescent transition, from sixth grade to ninth grade; they’re marked not just by the usual awkwardness but also by cosmetic trials after she savages her two front teeth in a fall and undergoes extensive dental and orthodontic work. Raina’s experiences are otherwise generally reflective of her age she crushes on and is crushed on, spends time with good friends and not-so-good friends and they’re steeped in her era, with her experiencing the release of Disney’s Little Mermaid and the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. The chronicle sometimes seems a little more like a long anecdote than a shaped narrative, but it touches on enough common and emotionally accessible experience for reader empathy. Telgemeier has a fine eye or memory for detail, whether it be the thrill of grossing everybody out with a retainer containing a pair of false teeth, the way ostensible friends ramp teasing up into bullying, or the preteen predilection for taking everything to heart. The art has a friendly, curvy-lined informality reminiscent of Lynn Johnston’s in For Better or For Worse, and the design is conventional, even a little staid, but easy-viewing. The very ordinariness of Raina’s experience makes her an accessible Everygirl, and young readers will find in her a plausible mirror or crystal ball for their own adolescent experiences . 2010, Graphix/Scholastic, Grades 5-8, $21.99.
REVIEWER: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
Pam Muanoz Ryan
Illustrated by Peter Sis
When this duo teams up you can be sure you are in for perfection. Neftali Reyes is a quiet, introspective boy who daydreams and makes lists of words and sounds that speak to him. He has a fondness for nature and collects treasures like rocks, bird feathers, shells, and leaves. His father, a bully of a man, deems him a weakling and embarrasses him with public admonitions. Neftali idolizes his Uncle Orlando, a newspaperman who writes and demonstrates openly about the plight of the Mapuche people of Chile. His is a man Neftali’s father has little regard for. Through poetry and sparse but eloquent language the reader journeys with Neftali from his childhood to his days at university where the sensitive young man changes his name to Pablo Neruda. Events in Neruda’s life are chronicled in a seamless whole. This book will require a sympathetic and compassionate reader to handle the painful events in the young boy’s life–from the cruelty of his father, the death of the injured swan Neftali so tenderly cares for, and his terrifying fear of the ocean that his father demands that he conquer. There are also moments of joy as when Neftali spends a quiet boat journey making friends with a Mapuche boy, time spent with his younger sister Laurita, and the supportive moments spent with Uncle Orlando. Each chapter ends with thoughtful questions posed by the boy such as “Which is sharper? The hatchet that cuts down dreams? Or the scythe that clears the path for another?” or “Where is the heaven of lost stories?” These difficult and thought provoking questions will take a special reader to internalize and digest. As a class read with a teacher, this could open the way for deep discussions. Sis’s signature style is seen in the countless black-and-white stippled drawings scattered throughout that extend and accentuate the story–even though not all the art was available for viewing because this was an uncorrected proof. This style of writing is a departure for Munoz Ryan as she employs elements of biography and poetry to celebrate this one life. Excerpts of Neruda’s poetry is appended that hopefully will lead middle schoolers to pursue more, especially his Book of Questions. This is a story that speaks to the senses and surely will open the hearts and minds of perceptive readers. 2010, Scholastic, Ages 12 to 14, $17.99.
REVIEWER: Beverley Fahey (Children’s Literature).
Everybody Sees the Ants: A Novel
Lucky Linderman’s life is anything but fortunate. His controversial social studies survey landed him in the principal’s office, with a bonus visit to the guidance counselor. His dad is a conflict-avoiding “turtle,” a workaholic chef who is a POW/MIA activist. His mom, a self-proclaimed “squid,” spends her days swimming laps. Lucky is plagued by Nader McMillan, a bully who has tormented him since the age of seven and shows no signs of letting up. After a particularly brutal session of physical abuse, Lucky’s mom surprises him with a trip to Arizona to visit her brother and his wife. Meanwhile, Lucky has a secret nightlife–he repeatedly attempts to rescue his POW grandfather in Vietnam via surreal jungle dreams. Then there are the ants, a kind of anthropomorphic Greek chorus of insects that have begun to illustrate his thoughts. King remarkably channels fifteen-year-old Lucky, creating one of the most believable teen male characters in young adult fiction. Readers will empathize with his problems and root for him as he searches for the best way to finally take control of his own life. Ginny, the feminist neighbor and “hair model,” proves a good foil. Adult characters fare well here too, as King reveals their strengths and flaws, making them three dimensional in a way that many authors fail to do. Lucky comes to understand that he is not alone in suffering. This unique coming-of-age story will hold tremendous appeal for reluctant male readers. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2011, Little Brown, 288p., $17.99. Ages 15 to 18.
