BARNES, Derrick. We Could Be Brothers. Scholastic. 164p. October 2010. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-13573-3.
Gr. 5 – up –An exploration of the lives of youth impacted by lack of a father, the story begins with Robeson in detention, where he meets Pacino. Robeson has a Dad and Pacino does not. Tariq is in and out of group homes. Lots of dissing on Pacino’s side tries to cover up his feelings of loss and anger, and Tariq’s acting out threatens all three boys. Robeson tends to be a bit preachy, repeating quotes from his father as well as African American authors, which get’s Pacino going with more disses.
A week in the lives of these two boys has them exploring each other’s homes and lives, avoiding and getting into fights and checking out the girl. The week is broken up by section headings such as Strangers on Tuesday, Cool on Wednesday and Solutions on Saturday as well as chapter headings with time and place. The format is perfect for middle school and reluctant readers who need easy stopping places and lots of structure. Readers who enjoyed Secret Saturdays by Maldonado and books by Walter Dean Myers will also like this one.
Binns, B. A. Pull. WestSide Books. 310p. October 2010. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-934813-43-0.
Gr. 8 – up. A lot is going on with African American senior David Albacore. His mom just died – murdered by his abusive father – which has put him solidly in the adult role in the family. He’s starting a new school and has the hots – nicely and realistically portrayed in feelings and language guys are going to relate to and girls will want to read – for Yolanda. Yolanda is smart, but going out with Malik – hot shot guy around school who also leaves bruises on her. His youngest sister Leslie is addicted to video games and he so desperately wants to protect his other sister, Barney from the likes of Malik that he agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend rather than her brother. (He’s in the process of changing his last name to distance himself from his murderous father so brother and sister have different last names). There’s a whole lot more complicating his life, much like the lives of many of our teens. The pace picks up quite a bit in the end as David is faced with another crisis that threatens to put his sisters in foster care.
The book could use more editing to tighten up plot repetitions, take care of at least one dangling plot line and expand other plot lines, but all in all it’s a read that is going to satisfy a lot of teen readers. This is Binn’s first novel; she is an author that definitely has potential.
FINN, Daniel. She Thief. Feiwel and Friends. 304p. April 2010. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-312-56330-1.
Gr. 8-up – A methodical start brings us into the world of barrio thieves Demi and Baz. When Demi steals a precious ring from Senora Dolucca, the police captain’s wife, the corrupt politics of the barrio and indeed the social structure of his nameless timeless city begins to shift, resulting in complete upheaval. Baz and Demi are caught in the whirlwind. Baz has always trusted their den mother, Fay, but Fay betrays Baz’s trust by sending Raoul to “the Mountain.” Baz begins to question the foundation of her life: Fay as her mother and the children that live there her siblings, that she is to protect at all costs. Baz’s awareness grows – not only of the corruption at all levels of society, but of the psychological landscape, how she and the other children are caught in the web by their need for affection, approval and the idea of family. Demi appears to be still be at the effect of this and so it’s up to Baz to find a way to get Raoul off the mountain, and leave the barrio with as much of her family intact as she can manage. While not a fast read, the cover and the content will appeal to multicultural “urban” teens, particularly those reading on grade level or above. Those that read and enjoyed Brian James the Thief and are looking for a more indepth story will find it here. —– Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA
FLAKE, Sharon. You Don’t Even Know Me. 208p. Jump at the Sun. Feb. 2010. $16.99. 978-1-4231-0014-0.
Gr. 8 – 12. Ten portraits interspersed with poetry easily draw the reader into the lives of a variety of African American boys. In “Getting Even,” a young boy copes with his grandfather’s death and the desire to find who killed him. Jeffery gets thrown out of his Auntie’s house with nowhere to go. Eric goes against his dad’s command of staying home with his siblings and instead finds a girl, some fun and some trouble; Justin writes in his journal about death, suicide and sexual abuse. La’Ron is too afraid to tell his father he is HIV positive, so writes him a letter: and his father writes back. The concluding story, “Pretty Mothers are a Problem” is a chilling portrait of 15 year old Jeffrey, seduced by a neighbor and the devastation faced by her daughter. Boys and girls will be drawn to the cover and want to find out what they don’t even know. Complex and thought provoking stories won’t disappoint. Amy Cheney Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA
Grennan, Conor. Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. 304p. HarperCollins/William Morrow. 2011. $25.99. ISBN 978-0-06-193005-8.
