December 3rd, 2014
They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2014
Kenzie Sumerall just found out she’s on the the list. The list of the top ten Veinna High Juniors who are “hotties”. Unsure how she made the list at all, let alone be fifth, Kenzie tries to brush away the extra attention brought on by the list. She could care less about all the parties or the power the list brings. All she wants is to continue on as normal and hopefully get into Columbia. However, any hope of that is shattered when the girls from the list starting dying one by one. Fluke accidents that seem just a little too suspicious. Could the theory that the list is cursed be true or something more sinister going on? And more importantly, can Kenzie figure it out before she’s next…
They All Fall Down is a fast paced thriller that will suck you in until the end. Okay, there is some need to suspend believability, but this isn’t the first or last book I’ve had to do that for. There are several twists and turns that leaves you guessing what the truth behind the murders really are. I don’t know that I saw the final twist coming, but I wasn’t surprised by it either. It was obvious that something larger was going on and it was easy to determine where I needed to focus my attention. I liked that there was a bit of obviousness to it, but wasn’t completely predictable at the same time.
Kenzie overall was a likable player. She’s your typical “good girl” who studies hard and will end up in a fantastic school. She’s not a partier and her weekends are either spent studying or with her best friend, Molly. However, her life is not without tragedy. Her brother died in a freak accident only two years ago and something her family is still healing from. We don’t see her parents too much other than to note that they’re on the verge of divorce and dealing with their own problems. A convenient reason for Kenzie not to let them in on all the things happening. I’ve always enjoyed the girl detective roles, which may be why I’m able to overlook some of the flaws and cliches that surround Kenzie as a whole. We won’t even talk about how she falls into insta-love with the bad boy (Levi) and drops her 7 year long crush on Mr. Popular (Josh) with barely a second thought. Honestly, Levi is totally the better choice out of the two, but I’m still not sure that makes him a good choice either. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a series and how the boys progress in the future. (The door is completely wide-open for a sequel, but at this moment I cannot find any details on if that will actually happen.)
All that being said, this book does have issues. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the slut shaming and general problematic treatment of girls since I’ve finished reading it. The whole basic plot is hinged on a “hottie” list. I won’t lie and say that this didn’t make me cringe. Girls have enough problems in life without being ranked on “hotness”. The very premise is sexist in nature, but thankfully Kenzie agreed and says as much. While the real reason the girls are picked (which I won’t mention since it’s a spoiler) is even worse and makes me sigh, it is truly the least problematic thing in the book.
It is the unnecessary slut shaming that is thrown in that makes me really upset. On at least two occasions it is mentioned that one girl only got on the list because she gave blow jobs to lacrosse team. Even after she dies, the boys joke that a thing with her could just mean a hand job in the locker room. Then we get this fabulous line about “slut-liner”, which is what Molly calls inside the eye liner. That line was the nail in the coffin for me. None, and I do mean none, of these lines or mentions are needed in the book. Yes, the girls on the list are the ones being targeted, but there is no reason to make one a “slut”. It added absolutely nothing to the book and, in fact, it the main reason I won’t be book talking this book to my teens in an upcoming event or when I go to schools in May. A fact that saddens me a bit because this would have been a solid contender. And while it may only be four lines, I cannot condone this type of behavior nor risk upsetting parents/teacher and putting my job on the line.
Final Verdict: A fast-paced and fun thriller/mystery, however, the slut shaming made it impossible for me to fully fall in love with it.
November 24th, 2014
When: Nov 20th, 7:00 – 8:30pm
Resources: How to Paint Birch Trees
How many teens: 22 teens
- 11 x 14 Canvas (24): $20
- Paint 8 fl oz bottles (6) : $17.82
- One bottle of each of the following colors: Black, White, Gold, Yellow, Red, & Green.
- Sea Sponges (5 pks; 25 total): $14.85
- Brushes (flat, round, & sponge): $20
- Cardboard Palettes: $0
I’m extremely lucky that I have an artist on staff who did all the planning and taught the class for me. Truly, this is her event, but I was there to help with paint and act as back up.
