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Recent Reviews

Hope Was Here - Cover
Average Score:
Score - 8
New in MarchHope Was Here
by Joan Bauer [YA PB Bauer]

Hope. Remember the name. It's important to both the main character and to those whom she meets in the realistic novel Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer. This Newbery Honor book is about sixteen-year-old Hope, who seeks a permanent place to call home. It's also about the townsfolk Hope meets, whot need hope in the face of political corruption. Stories of parent desertion are not uncommon in the world of literature for young people. What sets Hope Was Here apart is the quirky details. For example, Hope is the new legal name chosen by the main character to replace her birth name of Tulip. Hope's mom had seen a movie in which an actress was running happily through a field of tulips. Hope Was Here also contains its own unique twists. For example, after bestowing her daughter with the questionable name of Tulip, Hope's mom made an even more serious choice. She leaves Hope with her older sister, Addie, and then takes off to find her own life. Addie's presence, therefore, provides Hope with a mother figure, something not always seen in the typical parent desertion fare. Political corruption might not seem like an exciting topic. Bauer makes it work because of sympathetic and pivotal characters whom Bauer puts in the campaign arena. Addie has dragged Hope from state-to-state all of her life, seeking stable employment. Now, as Hope turns sixteen, they're headed to a rural diner in Wisconsin where they discover their boss, G.T., is looking for new workers because he's dying of cancer. This medical diagnosis has given G.T. a different perspective on life, including the desire to change his town, which he plans to do by running for mayor. Joan Bauer tends to write about characters who are down on their luck but who serve as positive role models. For example, Hope deliberately chose her name knowing that others would turn to her for a smile and comfort. And she managed to live up to her name even in the face of being deserted and facing job loss. Hope Was Here is a fast-paced and fun story.

Score - 8
reviewed by Allison H.-F..
customer of the Bennett Martin Public Library
March 19, 2014

Under the Mesquite - Cover
Average Score:
Score - 9
New in MarchUnder the Mesquite
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall [YA McCall]

An expression that comes to mind about Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is that "the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts". The main storylines to this verse novel are the immigration of a Mexican family to America and the death of a parent. Thematically, the story is also about family, friendship, and identity. All of these parts interconnect to make an emotional experience that will have long-lasting impact. The immigration experience forms one storyline to Under the Mesquite. However, this verse novel is not about the difficulties which can happen to immigrants in crossing the border or when trying to avoid deportation. Instead, Under the Mesquite is about an altogether different struggle: one which I call dual homesickness. Basically, when she's on the American side Lupita misses her former life in Mexico, but when she's on the Mexican side she eventually finds herself longing for her new home in Texas. Because Lupita looks different and has an accent, naturally she also faces discrimination. And yet to my surprise, its Lupita's Mexican friends who harass her the most, accusing her of talking "like you wanna be white". Because of these different takes on immigration, I found Under the Mesquite to have a fresh approach. The death of a parent forms a second storyline to Under the Mesquite. When Lupita enters her freshman year in high school, her mom is diagnosed with cancer. Despite the rallying times when it felt as if her mom would recover and life would return to normal, Lupita and her sisters receive the dreaded middle-of-the-night call. It's often said that there are no new stories. You could view Under the Mesquite in this way, for death of a parent isn't a new tale. But how McCall develops the relationship between Lupita and her mom, down to the symbolism of the mesquite tree, is original, and therefore makes for a memorable read. A story told through verse has a strong chance of turning ones off who are not accustomed to the format. However, I love the emotional punch McCall creates with her intense visuals. I also appreciate that the poetic form allows her to provide the perfect emotional distance from one of the most painful experiences anyone can face. Which means Under the Mesquite has further sold me on the merits of verse novels.

Score - 9
reviewed by Allison H.-F..
customer of the Bennett Martin Public Library
March 19, 2014

Moon Over Manifest - Cover
Average Score:
Score - 6
New in FebruaryMoon Over Manifest
by Clare Vanderpool [YA Vanderpool]

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is not the type of book one should fit into a busy schedule. It isn't an easy read, but should have a select audience. The first reason that Moon Over Manifest makes for a difficult read is the huge cast of characters. In fact, before you even get to the title page, you're going to encounter a character list. This alone should serve as warning that this is a different type of book. If that's not bad enough, you'll notice most of these characters aren't twelve-year-olds like Abilene but instead are adults. At times, I felt not only overwhelmed but bored. The second reason that Moon Over Manifest makes for a difficult read is the multiple subplots. Soon after the storyteller Miss Sadie is introduced, the typeface temporarily changes to signal the start of a second story. This story is about Jinx, whose father set him up him to take the blame for the murder of a man. Actually, there's yet another font change, because there's a third story about Ned, who sets off to war because of Jinx but ends up getting killed in battle. With all these stories going on, it might come as no surprise that Moon Over Manifest is over 300 pages long. At times, reading Moon Over Manifest felt akin to scaling a mountain of infinite height. If you can get to the heart of its story, Moon Over Manifest has a lot to offer. I enjoyed the adventures of Jinx, the boy who felt as if he cursed everyone he touched. The adult side of me at least also gained an appreciation for how townsfolk overcame their fears and differences to stand up against corruption. However, Moon Over Manifest is like a stew, which needs time to simmer in your thoughts. Young people who enjoy classics might enjoy plummeting into its depths. Beyond that, Vanderpool will probably find her biggest appeal among mature readers.

Score - 6
reviewed by Allison H.-F.
customer of the Bennett Martin Public Library
February 15, 2014

Private Peaceful - Cover
Average Score:
Score - 10
New in FebruaryPrivate Peaceful
by Michael Morpurgo [j Morpurgo or jPB Morpurgo]

I first picked up this book because of the "warish" title hoping to find a book filled with the brutality and intensity of the act of war. Instead I found another side of the war scene in Private Peaceful, an interpretation that showed the interpersonal effects that war have on a young mind. Yes there is still the brutality that come with the territory but it is not the focus of this book and makes for a very interesting point-of-view for the usually war book reader. I highly recommend this novel if you regularly find yourself drawn to these style of books, I am sure you will find yourself deep into the reading as I was.

Score - 10
reviewed by Kellen R.
customer of the Gere Branch Library
February 4, 2014

Seeing Red - Cover
Average Score:
Score - 10
New in JanuarySeeing Red
by Kathryn Erskine [YA Erskine]

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine is deserving of multiple literary awards. It's that good. First, Seeing Red is about relationships, ones between families and ones with neighbors. Red's dad has just died. Erskine has effectively explored reactions to death in her previous novels. Having even myself grieved in different ways, I appreciated that in Seeing Red each family member is handling grief in their own way and learning to respect their differences. Because Red's dad ran a business, the family also has a lot of dealings with neighbors. Some are good, some are not so good. Of the novels I've read by Erskine, Seeing Red has the most complex range of characters. Seeing Red is also about bullies and racism. Bullies come in different forms. As a teacher, I have read and watched enough about bullying to know there aren't any simple answers. Erskine recognizes this, while also making clear that the solution lies within each of us. As for racism, I also respected Erskine's exploration of it. When Red tried to walk away from a gang, and they threatened him, he backed down. He agreed to hit the schoolmate. And immediately regretted it. But also had to live with it, because that schoolmate had been a friend. Later, when Red started to dig through his dad's desk in preparation to move, he discovered a land claim that led to his realization that one of his ancestors had murdered a black person. He didn't want to acknowledge this fact. Yet to deny it would mean being dishonest in his history report to his teacher. And losing an opportunity to right a sin from the past. In earlier novels by Erskine, I've criticized her almost too perfect endings. In Seeing Red, yes, there are some wonderful changes. We expect this both in novels and in life. But reality also remains wholly present. Last, Seeing Red is about history and bringing about change. Red thinks history is stupid. Why care about something that's in the past and unchangeable? But everyone has the ability to make a difference, if only they would try. And history isn't just something to read about. We can make history daily with our actions. Interviews with Erskine often bring out her strong belief that change is something that young people can invoke. Seeing Red is a remarkable example of how hard it can be, but also how important it is, to make a difference. I can't stress enough how realistic yet hopeful this book is. There is so much depth to Seeing Red. It also has the positive of being told from the viewpoint of a male protagonist, still a rare find and feat in literature for young people. Read it today. And expect to hear news of awards in the upcoming months.

Score - 9
reviewed by Allison H.-F..
customer of the Bennett Martin Public Library
January 14, 2014

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