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The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B


The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

Young Adult

285 pgs.

Adam meets Robyn at a support group for kids with obsessive compulsive disorder. And BAM!.. “within the space of a heartbeat, he was lost.”  Things get problematic which is no surprise when you consider  a super anxious teen trying to cope with everything this complicated generation has to throw at youth: divorce, a mom who is a frenetic and obsessive collector of stuff, sibling worries, and his own OCD problems.  Love, of course, is complicated too.

This was a great book and beautifully told, often funny, but infinitely sad as well.  Teresa Toten understands the issues for sure, and she writes with compassion and humor.

In an interview with Teresa Toten, an accomplished writer of several YA books, she was asked where she got the idea  for this book.

Her words:

“This book has been in my head for years. I watched so many of the young adults who were in or near my life struggle with OCD and debilitating anxiety. Their courage was both breathtaking and fascinating. I became haunted by the question of what it would be like to be them, to cope and carry on in the world with this invisible burden.”

Toten does not write to be a fixer, but rather as she says,  “All of us have experienced, to varying degrees, moments of debilitating anxiety and depression, and even obsessive thoughts. That is part of being human, and it is certainly a hallmark of being a young adult. To me, The Unlikely Hero is about first love, making friends and struggling with yourself. If my readers have done any of that, hopefully they’ll feel just a little less alone when they pick up the book.”

Visit her at teresatoten@TTotenAuthor.

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

by M.T.Anderson

2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults  and Horn Book Finalist

456 pgs. (72 pages of Source Notes), photographs included.


Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony was captured on microfilm and then sent on a journey, crossing the majority of the world’s continents to reach Washington D.C. – a gift of thanks from the Russians to the Americans for their supply of armaments and food in the Russian struggle against the German Luftwaffe.  On June 2nd, 1942, after traveling almost 20,000 miles, the unthinkable happens.  The agent responsible for the safe delivery of the microfilm went to lunch and left it on his tray as he went out..

So begins a fascinating but devastating account of the period culminating in the German invasion of Russia and, in particular, the siege of Leningrad.  I think that this book should be on everybody’s shelf.  It is so well written and so expertly researched. One gets a very clear picture of both Hitler and Stalin, two maniacal dictators, both driven by  “short-sighted, almost delirious, egotism”, and who inflicted inconceivable suffering on millions of people. This book unpacks the repercussions of their capricious malevolence.

In the midst of this, Anderson tells the miraculous story of Dmitri Shostakovich.  He tells the story with compassion and understanding of the fragile and brilliant Russian composer.

Hands down, this was the best book I read this year.

Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale

by Kate DiCamillo

263 pgs.

5th Grade and up

raymie nightingale

“There were three of them, three girls.”

Raymie, “flexing her toes and isolating her objectives”,  and her two unlikely companions: Beverly, looking permanently fierce, and Louisiana, who is decked out in pink and a mass of hair barrettes for luck. These girls are enrolled with this alarming character to learn baton twirling in order to compete in the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition.

Marvelous kids, appalling circumstances: a dead-beat dad, a mother with a fist, a lovable but klepto grandmother, and other sadly deficient grown-ups.  How’s a kid to figure it all out?  But they do somehow, through friendship, daring, and resourcefulness.  This is a whimsical, funny-sad story.  It isn’t necessarily a book only for young readers.  It can take you back to your childhood and the sometime obsessive need one had to fix important stuff that had become unraveled, because somehow you felt that only you could.  DiCamillo captures the sense of all that.

One of my all time favorite children’s books is The Tale of Despereaux.  This novel is so different but shows the depth and range of this wonderful author.



Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Upper Elementary/Middle School and up

277 pgs.


Should adults stop talking sometimes and allow children to connect with an animal instead? Peter’s father has his own load of trouble, and anger is one of them.  Things get better when “one little ball of gray fur still warm and breathing” – an abandoned fox kit,  is found by Peter and adopted into the family.

War is encroaching, and Peter’s father signs up to “lay wires”.  The enigma behind this is that no time or place is mentioned, and yet there is a strange home-feel about this war.

This is a great story with a good plot told from Peter and the fox’s separate points of view. The ending does not disappoint either.  One picks up some valuable worldly wisdom along the way, often spoken by Vola who lives alone. “People,” she says, “should tell the truth about what war costs. That’s taken me a long time to figure out.” This is probably what drives the novel and makes it an important book.

I’m not giving any of this story away.  Read it, please.