August2017 Booklist 61 www.booklistonline.com
readers into a bustling nineties Kenyan village with this in-depth look at family grief.
Auma is 13 and in year seven at her primary
school. She loves running, has dreams of leaving Koromo to go to high school on a track
scholarship, and wants to be a doctor. But
when her baba (father), looking thinner, returns early from his job in Nairobi, and more
people in her village start dying, Auma starts
questioning everything she knows. Then her
father dies, and Auma must decide whether
to continue her schooling or work to feed her
family. By the end of the novel, Auma is 15,
but she’s grappling with decisions that would
overwhelm most adults. In this gut-wrench-ing look at the AIDS epidemic in Kenya in
the nineties, Odhiambo flawlessly weaves Kenyan tradition and culture with appropriate
preteen problems (discussing crushes, competing in track meets). A detailed fictionalized
portrayal of the effects of a very real disease,
this novel would be an excellent asset to classrooms everywhere. —Courtney Gilfillian
Ban This Book.
By Alan Gratz.
Aug. 2017. 256p. Tor/Starscape, $16.99
(9780765385567); e-book, $9.99 (9780765385574).
For biracial fourth-grader Amy Anne
Ollinger, the school library is a quiet respite
from her boisterous house, with two little siblings who often take center stage. But when
her favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of
Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, disappears because a
classmate’s mom thought it was inappropriate,
she takes action by running a banned-book library out of her locker. As the stakes escalate,
so does Amy’s risk-taking, deepening bonds
with her classmates as they fight against censorship. She even gets suspended. A school
assignment about the Bill of Rights provides
additional context for their efforts. While in
less capable hands, the story could become didactic, here it is deeply entwined with Amy’s
growth, from shy and reserved to speaking up
for herself on a large stage. Quick paced and
with clear, easy-to-read prose, this is a book
poised for wide readership and classroom use.
As Amy’s school librarian Mrs. Jones says,
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
An inspiring story about “good trouble” that’s
worth the consequences. —Jennifer Barnes
Elsie Mae Has Something to Say.
By Nancy J. Cavanaugh.
Sept. 2017. 304p. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, $16.99
(9781492640226). Gr. 3–6.
For the past several years, 11-year-old Elsie
has gone to stay with her grandparents on
Honey Island in the middle of the Okefeno-
kee Swamp. Elsie loves everything about the
swamp, so this summer, she writes a letter to
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking for
his help in protecting it. When she arrives at
Honey Island, she finds two surprises: a dog,
which she names Huck, and her cousin Henry
James, an aspiring preacher who’s practicing
on Elsie Mae. When the children and Huck
get embroiled in a local mystery, Elsie Mae
learns that a sacrifice is sometimes required in
order to save something important. While this
historical fiction novel isn’t strictly accurate—
FDR did protect the swamp, though it wasn’t
over the course of one summer or inspired by
a girl’s letter—the period details, unusual set-
ting, light dialect, well-developed characters,
and the affirming, gradual progression of Elsie
Mae and Henry James’ friendship makes for
an engrossing story. An author’s note offers
more insight into the real story of FDR’s pro-
tection of the swamp. —Donna Scanlon
The Exact Location of Home.
By Kate Messner.
Oct. 2017. 224p. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (9781681195483).
Learning that Dad has (once again) canceled his plans to visit isn’t exactly a surprise to
13-year-old Zig. But after a year without seeing his father, it’s a major disappointment. Zig
spends his free time geocaching with friends.
Soon, with little money for food and none for
rent, he and his mother move into a homeless
shelter. He avoids telling even his best friend,
Gianna, about their situation. When his
teacher schedules a class visit to the shelter,
Zig dreads discovery, but more painful is his
mother’s eventual revelation that his father is in
prison. Messner creates a sympathetic character
in Zig, whose narration reflects his believable
unwillingness to take his father off a pedestal
throughout most of the novel. Within the story, Messner gently overturns some stereotypes
about homeless shelters and their residents.
The narrative flows well and sweeps readers
along, though the conclusion ties up loose ends
too quickly and neatly. Still, readers hoping for
a happy ending will not be disappointed. A
companion book to The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z (2009). —Carolyn Phelan
By Katherine Rundell.
Sept. 2017. 336p. Simon & Schuster, $16.99
(9781481419451). Gr. 4–7.
A plane carrying four children plunges into
the Amazon’s leafy canopy after the pilot loses
consciousness at the controls. Miraculously,
the kids survive the crash, but with no adults
to help them, will they be able to survive the
jungle? Such is the fiery premise of Rundell’s
(The Wolf Wilder, 2015) newest offering,
which is as much about escaping nature’s dangers as appreciating its wonders. Fred, Con,
and siblings Lila and Max have never met
before being stranded together, and the stress
of their situation doesn’t make getting along
any easier. Tempers flare and tears fall, but
they gradually learn to work together, each
contributing valuable knowledge or skills to
their quest to find civilization. Readers enamored by survival fiction are in for a treat as
the foursome evades deadly animals, builds a
river raft, and stumbles upon the remains of
an ancient city. Fred emerges as the dominant
figure in the narrative, and his fascination
with explorers becomes particularly useful.
Suspense joins emotional revelation in this
exciting exploration of friendship and nature’s
wild beauty. —Julia Smith
By Barbara Dee.
Sept. 2017. 256p. Aladdin, $16.99 (9781481478519).
Norah has lost two years of school to a battle against archvillain Lou Kemia, her vision
of acute lymphoblastic leukemia personified.
Now she’s rejoining her class as they begin seventh grade, but social alliances have reformed
during Norah’s absence. Compounding the
problem, because of the academic progress
she made with her tutor, Norah is placed in
eighth grade math and science, where she
quickly bonds with a cute new kid, Griffin.
Meanwhile, Norah’s concerned parents remain deeply involved in monitoring her daily
life, which becomes problematic as Norah
needs space to navigate the ordinary challenges of seventh grade, such as mean girls,
baffling boys, and clueless adults. The authenticity of Norah’s story can be credited to the
author’s own experience as the mother of a
cancer patient. But this is not a book about
cancer; rather, it’s about the process of moving
forward in its wake. Readers who appreciate
well-wrought portrayals of transformative
middle-school experiences, such as Rebecca
Stead’s Goodbye Stranger (2015), will find a
story in a similar spirit here. —Diane Colson
Insignificant Events in the Life of a
By Dusti Bowling.
Sept. 2017. 272p. Sterling, $14.95 (9781454923459);
e-book, $9.99 (9781454923466). Gr. 5–8.
A move to dusty, distant Arizona forces
13-year-old Aven to leave her familiar life and
friends behind. Don’t yawn: Bowling takes
this overworked trope and
spins it into gold with a
skein of terrific twists. For
one thing, Aven was born
without arms, so the new
Wild West theme park—
poses special challenges. For
another, thanks to loving,
funny adoptive parents who have raised her to
be a “problem-solving ninja” (“I’m so flexible,
it would blow your mind,” she boasts), readers may repeatedly forget, despite reminders
enough, that Aven is (as she puts it) “
unarmed.” Moreover, when the dreary prospect
of having to cope with the looks and questions at her new middle school sends her in
search of an isolated place to eat her lunch, she
finds and bonds with Conner, who is struggling with Tourette’s syndrome and has not
been so lucky with his parents. Not only does
she firmly enlist him and another new friend
in investigating a mystery about the theme
park’s past but, taking Conner’s involuntary
vocalizations in stride (literally), Aven drags
him (figuratively) into an information-rich
Tourette’s support group. Following poignant