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Hey, Kiddo – A Review and Interview with Jarrett J. Krosoczka

 HEY, KIDDO BY JARRETT J. KROSOCZKA
(Scholastic; $14.99, Ages 12-18)

A REVIEW & BRIEF INTERVIEW
COURTESY OF HILARY TABER

 

Hey Kiddo book cover art by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

 

 

REVIEW:

“It must be hard to write a graphic novel about one’s own childhood,” I thought to myself as I opened the book Hey, Kiddo. I remembered meeting the author, Jarrett Krosocszka, years ago in California. He was a bright, sweet man with an open demeanor and ready smile. He reminded me so much of my own brother. I had put that memory right next to his Lunch Lady books in my mind, and they sat on the shelf of memory happily together, side by side. I remember hearing about his forthcoming book, Hey Kiddo, and I knew both the writing about a troubled youth and the reading about it would be a challenge.

 

int_art_from_Hey_Kiddo_by_Jarrett_J_Kroscoczka

Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

 

As it turns out, Jarrett has written so beautifully about that time that I could not be prouder of him if he had been my own family. Jarrett’s mother, Leslie, suffered from a heroine addiction. She was in and out of jail, and in and out of Jarrett’s young life. He never knew who his father was until he was older. His amazing and often exasperating grandparents stepped in as true parents. This book feels close to home in my heart because it’s about family. It’s Jarrett’s grandparents that I wanted to hug for all the sweet things they did for him. And at times I wanted to sit them down for a good talk! Still, how wonderful they were to him. Wonderful because they loved him deeply and it showed. For all that they smoked, drank, and quarreled all the while they loved Jarrett with a heart and a hat.

middle school int art from Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Kroscka

Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

Hey, Kiddo sometimes reads as though Jarrett has written it from the perspective of a loving investigator of his own childhood. The author includes small and intimate touches like an image of the actual wallpaper pattern from his grandparent’s home. As we read we step into his childhood world. Also included are photographs of the family along with letters from his mother, Leslie, originating from her time in prison. There are drawings by Leslie just for Jarrett. It’s those letters that show how much she loved him and missed him. I read the book in one sitting, and when I put it down, I thought of Jarrett’s grandparents, Joe and Shirl. I thought that for all that Jarrett had been through, Joe and Shirl were always there for him. Actually, they still are in the way that love can never pass from us completely when it is given with such readiness and generosity. That kind of love death cannot touch. So, now on that same shelf of memory I have about Jarrett are his endearing personality, his ready smile, the Lunch Lady books, a difficult childhood and right beside that childhood is a place for Joe, Shirl, and their Love for him. That was, and is, a love with a capital “l” for sure.

Hey, Kiddo was a finalist for the National Book Award and is a highly recommended graphic novel for teens and grownups.

 

INTERVIEW:

HT: This is perhaps less of a question and more of an opportunity to tell us why author/illustrator visits to schools are so important. Clearly, a school visit from an illustrator changed your life. What would you say to a debut author or illustrator about what that school visit meant to you?

high_school_int_art_from_Hey_Kiddo_JJK_Studio

Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

JJK: Yes, I vividly remember being a third-grader and sitting on the creaky, wooden floor of my school’s auditorium and listening to Jack Gantos talk about writing. While he said, “Nice cat,” to me that day, I have since had so many opportunities to say, “Nice Lunch Lady,” to many young artists. When I was in college, working towards a BFA in Illustration, none of my professors taught me about school visits. From a business perspective, it is a great way to promote your book, but it runs so much deeper than that. To newly published authors I would say:

  • Work on an engaging presentation to keep the students’ attention.
  • Enjoy the quiet moments where you can connect on a more one-on-one with the students.
  • Make sure you bring hand sanitizer. There’s always that one kid whose finger is up their nose throughout the entire presentation. That kid is going to want a high five. Just sayin’…

HT:  I think what I learned from reading your book, and reading in general, is that when we feel alone in a painful situation we seldom are. I think this book will resonate with so many readers. Thank you for it. It’s beautiful. To a kiddo who identifies with you while reading your book, who struggles with a parent who suffers from addiction, what would you tell them?

JJK: For those readers, I left a little something for you in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. I hope that you take solace in those words.

Writing transparently is cathartic but self-care is paramount—so write within your comfort zone but push yourself when you are ready.

