Archive for the ‘Paranormal’ Category

Review of My Calamity Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Thursday, October 29th, 2020

My Calamity Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2020. 520 pages.
Review written October 10, 2020, from a library book

This is the third book by “The Lady Janies” about a historical (or fictional) Jane retold with a paranormal twist. The first two – My Lady Jane about Lady Jane Grey and My Plain Jane about Jane Eyre – I was very familiar with the stories they were based on, and especially enjoyed the way they’d been shifted. I was not very familiar at all with the life of Calamity Jane of the Old West, so that made the book not quite as much fun.

At first, I felt like it was all melodramatic and silly. Then I remembered that it’s intentionally melodramatic and silly, and I settled in and enjoyed it.

The twist they put into this story was that Wild Bill Hickok and his Wild West show featuring Calamity Jane were werewolf hunters as well. So this is the Old West with werewolves. And we’ve got an evil werewolf, the Alpha, who’s forming a Pack of werewolves who follow the Alpha in wickedness. And Wild Bill and Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley and Frank Butler the Pistol Prince all get involved in a wild adventure with the Alpha as the adversary. But we do have a twist that not all werewolves are bad. If you get bitten, you don’t have to prey on others when the moon is full.

And it includes trick shooting and bull whip manipulations and plenty of romance.

So it’s more silly fun. This time in the Wild West.

ladyjanies.com
epicreads.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

by Garth Nix

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 393 pages.
Review written September 29, 2020, from my own copy, ordered via amazon.com
Starred Review

I think the title of this book is utterly delightful. The caption on the cover: “Authorized to kill… and sell books” only makes it better. When I heard this was coming out and saw it was by one of my favorite authors, Garth Nix, I preordered a copy. Then I forgot it was coming, and was happily in between books when it arrived at my doorstep. I got to indulge myself and finish it on the weekend, discovering a very fun story filled with imaginative details, lots of danger, and satisfying challenges.

The story is set in an alternate London in 1983. Susan Arkshaw turned 18 on May Day, and she has come to London to settle in before starting art school. She hopes to find out who her father was while she is in London – her mother has always been vague about that, but has given Susan a few clues.

She begins her adventure thinking she’ll stay with “Uncle Frank,” who sends her mom Christmas cards, but not long after she gets to Uncle Frank’s place and decides she doesn’t want to stay, Frank gets disintegrated with a silver pin by a handsome young man wearing a glove on his left hand. As Susan shouts about calling the police, a giant louse bursts into the room, and the young man kills that as well. They make hasty introductions, and his name is Merlin, but then she asks him what’s going on:

“Can’t explain here,” said Merlin, who had gone to the window and was lifting the sash.

“Why not?” asked Susan.

“Because we’ll both be dead if we stay. Come on.”

He went out through the window.

Susan looked at the phone, and thought about calling the police. But after a single second more of careful but lightning-fast thought, she followed him.

That night, a black and thick fog comes after them, inhabited by a Shuck, which gives off an intense and foul smell. They must walk an ancient path back and forth until sunrise to stay safe. And even then get arrows fired at them by an otherworldly creature.

Susan gets housed in a special safe house, but attacks keep happening. It seems to have something to do with whomever her father is. And the left-handed booksellers of London know how to deal with the ancient forces. Or at least she hopes they do.

Merlin takes a special interest in Susan’s case, along with his sister Vivien, who is a right-handed bookseller and has different skills. Of course, following up with Susan leads to more and more danger for all of them.

It all adds up to an otherworldly adventure, trying to find out what they need to do to survive ancient forces unleashed against them. With the banter between characters, the book manages to be a fun and light-hearted read rather than dark and scary.

As Susan finds out about the Other World, she recognizes some things, leading to this favorite bit of mine:

“Children’s writers,” said Merlin. “Dangerous bunch. They cause us a lot of trouble.”

“How?” asked Susan.

