Monday, March 31, 2008
Jenna has just woken up from a coma. She was in an accident and initially can't remember anything at all about her life. The problem is when she starts to remember, her memories are things that she has no business remembering...like her baptism and entire books verbatim. What exactly happened to her after her accident? She knows that her parents are keeping secrets from her and she's got questions. Questions that no one wants to answer.
This book is set in the not too distant future where people have backed themselves into a corner by meddling with the DNA of foods and people. Antibiotics are no longer effective and so virus plagues periodically devastate the population. There is a regulatory board that states no person may get more than 49% of their body altered. Meaning you can get organ transplants, get a new virtually real prosthetic hand, get neural chips - but 51% of you must actually be you.
Jenna knows that she is not the same Jenna from before the accident. But how much of her is actually different? What did her parents do to save her? How far is too far to save someone you love?
Blew. Me. Away. This book was sooooo good. It deals with morality and science in a way that is completely fresh and engaging. It deals with what makes a person who they are, what makes a person human (and there are some great contrasts with people who are more machine than people versus people who are completely human but are sociopaths - who is actually more human?). Post accident Jenna is not the same, but her fight to regain her life is completely spellbinding. The book is filled with great secondary characters too. Her grandmother Lily, the mysterious neighbor who makes art from nature, and Ethan a swoon worthy boy who has a past almost as checkered as Jenna's.
There is only one thing that bothered me. Jenna and her family move to California to sort of hide out, so why did they let Jenna enroll at school using her real name? Not so swift.
I'm positive this will be in my top 10 of 2008. I haven't read a book this good since King Dork in 2006.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Cap's arrival immediately marks him the biggest dork on campus resulting in spit balls, teasing, and other torments like being given directions to non-existent rooms. Because of his pacifist upbringing, he takes it all in stride never striking out or blowing up. Much of this is due to his naivete regarding the "world out there", but the rest is his personal Beatles-inspired philosophy that "all you need is love".
Cap is a great character. I appreciated how Korman (who tells the story through the different voices of the main characters) kept Cap true to himself while the other supporting characters changed, not only in their views of Cap, but in the way that they treat others and live their lives in general. Right on, dude. I did have trouble with the whole commune/nonviolence = 60's hippies and that Cap was seen as something from the past. It marked that sort of philosophy as sqarely hippie-dippy when it could have had a more contemporary alternative lifestyle background. Also, what Rain does at the end completely came out of the blue for me. That didn't sit well, either.
All-in-all it's a super fun book aimed at middle grade readers. Korman nails his well-earned status as a go-to humor guy and the appeal for this book should reach both boys and girls.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The seven children are actually a mix of older kids and teenagers. They are all geniuses, they all have specialties, they have all been recruited by the military. Until this fateful day, none of them have ever been down to level ten - the bunker which has the highest security. But something has gone terribly wrong. Terribly, terribly, awfully wrong.
There were a couple of absolutely fantastic plot twists. The first plot twist just blindsided me. It came at about 100 pages into the book and just blew me away. It was genius. The second plot twist, not quite so amazing, but very good nonetheless. And no, I'm not going to spoil it for you, but trust me you won't see them coming either.
The writing was not terribly strong. The characters were flat and I had a hard time differentiating between them. They had no development whatsoever and were just basically mechanisms to move the plot ahead. It was like he had a great plot, but then didn't take the time to flesh out the other aspects of the story.
There is a character named "Diddy Dave" that seemed to be some bizarre imitation of Ali G. I kept going seriously? Is this a joke? Alas, it wasn't (or i never caught onto it) and I kept expecting Diddy Dave to bust out with Booyakasha or whatever it is that Ali G always says while snapping his fingers together. So yah, Ali G if Ali G was a "genius" but still spoke like a total tool that would be Diddy Dave.
Not the best action adventure/science fictiony book I've ever read, but the plot twists made me want to read until the end. It would likely appeal to reluctant readers.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I heard about this GN a few months back and have really enjoyed the other Minx comics I have read, so when I saw Re-Gifters at the Central library on my last weekend shift, I snatched it up. I just love the cover-it really connects to the story and I like how Dixie is attached like a gift tag!
Dik Seuong Jen, Dixie to her friends, is a Korean American teenager who practices hapkido as a way to connect to her culture and just because it is fun. When her crush for a fellow student begins to throw off her game, she might not make it into the national tournament, which is being hosted in her South Central L. A. neighborhood this year. Especially after she spends her entry fee on a not-so-well-received gift for her crush, Adam. Through the many plot twists, Dixie discovers who her friends really are and that love can come in unexpected packages!
Heads up to all you librarians! The street competition for the tournament happens in a library. How cool is that!
