Here for a reason: GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. Goodbye Stranger. Read by Kimberly Farr, Meera Simhan, and Kirby Heyborne. Wendy Lamb Books, 2015. 289 pages/6 hours and 59 minutes. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-375-99098-4; hardcover (library binding) $19.99, ISBN 978-0-375-99098-4; PLB $13.06, ISBN 978-1-53791-774-0; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-307-98086-1

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Part of a series? No.

Book Summary:

Bridge survived a catastrophic accident when she was little, and she can’t get the following words out of her head after a nurse remarks upon her survival, “You must be here for a reason.” What reason could that be? That’s a tough enough question without taking into account that this year Bridge and her best friends Tab and Em are starting seventh grade. While they’ve sworn on a Twinkie that they’ll never fight, will seventh grade and all of its trappings test the bonds of their friendship?

Reviewer’s Notes:

I really enjoyed this book. Bridge sounds like a seventh grader — she wants to be older, but she also misses the simpler days before all of the politics and intricacies of being twelve. Her friends are distinct characters, and the changes in point of view from Bridge’s present-day, Sherm’s letters to Nono Gio, and an unnamed character on Valentine’s Day keep the story moving nicely.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 05/15/15
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred, 09/01/15
Horn Book Guide starred, 04/01/16
Horn Book Magazine starred, 07/01/15
Kirkus Reviews starred, 06/01/15
Publishers Weekly starred, 05/11/15
School Library Journal starred, 05/01/15
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred, 08/01/15


Places, people! SHORT by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Sloan, Holly Goldberg. Short. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. Read by Tara Sands. 296 pages/6 hours and 33 minutes. Hardcover  $14.59, ISBN 978-0-399-18621-9 ; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-399-18622-6

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction / Theatre

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Julia Marks is having a rough start to her summer. Her dog/best friend Ramon has just passed away, and she finds herself looking for him all the time. She’s feeling misunderstood; with Ramon, she never had to talk about why she never says the word “short” or how it feels to be the one in the family small enough to sneak in the dog door when someone forgets their keys. This summer, she’s supposed to look after her little brother Randy, and perhaps as a way to keep both kids occupied, Mrs. Marks has Julia try out for the summer production of The Wizard of Oz with Randy. To Julia’s huge surprise, she does well enough to get cast. As a munchkin, she gets to work with Olive, a little person and adult cast member. Julia does well enough that she becomes the dance captain for the munchkins, plus she gets an added role as a Winged Monkey. Her neighbor Mrs. Chang is so excited to hear about Julia’s summer project that she starts making munchkin costumes for Julia. When Sean Barr, the director of the show, sees Julia’s munchkin gear, Mrs. Chang finds herself a role in the show. As summer progresses, Julia begins to wonder if her height really does define her — and whether that is a good or a bad thing.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book had me crying within the first five minutes … basically, as soon as she mentioned Ramon, I was a goner. Actually, nearly every time she really talks about Ramon, I end up crying. But that’s just me! The book itself was wonderful. Julia’s first foray into the world of acting is really sweet, interesting, and plausible. It feels like readers are backstage with her as she learns what wings are, what it means to hit your mark, and more.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 10/15/16

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred, 12/01/16


Better Nate than Never (according to Those About to Mock)

I’m curious to see if How to Stage a Catastrophe is a readalike.


George by Alex Gino

Gino, Alex. George. Scholastic Press, 2015. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-545-81254-2; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-51811-632-2


TL;DR: Do I recommend this? YES!!!


Genre: Realistic Contemporary Fiction/LGBTQIA Fiction


Part of a series? No.


Plot Summary:

George has a big secret — she’s a girl. She wishes that she could ask people to call her Melissa; she wants to wear makeup and dresses and perfume. How to tell her family? She doesn’t know what to do. She does know that she wants to be Charlotte in the class play of Charlotte’s Web. She confides this dream to her best friend Kelly, and Kelly encourages her to go for it. Auditions don’t go as planned, however, and when George’s mom finds and confiscates her secret stash of girls’ magazines, it looks like nothing will go George’s way. Will anyone ever accept George for who she is? Or will all of them — bullies like Jeff who beat her up, well-meaning adults like Ms. Udell who refer to her bright future as a wonderful young man, or her mother who refers to George’s interest in girls’ things as “not cute anymore” — crush her spirit and force her to live a life that isn’t right for her?


Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

George is a fantastic protagonist. Her voice is so clear that it is almost as though readers are reading the actual diary of a middle school girl. Gino’s writing shines, and their narration never sounds like an adult pretending to be a kid speaking. This book is a must-read for all middle graders (and teachers … and parents … and people in general)! The drama-nerd life is also clearly expressed, and as a drama enthusiast myself, I loved that plotline.


Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I’d love to feature this as a book club book or reading circle choice. A potential activity would be for kids to design the set for a play if we were to stage George as a drama; this would allow for a discussion of what it takes to design a simple set, and we could talk about what the most important places were in the novel so that we can focus on those locations. (Idea from myself)


Grade Level: 3-6


Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 8/1/15

Kirkus Reviews starred 6/1/15

Publishers Weekly starred 5/11/15

School Library Journal starred 7/1/15

Stonewall Book Award 2016


Reviews referenced:

Kirkus Reviews. (2015, May 6). George (Review of the book George). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from

Pavao, K. (n. d.). George (Review of the book George). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from


Sound 1 set; sound 1 Go! Drama by Raina Telgemeier

img_0134Recommended by the publisher for readers aged 10-14, this book is a wonderful peek inside life as a middle-school theatre nerd. Callie, the 7th grade set designer for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, doesn’t have enough on her hands as it is — not only does she need to help build a cannon that actually fires for a big battle scene, but she also finds herself dealing with her unrequited crush on Greg. When she meets the twins Justin and Jesse, she is ready for some new friends. Justin gets a part in the play, and (due to stage fright), Jesse elects to join backstage crew. Together, the friends prepare for the show and deal with their own lives. 

I thought that the book handles its themes really well, particularly for its age group. This would be a fun book club book … or a common read for theatre kids! It gives a great view into backstage crew and design life without overplaying “techie” stereotypes. I really loved that Callie is a set designer at the middle school level. I appreciated how realistic a lot of the preparation was for the play, especially Callie’s “wants” for the stage design and what could actually happen (Callie, if you ever actually build a tree for a show, lemme know so I can audition!)