The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

Bibliographic Citation:
Henry, A. (2016). The Girl I Used to Be. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 978-1627793322.

april henry

(Image from Amazon.com)

Plot Summary:
Olivia aka Ariel’s mother was murdered when she was almost too young to remember. Most people thought her father did it and then disappeared. Fast forward fourteen years when some new evidence now shows that her father and mother were likely killed at the same time. Now Olivia works to uncover the truth. But can she piece it together before the killer finds her?

Analysis & Personal Opinion:
If you know me, you know crime is my thing. Murder? Yep, I’m interested. Okay, that sounds weird but still true. I’m not sure how this book sucked me in, but it did. I read it pretty fast because curiosity and suspense were taking over. I really liked it too, and I’ve recommended it to several of my students who are fans of crime and mystery.

Olivia/Ariel is your average character. I didn’t think she was too far fetched in her actions usually, and if I was in a similar situation then I might’ve acted the same way she did. Sometimes I felt like she asked too many questions and was either making herself look suspicious or obvious, but nonetheless it made for a good story. I haven’t read any other April Henry novels — I know, I know — where have I been — but now I want to! One of my coworkers today said, “Something terrible always happens to a kid in all of her books!” So now I’m curious.

Read if you like: suspense, crime, murder, mystery

Awards and Honors:

  • The ILA (International Literacy Association’s) Choice List
  • Edgar Award finalist
  • Anthony Award finalist
  • South Dakota high school award finalist
  • The Texas Lone Star reading list
  • The Banks Street Best Books list
  • Winner, Oregon Spirit Book Award
  • Best books of 2016 by Multnomah County Library.

Author Info:

April Henry is a New York Times-bestselling author of 21 mysteries for teens and adults. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family.

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Thornhill by Pam Smy

Bibliographic Citation:
Smy, P. (2017). Thornhill. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN 978-1626726543.

thornhill

(Image from Amazon.com)

Plot Summary:
Thornhill tells the story of two girls, Mary and Ella, in two different times. Their stories merge as Ella unravels the story of Thornhill’s dark past.

Analysis & Personal Opinion:
I honestly thought this book was weird. I like the way it was written though with Mary’s story told in journal entries and Ella’s told in pictures. However, I didn’t really like it. It was definitely suspenseful and hard to put down, but it was sad and isolating and left me with questions.

I’m not really sure what the point is of this book. Sure it talks about bullying and that’s such a buzzword these days, but its a pretty dark story line for the intended audience. I don’t really know what the author expected the reader to take away from this? I honestly don’t even know what the point was of this book. The format is pretty much it’s only redeeming quality. If you like suspense, check it out. It’s a quick read and you’ll be done in no time. You’ll also be glad you were done in no time. It’s a no go for me, to be frank. It’s a one or two star book in my opinion.

 

23 Minutes by Vivian Vande Velde

Bibliographic Citation:
Velde, Vivian Vande. (2016). 23 Minutes. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press. 978-1629794419.

Plot Summary:
Zoe is a teenage girl with a complicated past and an ability to sort-of time travel. She can relive events she wants to change, but only 23 minutes of them & it rarely changes things for the better. One day Zoe happens upon a bank robbery and knows she has to do whatever she can to help.

23minutes

Image from Amazon.com

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
I am a lover of realistic fiction. You generally won’t find me with my nose in a fantasy or science fiction book. No wizards or vampires for me. But this book, though far from realistic, sucked me in. True crime is perhaps my favorite genre of all time, so it is likely that the crime scene tape reflected in the eye of the person on the cover is what got me, but nonetheless I read AND enjoyed the book. It sat on my desk for well over a month before I picked it up and then I read it cover to cover in about 2 hours. I genuinely liked both Zoe & Daniel, the main characters in the story. Zoe is a little bit different, but you like it probably because the story is told from her point of view. I don’t know if it is possible to hate a main character in a YA novel because you’re inside their heads basically, but moving on. Daniel is likable because he is just so darn nice, and always wants to help. They’re both heroes in this story for their unwavering desire to put other people before themselves. Zoe has the ability to walk away, and just can’t do it. She puts herself in harms way over and over again to try to save Daniel. She could’ve played it back that one time and just left it at that, but she didn’t. Daniel trusts a total stranger who sounds like a lunatic, and in a way sacrifices himself and his own safety for these other people. It would’ve been easy for both of them to just distance themselves from it all, and they can’t just do it. It is noble of them. Stupid at times, but admirable. The only thing I didn’t like was that I felt like the ending was a little cheesy. I don’t think Daniel would’ve bought Zoe a phone in real life, maybe a watch but not a prepaid phone. But then again, this isn’t real life because there aren’t 23 minute time travelers just popping in and out of certain events. Or are there?

Nominations:

  • Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) Quick Picks
  • 2016 Cybil (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards) — Young Adult Speculative Fiction division

Author Info:

Vivian Vande Velde is the author of over 30 books ranging from picture books to books for adults. Her work has won several awards including School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (Never Trust a Dead Man), the Edgar for best young adult mystery (Never Trust a Dead Man) and the Anne Spencer Linbergh Prize for fantasy ( Heir Apparent).

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Bibliographic Citation:
Baskin, Nora Raleigh. (2015). Ruby on the Outside. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1442485044.

ruby-on-the-outside-9781442485044_hrPlot Summary:
A young girl named Ruby copes with life after her mother’s incarceration. She doesn’t quite know what happened that landed her mom in prison, and she doesn’t really remember much of her life before her mother left either. She struggles with making friends and is embarrassed about her nontraditional family life, until she meets a new girl in her neighborhood that changes everything.

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
Ruby on the Outside is a short, and easy read. I was immediately drawn to this book because someone very close to me was previously incarcerated. I wanted to see it from the child’s point of view and see if I could learn something from it. The story is told by Ruby Danes who lives with Matoo, her mom’s older sister. This story did have a happy ending, but I didn’t feel like it was cliché or predictable. For a little while I thought the story might be heading in a direction that seemed too coincidental to be believeable, but it ended up working out differently. I love contemporary, realistic fiction and I especially like things in stories that make it identifable and can really help you narrow in on a time frame. Ruby and the other girls in the story talk about iPhones, texting, and Demi Lovato posters which really makes you think it could be happening right now. This story felt like a memoir to me. Like I was actually reading the inner most thoughts of a young girl. It was lovely.

Awards and Honors:

  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children’s Book Council)
  • IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
  • Kansas State Reading Circle List Starred Intermediate Title
  • Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Reading List

Author Info:

Nora Raleigh Baskin is the author of 13 books, all of which are at least partially inspired by her life. Nora and her work have been recognized numerous times. She was the recipient of the Cuffie Award from Publishers Weekly for Most Promising New Author for her book What Every Girl (except me) Knows. Her novel Anything But Typical won the American Library Association’s (ALA) Schneider Family Award in 2010.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Bibliographic Citation:
Schmidt, Gary D. (2015). Orbiting Jupiter. New York, NY: Clarion Books. ISBN 978-0544462229.

jupiter

Image from Amazon.com

Plot Summary:
Orbiting Jupiter tells story of Joseph, a young, troubled teenage father, who has never seen his daughter. After being placed with a foster family he learns what he’ll do for the people he cares about and what it really means to be a family.

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
Orbiting Jupiter is a short, easy read that will move you to tears. This book was recommended to me because it is sad and it definitely delivers the emotions. The story is told by Jack, Joseph’s foster brother and he is the perfect narrator because he roots for him from day one. As I’ve mentioned before, literature for children and young adults tends to always have a happy ending, this story does too — which I like — but it felt very predictable to me. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it ends the way you probably think it will once you start reading. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, but it is what it is. I’ll recommend this book to my students who are specifically seeking out a book that will make them cry.

Awards and Honors:
Capitol Choices 2016
Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2015, Middle Grade
Booklist Best Young Adult Books of 2015
ALA Notable Books for Children 2016, Older Readers
VOYA’s Perfect Tens 2015; 2016 Winner, Notable Books for a Global Society
CCBC Choices 2016, Fiction for Young Adults
2015 Cybils Awards Nomination, Young Adult Fiction
ILA Young Adults’ Choices, 2016 Reading List

Author Info:

Gary D. Schmidt is the author of more than 15 books and the recipient of several awards. His book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys won both a Newbery Honor Award and a Printz Honor in 2005.  Additionally, in 2008 his book The Wednesday Wars was also a Newbery Honor Award winner.

 

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We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Bibliographic Citation:
Nielsen, Susin. (2016). We Are All Made of Molecules. New York, NY: Ember. ISBN 978-0553496895.

molecules

(Image from GoodReads.com)

Plot Summary:
We Are All Made of Molecules tells the story of of a blended family through the eyes of the children, Stewart and Ashley. Stewart’s dad and Ashley’s mom fall in love and move in together, but Stewart and Ashley could not be more opposite. Ashley has a secret and cares too much about appearances to give her new stepbrother a fair chance, but they bond when he comes to her rescue.

