Book Reviews by Teens
Volume 4 - Number 1

Welcome to the first issue of UNDER the COVER for the 2009-2010 school year. UNDER the COVER is a happy partnership between Skokie Public Library, local junior high schools, and several book publishers who give us a sneak peek at the newest new books for young readers.

This issue features book reviews written by students from Fairview South, McCracken Middle School, and Old Orchard Junior High School. The student reviewers in this issue were chosen by their teachers to read, write, and start the buzz about some of the best new books for young readers. All of the titles in this issue of UNDER the COVER are (or will be!) available at Skokie Public Library. Stop by and check our shelves for any or all of these books that your friends recommend.

If you missed other issues of UNDER the COVER, you can still find them in print and on the Web!

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Reviewed by Olivia S.
Fairview South School

photoAmy Efaw’s novel After is about a high school student named Devon. Devon is a great soccer player, a straight “A” student, coverand more mature than her mother. However, Devon has a big problem. Devon is put in juvenile prison for 8 days for the attempted murder of her own baby. Is Devon a young girl in denial about her pregnancy or a murderer? Read After to find the answer.

I recommend After because it is thought provoking about many life issues. After is for a sophisticated reader who doesn’t mind mature subjects and enjoys suspense. (Adult Fiction-Teen EFA)

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Along for the Ride

Reviewed by Jordyn G.
Fairview South School

photoSarah Dessen’s novel Along for the Ride is about a college girl named Auden. She has lived with both her parents until her father divorces the mother and marries another woman. coverAuden and her mother haven’t been getting along lately; they have fights and fights. Since Auden’s brother is in another country, there is no one to stop it. Therefore, her mother tells her to go live with her dad in a little beach town, and there she meets Eli, the almost love of her life. So will Auden be able to survive a summer of love, babysitting, and her new step mom?

I am recommending this book because this is a great book for a teenage girl to learn the ups and downs of life, love, and family. (Youth Junior High Fiction DES and Adult Fiction-Teen DES)

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City of Fire

Reviewed by Ari B.
McCracken Middle School

photoHave you ever wondered what life would be like if science and magic co-existed? Well here is a book that offers one possible answer to this question. City of Fire, by Laurence Yep, is set in San Francisco in 1941. coverThe main character, Scirye, is the daughter of a relatively high-ranking official of the Kushan Empire, so when Badik the dragon attacks the museum where the Kushan artifacts are on display and steals a priceless ring, Scirye, Bayang (another dragon), and two friends named Leech and Koko join together to seek out Badik for their various reasons.

I liked the suspense this book had that really made you want to keep reading. The characters’ emotions of loyalty, vengeance and greed reminded the reader that the characters were still only human. I would highly recommend this book to fantasy fans between the ages of 11 and 14. So, next time you’re at the library or bookstore, remember to read City of Fire by Laurence Yep. (Youth Fiction YEP)

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Reviewed by Amanda L.
McCracken Middle School

photoDawn by Kevin Brooks is a wonderful book about how a teenage girl learns to come out of her “cave” that she has been hiding in for two years. This book is about a 15-year-old girl named Dawn. Two years ago, her alcoholic, drug-addicted father raped her while he was drunk. Then her dad ran away. coverEver since then, she has been “hiding” in her head. There is a 13-year-old Dawn and a 15-year-old Dawn in her head; this is just how she thinks since the incident. She also listens to her iPod constantly because it takes her thoughts and worries away. It is a way for her to escape reality. One day, she gets a few visitors at her house and finds out the truth about why her father left. Then something VERY unexpected happens, and you’ll have to read the book to find out what!