 

 

Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER:
The True Story of The Emmett Till Case
Written by Chris Crowe
(Speak/Dial BYR; $10.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

cover image from Getting Away With Murder by Chris Crowe

 

Author Chris Crowe first wrote Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case, a riveting and award-winning nonfiction book, back in 2003. Today I’m reviewing a revised edition that “has been updated to reflect the newest information about Emmett’s life and untimely death …” which should be read by every teen to understand the Jim Crow era South and “the hate crime that helped spark the civil rights movement.” 

In the L.A. Times on Friday, July 13, I read that the Emmett Till case has once again been reopened based upon new information that has come to the attention of authorities. I needed to know more. Over the years I only learned snippets about the case because, like a majority of students to this day, I was never taught the Till case in school. Now that I’ve read Crowe’s engaging, well-crafted and meticulously researched book, I know about the grave miscarriage of justice that occurred in Mississippi in 1955. In an intro, eight chapters, a detailed time line plus back matter, Crowe examines events leading up to the brazen and brutal murder of 14-year-old African American, Emmett Till, the subsequent trial and later developments that culminated in the exhumation of Till’s body. Crowe’s also tied in the Black Lives Matter movement that grew out of the senseless Trayvon Martin killing. For those yet to read Getting Away With Murder, Crowe puts all the events that take place into historical context by educating us about current events of the time period. For example, the heinous, racist crime against Till took place three months prior to Rosa Parks’ historic bus activism and was an important catalyst in the civil rights movement. Covering the case should be part of every school’s curriculum especially given that innocent black lives continue to be taken 63 years on.

Emmett Till and his mother lived in Chicago, but when his Uncle Mose Wright, a sharecropper from the Mississippi Delta region, invited him for a visit, he jumped at the opportunity to spend time with his family. It was the summer following eighth grade and fun-loving Emmett was feeling good. His mother, on the other hand, felt nervous. Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley knew that, while she and her son lived in a segregated Chicago neighborhood, theirs was a relatively racial violence free existence. Emmett didn’t have to deal with the harsh realities and repercussions of the Deep South Jim Crow era laws. But Mamie was from Mississippi. She worried Emmett wouldn’t take the law or her advice seriously and sadly she mother was right. He found her cautions silly.

Once with his southern family, Emmett was boastful about his life in Chicago, about how he interacted with and claimed to date white women. Not long after his arrival, in the nearby town of Money, Till was egged on by his cousins. He went into Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, a small white-owned store belonging to Roy and Carolyn, to chat up the woman. Bryant was out of town on a delivery and his wife was alone in the store. Things turned bad quickly when Emmett, who didn’t “appreciate the seriousness of this Southern taboo …” entered Bryan’t market, asked for some candy and then made a pass at Carolyn. According to her statement, “… when she held out her hand for his money, … he grabbed it, pulled her toward him, and said, ‘How about a date, baby?'” Some other interaction occurred as well. This was followed by a wolf whistle after Emmett had been pulled from the store by his friends.

When nothing happened for several nights everyone thought Emmett was in the clear. As we know, such was not the case. When Bryant returned from his trip, he and his half-brother, J. W. “Big” Milam, kidnappped Emmett in the middle of the night. The men felt retaliation was required to defend Bryant’s wife’s honor and teach the boy a lesson so they tortured him. When he was defiant, they killed him. One of five lawyers, J. J. Breland, who eventually took on the defendant’s case said they all felt intense pressure to “let the North know that we are not going to put up with Northern negroes ‘stepping over the line.'” As the title implies, the men were acquitted. While in their minds justice prevailed, it clearly had not. The case won national coverage due to multiple reasons, but one of the most crucial ones was Mamie Till Bradley’s decision to have an open casket at Emmett’s funeral so the world could see just what had been done to her son.

Getting Away With Murder explains how much of what happened that summer was driven by racism, fear and anger. Bryant and his fellow Southerners were unhappy about the recent Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating desegregation in schools. The majority of the population in the segregated South did not want their way of life to change, especially if dictated by Northerners. But it was truly the beginning of the end for them.

There were many surprises in the book for me but I don’t want to share them all here. While their significance is of the utmost importance, I think they have to be read first hand to appreciate the implications and feel the outrage. What’s sad about this pivotal event in our country’s history is that while a lot has changed, a lot has unfortunately remained the same in regards to racism. Last night I described the Emmett Till case to my husband who had never heard of it. My 17-year-old son had. My son said he found out more details from me than what he had originally learned. My husband thanked me. We must keep sharing the story. I recommend picking up a copy of Chris Crowe’s book for your teens. They will thank you .

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge

MARY’S MONSTER: LOVE, MADNESS,
 AND HOW MARY SHELLEY CREATED FRANKENSTEIN
Written and illustrated by Lita Judge
(Roaring Brook Press; $21.99, Ages 15-18)

 

Starred Review- School Library Journal

 

cover illustration from Lita Judge's Mary's Monster graphic novel

 

I find it fitting that on this night there is a dark storm blowing outside my window. I can almost imagine that I am writing this review of Mary’s Monster by candle light in the mid 1800s. But I’m not. I’m sitting here at my compu​t​er preparing to describe to you a story that has haunted me since I first saw the cover of this gripping YA graphic biography about renowned English novelist, Mary Shelley.

Prologue spread from Mary's Monster by Lita Judge

Interior artwork from Mary’s Monster written and illustrated by Lita Judge, Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

Author/illustrator Lita Judge has woven an impossibly romantic and tragic story. From the chilling prologue, written by the monster himself, to the fascinating back matter, this is an extraordinary account of the life of Mary Shelley, creator of the literary classic, Frankenstein. Judge’s writing is lyrical and yet full of history and meaning. To know that the story is based on historical documents, such as Mary Shelley’s writings, makes it all the more fascinating. The sparse and poetic text, combined with the beautifully haunting black and white artwork, invites the teen reader to think deeply and become immersed in Shelley’s world.

Interior spread by Lita Judge from Mary's Monster

Interior artwork from Mary’s Monster written and illustrated by Lita Judge, Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

The reader is subtlely but thoroughly introduced to the social and political influences that shaped Mary Shelley’s beliefs and choices. Lita Judge masterfully unfolds the events of Shelley’s life, from the abuse and loss she suffered in childhood, to her forbidden love affair with a married man, to the madness of opium addiction, to her experiences as a woman in an oppressive society. In all of this, Judge shows us Shelley’s inspiration. Mary Shelley’s monster took shape as an expression of herself. Not just of her creative mind, but also of her struggles, her nightmares, her fears for the future, and her desire to heal her pain.

The Dead Back to Life int. spread from Lita Judge's Mary's Monster

Interior artwork from Mary’s Monster written and illustrated by Lita Judge, Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

I applaud Lita Judge for her thoroughness and her gift of storytelling. In what is the 200th anniversary year of Frankenstein’s first publication, Judge’s timely and relevant book belongs alongside Shelley’s Gothic horror tale as an ideal companion guide to understanding her monster and her world, as well as ours.

As Judge writes at the end of Mary’s story, “We can affect the lives of generations to come if we are brave enough to open the wings of our imagination and create!”

And so you have, Lita Judge, and we thank you!

See Judge at the Tucson Festival of Books/
University of Arizona
1200 East University Boulevard
Tucson, AZ 85719

Saturday, March 10, 2018
1:00 PM

More on Lita Judge:
Twitter
Author Blog
Author Web Site

 

Here’s a link to another recent YA book review.

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The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

 

THE CRUELTY
by Scott Bergstrom
(Feiwel & Friends; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

cover image for The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

 

Initially, seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn Bloom’s worst things in life include being bullied by rich girls at her “diplobrats” school and aching from the tenth anniversary of her mother’s brutal death. Gwendolyn’s worldview is soon upended when her father’s kidnapping propels her to action.

With the help of friends (including a blossoming first love), Gwendolyn escapes to Paris in pursuit of her first lead. She discovers that cruelty has no borders as she travels through the underbellies of France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Surviving in the shadows using intrigue and deception, Gwendolyn perseveres.

The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is a fast-paced read; with each chapter, Gwendolyn grows more deeply involved in gambling, arms smuggling, and human trafficking. She sacrifices everything in the hope of freeing her father—then finds bigger causes to fight for.

While this modern-day spy book exemplifies female strength and independence, the life of this spy is rarely glamorous. The title tells all: cruelty rules. Opting for activism means becoming tougher and craftier than her enemies. Gwendolyn learns there’s no going back from these irreversible choices.

Find Scott Bergstrom’s website here.

The Cruelty is available on February 7, 2017.  Book two, The Greed, is scheduled for release next year.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery by Abby Sher

 

Breaking Free:
True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery

by Abby Sher
(Barron’s Educational Series, Paperback $9.99, Ages 14+)

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month so we are sharing an important book to bring the message home. Breaking Free is a well-written compilation of three stories about three very different women from very different places with the same traumatic experience. Writer and performer Abby Sher actually tells each woman’s tale in beautifully detailed descriptive narrative that compelled me to read on.

