Monday, November 17, 2014

Because of Mr. Terupt

Buyea, Ron. 2010. BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT. New York: Delacorte.

Mr. Terupt is a new 5th grade teacher at Snow Hill School in Connecticut. This story, told through the voices of seven students in his class, documents how their new teacher affects their lives, and in turn, they affect his after an accident. 

Each chapter is told from a different point of view of one of the seven students. There's Peter, the class clown; Luke, the smart kid; Jeffrey, who is withdrawn and hates school; Jessica, the new girl; Alexia, the 'mean girl'; Danielle, who doesn't stand up for herself; and Anna, who is an outcast because of her family situation. 

The students tell their different sides of events as the year goes on, and it is clear that Mr. Terupt is having an effect on all of them in different ways. Mr. Terupt confronts Alexia when he sees how manipulative and mean she is to her friends. He asks his class to go work with special needs students, and Jeffrey and Peter surprise everyone with how they connect with the students in that class. After an accident happens (I won't give any spoilers!) the students realize that Mr. Terupt taught them more about life than they realized. 

I liked how the story was told from different points of view. This seems to be a popular thing for writers to do these days. This was a little bit more confusing because of the seven different points of view, but after learning more about the characters it became easier to keep up with who was who.

The first half of the book was great, but I felt like the 2nd half sort of ran out of steam. The ending was satisfactory, but I wanted a little bit more information. The strength of this book is in the characters. Even though the chapters are short, Mr. Buyea truly finds the voice of each one. They are all identifiable, too - there are probably kids like these sitting right beside you in class right now.

This was an easy and good read, if you need a break from your fantasy and dystopian books!

Keep 'on reading,
Mrs. Cox
Read On >>>

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish

Holm, Jennifer. 2014. THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH. New York: Random House Children's Books.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm (Babymouse and Squish) is a short book that straddles the line between realistic and science fiction. Ellie is a 6th grader. One night, her mom comes home late because she had to go help her grandfather get out of trouble. When her mom comes home, she has a strangely dressed young boy with her. Ellie soon figures out that the young man at her house is actually her grandfather.

Her grandfather, Melvin, is a scientist who worked in a lab. A cab driver from the Phillipines finds an odd specimen of jellyfish and ships it to Melvin. Melvin discovers that he is able to use the jellyfish to create a compound that reverse ages things - it makes them younger. So, he tries it on himself and turns into a 13 year old boy. He gets caught by the police when he tries to sneak back into his lab to get the rest of the jellyfish specimen.

Ellie loves having her grandfather around. He teaches her about several famous scientists and tells her about the power of observation. They have several adventures, including attempting to get into Melvin's lab to rescue the rest of the jellyfish specimen. 

No one seems to question that the odd boy wearing clothes that an older man would wear is a distant cousin of Ellie and her mom. In fact, Ellie thinks the whole thing is 'cool' until her ex-best friend tells her that she thinks her 'cousin' is cute, and Ellie realizes that her grandfather hasn't really thought through his whole reverse-aging experiment. 

I found this book to be choppy, and while it was a quick read, it didn't really hold my interest. The plot was introduced in a comical way, but I didn't find this book to be all that funny. The moral of this book was also way too obvious - enjoy the present moment - but I think that readers could figure this out on their own without being told several times.

It was a quick read with an interesting premise, but I never felt very connected to this story.

Just keep reading,
Mrs. Cox
Read On >>>

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why

Asher, Jay. 2007. THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. New York: Peguin Young Readers.

Clay Jensen finds a package on his front porch. He opens it to find a map and seven cassette tapes. He pops one in an old cassette player and hears the voice of Hannah Baker. Hannah committed suicide two weeks ago, and these tapes she left behind explain what happened to her. "I hope you're ready, because I'm about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you're listening to these tapes, you're one of the reasons why."

Soon Clay goes over to his acquaintance Tony's house, where he steals an old cassette walkman to listen to the rest of the tapes. The walkman will let him go from place to place that Hannah points out on the map.  So he spends all night walking, riding a bus, and riding with Tony to visit the places Hannah mentions and listen to her story unfold. 

A new student at the high school, Hannah finds herself the victim of rumors. Rumors that are far from true, but that she can see everyone else around her believes. These affect her relationships with other people and how other people choose to treat her. Clay has a huge crush on Hannah, but he's afraid to talk to her or ask her out because of her reputation.

This book is very suspenseful and very sad. I didn't know what was going to happen and how all of the people in the book were going to all fit together.  The structure of Thirteen Reasons Why was really interesting and unique. Instead of switching point of view and narrator with the beginning of each chapter, Hannah and Clay are narrating at the same time. While he listens to Hannah's voice on the tapes, we get to hear Clay's thoughts and reactions to her story.

As the author says in a Q&A at the end of the book, he did have a message in mind while writing this book. Our actions and words may have more of an impact on others than we ever realize. I cringed when I read this book, and it made me uncomfortable. I remember being an awkward teenager myself, and some of the actions of other characters in the book, the people on Hannah's list, made me sad. I wished Hannah had a best friend or a trusted teacher, or her mom she could have talked to. The story in this book didn't have to end this way.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book I'll only recommend for 8th graders, because of the subject matter and some of the content. It was a good book, but not an easy book to read at all. 

If you are feeling sad, or if you have a friend who is sad and says things that worry you, please get them help. This school is full of adults who will help you and keep things confidential.

Until next time,
Mrs. Cox

Read On >>>

Monday, November 10, 2014

We Were Liars

Lockhart, E. 2013. WE WERE LIARS. New York: Delacorte.

Have you ever finished a book and then been dying to discuss it with someone else? That's how I feel after finishing We Were Liars. I just really want to see what someone else thought of it. It was different from all of the other books I've read so far this school year. And it was one that left me not knowing how I should feel or what I should think about it.

The Sinclair family is "old money." Harris and Tipper Sinclair have three daughters: Carrie, Bess and Penny. The oldest grandchild is Penny's daughter, Cadence. She is the main character and narrator. The Sinclairs own their own private island off the coast of Massachusetts, where they spend every summer with their children and grandchildren. Cadence's Aunt Carrie is divorced, but brings her boyfriend Ed to the island every summer. Ed, in turn, brings along his nephew Gat. Cadence, Gat, along with Cadence's cousins Johnny and Mirren are the "Liars." The four are inseparable during their summers together on the island. But then, during the summer when they are 15, something mysterious happens. Cadence is found in the water, wearing only half her clothes. She ends up in the hospital and two years later she still has debilitating migraines. Now she is 17, and returning to the island after two years, and trying to figure out what happened to her that summer she was 15.

The first thing you notice when you open the book is that there is a map of an island, with houses labeled with the residents. Then, when you flip to begin the book, there is a family tree. I did turn back to these from time to time to keep all the names straight and remember who was who. Usually, if an author puts something like this in the front of the book, they want you to refer to it as you read. 

The second thing I noticed was the writing style. It is much more poetic than any of the other middle grade / young adult novels I've read so far this year. The author has a habit of using nouns as adjectives, which was interesting the first few times, but then becomes tiresome. Also, the story switches around from the past to the present quite often, and sometimes it's hard to tell what time period you are in. I think that was done on purpose, to make the reader feel confused like Cadence.

I don't really feel like I can tell you too much else about this book without giving anything away. Indeed, the inside of the dust jacket says, "If anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE." It was an interesting premise and story, but I can't say that I really liked any of the characters - they were all a little bit stuck up and pretentious. If anything, the takeaway lesson is that no family is perfect, and that money never ever buys happiness.

If you read this book, and read this entry, come see me and let's talk about this book!

Mrs. Cox
Read On >>>

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Selection Series

Cass, Kiera. 2012. THE SELECTION. New York: HarperTeen.
Cass, Kiera. 2013. THE ELITE. New York: HarperTeen.
Cass, Kiera. 2014. THE ONE. New York: HarperTeen.

I had my doubts before I started this book. I thought it sounded like The Hunger Games meets the reality television show The Bachelor. 

Set sometime in the future in a politically rearranged North America, The Selection follows the story of America Singer. A caste system has been established in the society - people are born into a certain group or level and can only move up by marrying and paying a hefty fine. America is a Five, which is a caste of artists and creative people. She's in love with Aspen, a Six. Sixes are servants and workers. They meet in secret in America's treehouse. 

America's mother wants her to apply for the Selection. Thirty-five girls from across the nation will be chosen from the pool of applicants to move to the palace and compete for Prince Maxon's hand in marriage. Even if they are not chosen by the prince, they are moved up a caste and their families will receive money in their absence. Aspen also encourages America to apply, so she does.

America plans a special date night with an elaborate meal for Aspen. Aspen feels that he cannot provide America with the life she deserves because he comes from a lower caste. Soon after, America applies and is shocked when she hears her name and sees her face on the TV announcement of the selected girls. With her broken heart, America decides to go forward with the selection - what does she have to lose?

The palace is larger and more opulent than anything America has ever seen. Some of the other selected girls are friendly; some are from higher castes and look down on America because she's a Five.

Soon she meets Prince Maxon and is surprised that he's honest and funny and they soon strike up a friendship. While she is still heartbroken over losing Aspen, Maxon agrees to give her some time at the palace to get over the breakup. However, Maxon's feelings for America grow stronger, and America begins to feel the same way about him.

The best way I can describe reading this series was that it was a total guilty pleasure. Once I got about halfway through the first book, I was completely hooked. The books are a bit melodramatic, but I was there with America, cheering her on, shaking my head at some of her impulsive decisions, and trying to figure out which boy I liked better myself - Aspen or Maxon. Once I finished the first book I immediately went out to the shelf and grabbed the second one, The Elite. I finished it quickly and then grabbed The One. Along the way the plot reveals more about the political history and rebels who are trying to overthrow the King, Queen, and Prince.  There are many twists and turns, but the ending is one I was happy with.

Like I said earlier, this series isn't one of the best books I've ever read, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Of course, girls will be much more likely to read this series than boys. I was a little sad when the books were over, but Ms. Cass has written a new one, The Heir, to be released in May 2015!

Until next time,
Mrs. Cox
Read On >>>
Header Background Designed by Freepik