‘The Gifted, the Talented, and Me’ by William Sutcliffe is a laugh-out-loud poignant story

William Sutcliffe hits the perfect notes with “The Gifted, the Talented, and Me,” about Sam, a fifteen-year-old who is not brilliant, not musical, not arty. He’s just a plain kid who enjoys soccer with his friends and likes his life the way it is. That’s all turned upside down when his father sells his company and makes millions.

Sam’s mom moves them all to a tony area of London where she enrolls Sam and his siblings in a special school for — what else — gifted and talented kids. Sam does not fit in at all. His younger sister loves that she can do her artwork and write stories, his older brother reinvents himself into a gay musician (spoiler: he’s not gay), but Sam is just Sam. He doesn’t want to reinvent himself, and he wants to play soccer. Soccer isn’t allowed at his new school because kicking is a form of violence. Really.

Perhaps the best thing about the book is Sutcliffe’s style, the writing itself. The narrative, in first person from Sam’s point of view, ranges from heartbreaking to really laugh-out-loud funny. Of course we know that no 15-year-old would really say some of the things that Sam narrates, but much of it is very realistic and very humorous.

“Even Ulf, who had never before said anything to me other than to point out what I was doing wrong, patted my arm, gave me a long, ice-blue Nordic stare, and said, ‘Nice.’

“This was as effusive as Ulf ever got about anything, and I was momentarily choked up with gratitude at this Scandinavian-style gush of unqualified praise.”

Young adult readers, especially male ones, will get a kick out of the inner dialogue that Sam has with his Optimistic Brain, his Pessimistic Brain and his Dick. Yes, he’s afraid that he’ll never get a date, and it’s even more stressful because he has a huge crush on the most popular girl in school. Those three-way conversations are very clever.

This is a story that can be universally appreciated — about feeling ordinary, trying to fit in, trying to navigate dealing with romance and changing family dynamics. It’s humorous but also real. It would be a fabulous choice for a book club book or just a classroom group read.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘Christmas at the Island Hotel’ by Jenny Colgan brings readers back to the charming, isolated island of Mure

We get to spend the holidays at the charming island of Mure thanks to “Christmas at the Island Hotel” by Jenny Colgan. Colgan writes charming stories of people who are tired of huge, crowded, impersonal cities and long to escape to somewhere where the air is clean, the sky uncluttered by tall buildings, and the view peaceful and pastoral.

Continue reading

‘The Water Bears’ by Kim Baker is a middle grade tale of belonging and dealing with PTSD

In “The Water Bears” by Kim Baker, Newt Gomez lives on an almost magical island, Murphy Island, with his family. The island had been a resort with unusual animals and a carnival atmosphere, and now a school is housed in what were the resort buildings. In the middle of the island is Gertrude Lake, where a Loch Ness-type creature named Marvelo is said to live. Newt’s father says he’s seen it, but Newt doesn’t believe it exists.

Continue reading

‘The Truth Hurts’ by Rebecca Reid is a psychological thriller with a Hitchcock-ian ending

“The Truth Hurts” by Rebecca Reid is an apt title. In this novel, we learn the truth in clever dribs and drabs through the third person narration from the point of view of Poppy, the nanny who gets fired for sticking up for herself. Her narration is in the present, and we also hear from Caroline, who was Poppy’s employer once upon a time. She shares what happened before.

Continue reading

4 pandemic-perfect children’s nonfiction that will educate and entertain

There’s a pandemic going on. In my county, all schools are remote right now. So what do parents do when they need to work and the kids need something to do when their zoom meetings end? Give them a great book to read. Add bonus points if the book is educational.

Here are two nonfiction books for middle grade children that will entertain, educate, shock, and make them laugh. It’s inevitable. After all, the titles of two of the books have the words “poop” and “butt” in them. The other two books are excellent for parents to use, with gross science experiments and exciting sensory bins that will keep children engaged and busy. Take your pick – there’s a book here for any parent.

Continue reading

‘Louisiana Lucky’ by Julie Pennell is more than a sweet lottery winners’ tale

It’s a story that’s been told before — people win the lottery and their lives change, and not necessarily for the better. But Julie Pennell’s “Louisiana Lucky” takes that story and really brings it home. She tells the story of three sisters who play the lottery for entertainment and actually win big. How the winning will affect their heretofore modest lifestyle and their relationships is the center of the story. What they learn at the end is what it really means to be lucky. (Spoiler alert: it may not be winning the lottery.)

Continue reading

Agent Sonya: Master Spy

 

We love our heroes; we despise our villains. What, then, do we make of Colonel Ursula Kuczynski, AKA Ursula Hamburger, AKA Ursula Burton, AKA — Agent Sonya?  “Agent Sonya,” author Ben Macintyre’s exhaustively detailed and consistently fascinating account of that amazing woman’s life, may force us to realign our predilection for clearly delineated hero-versus-villain judgments. Continue reading

‘Behind the Red Door’ by Megan Collins is a fascinating mystery with dark overtones

behind the red door

How much does our brain do to protect us? What repressed memories might surface one day with the right stimuli? In “Behind the Red Door,” author Megan Collins explores how childhood events can be suppressed, altered, misremembered, and deleted. Main character Fern Douglas is happily married to a fabulous pediatrician and she enjoys her job as a school social worker. She knows how to talk to kids, how to get them to admit to abusive living situations and how to help them understand it’s not their fault that they have abusive parents.

Continue reading

Hopes, Dreams, Truths, and Real Christianity

Jon Meacham’s “His Truth Is Marching On; John Lewis and the Power of Hope,” is a stunningly powerful account of the life and career of John Lewis. Most often, when we describe events or behaviors as “shocking,” we are almost automatically communicating negativity: “… the shocking duplicity of this man,” or “the shocking cruelty of bigots.” But in the case of Meacham’s work, “shocking” carries many meanings and connotations that take us far beyond those negative implications of the word. It is, of course, an undeniable, all-too-obvious truth that 1960s Civil Rights workers like Lewis were cruelly abused physically and verbally, beaten to within inches of their lives, smashed viciously with clubs and truncheons, kicked mercilessly while lying semi-conscious on the blood-spattered ground, and generally treated like invading monsters from Hell. And to read the disgusting details of these acts of inhumanity is, indeed, shocking, even though we’ve seen and heard evidence of those brutal attacks before. Continue reading

‘Closer to Nowhere’ by Ellen Hopkins is a beautiful story that will break your heart and then fill it with love

Prolific author Ellen Hopkins is known for her young adult books that deal with tough subjects — especially drugs and the horrendous damage they can do to families and the lives of those who are caught in their tantalizing web. With her first middle grade novel, Hopkins hits a home run.

This is a story that, like her other books, is written in verse. It’s written from a dual point of view. We meet and get to know both Hannah and Cal, cousins whose mothers are identical twins, but whose lives couldn’t be more different. When we first meet them, Cal has lived with Hannah and her parents for a little over a year. It’s been a tough year for all. Continue reading