The Pain Eater by Beth Goobie

The Pain EaterThe Pain Eater by Beth Goobie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maddy is gang-raped by her masked classmates when she is alone and vulnerable but she knows another person was witness to it. At first, she is only able to calm her traumatic thoughts through self-harm. Going to school each day everyone notices the change in Maddy but only a few know why. In English class, they are assigned a collaborative novel to write one student at a time. The mean girls try to make the story about the rumours about Maddy, and Maddy is tormented through gossip and verbal harassment encouraged by her attackers. Slowly Maddy also develops allies in some of her classmates and the class novel becomes more and more about the redemption and triumph of The Pain Eater. It reminds me of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear but with a unique angle on recovery.

As Maddy begins to put the puzzle together of who her attackers are, she wrestles with withdrawal, suspicion, rage and finally, a will to survive. Beth Goobie writes with an intensity that may be off-putting for some readers. However this raw and authentic exploration will appeal to anyone who can see through lesser writer’s tricks to avoid difficult conversations. Goobie tackles assault, bullying, self-harm and more head-on and young readers will appreciate her candor. I read this book as part of the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine program for teen readers and I will recommend this book to any student in my school library who likes realism.

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Exo by Fonda Lee

Exo (Exo #1)Exo by Fonda Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I know as a secondary school teacher-librarian that I’m supposed to remain neutral at all times, but I loved this book. Through this universe in which current generations of humans have joined forces with alien governance, Fonda Lee is able to explore the effects of colonization. It reminds me of Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave and its deeper than Eve Silver‘s book Rush. It explores polarization without the artifice of Hunger Games’ Districts or Divergent’s Factions.

Donovan is a political agent entirely designed by his parents. His father is the Prime Liaison: a political position devoted to negotiations and ultimately satisfying the will of the colonizing aliens. His mother rejected the submission to the aliens and instead leads a rebellion against them. Donovan’s childhood body was experimentally subjected to transformation in order to accept an ingrained body armor called an Exocel. Donovan has the body of an athlete and has been raised to be the warrior within it…until he reconciles with his mother. Suddenly the black and white world of Exocel vs. rebellion isn’t as clear anymore. Donovan realizes the compromises that have been made on both sides in order to gain peace. He risks losing everything but feels compelled to stick up for both sides and to open up negotiations again for greater understanding.

It’s not often that a science fiction novel can spark tears in me, yet it did. I better leave it there to tempt you, rather than to risk any spoilers. I read this book as part of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading in the White Pine nominees. I liked it better than Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves and that is saying something. Don’t overlook this book if you’re new to science fiction. I would highly recommend it to everyone but especially to any teacher who is looking for a way to explore topics of colonization with their classes.

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Subject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

Subject to ChangeSubject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Declan’s family is falling apart as his single mother works beyond her limits to keep the family together, and his brother struggles with addiction as a way to avoid confronting responsibility. Declan battles with which of his family’s secrets to keep and which to keep secret until he is pushed beyond what he can handle. Thankfully thee adults in his school are first to notice that Declan is slipping away and assign him a tutor. Through his tutor’s own example of dealing with family struggle, Declan begins to gain hope that his family could come together. Declan’s story is both a story of surviving trauma and coming-of-age, in that through his family’s hardships he realized that his role is greater than his self. This realization transforms Declan from a child into a man, and he learns to appreciate the grey areas between black and white.

I read this book as part of the Forest of Reading White Pine program for grades 9 – 12. I have difficulty believing that a) this is Nesbitt’s first novel as it is so well crafted and still authentic and b) that Nesbitt is an educator as there is a lot of raw, crass exploration of the teen lexicon and lifestyle choices that make it feel as though she has lived it. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who needs hope or who needs to understand how much the average teen is hiding and dealing with on their own.

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The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

The Marrow ThievesThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose this book as it is nominated by the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading program in the White Pine selection this year. …and I think it is a strong contender for the winner, but teachers aren’t allowed to vote. I’m not the only one who agrees it is a winner: this book is sitting on the Canada Reads 2018 long list, won the Governor General’s award for young adult literature and has even broken through the border into recognition in the American market.

