Friday, September 28, 2012

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Wow! I would like to start by saying how riveting this book is. I was absolutely, totally, one hundred percent riveted when reading this book (at least until I got to something that pushed me out of the story, but we'll get to that later).

Dust Girl is a fantasy with an extremely accurate historical fiction aspect. It is set during the dust bowl and Callie is a girl who is suffering because of it. She's got dust pneumonia and is slowly dying and her mom won't leave because her dad said that he would come back to find them. Never mind their hotel doesn't have any paying customers. Never mind her dad said this before Callie was born. Never mind Callie is a bit of the outside of their Kansas town's "norm."

This all changes the day that Callie's mom has a bit of a breakdown and forces Callie to sit down at the piano and play a tune. You know what Callie's never done before? Play a piano. She is freaked out, but she sits down and lo and behold a whole song filled with want and anger and sadness pours out of her and onto the keys. Then everything changes. The worst dust storm ever (ever!) comes and Callie has to learn to function in a world turned topsy turvy with magic.

The setting is phenomenal and the author deals with Callie's mixed racial heritage in an awesomely powerful and subtle way. This book deals with race and prejudice on several levels. Not only is Callie part black, but she is part fairy too. An not only that, but now she's a transient dust-bowl refugee. Lots of stuff to deal with.

So what did I love? The creepy (and most excellently and hilariously named) Hopper family, Jack,  the also excellently named Shake and Shimmy, the language (so deliciously descriptive and colloquial and time specific), and really I loved too many things to list here.

What did I not love? Well, I may be overreacting or maybe I missed the context, but when the villain calls Jack "Jew-boy" for the first time it seemed way out of left field and totally pulled me out of the story. Do I think people of that era called people that casually? Yes (heck there are asshats that use that as a slur today). But it just seemed egregious. Yes, it is dealt with eventually and yes it fit in with the theme of being "different" and finding a place to fit. However, I couldn't help but feel like it could have been left out and the story would have been stronger for it.

Other than that (and maybe the story losing a bit of momentum at the end) I love, love, loved this book.

Book Source = ebook from library

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Book of Life by Angel - Martine Leavitt

Martine Leavitt's, author of Keturah and Lord Death (one of Joanna's top 5 YA titles  you may never have read) has written another phenomenal book.

It is not one that I would have picked up on my own. It's the story of a 16 year old prostitute named Angel, which, frankly, sounds like a downer to read about. It is because of books like these that I am so glad that I've served on various reading committees and why I think it is essential that librarians try to participate in them and on Mock Printz award discussions. Why? Well, because it pushes you to read things you wouldn't pick up on your own. It stretches you as a reader and that is a good thing. You suffer professionally (as in your reader's advisory skills) if you don't push yourself to read things that you dread. Which brings us back to the book. I dread reading about crappy-true-to-life things like teenagers and children forced into prostitution.

This book is written in verse, although I wouldn't really call it poetry. Rather it read to me more like spare-to-the-bone prose. And it works really well for this story, much in the same way it worked for Sold by Patricia McCormick. More words might have diluted the horror. This way it is more haunting.

Angel is addicted to "candy" introduced to her by her "boyfriend" who is really a pimp. She gets hooked and then forced to sell herself for drugs. She does this until one day her friend goes missing. Her friend who people say must have just left the life. Except she never said goodbye.  Except she left her running away money with Angel. Except other women have also disappeared. That's the day Angel decides to try to stop taking drugs and to write her story down.


This book felt so real to me. Angel felt so real. There were things I had a problem with - like her father who kicks her out and says, "come back when you're cleaned up" (or something to that effect). Angel has only been gone about 9 months, but he moves? Would you move if your child ran away? This is not a bad father, this is a father dealing with grief and the death of his wife. I have a hard time believing he wouldn't regret kicking his daughter out. I have a hard time believing he wouldn't stay in the same place so that his missing daughter could find him. I have a hard time believing he isn't mounting a campaign to find her. Maybe I'm naive, but to me that was a weak point in the story.

I loved Widow, the older prostitute who was not a cliche even though she had a heart of gold. I felt horror for Merri, and disgust for the men who paid for Angel's services.

An excellent book.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated by Gerald Morris

Oh yes, I snatched this book up as soon as I saw it on the library's new book display. The Knights Tales series reigns as a favorite for the 9 year old and for me and last year's title earned a prestigious spot in Heavy Medal's Mock Newbery shortlist.

What's that about the cover? No, not that Sir Balin has two swords, but that is a good story. The lady! She is Lady Annalise the Questing Lady. A Questing Lady "accompanies knights on quests" but dare not confuse them with Damsels ("simpering, moaning, pathetic") in Distress. More to the point, she is "a companion, not a personal maid." Let the adventure begin!

Shortly after his birth, Sir Balin's parents were visited by the Old Woman of the Mountain (Which Mountain? Some Mountain? A Mountain? - this is funny) who gives a bummer of prophesy. This news haunts our brave knight all his life and he and Annalise battle against his fate on his quests.

Once again we have a bit of a lesson. The prophesy tortures Sir Balin and in the end he learns that fate comes by with your own choices and actions, not by what someone says.

And once again we have great vocabulary for the middle grade reader: muddled, dolorous, marplot.

And still Gerald Morris achieves this with humor. Here is one aside about jousting.

(Really, people should have noticed early on how inefficient fighting with a lance actually is, but oddly enough, it never seemed to sink in. People kept pointing lances at each other, and mostly missing, for years and years.) p. 29

If I were an elementary school librarian I would book talk these constantly and suggest them to teachers for classroom read alouds.

Perfect illustrations by Aaron Renier.

Find this book at your library.