I really liked this book because it had a good plot and it was exciting. I would recommend this book to everyone, but it does contain some content that might be inappropriate for younger readers. Readers over the age of 12 can probably handle it. This is a very good book with some deep feelings, so if you are into books with serious subject matter, you should definitely read Dawn by Kevin Brooks. (Adult Fiction-Teen BRO)

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Dragon Road: Golden Mountain Chronicles

Reviewed by Ori K.
Old Orchard Junior High School

photoDragon Road by Laurence Yep, is about a Chinese-American named Cal who lived in San Francisco in 1939. He was out of work, unable to pay his rent, and desperate to make some money. The only thing he was good at was basketball, even though he was only average in height. When Cal was invited to join the Dragons, a professional Chinese American basketball team, his life changed. This was in the early days of professional basketball, however, and they traveled a lot and were not paid much. Still, Cal was playing basketball and making some money besides. The Dragons played other professional teams like the Harlem Globetrotters, and amateur teams made of men who lived in the same town or area. The fans in the audiences were often out of control and would even throw food at the home team if it was losing.

coverThe book covered ten years of Cal’s struggles to become a great basketball player. He made little, so money was still a problem. He wasn’t married and had few opportunities to establish a relationship and start a family. He and his teammates often faced strong prejudice from fans at games and everywhere they went.

Although the book started slowly, I quickly became interested and wanted to keep reading. I learned a lot about Cal, the main character, and about life for Chinese Americans at that time. I also enjoyed Laurence Yep’s detailed accounts of Cal’s basketball games and learned much about the ups and downs of basketball in its early days. This novel is historical fiction, and I learned about life in the United States during that time and how some major events in the world affected the people.

Actually, Dragon Road is the eighth book in a group of novels about Chinese Americans, each set in a different time. This was the first book I have read by Laurence Yep, but it won’t be the last. Basketball, Chinese American life, and history, all in one terrific book! Anybody in junior high or even older, would enjoy reading it! (Youth Fiction YEP)

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Dull Boy

Reviewed by Tenzin W.
McCracken Middle School

photoHave you ever wanted superpowers? Well, Avery has them. He can fly and has super strength. So, why isn’t he happy? Dull Boy by Sarah Cross is about a boy named Avery, and his interesting life. One day he meets a group of people who also have superpowers; Sophie who is super sticky, Nick has an uncontrollable vortex brewing inside of him, and Darla is a super genius. Sophie, Nick, and Darla are trying to recruit Catherine, who has catlike powers including retractable claws, great agility, and night eyes.

coverBut then Cherchette comes in. This mysterious lady is trying to convince Avery to join her, and to come live with her. Apparently, Darla thinks she was an evil spirit in her past life, so she doesn’t trust her. Cherchette has also visited almost everyone with superpowers. What is she up to? Later in the book, we meet Jacques, Cherchette’s son. He can turn things into ice, or make a blizzard. But this book isn’t all about fighting and action. It also goes into greater depth about what has happened to the characters, and how they think about things. For example, Nick’s dad pressures him to be the perfect son, and Avery’s friends ditched him.

Sarah Cross has a great mix of action, adventure, and emotion. The book is mostly from Avery’s point of view, but in some parts, like the files, the other characters tell their own feelings. I really liked Dull Boy by Sarah Cross, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. I liked it because it really explained things, but it still kept the action moving. If there is a sequel, I would most definitely read it. (Youth Fiction CRO)

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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Reviewed by Diana S.
McCracken Middle School

photoImagine if your fate was written out for you, and you had no choice but to become a housewife, just like every other girl. Well that’s how Calpurnia Tate (Callie) feels in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate written by Jacqueline Kelly.

coverThis story takes place in 1899 in a small town in Texas. One day Calpurnia finds an odd grasshopper and when she finally gets the courage to ask her Grandfather she finds that she has a shared interest in exploring the world around her with him. Her mother sees that she is spending most of her time with her grandfather, and not enough time playing the piano, sewing, knitting, cooking, and other boring chores that only housewives do. So she decides to take matters into her own hands and teach Calpurnia the dull art of housewifery (according to Calpurnia). Then as if things couldn’t get any worse, what Calpurnia thought was a book about the interesting science world turns out to be The Science of Housewifery wrapped neatly in Christmas wrapping paper, a trick to get her to like sewing. All Calpurnia wants is to go to a university and become a scientist, which was virtually impossible back then, as Calpurnia knows already. Find out what happens as she tries to change her life from what is suggested by that awful Christmas present as you read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

