Camp Week

Flamer by Mike Curato is a coming of age graphic novel. It is another 2023 high school Nutmeg nominee.

The story is set in 1995 during one week of boy scout camp. Aiden is fourteen years old, and is about to change to the public high school after years in a parochial school. At school, Aiden was bullied for behaving differently, and for being biracial. Camp is similar, although he does have a few friends, and a devoted pen pal.

During the week, Aiden realizes that he is attracted to his bunkmate Elias. Situations at camp force him to face his bullies, his feelings for Elias and an attempt to harm himself. He learns lessons about being yourself and never giving up.

Note: There are a few scenes involving either sexual language or masturbation.

All the Colors

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan explores the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide. This is a 2023 high school Nutmeg nominee.

Leigh’s mother had been showing signs of depression for quite a while. After her suicide, Leigh feels intense sadness and guilt. Her mother visits her as a red bird, leaving behind a message to remember along with items from the past. This sets Leigh on a course to Taiwan, where she meets her mother’s parents for the first time.

Leigh experiences important places and people from her mother’s past, some in reality and some through dream-like visions. All help her to better understand her mother and father, while also allowing her to confront her own feelings. Leigh’s artwork and relationships are important pieces of the story as well.

This is an artistic look at love, loss, mental illness, culture and family.

Crazy Times

The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale provides a peek into the male-dominated world during the late 1800s, with specific attention to Nellie Bly’s break into New York’s bustling newspaper industry.

Nellie Bly is escaping her hometown secret by doing everything in her power to secure a job as a reporter. She luckily meets a group of lady reporters (women’s pages), which lands her a chance to meet an editor who previously refused her. Her pitch is to go undercover in the infamous Blackwell’s insane asylum. This place is known for not letting any reporters in, and is spoken about for its deplorable conditions. Getting this story could be Nellie’s big break, but is it worth the risk?

Nellie manages to get herself committed. She sees firsthand the wretched treatment, food and conditions, while also building relationships with several of the women inside. Each “inmate” adds her own persona to the story. Meanwhile, Nellie has competition with a new male reporter who is trying to scoop her story while she is locked up. Nellie must remain hopeful that she will be released in time to share her viewpoint, and to make a difference for women.

There is an authentic, old-fashioned feel to the story, which combined with human interest and Bly’s bravery make this an interesting read.

Staying Strong

Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley is one of my favorites so far this summer.

Daunis Fontaine is Native American but has never been officially accepted in her father’s Ojibwe tribe due to circumstances surrounding her birth. She still maintains close relationships with her father’s sister and family traditions/culture.  Learning the cultural traditions surrounding death, celebration, and prayer throughout this book were deeply interesting.

Due to her uncle’s death and her grandmother’s illness, Daunis decides to attend college close to home instead of away.  This decision allows her to meet a handsome newcomer, Jamie, who will be playing on her brother’s hockey team. 

Jamie isn’t just another player and his uncle isn’t just the new teacher in town. Both are undercover investigators of meth-x, a drug that is turning up in Native and hockey communities.  Daunis becomes a confidential informant once her best friend is killed.  Lines become blurred between family, friends and a love interest, making this a riveting story that my little summary does no justice to.  

Daunis is a remarkable character- strong, intelligent and fiercely loyal to friends and family. The characters, gripping plot and culture make this an unforgettable read.   

Save the Planet

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is a sci-fi lover’s dream come true.

Brilliant minds are needed when a new cellular life form is discovered that is basically eating our sun. This would lead to the end of humanity in a relatively short period of time. Ryland Grace is one of the scientists chosen to investigate a solution from a star that is not “infected.” It is a suicide mission because of the space time and limited resources they have available to make the journey.

Upon awakening from his medically induced coma, he quickly realizes that his crew-mates didn’t survive the trip. It is now up to him to figure out answers and send them back to Earth. Fortunately, Grace teams up with a large, spider-like alien who he names Rocky. Rocky is on the same mission from his home. They combine forces to save their own planets, in doing so, becoming true friends. Along the way, readers discover the events leading to this vital mission.

