YA Realistic Fiction – Mr. 60%; Saints & Misfits; We Come Apart; Grit

Barrett Smith, Clete. Mr. 60%. Crown Books, 2017. 978-0-5535-3466-5. 192 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Meet Matt, aka “Mr. 60%”, a nickname earned thanks to just-passing grades and Matt’s habit of doing the bare minimum both academically and socially to graduate high school. The only time he engages in conversation is when he’s completing a “transaction” with a classmate. Instead, he spends his time looking for more creative places to stash his “merchandise” at school so when his nemesis, the vice principal, and the on-campus cop conduct random drug searches, they turn up nada.  Everyone thinks Matt is destined to be a high school dropout, yet what they don’t know is that Matt feels like he has no other choice; he’s only selling drugs to pay for medicine to help ease his uncle’s pain in the wake of a fatal cancer diagnosis. With his mother in jail, his dad never having been in the picture, and living in trailer #6 at the local trailer park with his dying uncle, Matt has limited options and no one to turn to.  When the school board develops a new policy requiring seniors to participate in at least one student activity club in order to graduate, Matt is forced to see he’s not as alone as he thought.  There just might be a friend he can lean on when times get unbearable.  THOUGHTS:  Mr. 60% reminds adult readers, educators especially, that our children are more than what we see on the surface, and reminds teen readers that they’re not alone, that a classmate passing them in the hallway might have it worse than they do.  Despite its somber tone and overwhelming sense of helplessness readers may feel for Matt; there is still a note of hope throughout the story: the fellow classmate whose offer of friendship helps her just as much as it helps Matt and his uncle, the guidance counselor willing to try over and over again to offer Matt options to help him graduate even though he doesn’t seem to appreciate it, the police officer who keeps trying to warn Matt of his impending future should he not change his drug-dealing ways, among others. My only complaint is the abrupt ending; the conclusion needed at least one more chapter to feel complete. Teens and adults alike will appreciate the realistic characters and the how real Matt’s life is portrayed, and the short length is perfect for reluctant readers. 

Realistic Fiction            Sandra Reilly, Pleasant Valley SD

 

Ali, S.K. Saints and Misfits.  Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-4814-9924-8. 328 p.  $18.99  Gr. 7-12.

Janna sees people as fitting into three different categories:  saints, misfits, and monsters.  She herself is a misfit:  a Muslim girl who chooses to wear the Hajib, struggling to fit in to a variety of different places and with different people, including two families, since her parents are divorced (and have very different views on religion). Janna has a crush on Jeremy, who isn’t Muslim; he’s a misfit, too, if only because he’s willing to consider dating her.  Then there are saints: people so perfect and good, like her brother’s girlfriend, they make Janna feel like she’s lacking.  Finally, there’s the monsters.  Janna tries not to think about the monster in her life; a monster who pretends to be a saint.  He’s the brother of one of Janna’s friends, and she’s afraid to tell anyone the truth, that he tried to sexually assault her once, and she’s afraid he might do it again.  THOUGHTS:  The sensitive subject matter is handled frankly and yet not too graphically, so that this book is accessible to middle as well as high school readers.  This well written book is an important addition to school library collections both because it features a Muslim heroine, and because it empower girls who have been assaulted.

Realistic Fiction               Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Crossan, Sarah and Conaghan, Brian. We Come Apart. Bloomsbury, 2017. 978-1-68119-275-8. $17.99. 320p. Gr. 9+.

Sarah Crossan teamed up with Brian Conaghan to write in verse from two points of view. Both Jess and Nicu lead desperate lives. Jess lives in a dysfunctional home with a despicable stepfather who beats Jess’ mom and forces her to be an accomplice. Jess lives in fear of her stepfather, but it doesn’t stop her from acting out by stealing things. On her third arrest, she is forced to do community service which is where she meets Nicu, who is also performing community service. Nicu and his family have recently emigrated from Romania to England into the time of Brexit and open racism. We see through his broken-English what it is like for a teenager of color to endure racism from not just his classmates, but his teachers and society in general. Nicu also has the weight of an arranged marriage in his near future to contend with. The story begins with a hesitant friendship between Jess and Nicu and slowly transforms into love. Jess fights the relationship from the beginning, hiding it from her friends, and not step to Nicu’s defense when people attack him because of his Romanian heritage. This book reminded me of Crossan’s, The Weight of Water and the publisher likens it to Una LaMarche’s Like No Other.  THOUGHTS: I read this book quickly due to its being written in verse, but also because I wanted to find out what would happen between Jess and Nicu. It’s rated 9th grade and above due to the domestic violence and a brutal racist attack on the street, although I would consider letting 8th graders read this book. I enjoyed reading about Nicu’s perspective of moving to a country in the throes of Brexit and overt racism all the while living with old-fashioned parents that insist on an arranged marriage. I enjoyed the ending, but I can already hear my students complaining that it lacked the happy ending they seem to enjoy.

Realistic Fiction, Verse            Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

French, Gillian.  Grit.  HarperTeen, 2017.  978-0-06-264255-4. 294 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Prentiss has a wild reputation that precedes her. Most of her classmates believe she is promiscuous, and she is often found drinking and taking dares at parties. The police think she knows more than she is letting on about the disappearance last summer of her former best friend, Rhiannon, and it soon comes to light that she is also hiding another secret for her cousin, Nell. As the story unfolds, mysteries that seemed totally unrelated are woven together, and the truth behind Darcy’s actions is unveiled. Teen readers will easily be able to relate to and empathize with Darcy, making this a great choice for high school libraries.  THOUGHTS: My only criticism of this title is the fact that I had a hard time figuring out what the main story line was. Did I want to know what happened to Rhiannon last summer, or did I want to discover Nell’s secret? Was I more interested in the love connection between Darcy and a boy named Jesse than I was in either of these mysteries? However, regardless of the complex plot (which all ended up weaving together in the end), Darcy proved to be an extremely relatable and likable character.  I felt for her, and I admired her courage; therefore, I needed to keep reading to find out what happened to her and everyone else. A beautifully written title, perhaps more suited towards older adolescents due to its evocative language and sexual references.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

New Picture Books…The Tiny Wish; You Nest Here with Me

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Evert, Lori. The Tiny Wish. New York: Random House, 2015. 978-0-385-37922-9. 32p. $17.99. Gr. PK -3.

Young Anja and her cousins are playing in the mountain meadows. Then , while playing hide-and-seek, Anja wishes that she could be smaller to hide more effectively. When she looks up again, she is tiny, and a wren offers her a ride. So begins Anja’s adventures through nature, as she sees things from a new, smaller perspective.

This beautiful book with its colorful illustrations and realistic photo-shopped creations is  a wonderful jumping off point for a fantasy story starter having students create their own tiny adventure. It also might be a great discussion to answer: What might be difficult if you were only six inches tall? What might be easier? The last page challenges the reader to decide, was it a dream or was her adventure real? Such creative and fun photographs bring the beauty of the mountains and its creatures to life in this inventive tale.

Picture Book, Fantasy        Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

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Yolen, Jane and Heidi E.Y. Stemple. You Nest Here With Me. Honesdale: Boyd Mills Press, 2015. 978-1-59078-923-0. 32p. $16.95. Gr. PreK-3.

Jane Yolen and daughter Heidi Stemple created a beautiful bedtime offering in which a mother tells her daughter about different birds and their nests, but reassures her that “you nest here with me.” For example, “Coots nest low in cattail reeds, Sparrows’ nests are full of weeds, Plus tangled grasses, feathers, seeds…But you nest here with me.” Fourteen different birds are featured, though a few other kinds make guest appearances; nature lovers may be able to spot them in Sweet’s illustrations. The rhyming text is succinct and flows nicely, making this a perfect soothing read at bedtime.

The text is also full of facts about different birds and might encourage a new generation of bird-watchers. Yolen, daughter Heidi, and husband David are bird enthusiasts. There is an Authors’ Note that describes their family’s passion for birds and each bird mentioned in the text is highlighted with a few quick facts, a silhouette, and illustrations of their eggs and feathers. Sweet’s illustrations have her usual sketchy quality, full of patterns and a bit of mixed media. They suit the story well. A great book!

Easy Fiction, Picture Book       Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

 

 

New from R.J. Palacio…365 Days of Wonder and The Julian Chapter

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Palacio, R. J. 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. ISBN 978-0-553-49904-9.  $14.99 Gr. 5 and up.

Mr. Browne and his precepts are back.  In a spin off of the book, Wonder, R.J. Palacio creates a companion novel to include 365 precepts compiled to live our lives with more kindness, compassion, and empathy.  In this novel, readers learn about Mr. Browne and the history and reason for his precepts.  Each month of the year has a precept per day.  In between the months, Mr. Browne includes insights including why precepts are used, students’ precepts and the questions stemming from them, and even anecdotes about his own family and how the precepts have affected or impacted them.  Characters emerge from the first book including Auggie Pullman, Julian Albans, Summer and Charlotte.  

Use alone or as a companion to Wonder, this book would be perfect to include in a class meeting setting, creative writing, or even a student group based on bullying. Educators can utilize the precepts as a thought a day asking students to expound on what the precept means to them.  In essay form or as an open ended response, students could relate the quote or excerpt to their own lives, employing a text to self connection. Not necessarily solely for education, this book could also serve parents who hope to invoke a sense of empathy in their own children, discussing the precepts and their meaning.

Realistic Fiction        Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School

 

 

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Palacio, R.J. The Julian Chapter. Read by Michael Chamberlain. Brilliance Audio,  2014. CD. ISBN 978-1-4915-2409-1.  $14.99.  Grades 3 and up.

Everyone fell in love with Auggie Pullman and grew to dislike Julian Albans in the first book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  In The Julian Chapter, we hear Julian’s side of the story.  Complete with behind the scenes details from the first day Julian is brought in to be Auggie’s tour guide, through the decision for Julian to not return to Beecher Prep, this perspective is one we rarely see.  Raw and intrusive, the reader can see into the parenting and psychological background from Julian’s point of view.  Because readers could only guess what Julian was thinking in the first book, they can now discover what he was thinking to himself in each situation.

Julian’s actions and thoughts were molded by his parents’ upbringing.  Readers will get a rare glimpse into the raw interactions between parent and child.  Julian’s perspective, although outwardly a bully in Wonder becomes one readers can connect with and even sympathize with in this novel. Only three CDs, the book is a quick read (and the audio a quick listen).  Available only in Kindle audiobook and CD, this audiobook is a nice way to follow up the book Wonder and a way to discuss character education particularly the role of a bully.

Realistic Fiction       Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central Middle School