Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

It's not like I meant for him to get hurt. . . .

Julian Twerski isn't a bully. He's just made a big mistake. So when he returns to school after a weeklong suspension, his English teacher offers him a deal: if he keeps a journal and writes about the terrible incident that got him and his friends suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian jumps at the chance. And so begins his account of life in sixth grade--blowing up homemade fireworks, writing a love letter for his best friend (with disastrous results), and worrying whether he's still the fastest kid in school. Lurking in the background, though, is the one story he can't bring himself to tell, the one story his teacher most wants to hear.


I really enjoyed this YA novel. I found the main character’s narrative to be quite entertaining. I often found myself smiling and/or laughing at the antics recalled by the narrator throughout the story. I like that the story was written in diary form. It's not often that male characters keep a diary (albeit, our protagonist was forced to in this case), and I enjoyed the different perspective. The narrative encompasses all the hallmarks of adolescence: Pranks, fights, crushes, competition, poor judgement, and lessons learned. I think it makes a great addition to any YA library and I will certainly be recommending it to my students in the future.


See Me by Nicholas Sparks

Colin Hancock is giving his second chance his best shot. With a history of violence and bad decisions behind him and the threat of prison dogging his every step, he's determined to walk a straight line. To Colin, that means applying himself single-mindedly toward his teaching degree and avoiding everything that proved destructive in his earlier life. Reminding himself daily of his hard-earned lessons, the last thing he is looking for is a serious relationship.

Maria Sanchez, the hardworking daughter of Mexican immigrants, is the picture of conventional success. With a degree from Duke Law School and a job at a prestigious firm in Wilmington, she is a dark-haired beauty with a seemingly flawless professional track record. And yet Maria has a traumatic history of her own, one that compelled her to return to her hometown and left her questioning so much of what she once believed.

A chance encounter on a rain-swept road will alter the course of both Colin and Maria's lives, challenging deeply held assumptions about each other and ultimately, themselves. As love unexpectedly takes hold between them, they dare to envision what a future together could possibly look like . . . until menacing reminders of events in Maria's past begin to surface.

As a series of threatening incidents wreaks chaos in Maria's life, Maria and Colin will be tested in increasingly terrifying ways. Will demons from their past destroy the tenuous relationship they've begun to build, or will their love protect them, even in the darkest hour?

Rich in emotion and fueled with suspense, SEE ME reminds us that love is sometimes forged in the crises that threaten to shatter us . . . and that those who see us for who we truly are may not always be the ones easiest to recognize.


Oh, N Sparks. How I love your romances. It’s been awhile since I have read one of Sparks’s books. I love his books because I don’t have to think about them. The plots tend to be predictable, but there is something reassuring about that. I often bring his books to the beach or read them after a particularly taxing book. They are like that comfortable sweater you throw on when you’re lounging around the house on a rainy day. They are just feel good stories.

I really liked See Me. I had the plot figured out about halfway through, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. See Me is a bit of a departure from Sparks's usual romances. It was more of a combination romance/mystery, which added suspense and kept the story interesting. I think this one might be one of my favorites from N Sparks, definitely up at the top of the list. Highly recommend it.


As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

At the heart of this 1930 novel is the Bundren family's bizarre journey to Jefferson to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Faulkner lets each family member, including Addie, and others along the way tell their private responses to Addie's life.


I know as a self-professed “book nerd” I am supposed to love this book. I mean, it’s written by William Faulkner, one of the greatest American writers. Of course I should love it, right? Right? Unfortunately, I cannot say that I do. I didn’t hate the novel, but I didn’t love it either. I found the basic plot horrifying. This family spends the entire book trying to bury the recently deceased Addie, which takes days upon days to accomplish. The corpse is almost lost in a river, almost burned in a barn fire, and is delayed so much that the sink is undeniable by anyone who passes near it. While I get that Addie’s family was trying to fulfill her dying wish, at some point enough is enough.

I did like how Faulkner continually changed perspective throughout the novel. Each of his characters is unique and had their own parallel story, each I assume represents a way of living or dying. The language takes some getting used to, as he employes a heavy Southern dialect. This book is very “Southern,” not just because of it’s setting, but also because of its religious connotations and ideas of “proper” behavior. This naturally leads to rampant hypocrisy, all done covertly, of course. Nevertheless, the story is at times confusing. Some events lack context, at times the thoughts of characters are jumbled or refer to things that happened but not explained, and I was often left with the feeling that I missed something. I don’t mind having to think about a narrative while I read it. I guess I just prefer to think about it because it is thought provoking, not because I’m trying to put a puzzle together that is clearly missing a few pieces.

While I feel that Faulkner’s writing has merit, it’s just not my cup of tea. Like I said, in the end I am indifferent to this book. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it either. I think this novel falls quite nicely into the “to each their own” category. Some people will love it, others will not. You will need to decide for yourself which side you fall on.


