Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Kristi hates her life. Her father left years ago; her mother works 12+ hour shifts at the hospital; and she has no real friends. Oh yeah, and she can read minds. Sounds like that would be a plus, but mainly what she 'hears' includes her classmates' derrogatory comments, her teachers' inappropriate thoughts, and what boys think of her huge 'gazungas.

Then everything starts to change. The new boy at school, Mallory, has even more issues than Kristi, and wants to be more than her friend. She is stuck in a school assignment with the hottest boy she knows, whom she still has a crush on from childhood. Her mom gets a promotion, putting her in the house on a regular schedule and threatening discovery of her unapproved pet. And her father is coming back for a visit. Through all this, Kristi catches the thoughts of others, some confirming her cynical suspicions about human nature, but most just confusing her. In the end, she is left questioning everything, even her own special ability.

Truthfully, I spent half of this book trying to decide if I really liked it or really hated it. Kristi has a very strong voice and it can, at times, be a bit off-putting. However, it does ring true. For me, the ending, with its resolutions and lack of resolutions, made this book worth reading. Also, many of the peripheral characters appear to be stereotypes at the beginning, but are slowly fleshed out into interesting and full-bodied people. I especially liked Jacob and Gusty.

So, if you are up for a quick read, or if you know an especially cynical teen, this is just the right book. Read it, share it, laugh out loud at it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Review contains Spoilers.

After finishing The Spectacular Now I had to put it down and think about it for awhile. Sutter, our party animal hero, really got to me. He reminded me of one or two people I’ve known in my life. People that pretty much squandered their potential because their addictions overwhelmed them and became the most important thing in their life. So when I had finished the book and left Sutter pretty much where I had found him, I was incredibly sad. Like Sutter, these people were super fun to be around, but the fun has to end sometime. And to most of us fun doesn’t equal waking up in the morning and taking a shot of whisky to welcome in the day.

In fact, I don’t even think that equals fun to Sutter. But he is so lost in denial about his alcoholism that he’s willing to believe anything that tells him he’s still the life of the party. And maybe that will last one or two years more, until his addictions cost him any chance of holding down a job (he’s only 18 and he already lost a job due to his inability to show up at work sober) and cost him any healthy relationships (because addicts attract addicts so they can reinforce and normalize their addictive behaviors). So, yes, I was just plum sad when I finished this book. I had a couple issues with the story. The main one dealt with Sutter’s relationship with Aimee his shy and nerdy girlfriend.

It is one of the horrors of the book that Sutter drags Aimee into his life of constant drinking. A formally repressed girl, Aimee finds confidence and loquaciousness when she has a couple drinks in her. In fact, as a special graduation gift Sutter presents her with her very own flask filled with vodka. Sutter is very obviously attempting to create someone who will not challenge his alcohol soaked existence. After a scary drunken accident where Aimee gets hit by a car and breaks her arm, Sutter and Aimee swear off drinking for awhile. Aimee seems relieved and has no problem with it, Sutter stays sober for 5 days until he relapses with a major binge. What troubled me about this is that Aimee was presented as easily walking away from the alcohol soaked existence she had been living. With two biological parents who have addictions (her deceased gas huffing father and her live gambling mother) I found it incredibly mystifying that someone with such an addictive DNA and environment would have found it so easy to stop.

I also was confused as to why Sutter seemed to have little negative effects when he went cold turkey from drinking. Perhaps it was just that the author didn’t focus on it, but I felt that someone with such an advanced drinking problem would have had more obvious mental and physiological struggles and that these should have been presented. I wished these things had been made more obvious (as obvious as the fact that he had a drinking problem and his denial of this fact was made throughout the story). I was, to be honest, a little surprised that Sutter was so open about his constant drinking. His friends certainly abetted his drinking, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was no longer acceptable to be drunk all day. Yet, he never became more secretive about it. Was that just a part of his denial?

I would be very interested to hear what a teen takes from this story. This seems to be a cautionary tale, but so much isn’t directly told I wonder what they will take from the story.

This title is nominated for the 2008 National Book award along with What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Booktrust Winner Announced

And it is Patrick Ness for The Knife of Never Letting Go. (insert wild cheering from me)

Here was the Shortlist:
Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson
The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan
Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
Apache by Tanya Landman
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Read all about it at The Guardian.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Eon has been training for years for his chance to be chosen as Dragoneye. Every year several boys compete for this honor. You only get one chance to present yourself to the dragon, if you are chosen you are taken to the palace to train as an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons. These dragons are the power source of the land and work with their human link for the safety of the kingdom. There is no greater honor or more difficult burden than to be a Dragoneye. Eon is desperate to be chosen. He is the last hope for his Master, who has spent his entire fortune preparing for this chance. Of course, all is not as it seems and Eon has a rather dangerous secret. He is actually Eona, a 16 year old girl! She and her master are playing a very dangerous game because it is forbidden for females to become Dragoneyes. If they are found out they will be put to death.

This book is deeply influenced by Japanese and Chinese history, although it is not set in either of those countries. Goodman has taken aspects of honor, mysticism, and societal constructs and used those influences to create an imaginary country named The Empire of the Celestial Dragons.

The author has created an amazingly rich and well-developed mythology. The reader is totally immersed in a world that is unlike the vast majority of fantasy making it stand out in a crowded genre. Eona is a compelling heroine and luckily she is matched by interesting secondary characters, especially those that become her allies. There is intrigue, there is drama, there is an evil Lord that wants to rule the kingdom. It is exciting stuff.

However, the author tends to get bogged down in the narrative and there are parts where the plot slows down to a standstill. After the book is set up there is this long interval where Eona is lost in inner struggle and these parts drag. There were also some overly contrived plot points that led to this inner struggle lasting much longer than it should have. One situation in particular has Eona finding an important document that will reveal integral information to her. However, she doesn’t recognize the characters on the page because she’s never seen the language before…except that she actually just saw it a few pages earlier. Waiting for her to put this information together was painful (and to be honest more than a bit boring).

Now, I must say once Eona pieces everything together and the action gets going it makes for utterly thrilling reading. The ending in particular was non-stop, heart in your mouth action. Too bad there was that long, draggy middle part in between the beginning and the end.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby

What an amazing title! If I hadn’t already read and enjoyed Susan Juby, the title alone would get me to pick up the book.

Our protagonist and detective hero is Sherman Mack, a self proclaimed scholar of girls. That doesn’t actually translate into any dates, but he still loves them anyway. His friends have helpfully suggested that he is actually a scholar of stalking, but he doesn’t agree with that one bit.

Sherman has just begun 9th grade at Harewood High School. At Harewood, girls can be Defiled. If that sounds awful, well, rest assured it really is. When a girl is defiled she becomes invisible, but only after she is basically tried and convicted by a mob of her peers, her reputation dragged through the mud, and finally never spoken to again. No one will even speak her name. Unsurprisingly, most of the girls drop out or switch schools to escape. No one knows how the girls are chosen to be defiled – whether it is one person or a nefarious committee of students. But it is serious, serious stuff.

Enter Sherman. He is worried a girl he likes is a candidate for defilement and has launched an investigation. One might think from this description that this book would be on the serious side, but it is actually very humorous. Sherman is a rather silly and immature (in fact he seemed much younger than a 9th grader – at times I would have placed him in elementary school – my only complaint with the book). This is mostly played for laughs.

For me, the best part of the book came from Sherman’s descriptions of his family life.

“Hello, sweet ‘ums,” she’ll say, and follow that up with a bunch of baby talk. Sometimes I worry that my mother may be trying to make me gay. It’s not just the baby talk. It’s our entire living environment. My mother is into glitter. This is very damaging for a developing male.

His mother had him when she was 16 and this formed a breach between her and her parents that has never been repaired. Her parents routinely send over fruit baskets with vitamins hidden in the bottom for Sherman. He appreciates these gestures more than he lets his mother know. Especially since she never cooks anything other than toast.

After several setbacks, including a rather embarrassing photo of him dressed up in a popular kid’s mother’s clothing, Sherman does manage to crack the case. And it is a surprising and satisfying ending (part of which a close reader may have already deducted).

A very fun read that will most appeal to readers in Junior High.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Reading Funk

I haven't posted anything for a week or more because I am in a serious reading funk. Everything I read I finish and go...meh. I'm currently slogging through a fantasy book. I should really just put it down and read something else, but for some reason I feel like I need to finish it. So that's what I'm gonna do. Maybe I'll have something nice to say about it by the time I finish! Maybe not. Either way I'll write about it by the end of the weekend.