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.
Of course, she can’t tell her mother any of this. Not that she’s been having second thoughts about the life they live. Not that she’s accidentally become friends with the girl whose house they’re planning on robbing. Not that she’s met a cute guy and told him her real name. And certainly not that she’s gone on a date with said guy…who turns out to be a cop. Life, without a doubt, has gotten more complicated.
Stealing Heaven is a coming of age story with a twist and is a quick, fun, engrossing read. Teens will love reading about her thieving escapades, the nonchalant way she mentions how they go about robbing houses. However, they will quickly realize that even if you get away with the crime, this life is not as glamorous as one might think. Sure Dani can buy the coolest, most expensive clothes available - but she’s never even had a friend. In fact, she rarely talks to anyone beside her mother. It is a lonely existence where Dani’s true wants and needs are never met.
Sometimes Dani’s internal struggle about her decisions is a bit overwrought. Occasionally you may want to hit her over the head with a frying pan because she makes what is obviously the wrong decision yet again. And you’ll be forgiven if you happen to wonder what Greg, the cop, sees in her since she is always so rude. However, I truly believe that it's because I am an adult that I felt this way. In fact, I’m not sure teens would even notice. All in all Dani is a very likable character and this is a well written story that has very wide appeal.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
In preparation for this review, I went back to my review of Eclipse from 2007. My same frustrations from Eclipse are all found in Breaking Dawn. I had hoped for a really rock star ending to this series, but it's really more of the same. Then I remembered what my friend Jeanna said 3 years ago: it's a romance novel. (Gail Gauthier also emphasizes this.) Still, I was disappointed in missed opportunities for blood shed and action.
By the way, spoilers abound.
I had hoped that the brouhaha over this book would be to my advantage. (If they hated it, maybe I'll like it!) After finishing the book I wasn't sure why the ardent fans were turning against it. It seemed like standard Meyer material to me. I don't take issue with Bella and Edward married and having a kid. Nor do my feathers ruffle over a perceived anti-abortion message. This was one part of the book that totally and took me by surprise and I liked it. I thought the unknown "creature" growing in Bella provided great tension and that's something that has been lacking in these books. Maybe because my own belly beast thumps and somersaults to no end that I found this part of the book to be so interesting. Overly lengthy and repetitive? Of course. It's Meyer's book after all.
Like the previous, Breaking Dawn drowns in mind-numbing, repetitive dialog. I suffered through page after page of same old same old. Here's a snippet, slightly edited for length:
He didn't move.
Nothing. So, this would be a monologue, then.
"I'm not sorry, Edward. I'm... I can't even tell you. I'm so happy. That doesn't cover it. Don't be angry. Don't. I'm really f---"
"Do not say the word fine." [...]
"But I am," I whispered.
"Bella," he almost moaned. "Don't."
"No. You don't, Edward."
This could have come from any of the previous books. This scene is post-coital, BTW. ::shivers::
Jacob and Bella's "you're my best friend"/"I don't know why I do this to you/myself" also returns. These passages weigh the book down. It is absolutely unnecessary that this book is as long as it is. So much time is spent rehashing old events. What a waste. BTW, they're shape-shifters, not werewolves.
The biggest letdown is The Big Ending That I Believed Was Surely Coming. No luck. It ends happily for Bella and Edward and that's super. It's just the most anti-climatic climax ever.
The Volturi finally make an appearance on page 697 (of 754). Prior to that there is the preparation for their arrival which means various friends and acquaintances of the Cullens arrive to act as witnesses to the fact that Renesmee (Run-nez-may) is not a pure immortal child but half-human and therefore not the threat assumed. This gang of misfits marked another high point of the novel for me. Don't ask me names or anything because I have a hard time keeping them straight, but they were a nice addition to the story around the 570 page mark. Also, Alice and Jasper unexpectedly abandon everyone, but not before Alice leaves some clues for Bella to decipher so that Renesmee may survive. (Recall that Alice can see some of the future.) I found this little mystery super fun and a refreshing change of the storyline. Bella handles this part of the story all by herself. No way! Way.
More or less, this is how the non-climax goes down. The Volturi come with their brute force and witnesses to the baseball field clearing. Jacob stands with Bella, Edward, and Renesmee while the rest of the wolves surround the forest. The Cullens and friends face off against the Volturi Posse. Greetings exchanged. Accusations made. Explainations offered. Some vamp powers extended in a kind of bully tug-o-war pissing match. One vamp is killed! More discussion among the vamps in each group. Questions asked again. Waiting. Talking. And a final chit chat before ALL. IS. A-OK. No need for an all-out vamp-tastic battle! Stop hissing now! Just a simple misunderstanding. How civilized.
How dull. How easy.
