Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Author: Jessica Warman
Publisher: Walker & Company
Starred reviews in: Booklist, SLJ, BBYA nominee
Gifted swimmer, Katie Kitrell’s life in her small Pennsylvania town changes when her older brother Will (whom Katie’s closest to and who suffers from drug induced schizophrenia) progressively gets worse and attempts suicide. Not close to her distant, barely present psychiatrist father and her alcoholic, artist mother-- 15 year-old Katie quickly warms to the idea of being sent away to Woodsdale, a private school in West Virginia. There she can be free of her fracturing home life, Will’s increasingly erratic behavior and the town whose petty inhabitants she blames for Will’s illness. Pettiness of course follows Katie to prep school but thanks to her talent and love for swimming and her aura of new-comer mystery, she manages to score a spot in popular hierarchy and a relationship with the attractive captain of the boys' swim team. Pressure to fit in and then to succeed mounts. It’s exacerbated by Katie’s determination to hide much of her family’s story. A half-truth turns into a lie (that Will is dead and not in and out of institutions) that eats away at her. Support comes from a surprising place. Katie’s equally secretive roommate, the caustic, standoffish and clever Mazzie, learns Katie’s secret but keeps it. The girls form a true friendship filled with sarcastic but touching dialogue, sisterly bed sharing, sometimes brutal honesty and stints hiding in a cabinet beneath the sink of a girls’ bathroom. Ultimately, Katie must balance her desire to escape and find her own happiness while holding onto unbreakable ties and that which she loves. Even when it's hard to.
What’s most appealing about Warman’s debut novel is that many elements ring true. Though a work of fiction, this could just as easily be a teenage memoir. The setting of Katie’s small town PA, of prep school, even if the reader’s never been or barely experienced, Warman lets you experience both through Katie. Readers aren’t watching- they’re living. The bite of false friends, the strength of true friendships, the pangs and pleasures of first love, the pressure to succeed, the fragile family dynamic, the destructive capabilities of illness…..they are realistically portrayed. Warman’s characters are fleshed out, flawed and funny; friends and foes, sometimes both rolled into one. Breathless is honest and wrenching, a story with the good, the bad and the ugly of life.
Consider this book for a Printz honor and for a place on your shelves.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Author: Saci Lloyd
Publisher: Holiday House
Starred Review: BL, HB, SLJ
It’s 2015 and the Great Storm has hit. In response Great Britain conducts a grand experiment to try to stem the effects of climate change. Those measures which were to be phased in slowly until fruition in 2030 are now put into effect immediately. Nationwide carbon rationing will be instituted beginning January 1, 2015. What follows is, “Carbon Diaries: 2015”. This is one year in the life of British teen Laura as she watches family and friends struggle with the fall out of this drastic experiment.
Laura is a very sympathetic character. It can not be said that she takes the carbon rationing with grace and dignity because she doesn’t. She is very real in her reactions to events around her. At times it seems as though society is disintegrating around her. Her parent’s marriage doesn’t look as if it will survive and she suspects her sister is somehow involved in the black market that has developed around selling carbon “points”. On top of all these worries she is still trying to get her punk band off the ground. Life is full of worries for Laura but the book and Laura do have humorous moments. She is a somewhat sarcastic character with at times biting comments. The story is written in journal format interspersed with newspaper clippings, flyers and other items. It works very well in conveying Laura’s personality and innermost thoughts about the changes in her world. This is a well written, engaging book that can be read to promote discussion on eco topics or if one is simply looking for a strong, sympathetic teen character dealing with overwhelming odds.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Press, Random House
Starred reviews in: Booklist, BBYA nominee
Texas teen Cameron Smith was coasting along through high school and life in general with very little effort spent on either. All of this changes when he’s diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (the human equivalent of Mad Cow disease). He goes from being ignored to being pep rally celebrated. Immediate family members happy to give him a hard time or leave him to his lazy ways change their tune when faced with losing him. A stint in the hospital and Cameron’s story can go in one of two directions: What the rational reader believes or what the hopeful reader wants to believe. 1. Cameron begins to suffer hallucinations in earnest as his brain succumbs to the disease and he fades in and out of consciousness and reality. 2. Our hero accepts the quest Dulcie, the pink-haired punk angel, has lain out before him, accompanied by friend Gonzo (a gaming, hypochondriac dwarf) and a talking, badass lawn gnome evidently the Norse god Balder. On one trippy road trip they face fire giants while searching for the mysterious Dr. X, who can save both Cameron and the world (Dr. X’s time traveling has placed it in jeopardy). This world consists of tabloid code, time traveling, a Disney E-ticket that preserves health gaming style, a smoothie-loving happiness cult, evil-fighting jazz musicians, quotable sci-fi fandom, and the phony culture of both music television and high school.
Bray’s latest is sizable like her Gemma Doyle trilogy. The only other thing they have in common is that Going Bovine is another fantastic tale worth reading. Going Bovine is at once insanely amusing, laugh out loud funny sci-fi but also misty-eye inducing and thought provoking contemporary fiction. Satirical and touching. Star Wars meets Don Quixote. Pop culture melded with philosophy. Bray successfully peppers Cameron’s quest with bits and pieces of real life mentioned pre-hospitalization and readers wonder at their significance to the mission and/or peg them as evidence Cameron’s hallucinating brain is failing. Like Cameron, you never quite know what’s really happening. Characters, specifically Cameron, are well drawn. The dialogue is clever (side splitting) and believable. Bray’s sometimes off the wall humorous sci-fi blends well with spot on observations on the human condition, belief, what’s superficial and what’s real….and what it means to live. While the story plods along at points, weighted by the surreal and the amount of material, invested readers should stick it out till the end. When it comes, they’ll have to decide if Cameron’s quest/hallucination afforded him the chance to really live.
Maybe not THE winner but worth keeping on our list and definitely worth picking up for your library.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Starred Review: Kirkus
“The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad except that Nick kept his favourite sword under the sink.”
So starts “The Demon’s Lexicon” by Sarah Rees Brennan. This is Brennan’s debut work and it is the story of sixteen year old Nick, his older brother Alan and their mentally unstable mother Olivia. They live their lives on the run and armed to the teeth ready for attack at any moment. The family is evading the magicians who are after an amulet worn by Nick’s mother. Magicians are given power by demons but this comes at a price. Nick’s own mother was driven mad by magic and other magicians have committed acts of violence in their search for power. Into this chaos come Jamie and Mae, a brother and sister, with a serious problem. Jamie has been given two demon marks. One more mark and Jamie dies. Alan agrees to help and Nick reluctantly finds himself doing so as well, only because Alan wants him to, and not because he cares whether Jamie lives or dies. This is typical of Nick who seems unable to feel or understand complex emotions. All Nick cares about is ensuring his and Alan’s survival. Not even his own mother, who screams at the sight of Nick, enters his sphere of protection.
“The Demon’s Lexicon” is an adventure packed read. Nick is all brute strength and is very over protective of Alan who has a weakened leg after an attack when they were young. Alan can be just as fierce and deadly but is obviously a very caring person, something that seems completely beyond Nick’s capabilities, much to Alan’s dismay. Nick is such an interesting character precisely because he is so fierce. One gets the sense that he would absolutely do away with anyone in his way and the only thing keeping him in check is Alan. Nick has had an unshakeable faith in Alan but even that faith is tested when family secrets begin coming to light. This rocks Nick’s world as Alan, the one constant in his life, seems to be changing the rules on him. One can’t help but root for Nick as he struggles to temper his ways and at the same time protect Alan who puts his own life in danger in the quest to help Jamie. Some might be put off by Nick’s anger and antipathy throughout the book but stick with it and the twists and turns lead you to a sad, suspenseful, and action packed climax. “The Demon’s Lexicon” is not a Printz contender but is a must read for any fan of the TV show Supernatural since the brotherly dynamic is so reminiscent of that between the Winchester brothers.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Author: Kristin Cashore
Starred Review:The Horn Book, Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal
It is kind of mean of me to mention this book when it isn't released until October, but you'll want to make sure you put your name on the holds list in advance.
Fire is part-human, part-Monster, and while most of the monsters in the Dells are rabid, vicious creatures, Fire is lovely on the outside and inside. She has the ability to read people's minds, talk to them inside their heads, and influence them, but she does not use this power for evil unlike her father Cansrel did before his death. The royal family requests Fire's assistance in investigating spies from opposing forces in the kingdom. She leaves her childhood friend and lover Archer to join the family. This summary does not do the book justice.
Although there is a lot of action in this novel, the story is primarily character driven. The characters are so well-drawn and the writing is stellar. Realistic fiction writers should take note of this book, as the romance is so well-developed you spend the book waiting desperately for the resolution, as opposed to most contemporary YAs in which the love interest is bland and the protagonist barely has a conversation with the guy before the tepid kiss at the end.
Fire is a prequel to the lovely Graceling, but completely stands alone. Only one character appears in both books but the appearance does not require knowledge of the other book.
I would be surprised if this book didn't end up with a Printz Honor sticker, though I'm not quite sure it will take the top prize.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Author: David Macinnis Gill
Publisher: Greenwillow/Harper Collins
Eunice “Bug” Smoot is having a bad day. Someone has egged her car, she’s lost her job, she is about to be evicted, and if that weren’t bad enough, a demon has come to repossess her car. It turns out her grandfather, Papa C, signed a contract putting their souls up as collateral for his purchase of a 1958 Cadillac. When, after his death, Papa C disappears the djinn Beals comes looking for him. Bug must either produce Papa C or forfeit her own soul. Beals is now permanently attached to the car until the completion of the contract and develops and unwanted fascination with Bug that paves the way for many confrontations throughout the book. Papa C was her last remaining family but lucky for her she isn’t as alone as she thinks. It turns out Pesto, former classmate and current crush, is a member of ISIS the International Supernatural Immigration Service. He uses his connections in ISIS and with Attorney E. Figg to try to figure out a way to cut Beals loose from the car and get out of the contract with Scratch (the devil) so that Bugs can keep her soul and free will.
Author David Macinnis Gill is off to a good start with this debut novel. The story takes place in El Paso, Texas and this isn’t mentioned just for show in the book. Gill infuses the story with plenty of local flavor with his mention of holidays and landmarks found in El Paso. Bug is half Tejana and half African-American while Pesto is Mexican-American and there is a smattering of Spanish phrases in the book, particularly when Pesto's mom, Mariposa (Butterfly) is added to the mix. Bug is a tough young woman who has had a rough start in life. Her dad left and her other family died when she was young until she was left with Papa C who despite his faults was someone she loved dearly and who she knows loved her. This is why she is shocked, hurt and just plain mad that he would sell her soul for a car! Despite the nature of the story this is not an "angsty" book. It is filled with action, legal mumbo jumbo, comedic moments and a touch of romance. The dialogue between Bug and Pesto is snappy and flirtatious. Bug is a diamond in the rough. She is at times awkward and rough spoken, but almost always endearing. Recommend to those who like to read about feisty heroines, supportive maybe maybe-not boyfriends, and/or good-vs.-evil battles with a touch wackiness.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Author: Deborah Heiligman
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co., LLC
Starred reviews in: Booklist, SLJ
In 1838 London, Charles Darwin sat and considered marriage—using a pros and cons list. With the decision to marry resolved, and his father’s two cents sought, fate and family put Darwin in the path of cousin, Emma Wedgwood. The match, as presented by Heiligman (supported with excerpts from letters, journals and notes etc.) proved more than successful. Charles and Emma’s marriage was a loving one, supportive, full of compromise and full of children (they had 10 with 7 surviving). They suffered their share of grief and felt the weight of a continued underlying tension due to conflicting religious beliefs— mainly God’s role in creation and what follows death. As Darwin’s family grew, so did his controversial theories on evolution and natural selection. Theories he knew would not be happily received by the general public, many of his scientific peers and more personally, his wife whose religious beliefs were strengthened following the death of a much beloved sister. In a world influenced by religion, in a class system religion seemed to preserve and in a marriage where his generally, very open-minded wife feared they wouldn’t meet in heaven – Darwin forged ahead in his experiments, observations and his revolutionary writing.
Which, ultimately, Emma proofread, even if she didn’t agree.
Heiligman’s biography is engrossing, with excellent tone and pacing. The integration of historical facts and quotations do not stall the reader. While it’s not a full and comprehensive look at either spouse’s life it’s certainly engaging enough to pique the interest of readers. (Even, or especially, those not inclined to non-fiction or science…like myself.) It’s an introductory meeting with Darwin and his family, historical non-fiction that doesn’t suffer from dry or overwhelming information and it’s also a genuine romance. There’s more emphasis on the Darwins’ life than Charles’ scientific theories in detail. How those theories relate to his marriage, his family and vice versa. Included are source notes, a selected bibliography and a few images (i.e. a copy of that pros and cons list). I would very much like this title to be honored in some way.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Author: Karlijn Stoffels(translated by Laura Watkinson)
Publisher:Arthur A. Levine Books
Starred Review: PW
Heartsinger was originally released, in Dutch, in 2006. It is the story of Mee, the “Singer of Sorrows”. He has the ability to sing someone’s life story and heal their emotional pain but he is unable to heal his own. The story begins with Mee’s childhood as the child of two deaf parents. When his father dies he tries to soothe his mother’s pain but is unable to do so since she cannot hear his song. He soon loses her to her sadness and thereafter begins wandering the countryside unable to cope with his inability to help his mother. As he wanders Mee meets many different people and his song is able to soothe the remaining friends and families as he sings the life story of the one who has passed on. His sadness is at times overwhelming and though we see him surrounded by people he is in fact very much alone.
Born on the same day as Mee, is Mitou, the child of parents who resent each other and ignore her. From them she learns how hurtful words can be but is lucky enough to find that through her music she can make those around her laugh and dance and experience joy. She comes to be known as Mitou the “Merrymaker”. She soon learns about Mee, the Singer of Sorrows, born on the same day and time that she was. Mitou somehow knows that she and Mee belong together and sets out to meet him. The questions then become whether or not she can find him and even if she does can he see past his own grief to realize that the Singer of Sorrows and the Merrymaker belong together?
Heartsinger is an odd little book. At 134 pages one would think that it would be a quick read. However those 134 pages are full of stories some of which don’t connect until the very end of the book. Though it is essentially the story of Mee and Mitou it is also the story of Esperanza the sad princess and Viereg the prince in love. It is the story of the sailor and his wife and also the story of an army captain and all the other characters that Mee meets. Stoffels tells us the story of each one. It can at times be overwhelming and though some stories connect at the end not all do and serve to make the book not confusing necessarily but just a bit more complicated than one would expect from such a short novel. This could be described as a fairy tale with characters that at times seem to have almost magical abilities thought it is not explicitly stated that this is so. This would probably be most appreciated by those who read fairy tales and are looking for a short if not quick read.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Author: Justina Chen Headley
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Starred reviews in: Booklist
Terra Cooper, 16, is a high school senior and artist ready to graduate and hoping to study art in a college far away from a home ruled by her sarcastic and cruel cartographer father. Terra’s older brothers have escaped Mr. Cooper’s verbal abuse while Terra, and especially her mother, Lois, suffer it daily. For Terra, his jabs focus on the port-wine stain on Terra’s face and her art-- her collages. Terra covers her face in layers of make-up, covers her insecurities and fears behind a strong façade, an unfulfilling relationship and a work out regime that keeps her body in top shape. She reveals inner turmoil and hidden parts of herself in the layers and pieces that make up her collages. A near fatal accident and these browbeaten Cooper women’s fates collide with that of Jacob, an Asian-American teen who was abandoned in China because of a cleft-lip and Jacob's strong, business minded and kind-hearted adoptive mother, Norah. While Norah and Jacob have their own family crisis to deal with, they bond quickly with Terra and Lois, offering support and friendship, and in the case of Terra and Jacob, something more. Save a lie through omission (Terra's couple status), Terra and Jacob see each other for who they are, not looking past their scars and stains but appreciating them as part of the package. Together with their mothers, they travel outside of their comfort zones and to China. They work through emotional landmines, push past barriers, face fears and discover the true meaning of beauty.
Headley’s tale of self-acceptance and personal growth is entirely engaging and wonderfully written. Every character, from Terra to her over-worked and distanced eldest brother Merc, is well-crafted and believable. Like it’s protagonist, North of Beautiful is richly layered and Headley manages to piece together a strong, satisfying read. Her description of China comes alive as a character in its own right. The mapping metaphors fit seamlessly and enhance rather than distract from the story. Readers root for Terra and Lois and their journey from under Mr. Cooper’s thumb and the insecurities drilled into them there. With these women, the readers are reminded of the different ways beauty manifests itself and that appreciating these incarnations (a kindness, a smile, self-acceptance, uniqueness, true understanding), is just another form of beauty.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Starred review in: Booklist, Jan 15, 2009
Ida Mae Jones is a light-skinned African-American who lives on a strawberry farm in 1940's Louisiana. Her life would have been predictable except for her Dad, who before he dies, teaches her to fly a plane and dust the crops. This strong fascination with flying gives her an opportunity when the war breaks out. Her younger brother finds a recruitment ad for the WASP, a non-military group of women being formed to act in an auxiliary capacity for the army. Ida Mae dresses up in borrowed clothing and sneaks off on an interview. Not knowing she is black, they accept her into the program. Her adventures in the WASP about her and her colleagues, coming from all different backgrounds, have one thing in common, patriotism and an ambition to fly. It tells about their training with men who don't think women can do this. And even when they can, they make it difficult or make fun of them. I especially loved the story of one poor woman who fell out of the plane because she forgot to use her seatbelt. Then there is the story of Ida Mae who is told to keep her mouth closed or else it will fill with insects. The stories about flying back then are so interesting. The stories about the racial tensions astounded me. When her mother comes to the camp unexpectedly, she needs to say and act as if she is her maid. When Ida Mae finds herself involved emotionally with a white male instructor, things get dicy. Even her escapades into town and off the base get very hairy in segregated Texas. This book is so much fun and yet quite serious. I enjoyed the characters, such clearly delineated characters, and I enjoyed the stories of the early days of flying. Their fight to be able to fly and the added layer of racism is not easily forgotten. I got so interested in this book that I personally went and researched the WASP. In the end of the book, when the two girls fly the B-29, it was so suspenseful. I later read that that particular story was true. The army did that exercise simply to embarrass the men into flying the B-29. This book was one of the most interesting historical fiction for teens that I have read. By the way, as far as we know, there was no African-American who did fly as part of the WASP . However, Ida Mae is encouraged by a Chinese woman in the book and in reality, there were two Chinese women and one rumored Latina. One of the Chinese women was killed while flying. Sherri Smith deserves a round of applause for writing this story.
Susan Rappaport, Rutherford Public Library
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Title: King of the Screwups
Author: K.L. Going
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Starred reviews in: PW, SLJ
High school senior Liam Geller has a tendency to unintentionally upset his father when Liam’s main goal for most of his life has been to appease and impress him. A transgression involving a girl, a state of undress and his wealthy CEO father’s desk proves to be the proverbial last straw. Faced with being shipped to his paternal grandparents (as unforgiving and closed-minded as his loathsome father) Liam opts to stay with Mr. Geller’s estranged brother. “Aunt Pete”, friend to Liam’s mom, is a cross-dressing musician/ radio deejay with a glam rock band, a trailer abode, good intentions, heart and a boyfriend who ends up being Liam’s new English teacher. Liam and Pete fumble a bit but ultimately form a relationship infinitely preferable to the one Liam shares with his cruel and verbally abusive father. Try as he might to reinvent himself into the kind of man he thinks his father could respect and love (‘unpopular geek’ stereotype), Liam’s genuine charm, natural aptitude for fashion and the good looks he inherited from his runway model mother make it near impossible. In trying to create a father-pleasing-persona and failing miserably, Liam manages (with the help of his supportive, insightful glam rock family and Pineville friends) to discover his promise and potential. Liam realizes his talents, passions and who he is are worth standing up for. Preferably on a runway.
Going does a great job showing how Liam’s potential and happiness are stifled by his father’s expectations, disapproval and bullying. The destructive behavior Liam often apologizes for tends to happen after exposure to his father in a cycle as vicious as Mr. Geller, whose history of unpopularity clearly causes his resentment of his son and wife. With Screwups, Going offers a flip side view of wealth and beauty, their superficial and alternative meanings. Italicized flashbacks are perfectly timed and don’t slow the pace, instead they reveal and emphasize the different relationships Liam has with his parents and how they’ve shaped him. The dialogue is believable and the characterization fleshed out. Liam is a likable, relatable protagonist. Aunt Pete and his glam band are a group of guys who each bring something to Liam’s picnic table of personal growth. The ending his hopeful but realistic and doesn’t fall into the trap typically accompanied by cued up “moment” music reminiscent of Full House episodes. Probably not the winner. An honor would be nice. But a space on your shelves is a step in the right direction.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Starred review in: PW, SLJ
Fifteen year old Belly's family has spent every summer sharing a beach house with her mother's best friend, Susannah and her two boys, Jeremiah and Conrad. Where as every summer before the boys have left her because she was too young and a girl, this summer turns out to be different. Belly is no longer the annoying, little sister, this summer it seems that everyone is finally paying attention to her. Belly has always had a crush on the older and brooding Conrad, but this summer Jeremiah is paying special attention to her and she gains her first boyfriend, the harmless Cam.
