‘Call It What You Want’ by Brigid Kemmerer is a compelling story of teenagers grappling with the fallout from mistakes that may or may not be their doing

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“Call It What You Want” is another example of fine writing by Brigid Kemmerer, author of “A Curse So Dark and Lonely.” One of her talents is writing about people by using such effective dialogue and narrative style and technique that her characters become extremely realistic and worthy of compassion. Her two main characters in this novel are both flawed teenagers, but in spite of — or perhaps because of — those shortcomings, they grow insightful and compassionate, and they help right wrongs. The story is told in alternating first person narratives, a strategy which works well to make readers feel that they understand each character’s feelings and motivations.

Maegan is the daughter of a cop, and while she has been held to high expectations, she has also been caught cheating during an SAT exam. All of the other students’ exams have been voided, and she feels as if she has been branded with a huge CHEAT on her forehead. She keeps her head down in school, and the only friend she has left is Rachel. But lately, Rachel’s new boyfriend Drew has been making derogatory comments about Maegan, and Maegan is hurt that Rachel doesn’t stand up for her.

Rob had everything — money, athletics, good looks. But then his father was arrested for defrauding his clients of their money. After a failed suicide attempt, his father is now a body that must be tube-fed, cannot talk or even respond to stimuli, and lives with Rob and his mother in the now-empty mansion that they have called home for years. Many of the parents of his fellow students lost money because of Rob’s father. Even the school librarian is now still working because his retirement money had been invested with Rob’s father. And his friends and acquaintances wonder how much Rob knew about the theft. The worst loss was his best friend, Connor, who didn’t come when Rob needed him and now is openly hostile to Rob.

When Rob and Maegan are paired up for a calculus project, it’s awkward at first. But as they get to know and eventually trust each other, a wonderful thing happens. They start questioning what is going on in each of their lives, their behaviors, and what is right and wrong.

Readers, too, will be forced to think about haves and have-nots. Is it okay for someone to take something from someone who is so wealthy they won’t even know it’s gone in order to give it to someone who desperately needs it? A friend of Rob’s gets a free meal, a cheese sandwich, from the school. He’s ridiculed for it. Yet the wealthy students don’t mind splurging on cookies so that the lacrosse team can buy new sticks.

The divide between those who have a lot and those who struggle to survive will make readers pause and examine their own beliefs. Rob thinks about what he used to take for granted, and he regrets much of his old behavior. He’s torn between hating his father for what he did, but also loving his father because no matter what, he was a wonderful father.

There are good people, forgiving people, and villains in this story. But at its core, it’s about forgiveness, growing, and having compassion. Not only is this is an engrossing novel that, once begun, is difficult to put down, it would also be a great choice for a class read or a book club.

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

‘Winterwood’ by Shea Ernshaw is a bewitching young adult fantasy

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“Winterwood” by Shea Ernshaw is about witches. Specifically it’s about Nora — daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and more — descended from a long line of witches who live and practice their magic along the shore of Jackjaw Lake and in the shadow of the forest outside the town of Fir Haven.

The Walker women came out of the forest back in the days when Fir Haven was a small gold mining town, and ever since, they have lived in a log cabin between the summer cabins and the dark forest. Nora lives there with her mother, now that her grandmother has died, leaving Nora with her moonstone ring. But Nora’s mother has left to sell her honey (charming bees is her particular magic), and Nora is alone in the cabin with only her wolf, Fin, to protect her when a blizzard envelopes the town and cuts off electricity and the roads.

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‘The Speed of Falling Objects’ by Nancy Richardson Fischer is a survival story filled with thoughtful perspective on who we really are

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“The Speed of Falling Objects” by Nancy Richardson Fischer first caught my eye because it’s a young adult survival story about a girl who must survive in the Amazon after a plane crash. But while this is a thrilling story of adventure and the dangers of navigating the rainforest in Peru, it’s also much more.  Continue reading

‘Color Me In’ and ‘Slay’ are two young adult novels that help readers understand what it’s like being the only “other” in a room

 

“Slay” by Brittney Morris and “Color Me In” by Natasha Díaz are two books that deal with young women, each of whom is the only person of color, or one of a few people of color, in a school. The situations are different, but both stories are gripping and difficult to put down. They are both movingly written, and should be in every middle school and high school library. Both should be required reading. And what a discussion would ensue.

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‘House of Salt and Sorrows’ by Erin A. Craig is a shocking retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale by Grimm

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“House of Salt and Sorrows” by Erin A. Craig is a creative and, at times, shocking retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” by the Grimm brothers. Unlike the Grimm fairy tale, in this young adult version, the oldest of the dozen sisters have already died by the time the story begins.

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‘Emperor of the Universe: A Fable with Spaceships and Aliens’ by David Lubar

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David Lubar, beloved author of “The Weenie” series of short stories and “Hidden Talents,” hits it out of the park, actually out of the world and out of the galaxy, with “Emperor of the Universe: A Fable with Spaceships and Aliens.”

Nicholas V. Andrew, a seventh grader, only wants to be on his own when his parents are out of the country performing with their band, the Beegles, a take-off of the Beetles wherein his parents wear beagle masks while performing songs like “Yellow Snow Submarine.” He doesn’t want to have wild parties or play video games day and night, he just wants to be on his own. He ends up traveling throughout the universes, unintentionally causing the destruction of entire planets and also unintentionally becoming the Emperor of the Universe.

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‘Spin the Dawn’ by Elizabeth Lim is an engrossing fantasy about a young girl whose ambition proves world-changing

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In a fictional world reminiscent of ancient China, Elizabeth Lim creates “Spin the Dawn,” the story of Maia, daughter of a tailor who is as skilled as any tailor but who is barred from the profession because of her gender. Her father has lost his ambition since the death of Maia’s mother, and two of her brothers were killed in the Emperor’s war. Now, it’s just Maia supporting the family.

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