Cousins, Dave. 15 Days Without a Head
9 May 2013, Flux (paperback)
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Laurence is used to taking care of his young brother, Jay, since his mother is usually drunk and has limited patience generally dealing with life, much less children specifically dealing with children. Laurence can get Jay to the caregivers and school, make sure he is fed, and occasionally goes to his mother's job cleaning offices to do her work, if she is too hungover to get out of bed. But when his mother doesn't come home from work one night, he finds it increasingly hard to take care of Jay. Laurence is also a contestant on a radio trivia show, and is very close to winning the grand prize, which he hopes will make his mother happier, since it is a vacation to a luxury resort. Things go from bad to worse when Jay floods a neighbor's apartment and it looks like children's services might get involved. When Laurence thinks he sees his mother at a concert, he tries to hunt her down with the help of Mina, a girl from his school who is very supportive even when she finds out how bad Laurence's life is. Even if he can find his mother, will life ever return to normal?
Strengths: Like all really good problem novels, this book drew me in and mesmerized me with the details. My students love problem novels; it's a developmental stage, I think, where they like to read about the lives of other people who are worse off than they are. I really liked the characters, the realistic way problems were handled, and very much appreciated that the book was gritty but didn't include language or situations that would make it inappropriate for younger readers.
Weaknesses: Very British, which might turn off some readers. The radio quiz show might be especially confusing. Also, only in paperback. I'll have to see if a prebind is available.
Tharp, Tim. Mojo
9 April 2013, Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy from YA Books Central and reviewed there.
Dylan doesn't go to the best school, but he is still surprised and dismayed to find the body of a school mate, Hector Maldonado, in a dumpster where he is hiding from bullies. When a local girl from a swankier school, Ashton Browning, goes missing, Dylan thinks the two events might be connected, and decides to investigate. The promise of a cash reward that he needs in order to buy a car doesn't hurt. Dylan and his friend Audrey get drawn into the world of the swanky school, especially the activity at a club called "Gangland" that some of the other students are running. A life of ease and privilege can quickly go wrong, and Dylan puts himself and his friend in danger when the investigation takes an unusual turn.
Strengths: This kept me on the edge of my seat... I kept waiting for something inappropriate to be said, but nothing ever came up. Dylan is a good kid, the murder was not gruesome, but students do want murder mysteries, and this one walked the line between what kids want and what I think is appropriate beautifully. The cover is great, too. Excited about this one.
Weaknesses: I've read a lot of negative reviews about this one, but I don't share the opinions. I thought Dylan was a fairly intriguing main character with good motivations, the mystery had a bit of a twist, and in general, this is something that will be popular. The only thing I didn't understand was why Dylan lived in such a bad neighborhood if his parents were a teacher and a nurse!