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.