REVIEWER: Paula Gallagher (VOYA).
Hey, Back Off!: Tips For Stopping Teen Harassment
Sometimes it is hard to put your finger on what exactly defines a bully. That is because the meaning has evolved over time. No longer can parents expect the neighborhood bully to be a hulking kid who snatches a quaking, eyeglass-wearing child’s lunch money. It could very well be the popular girl who gets all of her equally cool friends to ostracize the new kid at school. This title is an excellent read for teens and their parents. It will get them started on a discussion of bullying and identifying the abusive behaviors associated with it. The book speaks to issues that teens commonly face and how to work through them. Hey Back Off! also offers exercises for parents and teens as they work their way through the material. Numerous types of bullying are exposed, including sexual harassment and hazing, and get the reader thinking about the evolution of bullying and how the landscape has changed over time. Part of that landscape includes cyberbullying, which has become increasingly commonplace due to the pervasive nature of the Internet. The authors also venture into explorations of parenting styles and how they may contribute to the behaviors, as well as how to handle bullying as a parent. This title needs to be wherever teens and their families are serviced. It is an essential purchase for public and school libraries alike. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P J S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2011, New Horizon, 224p.; Further Reading. Index., $14.95 Oversize pb. Ages 12 to Adult.
REVIEWER: Robbie Flowers (VOYA).
How to Beat Cyberbullying
Judy Monroe Peterson
How to Beat Cyberbullying is a young adults’ educational resource from the “Beating Bullying Series, with up to date information on effective tactics to combat cyberbullying. In a time when legislation is just beginning to rally to protect individuals against the very harmful effects of cyberbullying, teens need all the help and support they can get to make good decisions about their responses to cyberbullying. How To Beat Cyber Bullying condenses and explains information about cyberbullying, what it is, how to stand up to it, and how to stop it. In the chapter on Cyberbullying Solutions, there are 10 great questions to ask a guidance counselor about cyberbullying, plus many paragraphs about legal protections available from cyber bullying, including the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, which may become law in the near future. In the meantime, this book contains suggestions for how to react to cyberbullying, listings of cyberbullying resources, hotlines, and web cites, and a bibliography and glossary, plus tips for appropriate responsible responses to cyberbullying. Cruelty has a new techno-aspect for teens and young adults, and it demands careful preparation, support, and consideration for protection of vulnerable adolescents. How to Beat Cyberbullying is an excellent resource for all who take part in this battle for health and safety. Other highly recommended titles from the Beating Bullying series include the following: How To Beat Social Alienation, by Jason Porterfield (9781448868124), How To Beat Physical Bullying, by Alexandra Hanson-Harding (9781448868087), How To Beat Psychological Bullying, by Jennifer Landau (9781448868094), and How To Beat Verbal Bullying, by Liz Sonneborn (9781448868117). 2013, Rosen Central Publishing, Ages 11+, $29.25.
REVIEWER: Midwest Book Review (Children’s Bookwatch).
The Julian Game
National Book Award finalist (Where I Want To Be) Griffin starts her perceptive novel when Raye and her best friend, Natalya, two “pretty much invisible” sophomores at their elite all-girls school, create a fictional Facebook persona, Elizabeth, who is sexy, bold, and quickly popular online with the boys coveted by the Group, the popular girls at school. When Raye tries to ingratiate herself with Ella, a member of the Group, she gets enlisted in a revenge plot against Ella’s ex, Julian. By acting as Elizabeth, Raye gets close to Julian and ends up confessing that Elizabeth is an invention, which brings them closer but turns Raye into Ella’s enemy. Ella’s revenge is fierce, and when Julian refuses to stand by her, Raye is left to see who her true friends are and what she is made of. Canny use of details makes Griffin’s characters fully realized and believable; Ella, for instance, pairs a stereotypical mean girl personality with obsessive-compulsive quirks, an uneasy combination that underscores her unpredictability. There are darker, more powerful stories of cyber-bullying out there, but strong pacing and a sympathetic protagonist ought to keep readers hooked. 2010, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Ages 12 and up, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
The Knife That Killed Me
There is no shortage of young adult school stories that feature a charismatic bully and end in horrific violence; what sets this apart are the subtle connections between the school situation and references to historical battles that may have started in similarly banal ways. Paul has been reared by a father who is obsessed by war; he loves to read and watch documentaries about it, and he enjoys telling stories of his own heroics when the rivalry between his school now Paul’s and another erupted into a gang fight. Now, school thug Roth seeks to reignite that tension, and he chooses Paul to send his message the head of a beloved puppy to the leader of the gang at the rival school. Shane, the leader of the school “freaks,” offers Paul an alternative to becoming further involved with Roth, and Paul takes him up on it, only to be betrayed by one of the other freaks who resents Paul’s easy acceptance into their group. Roth, on the other hand, offers Paul power in the form of a knife; it’s a power that stirs archaic yearnings in Paul that he can’t quite understand or articulate. McGowan manages to convey Paul’s connection to a long line of warriors through an opening set piece that imagines a bloody history for Paul’s knife, from Persia through Alexander through the Parthians to Richard the Lionhearted, and Paul’s chilly, disturbing narration immediately sets the tense and shadowed mood. Quick references to that history throughout the book, along with Paul’s relationship with his father, create a subtextual line about the allure of violence in the service of something that seems bigger than it is, especially for someone like Paul, who is consistently portrayed as a weak person in search of a leader, good or bad. This would pair well with Gardner’s Inventing Elliot (BCCB 3/04) or Giles’ Shattering Glass (BCCB 5/02) for a discussion of whether it’s in fact true that “the cruel gods are stronger than the kind ones, and they will always beat them in the end.” 2010, Delacorte, Grades 8 to 12, $19.99 .
Walter Dean Myers
Fourteen-year-old Reese struggles to stay out of trouble while serving a sentence for theft in a juvenile detention facility. With only a few months remaining, he begins to think more seriously about what comes next. Participating in a work-release program in a nursing home, Reese experiences honest work and meets people from varied backgrounds. In particular is Mr. Hooft, a cranky old Dutchman who survived a Japanese POW camp as a child yet is withering away in the nursing home. Initially he has nothing but contempt for Reese, but a grudging respect grows over time. Reese begins to do the right thing. He protects a weaker inmate from a bully and promises to help his little sister get to college. Little by little, one positive leads to another. What makes Reese interesting is his balancing act between the positives and negatives in his life. Skilled at fighting and surviving amid violence, Reese recognizes that it is not the path to success. Can he leave the fighting and aggression behind? Myers crates a nuanced, realistic portrait of a teen dealing with incarceration and violence. He is a real teen trying to repair a complicated situation, and Myers gets his voice just right. Most teens do not have to deal with incarceration, yet they do face dilemmas, wrestle with behavior, and struggle to make wise and ethical choices. Many will recognize themselves in Reese and cheer him on as he struggles to create change in his life. 2010, Amistad, Ages 11 to 18, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Amy Fiske (VOYA).
A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness; inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
Illustrations by Jim Kay
Since his mom’s cancer diagnosis, Conor has been having nightmares in which he struggles to rescue her as she dangles from a cliff in a storm. Then a monster shows up in Conor’s yard one night, but it’s no dream. The fierce and demanding figure insists that Conor listen to three stories in the coming days before telling a fourth story himself. Conor’s mother is hospitalized, and he must stay with his stern and rigid grandmother. At school he feels helpless against a boy who bullies him. And over the course of a number of nights, the monster returns, telling tales revealing complexities of human emotion and behavior that make it impossible to clearly judge characters as good or bad. Patrick Ness, completing a story conceived by Siobhan Dowd before her death from cancer, goes well below the surface layer of pain in this intricate exploration of grief. The bully story and how it reveals Conor’s wish to be punished as well as Conor’s feeling of invisibility, are beautifully unveiled, while Conor and the people in his life are richly developed. The monster, an initially menacing figure, ultimately is a comforting one, helping Conor accept the truth that his mom is dying and acknowledge the need to let go in a novel that transcends realistic fiction even as it remains firmly grounded in the emotional, psychological, and physical realities of Conor’s life. Jim Kay’s haunting black-and-white illustrations masterfully reflect the emotional chaos of the story. CCBC Category: Fiction for Young Adults. 2011, Candlewick Press, Ages 11-14, $16.99.
REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).
Okay for Now
Gary D. Schmidt
Veterans of Schmidt’s Vietnam-era tale The Wednesday Wars (BCCB 9/07) may remember Doug Swieteck, the junior-high master of teacher torture. Doug’s father has now lost his job for insubordination, and his lowlife buddy helps him land a new job in the upstate New York town of Marysville. Doug hates his new hometown, everything about it and everyone in it. Staying too close to home as the battered runt of the family isn’t much of an alternative, though, so he reluctantly accepts a job as delivery boy at classmate Lil’s family grocery store. He hangs out at the library, mesmerized by a book of Audubon plates and, again, reluctantly accepts librarian Mr. Powell’s lessons in nature drawing. School is a mess, with the coach, the principal, and most teachers always on his back, but he, yet again, reluctantly accepts the guidance of the physical science teacher, who approaches his subject with enthusiasm and treats his students fairly. All this reluctant acceptance begins to pay off, but every time things start to look up, a neighborhood theft throws the Swieteck family under suspicion, and Doug is in danger of reverting to his resentful and hopeless old self. The key to Doug’s reclamation is the Audubon book, which not only leads him to a new talent but also helps him see parallels between his own life and the experiences of the birds he learns to observe. Moreover, the heartbreaking sale of plate after plate from the book to help the town budget gives Doug a mission to reclaim the plates and restore the bibliographic treasure. There are probably a few too many secondary plots, but the riveting immediacy of Doug’s narration, with its impassioned and ongoing direct address of the reader, makes it nearly impossible for readers to turn their backs on his urgent account of how things are going for him in Marysville. The result is a strong selection not only for Schmidt’s established fans but also for reluctant readers and middle-school classrooms with readers of mixed abilities. 2011, Clarion, Grades 5-8, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
Out of Shadows
Wallace’s debut, inspired by his own experiences as a teen, is a bleak, morally complex, and emotionally charged coming-of-age story set in Zimbabwe during the turbulent 1980s, just after Robert Mugabe’s controversial rise to power. Robert Jacklin is a young man from England, whose family has moved to Africa as part of a diplomatic posting, and he’s promptly sent to Haven, a prestigious boarding school struggling to cope with the new social order. Over the next few years, Robert deals with hazing, unconventional teachers, and his dysfunctional family, while trying to develop his own identity. Against his better judgment, he befriends cruel and controlling Ivan Hascott, a fellow white student, whose family has suffered under Mugabe’s rule, and who urges Robert to join him in tormenting black Africans. Robert grows distraught over Ivan’s increasingly violent actions, his own accountability, and the tumultuous state of the country. His turmoil finally builds to a climactic moment that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Racial conflict, corruption, and the cycle of abuse are conveyed with authenticity in this uncomfortable, unvarnished story. 2011, Holiday House, Ages 15-up, $17.95.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
Scrawl: A Novel
Tod Munn is used to being in trouble. The money situation at home has his mom stressed out, and in their small house, he is usually in his stepfather’s way. At school, he is a bully, but he gets good grades without being anything like the ideal student. His current punishment, though, is unlike any he has had before. When he and his friends are caught on school property and accused of theft and vandalism, his friends spend their detention doing maintenance on the school grounds. Tod is sentenced to write his story in a stuffy classroom with the guidance counselor, Mrs. Woodrow. In a unique version of a story told in journal format, the writing Tod does in detention becomes this book. Mrs. Woodrow’s comments are included, adding insight and revealing Tod’s relationships with the guidance counselor and the broader school community. Through his own words, the reader grows to love this hard-edged character. He writes about his daily life, but his stories about finding costumes for the upcoming drama production and his frustrations with a student who actively works to humiliate him online gradually reveal his side of the conflict that led to his detention. Tod’s voice is natural and consistent. Shulman captures the viewpoint of a believable eighth-grader, while conveying Tod’s maturity and sharp sense of humor. Tod’s back story is seamlessly woven into his narrative. This book will engage a wide audience, but it will appeal most strongly to junior high school boys, particularly those who may be bored by schoolwork or have trouble finding books that interest them. 2010, Roaring Brook Press, Ages 12 up, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Jennifer Lehmann (Children’s Literature).
