Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mark Twain Reviews: Palace Beautiful, Hide & Seek, and Out of My Mind

I'm making good progress in getting through the rest of the Mark Twain Readers Award nominees. After this batch, I only have two more left to read.

Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams is a thoughtful historical fiction novel about Sadie and her sister, father, and step-father as they move from Houston to Salt Lake City. Set in 1985, the story documents Sadie's befriending the neighbor girl and discovering a secret attic room in her new house. Together with her younger sister Zuzu and her neighbor Bella, Sadie discovers the journal of one of the houses WWI-era residents. The girls make a pact to read the journal together a few entries at a time, and as the story of the journal's owner develops, they start to sense impending trouble in the writer's life. The journal writer's struggles mirror some of Sadie's own fears about her life, and she becomes comfortable in her new surroundings as the girls seek to find the journal's owner. This story is somewhat gentle and richly historical, and many young readers--girls in particular--will delight in the descriptions of life in WWI and the lovely friendship story between Sadie and Bella.

Hide & Seek by Katy Grant follows middle schooler Chase, an avid Arizona biker and hiker, as he encounters an interesting message while out geocaching. On his first solo geocaching adventure, Chase notices a strange message in the geocache's log: "HELP WE NE." Intrigued, Chase returns several days in a row, and he learns that the message has come from two young boys. Despite how much he enjoys spending time out in nature with these two youngsters, Chase starts to worry that they might be in some sort of trouble. What results is a captivating story, part adventure and part heartfelt, as Chase struggles to help his new friends while also keeping himself safe in the Arizona desert. This book will be a great read for sports-minded readers, young boys in particular.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is narrated by eleven-year-old Melody, who has never spoken a word as a result of her cerebral palsy. Confined to a wheelchair and dependent on caretakers and family, Melody is bored out of her mind--everyone assumes that since she cannot communicate she is also mentally impaired. On the contrary, Melody is incredibly bright. When she finally finds a way to communicate with the people around her, Melody has lots to say. Despite her ability to assert her intelligence and unique personality, Melody struggles with her fellow fifth graders, not all of whom seem willing to accept her as a regular elementary school girl. Out of My Mind is a wonderful, wonderful story documenting just how frustrating Melody can find her life--and how, when push comes to shove, her frustrations, challenges, and fears aren't really that different from those of any other child. I'll be highly recommending this novel to readers who enjoy realistic fiction and school stories, and I'll be booktalking it along with Lord's Rules and Erskine's Mockingbird.

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