Tag Archives: young adult fiction

The Hired Girl


Title:  The Hired Girl
Author:  Laura Amy Schlitz
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-0-7636-7818-0

Book Summary:
When fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs’ mother dies, Joan must leave school and remain at home to tend to the house and farm for her brothers and father in Pennsylvania.  Devastated at leaving her beloved teacher Miss Chandler and Miss Chandler’s library of books, Joan finds some comfort in the beautiful journal that Miss Chandler gives to her.  Joan promises to write in her journal “with truth and refinement.”  Thus begins her journal in the summer in 1911.

Unfortunately, truth and refinement are challenging to find when she is cleaning the house, cooking the meals, and tending the farm; her brothers and father view her as servant more than a daughter and scoff at her interest in books and learning.  Joan dreams of being a hired girl; where she might wear clean clothing, earn six dollars a week, be able to purchase books of her own, and have a future far away from the monotony and servitude of her current situation.

When her father frightens off Miss Chandler who has come to visit, Joan chooses to strike in an effort to earn some small amount of money for herself.  This exercise proves disastrous and when Joan’s father does the unthinkable, she has no choice but to run.

Life in Philadelphia is a far cry from the muck and dirt of the farm, but there are still dangers.  Through a somewhat comic but heart-wrenching ordeal, Joan is able to find a place in the home of a Jewish family.  Although her own faith is Catholic, Joan strives to find her way in the world and become the woman her mother had always hoped she would be.

Book Commentary:
What a magnificent story!  Author Laura Amy Schlitz won a Newbery Medal for her book Good Master! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, which is also fantastic.  The details about Jewish life in the early 20th century add so much depth to the story and contrasts with Joan’s innocent look at her own faith.  The lessons and acceptance that she learns resonate in our own current society.  But religion and faith are just a small part of this story.  Through the details about early 20th century life and beliefs told from a young girl’s perspective, the reader truly gets a sense of her growing up and facing both the joys and heartaches of life.

The author was inspired to write this book by her own grandmother’s journal and the reader can see it is a labor of love.  The novel is written in journal form, but with more structure and depth than is sometimes seen in modern journal writing.

The other fascinating part of the book is that each major section of the journal has a coversheet with a work of art and the title of the artwork is the title of the chapter.  I think this would be a fascinating novel to teach and to meld the story with the history of the time period and an analysis of the artwork.  What a great writing assignment for students to choose a piece of art that represents a time in their own lives.

Who might like this book:
Although technically a young adult book, this novel really can be appreciated at all ages.  I think it would be a wonderful book to use in a book group with members of different backgrounds.  Followers of the Jewish faith and followers of the Catholic faith could reflect on the prejudices, stereotypes, and commonalities of the two religions.  Grandmothers and granddaughters could discuss how different and similar the hardships and dreams are of both the past and present.

A wonderful, entertaining, and inspiring read!



Title:  Uninvited (Homicidal Tendency Book 1)
Author:  Sophie Jordan
Publisher:  Harper Teen
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-0-06-223364-6

Book Summary:
Senior Davy Hamilton seems to have an ideal life – she is attractive and funny and smart, she is dating the extremely desirable rugby player Zac at the elite Everton Academy, and she has been accepted to Julliard in the fall.  When she gets a call to come home immediately, her brother Mitchell first comes to her mind.  Mitchell is a classic example of a troublemaker; he has had issues at school, in jobs, and in life, and if anyone is going to be a problem, it is Mitchell.  However, when she arrives home, Mr. Pollock is there with her parents, and it isn’t Mitchell he is after, it is Davy.

In 2021 in an effort to eradicate the world of violence toward other persons, the Surgeon General has created a blood test to determine who carries HTS.  Studies have shown that carriers of Homicidal Tendency Syndrome have a clear correlation with extreme violent behavior.  All HTS carriers are required by law to be registered and monitored; their interaction with normal citizens is highly limited and regulated.  And, Davy carries the gene.

