Here’s Karen’s advice for today: stop whatever you’re doing and read Esther Ehrlich’s Nest, middle-grade fiction from Random House Children’s Books. It is quite simply splendid. Salt Marsh Lane on Cape Cod in 1972 is home to eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein and her family. The year brings terrible changes to the Orensteins. Chirp survives through the healing power of family, her relationship to the natural world, and her growing friendship with the irresistible Joey Morell (Joey is a terrific character—I hope he gets his own book so we can be sure everything turns out okay for him). I challenge you to get through the book without laughing, mopping up a few tears, and scolding a few hurtful adults. Nest is real and true, touching and wise. The prose is lyrical, the characters lovable, the tragedy heartbreaking. I recommend it highly and plan to read it again right away.
Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Schecter introduces us to Lucia, the daughter of the owner of a gladiatorial school in Pompeii, and her childhood friend, Tag, a slave who tends to the wounds of injured gladiators. Lucia is unwillingly betrothed to an older man who will invest in her father’s school, and Tag hopes to become a gladiator and buy his freedom. Mount Etna however has other plans for them. The historical setting is compelling and the story suspenseful. I’d especially recommend it for young readers not familiar with the tragedy of Pompeii.