WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

I hadn’t read a good graphic novel in a few weeks, when I saw When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed come in with the new books. I immediately got excited because I loved Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School. Those books are fictional and take place in present day U.S., and When Stars are Scattered mostly takes place in the early 2000s and is based on Omar Mohamed’s memories and experiences in a refugee camp in Kenya.

When Omar was a young boy in Somalia, his village was attacked and his father killed. He and his brother had to run away quickly with a neighbor, leaving behind his mother. He and his toddler brother walked many miles to a refugee camp in Kenya, and the story picks up around when he is 11 through his late teens. He describes life in detail in a camp, the boredom, the discomfort, the hunger, but also the sense of community and the friendship/familial bonds that get developed. He also is the main caretaker of his special needs brother, Hassan, a non-verbal, but very social and well loved boy. Omar, along with all of the other people in the camp, have hopes of leaving and living a normal life elsewhere, but it doesn’t become a reality for many.

This book has stuck with me these last few days. It’s sometimes too easy to read the news, and to then not think about it, but when you read a personal account, the story of someone’s life, it makes things much more real and makes me think about the issue more. After reading When Stars are Scattered, I have more books written by refugees on my list, and am reading about ways I can help. This is a must read for anyone in middle school and up, including adults.

When Stars Are Scattered - Kindle edition by Jamieson, Victoria ...

THEY WENT LEFT by Monica Hesse

My favorite book of 2016 was Girl with the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. I was so so excited for her next book, The War Outside, but while it was very good, it was nowhere near the level of amazingness of Girl in the Blue Coat. A few weeks ago They Went Left became available for me on Libby and I didn’t have my hopes up super high, but guess what – IT WAS JUST AS GREAT AS GIRL WITH THE BLUE COAT!!

This was another historical fiction story set in Europe, but this one takes place a few months after WWII has ended, and from the point of view of a young Jewish woman. Most stories set during this time period usually take place during the war, so it is such an interesting and different perspective. Zofia has just been released from a hospital where she was recovering after being in a concentration camp. Her main focus is to get home to try to get to her younger brother, the only family member she believes has survived the war. No one is there when she arrives, so she sets off to a refugee camp in hopes of finding him. There she meets other survivors and displaced people, many of whom went through very similar experiences. She finds a sense of community with them, and they help her in her quest to try to find her brother and with her life going forward.

This book was so well written, different, and heartbreaking. There was mystery and there were several very surprising twists. Monica Hesse is a masterful storyteller, and this book should be read by all older teens and adults.

They Went Left by Monica Hesse

CLAP WHEN YOU LAND by Elizabeth Acevedo

I loved Elizabeth Acevedo‘s first book and novel in verse, The Poet X, and I really liked her next book, With the Fire on High. So I was super excited for her newest book, Clap When You Land. I actually got it very quickly from Libby, and I’m so happy I did, because it was awesome. If The Poet X is a 10, then this one would be an 8 or even a 9. It is also, thankfully, a novel in verse, and just so beautifully written. It tells the story of two half-sisters, one lives in the Dominican Republic and the other in NYC. Both do not know the other exists, until tragically their father dies in a plane crash (based on the real American Airlines Flight 587 crash). Big secrets come to light, and from tragedy comes new family relationships. Poverty, same-sex relationships, Dominican culture, friendship, and grief are all integral parts of this story. This book is a must for anyone who likes novels in verse. Or Elizabeth Acevedo. Or a good story. Or really, just anyone.

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THREE THINGS I KNOW ARE TRUE by Betty Culley

I really didn’t want to read this book. Not because the reviews aren’t great, or because the cover was ugly, but because it’s about gun violence. I have a hard time sometimes watching or reading things that contain violence or its aftermath, but something pushed me (and I really can’t remember what) towards this book. I also have to add, that sometimes just because things may be hard to read or watch, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. This book is a good example of that, because it’s very important for teens and adults to read as its main theme is gun safety.

