2010 Top Summer Reads for Middle Grade and Young Adult
Brennan, Sarah Rees. Demon’s Lexicon. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing/Margaret K. McElderry. 2009.
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–In this riveting debut novel, 16-year-old Nick and his older brother, Alan, are accustomed to life on the run. Since their father was murdered, the boys have been forced to slay demons set on them by magicians seeking the powerful charm stolen by the boys’ mother. Nick is furious when Alan receives a first-tier demon mark while saving a neighborhood boy. While seeking to remove it, Nick begins to suspect that his brother is lying to him about the reason for the magicians’ attempts to kill them and about why their mother screams whenever Nick touches her. Fans of the Supernatural television series will be hooked from the novel’s opening lines (The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favorite sword under the sink.). Even teens who don’t consider themselves genre buffs will appreciate the solid writing, fast-paced plot, and sense of authenticity that Brennan gives to the shadowy world between ordinary, modern-day London and the otherworld of demons and magicians. Though Nick and Alan’s story is mostly resolved with Nick discovering the truth behind his father’s death and his mother’s fear of him, readers will no doubt clamor for the next book in this planned urban fantasy trilogy.–Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD
Brown, Mary Calhoun. There Are No Words. Lucky Press. 2010
From Midwest Book Review
The most terrifying future is a future you cannot change. “There Are No Words” tells the story of a mute girl who finds herself with a voice, but sent back decades ago. With the knowledge of a train wreck that will kill one of her grandfather’s friends, Jaxon MacKenzie finds herself in a time before said accident. But a twelve year old girl can’t do much to stop a government train…can she? “There Are No Words” is a charming story of determination and friendship, highly recommended.
From Feathered Quill: 5 Stars
There Are No Words is narrated by Jaxon, a 12-year-old girl with autism who lives with her grandparents. Though she shares with the reader that she cannot speak and describes her intense reactions to sound and touch, this is not really a book about autism. It is an adventure whose protagonist happens to be autistic.
Jaxon also proves to be a strong, quick-thinking girl with a crush on a black boy and a friend who, in 1918, likes to wear boys’ pants and shoes under her dresses. Author Mary Calhoun Brown defies many stereotypes. Teachers and parents looking for a book with strong female characters or gentle, nurturing men will find them here. The book also promotes awareness of autism without presenting it as a problem to be overcome. In fact the main problem from Jaxon’s point of view is that other people do not understand autism and treat her as though she is stupid or, to use her word, unworthy.
We see the world through the eyes of someone who is extremely sensitive to touch and to sounds. Jaxon also pays close attention to details and colors. The descriptions of the world around her– the feel of the carpet, the sounds of the rain– are peaceful and poetic. Jaxon, who has much difficulty communicating with others, including her own mother, is still able to paint for us beautiful images of the world as she sees it.
When Jaxon is magically transported through a painting and back in time, she finds that she is able to speak. In fact she seems to have no trouble communicating whatsoever and to be unusually good at intuiting the feelings of others. In Tennessee in 1918 Jaxon’s autism is not a problem, but she soon discovers that racism, an issue that she had been unaware of before her time-travel adventure, is a huge one.
There Are No Words is a quick read with thoroughly likable characters. The relationships between the characters are sweet while still being very real. Readers will be inspired by the patience of Jaxon’s grandparents and the kindness of her friends.
Quill says: A dream-like adventure that reads like poetry while challenging stereotypes
Griffin, Paul. The Orange Houses. Penguin/Dian Books. 2009.
*Starred Review* Much like Rita Williams-Garcia’s Jumped (2009), this story follows three kids through the pressure cooker of inner-city teenage life as it moves toward its crushing conclusion. Whereas that book mined the minor humiliations and overblown dramas that swirl during a single school day, this has a much more diffuse scope. The three characters couldn’t be any more different: Tamika Sykes is a partially deaf student agonizing over whether she really wants to hear all the noise surrounding her; Fatima Espérer is a 16-year-old refugee who fled the violence and poverty of her unspecified African country to live in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty; and depending on who you ask, Jimmy Sixes, already a disturbed veteran at age 18, is either a street poet or a junkie. The three form an unusual friendship, connecting both artistically and emotionally. All this is set in a city that has become a powder keg of anti-immigration sentiment (thanks to a recently passed law that rewards citizens for reporting illegals) and is perilously close to the ever-present spark of gang violence. Griffin clearly knows teens, especially the way they speak. In another writer’s hands, this story of three outcasts might have turned into a sentimental mess, but he keeps the depth of emotion honest as his characters battle alienation and find strength in sacrifice. Although readers will be prepared for an unnerving journey from the opening scene, they will nevertheless be floored by some of the turns in this swift, tense, and powerful book. Grades 10-12. –Ian Chipman
Reisman, Michael. Simon Bloom and the Octopus Effect. Dutton Juvenile. 2009.
Nicholas Hormann narrates Simon Bloom’s third fantastical adventure as the 12-year-old explores the Order of Biology, an undersea world of strange creatures. Hormann meets the challenge of a large cast of characters and multiple settings with an abundance of accents that differentiate and add color. He characterizes the story’s omniscient narrator with crisp British enunciation that matches his detached view and depicts a sea creature with gurgles. He portrays the passionate director of the underwater realm with drama. When Simon and friends are enriched with octopus DNA, they develop special powers that are especially helpful when they confront their archenemy, Sirabetta. Hormann embraces the story’s inventive spirit, leading listeners through adventure and intrigue.
Herlong, M.H. The Great Wide Sea. Penguin/Viking. 2008.
*Starred Review* Soon after their mother’s death, 15-year-old Ben and his two younger brothers are stunned when their father sells their home, buys a sailboat, and announces that they will live on board and cruise the Bahamas for the next year. Wrenched from everything he knows and forced to obey his father-captain’s orders, Ben starts out angry and finds no escape. As he says, “We were always together.” When their father sets a course for Bermuda and disappears overboard one night, the boys have little time to wonder if he jumped or fell before they’re struggling to stay afloat in a fierce Atlantic storm. Lost at sea in a damaged boat, they find their way to an island where they are stranded with little food, little water, and little hope of rescue. Herlong’s first book is a great survival story and a fine portrayal of family relationships in a time of crisis. Justifiably angry, yet logical, reflective, and at times compassionate, Ben makes a sympathetic protagonist, and his brothers are no less appealing. With enough detail to make the settings real and a minimum of metaphor, the first-person narrative is clean and direct. This page-turner of an adventure story is also a convincing, compelling, and ultimately moving novel. Grades 6-10. –Carolyn Phelan
Berryhill, Shane. Chance Fortune in the Shadow Zone. Starscape. 2009
From Publishers Weekly
Readers weary of Potter-esque fantasy but hungry for another semi-humorous / semi-serious school setting, and lovers of superhero stories in general, will delight in this first volume in the Adventures of Chance Fortune series, ideally structured for many further adventures.
Berryhill’s debut novel kicks off an engrossing series, The Adventures of Chance Fortune, that takes formulas both old and new and gives them a zippy twist…. A lively and engrossing tale that neither takes itself too seriously nor underestimates its readers….Here’s hoping Berryhill has several series entries ready to go.
Ecton, Emily. Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments. Aladdin. 2009
When Arlie woke up that morning, she had no idea that her life would be turned upside down in a matter of minutes. Arlie’s mom had given some of her toys to their neighbor, Cookie. When Arlie stepped outside, she saw Cookie removing the inner workings of her old orange kangaroo Fred’s head. Arlie snatched it from her and ran, only to run over Tina’s friend, Bethany Burgess, ruining her new white capris.
She couldn’t stop, so she ran past a very surprised Ty and ended up in a tree near Mrs. Wombat’s house. Ty showed up a few minutes later and ends up in the tree with Arlie.
