Saturday, May 17, 2014

SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, by Karen Harrington

Sure Signs of CrazyHarrington, Karen.  (2013). Sure Signs of Crazy. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

In this upper middle grade contemporary fiction, Sarah Nelson is 12 and lives with her dad, mainly on account of her mother trying to kill her when she was two. Sarah’s twin did die that day and since that time, her father has drunk more than he should to deal with his grief. A  teacher suggests the class write real, hand-written letters to someone, even if that someone is a character in a book.  Sarah begins writing Atticus Finch, who is the kind of dad she wished she had. Sarah determines to figure out what happened with her mother in case she might end up crazy like her, too, and spends the summer growing up, making new friends, having her first crush and learning what it means to be brave.

Karen Harrington writes a beautifully poignant, but rawly honest story.  The topic is tough, but it is handled with grace and the particular voice created for Sarah is strong and clear.  It’s not a plot-heavy driven book, but I appreciate a book with introspection and reflection.  It feels like a very literary novel for upper middle grade students.  Hopefully, the many references to To Kill a Mockingbird will encourage readers to one day pick up that masterpiece. Sarah’s interest for words and her continual explanation of new terms was delightful to someone who also loves language, but might be less so to children looking for a fast-moving plot. I would recommend it for only for older middle grade students and up due to the intense nature of the material, though it is not graphic.

Professional Reviews, excerpts:

Voice of Youth Advocates  ( December 01, 2013) 
When Sarah's sixth-grade teacher challenges the class to "write to someone" over the summer, Sarah takes him up on the idea, writing letters to Atticus Finch, the father she wishes she had. As her twelfth birthday approaches, Sarah is ready for a change. …Sarah's first person narrative is clear, strong, humorous, and honest, despite the complexity of the challenges she faces. Readers who enjoy realistic fiction and exploring the complexities of human relationships will enjoy Sarah's compelling quest for hope.
Publishers Weekly,  (May 27, 2013)
In her middle-grade debut, Harrington revisits the family from her adult novel, Janeology, as she goes behind the scenes of a tabloid-headline story. Ten years ago, Sarah Nelson's mother, Jane, attempted to drown Sarah and her twin brother, Simon, who didn't survive. Now 12, Sarah has moved from town to town with her sad, alcoholic father, trying to escape media attention while her mother resides in a mental institution. …Over one watershed summer, Sarah tries to learn about being a woman from her 20-year-old neighbor, Charlotte; develops her first crush-on Charlotte's 19-year-old brother, who shares her love of words; and struggles to figure out how to live as her mother's daughter. Harrington skillfully portrays watchful, contemplative Sarah's coming of age. Ages 9-up.
Horn Book Magazine, excerpt ( November 08, 2013 ) 
The book is never maudlin, even at the breath-catching climax when Sarah goes to see her mother. And if there are a few too many plot points and the protagonists voice sounds less like a just-turned-twelve-year-olds and more like a highly self-aware (and impossibly resilient) grownup, it’s well worth looking past in order to appreciate the extraordinary heart of the story.
Booklist ( August 01, 2013) 
*Starred Review* For the opening of her middle-grade debut, Harrington cuts right to the heart of her narrator's grim situation: You've never met anyone like me. Unless, of course, you've met someone who survived her mother trying to drown her and now lives with an alcoholic father. ...Don't think this will be a hard sell to readers, though, for Harrington has created a protagonist who is, in her own way, as clear-eyed, tough-minded, and inspiring as any dystopian hero…Harrington doesn't leave out humor she has fun with Sarah's romantic illusions but makes it clear that it's Sarah's courage and urge to communicate that will push her beyond her traumatic childhood.
Personal Response:

Despite the sadness inherent in this book because of events that happen long before the first chapter begins, I really loved it.  Sarah really does not invoke pity —she’s tough and smart and savvy.  She’s someone I enjoyed getting to know and rooting for. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An Exciting Announcement!

Hi friends!

I'm excited to announce that my upper-middle-grade novel FAIRY KEEPER is under contract with Curiosity Quills and I'm anticipating its release in early 2015! More info here:

~About the story~

Forget cute fairies in pretty dresses.  In the world of Aluvia, most fairies are more like irritable, moody insects. Still, most people in Aluvia believe the fairy keeper mark is a gift.  Fourteen-year-old Sierra considers it a curse, one that binds her to a dark alchemist father who steals her fairies’ mind-altering nectar for his illegal elixirs and poisons.  But when her fairy queen and all the other queens go missing, more than just the life of her fairy is in the balance if Sierra doesn’t find her.  On her journey, Sierra discovers a magical secret lost since ancient times.  The magic waiting for her has the power to transform the world, but only if she can first embrace her destiny as a fairy keeper.

The cover hasn't been created yet, but you know I'll post it as soon as I get it! It'll be down the road a bit, but I'll keep you updated!

Monday, May 12, 2014

ONE CAME HOME, by Amy Timberlake

Timberlake, Amy.  (2013). One Came Home. New York: Alfred  A. Knopf.

The book can summarized in the first brilliant paragraph: “So it comes to this, I remember thinking on Wednesday, June 7, 1871. The date sticks in my mind because it was the day of my sister’s first funeral and I knew it wasn’t her last—which is why I left.  That’s the long and short of it” (1).   Thirteen-year-old Georgie Burkhardt’s sister Abigail runs away and a body, too destroyed to be actually recognized,  is later found wearing Abigail’s dress.  Georgie sets off to find out what happened, because she doesn't believe her beloved big sister has died.  Abigail’s former boyfriend Billy accompanies Georgie on her determined journey, which ends up being quite an adventure.  While some sadness does occur, it does not leave you weeping in your pillow.

