Ms. Bartels Recommends
The Dry by Jane Harper
Thrillers and mysteries aren't really a genre that I gravitate toward – and certainly not ones that are about to launch a mystery series – but The Dry made a lot of lists at the end of last year. This Australian import also won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, and was a Choice Award Nominee for Mystery & Thriller on Goodreads as well as for Best Debut Author. My only problem with the novel came in the final five pages when the diary that wraps ups a thread of the story is found and it isn't written in first person, as it should have been. Other than that, this is indeed a strong debut from a mystery writer whose career is on the rise.
"After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.
Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 8+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
Beyond the Bright Sea is my prediction for the 2018 Newbery Medal. It was ALMOST an HM Mock Newbery contender, but Orphan Island beat it by a hair. I loved Lauren's Wolk's debut – and last year's HM Mock Newbery contender – Wolf Hollow, and I was determined to read her sophomore release even though it isn't being considered by our committee. Like Wolf Hollow, Wolk's writing is gorgeous and breathtaking. Wolk has a knack for transporting readers to a place and time and in this novel, you can feel, taste and hear what it's like to live on an island off the New England coast in the 1920s. As a new baby, Crow had washed up ashore on the island and was taken in by strangers. Crow becomes curious about her past and decides to find out why she was abandoned and where she came from, but her journey ultimately ends up tying her even more closely to her found-family. It's a beautiful and exciting story that ultimately has a heartwarming conclusion. Highly recommended!
"Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. Her only companions are Osh, the man who rescued her from a tiny skiff as an infant and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their neighbor across the sandbar. But it isn't until the night when a mysterious fire appears across the water that an unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart and an unstoppable chain of events is triggered. Using her bravery and perseverance, Crow must follow clues that not only lead to a personal treasure, but to uncovering her lost identity and, ultimately, understanding what it means to be a family." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
Murphy’s latest realistic fiction entry is entirely absorbing for many reasons, but mostly because the titular Ramona Blue stands out as a memorable protagonist. That is not just because of her height (6’3”) or hair color (yes . . . blue), but because Ramona is an immensely likeable narrator: she’s selfless, responsible and earnest. Ramona is that believable, relatable teenage combination of being certain who she is one day and having no clue the next. When faced with a situation that completely challenges her identity, she learns eventually that labels are not important and that she is okay with figuring things out as she goes along. Adding to the book’s appeal are well-drawn secondary characters who could have been clichéd and stereotypical, but are instead given three-dimensional lives with their realistic dialogue and actions. Ramona Blue is an appealing story that will resonate with teen readers, especially those questioning their sexual identities.
“Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever. Since then, it's been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she's fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she's destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.
The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona's friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he's talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.” ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Starfish begins with high school senior Kiko Himura having a dreadful spring semester. The first hint that something major is wrong is her response to the news that her uncle is about to move back in with her family, implying some sort of former abuse at his hands. From there, Kiko and her story take off in a fairly predictable direction. The plot suffers from being too convenient and oversimplification, and I was surprised by only one or two developments. But for all that is unbelievable about Bowman’s novel, there is also a lot I found compelling. Each chapter ends with the description of one of Kiko’s works of art, generally a depiction of her emotional state at the end of the chapter. The descriptions are short but vivid; I could see this getting a graphic novel treatment in the near future. And Bowman’s description of Kiko being only one of two half-Asian girls in her school in small-town Nebraska feels strikingly honest. Most of all, though, what I appreciated was how introspective yet hopeless Kiko is regarding her relationships with her brothers, the only people who have any idea what Kiko is living with but who have difficulty banding together. Ultimately these bright spots are what keep the novel from sinking into Movie of the Week territory.
“A gorgeous and emotionally resonant debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school. Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she's thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn't quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin. But then Kiko doesn't get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.” ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 7+