Monday, December 31, 2012


Author: Jerry Spinelli
Pages: 186
Rating: G

Summary: Stargirl. From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.

Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.

My Thoughts: I know this book is supposed to be on the middle school literary must-read list or something, but this is actually my first time ever reading it. It's definitely a good one. Stargirl is just something else. She's indescribable. A little kooky, but she seems to care so much about other people, no matter who they are. The whole book is just a lesson in being yourself, no matter what other people think, and that caring about other people is more important than being popular. The book has a really good message, and could probably start good discussions with middle school aged or even a little younger kids. 

In the back of the book there was a preview for the sequel, "Love, Stargirl" which I totally want to read now, and I'll post the review when I do!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Berlin Boxing Club

Author: Robert Sharenow
Pages: 400
Rating: PG - a few bad words, mild violence

Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew; after all, he's never even been in a synagogue. But the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin don't care that Karl's family doesn't practice religion. Demoralized by their attacks against a heritage he doesn't accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth.
Then Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German hero, makes a deal with Karl's father to give Karl boxing lessons. A skilled cartoonist, Karl never had an interest in boxing, but now it seems like the perfect chance to reinvent himself.
But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: family protector. And as Max's fame forces him to associate with Nazi elites, Karl begins to wonder where his hero's sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his boxing dreams with his obligation to keep his family out of harm's way?
My Thoughts: I happen to love novels about Nazi Germany. I think the entire period is just completely facsinating. I love the different tilt to this novel, with Karl being someone who not only doesn't practice any religion, he doesn't even look like the stereotypical Jew. He feels like he shouldn't have to suffer through all the difficulties of his time, because he doesn't consider himself Jewish. Boxing is the way he feels he will prove himself to the world.

This is a really great novel, mixing the world of sports and one of the most difficult historical periods in history. I would recommend it to anyone, even if you're not interested in boxing. You don't have to be to enjoy this novel of a young boy just trying to prove his worth and understand the confusing world around him.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Jars

Author: Jason Wright
Pages: 149
Rating: G

Where had it come from? Whose money was it? Was I to spend it? Save it? Pass it on to the someone more needy? Above all else, why was I chosen? Certainly there were others, countless others more needy than I...Her reporter’s intuition insisted that a remarkable story was on the verge of the front page.
Rising newspaper reporter Hope Jensen uncovers the secret behind the "Christmas Jars" – glass jars filled with coins and bills anonymously given to people in need. But Hope discovers much more than she bargained for when some unexpected news sets off a chain reaction of kindness and brings above a Christmas Eve wish come true.

My Thoughts: This is  a very short, quick and easy read, but so sweet and awesome. If you have not read it before, it should definitely be a part of your holiday collection. It really encompasses the spirit of Christmas and of giving to others. I read it one Christmas Eve with my family. We just passed the book around the family and read a little until we were finished. If you're an emotional kind of person, you might cry. It has such a sweet ending. You'll love it. =)

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature

Author: Robin Brande
Pages: 265
Rating: PG - mild language

Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you.

All because you did the right thing.

Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She's been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her—not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner in science class, who's pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth.

And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine . . . and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.

My Thoughts: I absolutely love this book. I read it for the first time in high school and it helped me actually change my opinions about evolution.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Basically, Mena starts off her high school career with everyone hating her because in middle school, there was a kid in her school named Denny who may or may not have been gay, and Mena's pastor starts this campaign to root out homosexuality in their schools. The kids from Mena's church group are extremely mean to Denny, with one girl even dropping to her knees in front of him in the hallways to loudly pray for his soul. This kind of treatment drives Denny to attempt suicide. Mena feels so bad about it that she writes him a letter explaining everything and apologizing for her involvement. Well, Denny's parents then sue the church and all the families involved in the torment, and Mena gets the blame for it, and is kicked out of her church. Her parents are mad at her because they hold the insurance policies for all these church members, and the policies don't cover this type of lawsuit, causing the other church members to want to sue Mena's parents. It's all just a big huge mess.

So, Mena starts high school as a total outcast, and when her former church peers begin a campaign to stop the teaching of evolution in their school, Mena somehow finds herself on the other side of the conflict. My favorite part about Mena is that even though she realizes that her former friends and pastor are total hypocrites when it comes to religion, she doesn't let that ruin her personal belief in God. She still believes in Him, she loves to read her Bible, and genuinely misses going to church. But she knows that what her former friends and pastor are doing is wrong and un-Christian.

Mena's own beliefs change a little too. She realizes that it is possible to be a scientist and still be a good Christian. You can believe in evolution AND God. Because who knows HOW God actually created everything. He probably used evolution! Anyway, I just really love this book because of how it manages to combine science and religion in a way that makes sense and doesn't hurt anyone's feelings. It's super good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Pages: 326
Rating: PG-13+ (for some language, and sexual references. No graphic sex scenes, but there are still a few references to characters "making love" with some vague descriptions. Also, Oskar informs the reader what he knows about sex from looking it up on the internet.)

Summary:Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

My Thoughts: So I read this book and then watched the movie. Personally, this book was not life-changing. It was interesting and definitely moving in a way, but I didn't feel like anything was really resolved at the end, or even that Oskar had healed in any way. I felt like the movie did a much better job of providing closure and healing in the end than the book did.

However, if you've only seen the movie, the book has the whole entire side story involving the Grandmother and Grandfather, who are much bigger characters in the book, and you get to hear their entire, sad story. Which really doesn't have much to do with Oskar, but it's interesting nonetheless.

I think the point of the whole book was for Oskar to realize that he is not the only person in the world who has suffered some sort of loss or sadness in his life. All of the people he come into contact with have dealt with a trial or tragedy of their own. We all just do the best we can to get through it, and if we can help other people out along the way, even better.

It also points out the senselessness of violence in the world. There's a part where Oskar plays for his class at school an interview with a Japanese person who survived the atom bomb. The horror she describes is just gut-wrenchingly awful, and there's almost a question of why do these things happen? But now that we can't change them, what do we do about it in the future? How do we go about living our lives without being scared of everything, like Oskar is?

In the end, I felt like I had to dig a little to get some meaning out of the book, but I think it was still worth reading. If you've seen the movie and were happy with it, then I don't think the book is necessary. But if you're interested in the grandparents' stories, then you need to read the book. It's quite the story.