Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

Title: Sunrise Over Fallujah
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publisher: Scholastic, 2008
ISBN: 9780439916240
Starred Review: SLJ

The Plot:
After 9/11, Robin "Birdy" Perry disregards his father's wishes to go to college, instead he leaves Harlem and enters service. Birdy has never been in a foreign conflict, but his Uncle Richie has. While Uncle Richie rarely talks about his own experiences to Birdy, Birdy begins to write letters to his uncle to tell him about his experiences in Iraq. The experiences Birdy shares with his unit (and soon friends) escalates from light civil affairs to a full out military operation. The novel concludes with Birdy finally understanding the meaning of "war" and why Uncle Richie was unable to talk about it.

Sunrise Over Fallujah drags you in with its believable dialogue and haunting commentary on the war in Iraq. Myers' characters were wonderfully developed allowing readers to become emotionally attached; whether it be to Birdy, the caring doctor Captain Miller, or bluesy Jonesy. Myers really tried to understand the emotions of a soldier. His characterization of Birdy isn't just a soldier who gets picked for duty, this is a young man who wanted to protect and serve his country, but along the way he grows in his opinions and the reader gets to follow his journey.

I also think Myers' does a wonderful job at bringing a parallel between Robin and his Uncle Richie (who readers will know from the Vietnam War novel, Fallen Angels). Not only does it illustrate a bond in military service, but how regardless of time and era, war leaves a mark.

I enjoyed the book and appreciated its commentary, however I would not say this is in my top three of Prinz selections. My main problem is that Robin is overshadowed by the intense plot and the cast of characters. However this novel is still a moving read and a wonderful look into a very current and realistic issue.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mock Printz: Dingo by Charles de Lint

Title: Dingo
Author: Charles de Lint
Publisher: Firebird
ISBN: 978-0-14-240816-2
Starred Review: Publishers' Weekly
Dingo is an enjoyable, quick read fantasy. Miguel falls in love with a twin sister with amazing abilities to shape-sift into a dingo. The twin meets him when she inadvertently walks into his father's comic book collectible shop. The plot thickens when Miguel starts having dreams of a man who is trapped in a tree and threatens Miguel to bring the girl/dingo to him. This story has a nice father son relationship as well as the traditional bad kid in town who turns out to be not so bad in the end. This is a good read and worth having in a collection but I highly doubt it will be a Printz contender.

Susan Rappaport, Rutherford Public Library

Mock Printz: Spellspam by Alma Alexander

Title: Spellspam
Author: Alma Alexander
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-06-083958-1
Starred Reviews: Kliatt, March 2008
This fantasy is excellent and my very favorite so far this year... The world is well-thought out, the premise of using the computer as a venue for an alternate world is cleverly pursued and the characters are interestingly developed since Gift of the Unmage, the first book in the Worldweavers series. This second book stands beautifully on its own. Alma Alexander creates a world where spellspam is a play on the word "spell". Some malicious person is sending magic or "spells" through e-mail. Once again Thea, an underestimated seventh child of two seven children displays remarkably original talents as she puzzles out the solutions for her changing world. Dare I say it but this book does remind me of Harry Potter. Thea attends a school for kids who have no magic talents, and with her four other friends, she confronts the mysterious and sometimes playful problems. Because the magic is changing, the adults do not have the answers here. Unlike Harry Potter, it is not so strictly black and white. Thea feels compassion for the villain who turns out to be a literal lost soul. This is a highly imaginative story and I really loved it. Read it and see what you think. Thumbs up and three cheers for Alma Alexander!

Susan Rappaport, Rutherford Public Library

Mock Printz: My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, & Fenway Park

Title: My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park
Author: Steve Kluger
Publisher: Dial Books, 2008
ISBN: 9780803732278
Starred Review: SLJ

In this fun romantic comedy, three Brookline (MA) teens share heartwarming, trying and completely hilarious experiences centering on a year in their high school lives. Disarming Anthony Conigliaro “TC” Keller is a big fan of baseball and of the quick-witted new girl Ale’ Perez (a former-diplomat’s daughter seemingly immune to TC’s charms). TC’s incandescent “brother” Augie Hwong comes to the realization he’s gay after falling for classmate Andy, meanwhile supportive family and friends knew before Augie did. The Keller and Hwong clans have merged into a dynamic and loving family where readers will clamor for a seat at their Thanksgiving table. In alternating chapters, the three protagonists tell their story through emails, IMs, homework essay entries, memos and letters (written to TC’s deceased mother, various musical divas and Jacqueline Kennedy). Thrown in the mix are emails to/from/between the adults in their lives, sports articles, playbills and the occasional scathing theater review by Augie’s mother. In the course of this freshman “most excellent” year the teens risk their hearts, make lasting friendships, play ball, face fears, build obscenely large school projects, take the stage, adopt others into their hearts (and homes), realize who they are and what they want, crash Broadway to meet Julie Andrews and (wielding impressive political astuteness) bring baseball back to the Manzanar National Historic Site.

