The Canning Season by Polly Horvath (YA)

The Canning Season

The Canning Season     

Polly Horvath (Young Adult Fiction)

Thirteen-year old Ratchet Clark (her father wanted to name her Stinko) lives with her mother, Henriette, who dreams of belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club (“Thank God for the Hunt Club” is the mantra in their household).  Henriette works two jobs, sustains the family on Cheerios, and constantly reminds her daughter to cover up That Thing on her shoulder (it is unsightly).  Life moves along at a predictable pace until the day that Henriette sends Ratchet to live with her two great aunts in Maine.  Tilly and Penpen Menuto (DON’T call them the Blueberry Ladies!) are twins, but as different as chalk and cheese.  Tilly is tiny and thin and Penpen is round and jolly, but both are as devoted to canning as they are to one another.  Between blueberries, bears, a one-way phone, an unexpected orphan, and countless stories of a headless mother, Ratchet’s summer will prove to be anything but predictable.

The Canning Season is a delightful, entertaining, and hilarious romp.  Fans of Philip Gulley or Ann B. Ross will find equal enjoyment in the Menuto sisters and their tales of loggers, love, and the lure of the woods.  Some of the language in this book is a bit salty, but is appropriate to the targeted age (13 and older) and shouldn’t shock anyone who watches PG-13 films or hangs out at the local mall.

Throughout the book, we see Henriette placing an unhealthy importance on belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club, which remains an elusive aspiration.  We find out that the club really isn’t as exclusive as first thought and, in reality, is open to anyone wanting to join.  Drawing a nice parallel with Tilly and Penpen’s home, we see that the ominous house on the hill surrounded by bear-infested woods isn’t really what it appears to be either.  It is actually warm, welcoming, and inclusive; all who enter are taken care of and treated with respect, kindness, and love (except Myrtle Trout…Heaven help her).  The Canning Season reminds us that things are not often what they seem and that love is often found in the least likely of places.  Thank God for the Hunt Club, indeed.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

The Decoding of Lana Morris by Laura & Tom McNeal (YA)

It’s Tween and Teen Tuesday where we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book.

The Decoding of Lana Morris.jpg

The Decoding of Lana Morris  

Laura & Tom McNeal (Young Adult Fiction)

If you had one wish…just one…what would it be?

Sixteen-year old Lana Morris lives in a two-storied foster home that she shares with four special needs kids (Snicks for short) and her foster parents, Whit and Veronica.  Lana wishes for a different foster mother; she wishes to fit in with the cool kids; she wishes she didn’t have to live in Snick House; and she wishes she understood her feelings for Whit better.  Lana wishes for a lot of things and soon, after she visits Miss Hekkity’s Oddments & Antiques, she’ll have not just one wish, but 13.

First, I want to focus on the positive aspects of this book, which is the attention the McNeals devote to young people with special needs.  They give us insight into their daily lives and allow us to understand their challenges and individuality.  Too often society judges these amazing people by their outward appearance or behavior alone.  It is also heartwarming to see Lana’s role evolve from disparager to defender as she connects with her housemates and appreciates their uniqueness.

Unfortunately, the negative aspects of this book vastly outweigh the positives.  The McNeals make Veronica excessively cruel and evil for no apparent reason.  Her treatment of Lana is childish, snippy, and incredibly mean-spirited.  The authors provide no insight as to why this kind of person possesses such disdain and disregard for the children in her care.  We find out late in the book that she is unable to have children of her own.  So, are we then to assume that these children are somehow meant to fill a personal void or is she putting her own feelings aside and doing it out of selfless love for Whit?  Surely, she can’t be putting herself and these children through such torment for just a monthly stipend.

Additionally, and more disturbingly, is how the authors portray Whit.  Before Lana gains access to her “wishes”, Whit is a beloved, meek, and kind foster father.  The children adore him and Lana views him as a father (although her affections often overlap between familial and hormonal).  After her visit to Miss Hekkity’s, Whit inexplicably becomes increasingly salacious and lecherous toward Lana.  As a lonely teenage girl in want of a father figure, Lana is naturally drawn to Whit, but Whit’s reciprocation, and even encouragement, of her interest cross a very distinct line which is both disturbing and unsettling.  If the authors merely did this to shock their teen readers with provocative and edgy content, they handedly hit their mark.  What is supposedly a book about a teenage girl desperately trying to find love and acceptance dives abruptly into a world filled with infidelity, child exploitation, abuse, and neglect.

If I had one wish…just one…it would be that the McNeals had stayed a little truer to their book’s proposed purpose.  Unfortunately, the strong and encouraging themes of love, acceptance, and friendship are overshadowed by hate, jealousy, and lust and no amount of wishes can overcome that.

Rating: 2/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (YA)

Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky  

Kirby Larson (Young Adult Fiction)

Hattie Inez Brooks refers to herself as Hattie Here-and-There.  Orphaned before she had lost her baby teeth, she spends her years being shuffled here and there amongst various relatives’ homes.  At 16, everything changes when she is left 320 acres and a house in Montana by her deceased mother’s brother, Uncle Chester.  With the only thing to look forward to in Arlington, Iowa is a job at a boardinghouse, Hattie writes back, “I’ll come.”  But to make her uncle’s claim her own, she has to cultivate 40 acres and lay 480 rods of fence…and she has less than a year to do it. With a strong faith and help from neighbors, can Hattie make her deepest wish a reality—to find a place to belong.

