Monday, February 27, 2017

More Grownup Reading

I've posted a few roundups over the past couple of years featuring great adult books that I've been reading. Lately, maybe because of my obsession with Litsy, Book Riot, and The Book of the Month Club, I've been reading more adult books than ever. We've also pressed pause on our giant booktalking program since we've restructured our staff, which takes some of the pressure off reading so many children's books (although of course I still love to read children's and teen books).

And I've been finding and reading some really great books lately, so I definitely wanted to share the love and tell you about what I've been loving lately. Here are 11 more great books for your TBR shelves!

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Ecco, 2014).

SO SCARY. I'm the first to admit that I'm a scary story wimp, but this psychological horror novel was terrifying in a way that had me turning the pages to see what would happen next. Something is out there, something so terrifying that one glimpse can drive a person mad. The survivors board themselves in and blindfold themselves when they step outside. Now Malorie and her two young kids must attempt escape. So Malorie blindfolds herself and her children and they set off down the river. But how can you escape what you cannot see?

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2016).

This book was just yummy in every way. It's a light, breezy love story that's perfect for book lovers. After being laid off from her librarian job, Nina decides to follow her dream of opening a bookshop, but intimidated by hiring and managing a staff and a lease, she elects to convert a large van into a mobile bookshop in the Scottish Highlands. This is a love story to books, but it's also a literal love story as a train engineer vies for her attention and her new landlord is mysteriously attractive under his gruff facade. The Scottish village setting was another huge draw for me: I could practically see the scenery Colgan was painting as I read.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (Spiegel and Grau, 2016; Audible Studios).

I picked up this audiobook when it was offered for free by Audible. I am actually not a huge watcher of The Daily Show, but Noah's memoir of growing up in Apartheid and post-Apartheid South Africa was fascinating. He was born during Apartheid to a black mother and a white father, so his very existence was, in fact, a crime. Noah speaks about race and conflict and poverty and family in a place that I knew very little about. His memoir is not only entertaining, especially the audiobook which he narrates himself, but eye-opening. You know how I feel about celebrity memoirs, and this is one that's definitely worth a read.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (Grove Press, 2017).

The title of this short story collection says it all. These stories about women are sometimes difficult to read, dealing with women who are in difficult situations or have to make impossible choices or who are trying to survive tragedies. They are hauntingly beautiful and ugly stories to be savored. This wasn't a book I could read in a weekend, but a book that I picked up and read and then put down to process.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (Crown, 2016).

This book made me think and it has not stopped making me think since I read it months ago. It was very, very difficult for me to check my privilege when I started reading this book, but I think I managed it by the end. I get so frustrated by lost books at the library - books that are checked out and then never returned - but reading this book helped me understand a little better some of the reasons that it might happen. All public librarians should read this book, particularly anyone serving an area with any housing instability.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, 2015; Hachette Audio).

Looking for a fantasy series you can really sink your teeth into? (Actually.... I am pretty convinced that this is science fiction, technically, but it reads like high fantasy, so I think it could please readers of either.) I am not a huge reader of adult science fiction or fantasy, but I had been hearing so much buzz about this one that I grabbed the audiobook when I saw it on sale. The book drew me in with its multiple storylines and when I started to figure out how they all fit together, I was finding any excuse to listen to my audiobook to see how it would all play out.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright, 2016; Highbridge Audio).

Set in sunny Jamaica, this is the story of a family trying to piece together a life as a drought pounds on and poverty seems to build walls around them. Margot works at a gorgeous resort where rich tourists come to spend time in the sand and surf. Margot has accepted her position and the things she must do in order to make a better life for her younger sister Thandi. Thandi is smart. Thandi is their ticket out. If Margot can pull together the resources to put Thandi through school, she will make it out of poverty and bring the entire family with her. But is that what Thandi really wants? Narrated by Bahni Turpin, the audiobook was the way to go for this one, as a bunch of the dialog is written in patois and the audiobook helped me understand it more easily.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera (Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016).

