Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Certain October by Angela Johnson

A Certain October made the Mock Printz list. Angela Johnson's 1993 novel Toning the Sweep remains one of my favorite YA novels. Also, if you haven't read the picture book Lily Brown's Paintings do so immediately.  My eyes would mist when I read it for storytime. Little brother stories always get me.

I looked forward to reading this novel in part because of Angela Johnson's talent for capturing complex and emotional stories within her short novels. This one takes 158 pages and that is generous considering the undersized physical book. Pick it up and go. Read it in a night.

Scotty and her friends hang out at a place called the Endangered Species Café. The metaphor for teenagers is apt and Scotty's life changes in both beautiful and terrible ways. Angela Johnson gives us this one month view of rather ordinary teenage life: homecoming dress shopping, caring for little brother, loving parents, BFFs, late night talk, boyfriends, girlfriends, all that in between mystery, school work. Then there's that tragedy that knocks Scotty hard. Take a look at that cover because it's going to be all right.

But if I'm ever asked if there was a time in my life that made me the person I am, I will point to a certain October that stays with me like a song played over the radio a hundred times at the start of the day. You can't get it out of your head so all you can do is go through it. (p. 1-2)

Short novels may get the short end of the award discussion much like early reader books for the Newbery buzz. It certainly isn't impossible as Angela Johnson won the award for The First Part Last at a whopping 132 pages. But they can be overlooked in favor of more complex plot-driven or world-building stories. The skillful language and nuances of the story are certainly exceptional and, in my opinion, a good reflection on teenage life.  That being said, as much as I admire what this novel accomplishes, I have a difficult time holding it up to Code Name Verity or The Fault in Our Stars. I need to read a few more Mock Printz titles so my comparison list remains incomplete. (next up: Brides of Rollrock Island) ( soon as I finish Alex potential The Round House)

Three reading notes. 1) There's a character with a rollerskating Earth tattoo which made me smile thinking about. 2) Scotty's homework is on Anna Karenina which is perfect timing for the movie. 3) Mean librarian. Yeah, okay, they're out there.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November Reads, Adult

I saw Penelope on a list of the year's best novels posted at Huffington Post. (The author works for the publication but the article insisted that wasn't a factor.) It seemed like good Alex Award material so I checked it out.

I think it could find a place on the Alex list. I am just not a big fan of the novel. While there were plenty of moments where I laughed out loud or was pleasantly shocked, Penelope is a tough character to get close to and in the end that kept me from enjoying the novel wholly.

On the other hand, Where'd You Go, Bernadette? had me from the hilarious start. Told mostly in email and letters with additional help from Bernadette's (delightful) young teenage daughter, the story is a mystery about Bernadette's sudden disappearance. There's quite a bit of adult drama but I am a little curious to see if it also makes an Alex nomination.

I was reading this at my son's baseball practice and one of the mothers immediately asked if that was "The Real Molly Ringwald" and then engaged me in conversation about our favorite Molly Ringwald movie scenes. So while not a contender for the Alex, it fits well with the YA theme of my usual reading. (Sam is my favorite, btw.)

Plus, I thought it was very good! A happy bonus. The story is about the successes and failures of a married couple told through individual short stories. I enjoy discovering characters pop up in different narratives so this worked well for me.

A friend recommended balancing out my 80's teen revival with Andrew McCarthy's The Longest Way Home memoir and I just couldn't finish it. Meh. Not my thing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

November Reads, children's and YA

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage showed up on early Newbery prediction lists. I was drawn to it immediately because I love a good Southern novel and it sports a fantastic wrap-around cover by Gilbert Ford.

While I adored the characters of Mo, Dale, and the Colonel, I could not embrace the whole story. My particular thorn was when the relationship between Miss Lana and the Colonel was revealed. That whole resolution was anything but for me. Poor Mo, desperate to hear about her real parents, and yet knows nothing. This is supposed to be a contemporary novel and I just could not suspend my disbelief that no one knew who her mother is or where she came from. (Also, the book is too long and the story dragged.)

Oh Code Name Verity, you make reading such a rewarding experience. That nice artistic empty space on your cover will have a lovely medal on it for sure. Likely more than one so get used to it. It was worth the nearly 6 month wait for my local library to stock you.

To nit pick, (which is not a metaphor in the book. ugh.) I am not a fan of using a narrator's journal writing for an entire novel. You wrote that by hand, in the dark, injured, freezing, with a broken pencil, on music pages, in 15 minutes? Sure you did. But here, it works because it is so masterfully done. And with our unreliable narrator and twisted story, maybe it did and maybe it didn't.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Everybody and their mother have been talking about this one. Even before it was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award it was getting a bunch of buzz.

What did I think? Wow, compelling non-fiction for sure. It read like a spy-story and it would make a thrilling movie. In fact, the chapters cut back and forth between the main characters just like a movie so it was almost like reading a screenplay. I was kind of in awe.

Like Nina at the Heavy Medal blog – (or probably more accurate because of her)I wondered about some of the quotes and the very specific descriptions of looks, actions, etc. Much of this I’m sure came from memoirs, etc., but some of it seemed as though the author was perhaps reaching a bit.  

Now, keep in mind I was reading and deliberately looking for flaws in an excellently written book. If I had to pick one thing that made me uneasy about this book it was the complete lack of mention about the Native Americans whose lands the bombs were tested on and around. I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I read this, but I have a vivid memory of a firsthand account of the bomb testing where kids were playing in the atomic fallout like it was snow. Did I make that up? The memory I have of this is so real. I didn't really do any research to see if this was true or a false memory, but it made me uncomfortable all the same. 

I also think it understated the impact of dropping the atomic bombs in Japan. Why were there no pictures of the devastation? Not one. I found that a little shocking. Yes, he says this was serious stuff and he certainly doesn't make light of it – but images would have really driven home just how serious it really was. I would have also liked a little more on the long-term effects of the bombs. I don’t think there was one mention of long-term cancer rates? 

This was an excellent book – but I am certain it will not be getting my vote for most distinguished.


Mock Printz Titles: 

1. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
2. A Certain October - Angela Johnson
3. Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvator
4. Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanogan
5. Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
6. Every Day - David Levithan
7. Bomb - Steven Sheinkin
8. Never Fall Down - Patricia McCormick
9. Ask the Passengers - AS King
10. The Drowned Cities - Paolo Bacigalupi

Monday, November 5, 2012

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I am deep in the throes of Mock Printz reading. So of course I spend my precious reading time reading things that aren't on there. Oy. This is a super duper fun book though - and was exactly the no-pressure type of reading I was craving.

Fiesty girl assassin? Check. Love triangle? Check. Big Bad...something? Check. It pretty much hit all the standard points and had some good writing to boot. And it was entirely entertaining. It did hit some of my biggest irritations though. Names I have no idea how to pronounce and that seem strange for no apparent reason? Um. Yeah, kind of. A protagonist that is pretty much amazingly smart, fierce, and deadly not picking up on things that are kinda sorta pretty obvious? Well, yes... But, was this fun, fun, fun? So much fun you'll forgive it any flaws? I'm venturing the answer is yes.

I will also say that it starts out super strong, but perhaps loses a little momentum by the end. I think this is purely because it has been set up to be a series and they didn't want to wrap too much up in the first book. That was probably my biggest complaint. It started with a bang and it would have been great to end it that way too.

Book Source = borrowed copy