The Two Most Important Books I’ve Read so far in 2017

I’ve been sitting on these reviews for a few weeks, because I didn’t know how to share them while communicating how important these books are to the reader. The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster, is a book every reader, parent, teacher and student should read. It’s the perfect mix of reading entertainment and call to action. The timing of this book could not have been more perfect, following the controversy surrounding “13 Reasons Why” (a Netflix series “glamorizing” suicide), Jen Lancaster’s book, The Gatekeepers provides us a more sobering account of suicide inspired by true events. Slider by Pete Hautman is a book written in the middle-school reading category, but does such a great job showing the reader what it is like to be a middle child, in a family with an autistic son nonetheless. Pete Hautman provides us with an original storyline about food eating contests while showing us so much more about families.

Ultimately, I decided to post these two reviews together. These books resonated with me so much. They stand as my favorite books so far in 2017 (I know, it’s only August), but their timing and their underlying stories are important.

Slider by Pete Hautman

Review: 4.75 Stars – Rounded up to 5 Stars

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

Why I chose to read this book: The plot really stood out to me as original. I had never encountered a book with the main story line revolving around food eating contests, couple this with the fact the main character is a young adult about to reach high school and you’re in for an interesting read. Another reason I chose this particular book was the publisher, Candlewick Press. Candlewick Press arrived on the scene as an independent children’s publisher and remains one of the top children’s book publishers today, so you can imagine my excitement when I saw they were releasing a new middle-school novel that was a bit more “readable” for someone without kids themselves.

Why I so enjoyed this book: Not only does this book provide readers with an original story line, but it also does such an amazing job of exploring relationships of a middle child and families with children of Autism. Throughout the book, we follow David as he navigates the perils of suffering as the middle child, a middle child between his brainiac older sister and autistic younger brother. We celebrate David’s successes in helping his younger brother overcome some of his autistic tendencies while David continues to uncover his younger brother’s “rules,” such as only venturing outside with Cheerios in his pocket and his black Iowa Hawkeye’s sweatshirt. Yes, I said Iowa Hawkeyes!! Inadvertently, I picked up this book without even realizing the deep connections to Iowa it held! This story takes place in Vacaville, IA (unfortunately, this is not a real place, I looked), but David finds himself at the Iowa State Fair, the Iowa Cubs and Simpson College throughout his adventures. It is always a nice surprise when I run across connections to Iowa in my reading, rarely does Iowa come up in books (except for few mentions of our renowned Iowa Writers Workshop) but to read a whole book centered in small town Iowa with many mentions of local landmarks was an incredibly pleasant surprise. Lastly, I loved that the author, Pete Hautman, titled each chapter after food that was encountered in said chapter. I found myself getting excited waiting to hear how “Possum” was going to come up as a food in that particular chapter (yes you read that right, at one point Possum comes up as food).

Why I disliked this book: I was so disappointed the morning after I finished this when I googled Vacaville, IA only to realize it wasn’t a real town in Iowa. I was so looking forward to their “world-famous cow statue” with its yearly utter painting.

*Disclaimer: The early release of this book was graciously provided to me by Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.

The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster

Every reader, parent, teacher and student should read this book. It’s the perfect mix of reading entertainment and call to action. The timing of this book could not have been more perfect, right after the controversy surrounding “13 Reasons Why” (a Netflix series “glamorizing” suicide), The Gatekeepers provides us a more sobering account of suicide inspired by true events.

Review: 4.99 Stars – rounded up to 5 stars (because it’s not my all-time favorite book, but definitely my favorite book of 2017 thus far!).

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Why I chose this book: I had previously heard of The Gatekeepers author, Jen Lancaster, via her book By The Numbers, about an Actuary (enough said, us numbers people have to stick together). By The Numbers received great reviews, with an average Goodreads rating of 3.56 stars, so of course I wanted to check out Jen’s newest release, The Gatekeepers. Secondly, this story is set in the fictional North Shore, IL (although loosely based from the author’s town of Lake Forest, IL). My husband is from Palatine, IL so I felt compelled to read something that included Illinois culture. Lastly, this book is inspired by true events. This reason is what REALLY hooked me into reading this book! The Gatekeepers surrounds an Illinois community, who’s high school population experiences “cluster suicides” (multiple back-to-back suicides) committed by students throwing themselves in front of commuter trains, HOW HORRIBLE!

Side Note: I may actually be in love with Jen Lancaster as she is directly quoted saying:

  • “God help anyone who doesn’t double-space at the end of a period.”
  • “Nothing makes me happier than having something to complain about.Jen Lancaster - Foot Scooter

Also, any author who can post the above picture of themselves with the caption “I be rollin’, they be hatin’” should be loved (and read) by all. *Swoon*

What I LOVED about this book: I don’t know how Jen Lancaster does it but she connects to the readers, making us feel comfortable with her characters as if we’ve known them our whole lives. Jen also does an incredible job relating to the reader by inserting relevant references to pop culture we’ve all come to be familiar with, including The Hunger Games, popular music references, and admired retail/food establishments (every Midwesterner/Illinois traveler loves Lou Malnati’s Pizza and Costco). The Gatekeepers opens its readers to what high school life has become: the cutthroat pre-requisite to college, where college admissions councilors want you to be social, academically perfect and involved in EVERYTHING – who has the time, can’t we just let high school students enjoy themselves before adulting kicks in!? Speaking of time, the timing of this book could not have been more perfect, right after the controversy surrounding “13 Reasons Why” (a Netflix series “glamorizing” suicide), The Gatekeepers provides us a more sobering account of suicide inspired by true events (http://www.morrisherald-news.com/2012/04/09/at-illinois-high-school-fears-of-a-suicide-cluster/ac0suds/).   I will stop here so I don’t give away too much, but seriously I can’t express to you enough how every reader, parent, teacher and student should read this book. It’s the perfect mix of reading entertainment and call to action.

What I disliked about this book: I hate that readers have to wait until October 2017 to pick up a copy of this book! It seems torturous to make them wait that long!

*Disclaimer: The early release of this book was provided to me by Harlequin Books Publishing Community in exchange for an honest review.

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