Fall in One Day by Craig Terlson

Fall in One DayBlue Moon Publishers, 2017.

Joe Beck’s best friend, Brian, has disappeared with his father in a mysterious incident. Strangely, in Joe’s small town on the Canadian prairies in 1973 the only thing on the news is the Watergate trials in the states. The news says nothing about fifteen-year-old Brian’s disappearance and there’s little evidence that the adults are actually working to find him. Amid this background of untrustworthy adults, Joe’s uncertain what to do. But when he gets a call from his missing friend, Joe becomes determined to uncover the truth and save him.

Before I began reading Fall in One Day I wondered whether teen readers today would be interested in a book set in the 1970s, but I was quickly drawn into the story and I think many teens would be, too. Terlson weaves historical events: Watergate, LSD use, old movies, into themes that will always strike a chord with teenagers as Joe questions the trustworthiness of adults, one’s responsibility toward one’s friends, and the complications of becoming an individual within a larger society. Joe is a sympathetic character whose loyalty and intelligence lead him to investigate and solve the mystery of his friend’s disappearance.

I received an electronic advance reader copy of Fall in One Day from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman

One Good Thing About AmericaHoliday House, 2017.

When Anaïs comes to America, things are very different from her life back home in Congo. Her family is split up, people don’t speak in French, and the food is very strange. But Anaïs’s grandmother asked her to write letters in English and to include in each letter one good thing about America, and Anaïs is determined to keep her promise.

Starting on the first day of fourth grade, Anaïs writes often to Oma. At first, writing in English is hard, and finding good things to say about America is even harder. Sometimes worries about her Papa, her brother Olivier, and Oma overshadow the good things that are beginning to happen for Anaïs. But over time, Anaïs begins to make friends, build a community, and find many good things about America.

Told in compelling letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America is an important book for children to read today. Though Ruth Freeman is not herself an immigrant, her work as a teacher of English Language Learners in Maine has helped her to put her finger on the pulse of child immigrants in America today, and her compassion has allowed her to show the complexity of immigrating to a country in which the language, the customs, and the expectations are all completely unknown. The story includes not only Anaïs’s experiences, but also some insight into immigrants from Iraq, Somalia, and Libya. In my opinion, Freeman soft pedals the frictions and misunderstandings that are likely to occur between children in school, perhaps equally in service to other elements of the story and in order to keep the focus on the many other challenges immigrants must face. For me, this decision works and makes One Good Thing About America a hopeful and heartwarming read.

I’d recommend this novel as a classroom or bedtime read-aloud or for students to read on their own. This debut novel will provoke great discussions between parents and children, teachers and students, and (dare I hope?) politicians and constituents.

I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Shadow of a Doubt by Skylar Jones

ShadowofaDoubtAdaptive Studios, 2015

Fyfe Flynn is only twelve, but she knows her way around a racetrack. That’s because her father’s a jockey and a winning jockey, at that. It’s a good thing, too, because if the Flynns had to make their living from the family farm they’d be in serious trouble. What the Flynns know is horses, but even Fyfe’s father can’t be convinced when she insists their horse Shadow is a true winner. Everyone else may say that Shadow’s too small and too ordinary to be a racehorse, but Fyfe knows better. Fyfe knows that Shadow’s got the heart of a winner. Fyfe and Shadow will have to risk everything to prove it and get a chance at a big win.

I’ve been looking for a book with an old-fashioned sensibility that readers today would also enjoy. That’s a tall order since today’s readers expect a much faster pace than kids once did, and it’s tough to get the sensibility of the older, more leisurely books when the plot’s whipping along like a racehorse. Skylar Jones has handled this feat magnificently. Shadow of a Doubt has humor and heart, and the plot never lags so it won’t cause readers lose its readers’ attention.

I’m a wimp about animal stories. Even when they’re not intended to, they often make me sad. Ironically, I’m a sucker for a horserace story. I’ve spent many a happy afternoon curled up with Dick Frances. This story never pushed my weepy-poor-animal buttons; it kept me engaged and made me laugh, instead. And I enjoyed the humorous and sometimes snarky commentary from the animal characters.

There was a down-home element of this book that was voiced in part by many, many clichés. It came right up to the verge of annoying me, but seemed to lessen in each scene just as I was beginning to consider how much it was bothering me. All-in-all Shadow of a Doubt is a charming and heartwarming book that animal-loving middle grade readers and others will enjoy. It would make a good read aloud for a classroom or for bedtime.

I received a review copy of Shadow of a Doubt courtesy of Adaptive Books.