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Catch Rider

catchRider

by Jennifer H. Lyne
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013
Young adult
Ages 14 and up, Grade 7 and up
ISBN: 10: 054430182X/13: 978-0544301825
Additional formats: paperback, e-book

Sidney Criser is fourteen years old and grieving the death of her father. Her mother has taken up with a real jerk, and her beloved Uncle Wayne is trying hard to quit drinking. Life is bearable for Sid only when she’s riding horses.

When Uncle Wayne lands Sid a job at a fancy stable in Albemarle County, Virginia, at first, ever-confident Sid loses a bit of her edge around the wealth, power, and pedigree. However, she makes her own luck and nails an opportunity of a lifetime to show a made-horse on the elite show circuit. Then her dream starts to unravel.

In addition to the spot-on riding scenes, readers will relate to Sid’s family conflicts, the drama within her peer group at the barn, and the elements of romance, too. Sid’s connection to horses is strong and real and shows how having something we can hold onto—a place where we feel we belong—can help us overcome life’s hardest challenges. Lyne delivers a thrilling and moving novel that is a fantastic story for anyone with big a dream and looking for the courage to keep trying. -Gigi

The Birchbark House

birchbark

by Louise Erdrich
Hyperion Paperbacks, 1999
Middle grade fiction, Age 9 and Up
10: 0786814543/13: 978-078681454
Additional formats: Hardcover, audio
Honors: National Book Award Finalist * Jane Addams Award Honor * WILLA Award * National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Winner

Omakayas. Oh-MAH-kay-ahs.

The shero in the Birchbark House, set on Madeline Island off Lake Superior in 1847, receives her name from an Ojibwa girl who was recorded as living on the island in nineteenth century. Author Louise Erdrich writes, “Dear Reader, when you speak this name out loud you will be honoring the life of an Ojibwa girl who lived long ago.”

Now, speak her name: Omakayas.

A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa, Erdrich (National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize Finalist) wrote The Birchbark House to retrace her family’s history. The story is told from the perspective of seven-year-old Omakayas, or little frog. Young readers will be completely absorbed by the adventures of Omakayas as she works alongside the women and babysits her little brother. As many young children do, she feels jealous of her older sibling and annoyed by her younger ones. Working side-by-side with her mother and grandmother, she experiences an ability to communicate well with animals, the earth, and her elders, all of which guide her in toward the gift of healing.

When a smallpox breakout ravishes the community, Omakayas is the only one not infected. Her talent for listening to the earth and all its creatures soon helps her care for her family, and she must use all of her power to save them.

The story unfolds in four parts—summer, fall, winter, and spring—and the narrative builds inside the rhythms and rituals of Ojibwa life. Its back matter includes an Author’s Note on Ojibwa language and a glossary and punctuation guide of Ojibwa terms, offering opportunity for continued depth and discovery of Omakayas’s world.

Many have contrasted The Birchbark House to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. Wilder’s books carry a cultural bias embedded in the white encroachment on native land and culture as America pushed its boundaries west – a contrast worth noting. The Birchbark House testifies to the decimation and destruction that resulted, yet Erdrich most strongly evokes a feeling of connection among all people, with the earth, and to an Ojibwa girl named Omakayas. – Gigi

El Deafo

El Deafo

by Cece Bell
Amulet Books, 2014
Middle grade, graphic novel
978-1-4197-1020-9
Additional formats: paperback
Awards: Newbery Honor Award 2015

It’s a documented fact that you need a special power to be a superhero. It has to be something no one else can do. Something so impressive that it earns us instant respect.

How about being able to hear your teachers while they gossip in the lounge or if they pass gas in the restroom?

This year’s Newbery Honor-winning book, El Deafo by Cece Bell, is a hilarious graphic novel about a young girl (well, sort of a rabbit) coming to terms with being deaf in a hearing world.

The list of inconveniences is long for a kid who has to wear a cumbersome device called the “Phonic Ear.” And it’s almost impossible to make everyone understand why turning up the TV louder will not help or why whispering in the dark at a sleep over is maddening.

But there is always a silver lining if you have a hero’s heart. In this case, the silver lining is an ability to use your “Phonic Ear” to hear your teacher’s every movement—including those inside a bathroom stall.

There is so much to love here: the funny illustrations, the wacky characters, the wise look inside the dynamics of friendship. But what I admire most are the many moments in the pages when Bell helps us reflect on how we all make room for each other in this world. ~MM

Stella by Starlight

stella

by Sharon M. Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015
Middle grade, Ages 9-13
ISBN-10:442494972/13: 978-1442494978
Additional formats: e-book, audio

Stella likes to slip out of the house at night to practice her writing because she thinks more clearly in silence, under the stars. One night her little brother, JoJo, follows her and the two siblings witness a Ku Klux Klan meeting. The re-emergence of the KKK in rural Bumblebee, NC sends fear into Stella’s tight-knit community.

The novel is set in the Depression-era, a time of transition in America and the rural south. Some people in Bumblebee want to destroy social progress that has been made, using violence and threats. Stella and her father know the only way to go is forward toward education, opportunity, and equal rights.

Standing up for yourself and your family takes courage and clarity, as Stella learns by accompanying her father and their pastor to the voting poll on Election Day. The danger they face is real; the consequences suffered heart-breaking. Rather than fight fire with fire, Stella chooses the power of the pen as her weapon. She fights back with written words full of truth and faith.

There is so much to love in this book. Draper writes endearing, charismatic adult characters who encourage the children to help each other, to take risks, to sing loudly, and learn by watching and listening and trying. The language and phrasing resonate a time when the spoken word made strong use of storytelling, oral history, rhymes, and riddles. Scenes of joyous meals and earnest worship combine into a vibrant, inspiring depiction of a beloved community where the people find solace and fortitude in one another.

Best of all is Stella, drawn with palpable connection to the people around her, a girl with a brave, loving heart and a desire to write the truth. – Gigi

Written in the Stars

stars
by Aisha Saeed
Nancy Paulsen Books: Penguin, 2015
Young adult, 14 years and older
ISBN: 978-0-399-17170-3

Naila can choose some things for herself, like her hairstyle and her college major. But when it comes to whom she will marry, her parents are in charge.

The only trouble is that Naila is already in love with Saif. When they are caught sneaking off to the prom together, the repercussions are far worse than anything these American-raised teens could imagine. Naila’s parents take drastic action to save their daughter and their whole family from shame. She is sent back to family in Pakistan to be married.

Debut author Aisha Saeed offers a page-turner about culture clash in the lives of young women around the world. Readers will hold their breath as Naila fights to escape her fate against insurmountable odds and a dwindling supply of allies.

I admire this novel for its beautiful writing and for the rich characters in Naila’s extended family. Few are completely good or bad. Saeed is careful to offer a rich look at the beautiful aspects of traditional Pakistani family life, but she doesn’t shy away from the underlying struggle women face for autonomy and dignity worldwide. ~MM

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

ava

by Leslye Walton
Candlewick Press, 2014
Young adult
Ages 14 and up,
ISBN-10: 0763665665/13: 978-0763665661
Additional formats: Paperback, e-book, audio
Honors: William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist * Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy nominee, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award * Amazon Best Books of 2014 * Hudson Books Best Books of 2014 * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2014

If your family inheritance was not to be found in silver or gold, diamond or sapphire, but in your perfect ruby of a heart, destined by fate and genetics to be drawn to foolish love, would you hide yourself from all things?

Ava’s story begins with deep excursion into the Roux family birthright that will, ultimately, keep her locked away from the world for sixteen years, not only to protect her from the sort of love that has sealed the fortunes of her mother and grandmother, but because Ava is the most vulnerable of the Roux women.

Born with the wings of a bird into a clutch of women who are steeped in the art of protecting the heart from brokenness and brutality, Ava’s family cloisters her from the outside. Brutality is exactly what Ava’s mother and grandmother fear is in store for this child, if the world ever gets its claws in her. The girl’s very winged existence inspires both reverence and persecution from the community where she lives in Seattle in the 1940s.

All Ava wants is to be a girl, so out she goes into the world one summer solstice night with nothing and no one protecting her.

In a swirl of hauntingly realistic prose and magical realism, Ava Lavender explores the depths of beauty and terror and the heart’s capacity to rise above. – Gigi

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

gabi

by Isabel Quintero
Cinco Puntos Press, 2014
Young adult, 14 years and older
ISBN: 978-1-935955-94-8
Additional formats: paperback
Awards: Junior Library Guild Selection * William Morris Award * School Library Journal Best Books 2014 * Amelia Bloomer List * 2015 YALSO Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers* 2015 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults * 2015 Tomás Rivera Book Award, Works for Older Children * 2015 Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens

Gabi is in her senior year of high school, and there’s more on her plate than just tacos, wings, and Rocky Road ice cream—all of which she loves. Her best friend, Cindy, is pregnant, and her other friend, Sebastian, has been thrown out of the house for being gay. Add that to drug abuse in her home, a meddling hyper-religious aunt, and a mom who’s stuck in old fashioned thinking, and you have a girl in pieces.

Written in diary format, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, is a terrific debut novel that offers a loving and difficult portrait of a girl growing up against a backdrop of cultural sexism, adult hypocrisies, and the madhouse called American high school. Sprinkled with Spanglish, Isabel Quintero captures the sound and feel of a modern Latina.

I love this book most for its unflinching voice. Gabi—a poet—is smart, funny, coarse, and strong. The diary entries, along with the poems she writes for her senior year ‘zine, allow us to hear her deepest secrets and fears as she learns to fight for the things she truly wants and deserves. ~MM

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