Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: "The Boy on Cinnamon Street" by Phoebe Stone

Title: The Boy on Cinnamon Street
Author: Phoebe Stone
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012

After a traumatic experience she can't remember, 13-year-old Louise moves in with her grandparents, quits gymnastics, changes schools, and starts calling herself Thumbelina. As someone who is only four-foot-seven, she feels she connects with that story best—and she can no longer be Louise. But when she begins to get notes and signals from a secret admirer, it opens up feelings that Louise isn't sure she understands, and might lead to some very well buried memories.

I have not read many novels that deal with memory blocking as the result of a traumatic experience, but I am glad I was briefly brought into this world through The Boy on Cinnamon Street. We are very slowly told what happened to Louise and her family, and why she can't remember it, through a day-to-day plot line of trying to figure out who Louise's secret admirer is and what she and Reni try to do about it.

On the surface, it's a fairly normal circumstance for young teens: someone thinks someone else likes you, and you need to figure out if you like them back and how to let the other person know you do. Louise, however, is a special case. She says she has never had a crush before except on Frosty the Snowman when she was 6, and so she is unsure if the feelings she has for who she thinks left the note are truly a crush, or if it's something else. We get hints throughout that there is more to this story, and we obviously know from the beginning that there is more than what is on the surface, but we must be patient and continue with the characters as they stumble through adolescence with the added burden of hidden grief.

Siblings Reni and Henderson are well rounded as supporting characters. Henderson is especially captivating. A nerd in the best sense possible, he is not ashamed or embarrassed of his intelligence, desire to learn, or his passion for writing. He is gentle and always smiling, and I would love to have someone like that in my life. Reni is a warm, kind, loyal, and Justin Bieber–loving (not everyone is perfect) best friend to Louise. Reni thinks she knows everything there is to know about crushes and takes the secret admirer mystery to a whole different level when she gets behind the wheel. There is also a lot behind both siblings, who have their own quiet issues to deal with at home. Reni is overweight to the point where diabetes is a threat, and she must live in the shadow of her older sister, a talented painter and poet who gets most of their parents' attention. Henderson in turn looks out for Reni when no one else really does, where it counts. It's a sweet relationship, and I really appreciated the added fullness to the story.

Somewhere in the middle of the story I was starting to get tired of waiting for the big revelation of what really happened on Cinnamon Street, where Louise used to live with her parents. I had a guess, but I was getting a bit impatient with Reni and Louise getting all hung up on a particular suspect, and I had doubts that younger readers would stick with it. It was certainly worth the wait in the end, though—what a powerful crescendo that led to the beginning of Louise's path toward healing. This is definitely a book you'll want to read near a box of tissues.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review: "Lola and the Boy Next Door" by Stephanie Perkins

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton Books, 2011

Stephanie Perkins has this amazing ability to just get it and write it all down. I don't know how she so perfectly captures the feelings of crushes, young love, awkwardness, and the pain and hurt that come with rejection or not being able to have the one you want, but she's done it again.

Lola and the Boy Next Door is told from Lola's perspective. Lola is dating an older guy named Max, a 22-year-old lead singer in a rock band. Unfortunately her two dads hate him. Also unfortunately, Cricket Bell and his family (including twin sister and not-very-nice person Calliope) move back next door. Lola had a thing with Cricket a couple of years earlier that didn't end so well, and she's still upset about it. But Cricket is only home on the weekends since he's going to college, and as the weeks pass, it turns out he's not as terrible as she thought. They begin a tentative friendship, but that is all it can be, because Lola is in love with Max. Right?

Lola is a pretty kooky character, in the best way possible. She has such a strong sense of self that she is able to dress up in costume almost daily (which she does). She loves color and originality and isn't afraid to show it in her wardrobe. All of the other characters in the novel are nice and round too, as they should be. Every one is fully developed without a stock character in sight. Lola's dads, Nathan and Andy, are awesome, oh and by the way, Lola has gay parents, which is also awesome. And Cricket is just such a cutie. A really really smart cutie who can be incredibly awkward. Really, every character is just so well thought out. And this is a pretty character-driven novel, so that's a great thing.

I don't think I enjoyed this one as much as its predecessor, Anna and the French Kiss, but that's only because AATFK was one of the best young adult novels I've read in a while. Both are excellent in their own way, I just preferred the first one over the second one. I think part of it might be because sometimes I just found Lola to be too much, but just for my tastes. Obviously she is just right for her own, and that's the point.

This is just a sweet, realistic romance that I could relate to as a reader, and I'm sure many other readers will be able to relate to as well. Highly recommended to fans of contemporary romance, quirky characters, and realistic fiction. Needless to say, I'll be picking up Perkins's third book, Isla and the Happily Ever After, when it comes out next year.

Disclosure: I got this from the library.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: "Unraveling" by Elizabeth Norris

Title: Unraveling
Author: Elizabeth Norris
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2012

Janelle knows she died that day the truck hit her. All she remembers is seeing it hurtling toward her, then darkness. Then excruciating pain—and her classmate, Ben Michaels, standing over her. She knows she died, but she knows Ben brought her back.

This is freaky in and of itself, but things are starting to get even stranger in Janelle's life. Her father, an FBI agent, is investigating cases where unidentified bodies are showing up, with the cause of death being extreme radiation burns. They can't figure out where the bodies are coming from, or what caused the burns. In addition to all this, they've found a device with a countdown, though they aren't sure what the device does (is it a bomb? something worse?) and are unable to deactivate it. Janelle and her best friend Alex start their own investigation, eventually joined by Ben and his friends, but they may have gotten in over their heads—the fate of their world might be at stake.

Unraveling is a page-turner, for sure. It is a mystery, an apocalypse story, a love story, an action story all rolled into one. Janelle is an interesting character, and I enjoyed being in her head. She swears a lot, which I found pretty typical for a teenager, and she has a no-nonsense attitude that I liked.

As far as plot goes, when one of the big reveals happened (those who've read the book know which one I'm talking about), I did an eye-roll and thought, Really? But once the initial inner groaning stopped, I got back into the story. I really wanted to know why these strange and supposedly unexplained things were happening. I also loved that Norris made Janelle, her younger brother Jared, and her dad huge X-Files fans, which probably got me more excited about the unexplained stuff. Not that I was ever a huge X-Files fan, but it lent a nice flavor and atmosphere that would have been missing otherwise.

I read Anna's review for this on her blog while I was reading the book, and one thing I couldn't agree more with: I had a hard time believing Janelle's dad would leave his FBI files out everywhere for Janelle to find. It should not be that easy to hack into the federal government's system, even if it is your dad. Or, you know, go into his office and just grab papers and read them. Not likely. I almost wish Janelle had been older and an FBI agent herself; I think it would have been more believable.

Lovers of romance will be happy, too, since Ben turns out to be a romantic interest for Janelle, though *gasp* it's a forbidden romance! To me, this wasn't a huge plot point in the novel since I wasn't that interested in their quickly developed relationship/didn't really care if they ended up together, but I know I'm speaking only for myself. The more important aspect for me was the adventure and mystery of it all.

A couple more things that annoy me. 1) The cover. Janelle is described as olive-skinned, and to me the girl on the cover seems a bit whitewashed for my tastes. Also, I usually hate covers with models. 2) There were some characters that I found to be unnecessarily added in. Not a whole lot of development, not a whole lot of purpose, but in there enough for me to wonder why they were important. There were also a few subplots that didn't really turn into anything and I couldn't help but wonder why they were even included at all, since they were distracting from the real story.

Despite a few weak plot points and issues with suspension of disbelief, Unraveling was enjoyable. Not the greatest sci-fi book I've read in the past year, but fun. If you like high stakes, sci-fi, X-Files-y stuff, and a bit of edginess, this might be worth a read for you. Just beware: it's a bit think, weighing in at 464 pages.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Top Ten Most Vivid Settings/Worlds

This Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, lists my favorite settings and worlds in books. In this installment, I'm going to focus on setting more than other worlds in the sense of worlds being planets—settings that are originally unfamiliar to me but are vivid in the way they are described and the way the characters interact with them. Though I will include some fantasy and sci fi.

1. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

This series takes place on another planet called New World, which has been colonized by people from Earth. The biggest problem with New World, unknown by the colonizers when they landed about 13 years before the story begins, is the Noise. Thoughts can be heard by anyone around the thinker, and this includes animals. You really have to read this to understand how incredibly well written and conceived New World is, and I highly recommend this series as a whole.

2. When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer

When the Stars Go Blue gives us an in-depth look at the incredibly intense world of drum and bugle corps. Bonus: this is a retelling of Bizet's opera Carmen.

3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Are we surprised this one made it onto another of my Top Ten Tuesdays? This book and all its worlds will forever have a place in my heart.

4. Feed by M.T. Anderson

I dare you to read/listen to this book and not see some terrifying parallels to our world today.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This is probably one of the best YA books ever written. It's a world I've never experienced first-hand, but Alexie does an incredible job bringing his readers into the world he grew up in—in this book, it's a reservation in Spokane. Side note: if you haven't read this book yet, you probably should soon.

6. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This book was so vivid that after I stopped reading, I had the incredibly strong urge to go stock up on canned goods and bottled water.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Another one of the greatest YA books in existence, possibly just one of the best books in existence. In my opinion. We see the white, happy Southern side of Macomb County, but in stark contrast we see the racist, dangerous segregation of this small town too. Please read this if you haven't already!

8. Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

This is the Hawaii we don't see in the guide books or paradise pictures. A full, remarkable history of one of the most recent additions to our country. I got a much better idea and understanding of Hawaii and its people from this book than I had prior, and I'm so glad I listened to this on audio before I went there.

9. Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport

Sticking with the Hawaii theme, this novel gives us the history of Hawaii in a fictionalized form, telling the story of seven generations of women as they live through Hawaii's history. This does an even better job of describing the islands and its people than Vowell's book, as Davenport is part native Hawaiian herself and grew up on the islands. Disclosure: I'm still in the middle of reading this one, as its very dense and long, but it's wonderful.

10. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

No one does a better job at humorously taking an in-depth look at society, culture, and place than Bill Bryson. This book is a great example of this, as is I'm a Stranger Here Myself which takes a look at American culture as a whole.  If you know me, you know my deep and abiding love and admiration for this author and won't be surprised to see him appear on this (or any) list of mine.

Have you read any of these? What are your top ten settings?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: "Princess Academy" by Shannon Hale

Title: Princess Academy
Author: Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA, 2007

Miri and her family lives near the quarry on Mount Eskel, and have lived there for generations. She desperately wants to prove she is useful and work in the quarry alongside her sister and father, but he won't allow her to set foot inside it. Things in their day-to-day village life change, however, when it is announced that Mount Eskel is where the next queen will come from. All of the girls between the ages of 12 and 18 must attend the Princess Academy, a time-honored tradition in the kingdom, where they will get a basic education and learn how to be proper ladies. One of these girls will be chosen by the crown prince as his bride. Though the girls and their families resist at first, eventually all those of age head to the academy, a 3-hour journey in a building that had been abandoned years ago. Tutor Olana, their appointed teacher, is overly strict and quick to punish, quickly making the rest of the girls resent Miri when she causes them to miss an anticipated visit home. But despite all this, the girls begin to get excited about the possibility of becoming a princess, and though Miri tells herself she just wants to prove that mountain girls can be intelligent when she throws herself into her studies, a part of her wonders too.

When I heard the title Princess Academy, I kind of rolled my eyes a little. It sounded like something fluffy that I wouldn't be interested in, but it was chosen for the library's middle school book club. I'm so glad it was, or it never would have been on my radar despite its Newbery Honor. What a fantastic story! The world Hale creates is enchanting, though for a fantasy there is not a whole lot of magic or fantastic incidents (with the exception of the mountain people's ability to communicate via a sort of mental telepathy), so it's more like a fairy tale than a fantasy in that respect.

One of the biggest themes in this novel is the value of a good education. The girls have no idea how to read or write, or even what the value of the linder (a type of stone, the descriptions of which brought to my mind a type of marble) they mine from the quarry is. Miri is fascinated by all this, and begins to try to figure out a way to use it to the village's advantage. I love that this was pretty much the main theme; it doesn't matter where you were born or how you were raised, the potential for intelligence just needs to be nurtured and it will begin to make a difference in the lives of the learners and their loved ones.

