by Maria Dahvana Headley
First sentence: “I breathe in.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a bunch of swearing, including several f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) but I wouldn’t be adverse to giving it to an 8th grader as long as they knew about the language going in.

Aza Ray has spent the nearly sixteen years of her life struggling to breathe. It’s a miracle she’s even lived this long, since she’s got a weird disease (named after her, unfortunately) that basically renders her allergic to air. She’s managed okay, with the help of her family, and her BFF, Jason. But, now, on the eve of her 16th birthday, things are getting weird. Jason maybe wants to be more than BFFs. It’s getting harder and harder to breathe. And weirdest of all? She’s seeing ships in the sky.

There are spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned. Because, for better or for worse, this is about to get REALLY trippy.

See: Aza Ray is seeing ships in the sky because there’s a country of bird people up there, called Magonia. And Aza is one of them. (Which is, duh, why she’s having trouble breathing regular earth air.) She was kidnapped as a baby and placed in a human home; whether it’s to punish her mother (according to her mother) or to save her (according to the bird-person who kidnapped her) remains to be seen. It’s really because Aza has this super-singing power that will either save Magonia or destroy the world. Or both. The problem is that she just can’t give up her human life (even though she DIED), and she just can’t quite kill off the humans.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, except that there’s a bit quote from Neil Gaiman on the cover and that everyone (at least on Edelweiss) is loving it. I completely — pun intended — missed the boat on this one. Seriously. I thought the premise was at best a drug-induced fantasy and at worst stupid. I thought the conversation was trying to hard to be John Green-esque and it sounded forced. I thought the plot was lame, even though it wrapped up nicely, and that the romance between Jason and Aza was forced. And even though I love fantasy, this just was NOT my thing.

But, as I said: it’s getting tons of love, so that may just be me not getting it.


by Carl Hiaasen
First sentence: “Roy would not have noticed the strange boy if it weren’t for Dana Matherson, because Roy ordinarily didn’t look out the window of the school bus.”
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Content: There were a few mild swear words (which A found amusing), and some instances of bullying and domestic violence. It feels like a genuine middle grade book, with real middle grade heroes (yay!) and happily sits in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Ah, Florida. The air is hot and humid, it rains a ton, and Roy Eberhardt hates it. With a burning passion. He most recently lived in Montana, the land of the huge vistas and great snowboarding, but because of his dad’s job, he’s stuck in boring Florida. Until the day he notices a strange boy with dirty feet running away from the bus stop. His curiosity piqued, Roy follows the boy and discovers Something To Care About. See: Mother Paula’s Pancake House is building a new restaurant. On top of some burrowing owl dens, and the boy is bound and determined to stop the company. And Roy, for better or for worse, finds that he Cares enough to get involved.

I remember reading this ages ago — probably when it first came out — and liking it. Though, I seem to remember it being funnier than I found it this time. It was amusing, sure, especially when Bully Dana Matherson gets his come-uppance at the hands of Beatrice Leep, Tough Girl Extraordinaire. But, mostly, it’s a quiet book about Making A Difference. I like how Roy finds out that while vandalism is one way to get a corporation’s attention, there are other — possibly more effective — ways of handling it. It’s not only a fun book, it’s a lesson in civics and awareness. There are layers of complexity; Roy is bullied (a lot) and there’s some domestic issues with Beatrice. But Hiaasen did it without being preachy; this is NOT an issue book.

Which, honestly, is a mark of a talented writer. And for that reason alone more than worth the time it takes to read it.