Most Excellent Year is one of those books that left me grinning. The characters, whether main or supporting, are people I wish I knew. The protagonists are bright teens with big hearts and strong loyalties. Apart from having each other, their humor, wit and sometimes surprising maturity all come in handy when they’re faced with heartache, insecurities and other obstacles. I liked Ale’s reluctance to fall into TC’s arms, her gradual realization he was decent guy and they could learn from each other. I also liked how Augie’s coming out was one thing that wasn’t made into a production (and Augie is big on productions). Augie and his family/friends knew the score. They were wondering if his being gay was something that needed to be “announced” (like with some formal decorative card). Or in this more accepting climate and in their supportive homes, if it was about as necessary as TC announcing he was straight and in love with Ale’. Some readers might lose patience with the multi-format narration but most people, teens included, get info from so many different mediums in a single day it might actual draw reluctant readers in. While, admittedly, there are definite elements (i.e. Hucky and Mary Poppins) of the unreal and the “you’re kidding”, it’s all part of the fun. And this book is fun. Besides, what’s wrong in believing in that human-brand magic of friendship and love? Something that doesn’t require a wand, just some trust and well meaning.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mock Printz: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Publisher: Tor
ISBN: 9780765319852
Starred review in: PW

From my blog:

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is the story of Marcus, aka w1n5t0n, who's more or less your average high school geek. He lives in a slightly futuristic San Francisco and loves RPGs, history, hacking his school-issued laptop, and subverting his high school's surveillance systems. His hacking is all in good fun until the day the Bay Bridge is bombed and thousands of people are killed. While trying to flag down some help for his friend Darryl, who is stabbed in the melee that follows the bombing, Marcus is taken into custody and treated as a terrorist. He is released after a few days, but he has no idea what's happened to Darryl. His experience with Homeland Security leads him to put his hacking skills to work on the XNet, an underground network of progressive-thinking geeks who use their modified XBoxes to communicate out of the reach of Homeland Security. San Francisco is now a police state, and Marcus won't stand for it. Working with his fellow hackers (and a cute girl), he is determined to fight for citizens' freedom and find Darryl. With increased paranoia, scary reports on the TV, and a new history teacher who believes in suspending the Bill of Rights, Marcus knows he has to put his net popularity and technical skills towards promoting freedom and liberty for all. Too bad Homeland Security sees him as a threat.

I enjoyed this book, but I didn't love love it. First, the good. Marcus is a great character, full of passion, style and smarts. He's got a great voice, both self-assured and vulnerable that way teens can be. Marcus never makes apologies for being smart and always does what he believe will do the most good, even if he can't see the long-term consequences. The reader gets a strong sense of the setting and also the sense that Doctorow really loves San Francisco. The ending is tied up nicely but doesn't feel rushed or contrived. There's a ton of food for thought regarding security, terrorism, and civil liberties, and it's clear what side Doctorow falls on, but I didn't feel bashed over the head with messages, either.

What I thought needed work was the pacing. There's lots of action and adventure, sure to appeal to the more grown up Alex Rider fan. The problem was that the book can alternately move much too fast or much too slow. Marcus often stops to explain complicated math and technology to the reader. Doctorow does a great job of breaking this down. Believe me, I can barely add and subtract so I'm always appreciative of well-explained complex mathematics. The problem is, the story has to stop for a minute in order for Marcus to explain this technology. Problem is, there's really no way to get them in without disrupting the story. So, great story overall, just needed some editing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mock Printz: The House of Djinn by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Title: The House of Djinn
Author: Suzanne Fisher Staples
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0-374-39936-8
Starred Review in: Publishers' Weekly
Shabanu, who you may remember from her earlier books, Shabanu and Haveli, is now a mother of a teenage girl herself but she is in "hiding". Her daughter, Mumtaz, thinks her mother is dead and is being raised by her paternal grandfather and uncle. This book tells the story of Mumtaz and Jameel, two teens whose destinies intersect. Jameel is the son of yet another uncle who lives in San Francisco and spends his summers with Mumtaz in the family compound. This large extended family is not your ordinary family. The grandfather is a wealthy, powerful Amirzai tribal leader and the huge family house is haunted by the djinn. When the grandfather dies, the whole family goes into tumult and these two teens are thrown into the thick of a fight for power. This book takes place in the capital, Lahore, and evokes all the sounds and sights of Pakistan. Even more so, the characters are so strongly depicted that you get a wonderful sense of the life there for the teenagers and the entire family. Jameel who does live in the USA is caught between the two worlds and he struggles with those differences. As Mumtaz learns of her mother's pretense at death, she comes to appreciate why it was a necessity to save her own life. As this story unfolds, there is great suspense and excitement and the characters are people not easily forgotten. The book stands on its own even if you have never heard of the earlier books although one might like this one so much that you would go back and read them.

