Northrop, Michael. Surrounded by Sharks
May 27th 2014
by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Davey and his family are on vacation on a small island off Key West. He's glad to get away from Ohio, but the room is small, his parents are snoring, and his younger brother is passing gas, so he takes his book (The Silmarillion!) and heads out to the beach. The water looks so welcoming that he hops in and starts swimming, but ends up going out much further than is safe. He finds a water cooler bottle to cling to, but keeps getting pulled further and further out. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, his family wakes up, finds him missing, and starts to search. Back in the water, Davey is struggling to stay afloat, but when sharks start to cluster around him and one even bites him, drawing blood, he knows that he has to be rescued soon.
Strengths: This was a quick read, and will be popular with students who like survival stories. Northrop is a great writer (Rotten, Trapped, Plunked), and the details of shark attacks are very vivid. The characters are fun (there is an amusing English family), and BOTH PARENTS ARE ALIVE!!!!!
Weaknesses: This somehow wasn't up to the standards of the other books. It was good, and I'll buy it, but it didn't have quite the punch that the other books did.
It's SO clear that I have become a twelve year old reluctant reader boy after all the reading I've done. It's gotten to the point where I would rather read a 120 page football book than a 300 page one about a quirky girl. Personally, I vastly prefer historical fiction or time travel, but I read Angela Darling's Crush books, adventure novels, and goofy books like Rylander's Code Zero because I know there will be lots of readers for the books, and I'll have spent my scant money wisely.
When everyone in the Kidlitosphere is raving about the newest literary quirky/dysfunctional book, it makes me sad because I know it will be mentioned for every award under the sun. Such books also make MY students cringe. Maybe not your students. So I'll try to be fair about the following book.
Holczer, Tracy. The Secret Hum of a Daisy.
May 1st 2014
by Putnam Juvenile
Grace has been through a lot by the age of 12. Her father and grandfather were killed in a car accident before she was born and her very young mother has moved them around all over California after being kicked out by her own mother. When Grace argues with her mother over an impending move and then her mother has a fatal accident in the river (and Grace finds her), Grace is sent to live with her grandmother. At first, she tries to sabotage her placement there so she can return to Lacey and Mrs. Greene, the people with whom she and her mother stayed last. Grace lives in the shed, pulls mean pranks on her grandmother, and is very dependent on hearing from Lacey every week. Slowly, she settles in to school, gets to know the community, and starts to find out information about her parents and grandparents. Her grandmother designed the local park, and her mother did statues of birds out of found objects, including a statue in the central fountain of the park. Slowly, Grace makes peace with her situation and learns that her grandmother does love her.
Strengths: Certainly, this is very beautifully written, plucks at the heartstrings, and has a well-developed sense of place and interesting characters. Having a parent die has got to be the toughest loss to survive, and
Grace seems to do better than other middle grade characters in coming to
terms with the death. The way that she will think about her mother very
briefly at odd moments is very realistic.
Weaknesses: This is slow paced and sad. Not something students ask for or are happy to read if forced. I had BIG concerns about the mother, who seemed most likely mentally ill, completely unfit to be a parent, and a possible suicide. I felt sorry for the grandmother, who should not have felt guilty for kicking the mother out, and who was then forced to take in Grace. The whole sad scenario could have been prevented with a little sex education or birth control, so it was hard for me to like a character who never should have been born.
HOWEVER, everyone else on the planet liked the book.
People Who Liked It More Than I Did:
Waking Brain Cells
Welcome to My Tweendom
The Book Nut