Sarah Dessen

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It’s been a long time!

I have a toddler at home who prevents much reading; plus teaching and grad school have taken over. However, over winter break I finally checked a Sarah Dessen book out of the library after seeing her book covers everywhere.

One became two which became, well, all of them; I was putting them on hold after staying up until 3 in the morning finishing the next book. I loved them all. Most are romantic, not quite comedies, but more real life with dreamy male leads who are quirkily and loveably flawed. The female leads are all dealing with major, real issues and I found myself more than once crying as these ladies triumph over their circumstances and learn to grow up.

My favorites are probably “Just Listen” and “Whatever Happened to Goodbye;” but I also love how the side characters are developed enough to pop up in other books.

Perfect for cold, snowy winter nights or for a good beach read.

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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.

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.

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.

We Were Liars

by E. Lockhart

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This is the best book I’ve read in a long time; I opened it for the first time a few hours ago and it’s already laying finished on my bed and I’m not sure how to function in the real world again after reading it.

Cadence Sinclair comes from a great and rich and powerful family, and spends summers on the island her grandfather owns, with houses built for each of his daughters and their families. She spends her summers with the liars, her two cousins and the boy that is almost like an adopted brother, until she falls in love with him.

She tells this all in past tense, because something has happened, her memory of that summer is gone, and no one will tell her the truth.

I can’t tell you any more other than to say that the suspense and beauty and heartbreak are all magnificent here; reserve the hours you need to read this sooner rather than later.

Where Things Come Back

by John Corey Whaley

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I’m not quite sure how to describe this book; two simultaneous storylines only intersect in the last few chapters, and those were truly the only chapters I loved.

The first story follows Cullen Witter, a small-town boy ready to escape, who has one of the greatest best friends ever written, who writes lists of book titles that he will never write, and who idolizes his little brother. The story opens with him identifying the body of his cousin who died of an overdose, and very quickly his town is overrun with woodpecker hysteria, and his brother, Gabriel, suddenly goes missing.

The second begins by following a young missionary in Africa. This was the plot that unsettled me; the characters in this half of the novel grow increasingly fanatic and insane.

While all of these many plots seem completely separate and unrelated, the last couple of chapters somehow tie the entire novel together. All of my questions were answered, all of the seemingly random characters suddenly found their place, and the suspense totally had me- there were two ways it could have ended, and I had no idea which way it would go. I had a hard time getting into the book to begin with, but the last chapters were so well done that I almost want to go back and reread the entire thing to try and follow all of the threads from the beginning. The book has high praise from many people, and it was well-written and complex, but most of the book felt so disconnected that I had a hard time enjoying great portions of it.