The set-up was pretty simple. We did 7 tables with three chairs at each table. My co-worker was stationed up front where everyone could see her. Since the canvas was on the smaller size, we did hook up a camera to our TV so it was more visible. This seemed to work well and no one complained that they couldn’t see.
As for the process, my co-worker went through step-by-step on how to recreate the painting. She broke it down as much as possible and gave hints/tips as they went along. She also made sure to tell them repeatedly that each of their paintings would look different and that was okay! Of course, the skill sets were all vastly different, but all the teens had fun which is what matters the most to me. Almost all of them begged us to do another one in the future!
- I am so impressed by how smooth this one went. We were both worried that with such a large group we’d have trouble getting them to quiet down & listen, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. All of them really paid attention and listened to what they had to do. The next time we do this, we plan to make it only 60 minutes. The 90 minutes was just a bit too much for them.
- Also, we’ll pick a painting with a bit less detail. All the teens did fine until we got to the birch trees. Most of them did fine, but it was the only area they struggled.
- Have breaks! We had two 5 min breaks just to let the paint dry and let them chit-chat. I truly think this is what helped keep them so on focus.
- Use disposable tablecloths. I cannot stress this one enough! It made cleanup a breeze.
- Don’t have an artist on staff? Use youtube as your “instructor”. Had I done this one on my own, I would have simply shown the youtube video and paused it along the way. There are several other instructional videos like this that you could use!
November 21st, 2014
The Tree of Water by Elizabeth Haydon
Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme #4
Release Date: October 28 2014
The epic voyages continue in The Tree of Water, the fourth adventure in bestselling author Elizabeth Haydon’s acclaimed fantasy series for young readers, The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme.
As Royal Reporter of the land of Serendair, it is the duty of young Charles Magnus "Ven" Polypheme to travel the world and seek out magic hiding in plain sight. But Ven needs to escape the clutches of the nefarious Thief Queen, ruler of the Gated City, whose minions are hunting for him. His friend, the merrow Amariel, has the perfect solution to his dilemma: Ven and Char will join her to explore the world beneath the sea.
As they journey through the sea, Ven finds himself surrounded by wonders greater than he could have ever imagined. But the beauty of the ocean is more than matched by the dangers lurking within its depths, and Ven and his friends soon realize that in order to save thousands of innocent lives, they may have to sacrifice their own. For everything in the ocean needs to eat…
I walked into The Tree of Water having never read the series before. I had fears that this book would not be readable as a standalone, but my fears were unfounded. Yes, you can tell that there have been past adventures, but most things that are important are explained within the story; which was mainly the relationship between the characters and the how their adventures had progressed to this point. The story itself is fully contained within the book; while I felt like I may be missing some character development, the plot was welcoming to newcomers.
The Tree of Water is an adventure from start to finish. Ven, Char, & Amariel find themselves in trouble almost at every turn. Perhaps even a little too much for my taste. While the sense of doom at the the end of each chapter is great to keep readers wanting more, it exhausted me. So much happened in a very short period of time. Just when I thought things would slow down for bit, something major happens again and again and again. While some of it was necessary, I do think there could have been a couple that could have easily been dropped. However, younger readers (5th – 7th grade) who are looking for a fun, quick ride will most likely love that aspect to it.
One of my favorite things about The Tree of Water is the ever present theme of friendship. I loved the lengths that they were all willing to go through for each other. Yes, Char and Amariel bickered a lot, but when it came down to it they had each other’s back. None of their relationships were perfect, but they were willing to go that extra mile for each other…even if it meant going to the furthest depths of the sea. That is the perfect definition of friendship to me.
I also really enjoyed Ven and his growth as a character. At the start of the journey, he’s ready to jump in both feet without thinking about the dangers that the ocean holds. There were times I thought him extremely thoughtless or selfish, but as the book progressed that happened less and less. I liked that he thought often about why he was really on this underwater adventure and if there was truly was a main goal/mission involved. I won’t spoil anything, but I did like when he finally settled on. He could have bragged about how important his role had been, but instead focused on the wonders he got to see and the overall experience. I hope that attitude continues into the next books.
Final Verdict: While there were a couple of things that didn’t work for me, overall, I did enjoy Tree of Water. It’s a perfect choice for middle schoolers looking for a fast paced novel filled with adventure and magic.
And as a special treat, I have a Tree of Water Excerpt for you to check out. Happy Reading!
November 17th, 2014
The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys by Barbara Dee
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2014
According to Finley and her BFF, Maya, middle school boys can be put into three separate categories: tadpoles, croakers, and frogs. Per their official Life Cycle of Amphibian Boys, while tadpoles are totally not developed yet (read: boys who still love fart jokes and can’t have a normal conversation with girls without making fun of them), a frog is the top of the boy food chain—evolved and mature. Sadly, not many boys have reached that elusive frog status at Staunton Middle School. Finley thought she had everyone pegged, until Zachary Mattison enters the picture. After suddenly leaving the year before, Zachary’s surprise reappearance at SMS forces Finley to see him in a new light. And when the official life cycle list falls into the wrong hands, it causes a battle between the boys and girls that turns into an all-out war—one that Finley isn’t sure anyone can really win...
I’ll admit I went into this book expecting a fluffy romance, but instead got something that was more about friendship and growing up. Finley experiences all sorts of growing pains throughout the book and her relationship with Maya is something she struggles with the most. Maya hit the boy-crazy stage before Finley, something that puts them on a slightly uneven footing. Finley hates that Maya is constantly telling her she doesn’t understand boys. Sure, she may not have had a boyfriend, but does that mean she doesn’t know anything about boys? She thinks not and it’s the source of many fights. I love how realistic their friendship felt. Relationships, even with your best friend, are rarely smooth sailing. You have fight-you make up, it’s all about being on a roller coaster and just hanging on. This is magnified even more in middle school, when emotions and hormones are all over the place, and even the smallest thing can cause an upset. I really liked how Dee perfectly captured that and how they worked through it. (Even if it did take a little nudging from her mom.)
Finley’s budding crush was captured well, too. She didn’t want to really admit she had feeling for Zachary, but it was obvious that she did. And it was equally as obvious that he felt the same. Well, maybe obvious to everyone but Finley. I couldn’t help but smile as she lamented over him calling her and talking to her whenever he could. I just wanted to pat her hand and tell her it was okay, he just like-liked her. Although, I did have a small issue with her getting mad about his CINCH acronym, especially since it wasn’t much different that what she was doing with the Life Cycle of Amphibian Boys. The only real difference was his was about how to get close to the girls he liked and hers was about weeding out who was datable and who was not. I know Finley doesn’t see the Life Cycle like this at first (if ever really), but it’s truly what it’s about. Of course, on that same note, Zachary starting the war over the Life Cycle seems just as silly. Although, I do believe he was more upset that she lied and insulted him (and the other boys) than the Life Cycle itself.
Speaking of the Life Cycle and the war, it’s hard not to cringe when Finley walks back into the room and hears two of her classmates reading the Life Cycle notes allowed. I’m sure we’ve all been there, at least on some level. That moment something personal, and maybe a little uncool, is announced to everyone. My heart totally went out for her. The war that follows is a bit silly and realistic, but works well in the book. I like that it stayed relatively innocent when it could have become something that was much meaner. How they resolved the war, felt a bit too mature/level headed, but it wasn’t too far out of the bounds of being plausible. (Mainly, I’m not used to working with teens that are that mature! Usually, it takes prodding from me for them to work out their dramas.)
Overall, if I had to use one word to describe The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys it would be cute. I already know this will be included on my list of book talks when I go school visiting in May. Perfect for those tween girls, especially those looking for “clean” reads.
