Book Review: See You in the Cosmos

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 3.22.59 PMSee You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng is an interesting story told in an interesting way. The protagonist and narrator is eleven-year-old Alex Petroski. He sets off from his home in Colorado to attend a rocket festival in New Mexico, but then his quest morphs into a search for his “maybe dad” in Nevada.

Along the way, he records the details of his journey along with his observations and musings on a golden iPod that he intends to launch into space so that aliens can know what life on Earth is like. The novel is a transcript of these audio recordings. That fact, as well as Alex’s unique way of looking at the world, give the book an unusual style. Once I got used to it, I enjoyed it, and I expect it would be even more fun as an audiobook.

I would recommend this book more to adults than to kids, though. Because the story is told through Alex’s innocent point of view, the reader is left to infer what’s really going on in his life (for example, that his mother is suffering from a mental illness).

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Book Review: The Boy From Tomorrow

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 2.24.55 PMThe Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis is a time travel story with a twist. Josie and Alec are both twelve years old. They both live at 444 Sparrow Street in the same small New York town. They communicate with each other all the time, but they’ve never met in person.

The reason: Alec lives in 2015, while Josie lives in 1915. They originally make contact through a ouija board belonging to Josie’s mother, a famous psychic medium, and they find a good friend in each other just when they need one the most.

I loved this book and read it in one sitting. I enjoy time travel stories and historical fiction, and this books has aspects of both.

Like the best time travel stories, The Boy from Tomorrow is intricately plotted with present events affecting past events. For example, Alec finds a letter from Josie hidden in his house and tells her about it, causing her to write the letter in the first place… Also, although Josie and Alec never travel to each other’s times, the books has fun time travel moments in which they get glimpses into each other’s worlds. For instance, Alec can use the internet to find New York Times headlines from 1915 (“magic” to Josie and “just technology” to Alec).

Like the best historical fiction, this book brings a past era to life. My favorite parts were the scenes featuring Josie, her little sister Cassie, and her tutor in 1915 New York.

Thank you to Amberjack Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is May 8.

Book Review: Captain Superlative

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 2.08.20 PMWho would be brave enough to come to middle school dressed as a superhero–with a silver bathing suit, blue wig, red mask, and homemade cape? Who would be weird enough to call herself Captain Superlative? And who would be crazy enough to think that she could make all troubles disappear?

Jane doesn’t know. She herself tries to stay as invisible as air. Especially since the death of her mother four years earlier, she’s found that it’s safest not to stand out, not to be noticed, not to get involved.

But Jane is intrigued by Captain Superlative. She wants to know who she is. More importantly, she wants to know why she does what she does. The answers she finds, though, pull her out of her comfort zone.

Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller is a coming of age story–sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and sometimes sweet.

My favorite things about this book are:

  • Jane’s point of view. Jane starts the story as an observer and bystander, and she only reluctantly takes on an active role. I love her description of Captain Superlative’s first visit to her home: “It was more like another story had just crashed into my book and the style of illustration was completely different. It was a surrealist drawing in the middle of my still life.”
  • The relationship between Jane and her father. At school, she may be Plain Jane, but at home with her dad, she’s Janey! The two of them play a game where they think of synonyms that start with the same letter, and he provides her with gentle advice and support. The glimpses the reader gets of her at home make her public transformation more believable.
  • Its message about empathy and kindness. Although the book depicts some bullying, Captain Superlative sets the example of reaching out to both the bully and the victim. The book shows that everyone has a story, and that treating others with thoughtfulness makes a difference.

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is May 8.

Book Review: Salt to the Sea

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 11.50.05 AMSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a beautifully written historical novel set in the winter of 1945.

It’s told from the perspective of four young people all being evacuated from East Prussia at the end of World War II ahead of the advancing Soviet army: Joana, a guilt-ridden Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a Prussian deserter with a secret; Emilia, a pregnant Polish girl; and Alfred, a delusional German sailor.

Joana, Florian, and Emilia join with an unlikely band of refugees on the dangerous road to the port in Gotenhafen. There, they secure passage on a German ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Just when they seem safe, though, the ship is struck by torpedoes from a Soviet submarine and begins to sink.

I have read many novels and works of non-fiction about World War II, but I had never heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in which more than 9,000 people lost their lives. One reason I like historical fiction is that it can bring to light events that might otherwise be forgotten.

Book Review: Wishtree

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 11.03.44 AMWishtree by Katherine Applegate is the first book I’ve ever read that’s narrated by a tree. Yes, a tree. An oak tree named Red, to be precise.

She’s lived for more than two hundred years.  Many different kinds of animals have made their homes between her roots, on her limbs, and in her hollows. And many different people have tied their wishes to her branches.

Then, one day, a Muslim family moves into one of the houses Red shades. The family has a little girl who wishes for a friend. When someone carves “LEAVE” into Red’s trunk, she decides she needs to do something. But what can a tree do?

Wishtree is a beautiful, poetic, philosophical story about friendship and community. As Red herself says, “Trees can’t tell jokes. But we can certainly tell stories.”

Book Review: Nevermoor

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 11.24.27 AMLarrabee and I LOVED Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. I read it aloud in huge chunks during Winter Break, stopping only for the occasional coffee break to soothe my tired throat.

Almost-eleven-year-old Morrigan Crow is a cursed child. For her whole life, she’s been blamed for everything from fire damage to spoiled marmalade. Worse yet, she’s doomed to die on Eventide.

But then she gets a second chance at life. Jupiter North arrives just ahead of the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow and sneaks her into the magical city of Nevermoor. There’s she’s introduced to the Brolly Rail, a Magnificat, and a hotel room that adapts to her wishes. She also learns that she’s a candidate for entry to the Wundrous Society. The only trouble is that she must compete against more than five hundred other children in four difficult trials. And just nine will be selected.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow combines engaging characters, a delightful setting, and fast-paced action. It’s the first book in a planned series, and Larrabee and I are eagerly awaiting the next installment.

 

 

Book Review: Restart

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January is a month for new resolutions and fresh starts, so it’s the perfect time to read Restart by Gordon Korman.

This book asks an intriguing “what if.” What if a middle school bully fell on his head and couldn’t remember anything from before the accident? Would he necessarily still be the same person, or could he change? And if he wanted to be different, could he change the way other people see him?

Chase Ambrose is a popular 8th grader, the captain and star of the football team. Or so everyone tells him. He doesn’t even remember his own name.

As he navigates both family dynamics and the middle school social dynamics, he starts to piece together clues about who he was before the accident. Through other people’s reactions, he learns that he was a hero to some but hated or feared by many others. He was the kind of kid who was sentenced to community service at a nursing home. He always ate lunch with the football team, and he never set foot in the school’s video club. He doesn’t feel like the old Chase any longer, the Chase that both old friends and old enemies expect him to be. But it’s hard to figure out how to be a new Chase.

This story is told through multiple points of view, so we see Chase’s journey through his eyes and the eyes of some of his classmates.

Larrabee read this book first and recommended it to me. I’m glad he did.