Thursday, April 13, 2017

THE SECRET KEEPERS, by Trenton Lee Stewart

The story: When Reuben discovers an antique watch, he soon realizes there's far more to it than meets the eye--in fact, it's what DOESN'T meet the eye that's most astounding. Its owner can use it to become invisible. Even more amazing...and worrying...is that the watch has a twin, and if someone can get hold of both, they may be able to use them to live forever. Of course, The Smoke--the evil boss who runs Reuben's hometown--happens to have the other one, and with eyes in every corner of town, it's just a matter of time until he tracks Reuben down. How can Reuben beat The Smoke and rescue himself and his mom from their own dire reality?

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

Liz's comments: Stewart is a great storyteller, but he's never in a hurry. I do wonder if the 5-6th graders who are the target audience for this book (Reuben is 12) are going to wade through its nearly 500 pages to get to the end.

FROGKISSER! by Garth Nix

The story: What starts out as a simple quest to fix a boy turned into a frog ends up as a mission to conquer an evil sorcerer and take back the kingdom. Anya doesn't have magical powers, but she does have a talking dog, and flying carpet, and a group of helpers who make it possible...just barely...that she might succeed! If she doesn't get slimed by a newt, drowned in a sewer, or rumbled by Bad Robbers first. (Because yes, of course, there are also Good Robbers in this story. and Good Wizards. And lots of folks who've been turned into frogs, which is why you need a Frogkisser after all.)

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 (general evil-doing) PG; overall rating PG.

Liz's comments: Another charmer for Garth Nix! Every bit as fun (although for a younger audience) than last year's "Newt's Emerald". Give it to your fantasy readers immediately, and keep an eye out for a hinted-at sequel.

Friday, April 7, 2017

LAST DAY ON MARS, by Kevin Emerson

The story: The sun is going supernova, and Earth has already been obliterated. Mars is next in line, which is why all humans are boarding starcruisers and setting off for Aaru, 150 years away. Liam's family is among the last to leave Mars, so he's there to make the startling discovery that the sun's expansion was caused by an infection--purposely caused by some sinister unknown group. Worse, there's another group trying to make sure no human leaves the solar system, including Liam's parents. Including Liam. Good thing he got all that illegal flying experience...

June Cleaver's ratings: Language PG; Violence PG-13; Sexual content PG; Nudity G; Substance abuse PG; GLBT content G; adult themes (genocide on a solar-systemic scale, lots of scenes of mayhem and near death) PG-13; overall rating PG-13.

Liz's comments: Best sci-fi novel I've read all year! Plus there's a twisty twist at the end that makes everything way more intense...and kind of makes you crazy that you'll have to wait a year for the next installment.

THE PLAYBOOK, by Kwame Alexander

The story: Here are 52 rules for how to get ahead in life, featuring quotes by famous athletes, poems by Newbery-winner Kwame Alexander, and other inspirational material.

June Cleaver's ratings: Language G; Violence G; Sexual content G; Nudity G; Substance abuse G; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes G; overall rating G.

Liz's comments:
Call me a cynic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with anything in this book--work hard! Be smart! Believe in yourself! But there's always the suspicion in the back of my mind that authors put books like this together not because they care that much about readers "winning at the game of life", but because it's an easy way to make money off their own and others' fame. Some kids will like this because (1) it's short and (2) it brings about a temporary "Yeah! I can do it!" response; most kids will find the lack of a plot underwhelming and leave it unfinished unless it's required for a book study. Hate me, but that's how I feel.

OVERTURNED, by Lamar Giles

The story: Nikki is determined to solve her father's murder with the help of her friends Molly, Gavin and Davis. The search for clues leads them into the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas--and to the startling conclusion that Davis's mobster father might somehow be connected to the crime. Can Nikki find out the truth, or will her feelings for Davis give him a free pass?

June Cleaver's ratings: Language PG-13; Violence PG-13 (there are several murders but luckily they aren't graphically described); Sexual content PG; Nudity G; Substance abuse R (underage drinking); Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes (murder, underage gambling, truancy, extremely risky behaviors) PG-13; overall rating PG-13.

Liz's comments: I'm usually a big fan of mystery stories, but I thought this one, taking place as it did in down-at-heel gambling joints and motorcycle bars, was a bit too gritty for MS and its heroine too careless of her own and others' safety to be very likable. I found it adequate but not great.

ARMSTRONG & CHARLIE, by Steven B. Frank

The story: Armstrong is getting bused to a different school in LA in the fall of 1973. Charlie's always been there, and he doesn't know what to think of the black kids who are volunteering to come all the way across town. He also doesn't know what to think about Armstrong, who's kind of a Rebel while Charlie's more of a Rules Boy. Even so, as the kids get to know each other, they find out they're more alike than they could ever have guessed.

June Cleaver's ratings: Language PG-13; Violence PG; Sexual content PG; Nudity G; Substance abuse PG; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes (racial segregation, death of a sibling/child) PG; overall rating PG.

Liz's comments: I liked the story a lot, and you could tell that the author actually went to this school and lived some of these experiences, because he gets them exactly right. It did seem, however, that the characters were a little older than sixth grade--Armstrong's advice to Charlie about getting a kiss with some tongue seems to me to belong more to 8th graders, and the frequent appearance of words like "dumbass" renders this better for MS readers than ES kids. Still, I really did like it, and there's a lot here that's still relevant 40 years later.

FOUR-FOUR-TWO, by Dean Hughes

The story: Yuki and Shig decide to enlist in WWII to fight for their country--and to prove that America is their country. They become part of the 4-4-2, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which while fighting in Europe became the most decorated combat group in history. The boys always thought they'd come home heroes...now they realize they'll be lucky to make it home at all.

June Cleaver's ratings: Language PG; Violence PG-13; Sexual content G; Nudity G; Substance abuse PG; Magic & the occult G; GLBT content G; adult themes (war and the horrors of war; PTSD; racial prejudice) PG-13; overall rating PG-13.

Liz's comments: This was a powerful story of war and how it not only rips people apart, but brings them together in inexplicable ways. Give this to every boy who's played one too many games of "Call of Duty" and thinks war is one big game. They'll never think about it in quite the same way again.