The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School by Kristin Mahoney

I happen to have a daughter starting middle school in two days, and she had loved Mahoney’s book Annie’s Life in Lists, so she was pretty excited to read this. When she finished it (and liked it) I read it too. I thought this was terrific, with only a couple of quibbles (the school is really not noticing/ignoring the chronic butt pincher?! and also believing the vandalism was done by clearly the victims of the vandalism?!)

Set up like letters written to her younger sister, Augusta is telling all about the different people she meets starting from day 1. Fortunately it flows together into a chronological narrative and lovely story about Augusta finding new friends she fits in with and navigating some mean girls and other situations.
A good story any time, but especially for those on the brink of middle school. And maybe it was good for me to read, too, to remind me of what that might be like and act accordingly.

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Henry, Himself by Stewart O’Nan

I’m giving this 5 stars because I thought it was really well written and I loved it. I kept describing this book to my friends as “kind of slow and nothing happens” but I couldn’t put it down. For real.  Henry is 74-75 year old man, happily married for 49 years, with grown children, and assorted grandchildren. He has his daily routines of general life and marriage and housekeeping, he putters, he fixes, he listens to Pirates games, he goes to Home Depot a few times a week, he walks his dog. All very ordinary things, but there’s something about this that just made it great. Is it Henry’s reflections? His honest look at marriage and fatherhood? I don’t know. I mean, I’m the age of Henry’s children so it’s not like I have a lot in common with this protagonist, but it was not hard to find myself thinking about my own future and what I might be like at that age and how we get through life.
I also enjoyed the structure of the book. Some chapters were very short and episodic, some were longer.
As an aside, for myself I loved the deeply detailed Pittsburgh setting. I only lived in Pittsburgh for one year (in fact….it would have been 1 to 2 years before this story takes place) but I knew almost all the places he talks about and especially loved his memories of Phipps Conservatory.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness)

I’ve been especially looking forward to this one since it is enticingly set in Africa (Kenya, to be exact.)
As usual there is a little of the Queen, Mrs. Simpson and cousin David (the Prince), and fussy sister in law Fig. (Fig, Binky, Diddy–these names crack me up) which is all very entertaining, but the bulk of the story has Georgie and Darcy in Kenya, ostensibly on their honeymoon, but really Darcy is investigating something and then of course someone gets murdered and they investigate that.
It is so interesting to read about how they get to Kenya–a long and difficult journey, which included a surprising amount of glamorous air travel. And once there everything was new to me–how the Brits were “settling” in valleys and farming, but also being aristocrats, terrible to the natives, and so on. Just like Lady Georgiana I was fascinated by the big animals and how they were just in the wilderness with them-but also horrified by how casually people talked about killing them.
The biggest surprise of all I won’t explicitly state here-I’ll just say that I was TOTALLY surprised and the author’s note afterward explains that she didn’t make it up-it really happened. Fascinating.

 

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

I was so excited for this release today! I went to the bookstore and treated myself to it and came home and promptly read it in one sitting. (the only disappointment here is that I wish it was long, even though the story perfectly suited the length.)
This is a bit of graphic novel dream pairing for me and ever since it was announced I’ve been eagerly awaiting this.
I really, really enjoyed everything about this: the charming pumpkin patch setting, the clever chapter titles, the fudge nicknames, how the characters are drawn, the snacks, and how you could see the characters realizing things just by their eyes.
Perfect timing-a treat to read on the brink of fall.
And now I just have to hope for a sequel showing Josiah and Deja in college!

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I think Neal Shusterman’s books are great and I feel like the seeds of Scythe can be found in here, in terms of concepts that he’s thinking about. What if…? What if….every disease could be fixed? What if….we could transplant anything and always had enough body parts to transplant?  And very pointedly, this book is tackling abortion wars. What if our country went to war over abortion? And then this book is showing the results of the compromise that was reached. In this future you cannot have an abortion, but you can “unwind” a child between the ages of 13 and 17. The child is sent to a harvest camp where they are unwound and all their body parts are put into other people. Therefore they are still “living.”  It’s CREEPY and HORRIFYING.
I loved how it jumped around from the points of view of the different kids. Fast paced. Thoughtful. The ending was superb.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

This book was bonkers! And I really liked it. I am left with some questions and need to talk to someone else who read it. (There are some things that I can’t quite tell if I just didn’t understand, need confirmation of what I think, or are deliberately vague. Either way, I think the story works.)
On a remote island off the coast of Maine there is a girls’ boarding school. BUT this is not a boarding school book such as I usually read. No, this is a story that feels more post-apocalyptic. In this case we join in the story a year and a half after some kind of biological epidemic has swept the island. Consequently, the school is shut off from the mainland, they have no contact with the outside world, many girls are dead and continue to die, and it’s somewhat of a Lord of the Flies situation. Basically, the disease (or whatever), that they refer to as the Tox, is making the girls mutate. MUTATE! And just to make it extra scary, the grounds of the school are fenced in, keeping them safe from all the mutating wild animals on the other side.
Woven into this are some intense girl relationships. And overall there is a mystery pushing the story forward–why don’t they get enough supplies? why did she overhear the staff talking to someone? etc.
I found this to be somewhat un-put-downable because you are convinced there is a sinister plot that you are eager to figure out exactly what’s going on (as are the characters. They also want to know what’s what.)

I think the most surprising thing about this book was just how violent it was!  It was definitely pretty bizarre and out there, but I liked it in a weird way.

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior

I really enjoyed this. In fact, I read almost all of it in one lovely summer day. I feel that since The Rosie Project (or, as my friend ML suggests, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night) there has been a surge in novels featuring adults who have autism (whether or not it is explicitly mentioned.) In this case it’s Dan. Dan lives in Exmoor by himself in a barn where he surrounds himself with the harps he makes.  He is content and happy and absorbed in the beauty of nature around him. He stays mostly by himself because he doesn’t like groups of people and knows he has trouble with specific social situations.

One day, Ellie meets him. Ellie is a lovely woman who is married in a somewhat unsatisfying marriage. She is a housewife and the reader will immediately see that her husband is emotionally abusive. When Dan spontaneously gives Ellie a harp as a gift the two begin a deep friendship. Ellie visits Dan every day to practice the harp and the two enjoy companionable silence together as well as sandwiches and walks. Unfortunately it all must be kept secret due to jealous Clive (the husband.)

I thought this was a beautiful story. I loved seeing the natural world through Dan’s eyes, and I loved their relationship.  I did get very upset at the end though as I felt one character was terrible and damaging and that was just allowed to slide.