Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Natural World

The Natural World, by Jon Richards and Ed Simkins, Crabtree Publishing 2016. ISBN: 9780778726586. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


This extremely well illustrated book is divided into several two page chapters: Our planet, climate, biodiversity, forests, deserts, adapting for survival, animal migration, endangered species, oceans, plates and quakes, volcanoes, natural disasters, climate change and mapping the world. Each one has a representation of the earth or series of charts/boxes that combine easily understood facts with visual images to support them. This approach will hook a lot of youngsters. Those already interested in earth science will find numerous facts and statistics they don’t already know, while casual/reluctant readers will be drawn in by the way the data and images work together. All in all an excellent book for school and public libraries to consider adding.


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Filed under Grade 4-6, Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Denton Little’s Still Not Dead

Denton Little’s Still Not Dead, by Lance Rubin. 8 compact discs-9 hours. Penguin Random House Audio, 2017. ISBN: 9780553556056. $28.09. Gr. 8 Up- Reviewed by John R. Clark.

How would you feel if you lived in a world where almost everyone knew their deathdate and all of a sudden, you lived past yours? Then you meet your real mom who supposedly died giving birth to you, but is determined to eliminate deathdates. For teenage Denton Little, this is his new reality. Before he can process this, he’s being pursued by DIA (Death Investigation Agency ) agents intent upon eliminating him, his mother is trying to hide him and he’s determined to find a way to save his best friend Pablo from his just days away deathdate, while maybe hooking up with Pablo’s older sister.

What follows are car chases, people who aren’t exactly who/what he thought they were, girls who are into him, a few definitely not into him and some pretty intricate maneuvers to evade the DIA. Add in Denton discovering family secrets aplenty, a really odd way for other kids to avoid their deathdates and the oddest graduation night you’ve ever read about and you have a fun read.

The author does a great job as narrator, making Denton sound like the hormone infused kid he is. Verdict: While it helps to have read the first book, there’s plenty in this one to amaze and entertain listeners. Be aware that the language is pretty salty at times, but for libraries where this isn’t a big issue, this is a definite addition.

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That Time I Joined the Circus

That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard, Point (April 1, 2013). ISBN: 9780545433815. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS


Lexi Ryan was blindsided several times. The earliest one happened when her mother left her with her musician father with no explanation. Next came the romantic relationship between her two best friends, Eli and Bailey that made her feel like a fifth wheel. The two most devastating events happened on the same night. She let her feelings for Eli overpower her common sense and her dad was killed by a drunk driver.

If all that wasn’t enough to shatter her emotionally, she soon discovered that her father apparently directed that any money he had was to be sent to Lexi’s absent mom, at least that’s what the lawyer handling her father’s estate tells her. Left with no money, no friends, loss of her place at the fancy private school and her apartment, Lexi does the only thing she can think of. She buys a bus ticket and heads south to find her mom and confront her about why she abandoned her.

All she has to go on is what the lawyer told her—that Mom was working as part of a traveling circus. When Lexi finds the circus, Mom isn’t there, but the possibility of a job and a place to live are. Despite having to deal with odd characters and animal poop, Lexi discovers that she feels pretty good as part of the show and when she breaks through the icy reserve around the owner’s daughters who are trapeze artists, she also discovers that family is a lot more than blood.

Her voyage is far from over. It involves falling in love, not once, but twice, pushing through a web of lies she believed were truth, as well as learning how to forgive other people. Following that journey makes for a very satisfying read.

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Filed under Fiction, Uncategorized

Holding Up The Universe

Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. ISBN: 9780385755924. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Imagine having to live with Youtube videos of you being cut free from your own bedroom because you’re too fat to get through the door. Meet Libby Strout. She fell off the emotional cliff when her mom died and by the time she was shocked back into reality, she was being billed as the ‘America’s fattest teen.’

Since that moment, Libby has worked like the devil to lower her weight. It’s been an agonizing process, but she’s down to 300, half of what she weighed at her worst. Now she wants to experience life instead of hiding from it. When a mean prank, instigated by the popular guy posse at school, backfires and Libby and the guy who tackled her, Jack Masselin, end up together in after school detention, they begin to realize a connection. Jack has an equally big issue that he’s been able to hide thanks to popularity and clowning behavior. He has prosopagnosia a neurological condition that prevents him from recognizing faces…any faces. Without having learned some subtle clues, he wouldn’t even recognize his own family members.

While Libby is ‘out’ with her weight issue, she still understands how Jack feels and the longer they hang with each other, the more connected they become, but not without pain, anger and teen drama. This is a love story, a tale of bravery and friendship as well as angst and pain and fear. In a nutshell it’s an amazing book. When, not if, you read it, take time to slow down and savor some of the dialogue between Libby and Jack because there’s a lot there to feel and remember.

It’s an excellent book for all libraries to own.

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You’re Welcome, Universe

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner, Alfred A Knopf, 2017. ISBN: 9780399551413. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

youre welcome

Julia lives in a different world than most teens. She’s deaf, daughter of a lesbian couple who are also deaf as was the sperm donor. Her odds of being born deaf were pretty high. While she’s adjusted to some aspects of life, her deafness has left her feeling isolated in others and that, coupled with her secret addiction, is creating problems in her life.

When she gets frustrated over the principal at her deaf school failing to cover or remove the slur painted on a wall referring to her best (and really only) friend, she takes matters in her own hands and creates a mural to cover the offending words. After her friend rats her out, she’s not only expelled, her moms clamp down on her freedom, concerned she’ll do more tagging or illegal street art and get in more trouble. For Julia, this is akin to removing all joy and anticipation from her life.

She’s sent to attend what she calls a hearie school (a public high school), but fitting in, even (or in spite of) with Casey, the interpreter her moms have hired, is anything but smooth. She can’t read lips as well as she’d like and few of her teachers or fellow students know or care to use signing, so she starts feeling even more alone.

When she gives in to sneaking, stealing paint from someone she likes and wants to respect, and creating street art, she’s shocked to discover someone else almost immediately paints over it. While she sees it as a challenge, others are impressed at the synergy created by two street artists. As Julia tries to uncover who her rival is, she must navigate the tricky waters at home, at school and at her job cooking fries at McDonalds. It’s a tortuous path, one that sometimes leaves the reader borderline annoyed with her self-centeredness. However, if they take a moment to reflect on Julia’s passion, her social unease and isolation from mainstream teens, her thoughts and behaviors aren’t so odd. By the time you get to the end, you’re treated to an introspective and satisfying story of a girl navigating multiple challenges and discovering friendship and who she really is in the process.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Uncategorized

Phantom Limbs

Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner, Candlewick (September 27, 2016). ISBN: 9780763682057. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Imagine a story where every character is one of the walking wounded, but because they are, nobody is able to understand and work through what they all share.

Dara lost an arm to a shark while swimming in Hawaii. It ended her hopes of being an Olympic swimmer and broke any positive connection to her father who was her coach. Then there’s the issue surrounding her late mother, not to mention her gender identity issue. She’s compensated by trying to train Otis to be her surrogate Olympian and it has helped him cope (barely) with his twin losses, the tragic death of his little brother and the sudden move, not long after, by his best friend Meg, who he confided in and loved a lot. He’s gone three years with no contact, but has never gone a day without wondering and imagining. Otis’ parents are stuck in the storm of grief generated when their younger son Mason died. They were best friends with Meg’s parents who lived next door, but something unspoken now lies between the former best friends.

When Meg’s parents separate, her dad takes a transfer back to the branch of his company near by and Meg breaks silence to let Otis know she is coming for a three week visit and needs to talk. What follows reminded me of a satellite in a descending orbit. Every time it passes over Truthtown, you learn a little more about everyone’s secret demons and tense up, expecting a fiery crash. Instead, Paula skillfully navigates the story to an incredibly satisfying landing that left me smiling and hopeful. All the characters are likable, but I couldn’t help but root for Dara, Meg and Otis, three teens in pain through no fault of their own. Granted there are F-bombs in the story, but they shouldn’t deter any library from adding this to their YA collection.

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South of Sunshine

South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf, AW Teen (April 1, 2016). ISBN: 9780807575680. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


We like to think that coming out and feeling okay in your own skin is easier these days. While that’s true in many parts of the country, small towns, especially in the Bible Belt remain treacherous territory for LBTQ teens. Kayee has known for some time that she’s not attracted to boys. She also knows that she can’t come out or have any outward signs of attraction to another girl as long as she lives with her overly religious mom in Sunshine, Tennessee. Forget the fact that mom is having a secret fling with Billy Arden a town cop, or that her best friend Van is not only halfway out, but has parents who love and support him. Her plan is to keep feelings and the truth about her true self tightly wrapped until she’s out of high school and able to move away to a place more open and accepting.

It’s a good plan until Bren comes to town when her father has been hired to save the biggest industry in Sunshine. Bren is tall, beautiful and a lesbian. She doesn’t flaunt it, but is totally comfortable in her skin. It doesn’t take long for Bren and Kaycee to fall hard for each other, but where Bren is okay, Kaycee is like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers. She’s pulled and pushed as her desires fight with her fears. After a disastrous experience on a church hayride, things spiral out of control and it takes hitting an emotional and social bottom for Kaycee to discover how many real friends she has in her life and to what extent they will go to show her how they feel. The path to get there is rocky, but the finish is worth the trip. This is a good book for teens struggling with coming out, those curious about what gay teens face in small towns as well as those who like a good, offbeat read.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9, Uncategorized

The Darkest Lie

The Darkest Lie by Pintip Dunn, Kensington (June 28, 2016). ISBN: 9781496703583. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

darkest lie

What if your mind got body-slammed, not once, but twice and there was nobody left who was able to support your shattered emotional state? This is CeCe’s state as the book opens. Her mother who she was very close to, was accused of having a sexual telationship by a star member of the high school football team where she was a guidance counselor. Before any investigation could take place, she was found dead, her hair chopped short and something shocking in her hand. While the police were quick to rule it a suicide, CeCe isn’t as certain, especially not after sinister events begin happening.

At first, all she wants is to become invisible and survive her senior year, but teens can be vicious, even when they were former friends and the sexual innuendos and whispers make it almost impossible for her to function. Enter new student Sam who has his own painful past. From day one, he defies convention and focuses his attention on CeCe, but can he be trusted?

In fact, can anyone in the story be trusted? By the time you’ve reached the end of the book, there have been so many twists and possible suspects that your head may spin. It’s a well-plotted combination of mystery, romance and coming back from incredible grief. This is a book that’s worthy of any library’s consideration where mature teens who like to solve complicated plots borrow materials.

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Big Challenges That Animals Face

Big Challenges That Animals Face By Bobbi Kalman, Crabtree Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 9780778727811. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS

Big Challenges

This well illustrated book introduces young readers to a variety of large animals and identifies some of the threats (environmental and human) that threaten their existence. In addition, it shows readers specific creatures like the Yunnan Snub-nosed Monkey that was so rare it was thought to be extinct until some were discovered in the 1960s. Readers are asked questions like why is it dangerous for gorillas to be near people and what dangers do sea turtles face at night, lets them ponder as they read on and then gives the answer on a later page in the book. Among some of the threats detailed are forest fires, both natural and deliberately set, shrinking habitat, especially in the rainforests, islands where human activity quickly alters the ecosystem, disease and the growing popularity of some animals as pets. Even noise pollution is noted as a problem related to offshore drilling and its effect on whales (not to mention oil spills.
This book pacts a lot of information and thought-provoking questions into a small number of pages, making it a great addition to school and public libraries.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Nonfiction, Uncategorized


Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin (January 5, 2016). ISBN: 9781250075963. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.


Mercedes first experience with a guy happened when she was thirteen and went very badly. It taught her that trust and love are not for her, beliefs her divorced, Botoxed, plastic surgery altered mother reinforces on a regular basis.

She’s learned that controlling her environment is important to feeling safe and that predictability is another key to her sanity. Unfortunately, she also decided to offer male virgins with girlfriends a service. She’ll show them how to have sex, with instructions while they’re doing it, so when they do have sex with the girl they’re going with, the experience will be better than her first time. Noble thought, but one that spins out of control pretty quickly. Keeping secrets about something like this is almost impossible and when it comes apart, the results aren’t pretty. In fact, they’re extremely painful for Mercedes, but in the process of being hurt physically and being demonized by many of her classmates, she discovers just how precious friends are and that she has more than she ever imagined. If this book had a crest, it would read “What doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger.”

I liked Mercedes more than most reviewers, probably because in 27 years as a mental health professional, I met numerous variations of her and most were just trying to survive after being abused and wounded by others. I liked Faye and Zach a lot. He never gave up on Mercedes and Faye had already been through a similar baptism of fire, coming out scarred, but feisty and knowing she’ll survive.

This isn’t a comfortable book, but it was one I read pretty much in one evening. Because of the sex and language, some libraries may shy away from it, but it’s a good addition for those where it’s important to offer teens fiction that deals with squirmy subject matter.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Uncategorized