Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Whirligig / by Paul Flieschmann

Humiliated after being jilted by a girl at a party, 17-year-old Brent decides life's not worth living and promptly steers his car into oncoming traffic, little realizing that his life isn't the only one at stake. In fact the accident leaves Brent relatively unscathed, soon allowing him back into the realm of consciousness only to learn how his rash behavior's involuntarily killed another person. The fatal victim is a first generation American girl named Lea, who at 18, was a senior in high school already accepted to a prestigious four-year university on scholarship. She would have been the first in her family ever to attend college.

Sentenced to indefinite probation and countless hours of community service, to say nothing of the permanent anguish and guilt, Brent's still not prepared for what confronts him immediately after the hearing. Lea's mother meets with Brent to discuss a court-approved 'trip' she wants him to take to honor Lea's memory. Brent is to ride a greyhound bus to all four corners of the lower United States, spending enough time in each region--Miami, San Diego, Washington and Maine--to construct a whirligig (hand-crafted object spun by wind) solely with his own hands, tools and resources. The four whirligigs are to be given as a gift to someone special at each locale in remembrance of Lea.

The book's non-linear sequence of events really allows the reader inside Brent's character. Once a self-seeking teen only interested in upward-mobility, Brent's post-accident demeanor remains absent of everything he once was, his mindset now one of quiet repose and contemplation as he meets with the opportunity for at least some restitution. Intermittent descriptions of the four individuals destined to be the gift-bearers provide a good balance to Brent's narrative, each interpreted as someone able to understand the whirligig's brevity of meaning.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Chocolate War / by Robert Cormier

Despite being new student and freshman at an all-boys high school, Jerry Reinault knows better than to mess with the well-known—but unofficial—student power structure, The Vigils. Everyone’s aware that it’s this “organization”, headed by wise-guy Archie Costello, which begets hierarchy, maintains “order” and doles out responsibilities, essentially relegating underclassmen and outsiders to otherwise thankless tasks of school fundraisers. Now that the annual chocolate sale has essentially doubled its quota, everyone has to work just a little extra, everyone except the stubbornly obstinate Jerry that is. While Jerry’s stern refusal to participate is only uncomfortable at first, his sustained defiance in the face of increasingly hazardous circumstances soon culminates in an all-out war, one in which it seems Jerry has no other choice but to surrender his will to The Vigils' or suffer the brutal consequences.
Cormier’s publication of Chocolate War in 1974 had an immediate and lasting impact, firmly setting him up as one of YA’s capstone authors. Though the premise of the novel may seem outdated or overblown, the focus of the story's not so much about what’s going on as it is about the internal motivations of the characters and the impending potential for disaster. Still mourning his mother's death from cancer, Jerry’s nonconformist resolution stems from a need to know his actions have meaning, that power and authority (to at least some degree) is possible by his own initiative. Conversely Archie, though driven by an obvious lust for power, also seeks fulfillment through personal enterprise, a manifestation of broader events sprung by his own influence of control. Those unfamiliar with how serious things can get at an all male school may be a little off put by the scenario, but readers won’t have a problem gravitating towards Cormier’s mastery of characterization and accurate depiction of mob-rule mentality.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homecoming / by Cynthia Voight

After being evicted from their home in Massachusetts, a single mom parks a car containing her four kids at a mall and disappears into the night. Now the four abandoned siblings--Dicey(13), James(10), Maybeth(9) and Sammy(5) Tillerman--are left to ponder what to do next with no money, no caretaker and no place to go. Knowing a confrontation with authorities will only lead to the family's being split up, Dicey resolves to set out for the family's only other relative's known whereabouts--their never-before-seen Grandmother's home in Maryland. With no available means of transportation other than a token bus ride only taking them 20 miles or so, the foursome largely encounters the journey on foot, Dicey doing everything she can to keep everyone together and out of harm's way. Meeting with trouble, hardship and more than a few prying eyes becomes pretty routine as the Tillermans tread through mostly off road territory routinely coping with illness, hunger and bickering as they make their way to an uncertain destination amid an indeterminate future.

This is Voight's first novel in her Tillerman saga about four kids striving to stay a family amidst thwarted odds. With the the situation seen primarily through Dicey's eyes, the reader can't help but be drawn into an already pitiable situation only compounded by neglectful and indifferent adults. Voight manages to keep things in-bounds though, not overdoing any sentimentality or sympathy aspects of what, on the surface, might look like another sappy tear-jerker. The Tillermans are kids, plain and simple. And while they're rigorously challenged by largely adverse circumstances, it's not hard to interpret each as a child with like problems and issues rather than some Huck Finn or Johnny Tremain type elevated above the status of normal vulnerabilities.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher has been on the YA radar since his first stories and novels came out in the late Seventies. Combining rigorous athletic scenarios with emotionally charged characters confronting real life issues, Crutcher's books are widely accessible to all readers even if a more immediate audience may be found among junior high and high schoolers. Any reader can't miss with these three sure-to-entertain books, some of his most vividly dramatic works.

Staying Fat for Sarah Barnes
A senior star on his high school's swim team, Eric Calhoune still carries around emotional scars from his days as the fat kid; 'morbidly obese' to be precise, which is why he's still called "Moby" by almost everyone. Even with all that's going for him now, the experiences of scorn and derision seem destined to abide within him, constantly reminding him of past abuse and perpetually taunting his still frail well-being. Eric's never had to bear it alone, though; his life-long friend Sarah Byrnes has her own scars, albeit of a more externalized nature. Burned in an accident years ago Sarah bears wounds that can never be hidden or removed, a condition making her and Eric virtual by-proxy soulmates from childhood on. Now with Sarah back in the hospital for what could be the last time, Eric is left to confront--alone--the issues within himself, his relationship with Sarah and the truth about the "accident" which stole their innocence so long ago.

Walker Dupree and three of his closest friends and teammates take up the challenge offered by their swim coach to undergo a week of extreme training in preparation for their upcoming season. By the end they're bodies, not to mention they're mental stamina, will have sustained the utmost in physical exertion, each worthy to assume the title of "Stotan"--cross between stoic and spartan. Candidly, Walker narrates not only the undeniably grueling workouts each day (full 24 hrs) entails, but the mutual camaraderie and loyalty achieved amidst the near-torture-level experience. More than just bodily limitations and a winning season are at stake, however, as the power of this friendship must endure not only a brutal training regimen, but the impending fate of one among them who's currently battling leukemia.

Chinese Handcuffs
Nearly a year after his brother Preston's suicide, eighteen-year-old Dillon still can't come to grips with the absence, not to mention the details surrounding the incident in question. To cope with his grief and outlet other frustrations, he trains year round for triathlons, periodically entering competitions held near his isolated home in the Pacific northwest. Sweat can only vanquish so much though, which is why its good that Dillon can rely on girlfriend Jennifer, herself a star on the basketball court, to stand beside him in spirit if not uphold him with attitude. Ultimately resolving to seek answers regarding his brother's death, Dillon must fight through the obstinacy of his parents and apathy of authorities in finding out the real reason for Preston's "suicide". Simultaneously, he must support Jennifer as she confronts her own repressed trauma in the form of her father's abuse.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Twilight / by Stephenie Meyer

The only child of divorced parents, Isabella Swan knows about preoccupations. It's nothing to do with her so much as it is her mom wanting her own life more than to be a mother, her dad having his hands full as sheriff of a small town and the general disinclination of her peers towards any mutual interest. So it's strange that her new situation in tiny Forks, WA, attending a new school with new people engages as much attention as it does, especially from boys. Mostly it's the less-desirable kind; the nice but edge-less overeager types who ambitiously open doors and offer friendly advice on various nonsense. But then--contrary to all previous feedback--its the boy who suddenly singles out Bella, entangling her into not only a singular relationship, but an entirely new sphere of existence.

Edward Cullen's definitely not 'like all the others'. Likewise for his "family" as their reclusive habits (even by Forks standards) extend far beyond the bounds of normalcy. Appearing deathly pale with penetrating--if bloodshot--eyes and alarmingly acute senses, Edward and his four siblings don't quite 'fit' with the whole high school thing, a fact not unnoticed by Bella who gradually familiarizes herself to their reality. The Cullens prefer their own 'type' of vitality; a livelihood, as Bella soon discovers, which thrives on a far more 'sanguine' diet. It's not long before Edward and Bella are caught up in a swirl of conflicting emotions as amidst the intensifying romance, they're confronted with a decision which could alter their very lives . . . and beyond.

Currently maintaining its Harry Potter-esque reputation, Twilight was initially released to mixed reviews, often cited for its less than tight storyline and an overemphasis on supernatural elements fueling Edward and Bella's relationship. There's other problems too. Situations in the book often hint more towards contrived circumstances rather than happenstance or initiative; events unravel more because they have to happen rather than as if they could or would happen. While Bella would probably fall for Edward regardless, their relationship mightn't evolve so quickly (or dramatically) were it not for various 'conveniences'--every other student/classmate a generic dud, seated next to each other in class, Bella's accidents, Edward's "heroism", etc.--all seemingly input as abbreviated plot devices. The plodding nature of Meyer's extraneous details and segmented filler material doesn't help much either. Still there's sort of a Wuthering Heights thing going on giving the story its decidedly gothic ambience, a motif evidently reinforced in Meyer's accompanying sequels.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Serious Kiss by Mary Hogan

This was Mary Hogan’s first book, and in the three years since then she has written others, including the Susannah series, one of which won the 2008 NAPPA gold award. Some critics called this book uneven, and I did find the heroine Libby’s voice a little too insistent at times, as she moans and bewails her horrible life. Libby is fourteen and has made a pledge with her best friend to experience a “serious kiss” before turning fifteen. Her horrible life includes a fat mom committed to fast food and a brother who steals cigarettes since he’s too young to buy them, and an alcoholic father. Libby’s dramatic take on life serves to insulate the reader from the very real dilemma of her father’s drinking, and how it has affected them all. It’s true that teenagers tend to criticize and find things to dislike in their home, so Libby’s intense commentary may actually be helping her stay functional. Not that she doesn’t break down at times. When her dad loses his job and the family moves from the Los Angeles area to a desert town, Libby hates the trailer park they live in and the school kids and the desert itself. But slowly things change. Her new-found grandmother (who has provided the trailer they live in) shares how being old makes her feel isolated too, and her reaching out helps Libby start to see the positive that’s around her. This book does start slowly and takes awhile to gain your interest, but by the ending you are charged up and energized along with Libby about her life!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Shooter / by Walter Dean Myers

When an outbreak of gun violence at a public high school is responsible for the death of one teen (perpetrator Leonard) and injury to several others, federal authorities immediately launch an on-scene investigation. Privately conducted and strictly confidential, the inquiries focus on the deceased shooter's two closest friends--Cameron and Michelle--for background info into the "incident's" culmination. Slowly, as interviews and evidence shed light on past events, it's revealed how this not un-routinely disturbed teen was prompted to act out as he did.

Cameron, an upper-middle class African-American teen, offers the best insight into Leonard's increasingly erratic behavior. Likely initiated years earlier by his parents divorce, there was still more to Leonard than suppressed animosity as multiple catalysts likely contributed to the carnage. Reclusive habits, his father's alcoholism, and an intense interest in firearms had begun to inhibit Leonard's relationship with then girlfriend Michelle; or, as she put it, he'd become "impossible" amidst a bitterness only spurned on by the high school's oppressive social heirarchy. The concluded analysis paints a disturbing portrait of a increasingly self-isolated individual, seemingly irredeemable amid personal demons and the antagonism of an outside world.

Written in a memorandum-style etiquette with very official looking transcript annotation, Shooter is another finely crafted work by noted YA author Walter Dean Myers, long one of the genre's most dynamic influences. If for no other reason, readers will find the book worthwhile for Myers' incisive observations into Leonard's psyche; acutely reconstructed through evidence given by Cameron and Michelle and personally rendered in Leonard's own journal entries.

Tangerine / by Edward Bloor

The move to Florida for Paul Fisher has come off pretty much as expected. Except for his junior high school's sinking (literally) into the ground, things aren't much different from what they were in Texas. His parents are still as hung up on his brother Eric's football ambitions as they ever were, essentially relegating Paul into the background-- the second son. Always the four-eyes with coke bottle lenses to correct his vision, Paul's not only been overlooked by his parents and abused by his brother, he's dutifully assumed the role of outcast from the start, learning to tread lightly among peers and perceive threatening situations where necessary. But when fortune associates him with the toughest clique in school--the soccer team--Paul not only becomes the star goalie, he's embraced for the first time as himself, not Eric's geeky little brother.

The aforementioned Eric is anything but what he's perceived as. Deemed a "hero" for his athletic prowess, Eric has always held the favor of his parents' eye; but he's no more a hero than he is a law-abiding adolescent. When a string of isolated thefts begin occurring around the neighborhood, Paul is the only one to see the truth and be in a position to bring it to light. Now he must choose between loyalty to his family, loyalty to his team and a terrible secret that must be exposed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Saint Iggy / by K.L. Goings

High-minded claims of a disadvantaged youth would be hard-pressed to top Iggy Corso. Had by a crack-addict mother, his prospects were dim even prior his birth; having only depreciated with age as the destructive lifestyles of his derelict parents have kept him underfunded, undernourished and undereducated; not to mention under constant harassment from landlords, thieves and drug-dealers (his parents absent or indisposed most of the time). Life away from home is just as bad. Held back twice, suspended eight times and currently failing for a third consecutive term, Iggy's impending interview with the school superintendent is his last chance before he's kicked out for good.

Realizing his only chance for "any" future is to stay in school, Iggy resolves to make the most of things, seeking out his only reliable friend, Mo, for support. A drug user by profession, Mo is anything but Iggy's social equal; hailing from a wealthy upper-class background, his situation is one of choice obstinacy rather than misfortune. A law school dropout, his "minimalist" lifestyle--not unsimilar to Iggy's--would workout well were it not for his drug habit landing him in financial straits (debts to dealers); a problem now forcing him into the undesirable task of asking his mother for money. An entirely new dilemna now emerges for Iggy as, having accompanied Mo across town to his mom's grandiose apartment, he's made the buffer between a resentful Mo and his fearful but forgiving mother.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce

Evvy, a fourteen-year-old stone mage-in-training, has gotten in trouble again. Since she was sold into slavery at the age of six by her mother, she has had to live by her wits and stand up for herself. It is no wonder she is more comfortable among rocks than among humans. Forced to accompany testy green mage Rosethorn and water mage Myrrhtide on a trip to Battle Islands to determine what is poisoning the plants and animals of the islands, Evvy finds herself beginning to care about the fortunes of humans and islands again. With her mentor, Lugo, a talking rock who can command great power, Evvy must make the choice to use her powers to prevent a horrible catastrophe or to become a permanent part of the great pool of rock life.

Another engrossing fantasy from the author of the Circle of Magic and the Song of the Lioness series which will grab your soul.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Keeping the Moon / by Sarah Dessen

Nicole "Colie" Sparks is fat. Even if she no longer looks it, she still lives it; internally condemned by years as a social outcast amid abusive peers and an eroded well-being. It's her mom's fault, really, that she can no longer match her mood to her make. Currently a celebrity success story in the Richard Simmons mold, it was her mom, Kiki, who first deemed their standard of living--a stationary out-of-car existence--as unfit; thusly transforming their exteriors from obese underdogs into thin, healthy go-getters and popularizing a lucrative motivational mantra in the process. It's just that Colie can't quite follow suit (mentally), making it seem right that the 15-year-old spend the summer with Aunt Mira while mom tours Europe with her new boyfriend.

Aunt Mira's fat too, unashamedly so. And she's weird; riding her dateless Schwinn bike around her reclusive coastal town in an equally dateless flowered dress; never missing a meal at her favorite grease-pit restaurant--the "Last Chance". It's here, more or less by "Chance", that Colie's hired on as a waitress, ultimately befriending her two co-workers--beautiful Isabel and down-to-earth Morgan--who also happen to be neighbors (small town). Total opposites but firmly loyal to each other, it's Morgan and Isabel who introduce Colie to 'real life'; a life apart from her severely damaged conscious where confrontations needn't imply defeat and where meanness is exposed as the insecurity it often masks. Timidly at first, but assuredly does Colie realize the truth about herself; while as her first genuine relationships solidify, the morbid self-attention she's always accommodated is replaced by a boldness she never new existed.

Speak / by Laurie Halsie Anderson

Even if 15-year-old Melinda weren't socially quarantined, it still wouldn't matter. She's not saying much at the moment. All words have evidently been buried beneath an endless torrent of pain, despair and inner anguish at the precise time--start of 9th grade--when speech of some sort would seem relevant. Between her parents vicious bickering and the determination of her once-close-friends to ice her out, there's not only nothing to say, there's no one to say it to. Isolation seems to be her only companion ("a reliable anesthetic") as the days, then weeks and months whither away.

Anderson won the Printz Award for this stark depiction of one girl's emotional paralysis amid the suspended shock of an undisclosed trauma. Without knowing the plot synopsis, readers may initially misinterpret the reality of the situation; especially as the focus exclusively tracks Melinda's conscious at present, omitting all but the bare essentials. It's pretty late in the game that particulars resurrect themselves, ultimately exposing a justifiable reason for the silence.

Monday, October 6, 2008

How to Build a House, by Dana Reinhardt

Harper is a 17 year old girl from Los Angeles who has decided to spend her summer with a volunteer program in Tennessee that is building houses for tornado victims. All the teenagers in the program are on one team, with a guru/type adult leader who travels the world building for people in need. He teaches/oversees the construction of their house, and (supposedly) keeps their behavior in line as well. Harper needs to be away from her home, since her dad has recently gotten divorced. Not from her mother, who’s dead, but from her stepmother who took her mother’s place when Harper was seven. She’s also lost two stepsisters to the conflict, one older and one who was her best friend. Obviously the story is about rebuilding, and not just a house. What’s ironic is that you get absolutely no details on how she or the others learn to do anything with carpentry, just some initial muscle pain and how hot it is to tar a roof in the Tennessean summer. When you hear about any construction, they all seemed to learn effortlessly, since the house ends up being beautiful. But you don’t miss that when you’re reading the book, because all the focus is on the two narratives which interchange throughout: Harper’s preceding year in Los Angeles, and her present summer. The narratives are all about relationships, mostly boys and whether they like you or not. Girls (and boys) can relate to Harper’s uneasiness and insecurity about herself, but you never understand why she is that way. The way she talks to her father is bold to the point of insulting, calling him on every weakness, but he just seems to take it. And there’s a hint that she was maybe overweight (?), since Harper in the beginning says she “can’t” wear jeans, but manages to don a pair at the end and look terrific. As one Amazon reviewer mentions, Harper’s Tennessee boyfriend (of the homeless family) is pretty unbelievable, saying everything he feels and never making a stupid move. Of course there’s sex in the book as well, and Ms. Reinhardt creates the illusion that it’s totally wonderful and never any problems about infection or pregnancy or getting in over their heads. Ms. Reinhardt writes well, but might be advised to dig a little deeper into her characters’ lives and actions.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Driver's Ed / by Caroline Cooney

Best known for her Face on the Milk Carton series, Caroline Cooney's been a longtime stalwart of the genre, even winning a Children's Choice award for her Out of Time books. In Driver's Ed, the teenage pastime of sign-stealing becomes lethal when a freak accident kills four people. As with so many penultimate dates in adolescence, sixteen lingers as one more threshold into adulthood. For Remy Marland, it embodies the long-awaited, much-anticipated privelege of driving as only weeks away from obtaining her license, she lives day-to-day hoping that her next Driver's Ed class will mean her turn to drive. Not just a pre-requisite, Driver's Ed is significant for another reason . . . Morgan Campbell.

Like Remy, Morgan's sanity seems dependent on a license to drive a car. The son of a local politician, he's known all his life that a car meant freedom, an instrument by which he can remove himself far from undesirable authority figures. He may feel sure about what he wants, but he's far less confident about himself. A fact evidenced by insecurity around girls and frequent doubts concerning his family's credibility.

When, during one Driver's Ed class, a loosely arranged night-about-town pits Remy and Morgan alongside each other, it seems fortune has favored serendipity. But when a routine prank ends in catastrophe, the budding romance gets rocky as indescribable pangs of guilt and conscience intertwine within each.

The author's intuition into the characters is the strongpoint of this psychological suspense thriller where "right-of-passage" invokes more than a few double meanings. As is often the case with Cooney, the story's premise really hinges on a rather rangy "What if?" scenario, straddling the line between practiced realism and unsupported conjecture. But even withstanding any contrived aspects, readers will gravitate toward the story's gothic elements as Cooney's keen observational narrative is sure to resonate with the audience.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rumble Fish / by S.E. Hinton

The problem with a reputation is that it's owned by others. Something Rusty-James can't seem to figure out about the rough and tumble world of gangland politics. Younger brother to street-legend and current top dog "Motorcycle Boy", his own ambitions aspire likewise even if his fists lead him into more trouble than they can get him out of. An absence of discernment and poise is fine while your brother's around to bail you out, but not all battles can be fought halfway. Nothing betrays a lie like the truth. It's not long before Rusty-James jams himself into circumstances too comprimising to escape from as, left to his own devices, his authority and the shaky influence with others begins to falter.

Post-Holden Caufield but pre-Drugstore Cowboy, there was S.E. Hinton. A teenager, and girl no less, this anomaly of Faulknerian proportions defied mainstream stereotypes to become a touchstone of YA fiction, penning her first novel--The Outsiders(1967)--at 18 while still attending her Tulsa high school. Still the second best-selling YA book ever, 'Outsiders' was a stark representation of personal alliegances within rival street gangs and the violent consequences enmeshed therein. Its publication made Hinton a household name nearly overnight and is still required reading in many secondary schools. Her other books, all involving teenage boys at life's crossroads, have served to cement her among the pillars of the genre.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The 'Catcher' Cult

King Dork / by Frank Portman

"I suppose I fit the traditional mold of the brainy, freaky, oddball kid who reads too much, so bright that his genius is sometimes mistaken for just being retarded." (p.5)

Tom Henderson might be called "Chi-Mo" by others (hint: not a coffee), but he'll always prefer his own self-tailored moniker, King Dork ("...a silent protest and acknowledgement of reality at the same time"). No, he doesn't command a "nerd army, or preside over a realm of the socially ill-equipped"; he's just been rendered inferior by all his "psycho-normal" peers that stalk the halls of "standard, generic High School Hell". When his personal dignity's not under assault, he and co-dork Sam Hellerman like to hang out at his ultra-dysfunctional house where, avoiding whiny sister species and flaky parental units, they continue work on their band's next album. Make that its first album...rather, its first song...or, failing that, a new band altogether.

Being 'below the bottom' of the high school pecking order's bad enough, but not knowing why your cop father was killed in the line of duty is its own self-sustaining mystery. Indeed, it seems a hopeless quandary until strange clues unearth in the most insanely ironic places; a wackjob teacher's crusty sarcasm, an old copy of Catcher in the Rye, mysterious Bible coding, etc., all start to shed light on the "accident" in question. Meanwhile, something even more mystifying emerges. Tom/"Chi-Mo" begins having "girl" encounters after a clandestine incident at a halloween party--involving a rather precociously attired female--sets him on the trail of an altogether different mystery.

Longtime Rock singer/songwriter Frank Portman has quite a knack for fiction. Not only is this book an authentic characterization of protagonist Tom/"Chi-Mo"/"King Dork"..., it's a downright laugh riot as a totally dead-on depiction of the cynical teenage mentality. Where soooo many books/movies/TV/music go wrong-wrong-wrong in duplicating the teenage microcosm is where King Dork gets it right: a recognition that the high school domain is all too often just the "familiar monotony" of "tedious" and "horrifying" incidents. Even with the somewhat tacked-on subplot, this book is a can't-put-downer as Tom eventually establishes some authority to accomodate his angst-ridden, skeptic-laden identity.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Before I Die / by Jenny Downham

Truth sits upon the lips of dying men. -Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

16 year-old Tessa lives waiting to die. Terminally ill from a young age, she and her parents have exhausted all available options. Now in her final months Tessa stares down fate alongside family and friends until, in an effort to 'feel' alive, she embarks on a 'list of things to do before dying'. Sex, drugs, crime, love, fame, reunite parents, etc., each item is heedlessly pursued even as the necessary treatments and transfusions sustain her steadily depleting health.

Readers won't confuse Tessa's list with any media-friendly, 'Make-a-Wish' endearment. It's a resentful pastime despite any sentiment; only reaffirming her impending exit from a world that will continue without her. But not all's bleakness. As days, then weeks and months pass away Tessa's made 'aware' of each conscious experience (good and bad) amidst her vanishing livelihood, recieving what's given even after all is lost.

Frankness more than sadness gives this story its distinction as Downham illuminates the eternal fate with a rarely-glimpsed authenticity. A first-person narrative, it's dying seen through someone. Tessa's situation is unique but her behavior won't deny any real reactions or consequences; her illness doesn't make her a saint or forgive abuse. Her family and friends--perhaps more emotionally wrought than herself--still maintain intimacy with her, not some fragile creature. It's this deeply intrapersonal tone that edges the drama toward its staggering climax, depicting life's final moments like nothing before it.

Tenderness / by Robert Cormier

Every soul needs tenderness. Something still haunting Lori Cranston as she flees yet another of her mom's abusive boyfriends. Her desire for emotional intimacy now targets Eric Poole, a boy with whom she shares a strange history. Eric needs tenderness also; even with no capacity for feeling. Incarcerated five years for slaying his parents, he's now free to pursue the 'tenderness' he's been deprived of so long. But Detective Proctor knows--even if no one else does--that Eric is a monster, that his parents weren't his only victims, and it's only a matter of time before the next.

Chocolate War author Cormier sticks to his New England roots in this psychological thriller about two people linked by a twisted consciousness and a third monitoring their every move. The real clutch of this book is intuition, an awareness of each character's contribution to the story and the motives which propel their actions. Nowhere is this better seen than the author's depiction of Eric, a most unlikely teenage sociopath.

Something Wicked This Way Comes / by Ray Bradbury

Mr. Dark and his Pandemonium Show are a carnival like no other. Rolling into town one full-moon October night, their eerie attractions soon entrance even the cynical and possess a power beyond conception. But a terrible fate awaits fairgoers as fulfilled dreams can become nightmares when beauty is fleeting and charm is deceptive. With their town succumbing to Mr. Dark's malevolence, 12-year-old Jim Nightshade and best friend Will are the only ones to foresee a dreadful end for those they love.

Ray Bradbury's imagination knows no bounds. A figurehead of the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre for decades, his works include Farenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, and The Martian Chronicles. This book marks the debut of 'The Illustrated Man', a character whose unusual tattoos come alive. First published in 1962, 'Something Wicked'... was made into a Disney movie starring Jason Robards.

Less Than Zero / by Bret Easton Ellis

Winter break brings 19-year-old Clay home from his first semester back east. The son of wealthy LA ‘people’, his life and that of his equally over-privileged friends seamlessly yields back to the partying, out-on-the-edge days before college. But mirth is lost on a dissolute Clay as drowning in his own solitary void, his numbness to the high-times is only compounded by the ugly depravity of his once-closest friends.

American Psycho (both book and movie) made Ellis a cult icon but Less Than Zero first acknowledged him as a voice for Generation X. Published in 1985, the novel stirred controversy with its revelation of California’s drug culture and some its most loyal patrons--children of LA’s wealthy upper-crust. Perpetually aware but never surprised, Ellis’ style is essentially devoid of emotion. Clay’s world is one without hope, without feeling where characters exist below the surface. No action is interpreted and reactions are never personalized with Clay's own reflections remaining far from the plot's content, focusing instead on distant memories from the past. Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, Clay’s character is still felt by the book’s end.

Ironic Footnote: This book was made into a 1987 movie starring Robert Downey Jr.