October 7th, 2014
Facing the Music by Jennifer Knapp
Publisher: Howard Books
Release Date: 10-07-2014
Jennifer Knapp found solace in music at a young age to escape a troubled home life. Something that wouldn’t be able to save her when she got to college. After a fall-out at home, she found herself spiraling out of control with alcohol and sex. She hit rock bottom and this time the only thing that saved her was finding God.
It wasn’t long before her two passions merged and Knapp was a full fledged Contemporary Christian Artist. A role that put her on a pedestal and expected her to be the perfect Christian. Knapp slowly began to crack under the pressure of the road and the growing realization that she was in love with a woman. This realization made her leave the music scene for years as she traveled with her new found love, trying to run away from it all.
But if music is truly in your bones, as it is with Knapp, you can’t run. Her returned to the scene meant coming out to all her fans and dealing with the aftermath. Had it not been for a few helping hands, Knapp would have never stepped foot inside a church again. Instead, she learned to reclaim her faith fully and use it to help reshape how churches view/treat those in the LGBTQ community.
I’ll admit I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Knapp since 1998 when her album, Kansas, came out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to her songs over the years, often on repeat. In fact, her stuff is currently playing on shuffle as I write this. However, my love of her music isn’t the reason why I love this book. Yes, it’s the reason I chose to read it, but I don’t think a book has affected me quite as much as Facing the Music in a long time, which is why this review will be quite different from my others. It’s hard to separate how this personally touched me as it related to my own life.
Just as she does with her songs, Knapp truly lays it all out and puts her heart into this book. The number of passages I have highlighted or the times that I wanted to scream yes were plentiful. While her journey is her own, I believe that many will be able to connect and share her sentiment in the different emotions that organized religion can cause. Or at least I did.
You don’t have to be in the spotlight to understand the pressures religion can put on you. Growing up in the church, I fully understand the need to say, do, act, and even wear the right things. It can be overwhelming and suffocating to say the least. The one scene that really encompassed this for me was when Knapp was trying to take a break from the grueling music scene. She was cracking from the fast pace of the road, but everyone told it was merely because her spiritual life was off. She was out of harmony with God and if she prayed enough and read her bible, everything would work itself out. I’m sure the words were coming from a good place, but they were words that hurt more than they healed.
I can’t even begin to express how heartbreaking to read how the Christian community treated her when she came out. The saddest story was one about a girl who sent all her CDs back to Knapp because not only did she not want them anymore she didn’t want anyone else to have them either. Knapp’s music was worthless in her eyes just because she loved differently then what is viewed as “right”. There is one quote that I keep going back to that sings so true to me She states “what I believed in had nothing to do with sexual identity or gender. I believed that no matter who we are, who we love, it is how we love that matters” (p 148). This is something I wish more people would adopt. To look beyond who people love to how they love instead. It truly hits at the heart of the LGBTQ controversy.
I love that Knapp didn’t hold back on how much she struggled to hold onto and reclaim her faith (at least in the organized religion sense.) For years, she was unable to play music let alone step into a church. She got more out of telling her stories over a drink than she did sitting through a sermon. She struggled to believe she could still be a child of God and be who she was. I applaud her for being able to hold onto and fully reclaim her faith. But most of all, I’m glad she told her story. Had I read this 10 years ago, I may be in a very different spot than I am now. I know I’m not the same girl I was in 1998 when I first picked up Kansas (nor do I want to be), but Knapp’s story hit home that you still hold onto faith and the belief that it’s okay to love who you love.
While there is much I could say about this book, I think I will simply say thank you. Thank you, Jennifer, for your music and for this book. It’s made a difference in my life more than I can ever put into words.
Librarian note: I do believe this book has high teen appeal. I would easily book talk this to teens in GSA groups. I know many teens have a hard time coming to terms with accepting themselves and holding onto God. Knapp speaks a lot about all the questioning and reconciling she had to go through to land where she did. Her words may just make the process for them, and loved ones, that much easier.