Miri was an incredibly strong character, too. She has a strong sense of what's fair, and she knows she and the other girls are bright. She wants the very best for her family and her village, and though she feels like she is too small and therefore useless in the quarry where everyone she knows makes their living, she still grasps for ways she can be useful to her community.

One other thing I really liked was how the girls weren't sure if they were interested in actually marrying the prince. It's nice how the prince isn't this mythical Prince Charming figure for them; he is just a guy, albeit one with enormous power. For them, it was more the idea of a different sort of life than the one they know they will be leading if they don't get chosen.

There is a lot of tension throughout the novel, too. Miri is ostracized for a good portion of the book by the other girls because of her misstep at the beginning of their academy education, causing her to become friends with the "outsider" of the group, a lowlander (someone not from the mountain) named Britta, who has her own problems, namely being an outcast even before the academy. The competition is high for the title of Academy Princess, awarded to the girl who gets the highest marks right before the ball where the prince is supposed to choose his bride. And there is the matter of the high suspense that happens toward the end of the book, which I will refrain from going into detail here because of spoilers.

All in all, I highly recommend this book to fans of Hale's other work, strong female characters, and fairy tale stories. It certainly deserved its Newbery Honor. AND I just found out a sequel is due out next month! I can't wait to see where Miri's story goes next.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: "Something Like Normal" by Trish Doller

Title: Something Like Normal
Author: Trish Doller
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2012

Trish Doller brings us into the mind of a young Marine who comes home on leave after being on tour in Afghanistan. But it's no happy homecoming for Travis. The 19-year-old has nightmares every night, sees his dead best friend everywhere, and can't connect with his old friends as he was once able to do. To make matters worse, his parents are having marital issues, and he gets along even worse with his father and brother than he did before. But there is a bit of hope when he reconnects with Harper, that is, after she punches him in the eye for ruining her life. The two begin a tentative friendship, which turns into something a bit more. But their relationship will have to go up against Travis's troubled mind.

I really enjoyed Trish Doller's debut. It seemed very genuine to me, and it was clear she did her research—that much is confirmed in her acknowledgements. I'm so glad it was told from Travis's perspective, as I don't think I've ever read a contemporary novel told from the perspective of someone who had been at war, especially a war that is continuing right now.

It's clear from the beginning that Travis is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt. His best friend, Charlie, lost his life while they were on tour, and he was there to see it happen. He feels incredibly guilty that Charlie was the one to die and not him, and he struggles with that every day of his life. The language is raw and very real, as are the experiences the teens in this novel have.

A note about the characters. Not everyone is likable at once. Travis's buddies are rough around the edges, as is Travis himself, but I appreciated that. I really liked the relationship he had with his mother, which develops from one where Travis has trouble expressing his feelings to one where he is able to stick up for his mom and help her out in whatever way he is able to. His dad was pretty much just a jerk, and I kept waiting for Travis to put him in his place. His brother too.

The main relationship in here is between Travis and Harper. Initially, Harper hates Travis because of an exaggerated story that took on a life of its own when they were freshmen in high school that pretty much destroyed her reputation. But somehow they get past that, and slowly they become closer. Harper is able to calm Travis in a way no one else can; she manages to ground him and keep him steadier than he is able to keep himself alone. And Doller doesn't wrap everything up in a nice bow, either. Travis is still dealing with his demons at the novel's end, and he and Harper are still working on their relationship, which of course becomes long distance since he is not finished with his tour of duty. We don't know where they end up, but the last lines are filled with hope and promise of having a life that isn't perfect, but is bearable and as normal as they can hope.

This is a really important book for teens to read, especially those who know someone who is fighting overseas. It might help them to understand a little bit better what soldiers go through and what they deal with when they come home.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Eleven (sort of) Readalikes for "A Wrinkle in Time"

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we take a look at Top Ten Readalikes for whatever book you choose. My very favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, so I figured I'd give that a shot.

1. Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. This series is out of print, but it is probably available from your local library. A fabulous fantasy series set in a different world, with sinister secrets just, well, below the root.

