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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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.

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.

The Montmaray Journals

by Michelle Cooper

    

This series is incredible. It tells the story of a close knit royal family starting a few years before World War II and finishing up a little after the War. The FitzOsbornes are the royal family of the tiny island of Montmaray. The family is made up of Sophie, her older brother Toby, her younger sister Henry, her cousin Victoria, and her Uncle the crazy king. The only other people on the island are the housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s son Simon. In A Brief History of Montmaray, Sophie writes about their quiet life on the island, which is disrupted when the Nazis arrive. In The FitzOsbornes in Exile the FitzOsbornes are now living in England with their wealthy aunt, and Sophie has her Debut into British society. And then in The FitzOsbornes at War World War II breaks out and England is in chaos. The boys join the air force and the girls join the war effort in London.

Now to be honest, the first book  and the first half of the second book were a little slow, but the absolute amazingness of the last one more than makes up for it. Sophie’s growth throughout the books is so slow and realistic, you barely notice it until you think back to how young and naive she was at first. I highly recommend the whole series.

Rose Under Fire

by Elizabeth Wein

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Rose Justice is a transport pilot in WWII. The story begins in her journal entries, chronicling her daily jobs and her thoughts about the war, her disbelief that even the Germans could have anything as horrible as concentration camps. She calls this propaganda.

And then the story turns. Rose is captured and sent to a concentration camp herself, with the rest of the book being told in her journals after her release. Rose’s transformation from cocky pilot to broken survivor is gut-wrenching, and her stories of the women’s camp and her family of “Rabbits,” the women who underwent Nazi medical experimentation, are haunting- especially knowing the truth in the fiction.

Knowing that Rose survives the experience makes the book no easier to read. The descriptions of terror and hope and joy and pain are felt deeply. Beautifully written, a definite recommendation.

 

Grave Mercy

by Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy is a historical fantasy set in France in the fifteenth century. After her father sells her into an arranged marriage, Ismae runs away to a convent. Unlike most convents, the sisters here serve Mortain, the god of death. While there, Ismae discovers that she has special gifts from Mortain. She decides to stay at the convent and train to be a skilled assassin. Once her training is over, she is sent on a mission to discover treason in the Duchess of Brittany’s court. In order to have access to the court, Ismae pretends to be the mistress of Duval, the brother of the duchess, who she is sort of working with but also spying on for the convent, while at the same time falling for him. There’s lots of murder and betrayal and romance. I could not put it down. It is the first in a trilogy, with the other books focusing on other trainees of the convent. I can’t wait!

Beswitched

by Kate Saunders

 

This book is for slightly younger readers, but I enjoyed it a great deal.

Flora Fox finds herself switching bodies and traveling through time to 1935. She has to learn to deal with a new time and make friends while figuring out how to get back to her current day life.

While the book is a little bit silly and predictable, I found myself laughing out loud. Flora is sassy and has a serious mind of her own. She is willing to admit fault in herself and grow as a character while dealing with issues most junior high students deal with as well.

And I just have to say, I would totally hang out with Flora and her friends from the 30’s. That made the book so readable and fun.