This summer Belly (or Isabel) has to navigate changing relationships and some unexpected sad news. As Belly states in the beginning of the novel, “it was the summer everything began”.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is a wonderful summer read. Jenny Han has a great style and is able to magically transport everyone (including this “older” reviewer) to a summer where everything was perfect and changed in great ways. Jenny Han captures a perfect coming of age tale. The novel is a blend of romance and family issues. Chapters that chronicle past summers give the reader a back story that perfectly explains the dynamic between Belly and her family, and Belly and Susannah's boys.
The Summer I Turned Pretty is the perfect novel to give your Sarah Dessen audience. While it might not be a strong contender for the Printz award, it does leave the reader feeling good about the endless possibilities for summer romance, drama, and discovery.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Title: The Princess and the Bear
Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Starred Review: Kirkus
“The Princess and the Bear” is a sequel of sorts to Harrison’s book, “The Princess and the Hound”. It is not necessary to have read that one to appreciate “The Princess and the Bear”. This is the story of a hound who was once a princess and a bear who was once a king. Though they live together in the forest they regard each other warily. This is a world of magic whereby humans who have magic can speak to animals and even transform. Magic is a living thing in this world but it is soon threatened by the spread of “unmagic”. When the hound comes across the creature spreading this “unmagic” she and the bear find that they must journey to the past in order to try to prevent this future tragedy from occurring. Richon, the former bear and Chala, the former hound must work together all while dealing with their changing feelings for one another.
This is a beautiful story with writing that can only be described as “quiet”. Though there is violence in the story it is not glorified in any way. The romance between the two leads is interesting in that Chala retains much of her personality even when she is turned human. Richon, who was human previously, has spent so long as a bear that he is also relearning what it is to be human. Add to this the fact that he didn’t like himself much as a human in the first place so he is very conflicted about being in his own past and being worthy of the fierce and loyal Chala. Richon is a conflicted king and his horror at his own actions and his growth and acceptance of responsibility is successfully conveyed by the author. The story will not appeal to everyone since the writing is so understated but for those interested in a world of magic with a touch of romance the book may hold some appeal.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Author: Catherine Jinks
We are all used to the image of the vampire as a powerful, sexy creature of the night.
Nothing could be further from the truth in Catherine Jinks’ story “The Reformed Vampire Support Group”. Jinks’ vampires are sickly creatures hiding in the shadows and feeding on guinea pigs. The main character is Nina Harrison who was turned into a vampire in 1973 and has spent the last 30+ years as a wan, petite, fifteen year old teenager with a bad haircut. To make it through the trying days Nina and her fellow vampires meet once a week in a support group founded by group member Sanderson. They would like nothing more than to stay under the radar but to their horror they discover they’ve been exposed somehow when one of their members is staked.
The support group has to find the killer before someone else gets staked.
It seems like vampire books are being published left and right in YA literature so it’s refreshing to read this book by Catherine Jinks with it’s unusual cast of characters. Her vampires are flawed people who can be whiny and selfish but also brave and resourceful. This book is for the teen who is interested in a book where the vampire genre is turned on its head. It even has a touch of romance as well as the requisite werewolf if you just have to have that in your supernatural reading. There are many characters some of whom get barely any “air time”. In fact there is one member missing from the cover art. It is an interesting read and the author does give the back story as to how the support group members were turned. Recommend to those looking for a different kind of vampire book.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Title: If I Stay Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Starred review in: SLJ, Kirkus, VOYA
Mia is facing all of the typical problems of a high school senior: Will she get into Julliard? If she moves to New York, will she lose her boyfriend? Soon after the book begins Mia faces a challenge that makes all of her worries trivial. She gets into a car accident with her family and is in a coma in the hospital. Throughout the story, she learns the fates of her parents and brother, and watches her family and friends react to her accident. Most of the story is told in short flashbacks to different parts of her life. She looks back at the people in her life and realizes that some of the decisions she had to make have all boiled down to one question: Should she stay?
Get your tissues ready. This is a lovely tearjerker with award appeal written all over it. The writing isn't particularly inventive, but it is clear, concise and there isn't an extraneous word in here. The standout of this book is the characters. In short flashbacks, Forman creates a vivid and loving family, from settled down punk rock dad and mom, to the extended family and friends out in the waiting room. Mia's relationship feels much more authentic than most cookie cutter YA romances. I really don't want to say too much but this is a great one that you could recommend to teenage girls who liked Before I Die and other weepy YA books.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
Author: Nora Raleigh Baskin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Starred review in: BL
In Anything but Typical, Jason Blake, like so many teens, finds his voice though creative writing and the support of an online writing community. The thing about Jason is that, outside of his online existence, it is exceedingly difficult for him to express himself as he is a teen with autism. Because he processes social interaction so differently from his peers, he faces rejection at school and a home life that, while loving, is fraught with misunderstanding. In his online haven, Storyboard, Jason feels better able to compose his thoughts and be himself. He eventually strikes up a friendship with a girl, Rebecca, who admires his writing. Both his enthusiasm over having a (girl)friend and his passion for creative writing are spoiled when he has the opportunity to attend a Storyboard convention in Rebecca’s hometown. Jason realizes he will have to interact with Rebecca face-to-face, which will bring his differences to the fore of their relationship. However, in the end, Jason manages to face his fears and grows more comfortable with himself and his place in the world.