Adult/High School. 29 year old Conor Grennan begins a year long trip around the world with 3 months of volunteer work in a Nepalese orphanage to justify the extravagance. As his friends have mentioned and he himself realizes as he stands on the doorstep, he has absolutely no skills for the job. Surprisingly, hilariously and poignantly, the 3 months of no comforts, dull food, and a tangle of children turn solidly into a passionate life purpose of reconnecting trafficked children with their family of origin. It’s an action packed, breath holding adventure of the heart and soul as he negotiates steep mountain trails, civil war and bureaucracy in a foreign country, while founding a non-profit and falling in love with an equally committed and passionate woman. Humility, insights into culture and the difference one person can make abound. Grennan is able to poke fun at himself while his uncanny inner drive to see and act clearly shines forth. Teens who enjoyed or weren’t drawn to Greg Mortensen’s more solidly adult title Three Cups of Tea (Penguin, 2007) will love this book, and will eagerly await any additional installments of the story. ~ Amy Cheney Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA
HENRY, Nathan L. Good Behavior. 265p. Bloomsbury. 2010. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-599-90471-9.
Adult/High School—This gritty first memoir alternates chapters from Nathan’s young life and the year he spent locked up in Paradise County Jail (Illinois) during his sixteenth year. Gritty and disturbing it is, balanced with passages of introspection and reflection. While Nathan grew up in a small town with little threat of violence, his father’s obsession with guns, paranoid fantasies of death, dismemberment and destruction, along with his readiness to share inappropriately with his young son paves the way for Nathan’s fearful and angry acting out (yet is not used as an excuse by the author). Along with a stint in “rehab” with no explanation of medication protocol upon release, the armed robbery seems inevitable. Reading and questioning the nature of existence in his cell leads Nathan to an awakening and awareness of his life and future desires. The epilogue explains that two years later Nathan is married and happy – presumably out of the life that led him to trouble. The abrupt ending is a disappointment and readers will be left with many questions. The alternating chapters don’t necessarily work… at one point a mention is made of a break up with a girlfriend that we have not yet been introduced to…. but are not too much of a hindrance. Lots of swearing, violent fantasies and description of sexual experiences make this book a better bet for high school age, rather than the fourteen year olds it’s marketed to. There is certainly a place for memoirs of Caucasian people incarcerated in the Midwest, and youth in detention centers (as well as elsewhere) around the country will want to read this book. -Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, San Leandro, CA
Hunter, Travis. On the Come Up. 227p. Kensington Press. 2011. $9.95. ISBN 978- 0-7582-4252-5. Grades 8 up. DeMarco is tired of Juvie, even though he has three meals, clean clothes, and a much nicer living environment than his home. Just out of jail and determined to change his life, he finds not much has changed: mom is drunk, there’s a new guy there, there’s no food in the house for 3 year old Devin. His twin sister, Jasmine seems to be hanging out with the wrong crowd and may have even dropped out of school. Hunter gets all of this exactly right and will hook readers with the dilemmas and dreams of the pair of twins, told in chapters from each of their points of view. This is plain old wonderful fantasy: Life is hard, then nice people help you. Jasmine becomes a model overnight, you get accepted into the best prep school, your mom gets sober, and the new neighbors take care of your little brother while it all gets sorted out. Surprisingly, it all works. What inner city teen doesn’t wish and fantasize that things could change and resolve that easily? A fast read, with a great cover, this is a definite quick pick for reluctant readers. Luckily, fans of Ni-Ni Simone (A Girl Like Me, 2008), Babygirl Daniels (16 on the Block, 2009), Darrien Lee (Denim Diary series), Kimani Tru imprints and other “soft” urban books now have another author to get excited about.
Jordan, Dream. Bad Boy. 198p. Griffin St. Martin’s 2012. $9.99. 978-0-312-54997-8. Grades 8-11. Dream Jordan is back, and so is hot girl Kate! This time Kate’s esteem is tested by boys, most notably Percy, who treats her well but… seems to be both critical and controlling. The reader will emphasize with Kate’s confusion and wanting to believe the fantasy, “Something inside me flipped, like a courage switch. Percy’s words were hurtful, so dead wrong; I had no choice but to find my own voice.” Jordan knows how to write, her voice is not only dead on but original and fresh. Fab cover and title, short chapters and great type for chapter headings, the book is a Quick Pick for sure.
