Ms. Bartels Recommends
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
This sequel to Beartown, Backman's international bestseller, does not disappoint! I will warn you in advance: you will cry, and not just a few tears, but sobbing, embarrassing tears. I made the mistake of reading this equally-good follow up to Beartown on a flight home from Portugal, and I was crying so hard at points that I had to take the little disposable pillowcase off my airline pillow and use it as a handkerchief. It wasn't pretty. But looking like an entirely different person than your passport picture while re-entering the country and having the passport agent spend quite a bit of time looking back and forth between your splotchy, swollen face and your passport picture is a small price to pay. Read this book!
"After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown's new hockey coach.
Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you'll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.
As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they've been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
Small Spaces by Katharine Arden
Despite purchasing at least four copies of this book last spring, I could not keep it on the shelf. I had to go to my own public library to actually get my hands on it. It was also the most popular summer reading title for 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Kids love scary stories and this one is pitch-perfect without being overly dark for middle school readers. There's a creepy, paranormal atmosphere throughout the entire story, but Ollie and her friends are realistically portrayed as they find themselves depending on each other to survive the worst field trip EVER (their school bus breaks down and are chased by scarecrows with tools as hands). This is a perfectly eerie Halloween read and I can't wait to recommend it to the few students who haven't already read it.
"After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie who only finds solace in books discovers a chilling ghost story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who loved her, and a peculiar deal made with 'the smiling man' – a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.
Captivated by the tale, Ollie begins to wonder if the smiling man might be real when she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about on a school trip to a nearby farm. Then, later, when her school bus breaks down on the ride home, the strange bus driver tells Ollie and her classmates: 'Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you.' Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.
Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed these warnings. As the trio head out into the woods – bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them – the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: 'Avoid large places. Keep to small.'
And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 6+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
This work of narrative nonfiction was my favorite read from the summer. Keefe, a writer for The New Yorker, takes a complicated, multi-faceted matter and explains it in a thorough, thoughtful way without dumbing down the material. The book helped to flesh out my basic understanding of The Troubles and its surrounding history. Keefe is masterful at peeling away layers of an intricate subject, and he deftly tells both the broad story of Northern Ireland and the specific details of many of the key figures involved in the often-violent struggle for independence from Britain. A must-read for those interested in this part of history – or any reader interested in a gripping story.
"In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville's children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress – with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.
Patrick Radden Keefe's mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past – Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames
I was expecting this to be a somewhat ridiculous novel about a band of fighters and magicians in a vaguely renaissance-ish universe fighting dragons and getting up to hijinks while also subverting tropes. Every single expectation was met. However, I didn't expect the introduction of much deeper themes, such as what drives people to go to war in the first place or the finer points of manipulating a battle to your strengths, as well as the repercussions of blood sport as entertainment. Tam is a great character to experience this world through; her awe and excitement for the world of Bloody Rose (the character) mirrored my own enjoyment of the setting. Tam isn't necessarily as interesting as the others in her band (my favorite is Cura, the witch who makes her terrifying tattoos come to life), but that's a function of her being young and having lived a pretty normal life rather than poor writing. The pace of the novel matches a long road trip – periods of excitement interrupted by periods where not a lot happens, but much is said. The ending came much too soon for me, and I was glad to find that what I thought would be the Dungeons & Dragons equivalent of a beach read actually had quite a bit of substance.
"A band of fabled mercenaries, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, tour a wild fantasy landscape, battling monsters in arenas in front of thousands of adoring fans, but a secret and dangerous gig ushers them to the frozen north, and the band is never one to waste a shot at glory . . . even if it means almost certain death.
Live fast, die young.
Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.
When the biggest mercenary band of all, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, rolls into town, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It's adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.
It's time to take a walk on the wyld side." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+