Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mock Printz: Night Road by A.M. Jenkins

Title: Night Road
Author: A.M. Jenkins
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 978006054605
YALSA Best Books Nomination 2009

Cole isn’t a vampire. He and others just like him prefer the term “heme”, short for hemovore. At the start of Night Road, Cole is summoned to The Building, the New York headquarters of The Colony (organized heme community). A building with covered windows, company and conversation not to mention a willing supply of omnis (that would be us humans) offering veins, arteries and anything else the hemes desire. Reluctant to be there but unable to shrug off his friend Johnny’s request, Cole reunites with faces of old. When a new heme, an “accident” named Gordon, takes a bit too much from an omni, Cole learns the reason of his visit. Johnny, who runs the building (possibly the Colony) needs his help. Gordon must learn the heme basics, separate lore from reality and realize the responsibilies and limitations. A painful lesson Cole thought he’d learned himself a long long time ago. One tied to what’s housed in the Building’s fifth floor and the reason why Cole prefers life on the lonely road to the lazy, spoiled, slightly crowded atmosphere of the Building. Cole and his friend, the ever optimistic and kind, Sandor (responsible for turning Gordon) will take the young newbie on the road. The idea being Gordon will have the benefit of Sandor’s warm heart and Cole’s cool head. A string of motels, bars, battles of will, heme lessons on feeding techniques, avoiding sunlight, strays, immortality and personal experiences make this road trip a little flip-side Supernatural (Dean & Sam) and a little Kerouac (Dean and Sal). Cole might have started out as the teacher but by book’s end he learns just as much from his student as Gordon learns from him.

Admittedly, I’m a big vampire-novel fan girl. That said, I can be particular about the genre. This book passed muster. The noir-ish tone. The clear pictured settings of the seedy motels. All of that worked for me. What heme lore Jenkins’ imparts also gels nicely. But the strongest element is characterization; especially Cole and Gordon, be it as individuals or when they interact on the road. Gordon moves from petulant frat boy and spoiled heme to a more responsible, controlled one. Cole, who’s closed himself off from nearly everyone, reluctantly allows a new connection, loses some of his own footing for the first time in a while. Teaching Gordon is a sort of positive penance for Cole for a past mistake and Cole is able to work through issues he’s been harboring for over a century. Gordon is overtly vulnerable. Cole just hides it better.
The pace of Jenkins’ revelations is teasing and bubbles to the surface in a way that gives readers hints but taunts Cole like submerged memories.
All in all Jenkins doesn’t disappoint and people who appreciate her other supernatural tales (Repossessed and Beating Heart) will enjoy her very human hemes. I’m hoping for more from this traveling trio.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Mock Printz (or Newbery): Savvy by Ingrid Law

Title: Savvy
Author: Ingrid Law
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9780803733060
Review: PW

Plot: A savvy is a special gift that every member of Mibs (Mississippi) Beaumont's family gets on their 13th birthday. Everyone except Poppa, of course, because he married into the family. One of her brothers and control electricity and another can cause rain and wind to blow when he gets upset. This is why Mibs will be home schooled after her thirteenth birthday and Mibs is looking forward to it. She can't wait to have a great birthday with her perfect mother (her savvy is doing everything perfectly) and family, but a bad accident puts her beloved Poppa in the hospital the day before her birthday. Mibs is positive her savvy will be something that can help her Poppa. She believes so strongly that on her birthday she skips out of the party the preacher's wife organized for her and stows away on a bible seller's bus to get to her Poppa. One of her brother's and the preacher's children end up stowed away on the bus with her. In some fairly unbelievable plotting (but hey if you'll believe in savvys why not in weak adults), the kids convince the bus driver to keep them on the bus and not report back to either set of parents. It's a wild ride that covers almost two whole days because the driver can't miss any more appointments selling bibles, pink bibles. The ride includes: rescuing a waitress with a dead car, a confrontation with her nasty manager, seeing a passed out homeless man, a fake call home, an almost arrest by state troopers, and some secrets revealed...including Poppa does have a savvy of his very own.

A really cute fantasy that is perfect for the tween age. The main character is part of a family where all the members (except Poppa) has a savvy (a special gift for doing something special) – it should be noted that while many would call these talents magic, the author makes a point of the grandfather expressing that the family does not consider them magic or particularly different from 'regular' people. At it's heart, this book is about a girl finding something special in herself and confronting the fact that her parents are real people and invincible or perfect. Some of the dialect in the book grated on me a bit and a boy named Fish (no mention that it was a nickname) made me twitch, but the story held my interest and the ending satisfied me. A balance of happy ever after and reality. Some of the plotting may have stretch believability to the limit, but that is a small complaint about a really good story.

Mock Printz: The Fold by An Na

Title: The Fold
Author: An Na
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0-399-24276-2

A Korean American teen, Joyce, is offered plastic surgery on her eyes by an Aunt who has come into some lottery money. Joyce has always been the plain sister and is tempted by the surgery which would give her eyes 'the fold'. Joyce debates the idea of getting the surgery with her best friend, Sam (a boy who lives in her apartment building who struggles with severe acne), and her older sister who has always been the pretty and smart one.
Joyce's aunt railroads her a bit and makes appointments with a plastic surgeon before Joyce has made up her mind. Her sister thinks she's insane to even consider it, her best friend thinks that she is insane NOT to do it, and Sam won't weigh in - but it's clear he's been crushing on Joyce. At the surgeon's office, Joyce gets some much needed impartial information and gets to see what a difference the surgery will make. The doctor glues her eyelids into place as they would look after the surgery.
The normal teen dramas happen: Joyce's new eyes are a hit and she's rocketed to the in crowd for an afternoon at the beach and her best friend feels left out, she disses Sam, realizes that the 'in' group isn't all it's cracked up to be, learns there is more to her sister than pretty, and eventually makes up with her friend and Sam and her sister.

Even now after at least a week of thinking about this book I am still unsure of it. There are times in this book that the stereotypes drove me nuts. But as soon as I was about to be truly fed up, Na would lift the curtain and give a peek behind the curtain. Whether it was the pretty and perfect sister who was studying to be a doctor (though it sounded from the text more like a therapist than a doctor), who was hiding the fact that she was 'in love' with her best friend and that she was afraid to come out of the close because she would embarrass the family, or the bossy aunt who everyone thinks is addicted to plastic surgery because she's vain and has had many American husbands, who reveals to Joyce what happened when her first husband brought her to America and how she was treated. The biggest twist was at the end....

SPOILER - for any who care

Joyce decides at the very last second not to do the surgery, but she keeps the glue the doctor gives her because sometimes she might want an adventure. She asks her aunt to give the money to her friend to help her get clear braces instead of regular metal ones. So does substance win over beauty? A very intriguing book which will definitely get readers talking about issues of beauty, family, stereotypes, and lots more.

Mock Printz: Wake

Title: Wake
Author: Lisa McMann
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4169-5357-9
Review - Nominated for BBYA 2009

Plot: Ever since she was eight years old, high school student Janie Hannagan has been uncontrollably drawn into other people's dreams, but it is not until she befriends an elderly nursing home patient and becomes involved with an enigmatic fellow-student that she discovers her true power. Working in the nursing home is a way for Janie to save for college, but sometimes it's torture when the residents pull her into dreams of wartime and it's getting worse. School isn't any better, when classmates regularly nod off in class or in study hall and drag Janie with them. You see Janie can't escape the dreams and when she's dragged in she often passes out or appears to be having a seizure. After one incident at work, she's forced to go to a doctor and he begs her not to drive. She, of course, ignores him and buys a car. On the way home one night, she's dragged into a boy's nightmare and in time she find out it's the cute skater guy who came to her rescue the spring before. As he and Janie become friends and more the lies and complications mount until it climaxes in an unbelievable, but happy ending for the main characters.

This book was much deeper than I thought it was going to be. Not mentioned in the cover flap info is the alcoholic mother (Janie's), the dead brother (her best friend's), the abusive father (the boy's) and the drug dealing at parties. It mixes fantasy, teen romance, and police drama complete with rich bad girls and teen drama. Sex is talked about but there is nothing explicit and while some of the secrets and consistences just seem too unreal the story was a much better read than anticipated. From the ending of this book, I'm betting that it's the start of a series.

Another book that I doubt will remain on my list for Printz conteder through the whole year, but it has a place for now. And it might suprise me again.

Mock Printz: Lock and Key by Dessen

Title: Lock and Key
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking, 2008

Plot: Ruby is 'rescued' from living by herself after her mother takes off. At first Ruby resents being told she can't live on her own and believes that she doesn't need anyone, especially not the sister who left for school 10 yrs ago and didn't want Ruby or her mom in her life anymore. But with time Ruby comes to realize that not everything in the past is what she thought it was and that having ties to people who care about you isn't the worst thing in the world. Just about when she's figuring this our she discovers one of her new found friends has a dangerous secret. Ruby has to decide if she wants to get involved or stay separate.

In this coming of age story, Ruby doesn't have to battle to survive in the wilderness or confront a horrible secret in her part, her coming of age is much quieter. Ruby has to admit at least to herself that she DID need rescuing and that her mother had lied to her about many different things. Her moment of truth is when she decides to get involved in other people's lives, but this doesn't happen in one crystal clear shining moment. It happens slowly as different people in her life begin to matter to her. It also isn't smooth sailing, Ruby makes mistakes though the one time her sister and brother-in-law tell her she has to deal with the consequences it doesn't really happen. They ground her and put on restrictions, however as the story continues she doesn't seem all that restricted. She still hangs with her friends and going with her friend/romantic interest while he runs errands for his father's business. So I'm not sure you can say she lives with the consequences of her mistakes.
Overall, I really liked the book with just a few minor points that I thought wrapped up too easily.

Mock Printz (or Newbery?): Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

Title: eleven
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Publisher: Random House, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-385-73069-3
Star - Nominated for BBYA 2009

It's Sam's eleventh birthday and for some reason he's afraid of eleven. Sam lives with his grandfather above their woodworking shop in a large building which also houses a deli and restaurant both owned by friends of his grandfather. Together the residents of the building have formed a small family. At the start of the story Sam finds an odd locked chest in the attic when he goes searching for his birthday presents. Sticking out of the chest is an old newspaper article with the word missing and a picture of Sam, but the problem is that Sam has trouble reading and can't figure out the rest of the article. A new girl at school and a great teacher, who understands that different kids have different talents, enable Sam to get help. The new girl - Caroline- becomes Sam's best friend and together they work on a school project and solve the mystery of Sam's article.

This book was nominated for best books for teens, but I think it firmly belongs in the younger section. The main characters are just turning eleven and though the mystery starts as interesting, it pretty quickly dissolves into something that could have been solved if either of the kids had thought to say, "Hey, lets ask any one of the adults involved what happened."
I liked the fact that the teachers in the story were good teachers and that Sam's reading problems were written about without tossing out a name or label (dyslexia - usually) and then dismissed as easily overcome, but that's probably the most interesting and worthy thing in the book. It was a good story and a pleasant mystery for kids who don't like anything too scary, but for your die hard mystery fans? They will be disappointed with such an easy non-mystery ending I think.