Four Years of Despair by Jalesa Morrison is a youth/teenage story that touches upon sensitive topics, such as mental health, bullying, and family issues. Jaunell Morris is a teenage girl that doesn’t fit in at school or at home, and has a lot of issues. She has trouble communicating with her family, her teachers and with making friends. Everyone around her is baffled by her outbursts and her violent episodes. Her school gives up on her and she is transferred to a different school, where things get even worse.
Jaunell is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and she is in and out of hospitals all the time. Her situation is made worse by her parents’ bad marriage, her poor relationship with her older sisters and the rejection she feels from her extended family. Her only ally is her grandmother, and one of the nurses from the hospital where she’s treated. Eventually, the nurse is the one that helps her secure a place at a much better mental health treatment facility. These are heavy emotional issues, but the book ends on a hopeful note.
This book has the courage to shed light on a lot of difficult issues: mental health in teenagers, dysfunctional families, poverty, lack of access to proper education, social services and healthcare. It’s an authentic and powerful radiography of our society and how its most vulnerable members (youth, minorities, poor people) have the cards stacked against them.
The devastation that mental health issues bring into a person’s life is depicted well inJaunell’s story. However, sometimes I felt that the insights into Jaunell’s motivations, actions and reactions are not detailed enough. The book would have benefited from a deeper incursion into the complexities of Jaunell’s mental issues. I would’ve also liked to have read more about Jaunell’s mother and her relationship with her grandmother. The details of their relationship could’ve provided more insight on the family dynamics and how it affected Jaunell.
As someone who has experienced living with a person who is bipolar I would definitely recommend reading Four Year of Despair by Jalesa Morrison as this book is a real eye opener as to what people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder go through in their day to day activities. This book would be a great influence to teens who are going through this but may be confused as to why they handle their emotions different than others.
Pages: 234 | ASIN: B07R5DKMMZ
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Hurtysy is dealing with a unique hedgehog problem. Anyone that touches her gets hurt by her quills. And because of this, Hurtsy is sad and feels bad. In this story Hurtsy meets several animals that are hurting one another and Hurtsy wants to show them how to love, but she can’t because of her sharp quills. Hurtsy must use some bravery and ingenuity to solve this prickly problem.
Every page of this wonderful children’s book is artistically drawn and each piece of art is bright and colorful and fits the tone of the story. Throughout the story Hurtsy is followed by a thought bubble which shows her inner feeling; which is often different from what she is showing to others. I thought this was a unique way to show kids how sometimes our external appearance hides our internal emotions. I really like how this book was able to help kids visualize a complex idea like this.
The story is told in rhyme which flows nicely. The words are easy to understand, but this is a book that adults will want to read to kids because of the aforementioned complex emotional ideas delivered in this book. Sometimes it’s not easy to discern the thoughts from the person as Hurtsy interacts with her own thought bubble.
This is a very cute story that delivers an important message in a unique way. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to teach their kids about emotions, talking about them, learning tough lessons, and reconciling differences between people.
Pages: 26 | ASIN: B07D734LK3
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Aeon Rises follows Justin, an average teen, as he stumbles upon otherworldly beings that are trying to kill him. How did you come across this idea and how did it change as you were writing?
I wanted to write a story that would be fun for middle school or high school student to read. A scifi story with characters they could relate to and who they could identify with. Even though I was a secondary teacher for over thirty years, it had been a few years since I retired and I was sure some of the slang and habits of teens had changed some over that time. I enlisted the aid of a class of eighth graders to read portions of the story and give me specific feedback about the teens characters. Their feedback was incredible and guided my writing of those individuals in the story. The changes they suggested made the Justin, Kevin and Myah much more true to today’s teens.
Justin isn’t exactly an average teen, he has an aversion to most electronics. What were some obstacles that you felt were important to Justin’s character development?
Due to his inability to play video games or watch the same shows most others his age took for granted, Justin faced a fair amount of ridicule and bullying from his classmates, except for Kevin. I drew on my own experiences growing up being the brunt of several bullies, but I wanted Justin to rise above it and, though it still hurt, not give in to the abusers. He relied heavily on Kevin to get beyond it all, and then he learned about his abilities and his importance. That made everything else pale in comparison, even though he could not rub it in his tormentor’s faces. Aliens are a secret after all.
The Skutarans see Justin as a threat and want to destroy him. What were some sources of inspiration for you when creating their race?
