Friday, May 30, 2014

New titles for Young Adult and Middle School Readers 2014-Out of the Easy to Skink No Surrender

One of the delights of going to a conference like the International Reading Association Annual Convention is the delight of finding new books, free if  they are  advance copies.  It's also exciting getting to see and meet authors that you have enjoyed!  I have to admit unless the line is moving fast I don't generally line up for autographs anymore.

I think my favourite books are picture books and young adult novels so even though though I don't have seventh graders anymore I couldn't resist picking up a few advance copies this year which I will pass on.

The first new book to me that I read was Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys.  I absolutely loved this book and it was a perfect read as the story takes place in the French Quarter right in the neighbourhood where I was staying.

It takes place in 1950 with a great female protagonist who has brains and courage.  And she needs them.  The daughter of an abusive prostitute,who knows how to choose the wrong men, she wants to get out of New Orleans and go to Smith College which seems to be highly unlikely.  The book is full of mystery.  How did the stranger, who was kind to her, die?  Is she in serious danger from her mother's gangster boyfriend?  How will she be able to make a new life for herself far away?  The book is full of interesting characters and tackles some interesting social issues of that time and place.  It  gives you some of New Orleans interesting history and definitely evokes the atmosphere of this city.  I think it is a book that would appeal more to girls than boys, appropriate for high school, but I would pass it on to more sophisticated seventh grade readers.  The back of the book told how the author got the idea for the book and how she did her research.  She also has a good website.

The next book I read was The Living by Matt de la Pena.  I had heard of de la Pena, but hadn't read any of his novels.  I found it immediately engaging as Shy, a half-Mexican boy from a border town, has a job on cruise ship and after a bit of a strange verbal exchange with a passenger, the passenger jumps off the ship.  Shy does his best to keep him from doing so but he isn't strong enough to hold him and the man does die.  A week later he is on another ship heading for Hawaii, trying to forget this incident, when the big earthquake finally hits the west coast of North America, and the ship is wrecked.  Needless to say Shy survives but on top of the disaster there are other mysterious sinister events related to that initial death.  The book was fast paced but I had a couple of complaints.  The earthquake affected coastal California, Oregan, Washington, and Vancouver.  No one caught that Vancouver is a city not a province.  And the book ends but there has to be a sequel.  Nonetheless I am sure my former students would enjoy it.

Now if you have students who want a bit of a lighter book or have a curiosity about the lives of teenage television stars,  Amy Finnigan's Not in the Script might be for you.  Fortunately, Emma, the star of the novel, is quite level headed, and the book is fairly fast paced and humorous.  The author seems to have a good knowledge of the world of which she writes.  And she does examine the difficulties of knowing who your friends are and what it is like to have a lack of privacy.  Emma is serious about schooling and she wants to start a foundation but just needs a cause which she finds.  I know this is a book that would definitely be popular with seventh grade girls and younger high school readers who like books with a bit of romance (but it actually isn't too sticky!

I have read a couple of Carl Hiaason's adult mysteries and heard him speak at the Vancouver Writers' Festival.  Starting his career as an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald, he has been fearless in his defence of the environment, and his disdain for corruption.  His first novel for children, Hoot, was a Newbury Honour Book, and he has written several more books aimed at children.  Skink No Surrender is his first novel aimed at teenagers and I really enjoyed it.  Again having had a swamp tour in Louisiana and having also had a recent trip to Florida, I enjoyed the road trip as fourteen year old Richard with help from a rather strange former government and environmental guerrilla type defender, Skink, goes in search of his cousin Malloy who, in an attempt to escape being sent to a boarding school in New Hampshire, takes off with someone she has met in an internet chat room.  As is typical of Hiaason there is a great deal of humour despite the seriousness of the situation.  And Malloy is no shrinking violet, but she definitely needed Richard and Skink's help.   I also like how it looks at environmental issues and  also how Richard  learns to deal with his father's death.  This is a great book that I think middle school students would really enjoy!

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