Revolution by Deborah Wiles

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Told from contrasting viewpoints, Revolution follows Sunny, a twelve-year-old white girl living in Greenwood, Mississippi, and Raymond, a black teenage boy also living in Greenwood in the 1960’s. Though they are roughly the same age and live in the same city, Sunny and Raymond’s experiences are vastly different. Sunny gets to go to the air-conditioned movie theater, swim in the city pool, and live in a nice house. Raymond is not allowed anywhere that white people go, and is not even able to play baseball on a field with lights. Amid this disparate setting, Freedom Riders arrive in Greenwood. With the mission of supporting integration and the newest Civil Rights act, these young people bring a storm of trouble to Mississippi. Sunny and Raymond are witness to this storm, and, over the course of the summer, their lives change forever.

So, this book is LONG. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, but it was long even for me. It’s split up so that it has two narrators (and sometimes a third, omniscient, storyteller) and non-fiction pieces are interspersed throughout the book. While I thought the non-fiction parts were pretty cool for the most part, I did feel like some of them were too long. For example, I don’t need an eight page biography on Lyndon Johnson when he’s not even in the book that much. I did like some of the testimonials from real Greenwood citizens, but some of those sections could have been cut out or shortened. Aside from its length and occasional boringness, this was a solid piece if you’re into the 1960’s and/or Civil Rights. Have patience with it (or just skip the non-fiction if you’re bored with it).

Rating: 3.5/5 

*National Book Award Finalist for Young Adult Literature, 2014

*YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2015

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

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Tomboy by Liz Prince

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Labeled as a “tomboy” from a young age, Liz struggles to find a place in a hyper-gendered world. In this unique graphic novel memoir, Prince chronicles her battle with mainstream society in all its awkward glory. With each humiliating, painfully real episode, Liz sheds much needed insight into the consequences of forcing gender on individuals, as well as highlights the need for each person to determine his/her gender identity independently.

I LOVED this book! It’s a graphic novel, so that automatically catches my attention, and it’s a memoir. I love hearing people tell their stories! Liz’s book was particularly good because she talks about what it’s like to not fit in because of the way others perceive you. Because of her looks, people call Liz a boy. Liz doesn’t see anything wrong with being a boy (in fact she likes doing “boy” things), but she’s still made fun of because of it. In short, Liz isn’t allowed to be herself because the way she is isn’t “normal”. It was sad to read some of the parts of her story, but I feel like this is also an important book. Through Liz’s story, readers can really see what it’s like for someone who doesn’t fit into a predetermine role — whether gender or otherwise. This book really got me thinking about how I look at and treat other people, as well as the ridiculous standards society/the media places on gender.

Rating: 5/5 

*Maverick, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

The President Has Been Shot: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson

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Swanson presents this in-depth look at the Kennedy assassination, complete with detailed diagrams of the book depository, the motorcade route, and Kennedy’s wounds. Aside from the assassination itself, the author also delves into Lee Harvey Oswald’s personal life, his affiliation with the communist party, and his suspected mental illness. Swanson makes good use of historical photographs (including stills from film reels) and organizes the piece so that it reads more like fiction than a historical work. This is a worthwhile piece to incorporate into lessons involving or related to the event.

I have to admit, I’m fascinated with the Kennedy assassination. I don’t know if it’s the tragedy of the situation, the national grief, the conspiracy theories, or just Jackie, but I’m always interested in learning more. This book is focused only on the assassination, so it goes into a good amount of detail about the event. There’s a lot of pictures, diagrams, and maps which are especially helpful in trying to figure out exactly what happened the day of the shooting. My only criticism of this book is that it takes a pretty rosy view of JFK and his administration. I’m not saying that JFK wasn’t a good president, but I am saying that the author intentionally ignored some of the shadier aspects of his history, family life, and presidency. If you’re interested in those juicier bits, I would recommend doing a little research — there’s some good stuff out there.

