Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
If nothing else, traveling for hours shoved into a cave-like backseat of a truck where you can't really talk to anyone or even see out the window is good for reading. But only if you are driving during daylight. Luckily I was.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Anderson tackles eating disorders in this one. And does it really well. Lia is anorexic. Her best (but estranged) friend was just found dead in a motel room. She had called Lia 33 times before she died. I've never suffered from an eating disorder, but I imagine it is very much like this. Lots of fear and anger and punishment. Lots of denial from the people closest to you because they really just want everything to be all right. Very good book. I think this is one of the first 2009 books I've read, but I think it is destined to be one of the best too. By the by, anyone remember Even If it Kills me? I couldn't find the original cover. Bummer.
All We Know of Love by Nora Raleigh Baskin
I was touched by this one. I didn't think I would be. I feared it would be a road trip, look at all the kooky people I meet on the bus who teach valuable life lessons. Still I remembered some very favorable reviews so I picked it up. Natalie was a wonderful main character. She is stuck. Her mom left 4 years ago. Just stopped mid-thought, picked up her car keys, and left. Now Natalie is in a relationship with a boy that she is crazy about even though she knows (deep down, deep, deep, down) that he isn't good enough for her. So she buys herself a bus ticket to visit her mom. But without telling anyone that she's going. Along the way she does meet people. No one kooky. And here is something interesting that the author chose to do. Everyone shares a story about love, what they've learned about it, felt, experienced. But it isn't with Natalie. Their stories are just interjected into the text. It was extremely effective, heart breaking, heart warming, all that good stuff. I think I probably would have cried if i hadn't of been shoved in the back seat of the truck.
Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
Another retelling of the Arthur and his round table legend. However, this one takes an entirely different tack on the story. Here Arthur is just a dude, a rather rough and unsophisticated dude, who happens to have a fantastic storyteller (aka Merlin known in this story as Myrddin). Myrddin weaves truth and fiction together to make tales that appeal to the wider population, increase his fame, and make him a legend in his own time as well as securing him a place in history. The story is told to us by Gwyna, Myrddin's servant. And she is as much a focus of the story, perhaps even more so, than Arthur. This was a great book. I love Philip Reeve. He never disapoints.
Dishes by Rich Wallace
Danny is 18 and has moved in with his dad for the summer. His dad works at a gay restaurant/bar and gets Danny a job there washing dishes. Neither Danny nor his father is gay, but the rest of the staff is. Not a problem. Except that Hector, a waiter keeps flirting with Danny and Danny finds himself flirting back. Or something like that. It's getting in the way of him securing his new girlfriend's trust. Anyhoo, I was iffy on this one. Mainly because I don't feel like I got to know Danny any more than when I met him on the first page. The way he talked was sort of terse and stacatto. I didn't warm to him.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
It reminded me a lot of Tamora Pierce, which I think is a high compliment. It featured an independent woman as the main character, a romance that was based on mutual respect, constant plot development, and action that almost never stops. All the while featuring superb characterization.
I'm glad I got to read this before the year ended, although perhaps a little closer to the sequel would have been good!
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Ain't Nothing Like a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look
Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Savvy by Ingrid Law
Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli
The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
- The director must have impressed upon the actors that eyes are the windows to the soul and should be their main method of conveying information. I think if they had acted any more with their eyes they might have popped out of their sockets and demanded a raise. And it was everybody. Everybody. I actually wasn't sure that much eye acting could exist in one movie. I was wrong.
- The scene where Bella walks into the science room and her scent is thrust upon Edward by the fan was amazing. He was going to hurl into his hand. I have rarely laughed so hard.
- Edward really did look like someone dipped him in a vat of glitter.
- What was up with the makeup on the Cullens? That sh*t looked stupid people.
- Did it take them so long to kiss in the book?
- I am so going to see the next movie.
Two Parties, One Tux, And a Very Short Film About the Grapes of Wrath by Steven Goldman
In a word: hilarious. This book had me hooked from the very first page. Dry humor, honest dilemmas minus the overwrought angst, and fully developed characters. And did I mention funny? Sooo funny.
"And we need to use more obcenities," David continues. He has obviously been thinking this through. "We don't cuss enough. How's the fucking beer?"
It's warm and tastes like thin mucus. "Fucking great," I say.
"Louder," commands David. "We should be loud. HOW'S THE FUCKING BEER?"
"FUCKING GREAT," I shout. It isn't much of a shout.
David drains about a third of the bottle. "And we should complain about our parents more."
"Yeah, parents suck."
The Ghost's Child by Sonia Hartnett
Much more on the literary side of things, The Ghost's Child is all about the remembrance of a life fully lived even if it didn't all turn out like the narrator hoped. All the reviews I found called it a fable, but I prefer to think of it as magical realism. I want all the fantastical things that happened to have actually happened. It will be a special reader that gets into this one.
No More Us for You by David Hernandez
Loved the title, loved how the title was taken from an art piece from the museum where Carlos works (a neon light that reads "no more coitus for you" but then the letters coi burn out). Unfortunately I never got terribly invested in the characters and so the book fell a bit flat.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Rowan’s older brother Jack has been dead just over two years. Her mother is catatonic, her father left just as soon as he could, and so Rowan is left holding together the fort for her six year old sister. Then one day a boy hands her a photo negative telling her she’s dropped it. She knows it’s not hers, but she takes it anyway. Then a girl whom Rowan has admired from afar approaches her at school to ask what the boy handed her. Together they develop the photo and it sends them onto a path that neither of them had expected.
This is, at its center, a story of grief. It is about a family who was devastated when a beloved son and brother died accidentally. The back cover of the galley I read promoted the book as a mystery. Yes, there was a bit of a mystery in the story, but I think it is vastly misleading. It is not anything like her previous novel Me, The Missing and the Dead other than the fact it is also well written.
Broken Soup is nothing if not tenderly told and extremely touching. Valentine has a way with words that makes her slender novels incredibly rich with detail, emotion, and setting. The relationships that Rowan develops with Bee (the girl who develops the photo with her), Harper (the boy who handed her the negative), her dead brother jack (which we learn about through reminisces) and her sister Stroma were beautifully developed and heart wrenching.
There was one plot point that I thought was out of left field, although perhaps a re-read would show that there were hints in the story although a quick flip through didn’t convince me of that. Sonny, Bee’s 2 year old brother, turns out to be her and Jack’s son (2 months in the womb at the time of Jack’s death). This is revealed near the end of the book. Rowan had spent what seemed to me to be quite a bit of time with Sonny and Bee, I wondered why in all that time he never called Bee mommy as it was clear she was raising him (with help from her father) and was not hiding the relationship from him. Its not that I minded that Sonny was Bee’s son, I thought it was actually quite lovely (despite a romantic take on teenaged motherhood being somewhat problematic). The reaction of Rowan to this news and the hope it gives her for her family, was truly touching. But I still feel as though it was sprung upon the story in a way that seemed contrived. Why didn’t Sonny call her mom? He didn’t seem to have any developmental issues. I can see how Rowan would have assumed Sonny was a younger brother, but I find it unbelievable that he wouldn’t have said mommy in all that time.
Monday, December 1, 2008
There are people who think the books are sending a terrible message to girls about only being something if someone loves you and wants to protect you. There are people who think the books are only for entertainment and girls can see through them. And there are people who share their own experiences talking to teens (who sound frighteningly unintrospective). I do wonder that no one has brought up how Meyer's religion has also shaped her books. Because, hello, it certainly has.
These are the conversations that keep me from unsubscribing to the listserve. Mostly I delete everything because there are only so many times you can read about turning off your out of office message (which come on people - you totally should) or "I'd like that book too please" without your soul dying a little bit each time from the ridiculousness of it all.
So thanks people on Yalsa-BK. You've given me something else to be thankful about this Thanksgiving. An intelligent conversation held by intelligent people.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
After finishing The Spectacular Now I had to put it down and think about it for awhile. Sutter, our party animal hero, really got to me. He reminded me of one or two people I’ve known in my life. People that pretty much squandered their potential because their addictions overwhelmed them and became the most important thing in their life. So when I had finished the book and left Sutter pretty much where I had found him, I was incredibly sad. Like Sutter, these people were super fun to be around, but the fun has to end sometime. And to most of us fun doesn’t equal waking up in the morning and taking a shot of whisky to welcome in the day.
In fact, I don’t even think that equals fun to Sutter. But he is so lost in denial about his alcoholism that he’s willing to believe anything that tells him he’s still the life of the party. And maybe that will last one or two years more, until his addictions cost him any chance of holding down a job (he’s only 18 and he already lost a job due to his inability to show up at work sober) and cost him any healthy relationships (because addicts attract addicts so they can reinforce and normalize their addictive behaviors). So, yes, I was just plum sad when I finished this book. I had a couple issues with the story. The main one dealt with Sutter’s relationship with Aimee his shy and nerdy girlfriend.
It is one of the horrors of the book that Sutter drags Aimee into his life of constant drinking. A formally repressed girl, Aimee finds confidence and loquaciousness when she has a couple drinks in her. In fact, as a special graduation gift Sutter presents her with her very own flask filled with vodka. Sutter is very obviously attempting to create someone who will not challenge his alcohol soaked existence. After a scary drunken accident where Aimee gets hit by a car and breaks her arm, Sutter and Aimee swear off drinking for awhile. Aimee seems relieved and has no problem with it, Sutter stays sober for 5 days until he relapses with a major binge. What troubled me about this is that Aimee was presented as easily walking away from the alcohol soaked existence she had been living. With two biological parents who have addictions (her deceased gas huffing father and her live gambling mother) I found it incredibly mystifying that someone with such an addictive DNA and environment would have found it so easy to stop.
I also was confused as to why Sutter seemed to have little negative effects when he went cold turkey from drinking. Perhaps it was just that the author didn’t focus on it, but I felt that someone with such an advanced drinking problem would have had more obvious mental and physiological struggles and that these should have been presented. I wished these things had been made more obvious (as obvious as the fact that he had a drinking problem and his denial of this fact was made throughout the story). I was, to be honest, a little surprised that Sutter was so open about his constant drinking. His friends certainly abetted his drinking, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was no longer acceptable to be drunk all day. Yet, he never became more secretive about it. Was that just a part of his denial?
I would be very interested to hear what a teen takes from this story. This seems to be a cautionary tale, but so much isn’t directly told I wonder what they will take from the story.
This title is nominated for the 2008 National Book award along with What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Here was the Shortlist:
Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson
The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan
Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Apache by Tanya Landman
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Read all about it at The Guardian.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
This book is deeply influenced by Japanese and Chinese history, although it is not set in either of those countries. Goodman has taken aspects of honor, mysticism, and societal constructs and used those influences to create an imaginary country named The Empire of the Celestial Dragons.
The author has created an amazingly rich and well-developed mythology. The reader is totally immersed in a world that is unlike the vast majority of fantasy making it stand out in a crowded genre. Eona is a compelling heroine and luckily she is matched by interesting secondary characters, especially those that become her allies. There is intrigue, there is drama, there is an evil Lord that wants to rule the kingdom. It is exciting stuff.
However, the author tends to get bogged down in the narrative and there are parts where the plot slows down to a standstill. After the book is set up there is this long interval where Eona is lost in inner struggle and these parts drag. There were also some overly contrived plot points that led to this inner struggle lasting much longer than it should have. One situation in particular has Eona finding an important document that will reveal integral information to her. However, she doesn’t recognize the characters on the page because she’s never seen the language before…except that she actually just saw it a few pages earlier. Waiting for her to put this information together was painful (and to be honest more than a bit boring).
Now, I must say once Eona pieces everything together and the action gets going it makes for utterly thrilling reading. The ending in particular was non-stop, heart in your mouth action. Too bad there was that long, draggy middle part in between the beginning and the end.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Our protagonist and detective hero is Sherman Mack, a self proclaimed scholar of girls. That doesn’t actually translate into any dates, but he still loves them anyway. His friends have helpfully suggested that he is actually a scholar of stalking, but he doesn’t agree with that one bit.
Sherman has just begun 9th grade at Harewood High School. At Harewood, girls can be Defiled. If that sounds awful, well, rest assured it really is. When a girl is defiled she becomes invisible, but only after she is basically tried and convicted by a mob of her peers, her reputation dragged through the mud, and finally never spoken to again. No one will even speak her name. Unsurprisingly, most of the girls drop out or switch schools to escape. No one knows how the girls are chosen to be defiled – whether it is one person or a nefarious committee of students. But it is serious, serious stuff.
Enter Sherman. He is worried a girl he likes is a candidate for defilement and has launched an investigation. One might think from this description that this book would be on the serious side, but it is actually very humorous. Sherman is a rather silly and immature (in fact he seemed much younger than a 9th grader – at times I would have placed him in elementary school – my only complaint with the book). This is mostly played for laughs.
For me, the best part of the book came from Sherman’s descriptions of his family life.
“Hello, sweet ‘ums,” she’ll say, and follow that up with a bunch of baby talk. Sometimes I worry that my mother may be trying to make me gay. It’s not just the baby talk. It’s our entire living environment. My mother is into glitter. This is very damaging for a developing male.
His mother had him when she was 16 and this formed a breach between her and her parents that has never been repaired. Her parents routinely send over fruit baskets with vitamins hidden in the bottom for Sherman. He appreciates these gestures more than he lets his mother know. Especially since she never cooks anything other than toast.
After several setbacks, including a rather embarrassing photo of him dressed up in a popular kid’s mother’s clothing, Sherman does manage to crack the case. And it is a surprising and satisfying ending (part of which a close reader may have already deducted).
A very fun read that will most appeal to readers in Junior High.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Evie is 15, busy practicing smoking with chocolate cigarettes with her best friend Gloria, lusting after a boy who is clearly in love with someone else, and just generally being a normal teenage girl in 1947 Queens. When her stepfather surprises her mother and her with a vacation to Florida, it seems fun and exciting. It turns out to be anything but.
From the beginning, you can tell that no one is really who they say they are. Her stepfather and Peter (the hunky war "buddy" that Evie falls hard for) have something shady in their past. The Graysons act suspicious and don't offer much personal information to the group. In short, there is atmosphere as thick as the Florida heat in this book. Glances, quiet conversations, secret notes, clandestine meetings. All clues to what is really going on with her family and the other vacationers at the out of season hotel they are staying at. Evie picks up on the undercurrents, even if it takes her some time to figure out their true meaning.
The author did a bang up job of creating the setting and building atmosphere. The characters all kept their secrets, but they still managed to be multifaceted, fully realized, and incredibly interesting at the same time. Evie figures out much of what has happened, but that doesn't mean she knows the full extent of everyone's participation.
Without giving away some major plot points, I wanted to mention that I really loved how the author tied in post-war profiteering into the story. It was original and a theme that snaked its way into the wider story in unexpected ways.
