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.

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Maximum Ride

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

girl with wings book cover

BIBLIO: 2007,New York: Warner Vision Books, Ages 12 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0316067959

Maximum Ride is a series written by the highly popular (at every age) James Patterson. It follows the story of six genetically mutated humans, Max, Fang, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge, and Angel. The genes used? Avian, so they all sport a set of wings. Of course being such valuable experiments The School, the mad scientists that created them, are seeking to regain these young teenagers. At their bidding they have other genetically modified humans, Erasers, on the hunt with their werewolf-ish features. Scared, without their adopted father Jeb to guide them, the Flock flee from place to place. This thrilling beginning leads the reader to a world of growing up, emotions, and what family really means. I would recommend this series to 7th grade- 10th grade girls and boys, I would even lean toward encouraging boys to read this for the action and witty dialogue, all with minimal romantic themes.

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Z for Zachariah

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

scared girl book cover

BIBLIO: 1975,New York: Atheneum,Ages 13 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-1416939214

In a post-apocalyptic world sixteen year old Anne Burden lives by herself in a secluded valley minimally affected by the nuclear fallout, tending her family farm and occupying her time with her journal (the novel itself). Having spent a whole year in isolation she is surprised when a strange man, Mr. Loomis, arrives in the valley with a [hazmat] suit and Geiger counter, cautious she avoids him at first but when he falls ill she returns to aid him to health. In his feverish outbursts she finds out his troubled past with Edward to the point of murder. When he regains his health Anne becomes wary and runs away when he tries to take advantage of her, avoiding him but hoping to coexist in the valley though that plan gets cut short when he tries to track her with the dog and maim her to prevent her escape. In a resolute action Anne flees the valley with Mr. Loomis’s stolen supplies looking for another valley hoping to find a future as a schoolteacher. The book was written and presumably set in a Cold War time period. It appears that this simple book, at one point, would have been relevant and entertaining to teenage girls and some boys but not to the 21st century reader. Some of the details seem outdated and in some ways too convenient, not to mention the characters seem logical but act inconsistently. I would not actively recommend this title, instead I would offer Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, which is a similarly apocalyptic series set realistically in the modern day.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home
for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

 girl portrait black and white book cover

BIBLIO: 2011, Quirk Books, Ages 14 to 18.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-1594746031

This exceptional fantasy story starts in Florida. Typical sixteen year old Jacob works at his family business, Smart Aid, killing his time and trying to get fired. In general an antisocial person Jacob is closest with his Grandpa Abe Portman. In his childhood Grandpa would tell him stories about peculiar children with unique talents that lived in an idyllic home overseen by the Bird. He would show pictures to Jacob and also describe these terrible monsters that were dangerous and sought out himself and the peculiar children. Jacob eager to believe in childhood dismissed all of this as fairytales in adolescence and the monsters as symbolic of his grandfather’s troubled past, being of Jewish heritage during WWII. His world is turned upside down when his grandfather calls frantically at his work, leaving to check up on him Jacob is startled to find the elderly man in the wood all sliced up and the disgusting creatures from his childhood only a few feet away. His grandfather’s last words continue to haunt Jacob and all of his family thought he is insane. Seeing many doctors without much use Jacob discovers a clue in a book that his aunt found at Grandpa’s house. Embarking on a journey to Cairnholm with his father Jacob begins to quickly discover his secretive grandfather’s past. Everything he was told is true! After searching the abandoned house he finds a trail of clues that lead him to a portal to an alternate universe. This universe is a time loop and contains the home his grandfather told about with many of the exact same children. Immediately they take a liking to each other. Not long after though they are all in terrible danger from the monsters. Together they battle them off and save the home and their headmistress.
This book is highly recommended for girls from grades 9-12. It is a little slow to start but the witty wording makes it bearable. There are stunning, old fashioned photographs to accompany the story making it easy to picture the characters and adds another level of intrigue. All of the recommendations I had received before reading this book were proven to be accurate, this book is entertaining and sure to remain popular in the fantasy genre for many more years.

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13 Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

teen on swing book cover

BIBLIO: 2007, Razorbill an Imprint of Penguin Books, Ages 14 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-1595141880

Good books show you emotion. Great books make you feel that emotion. Th1rteen R3asons Why is a realistic fiction novel that delves into one of society’s biggest shames- suicide. Hannah Baker is an outcast in her new home, falsely labeled promiscuous and constantly ignored and ridiculed, bullied. Sick of all the negative attention she ends her life with a handful of pills, leaving town forever, but not without a bang. Hannah records thirteen stories for her suicide note, each tape talks about one person that ruins her life and how they connect to her decision. The tapes have two rules, 1. You have to listen to all of it and 2. You have to pass it on. If you refuse a second set of tapes will be released for the whole town to listen to; and most of the tapes contain deadly secrets. The book follows the main character, high school junior, Clay Jensen as he sinks into the suspenseful set of tapes that eventually give him closure. This book is stylistically genius never giving anything away prematurely and leaving the reader on the edge of their seat. The reader experiences personally this tragic occurrence through Clay’s first person internal narrative commenting on Hannah’s tapes and his intense emotions as he struggles to admit he is too late. I recommend this to any student that is struggling with similar situations either directly or with someone else. Based on the content and the high emotional value I would suggest that it be shared with 8th grade and up. It is only slightly biased towards girls and I think any student would enjoy this 2008 YALSA’s Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers selection. This book is a great discussion starter for bullying, rape, and fitting in in high school, and needs to be promoted everywhere.

Ruby Holler

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

cabin in the woods book cover

BIBLIO: 2002 Joanna Cotler Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, ages 9 through 12, $16.89.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-06-027733-5


This book is about twin orphan Dallas and Florida. They are thirteen years old have been in the foster system since infancy. Bouncing into families’ homes and right back to the Boxton Creek children’s home is the only cycle the twins have ever known. They reveal some of the terrible realities they experienced regarding bad foster parents and the home they always return to.
Before long, Tiller and Sairy, an older couple bring them back to their home in Ruby Holler. Slowly the twins realize what it’s like to be loved and cared for unconditionally. Although they talk about running away they each end up on separate adventures. Florida and Tiller adventure down the river and Dallas and Sairy take a hike over the hills. Through all of it the four characters realize that Ruby Holler is truly their home and their doubts get answered along the way.
The caretakers of the Boxton’s children’s home try to stir up trouble trying to find the treasures that Tiller and Sairy hide in the woods of their home. Z, their neighbor, acts as a double agent until the older couple and the twins return. Other troubles stir up the plot such as both sets of adventurers get lost, Tiller’s heart attack, the twins trying to run away and acting like goofballs, and plenty more.
This book, while sweet and whimsical addresses some serious questions and topics children might not be aware of and connects to them in a personal way. It talks about orphans and the corrupted system, aging among parents, coping with nightmares and bad memories, the confusing reality of raising children at all stages of development, being your own person, along with any number of extra things.
Uniquely, this novel does not have a resolute ending. It does not reveal if Z is the twins’ father, or if the twins got adopted for sure, or what happens to the Trepids and the children in the home. After all, that is what the real world is like.

Catherine Called Birdy

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

girl writing book cover

BIBLIO: 1994 Clarion Books/ Houghton Mifflin Publishers, ages 12 through 15, $13.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-395-68186-3

​As a medieval historical fiction story this book is highly entertaining and fits closely with the norms of several hundred years ago. Written as a diary the reader sees the world through the eyes of the mischievous young Catherine, affectionately called Birdy. These are thirteen year old Birdy’s entries for an entire year and accounts all of the exciting feasts and dreary days. Most importantly she writes about the numerous suitors she must meet and the inevitable reality of an arranged marriage and the lady’s duties that accompany her emerging adulthood. Through her the reader gets to meet some dynamic characters, some of which she loves and some of which she loathes, such as her brothers Thomas, Robert, and Edward. Her mother, father, Uncle George, and her caretaker Morwenna. Not to mention Birdy’s realistic and relatable friendships with Perkins, Gerd, and Aelis, and the descriptions of adventures she has with them that often leads to scolding. All of this despite the fact that she wishes to run away and take up any other occupation besides wife. It is easy to fall in love with this sensitive and spunky young girl; to connect with her hopes, dreams, and interests because they are very much like a modern child’s. Her chores however accurately depict those of the time including spinning, sewing, and making disgusting ointments for healing. There is never a dull entry, even the ones that are one word long are quippy and worth the read. We see her antics of burning down the privy, watching a hanging, the birth of a sister, and rescuing a circus bear to name a few of the most memorable. Overall this book is a great way to delve into the history of the medieval times and to gain some perspective as to what it would be like to be a child in a time that was such an oppressing time to be a child and a girl at that.