I watch a lot of scifi movies and read a ton of scifi books as well. I simply took characteristics of evil aliens I have read or seen over the years and blended them into traits of the Skutarans: Arrogance, Hyper Ego, superiority complex, all combined with advanced alien technology. What more could you want in an evil overlord alien?
What is the next novel that you are working on and when will it be published?
I have recently been recovering from a major surgery, which has affected my ability to focus on anything for long. It is only in the past few weeks I have been able to start thinking about a new novel. To get back into practice, I am working on a short story about ice miners on Europa, a moon around Jupiter. From there, I have an idea about fusing scifi and fantasy in a story about aliens digitized into a LOTR style movie who are discovered by a fan of the movie and their collaboration to rescue the aliens from the orcs, wizards, etc. and return them home again.
Justin Madrid always considered himself an average nerdy freshman in high school, and an outcast because intense migraines prevent him from playing video games or watching television. Even looking at a phone screen hurts. But when the aliens, disguised as local librarians, started trying to kill him, everything changed. And now it is up to Justin and his cool new power to save the earth from invasion.
Posted in Interviews
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Daisy, Bold & Beautiful follows young Daisy as she struggles to fit in at school and finds help from an unlikely friend. What was your inspiration for this story?
Well, Persephone is my favorite Greek goddess, so I knew I wanted a story featuring her. And, to me, Persephone’s story is all about standing up for yourself. I wanted the moral of my story to match the moral of Persephone’s story, so I came up with D.J. I didn’t want it to be mistaken for a book about bullying, though, so I wanted to put D.J. in a situation where she needed to stand up for herself, but not because she was going up against a “bad guy”.
There is a unique infusion of Greek mythology in this book. Why did you want to use that theme throughout the book?
Like I said, I knew I wanted to write books about the Greek gods, because…come on…they’re AWESOME! I didn’t want my books to feel like historical stories, though, so I came up with a way to bring up the stories of the Greek gods while actually writing about kids living today.
I liked Daisy’s character, and I felt she was relatable. Did you plan her character before writing or did she develop organically while writing?
So, the first thing I did was come up with a god to write about: Persephone. Then I wrote an outline to the story. THEN I wrote up character descriptions for all the characters. A lot of my characters share names with people I know in my real life. Some of the character personalities match those of the people they’re named after and some are different than the real people. D.J. wasn’t named after anybody I know; she’s just made up. I would say all the characters developed a little more as I wrote the story, but they all started off with pretty detailed character descriptions. That was actually the hardest part of writing the book – coming up with the back story and personalities for everyone. I tried to include at least one fact about each character that the readers never find out – just to try to make them really real, know what I mean?
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
Funny that you should ask that! The second book in the series is Mylee In The Mirror, and it’s available AS OF TODAY! This book is about Aphrodite. I’m really excited about this book because it has TWO main characters, Mylee and one of her best friends and teammates, Ty (Tyson). I was nervous about writing about older kids (the main characters are in the ninth grade, and I’ve obviously never been in the ninth grade before – it was easier with Daisy, Bold & Beautiful, because I was the same age as D.J. when I wrote it). I was also nervous about writing from the perspective of a guy, but writing about Ty was super fun and I might even make my next main character a guy!
D.J. and her dad moved far from the small town and only home she ever knew. Now she’s starting middle school in the city with kids she’s never met. She tries to make friends, but they all appear to be slaves to screen time. D.J. just likes to garden, nurturing plants, watching them grow and thrive. It seems she’ll never find a way to fit in, but then she awakens in a gorgeous garden where she meets Persephone, Goddess of Spring. She must be dreaming; her new friend can’t possibly be real—and what could she know about getting along with gamers? D.J. really needs some ideas, or she might never find her own place in a complicated world.
Daisy, Bold & Beautiful is the debut novel of middle-schooler Ellie Collins, daughter of award-winning author Stephanie Collins. Boys and girls alike will appreciate Ellie’s keen eye for the challenges of growing up that she and her friends must face. Discover the wonderful writing of Ellie now, then follow her to learn about her writing and more books to come.
Posted in Interviews
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All Blair wanted was to fit in and find a place where her dark past wouldn’t keep following her and haunting her. After many moves Blair and her parents end up in the small farm town of Shady Oaks Kentucky. Having always moved around from one big city to the next, a small farm town with country side and horses was the last thing Blair expected to find and fall in love with. Here in Shady Oaks, Blair finds real friends and starts to imagine she could have a real life there. Than someone from her past shows up, and everything crumbles. Would she be able to stand her ground and overcome her past here with the new friends she has, or will they turn on her like everyone else has in the past?
