Aim

Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

boy under tree next to truck book cover

BIBLIO: 2016,Calkins Creek an Imprint of Highlights, Ages 9 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781629796734

Times were tough in the year 1941, the United States faced the looming possibility of entering the second world war. That year was even harder for Axel Bledscoe Junior. In July of that year his Pop dies and leaves him man of the house, only beginning ninth grade. Junior must help his mother with his elderly grandfather Hammer, who had moved in just prior to his father’s passing.

Junior struggles in school and with his family life. He realizes as he talks to Pop’s old friends and family in Brookford, that his father was much more than the drunk he had become and gets a fuller sense of the childhood his Pop grew up with, especially Granddaddy’s rearing.

Struggling to find his identity, and how his father’s qualities plays into it,Junior gets into all sorts of trouble with his new friend Dudley. Junior wants to be handy,loving, and neighborly like his father in his fondest memories but keeps falling short. With the support of his neighbors and his mother, he learns to face the consequences of his actions and vows to earn the respect he desires for himself and his family. This is a truly touching coming-of-age story and flawlessly reflects the historical aspects of life on the cusp of World War II.

I would recommend this book for boys from the ages of 9-13. The plot and language is simple and the text easy to read. While basic on the surface this book can foster introspective growth. A great read for the summer.

More titles in the Series:
boy laying in grass book coveryellow cover, girl sitting book cover

Honestly Ben

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

love triangle book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Arthur A. Levine Books an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 9780545858267

Honestly Ben is a very realistic and thought provoking read. The main character Ben Carver is a typical all-american overachiever. He attends Nattick Boarding school for boys and he loves history and baseball and is set up to accept the Peter Pappas award. The award basically being a stamp of approval in all aspects of life- sports, studies, extracurriculars, and being well liked by the student body.

It would seem that Ben is invincible, but there is one major snafu in his life, and that is his romantic entanglements.Ben is struggling with his sexual orientation and throughout the book he loves both the earnest,lovely Hannah and his lively,sensitive best friend Rafe. Ben must decide who matters more to him and all the consequences that go with his decisions.

Ben has more conflicting feelings than that in his life as he struggles to figure out who he is sexually, as a teammate, as a student, and as part of the Carver family. Many tough situations arise and Ben grows as a person by learning many life lessons about family, vulnerability, courage, and most of all honesty, because what is there to life if your reality isn’t the truth?

This book is relatable, the conversations and interactions feel they’ve happened in real life already. I would suggest this book for teens in high school. There are some allusions to sex and some bad language. With the complicated themes of the novel I wouldn’t advise giving it to anyone younger than thirteen.

I personally am pretty neutral on this book. It was very well written and it is one of very few fiction pieces that have changed my way of thinking. It hurt my brain to read this book, but in a good way because it was expanding my mind. It is also the first book I’ve encountered that has a bisexual character. I read this book independently, not realizing it was part of a series. If I had more backstory I think I would have liked it infinitely more. Definitely worth the read.

Read this book first!
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The Crystal Ribbon

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

girl flowers eyes book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Scholastic Press an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 12 through 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade
ISBN: 9780545767033

An utterly engrossing first novel, Lim has created an adventure set in the rural area of China under the Song Dynasty. The main character Jing comes from a poor farming village and lives in with her two brothers Wei and Pan, her Baba, Aunt Mei, and Grandmama. This comfortable life changes soon after Jing’s eleventh birthday.

The adventure begins when Jing’s family goes to the village shrine to offer homage to the local jing spirit and the village’s protector The Great Golden Huli Jing. This jing spirit was said to be a great golden fox with five tails. Shenpopo, the village shamaness read’s Jing’s fortune saying that her life will be filled with hardship but good will come from it and that she will find her place eventually, and that she must rely on hope and faith to see her through.

Shortly after, Aunt Mei arranges Jing’s marriage to three year old Juan’an, the son of a rich dressmaker in the near city Xiawan. Distraught, Jing must got to the Guo’s household and babysit her young husband and act as servant to her new family. She befriends the cook and the pet nightingale Koko. In her new life she suffers very much by the hand of her in-laws. While living there, she encounters several magial jing spirits.

A little less than two years after she arrives in Xiawan the family becomes financially troubled and plans to resolve their debt by selling Jing to the city’s chinglou, the courtisans’ residence. The luxurious lifestyle doesn’t appeal to Jing, as she sees it for the empty life it is. With the help of some friends she escapes and travels home.

On the road she reunites with Koko and gains a new acquaintance, Kaizhen. They rest at the town of Dolan and reveals the evil jing spirit that controls the villagers. After an epic battle Jing finds herself in her village, Huanan. She must decide what to do with her newfound freedom and the wisdom she has collected in her time away from home.

This book is emotional, and has a lovely element of culture. The book is a well paced book that works well as on a summer reading list. I would recommend this book to 12-16 year olds. I enjoyed this book and thought it was very similar to Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan.

Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

shadowy face book cover

BIBLIO: 1971,Simon and Schuster Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 9781416914631

Written as a diary this young adult book is notable for being one of the earliest young adult books in general but also for having questionable content. Most books at the time were sweet coming of age stories that had plenty of morals and maturity. This story talks about all the taboo topics of sex, drugs,running away, and straying from the expected past.

The girl writing this diary lives with her close knit family and when they move for her father’s work her life changes. Adjusting is hard for her in this new town, no one really wants to get to know her. She returns to her hometown to stay with her grandparents for the summer and is introduced to drugs, namely LSD and sex, and she returns home thinking she is effectively ruined as a person.

Upon the start of the school year she spirals out of control in secret, using all sorts of recreational drugs, dating a sleazy boy, failing in school, and even acting as a dealer.

