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Hattie’s mom has died, leaving Hattie alone with her gruff, grieving father. After Hattie chops off her braids in a fit of rage, Hattie’s Pa buys her some boy clothes, introduces her as Harley, and trains her to help him as a river man. While she misses her Ma, Hattie begins to find some joy in her strange new life as a river rafting”boy.” When she and her Pa take a dangerous journey down river, Hattie begins to realize that there’s more behind her Pa’s silence than she first thought. Hattie is a strong heroine who will appeal to middle grade girls who love Laura Ingalls and are ready for a more challenging character.

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.

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.

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

29th November 2011

Alex is on a solo camping trip in the UP, mourning her dead parents and trying to come to peace with a deadly brain tumor of her own, when a shower of EMP’s are detonated. Alex begins a journey to find some answers and some survivors, with orphaned Ellie under her wing. The girls soon discover that the EMP not only destroyed all computers, but it killed many people, and changed the survivors in sometimes horrifying ways. When Tom, a soldier with secrets of his own, joins their little band, the three friends struggle to stay together and to survive in their new, horrifying world.

Suspenseful and tense. A bit too gruesome in parts for me; I had to skim over some sections. But overall, I couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen, and the cliffhanger ending will stay with me for some time.

Iris is an orphan, sent to live with her aunt and cousin. From the beginning, Iris struggles to fit in with her new life. Her only comfort comes from her aunt’s goats, for which Iris is responsible. Things go from bad to worse when Iris’ aunt threatens the goats, and Iris determines to take a stand to protect them.

The suspense of this book just about killed me. From the opening pages, you know what will happen to Iris, but not how she gets to that point. For the rest of the book, you are left anticipating the worst. While the plot was engrossing, there were points throughout the book when it became too intense for me and I had to put the book down for awhile. Overall, it was a great story and I was inspired by Iris’ courage and resilience.

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