A Review of Allegedly

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson is the gut-wrenching tale of Mary, a young woman accused and convicted of killing an infant in the care of her mother when she is just nine years old. Mary has been to what she calls ‘baby jail’ and is now in a group home with young women who are in similar to her. Her current situation ┬áin the group home shapes her interactions and reactions with the people she encounters. Throughout the novel, Mary’s reality is revealed as she deals with the day to day events that transpire at the group home, while her past is unraveled throughout the course of the novel in interactions with her mother and other people from her present and past. Her alleged crime and the fallout have molded her into a resourceful and broken young woman. The key question at the heart of the novel is Did she? or Didn’t she?, and Jackson takes readers on quite a ride as this question is answered.

Whew! This book made me feel All. The. Things. First things first–a slight disclaimer– Allegedly is classified as YA. I would say the book is an extremely mature YA. The novel has language and thematic concepts that I would be hesitant to recommend to younger readers in the middle grades.

Okay, now my feelings–I found the novel compelling with an abundance of twists and turns, some expected, some unexpected. Mary is a hard narrator to trust and as I read, I found myself questioning her motivation. The way Jackson details and unfurls Mary’s relationship with her mother is both heart-breaking and fascinating. Apart from learning the details of Mary’s alleged crime, learning about and trying to understand her relationship with her mother is my favorite part of the book.

I have some issues with the resolution of the narrative, but overall I found myself reading it every chance possible. So, I would recommend it. As soon as I finished reading it, I harassed my book buddies to read it, so we could discuss!

Again, I would be cautious of the age of readers who read this book.

One other thought–Allegedly would be an excellent book club choice because it offers a broad range of topics that could lead to deep and rich discussion.

Bottom Line: This is an edgy, compelling story that I enjoyed diving into. I give it a 4/5.

A Review of El Deafo

I swear, I am not a graphic novel person, yet this is the second graphic novel I am reviewing in a week. I have a personal interest in Cece Bell’s autobiographical graphic novel. One of my favorite people in the whole world, Bekah, has a similar story–ill at at a young age which led to total hearing loss in both ears. A cochlear implant before starting school and similar struggles to Cece throughout the course of her life. It was extremely appealing to read a novel which chronicled a similar story to my Bekah.

Clearly this graphic novel is something special. It won the Newbery in 2015. The humor and rawness with which Cece Bell portrays her story is deeply affecting, but peppered with humor so that it is accessible to a wide audience. I adore the way she incorporates herself and her alter-ego, El Deafo, within the story to depict what is actually happening versus what she desires to happen.

This graphic novel is a straightforward account of Bell’s early years and how she transitions from a school for children with hearing loss, or students like her, to a mainstream school. It chronicles her struggles with friendships, academics, and coming of age being ‘different’ from other students.

I so appreciate Bell’s approach to these issues. I found myself laughing out loud in certain places. Because although I have never had hearing loss, I have been an awkward, unsure adolescent and Bell’s ability to capture this milestone will resonate with readers, hearing or non-hearing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel from start to finish, and would recommend it to teachers, parents, and upper elementary/lower middle school kiddos.

Bottom Line: This book is must for young readers. I give El Deafo a solid 5/5.

The books that shaped my love of reading

When I think about what was transformative in my experience as a reader, I think about three specific books. Some readers I talk to cannot remember ever not being a reader–he or she walked into kindergarten ready and eager to read. This was not me.

I don’t really remember reading voraciously until the fourth grade. My wonderful fourth grade teacher, Ms. Newland, handed each child in my class a wrapped Christmas gift the day we left for winter break in December of 1988. (Wow! Did I just write 1988?!) When I opened the package, it was a copy of Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. This book about Paul and Maureen, two orphaned children who save their money to buy a wild horse during Pony Penning Day, spoke to me like no other book ever had. I have never been a huge fan of books with animals as a focal point, but this story captured my heart.

That same year, my parents went on a trip and brought me back Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn. Hahn’s book about Daphne, the class “weirdo,” and Jessica, the main character, being partnered for a writing project, was the one of the single most transformative books in my reading life. In the book, Jessica is less than thrilled with being paired with Daphne; however, through their partnership, she realizes that Daphne is living with a dark secret, and the girls become unlikely friends. This book really fostered my love of reading AND writing, because as the girls worked on their writing project in the book, I found myself intrigued by the process and began to experiment with my own writing. Daphne’s Book was also the first book I had ever read that dealt with a true issue, and it touched me in a way that other books hadn’t.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder is another all-time favorite and was discovered in the last months of fourth grade. The librarian at my small-town elementary school talked about Laura Ingalls Wilder and some of her books during our weekly library visit close to the end of the year. I looked at all of the books in the series, but the cover of Little House spoke to me. I loved the picture on the cover of Laura lovingly cradling her doll while she basked in the adoration of her family. I just had to know about that little girl on the cover and her family. I was engrossed in this book from the start and couldn’t wait to read about Laura’s daily chores, the way she played, and her family. There was something so appealing about the simplicity of her life and the hard work and dedication that went into maintaining it. I have already told my children my favorite scene from the book–the one where Pa blows up a pig bladder after butchering for Laura and her siblings to play with like a balloon. The wholesome story and the importance placed on family made me feel warm and snuggly like being wrapped in a warm hug which is why I checked it out of my elementary and middle school libraries numerous times during my younger years. I cannot wait to read this one with my daughter.

It is interesting to me that two of these books were written quite a long time ago, but are still some of my most beloved. When I taught English, I often recommended these books to students and was delighted (and gratified) that they enjoyed them too.

What are some books that were transformative for you? What are the books that really flipped the switch and made you a lifelong reader?

A Review HiLo: The Great Big Boom

Ok, Moms! If you are like me, I am constantly trying to find books for my kiddos. My son, who just turned 9, just became a true reader this year. His third grade teacher really pushed reading and especially CHOICE READING. This has been a game changer for him. Enter the HiLo series by Judd Winick.

Hi-Lo is a robot from a far away planet who comes to earth to help his friends and defeat his maker, whose goal is to get Hi-Lo back and take over the world. In Book #3, HiLo and The Great Big Boom, Hi-Lo and friends are attempting to help Gina who has been sucked into a portal. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.

My son LOVES these books. He has even created his own illustrations for HiLo, which I tweeted to Judd Winick. And guess what? He responded. I had one ecstatic third grader on my hands.

What I love about graphic novels is that they make content accessible to a broad audience. What I love about Hi-Lo is that the writing is smart, funny, and engaging. The illustrations complement the writing perfectly.

As a former English teacher, I am not the biggest fan of graphic novels; however, because my son is such a fan, I read HiLo: The Great Big Boom for him. And…I enjoyed it. I am so grateful for this medium that has made my son a reader, and I am grateful that Judd Winick has created a world and characters that my son loves and connects with. He is already begging me to pre-order HiLo #4: Waking the Monsters, which comes out in January.

Bottom Line: If you have reluctant readers, try HiLo. I give the series a 5/5.

A Review of Among the Ten Thousand Things

Among the Ten Thousand Things is a novel about the repercussions of infidelity on a marriage and on a family. Jack is a semi-successful artist who has a wife, Deb, and two children, Kat and Simon. He has had a string of affairs, but his most recent one prints and mails a myriad of illicit emails exchanged during the affair to Deb. However, young Kat is the one who receives the box and opens it. The fallout from this indiscretion is cataclysmic for the family.

This book was a pick for one of my book clubs. I read it, but I did not enjoy it. While I can appreciate the unique writing style and the choices Pierpont makes throughout the course of the narrative, there was no character that I was rooting for. I have found that for me to really get behind a book, I have to be able to root for one of the characters. There was no one to root for here. In addition, I did not find the book particularly character driven or plot driven. The novel is filled with selfish characters, especially Jack and Deb. They both seemed completely out of tune with their children and the misery they cause them. Really. As much as I hate to say it, I have not read a book in quite some time that I have enjoyed less than this one.

The one redeeming quality for this book is that it did provide for interesting and surprising discussion at book club. It was fascinating to see the different perspectives of book club members as we discussed Jack and Deb and their relationship. There was much more gray area among our book club members than I thought there would be, which made for an interesting and fruitful discussion.

Bottom Line: Skip it. I give it 2/5.