Rating: 4/5

*YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Finalist, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, and Treachery by Steve Sheinkin

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Though remembered by American history as the most notorious traitor of the American Revolution, Sheinkin’s work illustrates that Benedict Arnold was once a hero. Daring in battle and with an unbreakable will, the general won key battles for the Americans, but felt his achievements were ignored. Interestingly, the same impulsiveness and combative nature that made Arnold a military hero ultimately led him to betray his country. Sheinkin’s work is a well-researched, non-traditional look at Benedict Arnold which demonstrates to students that there are two sides to every story.

What I loved about this book was getting to see Arnold’s side of the story. So often, people are remembered only for the terrible things they do — no one thinks about why they did them. In a way, I could understand Arnold’s frustration with feeling unappreciated and ignored. The treachery, however, is the only thing he will be remembered for. While I loved the “other side of the story” aspect, this book was still boring. Some parts are action-packed and read like a novel, but there are plenty of parts that don’t. I’m actually surprised this won the YALSA nonfiction award. Then again, so did Charles and Emma. I recommend this book if you’re already a fan of the American Revolution, or interested in Benedict Arnold. It’s not as good as Sheinkin’s more recent work, though.

Rating: 3/5 

*YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, winner, 2012

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

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Using plenty of visuals, including historical photographs, log entries, official reports, and telegraph transcripts, Hopkinson presents this chronological telling of Titanic’s sinking. Rather than presenting a summary of events, the author focuses in on a few of the ship’s passengers, individuals ranging from 1st class to crew members, and imagines what their voyage was like through transcripts and personal accounts. The human-centered approach of this piece, along with the action surrounding the sinking, make this book a good recommendation for readers interested in the event or who are branching out to nonfiction.

I can’t lie — I love Titanic stuff. Way before it was even a big thing because of the movie, I was pretty obsessed. I’m still fascinated, so I was really looking forward to this piece. Unfortunately, it’s good, not great. I loved the subject matter, and loved how the author included viewpoints from all types of passengers (from crew to first class), but the writing itself was sometimes boring. The pictures were really cool, but just didn’t make up for the so-so writing. This is great book if you’re already interested in Titanic, or in history, but I don’t know if I would recommend it to someone just starting out in the genre.

Rating: 3.5/5

*YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Finalist, 2013

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

Show Off: How to Do Absolutely Everything. One Step at a Time by Sarah Hines Stephens and Bethany Mann

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This highly visual how-to book presents a wide variety of skills and projects. Everything from doing stunt tricks to baking “stained glass” cookies is covered. The authors use a step-by-step pictorial approach, allowing readers to see exactly how each project should progress. While the pictures are an excellent addition to this book, limited text is used and so readers may not get a sense of how the finished project comes together. Tips about successfully completing each project and mistakes to avoid are also missing.

The best thing about this book is that it includes SO many different types of projects and skills. Seriously. However, as awesome as the variety is, the layout can be confusing. Many of the instructions are in picture format only, with very little text to help guide you. Additionally, some of the stunts featured are pretty dangerous, but no safety guidelines are given! I definitely won’t be trying to bounce off a wall after reading the steps in this book. BUT, if you like how-to’s or if you just want to get ideas for your next project, this is a good place to start.

Rating: 3/5 

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Red Madness: How A Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow

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It’s probable that few young adult readers have even heard of the disease Pellagra, though it ravaged the South through much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jarrow presents readers with a glimpse into a world in which “germ theory” was finally being accepted as fact, “quack” doctors concocted poisonous “cures”, and the nation was scrambling to find a cure for the ugly disease which had just become rampant. Written as a mystery, Jarrow’s piece hold readers’ attention even through the more technical, scientific parts, and the ending may surprise readers as it illuminates why a well-known ingredient today became so common.

So this book was really good. I was unsure about it, because I usually don’t like science-y things and it’s about a scary/gross disease. BUT, it was really good. I liked the fact that it really does read like a mystery — there was more than one part when I was like “Oh, that’s what caused the disease”…but I was wrong. I have to appreciate that suspense in a nonfiction book! So, if you like medicine, science, weird diseases, history, or you just need a good nonfiction book, give this one a try! My biggest take away: I’m so glad they figured out the cause/cure for this disease!

Rating: 4/5

*School Library Journal, Best Books, Nonfiction, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.