I'm glad the series is over. It was quite a ride with some good times and some mind-numbingly lame times. Meyer certainly rocked the YA lit world and produced books that teens wanted badly. I look forward to discussing Breaking Dawn with the girls at the teen book club next week as I'm sure it will be the topic of discussion. I haven't had the opportunity to talk to teens about the story yet and I am very curious to hear what they have to say. (Although I do hope someone read Skin Hunger.)
P.S. Stephenie. Thanking just the booksellers for making your series a hit? Boo!
Must read review: Bookshelves of Doom (Schlitz was a good idea.)
Elsewhere: Twilight Moms
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Perhaps not so lucky is that Ivy wanders away her first day of class and meets Carroty Kate. A member of a not so awful band of thieves who lure children into alleys so that they can steal all their clothes.
If this sounds a bit dark and dire, it isn’t. Hearn plays everything for laughs. The setting of Victorian England is a perfect backdrop for this story where everyone is scheming, intrigues abound, and our poor Ivy is beset by everyone trading her around for a few shillings.
Interestingly enough, I was a bit disappointed by the missed opportunities for even more humor. Ivy is employed by an artist that we can only assume is not very talented. In fact, one assumes he is a grossly untalented hack with an inflated idea of his skills because his rather deranged mother pumps up his ego. At one point in the book Ivy asks to see his finished piece and he practically jumps out of his skin to keep her from seeing it. I would have loved to have seen Ivy’s reaction to the (presumed) monstrosity of a painting that she had suffered hungry pythons, cold rivers, and a variety of more potentially deadly adversaries to pose for (like the artist’s mom – hoo boy! She was fantastically terrible. One of my favorite characters).
This is a fabulous historical fiction that will have the reader laughing out loud.
Friday, August 8, 2008
When a kid asks for a title specifically I do my best to locate that title. I don't feel its up to me to judge whether or not they should be reading it. I might think they aren't old enough, but I certainly wouldn't say anything. If luck has it and it isn't available (and usually even if it is) I suggest titles that I think would suit them better. As in, "and while you're at it why don't you try these titles too? I think you'll like them."
My best example is a voracious 11 year old reader that was one of my most regular patrons a few years back. She ran up to me one day and told me she had just read Candy by Kevin Brooks and had absolutely LOVED it. Never would I have thought to recommend that title to her, but after that (and with her father's permission) I started recommending all sorts of titles. After all, why not? I certainly read up at her age.
Essentially, what my reference interviews boil down to is I ask what books they have enjoyed in the past and try to recommend titles based on that. After all, the whole point is to encourage kids to read, not to stifle their interest. Nothing says, "don't bother ever coming to ask me for help again because I am not really interesting in helping you," than saying no you can't read that book because I don't think you're not old enough for it. I'm not saying don't use your judgement, but an 11 year old wanting to read Twilight? Sure bring it on.
A taxi-dancer you say? Taxi-dancers worked at clubs where men would buy 10 cent dance tickets and purchase dances with the ladies that worked there. The woman would get 5 cents for each dance plus tips if she was lucky. What the job lacked in societal respect it more than made up for in money. Because the job was not considered respectable many women lied about their profession so that they could keep the esteem of their families and friends. Taxi-dancers were not prostitutes, but they did provide an “illusion” of intimacy and love so that they could earn more money.
Ruby is poor and forced to make hard and difficult choices. She doesn’t necessarily make the right decisions, but when she makes a decision she owns it. She deals with the repercussions and grows and develops as a character in ways that are completely believable. Christine Fletcher has done what is so difficult to do in a historical fiction – create a character that could actually have existed in the time period she is writing about (thankfully Ruby does not suffer from overly spunky convention breaking syndrome).
Fletcher is also able to describe the casual racism that was common during that time period. Taxi-dance halls were one of the only places Asian men could mix freely with white women. They could buy tickets just like the white men, although that didn’t guarantee them a dance, many taxi-dancers would simply pretend not to see them. There were also after hour clubs called Black and Tans where African American, whites, and Asians would gather to enjoy jazz, swing and other types of music. Ruby stars off rather horrified at the casual mixing of races and then slowly opens her mind as she gets to know people of other ethnic backgrounds. I thought that the race issue was handled very deftly and helped to show what the prevailing thoughts of the time period were.
Readers will be drawn into Ruby’s story from the first page. They will see Ruby develop from a naïve and innocent school girl into a savvy streetwise woman. The taxi-dance clubs, as well as the women who worked there make for a compulsively readable book about an era that readers likely won't know anything about. I can’t recommend it enough.
Just as an added note – Christine Fletcher has a fascinating author note where she explains how a great-aunt’s life inspired the story. Absolutely amazing. And she also has a great wealth of information about taxi-dancers on her website.
Yayaya’s (Who have also compiled a slew of links.)
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Ben’s voice won me over right from the opening sentence. He’s brash, outspoken, angry, but deep down a profoundly decent human being. It all started 3 years previous when his dad came home, announced he was gay and pretty much told everyone to deal with it. A difficult thing for Ben to understand, made more difficult by his mother packing her bag and abandoning him, and made still more difficult by the homophobes at school who kick his ass for having a gay dad.
After a few rough years, Ben’s dad and boyfriend decide to move the family to small town Montana for a fresh start. A decision that Ben is sure will equal disaster (he fears that small towns equal small minds). Of course Rough Butte is not what he expected. Sure there are plenty of rednecks, but there is also community and a surprising amount of acceptance. Add in a few subplots that allow character growth and introspection and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect.
What makes this book a step above others is that there isn’t any easy resolution to the anger and tension between Ben and his father. Ben feels that he was a mistake – born to a father that shouldn’t have had children, his dad feels as though Ben hates him because he is gay, and they don’t have the skills to communicate. Their relationship is believably strained with two flawed people who are neither right nor wrong in their positions. Very much like real life, emotions mess up any chance for a logical appraisal of the situation and they find it difficult to get past, well, the past.
This is a really solid piece of writing. Teens will enjoy Ben’s voice, they’ll enjoy that he’s smart, tough, but not infallible. I’m always happy when I read something that will appeal to boys and isn’t science fiction or comic books.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
Sonia is the American born daughter of Illegal immigrants. Her parents came to El Norte for opportunity – they just couldn’t make enough money to have a good life in Mexico and so have been living in the states for almost 20 years. Her beloved father works 3 jobs to take care of the family and so is hardly around. Unfortunately the rest of her family is not so dependable or respectable. Her older brother dropped out of school and his machismo is getting out of hand, her younger brothers sit around eating candy and playing video games, her pregnant mother won’t stop laying around watching telenovelas, and her drunkle (her drunk uncle) is a violent predator that has invaded their home permanently.
Sonia desperately wants to graduate high school. That would make her the first person in her family to graduate. However, Sonia is expected to put family first before anything else. That wouldn’t be anything to get upset about except that her family expects her to do absolutely everything. Cook, clean, run to the store, etc., etc., etc., while they all sit on their tushes like royalty. When she finally decides that her school work needs to come first, her mother ships her off to visit her Grandmother in Mexico eight days before the semester ends. Not an event that helps her scholastically.
Sitomer has written a story about stereotypes and how people reinforce and just as often break them. In fact, discussion of stereotypes permeates the entire story. Rasicm also factors into the story. Sonia bemoans the fact that her Mexican family holds such derogatory opinions of both Blacks and Central Americans. Unfortunately Sonia’s negative views of whites are placed into the text and are never examined. Does it seem natural that Sonia would hold these views and have deep rooted anger towards whites? Yes, absolutely. Does it seem somewhat irresponsible that Sitomer wouldn’t try to deal with them in some way? It sure did to me.
This is by no means a perfect novel. It tends to have spots where the plot slows down to a standstill as Sonia expounds on her never ending duties. It sometimes feels as though the author is using this book as a political platform. And Sonia’s love interest waxes a little too poetic for my taste. But there are also strengths. Sonia's dad, her grandmother, her cousin in Mexico. All highlights of the novel.
This is a book that is going to appeal to many Hispanic females. I believe Sonia’s problems are going to be completely relatable and that girls will enjoy reading a story about a girl who faces much of what they do everyday. I’ll definitely be recommending it to my teens despite its flaws.
This book will be published in late September.
Unfortunately, besides telling us that she’s a private person and a firecracker, there isn’t much else that Shields seems to be able to tell us about her personal life. There is absolutely no mention at all of a romantic life. Harper is, apparently, completely asexual. No girlfriends, no boyfriends, not a date to be seen in her entire life, no romance, no sordid affairs, not even any tasteful ones, absolutely nada. Surely that can’t be true?
There were interesting parts. I did enjoy learning much of To Kill a Mockingbird was clearly autobiographical. It was insightful to discover that characters in the story were based on herself, her father, Truman Capote, and various neighbors. I enjoyed learning about her and Capote’s friendship – but even that seemed sanitized. Capote is a fascinating person, and though I realize this wasn’t the place to explore him fully, it seemed as though the author cleaned him up. Left out the messy bits that he didn’t think were appropriate for younger readers.
Truthfully, I felt as though I Am Scout read a bit like someone’s college paper. All the foot notes, references, quotes to back up points that are perhaps (ok totally) superfluous as they’ve been already backed up several times before (honestly how many quotes do we need to understand that Harper was a tomboy?). There is no speculation either. Shields doesn’t seem to be willing to editorialize at all. Which is probably a good thing, but I still want more than he gave me.
If you’re looking to find out more about Harper Lee you won’t find out much personal information here. I’m sure much of the problem lies with just how private a person Harper is and has always been. Regrettably, this does make the book less dynamic - it’s just not as much of a page turner without any juicy tidbits thrown in. However, if you’re looking to learn about how To Kill a Mockingbird came to fruition this might be a book that you should pick up.
Jenn reviewed this earlier and seemed to like it more than me as well.