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Young Adult Book Reviews

Book Reviews by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor

"Through My Eyes" by Tammy Wilson, Illustration by Jill Dubbeldee Kuhn; Beaver's Pond Press; February 2016; 120 pp; $15.95

"Salt to the Sea" by Ruta Sepetys; Philomel Books; February 2016; 400 pp; $18.99

"Raymie Nightingale" by Kate DiCamillo; Candlewick Press; April 2016; 272 pp; $16.99


Three recently published novels for young adults offer some good prose. Young readers and also adults will find the books engaging.

"Through My Eyes" is a timely novel penned by Tammy Wilson, principal of Discovery Elementary School in St. Cloud, which has a high Somali population. Wilson wrote this book after seeing the need for her students to see themselves in books and also to help teach others about the Somali culture. "Through My Eyes" is told in the first person through Zamzam, a young girl who is trying to adjust to her new life in America after fleeing Somalia with her mother, sister and brothers. In the book, Zamzam, a bright girl, struggles with a new school where she works hard while trying to keep some of her Somali values and customs. She tells some of her story in the form of letters to her cousin whom she fears may have died in the bombing of Mogadishu. The book is geared toward students in grades five and six. It includes a brief history of Somalia, an overview of Islam, along with a glossary and discussion questions. The attractive illustrations are done by Jill Dubbeldee Kuhn, who is Gallery Manager for Fine Arts Programming at CSB/SJU.

"Salt to the Sea" is a rich historical novel based on a little-known maritime tragedy that took place on January 30, 1945. Thousands of desperate refugees perished on the ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, in the Baltic Sea, while trying to escape Stalin's advancing army during World War II. The book is told from the alternating voices of four teenagers, each from a different country: Lithuania, Poland, Germany and East Prussia. The young German is stationed on the ship; his narrative offers the view of a Hitler supporter. The other three teens have converged with a number of other refugees as they traverse on foot towards Gotenhafen, Poland, where they hope to board a ship that will take them to safety, away from the Russian army. Author Ruta Sepetys, whose father is Lithuanian, did extensive research before writing "Salt to the Sea," her third historical novel for young adults. The book is beautifully written, with romance, heart-break, tension and kindness, and is suited for readers age twelve and older.

"Raymie Nightingale" is two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo's new novel for ages ten and up. It is 1975 and ten-year-old Raymie Clarke's father has just run off with a dental hygienist. Raymie has decided that if she can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, her father will see her picture in the newspaper and return to the family. Needing a talent to win, Raymie takes baton twirling lessons and meets two girls who are also planning to compete in the contest, each for a different reason. The three girls end up in several adventures and become friends rather than competitors. DiCamillo has a gift for creating unique characters and writing with wry humor. Her newest novel, based somewhat on her own childhood, is a delightful read.

These novels for young readers provide interest, knowledge and good story-lines. Very different from each other, all three are thoughtful, compelling reads.