Category Archives: Young Adult

The Book Whisperer Read Wonder

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I am an avid reader and enjoy finding new books to read and recommend. I would not have read Wonder by R.J. Palacio if not for a book club to which I belong. I received the book at the last meeting; yet, I put off reading until the week of the book club—which meets this week. I did finish the book four days before the meeting. I can’t quite put my finger on why I was reluctant to read Wonder.

Once I started reading, I could hardly stop. I found myself caring about Auggie and wanting to know more about his friends. Clearly, his parents and his older sister love him deeply and see him as a little boy who needs extra care, but also that he is funny, smart, and mischievous. He loves Star Wars and playing games on his Xbox like many other boys his age. The difference is that Auggie was “born with a severe facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school.”

When Auggie is ready to go into fifth grade, he and his parents decide he will enter school for the first time instead of having his mother continue to homeschool him. They choose Beecher Prep. All three, Auggie, his mom, and his dad, struggle with the decision. They alternate between thinking it is a good idea and the worst idea possible. In the end, the decision to go to Beecher stands. Auggie reminds his parents they have told him he can stop going at any time. Perhaps that promise is one of the most important and one that keeps Auggie trying.

In order to help ease Auggie into a new experience, his parents set up a meeting at the school with the principal, Mr. Tushman, prior to the first day of school. Mr. Tushman also asks three students, Jack, Julian, and Charlotte, to come to the school that day and show Auggie around the classrooms. All four of the children are wary. Jack, Julian, and Charlotte want to show Auggie around the school and tell him about some of the teachers and other kids who will be his classmates, but they are uncertain how to react to the way Auggie looks. Auggie knows they will be put off by his appearance, so he is uneasy too.

Ultimately, Auggie decides he will attend Beecher Prep. He encounters the usual stares to which he has become accustomed. At least, he knows three of his classmates. At lunch, however, Auggie finds himself alone until Summer a girl in some of his classes sits with him. They talk about the other kids and how they are sitting alone. Summer starts a list of kids she and Auggie would ALLOW to sit with them. They first decide the kids should all have names to do with the summer season since they are Summer and August.

Summer’s act of kindness in sitting with Auggie starts the school year off well for Auggie. Also, Jack is in several of Auggie’s classes. Naturally, Auggie will experience ups and downs over the course of the school year.

Wonder begins with Auggie’s point of view, but Palacio switches to other children’s points of view to give readers a full perspective of what happens.

The Choose Kind movement developed out of Wonder. Many schools have adopted the book for multiple grades to read. Cities have also used Wonder as the community read.

Wonder was on the New York Times bestseller list for over five years. It also received many awards and has been made into a movie. Learn more about the book and find resources for discussing the book at https://wonderthebook.com/books.

Palacio also recommends teachers check out Mr. W’s Annotated Wonder: http://mrwreads.blogspot.com/. Mr. W created a number of video resources and has shared those on the Web.  

The Book Whisperer Endorses a YA Novel About WWII

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I purchased a copy of Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse several months ago. I kept moving it from TBR pile to another. This week, I picked up Girl in the Blue Coat and read it cover-to-cover in two days. One of my book clubs will be discussing Girl in the Blue Coat at our September meeting.

 That same book club discussed The Zookeeper’s Wife in August. We alternate between reading fiction and nonfiction. Girl in the Blue Coat is fiction, but it fits with our WWII theme. Hesse sets her book in Amsterdam in 1943. Hanneke, the narrator, is freshly out of high school, but the war has certainly made her older and wiser than her years.

Hanneke works for Mr. Kruek at his funeral home. After working there for a time, Hanneke becomes more than a clerk for Mr. Kruek; he enlists her help in the black-market of locating and delivering hard-to-find goods. In order to complete the orders, Hanneke must be resourceful and quick on her feet in thinking of responses when the Nazi soldiers stop her as she makes her way around the city on her bicycle.

In many stories about war, any number of people keep secrets. For Jewish people, for example, they may be hiding their family’s heritage, fearing at any time to be caught. Others are secretive about their activities such as Hanneke’s work in the black-market or even more dangerous actions such as hiding those the Nazis are rounding up and sending to relocation camps.

Hanneke becomes involved in locating a missing Jewish girl when Mrs. Janssen, one of her black-market customers, requests Hanneke’s help. Mrs. Janssen has been hiding Mirjam Roodveldt in a specially built nook behind her kitchen pantry and only accessible through the pantry itself. The hidden door to the nook is completely undetectable. Mirjam’s father had been Mrs. Janssens’ business partner in a furniture store. Mr. Janssen had been hiding the entire family in a backroom of the store that was also cleverly concealed.

However, someone had discovered the family and had killed all of them, including Lea, Mirjam’s twelve-year-old sister. In the chaos of the attack, Mirjam managed to escape and she ran to Mrs. Janssen’s home where Mrs. Janssen immediately put her into the saferoom.