A big thumbs up.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Alexandra is a princess. Much to her father’s disappointment she isn’t beautiful, nor is she terribly concerned with gowns and jewels. Instead, she takes after her mother and is much more interested in the life force, or enaid, that keeps their land alive and healthy. In this world there is a magical connection that people feel to the land. Those that have this connection are called cunning women. They can create poultices and heal the sick, do “workings” or small tricks like encouraging kindling to catch on fire. There are varying degrees of skill and Alexandra, unbeknownst to herself, has a connection much stronger than most. Her mother’s murder by an evil creature in the woods curtails Alexandra’s education and sets in motion a spiraling set of events that upsets her family and the entire kingdom.
This fantasy was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson “The Wild Swans” which I have never read. Somehow I got it confused with “The Goose Girl” by the Brothers Grimm and kept wondering why she wasn’t herding a bunch of geese. And when it was very apparent there were no geese in this story, I started wondering when she was going to meet the swans she was supposed to herd. That should have been a clue that I was mixed up, after all who herds swans? Alas, I never actually clued into that until the end of the story. Regardless my point is that even if you have crazy misconceptions, not to worry, Marriott’s story stands up very well on its own.
Not that it was a perfect novel. When Alexandra is sent to live with her aunt in a neighboring country, I very much wished we had gotten to know her better. Her aunt was appealing in ways that few of the other characters were. She had a past, she was angry and dour, she was just plain interesting and I wanted more. I was sad when the story left her behind.
I also wish that the author had fleshed out exactly why her mother chose not to show Alexandra the full extent of her powers. Was it fear, jealousy, condescension? We know her mother failed, but at what? It seemed like a major plot point got dropped.
All in all, this is a fantasy that will appeal to those that read widely among the genre. It has danger, romance, seemingly impossible tasks, all the elements that make for a satisfying read.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Amanda’s mother is called “The Captain,” a micromanager who rules her family with a barbed tongue and who is only ever satisfied with Melody, Amanda’s younger sister. The writing is often clumsy, but the emotional intent is clear. Amanda is not good enough. One of the highlights of the novel was when Amanda sneakily saves her mother’s password so that she can read her mother’s emails. I was saddened that the emails were so shockingly unreflective and filled with, “poor me poor me what have I done to deserve such a daughter.” I had expected a more complex inner life, or at least some introspection about how the family dynamic is headed towards disaster. Frankly, I was led to wonder how her friend has stood by her all this time without throttling her. Amanda’s mother would easily step on anyone’s last nerve.
The relationship between the mother’s childhood and Amanda’s treatment were introduced, but not ever connected very satisfyingly. In fact, I was rather taken aback that the subject of abuse wasn’t raised. Amanda is clearly being emotionally and verbally abused.
The strongest thing about Unraveling is the emotional life of Amanda. Her insecurity, her feelings of worthlessness, her desperate attempts to secure love that end in disaster. It rang true to the point of it being painful to read. It is the strength of the novel.
Ted’s brain, as he so often reminds us, runs on a different operating system. In short, he has Aspergers Syndrome. As such, he doesn’t recognize emotions, can’t decipher social complexities, thinks extremely literally, doesn’t like to be touched, and has a specialized area of interest - the weather. Ted narrates the story and I found his voice to be very convincing. He laughs when others laugh even when he doesn’t understand what is funny so that he can fit in, he smiles when others smile so that they will like him and be his friend. He is a boy who recognizes his social limitations and wants to overcome them even if he can’t decode what the proper reaction would be. It is an often lonely and alienated life, which is buffered by a loving, if often exasperated family. Dowd’s writing really encapsulates what one imagines life with Aspergers would be like.
I suppose it is inevitable that Ted should be compared to Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. The two books did strike me as similar in tone and both play the disconnect between they view the world and the way those without the syndrome for laughs. Both feature a mystery that the protagonist doggedly solves. The London Eye Mystery is much lighter as one could expect for a book aimed at younger readers. There is much that is different, their family situations, their level of symptoms, etc. (as in it has been too long since I read Curious and can’t remember what else is different).
The mystery itself is solid. Ted offers a range of possible, although not always very plausible reasons for Salim’s disappearance. One by one, along with his sister Kat, the theories are either supported or discarded. It interested me that Dowd didn’t shy away from more serious topics, even though she didn’t often delve into them. For instance, when Ted doesn’t understand why someone would want to kidnap Salim because Aunt Gloria is not rich (in his mind people are kidnapped for ransom alone), Kat mentions that another reason would be for sex. This is mentioned, the seriousness noted, but not dwelled upon (thankfully Salim has not been kidnapped at all let alone for sex). I thought this was very masterfully handled. Dowd recognized the ugly underbelly of humanity, but didn’t let it bog down her rather lighthearted mystery. As such, it turned out that the mystery was more realistic and less of a crazy romp than I expected it to be when I picked up the book.
This book strikes me as something that would work on a variety of levels for readers of different ages. The older the reader, the more they will understand and appreciate the humor in the story. A worthwhile read. And one that convinced me if I ever make it to London, I will absolutely have to take a ride on the London Eye.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
So I wasn't sure whether or not I would write about this book. Which sort of makes sense because I really didn't want to read it. It seemed too much, too ugly, too disturbing. But with all the chatter going around about the title, I really wanted to see what everyone was talking about. Especially since I can't seem to find anyone who didn't enjoy the book. Everyone seems to have found it haunting and unforgettable.
So yes. Haunting and unforgettable it is, you know, in that way where you wish you just hadn't watched America's Most Wanted so that you could sleep again without wondering if the serial rapist is going to get you tomorrow as you walk to your car. And unforgettable in that way that it is extremely likely you'll never let your child out of the house unsupervised before they are 30. And if you think I'm exaggerating, read it. You'll find I'm not.
I had quite an issue with people saying that the book isn't graphic. I understand what they were saying, but I was expecting something else. Generally when something isn't graphic I assume it will occur off page. I assume it will be insinuated, but it not spelled out. For instance, the abuser takes the victim into a bedroom and shuts the door. You know bad things are happening behind the closed door, but you aren't told anything about what they are. In contrast, the sexual abuse in this book is very graphic, not because the author gives a blow by blow account (thankfully we are spared that), but you know exactly when she is being raped, you know when she is forced to give oral sex, you know everything that is happening to her as it happens. What makes it even more horrifying is the frequency. Alice is abused morning, noon, and night. There is never a moment when the two of them are together when he is not either sexually or physically abusing her. It was literally too much to bear.
The writing is very good. You feel Alice's numbness. You understand her hatred of Ray, her abuser. Her hatred of herself and what she's become. She knows she is irreparably damaged. That she has become a monster willing to help Ray kidnap another child so that she'll be spared the abuse. She knows she might even like it. This is where the author really excelled in her writing. She showed us the cycle of abuse and how people can have their humanity driven out of them. How they can be driven to commit unthinkable things. And how they can regain their humanity if they try hard enough. Alice, for all the thinks she is dead, still has a spark of hope that helps her overcome.
I did wonder about Ray. He was physically and sexually abused by his mother. He killed his mother by faking an accidental death. He kidnaps a girl named Alice, abuses her for years and then kills her. At that point he kidnaps our current Alice. He tells her that if she tells or runs away he'll kill her family - pretty standard talk for an abuser. But Alice keeps telling us that although Ray lies about everything, he isn't lying about that. Soon enough we find out that he did indeed go and kill Alice's family. After she's dead. Which seemed like too much. Ray is already the worst nightmare that you could have, but to go and kill someone's family after the fact seems like a risk he wouldn't have taken.
All in all, I did not like this book. It was well written, but I found it gratuitous in its disturbing detail. I certainly do not agree with the people who are so strongly suggesting that this is a book that everyone should read. It is not. To be honest, I'm not even completely sure I'd be comfortable putting it in a teen collection. Publishers have definitely been pushing the limits of what is considered YA lately, and I think this might have pushed just a little too far.
I think it's possible that Lipsyte is the only author that could have possibly gotten me to enjoy a book about car racing. He has such an incredible talent for describing action and raising the tension until you absolutely must know what happens next. The racing action was superb, as was the behind the scene details of what racing entails - the sponsors, the car maintenance, the different jobs people have to do to support the person driving the car. I also felt it was a realistic portrayal of the pressures a child would face when he is born into a family that has focused their entire beings on car racing.
My only real complaint was a character that was a friend of Kyle's that responds to everything with, "saw that movie..." and goes on to name a movie, name the actors, etc., in what one assumes is an attempt to relate to a situation. It completely irritated me.
Ms. Yingling Reads
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I'll admit, I had to try this one due to my shameless love of gender-benders. Plus, I read several recommendations....
Cycler is the story of Jill, a normal teenage girl concerned about the upcoming prom and the boy she likes. There's just one thing: when she hit puberty, instead of just getting her menstrual cycle, she also got a unique cyle of her own. For four days every month, Jill turns into Jack. After the first few occurances and numerous stumped, disbelieving doctors, Jill and her mom create a meditation plan that erases Jill's time as a boy from her Jilltime memory. This is okay for a while, but then Jack becomes his own personality and decides that he would like to have a life of his own.
I think Jill's homelife would have been bad either way, since her parents are pretty disfunctional. Her dad retreats into his own world of yoga and maleness in the basement after Jill's "change." Meanwhile, her mom is a complete man-hater, making Jill see her time as a boy as an utter abomination that must be obliterated from even her memory. I think this is part of why her dad retreats; if her mom hates Jack so much, just because he is male, how must she feel about her husband? To me, Jill's mom is the true villain of this story, in her inability to deal with the situation without stigmatizing an entire part of her own child.
Fortunately, Jill has her friend Ramie (of whom her mother doesn't approve, either). Ramie is what we sometimes call a "free spirit;" she loves fashion, but is not an empty-headed fad whore. Instead, she creates her own fashions, often making herself an outsider at school, but occasionally creating something truely fantastic. Her and Jill have been friends since the third grade, yet Ramie knows nothing about Jack. This leads to some serious issues later.
Then there is Tommy Knutson, the cute, quiet new guy that Jill has set her sights on. He is a bit of a mystery, but it becomes Jill and Ramie's mission to secure him as Jill's date for the prom. Will it work? Will Jack or Jill be present on prom night? What wrenches will Jack throw into Jill's plans?
I found McLaughlin's use of this strange, hypothetical "disease" to be an interesting way to tackle issues of gender identity that face many teens today, especially concerning the way parents deal with transgender/questioning children. It is strong and disturbing metaphor, especially the descriptions of the actual transformations. I will be very interested in hearing others' reactions, teens' in particular. Might even try this one for Book Exchange......
Goddess of YA Literature
The highlight of my CD experience was Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men. I can't imagine reading it without having the pleasure of listening to it read by Stephen Briggs first. His voices stayed with me when I read the next 2 books and helped with all the fun Feegle bits and the language in general. You can hear excerpts here, here and here. (You'll hear the Feegle voices on Wintersmith.)
Monday, October 6, 2008
This was a very interesting book. At first I wasn't sure if Freya was suffering from delusions or if she had actually been visited by an angel, especially because the cover flap states that she's turning into one. What to believe? When the answers finally come it is rather beautiful.
McNish writes short chapters, each one beginning with a black page that I've tried to figure out if they are significant and don't think they are, but somehow they added a gravity to the story. How? No idea, but I liked them.
I also really enjoyed McNish's take on angels. It was original and extremely thoughtful. He tells a story filled with light and dark, the eternal struggle between hope and despair, and shows us the powerful influence a person can have on another's life.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
The author had an extremely interesting take on vampires. I really enjoyed that she created an entirely new mythology that was well thought out and consistent throughout the entire novel. I especially liked how they were Hemes, very definitely not vampires. Sure they feed on humans and drink their blood just like vampires, but they are NOT vampires so do not call them that. Seriously don't do it - it even tells you not to on the cover. The author tells us that they are actually still human, but have been infected with a virus that changes their physiology. The vampire myth has evolved from them, but they basically view themselves as differently abled humans. It was fascinating.
I also loved that the whole process of how the Hemes fed was so sexual. Everyone knows (although apparently many Twilight fans are blissfully and astonishingly unaware) that the bite is a metaphor for sex. So bravo to the author for making it so unabashedly obvious. Regular humans, or Omnis, as Hemes refer to them, get intense gratification akin to sexual gratification from being fed on. Hemes have the ability to either feed without the Omni being aware that they have been fed on, or creating a relationship with an Omni who is aware and can possibly become addicted to the process because it is so enjoyable. In fact they often combine the act of feeding with sexual acts to increase the pleasure both parties get. Phew! Is it getting hot in here or is it just me!
This being said I found the dialog stitlted and unrealistic. The main Hemes are hundreds of years old and it appeared to me that the author wanted to make a distinction between how they spoke and how the newly created Heme spoke. The dialog, instead of showing me that they were from another time period just seemed clunky.
I also had a major problem with Cole not picking up on the whole Royal situation. Obviously, this Royal character was following them. Obviously when Gordo mentioned that he had seen this strange person at a frat party wearing the same outfit and adornments as when Cole ran into him at the bar it was Royal. And then it is OBVIOUSLY Royal's car that Cole found in the parking lot. It was frustrating as a reader to have Cole be so incredibly obtuse. Yes he was distracted by training Gordo and by his own emotional past, but so distracted he ignores all signs? Dude.
***End of Spoilers***
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Get ready to suspend your disbelief. In fact, as a preemptive strike, just go ahead and remove it altogether, maybe put it in a drawer to save for later. Have you put it away? OK, good, now we can get one with it!
Jaiden Beale was orphaned as a direct result of corporate negligence. Because he had no other family, NECorp, the corporation responsible for his parents' deaths decided to go ahead and adopt him. No, you didn’t read that wrong, he was adopted by a corporation. They converted an office to make into a bedroom (yes he lives at the corporate headquarters...in an office). He’s got managers, not guardians. They have meetings where they create power point presentations with his dating options (Jaiden is horrified at this and frankly so am I), they make spreadsheets with his progress, and schedule him for gym outings and tutors. In fact, even his name was given to him by the corporation – although they outsourced the job to a branding firm (I thought this was hilariously funny - what a great touch). Anyhoo, Jaiden thinks he’s pretty normal notwithstanding the fact that he’s being raised by a company, because after all, who has a normal family anyway?
So Jaiden is getting along pretty good. Most importantly he’s finally got the attention of the girl he likes via a well timed Biology class assignment. That’s when everything comes crashing down. He uncovers some possibly negligent and downright immoral dealings that NECorp is responsible for. And therein lies his big problem. If you are raised by a corporation does that make it your parents? What exactly does he owe it? Acquiescence? Loyalty? Love?
So if you can actually suspend your disbelief about a corporation raising a child (with no permanent caregivers!?! Where is his nanny??? They make him live in an office??? And how is he not a sociopath yet???) and treat him basically like a corporate project you’ll probably be able to enjoy this book. Jaiden has a funny, sort of naïve voice that is light and relatively untroubled. He’s got some good friends like Nate (who once the trouble starts is just plain awesome – frankly it’s the best part of the book).
So a cute light read – I think teens will enjoy it. It’s a silly concept, but an enjoyable one if you let probability sit in the backseat and just go along for the ride.
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
"Angst angst angst swear curse swear crazy crazy angst swear curse, society sucks, and I'm a stupid jerk."