In 24 hours, she is processed and sent to the public high school.  At Keller, she must wear a neon-orange tag that identifies her carrier status.  She is placed in a room referred to as “The Cage” with five other HTS carriers and must do all her schoolwork independently.  All movement in and out of the room is monitored by Mr. Brockman, a glorified babysitter.  Davy quickly discovers that there are no rules in The Cage and it is truly every man for him . . . or her . . . self.  It is in the cage that Davy learns what the “H” tattoo represents; a fellow student named Sean has one imprinted on his neck, proof of his violent past.  However, Sean may be the only one Davy can trust.

When Davy tries to return to her prior life and attends a party with Zac, the results are disastrous and it becomes very evident to Davy that her future will be different from anything she has ever imagined.

Book Commentary:
I attended the Texas Teen Book Festival in Austin and was able to meet and speak with author Sophie Jordan.  I was so intrigued by her discussion of the book that I had to read it.  First let me say that it is a teen book; although I enjoyed the story and the premise, it is written in such a way that will more likely appeal to teens and may not transfer as well to adult readers.  That being said, I did enjoy it enough that I plan to read the next in the series.

In today’s modern culture you can’t turn on the news without hearing about violence done toward others both on an individual and wide-spread scale.  The concept that violence could have genetic manifestations is not a new one but the author has taken the idea and given it political and regulatory implications.  This could really be a fascinating topic to discuss with young adults: do some people have an inherent tendency toward violence and should they be separated from the rest of society?  Then, on the flip side of this discussion, how much of who we are is ruled by thoughts and genetics versus the choices we make.  It harkens back to my most favorite quote from Harry Potter when Dumbledore states that “it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”  The former English teacher in me gets very excited by this kind of potential discussion and how it can be correlated to some great classic novels, such as A Separate Peace, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher in the Rye.  Eeek!!  Makes me wish I was back in the classroom!

Who might like this book:
As I said, the writing style and voice is definitely geared toward young adults and that may not appeal to all adult readers.  What I do think is appealing that this is NOT a dystopian novel; while set just a few years in the future, the basic foundation for the actions in the novel are very believable and quite a bit frightening.  What the author asks the reader to do is to think about our society and where it might be headed; what choices do we have to make a different future?

Book Scavenger

Book Scavenger

Title:  Book Scavenger
Author:  Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Publisher:  Henry Holt
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-62779-115-1

Book Summary:
Twelve-year-old Emily’s family is on a quest to live in 50 houses in 50 states.  Her mother is a blogger and writer and hoping to publish a book about their adventures.  Leaving New Mexico is hard for Emily but the excitement of moving to San Francisco is complimented by the fact that it is the home to Bayside Press, Garrison Griswold, and the home base for the Book Scavenger.

Book Scavenger is an online game where participants write clues that lead to books hidden all over the world.  The game is described as “a community of book lovers, puzzle lovers, and treasure hunters,” and Emily is just a few points away from the Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin level.  Mr. Griswold is about to reveal his newest and most exciting puzzle quest yet but is violently attacked before he can reveal the game.

As someone who has moved often, Emily struggles with friendships but is lucky that James lives just upstairs and loves puzzles as well.  When Emily and James visit the site of the Griswold attack, they find a copy of The Gold-Bug.  They quickly discover that this book isn’t part of the Book Scavengers game but may be a clue to Mr. Griswold’s big announcement.  They are not the only ones in search of The Gold-Bug however, and some of the other interested parties have old grudges and will go to great lengths to solve the puzzle.  Emily and James learn quickly that they cannot trust everyone and they must rely on their own wits and skills and each other as they decipher the clues and race to find the spectacular prize. If they aren’t able to solve the clues quickly, the end result may be something much more sinister.

Book Commentary:
What a completely fun book!!  I actually picked this up for my daughter and became totally engrossed in the story.  What a concept of solving puzzles and finding books!  The game itself is a wonderful creation and the story is just as engaging and exciting.  It reminds me a bit of The Westing Game, The 39 Clues series, and The Red Blazer Girls series; the puzzles help the story to progress and the reader becomes involved in solving the clues.  I only wish the game were real and I could play!

Emily and James are very likeable characters and Emily’s family provides great supporting action.  There is a lot of humor, coupled with the frustrations and trials of life as a middle schooler.

Who might like this book:
Although this is technically a young adult book, I truly think anyone who loves books, mysteries, or puzzle-solving will enjoy this adventure.  It is a well-written and engaging story. There is an obvious appreciation and love of books evident throughout the story.  Emily and James travel all over San Francisco on quite an adventure, but as a native to the city, James is very believable as a tour guide.  There are numerous references to famous landmarks and anyone familiar with the city will enjoy and recognize the sights and locales.

I highly recommend this book.  It would a great read for a middle school classroom and serve as a starting point in the study of codes and puzzles.  I hope the author writes more!

The Penderwicks in Spring (Penderwicks 4)

Title: The Penderwicks in Spring (Penderwicks 4)
Author: Jeanne Birdsall
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 2015
ISBN: 978-0-375-87077-4

Book Summary:
Spring is finally coming and changes are in the air. The family has grown to eight since the birth of now two-year-old Lydia. Rosalind is at college, and Skye and Jane are teenagers dealing with teenage things. Ben is in second grade and trying to survive being the only boy in the family, and Lydia is into, well, everything. But fifth grade Batty takes all this in stride. Sometimes, however, change can be overwhelming and a little scary.

Rosalind is at college but when she comes home for a brief visit, she brings hateful Oliver, whom no one likes. Skye isn’t ready for a relationship with Jeremy, the honorary member of the family and Batty’s music mentor, so she banishes him from visiting the family. Jane is always having noisy and overly dramatic teenagers to the house who talk too loud and take up too much space. When neighbor Nick Geiger comes home from war, everyone is thrilled but the anxiety levels rise when he must return overseas and Ben fears for his safety. Mr. Penderwick and Iantha declare the old van dead and purchase a blindingly bright turquoise minivan. And Batty just can’t seem to torture any of her beloved books by subjecting them to the dreaded book report.

This might have been too much to deal with until a substitute music teacher compliments Batty on her singing and encourages her to take lessons. In addition to her appreciation of classical music, Batty seems to have a gift when it comes to singing. To pay for the lessons herself, Batty starts a dog walking business with Duchess, a fat dachshund, and Cilantro, a wrinkled shar-pei. This is a challenge because her beloved dog Hound passed away six months earlier. She begins to plan a perfect surprise for her upcoming birthday, but even the best surprises can go awry.

Book Commentary:
I fell in love with The Penderwicks series with the first book, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a very Interesting Boy. Seriously, can a title get any better?! The series is truly delightful and magical, and I guarantee you will both laugh and cry. The relationship between the four sisters develops over the course of the novels as new “honorary” and permanent family members are added. This is the kind of family you want to live next door to and secretly wish they were your own.

As one of three girls myself, I can especially appreciate the sisterly bond. I enjoy the use of acronyms like PWTW (Penderwick Willing to Work) and MOPS (Meeting of the Older Penderwick Sisters); the family is full of the secret meetings and pacts that all siblings share. You know, the ones like, “If I ever do that like Mom …” or “If I every date anyone like …” The warmth, humor, and sincerity of this series make it a Secret Garden type book for this generation; it is the kind of book that stay on your shelf and you read it over and over. Reading and rereading The Penderwicks Series is like visiting with old friends.

Who might like this book:
I promise that adults will love this book, as it evokes wonderful memories from childhood. This is also a book to read with your daughters. I loved sharing it with my daughter and following the series with her. However, I don’t want to discount the dads; in the book, the mother died when Batty was very young so the only parent until the third book is the professor father. His witticism and perplexity at raising four daughters only adds to the tenderness of the story. DO NOT start the series with the fourth book. You must read the series in order. I promise, you’ll thank me. Author Jeanne Birdsall promises one final book in the series.

Penderwick books in order:
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a very Interesting Boy
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
The Penderwicks in Spring