Being a teenager is hard these days, the world is hung up on social media presence, how many followers do you have, is your life documented one image after another for all the world to see? No matter how much we may try to delay this, it happens, our children are exposed to the world online and it has permeated even into their education system. Parents can no longer protect their kids from the world online. The increase of social media has made bully’s even more prevalent, no longer is it teasing on the playground, the bullies follow their victims’ home and even when they move to their new homes. Michelle Areaux does an amazing job at showing how this can impact their lives. Written for this age group, they can relate to the characters, the school groups, the feeling of being the new kid. The story is relatable. It is not so far-fetched, even with Blair’s secret, to believe this could be any kid in the school with them. The feelings are real, and the personalities are believable. Hunter is very endearing, and you want to love him from the start, same with Grace. I was drawn to all the characters, I felt like I could have been Blair, or Grace at different points in my life. Now I relate to her parents as I navigate the world of mental illness, bullying, cyber-bullying, and all the other stress that kids these days face with my own children. They thought moving all the time was what was best for Blair, they wanted to do the right thing for her, to make her life easier. It is what all parents want, to give their kids a better life. Moving to Shady Oaks was the best thing they could do for Blair and their love and frustration at helping her find her normal is easy for parents to relate to as well.
Along with You by Michelle Areaux is a young adult novel that is filled with topics we should all be talking to our teens about. This would make a great book club or family reading novel to share with young teens that are facing a world filled with technology and social media. It covers topics of bullying, cyber bullying, and the fact that once things are online they never really go away.
Pages: 232 | ASIN: B079ZPSFJ6
Posted in Book Reviews
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I Spy With My Little Eye: A journey through the moral landscape of Britain, written by Linnea Mills, is a novel written in an attempt to understand the morals, norms and values held by Britain’s current society. It is based around the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues and uses these ideas as metaphors for the current issues present in society. There is a combination of statistics, quotes and recent topics to illustrate the consequences of economic divides, celebrity status, money, power and greed. It will leave you wondering- what is your interpretation of wealth, happiness and success?
I Spy With My Little Eye is a masterpiece that analyses and discusses our changing behaviours as a society. Prepare to reconsider your personal views and be confronted with statistics and studies that prove just how much of our lives are shaped by media, “celebrities” and power.
It challenges the norms held by today’s social standards and instead encourages the reader to consider whether the behaviour we partake in is a reflection of our true intentions and beliefs or are we just following the crowd mentality. It also pushes you to contemplate whether your behaviours actually contribute to any form of personal or societal gain. At times I felt as though I could see the world in a new light, especially reading alarming studies about what children aspire to be or the implications of the celebrity phenomenon on our culture and identity.
Even though the chapter titles are based around Christian values, the author stresses that this is not a religious book and instead uses these sins and virtues to simply reference problems in Britain’s society- with a cheeky nod to our internal moral compasses. At what point does wealth become an addiction as opposed to a simple goal? And is it moulded by society or what truly makes you happy?
One of my favourite chapters was one that discussed Envy. With social media being such an integral part of most people’s lives, it was interesting to see the comparative statistics of happiness between those who continued to use the social media platforms or compared to those who gave them up. It also discusses trolls, consequences of online abuse and the implementations of social media on politics.
I was impressed at the depth of knowledge presented in the book as well as the sourced quotes and studies. The staggering statistics are mind-boggling and emphasise the manipulation of greed in positions of power. Linnea Mills also uses current events and trends to strengthen her arguments further and increase the validity of her ideas.
I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone! It a perfect balance of social issues, philosophy and facts, combined to create a piece of literature that challenges your belief on what makes you innately happy.
Pages: 145 | ASIN: B077PLR3FK
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A-C-T Like a Kid and T-H-I-N-K Like a Parent, by C.S. Whitehurst and Katharine Shears, is a guide for preteens and teens as they enter the most difficult stages of their young lives. The authors present numerous challenging situations, looming questions, and advice for readers. Teen readers are given thorough explanations regarding basic life skills and the necessity in learning early to practice and demonstrate responsibility, showing and earning respect, and getting what they want through appropriate measures.
As a parent and teacher, I appreciate the authors’ detailed advice regarding parents’ feelings about their children. They take a close look at the way parents feel about others hurting their children and the difficulty we have in trusting others not to hurt our children. I was especially touched by the authors’ emphasis on the fact that we, as parents, do not want anyone to hurt our children and that includes the child himself. This is something I find, as a mother, very difficult to express at times.
Children, especially teens, struggle with their feelings toward their parents and question whether they truly understand them or not. Whitehurst and Shears stress that a parent, whether or not he or she has sought professional parenting advice, operates based on what he or she knows from past experiences. Helping children and teens realize that we, as parents, bring our own childhood into the parenting realm allows them to see the significance of the decisions we make–bad or good. The authors are open and informative as they explain parents’ varying strategies.
I realize that the focus of the book was effectively the parent and child relationship and the importance of understanding a parent’s point of view, but I would have liked a little more extensive explanation of the parent’s view of bullying. This is such a difficult aspect to drive home as a mother and a teacher. When children hear someone else explain the same information we have tried ad nauseum to explain, it is often more effective coming from another source. The authors have an excellent opportunity to further address this extremely relevant social issue.
The authors recognize that teens are more likely than not to encounter feelings of dishonesty, and be hit with the desire to hide their feelings and actions from parents. Part Three, Chapter 9 deals quite frankly with these feelings and helps the young reader understand the importance of growing into a trustworthy adult. In addition, the reader receives a thorough explanation of the directness appreciated by parents. In fact, the authors dedicate a great amount of their time to the concept of trust, which I appreciated greatly.
I am giving A-C-T Like a Kid and T-H-I-N-K Like a Parent is a wonderfully persuasive piece which is bound to hit home with teen readers. The authors have been careful not to write above the teen reader’s head, and they effectively touch on a variety of issues within one handy self-help manual.
Pages: 192| ASIN: B076GJLLQ4
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Who would have thought that a story about a turkey would bring a reader to tears? Within the pages of A Pardon for Tommy by Patricia Nmukoso Enyi readers will find just that. Chelsea Malibu is the protagonist of our story. We begin with her waking from a nightmare in her college dormitory. Chelsea is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina and still suffers from its aftermath. She is a young woman now, but she cannot let go of the horror she faced at the tender age of twelve. The story walks us through what Chelsea experienced during the hurricane, how it affected her and what happened to her family. Throughout her ordeal Chelsea had one pillar of support: the never questioning Tommy the turkey. Tommy was a prize her father had won and expected to eat on Thanksgiving with his family. However, life has a funny way of throwing you off track.
The pain that Chelsea experiences in this story is raw and real. Tommy isn’t just a pet turkey: he symbolizes her family. The family that was ripped apart by the hurricane during which her father went missing after trying to save her life. Chelsea is clearly traumatized by the events and the life she lives after relocating to live with her mother, brother and maternal grandmother isn’t as easy as it should have been. Aside from the emotional trauma, Chelsea is faced with discrimination and bullying. Her family is fractured, and no matter how much she prays it won’t become whole again.
While there are some mistakes in the grammar and the styling of the novel leaves a lot to be desired, the content of the tale more than makes up for it. Readers can feel the agony that Chelsea experiences in these pages. She is young and there is so much she doesn’t understand about what is happening to her. There are so many changes in short succession that it would make even an adult’s head spin. There is so much uncertainty in her life that it’s as if time stops for her. Because of this, Chelsea clings to Tommy, the turkey, for comfort. This turkey is the only thing that connects her to her missing father. The physical existence of the turkey allows her to have something she can touch to remember her father.
In the novel, it has been six years since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Our protagonist has avoided returning to the city where her life was so gravely changed. With the impending death of her beloved turkey Chelsea boards a bus to return. It is here that we are privy to the events that took place in that city. A Pardon for Tommy by Patricia Nmukoso Enyi is a beautiful, sad, and harrowing tale of a survivors experience with one of the deadliest events in modern history. This is a perfect book for young adults or those who enjoy more realistic fiction tales. Will Chelsea’s family ever become whole again? Will she ever find out what happened to her father? And most importantly, will Chelsea’s nightmares ever disappear? Read for yourself to find out.
