Riordan, James. The Sniper.
During World War II in Russia, Tania wants to be a nurse. Her mother and young brothers have disappeared, but her father is working with the secret police and allows Tania to train to be a sniper because she seems to be good at it and the Russians need everyone to help. Tania has been raised to think that all people are the same, and that the world is good, but when she sees the devastation caused by the Germans, she feels that it is a matter of "kill or be killed". She is sent with some prisoners to "toughen up" because she is not the cold-hearted killer that some of the snipers are, and ends up seeing her younger brother, who was working as a shoeshine boy and spy, hanged. This steels her resolve to kill as many Germans as she can, especially high ranking ones, in order to wear down the forces. Eventually, she is assigned to a mission to take Field Marshall Paulus alive.
Strengths: This deftly shows both the necessity of brutality during war, and the terrible toll it takes on those who are asked to administer it. Riordan paints a grim picture of the Russian situation, but doesn't make the Germans seem totally evil. This will be avidly read by students who like John Wilson's or Don Wulffson's war books.
Weaknesses: There is a lot of graphic violence, and it is not for the faint of stomach or heart.
Dogar, Sharon. Annexed.
Everyone has heard about Anne Frank, and she tells her version of the events that took place while she was hidden in the famous attic, but how close to the truth are her observations? Dogar's forward explaining how truth can vary is very illuminating, and the story of the time in hiding, interspersed with a speculative account of what befell Peter after he was found and sent to a concentration camp.
Strengths: It is interesting to see a different perspective on the world of Anne Frank, especially from a male characters. Our 8th grade always does a Holocaust unit, and it's difficult at times to find books for the boys.
Weaknesses: There is nothing particularly new about the Holocaust in this book, not that there needs to be. I'm glad I bought a copy.
Appelt, Kathi. Keeper.
Nominated for the Cybils by Mary Anne Scheurer
Ten-year-old Keeper had a BAD day. She couldn't stand the thought of a batch of crabs being killed to make gumbo, so when Signe leaves her in charge of the simmering pot to go to the store to get spices, she frees the crabs. Unfortunately, in the process, she burns the pot, breaks a bowl, and causes widespread havoc. Signe is sad; Dogie, a neighbor and Keeper's employer, is planning on proposing to Signe, and she wanted everything to be perfect. Keeper hides in her room and makes her plan-- she will go to sea that night to beg the sea goddess to make everything right (even bribing her with figurines carved by a neighbor, Mr. Beauchamp) and to find her mother, whome Keeper believes to be a mermaid. The sea is not safe at night, especially since a storm is brewing, and Keeper loses her dog and almost drowns before being rescued not by her mother but by a merman who has been waiting for years to be called by Mr. Beauchamp, who is his lost love. In the end, a clever bird and mystically awakened adults save Keeper, and everything turns out alright.
Strengths: I was able to read this all. It is much better than The Underneath, this author's previous work.
Weaknesses: (Spoiler alert!) Reviews place this for ages 8-12, but it is my thought that it is really a book for adults with a young protagonist. Not because of the love story between the two men-- this is a little odd, since the one is a merman, but not objectionable in any way. It's the overwhelming sense of loss from the supressed memories about the mother, who turns out to have left because she almost drowned Keeper, and left her with Signe, who was a young runaway whom she picked up. I can't imagine giving this to an 8 year old. Perhaps for high school. This is the sort of book that language arts teachers love and kids... don't.
Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Sabotaged. (Book 3 of The Missing)
Nominated for the Cybils by B. Wells.
Jonah and Katherine are still working to get all of the children stolen from history back to where they belong, with the help of JB and an Elucidator, which helps the children survive their time traveling by assisting with skills and language. This time they travel back to the lost colony of Roanoke to deliver Andrea, who was supposed to grow up to be Virginia Dare. Andrea has lost both of her adoptive parents, and thinks that if she sabotages the trip back in time, she can save her parents, so she loses the Elucidator. The children find not only Virginia Dare's grandfather, but two other boys who have been sent by the mysterious "Second" to mess up JB's plans to deliver all of the children.
Strengths: There is a lot of action and adventure, as well as a lot of historical facts and a new twist on time travel ("tracers" are ghostly images of people the way they would have been if history hadn't been messed with).
Weakness: Perhaps because of the density of information, I found this one to be a bit plodding. The children all were one-note characters, and I was never quite convinced of many key elements of the time travel plot.
Wooldridge, Connie Nordhielm. The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton.
Well, this was just for fun. I can't imagine any middle school student slogging through this very well-done biography of an influential early twentieth century writer, but I enjoyed it tremendously. Woolridge does a great job of showing the social constraints of the tiem and contrasting them with how Wharton rebelled. This would be an excellent book for a college course on women's studies. I must admit that it was a little hard to feel all that sorry for Wharton, what with the huge house in the states and the arduous traveling through Europe. Plus the fame. And the multiple boyfriends, even if her husband was annoying and sickly. Appropriate for a high school library if the author's works are in the curriculum.
Oh, and a bit of advice. NEVER let a vacuum cleaner salesman into your house. I don't know what I was thinking. Seriously-- $1,989.00 for a vacuum cleaner? Are they joking? My first CAR didn't cost that much.