Archive for the ‘Jordan Sonnenblick’ Category

In this English translation of a Swedish debut young adult novel, fifteen year old Steffi is an outcast at her high school. Karro, one of the ‘in’ girls, never passes up a chance to harass her, call her a whore, tell her she stinks and how ugly she is. All Steffi wants to do is play jazz.


One day, walking home from school, she hears old school jazz music coming out of the second floor window of a retirement home. It stops her in her tracks and she stares at the window, into the face of a white haired old man who asks if she’s going to stand there staring or is she going to come up. Steffi does the latter and is introduced to Alvar ‘Big Boy’ Swensson, a well known jazz bassist during the time of the second world war.

Author Lovestam is a jazz aficionado herself and has penned an interesting two part tale. In the first, Steffi confides in Alvar about the goings on at school, her love of jazz and her desire to go to a music school in Stockholm.

In the second tale, Alvar reminisces about his journey to stardom, from his humble beginnings in Varmland, taking the train alone to Stockholm at age seventeen and meeting a real clarinetist on the train, joining a band, courting the gorgeous Anita and achieving his fame. There is a touching romance in this novel as well as a pseudo history lesson about Swedish life during the Second World War.

Lovestam name drops the well known Swedish jazz musician Povel Ramel (who I never heard of) as well as several other musicians of the time. She is into the beat of Steffi’s bass guitar and illustrates how the music permeates every aspect of Steffi’s life. Jazz musicians will understand this better than I do.

Wonderful Feels Like This, a rewarding intergenerational tale, brings to mind Notes From the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick, Notes in which the main character, Alex, forges a relationship with a nursing home patient, Sol, also a famous musician. While Lovestam’s novel is more serious and Sonnenblick’s has a touch of humor, the bonds forged between Steffi and Alvar and Alex and Sol form the bases of great stories.

While the cadence of the translation is a tad stilted until you get used to it, Wonderful Feels Like This is a fun read. But I wouldn’t limit myself to this book alone. I’d also highly recommend Notes From a Midnight Driver. You can’t go wrong with these two.



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Claire is not having a good day. It is the Dad’s Dance at her dance school. It occurs when the students turn 14 and she and her dad have been looking forward to this for forever. Unfortunately she is watching all the other girls dance with their dads because hers can’t dance, not since his stroke almost a year ago.


Falling Over Sideways flashes back to the events leading up to her father’s stroke and takes them forward to the present. The night before his stroke, Claire and her dad had an argument, Claire being the drama queen and her father making light of the situation. The next morning, when just the two of them were at breakfast, her dad stood up and, all of the sudden, listed to one side, mumbling gibberish. Panicking, she called her mother who, true to form, had her cell phone turned off. Next was 911. She rode with her dad to the hospital, all the while feeling that in some way, she caused the stroke.

As Jordan Sonnenblick has done with After Ever After and Notes From the Midnight Driver, two of my favorite Sonnenblick books, he uses humor to tell what is generally serious stories. Claire goes through so many stages: guilt at possibly being the cause of the stroke, denial, fear of the future, shame. She’s afraid to tell her best friends. She’s afraid to be with her father who is not nearly the man he used to be. All the while, Claire must deal with the trials and tribulations of middle school life, which we all know can be traumatic. Claire’s feelings and actions are contrasted with her mother’s and brother’s actions and emotions, since we know everyone handles trauma differently.

We tend to think that strokes only occur in older people, but Falling Over Sideways was inspired, in part, by a teenage friend of Sonnenblick’s son whose father had a stroke. Much of Claire’s actions and emotions are based on this.

Sonnenblick gets his point across without beating you over the head. Falling Over Sideways is a great read.

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I was at the American Library Association conference in Orlando last weekend and had a chance to exchange a few (very few) words with some of my author and illustrator idols:

They were all charming, of course. So, now for their latest books:

I’ll tell you that I love the books by these authors (except that I haven’t yet read anything by Laura Ruby but Bone Gap is on my reading list). The Margaret A. Edwards award (contributions to young adult literature) winner Anderson writes about current issues in Impossible Knife of Memory, Wintergirls and Speak. Readers can’t put her books down. Ashes is the third book in her Seeds of America trilogy about the Revolutionary War. She is truly impassioned about her subjects.

Jerry Pinkney is a marvelous award winning illustrator who has done wondrous things with his fairy tales The Lion and the Mouse, The Tortoise and the Hare and Grasshopper and the Ants. Children and adults alike will smile as they read these books. He promised to continue as there are so many more fairy tales to tell.

Jordan Sonnenblick uses humor to discuss serious topics such as strokes, old age and cancer in Falling Over Sideways, Notes from a Midnight Driver, and After Ever After. The topics he writes about are ones you don’t see in young adult literature all that often.

Morgan Matson and Emery Lord are the masters of the summer romance (watch out Sarah Dessen!). Matson’s Unexpected Everything (review to come), Since You’ve Been Gone and Second Chance Summer are the perfect beach reads. (For some reason I’ve bought Matson’s last two books at Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs, NY…I’m not from there! Is this a trend?) Lord’s spin on romance and characters is unique in When We Collided (Vivi is such a great character) (review to come) and Open Road Summer. So get your reading chair, beach umbrella and SPF 50 ready.

You’ll have to wait until I read Bone Gap to know what that one’s all about. But if it is a Michael Printz Award winner, it can’t be all bad.

These six authors provide any kind of reading you want (serious, humorous, romantic, illustrious, mythical) to take you through the summer, into the fall and beyond. Happy Reading!


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AllegiantI truly don’t know what to say about Allegiant.  Let it be understood that I’m not a dystopian novel lover, so I’m clearly more biased than if I was reading some other genre. Given that, I did like Hunger Games, for the most part. So, here’s my stream of consciousness regarding this book:

Starting with the negatives:

(i) It was overly long (the series and this final book-average pages 550 for Divergent vs. 400 for Hunger Games). I’ve come to appreciate those authors that agonize over words and use them sparingly.

(ii) If you hadn’t the first two books in the series you’d be totally lost (considering my long term memory is shot, it took ages to vaguely remember what went on).

(iii) The flipping back and forth between Tris and Tobias I found confusing at times, although I don’t normally find the two narrator style all that confusing.

(iv) I found it hard to visualize the city, the fringe and the compound. I find that is the hardest thing for me with many books I read…trying to visualize in my head what the geography looks like.

Switching to the positives:

(i) There’s a good story in there somewhere…pure genes vs. damaged (if you want to go so far as the Master Race, you can), the pure bloods vs. everyone else, government coverups, spying on people (especially in light of today’s NSA), genetic engineering, both successful and unsuccessful. As I write this, there’s a heck of lot of good stuff in there.

(ii) It’s a fast read—at 550 pages, it should be.

(iii) The ancillary characters are likeable (Cara, Christina, Uriah), probably more so than the main characters (Tris and Tobias).

(iv) There’s a lot of action.

So, where does this leave us? I like all kinds of YA fiction, from the ‘literary’ fiction of Beth Kephart to the realistic fiction of John Green and Jordan Sonnenblick to the chick lit of Sarah Dessen. I just can’t get excited about this one, though.

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OK, Jordan. Admit it. You didn’t write Are You Experienced? for teens. You really wrote it for the 60-somethings AreYouExperiencedlike me who want to reminisce about a by-gone era of idealism, of a love of music and our favorite bands, of a day when we weren’t all connected, all the time, to 1,000 ‘friends’. You wanted us to re-live Woodstock, regardless of whether or not we went (I didn’t) and remember Ten Years After and John Sebastian and Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Jimi Hendrix’s version of the national anthem. If that was your goal, you succeeded triumphantly because I had a blast reading and remembering.

Or did you write it for teens? To introduce them to all of the above. Yeah, there are kids now who know of some of the bands there, but many don’t. There are some kids who think that the world can be a better place, but many don’t. There are kids who look outside themselves and try to help others, but many don’t.  Maybe Are You Experienced? can be a wake-up call and shake a generation out of its apathy.

But, in truth, what you did was write a fun book. Imagine traveling back in time and spending time with your father when you and he both are 15. A father who is distant and restrictive and solitary. Imagine learning what he was like at your age and what shaped him into the person he has become. What a fun and unique opportunity. And imagine doing that at the concert to end all concerts, Woodstock. Well, Richard Gabriel Barber lived that chance. And in doing so, met some great musicians, some great people and might have changed his own and his father’s life.

Are You Experienced? is a fun romp through Woodstock. Regardless of whether some of the events actually happened, you’ll get a glimpse of some great rock musicians. You’ll understand, hopefully, the lure of the music. You’ll learn about the traffic jams and the heavy rains and mud, the skinny-dipping and, yes, the drugs. But, having listened to the Woodstock CDs and seen the movie, it is some of the best music you’ll ever hear. As you read Are You Experienced?, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll remember (if you’re old enough).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

P.S. In a somewhat familiar vein, if you’re interested, Born to Rock by Gordon Korman, is another rock and roll book. Imagine being an ultra conservative kid and finding out your dad was once king of Heavy Metal!

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Jordan Sonnenblick writes great books. He somehow manages to blend serious issues with humor to come up with readable, fun middle grade books and so it is with Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip.

Peter Friedman is an ace pitcher. He gives 110%. So when his arm begins hurting, he keeps going, going, gone…at least his pitching arm, that is. The doctors say he’ll never pitch again. Actually, he’ll never play baseball again.

Since he was a kid, he’d go on photo shoots with his grandfather, a professional photographer. So, Peter takes a photography class, in order to replace his sports passion with a hobby. In class he meets the adorable Angelika, who seems to like him.

Curveball is the photography version of Ron Koertge’s Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, another great book, in which the protagonist writes poetry when he’s sidelined with mono.

In Curveball, Peter grapples with: (a) telling AJ, his best friend and baseball teammate, that he’ll no longer be able to play baseball, (b) the telltale signs that his grandfather may have Alzheimer’s Disease and (c) the ins and outs of the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship of a high school freshman.

I remember vividly loving the grumpy nursing home character Sol from Notes from a Midnight Driver. Well, in Curveball, Grandpa is exactly the opposite. He’s loveable, supportive, fun. AJ is a great best friend, the kind that can be a pain sometimes, but always cares. Angelika is the perfect girlfriend.

Sonnenblick continues his winning streak with Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip. I’m glad to see he hasn’t lost his grip. It’s an all around winner.

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Those of you who review books for journals, on blogs or for newspapers, might know how I feel. I just reviewed a book for a journal and gave it somewhere between 2 and 3 stars (out of 5). And I feel bad. I wonder if I’m being too harsh. I wonder whether I’ve lost touch with what teens might like to read. I wonder whether I should get out of the reviewing business. I wonder, wonder, wonder, until I got my hands on The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Then I stopped wondering because I knew what a great book reads like.

I’m not going to tell you much about The Fault in Our Stars because my meager words won’t do it justice.  Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters meet at a cancer support group. Augustus was there at his friend Isacc’s request. All three have differing forms of cancer. They all suffer in different ways. They all carry on the best they can. They make quite a trio. Needless to say, Hazel Grace and Augustus become smitten with each other. Theirs is the love of a lifetime…the type of love we all wish to have, other than the prospect of either or both dying from their diseases. The Fault in Our Stars is a book of strength, of philosophy, of humor and determination. I mentioned once that I like Green’s odd numbered books: #1 Looking for Alaska, #3 Paper Towns and now #5. These are books not to be missed, but The Fault in Our Stars is stellar.

It is odd, but it seems that at times I unwittingly pick up books on the same topic, such as when I read several books dealing with Aspberger’s Syndrome. Hurt Machine, Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest Moe Prager book, begins with the protagonist exiting his oncologist’s office. I’m sure this will be another heart breaker. But that’s for another post.

Let me suggest two more Young Adult books with protagonists who have diseases that impact their lives or are, indeed, life threatening: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick and Deadline by Chris Crutcher. In the former, Jeffrey Alper, now in eighth grade, narrates this sequel to Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie. He is cancer-free, but leukemia treatment left him with a limp and a brain that is “a little scrambled up.” When he learns he will be held back unless he passes a statewide standardized test, Jeffrey panics, then agrees to let Tad, his best friend and fellow cancer survivor, tutor him.

In Deadline, Ben has big things planned for his senior year. Had big things planned. Now what he has is some very bad news and only one year left to make his mark on the world. How can a pint-sized, smart-ass seventeen-year-old do anything significant in the nowheresville of Trout, Idaho? 

All three books deal with their subject with humor, insight and emotion. All three books should be on your bookshelf.

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