Newes from the Dead is an eerie and overwhelmingly shocking story based on Anne Green, a maidservant, who survived her hanging in 1650 England. Author Mary Hooper, begins the story full throttle engaging the reader in the events that lead Anne to be executed for infanticide and the medical phenomenon she became after awakening on the dissection table hours later. Working for Sir Thomas Read, a wealthy friend and ally of King Charles, Anne finds herself fighting off and being persuaded by the sexual advances of Read’s grandson Master Geoffrey. Struggling with obedience to her master and yearning for a better life, Anne consents to “lay with” Master Geoffrey after he convinces Anne that he will make her his wife once his grandfather dies. When Master Geoffrey leaves for school, Anne finds herself pregnant. Fearful, she hides the pregnancy and attempts to “rid herself of the burden of it” after realizing that Master Geoffrey will have nothing to do with her. With no success of terminating, the story thickens after Anne has a stillbirth at the manor. As a result, Read furiously demands and rigs the court for Anne to be sentenced to death- all with the intention of covering up his grandson’s part in the ordeal. To make this story even more intriguing and captivating, Hooper simultaneously tells of what happens to Anne post execution through the perspective of a medical student. Not only does Newes of the Dead accurately portray life during the mid 1600’s England, readers will gain an understanding of the social norms and scientific/medical knowledge during that time. Moreover, the novel concludes with a primary resource- an excerpt from an original 1651 pamphlet about the incident. This adds to the authenticity of the story. A bibliography and author’s note also provide readers to further research on Anne Green. Newes from the Dead is a masterful piece of historical fiction that will have readers questioning morality and karma. Age Appropriate: 16 years-old and upTopics alluded to in this book are mature (sex, rape, abortion, prostitution, stillbirths, capital punishment) but are presented tastefully and appropriately for the time period referenced.
The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel is the first book in Michael Scott’s six part fantasy series. This novel begins with action and zips through a woven storyline combining today’s popular cultural and centuries of real historical significances and mythological beings. Scott’s ingenious writing picks up pace midway through getting the reader’s mind turning about the possibility of what exist. Sophie and Josh Newman’s lives are turned upside down as they discover that they hold the key to the prophecy that will determine if the world will be saved from destruction. In a series of supernatural and suspenseful events, the high school twins find themselves in the center of a war of good vs. evil. Dark Elders are rising to take control over Earth by gaining possession of parts of the Codez (which is the most powerful book ever to exist, outlining deep secrets of life). On a quest to hide from and stop the Dark Elders, the two become exposed to magic and life in other realms. With the encounters and help of unearthly things, the teens have to decide whose side to believe and how far they are willing to go to awaken their magical abilities. The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel ends leaving the reader with an urgency to continue on in the adventure. A highly recommended read for fans of the Harry Potter series. Age Appropriate: 12 years-old and upThis book has cross age appeal, especially to fantasy fiction enthusiasts. References of modern-day (Facebook, smart phones, Ipods, etc.) world landmarks (Alcatraz Island, Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, etc.) and scientific phenomenon add to the appeal of this story.
Coraline is the type of thriller horror story that makes one’s hair stand without chainsaws, bloodshed and serial killers. It leaves the readers thinking about what lurks behind, with a possible uneasiness around ordinary objects. Coraline, a young English girl, believes her new home to be quite boring- even with strange neighbors. Aside from feeling neglected and underappreciated as a daughter, Coraline finds herself emerged into a world that mirrors her own, yet the people and animals are slightly different. She is greeted by her other parents and neighbors whose eyes are shiny black buttons. This other world offers Coraline her dream life on the contingency of living there with them forever and having buttons sewn on her eyes. Fogged by the temptation of life with her other parents, Coraline recognizes her desire to be in her normal life with her real parents. This declaration does not sit with her Other Mother, who steals her parents forcing her into a twisted game of finding souls and keeping a key. Gaiman’s choice of words, use of repeated phrases, third person point of view and a play on eerie symbolization (old house, black cat, etc.) makes this story dark and spine tingling. The “others” combined with the blur between reality and whimsical also adds to the creepy feel of this book. Coraline will make youth weary of wanting. Age Appropriate: 11 to 14 years-old
Rubber Houses is a roller coaster of emotions as author Ellen Yeomans poetically unveils the pain and suffering in grieving the loss of a loved one. A tight-knit family, whose closeness is unified in numbers and a love for baseball, is depicted early in this story. The unity and comfort in the family is easily identifiable, but when the youngest member Buddy (a fourth grader) is diagnosed with cancer and quickly deteriorates the family begins to crumble. For his 17 year-old sister, Kit, witnessing her brother’s fight with cancer and death is beyond heart wrenching. Kit’s desire to live and optimism for a better day is shadowed by her guilt and fear of living without her brother. Her parents are consumed by the death: living through the motions, checked out, and blank. They have become absentee parents to Kit. In this raw account of what an unexpected and unaccepted death does to a family, readers will experience the stages of grief with Kit and her parents. Masterfully constructed, Yeomans writes this novel in free verse and divides the book into a year-long break down of baseball (Warm-ups, Regular Season, Post Season, Hot Stove and Spring Training). This metaphor to grieving, in its honest portrayal, will leave readers hoping for healing for everyone involved. Rubber Houses is a great book to have in any YA collection. Age Appropriate: 15 years and olderThis book could be a good read for a student grieving the death of someone and is struggling to go through the grieving process. With that said, due to the content, this book might be inappropriate for someone who has just lost a loved one.
Everyone should know where their food comes from so that they can make informed decisions on what is best for them to eat. In this nonfiction book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat Young Readers Edition, author Michael Pollan gives readers the opportunity to experience four different food chains (Industrial, Industrial Organic, Local Sustainable and Hunter-Gather) by tracking down a meal from its conception to our stomach. Pollan descriptively writes about his personal experiences in each of the food chains, posing legal and ethical questions regarding the information he has learned. Although he is clear in his stance on how we should get and treat our food, Pollan manages to convey his research in a non-preachy way with some humor. Also included in this book are images from his experiences, sources for further information, listing by chapter of the resources he used to write this book and an index. Another strength is that this book covers a universal topic… the food we eat and will leave readers thinking about their food. Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat Young Readers Edition is a must have book for libraries that serve young adults! Age Appropriate: 13 years-old and up The Young Readers Edition is a modified version of Pollan’s original book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, making the content more appropriate, understandable and appealing to younger readers. Due to the graphic discussion of factory farms and treatment of animals, younger students should not read this book without exposure to such realities. Some facts shared are unpleasant and might make one lose their appetite.
The Lucky One, is yet another love story by Nicholas Sparks, that leaves the reader rooting for the protagonist to have a “happy ever after.” Sparks’ keen to writing in detail vividly develops each character, causing the reader to become emotionally invested in the story. US Marine named Logan Thibault arrives in small town Hampton, North Carolina with his faithful German Sheppard and a picture of a young woman. Quickly, the storyline takes off and readers learn of the times Logan spent serving in Iraq and how a picture that he found had been the reason for his good fortune- a lucky charm. Feeling in debt to this woman with the initial E, Logan travels across country in search for her- doing so with little information and with an uncertainty of what debt he truly owes. In a series of events and interactions with others, Logan begins working for the grandmother of the woman in the picture (Elizabeth). Being viewed as mysterious and a gentleman, Elizabeth’s interest in Logan is peaked. Not knowing how to open up about the photo and the true reasons for coming to Hampton, Logan’s feelings for Elizabeth grow and a relationship develops. Yet conflict arises as Elizabeth opens up about her bitterness towards the death of her Marine brother and difficulties caused by her ex-husband Clayton, while Logan remains mum about his secret. Sparks makes it clear that this love was unplanned for Logan and that while in search of the meaning of his debt Logan realizes that Elizabeth is the woman he wants to be with forever. This novel is not lacking drama or romance. With some twists in the story, readers will be in suspense to find out if Logan is lucky in love too. The Lucky One gives its readers hope of new beginnings and the possibility of destiny. Age Appropriate: 17 and upThis story will be appealing to young adult romance novel enthusiast. The theme of destiny, especially in love, will get readers gushing over future possibilities. Moreover the reference to Iraq, loss of loved ones and a failed relationship might make this novel more relatable to readers. Also, the book’s appeal might increase with young adults once the movie is in the box office because teen heartthrob, Zac Efron, plays the role of Logan Thibault. A brief, but tasteful sex scene is in the book.
Gaby Rodriguez’s memoir about faking her own pregnancy for a high school project is a quick and inspirational read that can act as a self-help book to many youth of today. This book brings to light stereotypes and expectations placed on young women facing adverse situations. Gaby, with the help of an inner circle, devised and lived out a third term pregnancy to document how having a baby would affect how others would treat her. Keeping this secret from family members, teachers and friends made the reveal of her experiment more powerful and with greater impact to her community. With the intention of being a social experiment, Gabby’s mock pregnancy exposed the harsh realities of gossip, teen pregnancy and stereotyping. The outcome reinforced to others that words do hurt and can hold great influence over the psyche of others. Gaby’s recent graduation from high school adds to her credibility and appeal as a writer of the challenges facing today’s youth. Moreover, her straightforward writing style makes this an easy read. Overall, Pregnancy Project is more than just a book that details out a social experience, it provides statistic and realties on teen pregnancy. Young adult readers will be challenged and encouraged to rise above labels, overcome generational hardships and fight stereotypes. Age Appropriate: 15 to 22 years-oldThis book could spark the interest of older adults that have frequent interactions with teenagers (parents of teens, teachers, counselors, etc.). It could also be read by mature middle school students who are sexually active and/or pregnant. The book contains minimal profanity.
