Ms. Bartels Recommends
In Lit Chat we often talk about how a bad cover or bad title can really make it hard to "sell" a book. This book, unfortunately, suffers from both. Which is a shame because it is a beautifully written, harrowing tale of two couples who are trying to weather the difficulties of WWI. One of the heartbreaking realities of the war is that the British thought the war would be over quickly, so when young men signed up, they were given the option of one year of service or for the duration of the war. Most chose the duration option, thinking it would only mean a month or two. Four years later, so many men had been broken by years in the trenches, years of shelling, rats, relentless cold, and very little time off. This book takes you through all four years of the war, and there were times I felt so beaten down by it, that I had to take a break. But I kept coming back because the story was extremely compelling. Read this alongside the remarkable works of Pat Barker, who writes so beautifully about WWI. This would be a nice read-alike for Toby's Room and Life Class, which I have reviewed here in the past. Or read it with Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson, a good WWI romance that is a bit less grim.
"From the day in 1907 that eleven-year-old Riley Purefoy meets Nadine Waveney, daughter of a well-known orchestral conductor, he takes in the difference between their two families: his, working-class; hers, ‘posh’ and artistic. Just a few years later, romance and these differences erupt simultaneously with the war in Europe. In a fit of fury and boyish pride, Riley enlists in the army and finds himself involved in the transformative nightmare of the twentieth century.
While Riley and his commanding officer, Peter Locke, fight for their country and their survival in the trenches of Flanders, Peter's lovely and naive wife, Julia, and his cousin Rose eagerly await his return. But the sullen, distant man who arrives home on leave is not the Peter they knew. Worried that her husband is slipping away, Julia is left alone with her fears when Rose joins the nursing corps to work with a pioneering plastic surgeon treating wounded and disfigured soldiers.
Only eighteen at the outbreak of the war, Nadine and Riley want to make promises to each other – but how can they when their future is out of their hands? Youthful passion is on their side, but then their loyalty is tested by terrible injury, and even more so by the necessarily imperfect rehabilitation that follows.
Moving among Ypres, London, and Paris, this emotionally rich and evocative novel is both a powerful exploration of the lasting effects of war on those who fight – and those who don't – and a poignant testament to the power of enduring love." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Shannon Hale's graphic memoir is a bittersweet and honest account of life in middle school that many will relate to. This novel touches on aspects of bullying both in school and at home but nothing is too dark here, nor are the difficult moments glossed over. Hale delves into her mild OCD and anxiety disorder, but it's very subtly woven in and most students will not pick up on it unless they read the author's note at the end. Like El Deafo, Smile and Sisters, this graphic memoir will be hugely popular with middle grade girls. I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy from the publisher, but the final full-color copy will not be released until May (students who cannot wait should drop by the Reading Room to borrow my copy in the meantime).
“Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen's #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.
Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group – or out?
Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham join forces in this graphic memoir about how hard it is to find your real friends – and why it's worth the journey." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
I recommend mostly young adult books for this blog, but every so often a middle grade novel catches my interest when it receives many starred reviews. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day is one of these books, and it’s a gem. This moving story will appeal to a wide array of middle graders, as the three alternating narrators represent diverse points of view. However, at the core of the story, these three boys are as alike as they are different, especially in their capacity to care. Anderson carefully crafts his narrative using believable sixth-grade dialogue and understands the thought process of adolescent boys, which readers will appreciate.
“Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you'll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She's the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don't even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won't be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan – more of a quest, really – to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them – and what the three of them mean to each other.” ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+