Freefall by Mindi Scott
This is a story about a sixteen-year old boy who makes the choice to step back from the slippery edge of heavy drinking and shallow romance that took the life of his best friend. He does this largely with the strength of his own inner voice and aided by what he learns in a class in communication and by the good fortune to encounter true love.
Seth is a protagonist who is easy to like. Even at his darkest moments, he maintains an open mind, he is kind to his friends, and he directs his thoughts toward the light. The reader feels comfortable following him through the turbulence of his high school life because he is such a good guy. Even though the reader feels confident that Seth will continue to move in a better direction, author Mindi Scott manages to maintain a delicate but steady tension that keeps the pages turning.
Content and themes in this book are appropriate for high school readers and I think boys and girls alike will enjoy this book. They will recognize the high school life it depicts and they will gain from its positive message. Mature middle school readers will also enjoy this book–drinking and sex are gracefully handled.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
After his family barely survived the Malawi famine of 2000, William Kamkwamba’s father could no longer send his only son and oldest child to school. Previously, William had learned how to read in his native language and had learned a little English. Not content to accept a future of subsistence farming and with a curiosity about how things worked, William began frequenting the village library which was stocked with old textbooks donated by the United States. He checked out books on science and physics, learning more English as he uncovered the information he sought.
Frequenting junk yards and raising suspicions of his sanity, William put together the knowledge he gleaned from books with bits of this and bits of that and lo!!! He ended up with a windmill that generated enough electricity to light up his family’s extremely modest home.
Hard to believe, perhaps, that such a story would make me weep, not out of sadness, but simply out of joy to be alive, but this one did. It is not because William’s striving and his success is so heartwarming, but because of the way he and his co-writer tell his story. The young boy of this story leads the reader through the hard, hard work of the farm, heart-breaking tragedy, youthful antics, and iron-hard yearning to a bright place that extends way beyond this boy and this place with a voice that is consistently modest and tender.
Besides being a compelling read, a page-turner almost, this story would be of great interest for any boy or girl who likes to tinker, to invent, to make things that work. I am not the least bit mechanically oriented, so much of Kamkwamba’s descriptions of his constructions were way beyond my understanding–but kids who are fascinated by mechanics will understand it and be inspired. I am recommending this book for experienced readers from middle school on up.
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
High school kids often find themselves struggling with parts of their life that 1) they don’t fully understand or even know that much about, and 2) affects how they embrace aspects of growing up, sometimes in confusing or harmful ways. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky tells the story of just such a high school girl. Besides also being a very readable and well-told tale, this makes it a valueable story for high school girls who wrestle with their own ghostly demons. As many of my students have told me, reading how others handle life situations helps them in handling their own.
That said, this is a mature tale, most suitable for the older teen reader, girls primarily, but thoughtful boys will like it also. It is told from perspectives alternating between several of the central characters. The plot centers on the girl who physically survives her mother’s murder/suicide jump from the roof of a building and who, understandably, is bumped around for years by the emotional damage. Yes, it is a harsh, tragic story, but amidst the lost, broken souls there are angel spirits who make all the difference.