Archive for the 'Award Winners' Category



What The Night Knows by Dean Koontz

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Genre:  Suspense/Mystery/Fantasy

# of Pages:  442

RAC:  Yes

Many years before the book starts, a terrible serial killer named Alton Turner Blackwood murdered four families within mere weeks.  He was only stopped because he was killed by the final survivor in the final family who was a fourteen-year-old boy.  Years later that boy grew up to be a detective and he has a family of his own.  Now, he feels very strongly that a recent murder resembles the first murder by Blackwood all those years ago.  He is not the detective on the case, but the more he looks around the more the resemblance is uncanny.  If he is right, other families will be murdered very quickly and his will be the final as the killer’s unfinished business.  The question he struggles with is how this is happening as the original killer was murdered and many of the facts in the case were sealed.  Is it a copycat or has Blackwood somehow returned to finish the job he started?

Fans or mystery and suspense will enjoy this very intriguing story.  Early on, all of the family members feel something is wrong and question their safety.  It’s unusual they do not discuss these fears with each other, however.  The ending is very satisfying and exciting as everything comes together quickly.  This title has been named an Iowa Award winner for 2013-2014.

Fire by Kristin Cashore

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Genre:  Fantasy

# of Pages:  461

RAC:  Yes

In this companion to Graceling, Fire is half human and half monster.  She is amazingly beautiful and has the ability to control people’s minds, but due to the horrible things her father had done she chooses not to use her abilities and often covers her multi-colored hair.  She lives in a remote area with her best friend, Archer.  The Kingdom Fire lives in is in great turmoil as other kings are trying to take control of King Nash’s land.  After offering a warning Fire sensed to Nash’s mother he extends an invitation for her to come to the castle and help him identify other possible threats.   Fire chooses to go to the castle even though she is terrified of how people will react to her after the heinous deeds her father committed because she believes she must help save the kingdom she has grown to love.  As time goes on, however, it appears that whoever is out to get the king also wants her.  Can she save them all from certain destruction?

Fans of Graceling have enjoyed this title since its release and it has been named an Iowa Award Winner for 2013-2014.  Fire’s story is compelling as she struggles against a reputation she did not earn simply because of who her father is.  She is surrounded by strong, open minded people who yearn to overcome their bias of her, which is refreshing.  The plot is fast paced and involved an elaborate plot that most readers will not figure out too early.  The ending is very satisfying.  Recommended.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  318

RAC Book:  Yes

Augustus “Gus” and Hazel meet at a Cancer support group.  Hazel has thyroid cancer that forces her to use oxygen 24/7 and despite a new miracle drug, has always been given a short life expectancy.  She has adjusted to her relatively simple life, but that changes when she meets Gus, who lost a leg to Cancer, but has been Cancer free ever since.  They begin talking and exchanging favorite books.  Gus makes a huge gesture for Hazel so that a dream of hers can come true.  It isn’t until afterward that Hazel realizes how much he really gave to give her that experience.  As these two begin to fall in love they cannot help but wonder how long they really have and what they should do to make every day count.

This story is well-written and engaging.  Hazel and Gus’s story will resonate with young readers because of their sheer honesty and willingness to never give up.  The issues they have to deal with seem so heavy compared with other love stories, but it comes across as uplifting and life affirming instead of depressing.  Highly recommended.

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

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Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  328

RAC Book:  Yes

Tennyson and Bronte are siblings whose parents are English professors.  Tennyson feels very protective of his sister, Bronte, which is why he is upset when he learns she is dating Brewster who is known as Bruiser around their high school.  Tennyson tries intimidating Brewster and even follows him to try and get him to leave his sister alone, but what he ends up finding is that Brewster is covered in bruises and other injuries.  This leads Tennyson to believe that Brewster is being abused at home, but upon further inspection he realizes that Brewster’s situation is a whole lot more complicated than that.  Brewster, through no effort on his part, takes on the pain of anyone he cares about.  As Tennyson and Bronte start to get to know him they start to like having him around and vow never to tell Brewster’s secret.  The problem is that this unusual power is killing Brewster and he does not know if he can stop it before it’s too late.  What will he have to give to protect those he loves?