To the majority of us, interpreting the facial expressions and intonations of others comes naturally. So naturally, in fact, that to break the process down, to even note that there is a process, is a foreign and difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, that is what Nora Raleigh Baskin needed to do in order to make this book function, and she does so through stellar character development. It was ambitious of Baskin to assume the voice of an autistic twelve year old, but she does it compassionately. Though Jason has difficulty communicating with others, within himself his is highly perceptive, and witty. Baskin makes sure these traits shine through in Jason’s internal thought processes and through excerpts from his stories. It is so easy to get caught up in looking at the world though Jason’s eyes, that before long, his differences become the new normal and one begins to wonder along with Jason, “Why are they acting that way?” Baskin masterfully illustrates how thin the line between “typical” and “atypical” really is. I do not recommend reading this offering in one sitting, as I did, because there is just too much to digest at once. Yet, I do highly recommend digesting it.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Author: Victoria McKernan
Starred Reviews: SLJ, PW
Aiden,15, and Maddy, 13, are the last survivors of a community in the plains of Kansas in the summer of 1866. They are literally scraping mud to keep the hunger at bay when Jefferson T. Jackson, a wagon train leader and recruiter for a logging camp, runs into the two kids. Impressed by their pluck and more compassionate than he looks, he agrees to take the kids with him and "sell" Aiden to the Oregon logging camp. It is a rough trip out to Oregon but the people in this wagon train are all people like the two kids who have little or nothing to lose. The journey gives good insight into the lives of these people who settled the west and as their lives intersected with the Native Americans already living there, we see the clash of cultures and resources that resulted. Aiden ends up befriending a boy his age, Tupic, who belongs to the Nez Perce tribe. After the Indians save Aiden's life, he is later forced to help Tupic to save his own tribe from the scourge of Smallpox. Not all the characters make it to Oregon and so the costs of the trip are made clear. I enjoyed this book very much. It really gives you the sense of what it was like going across the country right after the civil war. McKernan does not romanticize the story in any way although there is love and humanity in the book but it is hard to come by. I never knew that the smallpox vaccine was purposely kept from the Indians although the author makes it very clear that at no time were infected blankets purposely given to the Indians, something that was rumored.... This book is written quite well, researched well and holds up as an interesting read. It is one of the best historical fiction books written for teens in a long time. After it ended , I really missed the characters. The author just brings you into this world. I don't know that it will win the Printz but it is a book well worth reading and having in the YA collections.
Susan Rappaport, Rutherford Public Library
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Starred review in: Kirkus, School Library Journal, PW
Summary: Marcelo Sandoval, 17, has plans to spend his summer working with the ponies at Paterson, the private school he’s attended since grammar school. He wants to return in the fall for his senior year. Marcelo’s father, Arturo, a successful corporate lawyer in Boston, has other plans for Marcelo, who has an autism spectrum disorder (the closest diagnosis, Asperger’s). Marcelo listens to his own internal music, sometimes slips into third person, his ‘special interest’ is religion in all forms and he likes to know what to expect and what is expected of him. Arturo wants Marcelo to attend a mainstream high school, Oak Ridge, instead of Paterson’s specialized environment. But Marcelo is comfortable at Paterson. Arturo offers a deal. If Marcelo can successfully navigate the “real world” by his father’s standards and work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer instead of with the ponies, Marcelo will be allowed to return to Paterson and follow his own plans. Apprehensive but determined NOT to attend Oak Ridge, Marcelo reluctantly agrees. The summer internship exceeds expectations (both Marcelo’s and other's) offering new possibilities, plans and relationships. Marcelo, self-aware, highly-intelligent and kind hearted- experiences both the ugly and the beautiful sides of life in the “real world”. He gets caught up in nasty office politics, suffers the attentions of closed-minded, cruel and manipulative individuals and gets an accidental lesson in the shadier areas of litigation. But Marcelo makes a strong connection with co-worker Jasmine and helps another young woman when his father initially refused to. Loyalties, morals and ethics are tested but Marcelo manages to simultaneously stay true to himself and grow. While he adapts to the world around him, Marcelo also affects positive changes.
This is a great character driven novel where the protagonist’s journey isn’t limited to minor character development. It doesn’t suffer from the “complete 180” you sometimes come across. Marcelo’s experience in his father’s much touted “real world” is believable but more than anything, it’s how the “real world” and Marcelo influence one another. This comes across as real…and balanced. (And gratifyingly defies Arturo’s expectations.) Marcelo is more honest and self-aware than most. Despite other people’s preconceived notions of him, Marcelo is also extremely perceptive; whether he reads faces, tones or sees past people’s words and right to their intentions. Stork maintains a dynamic core in Marcelo but gives him the freedom to grow and expand outside his comfort zone and the box other’s put him in. Secondary characters are also susceptible to realistic change and usually surpass stock restrictions (the deplorable Holmes men and their icy assistant are believably slimey and arrogant, Marcelo’s understanding mother Aurora is wonderfully sympathetic and also encouraging). This is especially true of Jasmine, Marcelo’s musically inclined and equally perceptive colleague in the mailroom. She starts off with more professional, private boundaries but opens up to Marcelo and is a true friend. It took one or two chapters for me to become involved in the story, but once Marcelo was ‘parentally bargained’ into the law firm mailroom, I went from interested to invested and other readers will too.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Author: Rodman Philbrick
Publisher: Blue Sky Press
Starred review in: BL
Homer P. Figg is a liar.
