Review: White Devil

White Devil by Justin Evans. HarperCollins. 2011. Personal copy. Part of my Holiday Reads for Grown Up series; and what better book to pick than one that is not just a ghost story, but is a haunted boarding school story?

The Plot: American Andrew Taylor has been sent to an exclusive British boarding school, Harrow, for his final year of schooling. He’s under strict orders from his father not to mess things up like he did at his previous high school.

Harrow is old — and anything old has ghost stories, right?

Things are looking up when Persephone Vine (the only female student at the school) approaches Andrew about playing Byron in a play being written by Piers Fawkes, a poet and Andrew’s housemaster.

Then Andrew finds the body of a fellow student. One of the few who had been friendly to the new American. It’s quickly determined to be death from natural causes, but it’s enough for people to give Andrew a wide berth. There are even whispers of drugs.

It’s even more complicated because Andrew something someone — something — no, someone, by the body of the dead student. Who’ll believe him?

As Andrew learns more, he begins to believe that there really is a ghost at Harrow. But if the ghost is real, who is it? What does it have to do with the dead boy? And is anyone else in danger?

The Good: Let’s be honest. Ghosts aren’t scary.

No, really.

What’s scary is what ghosts does. What’s scary is never knowing where a ghost is. The way you can’t trust your eyes or ears. Not knowing what a ghost will or won’t do. Not being able to stop the ghost.

Andrew realizes not just that there is a ghost; not just that it’s killing people; but also, that it has something to do with Andrew. This isn’t something random; and it’s not something that has been going on for ages. It’s something old and dark and dangerous but perhaps scariest of all, it’s about Andrew. People are being hurt because of him. But why? And how? Andrew researches the school’s long past, with the help of Fawkes. Fawkes is haunted by something entirely different. As a young man, he’d shown promise and won awards and accolades for his poetry. Now, he’s a has been, his agent doesn’t return his calls, and his drinking is an open secret. He’s not the best person to handle the sudden unexpected deaths of people around him. What he is, though, is the best person Andrew has, and one of the few people Andrew can trust. And yes, this was scary and full of tension but I couldn’t help but love when Andrew starts looking into the history of the school and doing some in-depth research and reading original sources.

I have a bit of a soft spot for underdogs: Andrew, Fawkes, and Persephone are all underdogs. The lone American, the drunk, the girl. One of my favorite types of tragedies is the underdog so scarred that he becomes the villain. This is what happened here with the ghost — it is love turned to hate, want turned to destruction.

So — you have a ghost. You have a ghost who is killing people. You figure out who and why. And it’s all super scary and reading with one eyed closed. And now comes the real problem: can you stop the ghost?

This book was super scary; and it became even creepier when I read at the author’s website that Harrow is a real school. And while I don’t want to give away the ending, it was unexpected yet perfect and had me putting down the book because I couldn’t believe it and pacing around the room then picking it up again.

Other reviews: New York Times review; Jenn’s Bookshelves; S. Krishna’s Books; Jenny’s Books.

Review: Out of Reach

Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos. Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2012. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Rachel, sixteen, is on a mission. To find her older brother, Micah. Micah, 18, is a meth addict. One night, he didn’t come home. When Rachel gets an email saying Micah is in Ocean Beach, an hour away, and in trouble, she prints it out and puts in a drawer. Waits a week, studies it, wonders if it’s a joke. Finally she tells Micah’s friend Tyler, who asks her — what is she going to do?

She’s going to go to Ocean Beach. See if she can find her brother and bring him home. Tyler comes along, and together, they will search the streets for Micah. What if she waited too long? What if she can’t find him?

The Good: Out of Reach takes place over the twenty-four hours that Rachel and Tyler go in search of Micah. During that time, Rachel thinks back on what has led her, what has led Micah, to this point.

The structure of this novel matters, because it is about such an intense subject matter: Micah’s addiction to meth. By showing his use only through Rachel’s flashbacks, Out of Reach keeps the focus on the true point of the story: not Micah, not meth, not addiction, but what addiction does to family members.

Arcos shows the complexity of Rachel’s feelings: wanting Micah home, but wanting a healthy, non-addict brother. Guilt over the delay in responding to the email, guilt over not telling her parents about Micah’s escalating drug use, guilt even over being the “good” daughter to Micah’s “bad” son. It’s not just guilt; it’s also anger. Rachel “decided that when we found Micah, I would ask him, ‘why?’ but no matter what answer he gave, I knew I’d still want to punch him in the face.”

Out of Reach shows the impact of Micah’s addiction on the rest of the family, but even then, the focus is tight: a day in Rachel’s life. In a way, this makes the tragedy of what has happened to the Stevens family easier to handle, because it is told by Rachel after the fact — after the use, after hearing that “Micah claimed he used as an artistic experience, saying that he connected with the universe when he was high,” after the rehab not paid by insurance, after discovering that Micah has spent his college fund on drugs. It doesn’t lessen what has happened to this family and Rachel, but it makes it a bit easier to handle because it’s all things Rachel already knows, has already processed. What Rachel hasn’t processed, and what this book is about, is realizing that physically and emotionally and mentally, Micah is “out of reach” of his family and nothing any of them do or say can change that.

Out of Reach is about Rachel emotionally and mentally processing the loss of her brother; this internal journey is shown via the external journal Rachel takes with Tyler, driving to Ocean Beach and going street by street, block by block, looking for a trace or sign of Micah. She takes this journey with a good friend of Micah’s. This provides the tentative romance, more light flirting than anything else. It doesn’t detract from the seriousness of what is going on with Micah — rather, it is another external example of the internal road to healing and wholeness that Rachel is on. It’s OK to have have feelings for a guy, to have an ice cream cone, even if her brother is missing, even if her brother is addicted.

I can see why this is a National  Book Award finalist: the tight plotting, the careful balance of showing the horror of what Micah’s addiction without having Micah’s journey and story take over his sister’s story, Rachel’s’ own journey in processing what Micah means to her and what his loss has done to her. This is Arcos’s debut novel, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear on the Morris shortlist.

Review: Yesterday

Yesterday by C.K. Kelly Martin. Random House. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: 2063. Freya Kallas is sixteen, locked in her room, while something terrible happens with her brother. She struggles as she is forcibly evacuated, crying out for her brother, hating her father, wishing for her mother to do something. The Toxo is spreading, she overhears, as a needle slides into her arm.

1985. Freya Kallas is sixteen, starting a new school, mourning the death of her diplomat father in an explosion, adjusting to life in Canada after a life spent travelling from country to country.

Freya feels different from the students around her. Her mother says it’s recovering from the flu; her mother says it’s grief. So Freya spends time with her younger sister, mother, and grandfather, trying to make friends. Then she sees him. Garren. She knows she knows him, even though she doesn’t know how, even though he has no idea who she is.

Freya pushes for answers. The more she pushes, the more dangerous it gets, and suddenly she and Garren are on the run and the stakes are bigger than either dreamed.

The Good: OK, first things first. A sixteen year old named Freya in 2063; a sixteen year old named Freya in 1985. Strange dreams, flashes, and a tag line on the author’s website that says “what do you do when your only future is in the past?” It’s time travel, baby!

What I won’t tell you: why Freya is now in 1985. Why she didn’t remember 2063. Who is after her, and Garren, once they begin to realize something is off about their present. I also won’t tell you what 2063 is like. Or what happens to Freya’s brother….

OH SHUT UP AND JUST TELL ME SOMETHING, LIZ.

This is time travel the way I like it, no, love it. It makes sense. A scientific explanation is provided. And the reason for it, for the time travel, also makes sense.

There are bad guys; in the first chapter we feel Freya’s anger at her father and as the story progresses, we find reasons to dislike future Freya’s parents. In the present, bad guys are chasing Freya and Garren and it becomes a life and death situation. But . . . . but it’s not that easy. Or simple. It’s not black and white. Instead they are flawed people, doing the best under the circumstances with what they know and believe at the moment. How far is someone willing to go to fix something broken, to save something lost? By the end of Yesterday, I was surprised at the people I ended up respecting because of the choices they’d made.

Freya is wonderful: so determined, no matter what, to obtain the truth. She won’t let feelings get in her way. She’s smart, she’s bright, she’s clever.

The details! I am such a fan of details in books like this. I am the reader asking, what about clothes, what about money, where do they sleep, what about brushing your teeth? Yesterday provides all those answers.

While I was older than Freya in 1985, oh the details! The movies, the TV shows, the music, the clothes — I loved falling back into that time and just wanted to listen to all the 80s music mentioned.

The ending is — well, perfect. One of the best final lines in a book, ever. Fingers crossed, there will be a sequel.

Other reviews: Joint Review by Presenting Lenore and GalleySmith; YA Reads; Dark Faerie Tales.

Review: The Infects

The Infects by Sean Beaudoin. Candlewick Press. 2012. Review from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: So, Nick Sole is working at plant that produces fast food chicken. It’s a dead end job, but he’s not really a slacker — he has to help support his family, since his mom left, his dad doesn’t do much of anything (not since he lost his job at the same factory) and he has a younger sister that doesn’t quite have Aspergers. Bad luck and a problem at work leads to him being arrested and sentenced and before you know it, he’s in a van with a lot of other juvenile delinquents, headed to some nature hike to make him a better person, with the nickname Nero.

Then, the zombies attack. Does a van full of teenage criminals, without any weapons, stand a chance?

The Good: The Infects begins with a “gotcha” moment. Nick and his younger sister are fighting zombies, and just as you’re impressed with the nine year old’s fighting skills, gotcha! They’ve been playing a video game. Instead, Nick is just living his normal, boring, trying to make ends meet life. His biggest worry is trying to get up the nerve to do something about his crush, Petal Gazes, who he sees at both work and at school.

The Infects is funny and knowing; it expects the reader to be up on their zombie culture. Chapter headings include Don’t Fear the Reaper and All  Along the Watchtower. Pages are blood-spattered. Even before a full-fledged, people-eating zombie appears before Nero, things are happening in the background that a reader will pick up on. A news report in the background talking about cows that have been torn to pieces. A woman with unfocused eyes walks by, growling and snapping like a dog.

A bite of a zombie infects a person; hence the nickname and title, The Infects. But what is the source of the prime infection? What starts it? And what does it mean? Of course, none of that matters, not at first, as this bunch of teenage boys on a mountain try to figure out just what to do in the face of a zombie attack. Along the way, they meet up with the van of female teenage delinquents, and guess who is in that van? Guess? If you said Petal, you’d be right!

The zombies are frightening and scary, the boys are both resourceful, brave, and foolish, and I wondered just where The Infects was taking me. Forget about twists and turns; it takes expectations and turns them upside down and sideways and I loved every moment of the weird, scary, funny, terrifying trip. When I got to the end, I thought — well, why not?

Other reviews: Guys Lit Wire; Smash Attack Reads.

Review: Goblin Secrets

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2012. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Rownie is one of “grandchildren” of the witch, Graba, children she’s collected to run her errands. His mother is dead; his older brother, Rowan, brought Rownie to Graba knowing the shelter she offered was better than nothing. Now Rowan is missing, and Rownie is looking everywhere for him.

Rowan was an actor, something illegal in the town of Zombay. When Rownie finds an acting troupe made up of goblins, he finds out that they knew Rowan. Can the goblins help him find Rowan? What causes a human to change into a goblin? And will Graba let Rownie go?

The Good: One of the good things about reading the National Book Award Finalists after they’ve been announced is that I read from a place of, “why this book? what made this special?” It also makes me read outside my “same old, same old.” The bulk of my reading is usually young adult, so it was nice to be pushed into reading a middle grade book for younger readers.

