Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mock Printz: Good Enough

Title: Good Enough
Author: Paula Yoo
Publisher: HarperTeen: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780060790851
*Currently BBYA 2009 Nominated Title*

High school senior and talented violinist Patti Yoon works hard to achieve her goals and make her parents proud as a P.K.D (Perfect Korean Daughter). Someone who doesn’t settle for second place. A polite and modest existence as non-boat-rocker is something they can subtly brag about at church with all the other competing parents. But the pressure builds and boilers over when Patti makes assistant concertmaster for the All-State Orchestra thanks to some tricky Mendelssohn and distracting Cute Trumpet Guy. Then Patti doesn’t reach the desired 2300 SAT score which causes her parents to panic that her HARVARDYALEPRINCETON career could end before it’s even begun. Between SAT prep tests, violin practice, AP classes, jamming with/crushing on new kid Ben Wheeler (a.k.a Cute Trumpet Guy), dealing with the racist remarks of peers and adults, Youth Group high jinx, teenage subterfuge, parental expectations---Patti takes a stand on her future. One that will make Patti happy without sacrificing who she is and what she loves, like her music.

Apart from Patti being a relatable protagonist{ a teen feeling the pressure of expectations (outside and her own) and risking her heart}-- Patti is a great narrator with a wonderful sense of humor. Ben’s brief but influential appearance in her life has normally obedient Patti taking some risks and reconsidering her priorities and her reasoning. He’s not perfect. They’re not meant to be. But for a while, they’re in sync and he’s a great friend, if not love, for her. The Youth Group cohorts are an amusing, believable combination of competition and support. As Patti changes, she realizes new things about her friends and her peers (even those she doesn’t like). She finds some commonality but thankfully the book conclusion isn't so trite that Patti ends up friends with everyone. Patti’s parents weren’t portrayed as evil incarnate. They pressured and expected (not exactly unique to fictional parents) but they also stuck by Patti and let her ultimately decide, having her best interests at heart. Good Enough is all about expanding possibilities and stepping outside the box and it’s almost always a good time to see how a character handles change and rebellion.

The foot notes, the Korean recipes with Spam, Patti’s lists and “real-life” SAT questions are fun additions. It’s not a tough book to get through. Finished it in a day. Because, like everyone else, I cared about Patti’s future and the book isn’t written to lag (a plus for the reluctant). The ending has a neatly tied resolution in some ways but not in others. A happy medium with a hopeful

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mock Printz 2009: You Know Where to Find Me

Author: Cohn, Rachel
Title: You Know Where to Find Me
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Starred Reviews: Publishers' Weekly
The story of a teenager coping with the suicide of her cousin/sister is grueling, difficult and yet uplifting by the end. Miles, the fat, rebellious, outsider is the one left behind in this pair of girls raised as sisters. Her mourning process is profound and her deep isolation is revealed in a subtle, sophisticated way. Her climb out and surfacing back to life makes for a fine, realistic book, well worth reading. The adults show up very well as do the teens but there is nothing romantic or sentimental here, just down to earth, honest sadness.
Susan Rappaport, Rutherford Public Library.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mock Printz: After Tupac and D Foster

Title: After Tupac and D Foster
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
ISBN: 9780399246548
Starred Review: PW

Plot: Set in Queens in the mid 90’s, After Tupac and D Foster is the story of three girls--“Three the Hard Way”. It’s a moment in time when the nameless narrator and her childhood best friend, Neeka, meet D Foster. A mysterious, slightly older girl, whose latest foster mother lets her “roam” so long as D meets curfew. A freedom the narrator and Neeka have never known under the watchful eyes of their mothers, restricted by the geography of the block they live on. The girls bond over their mutual love of Tupac Shakur and his music. D especially, feels a connection to him. Over a two year period D becomes a fixture on the block and in the girls’ lives just as Tupac is a fixture in the media and therefore their radar.

Thoughts: Reading this, D seems to sort of personify that subtle beginning of adolescent rebellion, at least for those of us who were younger teens still listening to our parents. What most readers could probably relate to is best friends feeling the trial of sharing each other with a new friend and the narrator’s pang of jealousy over JayJones’ interest in D. Or the feeling of being overwhelmed by responsibilities like Neeka helping care for her siblings. Each girl’s got something to make her stand out. Neeka’s got that strong voice, even if it borrows her mother’s words. The narrator is defined by her college-bound, bookish intelligence, which she proudly flaunts by dropping those vocab words. D could be relegated to ‘unforthcoming beautiful girl with a past who stirs things up’ but there’s depth to her and maturity. Even when she’s as gone as Tupac is to Neeka and the narrator…you get the feeling she’ll be alright. So the ending has that bitter-sweetness of gaining and losing a friend. I think everyone’s got a lost friend they wonder about when they hear a certain song or visit a certain place. As good as the book is-- I don’t know if it's got a wide audience with present day teens. If they will find it as easy to relate to, in the same way the girls did to Tupac. Time wise, I can remember being in my early teens in those mid 90’s. Cassettes, walkmans, bootlegs. But I didn’t actively listen to Tupac outside of what was on the radio and some of music mentioned was lost on me. Unless readers are already familiar with Tupac, I think that touchstone probably won’t work as well for them as it does for the narrator.

Mock Printz: Sweethearts

Title: Sweethearts
Athor: Sarah Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown.
ISBN: 978-0-316-01455-7
Starred Review: PW and Booklist

Plot: Jenna used to be the over weight and unpopular girl in school. She had just one friend, Cameron, a boy who had a troubled home life. When Cameron disappears in third grade, kids at school tell Jennifer that he died. Her single mother allows her to believe this and soon after thier life changes. Jennifer works hard to lose weight and get healthy, her mom marries and they move to a better part of town which means a new school for Jennifer. Jennifer changes her name to Jenna and makes a life as one of the popular girls (or at least one with friends). Now 17, Jenna is confronted with the truth when Cameron returns.

My thoughts: I never thought I'd be one of those people whining “But what about the happily ever after ending!?”, but I am on this book. I thought Zarr did a great job of dribbling out the details of Jenna's 9th birthday and it created an erie feeling at the start of the book that worked well. I liked the subtle hints of Ethan's possessive/controling personality before Cameron even entered the picture and I loved the fact that the blonde bombshell of a friend was the one who showed herself to be more insightful and true friend to Jenna. I disliked the fact that we didn't see Jenna actually tell her friends about her past. Maybe not all of it, but I would have liked to see her confide in at least one of them. Cameron leaving broke my heart and I hated that the mom was right and they they would probably feel like that had unfinished business until the day they died. In the end, I wanted her to make that trip across country and see him. I wanted her to find a way that worked for them to be together, but life isn't that easy or simple. Overall a good book, much better than I anticipated, but still not great. If I were the reviewer, I doubt I would have starred it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mock Printz: Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne

Title: Absolute Brightness
Author: James Lecesne
Publisher: HarperTeen
ISBN: 9780061256271
Starred review in: Kliatt, PW

Copied from my blog:

The plot: In Neptune, New Jersey, Phoebe Hertle's quiet, literary, relatively normal life is shaken up by the arrival of her flamboyant cousin Leonard. Leonard is anything but normal and for some time, Phoebe can't stand to be around him. Leonard's comfort in himself, however, inspires the women of the town of Neptune to be their more stylish selves. Phoebe gets used to Leonard's colorful ways until the day he disappears. Weeks later his body is found in a nearby lake, and Neptune's biggest murder mystery unfolds.

Why the book didn't work: It's too long. I know that sounds like a stupid reason for the book's failures, but that's the short of it. There are so many plotlines that get tangled and ultimately forgotten that the story as a whole is unsatisfying at the end. The language is monotonous and stilted and Phoebe seems so dispassionate, so distanced from herself and the situations around her that the reader has a difficult time caring about her or anyone else in her life. The author is trying to squeeze in too many lessons about tolerance and yes, it is possible to feel squeezed in a 400+ page book. Better editing and pacing, and snipping of a few plotlines, could have improved this book a lot.

Sometimes it's the small details that are the most bothersome, so to me this was the most badly memorable moment of the book.

Page 210: When someone saw Dad pumping gas into Chrissie's Honda Civic down at the Mobil station on Division Street, Mom held to the idea that her husband was just being a Good Samaritan.

Because everyone who lives here can't pump your own gas in New Jersey. (And no, Phoebe's dad does not work at a gas station.)

The other thing I found odd were the blurbs on the back of the book from Eve Ensler, Michael Cunningham, Armistead Maupin, and Duncan Sheik. All brilliant minds in their own right, yes, but none of them are known for writing books/plays/movies aimed at a YA audience. I wonder why these particular people were asked to blurb the book.


Clearly, I disagree with PW. But who else has read this. Any thoughts?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Mock Printz: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary Pearson
Publisher: Holt
ISBN: 978-0805076684
Starred review in: PW

Copied from my blog:

Mary Pearson is a terrific writer, so I was very excited when I opened a package from Holt and saw an advance of her new book, The Adoration of Jenna Fox. If you've read her previous YA novel, A Room on Lorelei Street, expect something very different. Jenna Fox is just as good in terms of quality, but it's got a much different tone

Because this book won't be out until April 2008, now is a good time to stop reading if you don't want to be even remotely spoiled.

The plot: A long time from now in a state far far away (California), seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox awakens from a year-long coma. What she can't figure out is why she has a phenomenal grasp of everyone's history except her own. She knows the entire text of Walden but doesn't remember that she always called her grandmother Nana, not Lily. Her mother is reluctant to let her go to school or drive, and she never sees her father anymore; he still lives in Boston. When she is allowed to go to school, it's to a local charter where all of her classmates have something wrong with them. When she tries to log onto the Net to find out the details of the car accident that took a year of her life, her access to the information is denied. There's a hidden key in her mother's mattress to a closet, and that closet contains a secret Jenna is desperately trying to crack. Eventually, her mother and father do tell her the truth about her missing year. Or at least, they tell her most of the truth. The rest...she remembers.

Why you'll love it: There's always lots of talk about the theme of identity in YA lit, and here Pearson has taken it to its furthest extreme. Jenna has to figure out who she is with no memory of who she used to be. She's surrounded by people who tell her half-truths and she gets the feeling she's an inconvenience to them. Pearson has built an amazing futuristic world where science may be quite different from what we know now but the basic human condition, that we want to know ourselves and be loved by others, has stayed very much the same. The line on the front cover asks "How far would you go to save someone you loved?" I think the real question here is, "How far would you go to save yourself?" (Of course, the question of how far you'd go to save the one you love is one that drives the book, but I think the other one is far more overreaching.) This is a creepy, creepy book along some of the same the lines of David Lubar's True Talents and Nancy Werlin's Double Helix. It also reminded me of Airhead by Meg Cabot, which I'll review at a later date.

Review by: Carlie, BCCLS