Now, though, Mirjam is missing and Mrs. Janssen is extremely worried about the fifteen-year-old. Hanneke is reluctant to take on the task of locating Mirjam. Until now, she has concentrated on finding the hart-to-locate items like cigarettes, coffee, meat, and chocolate for the clients Mr. Kruek helps.

Despite the obvious dangers, Hanneke agrees to try to locate Mirjam. Doing so puts Hanneke is danger herself and can possibly endanger others as well. Perhaps her tightly guarded secret of feeling she has caused Bas, the love of her life, to enlist in the Navy despite being too young and then of being killed in a battle, leads Hanneke to try to find and save Mirjam.

Locating Mirjam will be difficult and unlike any other task Hanneke has undertaken. Hanneke must find others who can help her. Of course, the more people involved, the greater the danger too.

Hanneke draws attention to herself when she goes to the Jewish high school in an effort to find a picture of Mirjam. Even though she flees the school without giving her name, Judith, a young woman who works at the school, describes Hanneke to Ollie, Bas’s older brother, and Ollie realizes that Hanneke must be the person whom Judith encountered.

Ollie seeks Hanneke out to discover why she has been to the school. Ollie persuades Hanneke to tell him the whole story and he reluctantly agrees to help her. Ollie’s agreement then puts him, his friends, and Hanneke in more danger, but they are all part of a movement larger than themselves at this point. Ollie and his friends have already been heavily involved in the resistance, so now Hanneke is a part of the movement too.

At the end of Girl in the Blue Coat, Hesse includes “A Note on Historical Accuracy.” In it, she reminds readers that “some one hundred thousand Dutch Jews died in the Holocaust—nearly three-quarters of the Jewish population, a much higher percentage than in nearby countries.”  Hesse goes on to say that “Ollie and Judith and their friends represent an amalgamation of several different types of resistance activities, but they are mostly based on the Amsterdam Student Group who specialized in rescuing children.” Further, Hesse explains that “an estimated six hundred Jewish children were sneaked out of the nursery” and given to non-Jewish families in order to save them.

Girl in the Blue Coat is full of danger, of risks, and of concern for one’s fellow human beings. The characters in the story may be fictional, but they worked to save lives in much the same way that real people did. Monica Hesse is a journalist, and she researched the story the same way she would have researched a nonfiction book or newspaper article.

Hesse has received a number of awards for her work. She is also a feature writer for the Washington Post. Her nonfiction American Fire looks like an interesting story that deals with a true crime love story. Who could resist that description? Monica Hesse maintains a Web site at this link: https://www.monicahesse.com/.

The Book Whisperer Recognizes a Heart-Warming Story

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Katherine Applegate is an author. On her Web site, http://katherineapplegate.com/, readers will see these statements first: “Hello. I am Katherine. I am a writer. It’s not as easy as it looks.” Those statements are followed by a picture of a wastebasket full of wadded up pages. But the next sentence declares that “[being a writer] is, however, the best job on the planet.” One of my favorite quotes often shared with students in composition classes is about writing: “Writing is the hardest work you can do that does not involve heavy lifting.”

Applegate received the 2013 Newbery Medal for The One and Only Ivan. Some of her other books include Crenshaw, Home of the Brave, The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, and The Buffalo Storm. She and her husband Michael Grant collaborated on the Animorphs series, selling over 35 million copies across the world.

Applegate’s Web site links to resources at Wishtree: https://www.wishtreebook.com/resources. Teachers, parents, and readers will find the resources useful and uplifting. Visitors to the site can add their own wish to the tree there or as an image on the site.

The New York Times calls Wishtree a “story of kindness, friendship, and hope.” When I saw that description, I knew I wanted to read Wishtree. It is a book for all ages—read it yourself and/or read it aloud to others.

Red, the narrator and main character in Wishtree, is a northern red oak, Quercus rubra. Red has stood watch over his neighborhood near the elementary school for many rings—that’s years in tree. Red is 216 rings old. See Red in all his magnificence below with a close-up of his brilliant red leaves in the fall.

Not only is Red a magnificent tree, he is also known as the wish tree, so named because every May 1 and sometimes in between, people leave wishes tied to his branches. Red gives readers a sampling of some of the wishes: “I wish for a flying skateboard,” “I wish for a world without war,” and “I wish my dad would get better.” The wishes range from the frivolous to the serious.

Red became a wish tree when Maeve, an Irish immigrant and the only surviving member of her immediate family, lived on the street and wrote her wish, an Irish tradition, and tied it to the tree. She writes “I wish for someone to love with all my heart” and ties the wish to the tree. Neighbors laugh at Maeve, but she remains steadfast in her belief that her wish will someday come true. Despite their disbelief in wishes, many other people began hanging their own wishes on Red’s branches.

Maeve helps care for people; sometimes they are ill or sad. To repay her for her kindnesses, people often leave little gifts in a hollow in Red’s trunk. Some leave a loaf of homemade bread or fresh vegetables from a garden. Then Red tells his readers the following story: “Just before dawn on the first of May, a young woman approached me. She had dark, wavy hair and wore a tattered gray coat. In her arms was a wrapped bundle.”

The young woman gently places the bundle in Red’s hollow; then she quickly disappears. Maeve has seen the woman and thinks she is leaving bread as thanks for a kindness.

When Maeve nears the hollow, she hears a cry and hurries to the hollow in Red’s trunk to investigate. The bundle is a baby with a note reading “please give her the care I cannot. I wish for you both a life of love.” Maeve’s wish has been granted: someone she can love with all her heart.

Now, Maeve’s baby’s great-granddaughter Francesca Maeve owns and rents out the two houses near the tree and she lives across the street. Red describes the two rental homes: “One painted blue. One painted green. One with a black door. One with a brown door. One with a yellow mailbox. One with a red mailbox.”

Samar’s family recently moved into the blue house; Stephen and his family have lived in the green house for some time. Stephen goes to the elementary school with Samar, but the two have never spoken. Stephen’s parents have not welcomed Samar’s parents into the neighborhood either; they remain distant, not even waving.

Red describes Samar as having “the look of someone who has seen too much. Someone who wants the world to quiet itself.” Samar often sneaks out of the house in the darkness and sits under Red’s sheltering branches. She whispers her wish for a friend and ties the wish to one of Red’s branches.

Red explains he has seen many families move in and out of the neighborhood over his 216 rings. He says, “our neighborhood had welcomed many families from faraway. What was different this time? The headscarf Samar’s mother wore? Or was it something else?”

Late one night, a furtive young man slipped up to Red’s trunk and with malice carved a single word into the trunk: LEAVE. Red cannot see what the boy is carving, but he explains ” could tell from the determined way he moved that it was meant to hurt.”

Red says of himself, “A you’ve probably noticed, I’m more talkative than most trees.” In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben explains the ways trees communicate, so it’s not so far-fetched to say that Red communicates with those around him whether they be animal, human, or insect.

Red’s best friend is Bongo, a talkative and a bit mischievous crow. Red devises a plan which Bongo must carry out in order to help Samar’s wish for a friend come true. Bongo is doubtful, but she helps Red even though their first effort is thwarted.

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Red also explains that he is “not just a tree, by the way. I’m a home. A community.” Then he describes his community consisting of birds, insects, opossums, deer mice, skunks, raccoons, foxes and once “a lovely and exceedingly polite porcupine family.”

Samar continues to walk to and from school alone and keeps hoping to find a friend. Francesca Maeve throws a monkey wrench into the mix when she decides to have Red cut down because his roots destroy the sewer system and she is also tired of the mess made by the wishes people leave.

Francesca Maeve’s decision to cut Red down brings Stephen and Samar together to argue for saving Red. Not only do the humans lobby for Red’s safety, his animal community bands together to show their support as well.

Readers will have to read for themselves to discover is the humans and animals can save Red. Perhaps Francesca Maeve cannot be persuaded even though her ancestor started the tradition of leaving wishes in Red’s branches.

Wishtree is funny, heartfelt, and moving. Learning about a community from a tree’s point of view is novel. Read Wishtree to be uplifted.

 

The Book Whisperer Looks Ahead

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As an avid reader, I frequently read about books, check reviews, and otherwise seek books to read and to recommend. I read eclectically and choose from fiction for adults as well as YA and juvenile books, along with the occasional nonfiction. My to be read list continues to grow. Some of the books that currently have my attention and that are on the list are found in this blog.

Jacobs

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs promises to be a riveting read. It involves a mystery and a bookstore. What more could a book lover choose? Some readers might be put off by the addition of mathematics to the story. Isaac, mathematician, dies and the death is ruled a suicide. However, Hazel, his adopted granddaughter, receives a letter from Isaac in the mail a few days after his death. Isaac gives Hazel specific instructions to give the letter to one of Isaac’s colleagues. Before she can deliver the letter, however, she must discover a “bombshell equation” Isaac has uncovered. Hazel must put her powers of observation and careful thought to work to uncover the equation to avoid disaster to her family.

Kochai

Jamil Jan Kochai has written 99 Nights in Logar with twelve-year-old Marwand as the main character. Marwand has visited Afghanistan six years earlier and now he is going to be living there. The stories from the Arabian Nights come to mind since Marwand must search for his family’s dog, Budabash, which has escaped. The quest to locate Budabash takes ninety-nine nights.

In The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, another twelve-year old, Suzy Swanson, must come to terms with the loss of her best friend who has drowned in the ocean while on vacation shortly before school begins again. The two should both be entering seventh grade. They have been close friends since they were five and in a swimming class together. Franny, Suzy knows, is an excellent swimmer, so how could she have drowned? On a school trip to an aquarium, Suzy visits the jellyfish exhibit and reads about dangerous jellyfish stings. Irukandji jellyfish, the most dangerous venomous jellyfish lives off the coast of Australia. However, it has begun migrating into other waters. As Suzy reads about the jellyfish, she wonders if Franny could have been stung by an Irukandji jellyfish, thus causing her to die, but the death appears as a drowning. Suzy begins an investigation into the jellyfish to see if Franny’s death has been caused by the poison instead of drowning. To add to Suzy’s sorry, she and Franny have had a falling out not long before Franny’s death, so Suzy thinks she is to blame for her best friend’s death.

kamal

On quite another note, Soniah Kamal has written a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice and set it in Pakistan. Alys Binat has decided she will not marry. That promise to herself is all well and good until she meets Mr. Darsee at a wedding, of course. Unmarriageable recounts the story of the Binat family’s five daughters with Alys being the most practical of the girls. Alys is teaching English literature in a girls’ school. Alys focuses on Jane Austen and other literary heroes in hopes of inspiring her students to dream of more than an early marriage and children. Can Alys stick to her plan or does she succumb to Mr. Darsee’s charms?

Gornick

When I can find excerpts to read of new books, I often then become hooked on finding the book so I can read the whole story. That happened with The Peacock Feast by Lisa Gornick. Gornick has developed a story about the multigenerational O’Connor family. Grace, Prudence’s niece, visits Prudence and thus begins the unscrambling of family secrets including the long estrangement between Prudence and her brother who is now deceased.

Mukherjee

After reading about A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee, I immediately requested the novel from the library. Mukherjee has received a great deal of praise for writing about “the central, defining events of our century: displacement and migration.” Taking five characters of vastly different backgrounds, Mukherjee has developed a story set in contemporary India and told through various narratives. The characters even include a vagrant and his dancing bear. Who could not wish to at least dip into A State of Freedom?

Pearce

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce keeps appearing in lists and articles about books. The story takes place in London in 1940. Emmeline Lake wishes to be a journalist. When she sees an advertisement seeking a columnist for the London Evening Chronicle, she thinks she has found her dream job. Instead of being a war correspondent, however, Emmeline lands the job of typist for Mrs. Bird, an advice columnist. Mrs. Bird says all letters containing any unpleasantness must be thrown away. Emmeline becomes intrigued with such letters and begins answering them herself on her own, much without Mrs. Bird’s knowledge.

WElch

Finally, a memoir called The Little Bookshop of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good book by Wendy Welch caught my eye. The last part of the subtitle, the uncommon pleasure of a good book, could hardly be ignored. In her true story, Welch writes about the bookstore she and her husband opened in a small Appalachian coal town. Because of their love of books and their dream of finding a place of their own, they succeed despite many odds against them: a declining US economy, a small town with no industry, and e-books.

Many books, many stories, many choices!

 

 

The Book Whisperer Rediscovers David Levithan & a Sequel

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Several years ago, I read Every Day by David Levithan. The premise is unusual: the main character, A, wakes up in different body every day and assumes the person’s life. The change occurs at midnight while the character is asleep. Intrigued by what I read about the YA book, I checked it out from the library and read it. Some readers might think following a character who changes bodies every day, sometimes male and sometimes female, would be difficult. Levithan, however, keeps A consistent despite the difference in looks and personalities each day.

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A astutely recognizes that he should do no harm while he inhabits another person’s life. He accesses the other person’s memories and does his best to fit into that person’s life. In my mind, A is a male even though the character does inhabit both male and female bodies. A has no choice in the matter. Every Day has been made into a movie which was released in February 2018.

After reading Every Day, I thought no more about the book. Then I discovered a sequel: Another Day. In Another Day, Levithan takes A to a new level because he falls in love with Rhiannon when A inhabits her boyfriend Justin’s body for a day. The two skip school after lunch and go to the beach even though the weather is cool. They have a perfect afternoon, a rarity for the couple.

Readers quickly learn that Rhiannon is in a toxic relationship with Justin. Moody and verbally abusive, Justin keeps Rhiannon guessing how he will react to even the most innocuous of comments. For example, if she asks him whether they will go to a party given by friends on Saturday, he complains that she is boxing him in. Their afternoon at the beach turns out to be completely free of the usual tension between them.

That afternoon makes Rhiannon feel their relationship is right once again. The feeling is short-lived, though. Justin quickly reverts to his old self once A has left. Rhiannon tries to justify Justin’s behavior to her friends who all think she should drop Justin.

When A inhabits Justin’s body, he does the unthinkable, he falls for Rhiannon. For the first time, A wants to see Rhiannon again. Of course, he will be in a different body, perhaps a female’s body. How can he explain his changing bodies to Rhiannon?

In the body of Amy, A visits Rhiannon’s school and seeks her out. Rhiannon discovers that Amy’s family is moving to her school district soon so Amy is looking over the school. The two spend the day together with Amy shadowing Rhiannon at school.

On Saturday, Rhiannon and Justin go to a party at Steve’s house. Steve and Stephanie have a similarly toxic relationship, but continue to date. At the party, Justin gets drunk, hos purpose in attending the party, while Rhiannon stays sober to be the designated driver. Rhiannon meets Nathan who claims to be Steve’s cousin and also to be gay. While Justin drinks, Rhiannon and Nathan dance in the basement—with Justin’s permission since he thinks Nathan is gay.

Nathan and Rhiannon have a good time dancing and talking. At the end of the evening, Nathan asks, “Would it be weird for me to ask you for your email?” The two exchange email addresses. Now, with Rhiannon’s email address, A begins emailing her brief messages as Nathan.

Rhiannon discovers Steve does not have a gay cousin named Nathan, so Rhiannon tells Nathan that in an email. Nathan responds that he can explain if he and Rhiannon can meet in person again. Rhiannon agrees to meet Nathan at the bookstore cafe after school. Of course, readers know that Nathan will no longer be the person Rhiannon met at the party. Nathan emails, “I’ll be there. Although not in a way you might expect. Bear with me and hear me out.” He signs the email with A.

Rhiannon gets to the bookstore café first and takes a table by the window. Soon, a girl sits down at the table with Rhiannon. Rhiannon tells her the seat is taken. The girl replies, “it’s okay. Nathan sent me.” The girl explains, “I need to tell you something. It’s going to sound very, very strange. What I need is for you to listen to the whole story. You will probably want to leave. You might want to laugh. But I need you to take this seriously. I know it will sound unbelievable, but it’s the truth. Do you understand?”

Rhiannon agrees to listen. Then A tells her he wakes up in a different body every day. Today he is Megan Powell. To convince her that he is telling the truth, A reminds Rhiannon of the story she told him when he was in Justin’s body, about the time she and her mother were in a fashion show. Rhiannon knows she has not told the story to anyone else.

Clearly, such a story of switching bodies every day sounds preposterous. Rhiannon feels she is being the butt of a joke that is not very funny. Still, A continues talking and telling her she is remarkable and that he wants to meet her as himself.

A explains his interest in Rhiannon this way: “You’re kind to a random girl who just shows up at your school. Because you also want to be on the other side of the window, living life instead of just thinking about it. Because you’re beautiful. Because when I was dancing with you in Steve’s basement on Saturday night, it felt like fireworks. And when I was lying on the beach next to you, it felt like perfect calm. I know you think that Justin loved you deep down, but I love you through and through.”

Suanne B. Roush reviewed Another Day for School Library Journal. Roush describes Rhiannon as “a needy doormat who thinks that because Justin does not hit her or cheat on her that he is a good boyfriend.” After meeting A, Rhiannon becomes a different person herself, recognizing that she does not need the grief that Justin inflicts on her daily.

David Levithan has an impressive body of work of more than twenty novels including Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Another of Levithan’s novels that has an unusual premise is The Lover’s Dictionary which is written in the form of dictionary entries. The short entries “provide an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.”

Read more about David Levithan and his work at this link: http://www.davidlevithan.com/.

His lover’s dictionary can also be found on Twitter at @loverdiction.

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The Book Whisperer Discovers a YA Unreliable Narrator

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Juliette West Williams, Jule, “knows the more you sweat in practice the less you bleed in battle, so she became the kind of woman it would be a great mistake to underestimate.” As I read Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, I could not help but reflect on The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine, a book reviewed earlier on this blog. Lockhart’s book is for readers ninth grade and up while Constantine’s novel is for adults. Still, the two have similarities. Jule wants what others have and so does Amber Patterson in The Last Mrs. Parrish.

How the two go about getting what they want, money, prestige, power, remains similar. Jule turns to training her muscles to be strong and taking martial arts classes. At the same time, she learns how to mimic accents and sound like someone else. She can memorize words and numbers quickly and retain them. She uses that skill to her advantage as well. In The Last Mrs. Parrish, Amber reinvents herself to become a polished, sophisticated woman.

Both Jule and Amber lie easily. They make up new backstories about themselves and carefully repeat the stories until they themselves believe them. The departure between the two lies in that Jule ruthlessly pursues her goals even resorting to violence.

Genuine Fraud delves into what constitutes self and identity. The story revolves around Jule and Imogen, a friend she makes, a friend who has all that Jule wants: money and family. Imogen herself is not happy with her life, though. Despite having money, beautiful clothes, the ability to travel, and a flat in London, she seeks pushes people away from her. She has been adopted by a loving couple who want the best for her.

Readers can never be certain about Jule because she tells one story and then another about her background. She reveals her ability to cheat, steal, and commit violence. How much can readers trust her?

Lockhart tells the story in backward fashion so that readers find the beginning at the end. That ploy works well with the story since readers can never be certain about what Jule tells them. Entertainment Weekly calls Genuine Fraud “compulsively readable.”

Lockhart has written a best seller called We Were Liars; other books include Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, the Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Real Live Boyfriends, and the Ruby Oliver Quartet.

On her Web site, Emily Lockhart provides resources for teachers and students: http://www.emilylockhart.com. Her blog link is http://www.theboyfriendlist.com/.

Genuine Fraud is also on Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=cD7cDQAAQBAJ.

The Book Whisperer Reviews A Friend’s New Book

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Readers are often familiar with the stories of Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Fearing the Japanese-Americans would send messages to Japan to undermine the American war effort. This relocation project meant over 120,000 people, many of whom had been born in the US, were evicted from their homes and sent to various camps across the US. Though their story is less well-known, German-Americans also faced detention as enemy aliens. During WWII, the United States detained 11,000 ethnic Germans, some were sent to internment camps while others were watched.

Different Days by Vicki Berger Erwin centers on German-Americans in Honolulu beginning with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We learn about the family through eleven-year-old Rosie. Rosie and her younger brother Freddie live with their mom and dad near Pearl Harbor. On that Sunday, December 7, the noise of explosions shatters the air. Papa wonders if a fuel tank has exploded.

Rosie and Freddie dash into the yard and watch planes flying overhead. They run and play pretending to be in the Army. Rosie notices the planes look different from the ones she is used to seeing; a bad feeling creeps over her. Then Mama calls Rosie and Freddie into the house: “Schnell Lieblinge!” They know she means business.

Mama and Papa are German-Americans. Mama had been born in America and Papa had become a naturalized citizen. Both are staunch supporters of the United States. Little does Rosie know that the bombs being released upon Pearl Harbor will also unleash horror on her own life.

Papa has a store where he repairs and sells radios. Mama runs a kindergarten in their home; that allows young working mothers a safe, nurturing place for their children. Malia, who has formerly owned the kindergarten, now works with Mama as a second teacher.

On Monday, with no school due to the bombing, Rosie helps her mother with the kindergarten children, at least those who show up. Papa has gone to work. Soon, two men in dark suits knock on the door. The men ask for Mr. and Mrs. Schatzer. They learn Mr. Schatzer is at work; they demand that Mrs. Schatzer go with them. When she protests that she needs to care for the children, they tell her they are not requesting her to go.

Rosie is puzzled about why the men would be so gruff and why they would take her mother, an American citizen, away for questioning. She will soon learn the situation only gets worse. Papa is taken from his store. Two carloads of men come to the house and remove all the radios and flashlights; they search the house. The men return from upstairs with the camera, some books written in German, and photographs taken in Germany and at Pearl Harbor taken by their Aunt Etta. Aunt Etta’s photographs have been published in newspapers and magazines.

Rosie still cannot understand why these items are so important to the hateful men in her home. The men all leave, taking the items they have confiscated with the. Another car pulls up in front of the house. Rosie breathe a sigh of relief because Aunt Etta climbs out of the car. Unfortunately, Aunt Etta will also soon be detained herself leaving the children. Rosie calls her mother’s older sister, Aunt Yvonne, to ask is she will come stay with her and Freddie until her parents return. Aunt Yvonne is married to an American, not of German descent. She is stuffy and standoffish, not at all like Mama and Aunt Etta. She agrees the children can stay with her because she could not possibly stay in their home, her because “I have far too many responsibilities here, my dear.” Readers soon learn her responsibilities are meeting her friends and shopping. Still, as the adult, Aunt Yvonne holds power over Rosie and Freddie.

Rosie, thinking she and Freddie will stay only a few days with Aunt Yvonne, does not pack much for herself and her brother. In fact, she forgets two of the most important items to her: her journal and her spelling guide. Rosie is a champion speller, and she practices her spelling often to keep her skills sharp.

Staying with Aunt Yvonne also means Rosie and Freddie will be in the house with their teenaged cousin Rainer, who is mean-spirited. Aunt Yvonne reminds me of the aunt who takes in Seita and his little sister Setsuko after the attack that destroys Kobe, killing their mother, in 1945. Their mean-spirited aunt takes the children into her home temporarily, but she mistreats them. Akiyuki Nosaka tells the semibiographical story in the anime movie Grave of the Fireflies.

Rosie loves mystery stories, so she determines that she will discover what has happened to her parents. She watches and listens for clues. Unfortunately, she has forgotten her journal, so she cannot write down her thoughts. She manages to find some scraps of paper until she decides she will sneak into Rainer’s room and find a notebook. He won’t miss it as long as she can slip in and out without being seen.

Being resourceful, Rosie thinks that going back to her home will provide her with some clues. She learns that Malia is now living in the Schatzer home. Malia tells Rosie the home is now hers and that she is again running the kindergarten. Rosie finds that information puzzling. Late, she takes some change from Rainer’s room and rides the bus to her father’s store only to find it closed. Later, she learns where her parents are being kept and blackmails Rainer into taking her to the fort in order to ask to see her parents and Aunt Etta. Of course, she is denied the opportunity to see them, only leading to more pain and frustration.

In Aunt Yvonne’s home, Rosie and Freddie are treated unkindly. Aunt Yvonne considers them dirty, noisy nuisances. Rosie does her best to entertain Freddie and keep him out of Aunt Yvonne’s way. Uncle Charlie is kind to the children, but he is seldom at home; he even goes to work on Christmas Day. When Rosie protests, he says, “War doesn’t take holidays.”

Rosie continues to watch and listen trying to find out what will happen next. She especially wants her parents and Aunt Etta to come home. Readers will feel the growing disappointment and the feelings of loss. While Aunt Yvonne provides a place for the children to stay and food for them to eat, she lacks any warmth or love.

Eventually, the family is reunited. Rebuilding their lives is not easy. When Rosie sees her parents after their release, she feels she is dreaming or losing her mind. Papa calls her name, “Rosalie!” Her parents are wearing the clothes they left in, but now the clothes “hung on them. Papa’s hair was shorter that she remembered and Mama’s was tied back with a scarf.”

Vicki Berger Erwin reveals the source of her story in the “Historical Note” found at the end of the book. It is based on the true story of Doris Berg, who, like Rosie, watched the bombs fall on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The following day, just as for Rosie, life for Doris and her younger sister changed drastically. Doris had the same questions as Rosie about why her parents were targeted when they certainly were not enemy aliens. Finally, Doris and her sister are reunited with their parents. For a long time, the family did not speak of the incarceration. Mr. Berg told his daughters: “Only cowards give up, so pick up your bootstraps, move forward, and achieve.”

Vicki Erwin grew up in Mexico, MO, where she began her voracious reading habits which certainly continue to this day. She has written twenty-six books. Different Days is the most recent and it publishes October 3, 2017. She is currently co-authoring a book with her son Bryan: Slaying in South St. Louis: The murder of Nancy Zanone. It is slated for publication in late spring 2018.

Vicki’s first book was Jamie and the Mystery Quilt.

Erwin

Vicki’s husband Jim Erwin is also a writer. They are both friends of mine since Jim and my husband grew up together in Springfield, MO. Vicki sent me an advance copy of Different Days and I am pleased to write a review of a little told story of German-Americans who were detained during WWII. Vicki is a talented writer!

Read more about Vicki Berger Erwin at her Web site: https://www.vickibergererwin.com/.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Book Whisperer Reviews a YA Book Set in Tulsa

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Jennifer Latham’s Dreamland Burning is a hard book to read. No, the sentences are not difficult, but the subject matter certainly is. Rowan Chase is a sixteen-year-old girl living in affluent Maple Ridge, Tulsa, OK. She is biracial; her mother is a high-powered black attorney and her white father comes from a long line of Oklahoma oil barons. Rowan’s mother wants the old servants’ quarters behind the house renovated because her mother says, “I won’t stand by and let a perfectly good building crumble to dust.” The home has been in Rowan’s family since 1922, but no servants have lived in the servants’ quarters for many years.

Rowan wakes up to the noise of the construction workers tearing into the building. Just as suddenly as the work began, it stops. Curious, Rowan dresses quickly and goes to see what has happened. The workmen have uncovered a skeleton wrapped in a tarp under the floorboards of the building. The workers flee, leaving Rowan a bit bewildered about what to do next. She calls her close friend James to come over immediately without telling him why. She tells him, “You’ll see when you get here.”

Rowan and James examine the skeleton and discover a gun with a name etched into the gun. The two see thin cracks in the back of the skull as if someone had hit the deceased with a hard object. Rowan takes a wallet out of the back pocket and hides it in the waistband of her shorts. At that moment, the police arrive along with Rowan’s parents. Clearly, the body has been under the floor of the servants’ quarters for some time. The obvious questions haunt Rowan from the beginning: Who is the dead man? Who killed him? Who put him under the floor?

Latham tells the story through Rowan in present-day Tulsa alternating with William Tillman’s account of 1921 Tulsa. William, himself is bi-racial; his mother is Osage Indian and his father is white. William’s father owns Victory Victrola Shop on Main Street in Tulsa. In those times, Tillman could not openly sell to black customers; therefore, he would arrange for them to come through the back door after hours to purchase a Victrola.

Rowan and James become sleuths because the police do not wish to spend much time on such an old death. The case starts coming together when Rowan discovers a receipt in the wallet; that receipt contains dates and payments by Joseph G to the Victory Victrola Shop and also includes the initials W.T. These clues lead Rowan and James through Internet searches to information about the shop and its owner. The land title to Rowan’s home also turns up interesting information: Stanley Tillman and his wife Kathryn Elizabeth Yellowhorse built the home; if they lived in the home at all, it was only briefly, however, because they sold it in 1922 to Rowan’s great-great grandparents, Flowers and Ora Chase. Members of the Chase family have lived in the home ever since.

Readers learn a great deal about both Rowan and William, from their own points of view. William, himself Osage Indian and white, is racist himself. We see him learn from his mistakes, especially when he befriends Ruby, a ten-year-old black girl whose brother Joseph is buying a Victrola for their mother. Throw into the mix Vernon Fish, a totally despicable Ku Klux Klan member who owns Vernon’s Tobacco Store near the Victory Victrola Shop.

As I said in the beginning, the book is hard to read because Latham is true to the 1921 times, using the harsh words and actions that made me cringe with shame for the way people were treated. The story may be fiction, but it captures the time and the ugliness and horror of the riot, the senseless killings, and the blatant racism.

A Kirkus Review reminds readers that “for more than 50 years, Tulsa’s schoolchildren didn’t learn about the race riot, and many outside of Tulsa remain unaware today. This masterfully told story fills this void.”

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews a YA Novel

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Ant To Eagle by Alex Lyttle opens in the summer of Cal’s eleventh year.  Cal is bored and lonely with only his six-year-old brother Sammy as his companion since their parents have moved the family from London, Ontario, to the small town of Huxbury, a farming community. The boys are further isolated because the family lives in a farmhouse outside of the village. Cal does not know it, but that summer will change the family’s life forever.

Cal, as the big brother, loves Sammy; still, Cal cannot help teasing Sammy and persuading Sammy to do all sorts of tasks in order to reach a new level. Cal dreamed up the levels in order to convince Sammy to do any number of things such as destroy a bees’ nest by the house or capture one-hundred live ants or make one-hundred basketball goals. With each task Sammy completes, Cal advances Sammy to a new level with eagle being the highest, a level Cal has already achieved by awarding it to himself without completing the tasks he sets for Sammy, but Sammy does not know that. Being only six, Sammy worships his older brother and believes everything Cal tells him.

At church one Sunday, Raquel and Aleta Alvarado and their dad come into the service late. Cal is immediately struck by Aleta’s quiet beauty, especially her green eyes and dark hair. She looks to be about his age and Raquel a bit older. Cal becomes consumed with meeting Aleta; luckily for him, Sammy innocently devises a plan. Sammy suggests that he and Cal should take the girls some homemade cookies since they live within biking distance.

After a bit of a rocky start, Aleta and Cal become friends and begin spending a great deal of time together, ignoring Sammy. Sammy spends the summer lonesome and alone with his mom. Sammy, always a bit chubby, begins losing weight and feeling tired. His mom takes him to the local doctor several times, thinking Sammy has mono. Meanwhile, Cal spends as much time with Aleta as he can, especially in their special place overlooking a placid lake and surrounded by trees.

When school resumes in the fall, Cal promises to help Aleta, protecting her from the Riley brothers, the school bullies. On the first day of school, Sammy is shooting baskets against Joey Riley when Sammy falls to the ground and clearly is not getting up. Cal immediately becomes concerned and tries to help Sammy; teachers push the children away and call an ambulance.

That incident on the playground marks the beginning of life as the family has known it. Sammy is very ill and must be poked and prodded by a number of doctors who determine after many tests that Sammy has leukemia.  In the hospital, Cal and his parents meet other families all dealing with serious childhood cancers, some with better chances of survival than others. Oliver, age sixteen, becomes a friend and gives Cal advice since Oliver himself has been in the hospital over six-hundred days. Oliver tells Cal, “The only thing worse than dying is living without hope.”

Sadly, the leukemia has already moved into his brain, hence the seizure Sammy has on the playground. In spite of the doctors’ best efforts, Sammy does not respond to the massive and toxic chemotherapy.  Cal can stay with Sammy in the hospital room on the weekends. Along with a bed for one of the parents, Cal sees a small cot which he knows is for him. Being able to spend that time with Sammy is comforting even though Cal continues to feel guilty for having ignored Sammy much of the summer. While Sammy is in the hospital, Cal learns what has made Aleta so sad and why her family has moved to Huxbury. Raquel and Aleta’s mom died in a car accident and Aleta was badly injured, but survived.

Reading Ant To Eagle became difficult for me, not because I have lost a sibling or a child to cancer, but because of the recent death in my own family. The story is touching, warm, honest, and yes, sad. In the end at Sammy’s funeral, Oliver reads Mary Elizabeth Frye’s poem: “Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep,” a poem my family chose for our son’s memorial.  Ant To Eagle is a story that will grip the readers and not let go until the last word is read.