Challenger Deep

challengerdeepby Neal Shusterman
First sentence: ”
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Content: There’s some talk about drinking, but none actual. And there’s some mild swearing. But the reason it’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore is because it’s an extended metaphor. I’d give it to someone in 7/8th grade if I thought they’d “get” it.

Very seldom does a jacket flap so succinctly sum up a book, but in this case, I think whomever at HarperTeen did this, was spot on:

Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

This book. I’ve been avoiding it for months, and I really only picked it up because Pop Culture Happy Hour did a recent podcast on it. But this book pulled me in and didn’t let me go. I don’t know of a more accurate, a more compelling, a more beautiful rendering of the spiral that mental illness — it really doesn’t matter what Caden’s diagnosed with — is. Shusterman gives us an allegory with the ship that is compelling and intriguing and maybe a little confusing. But the confusion is part of the trip; Shusterman not only wants us to read about Caden’s descent into illness, he wants us to feel that with him. And feel I did.

Powerful. And definitely one that will stay with me for a long time.


wrinklesby Paco Roca
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! (Kind of; it’s not available in the States, yet.)
Content: There’s really nothing objectionable, content-wise. The subject matter is older adults in a retirement home, so if you’re interested in that, go for it. The book would be in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

One of the members of my in-person book group is a gerontologist, and reads a TON of literature on the subject. She’s always digging up unusual and interesting books that feature older adults and their life experiences, partially for her work, but mostly because it fascinates her. She didn’t pick this book for our discussion however, one of the other members did, hoping that our gerontologist hadn’t read it yet. (She hadn’t, but had seen the movie based on it.)

It’s a very European book, written by a Spanish author and set in France. It’s the story of one gentleman, Ernest, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and whose children can no longer care for him, so he ends up in a care facility. He’s a bit confused and hurt that he ended up there, so he’s initially resistant to settling in. His roommate, Emile,  is more than welcoming, however. He takes Ernest under his wing and shows him around the home, introducing him to all the people who live there.

It’s their story, of their friendship, of the living they do from day-to-day, of the small joys and the larger hardships, of the inevitability of age. There’s a lot to think about, and even though it made me sad — getting old is not for wimps — I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story.

All Fall Down

embassyrowby Ally Carter
First sentence: “‘When I was twelve I broke my leg jumping off the wall between Canada and Germany,’ I say, but the woman across from me doesn’t even blink.”
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Content: There’s some intense situations, but no swearing and  no sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Grace saw her mother murdered three years ago. She is 100% sure of this fact. She knows it was a man with a scar on his face, that her mother was shot, not burned in an accidental fire. The problem? No. One. Believes. Her.

She’s spent the past three years in and out of therapy and in and out of drugs, and now has come to Embassy Row in Adria to live with her grandfather and forget what happened. The problem? Grace can’t let it go.

And it doesn’t help that Grace is positive that she’s seen the man who murdered her father. So, she ropes her new friends Noah and Megan (and her German neighbor, Rosie) into spying on the man. The further she goes, however, the more confusing everything becomes. Grace has no idea who’s her friend and who isn’t.

This is darker than Carter’s usual fare, and without the swoon factor (ahhh HALE). But what it lacks in fluff and swoon it more than makes up for with a completely unreliable narrator, several twists and turns, and a pretty amazing ending. Grace is a fascinating character, angsty (well, I prefer to think of it more as PTSD-y), smart, and completely wrong about so much. It makes for a trippy ride, one where I had no idea what was going to happen next. I loved that about this book. And I’m completely in the dark as to where the next book is going.

Of course I’m going to have to read it.

Upside Down Magic

upsidedownby Sarah Mynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
First sentence: “Nory Horace was trying to turn herself into a kitten.”
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Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: It’s simple enough for the younger set; probably good for advanced 2nd graders and up. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Nory has a problem. She’s a witch, and she wants to get into the prestigious magic school that her super stuffy, absent father is head of. All she needs to do is turn into a kitten and hold that form for a few minutes. The problem is that she can’t do it. Well, she can turn into a kitten, but it never is just a kitten: it’s a beaver-kitten, or a dragon-kitten, or some other awful, terrible combination.

sOf course she doesn’t get into the school, and ends up going to a public magic school (the horror) and put in a class for those with “wonky” magic. There’s a kid who floats but can’t come down, another kid who turns into a rock, one who makes it rain inside and another one who is terrifying to animals. They are working to not only accept their magic as valid (in this society, those with wonky magic are Outcasts) and work together to make their magic do something incredible.

