Saturday, May 31, 2008
Susan Juby's writing is understated and I think the book ends up all the funnier for it. She slips in these incredibly observant and witty comments that you start taking for granted. It is written in alternating perspectives. Alex (who is in third person) and Cleo (who is in first). It is interesting to see how the characters view each other, situations, and how they react. Alex is incredibly earnest, hardworking, and quiet. Cleo is a spoiled rich girl, somewhat delusional, and is outspoken.
The secondary characters are superb. Alex's younger twin sisters are into martial arts and have a running commentary where they imagine scenarios where they must come to the rescue. His aunt is a beautician who fails spectacularly at her cooking attempts. His dad is a drunk who lives in an RV in the front driveway and has a girlfriend who in a desperate attempt to hide her increasing baldness has died her hair bright orangey red.
Alex is a another kind of cowboy for two reasons. The first is because he prefers dressage, the second because he is gay. Its something he's always known - or at least suspected - because he's always felt different. The way in which his sexuality fits into the plot is deftly handled. Alex has sort of retreated into himself in an attempt to deal with a myriad of things, not least being gay. Instead of a big reveal where everything is resolved the author lets him grow and expand as a character very organically. Its a wonderful thing to read.
This one almost missed me. It was published in 2007. I highly recommend it.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I cannot review this book without getting into the great mystery of John Henry. But what I will say is that as many questions are answered, or addressed, more arise. The author challenges the reader to seek his or her own answers and talks quite a bit about the process of historical research. The story still lingers on my mind. Check this one out for an interesting book club discussion. There's plenty to talk about.
Review from the NYT that has a link to an MP3 of the song "John Henry".
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Peeled, the latest from Newbery Honor winner Joan Bauer, just hit shelves three weeks ago. When I got the ARC at TLA, I couldn't wait to read it. The cover drew me in.
Hildy lives in a small town in upstate New York with an apple-based economy. Hildy fits in her ambitions to be a journalist between her duties on the family farm- baking, picking and giving tours to elementary school kids. The big festival every year is around harvest time. She is the best writer for her high school newspaper, The Core (see the theme here?). When freaky things start happening at the old Ludlow house in town, Hildy knows it's bunk, but isn't sure how to prove it.
Hildy always uses the 5 W's in her questioning (who? what? when? where? why?) and her friends (including cute science geek Zack) to get to the truth, and doesn't skip over the hard parts. She's determined and gutsy, and doesn't even back down when the articles she prints start to make some grown ups in town angry. Hildy is a strong female protagonist and this book would be great for kids interested in journalism or creative writing. There's nothing offensive or romantic in here, so this would work for even upper elementary readers.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Yes indeedy, the picture book that deals with predators and prey and teaches that although we like to think there are “good” animals and “bad” animals, there really aren’t. So that’s all fine and dandy, and truly this book is probably great – what do I know? I’ve only seen it in the catalog. What really struck me about it is the pretty little girl on the cover. Because if everybody is somebody’s lunch, then I’m left wondering whose lunch is she?
Somehow I doubt the book touches on that. If it did, it might be kind of awesome, because it would probably have zombies in it.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Every year a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 to 18 are drawn randomly to fight in the Hunger Games from each of the twelve districts. This is a televised event and unfortunately for those drawn to participate there can only be one winner. And the only way to win is to be the last person standing...as in the only person left alive. You might make alliances, you might try to avoid killing, but if you want to win you know that all twenty three other people will have to die.
This novel is set in a dystopian future earth. The author manages to pack in a lot of social commentary without it ever feeling heavy handed or didactic. There is a reason the games are called the Hunger Games, in fact more than one. This future that Suzanne Collins has created is bleak. At one point there was an uprising against the capital and it failed. The result was continual military presence, strict rules, and widespread poverty. The capital is very much interesting in squashing any sort of unrest or rebellion and so the districts are continually punished year after year by having to have their children join the draw. You can even have your name put in more than once if you'd like to earn more food for your family (reason #1), the more family members you keep alive the more entries you have. Entries that compound over time. This means that the poorer you are, the hungrier you are, and the more entries you're likely to have (reason #2). If you are so unlucky as to participate in the games you'll soon find that food is scarce and difficult to come by (reason #3). And finally, if you're lucky or unlucky enough, depending on how you look at it, to actually win the games you'll win your entire district more food alleviating everyone's hunger until the next year's games begin (reason #4). Of course you'll be a murderer and might not have all your faculties anymore...but what can you do?
This book starts with a bang and never lets up. You've got drama, action, violence, surprising kindnesses, betrayals, and more. It is the first book in what promises to be an awesomely awesome series.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Sam McKenzie lives in western New York with his grandfather, Mack, in an apartment above Mack’s woodworking shop. They share the building with two kind-hearted family friends: deli owner Onji and Indian Restaurant owner Anima. Sam, who cannot read words but has a gift for “reading wood,” is already on his way to becoming an expert woodworker. Sam is content with a life filled with delicious hot pastrami sandwiches and spicy chicken curry, but he is inexplicably afraid of the number 11. He is haunted nightly by dreams in which the number 11 appears in addresses and symbolically in castle turrets and brick chimneys. The day before his eleventh birthday, he sneaks into the attic to find his birthday presents, and instead finds a newspaper article with his photo as a toddler that reads “Sam Bell: Missing.” Unable to read the clipping himself, he seeks out the new girl at school, Caroline, who always has her face in a book and lipstick on her braces. They get paired up to create a castle for their classroom’s medieval feast, and together they begin building the castle that haunts Sam’s dreams. When Mack steps out to deliver furniture, they sneak into the attic to find more clues about who Sam really is. Caroline, whose family of artists move every few months, reminds Sam that they have to hurry. She quickly proves herself to be a good detective as well as a loyal friend. As clues pile up, time runs short, and Caroline’s mother announces they will move one last time as her father takes a teaching position at a college. Will they figure out the secrets of Sam’s origin in time? Is Mack really Sam’s grandfather? Can you only have one gift in life, or can Sam have the other gifts he longs for, like a true friend, to stay with Mack forever, and the ability to read?