Tag Archives: Friendship — Juvenile fiction.

With Malice

With Malice by Eileen Cook, HMH Books for Young Readers (June 7, 2016). ISBN: 9780544805095. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

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You wake up, or more accurately, come to in a hospital room. As your brain begins functioning, you realize you’re pretty badly injured. When you start thinking more clearly, you realize that a chunk of your life has been ripped from your memory and that words elude you when you try to speak. Welcome to Jill’s new world. When she asks to call her long time best friend Simone, her estranged parents stonewall her and before she can start putting the pieces together, have an overbearing lawyer intruding in her life.

As Jill ever so slowly starts putting things together, she’s horrified to learn that not only are six weeks of her life missing, but she can’t remember anything from her long-awaited trip to Italy. Then she has to face the frightening reality that Simone is dead and lots of people think she killed her on the trip.

The story proceeds from there like very slick layers of an onion being peeled to reveal a bit more in every chapter. Many of the following chapters are interviews done by local police, others areby Italian cops of people on the trip as well as Italians who saw the girls in hotels or just before the event that killed Simone. Jill’s own attempts to regain her memory, deal with her parents, stepmother, the press and her lawyer, as well as a new friend she makes in the rehabilitation center, all add more pieces to the puzzle. Even so, the ending was a surprise to me and one I found to be well crafted. Teen mystery lovers will devour this book and feel a sense of satisfaction afterward.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Skin Deep

Skin Deep by E.M. Crane, Delacorte Books for Young Readers (March 11, 2008). ISBN: 9780385734790. Reviewed by John R. Clark.

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Andrea Anderson flies under the radar at school and at home. She knows she doesn’t fit with any of the cliques at school, and at home the only time Mom pays attention to her is during commercial breaks in her evening TV shows. She reads a lot to escape, but has little else to look forward to. Her only real friend, Victor moved away a couple years before. One thing she does have going for her is a budding insight, coupled with intelligence.

Everything changes when her mother tells her about mysterious Ms. Menapace who lives in a house on a nearby hill. She’s in the hospital needs someone to care for her dog. Despite initial misgivings, Andrea makes the trek to the home, imagining it in disrepair and believing the owner is a frail old lady.

Entering the fenced in garden to reach the back door is the first step in an amazing journey for her. Spring hasn’t fully hit yet, but the stones and sculptures are striking enough to start her imagining what things will look like when all the plants awaken. Then she meets Zena, the huge but gentle Saint Bernard, owned by Honora (Ms. Menapace). They connect almost immediately and once they venture into the woods, a place that’s like a second home to Andrea, that connection is cemented.

Reading on is like watching elegant dominoes fall in slow motion. Zena and Honora, who’s a lot younger than Andrea imagined, exert their combination of wisdom and magic to pull her out of the protective shell she’s built around her. Once it begins to crack, readers follow her coming of age, one that includes understanding of others, particularly her mother, new friends both young and old and a growing level of self confidence. It’s a beautiful journey to experience.

I haven’t seen such eloquent prose in a YA book for some time. The sample below is just one of many in the story: “I no longer feel awkward and second-rate with Honora. I’ve realized that I’m one color in her painting of the world. And while any artist may have her favorite colors, a good artist never discredits those subtle, shy hues that contribute to the landscape.”

While it’s been out for a while, this is a great book to offer teens and advanced tweens who like intelligent stories with great prose. I wish the author had written more.

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