Susan Rappaport, Rutherford Public Library

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Mock Printz: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Title: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Hyperion
ISBN: 978-0-7868-3818-9
Starred review in: Kirkus, PW, nominated to BBYA

This is my favorite for the Mock Printz to date. From my blog:

The Plot: All her life, Frankie Landau-Banks has been labeled as someone to be protected, her family's Bunny Rabbit, someone who is in need of sage advice and wise words. She's sick of it. Frankie, ace debater and ultimate Frisbee enthusiast, wants people to see her for her greatest talent, which is manipulating people (not in a bad way). She has a keen eye for social structure and an analytical mind, and she uses these talents to infiltrate an all-boys secret society at her school, of which her boyfriend Matthew is a member. Assuming the identity of the society's leader, Alpha, she gets the boys to pull some amazing stunts. In four months Frankie goes from unknown to girlfriend of the popular guy to secret campus puppet master to simultaneously revered and reviled by her classmates.

Why you'll love it: Like Frankie, there is much to this book beneath the surface. At first glance, it's a book about a girl, tired of being pigeonholed as sweet and innocent, who masterminds one of the unsweetest, uninnocentest series of pranks her prestigious boarding school has ever seen. One way to see it would be that it's a book about breaking from the shell of expectations that everyone else has built around you. The reader knows from the beginning that Frankie is dissatisfied with the way people see her and she wants to make herself noticed for being something other than Zada Landau-Banks's little sister. The way I see it, it's a book about belonging. Matthew's way of belonging is to not rock the boat too much with his friends. Alpha's way of belonging is to draw everyone to him with his supreme confidence and irreverence. Frankie does what she does because she needs to belong and needs to be recognized as a leader in the groups to which she belongs. The book has a very Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler feeling to it, in which an outside narrator with wisdom and omniscience tells the story of Frankie's social journey. The use of point of view can usually make or break a book for me, and just like I hold up Invisible and Inexcusable as examples of how to use first person, I will be holding this book up as an example of how to use third person. The peripheral characters are both fantastic and completely believable. Lockhart's use of both esoteric and witty-yet-confused teenage language gives the book a refined edge. This is a definite candidate for this year's Printz and I hope the committee doesn't overlook it.

Mock Printz: Bret McCarthy: Work in Progress

Title: Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress
Author: Maria Padin
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-375-84675-5
*Star Review in PW*

The Plot:
Brett McCarthy is a fairly normal eighth-grader. She's on the soccer team (and the basketball team) with two close friends and 'the intruder'. Life is going along fine until the prank. A fouled phone prank turns Brett's comfortable life upside down. Suddenly everyone at school hates her (at least SHE thinks so), she's got a permanent lunch date with the principal, and somethings up with her Nonna that no one wants to explain to her. Brett works her way through losing a close friendship, finding new friends, and her Nonna's sickness as well as 8th grade.

Thoughts - including some spoilers!
This book wasn't bad....and when a commentary starts like that you know it's never good! Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress was a decent book. While there were a great many young YA/girl book cliches here, there was also some warm and funny characters which many readers will connect with. One of the cliche elements was a best friend that is growing away from the main character. This often happens in books, because it happens in real life! What I hate is that the friend who chooses the cheerleaders/popular crowd/etc is usually written as a mean, hateful, or snobby character and a lousy friend. Padian takes the cliche and adds something to it. Brett is the one who is not the best friend, but then what 8th grade girl is? Even at the end of the book, the girls are still not friends, but they do reconnect and Diane stands up for her choices. I liked that, just wish that Diane was more of a real character in the beginning of the book.
Another cliche is the sick mother/grandmother/close relative of choice. In this, Padian didn't do so well in my opinion. I loved Nonna as a character. She was great and interesting and fun. I liked her birthday party and the lighthouse, but as soon as doctor visits were mentioned I knew she was doomed. Worse, I didn't see Brett dealing with it. It was like, I'm going to ignore it and just deal day to day then poof, Nonna's accepted she's dying and so I'll accept it too. The parents seemed to do more grieving and dealing with the issue than Brett did.
I applaud the author for resisting the cliche of having the girl realise that her geeky long time male friend is really cute and the perfect boyfriend. Even though I loved Michael and rejoiced when he stood up and told Brett how much her casual teasing about being a nerd, geek, or Einstein bothered him, I would have booed if they had coupled off in the end. I thought it was great when Brett stood up for not only him but all of the gifted students and it was equally great when he came to her rescue at the climax, but it was nice to see a time when a boy and a girl can be friends with out thinking they are 'in love'.

So in the end, this is a book I will give my tween readers who want a taste of those teen book. Where the drama here is phone pranks and the most violence that happens is a punch in the nose. It's a bit melodramatic for me, but I know many who will adore it.