Friday, February 17, 2017

BALCONY ON THE MOON, by Ibtisam Barakat

The story: Ibtisam shares her story of growing up in Palestine in the 1970s-80s, when dreams were real but just about everything else was in short supply. Her life is proof that with hard work (okay, and some luck) you really can make a better life for yourself.

June Cleaver's ratings:
Language G; Violence PG; Sexual content G; Nudity G; Substance abuse PG; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes (religious extremism and warfare) PG; overall rating PG.

Liz's comments: It's a rare middle school kid who would pick this one up and make it through to the end. Buy it if you have kids interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and its impact on the region.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

BY YOUR SIDE, by Kasie West

The story: When Autumn finds herself trapped in the library on a snowy night, she totally expects that her friends will be back for her soon. She never expected to find someone else in the library too--mysterious Dax Miller, loner and rumored delinquent. As the hours turn to days and the teens connect, Autumn wonders whether she'll ever be able to go back to the way things were before.

June Cleaver's ratings: Language G; Violence G; Sexual content PG; Nudity G; Substance abuse G; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes (anxiety disorder, parental addiction, being in foster care) PG-13; overall rating PG.

Liz's comments: Kasie West is a reliable writer of romance novels clean enough even for 6th graders--proof that you don't have to have smut to tell a satisfying story about boys, girls, and high school romance. Hand this one to any MS readers looking for love!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


The story: Hatter Madigan always figured he'd grow up, graduate, and become a spy in Wonderland--it's what he's always wanted. But things aren't what he expected when he starts at the academy: he's living in his brother's shadow; his friends are great, except when they're not; weirdest of all, he keeps seeing things (and people) who shouldn't be there. Something sinister is going on here, but when you're on perpetual detention, it's hard to save the world!

June Cleaver's ratings:
Language G; Violence PG; Sexual content G; Nudity G; Substance abuse PG; Magic & the occult PG; GLBT content G; adult themes (being orphaned, social class rivalries, bullying) PG; overall rating PG.

Liz's comments:
I thought this was very good at the end, but it seemed to take a long time to get going. The world building was confusing--probably because I haven't read the Looking Glass Wars series--but you can't count on everyone who picks up this story to have read that one. Sci-fi fans will hopefully be able to get past the top hats used as weaponry and come to enjoy Hatter as a character.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


The story: It's 1971, and Joel is looking for a Hanukkah miracle. Is that so much to ask? He just doesn't want to end up the loser in his own story. Too bad it seems like God isn't paying attention right this minute--cuz Joel isn't picky. The miracle could be a snow day in California, or a chance to get out of looking like a dork in the school assembly. Or maybe...that his dad will wake up from the coma and not die. See? How hard could it be?

June Cleaver's ratings: Language PG; Violence PG; Sexual content G; Nudity G; Substance abuse PG; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes (questioning the existence of God; parental illness) PG; overall rating PG.

Liz's comments: I loved this story! Joel is a laugh-out-loud narrator, and his near-escapes with girls, goyim, and God keep him in perpetual hot water. Great for anyone who doesn't mind learning a little more about Jewish culture without coming away feeling depressed, and worthy of hand-selling to kids who are looking for a funny story. The cover is fitting, but weird--don't let kids walk because of that.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


The story: Mary Margaret Miller is done talking to God directly, so she keeps a notebook of patron saints who can help with the heavy lifting--and there's a bunch of that this summer. Not only is she the junior bridesmaid for her cousin's wedding, she and her brother are stuck living at Grandma's while Mom and Dad are finding a new house in a new town; Mom's been telling fibs and Mary has to cover, and her cousin Eden is so shy it's a miracle she ever got engaged at all. What with trying to live down punching a bully in the face, and wondering what to do about the cute boy next door, Mary needs all the heavenly help she can get!

June Cleaver's ratings: Language PG; Violence PG; Sexual content G; Nudity G; Substance abuse PG; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes (inability to talk about feelings; lying) PG; overall rating PG.

Liz's comments: Here's a cute story about a girl learning to stand up for herself. All the patron saint listing may be a little puzzling for non-Catholics, but there's enough explanation that even the uninitiated can figure things out. Good for grades 4-7.

Monday, February 6, 2017

MIRROR IN THE SKY, by Aditi Khorana

The story: Tara's life already falling apart when the mirror world is discovered: her mom bails on the family, her best friend is spending a year in Argentina, her crush is someone else's boyfriend. But the appearance of Terra Nova, which seems to be a world mirroring Earth, makes her wonder if there's another Tara in that place, one who's popular, and whose mom didn't just go off to join a cult. And when the popular crowd seems to start pulling her into their orbit, she has to wonder: how much influence does Terra Nova have on Earth--and will it bring her good luck...or the opposite?

June Cleaver's ratings: Language R; Violence PG; Sexual content R; Nudity PG-13; Substance abuse R; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content PG; adult themes (parental abandonment, teen sex, many instances of underage drinking) R; overall rating R.

Liz's comments: Explicit language and on-page sex--along with an ambiguous ending that doesn't qualify as "happy"--make this a story for the high school crowd, not MS. Girls who are fans of E. Lockhart's "We Were Liars" will like this one too.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Gilded Cage by Vic James

A solid Fantasy entry and first novel by Vic (Victoria) James, this book probably has crossover appeal between YA and regular adult readers, since the main characters are older teens and young twenty-somethings.  An interesting premise starts the obligatory trilogy off--magical people in this alternate reality are “more equal” than other people.  Non-magical humans must serve a required decade as slaves either in factory towns (often a death sentence) or on the estates of the Equals. People may choose when they serve, which begs the question--what if I put it off until I decide to off myself rather than be a slave?  Perhaps this will be answered in Book 2.  Anyway, the Hadley family has arranged to serve their decade together in the relative servile comfort of a large estate of the most influential Equal family in the UK.  I forgot to mention that the relationship between Equals and non-magical humans differs in various nations.  Of course, things go awry early on and Luke, the teenaged son of the Hadleys is kidnapped and taken forcibly to one of the factory towns, while the rest of the family continues to the estate. The story is told from the points of view of various characters, but mostly we follow Luke in his Urban revolutionary awakening and his older sister Abi, who starts out trying to free Luke, but suffers from a variation of Stockholm Syndrome, identifying with the younger son of the Equal Parva-Jadine family.  All the usual elements are here:  class struggle, varying degrees of magical powers and the advantages they bestow, the hero’s journey, good v. evil.  The twist is that this world is a little different to the usual fantasy.  It isn’t dystopia, exactly, and it isn’t Medieval exactly. James does a good job with the world building (with the possible exception of my previous question--but in fairness, that may eventually be addressed). This novel will have appeal for 8th grade and up who enjoy a good fantasy that is a little out of the ordinary, but still comfortably includes the regular genre constructs.  The only drawback is that they will have to wait for book 2, and you know how they hate that. This title is out this month, so it's relatively new--enjoy!

June’s Rating System:

Language--PG; Sexual Content--PG/G nothing explicit, but we know it’s happening.  Violence--PG-13 It’s a fantasy, so there will be swords...Magic and the Occult--PG-13;  Adult Themes--Revolution, class struggle, resistance to authoritarian regimes, etc.