Trueit, Trudi. Sister Solution.
September 29th 2015 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Sammi and her friend Eden are trying to work their way up the social ladder and into the inner circle of Patrice, the most popular girl in school. Sammi tries to sit at her lunch table, help her with school assignments, and commiserate when Patrice moans about her off-again-on-again romance with Noah. When she finds out that her younger sister Jorgianna is going to skip TWO grades and end up at her school, Sammi makes her sign an agreement that the two won't talk to each other, since Jorgianna is embarrassingly smart and dresses in very flamboyant ways. However, Jorgianna connected with Patrice when they both had exhibits in an art contest, and she is immediately welcomed into Patrice's inner circle. Sammi, on the other hand, runs afoul of Patrice when she starts dating Noah. Can the sisters learn to coexist at the same school and occasionally talk to each other? And where will their loyalties lie when an academic deceit is discovered?
Strengths: I appreciated the sibling rivalry, as well as the bit about academic honesty. My students will enjoy the girl drama and the fashion descriptions. A lot of my girls can burn through a book a day, and this is the sort of thing that they definitely enjoy.
Weaknesses: Jorgianna was kind of obnoxious, and I can never buy that middle school girls are allowed to wear "four-hundred-dollar Sassy Girl sandals" and other expensive designer clothes. Is it even possible to spend $300 for a pair of jeans? My limit is about $10 at the thrift store. (My daughter and I once stopped by the Lucky Brand store because we had thrifted several pairs, and even asked a clerk why they cost $110. "They'll last forever!" quoth she. We still have our doubts, although we quote that on suitable occasions!)
What I really think: This will be dated in ten years, but by that time, it will also be worn out. Definitely purchasing.
Benjamin, Ali. The Thing About Jellyfish.
September 22nd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Zu (or Suzy) is devastated when her best friend Franny dies in an ocean swimming related accident before the start of school. She soon decides that talking to other people is useless-- why fill up the air with meaningless words? When she and Justin are assigned a science project, she decides to investigate jellyfish, because she has determined that the REAL cause of Franny's death is a poisonous jellyfish sting. She locates all kinds of experts, including Diana Nyad, and starts planning to fly to Australia to meet one and get the truth. Since she is not talking (although she will quietly answer teacher's questions), she doesn't tell her divorced but supportive parents or her therapist. In flashbacks, we find that both Zu and Franny did nasty things to each other and were not actually friends at the time of Franny's death. Zu thinks she is in the wrong, which adds a complication to her level of grieving. After giving a report about jellyfish that she thinks everyone in the class should understand is about Franny's death, and receiving nothing but jeers for it, things come to a head. Will Zu get the help she so desperately needs?
Strengths: Well written, and very true to life account of a tween friendship where NO ONE is the nice one and everyone is to blame.
Weaknesses: Zu is one of these characters (and we all see them at school) who brings most of her problems on herself. Really? She talks about the sterility of pee at lunch and wonders why no one will be her friend? I was not a very functional middle school student, and people made fun of me, but even I had more filters than Zu. Franny was also not a sympathetic character, so I can't say her death made me overly sad. Also, Zu "researches" flying, but doesn't think about visas. And she has a passport?
What I really think: I don't understand why the vast majority of the books teachers consider "heartprint" books are so depressing. It's much harder to teach life lessons through humor; it's much harder to come up with a compelling story that doesn't include people dying. Of course, if as a society we just realized that people die every day and we need to move on, the books wouldn't be as gut wrenching. No patience for this kind of book at all.