KEY, Watt. Dirt Road Home. 224p. Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 2010. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-374-30863-6. Grades 8 -11.
Lots of action opens this book as 14 year old Hal is led in chains to the Hellenweiler’s Boy’s Home – a lockdown facility – in Alabama where he is to serve his sentence until age 18. Hal and his Daddy have an agreement: Daddy is going to stop drinking and Hal is going to stay out of trouble while incarcerated. However, as anyone knows, that is almost impossible, and the action continues as Hal is faced on day one with joining the Ministers or the Hounds, either of which will bring him LOTS of trouble. Hal chooses the unthinkable – to join neither. The tension, positioning, threats and shifting alliances are believable and will hook readers. A little girl action is also in the mix. The corruption of the supervising adults is also believable, and Hal’s idea to expose it creates a page turning experience. However and unfortunately, the exposure is a little too easily accomplished and rings false, especially after all the realism that comes before in the text. A happy ending with Daddy, Hal and Caboose, another loner from the facility neatly wraps up the story. While the first ¾ of the book is a little more gritty (except for the Daddy parts!), the last ¼ is almost for a different audience, which puts this book squarely in the camp for younger readers with a tougher edge. Sequel to award winning Alabama Moon, this book stands on it’s own.
LANGSTON, Laura. Last Ride. Orca Soundings. 130p. March, 2011. $9.95. ISBN 978-1554694167.
Gr. 5- 7. Logan died in a street racing accident that occurred when Tom dared him to race. Now 16 year old Tom is haunted by his best friend. He smells Cherry Twizzlers (Logan’s favorite) and sees him out of the corner of his eyes. He thinks Logan is trying to tell him something, but what? Tom struggles not only with the ghost of Logan, but with his feelings towards Logan’s girlfriend and his promise to her that he will stop racing. With huge medical bills, his mom about to lose the house and his boss who is threatening to take his beloved car, Tom is having a hard time saying no to racing and the money it could bring in. Good books with the topic of car racing and street racing are few and far between – Will Weaver’s books come to mind (Saturday Night Dirt, Square Fish was a 2009 Quick Pick) – so this is a welcome addition for reluctant readers. The title and cover, with lights and partial face in the rear view mirror, will also attract.
MALDONADO, Torrey. Secret Saturdays. Putnam. 208p. April, 2010. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25158-0.
Gr 5-7. Justin and Sean live in the Red Hook projects, are half Puerto Rican and half African American, and their fathers aren’t living with them. They became friends when Sean sticks up for Justin, but now Sean is straying further from their friendship, avoiding their scheduled sleepovers, lying, not doing as well in school, and getting into more and more fights when he used to advocate dissing instead of fists. Where is Sean going on Saturdays? Why isn’t he telling his friends Justin, Kyle and Vanessa? Justin heads up the squad to find out why, but with more drama than action, the reader may just not care. Justin worries, on more than one occasion, that because he’s so worried about Sean people are going to think he’s gay. There’s also the possibility that Sean’s dad is gay – Justin’s reasoning is that he sends Sean shiny trinkets from Puerto Rico. He also inaccurately portrays his cousin as gay because he dresses up in women’s clothes and wants to be called Vicky. While these fallacies go unaddressed, what is addressed is what it means to be a friend, what is privacy, and how difficult it is for boys to talk with each other.
With so few books out for “urban” middle school boys of color besides the fantastic Bluford series, this book, with all it’s flaws, may still be a draw for some readers. The cover, type size and format, with cool font and photo at the head of each chapter will attract reluctant readers, but the content may not sustain them. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA
Mitchell, Jeff. Real Justice: Young, Innocent and in Prison The Story of Robert Baltovich. 128p. James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. 2012. $12.95. 978-1-4594-0078-8. Grades 6-10. Rob Baltovich was wrongfully convicted of killing his girlfriend and jailed for eight years. He is one of several high profile cases of wrongful conviction in Canada, and one of a series of books looking at the system and how this occurred. Rob’s court case is detailed along with his time inside, including and some of the losses he suffered by being incarcerated. Youth will empathize with him being unable to be with his mother while she was sick and dying, and could see themselves in his situation. The writing and story is both interesting and average. On the plus side, the book is accessible, and has a reading level of 5.0. On the negative side, the cover is a mishmash of colors and type faces with a black and white out of focus old time photo of a strange looking kid who is not going to attract much interest from contemporary youth. The photos on the inside are also black and white with little contrast.
