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.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Title: King of the Screwups
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.