Friday, March 25, 2011

Pink by Lili Wilkinson

Ava decides that she’s tired of pretending to be someone she’s not. She’s gotten herself accepted to a very academically rigorous school and she’s going to reinvent herself. She wants to wear pink (off-limits because “Pink wasn’t cool. Pink wasn’t existential.”) and maybe kiss a boy. The problem? She’s got to hide all of this from her incredibly ultra-cool girlfriend and her anti-establishment parents.

This book is really quite lovely. It is breezy and sweet, funny and light, all the while tackling some pretty heavy subjects. Ava is a teenage girl who is really searching for her place in the universe. Is she gay like she’s thought since falling for Chloe? Then why isn’t she 100% sure? And what does it mean that she really wants to try to date a boy?

I enjoyed the way this book dealt with Ava’s sexuality. I could see how she is having a difficult time figuring things out. She is has been pushed in certain directions by those she trusts most. Her parents, ultra liberal anti-establishment types who made me laugh and cringe at the same time. Her girlfriend, who at the best of times is a domineering presence who prefers to dictate what they do and see and who they hang out with (the author attempts to make her, if not likeable, then at least someone who’s motivations you can understand, but ugh. Did. Not. Like).

The real stars of this book are the kids that Ava hooks up with when she joins the stage crew for the school’s musical. They are the only people in this story who are comfortable with themselves, despite of the fact (or maybe because of it) they are looked upon as weird. They are just fun and charming.

Nothing too out of the ordinary here, you’ll know where you’re headed when you start reading, but it is very well-written and you’ll enjoy spending time with Ava and her friends.

The one thing I wondered about was why the book didn’t feel more “Australian.” All the references (besides the Year Ten business) felt very American, especially the movies and T.V. they talked about. Not necessarily a problem, it just made me wonder whether or not the book had been edited to make it more palatable to an American audience or if American culture is that pervasive in Australia.

Book Source = Committee Review Copy

Monday, March 21, 2011

My favorite quote from the Battle so far

"I’ll admit I originally assumed I was being sent two works of fiction, and eagerly awaited Sugar Changed the World, no doubt the story of an irrepressible girl named Sugar who would teach us all a lesson about tolerance or whatever."

-Adam Rex, Round 1: Match 6

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

When I read this title I knew I had to read this book. I mean how can you pass by something called Anna Dressed in Blood? How? How? You can't people. It is impossible.

Let's just cut to the chase and I'll tell you that I am crazy about this book. It is everything a horror book should be.

Cas is a talented dude, if you can call killing the dead a talent. He goes from town to town killing the ghosts who for whatever reason won't stay dead. He gets tips from here and there from a vast network of people quietly living in the know and when he gets a tip for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in blood he figures this will be the same old, same old. Only it isn't. Not at all. Anna Dressed in Blood has a reputation. If you come into her house she'll kill you. And she has, in fact, killed everyone who has entered her house for the last 50 years. Only when Cas enters, he exits the same way he came in. Alive.

We meet our lone-wolf hero, we get an introduction and learn some backstory, and then we go to a new place for a routine job which, of course, turns out to be anything but routine. What makes this book great is not because it reinvents the genre, but because it is really strongly written and manages to avoid falling into teen paranormal fiction cliches. Thankfully, no love triangle seems to be involved with our main character so we'll be spared people picking "teams" (gah!). Cas also doesn't fight against any developing talent. He has one. He knows about it. He's all about getting down to business.

I particularly loved how local lore (like Anna's story) were used. You get the teen horror flick feel woven into a larger plot of ghost-hunting, friendship, and love. We've got some great characters who promise to continue to develop, much needed humor, and the timing is fantastic. It is the first entry into what I'm thinking is going to be a kick-ass series. I can't wait to read the next installment.

This is a super fun, super gross, extremely well-written book (way to go debut author!). And it is in Thunder Bay. So you can Canuck it up a little while you read. My favorite 2011 book so far.

Book Source = Tayshas committee copy

Room by Emma Donoghue

Book six on my quest to read all the 2011 Alex Awards.

This is the one that I was least excited to read. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I kind of dreaded it. As a rule, I don’t like to read books that deal with really dark realistic human evil. They scare me and freak me out and make me want to bolt the doors and never leave the house. Give me a vampire or zombie any day over someone who would kidnap a young lady, lock her in a room, and make her his sex-slave.

Having said all that, I did enjoy this book. This was more of a survival story than an abuse story. I thought having Jack, the 5 year old son, tell the story was a smart move. It infused this story with much needed innocence and optimism. We are spared disturbing details while not being spared the fact that they obviously happened. For instance, we aren’t told what Old Nick does with Ma at night while Jack is hidden in Wardrobe, but we know that Jack often falls asleep counting bed squeaks. Still horrifying and real, but not graphic.

I really loved the relationship between Jack and his mother. The mother is an amazingly resilient woman who managed to create as much normalcy as she could for her son in a situation that was anything but normal. Their struggles once they leave Room were so heartbreaking. How does one re-enter society when they’ve been locked in a small room for almost a decade? How does one enter society when they thought the entire world consisted of only one room?