“They don’t do it on purpose,” said Merlin. He opened the door. “But quite often they discover the key to raise some ancient myth, or release something that should have stayed imprisoned, and they share that knowledge via their writing. Stories aren’t always merely stories, you know. Come on.”

garthnix.com

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Review of The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Monday, August 17th, 2020

The Water Dancer

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
read by John Morton

Random House Audio, 2019. 14 hours, 14 minutes.
Review written August 10, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

With regular library audiobooks, I confess, if it’s due and I have almost finished listening, sometimes I do renew to get a little more time. But I listened to this book on eaudiobook. I knew there were several holds. So I ended up staying up until 3 am to finish listening.

The story is mesmerizing, and John Morton’s wonderful deep voice brings it to life. It’s the story of Hiram, one of the “tasked” on a Virginia plantation before the Civil War. His father is the plantation owner, but his mother got sold further south when he was very young. But he’s found favor with his father and has been made the personal servant of his half-brother.

As the book opens, something strange happens involving a blue light and a river and the road they are taking disappearing. Hiram’s white brother drowns, which changes things for Hiram. Listeners learn about his life growing up on the plantation, the struggles the “quality” are having as tobacco uses up the Virginia soil, and Hiram’s growing desire for freedom.

Eventually, it becomes apparent that Hiram has some otherworldly powers, but doesn’t know how to harness them. He becomes involved in the underground, and even meets Harriet Tubman, who can powerfully wield “conduction” herself.

I was tempted to speed up the audio as I finished so I wouldn’t have to stay up until 3 am after all, but the narrator’s deep, rich voice has a meditative quality to it, and speeding it up ruined the peace I felt from listening to it. And it was totally worth the lack of sleep.

This is a powerful story which looks at history from a new angle.

ta-nahesicoates.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dreadnought, by April Daniels

Monday, June 1st, 2020

Dreadnought

Nemesis, Book One

by April Daniels

Diversion Books, 2017. 279 pages.
Review written April 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I picked up Dreadnought because of a recommendation by a transgender woman I follow on Twitter, and was so glad I did.

The set-up for this book is maybe a little typical: A fifteen-year-old is present when a superhero dies, so the mantle is passed to her and she gains all the powers of the superhero, to be the next one with that persona.

But in this case, there’s an extra twist. Danny, the person who received the mantle and the superpowers, is a transgender girl, who wasn’t out to anyone but herself. But part of the superpowers includes Danny receiving her ideal body – and in Danny’s case, that’s the body of a woman. She now looks like the girl she’s long known she is.

So besides figuring out what to do with her new superpowers and whether to let the world even know she has them, Danny also has to navigate suddenly looking female.

Danny’s abusive father does not take it well. He insists on bringing Danny to doctors and trying to set up testosterone therapy. Danny’s former best friend thinks he’s doing Danny a favor when he says he’s willing to date her. And the local Legion of superheroes doesn’t allow underage “white capes,” and not everyone currently in the Legion is okay with being joined by someone who’s transgender.

Meanwhile, Utopia, the supervillain who killed the last Dreadnought, is still out there. Danny does make a friend in Sarah, who has her own super abilities and acts as a “gray cape,” not affiliated with the Legion. Sarah convinces Danny that they need to deal with Utopia, and Danny thinks she owes it to Dreadnought for the wonderful gift of a female body.

The story that follows is intense. First, Danny’s father greatly increases his abuse, and then Utopia threatens the Legion itself as well as the world. And she hints that there’s something even more dangerous coming, something called Nemesis. Since right on the cover, we see Nemesis – Book One, I’m looking forward to reading more.

This book is beautiful with all the things any superhero book might have about grappling with new powers and whether great power really does bring great responsibility. But layered on top of that, Danny grapples with what it means to finally have a body that reflects the person she’s always been, and how people react to her. Danny has a very hard time with her father’s abusive words, and I appreciate that no simplistic answers are given to that. Even with superpowers, it’s hard to stand up to abuse.

This is a wonderful book, and I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up. (As soon as I can get to the library.)

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X. R. Pan

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 472 pages.
Review written in early 2018 from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2019 Asian/Pacific American Literature Award Honor
2019 Walter Award Honor
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Teen Speculative Fiction

Wow. This book ties together symbolism and back story and grief and young love and magical realism and puts it all together into a package with punch. That sounds trite, and this book is anything but trite.

This is how Leigh begins her story.

My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.

I know it’s true the way I know the stain on the bedroom floor is as permanent as the sky, the way I know my father will never forgive himself. Nobody believes me, but it is a fact. I am absolutely certain.

We learn that Leigh’s mother committed suicide. The same day that Leigh’s best friend Axel kissed her and changed everything between them.

But then her mother appeared to her as a giant red bird. She said Leigh’s name. And left behind a feather.

The bird finds a way to tell Leigh to go to Taipei and meet her grandparents for the first time. In Taipei there are more appearances from the red bird. Leigh and Waipo and Waigong start traveling to the places her mother loved. It is Ghost Month in Taiwan. She learns that ghosts move on after forty-nine days. There isn’t much time left for her mother. She wants to figure out what her mother is trying to tell her.

But meanwhile, the red bird shows her a box of incense sticks. When she burns a stick, she sees memories – memories that belong to other members of her family. She begins to understand her mother better, but also her father and her grandparents. She learns why she never met them while her mother was alive. She understands better what her mother was up against.

These memories are interspersed with Leigh’s travels around Taiwan and time with her grandparents and sightings of the red bird. Also interspersed are Leigh’s memories of the last couple years with her friend Axel. The complication when he got a girlfriend who wasn’t Leigh. Their friendship and Leigh’s love of making art – which her Dad thinks she should give up to pursue something “serious.”

I am not always a fan of magical realism. I like fantasy where I understand how it works, which this didn’t fit at all. But Emily X. R. Pan won me over with her well-crafted story. The threads of grief, family history, following your passion, and falling in love with your best friend – all worked together to make an amazing book.

I’m writing this review before I’ve talked with anyone else about it – so this is solely my opinion. I am just not sure if I think this fits the age range for the Newbery. Leigh is fifteen – so there will certainly be many fourteen-year-old readers. I was personally trying to rule out any books that begin with discussions of sex, and this one begins with Leigh thinking about how much she wants to kiss Axel, so it’s not quite that.

I do think that the approach taken in this book is to a child audience – to the teenager as a child. Leigh approaches her grief as a child missing her mother, as a child becoming acquainted with her grandparents. Yes, there’s an aspect of hoping her best friendship with Axel will make the jump to an adult relationship, but that is only starting to happen.

But that’s only my opinion. And I’m only saying I do think this book is distinguished – but I’m making no claims at all to it being most distinguished. Or even if it’s in my top seven. I’m only saying that it made a strong impression on the first reading. I’ll indulge in a little speculation — whatever the committee decides – I hope this will also get some Morris and Printz love. I am amazed that Emily X. R. Pan is a debut author! But even if she doesn’t get any award recognition – this is an amazing book, and I hope many people read it. I will be looking forward to reading more books by this author.

exrpan.com
lbyr.com
theNOVL.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

My Plain Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2018. 450 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 1, 2018, based on a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Teen Speculative Fiction

Oh, I loved this book! Now this might be a good place to mention: Just because I loved this book, just because it made me laugh and smile – doesn’t mean I think it’s the most distinguished children’s literature of the year. (My disclaimer doesn’t mean I don’t think that either.) I’m writing this review before I have discussed the book with anyone, when I am simply full of how much just plain fun this book was to read.

Yes, this book reminded me very much of the authors’ earlier offering, My Lady Jane, which I also loved. Even though the premise was completely different. Okay, the authors were still purporting to tell the true story of something from England’s history – with a dose of magic, but the magic was quite different in this case. And the thing from history was the writing of a novel – Jane Eyre.

I recently read a retelling of Jane Eyre set in space, Brightly Burning, and in the age of the #MeToo movement, I’m a little disappointed with myself that I still find the story of Jane Eyre romantic. This book was not afraid to point out all the many ways Mr. Rochester was a totally inappropriate predator – so that eased my discomfort and made for a very satisfying story. (There were even extenuating circumstances!)

The story opens with Jane Eyre – and her friend Charlotte Bronte – as poor teachers at Lowood school. The evil Mr. Brocklehurst has just died (poisoned?). But there is a difference, besides Charlotte Bronte being on the scene. (This is how she got the idea, you see.) Jane is able to see and talk with ghosts. In fact her friend the sainted Helen Burns, who dies in the book, indeed died at Lowood, but now is Jane’s constant companion and beloved advisor.