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
I enjoyed reading this story because Stewart, Ashley, and their parents seemed to be authentic. While Ashley isn’t always that likable, she is believable. Her sass, her concerns, her conversations are all within the realm of possibility for a girl her age and mindset. The best thing about these characters and this story line is that it is not a love story. Literature for children and young adults tends to always have a happy ending, this story does too — which I like — but it wasn’t cliche about it in my opinion. I like that *SPOILER ALERT* Stewart and Phoebe don’t magically fall in love and start dating. That would seem forced. I like that everyone comes around and that the blended family starts to feel more natural, but I didn’t want it to feel predictable or cliche. It really didn’t. As an adult reading any YA lit there are parts where you don’t buy into it as much because you’re really not the intended audience, but it was still enjoyable. I will recommend this to my students who aren’t big love story fans.

This book is heartwarming and has a strong message. There are some more mature scenarios and language, but it is a complex story that is worth reading.

Awards and Honors:
Longlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal, UK
2015 Governor General’s Literary Award Nominee, Children’s Text
Winner of the 2016 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award
2016/17 Texas Lonestar Award Nominee
2016/17 Georgia Peach Book Award Nominee
A USBBY 2016 Selection for Outstanding International Books
2016 Canadian Library Association Honor Book, Young Adult Novel category
2016 OLA Red Maple Award Honor Book
2016 Saskatchewan Snow Willow Award Nominee
2017 Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee
2017 Rocky Mountain Book Award Nominee
Kirkus Reviews “Best Teen Books of 2015”
Quill & Quire’s “Best Kids’ Books of 2015”
The Globe 100’s “Best Books of 2015”

Author Info:

Susin Nielson is the author of 4 (soon to be 5!)  books. Her work has received a hefty amount of praise including many starred reviews and two IndieFab Awards, one for her novel Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom and the other for her first novel Word Nerd.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Bibliographic Citation:
Lockhart, E. (2014). We Were Liars. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0385741262.

(Image from Amazon.com)

(Image from Amazon.com)

Plot Summary:
We Were Liars tells the story of summer vacations with The Sinclair family, a miserably well to do bunch with their own private island. The narrator is Cadence “Cady” Sinclair, the oldest grandchild, who is trying to unravel a personal mystery.

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
I don’t want to say that We Were Liars was short and sweet because it really wasn’t sweet at all, but it was short and I really enjoyed it. I had it sitting at the top of my stack of books for weeks and finally picked it up yesterday. I read it quickly but I was ready to see it end. Mysteries aren’t really my thing and I could only go so long wondering what the heck happened to Cady to make her lose her memory before I would get bored. I feel like you discovered the truth once and for all at the perfect time.

I thought this book was written really well. It had a unique and fresh voice. I enjoyed how Lockhart interwined the fairy tales Cady was writting or bouncing around in her head between chapters. I thought it was interesting. This book just seemed smart to me. I like how everything came together. Every character was so distinct and authentic. It seemed like they were real people and the author was telling us something that maybe actually happened. It was a quick read, and it was difficult for me to put down.

I read a really bitter, hateful review for this book on Amazon that really aggravated me. I didn’t know how this story was going to end, but once I finished it there were so many signs that this was where it was heading. I cried at the end though. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I keep picking sad books. I really liked all of the main characters, well the Liars anyway. I rarely like every main character, but I liked Johnny, Mirren, Gat and Cady almost equally. Gat, of course, was my favorite. I think I was the saddest for him more so than anyone else. Harris, the grandfather, was a stingy, old man on a power trip and I think he should’ve died instead of the grandmother (that’s not a spoiler by the way). His daughters, Carrie, Bess, and Penny are annoying characters. But I guess they needed to be for the story to go the way it went. There are a few things I questioned in this book or “saw coming”, but I just attributed it to the characters being spoiled, pretentious trust fund babies who are clueless about everything.

My students ask me all the time to recommend books that are sad. This one is going on my list.

Quick summary:
Pacing? Perfect.
Characters: Likeable? Yes. Relatable? No.
Things to remember: This is a YA book. While it can (and does) appeal to older audiences, remember the characters are teenagers and this was written for teenagers.
Should you read it? Sure, why not.

Author Info:

Emily Lockhart is the author of several books including children, YA, and adult titles. Her book Disreputable History was a Printz Award honor book, a finalist for the National Book Award, and recipient of the Cybils Award for best young adult novel.