I found the reactions of the outside people to be a little odd. Some were spot on. Like Ma’s father who can’t stand to look at his grandson because he can’t get past the situation in which he was created. But others I felt strained belief. The grandmother who doesn’t get why Jack doesn’t know how to play in a playground and doesn’t seem to want to play with him to show him how. The Aunt and Uncle who will only buy Jack one thing at the store. Why did the extended family not receive therapy too? It seems to me that Ma’s doctor would have had sessions with them so they would know how to deal with Ma and Jack better.

I had a final thought while surfing through the reviews on Many reviewers were horrified that Ma still breastfed Jack for 5 years.They thought there were a gratuitous number of references to it in the novel. I was stunned by this reaction. It seemed so obviously an act of comfort. When Jack felt out of control or unbearably lonely he would nurse. Furthermore Ma is very concerned with Jack's nutrition and breast milk is so full of nutrition it made even more sense why she wouldn't have stopped. I'm irritated with those reviewers. Although, I have to say, some of them made me laugh.

It certainly wasn't a perfect book, the second half wasn't as consistent as the first, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Book Source = Library Copy

Other 2011 Alex Award Reviews:

The Radleys

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Radleys by Matt Haig

Book five on my quest to read all the 2011 Alex Awards.

I was pretty geared up to love this one. A family of abstaining vampires living a boring suburban life? What was going to happen to test that I wondered? I was ready for excitement and struggle! I was ready for the abstainers to get all ape on some regular folk. I didn't get that exactly and I certainly don't blame that on the book, it isn't its fault that I had certain expectations. But I can't really say I enjoyed this one too much. I felt like it lacked dramatic tension and that it was basically a book about suburban vampires having a really boring mid-life crisis (to bite or not to bite, that is the question). It was like what I would imagine Revolutionary Road would be like, but with vampires.

I did like how each chapter began with quotes from the Abstainer's Handbook, which was a fairly tongue-in-cheek little tome. And the writing was quite funny at times. I especially enjoyed when Rowan finds out he is a vampire:

"He doesn't want to be having this conversation. Already, this night's happenings could take him a century to absorb, but his father keeps on and on as if he's talking about a minor STD or masturbation."

I mean, way to take the sexy out of being a vampire dad!

I also enjoyed the references to To Kill a Mockingbird, I mean why name a family of otherly pale strange abstaining vampires the Radleys if you aren't refering to Boo? As you read it seems that the Boo character is Rowan, the outcast teenage son who faces graffiti splattered throughout the town about what a freak he is. He is lonely, he is pale, he is weak, he is hated. Rowan also saves two people from attack and he is sort of vindicated at the end. Which would make Nathan Radley Uncle Will, the member of the family that is definately not abstaining from blood.

I'm actually quite surprised this was an Alex Award winner. There was a lot of adult middle aged business going on that I can't see appealing to the teenage set all that much. Yes, there were also two teenaged characters that were central to the plot, but I'm not sure that balanced out the older stuff.

Book Source = Library Copy

Other 2011 Alex Award Reviews:

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had to
The House of Tomorrow
The Reapers are the Angels
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

Read the name Pete Hautman  as the author on a book and know something really good awaits. Patti listed him as one of her Top YA Picks of All Time and I can't argue. I heard about his latest, The Big Crunch, a while ago due to all the great buzz and early reviews and was very interested. A steamy romance by Pete Hautman? Yes, please. I was reminded of the novel when Leila of Bookshelves of Doom recently reviewed it for Kirkus. I immediately checked my local library and picked it up during storytime. In honor of yesterday's Read Across America, I read The Big Crunch.*

I can't imagine a more appealing cover. The comic book panels tell a relationship story without even reading the inside cover. (Which you shouldn't do since, as was pointed out, the main character is listed there as Jen not June. What happened there, Scholastic?)

The novel's title refers to the Big Bang Theory, which June is studying in physical science.  As Pete says in his video, it's a metaphor. (LOL)
According to Mr. Reinhardt, this was called the Big Crunch, when the entire universe became and infinitesimal dot. And then the Big Bang would happen all over again. She found that reassuring - that no matter how messed up the universe got, it would eventually have another chance to get it right.

June and Wes's romance is lots of Darcy/Elizabeth looks and thoughts and longing. They talk about sex, but it's about waiting. Not the abstinence-only kind of waiting, but the right-time kind. I'm trying to remember if there was much, if any, swearing. So all in all a clean romance between two likable protagonists who don't know if they'll be together forever, but who know that what they have is love, is special, and is theirs. Concussions, black-eyes, hot chocolate, stolen cars and all. Nice job, Mr. Hautman.

The Big Crunch could rival the upcoming What Happened to Goodbye as my favorite swoon-worthy book of the year. Curious, the fathers of the girls in both books have jobs about saving companies that require the family to relocate often.

*Almost in one sitting last night. Finally pulled myself away to watch Top Chef. I'm hoping the top 3 are Carla, Antonia, and Richard. Mostly I'm Team Not Mike.