While in the tree, Arlie finds a black dragonfly pendant and that’s when the craziness really takes off. The pendant turns out to have an odd power – it turns inanimate objects into living, breathing things. Pretty soon lawn ornaments and other objects all over town are awake and wandering around. Arlie, Ty, and Mr. Boots have their work cut out for them trying to get everything back to normal.
I found NIGHT OF THE LIVING LAWN ORNAMENTS to be even funnier than her last book, BOOTS AND PIECES. The characters were engaging and hilarious. Kids, teens, and even adults will laugh out loud while reading this book. -Reviewed by: Breia “The Brain” Brickey
Napoli, Donna Jo. Alligator Bayou. Random House / Knopf. 2009
From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—Building on her extensive research conducted after reading a newspaper article about the lynching of Sicilian grocers in Tallulah, LA, in 1899, Napoli presents a moving, sobering story about an aspect of American immigration that is probably unknown to most readers. After his mother’s death, 14-year-old Calogero leaves his bustling Sicilian home for the sleepy southern town to help his uncles and younger cousin run their grocery store. White customers expect to be served before blacks and make their displeasure angrily apparent when the Sicilians fail to do so. Barred from the white school and unaware that he can attend the black school, Calogero learns English from a tutor who also tries to help him comprehend Southern American behavior. The cousins meet some African American boys who take them on a terrifying alligator hunt that firmly cements their friendship. Calogero is attracted to Patricia, a African American girl, but fails to fully understand the danger behind her fear of being seen in public with him. Although he has heard his uncles’ stories of the recent lynching of Sicilians in New Orleans, he is unprepared for the horrifying tragedy that befalls his family when a local white doctor kills Uncle Francesco’s goats and then convinces an angry mob that the Sicilians plan to retaliate violently. Historical events are smoothly integrated with vivid everyday details, strong characterizations, and genuine-sounding dialogue. Ultimately, the author expands her themes beyond the story’s specifics, encouraging readers to reconsider the motivations behind this calamity and other manifestations of racism.—Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA
Tubb, Kristin O’Donnell. Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different. Yearling. 2010.
In1934, spunky 11-year-old Autumn Winifred Oliver lives in picaresque Cades Cove, deep in the Great Smoky Mountains. Her crusty Grandpa is involved in a federal plan to convert the surrounding land into a national park, which would allow the locals to cash in on the anticipated tourism. But after Autumn realizes that the government is actually plotting to level Cades Cove, she tries everything in her power to stop the destruction. She writes a letter to Mr. John D. Rockefeller, requesting that he withdraw his funding, and she even turns her flatulent bloodhound loose on a group of park builders. While the eventual compromise is not entirely pleasing to either side, Autumn is satisfied that she did her best to keep her precious holler “as durn near perfect as possible.” Tubb’s inventive heroine comes across as a female version of familiar characters, such as Gary Paulsen’s Harris or Robert Newton Peck’s Soup. This homespun tale, full of folksy humor and based on historical fact, will appeal to young fans of Deborah Wiles’ and Ruth White’s books. Grades 4-6. –Jennifer Hubert
Small, David. Stitches: A Memoir. W.W. Norton & Co. 2009.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this profound and moving memoir, Small, an award-winning children’s book illustrator, uses his drawings to depict the consciousness of a young boy. The story starts when the narrator is six years old and follows him into adulthood, with most of the story spent during his early adolescence. The youngest member of a silent and unhappy family, David is subjected to repeated x-rays to monitor sinus problems. When he develops cancer as a result of this procedure, he is operated on without being told what is wrong with him. The operation results in the loss of his voice, cutting him off even further from the world around him. Small’s black and white pen and ink drawings are endlessly perceptive as they portray the layering of dream and imagination onto the real-life experiences of the young boy. Small’s intuitive morphing of images, as with the terrible postsurgery scar on the main character’s throat that becomes a dark staircase climbed by his mother, provide deep emotional echoes. Some understanding is gained as family secrets are unearthed, but for the most part David fends for himself in a family that is uncommunicative to a truly ghastly degree. Small tells his story with haunting subtlety and power.
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