Hattie Big Sky is based on the life of Larson’s great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright, who herself had homesteaded as a young woman in eastern Montana.  Because most of the story takes place in 1918, we see more references to automobiles than covered wagons.  The United States was also embroiled in World War I and many German-born immigrants were subjected to a litany of anti-German persecution.  Larson weaves all of these facts, along with the countless struggles faced by homesteaders, into a beautifully-told story of hardship, bravery, and old-fashioned grit.

Hattie is pleasantly surprised to find that a paper in Iowa is willing to pay her a monthly fee for her homesteading stories.  In one such submission, she writes, “…the lesson this life has planted in my heart pertain more to caring than to crops, more to Golden Rule than gold, more to the proper choice than to popular choice.”  Hattie’s lesson is one we should all strive to implant upon our own heart.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.scholastic.com

 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (YA)

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame (Young Adult Fiction)

Mole was working hard to clean his little home when something enticing and intriguing and beguiling begins to beckon.  It is spring, and spring waits for no man…or mole.  So when she calls, it’s best to answer, which is exactly what Mole does on this particular day.  He pops out of his burrow and—with the sun warming his dark and rather dusty fur—heads out to see what he can see and what he sees…is a river!  Unbeknownst to Mole, this very river would be the beginning of many wonderful adventures to come.

When The Wind in the Willows was written in 1907, Kenneth Grahame delighted the world with four unforgettable characters: impetuous and curious Mole, kind and generous Rat, indulgent and self-important Toad, and reclusive and wise Badger.  But those who think this is merely just another children’s book should think again!  Between the pages of this dusty jacket is a story that features a brazened auto theft, a bold prison escape, breaking and entering by a gang of ruffians and hooligans, and a good old-fashioned brawl thrown in at the end for good measure.

The Wind in the Willows is a beautifully-told tale of courage, mischief, greed, and friendship and Grahame continues to delight readers with an adventure book for the ages.

Rating: 5/5

 

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA)

Fever 1793

Fever 1793

Laurie Halse Anderson (Young Adult Fiction)

It started with the sudden death of a young and healthy girl.  Within a week, 64 more would die from yellow fever and the capital city of Philadelphia would be filled with the endless ringing of bells—one toll for every year the victim had lived.

In the summer of 1793, 14-year old Matilda Cook helps run her family’s coffeehouse, where folks idly gossip or talk politics.  Lately, the conversations have turned to the fever:  Is it a sign from God?  A punishment for sinners?  Did the refugees bring it with them?  As death draws closer, she and her grandfather are forced to flee the city for the safety of the country.  But Matlida soon discovers that death is not easily escaped.

Anderson gives us a compelling, gripping, and suspenseful account of one of the worst epidemics in the history of the United States.  Wiping out 10% of Philadelphia’s population in under three months, the effects of the fever were devastating.  Many fled the city to escape the carnage, but it was those who stayed and tended to the sick, as well as the dead, that were the true heroes.

You don’t have to be a fan of history to thoroughly enjoy this book.  From the first page, the plot never slows and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat.  It reminds us how even the direst of circumstances can often bring out the best in people and that both disease and heroism are not bound by either social status or race.

Rating: 5/5

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan (YA)

Tween & Teen Tuesday

Every Tuesday, we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book

Homeless Bird

Homeless Bird (YA)

Gloria Whelan

Thirteen-year old Koly is arranged to be married and must leave everything and everyone she loves behind.  When fate intervenes, she finds herself alone in a strange city.  Her favorite poem tells about a flock of birds that fly day and night, except the homeless bird. It always flies to somewhere else.  With no money and no hope for the future, where does this homeless bird fly now?

Written in the first-person narrative, Homeless Bird gives us a story of courage, hope, determination, and love.  In Koly’s own words, the reader experiences and feels firsthand her sense of loss, betrayal, heartache, and despair.  Whelan’s love for Koly shows through her compassionate writing and wonderful storytelling.  In the end, she gives us a heroine that not only flies, she soars.

Rating: 5/5

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (YA)

Tween & Teen Tuesday

Every Tuesday, we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book

 

The Devil’s Arithmetic

Jane Yolen (Young Adult Historical Fiction)

The goal is to stay alive.  One day after the next after the next.  One plus one plus one.  The devil’s arithmetic.

Thirteen-year old Hannah Stern is not looking forward to celebrating the upcoming Passover Seder.  She is bored with her family’s stories of the past.  In fact, every Jewish holiday seems to be yet another occasion to relive those bad memories.  But this year, Hannah will be transported into the past and it won’t be long before she desires the comfort and safety of what the future once held.

This period in history is horrific and harrowing, and the stories told by the Holocaust survivors still tear at our very soul and question our humanity.  In the afterward, Yolen describes the heroism of the camp’s survivors: “To witness.  To remember.  These were the only victories of the camps.”  This story and its characters will haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page.  May we never forget.

Rating: 5/5