Outstanding Books for Young Adult and Middle Readers
This summer I’ve been lucky enough to review three remarkable books as part of my job reviewing books for Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (https://clcd.com.) Here are their reviews in order of my having written them.
CLCD is a worthwhile organization dedicated to let librarians, teachers, any one else who subscribes. In reviewing for them, I’m always in touch with who is publishing what. Good information for a writer of children’s literature to have. Plus, I can send in my books to be reviewed. And, as is the case with my review of What Beauty There Is, I got special notice in the CLCD monthly newsletter.
I’ll start with What Beauty There Is, because that’s the first one I reviewed. The title alone will make you stop and think. The book was written by a woman who, as a child, traipsed through the icy wilds of Idaho with her dad. Which makes her description of the terrain even more compelling and believable.
What Beauty There Is
The title alone is intriguing from the get go, but becomes more so as the book goes on. On first glance the reader could assume that the title means that the locale is bulging with beautiful things to view or that the phrase is said with a shrug as if to so say, “There must be some beauty here, but what?” The reader will have to decide which is the truth. Perhaps both. The book is well written and compelling and heart wrenching and bitter sweet in the end. Seventeen-year-old Jack comes from a sad home; the only ray of hope being his younger brother. Their father is in jail for theft and their mother is a dying meth addict. Jack comes home one day to find his mother has hanged herself. He rushes to bury her in the back yard by hand digging a grave in the frozen earth behind his garage in the middle of an Idaho winter. All without having his younger brother see him. If the Child Services people find out that he and his brother are alone, the younger boy will be put into a foster home. Jack decides that he needs to recover the money his father stole so his family isn’t completely torn asunder. Problem is finding it. In the meantime, the father of a new classmate of Jack’s is a cold-blooded murderer also looking for the money. The two teens end up working together to find the money and save the day. The story is told from Jack and the girl, Ava Bardem’s, point of view. Teachers will have a good time talking to students about life in general and also how to write a good book. Plus, how to survive in a harsh environment.
BIBLO: 2021, Roaring Book Press/Holzbrinck Publishing Holdings Ltd., Ages 14 +, $18.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult Ficton
The second book is very relevant in this day and age with our finally, we hope, fully awakening to how poorly we white people have treated others in this society who don’t fit our mold. Our innate fear of losing our dominance, however nefariously gained, in the society is still very relevant today. The story is part ghost story, part coming of age story, and part historical fiction. Having always believed that the souls of dead people don’t necessarily just melt off into the ether, I found the story to be quite intriguing.
Ophie didn’t realize that she could see ghosts, or that others couldn’t, until her just murdered father comes to their house to save her mother and herself from meeting the same fate at the hands of white supremacists. Their only crime was that Daddy had legally voted for the first time. This book, partly historical fiction, ghost story, personal growth story, and murder mystery, is quite compelling and extremely well written. The girl and her mother flee from Georgia to Pittsburgh, PA., where they both work for a demanding family and a snarly matriarch. Ophie, born Ophelia, is tasked with catering to the old lady’s every need and has to endure her racial slurs and demanding nature. But she sees all the many ghosts that inhabit the house and gets to know them. One of them, who used to be the old lady’s personal servant, had been murdered just before Ophie’s arrival. From her great aunt Rose with whom the girl and mother live, Ophie learns that other women in the family share their trait of being able to see the dead. There are many ideas for teachers to explore with their students to discuss the horrors of slavery and discrimination. Or how mean and selfish people can be. Or how complicated relationships are.
BIBLIO: 2021, Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade Historical Fiction/Murder Mystery
The final book is set in an elite boarding school in Upstate New York where there are the usual cliques and prejudices that seem to run rampant in boarding schools. The book could have just been a ho-hum “how to survive boarding school” but, instead, turns into a thriller and mystery and coming of age story excellently told.
Don’t Breathe a Word
Eva is the new kid in school and feels as alone as ever. Never one to perceive that she fits anywhere and sure she’s shunned by her mother and stepfather; she’s hoping she can make at least one friend. But all she seems to do is mess up. That is until she meets a girl in math class who agrees to cut class. Her part of the story, which is set in modern times, is about her rise to power and being in a secret society. Life is good, that is, until it isn’t. She also becomes a star cross-country runner and meets a guy who is an outsider as well. Together they uncover a mystery that has haunted the school since 1962. A secret kept by the Dean of Students, who turns out to be the driving force behind the secret society called The Five which even has secret hand signal. The second main character, Connie, is a follower who takes part in the 1962 inciting incident. The experiment that ends in the death of one person and the founding of The Five. The two main characters do meet in the end and set the record straight, but the journey and the growth of the two women is well described and the story is quite compelling. Teachers will find a lot of material in this book to use with their students from the historical aspects, to group dynamics, to personal growth and confidence.
BIBLIO: 2021, HarperTeen/HarperCollins Children’s Books/HarperCollins Publishing, Ages 13 +, $21.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Adult fiction
It’s nice to know that there are such good authors out there writing for our children and grandchildren. Hope you all are well. Please check out my latest version of my website: https://sarahmauryswanlovesbooks.com and let me know what you think and what I can improve on.