The main plot of the book revolves around the Royal Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits, in fact. Alexander Bell, the star agent of the society, learns that Jane has this gift as a seer, and tries to recruit her to join the society. But she doesn’t want to leave Thornfield and its fascinating master.

Charlotte, however, is more than eager to join the Society. Too bad she can’t see ghosts like her bumbling brother Branwell can. Antics ensue.

But the most fun part of this book is the commentary that ghost Helen Burns provides to Mr. Rochester’s inappropriate actions. I love that she notices that they’re inappropriate. (So do the narrators, for that matter.) There’s a different story behind the wife in the attic in this version, and I just love the way it all works out.

Great fun, earnest people trying to do good, lots of ghosts, and even some romance – much more satisfying than the original. We also see how Charlotte got the idea for her book!

Distinguished? I’ll let you judge for yourself. The plot is maybe not terribly likely. But this book unquestionably is a whole lot of fun and highly recommended and perhaps one of my favorite young adult books I’ve read this year.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Red Hood, by Elana K. Arnold

Monday, April 13th, 2020

Red Hood

by Elana K. Arnold

Balzer + Bray, 2020. 353 pages.
Review written April 11, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Red Hood is an amazing and impressive book. It’s not a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, though you can almost think of it as standing the story on its head. And we do have wolves in the woods, a girl, and her grandmother.

But this girl in the woods is not prey, oh my, no! Instead she hunts down wolves – instinctively and fiercely.

For it turns out that sometimes, when there’s a full moon, men and boys turn into wolves. They attack and devour unsuspecting young women, who need a defender. Bisou turns out to be a ferocious defender.

But the book doesn’t begin that way. It begins with Bisou in the back of a truck, trying out sex with her boyfriend, whom she loves very much. But before the night is over, she’s in the woods alone, being attacked by a wolf – which she kills. The next morning, a boy is found dead in the woods where Bisou thought she left the wolf.

Now I loved Elana K. Arnold’s earlier book, Damsel. After going a little way into this book, I decided that both books were similar. Both books are very explicit about sex, almost clinically descriptive. Both books portray men cruelly exploiting women – but then meeting with vicious retribution – and that violent retribution is frighteningly satisfying.

However, by the time I was finished, I was super impressed with what the author pulled off here. Because not every boy turns into a wolf. Bisou has a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend, a loving and kind young man. There’s a point where Bisou has something to do having to do with hunting on a day when they usually have sex – and James is disappointed, but he doesn’t give her a hard time at all. I was waiting for it to all be a big trap and for him to turn into a wolf – and he remained a loving and kind person.

In fact, there’s another boy at their high school who harasses and abuses one of Bisou’s friends – and they deal with it without magical powers, and he never turns into a wolf. (I’m trying not to give spoilers. I don’t think this will ruin it for you.) I kept expecting every jerk to end up being a horrible wolf or the apparently loving individual to be a wolf at heart – and that just doesn’t happen here, and that impressed me.

What’s more, though the heroine of Damsel was basically alone, Bisou makes friends with other girls in this book. So as well as becoming a testament for girls standing up for themselves and standing against sexual violence, it also tells a beautiful story of the power of sisterhood and girls supporting each other as they do that standing.

I ended up so impressed with this book. It ends up being richly nuanced, telling a story of a girl gaining new powers to defend the weak against sexual violence, but not being alone as she navigates those new powers. It shows sexual violence as a horrible threat against women – but not a threat hiding in every man’s heart, and something that both men and women are willing to help destroy.

elanakarnold.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

This Savage Song

by Victoria Schwab

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2016. 427 pages.

Kate Harker and August Flynn live in a divided city overrun by monsters. The monsters are created when violent acts are committed. In the north side of the city, people pay Kate’s father for protection. Those who wear one of his medallions will not be touched by the monsters (or the monsters will pay). In the south side of the city, August’s father’s forces patrol to control the monsters. But he uses three of the most powerful type of monster — which includes August himself.

But the truce between the two powerful men and the two halves of the city is growing shaky.

Kate has been sent away for her own protection. But after she gets kicked out of six boarding schools, her father has to take her back. She will attend Colton Academy on the north side of Verity. August is also going to attend Colton Academy. Because the truce may fail. And Kate Harker may be the one thing her father cares about.

Monsters are only capable of telling the truth. Which might make it hard for August to pose as human, but he manages. His type of monster, the Sunai, can steal the souls of sinners by making music. He can tell when someone has committed violence, the kind of violence that produces monsters — their shadows don’t hold still.

The Sunai bring about justice. They work for good, right? But when they get Hungry, they can lose control….

Kate wants to prove she’s strong enough to live in the city, that she is enough like her father to not fear the monsters and rule the city. She notices there’s something off about August.

When monsters attack her school and it looks like the Sunai are doing it — but August is the one who saves her — Kate realizes that someone is trying to make the truce fall apart. Both she and August are in danger, but can they trust each other?

This book has an imaginative premise and explores what makes a human and what makes a monster. There is gore and violence, but interesting thoughts about society and violence and family.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Emily Bevan

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

The Empty Grave

by Jonathan Stroud
read by Emily Bevan

Listening Library, 2017. 12 hours, 41 minutes on 10 compact discs.
Starred Review

Ah! Another chance to enjoy the fifth and final book in the Lockwood & Co. series! Yes, listening to the book on CD is even more fun than reading it yourself.

Of course the reader’s accent helps you get into the mood of this alternate-reality London. And hearing it read slows you down so you can savor the story. (The books are hard to put down, but sometimes I had to simply turn off the car, shut off the CD, and go to work.)

I still say that these books make outstanding family listening – once your children are old enough to handle some seriously spooky events as well as people seriously trying to murder our heroes besides the incidental life-or-death danger they face routinely.

For the plot, I refer you to my review of the written book. I’m here to say that the audiobooks make them even more enjoyable – though it’s hard to believe that’s even possible, because they’re so good in the first place.

I have liked my approach to the whole series – devour each book as quickly as possible as soon as it comes out. Then, when I can get my hands on the audiobook, enjoy it again, savoring it a bit more slowly and catching some details I didn’t notice the first time.

(And that reminds me! I noticed a tiny, tiny flaw while I was listening! At the end, there’s a rapier fight between Lucy and the powerful woman who’s been running London. Well, the woman kicks off her heels when she starts fighting – but we’d already been told there were shards of glass all over the floor. If she had done that – then as the two move around the room fighting, she would have cut her feet and given Lucy a big advantage. But that’s the very first quibble I’ve found in these books.)

jonathanstroud.com
booksontape.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Steep and Thorny Way, by Cat Winters

Monday, September 10th, 2018

The Steep and Thorny Way

by Cat Winters

Amulet Books, 2016. 335 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2016

The Steep and Thorny Way is a reimagining of Hamlet in 1920s Oregon.

Hanalee Denny has white mother and an African American father, so she’s not very welcome in their town, where it’s illegal even for her parents to be married. But her father died two years ago, hit by a teenage drunk driver, and her mother has remarried to the doctor who comforted her after her husband’s death.

Now Joe, the teen who hit her father, is out of jail for good behavior, but he’s hiding out, because some people are after him. But Hanalee talks to him. He tells her that her father only had a broken leg after being hit by the car, and the doctor who’s now her stepfather must have killed him. What’s more, Hanalee learns that her father’s ghost has been seen on the highway at the crossroads where he was hit. Perhaps she can talk to his spirit and find out what really happened.

Okay, so far I thought we were going to get a straight retelling of Hamlet, so I thought I knew what was going to happen. But there are many twists and turns in this story. Things get sinister when we learn that the Ku Klux Klan is active in their town. They’re recruiting young people, and even Hanalee’s childhood friend is turning against her. And they have reasons for wanting Joe out of the picture as well.

So you’ve got a mystery – how did her father actually die? You’ve also got peril unfolding as Hanalee tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. And there are plenty of historical details about Oregon in that time period.

Reading about someone who’s made to feel “other” is a good antidote to bigotry. I hope this book isn’t as timely as it seems.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?