A few titles we read this summer...
Ms. Bartels Recommends
This probably won't come as a surprise to those of you who follow my reviews, but I read a few books about World War II this past summer – okay, more than a few. Two that stand out are Jenna Blum's Those Who Save Us and Jessica Shattuck's The Women in the Castle. The thread that ties these two books together is that they both explore the lives of German women during WWII and the often brutal decisions they had to make to survive. Both of these books grapple with a very hard question, among other ethical dilemmas: What lengths would you go to to protect your own children?
"For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.
Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.
Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
"Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined – an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding.
Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resistor murdered in the failed July, 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.
First, Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naïve Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resistor’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.
As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war – each with their own unique share of challenges.
Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
This novel is vintage Ann Brashares: a compelling narrative populated with many distinct characters whose lives are all intertwined. It’s a perfect summer beach read – particularly since it takes place over one summer in the Hamptons. Fans of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series will not be disappointed in Brashares’s latest offering. Now I just hope this book is made into a movie, too!
“Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they've shared almost everything – reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they've never met.
Sasha's dad was once married to Ray's mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families – and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.
The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control . . . or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.” ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Restart by Gordon Korman
Gordon Korman is the king of middle school realistic fiction. His first book was published when he was a teenager and he still has a gift for capturing believable teen angst and dialogue. His characters are three-dimensional, complicated and flawed in genuine ways; readers will see a lot of themselves in them. And he’s funny too! This book will not disappoint readers looking for an accessible yet multi-layered story about what it means to be true to yourself.
“Chase Ambrose forgets everything after falling off a roof and losing consciousness. He forgets his name. He forgets his parents. He forgets what he was doing up there on that roof. And he forgets that he's the biggest bully at Hiawassee Middle School, along with his two best buddies Aaron and Bear.
Chase is shocked to learn how he bullied and tormented kids at school. He ruined lives. One kid left town because of him. And worst of all, even his little half-sister is terrified of him. Was he really such a monster? Determined to reinvent himself, Chase joins video club and befriends some of the kids who used to consider him a number-one enemy.
But some people aren't so quick to forgive and forget. Can Chase really change who he is? Or will the old him merely come back over time?” ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
On the face of it, Fierce Kingdom, a thriller novel about Joan and her young son Lincoln being trapped at the zoo by gunmen, is not the kind of book I normally want to read. I'm more of a “heist in space” than “shooting at the zoo” kind of reader. However, this book gripped me as soon as Joan suddenly encounters the first shooting victims. Phillips has a splendid way with the minutia of every calculated risk Joan makes. Can she risk a text message? How long can Lincoln go without succumbing to a hunger tantrum? Even the quiet moments are anxiety inducing. Every second I was waiting for inevitable gunfire, but Phillips neatly avoids the expected plot twists, so when hers come along, they really are twists. At first the story stays entirely with Joan, but in later chapters she encounters others who take over the narrative, which unfortunately isn't quite as riveting. What is absolutely gripping, though, is how Joan makes literally life-changing decisions without succumbing to panic or doubt. I was rooted to my chair until the very end of the book, when I immediately called my mother to thank her for always looking out for me.
"The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate minutes before closing time sends her sprinting back into the zoo, her child in her arms. And for the next three hours – the entire scope of the novel – she keeps on running.
Joan's intimate knowledge of her son and of the zoo itself – the hidden pathways and under-renovation exhibits, the best spots on the carousel and overstocked snack machines – is all that keeps them a step ahead of danger.
A masterful thrill ride and an exploration of motherhood itself – from its tender moments of grace to its savage power – Fierce Kingdom asks where the boundary is between our animal instinct to survive and our human duty to protect one another. For whom should a mother risk her life?" ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
And our students recommend…
Untwine by Edwidge Danticat (Grace E.)
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm by Lewis Dartnell (Amman K.)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Ruthie Y.; JJ K.)
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken (Julia R.)
Off the Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand (Julia R.)
Mischling by Affinity Konar (Meryeme E.)
Angels in America by Tony Kushner (Eric B.)
Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi (Meryeme E)
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Maggie B.)
Cherub series Robert Muchamore (Josie A.)
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Grace E.)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (Ruthie Y.)
I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz by Gisella Perl (Josie A.)
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman (Ruthie Y; Grace E.)
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Clara W.)
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (Ruthie Y.)
A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (Julia R.)
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Grace E.)
I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka (Maeve G.)
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Sylvie S.)
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Hanna H.)
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (Matthew A.)
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Camila F.)
The School for Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani (Lili P.)
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney (Kaavya G.)
Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan (Christine T.)
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (Juliet B.)
Mr. Lemoncello series by Chris Grabenstein (Etta S.)
Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz (Louise K.)
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Vidhatriv K.)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Willa D.)
Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas (Marcello R.)
The Invisibles by Grant Morrison (Ben R.)
Cherub series by Robert Muchamore (Laruen H.)
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson (Hanzhang S.)
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Jhanae O.)
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (Olivia K.)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Dalia P.)
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Maddy Kim)