Tag Archives: growing up

Together at Midnight (Jennifer Castle)

26 Apr

I love stories about the end of the year, which is really what drew me to this one to begin with.  Add to that the premise of practising random acts of kindness, and I was sold!  Together at Midnight is a sweet story about finding yourself while being kind to others.

 

Together at Midnight

Squinklethoughts

1.  I started reading Together at Midnight way past midnight, and I was already on page 81 by the time I realized an hour had passed.  I had meant to just start the book to get a feel for it, but the first few chapters flew by really quickly.  If you like fast-paced stories and short chapters, you’ll love this.

2.  Kendall and Max are equally strong and compelling narrators.  It was great to read the story through their distinct voices.  Kendall is a very lovely flawed character.  She’s just spent a semester abroad in a school program that takes kids across various European countries.  For her, it was the perfect way to earn credits while undergoing teaching and learning styles that she could handle.  As the youngest and only girl in the family, Kendall has had supportive parents and siblings throughout her life, but there are some struggles she has to face alone.  Kendall is a great protagonist for anyone who’s ever felt just behind every one else – grasping academic concepts a little slower, or enjoying social milestones a little later.  She’s friendly and brave and optimistic, which makes it easy for other characters to like her, even if she can be hard on herself, but she really just needs time to grow.

3.  I was rooting for Max all the way.  He seems like the ultimate gentleman when it comes to his treatment of both Eliza, his erstwhile girlfriend, and Kendall.  He’s also a caring person, as evidenced by his relationship with his curmudgeon of a grandpa, Big E.  But what I like about Max best are his flaws.  Sometimes he cares a little too much, and that turns him into a helicopter parent, or – worse – he derails his life to help someone, even if he’s not asked to do so.  He actually reminds me a lot of Ted Mosby, architect.  He is inherently kind and obviously smart to have been accepted to Brown, but he, too, needs a little growing up.

4.  The adventures in this book take place during that fuzzy week between Christmas and New Year’s when you don’t know what day it is, but you’re thankful it’s still the holidays.  I love that.  I also love Castle’s decision to set this story in New York City, in and around the hustle and bustle of Times Square, a beating heart of a metropolis if there ever were one.  So many different cafés to try out, so many different people to observe.  I’ve been to NYC a handful of times now, and it’s so easy to see why Kendall and Max’s challenge works well here – and why the city itself helps the two of them evolve.

5.  I’m often wary about multiple narrators within a story, but Castle’s choice makes perfect sense.  In fact, knowing the thoughts of the people that Kendall and Max encounter adds a wonderful depth to the story for the readers.  It’s like a very satisfying instance of dramatic irony, especially when the two protagonists aren’t sure if they’ve helped or hindered their targets.  We, the audience, know the consequences of their actions, and it makes our journey so much better.

6.  There are so many quotable quips throughout the book that would look great on posters.  In particular, I loved:

It’s possible to have no regrets but also wish everything were different.

Every minute of being with [him] took effort, and not that I have anything against effort, but when you experience a different way of being with a person, stuff begins to make sense.

Together at Midnight 2

 

7.  Teachers/parents, Together at Midnight is a nice addition to your libraries.  There are a few discussion points that would be more appropriate for senior-level students, but nothing too earth shattering.  What your YA readers will take from this story is what I did: It’s entirely possible to be a wonderful human being even if you’re far from perfect.  Also: random acts of kindness can go a long way even if you can’t see their effects.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Jennifer Castle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Tumblr | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Harper Collins Canada, for sending me a copy of Together at Midnight in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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Student Review: Posted (John David Anderson)

19 Dec

Posted is an exciting story about a male character named Frost who struggles to find his identity and solve the problems going on with his friends.

 

Posted

 

Frost wants to be the glue to keep his old and new friends together as one group instead of being five friends who fall apart.  But, when one person joins the group, another leaves, and when they try to fix this problem, it just gets worse.  Most of the sticky notes being passed around are full of humour and honesty, but some have very mean comments, and in the end, nothing will ever be the same with the kids at Branton Middle School.

This book has a lot of realistic drama with friends and family that is typical in middle school.  I like how this book is relatable because of those problems and the choices the main character makes.  I also like that there are different scenes in this book that I wouldn’t expect.  For example, a new girl comes in and another girl gets suspended.  I was very intrigued by the fact that there is a connection between the events, but I didn’t see it coming.

The characters were my favourite part of the story.  The author created unique ones that I don’t read about in other stories.  For example, there is a rich kid who doesn’t actually like doing what rich people do.  That’s interesting for me.

I wish this book had more details given about the adventures.  There are many fun adventures, but there are some parts that didn’t feel too real.  I don’t know that I would have enough energy to go up and down a deadly mountain like the kids do in the story.

I think I’d recommend this book for kids aged 8 to 12.  If they like friendship stories, diaries, and adventures, they’ll like this one.

This book has an awesome start and a touching ending.  I’m really glad I read it.

Hannah B., grade 6

Isabella for Real (Margie Palatini)

17 Mar

I bet we’ve all wondered how our lives would change if we were all of a sudden famous, right?  Squinks, here’s a great story about a little girl named Isabella who suddenly finds fame … and finds out that it’s not quite what she expected it to be.

 

Isabella for Real   

1.  I don’t know that I’ve ever truly wanted to be famous.  As the eldest child, I know what it’s like to have siblings watching and copying my every move, so I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed being in the limelight much.  One of the biggest reasons I liked Isabella for Real is that Isabella’s expectations of fame change very quickly once she finds it.  I know she doesn’t really ask to be famous, but I loved the struggle she has with figuring it all out.

2.  My family is pretty kooky, so I completely enjoyed meeting all of Isabella’s eccentric relatives.  Plus, they keep her grounded, which is what all good families should do, so I’m glad she can count on them (even if they are sometimes  sources of potential embarrassment).

3.  I first fell in love with LeUyen Pham’s illustration when I read the Alvin Ho stories.  The drawings are just wonderful, and the comic strips in this story really propel it along.  To be honest, I wonder why the entire story wasn’t written in comic strips.

4.  I like epistolary novels and diary stories.  There’s something about the first-person perspective that just works with certain books, and this is one of them.  I like that Isabella for Real combines movie storyboards, comic strips, diary entries, and traditional narrative.  That’s kind of how my mind is.

5.  I’m glad that this book tackles the highs and lows of social media.  Smart phones and social apps weren’t really around in my day (dinosaur times, I know), so the problems that arise from them have only begun to find their way into MG and YA stories.  For this reason alone, I think Isabella for Real would be valuable in any elementary library or classroom.  (And for when the kids are older: Sophie Kinsella has a very funny take on Instagram in her novel My Not-So-Perfect Life.)

 

4 Squinkles

 

Margie Palatini’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Chapters

 

Thank you, Raincoast Books, for sending me a copy of
Isabella for Real in exchange for an honest review.

All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Words that Start with B (Vikki VanSickle)

23 Mar

Words that Start with B 

Last summer, my middle-graders and I spent the better portion of our classes exploring the world of Clarissa and Benji in Words that Start with B, Love Is a Four-Letter Word, and Days that End in Y, as well as getting lost in the mystical Northern Ontario resort of Sandy Shores in Summer Days, Starry Nights. It was the perfect way to spend July and August, so let me share with you the wonderful ways that Vikki VanSickle made us laugh and touched our hearts.

After reading all three books, I must say that VanSickle definitely does not shy away from difficult topics. In fact, of all three books, I think Words that Start with B is the one that cements Clarissa as one of the best narrators on my MG shelves. She is thoughtful and thought provoking, a typical seventh-grader though with a clear foot in the door of adulthood. Clarissa has to tackle some monumental problems in this novel—from having a long-awaited dream dashed on the first day of school, to defending her best friend from bullies, to that B word that looms over Clarissa’s head for most of the year. But she overcomes her obstacles … not with the grace and aplomb that some other characters do, but with bumps, bruises, setbacks, and tears—all of which make her so real and admirable a character. You can’t help but feel every bit of emotion that Clarissa feels, which means you’ll have no trouble rooting for her as the climax of the novel approaches. She handles Terry, the school bully, with a finesse that’s all her own, and the fact that she doesn’t think to do anything less to avenge Terry’s victims makes me just a little jealous of Clarissa. I don’t know if I would have the courage to do what she does, though I’d like to think that I’d defend my friends with the same ferocity.

There is one scene, in particular, that I really enjoyed, which doesn’t have anything to do with Clarissa and the bully at all. It’s a moment when Clarissa’s teacher, Mr. Campbell, talks to her after school because of some less-than-admirable behaviour. Rather than telling her mom about what she did, Mr. Campbell does two things: He tries to understand the real reason for Clarissa’s actions, possibly even enlightening Clarissa in the process, and he judges her behaviour in context of her entire character, doling out his punishment accordingly. Too often, teachers punish students without giving much thought to the circumstances around their dishonourable behaviour, but it was great that VanSickle highlights an alternative to that ubiquitous and ominous phone call home through Mr. Campbell’s reaction. Sometimes, the self-induced embarrassment of knowing that your teacher has forgiven you for that really senseless thing you did out of anger is more than enough to prevent future delinquencies. This scene really stuck with me, and I’m so thankful to VanSickle for having written it.

For those of you who haven’t read Words that Start with B, I highly recommend it. You’ll fall in love with Clarissa as much as our class did, and you’ll wish you had a friend just like her. Stay tuned to find out our thoughts about the sequel, Love Is a Four-Letter Word.

Have you read this first book in Clarissa and Benji’s adventures? What did you think?

 

4 Squinkles

 

Vikki VanSickle’s Online Corners

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Chapters

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