Vlog Review: Jackpot

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The Best Thing About this Book is how well Nic Stone captures the voice of the modern teenager.

Premise:  High school senior Rico has no plans for college. She can’t afford to dream of a future like that. She needs to keep working at the local gas station in order to help her mom with the bills and her brother. She doesn’t have time for anything else and prefers to live her high school life as invisible. No friends. No connections. Until the events of Christmas Eve lead her on a chase to find the winner of the Mega-Million lotto, a ticket she sold, requires assistance from the most beautiful and richest boy at school.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Title:  The literal rendition of the title refers to the lottery and the premise of the book, a book which delves into economic status on just about every page. I won’t add the figurative meaning other than to say, it may not be about money.

Main Character(s): Rico 17 y/o

Motifs (not exhaustive): love, friendship, money, belonging, choices, luck, poverty, wealth, responsibility

Great for…* (readers): who want something fun while still opening up discussion of money/wealth/poverty.

Great for…* (teachers): looking to add to classroom libraries, literature circles, and recommended reading lists. I don’t think this is one to teach.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, sexual references

Interact: What would you do if you won the over $200 million in the lottery?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Length of a String

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The Best Thing about this Book is how the two stories weave together.

Premise: Imani will soon turn thirteen, and her plan to ask her parents to help her find her birth parents isn’t going as planned. Her mother is so sweet and fragile, Imani never wants to hurt her or make her cry, so she can’t seem to bring it up. But she can’t live not knowing where she’s from, especially when it’s so clear to everyone from her black skin that she did not come from her white parents. When Imani finds her great-grandmother’s diary from 1941, when she was twelve also, she begins to read it and discover she might not be as alone as she thought.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: “The length of a string” is a phrase from Anna’s journal that she uses in connection with her identical twin sister to describe the way they connect without speaking. The title and the book deal with a number of relationships that get broken by circumstance — whether the Nazi campaign in the 1940s or being adopted in the 21st century or even the strain of parent/child relationships that happens through the teen years for so many. How long is that string that connects? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

Main Character(s): Imani, 7th grade (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): identity, family, friendship, siblings, history, World War II, Judaism, bat mitzvah, adoption

Great for…* (readers): who like mystery or realistic fiction or historical fiction. Also great for 8th-graders, who often read literature related to the Holocaust.

Great for…* (teachers): Setting is pivotal in each of the narratives and creates the conflict for much of the book. Studying how setting impacts other literary components/features seems as good a plan as any when reading this book.

Parental Warning(s): None that aren’t implied by the subject of the book.

Interact: This book made want to re-start my journal, which I’ve gotten very inconsistent with. Do you keep a journal? If so why and how often do you write in it? And if not, why not and have you ever considered it?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Maybe He Just Likes You

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The Best Thing about this Book is the authenticity of doubt in Mila’s voice.

Premise: Time to celebrate a birthday with a circle of friends in a group hug. But when a group of basketball boys insert themselves in the hug and continue to hug or touch Mila in the coming days, is it all in her head or does their snickering mean more?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: When harassment occurs, everyone has a different take on it. It was just a joke. It’s flirting. Maybe he’s just likes you. The title of this book tackles the questioning and doubt around harassment head-on — and asks the reader to consider what approach he/she/they want to take as a bystander.

Main Character(s): Mila, 7th grade (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, doubt, strength, bullying, harassment, trust, courage, truth, listening, support, music, self defense

Great for…* (readers): period. As a mother of two sons, I’m making sure they read this book. Barbara Dee herself (the author) dedicates the book to her son. Unfortunately, each kid is likely to experience or witness something similar to what Mila experiences. This book will help prepare a kid or help a kid who is trying to sort through it (though the latter should be done with additional assistance).

Great for…* (teachers): This would be a great book club book. Or a book to track the changes in perspective Mila has about a variety of things. What’s her tipping point?

Parental Warning(s): None that aren’t implied by the subject of the book.

Interact: This book made me so angry. That emotion stems for sorrow and hurt. What is the primary emotion you feel when you read a book like this or hear a true story about harassment?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: What Girls are Made of

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****************NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST****************

The Best Thing About this Book is either what Bekah does for Nina in a time of need or the art works referenced and explored.

Premise:  Nina loves her boyfriend Seth. She’ll do anything for him. She’ll worship him. But something about that doesn’t settle in to her experiences with her mom, who tells Nina there’s no such thing as unconditional love, and takes her to Italy to visit iconic sculptures of women.

Rating: 5/5
Target: 16 and up (technically YA, but I wouldn’t bookend it there)

Title:  Make sure you know this nursery rhyme (called “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”) to be able to fully analyze this title. Elana K. Arnold adds assistance to understanding the title in the Author’s Note at the book’s end. Highly Recommend It. I’ll just give you this little teaser: “I now see that the stuff of girls is meant to be consumed — sugar and spice and everything nice — yummy sweet treats that melt in your mouth. And it reads to me now as a warning […]”

Main Character(s): Nina 16 y/o (she/him) with flashbacks to 14 y/o

Motifs (not exhaustive): womanhood, body, consumables, identity, sexuality, sex, reproduction, excrement, love, male gaze, worship, motherhood

Great for…* (readers): who want to think deeply about female gender roles and latent messaging in art and society.

