Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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Genre: Realistic fiction

A 2013 ALA Notable Children’s Book (Middle Readers)

I was excited to read this book as it has gotten so much praise and good buzz, and I had it highly recommended by several trusted sources (thanks Michaela and Christina!) It did not disappoint.

Wonder is the story of Augustus, a fifth grader who enters school for the first time. Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity and has previously been home schooled due to ongoing medical issues. The story is told from several different points of view as Auggie completes his first year of school and covers the challenges and triumphs he encounters. Auggie’s story is one of friendship, loyalty, bullying, honesty, compassion, kindness, and courage in so many forms. I cried at the beginning, middle and end. I highly recommend it, for both adults and students – it would probably appeal most to students in grades 5-8. It is a bit long so would be best suited to strong readers in grades 5 and 6. This is also the first book I’ve reviewed that I believe would make an excellent addition to your curriculum as a major novel. It abounds with teachable moments and themes. It was one of the first books I reviewed that made me want to seek out more information about the author’s inspiration. Continue reading »


The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George

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Genre: Mystery/Supernatural

A 2013 Edgar Award Nominee 

The Edge of Nowhere is the first YA title from George, who is best known for her mystery novels featuring Inspector Lynley, which are now a BBC series. It centers around Hannah Armstrong, who immediately reinvents herself as Becca King in order to escape a murderous stepfather. The main plot point hear is that Becca can hear others’ thoughts – a trait she must keep hidden both to avoid detection from her stepfather and keep from bringing other conflicts upon herself. This becomes increasingly difficult as she is separated from her mother and left to fend for herself on Whidbey Island in the state of Washington. She finds help from a kind dog owner, a grandmotherly recovering alcoholic and the town delinquent, but finds herself once again at the center of the drama when a boy she has befriended is found wounded in the woods. Continue reading »


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Genre: Realistic Fiction

A 2013 Americas Book Award Commended Title

A 2013 ALA Notable Book for Children

I’m going to divide my review into two sections – one without spoilers, one with – because I can’t really say what I want to say without giving the end away.

No spoilers:

This book has been winning awards left and right and the author just won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, which is pretty prestigious. I know  it’s getting a lot of attention because it’s a young adult book about homosexuality – the only YA novel I know of that has this as a main plot point, although there are others? probably? just not as prominent? – but that kind of cheapens it. That’s the great part about it – it’s a book about discovering/coming to terms with being gay (yourself or a loved one) but it’s a complete story that’s about a lot of other things too. That’s just one of its topics, just like in life. Gay people are not one dimensional, and neither are these characters or this story. (I apologize if my language in this review is imprecise. I know some people say being gay is something they always know, while others have to discover it as they mature.) Continue reading »


Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

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Genre: Realistic/historical fiction

A 2012 Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature Honor Book

Jasper Jones was one of those books I wanted to start recommending before I had finished reading. This is what young adult fiction should be.

Jasper Jones is the store of Charlie, a teenage boy growing up in a small Australian mining town in the 1960s (of particular interest to me as my sister currently lives in a small, rural Australian mining town). When the town delinquent, Jasper Jones, shows up at his window one night, Charlie makes the pivotal choice to follow him, and as a result becomes caught up in…well, a lot. A town scandal/mystery. A personal and moral crisis. A search for justice on many levels. The solution to the book’s mystery won’t leave anyone reeling, but by the end, everything has come together so gracefully it feels satisfactory. The writing is beautiful, descriptive and readable. Continue reading »


My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

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Genre: Graphic novel/biography/true crime/fictionalization

Winner 2013 Alex Award, the ALA’s award for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults.”

My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel covering the adolescence of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.  The story is written by a high school friend of Dahmer and is based on personal recollections from the author and other of Dahmer’s peers, as well as other source material such as news articles and FBI interviews of Dahmer. Continue reading »