Vision Quest / by Terry Davis


"...and I guess that's why we got to love those people who want it like there's no tomorrow. 'Cause when you get right down to it - there isn't [tomorrow]."-p.23
Louden Swain lives ‘over-the-edge’ caring little for rationale or moderation. A high school wrestler anticipating his career-defining match, he perpetually pursues his breaking point, eating just enough to sustain his body while pushing it to (and beyond) its natural limits. Mentally his concentration rarely deviates from the impending date and opponent Gary Shute. It’s his own battle but he’s never alone with a supportive father and live-in girlfriend not to mention his coach and dedicated teammates.

Before Cris Crutcher made it cool to be a triathlete, Terry Davis wrote Vision Quest. Published in 1979, this was a new kind of YA novel. Not really a sports book as there aren't any archetypal action sequences or 'championship' climaxes, it's more of an intrapersonal soul journey, a story of being not doing. Louden’s focus is the pain, his emotional and intellectual reflection the object rather than the culminating event itself. Like any 'YA' book, it's concentrated on adolescence but doesn't exclude other audiences and would be a great read for anyone.

Rats Saw God / by Rob Thomas

Semi-local author Rob Thomas has published several YA novels over the past decade. This, his first, chronicles teenager Steve York at multiple times during high school.

Steve's last day of eighth grade is turned on its head when his parents announce their impending divorce. The untimely schism ultimately places his mother and sister in San Diego leaving him in Houston to live with his repressive (and somewhat despotic) father--"The Astronaut".

Facilitating things the best he can amidst unfamiliar surroundings, Steve carves out his new existence; gradually making friends and learning to survive his homelife simultaneously. His saving grace appears in the form of Wanda "Dub" Varner, with whom a steady-crush morphs into love by the end of freshman year. Until its bitter end his junior year, the reader is let in on all the relationship's details through segmented entries describing the 'then' blissful romance and his 'now' emotionally-reduced, drug-addled life after the break-up.

Though Thomas' later books were less well-received, Rats Saw God will find an audience with its drenched-in-sarcasm attitude and gritty realism. The 'then and now' style really fleshes out Steve's personality and relationships; displaying how both compliment each other and play off his actions. Generation X & Y'ers of the 80's/90's period will identify with the book's cultural aspects.

Riding in Cars With Boys / by Beverly D'Onofrio

Adversity is the trial of principle. -- Henry Fielding

So it goes with Beverly Donofrio, a bad girl who makes good in this memoir of an early-life crisis. Pregnant at 16, she rode the downward spiral for some time before things finally improved. Here she shamelessly chronicles her life as a high school dropout, parental reject, early bride, wife of a junkie, divorced teenage mom, hippie chick, liberated woman, drug user/dealer, and welfare recipient. Only after a nervous breakdown (of sorts) does she acclimate herself to a better life; growing and learning life's lessons even as her son, Jason, matures with her.

You can't spell memoir without "me" (or moi), an all-too-ironic nuance of this book which practically begins each sentence with "I" or "My" and ends in an angry expletive. With no shortage of attitude Donofrio entertains even as she self-evaluates going so far as to infuriate her own (real life) parents at the time of publication. Drew Barrymore stars in the 2001 film adaptation that won several independent film awards.

Ender Rendered

Sci-fi author Orson Scott Card has garnered loads of acclaim for his Ender's Game/Ender's Shadow series', a sequence of novels about two boys involved in a war between Earth circa 2150 AD and an alien race known as the "Buggers". In Ender's Game, Ender Wiggin is a prodigy groomed at an elite battle school for ultimate leadership of earth's forces. First published in 1977, Card later wrote Ender's Shadow (1999) which parallel's the plot of Ender's Game from the viewpoint of Bean, a battle school friend and cohort.

Ender's Game
Destiny was intended for Ender Wiggin; it had to be or else all was lost. Part of a n experimental batch of ultra-gifted children singled out to someday thwart the 'Bugger' onslaught, he's initiated into the International Fleet's Battle School at age six in a desperate attempt to locate Earth's next (and maybe last) strategic hope. Functionally, battle school is intended to train student/soldiers through simulated, anti-gravity encounters--one team against another. But from the outset, nothing's evenhanded for Ender as peers and administrators do their best to expose weaknesses in his vastly superior skills. Intentionally burdened, his only solace is found commanding his team's nightly practice sessions orchestrating maneuvers with his classmates. But little does Ender suspect the training ground as more than just a 'game' and that his leadership applies to more than just 'his team'.

The personal side of things is as much involved; Ender's older siblings Peter and Valentine share the same genetics albeit dissimilar characteristics. What begins as intellectual pandering by each during Ender's absence soon morphs into a far greater sphere of influence, and in the malevolent Peter's case--far more power. It ultimately falls on Valentine, one person not out to use or harm Ender, to shield him from Peter's malice and the unyielding demands of a broader world.

Ender's Shadow
At the tender age of 2, Bean escapes a genetic breeding factory only to end up an orphan in dire poverty on the streets of Rotterdam. Learning life's knocks the hard way, his fortunes place him at the feet of Sister Carlotta, a nun who soon discovers Bean's hyper-intelligence and facilitates his acceptance into Battle School. It's here where Bean meets Ender Wiggin, his war games team captain who's undefeated as a commander. But not all's fun and games. Little is with matches administratively fixed in an effort to fully realize Ender's tactical prowess.

It may not be Return of the Jedi, but Ender's Game shares that same aura of epic challenge, of hero against the universe (literally) in which the immensity of everything is concentrated into one consciousness. But like good science fiction, Card eases the backstory along steadily giving time for the characters to establish an identity prior the inevitable confrontation. Any perplexing aspects of the futuristic world are well-counterbalanced by private issues more close to home. Ender's 'self' is complex, maintaining ethical boundaries even amidst a high-pressure/high-stakes atmosphere, a trait revealed as much through contrasting characters as with Ender himself. Gifted in an almost warped fashion, the 'child' in Ender isn't always visible; a problem Card may have levied with peripheral characters Peter and Valentine and ultimately complemented with Bean's emergence in Ender's Shadow.

Not merely a sidestory, Bean's evolution from street orphan to battle school and ultimately beyond illuminates his own pivotal role in the saga, entrenched in every dynamic of the story. Bean has his own conscience and crisis' befalling him even as much of his energy helps uphold those very issues in Ender. The two books, each spawning several further sequels, are as separate as they are interlinked within the same-time/same-place/similar-person correlation.

