I Was Told It Would Get Easier

I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman

A road trip with nine other Los Angeles area families to visit East Coast colleges could be a perfect chance for mother-daughter bonding for Jessica and Emily. Busy lawyer Jessica spends so much time taking calls and texts for work that she misses a whole day of the tour. 16-year-old Emily is worried about a scandal at her private high school, and has no clue where she’d like to attend college or what she wants to study. A couple of joint sessions with a college counselor might have made the whole trip unnecessary, but then the reader would miss out on a very funny and heartwarming mother-daughter relationship. Emily is the most interesting character, but visits with her mother’s college friends reveal more of Jessica’s personality. There’s also cute, geeky Will and his attractive father to make their free time in Philadelphia, New York City, and Rhinebeck, New York even more appealing. This witty novel is sure to appeal to readers of Waxman’s novels The Garden of Small Beginnings and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.

Brenda

Light Changes Everything

Light Changes Everything by Nancy E. Turner

Readers of Turner’s historical novels These Is My Words and Sarah’s Quilt will be eager to read about Sarah’s niece, Mary Pearl Prine. Mary is 17 in 1907 and lives on her family’s pecan farm in Arizona Territory. She loves to read and draw, and is invited to study art at Wheaton College in Illinois. May’s mother would rather see her get married, and Mary does have a likely suitor. Family life on the frontier contrasts strongly with life at Wheaton College, where society girls care more about parties and dresses than studying. Mary, with her horse and pistol, doesn’t exactly fit in. She discovers a talent for photography, and a photograph of lightning becomes especially valuable to her family. A personal crisis sends Mary home straight into a ranger war, with her younger brothers in grave danger. Full of drama and adventure, Mary’s coming-of-age story is a memorable, compelling read.

Brenda

 

Haben

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma

This is a compelling memoir of a young black woman learning to advocate for her needs as she grows up. Haben is the daughter of Eritrean immigrants, where her grandmother still lives. She was born deafblind, with some vision and hearing, but both are getting worse. She frequently felt left out in group settings, and learning to connect well with others is a challenge she took on. With occasional humor, Haben’s triumphs and setbacks include sliding down an Alaskan glacier, struggling to train with seeing-eye dog Maxine, learning to dance, and finding out what food was being served in her college cafeteria. Her parents’ protectiveness, while understandable, occasionally felt stifling, especially when she wanted to travel with a student group. At Harvard Haben uses a text-to-braille system and becomes an accomplished public speaker and advocate for disability rights. Clearly and elegantly written, this refreshing and uplifting memoir is highly recommended.

Brenda

Scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Most people in this future utopian society are content, but are their lives still meaningful? Death and old age are now reversible conditions, except for those gleaned by an order of scythes. Feared and celebrated, scythes can grant a year of immunity. Teens Citra and Rowan are selected to be apprentices to Scythe Faraday, but only one will be chosen to be a scythe. This is a unique, astounding blend of philosophy and high-octane adventure. First in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, this book is deservedly popular with teens and adults. The sequels are Thunderhead and The Toll.
Brenda

Novice Dragoneer

Novice Dragoneer by E.E. Knight

Ileth, 14, camps out on the doorstep of the Serpentine, persisting in her request to be a novice. Ileth is stubborn, resourceful, loyal, often in trouble, and content with very little. Orphaned Ileth, who stutters, met a dragon and his rider when she was 7 and dreamed of a different life. Finally, Ileth takes the novice oath and gets the worst job, cleaning fish for the dragons. Later she learns to dance for the dragons, and gets some unexpected flight time. In her world, there seems to be no magic other than the flying dragons, who can be noble, greedy, or grouchy, and are not always loyal. She reminds me of Keladry in First Test, by Tamora Pierce, who wants to be only the second lady knight in Tortall, or Keevan in “The Smallest Dragonboy” in A Gift of Dragons by Anne McCaffrey, who can only dream of being a dragonrider. I was fascinated to learn that the author studied ballet in doing research for this book, and why he chose to give Ileth a stutter. I look forward to finding out what’s next for Ileth in the hoped for sequel in the Dragoneer Academy series, which is off to a memorable start in this compelling read.