Anyway, it's a great story that manages to be very multicultural without cramming it down your throat or being too sappy. Dixie is likable, but not flawless and the side characters are just as interesting as the main ones. Next Minx title on my to read list: Good as Lily.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Their lives are pretty much idyllic. They are very content until a series of events begin to chip away at their happiness. First their father falls ill and must go away for treatment. Then their cousin Cezar begins to take over their business and remove freedoms and privileges that the girls are used to enjoying. And finally a mysterious dark haired stranger has stolen one sister's heart and she is no longer at all the same.
This is a mixture of several different fairy tales rolled into one retelling. The first seems to be an adaption of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (although in this tale there are only five sisters and no princes lose their heads). The second is the Frog Prince. One of the elder sisters has a pet frog whom she found in the woods. Not an ordinary frog, but one that can communicate telepathically to her (only her...).
I really wanted to be swept away by this book. Heck the cover had me half swept away already. Unfortunately, I guess, it wasn't meant to be. I found the book to be overlong and the dialog more than a bit clunky. I was able to figure out all the major plot points far before the characters did (such as the significance of the meeting the old crone in the woods as children, who the frog was, how it was going to end...etc.). And that made for some long drawn out reading.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I dare you not to be charmed by this graphic novel. Originally published as an online comic, Hyperion Books for Children acquired Jellaby for a 2 volume set for ages 10 and up. Produced primarily with dreamy shades of purple and black, a little deep pink peeks in on Jellaby & Portia, and Jason’s shirt receives some gold and green treatment. But that is it for color.
Portia and Jason are both 10, though the story is primarily Portia’s. Jellaby is the purple (lovable) monster that Portia discovers in her back yard one night after having a very unusual dream. Jason is in Portia’s class at school and both garner the esteemed status as outsiders. Portia has never made friends at the new school (and seeing that her book report is on “Reason and Emotion: Classical and Romantic Philosophies in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia” it is any wonder), but Jason is the subject of bullying. (Jason who loves carrots –like the author- and wants to change Jellaby’s name to Fangzilla.) Together the kids try to help Jellaby find his way back home, wherever that may be. Add to this the mysterious circumstances of Portia’s father’s disappearance and the mysteries increase. I can’t wait for volume 2.
Archive of Jellaby to read online
Article from Newsarama on Kean Soo
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
This is an all ages, manga-styled comic. It will appeal to mid-elementary aged kids who don’t mind a saccharine-sweet story mixed in with some fantasy and martial arts. I was really confused at first when Hana went to church and a pastor seemed to be an important character. Turns out, this GN is produced by a Christian company. So far the religion is very low-key and could even pass over the heads of kids. The theme in volume 1 is making good choices and being a good friend. Amen to that.
*Honestly, these days I cannot think of karate w/o thinking of SpongeBob and Sandy.
Monday, March 17, 2008
My reading funk is subsiding. Part of it is the sheer necessity of having to catch up on reading for TLA, and the other part is re-reading books I love to remind me that I do like to read. So kind of out of the blue, I’m going to write about an author I love, who is *gasp!* not a YA author.
Years ago my girlfriend Sara gave me a copy of Pink Slip after the author gave a reading at the Borders store she managed. Sara is also an Italian Goddess-in-Waiting so it was a great book for her to share with me. The story is set in the 80’s, which automatically equals funny in my book. Lisa, our 25 year old heroine, quits her publishing job in NYC and moves to a picturesque suburban town where she is rather out of her element as a loud mouth, bullshit detecting, city girl. Not to mention one of the few people around who has a non-waspy name. (And one of the several points where I go, “Uh huh. Tell me about it.”) Lisa plans to use her job as an editor at a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company as fodder for her Great American Novel on Corporate America. Falling for her boss - not part of the plan. I love this book. LOVE THIS BOOK. There’s a sequel, which I’m rereading now as well. I don’t find it as sharp as Pink Slip, but it is completely satisfying in that “what happens next” kind of way.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
The first thing I’m going to write is that I thought this was a very satisfying read. I am a huge Anne fan and I approached this prequel with natural reluctance and a bit of dread. As I read this story I thought quite a bit about why Anne means so much to me. I think part of it has to do with what I was reading when my mom plopped this book into my hands. She had already exposed me to Judy Blume and Cynthia Voight and I tore through all that those two had to offer at the time. (I’m about 8th grade here.) Anne was so different. It was, dare I say, historical. And romantic! I fell for the horse and carriages, handmade dresses, unusual language, and orphans. Add to it that Canada was completely mysterious to me. I loved how Anne is so smart and yet clueless about her heart or personal feelings. (Seriously, the formula for all of my favorite YA novels.) She’s independent and outspoken and unstoppable. And hilarious! I still admire her. I admit she became somewhat boring and irritating in her later years, but those first 3 books just rock.