2, 3, and 4. The rest of the Time Quartet. Cheating a bit here, but they are three separate books, after all. I promise not to pick any more L'Engle books though. :) They are A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Each of these books deals with the Murray family, continuing their story and adventures in time and space.

5. The Giver by Lois Lowry. I don't know if I associate these books because they were my favorites growing up or what, but for some reason I feel like if you liked A Wrinkle in Time you'll like this one. And its sequels, Gathering Blue and Messenger, of course. I hear there is also a fourth one coming out, which I'm very excited about.

6. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Of course I have to have this one on the list. Stead uses A Wrinkle in Time as something of a muse, having her main character Miranda read the book over and over and borrowing the time travel theme.

7. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. Not exactly the same idea and the writing style is a bit different, more quirky and whimsical, but it has great charm and a fascinating world. Of course, if you've read any Discworld novels, you know what I'm talking about.

8, 9, 10 (and 11). The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. Yes, a bit more cheating, but again, four separate books! Another fantasy series with plenty of old charm akin to the L'Engle books, staring with Over Sea, Under Stone and continuing with the book the series is named after. There are four books in all, and the borrow heavily from Welsh mythology. Very fun, with a rich setting and great world building.

There you are! If you have any more to add to this list, please feel free to mention them in the comments. If I haven't read them, I'll be sure to seek them out!

Also, if you're interested, I made this short video celebrating the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: "Songs for a Teenage Nomad" by Kim Culbertson

Title: Songs for a Teenage Nomad
Author: Kim Culbertson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire, 2007

Calle (pronounced Callie) and her mom have bounced from town to town each time her mother's relationships fall apart. She's been the new girl many times, and she doesn't see why Andreas Bay will be any different. But it is different—right away the drama kids accept her into their group of friends, and she begins an unlikely friendship (and maybe more) with popular football player Sam. She begins to really enjoy life in this small town by the sea. Unfortunately, her mother's relationship with her new husband starts to go south, as usual, so Calle is not sure how long it will last. Once again she faces the prospect of leaving, until she uncovers something that might point out a new reason why she and her mother always seem to be running.

I stumbled across this book through the database Novelist when it suggested this as a read-alike for another series I loved. It was nothing like that other series, but nonetheless I found it to be a great read. If you are a music fan, it's worth picking this one up. Each chapter is titled after a song, followed by a snippet of Calle's memory connected to the song. Music is what gets Calle through her constant moves and constant loneliness. She was also easy to relate to, with a voice so genuine you'll think of your own high school experience.

The plot certainly kept me reading, as well as my investment in the characters. Because we're hearing the story from Calle's perspective, we don't know the long history of the people in Andreas Bay. It all gradually comes out, both things in which Calle is alone in her ignorance and family secrets that only she and those involved know about. The secrets really strengthen the bonds between her and those she shares them with, though it takes a while for the trust to build.

In the meantime, we get all the teenage emotions with none of the over-dramatics. Calle is quiet and dignified in her struggles at school and in her family. She wants to learn more about her father, who she was told left her and her mom when she was a baby, but her mother won't even let her bring him up. She has wondered for years about him, and when new things come to light she isn't sure what to do or whether or not she can trust her mother anymore. In addition to all this, she is navigating uncharted territory with Sam, who is sending such mixed signals that it's almost like he's two different people. It's all for a reason of course, though it doesn't condone his behavior, and ultimately the confusion and pain make Calle a stronger person.

All in all, this is a great read with a real, genuine narrator and a compelling story. Plus, music!

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: "The Other Side of the Island" by Allegra Goodman

Title: The Other Side of the Island
Author: Allegra Goodman
Publisher: Razorbill, 2008

Honor, born in the eighteenth year of Enclosure, has just moved to Island 365 after living with her parents in the Northern Islands for most of her life. Now that they are under the watchful eye of Earth Mother and her Watchers, they cannot act as freely as they did when they were on their own, before they were found and brought to their new home. They can't sing out loud, they must follow the rules, they must stay away from the ocean, and they cannot own any books at home. They must not be Unpredictable. But the problem for Honor is her family is Unpredictable, and they are very different. Her parents have another child and refuse to give him back to the government, they sneak out at night and don't come back until morning. Honor and her friend Helix find out that bad things happen to people who don't fit. They disappear, and they never come back.

