Review of The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give is a timely and necessary debut novel by Angie Thomas. Starr, the 16 year old protagonist, is with her friend Khalil when he is pulled over and killed by a police officer. The narrative follows Starr as she deals with the tragedy of losing her friend, the injustice of the shooting, and her journey into activism and finding her voice.

Starr and her family live in Garden Heights where her father runs a neighborhood store and her mother is a nurse who works in the community’s clinic. Her older brother, Seven, and her younger brother Sekani round out the family. Starr and her brothers attend a largely white private school, away from their neighborhood, where both Starr and Seven excel. At the beginning of the book, Starr keeps her Garden Heights life completely separate from her life at school and has a version of herself for each of these lives. As the story progresses, Starr has difficulty continuing to keep her two lives separate, as the truth about Khalil’s death becomes national news and the ramifications for his death are played out in her neighborhood.

Thomas’s book hooked me from the beginning and never let me go. This story is so important at any time, but especially in 2017, as we continually hear stories similar to Khalil’s in the news. The Hate U Give sheds light on issues that need to talked about. Most importantly, this book provides an opportunity to start a difficult conversation, to practice empathy for each other, and for us to examine our reactions to stories we hear in the media.

I have to say, for me personally, this book was an eye-opener. It allowed me to take a step back and examine my own reactions to news stories and to the media’s portrayal of events. In addition, the book provided insights into activism, speaking up, and choosing the more difficult path because it’s right. I could not love this book more.

What I loved about Starr is that even though the outcomes to the conflicts in the story are not what she wants, there is still a thread of hope throughout the novel. I know that no matter what, Starr will not give up on fighting, trying to make a difference, and ensuring that her voice is heard. And she will not give up on the hope that things will change. I love her for that.

Bottom Line: I would recommend this book to high school students and adults alike. (There is some language, domestic violence, and sexual references in the book. All of this is authentic to the story and not gratuitous; however, for middle school readers, just be aware.) Even if YA is not usually your thing, give this book a try. I think everyone has something to gain from reading it. My rating is a no-brainer–5/5.

A Review of The Sound of Gravel

I love a good memoir. My favorite thing about memoirs is that they allow me to connect and live vicariously through another person. Memoirs allow me to have experiences I never would have in the “real world.”

This memoir did not disappoint. Written by Ruth Wariner (known predominantly as Ruthie in the book), this book chronicles Ruthie’s life with her family in a polygamist colony in Mexico. Ruth and her siblings live in poverty with her mother and her stepfather (who is shared between multiple wives) in a house that is barely livable. Several times during the book, Ruthie remarks on the smell of mouse feces that greets her when she steps into the house in Mexico. For some reason, the mention of this smell several times throughout the book, really made an impact on me and my comprehension of the circumstances relevant to Ruthie’s existence in the colony. Ruthie’s mom, Kathy, another key player in the novel, is the catalyst in the trajectory of Ruthie’s life throughout the course of the novel. As a reader, Kathy’s role in Ruthie’s life circumstances is the most frustrating and compelling portion of the novel.

While this memoir is so opposite from anything that I have ever known, I found myself at times fascinated by the sense of community fostered in this colony, and at times repulsed by that same sense of community. The standouts for me were Ruthie’s relationship with her mother and her relationships with her siblings. Ruthie’s relationship with her mother, which is at times difficult, is a testament to the love between mother and daughter no matter what the circumstances. At times heart-breaking and raw, ultimately, this is a story of survival and the triumph of the human spirit. Ruth Wariner’s story is reminiscent of Jeannette Wall’s story in The Glass Castle. Fans of Wall’s story are certain to love and relate to Wariner’s story.

On a side note, this is a pick for my in-real-life (IRL) book club, and I cannot wait to discuss it with the ladies in the group. A true page-turner, this book provides the framework for rich discussion on complex characters and situations. If you are looking for a non-fiction pick for your book club, consider this one. It is largely driven by its narrative merit, but is a great study of the ability of a person to rise above the lot that has been prescribed for him or her.  Give it a read if you like narrative-driven non-fiction!

Bottom Line: I could not put this one down. My rating is 5/5.


Review of Castle of Water

Before I get started, I just have to say this book is one of my favorite books I have ever read. Period. It takes a lot to get on that list. And this book is just perfect.

The book begins with three ill-fated passengers on a small plane, a Cessna 208, headed for the Marquesas. Barry, Sophie, and Sophie’s fiance, Etienne. The two survivors of the crash, Sophie and Barry find themselves stranded on a small, obscure island fighting to survive. The story chronicles Barry and Sophie’s life on the island as they first fight to survive, then come to terms with their situation on this little known island. As the narrative develops, the characters evolve and come to terms with their situation and begin creating a life on the island.

What is remarkable about this book is the way Huckelbridge crafts his sentences and intertwines the present with the past. The story in and of itself is simple. Two people are stranded on a deserted island with little hope for a rescue. The narrative follows how each of the protagonists, Sophie and Barry, come to terms with her/his situation and proceeds with life on the island. However, the finesse with which Huckelbridge molds and shapes these characters for the reader is truly a step above anything I have read before. In addition, he intersperses narrative aimed directly at the reader, giving the reader a sense of ownership in the story and an insight that fosters the feeling that he/she is involved because he/she knows more than the protagonists. By the end, the reader is truly vested in the lives of Barry and Sophie, feeling their joy and their despair.

The writing in this book is, for lack of a better word, beautiful. Huckelbridge tackles a complicated situation and relationship and weaves a story of love, loss, and the strength of the human spirit. It is just magnificent. Rarely does a book come along that I automatically want to read again, and this is one that I would pick right back up and read again.

It is hard to say more about this book without spoilers.

Bottom Line: This is truly masterful writing. As I read, I fell in love with these characters, and by the end, I didn’t want it to end. One of my favorite books of all time. Yes, it is that good! My rating is an easy 5/5.

A Review of Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog!

Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog! All opinions are my own.

Hilde is a precocious young journalist investigating a theft on her street, Orange Street. The story follows her investigation as she questions neighbors to find out who is responsible for a break-in in her neighborhood. Her big sister and partner, Izzy, is along for the ride, snapping pictures of potential clues. Who has committed the crime, and will Hilde get her story in time for her 6:30 deadline? All will be answered by the conclusion of the story.

What a delightful book for young readers, and a great foray into the mystery genre for readers who haven’t been exposed to mysteries. This book is well done and smart. I enjoyed it. As a gauge, I had my nine-year-old son read it, and he really enjoyed it. Even though he usually prefers books whose protagonists are male, he liked the mystery and the fact that Hilde is an investigative journalist (he didn’t use the words–“investigative journalist”–he IS a fourth grader, after all!) His direct quote on the book is, “I liked the mystery. When I read it I though every new character was the thief. I thought it was cool that Hilde and her sister worked together. My favorite character was Zeus, because he barked like Zeus’s thunder.” (Side note: My son is really into Percy Jackson, so the name of the dog could have (did) affect his choice of favorite character.)

I love that the book is based on a real-life girl who actually publishes her own newspaper called the Orange Street News. (Click the link to see her site.) Not only is the story great, but Hilde provides a great example for youngsters of loving something, in this case, journalism, and going for it.

Bottom line: Love the book, and love that it is based on a real-life girl. If you have young readers (ages 5-9), they should definitely read it. My rating is 5/5.


A Review of This Is Our Story

This Is Our Story is a YA suspense novel about a group of five privileged young men who go hunting one morning in the woods of Louisiana. By mid-morning, four boys walk out of the woods and one is dead. Grant Perkins is the unfortunate victim, but was his death an accident or was it murder? The four surviving boys are quickly dubbed “The River Point Boys,” and are under investigation for the death of their friend. Kate Marino, the main protagonist in this book, interns at the prosecutor’s office where her mother works, and the lawyer her mom works for, Mr. Stone, is given the case against The River Point Boys. Kate becomes involved in the investigation, and in a unique plot point, becomes Mr. Stone’s eyes when it is revealed that he is losing his eyesight. Kate’s personal connection with the case becomes apparent early in the novel and shapes her actions throughout. As Kate and Mr. Stone investigate more deeply into the events surrounding the River Point Boys’ last hunting trip, they find more questions than answers which are not resolved until the final pages of the book.

Here is another one that I don’t want to write too much about the plot, because who likes a suspense novel to be spoiled? Not me!

Before I get into my thoughts about this book, can we just for a moment discuss the cover art for this book?! I love it! It is one of my covers of the year. Make sure you look closely at it. Can you see the five shadows in the background? How clever is this? I love the strategic placement of the deer head. LOVE!

This Is Our Story is enjoyable, and it is a great choice for young adults looking for a suspenseful novel. The premise is interesting, and I definitely did not want to put it down. The novel¬†flips back and forth in time from before Grant’s death and after Grant’s death. This time switch occurs at chapter breaks, and each regular chapter also begins with a text message sequence that pertains to the story, which is a nice touch. There are also intermittent chapters where the person who is responsible for Grant’s death directly addresses the reader, which gives an eerie touch to the narrative. The first two-thirds of the novel is well-crafted, compelling, and very suspenseful. (More on the last one-third below.)

That being said there are some problems. At times, the dialogue is stilted. For example, occasionally Kate will say “ya’ll,” which is (I am guessing) meant to reiterate that the story takes place in Louisiana; however, it is used very sparingly, and there really isn’t any other indication that they are in the South. In fact, as I read the story, I pictured the characters in New England. Only when, I read the “ya’lls,” did I go back and realize that the setting is Lousiana. Eek–one of my pet peeves!

For me, the problems with the plot came in the last one-third of the novel. There were some liberties taken to move the plot forward that felt unrealistic which in turn, made the resolution of the novel feel contrived. I don’t want to give too much of the specifics here, but would love to discuss with anyone who has read or reads This Is Our Story!

Bottom Line: The plot had some issues for me which affected my satisfaction at the end of the book; however, I enjoyed reading it and think the target audience will definitely find it a satisfying read. My rating is 3/5.