The Hazel Wood

Albert, M. (2011). The Hazel Wood. NY: Flatiron Books.

The Hazel Wood is an interesting tale about a seventeen year old girl named Alice and her mother. They’ve never lived in one place for too long because when they do, strange and unusual things start happen. So Alice and her mother and accepted their constantly moving life and live it. But when Alice’s grandmother dies at her house in the middle of her woods everything Alice thought she could depend on in her fragile life collapses. Her mother is kidnapped by something from the Hinterland, the world in which the fairy tale like stories that her grandmother wrote take place. Alice’s grandmother’s book, has a cult following that believes that the stories are real and the characters are real as well. Alice must now depend on someone who has read her grandmother’s book, in order to evade the beings chasing her, and in order to save her mother.

Sarah’s Key

De Rosnay T. (2007). Sarah’s Key. NY: St. Martins Press.

This story takes place in France, Connecticut, New York, and a bit in Italy, switching from contemporary times (2002 – 2005) to World War II. One of the major themes revolves 556602around love, notably the deep love between Sarah and her brother, who are separated.

The story starts in Paris in 1942 when people who were Jewish were being arrested in the middle of the night. Sarah needs to make sure her brother does not get caught so she makes an agonizing but necessary decision to hide him in their secret hiding spot, not knowing that it would be a while until she returns. On the flip side of the story in 2002, Julia is married and has lived in Paris for twenty-two years as a journalist. Currently, she is writing a story about Jewish families during War World II and she discovers a huge secret her father-in-law and his family have harboured, after which she is driven to find Sarah. Continue reading

Tyler Johnson Was Here

Coles, J. (2018). Tyler Johnson Was Here. NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Jay Coles writes from the heart, he writes well (every sentence is handsomely and seductively infused with Black culture), and he has produced 2018’s fast-paced picture of American police brutality, of the systematic corruption rampant in its justice system, and of how racism impacts and traps people.

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What a compelling cover!

Trevor Johnson is shot by a white policeman simply for the colour of his skin – all of this caught on videotape – leaving a grieving mother and twin brother, who together make their way through each day even though their grief is overwhelmingly painful and raw. Continue reading

They Both Die at the End

Silvera A. (2017). They Both Die at the End. NY: HarperTeen.

It’s the near future and in this future, the government knows when everyone dies. At around midnight two teens Rufus and Mateo receive the dreaded phone call from Death-Cast Organization claiming that they are both going to die today. They aren’t told how or theybothdieattheendexactly when they will die, only that there is no stopping it. Both have decided that they don’t want to spend their last Continue reading

Long Way Down

Reynolds, J. (2017). Long Way Down. NY: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

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Masterfully told in verse, the new Jason Reynolds book has arrived. Fifteen-year old Will’s older brother was shot last night, yet he never cries. That’s one of the rules. No crying, no snitching, and get revenge. As Will gets on the elevator in his apartment building with a gun awkwardly stuck in the back of his pants, he begins the descent down, but at different floors different people from Will’s past – all dead now – hop on the elevator and proceed to unravel the patterns and complications of this ruinous cycle of violence.

Very suspenseful! You’ll fly through Long Way Down.

In 27 Days

Gervais, A. (2017). In 27 Days. NY: Blink.

Hadley Jamison has grown accustomed to being on her own. Her big time lawyer parents are revered in New York City, their time all too often occupied with work. She has a few 32830562good friends at her prep school, but when a student’s suicide is announced, Hadley’s sense of loneliness is heightened and it affects Hadley profoundly. Deciding to go to Archer Morales funeral ends up being a decision that changes her life – and many lives. She meets Death himself and signs a contract to go back in time, 27 days, to the first day Archer considered suicide in hopes of changing history. Of course, there are complications …

The characters feel real, even Death. Devouring the book only made me sad to finish. I’ll definitely be including this one in my book talks at high schools (#librarian life)!

We Are Okay

LaCour N. (2017). We Are Okay. New York: Dutton Books for Young Readers.

We Are Okay‘s entrancing cover with a girl standing on her bed looking out into the ocean is perfect for this psychological mystery told through flashbacks. Marin is at 28243032university in upper state New York, having fled from California and the very people who love and want to support her following her Gramps’ death. Truly an orphan now, it’s turns out to be the secrets Marin encountered, slowly revealed to us, that made her abruptly leave home and cut off all ties.

When the story begins Marin is staying on an isolated college campus over winter break. Her roommate, Hannah, just left for Christmas, and now she is expecting a visit from her best friend, Mabel. As you may imagine, the December New York setting is stark, cold, and isolated, ready to match Marin’s depression. We aren’t privy to the background of Marin and Mabel’s relationship, yet like the rest of the story it Continue reading

And Then There Were Four

Werlin, N. (2017). And Then There Were Four. New York: Penguin Random House.

Five prep school kids are tossed together under mysterious circumstances. When one is 32074843-2murdered, they begin talking and piecing together what they know about their families, and a terrifying idea surfaces. What if they are all targets? The premise is classically entertaining, mimicking Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, when a group of strangers are assembled on a remote island only to be murdered one by one.

The chapters alternate between two of the five friends, Saralinda and Caleb, she speaking in the present tense, he in the past for some reason, but both pushing forward the pace of the story. Nancy Werlin knows how to create complex characters whose voices captivate us. We become swept up into the mystery as they go on the run from their cloistered, island-esqe school to an actual island, Fire Island in New York. Here there are no cars, only dirt paths through tall grass, and little Continue reading

My Sister Rosa

Larbalestier, J. (2016). My Sister Rosa. New York: Allen & Unwin.

What if your parents didn’t believe your little sister was dangerous, but you knew differently? My Sister Rosa, by Justine Larbalestier, is a captivating young adult thriller set in New York City that 29236419deals with mental illness. The cast of characters, as diverse and as the City itself, smoothly incorporates different economic classes, cultures, races, physical abilities, and sexual orientations. The story revolves around Che, a seventeen year old high schooler, trying to adjust after another one of his family’s moves. His home situation is definetly different – the parents are past hippies who don’t care much for hands-on parenting, the kids’ schooling is incredibly scattered since they relocate so much, and Che is often isolated with his anxiety about his ten year old sister, Rosa, who behaves inappropriately and dangerously when her parents aren’t looking. Che Continue reading

When I Was The Greatest

Reynolds, J. (2014). When I Was The Greatest. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.17428880

The language pulled me right in to this Brooklyn, New York story. Instantly transporting me to Ali’s neighbourhood and his stoop where he sits with his main man, Noodles, and Noodles’ brother, Needles. The three young teenagers discover what it means to have each other’s back as they negotiate entrance to an ultra hip party at MoMo’s.

Grittiness abounds their existence but Ali determinedly stays sweet. “A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing. When you one of Doris’s kids, you learn early in life that school is all you need to worry about. And when it’s summertime, all you need to be concerned with then is making sure your butt got some kind of job, and staying out of trouble so that you can go back to school in September.” The character development is convincing, especially  when the boys are faced with a situation at the party when they need to rely on each other. From that night forward, the definition of family is challenged and redefined for them and their loved ones.