Reading Rants Redux!

Hello, RR readers. You’ve probably noticed that Reading Rants hasn’t been updated since November 2023. After Amazon abruptly decided to stop supporting book cover links in December 2023 and finding it a lot easier to post on Goodreads than on WordPress, I’ve decided that Reading Rants needs yet another new incarnation. RR launched as a website in 1998, and was turned into a blog in 2007, and now I’m taking it to Instagram. New book reviews and “backlist” reviews from this site will be posted (hopefully) daily on @reading_rants_redux

This website will continue to be hosted and maintained by the marvelous Andrew Mutch, and I will continue to clean up old amazon links and formatting issues so that RR can still be used as a resource. There are currently over 800 reviews published here, and I would hate for them to disappear into the internet ether. So thank you for all your comments and support over the past 20+ years and I hope to see you over at @reading_rants_redux on Instagram! XOJen

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt

Meryl Lee Kowalkski is lost. It’s 1968, the war is raging in Vietnam, and her best friend Holling Hoodhood just died in a freak car accident. There was no time to say goodbye. It happened “just like that.” Now Meryl Lee can see nothing in front of her but the Blank, and it’s utter nothingness threatens to swallow her whole. And what’s making the Blankness worse is that her parents think that attending St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls for 8th grade is just the thing to get Meryl Lee back on track. Overwhelmed by rich mean girls, field hockey confusion and a small-minded teacher named Mrs. Connolly who’s out to get her, Meryl Lee just feels like giving up.

Matt Coffin is lost. It’s 1968, he’s heard about the war in Vietnam, and he tries not to think about the last time he saw his best friend Georgie alive. There was no time to say goodbye. It happened “just like that.” Matt had to run or suffer the same fate. Now Matt wanders from place to place, always on the lookout for food, shelter and work. But it’s hard to find someone willing to take you on when you don’t have a permanent address. Overwhelmed by poverty, guilt and no place to call home, Matt just feels like giving up.

Enter Dr. MacKnockater, the kindly yet steely headmistress of St. Elene’s. Her iron will and open heart will help make Meryl Lee and Matt each feel a little more found. Dr. MacKnockater takes Matt in and gives him a home, while encouraging Meryl Lee find the Resolution she needs to overcome Obstacles (namely field hockey and Mrs. Connolly). But Matt is running from a terrifying past that not even Dr. MacKnockater can save him from. While Meryl Lee struggles to overcome the Blank and Matt struggles to overcome his distrust of well, humanity, they form an unlikely bond that may just end up saving both of them.

Just Like That is Gary D. Schmidt at his absolute best. Full of quirky characters, gentle humor and sharp plot twists, this is a insta-classic to be savored and enjoyed again and again. If you’re seeking a warm historical novel to curl up with on a snow day, look no further–you’ve found your match 🙂

2020 Top Five

Dear Teen Peeps,

What year it’s been! And with the disturbing and unprecedented events of last week, 2020 continues to cast a long, dark shadow over 2021. Lucky for us, we have books to help us understand our feelings and escape our sometimes claustrophobic living spaces. Like many of you, I spent most of the 2020 school year on Zoom: teaching remotely, checking in with friends and relatives, performing booktalks and consulting with students. So I couldn’t wait to get off the screen and READ. I read 79 books this year! (and I do mean book books–I didn’t want to spend more time on screens reading e-books)

I read so many books that I didn’t even get around to reviewing them all! Sorry, Rules for Being a Girl and Watch Over Me. I really did like you a lot, but sometimes this year, it was just too difficult to corral my anxious thoughts into a review. But both of you helped me escape from the real world for a little while, and for that, I’m very grateful!

Like in 2019, I haven’t read nearly as much YA as I wanted to/should have, so here is a leaner, meaner list of my top five best YA reads of 2020. Please note that there has been absolutely no attempt to balance this list by age, gender or genre. These are just my “from-the-gut” favorites of the books I read this year. Also, since I am lucky enough to get paid to review in publications other than this lovely blog, I reviewed some of my beloveds elsewhere, like the New York Times. Click on the title to go right to the review and happy 2021! May we all enjoy health, happiness and peace in the coming year.

Burn by Patrick Ness

Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall