Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, part 2

Okay, here it is.

In January I read E. Lockhart’s Dramarama. I am such a huge fan of her Ruby Oliver books that I was thrilled to read it. While it wasn’t as endearing to me as the Ruby books (and I’m not a huge musical theater person either) I was taken back when I felt... let down... by the ending. I mulled over whether I liked it or really liked it. The ending was a little dark, but it had a very clear silver lining. After some contemplation I realized that I did like it. I liked that ending. It was honest, gosh darn it. Sometimes the best intentions don’t pan out and you end up with Plan K. Queue Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

So when The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks had a similar denouement, I was more prepared. I knew there would be unanswered questions. I had to remind myself that just because the writing ended doesn't mean the story has, too. I think this would be an excellent book for a teen book club discussion. You could say that I’m gruntled. (Ah, it’s in the book!)

What could be passed off as an escapade book about 15-year-old Frankie and a secret society at her prep school is really a manifesto on feminism and activism. I do like my feminist manifestos. To quote Frankie during a heated cafeteria discussion:
“I’m saying, once you start saying women are all about sisterhood and community,
then you start underestimating people who might easily, I don’t know, take over
the world.”
I want to call it chick-lit, but it’s chick-lit with an agenda. This book should be turned into a film. We need a strong transfusion of teen girls on film who are confident in themselves and define themselves outside of boys ASAP. (Okay, so there’s the issue of her obsession with Matthew. She’s aware of that. Frankie is one smart cookie but love ain’t easy folks. Love ain’t easy.) So this isn’t much of a review, is it? Maybe someone can add to it in comments. The Fans of Cecil Castellucci, Maureen Johnson, and Rachel Cohn are good picks for this book. It debuts in stores March 2008.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

**Review coming soon**
Joanna makes a daring turn to read another book by an author she adores. Shocking! She might try something new if only her YA crushes would hold up for a moment and give her a break. Yeah, okay, she doesn't really mean it. She is marking the days til the next Sarah Dessen book. And a Sweet Far Thing!

**I read this in one sitting last night and feel that I need to reflect a moment before I dive in with a review.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf by Jennifer Holm

I recently got a huge box of books from Simon & Schuster, and even though I have created a list of what books I'm supposed to read in a particular order, this book screamed out, READ ME!! I think it might have been the really gross picture of meat loaf on the front cover. Very intriguing. The whole actual title of the book is Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff. Flipping through the book, it looks very gimmicky. There's no regular text; the whole story is told through to do lists, report cards, notes, and instant messages. So I wasn't really expecting great literature. Boy was I wrong. I really think Jennifer Holm (of Babymouse! and well a few other Newbery Honor books...) really captures the essence of middle school life. Ginny's a seventh grader who changes a lot. She gets a new stepdad, she quits ballet after loving it her entire life, she takes up art, her friends change. SO many things happen that aren't terribly dramatic, but they are normal, and important to Ginny. Jennifer Holm and the artist Elicia Castaldi made a very convincing, format-bending scrapbook of a year in a seventh grade girl's life. Visually the book is very appealing and I think it will fly off the shelves.

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney by Suzanne Harper

So what are the chances that the day after I read a book where the five unruly sons are named after birds I pick up a book where seven sisters are likewise named...drum roll please...after birds. I would have said not very likely, but it turned out to be 100% possible! Is this a new trend in YA literature? I will stay tuned to find out. Perhaps the next book I pick up will have all the children named after various herbs and spices. I give this book bonus points though because on the back cover there is a cute tarot card inspired picture of the seven sisters in bird form carrying name banners in their beaks. I thought it was very pretty.

And all joking aside, this was a really cute book. Sparrow Delaney is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. An incredibly auspicious sign that she will have intensely strong psychic abilities. Something she's vehemently denied since she was five years old and talked to her first ghost. Ever since its been a struggle to keep her ability to see the dead a secret from her family. All Sparrow wants is to be normal. A difficult feat living with her spiritualist family in Lily Dale, a town where mediums of every type have resided for centuries.

Still, a girl's got to try, and try she does. Sparrow transfers to a school 45 minutes away where she knows no one and where she thinks she'll have a brand new, fresh, normal start. It starts off really well, she gets to her classes on time, she's got a brand new friend, a cute partner on her first assignment, but then there's that ghost that just won't leave her alone. Now normal seems like a goal that just got a little farther away.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I truly, Completely Lost It - Lisa Shanahan

I admit it. I picked this one up solely on the cover. I thought, "wow that is a cute cover. I love the way she's rolling her eyes, her cute bangs, sure her eye looks a bit bloodshot, but the irreverent gum bubble more than makes up for it. I'll read it." And read it I did. Almost in one sitting (I got tired and had to sleep).

This is an Australian author, who I as I was looking up her info - as I've never heard of her before, I discovered that she'll actually be at Book People on 10/13/07. That is sort of exciting! She's written several children's books, but this is her first book for teens.

Gemma Stone is a puker. Anytime she has to speak in public she has the uncontrollable urge to vomit. So when the boy of her dreams mentions that she should try out for the school play, she figures its kind of crazy but maybe she can show up and just work on the sets or something. Her plan is derailed by the egalitarian drama teacher who likes everyone to audition.

Besides the play there are all kinds of things going on in Gemma's life. Her sister accepted a proposal to "spice up" her boyfriend's life and marry him. And her sister doesn't seem terribly concerned that his family is obsessed with war to the point of boot camp style structures being built in their backyard complete with muddy moats to fall into (with guests being arm-twisted into participating). Gemma is also in the wedding and has the unusual honor of not only being the oldest flower girl alive, but one who also has to wear the most unique flower girl outfit ever created to match the wedding theme, "animals and birds that mate for life."

There is Nick, the boy who told Gemma to turn out for the play. There is Raven who is her audition partner. He belongs to the town's infamously rough family of ill repute who named all their sons after birds. Magpie, Crow, Raven, Sparrow, and Robin.

And there are lots of laughs. This book is a total hoot. Gemma is a funny narrator and the book is very light hearted with some surprising substance. The book is filled with Australian slang that for the most part is self evident. There were a few words I couldn't figure out, but it made me more curious than anything. And there was a plot twist that totally blindsided me. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, clues were certainly planted, but I was utterly surprised.

A very solid book that I see being really popular with your Chick Lit loving girls. Especially those that are drawn to series such as the Georgia Nicolson books. I thought it felt more like those even though they're British, rather than Jaclyn Moriarty, who I admit is one of the only other Australian authors that I'm familiar with. And this is completely irrelevant but from a quick glance at her blog I noticed that Jaclyn named her new baby Charlie. A name that my husband and I have been discussing. Woot!

Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty

Ok, so please don't read this if you haven't read the book yet (especially you Joanna) because there will be spoilers. ***Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers*** I essentially can't help myself I just have to talk about it.

So, I love these books. The first two books in the series Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings were, in my opinion, perfection. Jessica Darling, the heroine, was the perfect fusion of a snarky, neurotic, smart, funny, with an ability to dissect social situations that made me cramp I was laughing so hard. Add in her tortured love life with Markus Flutie - one of the best bad boy characters ever written and you truly couldn't have asked for anything more.

The third book lost me a bit. Instead of being a year in Jessica's life it tried to mash in her entire college experience in one book. It felt rushed, it felt like there were huge parts left out, it just didn't work that much for me.

So I was a bit anxious when I picked this up. Would I like it more than 3? Would I be disappointed in it? It turns out that I would like it much more than 3, but still less than the first two. It sort of felt like Jessica was back. That she had regained her voice, was still insecure, but had matured quite a bit. And I certainly liked that it wasn't rushed. The book is the same size as the previous three, but this one takes place within one week. The long, difficult week that takes place after Jessica attempts to break up with Marcus only to have him propose. She doesn't know what to say so he asks her to think about it for a week and then decide. And think she does...and write. Instead of being in diary format this journal is filled with one long letter to Marcus detailing everything that happens in her quest to decide whether or not she should accept his proposal.

