Book Review: Crazy-Stressed by Dr. Michael J. Bradley

Crazy-Stressed cover imageIf parents believe their teens face more stressors than the previous generation, Dr. Michael J. Bradley wants to let them know they are right. With the proliferation of social media, increased screen time, pressure to perform in school and more, kids are challenged by a growing list of outside forces that can trip them up and make them difficult to parent.

A psychologist who counsels kids and their parents, Bradley has written a guide called Crazy-Stressed: Saving Today’s Overwhelmed Teens With Love, Laughter, and the Science of Resilience. Bradley starts off by defining the kinds of things kids are facing these days as a way to inform parents that they can’t make assumptions about teen lives based on their own experience of growing up.

Through stories gleaned from his professional experience as well as personal stories from raising his own children, Bradley presents the case for teaching teens how to be resilient so they can learn how to get through the issues they face as they mature into adulthood. Parents can provide love and guidance, but Bradley says they must realize they can’t protect their kids from every stressful or dangerous situation they will encounter. Kids are more likely to make it through the teen years to become successful adults if they learn skills to communicate, take ownership of their decisions, and bounce back from mistakes they will inevitably make.

Throughout Crazy-Stressed Bradley’s tone is light and humorous, which makes it easier for parents to absorb the points he makes. His personal stories from his own parenting make him relatable, so parents shouldn’t feel he’s imparting unrealistic advice. Rather, his own stories show that parents can make mistakes as they act in ways they think is right for their children and still learn how to do a better job in the future.

Different sections outline the issues facing teens, show parents how to react in stressful situations, and provide guidelines for staying connected with teens as they mature. It’s a guide that parents will want to consult again and again for a refresher on ideas to handle new issues throughout their children’s teen years.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle

From Ant to Eagle cover imageWhen Calvin’s family moves from the city to the countryside, he’s stuck with no one to play with except his younger brother Sammy. Sammy sticks to Cal like glue, always bugging him to read a book or play a game. So Cal invents a game with levels. Sammy has to perform certain tasks to level up, and the tasks always take him a long time, giving Cal the break he’s looking for.

When Aleta moves to town Cal finds the friend he’s been looking for, and the two of them start to spend more and more time together without Sammy. But when Sammy gets sick, Cal realizes how much his brother means to him and how much he stands to lose if Sammy doesn’t get better.

From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle looks at childhood cancer from the viewpoint of a sibling. Through Cal’s eyes readers are able to see how the disease affects the whole family in devastating ways. What would have been normal sibling frustrations, an older brother having to entertain a younger brother and chafing at the restrictions that inevitably brings, become a source of guilt in the face of illness. Stressed parents argue when they take different approaches to coping.

From Ant to Eagle is not an easy book to read, but it is an important one. Anyone who knows someone experiencing illness will find it a guide to how to help, but it’s also good for anyone who just seeks to understand the human condition. The author is a pediatrician who works in Pediatric Oncology, and his insights gained from experience add meaning to the story.

While the subject mater is not happy, it’s also not overly emotionally wrought. Instead, the story is told with honesty and genuine emotion in a way that touches the heart and makes readers think while addressing the subject in a straightforward way.

I recommend From Ant to Eagle for readers aged 12 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Say No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson

Say No to the Bro cover imageAva’s new in town, a senior in high school, and the daughter of her high school’s football coach. Mark is the quarterback. There’s an instant connection when they meet. But their budding relationship is put off balance by a school event called Prom Bowl. A tradition that’s been going on for years, Prom Bowl raises money for the end-of-the-year dance by auctioning off senior girls as prom dates. Against her will, Ava is added to the list and starts competing in a game she doesn’t even want to play.

Say No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson asks readers to look at traditions like the one in the story and consider whether they are still relevant or outdated in today’s world. Ava just wants to get through senior year at her new school, not be in the spotlight for a contest she objects to. Other girls in the class are thrilled to be chosen for the list of auctionees. Ava wants to end the practice so girls don’t have to get pressured to join in years to come. Others want to keep the tradition. It’s an interesting look at the kinds of activities that were probably not questioned when they started decades ago, but that today may be considered sexist.

Also, light supervision from faculty at the school means events relating to prom bowl escalate what the girls are required to do. Even Ava gets caught up in competition, wondering how she can so no or limit what she’s willing to do when others around her seem to happily comply. Mark also doesn’t like what goes on for Prom Bowl, but he’s pressured by his best friend to play along. Other forces at play come from teachers, Ava’s dad, even the principal.

I found secondary characters in Say No to the Bro tended to be one dimensional, and the book could have easily been longer to explore some of the issues hinted at with Ava and Mark’s friends and parents. But issues Ava and Mark deal with directly provide plenty of interesting food for thought. They are each pressured by their parents, their friends and society at large, and they struggle with knowing how to react to events they don’t control. Anyone who has ever felt pressured to go along will surely relate. Ages 14 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Bodyguard by Chris Bradford

Bodyguard Recruit cover imageConnor Reeves is the latest recruit in an elite organization that provides bodyguards for high profile clients. But Connor and his fellow bodyguards are unlike those of any other organization in the world: they are teens. They have an advantage over older bodyguards, because they seem to be ordinary kids who are merely friends of the people they are protecting.

That’s the premise of a new series by Chris Bradford called Bodyguard. Based on the first two books in the series that I have read, Recruit and Hostage, the series is fast-paced and packed with adventure.

Connor has some experience in self defense when he joins the organization called Guardian: he wins the Battle of Britain Junior Kickboxing Tournament when Recruit opens. His training provides even more. He learns to assess threats, conduct surveillance, avoid ambushes, and gain skills in unarmed combat. Author Bradford went through bodyguard training himself, learning these same skills so he could write in a realistic way about them.

Four titles in the series have been released together, making it great to pick up for summer reading. In Recruit and Hostage, Connor gets training and goes on his first assignment, which involves protecting the daughter of the U.S. president when she slips away from her Secret Service detail. Action in books three and four moves a luxury yacht and involves the children of an Australian media mogul.

I recommend Bodyguard for readers aged 10 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Little Oink cover imageAmy Krouse Rosenthal’s Little Oink turns the concept of keeping a clean room and being neat and tidy upside down. Little Oink likes being clean, but his parents tell him pigs are supposed to be dirty. They scold him if he doesn’t have enough dirt on his clothes.

But little pig is happy being clean. He digs for truffles in the dirt with a trowel, not his hooves. And when his classmates happily grub at a trough during school lunches, Little Oink wears a bib and eats with a knife and fork.

Toddlers and preschoolers ages 2 to 4, who are at an age when they are likely to be told to clean up after themselves, will find lots to giggle over in this funny role reversal. Jen Corace’s illustrations are simple and sweet, just right for a cute story that youngsters will beg parents to read to them over and over again.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Interview With Ellen Hopkins, Author of The You I’ve Never Known

That’s me on the left with author Ellen Hopkins at Powell’s bookstore in Portland.

Ellen Hopkins is the award-winning writer of several books for young adults, including Crank, Burned, Impulse, and Identical. Recently, I had the chance to sit down and talk with her about her latest book, The You I’ve Never Known, how she started writing for young adults, and why she thinks it’s so important to write about difficult topics. She also opened up about some of her personal experiences that have inspired her writing.

Find out more at her website, ellenhopkins.com.

When we met, I asked Ellen to sign a copy of The You I’ve Never Known to give away at MotherDaughterBookClub.com. That copy will go to one reader who comments here about why they read books that challenge them in some way. Just leave your comment by midnight (PDT), May 23, 2017.

MDBC: How did you start writing for young adults?

EH: I published 20 nonfiction books mostly for middle school in history, science and biography. When my daughter got hooked on meth it was an experience that obviously affected the whole family.

She went to prison and I started writing Crank for me, trying to figure out why. Which is why I chose to write first person from her point of view. To try to get into her head some, to walk where she was walking. And then through the writing process it became clear that this was a story that needed to be told to young adults. It is a cautionary tale, and I hope people who read it see it that way.

After that I talked to so many kids, and then I started connecting online with them and they would tell me stories. It became a passion for me to become a voice for them.

MDBC: You cover a lot of difficult topics in the books you write. Why do you think it’s so important to do that?

EH: For kids it’s all about discovery. They’re looking for who they are. In this book specifically, (The You I’ve Never Known) she’s looking for who she is. She’s desperately trying to find out who she is and there are a lot of kids like that.

Kids are looking for love and acceptance and direction. Writing YA allows you to give them direction without them feeling like they’re being preached to.

MDBC: Why are your books important for moms and daughters to read together.

EH: I think both sides can develop insight. First of all, I think for parents to understand that this is real. This is what school is like, this is what the back seat of a car is like. It helps parents remember who they were as teenagers too, and maybe can open up that kind of dialogue.

Also I think if mothers and daughters read books together the kids will feel more open to expressing their own pain. Often times kids think their moms don’t care or their moms are too busy. I’ve had moms read my books and tell their daughters stories about their own adolescence that maybe they wouldn’t have opened up and mentioned.

MDBC: What do you find particularly compelling about telling a story in verse and prose, like The You I’ve Never Known?

EH: Verse is immersive. It puts you so deeply inside characters because you’re allowed monologues. There’s a lot to comprehend, and the white space allows you to pause when you need to, and you can think about it, especially if it’s a heavy passage or a hard scene.

MDBC: I was also struck by the complexity of the issues. There’s something going on with Ariel and her dad but layered on top of that she’s questioning her sexuality. What made you want to add a layer of complexity to what already was a complex story?

EH: In my life every time I get myself figured out in one way something else happens, and for kids that’s happening all the time. When you’re young you don’t even realize what sexuality means or the power of it or how to compartmentalize that part of yourself around everything else.

Nowadays there’s so much discussion among teens about sexuality and what is right. There’s a lot of acceptance towards being gay. There’s this idea that gender and sexual identity don’t have to be set in stone. I think trying to bring some kind of enlightenment to that so people can see if that’s you that’s okay too, you don’t have to decide you are one thing or another. Maybe you’ll move on and you will decide, but I think probably a lot of young people experiment.

Also Ariel’s been told that her mother is a lesbian and she’s been told that’s why her mother left her, so when she was starting to get attracted to another girl she knew her father would never accept that.

MDBC: You had a similar experience in your own life with an ex-husband, is that correct?

EH: He was an abuser who I stayed with way too long. Three weeks after we finally divorced, against court orders he took our daughter out of daycare. I lost her for three years. I didn’t know where she was; I didn’t know if she was okay.

Things in this story are different, because I always try to give characters who reflect things in my real life a little distance.

MDBC: Tell me about your nonprofit group.

EH: It’s called Ventana Sierra (Find it on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VentanaSierra/) Our goal is to help foster kids or kids who are at risk get the resources they need to start college.

MDBC: Is there anything else you’d like to say to moms and daughters who are reading together?

EH: To trust each other. I think young people tend to start to look at their parents as the enemy, as the person who doesn’t want them to have experiences. If you can learn to trust and develop those communication skills and to keep them open and to understand that even if something comes in that’s not what you want to hear it’s better to work through it sooner rather than later.

And if you read together you might strike a nerve somewhere. And that works for both sides.

MDBC: What’s next for you?

EH: I’ve got another adult book in revision that should be out in fall (2017) or next spring. And I’m writing a YA title for 2018 that addresses gun violence.

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Book Review: The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson

The Wonder of UsAbby and Riya have been best friends since before they can remember, but their relationship started to chill when Riya moved with her parents from their small California town to Germany. From a distance, it became difficult for them to share important news with each other. Thanks to a gift from Riya’s grandma, they get to tour European cities while figuring out if their friendship has a future.

The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson will take you on a journey in more ways than one. First, it’s really fun to learn about the cities Abby and Riya travel to. Their explorations can also provide inspiration for anyone considering a trip to Europe. But the journey also takes readers inside the anatomy of a friendship. What binds people together in the first place? How does physical distance affect emotional connection? Is there a way to bridge the gap?

Told from each girl’s perspective in alternating chapters, The Wonder of Us lets readers see how small misunderstandings can easily grow to larger hurts when they’re not addressed. But it also shows that when you are honest about what you need emotionally from a friend, finding a way forward becomes possible. I recommend it for readers aged 14 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: City of Grit and Gold by Maud Macrory Powell

City of Grit and Gold cover imageTwelve-year-old Addie loves to run and feel the power in her growing legs, but she’s constantly cautioned to slow down, stay quiet, and do what her parents expect her to do. That’s difficult in Chicago during 1886, a time of turmoil that saw unions organizing, protesters taking to the streets, even a gathering called the Haymarket Affair, when a bomb was thrown at police, killing several.

Addie wants to do what’s right, but people she loves disagree on what that is. Her papa believes immigrants like him should work hard without complaining of the conditions, because the old country they left behind was worse. Her Uncle Chaim says workers should have humane working conditions and make enough money to support their families. Addie herself sees a vast gap between children like her who can go to school and those who put their lives at risk working in factories to help feed their families.

City of Grit and Gold by Maud Macrory Powell portrays the time of unrest that occurred in Chicago and other parts of the U.S. as workers fought for the right to limit their work day to eight hours, get paid a fair wage, have safety measures implemented in factories, and restrict child labor. Wide disparities between the sectors of society meant that many were struggling to get by.

When Addie sees her older siblings and her beloved uncle questioning the established order of things she doesn’t know what to think. On one hand she has been taught to obey her parents without question. On the other, her budding sense of fairness has her wondering if the protesters are right.

Readers get a glimpse into all the important issues of the day through Addie’s eyes as she goes about her days at school, in the street, in her home, at the park, and helping out with the injured and the sick. City of Grit and Gold is a small book, but it carries an impactful message about an important time in American history. I highly recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12 and their parents.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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