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Elsie is a baker’s daughter in 1945 Germany. Her family is somewhat sheltered from the realities of the war by her older sister’s participation in the Nazi Lebensborn (breeding) program, and the attentions of a Nazi official. When a Jewish boy follows Elsie home and asks for shelter, she must decide whether to continue being her family’s daughter, or if she should choose for herself what is right.

In modern day Texas, Reba meets Elsie, now a bakery owner with a daughter of her own. Reba discovers that the seemingly simple task of interviewing Elsie for a newspaper article opens a floodgate of emotions for both herself and Elsie. Together, the two women reveal pieces of their own stories to each other, and find a way to make peace with the past and the present.

Told in alternating points of view from young Elsie and present day Reba, this novel is hard to put down. While not quite as suspenseful as Sarah’s Key, the story is well-written, and the characters struggle with similar issues of right, wrong and what we can and should do about it.

Charlie’s mom died of cancer, and his dad has retreated into silence to cope with his grief. Lonely and friendless, and looking for an escape from junior high bullies, Charlie wanders into the woods one day and meets a grizzly bear. But this is no ordinary grizzly bear, as Charlie soon discovers. The grizzly bear, Emory, soon becomes a friend to Charlie. But keeping a grizzly bear as a secret friend is no easy task. Charlie must decide whom to trust with his secret, and how he can protect Emory from the community.

I loved that this book wasn’t just an animal story. Charlie has to deal with all sorts of realistic issues: bullies at school, after school fights, pretty girls, first dances, first kisses, arguing with his dad, missing his mom, and watching his dad enter the dating world. While this is an adult novel, and not juvenile fiction, it reminded me a lot of The Nine Lives of Travis Keating. The subject matter might be a bit much for most middle school students, but high school students as well as adults will enjoy this heart-warming, realistic and slightly fantastical story about a boy and a bear who rescue each other.

So Big by Edna Ferber

20th February 2012

Orphaned at age 19 in the late 1800′s, Selina accepts a job as a school teacher in the community of New Holland. Even though New Holland is only a few hours drive by wagon to her former life in Chicago, Selina is not prepared for the shock of living in the tiny, conservative truck-farming community. The grinding work and poverty take a toll on even the hardiest of souls. Determined to continue finding beauty in life and learning, Selina throws herself into her teaching, and later into her family farm. When her son, Dirk, “SoBig” DeJong is born, Selina promises herself that he will not be bound to the farm, and that he will have every opportunity that she herself lost. This is a rich novel, with much to discuss and analyze. I was most struck by how Selina lost every privilege, and yet didn’t lose hope, either for herself or her child. Dirk’s response at being given every opportunity would also be worthy of discussing.

Retta has dreams of making it big as a country music star in Nashville. After graduating from high school, she heads to the city to pursue a music career. Although she knew it would be difficult, Retta didn’t realize how hard it would be to break into the business, and when family drama calls her home, she begins to wonder if she should just give up her dream altogether.

Supplee begins each chapter of her book with a brief bio of a real country singer. I enjoyed Retta’s story, which was sweet without being nauseating, and had enough surprises in it to keep it from becoming too predictable. A quality addition to the “follow your dreams” genre.

Abby Johnson was passionate about helping women in crisis, and served as the director of her local Planned Parenthood clinic. Although she worked at Planned Parenthood, Abby truly disliked abortion, and made it her goal to reduce the number of women who needed to receive abortions. Then, Abby witnessed an ultra-sound guided abortion at her own clinic, and instantly knew that things would never be the same for her again.

I could not put this book down. From the opening chapters, I was drawn into Abby’s story. She tells her story honestly, and points out the good and the bad in both the pro-choice and pro-life movements. It was amazing to see how God worked in her life to bring about change for the good, and how God used the faithful prayers of believers to reach out to Abby. It was eye-opening to read about how some in the pro-life movement have been so hurtful to the very women they proclaim to be helping. If you are truly sincere in wanting to end abortion in this country, Abby’s story is one you must read.

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