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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

tumblr_inline_nv73pijtck1qlsm8v_1280Salt to the Sea

In 1945 Prussia, a misfit group of refugees led by a young Lithuanian nurse makes for the coast to attempt to outrun the horrors of the Soviet army. Nearby a young Polish girl is about to be killed by a Russian soldier when a young German male with a secret saves her. The refugees encounter the Polish girl and German boy at a nearby farmstead, and despite best efforts to desert each other, their fates become intertwined. Dodging planes, Russian and German soldiers, and the perils of deadly winter, they reach the coast and must find a way to make it aboard a ship bound for Germany. Thanks to a dim-witted German soldier and the nurse’s skills, a few of their party make it aboard the ships. Many of their party including the nurse, the German boy and the Polish girl, and a grandfather and his adopted son board the military ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. When they arrive, the Polish girl, who had been largely pregnant, gives birth to a little girl in the midst of chaos as German soldiers hunt the German boy. What follows is a little known tragedy of World War II history. Shortly after the ship departs, a Russian submarine torpedoes the vessel, which had been equipped to carry much less than the over 10,000 people aboard, 5,000 of which were children and refugees. The Wilhelm Gustloff sinks and only a little over a thousand passengers survive.

This book was memorable and emotional, horrible and yet very real with Sepetys’s characters. I won’t give spoilers, but there is a small bit of hope at the end that makes this book not all tragedy. This is a book to read for 2016, and is among the great YA historical fiction.

More information about the Wilhelm Gustloff can be found here.

Note: There is some mention of rape and graphic scenes that may be traumatic for younger readers. Typically high school teen appropriate.

 

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2017 in Young Adult/Teen

 

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This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

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At a high school in Opportunity, Alabama, the educational day starts normally with an assembly. The perspectives of four teens describe events on this seemingly run-of-the-mill day, but terror strikes as a student begins a shooting spree.

  • Claire was excused from assembly for track practice. When she hears gunshots, none of the track team are able to call for help as their phones are locked back at school. She and her best friend Chris must run for help from the security guard. When they find the security guard dead, they continue running to attempt to find someone who can help and find the police because Claire knows that if she’s trying to do something, she’s attempting to save her little brother who is trapped.
  • Tomas and his best friend Fareed are breaking into the principal’s office to check their permanent records. When they notice no one returning from the assembly and hear gunshots, they are the only few left who can help. They call the police, but Tomas knows he cannot leave his sister to die.
  • Autumn listens to the principal’s speech with her girlfriend Sylv, Tomas’s twin sister, who is nervous about Autumn’s brother returning to school that day. When Tyler shows up, he’s the gunman and she knows he’s looking for them both…

What follows is a heart wrenching, unforgettable story of bravery, love, and hope in the face of a terrible, unthinkable tragedy. A tribute to the loss of those at Columbine, Newtown, and others is delivered in this straightforward novel that will have your heart ripped out and your mind wondering why these devastating events still occur. This cover is so artfully done and representative of this novel. It captures and holds your attention. Another plus with this novel is the diversity of the students and is perfect for #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

Note: This book is exceedingly well-written for the subject and while true to account is not described as graphically, and suitable for a some mature younger readers.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2016 in Contemporary fiction, Young Adult/Teen

 

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What Light by Jay Asher

Happy Christmas, readers! I’ve been away a bit, but have somehow wrangled some time to write recently! Great news, right?! Here’s a lovely Christmas title full of generosity, hope, and second chances by the author that wrote Thirteen Reasons Why.

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Once a year, Sierra and her family travel from Oregon to California to open their Christmas tree lot, but because the costs are getting too high to open their lot themselves, this will be their last year. For Sierra, this special time means living two lives–one in Oregon with her friends Elizabeth and Rachel and one in California with Heather. However, this year, Sierra meets Caleb, and despite her father’s best efforts to discourage the boys, this one he can’t drive away with a promise of cleaning the outhouses.

As Sierra’s friend Heather warns her, Caleb has something of a reputation. The story goes that he pulled a knife on his sister who no longer lives with him and his mom. Ignoring the gossip but still being cautious, especially when this news makes it to her parents, Sierra can’t reconcile this Caleb with the Caleb she sees buying Christmas trees with his tip money for families who can’t afford it. She notices that he seems to be in pain when the topic of his past is mentioned, and Sierra can’t help but feel the need to help him. As they navigate gossip and judgment, Caleb and Sierra find out that love can create second chances and change everything.

