Ro's Reads

Diving Into the World of Middle Grade and YA Lit

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness, Jim Kay I absolutely loved this book. Ness tackled a difficult subject for both children and adults alike using engaging prose and powerful symbolism. Dare I say this novel helped this 33 year-old come to terms with the same feelings Conor (the main character) had when this same "monster" appeared in my life six years ago? The illustrations and short chapters make this book a quick, but stirring read. I highly recommend it.
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald I wanted to do a quick re-read of this novel before going to see the movie. I had read it about 15 years ago in high school and could only remember bits and pieces of the plot.

The man everyone "knows" as Jay Gatsby is a wondrous enigma to the throngs of partygoers that come to infiltrate the grounds of his mansion nightly for elaborate parties that are the talk of the town. But to his neighbor Nick, the mysterious man becomes much more than a mere acquaintance as their lives are linked when Gatsby tries to reconnect with someone from his past.

Considered a classic, Fitzgerald's novel is a tragic love story that captures the feel of New York during the Roaring Twenties. It is a solid and quick read that I would recommend to anyone.
Wonder - R.J. Palacio

Wonder is the first novel by book cover designer and artistic director R. J. Palacio. It has been all the rave on book blogs and recommendation sites since its publication last year so naturally it has been on my TBR (To Be Read) list for a while.

The book tells the story of August Pullman who, with a stroke of bad genetic luck, was born with a rare disease that seriously deforms his face. Of course, people treat him differently because of that. His loving parents and older sister, however, have showered little Auggie with love and have given him the childhood that most children his age could only dream of. He has grown into an extraordinary young man. If only he lived in a society that didn’t judge a book by its cover…

It’s time now for August to leave the comforts of home and go to school with “regular kids.” Middle school , of all places! Will little Auggie be able to survive? How will his classmates treat him?

The author expertly chronicles August’s first year in middle school through the eyes of August himself and those closest to him. There are definitely parts of the novel that will pull at the reader’s heart-strings. By the end, readers will marvel at August’s bravery and, perhaps, learn to appreciate the normalcy in their own lives.

Verdict: Loved, loved, loved this book! Highly recommended!
Wild Things - Clay Carmichael

The novel is told through the eyes of 11 year-old spitfire Zoë Royster, who now has to live with her uncle after the untimely death of her mother. From the beginning of the story, however, Zoë shows that her life up until then has been anything but a fairy tale. Her negligent mother battled mental illness for most of young Zoë’s life, leaving her in the hands of a steady stream of boyfriends, ranging from the helpless to the evil. As a result, Zoë has had to figure out matters on her own. She aims to show her Uncle Henry that she can manage her own life just fine, especially since she figures he will abandon her like everyone else has.

A respected doctor turned celebrated sculptor, Uncle Henry has his own problems and Zoë just might be the person he needs to add a little cheer to his existence. Of course, extraordinary things begin to happen when Zoë’s curious nature leads her on an adventure that uncovers some “wild things.” Towards the end of the novel, the mayor’s son, a deer, Henry’s diverse group of friends, and a special cat are among the many things thrown into the mix as the mystery identity of the “wild thing” in the woods is revealed.

Overall, Wild Things is a good read. I liked how the author weaved the principle of respect for the environment into the story. The main character had a folksy charm, though the way that adults deferred to her throughout the novel sometimes came off a bit unrealistic.

Verdict: Lags in some parts, but a worthwhile read
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie, Ellen Forney Loved it! I finished this novel in record time. I found myself laughing and crying with Arnold as he bravely and humorously navigated through two worlds: one Native American and poor, the other white and "privileged." In addition to offering a compelling story that leaves readers thoroughly engaged, Alexie is a master at using satire and humor to quell some of the discomfort that may come from the novel's seemingly pervasive use of stereotypes. I will definitely check out some of Sherman Alexie's other works.
Secrets, Lies, and Algebra - Wendy Lichtman The idea of introducing algebraic terms through a novel is an interesting concept and I can definitely see why many math teachers would find this book appealing, merely for its attempt to illustrate math terms. It is a quick read.

However, the plot was dull and the climax was nonexistent. I began the novel hoping the author would flesh out the murder/mystery angle a lot more but ended the novel disappointed. In addition, Tess, the main character, wasn't particularly compelling or likable. Maybe the sequel is better.
Turtle in Paradise - Jennifer L. Holm A charming book set during the Great Depression. I actually enjoyed this Newberry Honor book more than the actual Newberry winner.
Return to Sender - Julia Alvarez This novel adds a human face to the immigration debate here in the United States. Told through the eyes of ll-year olds Tyler and Mari, the story will cause readers to empathize with the plight of Mari's family while grappling with the difficult solutions needed to reform current immigration policies. Though Alvarez draws attention to an important and timely subject, I found the pace of the book too slow to engage the average middle grade reader. This is not a book that I would recommend to reluctant readers.

Currently reading

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
Kathi Appelt, Jennifer Bricking