When I Was Joe by Keren David

when      almost

When I Was Joe by Keren David

Fourteen year old Ty recounts to police a murder he witnessed in a park committed almost by accident by his best friend, Arron. Another older boy pushes the victim on to Arron’s knife. Ty runs for help, stopping a bus to call for an ambulance, while everyone else runs away. Ty doesn’t know one of the boys is the son of a crime boss who is determined to prevent Ty from testifying. After hours with the police Ty and his mother are taken back to their apartment to pack some clothes; while they’re there someone throws a gasoline bomb into the shop right below them.. The police hustle them out the back as the building is on fire. After they spend two weeks in a motel a police specialist changes their appearances with haircuts, new hair colors and colored contact lenses before they’re moved to their new home, 50 miles from London where they lived. Ty enrolls in a new school under the name Joe with a younger age and grade. As Ty/Joe settles in to his new school, his mother struggles with her isolation, missing family and friends, and wants to stop her son from testifying. When the criminals beat up Ty’s grandmother in an attempt to stop his testimony, Ty realizes how serious his situation is. At the same time he is dealing with a bully at his new school.

A sequel to this book, Almost true, continues the story of how Ty, his mother and family deal with the decisions they have to make. While Ty, in the witness protection program, waits to testify about a murder he witnessed, he comes back to police cars at his home and a pool of blood at his front door. He learns his family is safe but hitmen shot a man they thought was Ty. When Ty’s aunt starts believing the police can’t protect him anymore, she makes him move to live with people she knows out in the country. Even as Ty adjusts to a new living situation he still has to go to court several times to testify. Without giving any of the plot away, I can say these two books present teenager readers with some ethical dilemmas to consider.

 

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

SerpentKing

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

If you have always lived in Berkeley, or a city of any size, then it is hard to fathom what it means to be from a small town. Always the same kids in your classes. Everybody doing the same thing on Saturday night. And you inherit the legacy of the life your siblings, parents and grandparents led before you ever got here. If you are lucky this is a good thing. But Travis or Dill it’s a heavy burden to carry. Dill has a dad behind bars and a fanatical mom at home who wants him to keep his life as small as possible. Travis’s dad drinks himself into a fury at his son whose world revolves around a fantasy book. Both boys are big disappointments to those around them. Lydia, their one other friend, is the saving grace of the group. With a supportive family and the desire to live bigger than the small fish high school they are trapped in together, she helps them grow dreams that expand beyond their town.

But nothing can protect everyone from the potential tragedies of life. They strike at random times and random places, and, for better or for worse, make us into who we are. These three friends will never be the same when high school ends, and they have their senior year to do the unthinkable. This is a brave story about what it means to be different and what it takes to make a difference.

Review by Sarah Rosenkrantz

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty

sloppy firsts Sloppy firsts by Megan McCafferty

Almost 16 year old Jessica Darling has started an occasional diary in January of a new year to chronicle her life after best friend Hope has moved with her family from their New Jersey shore town to Tennessee. Each month starts with Jessica’s monthly snail mail letter to Hope, giving her a summary of the most important events and her thoughts each month. Without her best friend, Jessica eats lunch with three girls she calls the Clueless Crew, since as a sophomore she can’t sit with upperclassmen. She doesn’t fit into other social groups and has no interest in joining them. Smart and diligent, Jessica ranks near the top of her class and is also a champion runner on the school track team. An insomniac, Jessica is faking being sick to nap in the nurse’s office when she is awakened by Marcus Flutie, a notorious Dreg, to supply urine for an unscheduled surprise drug test for his parole officer. Jessica surprises Marcus and herself by agreeing to do it on his promise he won’t narc on her. The surprises continue as she and Marcus start a tentative friendship.

The first in a series, this diary reflects a true to life teen girl’s voice, full of drama about family, friends, school and life in general. I am eagerly anticipating reading more about Jessica’s adventures as her life continues.

Reviewed by Ellie Goldstein-Erickson

Runner by Peter McPhee

RunnerRunner by Peter McPhee

Having moved from a comfortable home in Toronto to an apartment in Calgary after his parents’ bitter divorce, Kyle, his mother and sister Meghan are barely getting by. Kyle has begun to fit in at his new school, joining the football team, but Meghan feels like an outsider. On her own at the mall, 14 year old Meghan meets an older boy. Flattered by his attention, she begins staying out late and cutting school to be with him, eventually leaving home to move in with him. Their mother files a missing person report and Kyle begins staying out late, searching for Meghan among street kids. Kyle gets drawn into street culture himself while looking for his sister. This title is part of the Orca/Lorimer Side Streets series, written specifically for young adults. A fast read, the characters and setting are realistic, and it does not promise a happy ending. Especially good for Urban Drama fans.

Reviewed by Ellie Goldstein Erickson

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

WhatWeSawWhat We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Rape Abuse & Incest National Network…Every 8 minutes, Child Protective Service responds to a report of sexual abuse. 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker.

When a group of teenagers get together for a high school party with lots of drinking, it’s hard to say exactly who did what and when things went so wrong. Kate knows she had too much to drink from the headache she wakes up with. She also knows she was taken care of by her best friend, and (just maybe?) boyfriend Ben. But what about the other girl? What about Stacey, the girl in a video who has no memory of the events that get posted online when all is said and done? The basketball stars are quick to deny any wrongdoing and almost everyone seems convinced that there’s been no foul play. But Katy’s not sure, and she’s not sure if she can let it go either.

This book is based on the very real Steubenville high school rape case in Ohio, 2011. It sheds light on a tragic reality of intoxicated partying that can turn girls into victims and boys into perpetrators. And then there are all of the bystanders who witness and do nothing to stop it, and those who condemn the young girl for her clothes, her poverty, and her drunkenness. Although light and romantic at times, this is a heavy fiction account of an ongoing and serious issue for the young people of today. Read it and ask yourself, what will you do when you are at the party?

Review by Sarah Rosenkrantz

Red Glass by Laura Resau

RedGlassRed Glass by Laura Resau

At 16 years old, Sophie considers herself an amoeba, floating freely without an attachment to any group at school since her best friend transferred to another school. Her drug dealer biological father left when she was a baby and she and her mom were on their own until she was 7, when her mom married her good stepdad Juan. Having been fearful o being left alone if anything happened to her mother, Sophie worried twice as much after her mother married Juan. When Border Patrol calls to say a lone survivor of migrants crossing the desert near their Arizona home is a young boy with Juan’s business card in his pocket, they take him in as a foster child. Their extended family also includes great-aunt Dika, a boisterous refugee from the Bosnian civil war. Barely speaking, on his third day with them the boy says his name is Pablo, weeks later he tells them his age is 6, then says nothing for another nine months. Choosing to sleep outside next to their chicken coop, Pablo starts talking the following spring, telling about chickens in his hometown. Calling the town, they learn he has a large extended family. A plan evolves to drive Pablo, Sophie and assorted friends and family members in a VW bus to Pablo’s village in Mexico. When friends travel on to Guatemala to trace family members missing from civil war, Sophie has to overcome her imagined fears to face real dangerous situations to help them.

Laura Resau has created an amazing panoply of larger than life characters all connected to each other through improbable but believable circumstances. As I read this book I found myself hoping for each of them to reach a positive resolution of all the challenges they faced. Without giving away the ending, I was glad with the wathe book finished.

Reviewed by Ellie Goldstein Erickson

Book trailer by Sarah Rogers

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

It would be an injustice to this title to say that it is simply about police brutality.  In truth, the writers reach much deeper than this, looking into the psyche of an African-American teen who is beat up by a policeman, and his white basketball teammate who is family friends with the officer who brutalized Rashad.  The story is told from these alternating points of view, and what I especially appreciated about it was the evolution of Quinn’s thoughts and feelings as he realized that by not taking any action, he was just another part of the racism.  He quotes Desmond Tutu as saying, “If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  Watching him as he pondered and grew into someone who could no longer be a bystander is what made this book different from other YA novels I’ve read.   The character of Rashad was also unique,  as he expressed himself through drawing, in a style inspired by Aaron Douglas.

I really liked this book because it forced me to confront my own attitudes about race and white privilege.  With the recent events of racism at Berkeley High, I think this book will be especially appealing to readers.

Also by Josh Reynolds When I Was the Greatest. when i was the greatest

Click on the book cover for our review.