“Life: An Exploded Diagram” by Mal Peet

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This unusual story focuses on the bizarre history of seventeen-year-old Clem Ackroyd, his parents and his grandparents, and the way war shapes him and his family. The story begins at the end of World War II, lingers over the details of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and ends on September 11, 2001. Not only is it a unique, broad-spanning historical fiction novel, it is also full of beautiful language, a finely-drawn first-love story, and plenty of humor mixed in with all the heartache.

At the heart of the story is Clem’s secret relationship with Frankie, the daughter of his father’s boss. Every nuance of their ill-fated romance is chronicled, juxtaposed with Cuban Missile Crisis thoughts from John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro and other major players. If this sounds like dry reading to you, trust me, it’s not–Peet brings history to life as well as he evokes the heady, helpless, hormone-soaked feeling of first love.

Highly recommended for teens who like historical fiction or unusual narratives. Fans of realistic fiction by authors such as John Green or Sara Zarr might enjoy this book. Recommended for older readers.

Check this book out or put it on hold.

–Amanda Coppedge Bosky

“Okay For Now” by Gary Schmidt

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Fourteen-year-old Doug’s life is going down the toilet. His abusive father moves the family to a new town where they live in a house Doug names “The Dump.” His older brother is severely injured in the Vietnam War. And his middle brother is accused of stealing — which makes everyone in the new town assume Doug is also a hoodlum.

Despite the odds stacked against him, Doug is determined to thrive. He discovers a love for drawing when he sees an Audubon book on display at his local library. With the help of sympathetic teachers, he overcomes illiteracy and discovers an innate talent for science and math. This heartwarming, emotional story follows Doug in his day to day life and leaves readers cheering for him and hoping he is able to overcome all the obstacles in his path. One of my favorite things about this book is the fact that even those who seem to be the worst villains have the opportunity to be redeemed. And despite his upbringing and the unfair perceptions of others, Doug is determined to see the good in others and work to make the world a better place. Though this brief description may make this sound like a saccharine, feel-good story, Doug’s tough-guy voice makes it a very grounded, accessible book for boy or girl readers from ages 10-14.

Check this book out or put it on hold.

–Amanda Coppedge Bosky

“Countdown” by Deborah Wiles

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[Note: we occasionally review upper middle grade books which will appeal to readers ages 12-14.]

Wiles was able to capture the emotions of a ten-year-old girl growing up during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Political and public service announcement images are placed throughout the story that represent what would have been seen on TV and in the newspaper during the 1960s. Many of these images help evoke the sense of impending doom that Franny feels while she struggles with growing up. A mean friend, new boy on the block, first invitation to a boy/girl party, and crazy home life force Franny into deciding what kind of person she wants to be. There are several other layers of history embedded throughout with regards to civil rights, postwar veterans and popular culture. The manner in which historical depth and juvenile insight were handled makes this a unique read.

Check out the book or put it on hold.

-Lynlee Lebensart