January 27, 2022

96 miles, by J.L. Esplin

I came across this book just browsing the middle grade fiction stacks at the library. I was highly interested in it, once I saw what it was about. I've read quite a bit of survivalist fiction, but none geared towards kids until now. I can relate to these kids. I wouldn't say we have gone full-on prepper, but we are working toward being prepared for both short-term and longer-term emergencies. Peace of mind means a lot.

96 Miles
, by J. L. Esplin

4 stars: Kept me reading to find out what was going to happen!


For John and Stew, this was supposed to be like every other work trip of their dad's. They would spend most of the time home alone, but would make sure to check in daily and spend at least a few hours over at the neighbor's as well. It's not like they couldn't take care of themselves. 

Then the power went out. Not just at their house. Everywhere--at least, everywhere that they have been able to find out about. According to these same news sources, this is not going to be fixed quickly. It could days, maybe weeks. 

They aren't too worried, though. Their dad has always been prepared, and then some. They should have plenty of food and supplies to just hunker down until things come back online. Their biggest threat will probably be boredom. 

And then the men come in the night. Suddenly, their choices look very different. In order to survive, they're going to have to start walking. They have 96 miles to go.

* * * * *

As with most survivalist fiction, this book poses a big "what-if" question, then spends the book answering the question. What if you were just kids, left home alone during a widespread disaster? What decisions would you have to make and what steps would you have to take in order to survive? 

I thought it was well done. You get bits and pieces of the story as you go along, which keeps up the suspense. Some things that don't make sense at first fall into place by the end. 

I enjoy these types of books that go into scenarios. They have some suspense, and at the same time I'm thinking the whole time about how I would handle this or that, or in this case--how would kids do it? Food for thought.

My 12-year old daughter read it and we had a good discussion about it. I think it would be a great pick for a teen book club. In addition to the plot points, there are several moral questions that you could discuss.

Content: Clean.

January 20, 2022

Before the Ever After, by Jacqueline Woodson

 If you haven't read anything by Jacqueline Woodson, it's time to fix that! I have loved everything of hers I've read so far. This one was no exception. I know some people shy away from novels in verse. I enjoy them. I feel like they have a rhythm to them that you can't achieve nearly as well with regular writing. It does allow for a little more skipping around in the narrative, as well, but when it's done well--like in this book--it feels natural. 

Before the Ever After, by Jaqueline Woodson
2021 Coretta Scott King Book Award

5 stars: Warm-hearted and poignant.

ZJ's Dad plays pro football. He's always been ZJ's hero--and lots of other people's hero, too. He's a gentle giant, who loves football more than almost anything, but he loves his family most of all. 

Then his dad starts changing. His hands shake. He forgets things--stuff like the name of one of ZJ's best friends. He cries sometimes for no reason, and sometimes get angry.

ZJ is scared and he just wants his dad to get better, but they are not finding any answers.

* * * * *
Woodson shines a light on the brain problems caused by repeated head trauma--like happens in football. Her characters are multi--faceted. I love her portrayal of warm, supportive family and friends that surround Zachariah and his family when things slide away from great and head straight toward hard. It's like she's saying, "Here's what it's like to be a friend. Here's how you stand by someone in trouble." 

Written in free verse, which keeps the chapters moving quickly.  

Content: clean.

(January 2022)