Badoe, Adwoa. Between Sisters.
Gloria Bampo is in trouble. Her mother is sick, her father is unemployed, and she has failed her school exams. In Ghana, this means that it is unlikely she will become a fashion designer. Instead, she is sent to watch a cousin's toddler in a neighboring city. There are many temptations-- cool clothes, television programs, and older men who treat her nicely. Her cousin gives her every advantage, and Gloria makes friends, but she knows that eventually she must come up with a plan to secure different employment if she doesn't want to be sucked down into the cycle of poverty.
Strengths: This was a great look at every day life in another country. I have had several students whose families are from Ghana, and this will give students who have never thought about what life is like for people in other countries much to think about.
Weaknesses: Not a weakness, just something that may cause me not to buy it for my library-- Gloria is 16, and she becomes sexually involved with a much older doctor who is using her. I'm still thinking about this-- nothing is graphic, and the lessons learned are important. For high school I would definitely buy this.
Schroder, Monica. Saraswati's Way.
Like Sheth's Boys without Names, this is a riveting but sad window into how desperate young people's lives can be in other countries. Akash's mother died when he was young, so when his father also passes away, Akash's grandmother decides that instead of fulfilling his dreams of studying math in secondary school, he will be sold to work in a stone quarry to pay off the family debts. Akash quickly figures out that no matter how lon ghe works, the debt will never go away, so he runs away to the city. There, he befriends some street boys and learns how to eke out a living collecting plastic bottles. He also catches the eye of a news stand owner, Ramesh, and impresses the man with his drive to earn money to be tutored to pass an exam and hopefully get into a school. Since Akash does not sniff glue, steal, or deal drugs (except once at the urging of one of his friends), Ramesh helps him in his struggle out of poverty.
Strengths: "What is it like?" "What?" "Reading." "It's like going to different places without leaving where you are." (Page 63). Again, a brilliantly descriptive book that clearly draws on Ms. Schroder's experiences living in India. The plight of children who struggle even to get an education is something that ALL of my students need to read. I am definitely going to suggest that this be used during one of our multicultural units.
Weaknesses: Again, not really a weakness. The ending is a happy one, and while it is not necessarily realistic, I understand why Ms. Schroder felt it necessary for Akash's story to turn out that way.
Durst, Susan Beth. Enchanted Ivy.
Loved this author's Into the Wild and Out of the Wild so much that I felt bad about not being as thrilled with Ice, but even with as much fantasy as I have read lately, this was an awesome book which I will definitely be considering nominating for the YA Cybils next year! Lily's grandfather wants her to get into Princeton, so takes her along for an alumni weekend. She is offered a chance at easy admission-- her grandfather's dining club wants her to find the Ivy key, and if she does, she's in. She has no more clue than that, and a strange boy who helps her, but finds quickly that Princeton is a portal for a magical world of creatures, and she herself is a key. While her grandfather's friends appear helpful at first, she finds out many mysteries about her family and realizes that all is not as black and white as the people in our Princeton would like her to believe.
Strengths: Very intriguing magical world, strong sense of place at Princeton, cool magical people. Good mysteries, lots of actions, likeable characters. Shades of gray. Gave this one immediately to older daughter.
Weaknesses: Hmmm. Bad gargoyle on cover art? It is a little more high school, but still perfectly appropriate for middle school.
Almond, David. The Boy Who Climbed into the Moon.
Nominated for the Cybils.
This is probably the last review I write for Cybils' nominees, because we've gotten to the bottom of this particular barrel, and most of the books are falling under the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say it" category, with the notable exception of Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath: The Attack of the Ninja Frogs, which I adored, but which I also read standing in the aisle of the Meijers on Saturday, so don't have the greatest comprehension of it.
Paul wants to go to the moon, so he starts to the top of his apartment building where, with his parents, he meets a cast of weird characters who help him in his attempt to prove that the moon is just a hole in the sky. The text is accompanied by bright, cartoony illustrations which make the pervasive anti-war sentiment seem a little strange.
Strengths: Would be good for young readers who want a challenge of a higher reading level but not a long book.
Weaknesses: I'm not an Almond fan at all, and didn't like this. It was just odd and vaguely disturbing. Reviews likening it to The Little Prince didn't make it any better for me.
Vacation Disclaimer: I HATE being on the computer at home, and I'm off work for two weeks. I don't want to check face book or e mail or ANYTHING. I have a huge pile of books to read, and no longer have the excuse of hamster-powered internet to avoid blogging, but I'd almost rather clean out the basement than get on the computer. Almost. Guess what I'm off to do now!