Great for…* (teachers): I wouldn’t use this one in a classroom unless it’s past high school. However, selections could be used to study the female role in society and/or the nature of flashbacks and structure compounding overall meaning.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, holds nothing back in description of bodily functions, doctor visits, sexuality alluded to and pictured

Interact: What is your memory of nursery rhymes as a kid? (especially if you grew up with “What Are Little Boys Made Of”)

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Turtle Boy

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Premise: 12 y/o Will Levine just wants to be left alone with his four turtles. He doesn’t want to be called Turtle Boy by the kids at school. He doesn’t want to have surgery on his jaw. He doesn’t want new friends and he doesn’t want his one friendship to change. When Will must complete community service hours in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, though, his world begins to shift. Will hates hospitals but is assigned to visit a terminally ill teenager with a bucket list he needs help completing. Can a boy who prefers a habitat inside his shell venture beyond it without destroying himself in the process?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-9

Title: The title has multiple meanings. The kids at school taunt Will with the name “Turtle Boy” because of the way he looks, but he is also interested in turtles. However, the significance of the title really rests in Will’s propensity to shelter himself from discomfort — like a turtle in a shell.

Main Character(s): Will Levine, 12 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief/death, friendship, terminal disease, bar/bat mitzvah, change, music/drum therapy, turtles/pets, nature, single mom

Great for…* (readers): who are shy, bullied, anxious, or frightened. Many male characters make this a good read for boys while still being appealing to girls, too.

Great for…* (teachers): There’s a bucket list project, a community service project, and a cross-curriculum science/nature project waiting to happen with this book. Plenty to explore there, but the literary merit is mainly in character development, round/flat, dynamic/static, etc.

Parental Warning(s): For children who have experienced death of a parent/friend, this book could bring up memories.

Interact: Will’s favorite animal is, of course, the turtle. He does have a room full of terrariums and turtles, after all. Will says they are not pets, but, for the sake of this activity, let’s talk pets. What kind of pet did/do you want as a kid? Why? And did you ever get it?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Running Dream

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Premise: Jessica was in an accident that left her in the hospital, recovering as an amputee. She’s a runner without a leg, and she must learn what that means for her present and her future, her family and her friends, her schoolwork and her social life.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Main Character: 16 y/o Jessica (she/her)

Title: Jessica has a reoccurring dream about running with her dog early in the morning, something she did regularly before the accident. The dream is both literal, in that when she sleeps she experiences it, and figurative, as her greatest desire is to be able to run again. The latter dream is the arc of the narrative (and then some….read it to find out what I mean, no spoilers here).

Motifs (not exhaustive): hope, determination, loss, injury/setback, community, disabilities, running, freedom, perspective, healthcare, teamwork, charitable causes, friendship, giving

Great for…* (readers): athletes, students with disabilities (or seeking to empathize with people with disabilities), anyone facing a challenge, the community-minded (leaders)

Great for…* (teachers): growth mindset practice, symbolism, structure, community project

Parental Warnings: none — clean content

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Book Review: The Marriage Code

I am not a foodie. I recall the expression “Eat to live don’t live to eat” being used in our house from time to time. So, if I don’t do the food elements justice in The Marriage Code by Brooke Burroughs, I both ask your forgiveness and plead ignorance.

Burroughs’s realistic fiction, multicultural romance (tending toward romantic comedy) centers on two characters: Emma and Rishi. Their meet-cute is not so cute. They strongly dislike each other — dare I say distaste for each other? — and there may or may not be (there is) some theft of office treats between the two of them. Their work brings them together in Seattle then sends them off to Bangalore for a year to work on an app. Both seek the same team lead position and when only one gets the job, the other is bitter.

At least for a time.

Like a film (which this could be), it’s clear from the onset that the two will end up together despite the external conflicts of work and culture. Through the third person limited narration, each character shows himself/herself struggling with feelings and thoughts for the other. Sometimes that struggle requires no interpretation as it’s stated outright. Other times, well, let’s just say the word choice is…..suggestive. 

Actually, let’s say more. There were several points early on in the book where I began to get nervous. I wondered if the book was on a trajectory into eroticism. The diction seemed to suggest it was imminent. Thankfully, it did not. Oh, there is sex. But, given the word choice in the build-up, there was shockingly little sex shown. (Yes, I just said “shockingly little sex shown”. Cherish it. The language is more about the tease and the build-up than the act itself.)

However, Burroughs does not hold back on food scenes. Rishi comes to call Emma “Indian food’s number one fan” as they journey through different restaurants where they eat a variety of Indian foods that often evoke moans of appreciation from Emma. (I warned you.) Whether it’s pineapple, lentil-and-rice popadam, prathas, sambar, green beans poriyal. I could go on and on because, well, Burroughs does. To write so much about Indian food, she must be an Indian foodie herself and I cannot do it justice.

The food supplies the scrumptious transition for Emma and Rishi to talk about culture, and that leads to marriage talk. Rishi’s parents have an arranged marriage, but his brother has a love match that causes a divide in his family. Emma, on the other hand, lost her parents at the age of eight and has no family to speak of, but she left Seattle after rejecting a proposal from her long-time boyfriend. 

If you want to read a book about Indian culture, universal family problems, with a lot of food and plenty of sexual referencing, this is a great book for you. I appreciate it, but, like I said, not a foodie so not a big star rating from me.

Rating: 3/5
Target: adult readership

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RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend