Van Draanen, Wendelin. The Running Dream.
Jessica runs her best track race... and then the bus she is on is hit by a reckless driver and she wakes up in the hospital with her leg amputated beneath the knee. Her recovery is physically and emotionally difficult, and the terse descriptions bring a horrible immediacy to her situation. To complicate matters further, there is a problem with the insurance, and her family is struggling financially. When she returns to school in a wheelchair, she befriends Rosa, who has cerebral palsy and is brilliant at math. Rosa's situation helps Jessica realize that while she might not be lucky, her situation could be worse. After her teammates raise enough money to buy her a prosthetic running leg, she decides to run a 10k race-- and take Rosa in a wheelchair with her! There are many, many insightful moments in this book (e.g. after having trouble getting in the shower, Jessica thinks it would have been easier to lose an arm, until she thinks about all of the things that she does with her hands), vast research into recuperation from amputation and the fitting of prostheses, and a palpable love of running.
Strengths: This is a must read. Seriously, an awesome, awesome book. There were multiple times when my nose prickled suspiciously and my eyes leaked a bit. The staccato style gives us an insight into Jessica's personality and makes for a compelling read.
Weaknesses: Everything is resolved a little too neatly, and the time line (8 months from accident to running a 10k) seemed a bit rushed. Not that I really cared. Is it possible to call dibs on a Cybil's nomination?
Sadly, after reading this book I found out that Grete Waitz, the ground-breaking runner, recently died of cancer at the age of 57. Just last week, I mentioned Ms. Waitz's fictional appearance in Zan Hagen's Marathon. Condolences to Ms. Waitz's family, friends and fans.
Restrepo, Bettina. Illegal.
Nora's family is struggling to keep their grapefruit orchard afloat, but their town has become so impoverished that they can't. Nora's father goes to Texas, selling the family truck so that he can pay a coyote to take him. For a while, he sends money, and Nora, her mother, and her grandmother are able to survive. When the money stops, things become impossible, and Nora and her mother use the last of their resources to go to Texas in search of the father. They are lucky upon their arrival. The waitress in the diner at which they stop helps them find an apartment, and they soon have jobs working at food stands. While life isn't exactly pleasant, they are able to get by, even when things don't work out as they plan.
Strengths: Good coverage of a timely topic. This is a much better choice than the 1981 Lupita Manana, which is dated. Of course, we have class sets of those.
Weaknesses: Again, the resolutions are a bit neat.
Calonita, Jen. There's No Place Like Home.
Having recuperated from having gone off the rails a bit, Kaitlyn is back, working in a sit com with her former nemesis, Skye Burke. Things are stressful, though-- her overworked mother/manager is overbooking her and sending her on weird appearances (Turkey Tasters food drive, anyone?) which keeps her from seeing her boyfriend Austin. When the paparazzi are invited to see her take her driver's license test, Kaitlyn is incensed. An accident during this sends her to an alternate reality where she is just an intern on the show that brought her fame, her mother is still a nurse, and the family still lives a simpler existence. Is this what she really wants? Of course not. As much trouble as it is, Kaitlyn loves her designer clothes and magazine interviews, but when she comes back, she rearranges things so that her situation is a little healthier. This final book leaves her in a good place.
Strengths: Always don't want to pick up the next book in the series, always end up loving Kaitlyn and enjoying the book tremendously. Good call by Calonita to end the series, however; anything after five books gets to be a bit much.
Weaknesses: A bit of an odd departure into fantasy, but it works.