Book Reviews: Colombiano by Rusty Young, Abby in Wonderland by Sarah Mlynowski and Otherwise Known As Possum by Maria D. Laso @SarahMlynowski @Scholastic

Colombiano
Rusty Young
Havelock & Baker, August 2017
ISBN–AU 9780143781547
Havelock & Baker, February 2020
ISBN–US 978-0648445319
Trade Paperback

You can’t truly know what someone else is going through without walking in his shoes. Unless Mr. Young writes about it. In Colombiano, those of us fortunate enough to be far removed from any war zone, see exactly what living amid battles entails; in day-to-day life, as well the overall impact it has on absolutely everything.

Certainly, most people know that the Guerilla evoke evil with their aggressive cocaine manufacturing and distribution. The gross misunderstanding is that the Guerilla are fighting the army and law enforcement; not citizens. Leading to the false conclusion that, if folks go about their business, there’s no real reason for this pesky fighting to bother them. The carefully controlled propaganda supports this theory. Even having the place of worship utterly obliterated by “errant” fire is only an unfortunate consequence.

Pedro has listened to placates until he thought his head may explode. Papi made sure he contained, or at least properly channeled, his rage. There was Camila to consider. Rounding out the small group of people close to Pedro is the somewhat goofy, undeniably adorable, Pallilo. Pedro can push his anger aside for them.

Right up until the Guerilla descended on his father’s farm. In front of his disbelieving eyes, Papi is surrounded as accusations are hurled. The feisty fifteen-year-old cannot watch the depraved tirade and hold his tongue. Boldly, stupidly, Pedro demands an explanation. His father’s crime was revealed with a hint of glee. The farmer had the audacity to allow soldiers from the army to drink water from his well.

The resulting punishment is a defining, dividing moment for Pedro. There are men like Papi. Those who believed, as people of God, it was never right to deny a thirsty man a drink. And there are monsters masquerading as men—the Guerilla.

The situation that Pedro is forced to face is tragic. His retaliatory actions, atrocious. And yet…the author manages to demonstrate how a furious and yes, frightened, adolescent can morph into a ruthless mankiller—all the while reminding the reader that Pedro remains, essentially, a boy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2019.

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Abby in Wonderland
Whatever After Special Edition #1
Sarah Mlynowski
Scholastic, Inc., October 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-74667-0
Trade Paperback

Sustaining a series is no simple task. Inserting a special edition story that is somehow as fresh and fun as the very first book seems insurmountable. Except to Ms. Mlynowski.

This fairy-tale-esque fantasy adds adventure and humor absolutely appropriate for younger readers, while maintaining a subtle, something-more; making it compelling and quirky enough for older audiences as well.

I enjoyed being the proverbial parrot-on-the-shoulder as four friends share a day off from school. Per usual, Penny’s parents are not around, but her house is huge and her nanny is happy to host. Penny has planned the entire day and she is not going to let a little cold air or a brisk breeze ruin the card game on the patio.

But when the wind whipped a card across the yard and into the neighboring golf-course, Abby abruptly abandoned the game to give chase. The other three follow until Frankie falls into a hole. Penny’s agenda is pushed aside. The girls have a real problem to solve.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

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Otherwise Known As Possum
Maria D. Laso
Scholastic Press, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-93196-0
Trade Paperback

Possum, to me, is kind of a country Pippi Longstocking. Both young girls are wise to the ways of the world, if not properly educated. Tough, fiercely independent with lasting loyalty and a heart bigger than her small body should be able to hold, Possum is another exemplary young lady.

Certainly a smile-through-tears kind of story combining spunk, mischief and intuitive, undeniable kindness, I thoroughly enjoyed the bitter-sweet reflections from the late 20th century in this captivating Juvenile Fiction from Ms. Laso.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Review: Taken by David Massey

Taken MasseyTaken
David Massey
Chicken House, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-66128-7
Hardcover

Understandably apprehensive, Rio focused on the yacht that would carry her and the five wounded veterans she’d yet to meet, around the planet. The mission of the self-described group of misfits isn’t just to prove that a disability doesn’t disable the individual. The true goal is raising money for the Hidden Children, kids whose families have been destroyed by war. As the “able-bodied” mate, Rio is confident in her sailing skills. As a civilian rather than a veteran, she hopes for the strength and resolve to genuinely contribute to the crew.

The badly burned Marcus uses outstanding humor to keep the crew relaxed. Rio adores his hilarious t-shirts that draw attention away from his stretched, scarred skin. The youngest soldier, Izzy, had fallen from a helicopter, shattering one of her legs. While being treated, it was discovered that she was diabetic and required daily insulin shots. Charis has both a gorgeous Welsh accent and a robotic arm.

Ash looked like a super-hero to Rio when she saw him on his blades-in-lieu-of-legs. His charm, intelligence and warmth stole her breath and stopped her heart. An endeavor of this magnitude, establishing relationships based on trust, would be paramount; looking for love…distracting. Make that dangerous. Jen, the one crew member to take an instant dislike to Rio, keeps a close watch on Ash.

The Lord’s Resistance Army which began in Uganda, touting their goal of ruling according to the biblical ten commandments has, in truth, broken each one. Moses Mwemba, 2nd in command of the LRA, views the disabled veterans’ mission as an opportunity to garner attention, thus notoriety. The Sangoma (Witch Doctor) will sabotage the ship. Once stalled, his young, crazed army will abduct the crew, and move them deep into the jungle. Huge ransoms will be demanded, but hardly the point.

Taken elicits tangible sensations. Heavy, humid air of the jungle is suffocating. The stench of spreading infection is stomach churning. Torture and gratuitous killings invoke horror, anger, and disbelief. Critical observations without prejudices poignantly present different points of view. Emotions aren’t mutually exclusive. Fear, anger and hatred towards the captors don’t necessarily override empathy, compassion or even an odd affinity for the half-starved, frightened, bark-munching child captors.

Mr. Massey brilliantly displays that stark fear, even coupled with harsh, deplorable, unimaginable conditions, can’t smother the basic human will to survive. He shows that through the absolute worst, most dismal of situations, life goes on. Kindness, compassion, selflessness, qualities not always evident, usually do exist, in most people.

Taken is not just an outstanding, exceptional book. The issues, terroristic groups, senseless acts of violence and killings are very real. Mr. Massey provides imperative education while simultaneously gifting a compelling story packed with clever characters, spot-on dialogue and thought-provoking prose.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2015.