REED, AMY. Clean. Simon Pulse. 237p. 2011. 978-1-4424-1756-4
Grades 8- up. Olivia (Ms Perfect who is NOT addicted to diet pills), Kelly (pretty fucked up: alcohol and sex definitely do go together), Christopher (homeschooled not-so-religious possibly gay meth head), Jason (dad is not very nice to say the least) and Eva (talks about herself in dramatic third person) all tell the story of being in rehab along with the Scary Guys: Gas Man, Satan Worshiper, Heroin Addict and Compulsive Liar. All appear to be white and basically middle to upper class. Title headings alternate between Drug & Alcohol History Questionnaire, Group, Personal Essay, and individual names of the teens. It’s a quick and good read, with humor, information and action that will keep teens interested, reading and by the way, learning some stuff (an adults dream: kids learning about themselves, taking responsibility, understanding the causes of addiction, etc) Great cover that teens who read Beautiful (and those who didn’t) will be drawn to, fans of Ellen Hopkins will love it and I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes the 2012 Quick Pick and other lists. My only quibble: a rant by one of the counselors about race and class that make it clear that my teens would not be in this facility – and in fact, would alienate them, if they read the rant carefully. I think the author meant well, but the book would have been better without it.
Reed, Jaime. Living Violet. 295p. Kensington Press. 2012. $9.95. ISBN 978- 0-7582-6924-9. Grades 8 up.
Bi-racial Samara (Sam) works at Buncha Books, where she sees a girl making out with co-worker Caleb one minute and collapsing with a heart attack in the parking lot the next. Caleb has these amazing purple eyes and Sam finds herself curious, but he’s got girls that are literally throwing themselves all over him, and then there’s the matter of girls suspiciously having heart attacks at a young age. What is going on? What’s going on is an entirely new world – no vampires or zombies, but instead inner demons. Reed knows how to write dialogue: Sam’s spunky sarcastic voice keeps the plot and action moving forward. “Dude, really, how can you and your ego fit in this car,” is an example. First in the Cambion Chronicles, the world created is somewhat farfetched, yet believable and with some fun twists. Exploring issues of self control, peer pressure and relationship boundaries amidst drama in the human and paranormal world, when Sam’s eyes transform into green at the end of book teens will want to find out what happens next. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA
REINHARDT, DANA. The Things a Brother Knows. Random House/Wendy Lamb. 242p. 2010. $16.99. 978-0-375-84455-3. Grades 8 up. Boaz, Levi’s older brother, is home after three years as a Marine. Boaz has been changed by the experience and this emerges bit by bit through his behaviors but not his words, because while he is home, he is in his room and doesn’t often come out. The radio is on static. He won’t ride in cars. He won’t see his ex-girlfriend. Levi can hear him screaming at night. The book isn’t just about Boaz, but about everyone impacted by Boaz: Levi, family, the school, friends, ex-Marines. Reinhardt creates fully realized characters with terrifically precise and perfect details and dialogue that brings each moment alive in our senses. Reading this book, you feel like you are having a deep conversation with a friend on a long walk. The characters don’t feel like characters but feel bigger and more complex and like real life; they live on after you have turned the page. This is the kind of book that makes it difficult writing a review because you realize that people, such as Reinhardt, have gifts, and this is why they are writers.