Brenda

 

This Tender Land

This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

The author of Ordinary Grace sets this adventure novel with echoes of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey in 1932 Minnesota and Missouri. Four kids head south in a canoe, fleeing loss and harsh treatment at the Lincoln Indian Training School. Odie and his older brother Albert are orphans heading to a barely remembered aunt in St. Louis, while young Emmy clings to Sioux teen Mose after she’s lost everything in a tornado. Mose is mute, and the group share an often secret sign language. They meet a healer with a revival tent show, a madam, traveling families and vagabonds, and find temporary haven in a soup kitchen and friendship in a Hoover town. Odie is a storyteller, Albert can fix most mechanical equipment, Mose goes on a vision quest, and young Emmy reminds an eccentric farmer of his missing daughter. Poignant and lyrically written, this story of an unlikely family on an epic journey has moments of conflict balanced with simple joys, unpredictable adventures, and the possibility of danger around every river bend. This remarkable character-driven novel is a compelling read.

Brenda

Dear Edward

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

What does it mean to start over at age twelve, having lost everything important, but suddenly famous? Eddie Adler is flying from New York City to Los Angeles with his older brother Jordan and his parents. His mother is in first class, working on a television script. Their flight is doomed, and Eddie will be the only survivor. The stories of several passengers and a flight attendant alternate with Eddie’s recovery. Eddie, now Edward, struggles with the burden of being the sole survivor. He lives with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey and is befriended by next-door neighbor Shay. What finally gives Edward a purpose is a cache of letters Shay and Edward find hidden in the garage, written to him by the families and friends of the other passengers. Although it’s hard to put down, this is not a thriller but rather a moving and melancholy coming-of-age story written with compassion, insight, and a glimmer of hope.
Brenda

Eastern Horizons

Eastern Horizons: Hitchhiking the Silk Road by Levison Wood

Adventure travel writer Levison Wood describes one of his first long journeys, backpacking from France to India at age 22. Some of the countries are described in more detail than others, beginning with Estonia and ending with Pakistan, but overall this is an engaging read. On a shoestring budget, Wood is trying to retrace the 1839 Silk Road journey of Arthur Connolly. Usually staying in a hostel or dorm, occasionally sleeping outside, Wood has adventures and gets his eyes opened by the different cultures and people he encounters, often finding warm hospitality. There are also exciting bus rides, anxious border crossings, and more vodka than he’d like. With dark hair, a tan, and a new beard, Wood could blend in more than the usual British traveler, though he still struggled to find his way. His newest book is An Arabian Journey; my favorite is Walking the Himalayas. Enjoy!

Brenda

Of Blood and Bone

Of Blood and Bone by Nora Roberts

This second novel in the postapocalyptic paranormal trilogy Chronicles of the One has a great sense of place and compelling characters. As this is not realistic fiction, there are a few things readers need to accept: fairies, shape shifters, a chosen one, and fuel lasting over a decade. After a pandemic almost wiped out civilization in Year One, Lana Swift learned that her baby will be The One. Fallon Swift, now 13, will spend two years training with mentor Mallick in magic, fighting skills, and leadership while completing three magical challenges. Along with Duncan and Tonia, twin teens from the appealing community of Good Hope, Fallon and her family begin the shift from survival to rebuilding. This fast-paced novel is a good readalike for the postapocalyptic Change series by S.M. Stirling, beginning with Dies the Fire, especially for its thoughtful take on how new communities grow after a disaster.
Brenda

Washington Black

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

A remarkable book to savor, about the remarkable journeys made by young Washington, from boyhood on a sugar plantation in Barbados, fleeing by airship and boat to Virginia then following a scientist to the Canadian Arctic. A young slave born in 1830 who doesn’t know his mother’s name, Wash is loaned to his master’s brother Christopher, a scientist building an airship. Pursued by a bounty hunter to the United States, Wash becomes a gifted illustrator and develops a fascination for marine life. Wondering why he was chosen and abandoned propels loyal, curious Wash from the Canadian Artic to Nova Scotia and eventually to London, Amsterdam, and a desert to find his answers. Compelling but not a fast read, character-driven but with a wonderful sense of place, this award-winning novel is one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.

Brenda