Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mock Printz 2010: Breathless by Jessica Warman

Title: Breathless
Author: Jessica Warman
Publisher: Walker & Company
ISBN: 9780802798497
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

Mock Printz: Carbon Diaries 2015

Title: Carbon Diaries: 2015
Author: Saci Lloyd
Publisher: Holiday House
Starred Review: BL, HB, SLJ
ISBN: 9780823421909

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

Mock Printz 2010: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Title: Going Bovine
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Press, Random House
ISBN: 9780385733977
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.