Lord of the Flies / by William Golding

"Fun and Games?" (ch. 12)

During wartime, a plane carrying a group of schoolboys crashes on a desert Island. With the pilot perishing in the destruction, the boys--ages 6-12--must fend for themselves with no food, provisions, or hope of rescue. Initially, a called assembly reveals the lack of authority to be a blessing; some of the older boys loosely laying out guidelines amid a vibrant atmosphere of jubilation. Yet with immediate necessities needing constant attention, a long-term plan for survival is all too evident. Leadership is initially undertaken by Ralph, a rational--if naieve--sort, with little objection until sightings of a mysterious "beast" incite an uproar over its potential danger. The debate ongoing, Ralph's authority is soon challenged by Jack, leader of the "hunters", who proposes relocating the camp for more protective measures. Deliberation becomes anarchy when continued attempts at arbitration and self-governance descend into chaos, transforming the already primitive island society into savagery and martial law.
The title "Lord of the Flies" is a literal reference to the Hebrew word Beelzebub, also meaning "chief devil" or "prince of the air". The term is more commonly associated with the biblical Satan following his fall to Earth. Allegorical in nature, the book mirrors how civilization orchestrated by man inevitably fails. Even positive motives toward a harmonious society are an illusion; witness how quickly Ralph's intention for everyone "to have fun" dissolves into rancor and grievance. Golding wasn't solely concerned with the 'man against man' conflict though. Deeper aspects of the book point out man's obstinacy as the primary source in undoing the natural world, ultimately seen through the destruction of the island itself.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Red Necklacy by Sally Gardner

Gypsy orphan Yann Margoza has an ability to read minds and throw voices, and so the story begins when he is in a magic show with a magician and dwarf. The setting begins in pre-Revolutionary France. They are persuaded to perform for a private party of the Marquis de Villeduval. During the performance the evil Count Kalliovsky messes with the trick and as a result, the magic is mortally wounded. There is begins an ordeal of fleeing for his life, murder, deception, secrets and on a positive note, he meets the lovely Sido. Sido is the abused, neglected, shy, lame daughter of the Marquis. The authors spins a story of mysterious heritages (of Yann and Sido), a serial murderer who leaves behind his signature (red garnet necklaces), and the turbulent times when servants turn against their rich master’s with blood and vengeance. Teen Ages 12-up Probably adults will like. Historical fiction One of best teen books I’ve read in a long time.

Peeled by Joan Bauer

Hildy Biddle, a budding reporter for her high school newspaper Cored, takes her journalistic responsibilities very seriously, just like her beloved father did. When evil things begin to happen and the local apple economy seems to be under a curse, Hildy and her friends decide to investigate. Neither ghosts nor haunted houses nor other reporters will keep the Cored staff from exposing corruption and evil and fighting for justice for their neighbors and town! But how do you verify a curse, and how do you interview a ghost? This quick read is funny, clever and engrossing, and Hildy is the friend everyone wishes they had.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Shabanu : Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Staples

Shabanu, the second daughter of nomadic family in the Cholistan desert of Pakistan, has always had more freedom and fewer restrictions than most young Muslim girls of her tribe. She knows that traditionally daughters must be obedient to their fathers and wives must follow their husbands wishes, but she has always hoped for the freedom to follow her heart. Her mother warns that things will change quickly as her older sister approaches her arranged marriage day, and Shabanu herself nears her mandated betrothal day. Then tragedy strikes and Shabanu must decide whether to follow her dreams of independence and justice or sacrifice those plans to save her family.
A haunting, eye-opening book.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The seer of shadows by Avi

An eerie ghost story set in New York City, in 1872, this chilling look at the early practice of photography will raise goosebumps and cause you to look over your shoulder at dark corners.

Fourteen-year-old Horace Carpetine has been apprenticed to an unknown photographer who intends to get rich from society portraits, and cheerfully concocts an elaborate scam to do so. Horace has been raised to approach things scientifically, and is more puzzled than scared when his manipulated photographs reveal haunting likenesses of a dead girl, Eleanora. Strange happenings and the discovery that Eleanora's death may not have been innocent convince Horace that her ghost has returned for a frightening revenge.

A deliciously scary, but poignant ghost story, which will stay with you long after you finish the book.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The entertainer and the dybbuk by Sid Fleischman

Shortly after World War II, in Vienna, Austria, an American soldier seeks work as a wandering ventriloquist. The Great Freddie, as he is known, is not a very good ventriloquist, for he can’t even talk without moving his lips. But things change quickly when, one dark night, his wooden dummy is possessed by a dybbuk, a Jewish spirit, who in real life was twelve-year-old Holocaust victim Avrom Amos. Avrom is a smart-alecky ghost and he quickly takes over the Great Freddie’s act, telling jokes and forcing changes to the act and to Freddie himself. Soon Freddie is wildly famous, and audiences crowd in to see him and the dummy. But it quickly becomes clear that Avrom has a deeper purpose than just entertaining the war-wearied populations, as he seeks revenge on the Nazi officer who killed countless Jewish children, including himself.

This book is a very quick read, but will leave you chilled and stunned. A one-of-a-kind book, for sure.

Alanna : the first adventure by Tamora Pierce

Have you ever dreamed of being a warrior?
Alanna had, and she certainly never wanted to become the sorceress her noble father expects her to be. But in Tortall, her land to protect, women can't become knights or warriors. Thom, her twin brother, has been ordered to become a knight even though he badly wants to become a sorcerer.
So when Lord Alan decides it is time to send the twins off to school, the twins secretly decide to switch places with each other. Alanna, disguised as a boy, goes off to learn to be a knight's page, while Thom disguises himself as a girl and goes off to the convent.
Both twins have the Gift, but neither could imagine the adventure, the danger and the magic which awaits them as they battle the evil forces that fight to overpower the good and noble kingdom of Tortall.

This is the first book in a thrilling four-book series called the Song of the Lioness. Author Tamora Pierce has written several other multi-book series set in the same imaginary country and time period full of fascinating characters that cross between the series. If you liked The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley or you are a fan of Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, these books are for you!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables

by L. M. Montgomery


I read somewhere that July marked the 100th anniversary of the original publication of Anne of Green Gables, so I decided to listen to this dramatization. What makes this audio a dramatization rather than an audiobook is that the script has been re-worked from the original text, so that instead of an oral reading the audio is like a verbal play with different actors and actresses playing each of the different characters.

While I was listening to this audio, I found myself laughing everywhere I drove. The actress who voiced Anne, portrayed her character as full of enthusiasm and dramatics while still sincere and conscientious. The supporting cast were equally talented, and I found that I enjoyed listening to the Canadian accents. The audio is short, only 2 hours and 30 minutes making this a sweet treat.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Three Little Words: A Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Ashley Rhodes-Courter was Ashley Rhodes, living in the United States’ foster care system from the age of three until her adoption at age 12. Her mom was not the best of mothers, a teenager who was arrested for passing a check stolen by her boyfriend. Her mother’s arrest precipitated Ashley’s entrance into foster care in Florida, and even though her mother was released, she was declared too destitute to get her children back, Ashley and Ashley’s half brother Luke. Ashley gives us her memories of different placements, which include an interlude of some months leaving Florida to live with her maternal grandfather and his girlfriend in South Carolina. While the girlfriend gives both children loving care, the grandfather has issues with violence and alcohol which eventually cause Ashley and Luke to go back to foster care. Altogether, Ashley lives in nine different placements, sometimes with and sometimes without her brother. Through Ashley’s eyes, you see even well-meaning case workers making no attempt to explain developments to a child in the system, and see some foster parents working the system for their own benefit, including one foster “mother” enjoying punishing both physically and mentally the children entrusted to her care. When children want to get help in these situations, they are often afraid to speak for fear of retribution by the foster parents. I especially liked Ashley’s account of her adoption and subsequent developments with her adoptive family. Written ten years after being adopted, her straightforward narration of her struggles to adapt to a secure situation speaks for itself and gives unique insight into her emotional adjustment.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Deep Down Popular

Deep Down Popular

by Phebe Stone


Jessie Lou is part tom-boy and part wild child, but the one thing she is not is popular. Conrad Parker is popular though. He's the most popular kid at their school and a soccer star at their small school, that is until his leg is injured and he has to start wearing a brace. Suddenly Conrad is unpopular, but Jessie Lou, who has always liked Conrad, doesn't care. She still likes him anyway. Then their teacher asks Jessie Lou to help Conrad take his things home from school. Gradually they, along with Quentin--a fourth grader, become friends as they try to solve a local mystery. When Conrad is selected for a special operation that could heal his leg, Jessie Lou is afraid that she will lose her new friend.

This simple story of friendship and crushes is told in an almost lyrical fashion. The small town, country setting is beautifully captured throughout, as are the several outlandish characters, such as Jessie Lou's mischievious grandfather and the rascally Quentin. Stone does an exceptional job of capturing the attitudes and typical behaviors of sixth graders.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kissing Brendan Callahan

Kissing Brendan Callahan

by Susan Amesse


Sarah is determined to be a great writer just like her idol the romance writer, Antonia DeMarco. However, Sarah's mother keeps upsetting her plans. First her mother gives the job of summer intern at the local paper to Sarah's arch rival. Her mother hires a snoopy nanny. Then her mother makes Sarah work with Brendan, the jerk, preparing for a local fair. And if all that weren't bad enough, her mother plans a writing contest that she won't let Sarah enter. When Sarah finds out that Antonia is going to judge the writing contest, she is over the moon. Her friend Brendan, who maybe isn't such a jerk after all, encourages her spunkyness and helps her deal with the problems that Antonia creates for Sarah.

Despite the title, this book is as much about mother-daughter relationships as it is about first kisses. The first kisses though are very sweet. Sarah is a fun and imaginative character. Each of the supporting characters has something to contribute both in the way of entertainment and in helping Sarah. Loved the slogans for Brendan's T-shirts!

Monday, June 9, 2008

His Majesty’s Dragon (Book 1 – Temeraire Series) by Naomi Novik

Ms. Novik started this series back in 2006, and is still going strong with book five, coming out in July 2008. The book is set during the Napoleonic wars, and it is alternative history/fantasy, because in this universe the history is given a new twist – with dragons existing and even being used in warfare by England and other European nations. Will Laurence is a Captain in the British Navy, but his station changes when his ship captures a French ship carrying a dragon’s egg. Dragons are matched at birth with their “trainers” and the fledging dragon chooses Laurence. Now he’s forced to become a member of the British Aerial Corp, but he finds his new status more than acceptable once he realizes what it’s like to be a dragon trainer, an “aviator”. Although the flying is exciting, Laurence’s principal gain is finding out how creative and endearing dragons actually are, and soon he can’t imagine being without Temeraire, as he has named him. Novik does a wonderful job of sustaining our interest both in Temeraire’s development and in the plot, which is predictable only in its unpredictability. I am hooked on the series, having started on Book 3, and am now reading them in order. Novik is enamored of history, particularly this period, and has woven the details of dragon warfare to mesh skillfully with the actual mechanics of war at that time. I’d love to hear from others regarding your reaction to the series.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008



By Meg Cabot


Em Watts is an online gaming geek. She and her best friend Christopher, geeky but cute, despise the fashion obsessed contingent of their school's population. Em's point of view changes drastically after she is hit by a plasma TV at a record signing. When she wakes up a month later, she knows right away that something is different. Her voice is different for a start, then her sister keeps looking at Em like she doesn't know her. But what is really unusual is when celebrities, like socialite Lulu Collins and hottie musician Gabriel Luna, sneak into her hospital room to talk to her. And why do they keep calling her Nikki?

Meg Cabot took on several heavy subjects, such as medical and business ethics, and made a story that is fun and thought provoking. Airhead is the first in a series, and it is a good thing too, since Em's story takes on enough issues here for a half dozen books at least. Em is a down-to-earth character who talks tough and uses big words, but who also genuinely cares for the people around her and is smart enough to quickly understand what is happening--one of my favorite traits in a character. Her lack of reaction to the changes in her life is somewhat puzzling, but it is also consistent in how she deals with her snarky younger sister. The cliffhanger ending has me dying for the next book in the series, which is due out this time next year.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Missing Series, Bk 1

Margaret Peterson Haddix

J SF Haddix

It's Angela's first day on the job, when a plane mysteriously appears at the arrivals gate of an airport. She doesn't find a pilot or any crew onboard, instead all she finds are babies, thirty-six, one on each seat.

Thirteen years later, Jonah is hanging out with his new friend, Chip, when he gets a mysterious letter that says, "You are one of the missing." Jonah already knows that his parents adopted him, so he assumes the letter is a prank. When Chip gets the same letter and finds out that day that he too was adopted, the joke gets less funny. A phone number for an FBI agent adds to the creepiness. Against his better judgement, Jonah gets pulled into the mystery of who he is and what the strange letters mean.

From the beginning, this book was intriguing. I can't wait to see what the other books bring. Jonah, Chip and Katherine, Jonah's sister are fun together. Katherine's enthusiasm frequently provides an interesting contrast to Jonah's worry and concern. The premise is an interesting one, and the motives at least seem very plausible. (I don't know enough about the science to comment.)

I'm devestated that I have to wait a whole year for the next book! In the mean time, I think I'll reread this one. A great summer read!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lock and Key

Lock and Key

by Sarah Dessen


Ruby was making it fine on her own despite her mother's disappearance. Her landlords were just busybodies, and she definitely didn't want to move in with her sister that she hadn't seen for ten years. Ruby doesn't get much of a say in it though, and before she knows it Ruby is living in a Swanky house watching her brother-in-law (the CEO of a website similar to MySpace) build a pond in his backyard. That is, when she isn't watching her cute neighbor swim his nightly laps in the pool. Ruby doesn't trust anyone, and she certainly doesn't need anyone. She finds though as she gets to know her sister again that life isn't always what it seems. When one of her friends needs a friend, she realizes it is up to her to help.

Ruby's tough exterior seems to melt away quickly, but to be fair, she has a lot of incentive to accept this second chance. Both Ruby's sister, Cora, and her brother-in-law, Jamie, are fun and interesting characters. The time it takes to get to know Cora is well worth it. Nate provided interesting contrast, while Ruby's other friends add color and fun to the story.

It took me awhile to get into this book, in large part because of alcohol and drug abuse (normally a deal breaker for me). Since this is a story of second chances, I kept reading, and I'm glad that I did. My one complaint would be that I would have liked to have some dates added to the story. It took me awhile to get a grasp of the time frame. However, the writing was good and I really liked the characters. As always, I want to know what happens to the characters next!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mister Monday

Mister Monday

The Keys to the Kingdom Series, Bk 1

by Garth Nix


Arthur is having another asthma attack as he lays on the grass during P.E., when suddenly two men appear. They're debating between themselves about a key. The one tells the other that since Arthur is about to die, the key should be given to Arthur. Strange things begin to happen though once Arthur has the key. Arthur's asthma is eased, but a plague descends on his home town. Their is only one place that Arthur can go to find answers and hopefully a cure for this new infection, the House.