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behavior through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.


I honestly don't know what to make of this one. It is a very interesting story, which can be read very differently depending entirely on how old you are when you read it. Seen through the eyes of a child, the story is full of wonder and adventure. It is warning to young adults to hold on to that "child-like wonder" and creativity. There is also an element of sadness as the adults in the book seem to have lost any sense of curiosity, focused only on their mundane "adult" tasks.

When the story is considered in light of Saint-Exupéry's life, it certainly appears autobiographical. A young boy flies off to have an adventure, only to lose his innocence along the way. He knows that he can never return to the life he has...perhaps he even dies? Not far from the author who dreamed of being a pilot and adventure, only to experience an end to innocence at the hands of war.

I feel like this is a book that I will have to read several more times before I can formulate a more concrete opinion.

2015 Reading Challenge: A book that was originally written in a different language


Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps.

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.

It's something no one could imagine surviving.

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner -- his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will -- and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?

Based on an astonishing true story.


Each chapter in this narrative represents a different concentration camp that the main character, Yanek, is sent to. In terms of providing a broad view of the various different horrors the Jewish people were subjected to at the hands of the Nazis, this book certainly does a good job, but I found it to be very surface level. 

Yanek experienced and witnessed numerous horrors, lost friends and family, and struggled to hold onto hope. The book does not shy away from the gory details, but I didn't find it to be overly graphic. The biggest issue I had with the narrative is that the story felt very rushed. Because it was trying to cover so much ground, each camp was reduced to a short chapter, which didn't allow for some of the elaborating details I would have liked. I suppose the rushed feeling did add some suspense to the narrative, but I felt it was more of a hindrance to the story than a benefit.

Nonetheless, I did like the book enough to include it in future book circles to supplement our unit on identify when we read books like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Hana's Suitcase.  


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.


This was a very surprising and powerful novel. It is a unique novel because it is about the Holocaust and told from the perspective of a German boy, whose father is a top ranking Nazi official. The character of Bruno as been criticized for being "too innocent," but I disagree. First, he's a young boy who loves his father. Of course, he is innocent and naive. He lived a sheltered life, and because of this when he encounters unpleasant things or things he doesn't understand, it is natural that he dismissed them.

However, it is also this same innocence that allows him to recognize that there is something not quite right about what his father does, as well as befriend a Jewish boy trapped in a concentration camp. His innocence allows him to see beyond the differences to the similarities they both share and want to help his friend.

The ending was the most surprising and powerful part of the story. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't give anymore details. I do feel that this is a great book to give to young readers to start the conversation about the Holocaust. The story generates many questions and Bruno is relatable enough to appeal to young readers. I was blown away by this novel and it left a lasting impression on me. It is an impressive and touching piece of literature.


The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

For years Helen Knightly has given her life to others: to her haunted mother, to her enigmatic father, to her husband and grown children. When she finally crosses a terrible boundary, her life comes rushing in at her in a way she never could have imagined.

Unfolding over the next twenty-four hours, this searing, fast-paced audiobook explores the complex ties between mothers and daughters, wives and lovers, the meaning of devotion, and the line between love and hate. It is a challenging, moving, gripping story, written with the fluidity and strength of voice that only Alice Sebold has.


Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Alice Sebold. I loved The Lovely Bones, but there is not much good I can say about this book. The main character, Helen Knightly, is one of the least sympathetic characters I have ever met between the pages of a book. I wanted to feel bad for her. She had great potential for sympathy. Her childhood, her father's death, her mother's slow decay, should have all inspired feelings of compassion, but her actions and the motivations behind them had the complete opposite effect. The plot was insipid and the ending was abrupt and incomplete. I didn't like this one at all.


Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine

In 2000, a suitcase arrived at a children's Holocaust education center in Tokyo, Japan, marked "Hana Brady, May 16, 1931." The center's curator searches for clues to young Hana and her family, whose happy life in a small Czech town was turned upside down by the invasion of the Nazis.


My fellow English teachers and I decided to read this book as a companion novel to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as part of our narrative nonfiction/identity unit. Our students responded well to this book, especially since it has a detective novel element to it. The book has two parallel timelines - Hana's story and Fumiko's (curator of the museum in Japan) quest to find out who Hana is and what happened to her. 

It is a quick read and has lots of photographs, which helps bring the story to life. I liked the back and forth between the different timelines. It added a level of suspense which drove the story forward and kept it interesting. Hana's story also provides another perspective to help students better understand the Holocaust, and generated some really great discussions with my students who made connections to current events. While I love Anne Frank's diary, I believe that Hana's Suitcase is an excellent addition to any school/classroom library.