MG – Clean Getaway

Stone, Nic. Clean Getaway. Crown Books for Children, 2020. 978-1-984-89297-3. $16.99. 240 p. Grades 6-8.

Nic Stone is typically a popular young adult writer (Dear Martin, Dear Justyce). Her debut in the middle school arena is the realistic, first-person narrative, Clean Getaway. William aka “Scoob” Lamar gets grounded when he shares a computer hack and plans to stay in his entire spring vacation. Until… his G’ma–grandmother–shows up in a RV she purchased with the profit from selling her house and asks him to accompany her on a road trip. Without telling his father, Will becomes G’ma’s wingman on this memorable ride retracing the route G’ma and his deceased grandfather Jimmy took from Georgia through the rest of the South during the segregated sixties. The pair follow the Green Book, a listing of acceptable accommodations for people of color. Will’s grandparents had the added burden of being a mixed race couple, against the law in many states at the time. Will experiences his African-American heritage firsthand, visiting important markers of the struggle for Civil Rights. At first, he is excited for the chance to share this adventure with his beloved grandmother, but then he notices G’ma’s strange behavior: she dines and dashes; switches license plates; steals jewelry. He discovers some things that make him suspect something else is afoot, but can’t quite connect the dots or even reach out to his father because G’ma keeps hiding or ditching their one cell phone. What keeps him going is the revealing conversations he has with his funny and candid G’ma. He realizes how much she loves her long incarcerated husband and suspects that his father may not be fair in his complete rejection of him. The pair’s joy ride comes to a halt when G’ma falls ill, but the experience prompts Will to question the absence of his own mother and the image of his grandfather and rejuvenates his relationship with his sometimes-distant father. Though not a difficult read lexile-wise, Clean Getaway does bring up serious issues of race, inequity, and discrimination. Nic Stone has proven she is a master storyteller for middle school students as well.

THOUGHTS: The intergenerational experience lends itself to history lessons of the Civil Rights era. The discrimination Will’s grandparents encountered in the sixties can be compared with the same displays of implicit bias Will and G’ma feel in their present-day travels. The reason for the grandfather’s imprisonment is also steeped in racial injustice and inequity. Will has little contact with his mother because she abandoned him as a baby–addiction is implied–but Will’s father is reluctant to have her re-enter twelve-year-old Will’s life just like he turned his back on Jimmy, his own father. This situation as well as the racism that necessitated the Green Book lays open talk about forgiving past wrongs, both personal and institutional. 

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Meet 11 year old William Lamar, aka Scoob. Unable to stay out of trouble at school, spring break is looking pretty boring. Until Scoob’s grandmother shows up and convinces Scoob to come along on an impromptu road trip across the American South in her RV. Scoob soon finds out that this trip is a re-creation of one his grandmother, who is white, and his African American grandfather took years ago. The South is changed since then, but G-ma’s crazy maps, her Traveler’s Greenbook (an African American guide to traveling safely in the 1960s), her changing of the license plate on the RV, and her refusal to take Scoob’s dad’s calls is adding up to some uneasy feelings the longer the trip continues. Add in the discovery that his G-ma may be a jewel thief, and Scoob is wishing he stayed home for that boring break!

THOUGHTS: Nic Stone’s first middle grade novel is an excellent read and one that readers will enjoy. There is enough historical fiction to peak the interest of the middle grade readers while satisfying the adventure reader as well.

Realistic Fiction                    Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir

Feder, Tyler. Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir. Dial Books. 2020. 978-0-525-55302-1. 201 p. $18.99. Grades 7+.

During the summer after her freshman year at college, Tyler Feder’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By spring break of her sophomore year, Rhonda had died. Tyler understandably felt rudderless, “like I was on an iceberg out to sea.” Her mom was gone … now what? Chapters tenderly portray the diagnosis, the death, “making arrangements,” sitting shiva, and navigating a new normal. Dancing at the Pity Party is every bit as heartbreaking as it sounds, but it is also a little bit celebratory (as the title suggests). Readers will come to know and care for Tyler’s mom, because her loving personality is so vividly present on every page, even in her absence.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-read for teens who have experienced a loss, who want to support a grieving friend, or who are struggling and just want to know that someone out there gets it. Readers of Lucy Knisley’s introspective graphic memoirs will love this one, too.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Not only does Tyler Feder tell the raw truth about dealing with her mother’s death from cancer, but Dancing at the Pity Party offers a guide to grieving for those who might be caring or friends with someone who is grieving. The memoir struck awkward cords and candid cords and will likely have you giggling along with Maw’s obsession with perfect eyebrows. Feder also offers a glimpse into the Jewish traditions that follow the death of a loved one and provides explanations and definitions for each step of shiva, and beyond. Both insightful and poignant, Dancing at the Pity Party captures the before, during, and after of coping with a family illness and comfort in knowing others have similar experiences.

THOUGHTS: This genuine work of art that was born of the ashes Feder had to pile together and work with in the aftermath of losing her mother at a young age. This graphic novel should be in every middle and high school library, even if it’s just a go-to guide in times of need.

Graphic Novel          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Realistic Fiction for Middle Grades…House Arrest; The Honest Truth; Fish in a Tree

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Holt, K.A. House Arrest. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015. 978-14521-3477-2. 304 p. $16.99. Gr. 6-10.

Timothy makes a bad decision for all the right reasons. Dealing with a baby brother with a serious medical condition and a single mother facing deep financial burdens, Timothy takes measures into his own hands to help his struggling family. His bad decision gets him court ordered house arrest for a full year, a weekly check-in with a probation officer, sessions with a therapist, and journal writing to document his thoughts (which of course is under lock and key). Author K.A. Holt manages to take Timothy’s journal entries and turn them into poetic redemption. THOUGHTS:  This unique novel in verse will reach out to middle grade readers with passages that are, at times, both comical and touching.

Realistic Fiction    Jane Farrell, Dallastown Area Intermediate

 

 

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Gemeinhart, Dan. The Honest Truth. New York: Scholastic, 2015. 978-0-545-66573-5. 240p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8.

Mark is determined. Determined to climb Mt. Ranier, determined to keep it from his parents, and determined to let his best friend since forever know he will be okay no matter what. Mark sets off on his journey alone. Armed with his camera and notebook full of Haiku, Mark devises a plan to go. However, before he can get started, he throws the people who love him and worry about him the most off his trail. It’s not that his mother and father would not be supportive of his Herculean dreams. It’s just that they don’t want him to miss the chemotherapy treatment he has scheduled for the next day. Yeah, there’s that. Faced with death, the threat of a snowstorm, no gear to climb the mountain, and very little money to keep him healthy for the climb, Mark sets off determined to make the climb of his life. His best friend, Jessie, can only worry about him, hoping he makes it before she spills the secret she has to keep. With the characters he meets and the adventures he faces, Mark’s odyssey becomes a life lesson even when survival at home seems pointless.

Readers will keep hoping for a happy ending for this boy. Told through the alternate voices of Mark and his best friend, Jessie, the book gives readers a hole in their stomach to ultimately fill. Gemeinhart creates characters who want to be loved and have their voices heard; a boy who is sick of facing death leaves his family to face another sort of danger and that tiny act brings a new level of courage to his fight. Jessie has a fight on her own, facing the inner conflict of taking Mark’s parents to where she knows he is or letting her best friend die from what he chooses; not from what chooses him. This is a great read for middle grade readers who are interested in The Fault in Our Stars.  This book is one best read alone and with tissues.

Realistic Fiction      Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

 

 

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Hunt, Lynda Mullaly. Fish in a Tree. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015. 978-0-399-16259-6. 288p. $16.99. Gr. 5-8

Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of One for the Murphys, hits her new book, Fish in a Tree, out of the park. Ally, the daughter of a soldier stationed overseas, has moved around for much of her educational career.  Landing in 6th grade, she has mastered the ability to be under her teachers’ radars by acting out and diverting attention from her lack of ability.  After making a huge error at her pregnant teacher’s baby shower, Ally is sent to the office where she finds out she will be transferred again; this time into Mr. Daniels’s class.  It’s there she discovers what she is good at and starts to gain the confidence to build on her academic skills while building bonds with her classmates and teacher. Even Ally’s older brother sees the benefit of Ally’s hard work.  THOUGHTS: A middle level read, this book has the ability to engage students who may have academic issues. This book would be a perfect choice for a discussion group or literature circle investigating the reason why students may want to hide things about themselves.

Realistic Fiction    Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

 

 

 

What You Left Behind

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Verdi, Jessica. What You Left Behind. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Fire, 2015. 978-1-49-2614-401. 368 p. $16.99. Gr. 8 to 12.

Ryden Brooks has it all. He is the star goalie for the varsity soccer team and is looking at a free ride to UCLA. He is one of the most popular boys in school, and he has his pick of girlfriends, but his world is turned upside down when he meets (again) and falls in love with smart but nerdy Meg Reynolds. But Meg has secrets. She has terminal cancer, AND she is pregnant with Ryden’s baby! Ryden’s plans crumble as he takes on the role of single father to baby Hope.

This is a sharp and poignant read. Students who fell in love with The Fault in Our Stars and A Walk to Remember will find similar themes and relationships in What You Left Behind.

Realistic Fiction   Corey Hall, Elizabethtown HS/MS

Side Effects…May Very

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Murphy, Julie. Side Effects May Very. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2014. 978-0-06-224535-9. $17.99. 330p. Gr. 9 and up.
When Alice and her boyfriend sneak home in the middle of the day for a serious make-out session, she is devastated by the scene she witnesses from the window.  Her mother and another man are in the middle of their own romantic tryst.  Almost a year later, just when she believes life may be as close to ordinary as possible, she is diagnosed with leukemia.  In an attempt to come to terms with her own mortality, she decides to finish her bucket list.  At the top would be exacting revenge on her cheating ex-boyfriend and to even the score with her adversary Celeste.  In order to pull this off, she needs to enlist the help of a good friend, Harvey.  Although Harvey has serious reservations, his feelings for Alice and undying devotion allow him to move beyond the guilt and become her accomplice.  Alice is reveling in her small success when another catastrophic complication rears its ugly head – her untimely and shocking remission.  Now she must face the music and repair the damage caused.  Unfortunately, Harvey may no longer be around to help.

 

The chapters are narrated using a “Then” and “Now” time frame, alternating between Alice and Harvey.  Alice’s brutal honesty and her approach to revenge are candid in her narration.  She has an opportunity to live an autonomous life without the fear of suffering any consequences.  Since the chemotherapy has been unsuccessful, she decides to end the treatment and face her death on her own terms.  What she doesn’t consider is a future without cancer and the side-effect of losing Harvey when she needs him most.

Realistic Fiction        Christine Massey, JWP Middle School