The Speed of Falling Objects

by Nancy Richardson Fischer

Life hasn’t been easy for Danielle “Danny” Warren. When she was 7, her adventurous father leaves her and her mother to become a famous “Reality Star”. Danny believes her father abandoned her because she suffered a horrible accident and lost her eye, an accident that not only stole her sight but also her courage. When her father invites her on a trip with him to the Amazon to film an episode of his Reality show, Danny believes it would be the perfect time to get to know her father and prove to him that she is not the frightened little girl he left behind. Unfortunately, the plane crashes into the jungle, and Danny not only has to face but she must also come to accept the man her father truly is.

The Speed of Falling Objects is truly an adventure story where the protagonist experiences more than her fair share of peril all the while falling in love for the first time.

Me(Moth) by Amber Mcbride

Me (Moth) by Amber McBride

(possible spoilers)

I’m finding it difficult to put into words how much I loved this novel. I don’t often gravitate to novels written in verse but honestly, the cover of this one was breathtaking so I had to take a look inside. For the entirety of my reading, I had to sit still for fear of breaking the magic in which I found myself, magic that kept me transfixed upon the spiritually intimate relationship between Moth and Sani.

It’s been two years since Moth lost her family in a car crash. Although she lives with her aunt, she feels guilty to have survived and has felt displaced and lonely ever since. Moth drifts through school friendless and alone until she meets Sani, a beautiful young man who draws, sings, and plays music. But there is something amiss with Sani, he is loving and creative one minute, and then withdrawn and isolating the next. Moth suspects it has something to do with the medication he sporadically takes.

Moth and Sani form a bond that grows beyond friendship. He too feels displaced living with his mother and abusive stepfather and soon decides to travel to Window Rock on the Navajo Nation to be with his father. Moth, having fallen in love with Sani, goes with him. On this journey, they both discover truths about themselves truths that are both disturbing yet freeing.

After reading Me(Moth) I can say it’s one of the best YA books I have ever read. I found myself consistently writing down beautiful lyrical lines such as “ why do I feel like the dust of your name is buried in my bones (71)  and “ I don’t know how to be whole anymore/whatever you need you can borrow from me. ( 134.) Aren’t they beautiful?!

I read it quickly the first time quickly because I needed to see a resolution of a multitude of thematic strings that had started to weave together, and then I needed to read again so I could pause and savour McBride’s beautiful use of language and imagery. 

If I were still teaching High school I would use this novel or portions of this novel in a literature study. Foreshadowing, imagery, voice, atmosphere, figurative language are just a few curricular links you can make using this text as support; a text that most young adults would find enchanting.

When I read I often read from the point of view of a teacher. I envision how can I use an engaging book or portions of this book in class to teach figurative language, literary devices, or Author Style. If I was still in the classroom, Me(Moth)  would be a mainstay for instruction on author style. More importantly, it is SUCH an engaging read it will definitely inspire a love of reading novels, especially novels in verse.

The novel deals with themes of identity, grief, mental illness, physical abuse, loneliness, culture, the importance of ancestors.

An interesting addition is Moth and Sani’s playlist. The lyrics of a few songs are scattered throughout a section of the text where Moth and Sani go on a road trip. McBride kindly includes this playlist at the back of the novel so if we so choose, we can listen to the same songs as the characters while the story is unfolding before us.

Amber McBride offers her book as “a gift, an iron/to smooth the wrinkles of [our] spirit” 

And it indeed does just that.

Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy

Ok, let’s cut to the chase; this novel is an honest portrayal of a 12-year-olds struggle with anorexia. It is written as journal entries that provide an intimate look into her thoughts and emotions concerning: her motivation for not eating, her feelings of inadequacy, and her relationship with food. The author, Jen Petro Roy, was diagnosed with anorexia when she was young so the experiences relayed through the eyes of our protagonist Riley sound authentic and raw.

The entirety of the novel takes place in a treatment Centre where Riley undergoes weekly weigh-ins, having nurses stand outside the door making you count aloud so that they know if you throw up, counselling sessions. At the end of the day Riley’s writing gives us a realistic view of how she is processing her experiences and emotions. Riley is sarcastic, honest, and actually quite funny in her entries. I found it fascinating to follow her journey of healing and the baby steps it took for her to become strong enough to leave treatment. Her change comes slowly and with a lot of work, all of which is documented through the engaging voice of her journals.

This novel can be used as a segway into discussions around body image and mental and physical health, offering opportunities for parents and educators a non-threatening way to discuss these important issues.

What About Will by Ellen Hopkins

So I’m looking for new books for junior high classrooms. NEW books. Not Holes, or Hatchet or The Outsiders. NEW titles. I found one. And, read it in a day and I loved it. I even teared up at the end. 

What About Will is written by Ellen Hopkins. Now for those of you who have spent any time in a junior or senior high school library know that Hopkin’s novels are ALWAYS signed out. This is interesting because she writes her novels in verse and, in my experience, most students don’t immediately gravitate towards verse.

Hopkins’s novels often deal with difficult themes using intense issues such as drug abuse, physical abuse, and sex trafficking, to name a few. What About Will, however, deals with a serious issue but in a heartwarming and empowering way. 

The story is told from the viewpoint of 12-year-old Trace. Trace’s life is pretty awesome; he lives with his mother and father and his big brother Will whom he adores. 

One day though, Trace’s life takes a dramatic turn when Will is tackled in a football game and suffers a serious concussion. Will recovers but, he no longer is “Will”. He is angry, in pain, shoves those whom he loves away from him, and starts to make decisions that put his life at risk. The stress of the accident causes his parents to divorce, and soon, Trace feels the need to tippy-toe around any serious issues he is experiencing in order to spare his loved ones’ stress. Even if it means keeping secrets that can turn out to be fatal.

Trace is a kind-hearted, selfless young man who just wants to keep those he loves safe and together. Unfortunately, he finds that no amount of good intentions on his part can sway the choices of others.

I really loved this novel so much that I’m including it in a book collection for Junior High Teachers to use for classroom book clubs. If I were still in the classroom I would try and possess several copies to use for literature circles or independent novel studies. It’s accessible to most readers because of its format. Students will not be overwhelmed by the number of words on the page or vocabulary.

Middle School Book Binge

So this month I’ve been trying to read more “Middle School” books so that I can confidently recommend new novels to teachers in our schools. So besides increasing my book total for my reading goal for the year 2021 I found some REALLY good middle school reads that have been published over the last few years. Here are just a few:

Hello, Universe by Kelly Entrada, 

A group of kids with totally different personalities become close friends after the universe throws them together to search for a missing boy. 

Virgil Salina: a sixth-grade boy. So shy his family calls him “Turtle”. He is small for his age and therefore gets bullied by his classmates. He becomes slightly traumatized by his Lola’s (grandma’s) Filipino folktales about stones gobbling up young boys. Virgil has a guinea pig named Gullivar that is his best friend.

Valencia Somerset: is an 11-year-old girl who is questioning the existence of God however she stills talks to St. Rene. Valencia is deaf and suffers from nightmares of abandonment. She is tough and doesn’t think she needs a “gazillion friends” in fact her best friend is a stray dog she finds in the woods near he house.

Kaori Tanaka is a twelve-year-old girl who fancies herself a psychic and offers her services to anyone who isn’t an adult. She is confident and creative and always makes herself available to help people by giving them “readings”

Chett Bullins is a bully. He particularly likes picking on Virgil. He feels uncomfortable around Valencia because he believes she can read lips and therefore knows all his secrets. Chett is particularly preoccupied with finding and capturing a snake just to prove how tough he is to both his classmates and his father. 

Themes of friendship, courage, and resiliency.

Black Brother Black Brother by Rhodes Jewell Parker

Donte and Trey are brothers. Donte hates school probably because he is one of the few black boys who attend and is therefore treated unjustly by the predominantly white student and faculty. To make matters worse, Donte’s brother Trey presents as white and doesn’t suffer racism. In trying to discover where he belongs in his world, Donte starts training under a former Olympic fencer Arden Jones and soon becomes a competitive fencer. Themes of bullying, racism, resilience, family, and friendship.

He Who Dreams by Florence Melanie

Our young protagonist John finds his identity in being one of the strongest soccer players at his school. One evening, as he is waiting for his little sister to finish her gymnastic class, he discovers an Indigenous dance class. Sensing a connection to the music, he forges a friendship with the dance teacher who encourages him to try Indigeninous dance himself. John tries to balance both the Irish and Cree sides of his culture but keeps his dancing a secret from his family as he navigates the mocking of his soccer teammates and the hostility of the boys in his dance class. 

Themes of identity, family, culture, courage. 

The Science of Unbreakable Things by Tae Keller

With the help of her friends, Natalie sets out to win a science competition so she can use the prize money to help her mother overcome depression by flying her to see a rare orchid known for surviving impossible odds. This story includes humorous illustrations and THE most engaging footnotes that help us love Natalie even more. 

Themes of mental health, friendship, family.

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter

Allergic is a graphic novel. It is a heartwarming story about Maggie who desperately wants a pet but is devastated because she is severely allergic to pet dander. Maggie takes it upon herself to outsmart her allergies and try to find a pet that she isn’t allergic to. 

Themes of family, friendship, resiliency.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang and her parents immigrate from China and take jobs managing a motel – a place where they not only work but live. Unfortunately, the owner of the motel is corrupt and takes advantage of the Tangs by not paying them a fair wage, and by taking the cost of any damages caused by hotel guests out of their paycheck. Although living in and managing the hotel has its hardships, Mia meets an assortment of hotel “residents” who are kind and helpful and end up being allies of the Tangs. Mia, being the precocious, brilliant 11-year-old she is ends up saving the ay for not only the hotel guests but for her own family. 

Themes of inclusion, bullying, the immigrant experience, friendship, and resiliency.