[before I go on... Thanks to 7-Imp for posting a link to this great podcast of the release party for the book. It's about 20 minutes long and there is a brief interview with Budge. No spoilers! Go listen!]
In related Anne prequel madness, Sullivan Films is producing their own prequel. This one ain't endorsed by LM Montgomery's estate. Can you blame them after this fiasco? Oh yes, I'll still watch it. Anne at 60 reflecting on her life? What's that? She is a "pawn in a legal battle"? Oh honey, sign me up. I need more opportunities to shout at my TV and shake my fist in the air. I don't care if it does have Shirley MacLaine. Michelle & Kerry & Deban, we're having an anti-party for this.
possible spoilers from this point on
Back to the book. We meet Anne’s adorable parents, Walter and Bertha Shirley. They are everything you know they were going to be: smart, young, poor, hopelessly in love, and utterly overjoyed with their baby girl. Walter teaches high school geometry, which he loves loves loves. Of course you remember that Anne despised geometry. Bertha taught high school English and literature until she married Walter. Childbirth does not go well for her and so Joanna Thomas is hired to help out around the house. Mrs. Thomas is amazed (and jealous) at the loving home that Walter and Bertha have. Here are a husband and a wife who love and respect each other. This is not something known to Mrs. Thomas.
When Bertha dies of fever (influenza?), and then shortly thereafter Walter, Mrs. Thomas is the one who takes Anne, in part to have a piece of her beloved Bertha Shirley, but mostly to have their furniture and clothes for her own home and family. The Thomases have 3 daughters and the eldest is Eliza. Eliza loves Anne immediately and becomes her primary caretaker. It is Eliza who forms Anne’s character to appreciate stories, words, and beauty in the world. It is from Eliza that Anne learns to love and be loved. They only have 5 years together before Eliza leaves. Though Anne is bitter and heartbroken, Eliza’s influence has set Anne’s life in motion.
Anne is 5 and by this time Mrs. Thomas has had 4 boys. The older girls are all out of the house and it’s Anne’s job is to take care of the boys as well as dozens of other chores around the house. Mr. Thomas, as we are well aware, is a drunk. But here’s where the surprises came for me. We learn a great deal about Joanna and Bert Thomas. We learn who they were prior to marriage and how their lives have become what they are. Sure, bad choices were made, but they lead extremely difficult and poor lives. Mr. Thomas physically abuses Mrs. Thomas as well as the eldest boy (who is 1 year younger than Anne). While Anne is emotionally and verbally abused, she is never assaulted. Mr. Thomas made a solemn promise to Eliza when she left that he would look out for Anne, and he does actually kind of do this. He’s not perfect, but he tries. He’s also the first person to talk to Anne about her imagination and dreaming. I really found this fascinating. These are multifaceted characters. You could easily hate Mr. Thomas, and Anne certainly does not love him or his wife, but it’s not all black and white. This is a repeated theme.
After Mr. Thomas dies we know that Anne is given to Mrs. Hammond… who has 3 sets of twins… plus two older girls… for a grand total of 8 kids under the age of 4. Anne is 9 at this point, well versed in childrearing and the generally sucky unfairness of life, and has no romantic notions about how this could possibly be better than the Thomas household. Anne managed to go to school a little bit with the Thomases. A man from the school board (politely) forced Mrs. Thomas to send Anne to school, as it is law in Nova Scotia. Anne is keenly aware of this fact and throws it in Mrs. Hammond’s face when she tells Anne she cannot go to school because she is needed at home. Mrs. Hammond is not cruel like Mrs. Thomas. She’s a girl from Maine who married a lumberman and found herself, at 24, with 8 kids in Canada in the middle of a forest. My sanity would be a distant friend, too. Life with the Thomas brood was rather horrible, but it is Mrs. Hammond’s story that packs the most heart-wrenching punch.
The adults in Anne’s life are not just the Thomases and the Hammonds. There are 3 rather lovely teachers with whom Anne has brief contact but who flame her desire to learn. There is Katie Maurice. There are a few neighbors who genuinely love and help Anne. She is, after all, a peculiar and unusual child. Mr. Johnson is perhaps the most romantic and interesting of these characters. He knows Anne when she is with the Thomases and takes it upon himself to teach her 5 new words each time they see each other. It is he who first uses the phrase “depths of despair”.
After the Hammonds Anne finally goes to the orphan asylum. By this time, Anne’s spirit is nearly broken. What more can she handle? Thankfully, because she’s a bit of a workhorse (by force as a very young child and then habit by this time) she is selected to be the “11-12 year old hardworking girl” for a farmer brother and sister on Prince Edward Island. This announcement revives our Anne and in the final chapter she embarks on her journey from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island to the bench at the Bright River station waiting for Matthew and her new life.
This book is not marketed for youth. I really see no problem with a 12 year old reading this, but much younger fans of Anne may miss some of what Budge Wilson was trying to convey. Before Green Gables is very much the story of the adults in Anne’s life, and how their lives shaped Anne’s. Adult stories and issues may just breeze over the heads of those much younger than 12.
Kudos to Budge Wilson. It isn’t an easy task to write a prequel to such a beloved book and have it turn out this remarkably well. If you haven’t read Anne of Green Gables, don’t start here. This book is really for those who already know Anne. Shall I say, for Kindred Spirits.
[a note: I’m sure I missed several things, but one part of the story I did not discover is that period of time where Walter is away from Bertha shortly after Anne’s birth. In Anne of the Island, Anne goes to the little yellow house in Bolingbroke and is given a packet of letters from the woman living there. There was no mention, to my knowledge in the ARC that I read, of Walter leaving in the prequel.]
So what is the storyline? Well, basically it follows the four friends and their friendship through a year of high school. There are warning signs right from the beginning of the year that things have changed and their friendships may not be as strong and iron clad as they thought they were. This inevitably leads to more and more hurt feelings, secrets, and eventually to fights that stem from misunderstandings, squabbles about popularity, pressures to have sex, decisions about who to date (should you secretly date a hot guy with a girlfriend? Is it worth it to date a boy who isn't popular...even if you really like him?) and so on. It deals with a wide range of everyday high school experiences with all of the melodrama but without feeling bogged down with too much angsty seriousness.
The comic is in black and white and I really liked the illustrator. The characters were clearly differentiated (unlike in Manga when half the time i can't figure out who is who). It was really cute and to my mind will appeal mostly to girls who are in upper elementary and middle school even though it features characters who are in high school.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Molly is a bit of a pill. She is rude and mean and generally unapproachable. Cassie is enthusiastic, sweet, and tries very hard to get Molly to be friendly with her. But even Cassie has her limits. It’s when Cassie begins to push back and exact her revenge on Molly for her poor treatment that the book really starts to get going. Her sweet, innocent demeanor makes her strategy for payback all the more enjoyable.
Plainly put, this book was just a super enjoyable light read. I found the secondary characters all much more likeable than Molly, our narrator. There is Edmund, the kitchen help that may or may not be out to get them,
There were some twists and turns in the plot that I didn’t expect, very nice character development (especially with Molly – who does give up and repent her horrible meanness), and a very satisfying conclusion. Not to mention a heck of an attractive cover. Good stuff all around.
There is a not so subtle comparison between Elisa and Cyranno de Bergerac, the play that Elisa’s class is studying in her English class. It is perhaps a bit too obvious, but it does work for the story and gives further insight into Elisa’s plight than would have been otherwise possible - not only for the reader, but for Elisa as well. As Elisa becomes more aware of herself and her own needs she is also able to reevaluate how she sees other people. Her mother and sister from whom she’s always felt estranged become more familiar and less distant. Her beloved father who is often absent on business is also able to reconnect with the family.
This book is pure poetry. Not actual poetry, although there is a lot of poetry included in the pages. More like prose that reads like poetry. It is lyrical and beautiful writing. A quiet novel that doesn’t strike me as something that will have extremely wide appeal, but that will have a deep and striking impact on those that pick it up. Elisa’s character develops gently from a girl who is quite reserved to someone who is willing to be noticed and knows that she deserves to be as well.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
As you can probably guess, James is depressed. He is an extremely intelligent young man who has never been able to make connections with people. Because of this he tries to convince himself that he just doesn't really like them and prefers to be alone. James uses language as a way to push people away. This works very well since the author's writing is spectacular. He has a way with words that makes James' voice extremely vivid and readable.
Even so, I found James to be an extremely unlikeable character. I almost wondered if James wasn't just depressed but also suffering from a personality disorder, or had a touch of the autism. Anything, really, that would explain his supreme inability to understand social situations. There is one situation in particular that made me think there was something fundamentally wrong with him (I don't want to spoil it, but it has to do with him creating a fake profile on a dating site and not ever really getting why the other person - or his mom - was so upset about it). To me his problems just seemed to go beyond depression and I found that I did not feel terribly sympathetic to his plight. I found him to be rather humorless, maybe a bit superior, and I wonder if that isn't the real reason I disliked him. Feeling sorry for yourself only goes so far and I find it a tiring thing I'd rather avoid, both in the books i read and the people I know. I'm a bit sad that I didn't end up liking James. The writing was terrific, but it isn't a book that I can say I truly enjoyed simply because I never rooted for James to emerge a better person. I wanted to shake him and tell him to get his head out of his ass. But mostly I wanted him to go away so I never had to think about him again.