I would recommend this book to people aged 12 and over because it would be kind of difficult to read for younger students and making connections would be even harder; however, it doesn’t have a lot of really deep meaning and is more about the action than the emotion. So if you’re looking for a book to read on one of those rainy days, pick up The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly and start reading! (Youth Fiction KEL)

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Faith, Hope, and Ivy June

Reviewed by Alyssa M.
McCracken Middle School

photoDo you know the difference between the “rich” and the “poor”? Well, Ivy June Mosley and Catherine Combs in Faith, Hope and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor find out when they both receive the chance to participate in their school’s exchange program. Ivy June, who lives in a less fortunate area in Kentucky called Thunder Creek, gets chosen to visit and stay at Catherine Comb’s home in the rich town of Lexington for two weeks. Afterwards, Catherine would then experience life at Ivy June’s home. Ivy June and Catherine go on many adventures together while both thinking they’re two totally different people based on their life privileges. But, when their biggest life threatening family secrets come out; they both learn that they need to stick together throughout their hardships. As their friendship grew stronger, they realize their lives are more alike than different.

cover Faith, Hope and Ivy June is a wonderful, heartfelt story of two courageous girls that only knew each other for four weeks and how they face their struggles in life that are only hanging by one, small thread: hope. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor does an excellent job of putting you in the place of Catherine and Ivy June. This novel teaches you a great life lesson based on faith and hope. You learn that you shouldn’t judge others based on their different privileges in life and that when things get hard, always keep your hope. I recommend this book to girls 10 to 13 because of the girl protagonists and the characters’ age range. So, if you’re looking for a book that’ll have you on the edge of your seat while almost on the verge of tears, Faith, Hope and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is the perfect book for you! (Youth Fiction NAY)

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The Homeschool Liberation League

Reviewed by Abby R.
McCracken Middle School

photoThe book The Homeschool Liberation League by Lucy Frank is about a girl named Katya Atonucci who DOES NOT want to go back to school, because it seems impossible to handle after summer camp. coverSo, she convinces her parents that she needs to be homeschooled instead. But, her parents’ “curriculum” is NOT what she had in mind, so she enlists her friends Milo and Francesca to help her convince her parents that her way is the right way.

I think that The Homeschool Liberation League is an exceptional book. It doesn’t bore you, the plot is fairly easy to follow, and you will wish the characters were real people! My favorite character is Milo because he is a musical genius and a bit cynical in a way that will make you feel more comfortable with him. He is sweet and sardonic too. This book is easy to fall in love with, and was exceedingly well written. I didn’t want it to end! All in all, The Homeschool Liberation League by Lucy Frank is a book you won’t want to miss. (Youth Junior High Fiction FRA)

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Lockdown: Escape from Furnace

Reviewed by Reyvin R.
Fairview South School

photoIn Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith, Alex Sawyer was framed for the murder of his best friend, Toby, during their robbery in an empty house. coverAfter being found guilty (even though he really wasn’t), he was sentenced for life at Furnace Penitentiary. Furnace is an underground prison for young offenders and young killers. There is no escaping Furnace but Alex and his friends have a plan. With all the obstacles like skirmishes, blood watches, and hellhounds, will they even survive before they escape? And if so, will they make the escape?

Lockdown is the first book of the Escape from Furnace series. This book has action-packed moments, bone-chilling excitement, and adrenaline-packed scenes– full of twists and surprises that will have you speechless. There are also many cliffhangers that make you shout for more. I would recommend this for mostly boys and some girls that like a book full of terror, blood, and creepy moments. Lockdown is truly a very excellent book. (Adult Fiction-Teen SMI)

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The Lost Conspiracy

Reviewed by Marty W.
McCracken Middle School

photoHow would you feel if someone who you had spent your life taking care of had no idea who you were and had been spending her days with another family, far away? That is what Hathin, the main character in Frances Hardinge’s new book, The Lost Conspiracy, has to deal with. On the island of Gullstruck, The Lost, who can send their senses away from their bodies, are the main form of communication and weather prediction. coverBut when most of The Lost drop dead simultaneously, centuries of racial tensions reach a breaking point and Hathin and her sister, the one remaining Lost, must flee for their lives.

What follows can only be described as a rip-roaring, fast paced, all-out adventure fest. Hathin, who has spent her life in obscurity, finds herself involved in a secret organization formed for revenge, unearthing an almost undetectable conspiracy, and battling an evil dentist and all the while evading capture by a host of pursuers. This book was so good, I found myself poring over its pages at one o’clock in the morning. It’s addicting! I would recommend The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge to just about anyone, unless they don’t like mystery/adventure/fantasy fun fests. READ THIS BOOK! (Youth Fiction HAR)

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The Orange Houses

Reviewed by Nick C.
Fairview South School

photoThe Orange Houses by Paul Griffin starts out with an introduction of the main character, and two other characters which are highlighted in the book. The main character is Tamika, an inner-city teen that is deaf and very talented in her drawing and her academics. coverThen enters Fatima, an immigrant to America from a third world country who just wants a good life in America. And finally there’s Jimmie, a veteran from the army who has been in Iraq and has been emotionally scarred and whose girlfriend has killed herself. The novel tells their stories as they progress and soon their lives collide. How does this happen? You have to read it to find out.

I would recommend this book to anyone that wants a real-world representation of inner-city drama. This book puts a spin on teen drama and brings it down to earth. I think that this is a good book, but it has a very specific target audience. This book really makes you think; you feel for Tamika and you start to re-think all of the jokes about gangs and put the victims in perspective. This would be a good read for anyone that likes a good, yet serious, REAL-life drama. (Adult Fiction-Teen GRI)

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Peace, Locomotion

Review by Emi K.
McCracken Middle School

photoThey were killed in a fire. Twelve­year-old Lonnie and 9-year-old Lili’s parents, that is. In Peace, Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson, Lonnie Collins Motion, a.k.a. Locomotion, writes letters to his sister, Lili, who lives apart from him with her foster mom. This book, made up from Lonnie’s letters to his sister, tells of his hardships, happiness, friends, family and much more. But when Lonnie’s stepbrother Jenkins goes missing in the war, all he can do is pray he’ll be found alive, and write of peace.

coverI recommend this realistic fiction novel for 10-to 13-year­old boys and girls, since the main character is a boy of 12, but does not bring up topics of a certain gender. It has a very strong theme of being adopted, and how this world really does need harmony. From my experiences, I know kids can definitely connect to Peace, Locomotion’s characters, their feelings, and actions. Although this was a good book, it wasn’t necessarily the best book. There was no real plotline, just a bunch of mixed focuses and feelings from the character; but it might help to read the first book in this series, Locomotion. Overall, Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson shows the true heart and feelings of a youthful, optimistic, African-American boy, and how he lives a one-of-a-kind life. One more thing, STRIVE FOR PEACE TOO! (Youth Fiction WOO)

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Pemba’s Song: A Ghost Story

Reviewed by Ashley D.
Old Orchard Junior High School

photoPemba’s Song: A Ghost Story by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin, is not the usual, scary ghost story. It is about a teenage girl named Pemba whose father died when she was young. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her mother. When her mother gets a better job, they move to a small town in Connecticut and she doesn’t have any friends. Pemba is miserable because she is living in a small town and doesn’t have her old friends. She becomes friendly with a neighbor who goes to the library every day. He convinces Pemba to go to the library with him instead of staying home alone while her mom works all day. At the library, he reads about African-American slave history, and she becomes interested in that also. Soon, there are times when Pemba “sees” an African-American woman from the past, actually living in her house. coverWhenever she has these “visions,” she feels light-headed, gets a headache, and feels faint. Then she feels fine a couple of days later. Pemba is frightened! Is something wrong with her? Who is this strange woman? Is Pemba going crazy?

Pemba wrote poems to express herself and to help her understand what was happening. Some of those poems added a lot to the book, but others were kind of confusing. At first the book was somewhat confusing, until I really got into it. Then I didn’t want to stop reading.

Pemba’s Song: A Ghost Story is only 109 pages long and is pretty easy to read. If you are in junior high and like unusual books that don’t have a lot of action, this would be a good book for you! (Youth Junior High Fiction HEG)

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Scarlett Fever

Reviewed by Kaelie S.
Fairview South School

photoScarlett Fever is the second book in a series by Maureen Johnson. Scarlett is a 15-year-old girl living in a hotel run by her family in New York City. coverHer older brother, Spencer, is an aspiring actor; her sister, Lola, has an annoying boyfriend; and a younger sister, Marlene, is a survivor of leukemia. Scarlett deals with an odd boss, heartbreak, and school work.

I recommend Scarlett Fever to all readers who enjoy realistic fiction and shocking changes throughout the story. I enjoyed Scarlett Fever because it is humorous, romantic, and fun. Although Scarlett Fever is an amazing book, I suggest starting with the first book in the series, Suite Scarlett. (Youth Junior High Fiction JOH)

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Reviewed by Claire O.
McCracken Middle School

photo“Duh du jour,” (meaning “duh of the day,”) says young Marty to his friend Luther. In Tentacles, an exciting science fiction novel by Roland Smith, three children named Marty, Grace, and Luther go on a fishing trip with family member and friend, Travis Wolfe. coverHunting giant squid and (secretly) hatching dinosaur eggs, Wolfe and the kids must be extra careful on their voyage because they know their enemy, the very rich and big-headed Noah Blackwood, has sent spies aboard the ship. Blackwood wants to sabotage any plans of Travis Wolfe finding the giant squid, Architeuthis, and gaining publicity.

I recommend this book to those interested in cryptids (or mysterious creatures) and anyone who likes a good adventure where you don’t know what will happen next. If you like mysterious stories with stowaways and secrets, this is the book for you. Follow the thrill and mystery of what lurks beneath the waves in Tentacles by Roland Smith. (Youth Fiction SMI)

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When You Reach Me

Reviewed by Allegra R.
McCracken Middle School

photoWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is a story of friendship, mystery, and time travel. Miranda, a girl in 6th grade in New York City in the year 1979, discovers a mystery that blows her worldview wide open. It all starts when a random boy on the street punches her best friend, Sal. Suddenly Sal doesn’t seem to want to be her best friend anymore. Then she begins to discover mysterious notes whose writer seems to know things that nobody should know. Miranda begins to follow the notes’ instructions, and it all leads up to an epic realization of her future, and the importance of compassion.

coverMiranda is an inquisitive, friendly, precocious girl. Her only friend at the beginning of the story is Sal, but after he decides not to hang out with her, she is able to make new friends. Her all-time favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, and she’s read it a hundred times. The plot of that book ends up playing an important role in the plot of When You Reach Me as a whole, so if you’ve read A Wrinkle in Time, you might be able to guess the ending.

I loved this book. Short as it was, the plot was satisfying, poignant, and extremely engrossing. Miranda is a character that everyone can relate to, and she and everyone else in the book are full, well-written, and three dimensional. I love science fiction, but even if you don’t, you’ll enjoy this book. The plot has just the right amount of tension and humor. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is a great, funny, and at times sad book that will have you reading (and thinking!) until the very end. (Youth Fiction STE)

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Fairview South School: Sarah Florea, 7th Grade Core Teacher

McCracken Middle School: Tori Gammeri, Director of Learning Center; Judy Kopp, Assistant Director of Learning Center; Annie Monak, Technology Teacher; Eva Tillmann, Database Coordinator; Kim Favor, Language Arts and Literature Teacher; Samantha Fields, Language Arts and Literature Teacher

Old Orchard Junior High School: Rebecca Borre, Library Media Center Director; Mark Gaffney, Language Arts Teacher

Skokie Public Library: Linda Sawyer, Youth Services Programming Coordinator; Ruth Sinker, Youth Services Technology Coordinator