Book review: Out of the Wild Night, by Blue Balliett

Balliett, Blue.  Out of the Wild Night.  Scholastic, 2018.  ISBN 978-0-545-86756-6. $17.99. 291 pages.  Ages 9-13.  P7 Q6

A paranormal novel based on the history of the architecture on Nantucket Island.  Balliett does an amazing job describing the houses on Nantucket Island and how the heart, and in this case, actual spirits, of deceased Nantucketans (I made up that word) are imbedded within the planks and posts the houses are made of.  Not necessarily the foundation of the house, or the shell, but what makes up the entire inside.  The tragedy is these homes are being gutted and rebuilt for a more modern interior by people moving out to the island from the mainland, and have no attachment to the rustic, low ceilinged interior.  The souls of the generations of people within these homes are lost forever once a home has been gutted and rebuilt.  The premise of the novel is pretty passionate, but the novel doesn’t deliver a passionate message.  I experienced mild anger and then moved on.  Additionally, I had a problem with perspective.  I often questioned what was happening to the individual at the time in the story.  Once I got to the end of the book this made more sense and I reread the beginning with my new found understanding.  It was still rough going and I still have questions.

Verdict:  A good ghost story with a passionate premise, but Balliett doesn’t deliver her vision to the reader.  In her attempt to add intrigue, Balliett only created confusion.

May 2018 review by Terri Lippert

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Book review: One True Way, by Shannon Hitchcock

Hitchcock, Shannon. One True Way. Scholastic, 2018. 213 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9781338181722. Ages 10-14. P7Q7

Allie: Seventh grader, recently lost her beloved older brother in a car accident, which threw her parents into conflict, mother moved the family from New Jersey to small town North Carolina for a new job as the town librarian leaving Allie’s father behind.

Sam: aka Samantha, tomboy, family belongs to a large evangelical church, loves sports (especially basketball) and her coach.

Two girls meet on Allie’s first day at a new school and become close friends—and possibly more than friends. But as Allie learns more about her new town, ugly rumors accuse the school coach and the English teacher of being lesbians.  To save her beloved coach from her mother’s church, Sam gives up basketball and cannot meet Allie after school. Allie talks with her mother about her feelings for Sam, but her mother reacts badly.  Fortunately for Allie, the woman minister at her church is open and supportive, but coming to grips with all her problems takes time and the stress comes between Allie and Sam.

Verdict:  Stories about young lesbians for middle grade readers are still rare, and One True Way is a welcome addition.  Although set in the South in the 1970’s, there is little mention of the major news stories of the time and the town population seems overwhelmingly white. The contrast in how different churches approached the topic of homosexuality is front and center.  Allie, as a character, copes realistically with her grief over her brother’s death and exhibits grace and maturity as she navigates coming out to herself and her parents, especially when faced with her mother’s disapproval.  Some reviews noted that this comes close to becoming a trope of the coming out story, but I think that the presence of supportive adult characters mitigates this. Highly recommended for middle to high school and public library collections.

June 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Serpent’s Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, illustrations by Vivienne To

DasGupta, Sayantani. The Serpent’s Secret. Illustrations by Vivienne To. (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series, book 1). Scholastic, 2018. 338 pages. $17.99. ISBN 9781338185706. Ages 9-14. P8Q7

Parsippany, New Jersey sixth grader Kiran’s twelfth birthday brings monsters—huge, snot-dripping rakkhosh—instead of cake and the expected party, along with two princes, and the abduction of her parents, leading her into a multi-dimension adventures based, in part, on tales from Bengali folklore.  Flying horses, classes by Einstein, and the discovery that her father is the infamous Serpent King, make Kiran’s hero’s journey a delight.

Verdict: Kiran is a delightful contradiction—an all-American bi-cultural preteen  whose intelligence, empathy and physical courage allow her to save the princes as often as they rescue her.  My one caveat is that, though author thanks the proofreader, there is a consistent error. The word for the long straps leading from the bit of a bridle is “rein”—not “reign”—which is misused throughout the book.  (I hope this will be corrected in the expected sequels and in later printings of this most excellent fantasy.) Highly recommended for elementary, middle and public library collections.  This one is fun.

