Thursday, September 24, 2020

Stealing Mt Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar

Stealing Mt Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar is out now! Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @daphnekalmar, and #feiwelandfriends for the ARC.

Nell's dad is fascinated by Mt Rushmore; he even wanted to name his children George, Thomas, Teddy, and Abe. But after Tom came a girl, who was named after Susan B. Anthony, called Nell for short. So her dad never got his Abe, but he's determined to take the whole family to see Mt Rushmore in person. When he goes to find his stash of vacation cash, he realizes it has been stolen... kinda. Nell's mom took it when she left the family that spring. Nell has been struggling with how her family seems to be falling apart, but having the trip taken from them is the straw that broke the camel's back. Nell is determined to earn money so the family can go on the trip, even if she can't track down her mom.

I loved reading about Nell as she adjusted to everyone around her changing. Her friend Maya is becoming interested in boys, which makes Nell think of her as an alien. The family dynamics in this book are so powerful, especially with the historical context of being set in 1974. Many chapters begin with actual headlines from a Boston newspaper in July 1974, so I love that this can be paired with history/social studies/political lessons in the classroom or library.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh

It's been too long since I posted about an adult book, and just for fun. I recently read The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh and had to share some thoughts.

First off, the premise is what hooked me. A machine is installed in a grocery store in the small town of Deerfield, Louisiana. This machine reads your DNA and gives you a printout telling you what you're capable of in this life. Sit down, feed it $2, swab your cheek with a Q-tip, and get instant results. The whole town lines up to see their potential.

Of course, some people don't buy what the machine is selling, but even those few are tempted to give it a try. Wouldn't you be? Some people find out that they're doing exactly what they were destined to do. Some people realize they're on the wrong path, and they quit their jobs and go in a whole new direction. The book itself follows Douglas Hubbard, his wife Cherilyn, high school student Jacob, and the Catholic school's priest, Father Pete. Since it's set in a small town, there are a lot of other secondary characters that shine in their roles and round out the whole story. 

Also, the "twist" of the story is so slick, so slight, so hidden in the last little bit of the book, that I read it, kept on, then stopped in my (reading) tracks. It's so good. SO good. Seriously. I'd say the slow parts of the book are worth it JUST for the twist. The overall resolution to the book is good too, but wow, that twist...

I "accidentally" read a 1- or 2-star review of this when I added it to my "Currently Reading" shelf on GoodReads. The reviewer said the book had a lot of potential but was pretty slow and didn't dive as deep as it could have into the story. I was kind of bummed about that, but since the premise itself really interested me, I stuck with it. It did get a little slow in some parts, but I kind of liked that it was more about the lives in the small town and how they were affected by this machine, than the machine and how that played out for individuals. It was funny enough to just hear about how people turned their lives upside down and went a little crazy based on their DNA reading; I actually think focusing more on this would have been boring because it would read more like a short story collection of everyone's options.

In fact, there is a short story collection with a similar premise! If you like the idea of a machine telling you something and changing your whole life, check out This Is How You Die

THIS IS HOW YOU DIE is a new short fiction anthology, filled with stories and comics about a world in which a machine can predict how you die.

It just takes a drop of blood from a finger. Then it spits out a sliver of paper upon which are printed, in careful block letters, the words “DROWNED” or “CANCER” or “OLD AGE” or “CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN.”

Nothing else. No dates, no details. And it’s always — always — correct.

 Anyway, all of this is to say that if the premise of a machine determining your future interests you, read BOTH of these books!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer by K.A. Holt

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer by K.A. Holt is out TODAY! Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @chroniclekidsbooks, and @kari_anne_holt for an ARC of this book.

I love K.A. Holt's verse novels, but this one is a whole new ball game! Four students, Ben B, Ben Y, Jordan J, and Javier, are in summer school because they failed their state assessment, and Ms. J is the teacher who's tasked with bringing them up to speed. These four students don't know it at first, but they have a lot in common. They hate to read. They have never finished reading a book on their own. And, most importantly, they all love the game Sandbox. After making an agreement with Ms. J, the students are allowed to read a Sandbox-themed Choose Your Own Adventure-type book, and even earn time to play Sandbox at school if they meet their time quota for reading aloud. The four students start to become friends as they open up about their struggles in the Sandbox game, along with in their real lives.

This is billed as a verse novel, but I'm excited at how many students it will appeal to because one character's chapter is told in drawings. I've known many students like this - hate reading, hate writing, but have so much to express if you let them draw. I think most middle grade readers will be able to see themselves in at least one of these four characters, while feeling empathy for them all. The characters and their struggles are real, relatable, and most of all - incredibly interesting to read about! This is definitely one to get for your home, classroom, school library, or middle grade section of the public library - it's going to be a hit!