By Stephanie Barden
Shoes, wicked stepsisters, best friends who maybe aren’t even your friends anymore, a new girl in school who you hope will be your new best friend, and an upcoming dance recital that you simply must have the lead role in or, or … well you don’t even want to think about what will happen if the part goes to one of your former BFFs! Whew! These are some of the dilemmas facing Cinderella Smith. However will she solve them?!
Cinderella Smith is a delightful mix of one part Junie B. Jones for her sassiness, in a good way, a dash of Babymouse for the self-doubt that weighs in on young girls, and a sprinkling of Fancy Nancy throughout the story for new words, especially the really cool ones like “flummoxed” on page 53. Middle grade girls will want to stay up to read well past their bedtime to find out how or if Cinderella is able to solve all her problems and who will be her friends through thick and thin.
I had a special connection with Cinderella because like a lot of girls, young and not so young, I have a passion for all things shoes. Each time Cinderella lost a sole mate I felt a lump in my stomach for her. I tried to picture myself in her shoes or rather “shoe” and how I would feel if I lost even one! Uggh, the sleepless nights would be intolerable.
Cinderella Smith is Stephanie Barden’s first book. She has written a fun and engaging story with realistic characters for middle grade girls who maybe haven’t found the just-right book yet. And, if they like this one, which I’m confident they will, there are two more books due to be released. Cinderella Smith and the More the Merrier, will come out in 2012 and a third one yet to be schedule for a publication date.
|Guys Read: Funny Business
By Jon Scieszka
Hey, guys, are your parents and teachers telling you to read a book or two or three this summer but reading even one is like climbing Mr. Everest? Aren’t there any books with fewer than 200 pages that don’t have baby pictures on the front? I mean, really, who wants to read about the same characters aaallll summer long? Well, Guys, I have just the answer to all your reading woes. It’s called Guys Read: Funny Business. Now, before you run for cover because there are 268 pages in this one book, take a closer look at the table of contents. That’s right. There are 10 individual stories, each one by a different author. And, another bonus is that each story is only 20 – 30 pages long. How cool is that?! You don’t have to spend your entire summer with the same characters, in the same location trying to solve the same ol’ problems. Oh, and the main characters are all within the 10 – 14 age range. But that’s only for the ones who actually tell us their age. The others, well, it doesn’t really matter because they each have something you can relate to.
Now a little more about the stories themselves. They’re funny, they have surprise endings, they’re quirky, and each one is very different from the one before, and you can read them in any order. In fact, read the last one first and the first one last, even. One of my favorites was “A Fistful of Feathers” by David Yoo. At the beginning of the story I felt sorry for Sam, the main character. He was very misunderstood by his father. As I got to know the characters, the father became the odd and peculiar one who was misunderstood. Events happen that make you wonder who is the crazier one, Sam, his dad, or Travis, their Thanksgiving Day turkey. In the end, well, you’ll have to read it to find out.
My second favorite was “What? You Think You Got It Rough”, by Christopher Paul Curtis. Perhaps you’ve heard of the books, The Watsons Go to Birmingham or Bud, Not Buddy. He wrote those, too. I’m a fan of Mr. Curtis’ work and his short story left me wishing this wasn’t a short story. What I especially enjoyed were the words Mr. Curtis chose. He brought his characters to life in his usual fashion.
For example, Gramps or Papa Red as he was called in the story, is a real character with depth, emotions, humor, and a lot of life lived in him. He’d been around for a long time and he wasn’t going to let anyone forget that. He’s an ornery old man, but you can’t help liking him, too. I felt like I was in Flint, Michigan, sitting right there in the room - the fly on the wall - with Papa Red. What a great place to be in a Christopher Paul Curtis story. This is one I could read again and again.
I hope I’ve sparked your interest in reading this book. And, remember, the short stories are all by authors who have written full novels. You might find you like one in particular and go in search of their other books. I’m just sayin’.
