Review: The Unteachables by Gordon Korman

4 stars

This one was so cute and heartwarming. A classroom full of “screwups” for whatever reason are stuck with a completely apathetic, checked-out teacher. With a POV for pretty much every character in the book, I’m surprised it works as well as it does. But it’s lovely to see how this teacher who doesn’t seem to care at all wins over his class–and how they bring him back to the world of the living, little by little.

Some parts, especially in the last quarter of the book, seemed a little cheesy for my tastes, but kids’ll love this one. It’s funny and authentically middle grade, and there are a few moments that had me going, “YES!!!” and grinning like a maniac.

It would make a great classroom read-aloud, but would also be fun to read with your own kids. Lots of opportunities for discussion as well.

Review: The Terrible Two Get Worse by Mac Barnett and Jory John, Ill. by Kevin Cornell

4.5 stars

The Terrible Two Get Worse (link to Goodreads)

Look. There are books that are important for kids to read. Books parents or teachers will want to read with their kids so they can start a conversation about something true.

And then there are books that are just fun. Books kids and parents alike will like without trying. Books that can be read aloud, that will strengthen the bond between you and your kids.

The Terrible Two series is the fun kind of book. That said, this one does deal with ideas of tyranny and rebellion. The two prankster heroes are up against a rather humorless individual who is quite literally ruining school for everyone and running a rather successful fake news campaign to maintain his power.

Yes, it’s all rather low-stakes and silly. But it will matter to kids. And the humor is still sizzling, the writing smart, so you’ll like it too. This is the series I recommend most frequently because I have a hard time imagining many people who wouldn’t like it.

Review: Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead

2 stars (It was okay). But.

Liar & Spy cover (link to Goodreads)

A long time ago, I shared an apartment with my best friend Marie. We were both in college. She told me that her dad hated being late, so much so, in fact, that he considered it an absolute deal breaker when he showed up to pick up a date and she wasn’t ready to go.

And you know what? That’s fair. When you’re choosing a marriage partner, you’re allowed to be as petty as you need to be. If you know you’d resent someone every time they made you late for something, you’d probably do better avoiding marrying them.

I tried to remember that story when I was dating to help me not take things personally. Who knew what random mannerism or habit of mine might make someone not call me back? It might not even be something bad; it was just a deal breaker for them.

I think about it again now that I’m querying. Yesterday I got a rejection on a full, and the email basically said, “We loved x, y, and z, but ultimately didn’t connect with the character as much as we would have liked.” The thing is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the character. Different people connect differently with different characters, just like different people connect differently with different people. I’ll keep querying in the hopes that I find someone who does connect with my MC.

This hasn’t been much of a review yet. The truth is, I didn’t really connect with George, and I actively didn’t like Safer. Because of that, I didn’t really care what happened, and I didn’t feel joyful at the ending. But lots of people adored this book and found it immensely satisfying. I’m gonna say this is a me thing and tell you to try it for yourself, especially if you like quiet books with delicately executed themes.

It’s short and sweet and voicey. You very well may like it more than I did.

The City of Ember

4 stars (I really liked it)

The City of Ember cover (link to Goodreads)

Isn’t that cover gorgeous? A librarian recommended this one to my son, and it was a great recommendation. He ended up reading all four books in the series!

I read only this one, but I liked it a lot. It’s about a city built underground–but the power keeps going out. Something is wrong in Ember, and if someone doesn’t figure out what it is soon, the whole population (and possibly the whole human race) may die.

The two viewpoint characters are perfect middle grade characters. They’re young but brave, resourceful, empathetic, and full of heart. They have families they care about and hopes and dreams, and when they get swept up in the mystery, the plot clips right along. I predicted the end, but I imagine every reader will, and that’s part of the point. WE know what Ember’s secret is, but we’re dying to know how its citizens will figure it out and what they’ll do when they do.

The movie is not good. I don’t recommend it. I think my son liked this book better than the others in the series, FWIW.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

2 stars (It was okay)

After loving the first Penderwicks book, I was seriously let down by this one. My biggest problem was the cultural appropriation plotline: one of the sisters is a budding writer, and the other, a “tom boy,” is assigned to write a play as homework. They swap responsibilities, so the writer sister writes the play for the tom boy. The play is about a Native American young woman, except it’s a very “noble savages” take on a Native American story, and it made me very, very uncomfortable.

If it had been one little moment, it wouldn’t have been as big a deal. But the tom boy gets praised for writing the play, and then the school decides to put on the play with the tom boy in the lead role, and the lie gets way out of hand. The result was that a lot of pages were spent on the lines of the play and thinking about the play, and it’s just all very . . . last century. I think the 2000s can do better than this.

Plus, the silly romantic plotline with the dad didn’t work for me at all (though I did want him to end up with who he ended up with), and some of the things that I found the most charming (mainly Batty) in the first book were not there anymore. It’s still well written, and there were good, authentic character moments and funny moments, but overall I found this book a little too precious and cheesy and unbelievable to truly fall in love with.