Thursday, December 23, 2004

America ****

Frank, E.R. America. New York: Antheneum, 2002.

This book alternates between scenes from "Now" and "Then." Back Then, America lived as a foster child to an older woman, Mrs. Harper. Living with them is a man named Browning who gets America to trust him and then eventually begins to sexually molest him. He has to visit with his mother who is always on "errands", and leaves him alone with his older brothers who are bad kids and teach him how to be bad. He eventually runs away from there and lives on the streets until he is taken in by a drug dealer.

In the chapters that take place Now, America is in a different facility, Ridgeway. Most of the scenes center around his twice-weekly therapy sessions. He is resistant to accepting help during the entire time.

During the book, we see America as a nice little boy and then see how life makes him act badly. In the Now parts, the author makes America a sympathetic character so we are rooting for him throughout, hoping he will come around and get some help.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A Terrible Secret *

Anfousse, Ginette. A Terrible Secret. Toronto: James Lorimer, 2000/1991

I had a hard time figuring out what the terrible secret was, and why it was so terrible. All I could figure was that the secret was how terrible this book was. This book was originally written in 1991 and translated in 2000 into English. Usually, a book is only translated when it is a good book, sells a good number of copies, and seems that it would have similar success if sold elsewhere in a different language. I have no idea why this book was ever translated. I can blame the bad writing on the translater, but I can't blame the awful plot on anyone other than the author.

Maggie is the main character but we don't really get to know her. Her friend Chloe does strange things, but the reasons aren't fully explained. There are all sorts of characters that come and go. None of them are really fleshed out at all so they all seem similar, no personality. The plot doesn't really make sense. There are a lot of things going on, but none of them really seem to come together to make any sense in the end.

The moral of the story seems to be that gangs are bad, but gangs are only mentioned a few times and aren't really the main thrust of the story. They are really only in the background and seemingly unimportant to the story until the end when we find out that a certain character was involved in one. There may be a point to this story, but it isn't fleshed out at all. I can't see any person enjoying this book. I don't even want to put it back on my shelves it is so bad. I can't see anyone wanting to read it.

This lead me to wonder why I ever bought it anyway. I went back to see if maybe I meant to buy another book by the same title and bought the wrong one. But, no, this book received a favorable review. This leads me to wonder if the reviewer felt bad giving a bad review? Am I just missing something spectacular about this book? The last sentence of the review was priceless: "The mystery keeps the pages turning, and the characters, especially Maggie, keep readers involved. YAs will be relieved when she lets go of her secret." I was relieved, but only that the book was over.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Boy Meets Boy *****

Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. New York: Knopf, 2003.

This was an awesome book. This is something new in the genre of gay fiction. All of the gay fiction I have read up to this point has been all about teens figuring out they are gay, dealing with homophobic people, etc. This is the first novel in which the protagonist knows he is gay, has had relationships before, and it isn't that big of a deal. The homosexuality in this book isn't the plot, it just happens to be there for most of the characters. And, in addtion to that, the characters live in a community where being gay isn't a big deal. There isn't any homophobia, except for one set of parents. The school community sees nothing odd about it, and even has a drag queen football quarterback who is made homecoming queen.

A little about the plot. This is your typical teenage romance book, only the love triangle exists between all guys. Paul dated Zack, who freaked out about being gay, and started dating girls. Paul has now moved on. He meets Noah, a new guy in school, and falls in love with him. Drama ensues when Zack decides he wants to be with Paul again. Paul, trying to be a friend, ends up in a few situations with Zack that make it appear that they are getting back together, which ruin his relationship with Noah. Paul sets out to save his relationship with Noah. In the meantime Tony, Pauls' gay best friend (totally platonic) is dealing with parents who are very religious and can't accept that their son is gay. Once they realize all of those religious retreats and evenings at Christian Youth Group were really him going out with his friends, some of whom are also gay, they won't let him out of the house at all. Paul and his friends try to help Tony out with his parents and get him out of the house.I can't say enough about this book. Really. I recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Secret of Sabrina Fludde *

Fisk, Pauline. The Secret of Sabrina Fludde. New York: Bloomsbury, 2001.

Originally published in England.

This is two books in a row that I am going to trash. It is unusual that I find 2 book I dislike this much so close together.

A girl washes up under a railway bridge in Pengwern. When she awakes, she has no idea who she is where she is. She takes on the name Abren. She wanders the town aimlessly for some time until she meets up with a homeless boy, named Phaze II. She lives with him beneath the railway bridge, where there is also a mysterious old woman who doesn't seem to move or talk. Abren and Phaze II are eventually taken in by a family with a young son after they are discovered by the police. All the while, she tries to figure out who she is. The only clue she can find is in a book she finds that has an old painting in it, of a girl that looks just like her in Pengwern, at the water. She begins to wonder if it is her, even thought the book is very old. After awhile, her mother comes to claim her and she is taken back home.

The ending is really strange and not particularly satisfying. At the end, I was left wondering what the point of story was. It is entirely possible I was missing something, but if I missed it, I think most teens would miss it too. I would have to say that skipping this book if you see it on the library shelves would be a pretty good idea.

Monday, November 08, 2004

ttyl *

Myracle, Lauren. ttyl. New York: Amulet, 2004.

I couldn't even finish this book. I read 10-15 pages at a time before bed until finally giving up. The entire novel was written as instant messages between three friends. There is no narrative to break it up, all you get is the instant messages. There is no description, just all dialogue. It gets old fast. I thought I would like it, but I don't.

I can deal with this book being written like real teens write instant messages. I can deal with no capitalization. I can deal with the acronyms. But, I would like some decent dialogue since that is all there is. My favorite line is *superflyingtacklepounce*. Brilliant. Not. Perhaps I am just getting crotchety in my old age but I don't think teens would like this book either and I can't see it holding anyone's attention for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Breakout ****

Fleischman, Paul. Breakout. Chicago: Cricket Books, 2003.

I think Paul Fleischman is a genius. I have been a fan of his since I began working as a librarian in 1997 and read some of his books such as A Fate Totally Worse Than Death and Whirligig. Then I read his Newbery award winning Joyful Noise and realized the man was a genius. He has been experimenting lately with his writing. Last year's Seek was an interesting book. This latest book, Breakout, is similar.

The story is told in alternating chapters, between the past and the present. Del lived in foster homes her whole life, and now she is running away, in a car she just bought. She gets stuck in a fatal car accident on the Santa Monica Freeway that keeps traffic stopped for hours. Del observes the people around her and how they react to the situation and each other being stuck there for hours. Years later she has changed her name and is a performace artists. Every other chapter is her one woman show that describes her afternoon stuck on the Santa Monica Freeway.

I can't decide if I really like this book or not. It did receive a starred review in School Library Journal, which prompted me to buy it. I think this book shows how versatile Fleischman is-- from novels to poetry and now to novels that can be performed. I think it is an interesting book, but I am wondering who the audience is. The average reader will be left scratching their head, I am afraid. I give it 4 stars because it is a great book, but I just have no idea who will like it other than the librarians who are reading it because they purchased it for their libraries. Perhaps Fleischman is losing touch with who his reader is? Or he is only writing for advanced Young Adults and is leaving the rest to read the works of other authors?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Out of Order *****

Jenkins, A.M. Out of Order. New York; Harper Collins, 2003.

I loved this book. Colt is really great at baseball, but not at love or academics. He is in love with his on again/off again girlfriend Grace, but she refuses to have sex with him. Then there are his academic difficulties. He just isn't that smart.

Things come to a head when Grace dumps Colt at the same time that Colt is failing a few of his classes, which means he may not be eligible to play baseball. With the help of a strange new student, who he calls Chlorophyl because of her green hair, he does a little better in school and gets a new perspective on things. He does grow up during the course of the book; he goes from being a jerk to being a person who does consider the feelings of others sometimes, which is at least a step.

I have enjoyed all of the books I have read by this author. I like this one in particular because it is very honest. Most YA titles tend to be written about or told from the perspective of average or honor students. Also, most protagonists tend to be the "nice one" or the one who is being wronged by someone else. This book is told from the perspective of a kid who isn't great academically. He also isn't that nice of a person. He wants to be liked by people, he thinks he is better than most of the kids in his school because he is somewhat popular, and he can really be a jerk a lot of the time. I like this perspective, though, because it is honest. So many books, while entertaining and well-written, start to sound alike after awhile. A book like this stands out from the rest because it is so different. The character grows during the course of the story, but he still is a work in progress.

There have been a few other books similar to this one lately. One such book was 10th Grade by Weisberger, which is written with misspellings and grammatical errors throughout. That one didn't work for me because I couldn't figure out what he was saying most of the time due to the run-on sentences he used. This book is at least written so that the reader can understand what is being said. There were a few grammatical things going on, but that was necessary to show that Colt isn't the brightest kid. And, even then, the grammatical issues were only in the dialogue. The only place where words were misspelled was at the end where he writes his English essay; there were all sorts of problems with the essay, but it was true to how Colt would have written it.

I look forward to reading more books by this author.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Heir Apparent ***

Vande Velde, Vivian. Heir Apparent. New York: Harcourt, 2002.

Giannine receives a gift certificate from her father to a virtual reality role playing game establishment. When she arrives, there are protestors there who are against children being exposed to "fantasy". She decides to play a game where she finds out she is really the daughter of the King and has been named his successor. She has to go to the castle and successfully become King and run the Kingdom. Once she gets into her game, the protestors break into the establishment and do damage.

The owner comes over the speaker and tells her what has happened. She can not be disconnected because getting disconnected in the middle will cause her brain damage. Her only way out is to solve the problem successfully. He gives her some hints as to how to finish successfully, but she is mostly on her own to figure out how to sucessfully finish the game before she stays in too long and damages herself. It looks as if she will never be successful because it takes her over half the book to get past the first day.

This isn't really my genre. It was very well written but I felt is was tedious because she was dying and having to go back to the beginning so much. Even though she changed some things along the way, I still felt like it was repeating a lot which I didn't like. After I was half way through, I was totally bored and just skimmed to get the gist of the story.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Touching Spirit Bear *****

Mikaelsen, Ben.  Touching Spirit Bear.  New York:  Harper Collins, 2001.

I LOVED this book.  This book has been sitting in my (very large) pile for OVER a year.  I avoided reading it last summer and it sat there for the entire school year, unread.  I think I avoided it because of what I thought the book was about as opposed to what it ended up being about!  The picture on the cover made the bear appear to be fake.  Also, the title, calls it a "spirit bear" giving me the impression that it wasn't real.  I thought this was going to be some sort of novel about a boy going out on a vision quest or something, which could be pretty boring. 

Cole is an angry boy.  His father has beaten him for his entire life which has made him angry; he takes this anger out on the world. He has been in trouble at school and with the law, but he doesn't care.  One day he beats up Peter for no reason, banging his head on the concrete repeatedly.  This is one mess his father can't get him out of.  Cole's problem is also that he doensn't take any personal responsibilty for any of his actions. He blames everyone for his problems, he even blames Peter for being attacked by him because he asked for it.

His parole officer, Garvey, a native Tlinget Indian, suggests that instead of going to jail, he go through Circle Justice. Circle Justice is a way that Native American use to "punish" their criminals. In his Circle Justice, Cole is sent to an island off the coast of Alaska where he must live alone, except for occassional visits from Edwin, who brings supplies and tries to steer Cole in the right direction.  On his first night, he torches his hut and tries to swim away to another island, but the tide just brings him right back.  Before he can swim away again at low tide, a white bear (called a Spirit Bear) approaches him.  Because the bear isn't afraid of him, Cole tries to kill it, and it retaliates, breaking many of Cole's bones and slicing up his body. He lays there for days, and only then does he realize he wants to live and wants to change. 

There is more to the story but I don't want to give away too many details.  The only negative to the book was that Cole seemed to "get it" and want to change a little too early in the story.  He was only on the island for several days before being mauled by the bear.  Yes, a near death experience can change anyone overnight, but this seemed a bit too much overnight for my tastes.  Still, the story iteself is so well written and powerful this one slight problem doesn't take away from the overall effect of this book, which is amazing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Pool Boy *****

Simmons, Michael. Pool Boy. Brookfield, CT: Roaring Brook Press, 2003.

I absolutely LOVED this book. It got a starred review from School Library Journal, but, like with the last book, the cover kept me from picking it up until now. I plan to buy several copies and booktalk it next year!

Brett is a rich, spoiled kid who gets everything he wants and has never had to work a day in his life. That is, until his father is convicted of a white collar crime and goes to prison, leaving him and his mother and sister with no money. He hates his father for taking away everything he had and frequently calls him an idiot and is mean to him during visits.

In order to survive, Brett gets a job in a fast food joint, which doesn't last long, due mostly to his bad attitude. He is quickly hired by Alfie, an old eccentric man, who owns a pool cleaning business. During his time with Alfie, Brett learns a lot about life and grows up.

The story is a great one but it is enhanced by the fact that it is told in the first person point of view. Brett is a really sarcastic kid, and he tells it like it is. He is also spoiled which comes out in how he says things. He is also very funny. This point of view really adds to the story and makes it even better.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Fat Kid Rules the World *****

Going, K.L. Fat Kid Rules the World.  New York Putnam, 2003. 
                                                                                                                                                                        I was excited to read this book because it had gotten a starred review in School Library Journal.  I have had this book in my collection since September but have put off reading it. I think the problem was the cover.  It is a really ugly cover.  I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I do!  The cover of this one made it look very dark and depressing and I like to avoid that unless I am in the mood for that sort of thing!  I am glad I finally picked it up.                                                                                                                                                              Troy is a 300 pound high school student with no friends. One day he is contemplating committing suicide by jumping onto the subway tracks, but it saved by Curt, a homeless drug addict who used to go to his school.  Soon, he becomes friends with Curt who introduces him to the Punk Rock scene.  Despite the fact that he can't play the drums, Curt creates a band with Troy as the drummer and books them a show.  Troy has only a few weeks to learn how to play guitar.  Troy keeps trying to quit, but Curt won't give up on him.  Troy and Curt both learn the meaning of frienship during their time together.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

The Angel Factory ****

Blacker, Terence. The Angel Factory. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Thomas comes from one of those families that seems almost too good to be true. They are all good looking, they never fight. The only problem is that Thomas can't quite figure out what his parents do for a living. Everything is turned upside down when, at the suggestion of his friend Gip, they download some files from his father's computer to see if he works for the CIA. On their family vacation/business trip to Santa Barbara, Thomas follows his parents to their business meeting and finds that their job is definitely not what they told him it was. Upon his return home, he finds out that his teacher, has decoded the file from the computer, and it says that he was adopted. Still angry with his parents for lying to him, he finds out that his parents are, in fact, from another planet and are involved in a plot to improve the Earth internally because humans wouldn't take the help otherwise. They try to recruit him to work for the Project, but he is torn between doing what he was raised to do, or doing what he thinks is right.

On the book cover, this books is compared to Lois Lowry's _The Giver_. While it isn't that similar, I would have to say that anyone who enjoyed _The Giver_ would definitely enjoy this book as well. This genre isn't really my favorite, but even I enjoyed this book. It is fast paced and enjoyable.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Greetings and Salutations

I am a high school librarian who reads a lot of Young Adult fiction for work.  I try to read most of the fiction that I buy for my library.  I will be creating an entry for each book I read with a brief synopsis and a review. 

How do I select books for my library?  I use a Journal called School Library Journal.  In addition to articles of interest to school librarians, it features book reviews by professional book reviews.  By reading the reviews, I can decide what to purchase and what not to purchase.   There is also a section called "Adult Books for Young Adults".  Books that are appropriate for teenagers are spotlighted there.  These books are written for an adult audience, but often feature children and young adults as the main character.  
If you have any recommendations of books I should read, please let me know.