Category Archives: young adult fiction

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting JupiterWhen Joseph, 14, comes to live with Jack’s family as a foster child after spending time in a juvenile corrections facility, all he can think about is finding his daughter Jupiter. But Jupiter’s grandparents want nothing to do with Joseph, and Jupiter has been given up for adoption.  Jack isn’t sure how to respond to Joseph, so he follows his parents’ lead.  However, when Joseph’s biological father bursts onto the scene and looks to leverage the situation in his financial favor, Joseph, Jack, and his parents become even more sure about what they must do.

Gary D. Schmidt is a wonderful storyteller.  Having read Okay for Now, Trouble, and What Came from the Stars, Orbiting Jupiter was an easy book to buy.  And once I started reading, I put everything else off.  My students knew how good the book was because I decided to read with them during reader’s workshop.  I appreciate their understanding. 🙂

Schmidt tackles many issues in this new young adult novel – family, foster children, juvenile detention, young love, and young parenthood.  All are approached in a respectful, honest way.

Yes, it might be hard for a 14-year-old eighth grader to understand Joseph’s predicament, but I would rather have that 14-year-old and all of his peers read about it before they find themselves in a position to experience it.  That’s the power of reading.


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Filed under realistic fiction; young adult fiction, young adult fiction, young adult literature

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

Extraordinary MeansRobyn Schneider’s Extraordinary Means has been characterized as The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park.  I disagree.  The novel stands on its own for originality and storytelling.  Lane, Schneider’s protagonist, has just entered Latham House, a sanitorium for tuberculosis patients.  A modern day tuberculosis outbreak has led authorities to segregate those who test positive until a cure can be developed. Lane’s life, to this point, has been regimented and predictable.  He’s an overachiever with Stanford admission staring him in the face.  He does everything today’s aspiring collegiate should do – he takes as many AP and honors classes as possible; he starts a club to make himself appear different and to add to his resume; and he does not take risks.  Latham House, ironically, changes him.  Being thrown into the sanitorium, a sort of summer camp with an open-ended release date, completely throws him off, until he discovers Sadie, someone he once awkwardly encountered at summer camp when both were thirteen. Lane wants nothing more than to break into Sadie’s clique because it seems to take on its predicament with a rather good outlook.  Sadie wants nothing more than to avoid Lane.  And there the conflict begins.

Yes, this is a love story, but it’s also a thoroughly-researched story and presents tuberculosis in a realistic manner.  Before becoming an author, Schneider completed an graduate degree in bioethics. Extraordinary means also goes the extra mile and addresses the real potential for bigotry, violence, and prejudice towards those with medical conditions. Robyn Schneider hooked me with The Beginning of Everything and cemented my appreciation with Extraordinary Means, one of the best books of 2014.


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Filed under Mr. K-C, young adult fiction, young adult literature

Hit Count by Chris Lynch

Hit CountChris Lynch continues to amaze me with his fascinating characters and socially-significant themes.  This time around, he tackles (pardon the pun) high school football concussions.  Arlo and his older brother Lloyd love football and have the type of combative brotherly relationship that offers plenty of room to be both friends and enemies.  Their mother, who does not support their love of the game, keeps “The File,” a comprehensive compilation of research articles on the effects of football-related concussions.  When Lloyd begins to show symptoms and his high school football career ends, Arlo seems to think lightning can’t strike twice.  However, when Arlo’s girlfriend takes sides with his mother, Arlo has to choose between football and a mentally-healthy future.

If you have read Pop or Second Impact, you are sure to enjoy this book.

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Filed under Mr. K-C, Trapped in Adolescence, young adult fiction, young adult literature

Caged Warrior by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Caged-WarriorMcCutcheon Daniels, an up-and-coming underground MMA fighter, wants a shot at the MMA title, but he must first make his way through a series of older and tougher opponents before that can happen.  His father, a former boxer, introduced him to the world of MMA, but his father uses him as nothing more than an ATM to fund his drinking and gambling habits.  McCutcheon’s mother mysteriously disappeared years ago, and the only true person he truly feels any responsibility for is his younger sister.

I don’t follow MMA and I don’t watch boxing, but I found this novel gripping, albeit bordering on inappropriate for upper middle school readers.  Amazon places it in the grade 7-12 range. McCutcheon is a good guy.  He works hard in school, cares for his sister, leads a disciplined life, and sees MMA as a way to escape his impoverished upbringing.  However, he’s faced at every turn by his maniacal father, who plays a demented opposing personality.  His father will stop at nothing to secure a title shot and huge payday, the majority of which he’ll blow on booze, women, and gambling.

Alan Lawrence Sitomer has written a young adult novel focused on the seamy underbelly of a sport, mixed martial arts, that has capture the fancy of many young adults, yet he does not glorify the sport.  Boxing was once said to be the path for many poor minorities to escape the inner city.  MMA appears to have assumed that mantel.

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Filed under Mr. K-C, realistic fiction; young adult fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction, young adult literature

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

My wife constantly chides me over my fascination with father-son stories in young adult literature and movies.  They just get to me.  I’m not a Disneyfied happy ending type of person.  I loved that Mockingjay ended with a flawed, scarred Katnis.  But my childhood has left me yearning for happy father-son endings, so I typically gush over these types of books.  That’s it.  She still gives me grief.  🙂  Rosanne Parry’s Heart of a Shepherd is one of these books, and I can’t stop recommending it to students.

