August 27, 2012
Amy and Roger may have known each other when they were little — their Mom’s are college friends — but at 16 and 19 they haven’t seen each other in years. Yet Roger may be the solution to her problems whether she likes it or not.
For the past month, Amy has been going through the motions. She goes to school without connecting with anyone and comes home to an empty house. Mom has already moved from California to Connecticut to start her new job. As the school year ends, Amy’s mom discovers she can’t afford to have the car shipped to Connecticut and buy Amy a plane ticket as well. The solution? Amy is going to take a road trip.
The problem is that Amy hasn’t driven since the day her father was killed in a car accident. Amy, who was driving, blames herself and she’s sure everyone else blames her too. Why else is she all alone? Not only can Amy not drive, she can’t even stand to be in a car.
Not to worry, Mom (as clueless as only an adult can be) has thought of everything. Roger too needs to travel East. He will drive and Amy will navigate. Understandably, Amy isn’t thrilled with the idea of traveling with someone she doesn’t know.
In spite of the many issues involved (Roger has his fair share), the two hit it off. They start discussing the many things they’d like to see and note that not a single one is on the itinerary prepared by Amy’s mother, not unless they take a detour.
I can’t really say much more about the plot without some killer spoilers and you really don’t want me to do that with this book. The journey, both in terms of geography and the growth of our two main characters, is amazing.
In spite of the low reading level, this is very much a teen book. Amy and Roger are both dealing with serious relationship issues and what is means to be a responsible adult. There’s a lot about knowing yourself and what it really means to know other people. It sounds like a heavy book, but it isn’t because the story is told with humor.
Amy and Roger are both well-rounded characters. They have their strengths as well as their weaknesses and I love the inserts throughout the book that show their play lists for the road trip. You learn a lot about them through their music and the little side notes they make in the journal Amy keeps.
The one character who seems a bit two-dimensional is Amy’s Mom. But then you only hear her through phone messages and phone calls. She’s a presence without actually being present. This probably won’t bother many young readers, all of whom will have met someone who is really like this.
I honestly don’t think I’ve done this story justice. It is as Epic as the title suggests. Pick it up and be ready for a great ride.
August 20, 2012
This was one of those books that pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. I just had to know what happened next and not a lot got done around here until I found out.
Keri is one of those people who has a plan for everything — she’s got first aid books and emergency preparedness guides. But the one thing she wasn’t ready for was her brother’s suicide and finding his body herself.
So she listens when a former friend walks up to her and says “If you want to find out who murdered your brother, follow me.” If she can prove it was murder, she can get revenge and Janna, former best friend, gets it. After all, they were still friends when Janna’s brother killed himself.
The two girls team up with Sione in order to find out who is behind all the deaths. At least once a year, a teen age boy dies in an apparent suicide. They life up and down the New Zealand coast and they cross racial and social boundaries. What doesn’t vary is that each and every one of them has spent New Year’s Eve in Summerton, the vacation destination where Keri and Janna live.
Unlike the other towns in their area, Summerton thrives. Where other places are being abandoned, the tourist industry means that Summerton residents always have work. In fact, people may leave town to go to school but they always, always come back.
I don’t want to say a lot more about the plot because it is so intricate and it is revealed just a bit at a time. I’d hate to ruin it for anyone. Suffice it to say that there have been murders, not everyone involved knows the whole story and magic can be both good and bad.
With a fifth grade reading level (see above), you may be tempted to hand this book over to a high-reading elementary student. Read the book yourself before you do this. It deals with some mature themes including sex and sexuality. There is violence — not a whole lot but some.
Teens will love this book because it is the teen characters who show the moral maturity needed to save the day. That said, it is a tough read in some places but I think it was harder for me because I’m a parent. Readers who have kids, especially teens, will get it. But what made it hard for me is what also makes the book honest and real.
August 13, 2012
Ella Kate Ewing was born in 1872. Her parents had a farm in Rainbow, Missouri where Ella Kate grew up and up and up. Her Papa had to bring a special desk to school for her because the others were all too small. She wore men’s shoes and her Mama made her dresses last longer by sewing extra fabric to the bottoms of the skirts.
Ella Kate’s first public appearance was a disaster. Her classmates had chosen her to recite the Declaration of Independence at a 4th of July Celebration for people from three different counties. Unfortunately, some of the strangers were more interested in Ella Kate’s appearance, she was almost 6 feet tall, then in her words. Overhearing their rude comments, she ran from the stage in tears.
This makes it even more surprising that Ella Kate ended up working in a Chicago Museum. She didn’t sell tickets or guide tours. Ella Kate was an attraction. For one month, she wore a long, fancy dress and people filed past staring up at her — she was now 7 feet tall. In one month, she made more than her Papa could make in one year on the farm.
Museums. World Fairs and more. These appearances allowed Ella Kate to do what few women at that time could do — she saw the world and made a living for herself.
This is a truly unbelievable story that I was surprised I hadn’t heard before. Kate Klise pulls readers in with this first person story. M. Sarah Klise created a series of acrylic paintings that help bring the story to life, showing the difference in size between Ella Kate and those around her.
Share this story with the young nonfiction lover in your life. It is perfect for discussing diversity, adversity and just what makes each and every one of us a valuable human being.
August 6, 2012
When I heard about this book, I knew I had to get a hold of a copy. Jewish pirates? Seriously?
But it makes sense if you know your history, and Rubin covers enough of the history to set the stage. Spain had an issue with anyone who wasn’t Catholic. Jews in Spain had two choices — flee or convert. Many fled to the Americas. The Laffite family lived in Haiti and then later New Orleans. Not surprisingly, Spain continued to make their lives difficult. As a result, many young Jewish men, even young men from good families, dreamed of becoming pirates. All a ship captain needed was a letter of marque, called a license, and he had permission to more-or-less legally harass the Spanish.
Jean grew up hearing stories from his older brother, Alexander. Alexander was a pirate and he told his younger brothers about his adventures vs Spain.
Jean also grew up with a loving Grandmother who wanted him to be a good person. She gave him a copy of the Jewish scriptures that he carried with him as an adult.
Jean became a pirate. He was a thorn in the side of Spain. In New Orleans, he was a leader among his fellow pirates and new the bayou better than anyone. When he learned from a spy that Britain intended to attack New Orleans he finally got Andrew Jackson to listen to him. With the help of Laffite and his pirates, Jackson successfully defended New Orleans against a much larger British force.
This is definitely a book that I would recommend for a variety of reasons:
- It doesn’t sugar coat being a pirate but it does also show that Laffite was not like many other pirates. There were things he wouldn’t do.
- It doesn’t ignore the slavery issue. When Laffite stole the cargo from Spanish ships, he sometimes ended up with human cargo. The fate of these slaves is not ignored or brushed aside.
- It shows Jean Laffite as a complex human being. He did things that seemingly went against his values but he loved his family. He was a leader as long as he got to do things more or less his way. See? Complex! Real.
This book would be a marvelous point of discussion on many topics from history to ethics. Although it is a picture book, it is just over 3000 words long. Between the topic and the length, this is clearly a book for older grade school students, not kindergartners.
Rubin takes a marvelously complex person and does not over-simplify him. She trusts the reader to be able to handle the complexity and the contradictions and, as a result, gives true insight into our nation’s history and the moral dilemmas we all face.