Lai, Thanhha. Listen, Slowly
February 17th 2015 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Mai is NOT happy that she has to go to Vietnam for the summer, since she and her friend Montana have plans to hang out at the beach all summer near their homes in Laguna, California. Mai's grandmother (Ba) wants to return to her native country because she thinks that her husband (Ong), missing in action in 1966, might still be alive, a belief reinforced by a Vietnamese detective. Mai's mother is a high powered lawyer with a case to argue, and her father spends time in the mountains of Vietnam, repairing cleft palates and performing other minor operations, so it is left to Mai to stay and help her grandmother. Visiting her grandmother's village, Mai meets a host of relatives, including a cousin her age, Ut. Mai gets to experience the hot, sticky climate of Vietnam, the endless food pressed on them by well-meaning relatives, and lots of village customs. Since she can understand the language better than she can speak it, and has some help translating from Minh, a boy her age who has gone to school in Texas, she is able to understand what is going on around her. Her grandmother is told that her husband left a message for her, but finding out where this is takes some detective work as well as a difficult journey for the two, but her grandmother is finally able to accept the passing of her much beloved husband.
Strengths: This was a quite fascinating look at what life is like in Vietnam, and the family's connection to the country is explored in interesting ways. I loved that Mai was irritated with her parents and grandmother even though she loves them dearly and knows they are good people-- that quality of being so irritated that one flops down on a bed and screams into a pillow is so uniquely middle grade, and made this story extremely relateable. Also adding to the appeal for middle grade readers was the small side story on Mai's relationship with her friend Montana, and her concern that Montana would gain the affection of a boy she liked.
Weaknesses: When Mai and Ut go to Saigon, the novel seemed to really drag. The scenes in the village, even when they are discussing lice treatments and Mai's sickness after ingesting river water, were somehow more interesting.
What I really think: I expected this to be a novel in verse that I would hate, but I enjoyed it so much that I am going to have to go back and reread Inside Out and Back Again. Definitely buying.
Buxton, Jamie. Temple Boys.
February 10th 2015 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
This sounded SUPER interesting, but when I read it, even I found it confusing. The place and time were not clearly set out, and I think students, who assume that every book is set right here and right now, will be totally lost. The inclusion of all manner of historical details would have helped considerably. It wasn't bad, and maybe for more sophisticated readers this would work, but I don't see this being successful with my students. Too bad, because I could use some books set during this historical time period.
Jerusalem: year zero. A gritty, vivid, startlingly original reimagining of the world's most famous story, told from a street kid's point of view.
Jerusalem, year zero. Flea belongs to a gang of teenage vagrants living in the shadow of the Temple, living on their wits and what they can beg or steal. When a man called the Magician arrives, bringing talk of miracles and revolution, Flea and his comrades latch onto the newcomer in the hope that he'll offer them a secure home. As events accumulate and powerful forces gather around the Magician, Flea notices rumblings of discontent among his followers. Is the Magician the savior he claims to be, or a fraud? Does Flea hold the fate of the Magician—and possibly the world—in his hands, as he begins to believe? Temple Boys vividly conjures up ancient Jerusalem and the Biblical era and boldly re-imagines the western world's most famous story from the point of view of a teenage boy.