Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

21490991: Title: The Boy in the Black Suit
Author: Jason Reynolds

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Book Summary:(via Goodreads) Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

Characters: Matt, Mr. Ray, Love, Chris, Matt's dad

What I Loved: This book is one of those rare gems that I can recommend with equal confidence to both male and female students. Matt, his friendship with Chris and Mr. Ray, his struggles with awkwardness with girls, his romance with Love, the gritty urban setting... these are all things that will appeal to a variety of readers. Matt is the kind of guy you want to bring home to mom (or in my case--you would like your daughter to bring home to you). He's genuine and charismatic. His struggles are real. Some readers may read the plot summary and think, "ugh... not another book about someone dying of cancer." However, Matt's way of handling his mother's death--his moments of both strength and weakness--are unique. Mr. Ray's character was definitely my favorite, and the things that Matt learns from him are universal lessons. This was just simply, a wonderful, well-written story.

What I could have done without:.  The one thing that I struggle with when writing about this book or book talking it to students, is that it is difficult to really tell what happens in the story. A lot of things happen, but there is no arching climax. When Matt and Love find out that they are connected by a fateful night--a horrible event for both of them, the plot sort of reaches its peak, but there's no rush of adrenaline like a reader may experience with other books. Rather, this story is full of little vignettes or events that carry the plot along in a fast enough pace to keep you going.

Final Grade: B+

Review by Nicky

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma


Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma

Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Series: Stand Alone

Source: Digital ARC Courtesy of Netgalley

Book Summary:(via Goodreads) The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.

Characters: Amber, Violet, Ori
What I Loved: There is a lot to love about this book, so I am going to try my best to do it justice without giving too much away (which is going to be difficult)!  First, I really like the multiple points of view.  I love hearing about an event from those involved, but when you hear it from two sides it really gives you a clearer picture of what is going on.  In the beginning of the book, we are introduced to Amber, who is an inmate in the Aurora Hills Juvenile Detention center. She tells us of life inside and how it changed when Ori arrived. Ori is the connection between Amber and Violet.  Her story is one that I still can’t forget.  Ori is just one of those girls/ characters that everyone loves.  She is well written, entirely believable, and kid that I could imagine at my school.  She is nice, thoughtful and someone who brightens the room when she walks in.  Then we meet her best friend Violet, who is the opposite in every way from Ori, and you are left wondering why, why would a sweet, nice girl be friends with someone who is obviously not.  Violet is hard, cold, and conniving-- a difficult character to connect with. But as her story is revealed, you are left to wonder, not why she was the way she was, but were the events that occurred to her what shaped her, and was this the person she was always going to be?  What surprised me was how big of a role bullying played in this book. It begins as teasing and then quickly escalates into much more.  It adds a sense of realism to the book-- a what would you do, how would you react type of situation. Although, personally, knowing Violet’s whole story does not make her in the least bit more likable for me.  I think that it will make a great book for discussion with my students.  What are you born to do, and how much of what happens to you in society changes you.  I also can’t wait for my students to read it because the ending….. OH MY!!!! I just need to talk about it with someone!!  
What I could have done without:.  The only thing I will say about this book is that at the beginning... it was confusing.  I won’t give it away, but I reread the first section of Amber’s story because I wasn’t getting it.  I think that when my students read it, I will just encourage them to keep going because it all does come together at the end!

Final Grade: B+

Review by Janine

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Big Books" Slatwall Display

"I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie"

I've seen this on several tee-shirts, especially at our yearly academic reading competition, so this display has been in the back of my mind for a while now.  I finally put it up for one of my April displays, and the kids (and teachers) love it.  The one problem is that the lettering is crooked and off-center, which as I sit here, is currently driving my bonkers.  I also feel like it needs "more." I don't know what kind of "accessories" you would add to this display, but it's a little too plain for my taste.

post by Nicky