Sher clearly has the best of intentions for relaying these stories and I am grateful. In Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery, we learn about how these women kept hope alive even in the darkest of times, when they were sold for sex even as children, one by her own parents. When they were children, these women were treated like property and their innocence was stolen from them, yet they were able to survive and persevere. This is not just a story of human trafficking, but a story of identity, tragedy, and redemption. Ultimately, these girls found freedom in education in one way or another, and they gained the most freedom by learning to speak out loud about their experiences and share their stories. But they do not share their stories for fame or recognition. They share in order to both set the record straight about what human trafficking is, and to help other victims cope with their ordeals. Now these women spend their lives supporting this cause so that trafficking ends forever.

Heroes come in many forms. While they may only see themselves as humans, these survivors are, in fact, heroes. I found I couldn’t put the book down. Even though their stories were horrifying, they were fascinating and thought provoking as well. I even felt I owed it to these women to listen to them, as they had finally found a voice. I also wanted to read on to know they had found freedom, safety, and the love they deserved, that any of us deserve. Human trafficking is an oxymoron, because victims are hardly treated like humans. It’s a crime against humanity, and this book pays homage to the women who survived it and have become tireless advocates as they try to make a difference for others not as fortunate.

Please read an important note from the author here.

– Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell, (Abrams Books for Young Readers 2014, $24.95, Ages 12 and up), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“I wondered if I would die and how I would die. I hoped to be quiet and brave.” – Nurse Maude “Denny” Williams as U.S. Troops surrendered to the Japanese (p. 67).1386116620

Pure Grit  is the gripping story about the 101 U. S. Army and Navy nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Farrell demonstrates that while women’s military service has been basically ignored by historians, their contributions have been enormous. These unsung heroes faced the same dangers of war that the male soldiers did, while caring for the wounded and comforting the dying.

In the early 1940s, the U.S military assignments in the Philippines were pretty routine and included a swinging night life. That quickly changed following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Nurses, inexperienced with treating battlefield wounds, rose to the occasion and assisted huge numbers of wounded and dying soldiers under grueling and frightening conditions. Malnutrition, due to severe rationing, and unsanitary conditions became very serious issues. One nurse wrote:

“This morning I sat down to “breakfast” which consisted of a tablespoon of cold beef hash on a dirty plate (no water for washing dishes) … and nothing more available until 6pm …” (p. 65).

The American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. Although some of the 101 nurses were safely evacuated, 77 were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Despite horrific conditions and declining health, the nurses cared for each other and civilian prisoners incarcerated with them. By October, 1944, Farrell notes the prisoners at St. Tomas Internment camp were down to six ounces of food per day.

After their February, 1945 liberation, the nurses faced other obstacles. When the nurses sought compensation for medical conditions resulting from their internment, the Veterans Administration often refused or limited much needed health care. When some official recognition for their sacrifice finally came it was too late for many. Farrell notes that a lot of the nurses whose stories she included in this book were already dead by the early 1980s. Thanks to Farrell’s meticulous research and compelling narrative based on first person accounts, the nurses’ stories now have a chance to be heard.

This nonfiction book includes an excellent page layout with fairly wide margins and spacing, abundant period photographs, illustrations, and other primary source documents, making the dynamic text easier to read. End materials include a glossary, timeline, list of nurses, an extensive bibliography which references many first person accounts including the Oral History Program of the Army Nurse Corps.

Visit Farrell’s web site to see a book trailer, read an excerpt, and download a teacher’s guide with project ideas that relate this book to Common Core Standards.  A highly recommended read.

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.

⭐︎Starred Reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and The Horn Book

9780375867828.jpg.172x250_q85I spent several evenings during my recent vacation immersed in the late 1800s and early 1900s thanks to the riveting writing of Candace Fleming. Her latest historical nonfiction young adult novel reminded me of why I devour these types of books. I may know the ending, but it’s getting there that’s the best part, and essentially every chapter of The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia ( Schwartz & Wade, $18.99, Ages 12 and up) is the best part!

How many teens know the fascinating story behind the last Russian royal family – the real story, not the glamorized version of films and legend? While I’ve traveled to Russia a handful of times, I clearly was not aware of all the details and all the players Fleming wrote about. I felt certain that The Family Romanov would fill in all the gaps and enlighten me so I couldn’t wait to head off on holiday for some quality reading time. I just didn’t realize how conflicted my feelings would be about this fateful period in world history and have been thinking about the book and its characters ever since.

Reminiscent of an Erik Larson novel with its intertwining plot lines, in-depth character exploration and deft mixing of current events and first hand accounts, The Family Romanov takes readers on a journey through history that eventually leads to the rise of Lenin, the disastrous Romanov downfall and the Russian Revolution.

Nicholas II, Imperial Russia’s last tsar, we learn, was not only unprepared to take the throne in 1894 following his father’s death, but he was uninterested in the role as well. That alone explains his pathetic attempt at running of his country. In fact, Fleming takes us further back to “a frosty March day in 1881 …,” for it was on that day that thirteen-year-old Nicholas’s grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, was killed by a bomb that “landed between his feet,” laying the groundwork for events that would ultimately change the course of the 20th century geopolitical world. The deceased liberal tsar was replaced by Nicholas’s father, Alexander III, whose harsh autocracy would reign for 13 years only to be succeeded by the ill-equipped son for whom he held contempt.

We are also introduced to a young Alexandra, granddaughter to Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Once married to Nicholas, the Empress Alexandra bears him four daughters (including Anastasia) and a hemophiliac son and heir to the throne, Alexei. She also encourages her husband to retreat from public life and begins depending more and more on a charlatan named Rasputin whose alleged healing powers help keep Alexei alive. This mystic manages to wield much influence on the Romanovs and, despite the scandal that their dependence on Rasputin brings, they naively allow him to dictate many political decisions that further alienate the family from the Russian people.

Add WWI and immeasurable loss of life to this scenario of two immensely wealthy and privileged “Imperial Majesties” who are in total denial as to the deplorable lives the vast majority of their citizens lead, and you have the classic makings of a truth is stranger than fiction story guaranteed to keep your eyes glued to the page. Get ready for a gripping novel that warrants more than one read and a place on every bookshelf.

 

The Night Before College by Sonya Sones and Ava Tramer & Giveaway

Happy Graduation to All. You Sure Got it Right.

 

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The Night Before College by Sonya Sones and Ava Tramer with artwork by Max Dalton, Grosset & Dunlap, 2014.

An homage to Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, The Night Before College (Grosset & Dunlap, $9.99, Ages 17 and up) by Sonya Sones and Ava Tramer makes an ideal graduation gift, so pick up several copies at your local independent bookshop and who knows, you may even get a hand-written thank you note or phone call instead of a text or email! Please scroll down for details about our grad giveaway.

You know the Moore version, but did you know that … ?

‘Twas the night before college,
and from East Coast to West,
all the soon-to-be freshman
could simply not rest.

Parents, do you remember the drama of your child writing essays, all the waiting for email word of admissions, all your discussions with everyone from your Facebook friends to your family doctor? This rollicking rhyming tale will take readers through all the humor, stress and anticipation the academic world throws out at students. From Junior year junkets to colleges across the country to SAT exam prep, from the dreaded college interview to dreaming of dorm rooms, it’s all there for parents to relive and grads to kiss good-bye. For families fortunate enough to have their children finish high school and go on to college, The Night Before College is an up-beat celebration of the school years starting with a swift ode to preschool and elementary school.

By nine, they’d discovered some new Mayan ruins.
By twelve, they’d been courted to play for the Bruins.

Max Dalton’s cartoon-like artwork invites some careful viewing. My favorite illustration was of the college fair with table cloths of the various schools labeled “This State College,” “That State College” and “Yet Another School.”  I honestly couldn’t stop grinning as Sones and Tramer hit all the highlights of pre-college life I first experienced courtesy of my daughter three years ago. I sure hope they’ll think about penning a sequel, The Night Before Real Life, for college grads! – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GIVEAWAY:

We’re giving away one copy of The Night Before College to one lucky winner. Enter now by completing private form below. The giveaway ends at midnight PST on Tuesday, May 27th. One winner will be selected using Random.org and notified on Wednesday, May 28th via email. Good luck!

1) Use private entry form below.

2) Be sure to include your name and address in the COMMENTS box.

3) LIKE us on Facebook and/or Twitter and let us know you did. LIKING us twice gives you an extra entry!

A One-Way Ticket to Salvation

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, (Little, Brown and Company, $17.99, YA), is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

RP-CoverWriting an engaging memoir is tricky business, and writing one about a personal faith-based journey even trickier. Aaron Hartzler manages to convey his coming-of-age story with an earnest, often funny and sometimes heartbreaking memoir, Rapture Practice. In it, he grapples with trying to be the young adult that his parents desire him to be while coming to terms with who he really is and living the life that he wants – no easy feat and especially so as he is raised in a strict Christian household. Seemingly innocent everyday activities such as listening to pop music, watching movies and hanging out with friends become causes for lying, hiding and rebelling. Whether he’s performing a taboo song at the school vocal ensemble, sneaking into forbidden movies such as Pretty Woman or secretly forging a friendship with an individual whose parents are divorced, Aaron earnestly tries to balance his desire to please his parents and to experience adolescence as he chooses. Ultimately, however, he knows that he cannot have one without imposing consequences on the other, and that is the heart of this book. Rapture Practice is a moving story and an important one for adolescents struggling with identity and parental expectations.

Honest and Real: The Diary of an American Girl

Home Front GirlHere at Good Reads with Ronna we only review books we have read cover to cover and love. I’m thrilled to share Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America  ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) because it just happens to be one of those books, and I just could not put it down. I had to read every single word, and I can see myself reading this book again one day.

This hard cover book is the diary of Joan Wehlen Morrison, beginning in the pre WWII year of 1937, when she was 14 years old, through the spring of 1943 when she was 20. Joan was a witty and insightful teenager from Chicago who wrote her thoughts, dreams and experiences in her journal on a regular basis. Following her death in 2010, her children discovered her written treasures, and her daughter, Susan Morrison, set out to get them published. Home Front Girl is the glorious result of those efforts.

It was fate that I was asked to review this book because not only was I born in Chicago where Joan lived, but my family has a long history with The University of Chicago, where Joan attended school. My grandfather received his degree from UC in the 1920s, my uncle (my father’s brother) was a well known professor of Economics at UC, my cousins – his daughters – attended the Lab School where Joan went, and my brother received his MBA there in the early 1990s. And although I have lived in Miami most of my life, I am very familiar with all the Chicago places Joan writes about in her diary.

Nothing can match the raw honesty of a teenager’s diary, especially when that teenager is highly intelligent, insightful, sensitive and hopelessly optimistic. I suppose all who write in a journal write for themselves not really contemplating who will read it after they are gone, and that is what makes them so honest and real.

“By the way, I’m a genius. I found out my I.Q. rating accidentally yesterday. It’s 141. And the biology book said people with I.Q.s of 140 or more are ‘usually considered geniuses.’ Only 1 percent get that.”

Throughout the diary, readers can step inside Joan’s thoughts and read of her experiences, from the every day to the extraordinary – her latest crushes, her talents as a top student, her friendships, a tuberculosis scare, how she is always hungry and how she is perpetually late for nearly everything. Most importantly, Joan is sensitive to the pre-war atmosphere and writes with great wisdom about what is happening globally as well as what she dreads with the impending doom of America going to war looming in the air. Her WWII comments are really quite perceptive and educational.

Joan’s academic abilities led to a prestigious scholarship to attend The University of Chicago’s Junior College for her last two years of high school. Later she got her college degree in Anthropology there. Considering the time period in which her writing takes place, when women in academics were the minority, her accomplishments were quite impressive. I love that some of her actual diary pages and doodles are included in the book and footnotes are used to help the reader understand details about Joan’s entries.

What I enjoyed most about the diary is Joan’s intellectual insight about what is most important in life. In a passage about a friend’s father who passed away suddenly she writes:

“Vera’s father is dead. Gee, I came home and Mom told me. I used to play cards with him and tell jokes and I saw him last Sunday and he is dead . . . and the Spanish War is over and the Chinese War is going on and 8,000 people died in the Chile earthquake and people all over the world are eating their suppers and doing their homework (as I shall) and laughing and reading and moving about in lighted rooms and a man I know is dead.”

Other than a whole lot of wisdom about the WII era, what young readers will take away from this book is that teenagers from more than 70 years ago were not much different in most ways than teenagers of today  – minus technology of course. The fact that Joan did not have a typewriter or computer to write her diary is perhaps the very reason her written thoughts were preserved as well as discovered by her children. Computers fail over time, CD roms are almost obsolete, but pen and paper endure.

I highly ecommend this book for any young readers, particularly girls, who wish to broaden their horizons and make friends with an American girl from decades ago who was honest and real. I now feel as though I know Joan Wehlen Morrison personally, and I only wish she had written more journal entries about her life so I could read more.

I commend Susan Morrison and her brothers for sharing their mother’s private words with the world. Oh how I wish my mother or grandmothers had left me with a treasure of a diary such as this!

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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