Friday, April 27, 2012

Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg

Take a Bow
By Elizabeth Eulberg
Published by Scholastic, Inc, 2012
288 pages (hardcover)

Emme, Sophie, Ethan, and Carter are seniors at a performing arts school, getting ready for their Senior Showcase recital, where the pressure is on to appeal to colleges, dance academies, and professionals in show business. For Sophie, a singer, it's been great to be friends with Emme, who composes songs for her, and to date Carter, soap opera heartthrob who gets plenty of press coverage. Emme and Ethan have been in a band together through all four years of school, but wonder if they could be more than just friends and bandmates. Carter has been acting since he was a baby, and isn't sure how to admit that he'd rather paint than perform. The Senior Showcase is going to make or break each of the four, in a funny, touching, spectacular finale that only Elizabeth Eulberg could perform. (from

Take a Bow was kind of like “American Idol”, a teenage TV show, E! News, and a high school all rolled into one. And that is a good thing.

The story is told from the perspective of Emme, Sophie, Ethan, and Carter. They all have their own hopes and dreams and, while their lives do intertwine, it is interesting to see how competition, admiration, friendship, and love factor into each characters thoughts and actions. True, by about 1/3 of the way into Take a Bow I had a pretty good idea of what the ending would be like, but that’s ok. Sometimes it is nice to read a book like that.

I liked that Elizabeth Eulberg turned some of the perceptions people have of actors/musicians on their heads. Carter isn’t a complete jerk and the composers aren’t odd eccentrics who write “new age” music that no one understands. Of all the characters, Sophie is the least used, the least developed, and the least likable. I really wish there would have been at least a few redeeming characteristics about her… she was just too easy to hate which made the other characters a bit too easy to like.

This book is for any fan of musical reality shows, books/shows about high school, or someone who wants a pleasant book about ridiculously talented teens.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

By Sophie Flack
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010
304 pages (hardcover)

In a crowd of beautiful ballet dancers, how can one girl stand out?
As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances, and complicated backstage relationships. But when she meets a spontaneous and irresistibly cute musician named Jacob, her universe begins to change.
Until now, Hannah has happily followed the company's unofficial mantra, "Don't think, just dance." But as Jacob opens her eyes to the world beyond the theater, Hannah must decide whether to compete against the other "bunheads" for a star soloist spot or to strike out on her own. (from

I picked up this book to read after seeing that there will be a TV show called ”Bunheads” on ABC Family this summer. Spoiler Alert: from what I can tell, the novel Bunheads is absolutely nothing like the TV show will be. Oh well.

Bunheads is a fun novel filled with friend and boy drama, questions of identity and future, and a good mix of silly and serious. This was a quick read that entertained me, but never made me think too hard. What is even more awesome, the author, Sophie Flack, was once a dancer who left that world to go to college and become a writer. I am not sure exactly how much of Bunheads is based on her own life and experiences, but Sophie really allows the readers to feel like they have a backstage pass into the mysterious world of ballet.

I have seen the Royal British Ballet while living in New Zealand, the Russian Ballet while studying in Latvia, and the Butler University Ballet so many times as a student watching my friends perform and as an alumni just wanting to see some good ballet. For all the ballets I have seen and dancers I have known, I never realized how difficult ballet really was. I mean, I definitely knew I would never be able to do the stuff they can do on the dance floor, but the hours of practice these men and women endure and the dedication the exhibit to the art is amazing.

The extremely long hours, cut-throat competition, and physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that Hannah (and her friends) goes through was eye-opening. I didn’t always like Hannah’s attitude or decisions, but her commitment to her craft definitely made her more endearing.

Although it might be fun to twirl around on stage in a pretty tutu, I am glad that I never had any promise the one year I took ballet. Bunheads was a great book, but it made me realize that there is definitely no way I could have handled the life of a ballerina.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

TOP TEN TUESDAY: My Top Ten Favorite Book Characters

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is My Top Ten All Time Favorite Characters In Books.

Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Elizabeth is smart, funny, confident, and doesn’t give in to silliness just because her sisters and mom are vain and annoying. Although she is interested in dresses and socializing, Elizabeth remains practical and kind which makes her endearing and a character you can’t help but root for.

Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Oh, I just love P&P. Mr. Darcy is just awesome and the fact that Colin Firth played him in a movie version is an added bonus!

Mary Anne from the Babysitter’s Club series by Ann M. Martin
Mary Anne isn’t the typically pretty one, popular one, or out-going one. But she is sweet, loyal, smart, and brunette! For some reason she was always my favorite of the BBC gang so obviously I had to put her on my list

Gandalf from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is a wizard with attitude. He tricks Bilbo into having a hoard of dwarves over to his house and then pretty much forces the little hobbit into a crazy adventure where the wizard comes and goes randomly. Of all the wizards in literature, I think I would most want to hang out with Gandalf.

Charlotte Doyle from The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by AviIn the beginning Charlotte was annoying and prissy. Then she totally started kicking some butt. I wish there was a sequel because I would love to know what other adventures Charlotte had in life.

Grover from The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone
1. Grover is my favorite Sesame Street character     2. Grover and I share the same birth date     3. I have a 2 year-old son who loves Sesame Street     4. We own this book AND I have it as a book on my iPhone which my son reads in the car     5. For all the dozens of times I have read/heard this book, Grover still cracks me up

Matthias from Redwall by Brian Jacques
Awwwww… Matthias is the brave little mouse who risks his life to save those he loves. What wouldn’t you love about that?

Alice Cullen from the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
Alice is spunky and fun and girly and silly and just kind of awesome. All the brooding and angst from the other characters annoys me, but Alice is just awesome.

Laura from The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Oh, Half-Pint. You always were mischievous and full of life. I loved reading about your adventures on the prairie. One day I WILL make my husband take me to your former home in Minnesota.

Rue from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Rue is so sweet, feisty, and loveable. I wish her storyline would have been longer in The Hunger Games so I could have enjoyed her character for more time.

Monday, April 23, 2012

COMING SOON: Victory by Carla Jablonski & Leland Purvis


Written by Carla Jablonski; Illustrated by Leland Purvis
Published by First Second, July 17, 2012
128 pages (paperback)
Source: NetGalley

The final installment in Carla Jablonski’s Sydney Taylor Honor-winning Resistance trilogy.
World War II thunders to a conclusion in this third and final installment of Jablonski and Purvis’ critically-acclaimed historical trilogy. As the Allied Forces move to retake France from its Nazi invaders, siblings Sophie, Paul, and Marie Tessier must risk their lives once more and journey into the belly of the beast: Paris. They are on a mission to deliver top-secret intel for the Resistance movement . . . they are its youngest agents.
A perfect mix of deft emotional storytelling and hairraising, historically accurate wartime adventure make this final chapter of the Resistance Trilogy the most satisfying yet. (from NetGalley)

I am so fortunate to have received an advanced copy of this book. I had already read the first two books in the Resistance series. The first book, Resistance, I picked up on a whim at the Student Council’s Scholastic Book Fair because it had an interesting cover and couldn’t put it down. I immediately ordered the second book and was thrilled to get to read the final book, Victory, before July. I had been looking forward to finding out what happens to these characters. Yes, I knew that the Allies would win, but I didn’t know if the Tessier family would make it out in one piece.

I have read a bunch of books about World War II, the Holocaust, and even about the French Resistance. This was one of the better books I have read in a long time. It expertly mixed history with intriguing fiction to create characters I connected with and a story I couldn’t stop reading. The fact that Victory (and the entire series) is in graphic-novel format helped me visualize the setting and historical dress/materials and increased my engagement in the story.

Besides the war and French Resistance work, Victory gives a human element to the time period. Sophie, Paul and Marie don’t know who to trust (can they even trust each other), yet they also express feelings of love and friendship for others around them. This story gives names and faces to the extraordinary work that French people did to save each other and their country.

I am thrilled to have this series as part of my library’s collection and it will definitely be among the first World War II books I recommend to students and staff.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

Cat Girl’s Day Off
By Kimberly Pauley
Published by Lee & Low Books, April 12, 2012
336 pages (hardcover)
Source: NetGalley

Never listen to a cat. That will only get you in trouble.
Actually, scratch that. Listening to cats is one thing, but really I should never listen to my best friend Oscar. It's completely his fault (okay, and my aspiring actress friend Melly's too) that I got caught up in this crazy celebrity-kidnapping mess.
If you had asked me, I would have thought it would be one of my super-Talented sisters who'd get caught up in crime fighting. I definitely never thought it would be me and my Talent trying to save the day. Usually, all you get out of conversations with cats is requests for tummy rubs and tuna.
Wait . . . I go back to what I said first: Never listen to a cat. Because when the trouble starts and the kitty litter hits the fan, trust me, you don't want to be in the middle of it. (from NetGalley)

Truth: I like cats. I had 2 while growing up and I have 2 now. They both sleep with me. And, yes, I have dressed all my cats up. It is hilarious. However, I am sooooooo glad I could not hear what Frisko, Little Kity, Kiwi, or Peyton were thinking when I put them in doll dresses.

But Natalie can talk to cats. Like really. She, like all the other members of her family, have special talents/superpowers. One sister can levitate. The other can be a chameleon and blend in to her surroundings. Natalie feels ignored by her parents because she can only talk to cats.

Then she overhears the cat of a celebrity blogger screaming on a YouTube video. Pressured by her friends, her own love of cats, and eventually her cat Meep, Natalie sets out to find out what is really going on. And this leads to chaos and craziness plus a little bit of romance.

No, this isn’t the best pieces of literature ever. However, it was a fun read. I was getting tired of doom and gloom with people dying, the world ending, etc., etc., etc. Yeah, there is a kidnapping or two as well as some fighting so it’s not all sunshine and lollipops, but the author’s sense of irony and sarcastic tone was perfect for a quick light-hearted read.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves cats (and wishes they could talk to cats) or someone who wants a fun read that is well-written but doesn’t take itself too seriously.   

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters
By Meredith Zeitlin
Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012
282 pages (hardcover)

Let's say you're fourteen and live in New York City. You'd think your life would be like a glamorous TV show, right? And yet . . . You don't have a checking account, much less a personal Black American Express card. You've never been to a club, and the only couture in your closet is a Halloween costume your mom made from an old laundry bag.

In other words? You're Kelsey Finkelstein - fourteen and frustrated. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled. Kelsey wants to rebrand herself for high school to make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny. But just because Kelsey has a plan for greatness . . . it doesn't mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey's hilarious commentary and sardonic narration of her freshman year will have readers laughing out loud - while being thankful that they're not in her shoes, of course.

There is now just over a month until the school year is over and the lovely 8th graders move up to the high school. Going to a new place, no matter what it is, can be scary. And, above all, becoming a freshman can be one of the scariest experiences of all. No longer are you separated from the other grades, have lunch at the same time as most of your friends, or know your way around school. As a freshman you are thrown in with older and more experienced teenagers in the crazy world that is high school.

I lucked out. My high school was small and I knew quite a few upperclassmen so starting high school wasn’t so horrible. Yes, some senior girls made me go late from volleyball practice to play practice so they wouldn’t get in trouble too and, not so shockingly, the senior cheerleaders were none-too-nice to the girl athletes. But whatever. No one really cares now.

Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters is a great book for anyone who has hopes and dreams of doing great things in high school. Especially when your hopes and dreams have other plans and seem to want to sabotage your reputation. Kelsey and her friends are funny and entertaining, but they are real. They fight, have crushes, get embarrassed, and don’t always get their way.

And that is what I liked about this book. Sometimes novels can get so outlandish/drama-filled I roll my eyes and think “yeah, like THAT would ever happen.” Meredith Zeitlin did a great job of making Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters believable, silly, hopeful, and a book whose characters you would want to be friends with.

Monday, April 16, 2012


A BIG Thanks to everyone who went to Barnes & Noble over the weekend to support Books by the Bushel! A bunch of books have been donated to our library and eventually we will get more books based on how much people spent over the weekend. I am really excited about some of the books that I get to add to the UMS Library collection in the next few days.

Students- stop by later this week to check out what new books we have!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vodnik by Bryce Moore

By Bryce Moore
Published by Lee & Low Books, April 1, 2012
368 pages (hardback)
Source: NetGalley

Teacups: great for tea. Really sucky as places-to-live-out-the-rest-of-your-eternal-existence. Very little elbow room, and the internet connection is notoriously slow. Plus, they're a real pain in the butt to get out of, especially when you've gone non-corporeal.

When Tomas was six, someone-something-tried to drown him. And burn him to a crisp. Tomas survived, but whatever was trying to kill him freaked out his parents enough to convince them to move from Slovakia to the United States. 
Now sixteen-year-old Tomas and his family are back in Slovakia, and that something still lurks somewhere. Nearby. Ready to drown him again and imprison his soul in a teacup.
Then there's the fire víla, the water ghost, the pitchfork-happy city folk, and Death herself who are all after him.
All this sounds a bit comical, unless the one haunted by water ghosts and fire vílas or doing time in a cramped, internet-deprived teacup is you.
If Tomas wants to survive, he'll have to embrace the meaning behind the Slovak proverb, So smrťou ešte nik zmluvu neurobil. With Death, nobody makes a pact. (from NetGalley)

To be honest, when I started reading Vodnik I didn’t really like it. I found Tomas to be whiny and all the pop culture references seemed more like the author name-dropping instead of a creating an interesting piece of literature. But then Tomas and his family ended up in Slovakia. And there was an ancient castle. And he starting seeing things. That is when the book got good and the author hit his stride.

Bryce Moore did something many authors have trouble doing: he combined several story-lines/events into one cohesive novel that was captivating and will make readers think. The references an inclusion of folklore made Vodnik whimsical and unpredictable. And, as a bonus, you don’t need to know anything about Slovak folklore to understand the book. In fact, not know makes the book even more of a page-turner. Tomas also deals with bullies, family secrets, morality, racism, and financial troubles. But instead of Vodnik being a depressing read (I mean, Tomas does make friends with Death herself!), there is sarcasm, irony, and snarkyness that drew me in. The more I read the book the more I liked it and finally I decided that finishing the book was more important than doing laundry or going to bed at a decent time.  

I will admit that some of the scenes and characters might be difficult to imagine. Most readers have never roamed the grounds of a really really really old castle or wandered the streets of a European city once held by Communists. Luckily I was able to spend two weeks in Riga, Latvia while in college and we did visit an ancient castle, stayed a few blocks away from a crumbling city wall, and were allowed to walk the streets of the city where centuries-old beauty mixed with the remnants of Communism. This experience helped me imagine the places Tomas was experiencing, but had I not had my experiences and knowledge, I think I would have envisioned the book much differently.

I really hope that kids (and adults) pick this book up. It has a little bit of everything and once you get past the mediocre beginning it is a wonderful book.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves

By Amy Carol Reeves
Published by Flux Books, April 8, 2012
360 pages (paperback)
Source: NetGalley

A paranormal mystery involving London's most notorious killer

In 1888, following her mother's sudden death, seventeen-year-old Arabella Sharp goes to live with her grandmother in a posh London neighborhood. At her grandmother's request, Abbie volunteers at Whitechapel Hospital, where she discovers a passion for helping the unfortunate women and children there.

But within days, female patients begin turning up brutally murdered at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Even more horrifying, Abbie starts having strange visions that lead her straight to the Ripper's next massacres. As her apparent psychic connection with the twisted killer grows stronger, Abbie is drawn into a deadly mystery involving the murders, her mother's shadowed past, and a secret brotherhood of immortals-who'll stop at nothing to lure Abbie into its "humanitarian" aims. (from NetGalley)

This is the second book about Jack the Ripper I have read in the past few months. While Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson was set in present-day London, Ripper is set during those terrifying months in 1888. What I find most interesting about both books is that the authors used paranormal/fantastical circumstances to explain how and why the killings were taking place. Due to the fact that books involve the horrific murders of several women, they are rather disturbing and, at the very least, creepy. But isn’t that what someone picking up a book about Jack the Ripper wants?

In Ripper, Amy Carol Reeves has created strong and vivid characters who reside and work in London. The contrast between wealthy London society and the city slums added substance to the book. Kinda-sorta-weird family stuff aside, this was a well written book with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The main character, Abbie, was fiery and, although she made some dumb decisions (seriously, don’t go wandering around London at night with a serial killer on the loose), I respected her as a young woman finding her strength and I liked her sassy attitude.

While I think I need to stop reading murder stories before going to bed, this really is a good book and I would recommend it to those who like mystery, murder, and paranormal stories. As an added bonus, there are some cute guys any lady would be lucky to have around while a serial killer is looking for his next victim. Ooooolala!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

COMING SOON: The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

The Peculiars
By Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Published by ABRAMS, May 1, 2012
288 pages (hardback)
Source: NetGalley

This dark and thrilling adventure, with an unforgettable heroine, will captivate fans of steampunk, fantasy, and romance.

On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena's father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears. (NetGalley)

Poor Lena. Her father left when she was young and now she is displaying odd characteristics, like ridiculously long hands and feet. To make it even worse, Lena’s Mom’s Mom is certain that she is part goblin (something that was genetically passed down to her by her father). So, like an young lady in a YA novel who is confused about her identity, Lena takes off in search of answers. There were quite a few unexpected twists along the way as well as cute guys, political turmoil, and some crazy creatures.

There were things I REALLY liked about this book, and things I really did not like about this book. It’s definitely a good read, but I feel like Lena’s world could have been constructed better. For example, I was confused, at least at the start, about the setting. At first I thought it was set in the present, but then descriptions of people and clothing as well as some of the language proved that the book takes place in the past. Then I couldn’t figure out where the book took place. At first I thought it was Europe and then I thought it was a made up land, but then there were references to America so I never was quite sure. I kind of wish the book had either a completely made up setting or was a bit more specific from the get-go about when and where we were. With the setting and time period is so ambiguous, there were times I had difficulty getting into the book.  

Overall I found The Peculiars to be a whimsical steampunk novel that incorporated fantasy, mystery, and romance. One of the greatest things about books is that they often take reality and things only an imagination could create and combine them into an engaging and adventurous tale. This is definitely a book that lets your mind take a vacation to a land long ago where it is possible to have wings or use science to save an entire race of people.

May 1st seems to be a popular date to release awesome books. I was already planning on heading to the bookstore to get two new releases that day for the library. Now I will definitely be getting The Peculiars and telling all my book-loving students that they HAVE to read it!

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg & Kevin O’Malley

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
By Georgia Bragg & Kevin O’Malley
Published by Walker & Company, 2011
192 pages (hardcover)

Over the course of history men and women have lived and died. In fact, getting sick and dying can be a big, ugly mess—especially before the modern medical care that we all enjoy today. How They Croaked relays all the gory details of how nineteen world figures gave up the ghost. Readers will be fascinated well past the final curtain, and feel lucky to live in a world with painkillers, X-rays, soap, and 911. (from

Death is icky, but learning about the peculiar ways famous people died is kind of fascinating in a weird sort of way. Yeah, I felt kind of creepy reading about how all these people died, but random facts are fun and since this IS a nonfiction book I was learning stuff so that makes it ok.

I have read a bunch of history books throughout my life and, by far, my favorites are ones that tell a little bit about people and then give information you wouldn’t heard most other places, especially not history textbooks. And history textbooks rarely tell you about how people die, and definitely not all the gory details. For example, two famous musicians died as the result of lead poisoning (and that is apparently not a fun way to die), King Henry VIII died a kind-of-slow and painful death (which I think he deserved after beheading and divorcing so many wives), and George Washington died of a simple infection, but since his doctors didn’t know much about how to actually treat sick people, they made his dying days so much worse. Ewwww.

My only pet-peeve about How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous (other than the fact it made me think about disturbing things) was that the section on Christopher Columbus told about his ambition, his adventurous spirit, how he kinda-sorta got lost, and how he died. It did NOT tell that he was a jerk (to put it nicely) to the native people he found on those Caribbean islands.  In fact, it didn’t mention at all what Columbus did to the native people and that his sailors actually put him in the ship’s prison. Twice. No wonder he died broke and forgotten.

For all those who love blood, guts, and the nastiness behind death… well this is the book for you. Enjoy. And be thankful for antibiotics and hand sanitizer.

Monday, April 2, 2012

TOP TEN TUESDAY: The Top Ten Books to Read in a Day

Top 10 Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is the The Top Ten Books to Read in a Day.

Ok, my husband gets jealous of me all the time because I read books in a day all the time while he has to read boring books for his graduate school work. Usually it is because I just can’t put it down. I really need to know what happens to the characters and putting the book down doesn't work because then I won't be able sleep so I fmight as well just finish the book so my mind is at rest (maybe).

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
This is the latest book I read in a day so I had to put it on the list!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’EngleThis is a book that once I start I can’t put down. On a side note, A Wrinkle in Time is turning 50 years old this year. What a wonderful classic!

Smile by Reina TelgemeierOne reason I like graphic novels is because I can read them so quickly. Some I can even read over lunch. Smile is a fun tale about dealing with middle school that can be enjoyed in a few hours.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenOne day maybe I will read the book in the morning and then watch the BBC version of the movie in the evening. PERFECT DAY! For now I have P&P on my phone and I read a chapter or two at a time while waiting in random places.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
How could I not read this in a day? Seriously! I can’t stand not knowing what will happen to characters in intense situations. I also stayed up until 3:00am reading Catching Fire and then midnight reading Mockingjay. I was a little obsessed.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian SelznickYes, this book is 533 pages BUT over a third of the pages are amazing illustrations and a lot of the pages with text are only partially filled so it is a surprisingly quick read. Also, the story is wonderfully fantastic so this is a story you just can’t put down.

The Westing Game by Ellen RaskinThis is a skinny book so it’s easy to read in a day. However, it is so jam-packed full of mystery, murder, and intrigue that you won’t realize that it was just a little book that you read.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera BrosgolAlthough I don’t usually read scary/ghost stories, I picked this up around Halloween. I settled down thinking it would take me a while to read, but since it was a graphic novel I got through it fairly quickly. AND it left me pretty creeped out so I guess it did it’s job.

The Outsiders by S.E. HintonI actually LISTENED to this book in a day as my husband and I made our way to Minnesota. Although it came out almost 3 decades ago, The Outsiders is still a great book that makes the characters seem so alive and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Looking for Alaska by John GreenA friend loaned me this book over the summer and once I started it I couldn’t put it down. Looking for Alaska started off a bit slow, but soon I was pulled into the world of a boarding school in the South where pulling pranks might just rank above studying.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt
By Jack Gantos
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011
352 pages (hardcover)

Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year's best contribution to children's literature and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is "grounded for life" by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack's way once his mom loans him out to help a fiesty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launced on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air. (from

The Newbery Medal is a prestigious award, but there have been several times that, in my opinion, the stories have only been so-so. I mean, they are ok, but not GREAT. Now, I won’t say Dead End in Norvelt  is the best book I have ever read or even the best Newbery I have ever read, but it was enjoyable and worthy of the award.

I mean, this is a silly book about and awkward boy, his crazy quarrelling parents, and a bunch of eccentric old people (and who doesn’t LOVE reading about eccentric old people who do wild and random things?). According to information on the book, this is a mix of Jack Gantos’s real life and what his imagination concocted along the way. It’s about a young boy growing up and learning about what it means to be a community and how people can have an influence on others.

Readers be warned: young Jack makes a lot of bad decisions. Usually this annoys me. I just want to scream at the characters, “Why are you doing that?! You KNOW it will turn out bad.” But I didn’t want to scream at young Jack. For all the unwise decisions young Jack makes, he lets the readers into his train of thought and although the decisions aren’t the best, it makes sense that he does what he does. Of course, this is the thought process of a 12-year-old boy so you never know where it will go.

I picked this book up because I wanted something light and fun to read. I’d read quite a few serious books and an enjoyable tale is just what I needed. And this is definitely a tale of epic proportions. Well done Jack Gantos!