June 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You!, by Marley Dias

Dias, Marley. Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You! Scholastic Press, 2018. 187 pgs. $14.99. ISBN 9781338136890. Ages 10+. P7Q8.

When teenager Marley Dias expressed frustration at not seeing characters she could identify with in the books assigned at school (books about girls of color), her mom challenged her to do something about it. She took up the challenge, and the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign was the result: she identified and collected 1000 books with black, female characters, and helped get the books into the hands of others. Marley Dias Gets It Done and So Can You! is a readable, personal description of her life, her family, and her approach to activism, and is full of good advice and humor. She talks about using social media to engage others and build interest, about research techniques, about the importance of literacy, about evaluating resources, and a hundred other things. While the focus is on African American girls, any other young person who has felt marginalized or left out will find it useful and inspirational. The book is bright and cheerful, with engaging photos of Marley.

VERDICT: This book is an important tool for young people who are realizing how powerful their voices can be when they are motivated to make change. It seems especially timely after the Florida school shooting and the intense public reaction from youth across the nation that resulted. I think school and public libraries should have this in their collections.

June 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Sink or Swim, by Steve Watkins

Watkins, Steve. Sink or Swim. Scholastic Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-338-05790-4. $16.99. 247 pages. Ages 10+. Q8P8

A historical novel based on the true U-boat threat on the Eastern Coast and the 12 year old who served in the navy in place of his brother.  I really liked this book because of the historical facts around the German U-boat threat on the Eastern Coast of the United States.  I also liked how the author made the story plausible even though a 12 year old, who admittedly looks older, wouldn’t typically deceive the Navy.  Interesting to see the author’s perception on how something like that could have happened.  Also describes the fear and tragedies caused by war but at an appropriate level for the intended audience.

Verdict:  A great way to highlight an aspect of World War II not commonly known, and an underage fighter who helped protect our country and the rights of others.

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Unschooled, by Allan Woodrow

Woodrow, Allan. Unschooled. Scholastic Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-338-11688-5. $16.99. 278 pages.  Ages 9+. Q7P8

This story is set in a modern day elementary school where all the 5th grade classes compete through school spirit and unity for an undisclosed prize.  The story highlights the positives and negatives of competition and how friendship can prevail if we can find it within ourselves to own our mistakes and apologize.  I really loved how the author captured several personality types including competitive, non-competitive, sensory processing eccentricities, and possible gender confusion.  I thought several aspects of the story–pranks performed by half of the 5th graders on the other half to undermine their ability to win that day’s competition–itself were far-fetched even though the author added young adult assistance to make them more believable.  I’m sorry, but putting slime in everyone’s locker, through the slats, within an hour of devising the plan is a little unbelievable to me.  Where do you get that much slime?  Not to mention the destruction to the materials inside.  I also feel the adults in the story were dumbed down to make the story-line believable.  This detracted from the ingenuity of some of the pranks and the story itself.

Verdict: A funny, heartfelt book about the strength of true friendship and the power of the word “sorry”.  Some aspects are pretty far-fetched and detract from the story.

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Restart, by Gordon Korman

Korman, Gordon.  Restart.  Scholastic Press, 2017.  ISBN 978-1-338-05377-7.  $16.99.  243 pages.  Ages 9-12.  Q8P8

The main character, Chase, is a middle school student who suffers a head injury which gives him amnesia.  He cannot remember a thing about himself prior to the accident.  This turns out to be a good thing since Chase wasn’t a very nice guy.  Chase wonders why some of the kids at school clearly love him and others are afraid of him.  It’s interesting to hear Chase’s thoughts regarding who loves him and who hates him.  Additionally, due to his amnesia, Chase is able to look at his father objectively and realize he does not have to become the man his father wants him to be.  I love how Mr. Gordan captures the mentality and emotions of the bully and the bullied and how he allows both to change and grow and not be defined by their previous experiences, whether they remember them or not.

Verdict:  Lots of self-discovery in this painfully accurate middle school setting.

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.