Staff Reviews of Award Books: National Book Award/Finalist

Book Review: Ghost
Reynolds, Jason
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I had taken a break from reviewing books until I read Ghost. This book is really well written. The narrator is believable and the plot illustrates his struggles and growth. Ghost is a troubled kid who stumbles onto a track team and turns his life for the better. I both loved and hated the ending, because it was so good but I didn't want the book to end. Great quick read. I highly recommended giving it a whirl.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Raymie Nightingale
DiCamillo, Kate
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Taking place in Florida in 1972, Raymie Clarke is trying to win the Little Miss Florida Tire competition in hopes of getting her father, who has left town with another woman, to see her picture in the paper and return home. Along the way, she meets two girls who are also entering the contest, and falls into an unlikely friendship.
I loved this book. It was superbly written and Raymie's voice was so believable as to think she was a real girl. It's a bittersweet book, so beautiful and filled with longing, determination, and a bit of magic. I've read other books by Kate DiCamillo but this one is my favorite. I'd love to see this as a movie. 5 stars!

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Ghost
Reynolds, Jason
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jason Reynolds (author) + Guy Lockhard* (narrator) = Magic

Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, has been running from things his whole life: his violent father, the consequences of altercations at school with a bully, and most of all, the anger that's been building up inside him. So Ghost has a ton of natural talent, which he puts to use when he inadvertently impresses the coach of a local track team. After the coach begs him to join, and Ghost reluctantly agrees, he begins to see that he might be happier if he runs towards something instead of away from everything.

I listened to this audiobook, and it was excellent. I really struggle with middle grade fiction, as I oftentimes have trouble identifying with the characters (I mean, middle school was a loooooooong time ago), but Reynolds took me right back to the thick of it. In a good way. The day-making/ruining things your classmates would say, interactions with adults in positions of authority, and not really being sure about who you are and what you want in life - Reynolds nails it all. Moreover, Ghost is just a straight up likable character, even as he makes poor decision after poor decision. We really get to see him grow over the course of the novel, and even as he does the wrong thing, his heart is usually in the right place. I loved his relationship with his mother, and later, with Coach. There aren't always positive adult relationships in fiction for young people, and so it was nice that Ghost had so many adults that he could turn to. The secondary characters were just as dynamic, and also had very serious problems of their own to deal with. I'd read a book about any of them. Shoot, I wanted to adopt most of them. As a runner myself (although I'm not competitive and do longer distances), I really liked that the book was about track as it's not a sport we read or hear a lot about. There's a bit about fartleks that was pretty hilarious, and I think runners (Land Sharks, anyone?) will find a lot to love here.

If you are looking for a book to listen to or read with your kids, this is a great one. There are loads of teachable moments, and it is ultimately a heartwarming tale of self-discovery. I couldn't get enough of it - 5 stars.

*Shout out to Guy Lockhard - he narrated the other Jason Reynolds book that I've listened to (All American Boys), and he is a fantastic narrator. It seems like Reynolds thinks so as well, because it looks like Lockhard will be narrating Reynolds' recently released book about Spiderman Miles Morales. I may have just put that on hold...

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Cleary, Beverly
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a sweet book. It's not so mind-blowing as to warrant an in-depth review, so I'll just leave it at that.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Raymie Nightingale
DiCamillo, Kate
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The best way I can describe Raymie Nightingale is to say that it is a book you can fall into. Kate DiCamillo is a master of characters and story, and Raymie Nightengale is no exception. This author weaves magic through words. We enter Raymie’s life mid-stream; she is ten years old and floundering a little. Through some new, strong friendships, she discovers strength in numbers – and in herself. The subject matter might be a bit much for some. Raymie’s dad has “run off” with a dental hygienist. But DiCamillo is never heavy-handed with the details and navigates the discomfort with aplomb.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Book Review: My Brother Sam is Dead
Collier, James Lincoln
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When I started this book I could not understand why it had been banned. It seemed so innocuous. I only read it because it was in the free pile where I work. I looked it up and it was for violence, language, and an unpatriotic view of the Revolutionary War. Fair enough. It is violent and unpatriotic for sure, which is why I liked it. It's also a very good story and is about as accurate an account of the Revolutionary War era as can be reasonably expected from a work of fiction for young people.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Jacob Have I Loved
Paterson, Katherine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

You know, I love Katherine Patterson. Bridge to Terabithia is my all-time favorite children's book. This book just didn't affect me the same way. Maybe it was the subject matter, I don't know. It was well written, just was missing the magic. But it's still worth a read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins
Paterson, Katherine
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Very good, as all Katherine Paterson novels are. A quick read, and like her other novels, it shows rather than tells. My only problem with the book was the ending was too abrupt for my taste. I would have liked for it to be longer and show her life with her grandmother and the effects of Courtney's visit.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming
Woodson, Jacqueline
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This autobiography written in free verse by Jacqueline Woodson is an excellent insight into growing up as an African American girl in the 1960's.
It is a very moving portrayal of the role of family (grandparents, parents, uncles & aunts and siblings) in a life of a child. The author also gives the reader a definite sense of place, whether it is Ohio, South Carolina or Brooklyn, NY. Highly recommended.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa