The Well – by Mildred D Taylor (1995)

The Well

If you have read any of this author’s books, you are familiar with the Logans, an African-American family living in Mississippi in the early 1900s. This book is a prequel to Roll Of Thunder Hear My Cry, the author’s most well-known novel. All her stories, though fictional, are based on events that actually happened to her father’s family.

In “The Well”, it is 1910 and a severe drought has hit part of Mississippi. As wells dry up, everyone becomes desperate for water. Eventually, the Logans have the only well that still has an adequate supply of water. Neighbors – both black and white – come by with barrels, and the Logans share with all.

Unfortunately, young Charlie Simms is determined to harass and belittle any black person who doesn’t submit meekly to him. Ten-year-old David Logan tries to appease Charlie, but his older brother Hammer gets in a fight with Charlie. The situation quickly escalates to the point where someone could be lynched.

For anyone born after the days when it was not uncommon to hear of lynchings of black people, this book is a bird’s-eye view of the degradation and abuse of African-American citizens. Appropriate for ages ten and up.

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Almost Friends – by Philip Gulley (2006)

Almost Friends

Life goes on in this 6th book about the little Quaker Friends congregation in the town of Harmony. Sam has been the pastor for half a dozen years now, and he and his wife Barbara are in a comfortable routine. But as often happens, comfort is replaced with rotten tomatoes.

Sam’s father has a heart attack, followed by another heart attack. The Friends decide to give Sam three months off – with pay – to help take care of his father as he recovers. The church requests an interim pastor, and are sent a female! It’s Krista Riley’s first assignment, but she’s dreamed of being a minister since childhood and throws herself wholeheartedly into the job. The congregation absolutely falls in love with her, and Sam begins to wonder if they’ll want him back after his father is recovered.

Krista is on cloud nine – until the day that a church member sees her in a restaurant with a close friend, and mistakenly concludes that their temporary pastor is a lesbian. Rumors circulate throughout the church, and the entire congregation is in an uproar about what to do with Krista.

The author has his usual mix of humor and serious thought in this book. The subjects of homosexuality in the church, gossip, privacy versus the right of the congregation to know, evangelistic tactics to avoid, and jealousy are all brought up in “Almost Friends”. This novel will definitely give the reader many things to think about.

 

As Easy As Falling Off The Face Of The Earth – by Lynne Rae Perkins (2010)

As Easy As Falling Off The Face Of The Earth

“An avalanche of mishaps” is how I would sum up this humorous novel. It begins with Ry, a 16-year-old guy on a train bound for camp. When the train stops in the middle of nowhere for repair, Ry gets off to stretch his legs, then meanders off to explore. Bad decision. Before he realizes it, the train fires up and rolls away – without him. All he has is a cell phone with a nearly-dead battery. He tries calling his parents, who are on vacation, and his grandfather, who is supposed to be dog-sitting for a neighbor, but there is no answer. Where is everyone?

Ry manages to walk to a small town, where he meets an eccentric guy named Del, who takes him under his wing. Most of the story consists of Del and Ry’s travels here and there in their attempt to connect with either the parents or the grandfather, who seems to be missing. Most of the tale is told from the viewpoint of Ry, but occasionally the the grandfather or the two dogs take over telling.

This book was hilarious! I loved the interaction between Ry and Del as they went through one mishap after another. Some of the minor characters were fantastic. My favorite was Carl, the blind vet that they bummed a ride with. The hair-raising ride with him had me laughing till I almost cried. Although the book was written less than a decade ago, it had the feel of an earlier era, when people didn’t mind helping out someone they met on the street, and would just drop what they were doing to be a good neighbor. It was ridiculous enough to be unrealistic, but adventurous enough to keep you constantly reading until the last page.

Mockingjay – by Suzanne Collins (2010)

mockingjay

In the final book of the “Hunger Games” trilogy, it’s meltdown time. The citizens of Panem are finally ready to revolt and overthrow the oppressive, tyrannical government. They want Katniss – the Mockingjay – to lead them into battle against the President and the Capital. But Katniss – as well as Peeta – is battered, exhausted, and mentally deranged by this point. The rebellion is chaotic and bloody. The lines between who is friend and who is foe begin to blur. But in the end there is freedom and a chance to rebuild.

Catching Fire – by Suzanne Collins (2009)

Catching Fire

This is the second book in the “Hunger Games” trilogy. It picks up where the first book left off. The annual games are over. Katniss and Peeta are physically and emotionally exhausted, but now are expected to go around Panem on a victory tour to show support for the government and the Games. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the President orders a re-match of the brutal fight-to-the-death games.

There has been discontent for a long time, and hints of a rebellion. No one wants to live under a dictatorship, and everyone is tired of the government’s brutality. It’s time for a change, but they need someone to lead them. It will take just as much courage for someone to stand up and say “No more!” as it will to be a gladiator.

 

The Hunger Games – by Suzanne Colllins (2008)

The Hunger Games

Imagine a time in the future when the United States no longer exists. Imagine a time when famines, wars and other catastrophes have destroyed society as we know it. There is no more democracy, no more fifty states, just a new country – Panem –  with a Capital and twelve districts. Food is rationed, but strangely, hunting in the wild is prohibited. Fences around cities keep the citizens in their place.

One thing this futuristic society does still have is reality TV. Each district is forced to hold an annual lottery to select one boy and one girl to be sent to the “Hunger Games” in the Capital as gladiators. It’s kill or be killed, until only one person is standing. The winner is showered with attention, and gains extra food for their district. The games, which all citizens are required to watch, can go on for weeks.

When a small, thin 12-year-old girl is chosen, her 16-year-old sister Katniss volunteers to take her place. Peeta, the local baker’s son, is also chosen. So off the two go to the Capital for training before being thrown into combat. It will take all their strength, wits, and strategy to stay alive.

I loved the characters of Katniss and Peeta. Despite the terrible situation they were in, both made selfless sacrifices. Reading the book allowed me an intimate look at the thoughts that went through Katniss’ mind each day of the games, and the way she formulated her strategies. It reminded me of times in history when real people have been in terrible situations, but even then love and caring for others shone through. This dystopian novel is definitely not for children, but teens and adults will find food for thought here.

Running Out Of Time – by Margaret Peterson Haddix (1995)

Running Out Of Time

Margaret Peterson Haddix is best known for her book series “Shadow Children” and “The Missing”. But her earliest book – a standalone novel – is “Running Out Of Time”, the story of an Indiana community in 1840. The main character is 13-year-old Jessie, one of six children. Her father is the local blacksmith and her mother the midwife. Although life is full of hard work and no luxuries, Jessie is content with her life.

When several of the neighbor children fall ill with diphtheria, Jessie’s mother begins to act strangely, then quietly tells her daughter a secret: it is actually 1996, not 1840. Years before, the adults in the community made a choice to live without the conveniences of modern life. They agreed to be part of a historic reconstructed village that tourists could view through hidden cameras. The adults all know the truth, while the children are blissful ignorant. Families were supposed to be able to leave any time they wanted, but things have changed and now no one is allowed to leave.

Jessie’s mother is desperate to get some modern medicine for those who are ill, and keep the diphtheria from spreading. She tries to describe the outside world to Jessie, and quietly sends her out to seek a person she believes will rescue them. The new world is a confusing and scary place, but Jessie knows she needs to find someone to help the village before people start dying.

This is a great first novel from Ms. Haddix. There are different recommended reading ages, from 3rd to 8th grade. Personally, I think some of the concepts would be a little overwhelming for third and fourth graders. I would say the book is suited for anyone 5th grade and older.