Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell

shootingmoon.JPGBefore Jamie Dexter’s brother goes off to fight in the Vietnam War, she begs him to write her letters from the frontlines. She wants to hear all about the explosions, the tactics, the weapons, and most of all, the glory of war. But when Jamie receives a package from TJ, it isn’t a letter at all. It’s a roll of undeveloped film. Luckily, there’s a developing room on the military base where Jamie and her family live (her father’s a high-ranking soldier himself). As Jamie processes her brother’s film, she comes to see that life in the Vietnam jungle isn’t as wonderful as she imagined; in fact, some of the images are too graphic to show her mother. This is strange. All their lives, Jamie and TJ have dreamed of hand-to-hand combat and doing their duty “the army way.” But TJ’s photos tell a different story: one of loss and fear and indignity and even boredom. If war isn’t as good as it seems, if the military life isn’t the best life, then what sort of person is Jamie supposed to be? Can she find another identity for herself besides that of the colonel’s daughter? And will TJ make it home safely? When his rolls of film suddenly stop arriving, Jamie realizes that her beloved brother might have made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

This is a short, powerful novel that’s fascinating from the first page. It’s not so much about war as about the people left behind – the parents waiting for news, the sister playing cards to pass time, the young men anticipating the day their turn for battle will arrive. I recommend it to anyone who likes photography or history, or anyone who needs to finish a book sheet fast.

Man in the Moon by Dotti Enderle

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Is there really a man in the moon? Is it just an illusion of a face on the moon’s surface, looking down at us, or could there really be a mysterious life force up there with which we humans have a special, mystical connection?

This question sounds a bit wacky, but you might start asking yourself the same thing if you read this novel. In the summer of 1961, a strange man appears at Justine’s house just as her family seems to be at its absolute worst. Her father has no job, her brother, Ricky, suffers from an exhausting illness, and her mother is running herself ragged trying to keep everyone alive. Justine spends the hot summer days stuck inside with Ricky,  dreaming of freedom and joy and adventure.

Then, Mr. Lunas shows up, straight from the cornfields. Justine’s father recognizes him as the man who saved his life during the war; still, the man’s true identity is a puzzle. He talks about Earth as if it’s a foreign country, he enchants the family dog, and he tells Justine that anything is possible. Of course, she doesn’t think Mr. Lunas really means anything is possible. That’s just something nice people say, right? But when Ricky’s illness takes a terrifying turn, Justine prays that Mr. Lunas might be right.

Man in the Moon is an inspiring story that will remind readers that each new day is an opportunity for greatness, friendship, and magic.

Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth

young_201.jpgLeela is a thirteen-year old girl living in India in the 1940’s. Her family is wealthy and of the highest social cast, so Leela lives a life of luxury compared to the many thousands of poor people in her country. When she was nine years old, she was married to a boy in her village and will one day go and live with him and his parents. But for now, she remains at home with her own mother and father, dreaming of the joys ahead.

One day, Leela’s young husband is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies. Now Leela, who has never spent even a single minute alone with her husband, is a widow. According to Brahman tradition, she must shave her head, wear only the simplest clothing, and stay in the house for a full year after her husband’s death. She can no longer attend school. For the rest of her life, she must remain in mourning. She’s forbidden from ever marrying again.

Keeping Corner is the story of Leela’s first year of widowhood. Is her life really ruined? Or can she possibly find purpose and happiness in the face of such tragedy?

Laika by Nick Abadzis

LaikaLaika was a stray dog picked up by the USSR’s rocket program in 1955 and launched into orbit two years later. She was the first living space traveler, and one of the most famous dogs in history. But poor little Laika had a difficult life, and her mission was a one-way adventure; the scientists provided no return flight for her, and she ended up dying far, far away from home. Many people were outraged that Laika had been sacrificed in the name of Science; and Miss Yelena, the woman who cared for her, was devastated.

To tell Laika’s story, author-illustrator Nick Abadzis has written this moving, well-researched graphic novel. It contains a ton of information about the Cold War “space race” between the USSR and the USA. Both countries desperately wanted to be the best, which is one reason Laika’s mission was scheduled before they had time to arrange for her return. I loved this book and recommend it to anyone interested in history, space exploration, illustration, or animals.

A Sea So Far by Jean Thesman

A Sea So FarOn April 18, 1906, San Francisco was thrown into crisis by a powerful earthquake. Buildings fell, fires burned, riots broke out, and at least 3000 people died. Kate, a poor, strong-willed orphan, and Jolie, a spoiled semi-invalid, are both left temporarily homeless amid this chaos. Kate longs to escape San Francisco to her mother’s homeland of Ireland, while Jolie becomes determined to return to her life as it was before the quake. When the two girls meet, they do not like each other. But as their friendship builds, both learn that returning to the past is not as easy as they would hope.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Book ThiefThis historical novel, about a poor neighborhood in Molching, Germany during World War II, is destined to become a classic. Narrated by death (who it turns out, is a pretty nice guy), the book follows the young life of Liesel Meminger as Hitler gains power and everyone else loses it – especially, of course, the Jews of Europe. Liesel and her family risk everything by hiding a young Jewish man in their basement; but this heart-stopping thread is only one in a tapestry of war, thievery, love, determination, and the power of words. I read this one twice in print last year and then listened to it on CD over spring break. It’s hard to get enough of The Book Thief.