Thursday, August 27, 2015

July Round-Up

Image from LisaGraff.com
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff
Philomel Books, 2015
9780399164064

Trent is dreading middle school. Actually, he’s dreading pretty much everything in life right now. It’s all because he accidentally hit a hockey puck into Jared Richards’ chest. Jared Richards, who looked completely fine, but actually had a heart defect and that one hockey puck killed him. People say it wasn’t his fault, but Trent still feels guilty and angry. Luckily, Trent meets Fallon Little, a girl with a mysterious scar and an unsquashable spirit. Maybe with Fallon’s help Trent won’t feel so lost.
This realistic fiction story is crafted with such grace and humor. Trent is an unreliable narrator, yet his journey of friendship and forgiveness is a compelling one. All the characters, from spunky Fallon to Trent’s step-mom Kari, are strongly developed throughout the story. The settings are vividly created with just the barest of descriptions. Trent’s love of sports, especially baseball, could be a great entry point for many young readers. This is a companion book to Umbrella Summer, however it stands alone quite well. 


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Image from JenNielsen.com
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2015
9780545682428
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)

The Berlin Wall has changed 12-year-old Gerta’s life and also divided her family. Gerta, her mother, and brother Fritz are stuck on the East side of the wall, while her father and brother Dominic are living in the West. Gerta’s family struggles to live a happy life under the oppressive communist government. But Gerta gains a glimmer of hope when she sees her father on the other side of the wall. And not only that, but he sends her a message. A dangerous message that could save or sacrifice her entire family.
Set in the mid-1960’s, Nielsen’s first historical fiction title is expertly paced for maximum suspense. The book begins with a few black and white photographs of Germany and the Berlin Wall that not only provide historical context. The historical details-- Gerta’s longing for a banana, her love of the Beatles--bring the setting to life.The character development is strong and motivations believable and heart-wrenching.  Chapters begin with quotes from philosophers, writers, playwrights, and more that provide political and social context for the time period. I hope the published version will include an author’s note with historical information and a list for further reading.


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Image from JenniferHolm.com
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Graphix, 2015
9780545741651
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)

Sunny thought the summer of 1976 was going to be amazing. Her family had planned a trip to the shore with her best friend! But Sunny’s older brother isn’t his old self, so Sunny has to spend the summer with her grandpa in Florida. Her grandpa’s retirement community isn’t exactly thrilling (the post office is a big outing for Gramps), but then she meets Buzz who’s father works at the retirement community. Buzz introduces Sunny to superhero comics and a fast friendship is formed. As Sunny learns more about herself and superheroes, she also learns to face her feelings about her brother’s growing substance abuse issues.
This graphic novel deftly balances themes of friendship (cemented through a love of superhero comics) and the complicated issue of having a family member dealing with substance abuse. The chapters are short, yet impactful. They usually end with a punchline, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious. The full color illustrations contrast Sunny’s current situation in Florida, created in bright pastels with darker toned flashbacks to the past year with her family. The thick, black lines are loose and expressive. The time period, seen in fashion styles, cars, and other pop culture references, is important to the story, yet easily relatable for modern readers.


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-Amy