PASSIONATE ABOUT SCHOOL LIBRARIES

Tag: Gun violence

Book Review: Talking To Alaska

Talking To Alaska – Anna Woltz, Translated by Laura Watkinson – Oneworld Publications – Published 2 March 2021

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Synopsis

It only takes one day at their new school for Parker and Sven to become mortal enemies. Parker’s had a terrible summer and just wants to be invisible, while Sven is desperate to make an impression and be known as anything other than “that boy with epilepsy.”

When Parker discovers her beloved dog Alaska – who she had to give away last year – now belongs to Sven, she’s determined to steal Alaska back. Of course, that’s easier said than done…

My thoughts

I know first hand just how special Golden Retrievers are so I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story about two young people brought together by a very special dog

Day one of the new school year. For Parker and Sven, this is a massive first day and both have plans to make a positive impact on their classmates. Parker plans to stay stay under the radar and Sven wants to make a big impression, but, within just the first few hours both have made a slightly different impact than they were imagining. Parker is upset with Sven for making her introduction a big deal and for making fun of her and Sven is upset that everyone already knows him as “the boy with epilepsy.” When Parker learns that her beloved dog Alaska, who she has to give away last year, now belongs to a Sven, she declares war and decides to return Alaska to her rightful home.

Talking To Alaska is such an important middle grade novel. It talks about things that so many young people face – starting at new schools, the transition to middle school, making friends, and dealing with unkind comments from others. It also addresses other important topics that is so refreshing to see in middle grade fiction, including recovering from trauma and invisible disabilities.

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Book Review: Thoughts & Prayers

Thoughts & Prayers – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 29 September 2020

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Synopsis

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Except for the fact that a year ago, they all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher.

Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can as the world around them keeps moving. Thoughts and Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.

My thoughts

Thank goodness for this book. It is beautiful, insightful, reflective, powerful and conveys so much with such a simple, non-preachy style. Three teenagers. Three separate stories. And yet their lives crossed for just a few moments on one fateful day under a school staircase.

Claire, Eleanor and Brezzen survived the school shooting that killed a teacher and fellow classmates. They have each continued their lives, coping with the trauma and fallout in their own ways.

Thoughts & Prayers starts with Claire and her story. Part one starts with Claire and her brother having made a new life after moving towns. Claire is about to start at a new school. Each morning, she and her brother escape to a local skating park after hours – it’s the only time Claire can move without thinking about everyone around her and constantly scanning the environment. She meets three guys at the park, Leg, God and Dark. They seem like they could become friends, they are supportive of her need for space, cope with her panic attacks. But as she spends more time with them, there seems to be something wrong, a little off, with Dark and Claire knows the risks of not speaking up. Claire has an intriguing story and it brings such a powerful message of how hard it is to do the right thing – to even know what the right thing is. She risks everything to speak out, just as she would risk everything by staying silent. Her story is also about the debilitating panic, fear and gamut of emotions that can occur after experiencing such a traumatic event.

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Book Review: Accidental

Accidental – Alex Richards – Bloomsbury YA – Published 7 July 2020

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Synopsis

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

My thoughts

What would happen if you discovered you were the reason your mother was dead? That’s exactly what Johanna learns in Accidental. It’s a heartbreaking novel about family, death, grief, uncontrollable emotions, huge letdowns, and broken relationships, yet it is also about learning to breath again, hanging onto those friendships, mending relationships and letting go of others, about making a difference, fall in love and even making out.

Jo has always missed her mother, but respected the boundaries her grandparents have put in place – no talking about her, no photos, no memories. They put their life on hold to raise a granddaughter. But when Jo’s father suddenly appears in her life and tells her that she accidentally shot her own mother, Jo’s life is upended. Not sure what to do, not sure what to believe, Jo relies on her friendship and growing relationship with new student, Milo, to navigated the complex emotions she is feeling.

