Several award-winning authors have new books out in time for the beginning of the school year. Jennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) has penned Chasing Secrets, a new historical fiction about the plague in turn of the century San Francisco. Louis Sachar (Holes) tries his hand at an issue-driven novel in Fuzzy Mud, about a threatened environmental disaster. Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me) explores the limits of adolescent friendships in Goodbye Stranger, and David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy) follows his best-selling Every Day with a companion novel, Another Day, which tells the story from Rhiannon's perspective.
Chasing Secrets, which takes place in San Francisco during a little know bubonic plague threat in the early 1900s, introduces Lizzie, who lives with her brother Billy, their widower doctor father, and their cook Jing in a home on her uncle's Nob Hill estate. Accompanying her father on his house calls, she hears rumors of the plague breaking out in Chinatown. When Jing disappears, she fears he was caught while doing errands in Chinatown and is now under quarantine. To complicate matters, his son Noah is hiding in their attic. As the powers that be deny the plague's existence, Lizzie wonders how to rescue Jing, get medicine to the afflicted and follow her dreams of becoming a doctor. An author's note, time line and bibliography illuminate the historical facts upon which the book is based. This middle level book is filled with mystery and suspense, as well as an exploration of the challenges girls faced who longed to be more than "a proper lady."
Fuzzy Mud, the new eco-disaster novel by Louis Sachar, includes three story lines. When middle-schoolers Tamaya and Marshall take a short cut through the woods to avoid Chad, a bully who is threatening Marshall, they find themselves in a heap of trouble. Chad follows them, and when Tamaya grabs a handful of "fuzzy mud" to throw at him, she unleashes an environmental disaster. Unbeknownst to her, a nearby factory is trying to create a new bio-fuel and has dumped the "fuzzy mud" waste that is toxic to humans. As the federal government get involved, the contaminated kids fear for their lives. This story line is alternated with one that takes place several months after the kids' initial encounter, showing the devastation ahead. The third recaps Senate hearings investigating the bio-fuel's risks and benefits. Although the story line is a bit outlandish, readers will be entertainingly familiarized with the very real threat of science experimentation that gets out of control.
Goodbye Stranger focuses on Em, Tab and Bridget, three best friends who have sworn never to fight. However, as they enter seventh grade, problems threaten this pact. Em's maturing body is attracting boys, and flattered by their attention, she experiments with texting inappropriate pictures of herself, leaving her friends wondering what to do. Tab's new-found interest in feminism and social justice becomes annoying, as she throws herself into activism at the expense of her friendships. Finally, Bridget, who was involved in a near-death accident when she was eight, wonders at her purpose in life, as her girlfriends grow away from her, and Sherm, her best guy friend, becomes more than a friend. Interspersed in the day-to-day happenings are a mysterious high school student's second-person chapters that take place on Valentine's Day in the future. Can the girls navigate the problems they are facing and keep their promise to each other? This novel about friendship, love and bad decisions won't disappoint Rebecca Stead's fans.
Another Day revisits the story (Every Day) about "A" who wakes up every day in a different person's body. Learning to adapt, he tries not to get attached or interfere with a person's life. Then he meets Rhiannon when he inhabits her boyfriend Justin's body and they fall in love. Another Day tells the same story from Rhiannon's perspective, as she spends each day wondering who A is that day and how they can find each other. Every Day was one of my favorite books last year. It is such a creative way to discuss the idea of "walking in another person's shoes," exploring issues of race, gender, sexuality, obesity and more. I loved getting a different perspective on A and Rhiannon's story, and I think mature readers will enjoy it, too.