Better to Wish is consistently checked out (as are the others in the trilogy); no surprise, given that Ann M. Martin is wildly popular. Martin covers a large age range in under 300 pages (main character Abby is eight at the beginning of the novel and a high school graduate at the conclusion), proving that you don't necessarily need a novel of epic proportions (400+ pages) to create an extended story line. This coming of age story in Depression-era America is unique in that it features a mentally challenged character (Abby's brother).
Girls Like Us had been on my radar for many months before I finally read it; I was hoping that this YA novel about two young adults with mental retardation would be as excellent as it sounded. Quincy and Biddy are placed in an apartment and work environment after they graduate from their high school's special education department. Learning to live with each other is quite an undertaking, as both have individual capabilities and challenges. Alternating chapters are told through the girls' perspectives, and the vulnerabilities that young girls with mental challenges often face are brought to life authentically and emotionally. This is a mature YA novel, and a very worthwhile read that will stay with you for some time.
I loved, loved, loved The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish because it involved a history that I am quite familiar with: the rise and fall of home economics education in the United States. Home economics education and extension services made a huge impact on families affected by the Depression; rather than wearing farm sacks for clothes, the "Dress Doctors" instructed women on how to create attractive-looking outfits, to recycle clothes, and to create their own style in an affordable manner. (They also taught nutrition and child care.) Through home economics classes, 4-H clubs, and countless radio and magazine columns, the "Dress Doctors" showed women with limited finances how to stretch their budget and wardrobes. They scorned outfits that restricted women's movement (especially impractical shoes) and stressed practical and balanced designs (that we would probably consider rather restrictive, but this was revolutionary at the time). Although Linda Przybyszewski clearly admires these women, she is also careful to illustrate that, save for a few examples, they ignored or were quite prejudiced against women of color. (Since this focuses on clothes and not the nutrition aspect of home economics educators, the fact that some had an extreme reliance on food chemistry at the expense of taste and practicality and had now outdated views on nutrition is not covered in depth; on the other hand, they did emphasize breastfeeding when it was not socially acceptable among the middle class). Home economics colleges at universities were often women's entries into collegiate life and careers, especially chemistry. All this came to a sudden change in the 1970s, when home economics programs in schools and colleges were ridiculed (and their educators ridiculed by speakers at their conferences) and eventually dismantled over several decades. My undergraduate degree (Family, Child, and Consumer Sciences from Louisiana State University, which was completely revamped into a Bachelor of Social Work several years ago) was a Home Economics degree many decades ago; one of our courses was on the history of home economics, so learning more about Ellen Richards (the founder of AHEA, American Home Economics Association, which is now AAFCS, American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences) and her colleagues was a rewarding and welcome experience. I love illustrations and pictures of everyday fashion history and common advertisements of the day; this is packed with them! Even those who don't have fond memories of their home ec classes, but are intrigued by women's history (the home ec leaders had their faults, including not knowing how to adapt and respond to the women's movement effectively, and some of their attitudes were not helpful in several ways, but they are an important and instrumental aspect in American women's history) or the history of domestic life in this country would love this.
Although the Lost Boys of Sudan are well known, their sisters have largely been forgotten. Lost Girl Found is a heart-wrenching tale of Poni, whose life is torn apart by the civil unrest in Sudan. Poni longs to escape the expected life of girls in her village, which is young marriage and childbearing. After fleeing her village during an attack, she finds herself in a refugee camp in Kenya, where life is harder in a different way. Although the ending is hopeful, it's still quite sorrowful, as things will never be the same for Poni and her family.
When I started reading Revolution, I had just one question: how could Deborah Wiles possibly create anything more wonderful than Countdown? Incredibly, Revolution is just as extraordinary as her first novel in her Sixties trilogy. Sunny's life is in all sorts of upheaval even before the Freedom Riders arrive in her home town of Greenwood, MS, thanks to the arrival of a new stepmother and her family. When the "agitators" and "invaders" show up and start "Freedom Schools" and attempts to register African-Americans to vote, Sunny's small town is thrown into a new world of hurt, chaos, and even murder. Wiles creates unforgettable and three-dimensional characters that show the complexity of humanity (the development of the relationship between Sunny and Annabelle, her stepmother is incredible). As she did in Countdown, Wiles depicts the mood of the era through photographs, song lyrics, biographical sketches, and newspaper articles. (My only complaint is that Revolution is an enormous book--nearly 500 pages, although I'm not sure what I would cut.). I am on pins and needles waiting for the conclusion of the Sixties trilogy (Countdown was set in New Jersey, on the East Coast, and featured the Cuban Missile Crisis; Revolution was set in Mississippi, in the South, and featured the civil rights movement; and the final book looks like it may be set in California, on the West Coast, and will feature the Vietnam War and the peace movement). It's not necessary to read Countdown before reading Revolution, but Countdown readers will recognize one of the Freedom Riders.
I'm not entirely thrilled with Torn's cover description ("An American soldier. A British medic. Afghanistan. Can their love survive a war?"), but I know it's there to entice YA readers who may not necessarily read a "war story." The love story is not the main focus of the story; rather, it's on the nineteen year old female British medic who is trying to cope with the chaos of Afghanistan, including her testy relationship with her female superior and befriending a young Afghani boy. The realities of combat in Afghanistan are conveyed superbly; this is a harrowing read at times, and an intriguing look at combat from a young women's point of view.
We're nearly at the halfway mark for our summer reading program; we still have many awesome programs in store! Get all the details here.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library