SCHRAFF, Anne. The Fairest. (Urban Underground). 179p. Saddleback. 2010. $8.95. 978-1-61651-007-7. Grades 5 -8. Another uneven entry in the Urban Underground series. The excellent cover depicting a young man with scorpion tattoos draws in the readers with hopes of a book about a boy, gangs, or even someone with the lifestyle that gets a cool tattoo. Unfortunately, the inside story doesn’t live up to the cover: it’s about who is going to win Princess of the Junior Fair. Young and enthusiastic teacher Ms. Amsterdam puts up flyers and announces the rules on many of the 179 pages. The rules include no campaigning. Drama …but sort of boring drama, or drama without much action if that makes sense….fills the rest of the pages with boys rating girls, campaigning for girls and Jasmine trying to overcome her mean image by theoretically raising money for abused children with a coffee cup in the entrance of the school. Any child who considered themselves abused would be horrified, and would see clearly that the students at this high school are not them. Some of the more action packed scenes involve Jasmine finding a rotten chicken sandwich in her locker and the mystery of who put it there. In the end will the pretty mean girl become the princess? Or will Sami, the not so pretty but nicest girl around be recognized for who she is by the Juniors of Tubman High? Readers can easily guess the answer. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA
SCHRAFF, Anne. Like a Broken Doll. (Urban Underground). 182p. Saddleback. 2010. $8.95. 978-1-61651-005-3. Grades 5 -10. One of the better (as there are several plot lines to follow) but not best, of the Urban Underground series. Who is stealing money from girl’s purses and the Cheerleader’s carwash? Is is Sereeta? She happens to be on the scene each time. Not to mention that Chelsea saw Sereeta cutting herself and all the students saw Sereeta’s mom come drunk to school. This gives Sereeta’s boyfriend Jaris (boyfriend? they kiss twice – chastely – in the book) lots to be worried about and involved in. Then there is Quincy who also happens to be around when some of the money is stolen. His family surely needs the money – as Jaris finds out by talking to Quincy and Quincy’s mom who readily tell all the details of their financial issues. Or – could the girls be making it up? It’s rumored that when Ryann reported the missing $100, her parents gave her another $100. And she sure has been coming to school with lots of new clothes. The issues raised are resolved easily and neatly and no where near realistically. The cutting issue is raised in Chapter four and “resolved” in chapter seven. Once again there is a disconnect with the cover: the broken doll is clearly Sereeta, but the cover depicts the torso of a young man and barbed wire. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA
SCHRAFF, Anne. One of Us. (Urban Underground #5). 180p. Saddleback. 2010. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-61651-004-6.
Grades 5 and up – Things are looking up for Tubman High student Derrick when he gets a job at the 99 cent store and is praised by his boss. On his way home from work, however, he almost loses his life after witnessing a murder. B.J. lets him go, but Derrick’s vow of silence throws him into a moral dilemma that eats away at him, especially when an innocent man is brought in for the murder. Schraff’s books are brilliant and right on relevant for “urban” teens with reading levels of 3.5 and above while never talking down or sacrificing action, story, character or issues. Fans of the Bluford High books and librarians looking to engage reluctant teen readers are going to be thrilled. This new series will be a hit with reluctant readers, readers of color and the “urban” teen. Gutter space is too crowded, but the publisher plans to add space in future editions. Adding color and a cool font to the cover will make these books even more impossible to keep on the shelf. Other titles in the “Urban Underground” series include: Outrunning the Darkness; Shadows of Guilt; A Boy Called Twister; If You Really Loved Me. Look for future titles: Like a Broken Doll; The Quality of Mercy; The Fairest; To Be a Man; and Wildflower. -Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, San Leandro, CA
SCHRAFF, Anne. Wildflower. (Urban Underground # 10). 183p. Saddleback. 2010. $8.95 ISBN 978-1-61651-009-1. Grades 5-8. This middle class African American family is at odds. Mom and Pop argue over everything: what 14 year old Chelsea wears, who she goes out with, the fact that Mom talks to Grandmother and Grandmother doesn’t like Pops. On top of that, Mom is reluctant to support Pops in his dream of buying the garage he works at as a grease monkey. Pops is on Chelsea’s every move with immature, inappropriate rants. Pops’ abusive behavior is never addressed by Mom or anyone else. Know it all Jarris, old and wise beyond his 16 years has moralistic advice for everyone on what they should do, and sides with Pop on Chelsea’s attire, helping her to see the light. (And what exactly is the issue? She wears short shorts and skimpy tops, as well as has some minor connections with a bad boy). Jarris has his own worries about if Mom and Pop might get divorced, what is going on with his friends at school and generally everyone’s business. While students may be attracted to the cover, there isn’t much drama action or development inbetween the boring moralistic and immature abusive harangues at Chelsea, aka the “Wildflower.” – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA
Shea, John “Red” and Harmon, Michael. A Kid From Southie. 237p. West Side Books. 2011. (978-1-934813-53-9). Grades 8 and up.
We meet Aiden O’Connor in his first boxing match – and he’s losing. Then his opponent calls him a name, and Aiden – a South Boston Irish kid with anger management issues - gets mad and wins. With an alcoholic mom and dad – who aren’t paying the rent- a drug dealing best friend, bi-racial girl he’s in love with and the mafia ruling the neighborhood he lives in, Aiden has a lot to stress about. Tempted by the power and money the Mafia and drugs offer, yet struggling with wanting to get out of the hood and the ultimate lack of control, Aiden is faced with numerous dilemmas and must make difficult choices. Ultimately, Aiden is struggling with the meaning of power and being a man. Lots of action and short chapters along with a based-on-a-true story and proven YA author make this a winner. Great cover will attract reluctant readers and the content will keep them turning the pages. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA
Sheinmel, Courtney. All the Things You Are. 243p. Simon & Schuster. 2011. (9781442417816). Grades 6-10. 12 year old Caucasian Carly Wheeler goes to a private school, has a best friend that is a Rothschild, has a mom that is a stylist for the cool Lovelock Falls soap opera, and she babysits for the star - Ally’s – kids. All in all she has a breezy, fun life. Until the doorbell rings and FBI takes her mother into custody for embezzlement. After that, Carly struggles with her feelings about her mom, what she did and the consequences impacting her: her mom going to prison for a year, her best friend no longer talking to her, whispers as she walks down the hallway, having to sell their home and move into an apartment, etc. Written in an easy style with lots of interesting relationships and a quick paced plot. The book is accurate about the process of arrest through prison and doesn’t skimp on many of the issues that come up between friends, family, neighbors and the like. The conclusion is realistic and yet positive, completely appropriate for the audience. Kind of a girl version of Terri Field’s My Father’s Son. (2008, Roaring Brook Press).
Sherrard, Brent R. Final Takedown.124p. Lorimer & Company. 2010. (978-1-55277-523-3). Grades 6-10.
Elias and Jordan are in the usual trouble, only this time Elias is rethinking his life. While he continues to smoke joints, get in fights, and try to manage his alcoholic mom, he also gets a job, goes out on a few dates with a cute upper class girl, and starts to paint and clean up the house. The dating doesn’t work out as Amber is more interested in sociology (i.e. dating the poor boy) than who he actually is, and by this time Elias is wondering if he is more than the stoner kid, and if he really wants to do the last takedown that Jordan has planned. Elias decides to be in it to the end and gets into more trouble. The epilogue neatly ties up the story and Elias realizes that everyone has a choice and Jordan isn’t the friend he thought he was: he didn’t even make a 911 call as Elias was bleeding and incapacitated from a gunshot.
Not a lot of action, but a lot of issues. Good cover with with a chain link fence in front of a boy’s face (clearly a person of color) will appeal to reluctant readers. The setting is rural, which some urban teens (on the coast, for example) might not find realistic enough for their situation, but others across the county will enjoy. 4.2 reading level.
Stevenson, Robin. Outback. 131 p. Orca Soundings, 2011. $9.95. ISBN 978-1-55469-419-8. Grades 6-10. Jayden is down and depressed after his girlfriend dumps him, and when a chance comes to go to Australia to visit his crazy uncle Mel, he figures, why not. He gets there and Uncle Mel has gotten crazier and wants to go into the Outback on a mission that seems almost paranoid and suicidal. Accompanying them is cute, pierced and surly student Natalie. All signs point to disaster, and the ultimate happens: the truck catches fire with most of their supplies and belongings and leaves them stranded at least 10 days away from civilization with no hope of anyone driving, walking or flying by. 10 days of walking in hot sun and cold nights. Unfortunately, the plot wraps up a little too nicely and easily: satelitte phone in Uncle Mel’s bag brings rescue within three days – and no real romance, drama or survival smarts happens in the meantime. Reluctant readers might be better off with Gary Paulson’s Hatchet or other similar books, but Orca lovers may love this one too.
