Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another. – Goodreads
Oh hey, guys. Remember me? I read books sometimes and then review them here? Should I reintroduce myself? Hi, I’m Tina and I’m a bad book blogger. (Hi, Tina.)
I’m not sure what made me pick up the book. The summary was intriguing. Death, secrets, a family that doesn’t talk. Unreliable narrators abound. And it sucked me right in. I read half of it in a day. This is the story of the Lee family, and I do mean the entire family, as the narrative will weave in an out of different viewpoints while remaining in the third person POV. Lydia is dead at the beginning of the book, and we very slowly start learning the history of this family and being discovering all their secrets. It’s the 1970s, and women are newly liberated, so to speak, becoming doctors and scientists, but Marilyn Lee is a housewife. It’s a life she never saw for herself, and she struggles, but she makes do by pouring all her effort into showing Lydia she can have a different kind of life. Marilyn does this at the expense of her other children, especially Hannah. James Lee is the son of immigrants, and while he’s young all he wants is to fit in, but when he’s older, he seems to seek out similarity. There aren’t too many Asians in small-town Ohio in the 70s, and people frequently refer to James and his children as “Oriental” or “the Orientals.” Racism abounds in this novel, and even Marilyn had a pretty gross reaction when she first met James. (Oh, a Chinaman. He doesn’t speak like I thought he would. “So solly.” It was awful.) Marilyn’s mother disowns her for marrying James. James’ parents are dead. And these two are not great parents themselves. Pouring everything into one child at the detriment of the others. Hannah’s point of view is particularly sad, like when she goes to reach for her mother’s hand and Marilyn pulls it back, or when Hannah tentatively lays her head on Nath’s shoulder, because whenever she tries to get close, they move away. James is hard to like when thinking about his son, who, at seven years old, is obsessed with space and rockets. James can’t help but be annoyed by this, even hitting him once for it, and makes backhanded comments all the time. These people are kind of awful. They’re hard to like, but easy to empathize with, if you feel you can get past their selfishness.
Lydia is dead and the family is unraveling. James is locking himself in his office at the university, Marilyn is convinced that someone kidnapped Lydia and killed her, Nath is angry, Hannah is silent. They are all coming to terms with Lydia’s death, and they are all realizing that they did not really know her.
This book is about love, suffocating as it might be, loss, loneliness, and anger. Everyone is so angry, and everyone just tamps it down. They don’t ever talk about anything. They keep everything to themselves until it boils over and they self-destruct. More than Lydia’s death, this is a book about discovery. Every character goes through a major character revamp throughout the course of the novel, and I love how Ng gives us little glimpses into the future. This is a great one.
What would you do if your country was counting on you to deliver a message? That’s sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington’s urgent mission.
In 1777, Sybil and her family believe the American colonies should be free from British control. Sybil’s father leads a regiment of New York militiamen, and everyone in the family is dedicated to the Patriot cause. Using spy tactics and codes, the Ludingtons gather intelligence, hoping to stay one step ahead of their enemies. When British troops raid nearby Danbury, Connecticut, Sybil gallops through the night to call out her father’s men. But the journey is dangerous for a girl who’s all alone. With obstacles at every turn, will she make it in time to stop the British?
Based on a True Story books are exciting historical fiction about real children who lived through extraordinary times in American History– Goodreads
Sybil Ludington is a nice little middle school novel about the Revolutionary War. Where I fell into problems with it is for the longest time I fought the book. Was it non-fiction? Was it fiction? Was it fiction trying to be non-fiction? Was it non-fiction trying to read as fiction? Generally I have a clear picture within the first few pages. This book I did not peg for quite sometime. There wasn’t anything wrong with it. I just had to figure out my bearings while reading it.
That being said, it was a good book. Sybil Ludington tells the story of a girl in the American Revolutionary War who got pulled into the struggle because she wanted to help, but couldn’t based on the fact that she was a female. Sybil also uses her being a female to her advantage. She helps her father’s regiment via being a spy but of course not being seen as a spy.
Once I got over my is this fiction? Is this non-fiction? hurdle, I ultimately was thrilled to read this book. That being said, while, I personally struggled with Sybil Ludington I believe it could be a solid addition to a middle school library.
Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it. – Goodreads
This is the final book required for my literacy class and it was one of my favorites. Esperanza Ortega is a privileged girl on her father’s ranch. She has grown up with servants and nice clothes, horses and dolls, everything handed to her. Until her father is killed. Her uncles try to force Esperanza’s mother into some things, so they flee for California, where the land of opportunity awaits. Of course, it’s not exactly what it seems either. Esperanza is privileged, like I said, and spoiled and prejudiced. She treats “peasants” with some scorn, she has never bathed herself without the help of a female servant, and she is startled when one of the field worker’s sons points out that the lighter skinned Mexicans are top tier and the rest work. She doesn’t seem to understand that her family is fleeing to California to work, not continue the life they had in Mexico. She’s bratty, but it’s almost endearing, because you know what’s coming next, and you know it will change her.
Like all the books I had to read for this class, Esperanza Rising is a coming-of-age tale. Esperanza has to leave her old life behind and become someone else, which isn’t easy when other girls call you “Cinderella” and you don’t even know how to sweep a platform. Esperanza also has to try to understand foreign terms like “strikes” and is presented with the other side of the Mexican civil war, the side of those who tried to bring men like her father down. It’s a lot of change happening at once for a thirteen-year-old girl, and I felt enormously sorry for her. But she does rise. Oh, does she rise.
When her mother is sick, Esperanza takes to the fields. She becomes one of the best workers. She transforms. She becomes a real person. She endures hardships, and loss, and sadness. She grows and doesn’t hold onto any grudge or hate. This story was inspiring and eye-opening. One of the best stories I’ve read all year.
When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.
Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength. – Goodreads
You know it’s going to be rough when even the summary describes the story as “heart-wrenching.” Newbery winners make me cry every. Single. Time. Having a baby has made me go soft, I’m afraid. The “free verse” style of writing makes it a little hard to read on an ereader, but it was fine otherwise. I am not the biggest fan of books written in verse, but this one wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It could have been written with dialect (shudder).
I find the whole history of the Dust Bowl really heartbreaking and frustrating, since we did it to ourselves. People basically farmed their way into this period of time, and people starved, were choked by dust, and the land didn’t recover until decades later. So whenever I read anything about this period (based in fact or not), I get this feeling of dread while I wait for something terrible to happen. Billie Jo’s father is a farmer in a place that hasn’t been able to harvest decent crops in three years, and her mother is pregnant. This cannot end well, can it? It’s a Newbery winner. Someone is going to die. And someone does. Two someones. And it’s terrible, and Billie’s Jo’s guilt. Well. That’s almost worse.
I didn’t want to read this at first because I knew it would be a punch to the feelings, but that’s what really made it work for me in the end. It’s a quick read, like all these required books have been, but it’s hard to rate it highly because it’s a story that hurts. Death and the Great Depression spares no one, old, young, animal, or human. I got used to the “free verse” style the book was written in, and as a novel that will be used to teach younger kids history, and how to relate, and the horrors that sometimes live in our collective pasts, I think it does more than just a good job.
Sarny, a female slave at the Waller plantation, first sees Nightjohn when he is brought there with a rope around his neck, his body covered in scars.
He had escaped north to freedom, but he came back–came back to teach reading. Knowing that the penalty for reading is dismemberment Nightjohn still retumed to slavery to teach others how to read. And twelve-year-old Sarny is willing to take the risk to learn.
Set in the 1850s, Gary Paulsen’s groundbreaking new novel is unlike anything else the award-winning author has written. It is a meticulously researched, historically accurate, and artistically crafted portrayal of a grim time in our nation’s past, brought to light through the personal history of two unforgettable characters. – Goodreads
Yet another book read for my literacy course. My professor calls these books YA, but they are most definitely on the younger side of middle grade. Which is fine. I love middle grade just as much as YA. This is the first novel that’s really dealt with a heavy social issue. It’s written by a white man, which I tend to be wary of, not because white people can’t write about the experiences of people of color, but because I feel as though a lot of the time, white people don’t have the information or emotional experience to give any justice to that character. This book is full of dialect, and the narrator, Sarny, repeats herself a lot. For example, in the first chapter: “But it ain’t so that I’m dumb. I’m just quiet and they be thinking because I don’t make noise and go twattering all the time that I be dumb. But I ain’t. I just be so quiet and listen all the time that I learn things.” Dialect drives me nuts, so I had to get used to it at first. This book is all of 112 pages, and a good quarter of that is a sort of book club discussion they have in the very back. So it’s a quick read, if you can decipher what Sarny is saying.