I had been hearing and hearing about this one and I'm so glad because I don't think I would have picked it up on my own and then I would have lost out on this hopeful story of a girl crossing the country to find herself. I loved the protagonist of this story so much that I found it hard to put the book down, despite the fact that it could have used some more careful editing. Juliet, a gay, newly feminist, college student from the Bronx, takes a summer internship in Portland, Oregon with her idol, author Harlowe Brisbane and her life begins to change. Juliet isn't sure what she wants out of this internship except to spend more time with her favorite author, but she ends up learning a ton about feminism, gender identity, race, and more. If you want a book with a character that you can just really root for and believe in, or if you're looking to educate yourself about gender, feminism, etc., don't miss this one.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Atria Books, 2014; Dreamscape Media).

This is a touching story that's stuck with me for a long time. When we first meet Ove, we know he's a recently retired man who feels like he's outlived his usefulness and is determined to off himself, only things keep getting in his way. Backman reveals the whole story gradually and along the way the reader falls in love with Ove. This is just my kind of story - completely character centered with tone that's a mix of humorous and serious. The audio recording is very pleasant to listen to and it's an audiobook that kept me getting my daily walks in because I needed to visit with Ove and find out what happened to him next.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books, 2016).

Here is another character-centered gem. When Nadia is a teenager, she falls in love with an older boy named Luke and she befriends Aubrey, a girl new to their community. All three of them are connected by their common church, the Upper Room, but their lives will become more and more entangled as they get older and secrets complicate their lives. The relationships between the characters is what really had me hooked, particularly the relationship between best friends Nadia and Aubrey.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown and Co, 2016).

Mounting tension keeps the pages turning in this historical novel set in Ireland in the 1850s. An English nurse is tasked with investigating a supposed miracle - an Irish child who claims not to have eaten in months, surviving off the manna of heaven. This one starts a little slow, but by the halfway mark I absolutely couldn't put it down and I finished it in one night.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Our First African American Read-In

I got to read from one of my favorite books at our library's first African American Read-In last week.

I read from Brown Girl Dreaming at our African American Read-In
If you've not tried an African American Read-In at your library, you should think about it! It was a program that was easy to put together, easy to run on the day, and one we got great feedback about. We will definitely do it again next year.

I am a librarian because I LOVE books. I know that libraries offer a lot more than books, but events centered around books and literature are my favorite kind of events to do at the library. The African American Read-In is completely centered on coming together to share books, so it is right up my alley.

Lots of libraries and schools have participated in the AARI, so there are lots of ideas out there. And it's super flexible, so you can do what works for you. Basically, as long as your event features reading African American literature and is held during the month of February, it can be considered part of the National AARI. So get to Googling and you can see lots of different possibilities.

We put the word out, invited a couple of guest readers to kick off the event, partnered with the theater department at one of our local schools to drum up some high school readers, and handled the rest of the readers open-mic style with a signup sheet.

We held the event at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, which is a department of our library and located right down the street. They happened to have an amazing art exhibit going on: #BlackArtMatters, which provided the perfect backdrop for our readers. We brought books and a laptop check out station from the library so that attendees could check out the books that were read or sign up for a library card if they needed one.

Our event was successful in many ways. I was hoping to have 50 people and we ended up with 65, which is great for us, especially for a new event. We got lots of great feedback from attendees, including many who asked if we'd be doing it again next year (yes!).

I had hoped to have lots of books checked out from our mobile library station, but only two books were checked out, both by a staff member who was attending. So that's a goal for next year: promote checkouts of library material.

I'd also like to explore getting children more involved and possibly hosting some after-school read-ins like Angie Manfredi posted about. There are definitely possibilities to expand the program next year.

Have you done an African American Read-In? I'd love to hear about what you've done!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Flying Lessons and Other Stories

Flying Lessons and Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh. Grades 4-8. Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2017. 216 pages. Review copy purchased because I couldn't wait for my library to get it in!


