Today’s selections are books I read while I was a Cybils’ first round reader for middle school readers last fall. I am happy to mention these books as good reading for this age group.
Beverly Right Here by Kate DiCamillo is for older junior high to early high school readers. It deals with runaways, drugs, and other mature themes. After Beverly’s dog dies, that is the last straw in her troubled family relationship, so she buries the dog and runs away. She is a strong, self-sufficient young woman with whom the reader immediately bonds.
The secondary characters in this novel are strong as well: Elmer, Beverly’s love interest; and Iola, the eccentric elderly lady she meets at the VFW turkey raffle (Iola rigs the raffle, a hilarious plot gimmick). Oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny, the story is also heartbreaking in places. The author’s portrayal of teen angst is spot-on as is her engaging writing style.
Anthem by Deborah Wiles is also a challenging read for junior high through early high school This description of a road trip taken to protest the Vietnam War brings together young friends in a historical novel teens will enjoy.
Nina Soni: Former Best Friend appeals to tweens and younger readers. There are many clever illustrations, and it deals with complex friendships and relationships so prevalent within this age group. A tiny book by Kashmira Sheth (writer) and Jean Kocsmiersky (illustrator), it had its funny moments as well as an adorable protagonist who reminds me of myself with her constant list making. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
This 2019 addition to the wonderful collection of Richard Russo’s books could be categorized as a mystery or love story, but neither category would be “traditional.” The mystery is a cold case that three characters who were/are in love with the same woman are trying to solve. Lincoln, a commercial real estate broker from Las Vegas, meets up with Mickey, a has-been musician and a sound engineer from Cape Cod, and Teddy, a small-press publisher from Syracuse. The three men are 66 years old when the story opens, and each reflects back on their days as “hashers” (kitchen help provided by scholarship students) in a girl’s sorority house at tiny Minerva College. At the time, they had been best friends, but they had not been in contact with each other since graduation weekend.
Flashing back, It is the time of the Vietnam War, and the pivotal experience the three shared was on December 1, 1969, when they watched on an old black and white TV in the sorority house’s kitchen as birthdates were drawn, and they learned what their fates would be.
A fourth character, Jacey, who was engaged to a “straight-arrow fiancee” but was best friends with the men, is the woman who completed the “All for one, and one for all” group. None of the men have heard from her or even of her since graduation weekend. Is she still alive? Did she come to a bad end? Was she murdered? Did one of the three do it?
The book is described on the cover as “an elegy for a generation.” I agree with the reviewer who lauds “Russo’s trademark comedy and humanity” because these four were characters I came to care about and would love to follow into a sequel.