One thing I can tell you that immediately appealed to me, is that Three Things I Know are True is by Betty Culley is a novel in verse, which I almost always love. You also find out right away that the main character, Liv, has a brother, Jonah, that has shot himself with a loaded gun that he didn’t believe could be loaded. He is now living with round the clock care, unable to take care of himself, eat, or speak. He had always been an active kid – a runner, daredevil, but that would never be the case again. Liv describes the aftermath of this horrible event over the course of several months, as her life, the life of her mom and brother, and neighbors will never be the same again. It also brings the point home of the importance of gun safety, as too many people’s lives are negatively affected by guns, especially children and teens.

This book is so sad, maybe hard to read at points, but so so important. It is also very beautifully written, and Liv is a kind, empathetic, smart, and resilient girl. I think this book could and should be read by all middle and high school students.

Amazon.com: Three Things I Know Are True (9780062908025): Culley ...

THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE by Ruta Sepetys

Someone recently recommended The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys to me, and as it has been standing on my nightstand for the last month I finally decided to give it a try. I’ve read some of her other books, I LOVED Out of the Easy and Between Shades of Gray, and this one was no different. The one thing that all three of these books have in common, other than me really enjoying them, is that they are all examples of very good historical fiction. This one was set in Spain in the 1950s, under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

The point of view bounced back and forth between Ana – a personal assistant/maid at a fancy hotel in Madrid, Daniel – a rich aspiring photojournalist American, Puri – Ana’s cousin that works in an orphanage, and Ana’s brother – a gravedigger and slaughterhouse worker, he has overcome abuse at a boy’s home with his best friend and aspiring bullfighter. All four of the young adults are working hard at unraveling and/or overcoming the mysteries and horrors of living under Franco’s regime. This is a period of history that I knew nothing about, and Ruta Sepetys did a very thorough job in researching and writing this book. Not only did I feel like I had learned something after reading it, but it was a gripping story of war, romance, and family.

Amazon.com: The Fountains of Silence (9780399160318): Sepetys ...

ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen M. McManus

Over the last few years I’ve heard so much about One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus. I love a good whodunit, so now that the wait wasn’t so bad on Libby I decided to give it a try. It was really really great, I’m so glad that I had a chance to read it.

Immediately at the beginning of the book we find the main characters in detention after having been caught with planted cell phones. Simon, the creator of a popular but also very much hated gossip app, is murdered within 10 minutes of the detention starting. The point of view bounces back and forth between the four main characters being accused of murder, 2 boys and 2 girls. Each one is a stereotype – a jock, a brain, a popular girl, and a brain (similar to The Breakfast Club), but as the book goes along they shatter their stereotypes and become more interesting/deeper characters.  The uncovering of what actually happens to Simon is so unexpected, and the book was so suspenseful and exciting throughout. I was able to read the whole thing in a couple of days. A fun book, but also with serious themes like having a controlling partner, coming out, and bullying, to name just a few. I would give this book to just about any high school student (and plenty of adults that love a good mystery).

Amazon.com: One of Us Is Lying (9781524714680): McManus, Karen M ...

DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland

The Not-So-Young-Adult Book Club is still going to meet next week, albeit virtually. The book that I chose for this meeting, Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, was to put it simply – awesome. It has a ton of starred reviews, it features a tough sickle yielding 17 year old girl, Jane, who attends a school for African-American girls that are being trained to protect the upper class from zombies. That’s right – in this alternate history book that takes place after the Civil War, the dead rise up as zombies, and have basically started taking over the United States.

Politicians don’t want people to know how out of control the zombie problem is, and to cover it up, they send people to these other supposedly more safe communities. Jane has the terrible misfortune to be sent to one – Summerland. Not only is it not safe from “shamblers”, but due to mismanagement the African-American people that help guard it are being killed regularly. She spends her time there both trying to survive while helping others, and looking for an escape back home to her mother.