Gut punch comes to mind from the emotions in this book that feel so big and real. The roller coaster Jo rides from before she knew to the absolute devastation she feels after discovering the truth of her mother’s death is compelling. It’s messy and complicated. There are also so happy times. I loved the friendship she has with Leah and Gabby. Those two friends are there for her and even when they hit hard times, they stick together. Jo, despite everything she’s going through is a decent friend. All three girls must learn how to cope and support each other.

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Book Review: That Night

That Night – Amy Giles – HarperTeen – Published 23 October 2018

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Synopsis

One night in March, a terrible tragedy shakes the Queens neighborhood where Jessica Nolan and Lucas Rossi live.

The year since the shooting has played out differently for Jess and Lucas, both of whom were affected by that night in eerily similar, and deeply personal, ways. Lucas has taken up boxing and lives under the ever-watchful eye of his overprotective parents, while trying to put good into the world through random acts of kindness — to pay back a debt he feels he owes the universe for taking the wrong brother.

Jess struggles to take care of her depressed mother, with the help of her elderly next-door neighbor, and tries to make ends meet. Without her best friend, who’s across the country at a special post-trauma boarding school, and her brother, who died that night, Jess feels totally alone in the world.

When Jess and Lucas’s paths cross at their shared after-school job, they start to become friends… and then more.

Their community — and their families — were irrevocably changed by a senseless act of violence. But as Jess and Lucas fall in love, they’ll learn to help each other heal and move forward — together.

My thoughts

What happens when you survived but your brother didn’t? What do you do when your family is falling apart or panic grips you by the throat, when you are not sure why you were the one who survived? That Night by Amy Giles presents a unique perspective on gun violence, focusing entirely on the survivors and the emotional fallout from the loss. That Night is romantic and a powerful, emotional story of surviving and learning to live again.

Everything changed that night. Families. The way people looked at and treated you. You. A year ago Jess lost her brother in a shooting that shattered her world. Now her mother hardly gets out of bed and Jess needs to find a job to pay the bills. Lucas took up boxing after his brother sacrificed himself to save Lucas. But the boxing sometimes can’t control his panic attacks that seem to be increasing in frequency or the consuming guilt. Lucas and Jess are now tied together by tragedy, but when they start working together they find that shared memories might make for a wonderful friendship and even romance.

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Book Review: A Heart in a Body in the World

A Heart in the Body in the World – Deb Caletti – Simon Pulse – Published 18 September 2018

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Synopsis

When everything has been taken from you, what else is there to do but run?

So that’s what Annabelle does—she runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, through mountain passes and suburban landscapes, from long lonely roads to college towns. She’s not ready to think about the why yet, just the how—muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t outrun the tragedy from the past year, or the person—The Taker—that haunts her.

Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV and backed by her brother and two friends (her self-appointed publicity team), Annabelle becomes a reluctant activist as people connect her journey to the trauma from her past. Her cross-country run gains media attention and she is cheered on as she crosses state borders, and is even thrown a block party and given gifts. The support would be nice, if Annabelle could escape the guilt and the shame from what happened back home. They say it isn’t her fault, but she can’t feel the truth of that.

My thoughts

Achingly poignant and beautifully written, A Heart in a Body in the World is a book that everyone, man, woman and teen, must read. I truly do not have words adequate enough to describe both the importance and the beauty of this incredible story. It brought me to tears (multiple times), it had me on the edge of my seat, it had me raging at the world, and it had me smiling in hope and joy and hoping that maybe, just maybe, through stories such as these of strong, brave men and women, we can make a difference.

After everything that happened, everything that has been taken from her, Annabelle isn’t sure what to do. What can she do? So she runs. One night just takes off and starts running. She doesn’t have a plan, doesn’t expect her younger brother to create a route for her from Washington State to Washington DC. Doesn’t expect her mother to agree. Doesn’t expect her Grandpa Ed to travel with her in his RV as her support team. She also never expected to become an unwitting activist with a message to share. All Annabelle knows to do is to put one foot in front of the other – because after you’ve lost everything, what else can you do.

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