Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (Midde School, #1)
Rafe has lots of changes in his life right now. First of all, he's now in sixth grade and starting middle school. Next, his mother has recently become engaged to a man Rafe doesn't like. To top it off, his stepdad-to-be is unemployed, lounging around the house all day, leaving Rafe's mom to work double shifts at a diner in order to make ends meet. With his home life all crazy, we shouldn't be surprised when Rafe decides to get more attention at school. Unfortunately, Rafe decides the way to get this attention is by breaking ALL of the school rules this year. In his game, (which he calls Project R.A.F.E.) Rafe gets points for breaking the rules and extra points for the way he breaks them.

One of my students brought me his personal copy of this book in order for me to read. He told me it was one of his favorites, and couldn't wait to hear what I thought. Well, I liked it much more than I thought I would. I couldn't help making comparisons to Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. (How could you not with the combination of the comics and story set in middle school?) What made this book unique was Rafe's backstory, most of which we don't learn until close to the end. I hated it when I realized that Rafe really didn't have any friends at school, and I hated it that it took me so long to figure that out. I did like the way some sensitive topics were handled. Without giving spoilers, I'll just say there was no high-handed or preachiness way of dealing with these issues. We didn't learn a lesson or suddenly have a grand revelation by any of the characters here. It's something that could be discussed for those identifying, but others would probably just read without realizing the significance.

I can see the attraction of this book for middle school students, especially reluctant readers. The format will be appealing with all the illustrations, but it's not too juvenile for sixth, seventh, or eighth graders to fell uncomfortable about carrying around. It'll be perfect for those students looking for Wimpy Kid or Big Nate read-alikes. While I don't think this story is "the best ever," I do believe it's one of those books that will find many huge fans in middle school. Especially reluctant readers. And boys. B- rating.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

Ghost HawkGhost Hawk by Susan Cooper

I was looking forward to reading Ms. Cooper's latest book, mainly because I'm such a fan of her "Dark is Rising" sequence, but Ghost Hawk didn't live up to my expectations. It started well, recounting the story of Little Hawk, a Native American boy, growing up at the time of the first English settlers in what is today New England. (I thought that part was fairly interesting, but now that I've read Debbie Reese's review, I find that it's not all that accurate of the Native Americans of the time. ::sigh::)

Once the first part was complete, that's where the story bogs down, in my opinion. I know the dialogue was meant to show the formality of the language of the time, etc., but I think students will find that difficult to read. It will take them out of the story, and that's definitely NOT what you want. Taking that one minute dissatisfaction out of the equation, I thought the story was beautifully written. The vividness of the descriptions and richness of the language were all that you would expect from one of Ms. Cooper's books.

When I finished the book, I thought, "Boy! That was a waste!" So as to not give any spoilers, let's just say I was completely dissatisfied with how the story proceeds and especially the conclusion of parts 3 and 4! One of the things that I enjoy most about reading children's and YA literature is the sense of hope for the future that I see in them. It can be a story of heartbreak, sorrow, of the most horrible things imaginable, but it will still leave you with a sense of joy, of hopefulness. That the future is bright and life will only get better. I didn't get that with Ghost Hawk, and that saddened me.

I can see where many adults read and rave about Ghost Hawk, but I won't be one of them. I wish I could give it a higher rating, but sadly a D+.