For more Book-A-Minute synopses. Thanks Rachel!
Monday, September 15, 2008
“Charlotte Usher headed purposefully across the parking lot to the front doors of Hawthorn High, repeating her positive mantra – ‘This year is different. This is my year.’ Instead of being forever etched in her classmate’s high school memories as the girl who just too up space, the seat filler, the one who sucked up precious air that could be put to better use, she was going to start off the year on the other foot, a foot with the hottest, most uncomfortable shoes money could buy.”
This book has gotten rave reviews from all the big name review magazines. People seem to love it. Me? I thought it fell a bit flat. Charlotte is just sort of one dimensional - she's not a character she's more of a caricature. She's apparently never had a friend in her life and all she cares about is Damon - the hot boy she stalked for several years including secret photos and videos that she's made into insane screensavers. That's not to say that the book isn't funny, because it certainly is, but Charlotte never develops. She remains her frighteningly self-absorbed clueless stalker self, until, kabam, she's not.
Now the packaging on the other hand, beautiful. A coffin cutout on the cover. Pink and Black flowers and vines decorating every single page, silver edged pages. This one is sure to be picked up by a wide spread of gals.
Friday, September 12, 2008
In my dream I didn't get the feeling that she wrote a book because she had read books to her kids and found that all the books today were just terrible. What a relief! Anyhow, I just thought I should share that with you.
Monday, September 8, 2008
The artwork is colorful, bright, and very appealing. I thought the facial expressions were especially well done. They conveyed surprise, sarcasm, mischief, etc. clearly even though they were fairly simple in construction.
It did surprise me at first how young this read. This is geared towards elementary school aged kids and for some reason I had expected it to be aimed at older readers. Once I got over that - I enjoyed it. The humor was quite sly, done with a wink. Hale takes us through different towns each with unique character and filled with unusual citizens. Not to mention creative and enjoyable town names like Last Chance and The Devil's Armpit (see a map here). They also incorporate a few other stories into the mix (with a character named Jack I'll bet you can guess one of them).
I can see young girls going crazy for this. And according to the flap they are working on a sequel.
And how cute is this - you can download Rapunzel paper dolls off of Hale's website.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
I've been lazy about posting reviews this week, sorry! Here is a short and sweet roundup of what I've been reading.
Would You by Marthe Jocelyn
This is the story of a girl who's sister is hit by a car and lays comatose in the hospital. It is extremely well written and all the emotions ring true. I could empathize with Nat, feel her confusion, guilt, pain, love. I especially loved Nat's friends. This one will make you cry.
The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante
Told in the voices of two friends who live on a religious commune. One is a true believer, one a skeptic. I was immediately drawn into the book. It was suspenseful, it was dramatic, I couldn't put it down. About half way through I sort of lost interest - something about the girls voices. This was a well written book, but it wasn't for me.
The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes
The author took a story by Edith Warton (available online through Project Gutenburg) and based a series of interrelated stories on it. The first sets up the rest - it is a story of obsession and hatred so deep it permeates a physical space. The stories are atmospheric, ghostly, bloody, and woven together in interesting and surprising ways. They will appeal to readers who want love stories (albeit ones where the love goes horribly wrong) as well as those who are looking for a spooky read. I enjoyed this very much.
How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt
Harper decides to join a summer volunteer project to build a house for a family who has lost their house to a tornado. She went there for much needed escape from her imploding family situation. Her dad and stepmother have divorced, her step-sister (also her best friend from the minute they met) is distant and angry. The story is set up with Harper in the present working on the project and then flashbacks to her family's disintegration. You learn hint by hint, story by story, what has really happened with Harper's family. It took me a few chapters to warm up to Harper's voice, but warm up I did. This one is very Sarah Desseny (with the boy who is a catalyst to change). The ending is also incredibly heartwarming. I enjoyed this one quite a bit as well.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
My Favorite? It has to be "The Boy Who Never Got Picked on Ever" by Charlton Heston. That made me giggle.
The Onion is funny.
(Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link)
The Guardian has a series by Audrey Niffenegger's called "The Night Bookmobile, which looks lovely and is about a bookmobile which is fun. I wonder if it is a preview of a book or just something she is doing for them in particular?
I have a feeling I'm the last librarian on earth to find out about this.
The Knife that Killed Me by Anthony McGowan
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz
Apache by Tanya Landman
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
I LOVED The Knife of Never Letting Go. I tried to read Apache, but lost interest. The rest I've been wanting to pick up...although not Snakehead (if I'm going to be perfectly honest).
The Guardian Article: Sharp words: Knives Out in Teenage Prize Shortlist.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Each story begins with a quote taken from the story itself. The Wrong Grave is introduced with, “Anyone might accidentally dig up the wrong grave.” Or, “The devils were full of little spiky bones. Zilla ate two,” which introduces The Constable of Abal. Or from the story Monster, “after a while, everyone had become a zombie. So they went for a swim.” Now tell me that those sentences didn’t pique your curiosity? Impossible! Of course they did.
It should be noted that the quotes are accompanied by lovely illustrations created by Shaun tan (although apparently he did not design the beautiful cover – that was Will Staele).
