Monday, September 26, 2016

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Maniac MageeMy name is Jeffrey, although people on the streets call me Maniac. I first met Amanda in the East End and stayed at her parent's house after they discovered I didn't have a home. People in the neighborhood call me Maniac for catching footballs against high school kids, running on the train rails, untying the legendary Cobble's Knot, and other heroic feats. However, other people think I should go back and live with the "whities", so I ran away and was staying with Earl in a storage room. Now Earl was pretty old, but he told great stories about being a minor league pitcher. We really cared about each other, but now he's dead. I had to run away again, and I'm back on the West End, face-to-face with an old bully "friend".

I read this Newbery-winning book years ago but just realized it wasn't on my blog. Maniac is a wonderful character. He has the confidence to move across the city as the need arises, and he has an innocence to accept people as they are (except for his aunt and uncle). Even though he doesn't understand the racial tensions he encounters, he becomes aware enough to do something about it. His acceptance of others, his kindness, and his sense of humanity allow others to take a liking to him. Even bullies and bigots end up on his side. His "heroic feats" are entertaining and amusing and help to make him an endearing character. His need to run wherever he goes is a unique quirk that adds to "maniacness". The entire plot can be seen as several separate stories, as the settings change between "homes" and cultures. It all comes together in the end, as Maniac finally finds a home.

the Island of Beyond by Elzabeth Atkinson

The Island of BeyondMy name is Martin, and my parents are ruining my life! My dad insists I spend the month of July with my Aunt Lenore on some remote island in Maine. I've just met the old woman, and she's forgetful and nutty. There's no television up here, no internet, and my cellphone burned up when I tried to charge it. What am I going to do all month? Then, I met a boy named Solo roaming around the woods and property, and we've become good friends. My dad has made me feel like I can never do anything right, but Solo has helped me change. I've learned to fish, row a canoe, climb trees, but I still can't swim.  The strange thing is, it looks like everyone up here has secrets; Solo, Uncle Ned, and even my dad are hiding something. And, it seems as though my aunt may not be as crazy as I thought.

I don't normally read books like this one, but it was still pretty good. (I read more fantasy and adventure books). Martin is learning to find himself, as he needs to gain confidence and escape from his father's put-downs. He is characterized as a kid who is almost helpless without technology and familiar surroundings. His life was a routine of video games and hanging around the house, so the wilderness presents a fearsome obstacle. Solo represents freedom, as he comes and goes as he pleases and is able to take care of himself. However, Solo is putting on an act, and Martin offers something his life is missing. I was happy to see how Martin changed in the end, and it would be interesting to see what his life would look like in another year or two. The secrets in the plot aren't super compelling, but they keep the story interesting. Uncle Ned's secret was probably the biggest one, although I might have missed clues along the way that foreshadow it. This book presents a nice coming-of-age story.

Friday, September 2, 2016

All Four Stars #3: Stars so Sweet by Tara Dairman

Stars So Sweet (All Four Stars, #3)My name is Gladys, and I've gotten myself into a situation. I guess I'm pretty good at writing about food and restaurants, because I've been hired by the New York Standard newspaper to create a few reviews under the name G. Gatsby. However, they still don't know I'm just starting the seventh grade, and now they want to hire G. Gatsby as a full-time restaurant critic! I don't know how to fit in at my middle school, the editor of the school paper hates me, and I need to tell my parents the truth about the newspaper. How can I be honest with them now after I've been lying to them for the past six months?

This book is the third in the series, and I somehow missed reading the second one. I don't think you NEED to read the others, but I recommend you at least read the first one. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy cooking and food, but non-foodies may not be able to sink their teeth into it. Like many middle school students, Gladys' love for food is definitely uncommon at this age, but it's the passion that gets her through her days. Everyone needs a passion. Her friend Sandy adds humor to the plot, as he tries to become known at his school for eating the grossest foods. The Peruvian dish called Coy, an animal similar to a guinea pig, even made Gladys feel ill. Gladys' middle school issues just provided more opportunities to introduce cooking. She became the organizer of every bake sale to support the various clubs and sports teams. A favorite hangout was the local food store and all its unusual foods. As I already said, foodies will love this series!