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Though we have been on this blog for years we have finally changed our website to be able to handle the blog directly on our webpages now.

Please go to our main library page – and you will see so much more and still be able to see our book review blogs from 2018 and on.

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“Everland” by Wendy Spinale

EVERLAND was one of those books I got sucked into before I realized what it was about.  I downloaded it in audiobook format from an online summer reading program for teens that I belong to.  (Yes, I realize I am a very old teen, but I frequently enjoy Young Adult novels.)

As I began listening to the story, I kept thinking, “This feels familiar.  It sounds like a mixture of PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie and NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman, along with some steampunk thrown in.”

London is in chaos.  It has been destroyed in a blitzkrieg of bombs and disease.  During the bombing of the city, a deadly virus that has no antidote has been released.  Fast-acting, it kills everyone, leaving children, however, to a slower but still certain death.

Gwen and her two siblings, Joanna and Mikey, are some of the survivors trying just to exist.  Gwen must scavenge for food while avoiding the German Marauders who steal any child they can to take them to Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretchmer, who is looking for a cure for the virus he released.

In her foraging for food, Gwen runs into two other teens named Pete and Bella, who help her escape the Marauders by diverting the Marauders’ attention from Gwen to them, allowing her to run away.

This is when things began to click for me – Gwen/Wendy, Bella/Tinkerbell, Pete/Peter, and Captain Hanz Otto Oswald Kretchmer, known by his initials, HOOK.

Gwen’s sister, Joanna, is snatched while Gwen is out searching for food.  Gwen knows that once a child is snatched, they never come back, so she decides to stop at nothing to get her sister back.

Pete and Gwen’s paths cross again, with Gwen finding out there is a whole civilization of Lost Boys living beneath the city of London.  She joins the Lost Children, and convinces them to join her cause to rescue her sister.

They join forces, but at what price?  Will they succeed in their quest?  Will the virus kill them?  Is Gwen “The Immune”?

I’m “hooked” by now and hang on through the end of the book, hopeful for resolution.  Then, I realized this was the first book in a trilogy, with UMBERLAND and OZLAND finishing out the story.  While there is a bit of closure at the end of EVERLAND, it will take the whole trilogy for what I hope is a satisfying conclusion.

Joplin Public Library did not have this trilogy, but now does.  It is available in the New Book section of the Teen Department – or at least will be available for check out after I finish the last two books!



In “THERE, THERE,” by TOMMY ORANGE, 12 strangers make plans to attend the Big Oakland Powwow in Oakland, California.

Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, who has raised her sister’s three grandchildren, hopes to catch a glimpse of her oldest nephew in full regalia dancing for the first time. Her sister, Jacquie Red Feather, is newly sober and driving from New Mexico with the man who first got her pregnant as a teenager on Alcatraz Island. Tony, a young man with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which he calls “the Drome,” gets mixed in with Calvin, Charles, Carlos and Octavio, a group of men planning to rob the powwow to make up a drug deal debt. One character, Dene Oxendene, plans to attend the powwow as a voyeur, hoping to document people’s stories and how their stories fit into the story of the urban Native American. These are just a small handful of the characters in Orange’s debut novel.

The degrees of separation could be difficult to follow if crafted by a less-skilled writer, but Orange deftly threads the stories together with the skill of a spider weaving a web. The reader may find him or herself flipping back and forth among stories and marveling at the seemingly inconsequential role one person plays in several other stories before making an appearance in their own, often heartbreaking, accounts.

What does it mean to be an urban Native American? What does it mean to be half-Native but raised by your white mom? This fleeting identity is at the center of Orange’s novel; it begins with a searing look at the United States’ treatment of Native Americans that serves as an entry point to these answers, as told through each character’s story.

In the prologue, Orange writes, “We (Urban Indians) know the sound of the freeway better than we do the rivers, the howl of distant trains better than wolf howls” and that “being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.” Few of the characters know who they are as individuals, much less who they are in the context of the history of their culture. But maybe that is what Orange is positing with “There There;” there is not one way to be a good or authentic Native American. Maybe Native heritage is more dependent on this country’s treatment of Native tribes and nations, and the bearing of centuries of abuse and torture on the psyche. Orange’s use of epigraphs is extraordinary, but the following by James Baldwin feels especially representative of the entire novel: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

Overall, “There There” is an exceptional and well-developed novel. My chief complaint is that I wanted more of each character. The conclusion, however is spectacular. To avoid spoilers, I will only note that the conclusion is electrifying, spectacular and worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy.

lightningReviewed by Tammie Benham

At age eight, Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning.  She survived however, the strike left her genius level Math skills, an inability to cope with germs, and the ability to recite the numbers of pi to infinity.  Over the years Lucy has developed coping mechanisms to ensure the numbers of pi don’t overtake her life.  She only allows the numbers of pi to be recited to the 314th decimal point, and apping her toe three times interrupts the number invasion in her head when she’s uncomfortable.  Lucy realizes some of her behaviors may seem odd to others but her intuitive self tells her people will get used to them over time.