From a story about a boy who digs up his dead girlfriend to retrieve his poetry, to a group of summer campers on an ill-fated campout, to a old woman who carries her entire village around in her handbag (this story is actually available online), to a surfer who converses with aliens, one can never sure where Kelly Link will take them next. But once you begin, you’ll be sure to stick around for the entire ride.
I am sort of curious as to why this is being published as YA besides the fact that most of the stories feature teenagers. Several stories were previously published in publications for adults. Although I do think there are teens for whom this collection will have immeasurable appeal (think your smart quirky kids), they sort of seem like they would appeal more to adults. That is, of course, just a feeling I get. I’d be very interested to hear who people think would appreciate these stories the most.
This title will be published in October.
Read her collection Stranger Things Happen online!
Monday, August 25, 2008
Obviously, Danny has issues. He has convinced himself that if he writes long letters to his dad telling him how awesome his life is going (regardless of the fact it isn’t true) his dad will come back. Danny feels as though it was because he was too white, too boring, just not good enough that his dad left. He blames his mother while worshiping the father that left. The thing about Danny is that he doesn’t act out. Besides some self inflicted wounds, he holds the pain inside, he is quiet, the eternal observer, and so no one really notices that his spirit is sort of dying. The only time he comes alive is when he is playing baseball. Danny is good. Extremely good.
His inability to feel completely comfortable in either culture is completely believable. Danny doesn’t know Spanish, is practically the only brown kid at his school, can tell what people think of him when they see him. Too brown for the whites, too white for everyone else. He feels shame that he attends a private school and gets good grades, he longs to be tougher, more street smart like his cousins and can’t help but wonder if the fact that he isn’t tough is yet another reason his father left.
Then the opportunity to spend the summer with the Mexican side of his family appears. I really loved the people that Danny met. His extended family (especially his girl cousin closest in age), her friends, and especially Uno the thug who turns out to be so much more than that. It is Uno that really pushes Danny to become more than he is. More outspoken, more confident, and more willing to take risks. Together they hustle the neighborhood with Danny’s baseball skills. In return, Danny shows them by example that they could do more with their life than hanging around the neighborhood playing out the same tired out negative roles. De La Pena does this with subtlety and so the message never feels heavy handed.
There are some weaknesses to the book. Danny’s phone conversations with his mother lacked believability. Although there were reasons for her monologues and supposed lack of interest in Danny that were explained later in the book, it still seemed forced and not up to the level of dialog in the rest of the novel. And the fact that she called him “Danny boy.” Perhaps he was Irish on that side, but still the nickname was totally jarring, although I suppose teens not familiar with the popular Irish song probably wouldn’t be bothered at all. Uno’s reformed gangsta father also felt a bit off. He is a man who tends to monolog all day spreading his “wisdom” to his son. Uno thinks his dad is giving him “mad wisdom” if he could just understand him, but truthfully, I don’t think anyone could understand what his dad was saying –whether or not it was intentional I’m not sure.
The book ends with family secrets being revealed alongside an extremely disturbing violent encounter that has Danny reevaluating his thoughts about what exactly he wants his life and future to look like.
A fast read that will appeal to your reluctant readers.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Not that she knows she is of course...at least not at first. How could she? Although her mother has a mental illness and is homeless, Lucy found a loving home with foster parents who raised her as if she was their own. Unfortunately, she is actually, literally cursed by an evil fairy who fell in love and was spurned by her ancestor. Now all the Scarborough women are doomed to give birth when they are 18 and then immediately go insane. Lucy is at the end of her 17th year and everything is about to change.
As with all curses, there is a way to break this one. The tasks are set out in the song Scarborough Fair. I thought this was very clever. Before Lucy gives birth she has to make a seamless shirt, find an acre of land between the sea strand and land, and sow the land with one single grain of corn. Impossible, no?
With such a great setup, I found myself disappointed that more wasn't done with the evil fairy. He felt sort of flat to me. He waltzes into scenes and oozes his magical charm and then disappears for chapters. I didn't find him menacing enough, I wanted him to create more conflict, mess up plans, interfere more, cause sexual tension between him and Lucy (as in sure he's evil, but I sort of want to walk in the moonlight with him anyway even though he's effed up my entire family tree's lives). I guess even though we're told he is unbelievably sexy I found him too cartoonily evil and not suave enough.
Despite this, I think this one is going to be a huge hit with the supernatural romance crowd. It has some rather gritty ugly scenes that make it for more mature teen readers, but the ending is pretty typical fairytale.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Shift alternates between present day and the bike trip. It is an extremely effective way to tell this story. It builds suspense, it gives us greater insight into both of the boy’s psyches, it builds the story inch by inch, and it allows us to fully experience the before and after.
As Chris retells the story of his road trip he has the advantage of time passing so that he can fully reflect on the experience, words spoken, glances given and tie events together to expose hidden motives in a way that slowly builds the reader’s understanding of what really went on.
As mysteries go it is a fairly quiet one. It is not a violently charged story. It is more about how pressures in our life can lead us down certain paths. It is about decisions, responsibility, and friendship. It is a story that will inspire its readers to take risks and go on an epic journey of their own.