Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mock Printz: How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt

Title: How to Build a House
Author: Dana Reinhardt
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books, 2008
ISBN: 9780375844539
Starred Review: SLJ, PW

The family seventeen year-old Harper Evan’s been a part of since age 6, fractures when her father and stepmother, Jane, divorce. Formerly close (currently angry) ex-stepsister Tess hasn’t only left their shared bedroom- she’s left Harper's life. The limited interaction between them is on Tess’ terms. Half-brother Cole lives with Jane and visits the glum, emptier Harper house for weekends with Dad, Harper and the family dog. To hide from the pain and feelings of abandonment, Harper sleeps with childhood best friend, the geek-to-sheik and apathetic (unless someone else is interested), Gabriel. Their relationship deteriorates further. Harper knowingly tries to escape LA, these situations and her metaphorically broken home by volunteering to spend her summer in Tennessee, rebuilding the home of a family who’d lost theirs to a devastating tornado. With no prior building experience and under the leadership of Zen-like Linus, Harper learns the power of the circular saw. Living out of a motel with a group of other altruistic teens from all over the country means new friendships (some probably more lasting than others). Their shared experiences being part of the volunteer program and the fun they have flouting some of the rules proves good for Harper. Romance blossoms with southern sweetheart and Bailey local, Teddy. His love and affection also helps Harper heal her house while she’s hammering shingles and putting the finishing touches on his new one.

The combination of physically repairing an actual brick and mortar home and healing the home people build in the lives of those they love worked as a nice plot device. Harper can be a bit preachy and a stickler for the rules (not necessarily bad mind you) but she's also witty and wounded and a real protagonist. Her voice is genuine and honest. Reinhardt successfully alternates between Harper's "Home" (the past in Los Angeles) and "Here" (present in Bailey, TN) and doesn't reveal too much too soon. The complicated relationship Harper finds herself in with the new hostile Tess, the bittersweet one she has with Teddy (is this just a summer fling?) and even the confusing, undefined (and aggravating) one she has with Gabriel are realistic as well. The premise of volunteering and rebuilding after a disaster is timely and relevant and the issues Harper thinks about (i.e. Global Warming) are never far from most of our minds these days. All and all, I thought this was a good book and reccommend people purchase a copy for their libraries. Do I think it could bump anything on our current "favorites" list--possibly. But there are others I'd root for more.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Mock Printz: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0-439-02348-1

Publication date set for October, 2008

From my blog:

The plot: In the ruins of a place that used to be called North America, the country of Panem has emerged. Panem consists of a Capitol and twelve districts, each with a different economical focus. At one time, there was a thirteenth district, but it was destroyed by the Panem government when its people tried to rebel. Seventy-four years ago, the Capitol began the Hunger Games, in which one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen from each district, called tributes, are sent to the Capitol each year to compete in a fight to the death. The winner's district receives food, which is in scarce supply in many of the districts, and money and great honor.

The protagonist, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, took over the role of family provider when her father died in a mine explosion. She and her mother and younger sister, the delicate and sensitive Prim, live on the Seam, a poor area of District 12. When the book opens, it is reaping day, the day the tributes from each district are chosen. In some districts, being chosen on reaping day is an honor, but not in District 12, which has only had two Hunger Games winners in 74 years. When Prim is chosen, Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

Katniss is sure her participation in the Hunger Games is a death sentence. After all, there are tributes from other, richer districts that have been trained all their lives for these games. She's one of the smallest competitors, the least educated, the poorest, the hungriest. But she's also got a few things the other competitors don't.

Why you'll love it: Not a single word is wasted in this book. Although Collins could easily have gone on at length about the state of Panem, the outdoor arena, and Katniss's home, she doesn't. She gives us just enough to work with. The readers know the setting is dystopian, even dire, without being drowned in details of the horror. Katniss has a bitter edge to her and is always sympathetic if not always likable. There's a well-paced romance storyline as well, and everyone I know who's read this book is excited to know where it's going in book 2. (The Hunger Games is the opening of a trilogy.) Even better? The ending leads us to believe that book 2 could go anywhere. It could pick up where book 1 left off, or take place 10 years in the future, or be told from a different character's perspective. Katniss's world is so wide, but Collins uses first-person narration very, very well so we only get to see what matters in Katniss's immediate moments. The possibilities are near endless. By using just the right descriptors, Collins puts you right into the Games, complete with evil politicking and near-death experiences for Katniss. It is frightening on so many levels, and just as brilliant.