In the House, Arthur meets many strange people, including Suzy, one of the children led away by the Pied Piper many centuries before. Together they must escape dinosaurs and Mister Mondays' servants Noon and Dawn.

Garth Nix, author of the Abhorsen trilogy, does not disappoint in this newer series. From the beginning, Arthur shows concern for greater things, so that his later courage and resolution is entirely in character. From the beginning, the book is non-stop action, but there are also many shades of gray in the problems that Arthur faces which add depth to the story.

Books one through five are available now at the library, and book six will be available late this summer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008



by Chris Crutcher


When Ben Wolf finds out that he has a terminal illness, he decides to use the time that he has left to LIVE! He joins the football team, goes on a date with the girl of his dreams, and stands up to his overbearing Civics Teacher. Smart as a whip, Ben finds that every day has something new to teach him, and that even though his time is short, he can still make life count.

Ben challenges the adults around him all the while calmly accepting his own fate. Ben is Mr. Fix-it for all the people in his life, including his super cool younger brother (Big Wolf), his bi-polar mom, and the town drunk. He finds that he can't fix everything though. Hey-Soos, a dream visitor, helps Ben by asking the right questions. A surprise twist of fate makes Ben realize that he has a lot to be thankful for.

Ben's acceptance of his own death wasn't too believable, even with the few moments of mourning thrown in. I kept wondering if Ben took after his mom even more than he knew. I still really enjoyed the book though. The football scenes were intense. With the action narrated in the first person point of view, I felt like I was in the game too--a scary thought! Dallas Suzuki was also very believable to me: tough exterior, vulnerable interior. Ben's big younger brother, Cody, was not so believable, but he was thoroughly likable. What I liked about the book is that through deciding to live, Ben helped those around him to live once he was gone.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Nature of Jade

Nature of Jade

by Deb Caletti


Jade has anxiety problems. On top of that, her friends are getting more extreme...more boy crazy, more grade conscious, more Christian. Her mother is trying to live her life for her, going to dances as a chaperone even when Jade herself doesn't go. Talking to Abe, her psychologist helps, and he challenges her to look beyond the obvious things in her life. Then one evening, through the zoo's online Elephant Cam she spots a boy standing in the elephant viewing area. He has a small baby with him, and she wonders what the connection is. Is the boy the baby's father, brother, uncle? Her curiosity peaked, Jade signs on to volunteer in the zoo's elephant exhibit. She bonds with the new baby elephant and its mother, and worries about an older female elephant that has seen many hard times. As the people in Jade's life begin to spiral more and more out of control, Jade finds an inner strength.

Jade makes for an interesting character. Her anxiety problems seem real, but since she has mostly gained control of them, those issues are not melodramatic and don't take over the plot. The boy's problems however are pretty massive, more than any of them seem to acknowledge. I'd have liked to see more resolution there. Each chapter opens with notes from a book on animal behavior--an author note about that would have been interesting. All in all though, Jade was fun to read about, and I find myself really interested in elephants now!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008



by Gordon Korman

Capricorn "Cap" Anderson has spent his entire life on what's left of a hippy-style commune. He has been home schooled by his fierce grandmother. His hair is long and shaggy and he wears homemade shoes. He's never seen a TV, rarely used a phone, and has had very little contact with the outside world. He doesn't know a single person his own age or even in his own generation. All that changes though when his grandmother is hurt, and she has to spend several weeks recovering. Cap moves into a foster home until she gets better.

Abruptly Cap is faced with modern life, and modern life in Claverage (C-Average) Middle School no less. The "popular crowd" quickly zeros in on Cap for bullying. As part of a prank, Cap is elected eighth-grade class president. An assistant principal looks the other way as Cap becomes target for spit balls, phoney press conferences in non-existent rooms, and other mean-spirited pranks. Through it all Cap stays true to the ethics of the sixties that his grandmother has taught him (All you need is love...and a little duck tape) and wins the heart of the student body. Of course, driving the school bus to the hospital in a police chase doesn't hurt his popularity either. Before long, Tai Chi in the morning on the school lawn becomes a social event and Tie-dye is the new fashion. When Cap goes missing just before the big dance of the year, chaos commences.

This book is classic Gordon Korman...funny, funnier, and even more hilarious with every page! Cap is a thoroughly likable character: kind and conscientious without a touch of malice. Which is good, because there is more than enough malice in the characters around him. All that changes with Cap's influence as each character undergoes a change of heart.

A fun, lighthearted read.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Poetry Month

Interested in poetry, but not sure what's good? April is National Poetry Month, and fortunately, there are many wonderful books to introduce a newbie to the very old world of poetry.

The Making of a Poem: A Northon Anthology of Poetic Forms

by Mark Strand & Eavan Boland
(821.008 MAKING)

Ever wondered if anyone still writes sonnets, or why sonnets were so popular with Shakespeare? This book focuses on different poetic forms such as the sonnet, the villanelle, the ballad, and blank verse to name a few.

What makes this book so cool is how it breaks down the explanation of each form. Each form is described at a glance: basic traits, meters, and rules. Then a history of the form's use and how it came to be is given, and finally, the contemporary context, or how poets today use the form, is given along with plenty of poetry examples.

Going over the forms like this made them so much more assessible for me. For example, the villanelle has been really popular in the twentieth century. Villanelles, because of the repetitive structure, are known to be ideal for expressing grief and pain. For a century that began with not one, but two World Wars and moved on to the Cold War and other acts of personal and global violence, the villanelle makes sense as a popular poetic form.

Poet's Choice

by Edward Hirsch
(808.81 HIRSCH)

Poet's choice is a collection of essays from Hirsch's weekly Washington Post column about poetry. Hirsch deals with a variety of topics and poets, including Reading, W. B. Yeats, Christmas Poems, Pablo Neruda, Protest Poetry, William Carlos Williams, and prose poetry. The book is divided into two sections: international poetry and American poetry. Each chapter is only two-three pages long, so these are just quick introductions to each topic and poet. This is a book to dip into, flip some pages and dip again. It's a great way to learn about new poets and poetry at the same time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The White Darkness: a novel, by Geraldine McCaughrean

Symone, Sym for short, is a thirteen year old girl from England, who has such a hard time at school with her peers that she has created a fantasy life. It started when she watched an old television series called “The Last Place on Earth” that dramatizes Robert Scott’s ill-fated 1912 expedition to the South Pole. She already knew about Antarctica because her Uncle Victor had loaded her with books on the subject since she was small. Something about the series mesmerizes her, and especially the actor playing Titus Oates, one of Scott's party. He has become her constant companion, her soul mate, who encourages her when she’s afraid, keeps her going when all looks dark.

And she needs someone like that after Sym and her crazy uncle go down into Antarctica, first on a deluxe adventure tour that turns into a more personal and much more dangerous quest than she or you could ever imagine. Although the book is very engaging and you can’t help but be enthralled by each crazy plot development, I could not believe in her “mind” person/friend. I just don’t buy an available “alternate universe”, at least not one that materializes so conveniently exactly when you need it. But the book is worth reading, despite this quibble.