Girl at War by Sara Novic


Girl at War by Sara Novic

Traversing time periods to tell the story, Girl At War, explores the reality of war for a young girl in Yugoslavia and how it changed the course of her life. Ana was ten years old when civil war broke out and her life slowly descended from carefree and happy into the depths of despair. Even though she survives the horrific situation she loses much and does her best to bury her experiences deep inside. Now living in the US, participating in a project to tell her story sends her back home, and back to the friends and family she left behind. Anyone who has lived through a war may recognize themselves in the characters and events of this story. The youthfulness of Ana makes it bearable to read such a devastating story with a sense of hope.823879.jpg

Follow up by reading Safe Area Gorazde, an historical graphic novel by Joe Sacco

Review by Sarah Rosenrkantz


If I should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan


If I should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan


Teenager Hilary proudly belongs to the Aryan Warriors, a neo-Nazi hate group dedicated to carrying out Hitler’s goal of killing Jews. After being thrown from her boyfriend Brad’s motorcycle, she is taken to the closest medical facility, ironically a Jewish hospital. While she’s in a coma, Hilary floats in a dreamlike state, seeing and hearing people around her but unable to communicate. Suddenly Hilary finds herself spinning backward , walking down an unfamiliar street as Chana, with a best friend she doesn’t know. Each of them has a yellow star on her coat. Stopped by soldiers on their way to school, they are forced at gunpoint to scrub stairs along with Jewish women, using their underwear. Finally released, Chana is on her way home and sees soldiers shoot her father when he is unable to work. Thus begins Hilary’s journey through an alternate life as Chana, a 13 year old Jewish girl in Poland under Nazi occupation. Hilary moves between her existence in a coma, hearing her mother pray over her in the hospital, and living with what’s left of her family under increasing Nazi oppression. This is a powerful narrative of a girl seeingwhere unchecked hate can lead.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

CodeNameVerityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Spies get caught. Torture, confession. A wavy line between truth and lies. Betrayal. Friendship. A gruesome war that must be ended.

Divided into 2 parts, the first part of this book contains the written confessions of Verity, a Scottish woman radio operator, trained to be a spy, who is in Gestapo custody in France in Fall, 1943. She trades secrets like radio codes to be given backher clothes, even though she is still tortured but kept alive by Gestapo officer who forces her to write background of how she came to be in France. She gives details of her best friend Maddie, also a radio operator, who became a pilot and flew her to France for her mission. Other prisoners despise her as a collaborator. In part 2 the pilot Maddie starts by giving an account of landing her crippled plane in France after delivering Verity.

The best advice I can give readers is to be patient. Think of this plot as an onion, for the characters keep unfolding layers to the story, and nothing turns out to be as it seems. Only after reading the book all the way to the end did I understand the glowing reviews this book got when it was first published. I would ruin the plot by giving any more details except to say I would love to read it again, since there is more to appreciate in this book than a reader gets the first time through.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan


The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

It was our home, now you live here. We live here in your home; we want to live in peace. Connected. Unsolved. Welcome to Israel…Palestine.

This book traces the intertwined histories of Bashir Khair, a Moslem Palestinian, and Dalia Eskenazi, an Israeli Jew, and their families through the house in which they both spent their childhoods. Bashir’s father built the house himself in al-Ramla in 1936; his family had lived in Palestine under the Ottomans for generations and were prominent in the city. Forced east from their house and town during the 1948 war, they left their roots behind. Arriving in Israel after the 1948 war, having survived the Holocaust, Dalia and her parents moved to al-Ramla and into the Khair’s house. Having been taught the Arabs fled, Dalia often wondered why people would leave such a beautiful home. When the borders opened after the 1967 war, Bashir and 2 cousins visited al-Ramla to see their former homes. Dalia welcomed them, inviting them to see the whole house and served them refreshments in the garden by the lemon tree Bashir’s father planted. Thus began an extraordinary relationship between a Palestinian who has never relented in his quest for his country and a Jewish Israeli who is equally determined to protect her country while still seeking justice for and peace with the Palestinians. The author’s 7 years of research are reflected in the extensive historical detail of the region, going back many years, along with the personal details of both families up to 2006. Heroes of each side are represented for good and bad actions, but the heart of the story remains on Dalia and Bashir, their families and the connections they have maintained for more than 35 years. This book will provide a deep understanding for anyone who wants a true picture of Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

between shades of gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This award-winning historical novels sheds light on World War II from a different angle, that of Lithuanians.  During this war Lithuania was occupied by first Russia, then Nazi Germany and finally Russia again.   This skillfully drawn story details Lina’s family’s expulsion from their home to a work camp in farthest Siberia.  Lina is an artist, and sketches pictures of her family, the other prisoners and the terrible condition they live under.  This is probably what saves her from going mad, but she must hide them carefully as the Soviet guards would consider them subversive and would execute her immediately.

