Book review: Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines, by Deborah Hopkinson

Hopkinson, Deborah. Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific. Scholastic Press, 2016. 367 pgs. Includes index. $17.99. ISBN: 978-0-545-42558-2. Gr. 6+. P7 Q9

I thoroughly enjoyed this book which concentrates on submarine action during World War II in the Pacific Ocean. Hopkinson narrates the stories with the use of maps, contemporary photographs, and sidebars in telling of the sailors and commanders of each submarine. She also includes information on the nurses who were evacuation from Corregidor and the removal of MacArthur from the Philippines. The reader is constantly aware of the risks that were taken and the lives that were lost.

Verdict: This book should be in all middle and high school collections. Dive is a must for history buffs to read.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.


Book review: Wires and Nerve: the Lunar Chronicles Series, by Marissa Meyer, illustrated by Doug Holgate

Meyer, Marissa. Wires and nerve : the lunar chronicles series. Illus. Doug Holgate. (Wires and nerve series, vol. 1) Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 238 pgs. $21.99. ISBN: 978-1-250-07826-1. Gr. 7+. P8 Q8

When I read this graphic novel, I did not realize that it continues the Lunar Chronicles series. There is a prologue, which sets the story up and introduces all the characters. The story flashes back and forth between the first books and this one. It does it so smoothly that I thought it was one story. The book stands on its own merits and I soon found myself intrigued by the well-developed characters and plot. The monochromatic illustrations, done in blue and white, give life to this futuristic science fiction story of two civilizations, on the Moon and on Earth.

Verdict: This story was a wonder. I found myself so absorbed that I hated for it to end. I think both books are better fitted for older students and feel they should be placed in all high schools, as some of the language and content are more mature.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Making Bombs for Hitler, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Making bombs for Hitler. Scholastic Press, 2017. 230 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-0-545-93191-5. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8

Lida is not Jewish and therefore should be safe, but she is not. She and her younger sister, Larissa, are taken from their home in the Ukraine and then separated by the Germans. Larissa’s story was told in the author’s previous book, Stolen Child. Blonde and blue-eyed, Larissa meets the Aryan specifications and is adopted by a German family. Lida, along with other children, is transported to a work camp in a cattle car. Only nine years old when she arrives, Lida is warned by a woman at the camp to lie about her age. The advice saves her life. The other children’s blood is drained from their bodies to be used to save the lives of German soldiers. The book is a horrific tale about the survival of a young girl in a Nazi work camp. Lida’s survives due to her determination to find her sister. She has several jobs in the camp, one of which was making bombs for Hitler and she determines to sabotage them.

Verdict: There is not a lot of information about German involvement in the Ukraine during WWII. This book could be used as a read aloud to introduce the atrocities of Nazi aggression during WWII.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Beck, by Mal Peet with Meg Rosoff

Peet, Mal with Meg Rosoff. Beck. Candlewick, 2017. $17.99. 261p. ISBN 978-0-7636-7842-5. Ages 14-Adult. P7Q10

From Liverpool (England) to America and across the Canadian prairie, biracial Beck travels through a life of abuse and violence as he searches for family. Nicknamed Chocolat in an early 20th-century orphanage after his white prostitute mother dies and his black sailor father had long ago disappeared, Beck is subjected to sexual abuse by a member of the Christian Brotherhood before he is sent be fostered as a child by a racist, rural farm family who only wants free labor. The book was partially written by noted English author Mal Peet before his death and then completed by award-winning Meg Rosoff. Together they chronicle Beck’s wandering as he briefly finds love before being forced out by circumstances. The solution is half-Scottish, half-Siksika Grace McAllister when Beck finds a home on her land and a domestic partner in the older woman.

Verdict: The brilliant writing with vivid settings and intense characterizations alternate between pain and hope. Beck was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2017, a British literary award that annually recognizes one outstanding new book for children or young adults.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Girl with Camera: Margaret Bourke-White, Photographer, A Novel, by Carolyn Meyer

Meyer, Carolyn. Girl with Camera: Margaret Bourke-White, Photographer, A Novel. Calkins Creek, 2017. $17.95. 234p. ISBN 978-1-62968-574-3. Ages 12-15. P5Q5

Bourke-White became one of the most famous photographers in the world, especially with images of the people suffering in the Dust Bowl and those in the midst of World War II, but she grew up planning to be a herpetologist. Meyer uses much of her narration to tell about her struggles with a stern mother who restricted her clothing and behavior before continuing with the protagonist’s perseverance in developing her chosen career. As a teen, “Peggy” was unpopular, but she learned to become glamorous as an adult and drew great attention that led to two different—and brief—marriages, one while in college and the other over a decade later to the novelist Erskine Caldwell. The book dwells on her passion for her subjects and her drive to accomplish whatever she set out to do. Two of her photos, including the magnificent first Life cover of Fort Peck Dam, are included.

Verdict: Although the subject is interesting, the author presents a flat, almost stereotyped character and concentrates on her earlier life. The later years are more glossed over, and her siblings receive little notice in the last decade of the book. The novel ends with World War II although a note gives brief biographical information about the last 25 years of her life. Teen readers who enjoy a dashing female protagonist in an historical setting may enjoy the book.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book reviews: Take the Key and Lock Her Up, by Ally Carter

Carter, Ally. Take the Key and Lock Her Up. (Embassy Row series, #3) Scholastic, 2017. $17.99. 327p. ISBN 978-0-545-65495-1. Ages 13-16. P5Q5

In the third—and final—volume of this series, the heroine, Grace, has found that she is the target of assassins because she will inherit the kingdom of Adria. With her own life in danger, she feels responsible for saving the lives of her brother and the young man she loves. The plot of the book surrounds her attempts to survive.

Verdict: Earlier Carter series were much stronger. This one almost seemed as though the author was either bored with the writing or didn’t like protagonist. Although Carter specializes in lack of realism, this book lacked believability, for example the characters’ escape from a secret Russian mental institution and the way that they can jet around the world without any parental interference. Grace’s behavior was overly dramatic and the romance forced. Editing might have helped. For example, the following sentence: “I don’t know what the drug is, but my body can feel it long before the syringe touches my skin.” The book is recommended for libraries with the first two volumes.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book reviews: The Facts of Life, by Paula Knight

Knight, Paula. The Facts of Life. [Graphic Medicine Series]. Pennsylvania State University Press. 2017. $24.95. 240p. ISBN 978-0-271-07846-5. Ages 15+. P7Q9

This graphic memoir addressing the issues surrounding the title—including a discussion about the importance of having children—begins with a discussion between children in the 1970s, best friends Polly and April. At that time, their ideas are confusing and often wrong, but the opinions about sex, reproduction, and gender norms are the basis for their attitudes as adults. As women’s opportunities expand, Polly’s career delays her plans to have children, further postponed by her choice of a partner. By the time that they make a commitment for Polly to become pregnant, they face difficulties too hard to overcome, and Polly’s dwelling on her loss forces her to consider her childless position in a society that defines family as parenthood. Knight, known an author of children’s books, presents large chunks of detailed medical information for her entry into a series for adults that explores medical issues.

Verdict: The complexity of the topics and the way in which she addresses them makes this book useful for older teens as well as its adult audience which shows the struggles of women trying to escape female stereotypic roles throughout the past half-century. The black and white images of the book enhance the themes, highlighting dilemmas and frustrations with dual representations showing the two sides of problems. Honest and poignant, Facts is a valuable addition to collections showing women’s struggles to be people not relegated to gender concepts and their exploration of personal values. To make the book accessible, Knight uses humor and wit in both the prose and drawings. The book is an excellent addition to both school and public libraries.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.