Sometimes a book of short stories is just the thing.

Sometimes you're really busy, or you have a lot on your mind and your attention span isn't that long. Sometimes it's hard to stick with an entire novel or you keep starting books and putting them down and never finishing them. And in that case, a book of short stories might be just the thing.

Flying Lessons and Other Stories is a collection of diverse stories from a lot of superstar authors. This book begins and ends with stories about basketball, but that's not all you'll find in this book. There are also stories about being captured by pirates, about having a crush on the new kid in school, about Big Foot terrorizing a family of campers, and more.

So if you're ever in the mood to read just something short and quick, or if you're very busy and need something you can pick up and put down a lot without losing your place, try this book of short stories Flying Lessons and Other Stories.

My thoughts:

You need this book!

Whether it's for your library shelves, your classroom, or your home collection, this first anthology from the We Need Diverse Books crew is an essential addition. Here lie stories from a collection of amazing authors including Kwame Alexander, Walter Dean Myers, Grace Lin, and more.

But my very favorite story in this book was the short-story-contest-winning The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn by Kelly J. Baptist. She painted a portrait of experiencing homelessness that was so poignant I can't stop thinking about it. I really hope to read more from her very soon (the bios in the back of the book mention a YA novel-in-progress, so I'm waiting here..!).

On a side note, I've been in kind of a reading slump since the 24in48 Readathon and I haven't been finishing very many books. This was the first book I'd finished in A WHILE, and I think it's because of the short story format. That's why my booktalk spoke to that, and I think short stories have much to offer busy kids struggling to find the time to fit in reading, too.


Many of the authors in this collection have other middle-grade titles to explore after reading this collection:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (a personal favorite of mine ;)
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (another personal favorite ;)

(Some of the authors have YA novels that may be appropriate for some readers.)

Readers who are looking for more short story collections might enjoy books from the Guys Read library or The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers. (I couldn't find a lot of short story collections for middle-graders and most seem to be specifically aimed at boys - any suggestions??)

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Grades 7+ Delacorte Press, November 2016. 348 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Book Talk: 

Do you believe in love at first sight?

No? You're like Natasha. She doesn't believe in love, she believes in science. Love is just chemical reactions in your brain, nothing to lose your head over. And she's got more important things to worry about right now. Until she meets Daniel.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

Yes? You're like Daniel. The poet headed to an interview for Yale. Because his parents demand that he attend "second-best school" Yale if he's not going to follow his brother to "best school" Harvard. But Daniel doesn't care about Yale or Harvard or maybe any college at all. He wants to grab the words in his head and put them down on paper and figure out how to do that. And from the moment he sees Natasha, he knows he feels something. He just has to convince her.

But they only have one day.

Natasha is an undocumented immigrant and her family is being deported back to Jamaica. Tonight.

They are two kids with nothing in common, total opposites in some ways, who meet by happenstance and figure out that they just might believe in love at first sight.

This is an un-put-downable romance story that takes place in a single day, over the course of 12 hours. If you believe in love or if you're ready to be convinced, this is the book for you.

My thoughts:

Yeah, everyone told me this one was great, and that's why I saved it for the 24 in 48 Readathon and I definitely agree. Told in super short chapters that alternate perspectives (mostly between Natasha and Daniel, but occasionally another character jumps in there), the pages in this novel flew by.

It's a sweet love story that has a lot to offer fans of romance books, but there's also a lot being said here about immigrant families and their children. Daniel's parents immigrated to the United States from South Korea and he and his brother were both born in the US. Natasha's family came to New York when she was eight and the city has been her home since then. Now that she's facing the final stretch, her senior year and college applications, she's crushed to learn that they may have to leave.

Both kids have different pressures placed on them by their families. Daniel's parents want him to have a good future - their idea of a good future only. Natasha's parents count on her a lot to help take care of things. At this point, they've both given up on their dreams of America, so it's up to Natasha to try a hail Mary pass and see if there's any loophole that might keep them there.

Along the way, readers get a glimpse into the lives of a few of the supporting characters: a security guard at the immigration building, the paralegal in the lawyer's office, members of Daniel's and Natasha's families. These little glimpses help to flesh out the story completely and also emphasize the way that little ripples can have a big effect on people's lives.


For readers who enjoy the whirlwind romance I'd suggest Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn or Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle.

For readers who enjoy a romance between two teens who are very different, I'd suggest Like No Other by Una Lamarche or Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles.

For more stories from an immigrant's point of view, I'd suggest Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz, American Street by Ibi Zoboi or the memoir In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentines for Walking Books: A Volunteer Success Story

A couple of weeks ago, we were approached by the fourth grade teachers at one of our local schools wanting to know if they could bring their classes in for a day of volunteering at the library. Never one to turn away a partnership with a school, we quickly agreed and worked out a plan for the day. The kids would come to the library, eat their lunches in one of our meeting rooms, get a tour of the library, and then spend some time volunteering.

Our typical volunteers are middle schoolers who need volunteer hours for school, for scouts, for confirmation, etc., and we limit them to two-hour shifts. They help us prep craft materials for our craft table, pull books to consider for weeding, etc.

But what could 16 kids do to volunteer that would be helpful and not add a ton of work for my staff to prep activities for them to do?

We had a brainstorm and asked the kids to spend some time making Valentines (or Happy Day or Enjoy Your Books) cards for the patrons in our Walking Books program. Walking Books delivers books to patrons who are in nursing homes or who are homebound and can't make it to the library themselves. Each month, a selection of books is delivered to the patrons who participate.

We spoke with our librarian who is in charge of Walking Books and she thought it was a great idea. She provided us with a list of names so the kids could personalize their cards.

We provided the materials: construction paper, crayons, markers, colored pencils, crazy scissors that cut different patterns (recently donated by a retired teacher!)

And the kids went to town. The messages they wrote were so sweet and the cards were colorful and fun. Lots of kids took special care, making elements that popped out or utilizing the pattern scissors to make their cards look really neat.

This not only gave us an easy project for a dozen or so kids to tackle at once, but it allows our volunteers to connect with their community and to learn about a service that the library offers. And it allows us (the library) to provide something a little special and different for our patrons, hopefully something that will brighten their day.

This is definitely a project that we will repeat in the future, and it's nice that it's one that we can pull out of our back pocket if we have a sudden surge in volunteers. As the deadline for the middle school's service learning project looms, we will often have more volunteers contact us than we have tasks for. Problem solved!

You could do a similar project even if your library doesn't have a Walking Books program. Have kids decorate cards that invite people to get a library card or say why libraries or books are important. Pair the cards with information about the library or library card applications and take them to your next outreach event!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Reading Wildly: #OwnVoices

This month for Reading Wildly, my staff and I read #OwnVoices titles. #OwnVoices is a snappy name for "books with diverse characters that are written by people who share those identities" says Kayla Whaley in her post #OwnVoices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children's Literature. We all read that post before our book discussion. 

We have been trying to focus on diverse books for several years now, keeping track and aiming to include diverse titles in our storytimes and booktalking programs as much as possible. But this month, we specified that books read should be written by diverse authors. There were lots of great observations by my staff as we were sharing our booktalks. People felt that knowing that they were reading #OwnVoices authors helped them connect with characters and made the characters feel authentic. 

Why does reading #OwnVoices titles matter for reader's advisory? Because we should be putting these books into our patrons hands. As gatekeepers, it's our job to seek out and champion these books. The books shared at our meeting are from a wide variety of genres - contemporary realistic, fantasy, science fiction, horror - and have myriad possibilities for suggesting during reader's advisory transactions. We need to keep diverse books and especially #OwnVoices titles at the forefront of our minds so that we're not forgetting them as we suggest books, put together book lists, and choose titles for displays. 