This book was very entertaining and educationally fascinating.

Triple Threat

You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus combines all the elements of great teen movies (drama, love, humor) added to the main plot of a murder mystery.

After drifting apart after middle school, Ivy, Mateo and Cal decide to recreate one of their “best days ever” by skipping a day of school their senior year. The day starts going downhill quickly once they cross paths with a dead classmate. Ivy is considered a possible suspect, which sets them on the investigative trail. Their search has them questioning classmates, family and teachers who may have been involved in a drug deal gone terribly wrong.

Chapters alternate among each friend, giving their back story and adding depth to the already intense situation.

Tracking a Monster

Sadie by Courtney Summers is the 2022 Nutmeg winner in the high school category.

Sadie is on a mission to find her mother’s former boyfriend Keith. She knows he is responsible for killing her thirteen-year-old sister Mattie. The story jumps back and forth between Sadie’s point of view and West McCray’s. McCray is running a podcast called Lost Girls. His chapters include the podcast script/notes from his conversations with Sadie’s caretaker/grandmother figure while following Sadie’s trail.

Readers find out that Sadie was molested by Keith during his time with their family, and she discovers that his background includes other victims too. Sadie finds herself in dangerous situations as she attempts to find and kill this monster. During her quest, we learn more about her relationship with her sister and their mother Claire. Will Sadie be able to enact vengeance and alleviate some of her own guilt for her sister’s murder?

This is a suspenseful read, but should be noted as having intense recollections of child abuse.

Breaking the Rules

First, I need to share a personal note. Since I am switching to high school in the new school year, my summer reading plan will include as much high school material as possible. Considering how much I plan on reading, I am going to keep my entries as brief as possible.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune is my first high school read of the summer. It was recommended by my peers and is a 2023 Nutmeg nominee.

This story is the ultimate fantasy. Linus is given a classified mission to investigate a top secret orphanage which houses the most extreme in magical, unusual children. There is a female gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an octopus-like boy, a shape shifter, and the devil’s son. Linus’s extremely predictable and rule-abiding existence is put to the test as he spends a month getting to know the children and care takers (both having their own secrets) of the remote island. His reports will determine if the orphanage is operating according to the rules and if it should stay open or not.

There are many beautiful moments and clear symbolism in this story which is about acceptance, friendship, change and love.

Survival Mode

The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson is my third read from this past week. It combines elements of the previous two reads: female empowerment and murder, but in a completely different way.

The Violence is the name given to a post-Covid virus from mosquito bites. Those infected go completely blank while violently attacking whoever is unlucky enough to be nearby. Chelsea is an abused wife and mother who decides to use her husband’s next attack to her advantage. She reports him to the infected help line which gets him taken away long enough for her to plan an escape.

Escape seems impossible once she realizes that she actually does have the Violence. Chelsea reaches out to her rich, dismissive mother for help with her daughters, sixteen-year-old Ella and five-year-old Brooklyn. At this point their paths all diverge as they go through individual hardships.

Ella and Chelsea are on their own when Chelsea’s mom shuts them out, and her mom is left to take over parenting Brooklyn. Everyone is in survival mode and trying to figure out how to safely reunite.

This book did have some disturbing moments (it is called the violence after all!), but I found it to be very well written. Beyond the topic of violence is the strength of family, the will to overcome challenges and the ability to change. Great read!

Strength in Numbers

Smile and Look Pretty by Amanda Pellegrino is a female empowerment novel.

Four best friends regularly meet up to discuss their horrible work situations. They deal with harassment, empty promises of advancement, and demeaning errands. They decide to make their complaints public while maintaining anonymity in a blog named twentysomething. They take turns writing about some of their nightmare experiences, while inviting readers to share their own too.

The blog gains more popularity which causes plenty of drama. The four friends must battle issues amongst each other, boyfriends, and the effects of their growing confidence with their employers.

Events reach a head when enough women come forward to speak out against a famous tv news host. Will the friends risk losing everything in order to to take down a known harasser?