This story is very different and unique which is why it is so captivating and engaging.  Shusterman creates a set of characters that any reader can empathize with.  The chapters alternate between Bronte, Brewster, and Tennyson, which also helps the reader to see the situation through multiple perspectives.  This book is recommended for everyone, but could be especially useful with reluctant readers.

Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee

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Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  276

RAC:  Yes

Iowa Teen Award Winner

     Rosemary has struggled with her weight for a long time, but whenever she gets upset she turns to food.  Her aunt constantly reminds her to lose weight, which doesn’t seem to help inspire her either.  One New Year’s she decides she is ready to take control of her life and begins dieting and exercising, not always in the best manner.  As she begins to lose weight she finds more confidence than she ever knew she had before.  It isn’t long before she has a new best friend, a boyfriend, and overall happiness.  That all comes crashing down when she learns that her mother is battling Cancer.  Her mother is not the best at opening up and sharing her feelings, which makes it all the more difficult for Rosemary to discuss the matter with her.  Can she help her mother cope with this devastating disease?  Can she do it without falling back into her bad eating habits?

     Rosemary’s story is something any teenager could relate to because she has many insecurities and things she would like to change about herself.  She reaches the point where she is mature enough to realize she has the power to take control and make changes to her life if she wishes, but is not ready to deal with truly tough issues yet.  Rosemary’s romance is sweet because her boyfriend likes her for herself and not what size she wears.  There are references to his family that shed light on his endearing personality.  Rosemary goes from wishing she could stop eating sweets to finding ways to help her mother during this difficult time.  It is a coming of age story that readers will enjoy.

Red Glass by Laura Resau

Genre:  Multicultural Fiction

# of Pages: 275

RAC Book:  Yes

2011 Iowa Teen Award Winner

Sophie lives with her mother and stepfather and is known to be cautious.  Her family is surprised one night by a phone call from a local hospital.  The hospital had a small boy whose parents were killed crossing the border into the U.S.  The boy had Sophie’s stepdad’s business card in his pocket.  Although, they have no idea why the boy had the business card they felt it was up to them to take the boy home and care for him until they could find his extended family.  Pablo is slow to interact with the family, but eventually tells them his name.  They are able to contact his grandmother and tell her they will bring Pablo to visit over summer break.  Sophie knows that if Pablo chooses to stay in Mexico they will let him, but she does not want to lose her new found brother.  Sophie, her Aunt, her aunt’s boyfriend, and his son all accompany Pablo into Mexico to find his family, but along the way Sophie finds much more than that.

This story is a wealth of knowledge about life in Mexico and Central America. The characters are all true to their beliefs and find ways to help Sophie find her way in the world.  Sophie is a complex character who must face several hard truths in the story, but never fails to rise to the challenge.  Pablo reminds the reader of the innocent children who live in Mexico and South America and struggle due to the pressures of modern day economies and technology.  The book celebrates the life and customs of those who refuse to adapt to 21st century ways.  The story raises questions about how homogenized we have become as a global society yet at the same time how we ignore how people struggle in developing countries.  A very good read.

The Batboy by Mike Lupica

Genre:  Sports fiction

# of Pages:  246

2011 Iowa Teen Award Winner

RAC Book:  Yes

Brian Dudley is thrilled when he learns that he will be a batboy for the Tigers Major League Baseball Team.  He is also excited when he hears that his baseball hero, Hank Bishop, will be playing on the team after getting suspended for steroid use.  Brian loves baseball and loves working with the Tigers.  He strives to be the best batboy he can be and is shocked when Hank Bishop does not appreciate his efforts.  Meanwhile his father, who is a retired major league pitcher whom he hasn’t seen in over a year, comes to town to scout some players for Japan.  Brian hates to admit it, but secretly hoped this connection to baseball would bring them together again.   Can Brian earn Hank’s respect?  Will he ever reconnect with his father?  Will he still love baseball after a summer of working for the Tigers?

This book is for anyone who loves baseball.  Brian truly loves the sport in every way and his excitement is infectious.  Lupica definitely has an upbeat, positive writing style in which characters often seem a bit simplistic.  This won’t stop young readers from devouring his stories, however.  The sports aspects are well described and there’s always a lot of action and character conflict.  Recommended for sports lovers and reluctant readers.