Here's what we read this month: 

I asked my folks how they chose their #OwnVoices title(s) and many of them chose to read something off the list of possibilities that one of my librarians created. Finding #OwnVoices titles can be a little more involved than finding a book in a certain genre. It may be difficult to tell by the author's name alone (although you might think you can). 

My first step is locating books with diverse content, since that tends to be a little easier. And then I do a little research on the author to find out about their background and experiences. One of my librarians also suggested utilizing award-winners such as the Coretta Scott King Award and the Pura Belpre Award, which are awarded to African American authors/illustrators and Latinx author/illustrators respectively. 

Next month, we're reading romance novels, which some are very excited about and some are NOT excited about. ;) 

I think we've got plenty of ideas for teen romance, but would you suggest any love stories (crushes, etc.) for middle-graders or chapter book readers?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. Grades 5 and up. Roaring Brook Press, January 2017. 288 pages, Reviewed from egalley provided by publisher.


Who here likes football? Watching football, playing football? 

Did you know that when football first started, long passes were illegal? The most popular kick for a field goal was to drop the ball on the ground and kick it on its bounce. 

Called "the team who invented football", the Carlisle Indians, team of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, brought football into the mainstream. Their open way of playing brought football alive for the fans in the stands and may have saved a dying college game.

Star of the Carlisle Indians was Jim Thorpe. He's considered one of the best American athletes ever. He scored almost half of the total Indians points during the seasons he was on the team. And the coach didn't even want to try him because he was so small. 

Thorpe wasn't only a star on the football field. He also played professional baseball and won gold medals for the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics. 

For anyone who likes sports, particularly football, this is a great read with plenty of play-by-play action. 

My thoughts:

Steve Sheinkin writing about Jim Thorpe? You had me at hello.

Sheinkin pays homage to football legend Jim Thorpe with his signature compulsively readable style and tons of archival photographs. It's obvious that Sheinkin is taking great care to write of indigenous nations with respect, always identifying the nations to which people belong. Beyond that, I don't have the expertise to evaluate Sheinkin's treatment of culture here. He condemns the use of boarding schools to "civilize" indigenous people and raises questions for teen readers to consider throughout the book (example: would anyone have dared to take away Thorpe's Olympic medals if he had been white?).

This is a must-read for sports fans - there is a ton of play-by-play football action and fans of the sport will be fascinated by how many modern-day conventions of the sport were started by the Carlisle team. But even readers who are not huge sports fans (read: me!) will be fascinated by this true story of a little-known American sports legend.

Last year, I listened to the audiobook of Joseph Bruchac's "novelized" biography, Jim Thorpe: Original All-American, which is written in first person. I loved that book, too, but I'm glad to have a stricter nonfiction look at Thorpe from such a well-regarded author. Undefeated is just as compelling a read.

Highly recommended; a must-purchase.


Readers who are looking for compelling historical nonfiction with sports action may enjoy either the young reader's editions or the original adult editions (depending on age of the reader) of The Boys in the Boat* by Daniel James Brown or Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. 

Readers who are interested in meeting more historical athletes might enjoy Babe Conquers the World: The Legendary Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias by Rich Wallace, A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson by Michelle Y. Green, or The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers. 

And of course, readers looking for excellent nonfiction in general would do well to pick up Steve Sheinkin's other titles!

* Worth mentioning that the young reader's edition of this book (and possibly the original version? I listened to the audiobook, so I can't tell for sure) contains a problematic photo of the athletes "playing Indian" with feathers on their heads and no explanation for young readers. Be aware. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

See You in the Cosmos

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng. Grades 5-8. Dial Books, February 2017. 320 pages. Reviewed from galley provided by publisher.

Summary (from publisher copy, accessed on GoodReads): 

11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.

My Thoughts:

I wasn't so sure about this book, but Alex definitely won me over and now I kind of can't stop thinking about it. I, just like a bunch of characters in this book, just want to wrap him up in a hug and try to make everything turn out okay for him. It's never specified but Alex reads like he might be on the autism spectrum with his one-track mind for astronomy and his literal interpretation of some of the things said to him. 