Some Girls Are
Backstabbing, rumor mills, and freeze-outs by the in crowd are familiar territory, but Summers (Cracked Up to Be\n) takes these traumatic experiences to a new level of nasty. Regina Afton, once a member of the elite Fearsome Fivesome, is dumped after word gets out that she slept with her queen bee best friend’s boyfriend at a party. What no one knows-or doesn’t believe-is that it wasn’t consensual: Regina was nearly raped. In a series of pranks that go beyond the usual cold stares (the word “whore” painted on her locker, books thrown in the pool, a vicious “IH8RA” Web page, a four-on-one beating), her ex-friends exact a revenge meant to inflict permanent damage. Regina’s only salvation is her nascent friendship with a loner she bullied back in her heyday, but even his forgiveness is hard won. Parents and teachers are suspiciously absent (and oblivious to Regina’s suffering), but it’s Regina’s lack of recourse that makes this very real story all the more frightening and effective. Regina’s every emotion is palpable, and it’s impossible not to feel every punch-physical or emotional-she takes. 2010, St. Martin’s Griffin, Ages 12-up, $11.99.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
Marley considers himself a nobody at his middle school to everyone but his fellow AV club members and the bullies who love to pick on him and his friends. They feel powerless and have learned to roll with it, but then the administration gets involved. “Be a Buddy, Not a Bully!” becomes the motto of the lame campaign that is mocked by bullies and victims alike in Lisa Yee’s funny look at the life of a middle schooler learning he’s somebody after all. Marley’s parents own a classic movie theater that is on the brink of extinction, although Marley and his dad think great films should never go out of style. Meanwhile, Marley and his AV club buddies are engaged in an ongoing battle of their own: Which is coolest Star Trek, Star Wars, or Batman? (Marley comes down firmly on the side of Star Trek; he regularly writes in his “Captain’s Log.”) Marley’s friends and family members (including a mother who happens to be blind) are terrifically characterized and their relationships warm and genuine in a story that features a secondary character from Yee’s earlier novels about Millicent Min, Stanford Wong, and Emily Ebers coming into his own. The resolution of Marley’s conflict with the main bully falls back on stereotypical plot elements, but that doesn’t detract from the book’s overall honesty and appeal. CCBC Category: Fiction for Children. 2011, Arthur A. Levine Books, Ages 10-14, $16.99.
REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices, 2012).
Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, March 2013 (Vol. 66, No. 7))
Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass” is one of the first things anybody says to sophomore Piddy Sanchez at her new school. Piddy is a good student with a serious future, miles apart from the suspension-happy Latina clique from the bad neighborhood which is probably what gets under the skin of Yaqui, that clique’s ringleader (that and the fact that Yaqui’s boyfriend has apparently noticed the curvy new girl). Yaqui’s laser focus on Piddy never seems to waver, and as her stealthy but effective bullying escalates, Piddy’s existence spirals down into a desperate and flunking misery that hits bottom when Yaqui and her girls give Piddy a substantial beatdown, filming it and posting it online. What makes this story so compelling is that it’s about Piddy in her entirety, not just about bullying; in fact, the book starts with Piddy’s lively narration focusing on her displeasure about the move and the ongoing friction with her strict mother. As Yaqui malignantly dominates Piddy’s life, she also dominates the book, so readers share Piddy’s experience of swiftly descending from normal to nightmare. Medina emphasizes Piddy’s acute sense of isolation without overplaying it, and she absolutely respects the totality of Piddy’s quandary, knowing that ham-fisted adult involvement will only make things worse. Indeed, there’s no great resolution here: Piddy ends up with a safety transfer back to her old school and some philosophical perspective on life’s unfairness but no illusions about being better for the incident. The message here is that tough and unfair stuff is really tough and unfair, but it’s also survivable; that’s a takeaway that readers will recognize as both true and valuable. Review Code: R* — Recommended. A book of special distinction. 2013, Candlewick, Grades 8 to12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).