Revolution is Not a Dinner Party gives readers a honest and raw portrayal of life for an intellectual family during the peak of China’s Cultural Revolution. Ling, a nine year-old girl who lives with her doctor parents in their comfortable apartment, is oblivious to the political change occurring in her community. Naïve and hopeful, Ling is impressed by the Red Guard officer that is stationed to live in her apartment. He is bold and always sharing of the teachings of Chairman Mao. However, as time passes everything about her life changes for the worse- no food, her dad’s wrongfully imprisonment, no electricity, her house ransacked, people being forced to relocation and personally being victimized. Ling’s invincible life is shattered. She blames Chairman Mao’s ideologies for the hardships that her family, friends and community face. Being accused of being a trader to Chairman Mao and taunted “bourgeous,” Ling struggles to make choices that will protect her and her loved ones while fulfilling her urge to revolt against her oppressors. Ying Chang Compestine uses her personal experience and those of others who lived in China during the Cultural Revolution to expose the dark realities of an unjust dictatorship. Readers will identify with the inner struggles of Ling and be reminded of the human spirit and what one is able to endure when in survival mode. Revolution is not a Dinner Party transcends cultures and speaks to freedom and justice. Additional features in this book that add to the credibility and background knowledge of China are: an author’s note, historical note and a brief interview with the author. The discussion questions also helps readers to process the overall themes and controversy within this novel. Revolution is Not a Dinner Party is a quick, but powerful read.
Jack Tumor is a humorous, and at times raunchy, story about freshman Hector Brunty, who finds himself at the bottom of his high school social chain. With enough problems from bullies, lack of interest from girls and his hippie mom who imposes her bizarre foods and tree-hugging clothes on him, life gets more complicated for Hector when he meets Jack, his talking brain tumor. Jack’s smart alec and domineering ways begin to take control of Hector’s body, making Hector have a new sense of fashion and coolness. Hector becomes everything anti-geek, torments the bullies and makes out with the hottest girl in school. But all of this comes at a cost, as the more Hector gives up control to Jack the closer he is to his death and further from the person he wanted to become. Although this novel can be challenging to read because of the British slang, author McGowan writes brilliantly from a hormonal teenage boy’s perspective. From sexual fantasies to perverse humor to cruel behaviors, readers will either be laughing or cringing throughout the entire novel. This coming of age story has a message of self identity and “that sometimes the only way to see clearly is to lose your mind completely.”Age Appropriate: 17 to 21 years-old This book is more likely to be appealing to males. Advanced readers or those with cultural experience/knowledge of the U.K. will be able to follow this book more easily.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad tells the real account of how Henry Brown mailed himself to freedom. As a slave during the mid 1800’s in United States, Henry grew up with a kind master who treated him and his family well. However, life for Henry quickly changes when his master becomes ill and he is given to his master’s son in Virginia. As he grows older, a lonely Henry meets Nancy who becomes his wife. They have a family of their own, but are still viewed as property and forced to work as slaves. With a turn of an event, his wife and children are sold away leaving him determined to be free. Inspired by a bird and heartbroken from knowing he would never see his family again, Henry with the help of Dr. Smith (a white man), mailed himself in a cargo box to Philadelphia. Author Ellen Levine use of short sentences combined with masterful illustrations from Kadir Nelson convey the pain and suffering slaves experienced. Moreover, the story exposes the opposing sides of slavery, reminding readers that not every person agreed with and supported slavery. The universal themes of equality, family and sacrifices are identifiable in this picturebook. The author’s note at the end adds additional background knowledge. Although Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad is brief, the information shared is relevant and pertinent to United States’ history. This story will leave readers sadden, but encouraged by the human spirit.Age Appropriate: Intermediate elementary and olderThis book could be used in middle and high school settings to introduce or provide additional information on slavery in the United States, the Underground Railroad and people of great courage throughout history. This account of Henry “Box” Brown helps readers to emotionally connect with the injustice, cruelty, hope and empowerment that people experienced during this time in United States’ history.