Since the lightning strike, Lucy has been mainly homeschooled by her Nana.  However, things are about to change.  When Nana decides Lucy needs to attend Middle School and enter a world of her peers, Lucy is less than thrilled.  Thinking she should be in college, not Middle School, and with the brain power to succeed in such an advanced setting, Lucy tentatively gives in to her Nana’s demands-she must join an activity, read a book that’s not a Math textbook, and make a friend.  She finds the new environment as challenging as she had anticipated.


With the help of a like-minded teacher, a germy dog who steals her heart, and a boy who has the knack of seeing things from a different perspective, Lucy might just be able to survive seventh grade.


Lucy’s experiences while making friends with Windy (NOT Wendy) and Levi, serve as the backdrop for this middle grade novel.  Lessons of trust, friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness permeate the storyline.  Lucy’s character states she is diagnosed with Acquired Savant Syndrome, which explains her behaviors and abilities.  However, the characteristics Lucy exhibits may be familiar and help children identify with the story.

When the last written page of a book concludes and you find yourself wanting more, it’s always a good thing.  Stacy McAnulty’s debut novel ends in just such a way.  Here’s hoping the story of Lucy Callahan continues.  Written for grades 3-9, the story contains some bullying.





51C+Vo2AZbL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_     First graders huddled in a closet listening to the pop, pop, pop of gunfire in the hall is the stuff of nightmares. It is also the beginning of Rhiannon Navin’s novel Only Child. Navin’s first book is a heart-wrenching tale of trauma and loss told through the mind and heart of a child.

Six-year-old Zach Taylor, his classmates and teacher, Miss Russell, have been in the closet before during a lockdown drill. They weren’t in there long before Charlie, the security guard, came to unlock the hall door and tell them to come out. This time though Charlie doesn’t come and the pops keep going and getting louder.

When the door finally opens it’s the police. The class is led through the bloody scene in the hall out into the rain to a nearby church. When Zach’s mom, Melissa, is finally let in to find him, the first thing she asks is “Zach, where’s your brother?”

Andy is not in the church nor at the hospital when they go there. Finding Andy is Melissa’s singular focus and when she learns that Andy is one of the 19 fatalities she collapses and is hospitalized.

His mom has always been Zach’s main caregiver. They did projects together, she made his meals and put him to bed. They read together each night then sang a special song together before he slept. All of that goes away with Andy’s death. As Zach sees it his mommy got changed into another person at the hospital.

His family was strained before this tragedy. Andy had oppositional defiant disorder and his behavioral problems caused dissension between his parents who also had other issues. Instead of coming together as a family Zach’s parents isolate themselves with their grief and he is mostly left to deal with his fear, confusion and grief alone.

He doesn’t understand why people bring food and have a party when Andy has just died. He worries about what happened to Andy – where is his body and is his soul safe in heaven? Zach’s nightmares start the very first night but the adults seem almost dismissive of his fears and questions.

Zach is drawn into Andy’s room and each day he checks the top bunk to see if Andy is there and maybe he just had a bad dream. He first goes into Andy’s closet to hide but finds he can quiet himself in there and make bad thoughts go into his ’brain safe’ so he won’t be afraid.

Andy’s closet becomes his safe haven and secret hideaway.  It is there that he realizes that the red he just painted on a page is like the red his face gets when people look at him and he is embarrassed. He decides to give each of his feelings a color so they won’t be all mixed up inside him.

He brings a picture of himself with Andy to the hideaway and he starts to talk to Andy. He doesn’t let Andy off the hook because he died and lets him know he was a jerk to Zach. But as life outside the closet worsens and Zach has to deal with his own uncontrollable feelings he begins to see Andy in a new light and remembers the good.

He reads aloud to Andy from the Magic Tree House books. The books were Andy’s but became Zach’s when Andy outgrew them. The main characters are brother and sister Jack and Annie which sounds like Zach and Andy. When he reads it’s like all 4 of them go on the adventure together.

But the comfort Andy feels in his hideaway is lost outside the closet. He doesn’t understand why he has started wetting the bed or why he suddenly gets so angry and can’t make it stop. His mom has become determined to make the parents of the gunman pay and has little time or patience for Zach. His dad, Zach’s only real support, has gone back to work and his parents fighting grows worse. Zach has gone from a family of 4 to feeling like he is alone. Can Zach find a way to help his family heal or is the loss of Andy too much to overcome?

Navin has written a gripping novel and stayed true to Zach’s voice. But the raw emotion and subject matter makes this a very tough read – I almost quit after the first few chapters. But Zach drew me back and I’m glad. The library has this title in regular, large print, and ebook editions.

Recently, the Joplin Public Library Board allowed me to attend the Public Library Association’s conference. Held every two years, this is the largest conference that specializes in public libraries. It has well-known keynote speakers and a host of workshops, all geared to those who serve in public libraries. It’s a wonderful week, even when it’s held in the winter in Philadelphia during its fourth major winter storm within a three-week timespan.

As much as I enjoy the sessions, however, the exhibit hall is a bibliophile’s wonderland. It is a paradise with all the major players and most of the minor players in publishing today. Then there are vendors with anything you can imagine related to libraries, library technologies and buildings. It’s a veritable paradise. (Ask me about scoring “Pete the Cat” socks!)

Exhibitors give away the usual convention swag — candy, pens, sticky notes, etc. But more importantly, vendors give away lots and lots of books! There are best-selling authors there signing their newest books; there are advanced reader’s copies of books yet to be published; and there are other books just being sold dirt cheap. Did I mention this is a bibliophile’s wonderland?

I received an advanced reader’s copy of today’s book. It will not be available until June 12, so Joplin Public Library does not have it — yet. “THE BOOK OF ESSIE” is a debut novel from MEGHAN MACLEAN WEIR, and the opening paragraph grabbed my attention: “On the day I turn 17, there is a meeting to decide whether I should have the baby or if sneaking me to a clinic for an abortion is worth the PR risk. I am not invited, which is just as well, since my being there might imply that I have some choice in the matter, and I know that I have none.”

Esther Anne Hicks — Essie — is the youngest child of an Evangelical preacher who has become a reality TV star. Her family is the star of “Six for Hicks,” a show that has followed every aspect of the family’s life for more than a decade. Every moment in life is scripted by the show producers and Celia Hicks, Essie’s mother, and shown for the world to see.

Essie’s pregnancy presents a problem to the family’s television empire. The show is popular and followed by thousands. This type of revelation could endanger the empire.

What should the family do about Essie? Should they sneak her away somewhere for a private abortion? Should they pretend and pass off a new baby as the seventh Hicks child belonging to Celia, Essie’s mother? Or do they decide to boost their ratings even more with a blockbuster wedding?

While the family is making decisions about Essie’s life, she is quietly making plans of her own by pairing up with a student she knows only slightly, Roark Richards. Roark is a senior at her high school, and Essie knows about a secret he is trying to protect.

“The Book of Essie” is told by three viewpoints — that of Essie, that of Roark and that of Liberty Bell, an ultra-conservative reporter whom Essie has contacted for help.

The characters in the story are created layer by layer, and the story is revealed ever so slowly by peeling back the layers of the characters like onion skins, one thin revelation at a time.

There are tough topics dealt with in this book, and because of that, some who have read advance copies don’t care for it. They were fascinated and captivated, but they were upset by sensitive topics.

It covers reality TV and a fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone preacher with a secret-filled family, but to tell you more would be a spoiler, so I will withhold that information.

Reading the book will answer your questions just as Essie finds answers to her own questions. Why did her older sister leave home and never come back? Who can be trusted with the truth? Can she win her freedom? At what price will her freedom come?

This book is on order and should arrive shortly. In the meantime, Joplin Public Library has thousands of other page-turners that will keep you entertained or informed.

Jacque Gage is the director of the Joplin Public Library.


Before Betty Shabazz became an activist, educator, mother and wife to Malcolm X, she was Betty Dean, a young and ambitious girl growing up in Detroit.

For the first seven years of her life, Betty lived in Georgia, where she was raised by her aunt, Fannie Mae. “BETTY BEFORE X” follows a young Betty as she moves to Detroit to live with her mom and her mom’s new family. Although the novel is a fictionalized account of her childhood, LLYASAH SHABAZZ, daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, and award-winning author RENEE WATSON based the story on real people, events and facts.

Betty loves her family and is an attentive older sister to her three half-sisters, but she struggles with feeling like an outsider in her own home. While her sisters play, her mother often expects her to clean and keep house.

Her activism begins because of her associations with certain friends and neighbors, particularly Helen Malloy, who steps in as a mother figure when Betty’s actual mother fully rejects her. However, events such as the lynching of a black couple in the South, the shooting of a black teen in Detroit and discriminatory hiring practices in her community fuel her work as a young activist.

Betty Before X highlights the different forms activism can take, as well as the polarizing effects it can have within an oppressed community. While the Housewives’ League encourages its members to only shop at stores that employ black workers, characters such as the mother of Betty’s friend Phyllis are angry about boycotts that exclude low-income families not able to shop at more expensive stores.

Like the story itself, Betty’s character is nuanced and realistic; she experiences anger, acceptance and happiness in equal measure when faced with friendship troubles, family problems or racism. Betty joins the Housewives’ League as a volunteer, handing out flyers and welcoming guests at luncheons; as she becomes more knowledgeable in the work, she takes on more responsibility, though she remains nervous when approaching strangers, particularly adult ones who view Betty and her organization as troublemakers.

She is also a pre-teen girl, with all of the joys and sorrows that come with that stage in life. She loves listening to records by popular acts such as Sarah Vaughn and Billy Eckstine, spending her allowance at the candy counter and talking about beauty products and boys with her best friends.

Overall, Shabazz and Watson’s story is both authentic and inspirational, and the story is compelling enough to classify as a page-turner. Don’t pass on the end papers. The author’s note, timeline and afterword provide important and interesting information that links the young Betty in the story with the important woman she became.