Ignatius Alderman, or Brother as he’s known to everyone, wants nothing more than to figure out what he’s meant for.  He lives on a ranch in the rural Northwest, and he’s taken on a boatload of responsibilities for someone at the tender age of 12.  His father has been shipped out to Iraq with his reserve unit, his older brothers are either away at college or high school, and his elderly grandparents are hearty souls, but they just aren’t up to the rigors ranching presents.  So Brother takes on his share and more.  Along the way, he does extra chores, studies, yearns for his father, wishes his mother, an artist, hadn’t run off to Rome, keeps in touch with his brothers, and watches over a bunch of new flock sheep.  He’s been warned not to get too attached to them, but Brother just can’t resist.  He has the heart of a shepherd. 

There are certainly more obstacles Brother faces while holding down the fort with his grandparents, but to tell you would ruin the story.  It’s a beautifully-written story.  It left me wishing for more.  Rosanne Parry has a way with words that makes reading effortless.  Her style is simple, much like Markus Zusak (The Book Thief, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and I Am the Messenger); her short sentences carry enough imagery to make my seventh graders recognize it.  That’s no small feat.  Truthfully, her writing has allowed me to show students that simple and varied declarative sentences are a strong base from which to tell a story.  I hope they listen because she is a spectacular model.  Heart of a Shepherd is on the Rebecca Caudill list.  It’s my favorite so far.  It will take a great one to change my mind.

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Filed under Mr. K-C, young adult fiction, young adult literature

Powerless by Matthew Cody

Matthew Cody’s Powerless explores a question we middle school teacher have been grappling with forever.  What happens to children when they turn 13?  In Cody’s new book, they lose their super powers and become normal teens, just like the rest of us.  But I think the commentary in the book goes well beyond what pre-teen and early-teen readers might suspect. 

Daniel recently moved to Nobles Green, Pennsylvania with his parents and younger brother to take care of his ailing grandmother.  He knows no one, but doesn’t seem to sweat the fact that he’ll start a new middle year in just a matter of days.  One day, while playing outside, his little brother rushes into the street after a ball; Mollie, the same age as Daniel, whisks his brother from the street just before he would have been crushed by a passing care.  In fact, Daniel is barely able to see her move, so he feels like he might have misinterpreted what happened.  When he confronts Mollie, she acts as though she doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  But she does. 

Daniel manages to get himself into a few more precarious situations that require the assistance of Nobles Green’s finest pre-teen super heroes.  Very soon they realize they must let Daniel in on their secret, even though he has no special powers to speak of.  His arrival in town is more a gift than a burden to the supers, though.  These young super heroes are on a quest to figure out why they lose their powers smack dab on their 13th birthdays.  And, since they will all be turning 13 soon, Daniel will play a key role in the discover.  Any time supers attempt to stay with another super on the eve of his or her 13th birthday, they also lose their powers.  Since Daniel has no super powers, he can sleep over, keep vigil, and potentially figure out what goes on.  You see, the super turning 13 has no memory of his or her super powers, and due to the this amnesia, loses contact with the group.  Daniel is the lynch pin in a movement to help them extend their powers beyond the age of 13.

The book leaves us with some appropriate questions to ponder.  For all practical purposes, teens feel powerless.  They crave the independence they perceive adults to enjoy, but they are stymied at every turn.  But they are saddled with not being old enough to do many of the things adults do, while taking on very adult-looking physiques and many of the urges that come with adulthood.  Daniel begins feeling these urges for Mollie, and you get the sense that she feels the same way, not that either of them know what to do or how to talk about it.  They are powerless to act because they don’t  yet have the skills or abilities to do so.

The book could also be about sucking the power of childhood away from kids when they hit the ripe, old age of 13.  Ok, maybe the number is just a random one, chosen by the author it is the age most kids think about as the entry point to pseudo-adulthood.  We do call 13-year-olds “young adults.”  Maybe Cody is trying to say that by immersing this age group in many of the events and conundrums our generation faced at a much older age, we are taking away the power of childhood.  I don’t know.  As an adult, that’s what I thought of while I read the book.  I would be interested to hear your takes on the book.  Let me know.

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Filed under family illness, grandparents, K-C, Klein-Collins, loss of innocence, Mr. K-C, Mr. K-C's blog, science fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction, young adult literature, young adult literture

War and Watermelon by Rich Wallace

Rich Wallace caught me by surprise.  War and Watermelon is different.  I have only known Wallace’s work in angsty, young adult novels with older protagonists.  However, this time, he’s writing for a different audience and his story is much richer and crisper.  Writing from the perspective of thoughtful, unsure, 12-year-old, soon-to-be-seventh-grader Brody Winslow, Wallace  takes on a Gary Schmidt-like narrative quality that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Brody is a pre-teen everyone can relate to.  He wants to date a cute girl, he loves the Mets, even though they stink, he’s unsettled by the prospect of junior high school, and he worries about his brother, Ryan, who recently graduated from high school and has no college plans.  Brody and his family are worried Ryan will wind up in Vietnam.  And, like many middle school students, the words he wishes he had the courage to move from his thoughts to words always seem to get lost in translation or die on the tip of his tongue. 

1969 was a unique year, and Wallace shares many of its historically-significant events with readers.  He takes them to Woodstock, he works in Neil Armstrong’s lunar landing, he forces them to suffer through and then celebrate the Miracle Mets incredible turnaround, and he gives them a dose of Vietnam politics.  He also provides us with the AM radio soundtrack of 1969, including the Archies and Sly and the Family Stone.  Even though 1969 is the backdrop, it doesn’t overwhelm the story.  Front and center is Brody’s worry about Ryan going off to Vietnam, his father’s health, seventh grade, football and the Mets. 

Historical fiction fans will enjoy this story, as will anyone who craves a truly well-written, compelling novel.  I look forward to more of Rich Wallace’s offerings in the genre.

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Filed under Mr. K-C, Uncategorized, young adult fiction