We learn first that Sarny’s mother, who she doesn’t remember, was sold when Sarny was four. Sarny calls her mother her “birthing mammy” and refers to some of the slave women as “breeders.” This made me unbearably sad. Humans are not “breeders.” A lot of horrible things are described in this book: rape, physical violence, abuse. We all know that slavery existed, but to read about it up close is pretty awful. So this book isn’t a fun read, but it is quick, and it’s important, and it will probably stick in the minds of the younger kids who read it. People are punished and maimed for something we take for granted, something some of us don’t even enjoy: reading. Nightjohn is punished in terrible ways, Sarny herself is hurt, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to learn and it doesn’t stop John from wanting to teach.
The message of this book is kind of complex. It’s about slavery overall, the injustice, the horror, the brutality, but it’s also about a young girl on the brink of womanhood. A young girl who learns about the power of letters and the power of a man willing to escape then come back just so he can teach.
Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year’s best contribution to children’s literature and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction!
Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is “grounded for life” by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets.
But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack’s way once his mom loans him out to help a feisty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his Utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launched on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder.
Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air. – Goodreads
Add another to the list of class-required reading! Newbery Medal books pretty much never disappoint, and a lot of them actually end up being a part of our larger cultural narrative (The Giver, anyone?). Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed my first required novel, at least not at first. I loved Miss Volker and the snappy dialogue, but any book that’s written in dialect or dated slang is not my taste. Since this book was set in the 1960s, the dated slang is out of control, and it drove me crazy reading it. The plot and narrative, however, are definitely deserving of their Newbery Award, and as the story went on, I started getting more and more into the story.
Jack Gantos lives in poverty in what was once a Utopian-esque town set up by Eleanor Roosevelt. His father is a war veteran who is frequently away for work (and refers to everyone as “Commies”) and his mother spends her time making food for the needy. They cannot afford a $3 ticket, and they certainly can’t afford a medical procedure for Jack’s mysterious and frequent nosebleeds. Jack is grounded for the summer, only allowed to leave his room to help Miss Volker write obituaries for town residents. There are all sorts of weird things happening around Norvelt though, and Jack is caught up in them despite his eternal grounding.
Miss Volker had my heart because she was a feminist with anarchist leanings, but I really grew to love Jack. Witty, bloody-nosed Jack, grounded for life, afraid of dead people, lover of books and war movies. His adventures and growth made this book such a fun read, and the mystery of it all helped too. This book fully deserved its award, as all Newbery winners do. It’s a quirky little read that might take some getting used to at first, but it’s worth anyone’s while to do so.
In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.
After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love. – Goodreads
I’m a Sara Gruen fangirl. I’ve read everything she’s wrote, including Water for Elephants, before it was a movie, or popular (because I’m a book hipster). I’m very protective of Water for Elephants in a ridiculous way. This is all to say that Gruen’s writing will carry me through stories that I may not be interested in normally — including one about the Loch Ness Monster. Sorry, I don’t get the appeal of Nessie.
What was interesting about At the Water’s Edge was the fact that it wasn’t really about the search for the Loch Ness Monster, Nessie was on the backburner a lot. This book was more about Maddie’s growth and ooh boy is there a lot of growth in this book. How could there not be with a backdrop of World War II and Scotland? Who during World War II heads towards the war, and not away from it? Maddie, her husband Ellis and his friend Hank. Ellis and Hank aren’t fighting in the war themselves due to color blindness and having a flatfeet. All three of them, in their own way, are fighting their own demons — their own Nessie.
Ellis, Hank, and Maddie all fall apart throughout this novel. The close group breaks apart and is a shadow of who they once were. Everyone in their own way is an asshole and that’s what makes the dynamic interesting. While not all characters redeem themselves, there is some redemption which makes reading it worth while. What also made it worth while was listening to it. The narrator was amazing.