Jumper by Melanie Crowder
Release Date: June 21, 2022
Why I loved this book: Approximately 25 years ago, when I was a teenager, I saw my first article about smoke jumpers. I was ona road trip to Yellowstone and the idea of someone jumping out of a plane to fight fire was captivating. I was in Yellowstone shortly after the fire in 1988, I've seen how quickly a fire can rip through the wilderness, and the devestation that it leaves in its wake. I've also studied land management, attended innumerable ranger talks about how you have to do your best to prepare with controled burns and cleaning out the underbrush when you can, about why fire is actually good for the forest, and why you have to be ready to protect the buildings and people if the fire rages to close. To say I've been interested in wilderness fires for decades sounds odd, but there's something about how the fires move and especially the people who choose to step in front of them and try to contain them, is interesting. So when I saw this book up for review I knew I had to grab it if I could. Jumper didn't disappoint at all.
Focusing primarily on Bianca, a girl fresh out of high school who has dreamed of being a smoke jumper for what seems like her whole life, and due to several factors she is getting her chance way earlier then anticipated. Is she ready? yes. She has prepared forever, but she also has one giant thing that can hold her back, and that is her diabetes. It's hard to manage and she knows she can't disclose it to her trainers because they will send her packing, so while she knows mentally she can do this thing, she also knows that at any moment her body might betray her.
The story starts towards the end, we know immediately that something has gone horrible wrong. Bianca seems like she's had a close call with a fire, she's being interrograted about something, and she's both angry and sad... but at the outset we have no idea what's happened. This was a GREAT intro, in my mind I immediately began thinking about what I thought the issue was, all throughout the story I felt the pieces coming together as Bianca made her way through her smoke jumper training with her best friend Jason and the other Rookies. I felt like the story was leading us one way as she dealt with other recruits, her trainers, and her disease. And then... then I was wrong. Whatever I thought was going to happen to land Bianca covered in smoke, angry and being questioned, was not even close to what actually happened and the story is so much better for it.
I'm not going to give the twist away, but it works just right. It hits you in the gut and then sets you up for everything that comes in the last part of the book perfectly.
What I like best about this book is that you can tell how much research went into it to make it feel real. The author's note at the back makes it clear that while its highly unlikely a teenager would ever make smoke jumper, everything else about the training and things that the smoke jumpers experience has been researches so that those aspects of the story are spot on. I love research, truly, so I always appreciate when you can tell an author put the work in to really nail it. All that care makes it so easy to fall into the story and be invested in where Bianca is and where she's going. I would read 100 more books following Bianca as she becomes the smoke jumper she always wanted to be.
The Clackity by Lora Senf
Release Date: June 28, 2022
Why I love this book: Have you ever read a book that you loved so much that you have a hard time actually forming sentances? Maybe that's just me. At least it is me for this book. The Clackity is actual perfection. I am deeply in love with this strange, beautiful, terrifying, hopeful book.
Evie lives in a haunted town, her house has burnt down, her parents are missing and considered dead, and now her Aunt has taken a huge risk and been taken into an alternate realm and it's up to Ecie to face the darkness, face her fears and save her Aunt.
Senf completely nails the balance on this story and it perfectly hits that middle grade horror note. It's scary, there are moments where we aren't sure if Evie will be able to get past what scares her, but it is also full of so many acts of bravery (both physical and mental) that I know will inspire kids to believe they can do the hard things.
As a small addition... I have never read a book that I wanted to become a TV series so badly. My middle schoolers are always looking for the next show to get obsessed with and they also love horror. This book is almost perfectly suited to be a series... each week with Evie tackling a new challenge. I want to see it, how do we make this happen??
I can not wait to add this book to my shelves next year.
middle school (approximately 25 years ago) when I first discovered country music and my days were filled with me alternating between Boy Bands, Alternative Rock and Classic Country. So when I saw that Brian Kennedy had written a YA Romance that features a larger then life, Dolly-esque singer named Wanda Jean who has her own theme park (Wanda World), where our main characters meet... I was obviously all in. And A Little Bit Country doesn't disappoint.
At the heart of the story are Emmett, a summer employee at Wanda World who has made his way from Chicago with the hopes of making it big in Country music as the first openly gay superstar and Luke, a would be chef whose family has bad blood with Wanda Jean, but who nonetheless finds himself working at Wanda World. Both boys have a lot to contend with, and they inevitable to to each other to help figure it all out- but it's a big weight to lift. Between family issues, business issues, and one massive secret about what the history with Wanda Jean was really all about, the question becomes whether or not Luke and Emmett do everything that needs to be done without losing sight of each other and themselves.
Kennedy pulls together a really great story about two boys figuring themselves out and learning that sometimes it's worth taking the leap and doing something scary, even when it's hard, especially when it's hard, because the rewards can be so good.
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