The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

Genre:  Action/Mystery

# of Pages:  346

2011-2012 High School Award Winner

RAC:  Yes

High school student Charlie West wakes up in a prison cell where he is being tortured for information.  Charlie has a difficult time understanding why he is in this situation because he cannot remember anything since he went to bed in his own house.  As he begins to put the pieces together he realizes that there is a lot of stuff he does not remember, but he does know he is currently in danger.  Can he escape in order to find out where the last year of his life went?  Can he find out why he is being tortured?

This story is full of action and suspense right from page one.  Any reader will not be able to help getting pulled into the story because the story is so compelling right from the beginning.  Where is Charlie?  What do they want from him?  Who can he go to for help?  The plot twists are surprising and yet believable.  Fans of espionage novels such as the Bourne trilogy, the Cherub series, or the Sleeper Code will love this book.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Genre:  Fantasy/Fairy Tale

# of Pages 304

RAC Book:  Yes

2011 Iowa Teen Award Winner

Kyle Kingsbury is attractive, popular, and rich.  He is also a major jerk who loves to hurt other people.  When he decides to play a cruel trick on an outcast at school he is punished by getting transformed into a beast.  He has two years to find true love in order to be changed back into his handsome self and Kyle believes that is an impossible task.  His father does not even want to be around him because he is too horrified by his appearance and Kyle is sent to live by himself with a maid and a blind tutor.  Despite the hopelessness of the situation, Kyle begins to thrive and change.  So much so that when he finally comes in contact with a girl again he feels he might be able to love her…if only she could love him back.

This retelling of Beauty and the Beast is modern and old fashioned at the same time.  The story of Kyle and Lindy is heartwarming and hopeful so that the reader naturally wants them to get together and break the spell.  Readers will notice some symbolism with the roses and some of the character traits.  The characters are well developed and interesting to read about and many readers will enjoy the story, but especially those that enjoy books like Once Upon a Marigold.

Boost by Kathy Mackel

Genre:  Realistic Fiction/Sports

# of Pages:  248

RAC Book:  Yes

2011-2012 Iowa Teen Award Winner

Savvy is a very talented basketball player who despite only being 14, makes the under 18 travel team.  She has to prove herself from the beginning, however, because not everyone welcomes her onto the team.  Plus, she is new in town after her family suffered some financial hardships in their hometown and were forced to come stay on their relative’s sheep farm.  Savvy wants to fit in and prove herself more than anything.  Meanwhile, her sister Callie is having a hard time fitting in on the cheerleading squad she so desperately wants to join.  The stress of the move encouraged Callie to put on a bit of extra weight and because of that her career as a “flyer’ could be in jeopardy.  Both of the girls want to “boost” their game, but what will they be willing to do in order to succeed?

Boost follows a family who is making a transition and hoping for the best.  They all want to support each other, but they are all going through difficult challenges as well.  As Savvy and Callie try to find their way in this new town they are faced with challenges and temptations that may or may not be in their best interest.  In the end, they realize they must support each other no matter what because there is nothing more important than family.  A good sports fiction story that fans of Dairy Queen will enjoy.

Iron Heart by Brian Boyle

Genre:  Sports Autobiography

# of Pages:  248

RAC Book:  Yes

2011 Iowa High School Award Winner

This remarkable true story follows Brian Boyle’s recovery from a horrendous car accident he was in when he was eighteen.  He was preparing to go to college on a swim scholarship and instead spent two months fighting for his life.  He had multiple surgeries and countless hardships ahead of him, but he made the choice that he wanted to fight for his life.  His parents were there to support him every step of the way as he slowly worked toward the same goals he had made prior to the accident.

This story is told in Brian’s words so the writing is not very technical or complex, but his words are very powerful.  Most teens will be able to relate to his feelings of helplessness as his dreams and aspirations after high school slip away.  They will also be able to identify with his perseverance and will to fight when no one thought he could.  The story is uplifting and heartwarming and will interest most teen readers, but especially readers who like reading about athletes.  Reading this story will give teenagers a lot to think about regarding their own futures and the choices they plan to make, but also the present and how they want to live for today.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Genre:  Science Fiction

# of Pages:  355

RAC:  Yes

In this futuristic society abortion is illegal, but children can be “unwound” between the ages of 12 an 18.  This means that the child’s body is used as spare parts for other people in need of transplants.  It is believed the child will live on through these other people, but the process of unwinding is vague and not discussed until the end.  Connor is sentenced to be an unwind by his parents, but he finds out and runs away before the unwind police can come get him.  Risa was born an orphan and has been raised by the state.  She has practiced classical piano, but is not the best one in the state home and is subsequently sentenced be unwound.  Lev is a tithe, which means his family’s religion believes that a child should be sacrificed for the greater good.  All three of these teens end up on the run and must fight to save their lives and prove they are worthy of living.

This is an interesting and thought provoking story that will inevitably bring up issues about abortion and dying.  The characters are likable and easy to identify with, even in these terrible circumstances.  The book moves along at a nice pace and the journey of the teens twists a bit which makes it unpredictable and exciting.  There is a lot of action and some gore as these three try to save their lives.  Fans of The Hunger Games and Girl in the Arena will enjoy this title.

The Year We Disappeared by Cylin and John Busby

Genre:  Nonfiction

# of Pages:  329

RAC Book:  Yes

2010 Iowa High School Award Winner

In this father-daughter memoir Cylin and John Busby tell the story of how John was targeted and shot on his way into work in 1979 and the course of their lives changed forever.  It was not an accidental shooting and John was in fact targeted for a recent arrest he had made.  John did not die from the multiple gunshots to his face and underwent multiple surgeries in order to restructure his face, learn to eat, and learn to talk again.  Meanwhile, the family was under intense police protection because it was unclear if they were safe from any subsequent attacks.  The overall stress of John’s injuries and their virtual imprisonment in their own home takes a toll on all of them.

The story is told in alternating chapters between Cylin and her dad.  This format really helps the reader to understand the situation from multiple perspectives.  The fact that it is a true story will interest young readers because it seems so outlandish that something like this could happen in any community.  There are some gory descriptions of John’s injuries, but most students will not mind this.  Overall, many readers will find this a page-turner and will want to recommend it to their friends.

Quad by C.G. Watson

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  296

RAC Book:  No

This story focuses on high school students from different cliques being thrown together in fear as an unknown shooter begins to take out students in the quad.  The six students all have their fair share of insecurity and have battled in high school antics, but they have trouble deciding who they think has snapped and brought a gun to school.  As accusations and fears fly they all must evaluate their own behavior as well as the behavior of others in the school.  They quickly realize that more than one person has reason to bring a gun to school.  Will they survive this threat?

This is a very accurate portrayal of the different cliques present at most high schools.  Along with the cliques comes the cruel treatment and calculated bullying and insults.  While accurate, parts of this story are difficult to read and may bother some students.   Quad is not the best bullying book out there, but would work well in combination with others such as Hate List and Wish You Were Dead and would be interesting to reluctant readers.

Runaway by Wendelin Van Draanen

 

 

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  281

RAC Book:  Yes

2010 Iowa Teen Award

Holly writes her story in a diary style format as she escapes from an abusive foster home and goes on the run.  She describes how she travels, finds food, and avoids capture from police.  The life of a runaway is more difficult than many teens probably realize because many shelters will not help you unless you are accompanied by an adult.  As Holly weighs her possible choices, her main focus is always on survival from starvation, bullies, and even the haunting memories of her drug addicted mother who left her in this position.

Life on the street is much harsher than most teens realize and this book accurately describes what it would be like to have to fend for yourself at the age of 12.  The reasons for why Holly chooses to live on the street instead of a foster home are made clear as well as her fears of asking anyone for help.  The details begin to feel a little long at times as the reader waits for things to change for Holly.  The ending is satisfying, albeit a bit too easy after such a difficult journey.  Readers who like journal style entries like in Go Ask Alice will find this interesting.  Also, fans of A Child Called It will enjoy this quick read about a similar topic.


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