This book is like a sugar cookie, warm from the oven, slowly melting in your mouth. Curl up with this one by the fire tonight (if necessary, a fire on tv) and a cup of hot cocoa or wassail and be happy. After finishing this book, I’ve discovered I love this cover and the message it sends. The Christmas lights? Just look at the cover again once you’re done reading it and see what you notice.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2016 in Contemporary fiction, Romance, Young Adult/Teen

 

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The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

thehiredgirlThe Hired Girl

In 1911 Pennsylvania, farm girl Joan Skraggs wants a life like those in her beloved books, one with romance and beauty and adventure. But Joan’s father hates her books and the ideas they and her mother put into her head. When her father refuses to give her some recognition for her hard work at the farm taking care of him and her three brothers and then he burns her beloved books when she asks for money to improve their situation, Joan decides to run away and become a hired girl in Philadelphia. She reinvents herself as Janet Lovelace working for a charitable Jewish merchant family, the Rosenbachs, with a persnickety old cook, Malka, who needs help. The Rosenbachs become a sort of family to Joan, with the father who highly values education, the kind eldest son who wants to study the Talmud, the younger son who wants to be an artist, and their young daughter who hates learning. Joan catalogs her journey in her diary, resolving to be as refined and elegant as the novels she loves, and in her experiences, Joan can truly transform into a bright heroine like the ones she’s daydreamed about.

I really liked this book. It definitely has that turn of phrase and tone that evokes similar thought-provoking award winners and the appeal is probably less broad as a result of both the more literary writing and the subject matter. However, this could be for younger audiences who are voracious or more serious readers as they will appreciate Joan’s ability to dream and her same love of literature. Joan herself is inspiring for having the courage and perseverance necessary to achieve a new future, one in which she might have a chance at happiness and independence. I love that theme of feminism! I also really liked the other characters and their development, particularly how their interactions with Joan teach her different ideas and how Joan learns to think for herself rather than simply listen to what she’s told. Joan is funny in her naivety, strength of will, and her straightforwardly honest demeanor that occasionally causes a few mishaps with her new employers. This book is perfect if you’re looking for something thought-provoking and yet quietly inspiring, especially for its love of learning and education.

Note: This title will be more appealing to older readers as it follows the slower maturation of classic literature than your typical fast-paced YA. It would be a very interesting research essay to compare and contrast this book and heroine with one of Joan’s favorites like Jane Eyre and how both evolve…

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2016 in Historical fiction, Young Adult/Teen

 

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Picture Perfect (Geek Girl, 3) by Holly Smale

pictureperfectPicture Perfect

Since Harriet Manners quit modeling at the end of the last book, her life has been pretty perfect. She has a new baby sister, a wonderful model boyfriend, and she’s made tons of plans for her new year, especially with Nat who will be at a new college. There’s not much to ruin it, except…her dad still doesn’t have a job, her parents are so tired they forgot her exam results day, and her nemesis Alexa has stolen her diary. Wait, let’s rewrite that. There’s not much A LOT to ruin it! Faced with the horror of every day of Alexa’s teasing and her friends leaving her alone, Harriet decides to be excited when her dad announces his new job. The Manners family is going to New York New Jersey! Harriet thinks she’s in for the Big Apple with all of its excitement and rich culture and her grandiose plans. Instead, due to their poor finances, their new house in the suburbs of New Jersey is over an hour away from NY by train, and that’s not all Harriet is upset about. Her professional tutor keeps piling work on and she’s floundering, any friends Harriet might make think she’s Tabitha’s mom and hate her, and her date with Nick is ruined when he gets on the wrong train. To make matters worse, Annabel and her dad don’t notice because of work and parenting and they even forget Harriet’s birthday! Suddenly Harriet has had enough. To get back at her parents, she sneaks out to model again and finds herself believing that just a little bit of rebelliousness won’t hurt…

This series is happy, hilarious, and yet relateable! Every teen who thinks of him/herself as the “good, obedient kid” who wants to have a little bit more unsanctioned fun will identify with Harriet’s longing for adventure and the mess that results. Even better is Harriet’s plucky attitude and penchant for random facts at inopportune moments making her lovably amusing to the reader despite any anxiety at how Harriet’s life falls disastrously apart. Try this series when you need laughter or a pick-me-up instead of drama!

Note: Good for middle grade (or younger) readers, though there is a bit of romance.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2016 in Contemporary fiction, Young Adult/Teen

 

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