Nielsen, Susan. Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom.
Nominated for the Cybils middle grade fiction by Sandra Stiles
Violet is not happy with her family situation. Her father left her mother for a younger actress and now lives in California with her and their twin daughters. Violet's mother has sated a string of undesirable men and is currently going out with Dudley Wiener. In order to stop this, Violet works on a plan to write to George Clooney, whom her mother once met, and get him to marry her. This is actually a fairly brief bit of the story-- most of which is concerned more with daily life. (Washer is on the blink, so Violet doesn't have a clean shirt for school, she refuses to talk to her father on the phone, her mother's friends at work discussing the men that they date.)
Strengths: Even with more divorce now than in the 1970s, most of the books I have on broken and blended families are older titles. Violet's anger seems real, even when she encourages her younger stepsisters to eat cat poo.
Weaknesses: The George Clooney angle seems a little fake, and will date the book, but is a bit fun.
Kennedy, Kim. Misty Gordon and the Mystery of the Ghost Pirates.
Nominated for the Cybils by Jason Wells
Misty has a hard life-- her parents make their living buying the estates of people who have recently passed away, and haul their purchases around in an old ice cream truck. When Madame Zaster dies and Misty gets some of her belongings, including her diary and a pair of her glasses, she gets sucked in to a plot to destroy the town, and must find three Greek statues left in the care of descendants of the town founders to avert disaster.
Strengths: I liked Misty and her friend Yoshi, and there was decent plot and character development.
Weaknesses: I got really distracted in an unpleasant way by the oddities the author threw in. Yoshi's father works at an insane asylum? And there is an escaped inmate named May Nays who goes crazy around (you guessed it) mayonnaise? Every time something like that popped up, it made me cringe, and then I started to anticipate the cringing. Quirky character names are not endearing.
MacHale, D. J. The Light (Morpheus Road #1)
Nominated for the Cybils by Karin Lackman
Marsh is struggling with the death of his photographer mother and the increasingly bad behavior of his best friend Cooper. It's bad enough when Cooper gets caught scalping counterfeit tickets and gets sent to the family cabin for the summer, but when Marsh starts being stalked by one of his own drawings, the Gravedigger, and Cooper disappears, he must find some way to survive. Aided by Cooper's snarky but pretty sister Sydney, he tries to find out not only what has happened to Cooper, but also why he, Sydney, and many others seem to be experiencing hallucinations that become all too real and try to kill them.
Strengths: The emotions in this are refreshingly real. After feeling breezes and seeing symbols appear on the shower door, Marsh wisely decides that he needs to consult his father and get some professional psychiatric help. How many other characters in fantasy stories think that? His anger and disappointed with Cooper, and his sadness when Cooper disappears, also ring true. Never fear, though, there's lots of creepy psychological horror interspersed with lots of action and adventure. This will be a BIG hit with the students. I'm shortlisting this one.
Weaknesses: Meanders a bit, and there are more questions at the end of the book than at the beginning. Yes, it's a trilogy, but it's hard to wait.
I do not concur with Kirkus reviews that this is too long for middle schoolers or that Marsh is portrayed as an immature 16. I thought MacHale did a great job at creating realistic characters, although the romance between the sister and Marsh seemed a bit forced.