The thing that I think I realized after finishing is that what makes the first two books so different than the second two is the way in which Jessica and Marcus' relationship exists. The first two detail the development of their relationship. Marcus is always present. We hear dialog between the two. The sexual tension is smoking. In the second two books, Marcus is largely absent. He's in the background away at school, sending mysterious postcards, but he isn't really there if you get what I mean. Which results in zero sexual tension. Not only do we lose the sexual tension, but he's turned from a sexy, complex, intellectual bad boy into a patronizing, pretentious, Buddhist spouting bearded desert man. And that's where the last two books fall flat for me. Marcus isn't remotely as interesting or compelling as he was. We know the dizzying romantic highs and so we can't help but be disappointed by the lackluster lows that follow.

I was particularly happy with several things that happened in the book. I loved how Hope's and Jessica's relationship was fleshed out. I loved that Hope and Marcus had a secret past that drove Jessica into jealous fits. I enjoyed Dexy a whole bunch. I loved her job interview for the lovelab. There was a lot to love in this book. Particularly the ending. I was so happy that she didn't marry him I can't tell you. It was time for that relationship to end. Marcus was just too annoying for words and Jessica is far too interesting a character to settle.

And who am I kidding. If there is a fifth one in the works I'll be first in line to buy it. Especially if there are hints that Marcus regains his old charm and personality (minus the drugs of course lol).

Joanna - once you've read all this you'll have to comment :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Another entry in the "adult fiction writer tries to write for teens - is it marketing or is author actually good?" pile is Sherman Alexie. To address the question of the quality of his first book for teens, the answer is...darn good. Congrats, Mr. Alexie! You win a spot in a very elite group.

The book states that much of the material comes from Alexie's own life. Our main character is Arnold Spirit, a Spokane Indian living on the reservation. He's just starting his freshman year, and after an enlightening conversation with his geometry teacher, he makes the bold decision to transfer to a high school off the reservation. Not to just any high school, but Reardan. The non-Indian (a.k.a. "white") Reardan. The Reardan whose mascot is a big-nosed, feather-wearing Indian - now Arnold is the 2nd Indian in the school. Arnold makes things difficult for himself on the reservation by making this bold move. He has always been an outcast and now he's viewed as a traitor and a white lover. Everyone but his parents and grandma turn against him.

Each chapter moves through one more struggle Arnold has to face. Some of these are happy outcomes, some surprising, and some heartbreaking. There's quite a bit of black humor in here. While this could be "just another teen coming of age novel", Alexie really adds something new, for me at least, in that Arnold's perspective as a teen American Indian is rare. His thoughts on white people for instance, are fascinating. He first admires his white classmates at Reardan as being "translucent". In one of the best flips on cliché, the bigotry that could be assumed when a poor Indian kid jumps ship to an upper class white school doesn't really happen in Arnold's story. Even he is shocked! And that's not what this book is about, anyway. Thankfully.

It is also worth mentioning that Indian history, alcoholism, poverty, and apathy are big targets in the book.

Reservations were meant to be prisons, you know? Indians were supposed to move onto reservations and die. We were supposed to disappear.

But somehow or another, Indians have forgotten that reservations were meant to be death camps.

This is a great book: fun to read, surprising, and well written. The cartoons that Arnold draws in the book contribute to the story as well. I think it is essential for any library and I'm sure there will be quite a bit of buzz about it. Is it an award winner? Maybe not. But fun, easy readers are always overlooked. As Arnold would write, "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" (The book is due to hit stores September 12.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Shelter by Beth Cooley

Lucy attends an exclusive private school and lives in a really nice three garage house that her father designed. Well, at least she did. When her father dies unexpectedly, her mother discovers that the finances weren’t quite what she thought they were. There isn’t any money for the mortgage payments, there’s not enough money to buy them a smaller house, and there’s barely enough money to rent a small apartment for them. After seven months Lucy, her younger brother and their mother find themselves homeless and living in a shelter for women.

Lucy is angry. She’s angry at how far down she’s come in the world. She’s angry at her mother for not coping better. She thinks she deserves better and she certainly feels uncomfortable with the type of people who are her close neighbors in the shelter. There is a teenage mother, an ex-drug addict, a mentally ill woman, and all their children. Certainly not the type of people Lucy would have chosen to surround herself with.

This was an interesting book. I was a bit worried at the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to identify with Lucy. She was a bit mean, a bit too self-pitying, a bit too much of a snob. But it ended up working for me. It made sense that she would be that way. She was a wealthy girl who had never known any other life. She expected certain things and when everything was taken away, it was only natural that she would have some difficulty coping. What really saved her was Cooley’s character development. Lucy transforms little by little into a more understanding, sympathetic character. And the slow progression felt very natural and so I believed it.

It had a very happy ending and everything was nicely resolved. Usually I don’t like endings that are wrapped up so neatly with curled ribbon and a bow, but in this case I think I would have been upset had the lives of all these women and their children not improved somewhat.

Friday, August 3, 2007

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko

Kristen and Walk both are in the seventh grade at an expensive private school. Both of them are going through a hard time this year. Kristen's parents seem to be headed for divorce, and her best friend has deserted her for the seventh grade alpha girl. Walk is dealing with being one of the few non-white students at the school and trying to prove to his mother he's not going to mess up like his cousin.

It seems like Kristen and Walk don't have much in common. Then, they are paired on an extra-credit history assignment and slowly get to know each other. Soon, Kristen finds out something that will change their lives forever.

To avoid spoilers, I won't say what it is that Kristen discovers, but needless to say, it's an ambitious topic for a middle grade novel. And that novel could be amazing; after Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts, I had expected nothing less from the author. In this case, though, I was disappointed.

The book alternates between Kristen and Walk's voices; however, it is written in the third person, which I felt significantly decreased its power. I also felt that the book came to a resolution entirely too easily. Given the significance of Kristen's discovery, it's quite unlikely that the families would have come to terms with it as easily as the families in this book do. In general, the book seems rushed and incomplete. Still, it's admirable that Choldenko chose to write about a difficult topic.

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, by Gennifer Choldenko, is due in stores on September 1, 2007.

l8r, g8r by Lauren Myracle

This is the 3rd, and dare I say final, installment of a series entirely written in IM. First there was TTYL and then TTFN. I love this series. Don’t let the unusual format turn you off from a touching, well-written story. Yes, even though you may cringe at the thought of reading all lowercase typing, 3 different fonts (including blue type), and abbreviations like “cu”, “ur”, "plz" and “g2g”, it’s such a fun story. Honestly, there isn’t much IM language in here as I thought there would be. It’s really a novel in dialogue. Just think of it that way and give it a try. My favorite girl to read is Angela, aka SnowAngel. She peppers her IMs with descriptive phrases like, "*makes expresionless face while dixieland band marches thru bedroom*", "*taps foot verrrrrry impatiently*", & "*makes slitty eyes to show she means business*". She never fails to crack me up. Maddie does too, Ms. Snarky. Okay, and Zoe in her sweet way.

This go around we have the Winsome Threesome (aforementioned Maddie, Angela & Zoe) in their final semester of high school. They are fretting over all the typical scenarios: graduation, college acceptance, boyfriends (getting, keeping, losing, and dumping), relationships with peers, independence, decision making, and good ol’ S-E-X. Lauren Myracle has always written very truthfully with regards to sexuality and teens. This one is no exception and could achieve near-Bible status in the eyes of some teens (boys and girls) for its descriptiveness. It’s very refreshing. Hallelujah!
Also, we certainly do need Stand Tall for Angela Day! as well as National Pigtail Day. This seems like a great job for a teen out there. C'mon!