She runs away with her only friend Chris to California and they start off in a dismal apartment and even worse situations but in a few short months they are able to open a small, mildly successful boutique. Homesick, they are happily accepted back home. They manage to stay clean for a while but the diary-keeper falls of the wagon and while on a drug induced trip ends up in Oregon, meets some other hippies and druggies, and joins in a rally. Again she realizes she doesn’t want this life and returns to her family and vows to stay clean. She also decides that she wants to go into social work so that she can help others through her past experiences.

Shortly after her return both of her grandparents fall ill and die. This tough time for her and her family was made worse by the bullying at school and then the diary-keeper’s freak out and institutionalization after she unknowingly ingests bad LSD and self harms.

It takes a while for her to be released but when she is, her life begins to turn around. Her family becomes closer, she befriends the good kids in school, she has a boyfriend, and her attitude is much better. The book ends on a positive not until the epilogue when the author reveals that the girl dies from an overdose only a few weeks later.

This book claims to be fiction but there is a lot of speculation on how much of it is based off an authentic diary. I would suggest this book for high school girls. I liked the story and connected to the diary-keeper. This book has been popular for decades and it is easy to see why. However this book is very dated in it’s references and style and sometimes it was a struggle to look past the 70’s vibe. I also had a difficult time with the end of the story, while it’s common for relapses to happen the ending wasn’t written in a way where it seems plausible and I was shocked at the epilogue because it really seems like the diary-keeper had a handle on her addiction and went clean for good. This epilogue was a call to action for awareness, which absolutely is still necessary and needs more advocates but the way the author did it was tacky and rushed. I suggest Ellen Hopkin’s Crank for a more recent spin on this subject.

Life & Love (Or Something Like it)

life & love( or something like it) by Amber Headrick

horizon at sea

BIBLIO: 2017,Amber Headrick, Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 9781548423834

Poetry written for young women tends to be quite powerful. This book of poems is no exception. A quote from the author best explains the intent of this story:” Poetry is the poor woman’s therapy”, as it is both read and written intense feelings can be experienced and empathized with.

Split into several sections, the poems intertwine themes of fairytale and lore, rounding out the story. The writing is well constructed, moving, and unique in style.

This tale is one many can relate to on a very personal level. The author contemplates her childhood, her love life, and most of all trusting those around her- most importantly herself. Starting on a dark note the poems slowly become more hopeful.

I would recommend this book to young girls in high school or college. Particularly those who are struggling with their identity and feelings, as they might discover something about themselves while reading. I think that the poetry is beautiful and I will likely be rereading this title.

Lucy Long Ago

Lucy Long Ago: Uncovering the Mystery of Where We came From by Catherine Thimmesh

hominid book cover

BIBLIO: 2009,HMH Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9780547051994

Thimmesh brings Lucy, the ancient hominid, to in an easily readable book. This novel introduces basic paleontology and anthropology concepts to the novice reader. Scientific approaches to fossilization, excavating, casting fossils, dating fossils, reconstruction in all senses of the word, are explained in layman’s terms. There is a fascinating discussion about Lucy and how she fits into the evolutionary theory and the human’s ancestral tree. Even more fascinating is the sculptural representation of Lucy that John Gurche took fifteen months to create. The intricate and time-consuming description of his work sounds marvelous to look at in person, even though the pictures in the book do it plenty of justice.

The book is thin, consisting of only sixty-three pages including a list of sources and the index. Addressing six simply posed questions this book breaks up complicated and disputed theories into simple to understand statements. There are many high quality photos in the book ranging in size from one fourth of a page all the way up to a double page spread. Accompanying the photos are simple representations of some of the scientific procedures, such as how to cast a fossil, and how sediment buries the bones and fossilizes them.

As interesting as this book may be to look at, it lacks the substance needed to entertain most people. I would recommend this book to girls and boys in grades 5-8. This book was written with a certain narrative-like feel and did not contain enough hard facts to be used as a supplemental academic material or for any real curious reader looking for anything of substance. I would not recommend this book as you could probably find out more from an article in a magazine like National Geographic. It would not be worth the money and time spent to put it on the library shelf.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

blue book cover with eyes

BIBLIO: Ages 2004 (reprint), Scribner. 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0743273565

This time old classic is revered by readers of all ages. The complicated plot revolves around wealth, love, and secrets. The narrator is Nick Carraway, a young and hopeful man that works in the business world but would rather be a writer. He moves into a small home in West Egg, the up and coming societal housing of Long Island. His neighbor is the mysterious, eccentric, and fabulously connected Jay Gatsby. Nick’s cousin Daisy marries a college sweetheart, Tom Buchanan, loaded with old money and a great reputation as an ex-polo player, and lives just across the river in East Egg. The story spins out of control as the three main characters interact. Nick’s admiration and pity for Jay, Jay’s loneliness and obsession for Daisy, his old flame, and Daisy’s need for security and desperation in looking for an escape, all play into the human condition and draws the reader in.

This novel is set in the roaring 1920’s and while fictional reflects plenty about the slang, the fashions, the corrupt underworld, and the rich culture. Nick describes his encounters at Jay’s summer night extravaganzas, Tom’s second life of flirtations, with his mistress Myrtle, and booze in the city, and his own simple life getting twisted into this lush lifestyle. With plenty of tragic turns and enthralling confrontations this book is a must read.

I would recommend this book to 8th grade and up for boys and girls. This novel is a great introduction into the literature of the time and a peek into the American canon. I would recommend this book as a classroom read, as many students have already experienced. It looks into strong themes like fidelity, wealth, desire, facades, and dreams.