Pages: 150 | ASIN: B0725M51SV
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There are issues that plague all children as they grow up. Each child struggles with identifying who they are as a person, how they relate to other people and how to find out what they believe in. Children can be cruel to each other while they learn how to navigate the messy world of emotions. This can come out in the form of bullying. In The Big Cheese Festival the authors explore the concept of bullying and how it can impact the life of another. What may seem like funny and harmless words to one can truly hurt another. We’ve got a fantastical world of anthropomorphic mice, one of whom only has half a tail. He is named Stubby and due to the unkind bullying from his brother’s friend worries about whether or not he’ll find any worth in himself.
Bullying is a big issue to tackle. Some children’s books try to address this and drop the ball completely. Jackson and Raymond have bundled up the idea of bullying in their book. They take an obvious difference, like having half of a tail, and use it to illustrate how others might react to something so clearly different from the norm. It’s a cute book with the little mice getting ready for a festival. Cutter Mouse, who is friends with Stubby’s brother, is the perpetuator of the bullying. It is often someone close to the bullied who begins the abuse, which Jackson and Raymond have captured here.
While the story is simple and easy to either read or read to a child, there are a few areas in which it lacks. The mice all look exactly the same, in the same outfits. The girl mice have different hairstyles but the boy mice don’t have anything to separate who they are from each other. Different coloured outfits may have helped with this issue. The mice also don’t seem to express emotion. For a story about bullying and overcoming that, showing joy or sorrow would be necessary.
Stubby does stand up to the person who is making him feel poorly which is an important message to children. He doesn’t do it with violence or by calling Cutter names back. He uses his words. S. Jackson and A. Raymond know that children need to learn these skills to survive in this modern world. The Big Cheese Festival helps to make it less frightening and more relatable by creating a fun and entertaining world.
Pages: 37 | ASIN: B01H3S381O
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Bully Route Home by DJ Havlin is a coming of age story. It follows Robert William Robertson, aka “Pooch,” as he learns some of the hard lessons of life including racism, standing up for what’s right and learning how to handle different situations. As he does tasks that seem mundane such as taking a catfish off a hook, he is taught valuable life lessons. The story focuses on the effects of racism on a small town in a time where hatred ran rampant. As Pooch tries to avoid a beating from the bully, he inadvertently creates chaos within the town. He finds a new friend in Carver, a black boy from the “quarters”, and in turn Pooch’s father hires Carver’s father as a supervisor much to the dismay of the town. The after effects of Lee’s decision effects not only Lee and the plant but also the children at school. Havlin provides an honest and uncensored look at the negative aspect of the human species.
Pooch is a young man full of innocence and naivety. His opinion of a person doesn’t stop at the color of his skin. This viewpoint within a young child and his father spark a rebellion within the town. While Pooch is learning lessons of life and growing up faster than he should, readers are learning as well. This is a book that will cause readers to think. The book is beautifully written and addresses a subject that too often we are afraid to address. While the novel uses certain language, it is done tastefully and in a manner that portrays the viewpoint and culture of the time being depicted.
The characters are complex and grow with depth as the book progresses. Pooch is an incredibly strong character with strong moral values. He doesn’t intend to spark change when he befriends Carver, it just inevitably happens. Throughout the town struggle we see the harsh reality of hatred. Havlin portrays this marvelously through not only dialogue, but the action of the towns folk. I found myself worrying about the Williams family and hoped to have seen more of Carver throughout the hardships. I enjoyed Rebecca’s character as well. While we seen the negativity of human character through many characters, we also see innocence and purity in Rebecca, even when she wants to fight those who challenge her. Lee Robertson is another strong character supporting his son, and displaying the beliefs and actions he wants him (Pooch) to learn. He risks everything to do the right thing and doesn’t back down in the face of adversity. He wants Pooch to learn to the same values and while he seems a strict parent, he does what he thinks is best for all his children. He reminds me a lot of Atticus Finch, fighting for what is right and enduring the aftermath of his decisions.
Havlin’s descriptions are elegant and on point, he doesn’t spend too much time with fluff. His words are direct and to the point. He knows exactly the right words to say in order to expertly evoke emotions from his readers. I cannot begin to say how times I wanted to cry or gasp out of surprise. There were other times when my heart just sank at the actions of one human towards another. DJ Havlin takes one of the dark shadows on our history and brings it to life, brings it to reality. We all heard the stories in school; DJ Havlin’s novel makes it all too real. He doesn’t shy away from the horrors one group of people caused another. It became a story something different from what I was expecting. This is definitely a book that needs to be read just as much as Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer or Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
Pages: 356 | ISBN: 1938002512