Monday, May 01, 2023

MMGM- The Lake House and Who's Got Mail?

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Durst, Sarah Beth. The Lake House
April 25, 2023 by Harperteen
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Slight spoilers in strengths and weaknesses.**

Claire is anxious about a lot of things, and not happy that her parents have decided to send her away for the summer for a "formative experience" at the Lake House, a summer camp they attended when they were teens. But her she is, on a boat piloted by Jack, with Mariana and Reyva, headed out into the middle of nowhere in Maine. Jack, although he's a little flirtatious, dumps them unceremoniously on the shore, says he'll tell their parents they all arrived safely, and takes off again, leaving the girls to walk a half mile with their luggage. They are shocked to discover that the main house has burned down, and there is nothing but a smoldering shell. They are worried about anyone who might have been there, but also how they will contact their parents are get rescued. Claire, who has run every bad scenario in her head 18 times and has researched any possible complications, knows that they have to first survive the night. When they find the school director shot dead, this becomes a bit harder, since they have no way of knowing if the killer is still at large. They try to start a fire, but it starts to rain, which at least allows them to gather rainwater in jars collected from the house. They find a trap door, and investigate that, thinking that maybe the camp staff might have hidden there. Instead, they find a weird and creepy cage-- right before the trap door shuts behind them. It couldn't have shut on its own, so they know they are being stalked. They manage to take a tunnel out of the cage area and embark on a twisted saga of surival Jack returns, but even he isn't what he appears to be. The three girls each have some trauma in their background, and they are able to work through some of this as their friendship grows during their travails. Will they be able to survive? I really don't want to give away too much!
Strengths: Well, Ms. Durst! I for one am very glad you've always wanted to write a survival story, because this was excellent, although quite the change from titles like Even and Odd or Spark. The pacing was excellent, and after a brief trip to the camp while stuck in Claire's head, things get off to a rip roaring start with surprise after surprise! I loved that Claire not only knew what they needed to do, but was panicking internally. She didn't want the others to know she was frightened, so she held it together. This was an excellent portrayal of anxiety, and so much more realistic than just breaking down when things go wrong! Mariana is dealing with family issues that required a relocation, and Reyva with some physical limitations, and all of these experiences are discussed in between trying to build shelters and outrun bad guys. I don't want to say too much about WHAT the girls were fighting and WHY they were the island, because that was deliciously twisted, and you just need to read this for yourself. It was helpful that the Forces of Evil were more ancient evil than human (although humans were sometimes motivated by the ancient evil), and there is a brief appearance of a zombie type creature that made me feel better about handing this to middle school students, since it moved everything into the fantastical. I also appreciated that, in the end, everyone was safe, and I felt confident that the girls wouldn't have to deal with the ancient evil anymore, and would also feel better about their lives. Well done. 
Weaknesses: For especially tender middle school readers, there was the discovery of a blood soaked dead body that had been shot, and an off page suicide; the girls just hear the gun, and later they learn that the body was found washed up on the shore. There's also the zombie creature, who has visible brains. Since the ancient evil was compelling people to do things, I felt a little better about this, and it wasn't gory like Preston's The Island. 
What I really think: This is a perfect mix of survival, friendship, and supernatural horror that my students will love. Fans of Corrigan's Creep or Remedy, Alender's The Dead Girls of Hysteria Halland Ventresca's Black Flowers, White Lies will love this one. It's a great next step for readers who have read every K.R. Alexander title. 

Now, please excuse me while I go fill a backpack with 400 protein bars and survival equipment and WEAR IT EVERYHERE I GO. 

Osborne, Linda Barrett. Who's Got Mail?: The Story of the U.S. Postal Service 
May 2, 2023 by Abrams Books for Young Reader
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

What's mail? Younger readers might ask this, but they are the ones who most need this fantastic book about a very important service of the US government. I had over 20 pen pals when I was in middle school, from all over the globe, and still retrieve my mail every day with a feeling of anticipation, so I found this fascinating!

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was the first post master? And that his mission was to develop a system whereby everyone could get mail because it was the only way to make sure the public got news? Even if you knew that, did you know that post roads were created to help get the mail delivered in a timely fashion, and that rivers and railway lines could be designated as post roads? There was a lot of information that seemed familiar, but which was presented in such a way that it made me keep turning the page. 

The first half of the book goes through the history of the importance of mail delivery. How was the department organized, how did mail get delivered, and what was the importance of mail to everyday people. This even sparked some conversations with friends about Rural Free Delivery in the 1890s; my friend was raised in rural Iowa and remembers walking uptown to get mail from a post box in the 1960s; even the address on tax documents was just "local" and the city! What I found especially interesting were the problems with increased demands on the postal service in the 1960s and 70s that lead to zip codes and some restructuring. 

There is a lot of information on the role of Blacks, women, and other marginalized people pertaining to the postal service. Those were fascinating, and could lead to some excellent National History Day projects! There are a surprising number of photographs along side the text, and there are footnotes, a selected bibliography, and credits for all of the photographs at the back. This shouldn't be noteworthy, but as I've been having lessons with students about crediting sources, I've seen a lot of nonfiction books lately that don't do this. I'm impressed with Barrett Osbourne's thorough research, as well as the engaging was in which she delivers the information. I would almost have liked the chapters on special populations included in with the rest of the history, but I can understand why they were given separate chapters. 

Of course, the most pressing question if what will happen to the postal service, and there is a brief mention that it holds a lot of emotion for many people. Certainly, the ability to get information and supplies to even the most far flung places in the US (deliveries are still made to the bottom of the Grand Canyon by mule!) remains, even in this day of e mail and FedEx deliveries. But as technology improves and the emotional attachment fades, what will be the role of the post office?

As someone who can still remember the stamps I used in 1979 (the yellow windmills were my favorite; 15 cents sent a standard letter), I found myself wanting to share a fact on nearly every page with someone. This is a great addition to a collection of oddly compelling narrative nonfiction that includes Balis' Bringing Down a President, Spradlin's Close Calls, Bartoletti's 2001 Black Potatoes and Blumenthal's Let Me Play. This might just be my nominee for the Cybils' Award in nonfiction next year!


  1. That cover of The Lake House is really creepy!! But love it.

  2. Both new to me, first one so creepy but I imagine some older readers will love it. The second sounds great. Thanks, Karen

  3. Have just added The Lake House to my TBR. It sounds great, a perfect mix of fast-paced story and super characters, and did you say zombies??? :) Thanks for sharing!

  4. What a deliciously creepy story. But, as I read your review it felt like it was a book for teens 14+. I like the characters, the pace and twist and turns. Also loved "Who's Got Mail." It sounds like a memorabale read for those of us who used to write a lot of letters. I too had many pen pals worldwide. And I remember how cheap it was to mail a letter. Still correspond with two friends by mail. It feels so much more personal.

  5. These both sound like great books. I am really interested in the one about the mail. Sounds like it has a lot of really cool information! Thanks for sharing these.

  6. Yep, definitely THE LAKE HOUSE for me - zombie brains and all.

  7. It's been awhile since I've read middle grade and YA novels, glad to see new titles here through your website.