I think there’s a certain sort of kid who would love this kind of book. The kind of kid who likes magic stories, who likes an underdog story, and who doesn’t want to smack the adults in the book. I, unfortunately, am not that kid. I was annoyed at the predictable storyline and wanted to smack both the dad (the aunt who Nory ends up with is okay) and the mean girl at the new school. I understand I’m not the intended audience, so even though I didn’t care for it much, I realize that there are kids out there who will. And so I’m glad I read it for that reason.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

The Nest

by Kenneth Oppel
First sentence: “The first time I saw them, I thought they were angels.”
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Content: It’s sad and a bit odd, but there’s nothing, content-wise or language-level, that would kick it out of the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Steven’s baby brother has been in the hospital ever since he was born. The family and the doctor’s aren’t quite sure what’s going on, and how to fix it. So, when Steven starts having dreams about angels who have come to fix the baby, he figures that he’s either incredibly stressed about it all (which is what his therapist says) or that he’s going crazy (which is what he secretly thinks).

 Then those angels turn out to be a strange new breed of wasp that’s taken up residence in Steven’s house and suddenly what sounded like a good idea — fixing the baby — turns out to be a Horribly Bad One. Especially since Steven is fatally allergic to wasp stings.
This, I think, has to be (hands down) the weirdest book I’ve read. It’s a unique blend of things: mature and yet geared toward younger people; an allegory and a horror tale; both impossibly sad and incredibly strange. I’m not sure it always works as a story. But on the other hand, I kept coming back to it. I wanted to know how it ended, I wanted to know the choices that Steven made and how it all played out. And while I was never truly Terrified (which is why I’m hesitant to call this horror), I was really weirded out. It’s strange, it’s gripping, it’s odd, it’s engrossing.
In the end, I thought it was pretty good. I just have no idea who to sell it to.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

A Curious Tale of the In-Between

by Lauren DeStefano
First sentence: “Pram died just before she was born.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some slight romance and a few scary moments. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to the older end of that range.

Pram sees ghosts. She has ever since she was a little girl, the theory (of the narrator, anyway) is that it’s because her mother committed suicide when she was 9 months pregnant and the doctors had to revive Pram. But, thankfully, all that’s taken care of in the first chapter of the book, and it’s pretty vague so that it would probably go over most kids heads.


Pram’s best friend is a ghost, Felix. They do everything together because Pram’s aunts have decided that she needs protecting from the world and homeschool her. But then, the State decides that Pram needs to go to school, and so off she goes. Where she meets Clarence, whose mother has just died. (So many dead mothers.) He convinces Pram (much to Felix’s distress) to go searching for a spiritualist in order to contact his mother. It turns out, however, that this spiritualist is not a nice person. Like INCREDIBLY not nice. And so Pram has to figure out how to get out of the clutches of a greedy, evil woman.

This is a weird book. On the one hand, I liked the ghost angle, how Pram could see ghosts and communicate with them and see their memories. Even the creepy weird spiritualist was intriguing and I thought that DeStefano played around with memories and the afterlife was quite original. But the whole relationship with Clarence was a little… odd. It wasn’t quite a romance, but it wasn’t quite just friendship either. I suppose some kids will like it, but I thought it was a bit out of place in a ghost story.

But, aside from that, it was a good book. Not a great one, but a good story.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

Hunters of Chaos

huntersofchaosby Crystal Velasquez
First sentence: “My muscles burn as the thick green jungle vines speed by in a blur.”
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Content: The characters are in high school and there’s some bullying and a little bit of romance (he like likes me!) but otherwise, it’s appropriate for the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Ana is an orphan (oh no!) living with her aunt and uncle, who happen to be enthusiastic scholars and collectors of Mayan artifacts. It’s their heritage, as well as Ana’s, and they’re incredibly proud of it. Even though Ana misses her parents, she’s incredibly happy. Then, the summer before high school, Ana gets a letter admitting her to to her parents’ alma matter, Temple Academy. Her aunt and uncle are a bit wary, but they send her off anyway.

At first, Ana tries to fit in with the super rich, super popular girls, which includes her roommate, Nicole. But, she soon finds out that fitting in costs way too much (both financially and morally). She ends up being friends with Doli, who’s Navajo, and Shani, who’s Egyptian. It turns out that the three of them — four with Lin, who’s Chinese, and a bit of a bully at first — are part of something bigger, something more ancient than any of them had ever expected.

It’s so hard for me not to spoil this book because it really was awesome. Not only are four of the main characters people of color (and descended from ancient civilizations which the author respects, I think) but they do some awesome things. There’s a whole scene near the end of the book that just had me cheering. There was a bit of a bullying dynamic and the love triangle-y stuff was a bit much (More adventure! More magic! Less love!), but it wasn’t enough to get me to dislike this. There’s just so much to love.

Give it to all those kids who are reading the Warrior books. They’d love it.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)