Friday, July 3, 2015

Dear Opl by Shelly Sackier

Title:  Dear Opl
Author:  Shelly Sackier
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
ISBN:  9781492608592
Price:  $7.99 U.S. (paperback)
Publish Date:  August 4, 2015
Target Audience:  Middle Grade

Confession time. I am not an emotional person. At all. My husband sometimes says I have no soul because he cries during movies while I sit emotionless. Things affect me, but I don't outwardly show emotion  That being said, Dear Opl actually made me cry. It's that good. Opal is a preteen girl struggling with her weight. She starts spelling her name "Opl" to shrink her name since she cannot seem to shrink her body. Opal uses food to mask her feelings. Her father died and her mother is busy trying to start a new business. Her mother is concerned with Opal's weight, but in all the wrong ways. She buys her diet foods, and skinny jeans, leaves her not-so-encouraging notes in the pantry, and encourages her to start a blog about her journey.  Even the school cafeteria is transforming their lunches into healthier options.  Opal is not at all pleased and starts the blog.  The snarkiness in her blog posts are hilarious.  Her blog becomes an overnight success and Opal begins to gain a little self confidence.  In the meantime, Opal upsets her best friend Summer because of her negativity toward Alfie Adam, the "nude chef" who is leading the charge towards the lunch changes.  In an effort to improve her health and win back her best friend, Opal starts cooking and making healthier food choices.  Her transformation is not only on the outside, but also on the inside, as she makes friends with a homeless man and offers him work in exchange for her food in order to help her mother with the new business.  Opal's transformation eventually brings about change for her whole family.  Her mother sees the error of her ways when dealing with Opal and it is all very touching.  Hence, the tears.  

I loved so much about this book.  I love that it addresses food issues, emotional eating, and the hard transition to making healthier choices.  Opal's attitude was exactly as you expect any person making these changes, but her snarkiness in it all made it entertaining.  The book wasn't preachy but young people could learn a lot from Opal's journey.  Opal's mother had the best of intentions, but it didn't come across that way to Opal.  While I bring a mother's perspective to my reading, it was also very clear to see Opal's side as well.  As my children get older, it will be important to remember how my words will affect them, good intentions or not.

There is so much more I could say about this book, but I really think everyone needs to read it for themselves!  Reader Rach gives Dear Opl 5/5 stars.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

Title:  What You Left Behind
Author:  Jessica Verdi
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Fire
ISBN:  9781492608745
Price:  $9.99 U.S. (paperback)
Publish Date:  August 1, 2015
Target Audience:  Young Adult

Meg Reynolds has been in love with Ryden Brooks for years.  When he finally notices her in AP English, she is elated.  She doesn't want to ruin it by telling him about her cancer.  They fall in love, and then she gets pregnant.  She decides to forego cancer treatment to carry the child, which inevitably leads to her demise.  Now Ryden is a 17 year-old single father, heartbroken over the loss of his beloved girlfriend, whom he believes he killed by getting her pregnant.  In What You Left Behind, Ryden is learning how to balance his new life as a father with work, school, soccer, and friendships, while attempting to cope with the loss of his love Meg.  After finding one of Meg's notebooks with a checklist in the cover, he believes there are more, filled with her words of wisdom about how to be a good father.  What he finds isn't what he expects, but what he needs to help him move on.  

This book was so hard to put down!  Between the cancer and the love story, it was very The Fault in Our Stars-esque.  The writing wasn't quite as brilliant as John Green, but it was very good.  I liked this book for multiple reasons.  First, the main character is a seventeen-year-old boy dealing with the aftermath of teen pregnancy.  I'm not the leading authority on teen pregnancy literature, but I would venture a guess that this is rare.  Second, I loved Ryden's mother.  She was the appropriate amount of supportive, setting parameters for her son regarding her duties as a grandmother, and insisting he make the decisions as a father.  I liked how Ryden's feelings were valid and real.  Verdi was able to really convey the heartbreak and hopelessness that he was feeling at some of his lowest points.  

I did not enjoy the biggest plot twist that Verdi wrote, regarding one of the journals.  I'm still trying to figure out why she did it, and the only thing I can come up with is so as not to martyr Meg.  Throughout the book you are believing that Meg made the ultimate sacrifice, choosing her daughter's life over her own, when in reality that was not necessarily the case.  It was, for lack of a better word, a strange twist.  

Verdi tidily wraps up the story, though I can't help but wonder what happens to Ryden as time goes on.  Will he go to college and make a life for himself and Hope?  I think so.  

Reader Rach gives What You Left Behind four stars.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

Edgewater by Courtney Sheinmel

Title:  Edgewater
Author:  Courtney Sheinmel
Publisher: ABRAMS Kids/Amulet Books
ISBN: 9781419716416
Price: $17.95 U.S. (Hardcover)
Publish Date:  September 8, 2015
Target Audience:  Young Adult

You guys are going to think that I love every single book I read.  It's really not the case, I promise. I just happen to have a really good knack for picking out books that I think I will love.  And to be honest, the books I don't end up loving are usually ones that are recommended to me by others.  So once again, I really loved Edgewater by Courtney Sheinmel.

Lorrie Hollander comes from a wealthy family.  Her grandfather practically built the wealthy town of Idlewild in New York.  His sprawling mansion, named Edgewater, was once a sight to behold.  But ever since her mother left Lorrie and her sister Susannah to run away with her new boyfriend, Edgewater has been in a state of disrepair.  Lorrie's guardian and aunt Gigi appears to have a mental illness and Lorrie just can't stand to be around the family anymore.  Since her mother left her with a trust, she chose to go to a boarding school to get away from Edgewater.  At the beginning of the book, Lorrie learns that something is wrong with her trust.  Her summer horse camp has not been paid and she must return to Edgewater to sort things out.  Lorrie never worried about money and always spent freely.  Without access to her trust, she is now poor.  At first in denial, she soon gets a job and begins to clean up Edgewater.  One day, while cleaning the attic, Lorrie finds a journal that her mother kept.  This is the climax in the story, as a family emergency arises and Lorrie's world pretty much turns upside down.  

This book reminds me of We Were Liars, in a way, rich youth living in a world most of us do not understand. The rich youth in this book, however,  Lorrie, her best friend Lennox, and her new friend, the charming son of a senator, Charlie, are much more likeable characters.  Although money is no object for them, they are still down-to-earth and practical.  The friendship between Lorrie and Lennox is one which all girlfriends strive for. Lorrie and Charlie meet in an embarrassing way, but their friendship and eventual relationship grows throughout the book and it turns out they are much more connected than even they realized. 

Reader Rach gives Edgewater 5/5 stars. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

This book was chosen for the Global Read Aloud project for the fall of 2015.  I read this book in anticipation for the Global Read Aloud, as this is one of my favorite activities to do with my students each year.  In the past we have read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  I am so excited to share Fish in a Tree with next year's students!

The title, Fish in a Tree comes from the saying that "everyone is smart in their own way, but judging a fish by it's ability to climb a tree, it will live it's life believing that it is stupid."  In this book, Ally is the fish.  Ally has been able to "fake it" in school all the way up to the sixth grade.  She gets in trouble a lot, but it isn't until a substitute teacher comes to take over her class that it is determined why she's spending so much time in the office and outside of the classroom.

This book resonated with me so much as a teacher.  Passionate, kind, caring, and compassionate, Mr. Daniels is the teacher that all teachers hope to be.  When Ally figures out that he is not going to be sending her to the office for her behaviors, she quickly begins to trust him.  He recognized her strengths without highlighting her weaknesses.

I know many students that can relate to this books.  Having an inclusion class, my students all have varying ability levels in reading, but all have strengths in other areas, even if it is outside of the classroom.  This is an excellent book to teach understanding, tolerance, determination, and believing in oneself.  A little part of me wants to believe that Hunt wrote this book in response to policymakers who want all students to pass a cookie-cutter test that doesn't highlight their varying talents and abilities. :)

Reader Rach gives 5/5 stars to Fish in a Tree.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Walk on the Wild Side by Nicholas Oldland

Title:  Walk on the Wild Side
Author:  Nicholas Oldland
Publisher:  Kids Can Press
ISBN:  9781771381093
Price:  $16.95 (hardcover)
Target Audience:  Children's Fiction (ages 0-10)

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I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  

I have never read Oldland's previous books, but the illustration on the cover immediately caught my eye.  I really loved the cartoonish quality of the moose, bear, and beaver.  Walk on the Wild Side is a modern-day fable that teaches kids to slow down and enjoy life's adventures.  The moose, the bear, and the beaver all decided one day to climb a mountain.  Along the way, they opted to make it a competition.  When one animal meets distress, the others go to help.  Because the hike was a little too exciting, they resolve to take things a little slower.  Along the way, they make great discoveries; things they wouldn't have seen if they were in a race, and decide that the journey, not the ending, was the most exciting part.

Children will love the characters and illustrations in this book.  They will also learn a great lesson to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the little things in life.  This would make a great discussion or journal topic with your children and/or students.  

Other books in this Life in the Wild series are The Busy Beaver, Big Bear Hug, Making the Moose out of Life, and Up the Creek.  

Reader Rach gives Walk on the Wild Side 5/5 stars.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White

Survival Strategies of the Almost BraveSurvival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White

Title: Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave
Author: Jen White
Publisher:  MacMillan Children's Publishing Group
ISBN:  9780374300845
Price:  $16.99 U.S. (hardcover)
Publish Date:  June 9, 2015
Target Audience:  Children/Middle Grades

I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Twelve-year-old Liberty has always had to look out for her sister Billie. She is put to the biggest test of her life when their mother dies and they find themselves abandoned by their estranged father at a gas station. An avid watcher of animal television shows, Liberty takes careful notes. She uses those animal survival strategies to help keep her sister and herself safe.

This book is one of the best middle grade books I have read recently. Liberty is a character that readers can look up to. She cares so deeply for her sister and will do anything to keep her safe. She is also very smart and resourceful. Billie is the typical little sister and readers with siblings will easily relate to the relationship that Liberty and Billie have. The adventure the girls set upon in an effort to return home will keep readers turning the pages. I highly recommend this book!

A debut novel from Jen White, I am excited to see what else she has in store for middle grade readers!  Reader Rach rating:  5 stars

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