Johnson, Maureen. The Name of the Star.
Rory's parents move to England from Louisiana, and she attends a boarding school. Shortly after she gets there, a Jack the Ripper style murder occurs very near the school, so everyone panics and Rippermania take hold of the area. Having snuck out on the night of the murder, Rory is questioned by the police, especially since she saw one man that no one else saw. It turns out that Rory has the ability to see ghosts. Is the murderer really Jack the Ripper? Rory gets involved with paranormal "police" to help solve the crimes.Strengths: Really can't do this book justice without spoiling the suspense. I'm not a fan of gory books, and this one is not especially so, but given the nature of the murders described, this is not for the faint of stomach. Johnson always does an excellent job of realistic fiction, but her foray into the paranormal is fantastic as well.
Weaknesses: Not quite sure where the sequel to this will go; I'm sure it will be good but I would have preferred a stand alone title.
Grimes, Nikki. Planet Middle School.
Joylin is a self-proclaimed tomboy who disdains all of the fripperies that girly-girls employ, but when she starts to be interested in several boys that she knows, she finds herself wearing makeup and uncomfortable clothing in order to attract them. She has many typical issues-- buying a bra, arguing with friends, feeling akward.
Strengths: I'm always hypercritical of novels in verse, and this one is not bad. While the poetry doesn't have as much meter or rhyme as I would prefer, each poem is at least thematic, and the progression of them makes a fine story. I do have a lot of girls who play basketball, and it was great that the story was about an African American girl and NOT about her being African American!
Weaknesses: Joylin approaches her problems with an overwrought sort of energy that I found tiring but which is true to life.
Alvarez, Julia. How Tia Lola Ended Up Starting Over.
Nominated for the Cybils by Gina Ruiz.
Victor and his three daughters have moved to Vermont from New York City and share a house with the elderly Colonel Charlebois. The family loves the area, as well as being near Victor's girlfriend Linda and her children, who are living out in the country with Tia Lola, but everyone is concerned that Victor is not going back to his job as a lawyer. In order to make money, the family decides to turn Colonel Charlebois' house into a bed and breakfast. This angers the owner of another such establishment in town, and when Tia Lola gets the B&B up and running, a string of bad luck causes many disturbances. The children investigate and find out who is behind these, and the families all formulate plans to get their lives organized.
Strengths: This is a nice multicultural story with a strong family support system, and is funny as well.
Weaknesses: This is the fourth book in a series, and somewhat confusing because I hadn't read the others.
Sternberg, Julie. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.
Nominated for the Cybils by Janelle.
Eleanor's babysitter, Bibi, moves to Florida to take care of her sick father, and Eleanor is inconsolable. She misses Bibi and doesn't want to like her new babysitter, Natalie. Everything reminds her of Bibi, and she is frequently mean to Natalie just because she is not Bibi. Ellie is also somewhat concerned about starting third grade, and spends the summer working through all of her issues. She plays with children she doesn't like, sets up a lemonade stand, and finally comes to an acceptance of the new reality of her life with the help of her parents, Natalie, and a letter from Bibi.
Strengths: This might be helpful for a very young child who has lost someone dear to him. The pictures and easy text would make this an accessible book for that.
Weaknesses: I was halfway through before I realized it was meant to be a novel in verse-- the short lines seemed more like an I Can Read book than poetry.