Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA in dual narratives: Between Before and After

Between Before and After, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry, (Feb. 2019, Blink), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0310767381

Ages 12+

Told in two narratives across two timespans, Between Before & After is the story of Elaine, a girl raising her younger brother, Stephen, after losing her mother and baby sister to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and her grief-stricken father to a drunken brawl, and Elaine’s teenaged daughter, Molly, as she tries to unravel her mother’s secret past. The narratives shift between fourteen-year-old Elaine’s story from 1918-1920, and Molly’s in 1955. Molly sees her journalist mother as an enigma, going so far as to create a “biography box” to hold clues to her mother’s story. Elaine’s story is a heartbreaking one, beginning with her mother and baby sister dying, and her father’s spiral into alcoholism and neglect and ending with his death. When Elaine finds work reading to a blind man in a wealthy family, she is relieved at being able to support her and her brother, but a turn of events separates Elaine and Stephen. In 1955, past and present converge when Stephen finds himself at the center of a religious controversy that shines a spotlight on the family.

Between Before and After is a solid piece of historical fiction that examines social class and mental illness. The subplot involving Elaine’s brother Stephen was interesting, but only served a small plot forwarding device for Elaine’s – and, to a degree, Molly’s – story. The characters drew me right in, and anything about New York in the early 20th Century gets my attention. I enjoyed Maureen Doyle McQuerry’s storytelling, especially Elaine’s story; she was a fully realized character.

If you have historical fiction readers, this is a good pick for you. There’s much to discuss about social class, stigma, and childhood poverty here, making this a good extension/book discussion choice for social studies/history classes.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s wants OUT!

last boyThe Last Boy at St. Edith’s, by Lee Gjersten Malone (Feb. 2016, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481444354

Recommended for ages 8-12

Seventh-grader, Jeremy, is not thrilled. His school, St. Edith’s, was formerly an all-girls’ school that briefly admitted boys, but it never quite caught on. He’s been counting down the number of boys leaving the school, until Andrew – #2 on his list – announced he was leaving, making Jeremy the last boy at St. Edith’s. It’s embarrassing and it’s really annoying, but his mom, who works at the school so he and his sisters can go for free, will not even consider letting him go to the local public school. Desperate, Jeremy decides to take matters into his own hands: he’s going to get expelled.

Turning to his best friend, Claudia, the two come up with a series of pranks that should do the trick. Jeremy has rules: no one gets embarrassed or hurt, and no permanent damage gets done. But the mysterious prankster’s first gag gets huge laughs, and Jeremy finds himself caught in the snowballing effect of pranking; he’s got to up the ante, but things start getting out of control. How far will Jeremy go to get thrown out?

I LOVED this book. Jeremy has a distinct voice that comes through loud and clear, and he’s got some valid arguments: he’s the butt of other school’s jokes; his own school’s teachers refer to the student body as “ladies”, so he feels humiliated in his own environment; his mother, however valid her reasons are for keeping him at St. Edith’s, is too stressed out to really listen and understand Jeremy; and his flaky tree-hugging dad is not there for him at all. He still manages to keep a sense of humor about him, and he’s a likable kid. He’s a good kid from a good family who just wants one thing to go his way, and he’s got a conscience – whether he always listens to it remains to be seen.

There are plenty of social and family issues addressed in this seemingly light read: family relationships; divorce; social classes; gender roles; friendship, and consequences. The Last Boy at St. Edith’s deserves a spot on summer reading lists, for sure. I’ll be putting together some discussion questions and a booktalk to generate interest in this great debut.

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. You can visit Ms. Malone’s author website for more information about her, including links to social media and information on school and library visits.