A Long Way from Chicago – Richard Peck

A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

Listening Library – Unabridged audio – 4 hours, 17 minutes – 2005 (print published 1998) – Genre: Historical Fiction

Review by EMS Librarian Heather Overstreet

“I don’t think Grandma’s a very good influence on us,” Mary Alice said.”

Joey and Mary Alice travel from Chicago to rural Illinois to spend a week with their larger-than-life Grandma Dowdel every summer.  Those visits are full of adventure, wonder, and not a little law-breaking. “Borrow” the sheriff’s boat to trespass on private land? Check. Sell an old stovepipe hat and quilt at the community rummage sale, implying the items once belonged to Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln?  Check. Switch pies at the county fair to try and win the blue ribbon? Check, again! Even though Grandma Dowdel doesn’t always follow the rules, either of government or polite society, she always has her big heart in the right place.  

This book is hilarious and heart-warming. The narrator, as a now-grown Joey, effectively made me believe he was a different character with each voice.  If you are not a fan of historical fiction, this one is a great place to start, as the humor in the book is timeless. The audiobook is available on Sora, both with TCS and the Tuscaloosa Public Library. 

This the first in a series.  Book two, A Year Down Yonder, told from Mary Alice’s perspective, is available on Sora as well as an ebook and audiobook.  

Read alikes: Harris and Me, Everything on a Waffle, Maniac Magee

Newbery Medal Nominee (1999), Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee (2001), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2000), National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature (1998)

The Benefits of Being an Octopus – Ann Braden

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

by Ann Braden

Sky Pony Press 2018 – 256 Pages – Genre: Realistic Fiction

Review by EMS Librarian Heather Overstreet

“How is it possible to have no visible cage around you, but to be so trapped?” (p.208)

Zoey loves learning about the octopus.  She imagines how much easier her life would be if she had eight arms (especially dealing with her two younger brothers and sister) and could change her appearance to disappear into the background (her special talent). 

Zoey has had an uncertain life.  Moving from place to place. Taking care of her younger siblings every day after school while her mother works.  Never having the time to get her homework done. Now they are living with Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend. He has a nice trailer where everything is clean and tidy, but Lenny’s dad is always yelling at Zoey or the other kids about something.  Lenny and her mom argue a lot too. Her mom can’t seem to do anything right lately, at least according to Lenny. They have no car, not much money, and nowhere to go. What would an octopus do, Zoey wonders?

An eye-opening tale about homelessness, abuse, and so much more.  I promise this book is worth every minute you spend reading it!

Read alikes: Fish in a Tree, The Bridge Home, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Named an NPR Best Book of 2018

Named to the Bank Street List for Best Children’s Books of 2019

Named to Vermont’s 2019-2020 Dorothy Canfield Fisher List

Named to Maine’s 2019-2020 Student Book Award List

Named to Rhode Island’s Middle School Book Award 2020 List​

Named to Oklahoma’s Intermediate Sequoyah Book Award List

Named to Missouri’s 2020-2021 Truman Book Award List

Named to Virginia’s Middle School Reader’s Choice List

Named to South Carolina’s 2020-2021 Junior Book Award List

Two Can Keep a Secret – Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep a Secret

by Karen M. McManus

Reviewed by M.Y. – 10th grade TCS student

In MacManus’ second novel, on the heels of her stunning debut One of Us is Lying, themes of the secrets embedded in small town life are explored, through the perspectives of curious and fallible teenage detectives. Twins Ellery and Ezra are whisked to their mother’s hometown of Echo Ridge, after her drug addiction wins her a stay in rehabilitation. Ellery, a true-crime junkie, is fascinated by the imprint left by her mother’s twin sister’s disappearance nearly twenty-five years prior, as well as the heavily-sensationalized murder of blonde “it-girl” Lacey Kilduff only five years ago. However, the twins’ placid expectation of the seemingly tight-knit community is forever altered when past tensions emerge, serving as a lighting rod for present drama.When another popular student goes missing, Ellery and her new friends must painstakingly unravel the feverish misconceptions and fractured familial ties ingrained in the broken town.