Swan, Bill. Real Justice: Fourteen and Sentenced to Death The Story of Steven Truscott. 152p. James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. 2012. $12.95. 978-4594-0074-0. Grades 6-10. Steven Truscott is one of Canada’s most famous victims of a wrongful conviction. At 14 he was sentenced to die by hanging for the rape and murder of 12 year old Lynne Harper. It took over 47 years for his complete exoneration. The book does a decent job of telling the story, but gets bogged down in the details of who said what and what time something happened – details that are necessary in a courtroom and to accurately tell what happened, but not for the best read. On the plus side, the book is accessible, somewhat interesting in that it’s always interesting when someone is wrongfully convicted, and has a reading level of 4.8. On the negative side, the cover is a mishmash of colors and type faces with a black and white out of focus old time photo of a geeky looking kid who is not going to attract much interest from contemporary youth. The photos on the inside are also from the 50s when the case took place and are both grainy and grey.
Villareal, Ray. Don’t Call me Hero. 201p. Pinata Books. 2011. $10.95. 978-1-55885-711-7. Grades 6-10. It’s always exciting to have books with latino male characters that are universal in nature such as this. Middle schooler Rawly struggles with a brother in prison, working at his mom’s restaurant that isn’t doing too well, an unrequited crush and a best friend who may not be, truly a friend. He also, just to make sure the book appeals to all teen boys, likes comic books and heros. In a not so subtle plot device, Rawly is the right place at the right time, and he rescues a woman who gets caught in a flash flood. The rescue is captured by the local news, and the woman turns out to be a famous model. Rawly is hailed a hero, suddenly dealing with the spotlight and all it brings: popularity, girls, jealousy, advice on how to collect money, and most importantly, who he is and what he really believes. Can Rawly’s fame help save his mom’s struggling restaurant? Does Miyoko, the most popular girl in school, really like Rawly – or just what she thinks he can do for her? The ending is a bit abrupt, on the negative side, but all the threads are not resolved nice and neat on the positive side. The big type and hopefully good cover – the arc did not show the complete cover – will make this a welcome addition to all public and school libraries short on books for latino males. Reluctant readers may enjoy but…there is nothing extraordinary here. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA
Williams, Harry Louis II. Straight Outta East Oakland 2: Trapped on the Track. 182 p. Soul Shaker Publishing. 2011. $14.95. ISBN 978-0-9789133-1-1. Gr. 8 and up. The bold cover with a silhouette of a girl on the tracks and a fade of purple to black type will catch any reluctant reader’s eye. Chapter headings with an image of high heels and each page bordered with subtle half tone graphic that could be dirt or blood supports the gritty feel of the book. Firstborn has left the hood and is in the college dorms where Ms. Holmes finds him to pay off the debt of the death of her baby – because of Firstborn’s actions. Now she wants him to rescue her granddaughter Crayon from the tracks. Unfortunately the top rate packaging doesn’t completely reflect the story inside. Crayon’s story doesn’t begin until Chapter 14, and then is only told in a few chapters. There are some unrealistic moments, such as a group of men running into the airport and rescuing the girl as she is about to be forced on an airplane (it’s 2011 and there is no mention of security?) The character development and satisfying narrative/arc of a story isn’t complete. Still, the setting of the streets and details of interactions will have urban youth turning the pages. There is definite promise for this writer.
WRIGHT, Denis. Violence 101. 240p. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. October, 2010. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25493-2.
Grades 8 and up. Fourteen year old Hamish Graham is in his third institution – this time for violent offenders. Not only has he attacked other teens, but he also has attacked staff and therapist. Hamish is the type of kid who could be labeled a genius and/or a sociopath; he has absolutely no qualms about his violent behavior, in fact elaborately and convincingly justifies it. He’s white, from a “good” family (i.e. middle class and there doesn’t seem to be anything obviously dysfunctional), smart, logical and exacting in why he is violent. The book alternates chapters between staff meetings discussing Hamish and Hamish’s journal entries. The journal provides insight into Hamish, his take on staff, group homes, his past as well as history. Hamish reinforces the normalcy of violence by studying and writing about leaders in history such as Alexander the Great and the violent Greek and Roman empires cultures. What Hamish doesn’t expect is to start to care about a staff member. When he escapes the facility on an extreme and dangerous mission of his own design that is either going to kill him or provide him what he’s always wanted, the book picks up speed. Hamish’s pain and behavior becomes clear. This book is for those “special readers” – the smart and antisocial ones - such as Hamish himself. Set in New Zealand, there is also some information included about New Zealand history and culture.
- Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall, CA