By Edeet Ravel
Chloe Mills is 17, adventurous and has just been abducted while on vacation in Greece. After fighting with her best friend and taking off to explore some remote temple ruins, Chloe is unexpectedly blindfolded, drugged and taken to an abandoned warehouse where she is to remain until the hostage-taker’s demands are met. Held is a gripping look at the struggles of a teenage girl as she lives for months on her own, without her friends or family and relying on her own imagination and fears of what is to come.
This is not a typical hostage story, though, and Chloe is far from a typical hostage. She makes demands of her captor, being willful and stubborn, and she eventually falls in love with him. But is this just another case of Stockholm Syndrome or the real thing? Her unnamed kidnapper reminds her that she is just stressed, lonely and scared and that she will cling to any human companionship. But her feelings and determination lead both of them to a strange place of trust and mutual respect.
The book is exciting and compelling, drawing attention not only to the Chloe’s plight as a hostage, but also to the strange dynamics that develop in relationships. Chloe and her captor will give the reader a lot of food for thought. And aside from the intermittent inclusion of articles and Facebook feeds that draw the reader out of the story, Ravel weaves together a complex and disturbing narrative. Held is most suitable for teens 13 and up, as some scenes may be frightening to more sensitive readers.
By Laura Langston
What boy doesn’t like a story of fast cars and high stakes? Okay, there are some of us out there. And of course there are a lot of girls who like stories about fast cars and high stakes. Laura Langston’s Last Ride is solid fare for those who like high stakes and fast reads. The story follows Tom Shields, a 16-year-old struggling with a difficult past, the death of a friend and his own increasing guilt. After his friend Logan is killed, Tom promises himself and Logan’s girlfriend that he will never race again.
But everything changes when his boss calls in a big loan; finances at home are getting tight for Tom and his mother. When a new guy shows up on the scene and money troubles continue to escalate, the only way Tom can think to get cash fast is to go back to racing. But the ghosts of his former racing days are haunting him and time is running out. Tom has to decide if he needs the cars, the racing and the fame, or if he is better off to honor his promises and debts to rid himself of his past. [haunting and past used twice in two sentences]
Langston’s prose is quick and well-paced without losing the complexity of a solid story. Tom is an engaging, likeable character with whom teens will be able to identify. The boss is slightly stereotypically “bad guy” but he is peripheral enough that it does not really matter. Tom’s struggle to reconcile his past mistakes and face the consequences is a lesson that everyone has to go through in life, and Last Ride shows that it is possible to face off against these consequences without compromising integrity.
|This Thing Called the Future
Cinco Puntos Press
This Thing Called the Future is a noble effort to tell the story about AIDS in South Africa from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl. Khosi is fearful of the epidemic that plagues her country and the power it has over humanity. She does everything in her own power to ward off the evil disease. She’s studious, obeys her elders, cares for her younger sister, and never strays from the straight and narrow path she believes will keep her in good graces with the gods - all of them. Khosi is torn between following the science of modern medicine, after all, there are pills to help treat the deadly disease. Or, follow the century old traditions of faith healers and sangomas with their herbal potions and remedies. Eventually, Khosi must choose which faith to believe in when her mother contracts AIDS. A side plot is Khosi’s tween crush on Little Man Ncobo. He’s handsome and polite and nothing like the other male figures in her hometown. He keeps her safe from the wandering eyes and hands of the street riff-raff. There is one scene that alludes to an unfortunate event for Khosi, but this is one time when “story-light” works. Graphic scenes of horribleness are not always wanted in a YA novel nor are they necessary.
J. L. Powers skimmed the surface of a heavy subject matter. The story’s characters and plot have the makings for deeper problems and conflicts, but alas, This Thing Called the Future, does not reach its full potential. I would suggest this book as a light realistic fiction piece about life in South Africa when AIDS first made its horrific appearance as a serious epidemic. If you have even the slightest interest in the subject matter, this would be a good introduction to further readings.
|Selected and reviewed by the Keen Readers team; these are not sponsored reviews.|