Cat is not happy that she has to move in with her father and his new family because her mother will be up in a space station. She likes her stepmother and half brother, Geoffrey, but her stepsister Olivia is evil. They have to share a room and are constantly bickering. After Cat's rather odd Great Aunt Abyssinia comes to visit, the situation gets worse-- every time Cat speaks, toads come out of her mouth, and jewels and flowers fall from Olivia's lips. The girls don't know what to do, but when Geoffrey is kidnapped by thieves who want Olivia's jewels, they realize they have to work together to get him back.
Strengths: This was a funny retelling of a classic fairy tale, and was girly enough that readers who don't want to read fantasy but have to for a class project will like it. I liked the depiction of Cat's stepmother, although wanted to slap both Cat and Olivia a lot of the time.
Weaknesses: The toads on the cover are much too big! While I think my students will like this, it didn't do a whole lot for me. Not sure why.
Fredericks, Mariah. The Girl in the Park.
E ARC from Netgalley. com
When Wendy's mother calls Rain very early in the morning asking if Rain saw her former friend at a party the night before, we know something is wrong. When Wendy's body later shows up traumatized at a playground in Central Park, the girls' entire private school is thrown into chaos. At first, police suspect a vagrant in the killing, but soon Nico, a popular boy whom Wendy was trying to steal away from Sasha, becomes a suspect because of Wendy's interest in him. Rain is very effected by the murder, since she missed her friend and now feels that there is no one really sticking up for Wendy due to her increasingly skanky behavior. Rain tries to follow clues that a reporter gives her, tries to get help from teachers, and above all, tries to help the world understand that Wendy was more than her violent death.
Strengths: It was interesting that Rain has a cleft palate and is uncomfortable with her own speech. I don't know of any other books where a character is facing this issue, although I have had a couple of students with repaired cleft palates.This was an absorbing mystery with a fair amount of plot turns, and the nastiness of the high schoolers will make this popular. This is, however, definitely a high school book.
Weaknesses: Wendy's sexual behavior is alarming, and the inappropriate relationship that lead to her death is one that I could see coming. Again, high school. This could have been middle school with a few tweaks until I found out who the murderer was.
That said, I have one student who is reading V.C. Andrew's Flowers in the Attic(1979) series. Such a totally creepy and inappropriate series, and yet at one time I personally owned all four books, and everyone who is about my age read them!