As he would tell you himself, “Telling the truth don’t come easy to me, but I will try”. This explains why his adventures are only “mostly” true. The story is set in the 1860’s. Homer and his brother Harold are orphans living in Pine Swamp, Maine under the dubious care of their uncle, Squinton (Squint) Leach. There is no love lost between the boys and their mean uncle Squint who works them hard and leaves them hungry. In fact, Homer is so hungry that he eats some food intended for the pigs, annoying Squint who tries to strike him. Harold defends Homer and an infuriated Squint sells Harold into the Union Army even though the teen is not yet eighteen.
By the time Homer manages to escape the farm Harold is long gone. He sets out to rescue his brother but doesn’t get very far before stumbling upon two bounty hunters searching for runaway slaves. Upon discovering Homer’s gift for stretching the truth they attempt to force Homer to aid them in their search and instead Homer finds himself an unwilling participant of sorts in the Underground Railroad.
From there Homer embarks on adventure upon adventure, each more outlandish than the one before. From a run in with some con artists, to a stint as the “Amazing Pig Boy” to a daring escape in a runaway hot air balloon, Homer experiences the fantastical. However, no matter the adventure the goal is always the same. Find big brother Harold and save him from the war.
This is a fast paced rollicking adventure that happens to be historical fiction. Even if it’s not a Printz contender it is a worthwhile read for those looking for a story with a likeable character you can’t help but root for just to see what trouble he can get into next. The character at twelve years old was also young and at times his personality seemed even younger. This may be a title more at home in juvenile collections than in young adult collections.
The humor comes in the form of Homer’s strong voice and his penchant for stretching the truth if he thinks it will suit him. Though it does have humor one never forgets that there are serious events happening in the story with the specter of the Civil War looming large in the background.
The author, Rodman Philbrick, doesn’t shy away from conveying the sights and sounds of war when Homer finds himself on the front lines amidst the wounded and the dying. Because Homer’s voice is strong we are able to experience, through him, his horror at what is happening around him and his fear that his brother may be among the fallen.
Homer is a refreshing character in that he is an unabashed storyteller and that is just who he is. There is no grand change where he decides to only tell the truth and despite what he experiences and sees he doesn’t necessarily have a stand on the war.
All he knows and all he cares about is that he wants to be reunited with his big brother and the reader will want this too.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Author: Kate Feiffer
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Starred review in: PW
The Puddles are a family with not one, but many problems. However, the biggest problem they face is that Mr. and Mrs. Puddle simply cannot agree. They have “agreed to disagree” and they do so almost constantly. This, in turn, translates to further problems for their children Tom and Baby. For instance, Baby is called Baby by everyone except her father and mother who, when she was born, could not agree on what to call her. Her father calls her Ferdinanda and her mother calls her Emily. Legally, her name is Baby because that is how a frustrated hospital nurse filled out her birth certificate.
For the most part, the “agree to disagree” arrangement is merely another part of the Puddles’ family life. That is until they accidentally leave their two dogs (both named Sally) at their country home when they return to the city. Mr. Puddle hates city life and wishes to return for the dogs to prolong their time in the country. Mrs. Puddle dislikes the country, can’t wait to get back to the city, and insists that they should lose no time in continuing their journey home. She proposes that they call a neighbor who can look after the dogs. Tom and Baby, being the most rational of the family, simply love their dogs and wish to return for them to ensure their safety.
Meanwhile, the Sallys set out to find the Puddles, certain they can sniff out the city as they go. The two dogs have a real adventure and enjoy their journey, until tired paws and insensitivity on the part of each dog causes a rift in their friendship. A series of mishaps, madcap side characters, and some heavy coincidences later, and the situation with the left-behind dogs brings the family closer to seeing eye-to-eye. In the end, the seemingly random plot points, tangents, and character quirks come together to wrap up into a very neat little story.
Initially, I found this book slow going. For the first chapter or so, it seemed like the author was trying so hard to be absurd, it failed to be funny. However, with rave reviews from authors like Sara Pennypacker (Clementine) and Nick Bruel (Bad Kitty), I had to trust that they knew what they were talking about, and they did. While such a book may not have the substance or emotional pull of some of this year’s other starred review books, it is an enjoyable, humorous story about a family with a unique parenting situation. Its originality might be enough to hook those hard-to-please reluctant readers.
Over the course of the story, Feiffer uses her voice as narrator to involve the reader in nontraditional ways by, for example, encouraging the reader to imagine something vividly descriptive without actually naming the object being described. In another instance, she leaves a page text-free to illustrate something being as “shocking” as a page in the middle of a story with no text on it. In the end, while the plot is not exactly predictable, the strength of the novel lies in Feiffer’s creative word play and textual devices.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Starred review in: SLJ
Having survived the fire that claimed his parents, twelve year old Lonnie finds himself settling into life with his new foster family. Separated from his little sister, Lili, he writes lovingly to her of his thoughts and experiences during their time apart. Though he is surrounded by a strong support network of teachers, friends, and foster family, Lonnie’s best outlet for his jumbled emotions is his writing. As an aspiring poet, Lonnie takes comfort in searching for the right words to express the emotional entanglements he faces. Aside from the twin aches caused by the loss of his parents and the separation from his sister, Lonnie struggles to accept the ease with which Lili adapts to her new family and how quickly she is willing to call her foster care giver “Mama.” Further, as his bond to his own foster family strengthens, Lonnie becomes a part of the uncertainty and anxiety a family faces when a son and brother is deployed overseas.
Prior to becoming Lonnie’s foster mother, Miss Edna raised two sons of her own. Her oldest son, Jenkins, is serving in Iraq throughout the first portion of the book. Eventually, Miss Edna receives word that Jenkins has gone missing. The tension and despair on the part of Miss Edna are palpable which translates to fear and confusion for Lonnie. When Jenkins is found and sent home badly wounded, Lonnie is frightened by Jenkins’ condition and unsure of how to approach a “brother” he has never met. The story concludes as Lonnie makes peace with his new concepts of family as he finds his place among people who love him.
As the title suggests, peace is a central theme in this novel. As Lonnie wishes for peace around the world, he also slowly works toward inner peace as he adjusts to the new realities of his life. Gratifying, if somewhat idealized, Lonnie has encountered more in his young life than many will ever have to experience, and yet manages to remain unboundedly optimistic.
Insightful and timely, this novel handles some of the harsher realities of the Iraq War’s casualties with sensitivity and grace. Lonnie is wise and perceptive, while his voice remains believable and compelling. Overall, this story is a tribute to the ever fluid definition of “family.” Additionally, it is important to note that while Peace, Locomotion is a companion volume to Woodson’s Locomotion, this book is capable of standing entirely on its own. In fact, it does so beautifully.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Starred review in: PW, SLJ, Booklist
Lia has severe depression, which she releases by cutting herself and making sure that she never eats. Her depression starts to spiral further out of control when her estranged best friend Cassie calls her 33 times before she dies, alone, in a motel room. Lia controls her guilt and depression by cutting herself even more and making sure she gets to her goal weight... but it's never enough and now Cassie is haunting Lia, reminding Lia that she is a "wintergirl" caught somewhere between life and death and that it would be "wicked cool" if she joined Cassie as a ghost. Should Lia keep on her self destructive path, or should she start to save herself?
"Wintergirls" was haunting.. and wonderfully written. Readers will flock to this book; first, because it's Anderson and second, because it is a real life struggle. The reader travels with Lia and understands how rage at her parents, competition with a friend, self loathing, and ultimately sadness mark Lia's development into the destructive character she is.
Anderson does what she does best, and perhaps that's why it seems so closely comparable to "Speak". Written as a diary of day to day thoughts, Anderson tells Lia's story lyrically and honestly. The most haunting moments are the ones where Lia speaks with pure honesty.. when she slips and lets us know that she does want food, that she does care for her family, or about the guilt of being the trigger to Cassie's death. The journey that one is taken on is hard; one deals with Lia's highs and her impossibly, desperate lows. One cringes when Lia surfs the sites dedicated to ProAna and starvation or celebration that she weighs 0085.00.
I began by saying that "Wintergirls" is haunting, but it's a lot of "ghosts" in this book that stay with you... Much like the "ghosts" that stay with Lia throughout her story.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Starred review in: (PW)
Mary's mother tells her stories about the ocean. Something Mary wants to believe in but has never seen, having lived in a fenced in community in the middle of a forest all her life. The Forest of Hands and Teeth-- where the Unconsecrated, ravenous and relentless flesh eating zombies, push at the fencing looking for a way in. Their bite infects and dooms any who get too close. Under the secretive Sisterhood's guidance (boot heel) and the Guardians' "protection" the people live restricted but seemingly content to be grateful and alive, able to further humanity. Mary is curious and less content. When her mother (like her father before) is lost to the Unconsecrated and her brother Jed casts her out, Mary finds herself living amongst the sisters. She quickly learns she's not cut out to join their ranks but more importantly that the sisters have knowledge they haven't shared and what they're capable of when threatened. Sister Tabitha, head zealot, thinks to have Mary married off to a childhood friend, Harry, knowing full well Mary is in love with his brother Travis. (Less soapy than it sounds.) The fence is breached before the ceremony by a newly turned, mysterious and seemingly impossible visitor. The Unconsecrated level the village and Mary, with a small band of other survivors (including her brother, beloved and betrothed) flee into the fortified and supplied path formerly forbidden but now the only escape out of the village....but through the forest. Mary hopes it leads to the ocean, to a place free of Unconsecrated, to safety and not to their deaths.
This will be one of those Printz contenders that will be an easy sell to teens and some adults as well (yes, I know this isn't BBYA etc.) but there it is. It's The Village meets Resident Evil or something of that ilk....but....
It's also well written. The world overrun by perpetually hungry undead feels real enough for the reader to fear the forest and tuck their toes under the blanket. The danger is palpable. As is the restriction of the village for a young woman who thinks for herself. That fence keeps villagers in as much as it keeps Unconsecrated out. Ryan's description and pacing grips. But mostly, it's Mary and her journey. Everything she lives through and the emotions these situations evoke are believable and often as raw as those gaping wounds the Unconsecrated leave if they catch you. Loss, numbing fear, rage, rejection, restlessness, love, desire, hope... Everything Mary feels the reader feels with her. Ryan isn't afraid to give and take that hope or sacrifice more along the way. It's unsettling like the moans of Unconsecrated clawing at the fence.
There's horror! There's romance! I won't mention the saga-that-shan't-be-named but here's one paranormal book with a love triangle (square?) element, where if your beloved bites....it's not a good thing and it won't end sparkly.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Winner: The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes
Honors: Tadpole Rex by Kurt Cyrus ; Don't Worry Bear by Greg Foley
Winner: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Honors: Seer of Shadows by Avi ; Lincoln shot! : a president's life remembered by Barry Denenberg ; The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Winner: Nation by Terry Pratchett
Honors: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson ; Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link ; The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Thanks to all who attended, and to the New Milford Public Library for hosting the program. We'll all be waiting anxiously on January 25.