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Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

07th December 2012

This was a fun book, perfect for young fans of  “Harry Potter” style stories. It’s a blend of dystopia survival with magical elements and intrigue. While it’s action packed and suspenseful, it’s not frightening or gruesome, and would be an excellent read-aloud or independent read for grades 4-7.

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.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin

27th February 2012

A worthy addition to the post-apocalyptic genre. It was similar in style and feel to Life as We Knew It. When a supervolcano erupts unexpectedly near Alex’s Iowa home, he is separated from his parents. Desperate to reunite with them, he begins the dangerous journey in the midst of a cataclysmic ashfall. Facing hunger, injury and violence, Alex also finds unexpected friendship and help. I’m eager to read the sequel, Ashen Winter, due out in October.

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

06th February 2012

I loved LaFleur’s debut novel, Love, Aubrey and her second novel, Eight Keys was just as good. Elise has lived with her aunt and uncle ever since her father died when she was 3. She loves her aunt and uncle, and spends much of her time playing with her best friend named Franklin. But now that Elise is turning 12 and entering middle school, her safe, comfortable life seems to be changing. Suddenly, “playing” is no longer the cool thing to do, a 6th grade bully is picking on her, homework is piling up, and Elise begins to take out her frustration on the one friend who loves her as she is, Franklin. One day, Elise discovers a key in the barn with her name on it. Looking for answers, she takes the key and unlocks a door that gives her back the past, while at the same time, helping her to begin moving forward.

This is an excellent book for 5th-7th grade girls. Elise’s story is honest and real. LaFleur deals with the realities of friendship and middle school without exaggeration. And although Elise must find her own answers, she is surrounded by loving adults as well.

I just love Ann Martin, and this book made me love her even more. She has written a fantastic story about sisters and family. Pearl is the younger, 4th grade sister to middle school age Lexie. Pearl tries hard (usually) but just can’t understand why Lexie acts the way she does. When the girls’ grandpa comes to live with them in their cozy apartment, the girls are forced to share a room. Pearl is thrilled with the chance to observed Lexie up close. Now, just maybe, she can figure out her big sister once and for all!

Older fans of Beezus and Ramona books will love this sweet, but realistic, look at the complicated relationship between big and little sisters. A perfect book for 3rd-6th grade girls.

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