It has all the makings of a popular young adult book: strong character development, a driving plot in a not unfamiliar dystopian world, and an optimistic resolution. More than this though, Dimaline takes many of the issues facing First Nations, Metis and Inuit people today and incorporates them into a book that will have readers racing to read more about reservation treaties, residential schools and environmental pillaging without making the reader feel ignorant for not knowing enough. There are so many things I liked about the book as an adult reader including the variety of adult role models that the main character Frenchie encounters.

As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will be sure to recommend this book to any student looking for an adventurous book, with just the right amount of romance. There are well-developed, positive characters represented from a diversity of backgrounds who work together towards their common goal. This is a book for everyone.

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The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay

The Orange Grove: A NovelThe Orange Grove: A Novel by Larry Tremblay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little book (just 157 pages) is not for the faint of heart and is not a light read. It spans the life of Amed, who makes the horrible choice to swap places with his brother as a child, rather than to suicide bomb a target in revenge for the death of his grandparents. Sweeping across continents and across time periods in Amed’s life, this book feels like an epic journey of a tortured soul. He is constantly visited by the ghosts of his past and they stir Amed to flee rather than deal with his crisis of conscience. Not until the ending, does Tremblay provide a Deus ex Machina in the form of a tortured play where Amed can finally bare all in a giant cathartic finale.

I read this book as part of the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine program. The translation is awkward feeling and the ending is too abrupt and yet I would put this book in the canon alongside Elie Wiesel, Night for the way it has perfectly captured the zeitgeist of our war-torn era and the human migration that is a result of it. Small but mighty, The Orange Grove spoke to me on many levels. In the secondary school classroom, it would ignite all sorts of entry-level conversation on difficult topics.

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Dan vs. Nature by Don Calame

Dan vs. NatureDan vs. Nature by Don Calame

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a light read but darker than Don Calame‘s previous works. Dan and his Mom’s fiance venture into the wilderness with a motley crue of tag-alongs. Dan is intent on breaking the fiance until he starts to really struggle with the wild as nature bites back. Underneath it all is Dan’s fear of change and the healthy mistrust of this new adult. It turns out the fiance is not all he appears as well except he has an unwavering concern for Dan’s well-being.

I read this book as part of the Ontario Library Association’s selection for the White Pine program this year. I didn’t like it as much as Calame’s previous Swim the Fly in the same way that I didn’t appreciate Robin Williams trying to become a dramatic actor after being a comedy star. Perhaps Calame is morphing and this is his transition book. Regardless Dan Vs. Nature still suits the nature of male-focused fun in an otherwise morose world of young adult fiction.

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The Art of Getting Stared at by Laura Langston

The Art of Getting Stared AtThe Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book as it is nomineed for an Ontario Library Association White Pine Award. I have been criticized for praising books too highly but honestly, the White Pine selection committee does such great work. I loved this book and I was surprised when it brought me to tears a number of times. The way the Langston interweaves Sloane’s discovery of her onsetting alopecia with the calls from her mother’s volunteerism in the Sudan and Sloane’s own volunteerism at the local child hospice unit speaks to the complete spectrum of mental health stresses that humans deal with. Sloane authentically struggles not only with the onset of her immune disorder but how to weigh her grief for her hair with the grief she feels for the patients that she visits. As a teacher-librarian, I would recommend this book for anyone grade 7 and up.

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Delusion Road by Don Aker

Delusion RoadDelusion Road by Don Aker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is nominated this year for an Ontario Library Association White Pine award and It is hopping off the shelves in my secondary school library. At first I found the book to feel very abrupt as the chapters interchange between the two essential plots and subplots of the novel. This contrived double-narrative improves towards the midway point as the plots begin to come together. The characters of Willa and Keegan are very believable and well-developed so that we really care about what’s happening as the plot thickens. Ayer even makes me feel sorry for Wynn at one point! This book, with its predictable structure, and it’s classic themes of good vs. Evil….vs. Evil will surely appeal to teens from grade 7 and up.

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Rush by Eve Silver

Rush (The Game, #1)Rush by Eve Silver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eve Silver‘s book Rush is a sure fire winner with the strong young adult readers in my secondary school library. It begins with the life of an otherwise ordinary girl who gets pulled through dimensions into a ‘game’ but it turns out that she actually has to really kill the enemy Drau that she is up against. Miki ‘levels up’ as she becomes less afraid to hunt the Drau. There are hints at deeper issues as Miki deals with her own shock to the intensity of her situation, and as she tries to make a connection with the elusive leader Jackson, who has put up emotional walls to deal with his responsibility to the game. Because of the twists and turns in world-building and planar leaps, I don’t recommend this to weaker readers, but for those into science fiction, I do. I really enjoyed the game culture and also how Miki and her friends have to maintain all ‘normal’ appearances when they’re not fighting for their lives.

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The Troop by Nick Cutter

The TroopThe Troop by Nick Cutter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As The Troop is nominated by the Ontario Library Association’s for the White Pine award, I picked it up in audiobook. This book is seriously scary….I have an 11 year old boy named Maximilian (weird coincidence) and the idea of him going anywhere overnight is nerve-wracking. Now I’ve taught Lord of the Flies, read Island Heart of Darkness and Robin Cook so I’d like to think that I had a pretty good idea of where Cutter was going, but there are many surprises along the way.

I enjoyed the experience of Cutter’s suspense, and there were times where I had to do deep breathing exercises to summon the courage to keep listening as the boys first are without guardians, turning on each other or hiding in the cellar. But while it was about the right age group for White Pine readers, and Cutter’s style in and out of the action and aftermath was masterful, I didn’t really enjoy it. Is it because I’m not in the right demographic? Maybe. But I also think it’s because the creation of horror is more important to Cutter than the originality of his premise.

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim (The Story of Owen, #1)The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

Give me a book about dragons in the White Pine section of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading http://www.accessola.org/web/OLA/Fore… and I am your girl. Now if you set that book in my area of Ontario and revise Canadian history to include all sorts of dragon mishaps, I am hooked. (And you thought the Great Lakes were just a great summertime getaway destination?) I devoured The Story of Owen, like a dragon on a blacksmith shop. Attracted to carbon emissions, dragons are set to be a dangerous nuisance across the globe and Ontario’s Owen is destined to become next in his family line. The narrator is Siobhan, whose academic and musical talents make her the perfect sidekick as Owen’s training accelerates with a sudden increase in local dragon attacks.

This fantasy tale would be a great entry point for any reader who wants to try fantasy as it combines 2015 realism with the dragon slayer’s athleticism. However, fantasy lovers and Canadian history lovers will really appreciate author E.K. Johnston’s revision of familiar events. Personally, I will definitely recommend this book to the readers in my secondary school library and I can’t wait to read her next one in the series.

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The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley by Jan Andrews

The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinleyThe Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley by Jan Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first read of the 2014-15 Ontario Library Association’s White Pine picks for this year and based on this book alone, I’m very hopeful. Like last year’s Old Man by David A. Poulsen, our main character Kyle McGinley has a very unusual relationship with his estranged father. Here the similarities end though, as Kyle’s father was neglectful and abusive before abandoning his son when he was only 8. Having moved around the foster system ever since, Kyle finally lands with Jill and Scott in a rural location which allows him the peace and quiet he needs to begin healing. Kyle takes his need for silence to a whole new level by refusing to speak with his new wards. However, the threat of his father’s return catapults him once again into turmoil. This book is a fast read of only 198 pages but it is rich in symbolism as Kyle wrestles with noise and silence, hope and despair. Andrews’ characters are very believable and her unique style of creating Kyle’s inner voices allows for some very creative interpretations of his emotional story. I would highly recommend this book to any student but I will urge reluctant male readers to pick it up the most.

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Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely fabulous. You’ve got to really like dragons (and luckily I do) but Rachel Hartman will have a fan in me forever after this. I hope she’s busy writing a sequel as after I was done I immediately looked for the next one. This is high fantasy, with lots of rich world-building and complicated new concepts and vocabulary for things. Hartman is not only delving into the fantastic with relish, but she is also making a social commentary about the ridiculousness of asking creatures to be what they are not in order to conform with societal norms. The taboos that the dragons break as they attempt to conform to the world of the humans are laughable. I’m also really glad that the ‘freaks’ (no spoilers) also get some superpowers as they develop their fringe community. I would highly recommend this book to any reader, young adult to adult, who enjoys fantasy.

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