With Goblin Secrets, quite a few things made my list for “why.”

There is the world building in Goblin Secrets: and what a world! There is magic and science. Graba is a witch, with gearwork legs shaped like chicken’s legs. She uses magic to move her house around. (I know! A twist on Baba Yaga!) Goblins were once human, and now that they are changed operate under different rules than humans. Humans acting is disallowed, both because it is frowned upon to pretend to be something you are not but also because there is real power in wearing a mask. Rowan was discovering that power, and it may be the reason he is now missing. Perhaps, overall, what I liked best about Goblin Secrets was its mix of familiarity (goblins and witches and curses) and originality (coal made from hearts, gearwork legs and soldiers, dangerous pigeons). I’m reminded of the books I loved as a child, the ones that gave me enough for my imagination to wander in the world even after the story was done.

The magic — this is a magic both real and magic created by belief. Yes, when Rownie puts on a mask he feels different and acts different and there is power. But it’s not perfect power: at one point, Rownie loses that magic when being pursued: “the charm was broken. The Grubs had broken it with a look and a smirk, without even trying.” What at first seems to be just a quirk in a fairy tale (acting is outlawed) turns out to be have more serious and sinister meaning. Not everything is explained; it’s Rownie’s world, and things are the way they are.

And Rownie: finally, Rownie, who Gaba says is eight but Rownie himself is sure he is closer to ten. So young, to be practically on his own. Living with Graba means a roof over his head, and errands to run, but it doesn’t mean food or comfort. His brother was all Rownie. The adventures he goes on once he meets up with the goblins: the risks of illegal acting, hiding from Graba, running from her “Grubs” (her “grandchildren”), saving the city of Zombay. I can easily picture him running through the streets as his oversized coat billows out behind him.

I said “finally” and I lied. As I put this review aside for a few days, different parts of the book came back to me. The other characters, from Rownie’s “sister” Vass who is being taught to be a witch by a witch jealous of any competition; and the goblins themselves, full of secrets and knowledge: Patch, Semele, Essa, Thomas, Nonny. The plays and the masks; the town and the river. A real ending, not a start of a trilogy. An examination of family: brothers Rowan and Rownie; Graba’s “grandchildren”; the goblins.

Other reviews and links: Enchanted Inkpot interview; Heavy Medal review; The Book Smugglers; the book website.

Review: Never Fall Down

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2012. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Cambodia, 1975. Arn, eleven, lives with his sisters and brother. The family is poor, yes, but they are close and have each other.

The are about to lose even that.

The Khmer Rouge seize power. Arn and his family and other inhabitants of the cities are sent into the country to work rice fields. It is part of Khmer Rouge’s politics and attempts at social engineering, but all Arn knows is that the Khmer Rouge kill people for any reason and no reason; that anyone who is educated is a target; that people are dying. That anyone, including Arn, could be next.

The children are separated from their families; like the other former city dwellers, they work long hours growing rice and only eat what they can grow. Luck touches Arn when the soldiers ask for musicians and Arn volunteers. It’s risky: attention from the Khmer Rouge often means death.

Arn’s goal is to survive, and despite the death and horror and killing around him, he does, day by day, moment by moment. Will he survive? And at what cost?

The Good: Never Fall Down is the fictionalized story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who, like Arn, survived the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields; became a musician and kept those around him alive; was a boy soldier. Chorn-Pond is now a humanitarian. At the end of the book, in addition to an Epilogue about what happened to the characters, McCormick relates Chorn-Pond’s involvement in the writing of the book,  her own interviews with people in Chorn-Pond’s life, the decision to make his life story a novel rather than a work of non-fiction, and the method the story is told.

When Arn leaves his aunt, she tells him, “Do whatever they say. Be like the grass. Bend low, bend low, then bend lower. The wind blows one way, you blow that way. It blow the other way, you do, too. That is the way to survive.” He listens to her, and her parting gift to him — to bend, to survive no matter what — saves his life. It also puts him in terrible situations, as witness to the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge. When the Vietnam invade the country, Arn fears them more than the Khmer Rouge so he takes up a gun, fighting on the behalf of the Khmer Rouge, even though he is a child himself. He takes up a gun, yes, but he has little choice — he has to follow the wind to survive.

Arn’s story is chilling. It is one of physical survival, day in, day out, with little food and comfort. It is also about mental and emotional survival. He’s torn from his family, so remakes his family, looking at those around him as his brothers. Arn is not sentimental about this, and while he takes risks to get extra food, for example, it is always calculated risks. This group that he soon looks at as people he needs to care of, who care for him, who are substitute brothers and father, become necessary for Arn’s own survival as a human being.

What Arn does, and does not do, is told in a rather matter of fact way. Yes, Arn is horrified by the things he sees but at the same time, “in just one day a person can get use to seeing dead body.” Each day, each month, there is more for Arn to get used to. Along the way he has to maintain his sense of self, to not become what he sees around him, and in addition to the “brothers” he helps is the music he learns. The Khmer Rouge may want music for their own political purposes, but it gives Arn a goal, a community, connections. As the reader learns at the end of the book, part of Chorn-Pond’s humanitarian work includes founding the Cambodian Living Arts group to preserve traditional Cambodian arts.

One thing that terribly impressed me was how this story is told. In some ways, I was reminded of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, because of the way the child’s point of view is always maintained and not influenced by adult remembrances. During Never Fall Down, one is always in the moment with Arn. Nothing is softened because of the passage of time; no wisdom is shared from the future Arn who knows how things will work out. And, only the details that matter to Arn are told. For example, the last couple of chapters are about teen-aged Arn finding a home in the United States. As an adult reader I had so many questions — but McCormick doesn’t answer them, instead keeping the story strictly to how Arn sees things and what matters to him.

I confess, even though this book was recommended to me by several people, I avoided reading it until it got the National Book Award Finalist nod. I knew Never Fall Down would be an emotional read, and I wasn’t ready for it. I am around Arn’s age; I remember reading about this in the news and magazines but I don’t remember any books for children about it. I am so thankful it was named a finalist, giving me the push I needed to read it. Yes, it is heartbreaking. Yes, it relates some terrible things. Yes, the way people treat others is distressing. Death and bodies and killings. Arn survives; Arn triumphs; but it’s not in expected ways. I can see why this is a finalist. In one word: Arn, because Never Fall Down gives Arn a voice, and it’s a spellbinding voice that cannot be ignored. I’m also adding it to my Favorite Books Read in 2012.

Reviews and links: Reading Rants review (which includes link to an interview with McCormick and Chorn-Pond, including Chorn-Pond playing Cambodian music); The New York Times Review; NPR Author interview; TeenReads review.

Flashback October 2005

I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in October 2005.

Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams. My review: “Ingrid Levin-Hill is 13, loves soccer and acting, and is impatiently waiting for one of her busy parents to pick her up at the orthodontist. She decides to start off for the soccer field on her own, gets lost, is helped out by an eccentric woman, and accidentally finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Ingrid is a great teenager. She has friends, she’s smart, she’s got courage. But she isn’t perfect; she isn’t annoying; she isn’t always right. She makes mistakes. She learns. And the whole time, she’s guided by what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s necessary as she tries to discover who murdered Kate. Ingrid realizes that things don’t just happen — you have to work for it, whether its studying for the math test or memorizing the streets of her hometown so she knows her way around.”

Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell BartolettiMy review: “SCB traces the history of the Hitler Youth from its start in the mid 1920s, to the 1930s and 1940s when membership became mandatory. She explains why it was attractive — why it was something teens wanted to be a part of. And she shows how it was used to indoctrinate.

Serenity by Keith R.A. DeCandido. My review: “So, why read the novel version of a movie? Especially since I also bought the screenplay? For the same reason I read books-upon-which-movies-are-based. I want more; I want to find out what characters are thinking, maybe get multiple viewpoints on the same event. I want to read scenes that weren’t in a movie, because it was only two hours long. I want background. And while I know how the story will end, I also know that a book will tell a story a bit differently from a movie. I want to read that different version.”

I’m Not The New Me by Wendy McClure. My review: “Just like sometimes, I watch grownup TV, sometimes I read grownup books. . . .  The book had been described to me as “a hilarious and sometimes poignant look at the absurdities of weight-loss culture from an appealing and original new voice.” As I’m always dissatisfied with my weight, I read this memoir. This is so much more than another book about our culture and weight. It’s also about relationships and modern life. ”

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. My review: “How much did I love [this book]? While reading, I never once flipped ahead to see how it would end. I read the last 50 pages slowly, because I didn’t want the book to end. And, even tho it’s over 600 pages, when I got to the end I wished for more.”

Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach. My review: “Meet Hero, the delightful heroine of Shakespeare’s Secret. She’s in 6th grade, and a dismal looking year may turn itself around, thanks to the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Roth. And the mystery Mrs. Roth shares with Hero: a diamond from a 500 year old necklace is hidden somewhere in Hero’s new house. And cute, popular, 8th grader Danny is interested in the mystery and in Hero.”

Dinosaurs by Benedicte Guettier. My review: “One of the things I love about picture books is the details that you don’t get the first time around. The details that you pick up only by multiple readings and looking close. (Heck, I’ve done storytimes where I’ve asked kids to comment about pictures in a book and that’s been the first time I’ve learned about some of the details!) What my third reading revealed: Tyrannosaurus is chasing after five dinosaurs, but all you see are the tails. Look closely at the shape and color of those tails, and you realize its the five dinosaurs that were introduced on the earlier pages.”

Poison by Chris Wooding. My review: “Poison is the name of the main character, a girl raised in the Black Marshes. One bleak night, her baby sister Azalea is stolen by phaeries and Poison resolves to get her sister back, no matter the cost. Poison is a lover of stories, including phaerie tales. As she goes out into the world beyond the Black Marshes she discovers that having been a reader helps her out: much that is in those phaerie tales turns out to be true, or, at least, to have enough truth in them that Poison can triumph against the endless hurdles thrown in her way. But then — about two-thirds of the way through — just as you are thinking that this is just another fairy tale retelling, another fantasy that is paying tribute to other fantasy works — there is an unexpected, brilliant turn. Keep reading. I won’t say any more.”

The Costume Party, written and illustrated by Victoria Chess. My review: “It’s raining, and Nico, Fanny, Claude, Daisy and Rose (five dogs) are bored. Madame Coco has the perfect solution to boring raining days: a costume party, just like when she was little and it rained and rained. . . . Sometimes kids get rushed out of picture books because the books are viewed as suitable only for those who can’t read “real” books. As soon as a child is reading on his or her own, away from the picture books and on to the “real” chapter books. But this ignores that we live in a visual world, a world that is not just words but is also pictures. Good picture books help us to pause and look beyond the words. (On another post I’ll talk about picture books that, because of the story, are for older readers or adults).”

Review: The FitzOsbornes at War

The FitzOsbornes at War, the Montmaray Journals, Book III by Michelle Cooper. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2012. Sequel to Sequel to A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Life in Great Britain during World War II, as told by Sophie FitzOsborne. The FitzOsborne story began in the mid 1930s in A Brief History of Montmaray, centering on life on their small, island kingdom and how and why the Germans invaded and took over Montmaray. The family fled their home, and The FitzOsbornes in Exile was about their adjustment to life in England as well as what was happening in the years leading up to World War II.

The war touches Sophie, her siblings and cousins in many ways. Her brother Toby and family friend/cousin, Simon, are in uniform, as are many of their friends. Sophie and her cousin, Veronica, both find civilian ways to help the war effort. Family issues don’t stop just because a country is at war: younger sister Henrietta rebels against tutors and boarding schools, their aunt is concerned with money and status and her nieces’ possible marriages, and the question of the recovery of Montmaray looms over everything.

The Good: I have adored this series from the first page, when we met Sophie as she wrote in a castle on an island, surrounded by family and nothing else. A princess with no money or resources and a mad uncle.

The FitzOsbornes at War is both what I wanted and what I needed from this series’ conclusion, but also not what I expected. It tells the story of what it was like, being a young woman during the war: the fears, the desire to do something, the dangers, the rationing, the bombings, the worries over loved ones. Going in, I knew one thing for certain: people would be hurt. People would die. It would be dishonest for anything other to happen in a book about a war, a book where the main characters are young adults in their late teens and early twenties who are in the armed forces or in places being bombed nightly. Cooper is not dishonest. She does not hold back.

Sophie, as ever, is an engaging storyteller. This is her journal, and it jumps ahead, sometimes, but it’s always smoothly written. I adored not just the details of daily living, and a civilian’s view of historical events, but also the inclusion of real people such as Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. Sophie is energetic, she is enthusiastic, she is wonderful. She goes through a lot; she suffers great loss; but she remains Sophie. The perspective is of someone who is trying, trying, trying so hard despite it all to be young, and to enjoy dances, and to fall in love.

Nope, I’m not going to give much more in terms of spoilers than that. Well, yes, the general history of World War II is hardly a spoiler, but the day to day things?The details? And how it all impacts Sophie and her family? That’s for a reader to discover, and to cry over. And, sometimes, even, to be happy about. As with the two previous books, when it comes to the real history and historical figures, it’s a mix of things a reader will recognize and things that will be new (did that really happen?).

The only thing I was disappointed about? I wish there had been more about Montmaray; there is some, don’t get me wrong, and I like what happens with that storyline and the resolution, but part of what drew me into the storyline was Montmaray so I wanted more. That said, I’ll be clear: I love this look at World War II.

As for who was hurt, who died, who lost, who loved? Oh. My. Goodness. I was shocked and I cried. And one of the resolutions was so perfect and yet so unexpected that all I could think was, well played, you. Perfect. This is the end of the trilogy,  yes — but am I the only one who wants more? Perhaps what is happening to the contemporary FitzOsbornes, the descendants of the ones who survived the war? (See how I did that, not giving anything away?)

Because this series, read in its entirety, is a wonderful whole story of Sophie’s life as a teenager and young woman. Because of the look it takes at the 1930s and 1940s. Because it’s not what I expected and it took wonderful risks that paid off. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

One last point: in part because of how Sophie and her siblings and cousins and friends age, this book easily crosses over, with appeal for both adults and teens. It also would make a terrific miniseries.

Other reviews: Oxford Erin; Read Alert blog from State Library of Victoria.

National Book Awards Finalists

One of my obsessions that has developed in the past few years is reading every one of the National Book Award Nominations for Young People’s Literature before the Award is announced.

Those who are unfamiliar with the NBA can check out their website.

Very briefly: judges who are authors select a shortlist of finalists, announced in October; the winner is announced at the gala in November. This year’s Young People’s Literature Judges: Susan Cooper, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Gary D. Schmidt, Marly Youmans

This year’s Finalists (information from the NBA website):

William Alexander, Goblin Secrets (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)

Carrie Arcos, Out of Reach (Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)

Patricia McCormick, Never Fall Down (Balzer+Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Eliot Schrefer, Endangered (Scholastic)

Steve Sheinkin, Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press)

Notice anything? Yep, I haven’t read any of them yet!

When is the winner announced? Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So, if I’m going to be tracking down copies of the books, reading them, and reviewing them by then, I better get busy!

If you’re looking for either motivation to read the books, or a bit of an extra having read them, check out SLJ Speaks to National Book Award Finalists.

How many of the books have you read? Do you plan on reading them all before the winner is announced? What do you think of this year’s finalists?