In a literary landscape full of dystopian literature, it's nice to come across a book with a more original premise that doesn't have a fated love story or love triangle. It's a disconcerting vision of the future that makes one uneasy, a world where climate change has destroyed much of the earth, leaving only islands dotted here and there across the oceans. Little details here and there show how much people are aware of nature and the earth, or seem to be aware of it, such as wearing sun hats and applying sunscreen. However, in this world, weather is supposedly controlled by Earth Mother, and Enclosure, which basically means a big dome encloses each island completely. The sky is covered by an overlay with a picture of a perfect sky or a moon with seven stars, depending on time of day.

Earth Mother is something like the Big Brother of George Orwell's 1984, always in control and watching, but never actually seen in the course of the book. More immediate villains are those who uphold Earth Mother's reign, such as Miss Blessing at Honor's school. The way they treat people is chilling, be they adult or child, man or woman. And the orderlies, people whose brains have basically been rewired to do exactly as they are instructed, do all the hard work around the island, all the landscaping, cleaning, cooking, transporting, etc. They sort of reminded me of the Avoxes in the Hunger Games trilogy, unable to speak and basically slaves to those in power.

One of the most important things Earth Mother does to take power from the citizens is taking away their memories, mostly those from their childhood, but more if you are particularly unruly. Think about losing all memories of who your parents are, how you grew up, learning only what you are told in school and not being allowed to question it, or even have the ability to question it if you can't remember otherwise. That was the scariest thing about this future to me.

I was not a big fan of the writing style. Sentences were short and simple for the most part. I didn't really like the terseness, but it didn't really take much away from the book as a whole. My biggest problem was the ending, which seemed to stop too soon, with an author's note that said she did it that way to leave it up to the reader's imagination what the outcome is. I know not all books end in neat little bows, and I don't like it when they do, but stopping mid-action makes me feel like it's something of a cop-out.

All in all, a fresh take on dystopian future that is worth reading in the sea of dystopias out there right now. It's a good read for middle grade readers and strong older elementary readers, and should appeal to boys as well as girls.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: "Jake and Lily" by Jerry Spinelli

Title: Jake and Lily
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2012

Jake and Lily are twins. But they're not what you would call normal. They have this special thing, something they call goombla—they just know things about each other without having to be told. They can't play hide and seek because they always know where the other is hiding, the don't have to look at each other's journal entries because they already know what they say, and every year on their birthday they sleepwalk to the local train station and have the same dream, most likely because they were born on a train in the  middle of a tunnel, and wake up hand in hand.

But all this starts to change one summer vacation when Jake starts to hang around with some neighborhood boys who ride around and call themselves the Death Rays. To make matters worse, the leader of the gang is Bump Stubbins, Lily's archenemy. Soon Jake and Lily start to lose their goombla, to Lily's great distress. The problem is, Jake doesn't seem to mind that much. Over the course of the summer, the two will learn what it means to be individuals while still realizing they will always be brother and sister, inextricably linked together.

While this is not my favorite Spinelli book, it is a nice summer read about growing apart and growing up. Jake and Lily have always done everything together, to the point where Lily can only define herself through her relationship with her brother. When that is taken away from her, she isn't sure who she is anymore, forcing her to figure it out after a lot of grieving. Jake also has to grow up, as he realizes that his treatment of others isn't always as kind as he has been in the past. Overall, this is a book about identity, love, loyalty, and friendship, with the added bonus of a kind of twin ESP.

Lily and Jake narrate in alternating chapters, and it is clear where their stories begin to diverge. Lily's voice is full of sarcasm, anger, and sass. She is a tomboy all the way, and is surprised and insulted when she realizes she is being left out because she's a girl. She calls it like she sees it, and I found that really admirable. Jake, on the other hand, is straitlaced and calm. You can see how he is drawn into the mob mentality, but it takes a fairly serious and cruel incident to make him realize what he's becoming.

This is a nice summer story for older elementary readers and those in the younger middle grades, and a quick read. It may look really long at 335 pages, but a lot of the chapters are less than a page, so if any kids are deterred by that let them take a look through it so they can see for themselves.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.
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