ALAN Picks November & December 2018
Captured: An American Prisoner of War in North Vietnam by Alvin Townley
Scholastic, 2019, 256 pp., $18.99
By June, 1965, Navy pilot, Commander Jeremiah Denton, had completed more than twenty successful bombing missions against the North Vietnamese. As he confidently prepared for his next run, he could not have imagined that this one would be his last. Denton was shot down, captured, and held as a prisoner of war for over seven years. Despite the tortures perpetrated by his captors to break him, Denton chose to survive. He relied on his religious faith, loyalty to his fellow POWs, fulfillment of the military code of conduct, the honor of unity over self, and a peculiar sort of “gallows humor” often shared by some in seemingly impossible situations.
Denton’s courage bolstered that of others. His leadership helped other captives hold on to the hope of rescue. His gift for writing, even when he had to disguise it in multiple creative codes, enabled Denton to retain his sanity. Denton’s extraordinary service made him a hero to his nation, his family, his comrades, and those who risked their lives in service to others.
This is a tough story to read but an essential one to know. The times, places, and cruelties are hard to comprehend. The politically charged factors that shaped the devastating experiences that countless numbers endured, or succumbed to, are difficult to fathom. Yet, the triumphantly defiant decisions made by POW Jerry Denton are portrayed with such clarity, insight, and humanity that it is not at all hard to understand and respect the man who returned home to serve as a U. S. Senator and Navy Admiral. Young adults and others who want to know how and why some individuals survive what others cannot will find inspiration in this straightforward homage to uncommon bravery.
Reviewed by Karen Dunnagan, Louisville, Kentucky
Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni
Scholastic Press, 2019, 288pp., $17.99
Social Issues/Friendship/Family/General Love and Romance
With her best friend Harold gone for the summer, photographer and artist Ivy discovers an anonymous art-sharing app called VEIL. Ivy is shy and anxious, usually an observer who remains in the background, which is why VEIL is a welcoming space. VEIL shows Ivy other creative individuals, and their works, within a 5-mile radius. VEIL’s anonymity and algorithm makes it so that by Monday morning, all of the shared content from the week is deleted, encouraging its users to share their life that the world, and Ivy, normally don’t see.
However, as sophomore year begins and a controversy around VEIL draws in school administration and her parent’s attention, Ivy reflects on herself. Is it possible to make a difference, even in her own quiet way? Is she brave enough to defend VEIL and the wonderful inspiration it has provided her? Does the creative anonymity of VEIL trump the safety of its users?
Ivy navigates these questions and her answers as she uncovers the VEIL users at her school, tests her voice among her peers, and learns from her mistakes. Enni’s novel captures the social issues around social media, while delivering a humorous, thoughtful character. This is a heart-felt novel that will have you reflecting back to your years in high school and cheering for Ivy as she finds herself, both as an artist and as an active participant in her life.
Reviewed by Kristen Martinelli, Pompton Lakes, New Jersey
The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali
Scholastic Press, 2019, 336 pp., $17.99
Family/Multigenerational/People and Places/Culture
Being an American teen isn’t easy for seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali. She must hide her makeup and clothes when she is at home with her conservative Muslim parents. Her parents’ dream for Rukhsana is marriage and a husband, but Rukhsana’s dream involves Caltech and her girlfriend, Ariana. In the Bangldeshi culture of her family, fear at being discovered with her girlfriend and fear of pursuing her dreams paralyzes Rukhsana.
Surprisingly, when Rukhsana is accepted into Caltech, her parents support her university dreams. However, Rukhsana’s mom walks in on Ariana and Rukhsana kissing, and this sends Rukhsana’s life on a dangerous course. The traditional culture Rukhsana’s parents adhere to so strictly cause them to forego the needs of their daughter and focus instead on their own needs- status and respect of the community. Rukhsana’s parents whisk her away to Bangladesh, determined to find a suitable husband for their daughter. In Bangladesh, Rukhsana must decide to stand up for herself or to live the rest of her life with somebody else controlling it.
In this novel, Sabina Khan explores the way Muslim American teens must straddle cultures, learn to find their own voices, and live their own lives. This book explores the ways in which teens often live in multiple worlds and how those worlds collide and mingle. Readers will respond with surprise, and sometimes horror, at Rukhsana’s parents’ actions, and cheer for Rukhsana as she discovers her inner strength. This book is a great read to explore issues of culture, belonging, and finding oneself.
Reviewed by Shelly Shaffer, Cheney Washington
Quarantine: A Love Story by Katie Cicatelli-Kuc
Scholastic Press, 2019, 336 pp., $17.99
Overly-anxious and unassuming Oliver wants two things in life: a girlfriend and to depart early from his volunteer spring break trip in the Dominican Republic to get home. Confident and independent Flora wants to forget that the spring break visit with her father and stepmother in the Dominican Republic ever happened and go back to life as is.
On the flight from the Dominican Republic to Miami, Oliver and Flora’s paths cross. Flora manages to calm Oliver’s flight anxiety until the conclusion of the flight brings aboard government officials donned in hazmat suits. A new strain of tropical mono, deadly to children and the elderly, is suspected to be among the flight’s passengers and no one is going anywhere until all passengers are monitored for the next 24 hours. If anyone’s temperature spikes, however, passengers will have to be quarantined for 30 days.
After the two spend the night being monitored in the holding cell, they are optimistic to continue their journey home, but Flora recklessly jeopardizes their freedom and sentences them to a 30-day quarantine. Perturbed and confused, both Oliver and Flora are left to grapple with the consequences of Flora’s impulsive decision. During the next 30 days, Flora works through the guilt and nostalgia she has for her family, pre-divorce, whereas Oliver navigates the colloquial “girl handbook” when his childhood crush takes a sudden interest in his social media presence and flies down to see him. Love triangles ensue and the teens are left to deal with the ramifications of instant fame from an unexpected situation. This refreshing debut novel told in alternating perspectives grips readers with the struggles of teenage heartache for romantic and familial relationships alike.
Reviewed by Megan McCormick, Rochester, New York
Brawler by Neil Connelly
Scholastic Inc, 2019, 305 pp., $17.99
Sports and Recreation/Martial Arts/Physical and Emotional Abuse/Religious
In the semifinal bout of his high school wrestling career, where a win means state finals and a scholarship to college, Eddie MacIntyre loses his temper after what he perceives as a bad call and elbows his opponent in the face. When the ref calls unsportsmanlike conduct, Eddie punches the him. Facing expulsion from high school, loss of his scholarship, and probable arrest on assault charges, Eddie accepts an offer from a seedy scout to join an illegal fighting circuit.
Eddie begins training with a high school student named Khajee and crashes on her couch. He meets her father, a former martial arts fighter named Than. When Eddie’s new boss, Mr. Sunday, offers him a side job shaking down people who owe Sunday money, Eddie must decide whether to move deeper into this new and lucrative criminal world or try to get out before it is too late.
Brawler is action packed, but Connelly goes deeper with Eddie’s character. His father beat him and Eddie begins to understand that this has had an effect on his actions. He becomes increasingly violent–beating a man with a baseball bat, throwing an opponent who has already surrendered into a pile of burning coals–but begins to realize that following his father’s path will not end well for him.
Brawler is about breaking the cycle of violence. And like all good realistic fiction, the novel doesn’t end with Eddie simply embracing a life of non-violence. Readers will connect with the idea of wanting to change, and how difficult that change can be.
Reviewed by Bill Boerman-Cornell, South Holland, Illinois
Mike by Andrew Norriss
David Fickling Books/Scholastic, 2019, 229 pp., $17.99
Social Issues/Values/Friendship/Emotions and Feelings
We are introduced to Mike in his ankle length black coat as he lurks on the edges of fifteen-year-old tennis standout Floyd Beresford’s match. Until this point, Floyd has been on a path to tennis stardom and the upcoming Under-Eighteens National Championship match will surely catapult him into the next level where the ultimate goal is to play and win Wimbledon. However, Mike’s appearance is a bump in that road, particularly because Mike is only visible to Floyd. Through the support of a psychologist, the understanding of his tennis fanatic parents and some well-timed marine life interventions, Floyd undertakes a journey to find out more about Mike and learns about himself in the process.
Noriss’ straightforward writing spins a tale of identity. Like many teen novels, Floyd must puzzle out the balance between parental expectations and what he really wants in life and deal with the consequences of what happens when those two don’t align. The real novelty is that Floyd, along with the reader, has the added twist of figuring out how the mysterious Mike plays into the equation.
Reviewed by Maria Zafonte, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Arizona
Spin by Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, 2019, 400 pp., $17.99
Mystery/Thriller/Peer and Family Relationships
Rising hip-hop music star Paris Secord, aka DJ Parsec, has been found dead, and her two former friends must work through their grief and hatred of one another to find out who killed her. The two girls couldn’t be more different: Kya Caine lives in a lower-class neighborhood with her single mother, and Fatima “Fuse” Fallon lives in a gated neighborhood with both parents. Kya’s mad tech skills helped Parsec craft her music on her second-hand equipment, while Fuse’s marketing/social media skills helped with Parsec’s rise among her #ParSecNation fans.
Since both girls arrived on the murder scene within minutes of the murder, each suspects the other had something to do with Paris’ death. Because both had become estranged from Paris just a short while before her death, they keenly feel the pain of never being able to make things right with her.
However, no one expects DJ Parsec’s fans to react as strongly as they do to her death, especially her #DarkNation fans, a subgroup of fans who have a violent streak. The #DarkNation fans kidnap Kya and Fuse and demand that they prove that they had nothing to do with DJ Parsec’s death and that they find out who did. Despite their differences, Kya and Fuse must work together to solve the mystery. Once they start working together, they find that their individual talents compliment them as a group. They realize that they must combine their skills to catch their eventual suspect in an especially taut ending to the book.
The book alternates between the points of view of both Kya and Fuse, and sometimes even from the past point of view of Paris/DJ Parsec. These alternating chapters help the reader delve into the lives and minds of all three girls. The author does a good job of keeping up the suspense of who killed Paris until the very end. Family dynamics add a deeper component to the plot and to the characterization of the girls. The music scene and social media aspects of the plot also lend a contemporary lens to the book. Music lovers and fans of mystery will appreciate this fast-paced thriller.
Reviewed by Kirstie Knighton, Gray, Georgia
Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice
Scholastics Press, 2019, 341pp., $18.99
Family/Social Issues/Physical and Emotional Abuse/Relationships
Lizzie was perfect. She knew just what to say, what to wear, how to be the perfect friend, girlfriend and daughter. Her death left a gaping hole in the hearts of those who loved her most. Even after almost a year without Lizzie’s bright smile, her friends and family are having a hard time dealing with their grief.
Emily, Lizzie’s best friend, feels the pain of her loss every day. She tries to cope by continuing to talk to Lizzie, cherishing every memory she has of her best friend, and in her small town, everywhere she turns is a memory. That’s why seeing Lizzie’s sister, Chloe, and Lizzie’s parents, the Porters, back in front of the house they’d once lived, brings Emily both comfort and agony. She’d spent so much time trying to remember her friend and forget her death. The Porters remind her of both. Emily soon realizes the depth of the Porters’ pain and their relentless desire to hold onto Lizzie. What happens after their encounter changes both who the Porters are to Emily and who Emily is forever.
Luanne Rice spins a fast paced tale of friendship, lies, pain and darkness seamlessly. This story of twisted grief will have readers wondering if Emily will ever be herself again when all she sees for months is Lizzie’s face staring back at her in the mirror.
Reviewed by Keisha Rembert, Plainfield, Illinois
The 48 by Donna Hosie
Holiday House, 384 pp., $17.99
Historical Fiction/Science Fiction/Action/Romance
Identical twins Charles and Alexander Douglas are embarking on their first assignment- preventing King Henry VIII from marrying Jane Seymour. But this is no ordinary assignment, and the twins are no ordinary teenagers. Charlie and Alex are Assets for The 48, a secret assassination collective with an agenda to change history and intentionally alter the present and future. The brothers must travel back in time and have 48 days to stop the marriage and end Catholicism.
Charlie and Alex quickly learn that the complicated world of the Tudor court means unexpected and often dangerous challenges. An unanticipated controversy pops up from within the ranks of the 48. Charlie’s ex-girlfriend from the future arrives without explanation. As the mission time ticks down, the twins start to question not only the assignment, but the entire meaning of the collective.
Told in the alternating voices of Charles, Alexander, and Lady Margaret, a fictional maid of Anne Boleyn, this story blends well-researched historical fiction with science fiction and time travel. Full of action, intrigue, and forbidden romance (both straight and LGBTQ), readers will enjoy this mix of past and future.
Reviewed by Rachel Smoka-Richardson, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019, 400 pp., $18.99
Social Justice/Activism and Women’s Issues and Friendship
Chelsea Spencer and Jasmine Gray are juniors at the progressive Amsterdam Heights High School in NYC. All students at Amsterdam Heights are required to take part in a social justice club, so Jasmine joins the August Wilson Acting Ensemble while Chelsea joins the Poetry for Peace and Justice Club. Despite their school’s focus on social justice, Chelsea and Jasmine soon realize that their respective clubs are silencing women’s voices. As a result, they decide to start their own club: a women’s rights club called Write Like a Girl.
Their first blog post, which criticizes the stereotypical caricatures of black women, goes viral. Encouraged by its success, Chelsea and Jasmine continue posting blogs that expose the ideals that society imposes upon women to think, act, and speak a certain way. As their voices grow stronger, they are faced with backlash from those who think they’re just trying to stir up drama, including their principal who threatens to shut their club down. But they’re not about to go down without a fight.
Watson and Hagan have created a nuanced and powerful story about young girls who are not afraid to stand up to claim a space for themselves. They offer readers an important perspective on some of the issues surrounding how women are treated in both public and private spaces, adding to a wider conversation about women’s rights. This novel is a celebration of the power that individuals have to create change, and it will inspire young girls everywhere to be who they are unapologetically.
Reviewed by Gina Schneck, Eagle Mountain, Utah