5 stars

This novel is an immensely enjoyable read, as McManus possesses an uncanny knack for capturing the witticisms and trends of modern teens, a trait that makes her novels an intensely-relatable read. The characters are well-fleshed out, and startlingly realistic, and the plot eagerly hurtles forward. I felt the slower-paced exposition was critical in grasping the mood and pretense of the story, and I was thoroughly delighted in McManus’ red herrings and two-faced personalities she implanted within the story. Akin to riding a roller coaster, complete with the steady climb and downward spirals, Two Can Keep a Secret is an absolute thrill.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise – Dan Gemeinhart

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

By Dan Gemeinhart

Henry Holt & Company 2019 – 344 Pages – Genre: Realistic fiction, Adventure

Review by CES Librarian Stephanie Hamilton

”There is so much happiness in the world. There is so much sadness in the world. There is just so much in the world.”

One girl, mostly alone and completely heartbroken. A sister without any sisters. A daughter without a mom. But a girl with a memory, and a girl with a promise, a promise she would do anything to keep.

For five years, Coyote and her dad Rodeo have been driving around the United States on a school bus they call Yager. After losing her mom and sister in a tragic car accident, Coyote and her dad left their home in Washington, assumed new identities, and are doing whatever they can to avoid confronting this loss.

During her weekly phone call with her grandmother back home, Coyote is told that her favorite neighborhood park is about to be torn down. But it isn’t just the park that will be lost. Coyote buried a time capsule there with her mother and sisters and swears to herself she will do whatever it takes to make it back home before the park is gone to recover those precious memories. She has only 4 days to get her dad to drive from Florida to Washington, all without him realizing it.

The characters they meet on their trip bring twists and turns along the way. From a teenage runaway to a man trying to return to a lost love to a young man and his mother looking for a fresh start, Yager gets quite crowded with new friends who bring depth to the story and help along the journey. 

This story of family, grief, and friendship takes the reader on a trip across the country and through a myriad of emotions where you will find yourself rooting for Coyote every step of the way. 

A 2019 Parents’ Choice Award Gold Medal Winner  

Winner of the 2019 CYBILS Award for Middle Grade

An Amazon Top 20 Children’s Book of 2019  

A Junior Library Guild Selection

On The Come Up – Angie Thomas

On The Come Up

by Angie Thomas

Balzer + Bray 2019 – 447 Pages – Genre: Contemporary YA

Review by CHS Librarian John Hamilton

“Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle.”

The lines above are from the publisher (HarperCollins) description of the novel. It perfectly encapsulates the adept juxtaposition that Angie Thomas uses to move her story. Like The Hate U Give before it, this novel weaves threads of contemporary social, family, personal, and emotional struggles into an engaging tapestry.

At CHS we have used this book for several book club meetings this year. I like to start by asking a somewhat generic question – “Is it authentic?”. As with most YA authors, Angie Thomas is (surprise!) not a teenager. Essentially, you have a “Millenial” writing a book to relate to “Gen Z”, so does it work? From our students perspective, it does work. The dialogue sounds like something you’d text between your friends and Aunt Pooh is just like your auntie or your friends auntie or that one auntie. The somber aspect of this, though, is that characters like Long & Tate are as equally authentic and, unfortunately, reminiscent of real life events (or personal experiences).

Another recurring discussion through our book club meetings has been another seemingly generic one – “What is the book about?”. This is usually followed by a lot of ideas flying around at once so we started to do a thought cloud with a white board (you could use a piece of paper!). Our responses ranged from one word – Perseverance, Loyalty, Family, Goals, Success – to more complex – Bri overcoming societal obstacles, Teenagers finding/using their agency, Bri finding her place in her family, Bri resolving her feelings towards her father.

It is an enjoyably quick read that feels more like memoir than novel (even more than THUG, I think). There is some use of profanity because it depicts teenagers speaking to one another (watch your language!). Find it today on SORA (Overdrive) our digital library!

NewsELA Book Review

LitCharts Study Guide

Publisher Web Site

“On The Come Up” on Goodreads