Amy Timberlake does an amazing job with Georgie’s voice.  Set in 1871 in Wisconsin, the book is centered around the largest recorded nesting of passenger pigeons.  The meticulous research of the author is evident in the way the pigeons, now extinct, come to life on the page.  Abigail is a mysterious figure in many ways, as we can tell that Georgie obviously idolized her and didn’t fully understand her need for an education.  Georgie’s narration is as sharp as her shooting and honestly reflects that cusp young adulthood when first crushes can be so very crushing and people are determining who they will really be in life. 

The plot moves quickly and smoothly.  Several times, the lines just jumped out and demanded to be reread and savored.  Someone else had dog-eared the same section that caught my eye.  It made me smile (though I shouldn't smile at anyone bending pages in library books—there’s probably a special punishment for librarians who aren’t horrified by that) to think that I was sharing the same enjoyment of these words with some unknown person who had checked this book out before me.  It captures the entire problem of the book perfectly.
But let me describe my particular state: I saw the two of you kiss.  I told Mr. Olmstead. Mr. Olmstead threw over Agatha. THEN Agatha ran off. There’s a direct correlation between my telling and Agatha’s leaving.  If my sister is dead, I bear responsibility. If you think I’m going to accept a piecemeal body as evidence of my sister’s death, you do not know me at all (36).

The reader will get to know Georgie quite well and, if you are like me, you’ll enjoy her company even if she is stubborn and frustrating at times.  She’s very believable. The ending is lovely.

School Library Journal:  Gr 5-8-Thirteen-year-old Georgie Burkhardt can shoot better than anyone in Placid, Wisconsin. She can handle accounts and serve customers in her family's general store. What she can't do is accept that the unrecognizable body wearing her older sister's blue-green gown is Agatha. Determined to discover what happened after Agatha abruptly left town with a group of pigeoners, Georgie sets out to follow her route. In return for the loan of a mule, she reluctantly allows Billy McCabe, one of Agatha's suitors, to accompany her. The journey includes a menacing cougar and ruthless counterfeiters, but Georgie's narration offers more than action-packed adventure. She unravels the tangle of events that led to Agatha's sudden departure and acknowledges her own role. By turns humorous and reflective, Georgie's unique and honest voice includes confusion about her feelings for Billy and doubts about her ability to kill even in desperate circumstances. Timberlake seamlessly integrates information about two significant events that occurred in Wisconsin in 1871: the largest recorded nesting of passenger pigeons in spring and devastating firestorms in fall. Georgie's physical and emotional odyssey that occurs between those two events will linger in readers' minds.-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankatoα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

Booklist:To find out what really happened to her purportedly dead sister, sharpshooting 13-year-old Georgie Burkhardt and her sister’s one-time suitor Billy McCabe follow the trail of pigeon hunters and discover far worse going on near Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871. Georgie tells her story in a first-person narrative that rings true to the time and place. She is smart, determined, and not a little blind to the machinations of adults around her, including Billy, who has been sent by Georgie’s storekeeper grandfather to follow her and keep her safe. She does notice that Billy is well made, but this is no love story; it’s a story of acceptance, by Georgie, her family, and her small town. Timberlake weaves in the largest passenger pigeon nesting ever seen in North America, drought and fatal fires along Lake Michigan that year, a currency crisis that spawned counterfeiters, and advice on prairie travel from an actual handbook from the times. Historical fiction and mystery combine to make this a compelling adventure, and an afterword helps disentangle facts from fiction. Grades 6-9. --Kathleen Isaacs --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Awards:  A Newbery Honor Book, ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book, Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel

Personal Response:
I was really impressed by this book and it brought to mind The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  Both are beautifully told historical stories, with interesting and strong middle grade female leads.  One Came Home is pretty firmly upper-middle-grade, as it is a fairly intense book and deals with the possible gruesome death of a sibling.

Monday, May 5, 2014


Author: Mcgann, Erika. 2014.  
Title: The Demon Notebook - Book 1
Publication Date: June 3, 2014Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Genre: Children's Fiction - Ages 9 - 12 | Grades: 3 - 6 * Though I think it works through even 8th grade.

ARC edition received at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference 2014 

Five girls want to learn to do magic and practice crafting spells, none of which work.  But after they use a Ouija board at school, they unwittingly invite a real demon to this world and it decides to have some mean fun by making their spells work, one after another.  But the phrase, “You’d better be careful—you’ll get what you asked for…” turns out to be true, especially about the very last spell they are racing to stop, which would have truly tragic consequences.

This book is refreshing and fun, with a fast pace, believable characters and a grumpy older mentor who is hysterical and is actually my favorite character.  It’s not so scary that a middle grade reader couldn’t handle it, though I do think it’s best suited for a slightly older middle grade student in some cases, both because of the age of the characters, but also because in this book, the paranormal is definitely real and evil.  Some students will be more sensitive to that than others, so parents and kids need to choose wisely.  This is not a Scooby Doo case in which a dastardly, but clever human is doing a bunch of tricks, so parents should be aware of that before their child begins reading.  I personally was pleased to see that the author allowed the supernatural to really occur instead of explaining it away.  Many students love ghost stories and other spooky stories and will love this one, too.

The writing is clean and crisp—so well-done! Humor is woven throughout, as well.  It’s a fast, fun read for anyone who likes scary stories and fantasies.

Kirkus just gave THE DEMON NOTEBOOK a great review here!  I also agree with the ages given by Kirkus, ages 9-14.

Personal Response:
It was a pleasure to read such a well-written, smooth middle grade story, with a good use of humor as well as a sprinkling of creepy moments. Very clever!  For a debut book in particular, I find it very impressive.