Relative Strangers: Paula Garner

Book: Relative Strangers
Author: Paula Garner
Pages: 368
Age Range: 13 and up

RelativeStrangersIn Relative Strangers, by Paula Garner, high school senior Jules learns for the first time that she spent nearly two years in foster care when she was a small child, while her alcoholic single mother struggled. Since then, Jules' mother has stayed sober, if distant, and the two live a frugal existence. Jules can't help feeling a bit envious of her two best friends, Gab and Leila, who have much more stable, comfortable home lives. When Jules decides to track down her foster family, she finds Luke, five years her senior, who is thrilled to reconnect with his long-lost little sister. However, while Luke thinks of Jules as the sister whose diapers he helped change, Jules, with no memory of Luke's family, struggles to overcome a powerful attraction to her handsome "brother." 

Personally, I was a little uncomfortable with the "attraction to the brother-figure" storyline, though I understand that it was necessary to provide conflict to the story. Apart from that, however, I quite enjoyed Relative Strangers. Garner's characterization is strong, particularly when it comes to Jules. Jules positive breathes from the page, as do her friends, including Eli, a quirky gay barista who keeps pet rats. The relationship between Jules and her mother is nuanced, and really, none of the relationships in the book are one-dimensional. This is especially true for Jules' relationship with Gab and Leila, who are depicted as proton and neutron (completely solid bond) to Jules' close but still secondary circling electron. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for Jules' voice:

"Dr. Hathaway put some money down on the table. "Pizza money, in case you're still hungry after you've eaten us out of house and home. Gotta keep those tapeworms thriving." He winked at us. I glanced at the cash on the table, thinking how many hours of work a few twenties represented to me and how they were nothing to the Hathaways, and the Wassermans, too. I cringed at myself for the money envy on top of the family envy, but apparently my coveting knew no bounds. When Leila's dad gave her a kiss on the temple, I wanted to crawl under the kitchen island with the copper-bottomed pots and fancy appliances and cry."


"Stepping outside was like receiving a hug from a benevolent deity. The sky beamed a blue of impossible vibrancy, and the air smelled of rain soaked earth and budding green life. Spudly, the Jenskins's basset hound, barked joyously at me through the fence as I passed by. Sun flashed in the water rushing along the drainage ditches on Elm Street. As I made my way through the neighborhood and into town, I buzzed with excitement and hope." (Chapter 6 - as Jules is about to meet Luke for the first time)

So we have vivid, evocative writing; strong characterization; and gender, religious, and socioeconomic diversity. Jules also has unusual interests (she loves everyday old things, like china and buttons). There's plenty of emotion (including a couple of sad things), without Relative Strangers being overly melodramatic. There are some aspects that make Relative Strangers better for high schoolers than middle schoolers (references to casual sex, smoking pot, sneaking alcohol from parents), but nothing that isn't realistic or thoughtful. In short, this is top quality young adult fiction all around. Recommended for teens and for adults who enjoy YA. 

Publisher: Candlewick Press 
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: March 16: #KidLitCon, #KidLitWomen, Playgrounds + #LoveOfReading

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this relatively busy week include #DiverseBooks, #dyslexia, #gender, #GRA18, #GraphicNovels, #HarryPotter, #KidLitCon, #KidLitWomen, #librarians, #math, #MentalHealth, #phonics, #play, #ReadAloud, #resilience, #SchoolLibraries, #SocialMedia, boys and reading, grading, growing bookworms, learning, reading, and schools.

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Research-Tested Benefits of Breaks to help reset focus in |

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Growing Bookworms

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+ bloggers + authors: Now is your chance to VOTE on Panel Discussions for 2019 (Providence RI, 3/22/19)

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Registration for March 22-23, 2019 (next year) is now LIVE! – | Organizers:

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In Britain’s Playgrounds, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience -

The “10,000-Hour” Myth: Why Deliberate Practice Isn’t Enough to Succeed + people should also focus on their innate strengths | via

Schools and Libraries

OPINION: Here’s a way teachers can help break down equity barriers in high school: to students -

Author calls “places of recognition for young people” in new PSA from

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© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure: Kaye Newton

Book: How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure
Author: Kaye Newton
Pages: 170
Age Range: Adult Nonfiction

ScreenLovingKidsReadHow to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is a well-researched, user-friendly guide for parents on this specific topic. Author Kaye Newton isn't a teacher or reading expert - she's a parent who struggled with her own children's falling off of reading during adolescence, and set out to look for solutions. While there's not a lot in the book that was new to me, because I read a lot in this area, I think that Newton did a nice job of distilling recommendations from sources like Jim Trelease, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, and others. She also has a nice set of book recommendations that are designed to "hook" kids, with titles grouped by age range and category (history, nonfiction, humor, etc.). The books she recommends include many of what I would consider the "new classics" as well as some traditional classics, with a reasonable (though not extensive) representation of diverse titles. 

I agreed with and applauded most of Newton's recommendations throughout the book. She strongly supports giving kids choice in what they read, and she doesn't get hung up on reading levels or literary quality. She's a proponent of anything that involves long-form reading, vs. brief snippets on texts and Facebook, including fiction and nonfiction, magazines and audiobooks. She strikes me as not completely sure about graphic novels, but she goes with the research and agrees that they are "real reading" and can be used to hook readers. She's solid on choice and putting the pleasure in pleasure reading. 

I wasn't completely on board with some specific recommendations that she makes for boys and reading because I feel philosophically that boys should be encouraged to read books with female protagonists. But I think that the general audience of parents who are trying to encourage reluctant readers will find the specific recommendations helpful. Similarly, I'm not a fan of giving kids rewards for reading. And to be fair, neither is Newton, but she does outline cases where she thinks they can help, for particularly resistant readers. But those are my only, minor, quibbles.

I found myself highlighting many passages as I read through How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure. Newton starts by telling parents why they should encourage their kids to read for pleasure, with a nice section on the benefits for teens and preteens (stress reduction, improved concentration, increased empathy, etc.). She views encouraging reading as a parent's job, and she doesn't let parents off the hook in terms of modeling reading, though she's generous with her definitions. For example, one suggestion to increase summer reading is to designate a time that the whole family reads, but that reading could include articles for work, the newspaper, or other choices.

Newton is empathetic to the difficulties that parents can face in striving for more reading time (it's hard to get kids to put down their screens), but stays positive about the reasons to do so. She takes on various questions, like whether it's ok for kids to re-read (yes), whether it's ok to read on an e-reader, what to do about kids who are reading above their grade level, how to help kids with learning disabilities, and so on. She urges parents to surround their kids with reading material, whether from the library or other sources, and provides  suggestions for making reading "the most interesting and accessible activity in the room." 

As my daughter is not yet an adolescent (thank goodness), and is at this point still an avid reader (thank goodness), there were parts of this book that were not as relevant for me. I won't be setting up book clubs any time soon, for instance. But I still enjoyed reading this book, because I agreed with so much of what Kaye Newton had to say. I did pick up a few new ideas, too. How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure is a fairly quick read (with lots of lists and bullets). I think that any parent seeking to engage a reluctant teen or preteen reader could find something useful to try. It's also good just for refreshing one's general intent to raise readers (and be a reader). All in all, I definitely recommend giving this book a look! 

Publisher:  Linland Press
Publication Date: January 10, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the author

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: March 9: #WomensHistoryMonth, #SchoolLibraryMonth, #STEM + #ReadingCommunities

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #audiobooks, #BookLists, #EarlyLiteracy, #Flipgrid, #InquiryMindset, #nonfiction, #PictureBooks, #ReadAcrossAmerica, #reading, #ReadingAloud, #SchoolLibraries, #STEM, child development, Growing Bookworms, play, schools, science fiction, and Women's History Month. 

Top Tweet of the Week

Authors Share Their Favorite Kids’ Books About Girls, Written by Women

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RA RA Read: + Notebook Novels, from Jennifer Wharton |

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RT @CharlottesLib: Nothing is quite like a Wrinkle in Time, but after much careful thought, I made a list (8 Great Books for Kids Who Love A Wrinkle In Time @BNKids) I was happy with! What would you add?

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RT @MrsPStorytime: Do you need funding for your school library? Check out the grant channel . Thx for the valuable resource!

, the -Out Movement, and Excellence. What can we do as educators to change the testing culture education has become? asks


Global study finds more women go into fields where they have fewer options. In places like US w/ more options, they make other choices | Susan Pinker

Eight ways to introduce kids to at an early age | Toys w/ manipulative elements + more

This is surprising: students protest at over smartphone addiction |

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: March 7: Middle Grade Reviews, Librarian for a Day + #MegaPrincess

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have three book reviews (middle grade) and three posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter. I also have a post about my daughter's recent experience being Librarian for a Day at school, and one about her latest literacy milestone (correcting my grammar). 

Reading Update:  In the last few weeks I finished two young adult and eight adult titles. I read/listened to: 

  • Tara Altebrando: The Opposite of Here. Bloomsbury USA Children's Books. YA Fiction. Completed February 7, 2018, print ARC. Although I usually love Altebrando's books, this one didn't work for me for some reason. Finished but did not review. 
  • InSomeOtherLifeJessica Brody: In Some Other Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. YA Fiction. Completed February 20, 2018, on Kindle. This was a fun look at alternate worlds, and I do recommend it, though it was a vacation read and I don't plan a formal review.  
  • Christopher Swann: Shadow of the Lions. Algonquin Books. Adult Mystery. Completed February 10, 2018, on MP3. 
  • Kate Quinn: The Alice Network. William Morrow. Adult Mystery. Completed February 17, 2018, on Kindle. This was an interesting historical novel about female spies in World War I, also featuring an investigation shortly after World War II (moving back and forth between two young adult protagonists). I think that fans of Code Name Verity who are ready for some adult content would enjoy it. 
  • C. J. Tudor: The Chalk Man. Crown. Adult Mystery. Completed February 19, 2018, on Kindle. This book, about a mystery with roots back in the narrator's 1980's childhood, was full of twists, and kept me guessing. 
  • Karen Odden: The Lady in the Smoke. Alibi. Adult Mystery. Completed February 23, 2018, on Kindle.I found the mystery in this historical novel a bit hard to follow. 
  • Kate Saunders: The Secrets of Wishtide (A Laetitia Rodd Mystery). Bloomsbury. Adult Mystery. Completed February 28, 2018, on MP3. This historical mystery about a middle-aged widow who investigates delicate society matters on behalf of her lawyer brother is a promising start to a new series. The audio was excellent. 
  • Kristen Welch: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. Tyndale. Adult Nonfiction. Completed March 3, 2018. This book was much more religiously-oriented than I had expected, but I definitely found some useful thoughts on raising kids who are grateful vs. kids who are overly-entitled. 
  • Lee Goldberg: True Fiction (Ian Ludlow). Thomas & Mercer. Adult Thriller. Completed March 4, 2018, on Kindle. This is fun popcorn read, hopefully not realistic, but a page-turning adventure. 
  • Laura Lippman: Sunburn. William Morrow. Adult Suspense. Completed March 6, 2018, on Kindle. This one is definitely intriguing and will keep you guessing. 

ScreenLovingKidsReadI'm currently listening to Murder in an Irish Churchyard by Carlene O'Connor (third in a series). I'm reading How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure by Kaye Newton. My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter Five (The Order of the Phoenix). For her own reading, she enjoyed a variety of new graphic novels that I picked up for her before our recent vacation. Mega Princess by Kelly Thompson and Brianne Drouhard consumed her enough to put off going to the pool at my parents' condo, so that was a pretty strong vote of approval. 

MegaPrincessLately I have a hard time getting her to stop reading to do other things, like finish her homework or go to sleep. She always says the same thing to me: "It's your fault. You taught me to love reading." This is undeniable, though we are starting to have discussions about the fact that even when we love reading, we sometimes have to prioritize other things. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms!

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook