Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

men we reaped

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

In the short span of four years, the author of this memoir lost five young men who she considered family.  They died from different actual causes-drugs, suicide, accidents- but Ward couldn’t help believing there was some sort of connection between the five deaths.  Something inside her whispered that they were all young, black, from the South and raised in poverty.  She wrote this book to ask why these tragic deaths occurred, and to look at the possibility that who they were and where and how they lived was a part of the equation.  Ward grew up in rural Mississippi, in a small, rural town called DeLisle.  As she recounts her memories of these young men, readers will begin to draw their own conclusions about our society.  One of the most poignant parts of the book states:

“My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system.  And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us we were perpetually less, we distrusted each other.  We did not trust our fathers to raise us, to provide for us.  Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless.  Some of us turned sour from the pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, without and within.  And to blunt it all, some of us turned to drugs.” (page 168)

When I first heard Ward interviewed about her book, I thought that her primary thesis was weak and wouldn’t be supported by the facts.  After reading the stories of these five young men, however, I can see how the impact of race, poverty and living in the rural South impacted their lives to a degree I had never originally anticipated.  Seeing life through Ward’s eyes, as a young person who did leave the South for college but was always connected to it emotionally, will make readers rethink their own beliefs and assumptions our our nation with its easy “freedom for all” facade.  I think this book will become a classic, much in the way Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Black Boy by Richard Wright have become.  I will be recommending this title to all my high school students and think it will be a hit here at Berkeley High School.

Every Move by Peter McPhee

every move

Every Move by Peter McPhee

High school senior Emily works part time at a coffee shop that provides computers for the customers. When a group of rude and rowdy boys harasses a quiet boy who is a regular customer, Emily steps in to stop them. Learning Michael, the customer, is skilled with computers, Emily recommends him to her boss to keep the café’s computers running smoothly. What Emily doesn’t know is that Michael has been stalking her, fixated on her and convinced they belong together. At first Emily thinks Michael is sweet but shy when he gives her a beautiful handmade thank you card for helping him get the job. However he becomes uneasy after she realizes the picture of her he put in the card is from several weeks before she met him. As Michael’s behavior becomes more bizarre and unpredictable Emily guesses he is mentally unbalanced. When he hacks her home computer she tells her parents; the school and police become involved.

This story could have come right out of current newspaper articles about both celebrities and regular people who have been targets of stalkers. As I read I understood how vulnerable people can be in similar situations. The ending especially got my attention. This realistic fiction is another winner in the SideStreets series from Orca Publishing.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

when i was the greatest

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

This Brooklyn, New York writer really knows how to take readers into the mind of a teenager boy living in Brooklyn who is trying his best to stay out of the troubles that sometimes seem to overwhelm his neighborhood..  This short, fast-paced book is told from the perspective of Ali, who lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, which used to be full of crime but is slowly becoming gentrified.  He lives with his over-worked mom and little sister Jazz, and hangs out with his best friend Noodles and his brother Needles.  Needles has some type of syndrome, but is much calmer since Ali’s mom taught him to knit in order to focus his energy.  But Noodles is always on the prowl and gets them invited to an exclusive, adult-only party thrown by the block’s high roller named MoMo.  Can I just say a random misunderstanding has disastrous result!

I totally loved this book.  It’s definitely Urban Drama, but the main characters are trying to stay clean and all three have memorable and realistic personalities.  I would highly recommend this to all  teen readers, especially those who love Urban Drama.  This is Reynolds first book but we also have his second one, The Boy in the Black Suit.



We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

we are the goldens

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

Fifteen-year-old Nell has always adored his big sister Layla, but something feels different now that they’re in the same high school.  Since their parents’ divorce years earlier, they have counted on each other for support and grounding.  But now it feels like Layla is keeping secrets, and the rumors about her and the young, hot art teacher start circulating. Reinhardt draws readers in by narrating the story as if Nell were talking directly to her sister.

“You told me they (the rumors) start up again every year before they go wherever it is rumors go to die.  If they were true, you said, Mr. B wouldn’t be working at City Day anymore.”  But it just feels wrong and even Nell’s best friend Felix can’t help her bring back her usual equilibrium.  Eventually Nell will find out Layla’s big secret, and it will give her anything but peace.

I enjoyed the way this book looked at family dynamics.  There are sisters who are sort of best friends, with two families they split their time with–their devoted, single mom and their dad with his second wife. There is the normal push-pull with all three parents and thier teenaged daughters, and it feels natural and honest.   For me, it doesn’t hurt that the setting is San Francisco and Reinhardt does a great job bringing pieces of  The City into the story.  I would recommend this to readers who like realistic, contemporary fiction and fans of Reinhardt’s other books.



things          harmless


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Sabriel series by Garth Nix

sabriel          lirael          abhorsen

Sabriel series by Garth Nix

Sabriel is the first title in a trilogy about a land divided by a wall between Ancelstierre and the land known as The Old Kingdom. This first title centers on Sabriel, a girl about to graduate from her boarding school in Ancelstierre. Sabriel goes on a quest to find Abhorsen, her father, in the Old Kingdom, where magic still rules. Starting at her father’s house with an unusual cat-spirit who served her father, she travels through the Old Kingdom with a young man she has awakened from death. Sabriel learns that she has inherited the role of Abhorsen and must carry on the battle against evil spirits who refuse to stay dead. Garth Nix has created a world with engaging characters in which all the pieces fit together. I admire authors like Nix whose world-building skills are so well-developed that everything makes sense, even in a world that doesn’t exist in reality. I recommend these titles to readers who are always looking for more fantasy, especially with strong female characters.


This sequel to Sabriel tells the story of Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr, who has always felt alone and out of place. At the age of 14 she has still not received the Sight, several years older than more Clayr receive it. Assigned to work in the library, she enjoys her work and even begins exploring out of bounds areas. By accident she awakens an evil spirit and must rebind it. In her exploration she finds a path laid out for her years before. As she follows the path she encounters others who join her on her journey. They encounter dead creatures and learn much about their destinies as the adventure continues. This book is loaded with excitement and suspense; I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next!


In this last installment of the trilogy about Abhorsen, Old Kingdom and magic, Lirael works as part of a team with Sameth and others to defeat the evil necromancer Hedge. Lirael’s companion Disreputable Dog proves valuable in the fight, as they work also to save Sameth’s friend Nick from Hedge. While these characters and names may sound both confusing or intimidating, the plot is so well written that the reader becomes engulfed in the story, as everything in this world makes sense in context. Nix has created an intricate universe, peopled by engaging characters about whom the reader really cares!

I recommend checking out all three books at once if they’re available. Students will be eager to know what happens next at the end of each book!

Reviews by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

Terry Pratchett

Rest in  Peace, Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett, the phenomenally imaginative author who created Discworld and wrote about it in more than three dozen books, passed away last week at the too-young-to die-age of 66 years old. He leaves us a rich legacy of  one of a kind characters, a world full of humor and wit and amazing plots that always make sense in the end.

For those of you who have read the titles with Death as a character, you already know that Death’s dialogue was always printed in capital letters. Thus, knowing that, here are Sir Terry’s final tweets:

Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.


Written by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

love letters

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

High school freshman Laurel begins the story of her life since her older sister died as an English assignment.  Write  letter to a dead person.  “She probably meant for us to write to someone like a former president or something, but I need someone I can talk to.  I couldn’t talk to a president.  I can talk to you.”  She writes her first letter to Kurt Cobain because he May had always loved him. He and the rest of the people Laurel writes letters to died young, just like her sister.  She writes about starting high school, not the high school May went to, but the one near her Aunt Amy’s house where she lives part time.  When May died, their mom moved to a ranch in California because she was just too sad.  But,  Laurel wonders, what about me?  Why can’t she stay and take care of me?  Readers learn about Laurel’s life through the letters she writes in her journal–from her new friendships, to the mystery Hottie named Sky, to the truth about what happened to her sister.  Although Laurel introduces her sister to readers as the most beautiful and perfect person, as the book progresses we learn along with Laurel that all human beings are flawed, even those we love the most.

I really liked this book, although want to warn readers that it is really sad.  I found myself spending more time reading just to finish it, so I could move on to something a little less depressing.   Debut author Ava Dellaira does a great job bringing the lives of emotional fragile teens to life, and I’m looking forward to her other books.  I would recommend this to students who like true life stories, Ellen Hopkins’ books and stories about troubled families.

identical          glimpse          looking          mayas notebook


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