Out of the Easy

by Ruta Sepetys

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I loved her previous book, Between Shades of Gray, so this has been on my list to read for a long time.

Josie Moraine lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1950s and wants out. She is the daughter of a brothel prostitute who really wants to go to college out east and start a new life for herself.

Josie is tough and haunted and vulnerable in turns; she is pulled between allegiance to her friends and her desire to escape the suffocating wold she’s a part of.

This book was intense and dark and moody and you root for some pretty unexpected characters. Sepetys finds the humanity in the midst of all of the grime and creates characters that have to be strong in some terrible circumstances.

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Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

by Katherine Rundell

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I originally picked this book up because of the gorgeous cover but quickly fell in love with the story inside.

Wilhelmina Silver lives on a ranch in Africa with her father and runs wild with the local boys. She is fierce and strong and brave and has complete control over her surroundings. Then her life shifts and she is sent to boarding school in England where she doesn’t understand any of the rules and life seems unimaginable.

I really loved this book and read it all in one sitting; it was easy to read and beautifully written and captured everything perfectly, from Wilhelmina’s emotions to the drastically different settings of the ranch and England.

This book was lovely and highly recommended.

A Long Walk to Water

by Linda Sue Park

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A lot of my students have been reading this book so I picked it up; it’s a quick read, short and sometimes sparse with little descriptive moments that I love. The book (based on a true story) follows 2 people in Southern Sudan. One, a boy, begins his story in 1985 as war breaks out in his village. The other starts in 2008 following a girl who must walk for hours to get water for her family from a muddy lake.

I thought this book was fantastic because it tells a story of a struggle that we in America do not really understand. We know that clean water and war is an issue, but it’s hard for us to imagine what the actual experiences are like. On top of that, this book addresses these issues in a way to make it appropriate for my 5th graders while having plenty of context for discussion for older readers as well.

This book is great to start a discussion or learning about worldwide issues- it would be extremely cool to read this book and then raise money to build a well to tie it all together.

If I Stay

by Gayle Forman

81aTBRY7dxLI’ve heard about this book for quite a while and have finally gotten around to it. I read it in a morning.

Mia’s family gets in a terrible accident. She finds herself standing outside of her body looking on to the chaos surrounding her, and she gets the choice. Does she let go? Or does she stay?

The book is told in present and flashbacks, telling the story of her family and her love and her friendships. It was difficult to put down, and it was heartbreaking. I loved Mia’s parents; I love how they are atypical and weird and how they love her completely.

I can’t imagine the movie (which is out now) living up to this, so read this first.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

by Holly Black

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I would think that I’ve had my fill of vampire books after the overwhelming glut of the Twilight trilogy and everything following it, but this book is FANTASTIC. Tana lives in a world where vampires are present and shut up in quarantined areas called Coldtowns. The book opens with her waking up from a party the night before and realizing that everyone else was killed by vampires- everyone except her ex and a mysterious person in chains.

What I loved about this book is Tana, and all of the characters, really. Tana is strong and decisive and she saves the day over and over. She isn’t compromising herself for anything and she’s willing to make sacrifices for the people she loves. She makes the hard choice and doesn’t complain. I love the clarity in how she sees her friends and family, their positive and negative aspects, and how she loves them anyway.

The book is creepy and well-written, and even though it’s longer I read it over a couple of days.

Panic

by Lauren Oliver

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In a small town in the middle of nowhere, a senior tradition called Panic rules the summer.

Anyone is allowed to compete. Once you’re in, you must participate in the dangerous challenges whenever asked. People have died in the past, people have been paralyzed, but the cash prize for the winner means the game is as popular as ever.

Heather seems an unlikely candidate, and her surprise entrance starts the story, which is fast-paced and action packed. This is the kind of story that fuels summer movies- not a lot of thinking but exciting and fun. Oliver is a good writer but nothing here is groundbreaking; kind of the definition of a summer read.

Boxers/Saints

by Gene Luen Yang

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This duo of graphic novels tells the story of the Boxer rebellion in China in the summer of 1899. The first installment follows a boy who sees his village and father destroyed by “white devils,” or Christian missionaries. He learns a ritual to take on the ancient Chinese gods and gathers an army of people to start slaughtering those who are destroying his culture.

Saints tells the story of a Four-girl, a Chinese convert to Christianity, considered a “secondary devil” by those rebelling. She sees visions of Joan of Arc and takes on a new name and mission. The two volumes tell opposite sides of the same battle and are sobering reminders of humanity’s incapability of communicating with those different than us.

These books are beautifully drawn and have flashes of humor and a lot of heart; they are also heartbreaking and mystical. A memorable read.