There's a lot being said here about the definition of family - the family that you're born with and the family that you choose. And the magic of Alex is that he has this way of bringing people together and just trusting that things will turn out okay. And as we get further and further into the book, we learn that there's a lot that's not really okay about Alex's life. 

I had to suspend disbelief pretty hard for portions of this book, but it was worth it to meet the cast of quirky characters that Jack Cheng has created here. From a silent, vegan rocketeer to a teenage waitress who stops at a lake for a swim on a whim, the supporting cast here shines. Alex is the one thing all the supporting characters have in common and he's bright and endearing enough to make that believable. 


Alex's endearing and sometimes naive voice reminded me greatly of Albie's in Absolutely Almost by LIsa Graff, so for readers who fall in love with Alex, I'd suggest they meet Albie. More books to try with a similar voice are Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. 

Readers who like the road trip story arc might enjoy Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech or Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White. 

Readers who are super into the astronomy aspect might like Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, in which a massive crowd gathers to watch an eclipse. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson. Grades 9-12. Katherine Tegan Books, January 2017. 400 pages. Reviewed from egalley provided by publisher.

Book Talk:

Mary Addison is familiar with the system. She was arrested and put in juvie (what she calls "baby jail") when she was nine years old for murdering a white baby. Allegedly.

Mary never confessed to her crime. In fact, she remained stubbornly silent through much of the proceedings. She spent years in baby jail and three months ago they moved her to a group home for troubled teens. Life in the group home is depressing and dangerous: there's nobody Mary can trust, including the adults who are supposed to be taking care of them.

Luckily, Mary has plans. She's been saving her meager allowance, studying for the SATs as best she can, and she aims to get her GED and go to college, to build a better life for herself. Her dreams of her life to come are sometimes all she has to cling to. She keeps quiet, always silent, and does what she has to do to keep her dream alive.

And then Mary gets pregnant. And suddenly her dreams take on a whole new importance. She's got to survive, she's got to get out and move on to something better, not only for herself but for her unborn child.

But when Mary learns that the system may not let her keep her baby, that she may be forced to give him up to foster care, she knows that it's time to come clean. It's finally time to talk, to share the truth about this horrific crime that she was accused of.

Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride.

My thoughts: 

This book gripped me from the very beginning and I knew that it was going to be a book I wouldn't want to put down. Oh, how true that turned out to be. It's a compelling page-turner with a character that it's easy to root for.

The dramatic plot twists kept me turning the pages, but this is also a book with a lot to say between the lines. Because the bottom line is that if the baby Mary's accused of killing hadn't been white, the trial wouldn't have exploded the way that it did. When Mary lifts her head up and starts to get interested in changing the verdict, she discovers that she's achieved an impressive level of notoriety: everyone knows her story.

The book opens a window and shines a mirror into the life of a teen who really has nothing. For those of us raised with privilege, it's amazing the obstacles that Mary faces to something relatively simple like take the SAT. She doesn't have ID and she doesn't have a parent who can just grab her birth certificate out of the safe and help her get one. She has to depend on public transit to get wherever she's going, making it difficult to get to some places on time. She doesn't have the right calculator and the price tag on a graphing calculator makes her jaw drop.

Maybe Mary's biggest obstacle is that nothing is expected of her. The social workers dump her into a vocational course on cosmetology when she's capable of so much more. But Mary knows they would laugh in her face if she asked them for help in achieving what she really wants: a college degree.

Bottom line, this is a compulsively readable novel that's great entertainment but also a commentary on race and poverty. Well done.


I would hand this in a heartbeat to teens who enjoy the edgy novels of Ellen Hopkins.

Readers who are looking for more strong, gritty heroines facing difficult situations might like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or All the Rage by Courtney Summers.

Readers who want to read more about teens in prison or who have committed crimes might enjoy After by Amy Efaw or Monster by Walter Dean Myers or The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes.