Clip & File YA Book Reviews
Memories of Summer by Ruth White Mental Illness/Sisters Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000, 135 pp., $16.00 ISBN: 0-374-34945-2
Lyric and her sister, Summer, were raised by their father, Poppy in the hills of Southwest Virginia. In 1995, prospects of a better life draw Poppy and his family to Flint, Michigan. Lyric is 13 and Summer is 16. Lyric and Poppy adjust to life in a northern city, but Summer, who has always had 'peculiar' ways, does not. As Summer's behavior becomes increasingly strange, even dangerous, Lyric and Poppy try to help and protect her. When Summer is diagnosed as schizophrenic, Poppy and Lyric are forced to institutionalize her. Lyric is left with memories of the happy childhood she spent with Summer, no hope that Summer will ever recover from her illness, and compassion for people who are different.
This sensitive story, filled with family love, provides glimpses into mental illness, Appalachia, and Northern prejudices. White perceptively portrays the bittersweet memories of a young girl who bravely and honestly handles a difficult situation.
Elizabeth Poe, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
The Barn Burner by Patricia Willis The Depression/Runaways Clarion, 2000, pp. $15.00 ISBN: 0-395-98409-2
On the run from a bad situation at home and suspected of burning down a barn, fourteen-year-old Ross finds a safe haven with a family willing to accept him into their home. Trying to survive on his own, Ross struggles to pay his own way and at the same time, clear his own name by solving the mystery of who is burning the barns down in the valley.
Initially, Ross is stunned by the affection and acceptance of his new found family.
Their love and recognition makes life Ross' life exceptionally difficult - he must now come to terms with where his real home is and where he really belongs.
Set in the heart of Depression, The Barn Burner provides a smart glimpse of how rural Americans survived during this era. Opening their homes and hearts to others, we read how hard-working people shared what little they had.
A fast paced plot, well-drawn characters, and a genuine sense of time and place makes for an interesting read for youngsters for whom the Depression is ancient history.
Diana Mitchell, Williamston, Michigan
Dream Water by Karen Rivers Overcoming Tragedy/Animal Rights Orca Book Publishers, 1999, 186 pp., $6.95 ISBN: 1-55143-162-9
At the Vancouver School of the Arts, seventeen-year-old Cassie studies dance. In Victoria, Holden paints in his studio attic. What do they have in common? Both avoid their dysfunctional families.
One day, on a field trip to a seaquarium, Cassie and Holden simultaneously witness the same event. They see a trainer fall into the killer whale pool and die. Their lives are never the same.
There are days filled with dread and their nights with horrific nightmares. Cassie's psychologist father offers no support, too busy with patients to recognize her trauma. Likewise, Holden's mother has just returned from a four-year desertion and now, he and his father must deal with the sudden realization that she has AIDs. Alone and desperate, Cassie and Holden must reach out to each other to survive.
Although this is a busy novel with contrived dialogue, young people will relate to this story of strained family relationships and the obvious parallel to holding whales in captivity.
Kay Hass, Ottawa High School, Kansas
I da B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement
By Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin
Biography/Civil Rights Clarion Books, 2000, 178 pp., $18.00 ISBN: 0-395-89898-6
This focused, well-written biography chronicles the life of teacher, writer, publisher and civil rights champion, Ida B. Wells. Together with her contemporaries, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, she worked tirelessly for African-American and women's rights. Most notably, she struggled almost single-handedly to eradicate the lynching of African-Americans at the whim of bigoted white folk.
This civil rights worker, though, is not as well known because her outspoken and uncompromising demeanor often made her fall out of favor with many of her supporters. In fact, her significant role in the civil rights movement went largely ignored until the 1970s when a new generation of women began searching for role models.
A strong descriptive and detailed narrative make this a must read for young adults. Coupled with good photographs and a comprehensive index, student researchers will find this an invaluable sourcebook. Adults are cautioned, though, that graphic pictures of actual lynchings might disturb some students.
Margaret J. Ford, Campbell, Ohio
Sitting Bull and His World by Albert Marrin Biography/American Indian Dutton Children's Books, 2000, 246 pp., $27.50 ISBN 0-525-45944-8
Using oversize pages and a black and white presentation, this fascinating biography tells the story of one of America's most noteworthy leaders, Sitting Bull. In a detailed and unfolding narrative, Marrin underlines how Sitting Bull was able to bridge two disparate worlds - native and white Americans.
We learn of Native American customs - particularly to the peoples of Sitting Bull - and how they compared to the standards and customs of the day in white America. Everything from birthing and raising children to the killing and skinning of buffalo is told in rich and vivid detail. More importantly, the reader is entertained with exploits of Sitting Bull and why his leadership skills were paramount to the survival of his people. Moving towards the night Sitting Bull was murdered in 1890, Marrin asks the reader to imagine that they are living in the same time and place. So, when we arrive at the Battle of Wounded Knee - fifteen days after Sitting Bull's death - we see the full impact of his remarkable life.
Rich narrative, beautiful illustrations, and well-documented sources make this book a worthwhile read for students who want to know more about America's first people.
Nancy C. Zuwiyya, Binghamton, New York
Anne Frank: A Hidden Life by Mirjam Pressler,
Translated by Anthea Bell
Biography Dutton Children's Books, 2000, 176 pp., $15.99 ISBN: 0-525-46330-5
Anne Frank: A Hidden Life (published in Germany in 1992) answers questions students might have after reading Anne's original diary and/or the play based on her life's story.
Miriam Pressler co-edited with Otto Frank the first critical edition of Anne's diary. Now, years later, she has written a wonderful companion piece, placing the Franks in a historical context. Ms. Pressler's work includes - description the Frank's life prior to their 1942 move into the secret annex; analysis of the eight personalities who inhabited the 550 square foot hiding place for nearly two years; and profiles of the five brave souls who helped those in hiding. The work concludes with haunting stories of both Holocaust victims and survivors - underscoring how this unspeakable horror is still very alive.
The crux of the book, though, is Anne's life. Pressler draws a complete portrait of this young woman - something that neither diary nor play can provide. From age 13 to 15, we watch Anne blossom into a mature, sensitive personality, filled with the insecurities and complexities that beset all teenagers.
Suitable for class discussions and research projects, this fine addition to the life of Anne Frank ends with a helpful chronology of her life and the political times in which she lived - and died.
Edmund J. Farrell, The University of Texas at Austin
At the Sign of the Star by Katherine Sturtevant Growing-Up/Historical Fiction Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000, 140 pp., $ ISBN 0-374-30449-1
Living in a single parent home, accepting her father's new bride, and finding her place as she enters adulthood are issues that Margaret shares with many girls today. The difference is that Margaret is living in Medieval England.
The daughter of a widowed bookseller, Margaret knew from a very young age that she would inherit her father's shop and have a sizable dowry. Yet, fate intervenes. After seeing a comet and consulting a Medieval astrologer about her fate, Margaret learns that her future will take a less than desired course. Simply, her father's marriage will signal the end of Margaret's dream's of family bliss, and more importantly, her father's attention. Soon, though, Margaret learns to adjust to this sudden change and in so doing, challenges herself to become a writer - a time when women writers were very rare.
The author's thorough research of Restoration England makes for an enjoyable and an informative read. A must for learning about Medieval England.
Elizabeth Stephens, Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
Witness: Voices from the Holocaust
by Joshua M. Greene and Shiva Kumar
Holocaust The Free Press, 2000, 270 pp., $ 26.00 ISBN: 0-684-86525-4
Illustrated with haunting photographs, the narrative poignantly describes life before, during, and after the Holocaust. Among the many insights about the Nazis' crimes against humanity is the survivors' incomprehensible struggle to 'simply stay alive', which often took precedence over their desire to obey common morality, and frequently, resulted in animal-like behavior.
Edited from more than 4,000 oral narratives preserved from the Yale's Frotunoff Video Archive for Holocaust testimonies, Witness ends with one survivor's desperate plea, "But did we really learn anything?" Perhaps, after this read, the answer is "Never again."
Laura Mandell Zaidman, University of South Carolina, Sumter
Lost in Spillville by Sam Drexler and Fay Shelby Fantasy Aunt Strawberry Books, 2000, 150 pp., $6.99 ISBN: 0-9669988-1-2
Invited to visit the past through a time machine device, readers follow the protagonists, Oz and Erika, to rural Iowa in 1932.
Their adventure starts in 1992 during a visit to the Bily Brothers Clock Museum in Spillville; one of the clocks is the time machine. (The museum building was the home of the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak). At the museum, Oz and Erika's appearance and behavior arouse suspicions. Soon, they are a ready target when a crime is committed - the keystone to subsequent events. During their madcap journey, they meet the clockmasters, following them back to 1910 in their attempt to change history.
The excitement and suspense levels are modest, the threat of being jailed being rather easily circumvented. The protagonists, two-dimensional in characterization, behave less maturely than their ages. These features suggest a reading-interest level of early middle school. Readers do get glimpses of history - activities of daily life and attitudes of the early 1900s. Thus, the idea of this novel is promising.
Nicholas J. Karolides, University of Wisconsin-River Falls
The Grave by James Heneghan Irish Potato Famine Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000, 256 pp., $17.00 ISBN: 0-374-32765-3
The Grave is a compelling combination of current and historical fiction. Tom Mullen lives in the Liverpool of 1974. Behind his school, there is an excavation of a mass grave filled with immigrant victims from the famous 19th Century Irish Potato famine. Curious and horrified, Tom is drawn to the grave's edge.
Suddenly, our hero, Tom, falls in; the next thing he knows, he has been transported to the Ireland of 1847. There, Tom finds himself taken in by a family known as the Monaghans, who are poor and loving family. Having been abandoned as a child, Tom begins to learn in the bosom of his new family, the Monaghans, the meaning of family, devotion, and courage.
Combining a strong tale of romance and adventure, the author weaves a fascinating historical coming of age story in a most unlikely setting.
Dana Vance, Carol Stream, Illinois
Ivy: Tale of a Homeless Girl in San Francisco
by Summer Brenner
Homelessness Creative Arts Book Company, 2000, 173 pp., $12.95 ISBN: 0-887939-287-3
Homelessness is a topic many teachers and writers avoid, as many others do when they see homeless people on the street. It's good to have a young adult writer address this subject with clarity, warmth, and understanding.
Ivy Bly and her father (Poppy) are homeless. They sleep under the stars, eat in soup kitchens, and hide from the San Francisco police so that Ivy won't be taken away from Poppy.
Brenner provides a vivid picture of the fragility of life on the streets. Unfortunately, she manufactures an idyllic ending to Ivy's struggle. Ivy and Poppy are rescued by an eccentric brother and sister, retired from the opera and in need of handy-work; it's a symbiotic relationship but nevertheless, implausible and thus, trivializes the plight of the homeless. Brenner writes beautifully; her sentences are rhythmic; her descriptions paint visuals in your mind. I'd recommend this for younger teens; high schoolers will be offended by the questionable story line.
Lisa J. McClure, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Bluestern by Frances Arrington Historical Fiction Philomel Books, 2000, 140 pps, $16.99 ISBN: 0-399-23564-7
Polly and Jessie are sisters struggling to understand their circumstances on the western prairie of the 1870's.
In their solitary soddy among the tall grasses, the girls face an uncertain future. Father has been gone for many months and Mama, traumatized by the death of two infants, has lost all reason and wandered away among the bluestern. Their only neighbors, the cold-hearted Smiths, plan to place the girls on the orphan train where they will be carried away forever. Polly and Jessie have little choice but to hide among the grasses and hope that father will soon return to settle their uprooted lives.
First-novelist Frances Arrington uses poetic language and deep description to provide her audience with a clear vision of the open prairie. Her characters are realistic and their struggle evident. The author romanticizes the love/hate relationship the girls feel for their surroundings, and a bittersweet ending leaves the reader feeling hopeful for the future.
Monica McEnery, Vergennes, Vermont
Wild Angel by Pat Murphy Survival, Coming-of-Age Tom Doherty Associates, 2000, 279 pps., $23.94 ISBN: 0-312-866626-7
Set during the Gold Rush days in California (1849), Wild Angel is a true "page turner" for teen girls. The reader quickly finds out that the protagonist, Sarah, who from the age of three is raised by wolves after witnessing the brutal murder of her parents, is a true survivor.
Sarah is soon known as the "Wild Angel" because of her many humanitarian efforts with travelers seeking their fortunes. Sarah's main connection to the "civilized" world is a softhearted writer named Max who patiently teaches her to speak.
In the tradition of Mowgli (Jungle Book) and Ayla (Clan of the Cave Bears), the protagonist is a strong, intelligent, and compassionate. Pat Murphy gives the reader insight into the animal world straightforwardly; however, she slowly unfolds each human character by threading their stories into Sarah's. Sarah grows into womanhood as she lives through an incredible adventure. An unexpected ending provides the imminent possibility of a sequel.
Linda S. Tipps, Bellevue, Washington
Hold My Hand and Run by Margaret McAllister Historical Fiction Dutton Children's Books, 1999, 150 pp., $15.99 ISBN: 0-525-46391-7
Thirteen-year-old Kezia begins this suspenseful novel by vowing that her little half-sister Elizabeth will never be beaten again. The sisters experience many travels, dangers, people, and places in the attempt to be safe.
Set in 17th Century England, this story details the trials of daily life over 400 years ago. However, the girl's concerns will resonate with today's young people.
Their challenge is to escape their evil aunt who is taking care of them because their depressed father is too busy and too sad over the death of his two wives to do it himself. She is so evil, she is reminiscent of the "baddies" in a Roald Dahl novel.
All the minor characters are interesting too. At one point, Kezia finds herself in charge of an old woman that has lost many of her mental abilities, but the author still manages to make this character realistic and likeable.
This novel is fast-paced, adventurous, and informative.
Judy Stoffel, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Indiana
Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman Historical Fiction Clarion Books, 2000, 167 pp., $15.00 ISBN: 0-395-88156-0
Set in a 14th century English medical community, Matilda Bone is a Cushman's latest novel about a young woman finding her way in a harsh world.
Matilda is left at Peg the Bonesetter's by Father Leufredus, the priest who has raised her. She is disgusted and horrified by the unholy attitudes and actions of the unlearned practitioners with whom she now lives. Determined to seek higher things, Matilda concentrates on the lives of the saints and both neglects her work and looks down on the warm, cheerful women who have taken her in.
Matilda Bone is an interesting glimpse into a world seldom seen. The reader learns as much about the 14th Century medicine as notions of piety and the Catholic Church - none of which fare too positively. This book, with its delightfully gory descriptions of "prescriptions," leeches, medical treatments and beliefs, would make a wonderful choice to read aloud to a class.
Deborah Wilson Overstreet, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Caged Eagles by Eric Walters Japanese/WW II Orca, 2000, 256 pp., $15.95 ISBN: 1-551-43182-3
Tadashi Fukushama and his family are relocated from their small Canadian fishing village to an internment camp during the Second World War. Until then, Tadashi considered himself more Canadian than Japanese since he and his sisters were born in Canada.
Leaving their boat, home, and most of their most prized possessions, Tadashi and his family try and adjust to the crowded, often violent conditions in the Vancouver camp. It is here, though, that Tadashi faces more racism. Plagued by self-doubt and fueled by anger, Tadashi comes to terms with what he finds most compelling in his own life and values.
An excellent book for a middle grades reader, it is perfect as a companion to a social studies unit to explore a new historical perspective of the Second World War. Readers who like this book will also enjoy Under the Blue Sun (Salisbury) and Farewell to Manzanar (Houston).
Freya J. Zipperer, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah, Georgia
The Girls by Amy Goldman Koss Friendship Dial, 2000, 121 pp., $16.99 ISBN: 0-8037-2494-2
The Girls explores the dynamics of middle school cliques that one my of colleagues calls, "the vicious sixth grade game." Koss' use of the first person narrative adds an appealing depth to what might have been an otherwise trivial account of a usual adolescent tale of woe. Instead, each of the story's five girls reveals the strong manipulative hold the leader has on both them and their peer group.
Koss clearly knows her subject. As she examines the nature of friendships in this fragile age group of preadolescents, we walk away with an understanding of not only the hurt and betrayal inherent in clique relationships, but also an added appreciation for the resilience and maturity required of these very young ladies.
Funny, honest, and fast-paced, The Girls will appeal to middle school readers, and it is perfect for in-class reading and discussion.
Wendy Bell, Asheville, North Carolina
Over the Wall by John H. Ritter Baseball/Vietnam War Philomel, 2000, 312 pp., $17.99 ISBN: 0-399-23489-6
While Tyler and his dad both love baseball, but Tyler finds his father more and more withdrawn because of a tragic accident that resulted in the death of Tyler's little sister. So, when Tyler receives an invitation to spend the summer in New York City playing baseball with his cousin Louie, he doesn't hesitate.
Tyler's plan is to make the All-Stars, but his explosive temper gets in his way. Tyler continues to get into fights until he is in danger of being kicked off the team. Still, Tyler's coach does not give up on him. Coach Trioli's own experiences as a soldier facing combat in Vietnam reminds him that Tyler will never achieve his dreams if he doesn't gain the inner peace needed to walk away from a fight.
Author Ritter interweaves Trioli's life inside the Vietnam War with Tyler's love for baseball into a poignant and accessible coming-of-age-story for young readers. This will be particularly appealing to middle school boys.
Connie Russell, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Ed. note: Please see the spring/summer 2000 issue for a feature on John H. Ritter and his books!---psc
Skin and Other Storie by Roald Dahl Short Stories Viking, 2000, 211 pp., $15.95 ISBN 0-670-89184-3
Designed as a collection of so-called adult pieces by Dahl that might be appropriate for young readers, I think this group of stories would interest teenagers. Several stories have surprise endings and feature characters whose actions are driven by their compulsions.
For instance, "The Sound Machine" focuses on a machine a man has invented that
is so sensitive that the man can hear the sounds of plants screaming upon death. The effect of these sounds, real or imagined, on his actions drives the story to its conclusion.
Another story, "Skin," asks readers to consider what might happen if a tattoo on a person's back became worth a lot of money as the artist's fame and reputation grew.
These stories are not particularly contemporary, but the author's engaging style and inventive flair would certainly entertain young readers.
Edgar H. Thompson, Emory and Henry College, Virginia
Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self by Lori Gottlieb Anorexia Nervosa Simon & Schuster, 2000, 220 pp., $22.00 ISBN: 0-684-86358-8
Eleven-year-old Lori is caught in a family and a society where the belief that one can never be too rich or too thin is glorified. We see her mom constantly reminding her to leave dessert for the "guys" (her dad and brother) and to always "leave the table wanting a little something more." Still, in the dead of night, mom sneaks down to the kitchen to gobble down a chocolate chip cookie or doughnut over the kitchen sink.
This non-fiction story is taken from the diaries that Lori kept over a one-year period in 1978, detailing her descent into and struggle with the disease of anorexia nervosa. But also within this book, we see the impact of the mixed messages that society and adults send to young American women.
As you read this book, you will begin to feel that you know Lori. In crisp and vivid language, Lori reveals her stark feelings of loneliness and isolation, her abiding sense of humor, her profound sense of being 'different', and her realization that the only thing she can control is "the amount of food she places in her mouth."
This is a good read, particularly for young girls coming into their own.
Diana L. Wissell, University of Texas at Arlington
Changing Tunes by Donna Jo Napoli Divorce, Music Puffin Books, 2000, 130 pp., $4.99 ISBN: 0-14-130811-7
Ten-year-old Ellen struggles with an impending divorce. Dad has moved out of the house, and Ellen does not know whether to live with her mother or father. Moreover, Dad moved out with her prized possession - her piano.
Her parents are portrayed as not mean or vindictive, but loving parents who believe that they are acting in the best interests of their only child, Ellen. Still, Ellen, is left frustrated, afraid, and bitter. She rails against her mother while simultaneously hiding her parent's divorce from her best friend.
The calming influences in Ellen's life are Eileen, a newfound friend who practices the piano in the school auditorium and a kindly custodian, Mr. Poole. This is a good read for pre-teens.
John H. Bushman, University of Kansas, Lawrence
The Longitude Prize by Joan Dash, illustrated by Dusan Petrici History/Science Douglas & McIntrye, Ltd., 2000, 208 pp., $16.00 ISBN: 0-374-34636-4
The story of John Harrison's lifelong pursuit of creating a device to measure longitude is cast in terms of a race.
Although Harrison's accomplishment took forty years, Dash infuses the story with a dramatic tension as she includes information about other inventors attempting to be the first to earn the English Board of Longitude's recognition and prize. Accounts of the sea trials of Harrison's invention add adventure and excitement to the text. By making inferences from historical texts, Dash makes John Harrison come alive for the reader.
Through the use of metaphors and the excellent illustrations of Petricic, the author explains scientific facts and principles of Harrison's invention. She keeps the story moving without letting it become enmeshed in technical information that would frustrate young readers. Excellent as a supplemental reader in science and social studies classes.
J. Elaine White, University of Southern Mississippi at Gulf Coast
Jessie de la Cruz: A Profile of a United Farm Worker by Gary Soto Biography Persea Books, 2000, 128 pp., $17.95 ISBN: 0089255-253-0
As Rosa Parks is the mother of Civil Rights, so Jesse de la Cruz is for the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).
Born in 1919 in Anaheim, California, of Chicano parents (American citizens of Mexican descent), Jessie never slept in a bed as a child or had a chair to sit in until she was 20 years old. Then, under the insistence of famed migrant leader Cesar Chavez, Jesse left her humble home and joined the planning sessions of the beginnings of the United Farm Workers movement. Together, they fought to change the world.
An excellent resource detailing in words and photographs how this migrant child field hand became recognized as the UFW's articulate spokesperson, street fighter, and "surrogate mother."
C. Anne Webb, St. Louis, Missouri
Hank the Cowdog: The Case of the Saddle House Robbery by John Erickson Animal Viking, 2000, 125 pp., $13.99 ISBN: 0-679-8890-7
Geared for high interest, low-level readers, this is the charming story of Hank the Cowdog, who lives on a ranch and, as the lead dog, is the head of security. His days are filled monitoring daily events, mentoring an unpromising terrier named Drover, and accommodating the whims of the ranch's two-legged residents.
One day, cowboy Slim brings home a lost-bird dog and assigns Hank to guard him. Yet, life becomes difficult when under Hank's nose, the prized 'ranch saddles' are stolen. Together, though, with the help of the bird-dog and the other ranch animals, Hank the Cowdog saves the day by capturing the villain and recovering the prized saddles. A fun read for all.
Angela M. Ferree, Western Illinois University, Macomb
Christmas in Heaven by Carol Lynch Williams Friendship/Family G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2000, 171 pp., $16.95 ISBN: 0-399-23436-5
Twelve-year-old Honey lives in a very small town. In fact, the town is so small, its population is 6.
There, her father, a lawyer, and his family own and operate a diner. Honey's life revolves around the diner, but her world changes when a new family moves in next door.
The new neighbor, Miriam Season, mother and famed actress, proceeds to build a mansion in this remote region to protect her children, especially her seventeen-year-old daughter Easter, a non-conformist alcoholic.
Soon, Miriam's children become fast friends - Easter with Honey's brother, Will; and Honey with Christmas, Miriam's younger daughter. Their relationships develop into a sweet understanding of the frailties of the human condition. This is a good slice of novel for young adults.
Edna Earl Edwards, Oxford, Mississippi
Hannah's Winter of Hope by Jean Van Leeuwen American Revolution/Fiction Phyllis Fogelman Books, 2000, 85 pp., $14.95 ISBN: 0-8037-2492-6
The time is the America's Revolution and young Hannah and her family find themselves without a home; their dwelling has been burnt to the ground by the British. Despondent, yet determined, brave Hannah tries to rebuild her family's shattered lives.
Hannah tends to injured siblings, assists in the rebuilding of her once grand home, and prays for her brother's safe return from behind enemy lines. They do receive a momentary reprieve when a young boy offers to help Hannah's family rebuild their home, but soon, he too, is entertaining thoughts about enlisting in the army. Valiantly, Hannah discourages him, stressing his youth and his overly idealistic version of war. Soon, all is well as Hannah's house is completed and her captive brother returns.
Intermediate girls will enjoy this slim book; its large print and illustrations will help low level, high interest readers learn about the American Revolution.
Lisa Spiegel, University of South Dakota, Vermillion
Strays Like Us by Richard Peck Relationships Puffin Books, 1998, 155 pp., $4.99 ISBN: 0-14-130619-x
Strays Like Us is told through the voice of twelve-year-old Molly Moberly. She has just arrived at her great-aunt's home, expecting her wayward mom to return for her anytime. The first person she meets, though, is Will - another stray emotionally removed from his parents - who has just moved in with his grandparents next door,
This book deals with these young adults adapting to their new life, to each other, and to the chaos inside their families. Molly and Will are forced to learn about parental abuse, drug addiction, and AIDs. Although depressing in tone, this is an important book for serious young adults.
Hal Foster, University of Akron, Ohio
Destiny by Vicki Grove Family Life G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2000, 169 pp., $16.99 ISBN: 0-399-23449-7
Twelve-year-old Destiny struggles to see some brightness in a life of dismal poverty.
Impoverished, Destiny's mother does odd jobs and dreams of winning the lottery. Jack, the mother's live-in boyfriend, forces Destiny to sell rotten potatoes and sell the clothing donated to the family. He also takes one devious step further. Jack reaps the benefits from false insurance claims.
Depressed, Destiny finds solace in two people: her art teacher and an elderly woman, who show her the satisfaction that can come from reading and gardening.
Destiny will appeal to the adolescent who looks for the positive side of life despite a seemingly hopeless situation. While Jack lands in jail for his devious "get rich scheme," Destiny finds a home and recognition in her artwork. This is a good swift read.
Anne Sherrill, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City
Life Is Funny by E. R. Frank Coming of Age/Realistic DK Ink, 2000, 263 pp., $17.95 ISBN: 0-7894-2634-X
Life Is Funny is not funny.
It is angry, harsh, sometimes bitter, always frank, but there is nothing to laugh about in these intertwined vignettes about the lives of eleven teenagers over their high school years. Some make it---some don't.
There is Eric and his brother Mickey, who live a harsh existence with little hope of escape.
There are Ebony and China, whose interracial friendship is, at best, tolerated by parents and condemned by others.
Frank is a gifted writer whose talents give the gritty stories an almost lyrical quality. Life Is Funny is appropriate for bibliotherapy, especially for those professionals who help teenagers in a clinical setting. Teachers, though, should be cautioned that the events are realistic - and language and plot scenarios - would make this a cautionary work to use in classrooms.
David Gill, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Sherwood by Jane Yolen Legends of Robin Hood Philomel Books, 2000, 134 pp., $19.99 ISBN: 0-399-23182-X
In Sherwood - a volume similar to her Camelot - Jane Yolen has collected eight original stories set in and around the legends of Robin Hood.
They tell of his mysterious birth and naming; of Maid Marian's childhood; of Robin's outwitting robber barons; and of Robin's wise and generous leadership. While the tone of this volume is 'merry,' the stories vary from reverence to irony, revealing cracks in the character of this well-known legend.
Telling tales of betrayal and faithfulness, Yolen accompanies her collection with the painterly illustrations of Dennis Nolan's Sherwood Forest and quickly paced narratives to appeal to young audiences.
Gary Schmidt, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee Fantasy Dutton Children's Books, 2000, 223 pp., $15.99 ISBN: 0-525-46394-1
In this fantasy, Claidi is the slave of petty and spoiled Lady Jane Leaf. And her future appears to be an unbroken chain of tiresome chores and senseless rituals.
Life changes, though, when a handsome young man arrives at her castle. He has been captured and imprisoned by Claidi's people. Soon, though, Claidi helps him to escape - and soon, they venture on a journey that leaves her a breathless innocent in a vast game of political intrigue.
The reader becomes young Claidi's confidant as she ponders such abstract ideas as social injustice, blind obedience, and belief in God. With its heavy emphasis on the concept of religious divinity, this work is recommended for readers who enjoy mixing fantasy with theology.
Jennifer Moreland, Grand Junction, Colorado
Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi by Phyllis Shalant Animals/Fiction/Survival Dutton, 2000, 164 pp., $15.99 ISBN 0-525-46033-0
In this high-interest, low-level reader, Bartleby is a turtle, content to eat turtle flakes and swim in his turtle bowl - until he sees a TV show about turtles living in the mighty Mississippi. Wishing to swim freely with his red-eared relatives, Bartleby pretends that a nearby puddle is the mighty Mississippi. Through a mishap, Bartleby is left to fend himself in a swamp. He must learn to hunt for food, keep away from predators, and make friends with a myriad of swamp life - including an alligator, seeking to find his own way home.
Shalant creates an appealing tale about the difference between hoping for a more exciting life and getting that hoped-for life. Readers will love Bartleby's perspective on the unfamiliar - like the "rain" that come from human eyes. Older readers will relate to Bartleby's efforts to survive in the "big water" of the mighty Mississippi.
Lisa Wroble, Plymouth, Michigan
Lost in the War by Nancy Antle Historical Fiction/Vietnam War Puffin, 2000, 137 pp., $4.99 ISBN: 0-8037-2299-0
Lost in the War is an intense but sensitive tale about the events surrounding the war in Vietnam - a war that today's parents know all too well.
Seventh-grader Lisa Grey doesn't remember her father, though she wears his dog tag under her shirt. Her mother, though, has not recovered from her husband's death and has sunk into a deep depression. She is haunted not only by his death, but by the faces of young soldiers she could not save in the year she served as an army nurse.
When her seventh-grade social studies class discusses the Vietnam War, Lisa's mother agrees to share her experiences. Listening to her mother's stories in class, Lisa gains a new perspective about her mother's bitterness. The book's stunning climax takes place in Washington at the Vietnam War memorial where mother and daughter confront their past in a name etched on a wall.
Peter Morgan, State University of West Georgia, Carrollton
Reference Citation: Kaplan, Jeff, editor. (2000) "Young Adult Books In Review." The ALAN Review , Volume 28, Number 1, p. 29-35.