I love a good historical fiction book, a tough female protagonist, and zombies – and if you do too, then this is the book for you (if you’re in high school and up).

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland | SLJ Review | School Library Journal

WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon

For the last couple of years I have routinely heard great things about When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I happened to be browsing Libby the other day to see what’s available (as I do), when I happened to see it. Not having my fill of funny romance-y books, I decided to go for it. And I’m super glad I did, because this lived up to my expectations – it was light, fun, with smart, strong, ambitious, and charismatic main characters.

Dimple has just finished high school and is on her way to Stanford in the fall, but not before doing Insomnia Con – a 6 week long program in which she would have a chance to design an app and have a shot at working with her female coding idol. She is shocked her parents agree to let her go, but she realizes quickly that the guy her parents would like her to marry has been told to go there as well. Rishi is much more into the idea of an arranged marriage, and doesn’t realize that Dimple isn’t until he meets her. She quickly shoots down the idea, as marriage is a far off idea, but also quickly becomes friends and more with this kind, smart, attractive, family-oriented, respectful guy that she has so much in common with. Throughout the book they get to know each other, but more importantly what they themselves want and need from life.

I really loved Dimple, she was just such a real girl, I loved that she was a coder, smart, moral, and kind to people. I also loved that there were so many Hindi words peppered throughout, references to Indian culture and food, and a bunch of Bollywood. I looked up a Bollywood dance on YouTube that Dimple and Rishu performed – so awesome!

If you’re looking for a light romantic comedy that’s not too silly, this is the book for you. I would recommend for 8th grade and up.

Amazon.com: When Dimple Met Rishi (9781481478687): Menon, Sandhya ...

SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW by Maurene Goo

My favorite genres are realistic fiction and memoirs, but I try very hard to go outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis. I have been asked a few times recently for funny romance books, so I decided to try one that sounded very fun – Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo. Perfect timing too, because I think everyone could use a nice light read right about now. And it sure was an easy and enjoyable read!
Lucky is one of the biggest K-pop stars in the world, but as much as she loves performing, she feels lonely and constrained by her management. One night she escapes her hotel room in Hong Kong on a hunt for a cheeseburger, when she meets aspiring tabloid photographer, Jack (he keeps this a secret from her just as she keeps her identity a secret from him). They go out for a night and day on the town, Jack secretly taking pictures of Lucky for an expose he wants to write), both of them having a blast and also falling for each other. The fun  and secrets can’t last forever though…
This story made me interested in K-pop and its stars, but the best part of the story was the portrait of Hong Kong – what a cool place it would be to visit! Fun, eccentric, with delicious food – it was so awesome. Oh and the love story was good too. A fun book for 7th grade all the way up through high school.

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WHAT I CARRY by Jennifer Longo

A  couple of years ago, I read a book I really loved called Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, about 3 biological siblings that meet each other for the first time after having very different life experiences. Then a few months ago, I read multiple starred reviews including a comparison to Far From the Tree for What I Carry by Jennifer Longo. Well, I can honestly say that the reviews were totally right, and I loved What I Carry. I don’t often give 5-star reviews to books, but this was a no-brainer.
Muir, named for John Muir the naturalist (and also the namesake of the NICU she spent time in), has been in the foster care system after being born addicted to meth. She has lived in 20 different homes in her 17 years of life, and has gotten by by being as perfect as she can possibly be, since the standards for foster children are so much higher than others. She is never late, never argues, gets good grades, helps around the house, and also leaves as soon as she feels comfortable (or uncomfortable somewhere). The book begins as she enters her last placement before she ages out of the foster care system, as the only and last foster child of Francine, on an island near Seattle. Muir finds an internship she loves leading hikes for children, a boyfriend that understands her love of nature, and a spunky artistic best friend that she can care for and cares for her.
It’s a beautiful book, and gives a glimpse into the foster care system. Although the author points out multiple times, during the story and after, that there are many different experiences, and Muir’s is only one possible story. Fantastic read for teens or adults.
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