Sepetys does an amazing job showing readers this bleak part of history through the eyes of a teenaged girl.  Although the story is generally depressing, there are some brighter sections showing how the prisoners care for one another and keep hope alive despite the degrading circumstances of the camps.  I highly recommend this book to readers who like historical fiction and anyone interested in World War II.

out of the easy

Click Here  for our review.

I Pledge Allegiance (Vietnam #1) by Chris Lynch


I Pledge Allegiance (Vietnam #1) by Chris Lynch

This title begins the story of four best friends as they serve their time in the service during the Vietnam War.  Morris, Rudi, Ivan and Beck have been best friends since grade school and pledged to all to to war if one of them was drafted.  As a year older than everyone else and not too bright, Rudi is drafted and the boys keep their promise to enlist.  Each in in a different branch of the service and this story tells the tale of Morris, in the navy and  assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser stationed off the coast of Vietnam.

Although the story is simply told and avoids the moral dilemma of the United State’s presence in the civil war, I think this is a good title for students looking for a book about war.  I get multiple requests for these in the fall when we meet our BHS freshman for their first independent reading books, and I think this series will be a hit.  The books are short, just under 200 pages, and each is told from a different character’s perspective.  Lynch does not avoid the violence and killing, peppering the story with real life action with napalm, agent orange, snipers and the risky river patrol boats that engaged in often deadly combat with both enemy boats and firefights with soldier hiding on the shores.

Despite the fact that these books don’t have the emotional punch of more profound titles like O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, I think the series is an excellent introduction to a war today’s students only know about from history books and maybe their grandfathers.  I highly recommend the series which I suspect can be read out of order since each is about a different soldier.  All four books are available in the Berkeley High Library, with the fifth one (Fallen Soldiers) on order.


          fire free zone          casualties of war

Alien Invasion & Other Inconveniences and Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments by Brian Yansky

alien invasion          homocidal aliens

Alien Invasion & Other Inconveniences and Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments  by  Brian Yansky

High school student Jesse is in the middle of history class when suddenly the teacher and everyone else seems to be sound asleep. A voice in Jesse’s head congratulates him on being one of the few product who can hear and then tells him to stand by for an announcement. Another voice says he’s Lord Vertenomous and is claiming the planet in the name of the Republic of Sanginia. Lord Vertenomous tells Jesse he is now a slave and how much the Sanginians like the planet. Since no one else at school is alive, Jesse tries to run home, seeing people and animals who all look asleep. Rounded up by the aliens, who are small, hairless and slightly green, Jesse and other humans still alive are put to work, eventually moved from Houston to Lord Vert’s (as Jesse thinks of him) house in Austin, Texas, because the aliens consider him and his new friend Michael “superior product.” They make friends with 2 girl slaves, and Jesse begins communicating with a girl through what he thinks are his dreams. Hearing rumors of rebels, they take action to escape when they realize the aliens are going to kill them all, finding a way to rescue the captive girl Catlin and using their minds to escape through a barrier. Making their way west in search of other rebels, they realize they can use their minds together to fight the aliens. I‘m not giving anything away by telling they survive, since the author wrote a sequel to this title.

In the sequel to Alien Invasions & Other Inconveniences, a brief prologue gives the background of an alien invasion of Earth and the enslavement of the surviving humans. Using their newly awakened telepathic powers to escape and fight back, Jesse and his friends join a rebel group they meet in Taos, New Mexico, and move into the camp in the mountains. As Jesse’s abilities with his mind expand, he begins meeting an alien in his dreams who tells him he is Jesse’s Deathgiver. Working with a Native American rebel co-leader, Jesse begins to explore and understand his new mental powers. As the rebel group starts dividing over whether to stay and fight or escape and hide in caves, Jesse finds that he is also part of the controversy. Without giving away more of the plot,  I will say that I was drawn in by both the characters and the story. The author does not give away the ending, so I was excited to find out what would happen.


I was attracted to these books on the shelves by their titles and covers; I actually expected they would be humorous comedies and was surprised to find they are really more serious, even though there is a little humor. The characters are realistic, even the aliens, and the author makes the story seem like it could really happen, so I wouldn’t classify it as classic science fiction. Having the main characters as teenagers provides a twist as they are trying to figure out themselves as well as how to battle aliens.

Reviews by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson