This was alright. Some of the passages were a lot of fun, but the really interesting verse only seemed to occur during descriptions of basketball. Tha...moreThis was alright. Some of the passages were a lot of fun, but the really interesting verse only seemed to occur during descriptions of basketball. That has its uses but also its drawbacks. I largely found the story line to be somewhat boring, and often times the language was pedantic. I found myself comparing this to an after-school special much of the time. Good for sports fans, but I wouldn't go out of my way for this.(less)
This series has finally begun to reasonably drag. Kevin, in a strange reversal, seemed to have all the answers in this story. He had to rush a little...moreThis series has finally begun to reasonably drag. Kevin, in a strange reversal, seemed to have all the answers in this story. He had to rush a little to make everything turn out alright, but the crux of the Liar, Liar books is that Kevin still has a lot to learn about growing up before he can act like a grown-up. I tagged this under the humor heading, but it wasn't that funny. The jokes were few and far between, and the same concepts from as far back as the first volume in this set turned up like a bad penny. Kevin is still trying desperately to impress Tina, who has been his girlfriend for at least the last three books. Give it a rest kid. He also seems convinced he can do it all, even though that is not what he's learned throughout the series. Ah well. Felt like this was the concluding story, and I think it's about time it was.(less)
Not my favorite from this series, but another good addition to the Ramona story arc. In Ramona Forever, Ramona is more of an observer than a central c...moreNot my favorite from this series, but another good addition to the Ramona story arc. In Ramona Forever, Ramona is more of an observer than a central character experiencing the world. She is not the focal point, but her impressions of the adult world are shown with the appropriate level of child-like wonder. Beverly Cleary's writing is delightfully ordinary. It's not particularly descriptive or lyrical, but the sentences matter. Cleary's writing is among the sharpest out there, and for children such writing hits at just the correct point. (less)
What a scary little thing. This is shaping up to be quite the year for children's horror. Look out R.L. Stine! The Thickety begins with terror, and it...moreWhat a scary little thing. This is shaping up to be quite the year for children's horror. Look out R.L. Stine! The Thickety begins with terror, and it ends in the same manner. Persecution, death, isolation and fear line the pages of this book. Think of The Thickety as the Witch of Blackbird Pond, but in this story, witches are real, people are needlessly killed and the future of the protagonist remains uncertain at the conclusion. I would say the story was almost perfect, but something about how the premise drew so heavily on the Salem Witch Trials made it feel a little derivative. Otherwise this book gets top marks for its levels of mystery, suspense and horror.
Kara's family has been shunned by her village since the death of her mother seven years ago. Kara's mother was executed for being a witch, and Kara nearly meets the same fate, but something strange happens during the test to determine this, and she is exempted from death. Then one day Kara finds herself in the Thickety, the forbidden forest at the edge of the village. Filled with danger and magic, Kara barely escapes, and she returns with a book that once belonged to her mother. This is where the story begins.
Despite its disturbing premise, I think this book is probably for 4th grade and up. We give Harry Potter to children even younger than this, but because it is so beloved we often forget that story begins with death, and all of the themes I mentioned above are found throughout the series, and they grow more and more intense in scope as the series progresses. It's hard to find age-appropriate horror, and I think this fills that void. I never read stuff like this as a kid. It was way too scary for me, and I rarely seek out the horror genre as an adult. But, for kids who delight in being scared (with a side of moral dilemma), this is a treat.(less)
This was an excellent historical fiction graphic novel about the little-known Japanese American internment camps that existed in America during World...moreThis was an excellent historical fiction graphic novel about the little-known Japanese American internment camps that existed in America during World War Two. The government forced Japanese Americans into these camps due to paranoia, racism and other unsavory aspects of society that existed during this time (and that still do). Gaijin means outsider in Japanese, and this reflects the main character's status as an outsider in his own country and among his own people, the Japanese, who also did not trust Koji, because he was half-Japanese. Accompanied to the camp by his white mother, who refused to surrender him to the camp alone, Koji deals with all the typical problems associated with growing up. These issues are heightened in this story.
The illustrations were my favorite aspect of the book, which used a color palette that alternated between various browns and explosive reds and oranges. I also liked the large text, which lent a real sense of urgency to the story. There is some good backmatter, and opportunities for classroom activities are abundant. Cool. (less)
Probably the weakest in this series about brother and sister Evan and Jessie Treski. The first two books in this series worked with a bit of a gimmick...moreProbably the weakest in this series about brother and sister Evan and Jessie Treski. The first two books in this series worked with a bit of a gimmick, but the concept did succeed - the stories revolved around a theme that was worked into the plot. The series has been erratic since then. I figured I'd better finish it up since this was the last volume, but it was outlandish and forced. Not a bad story, but not great.(less)
I'm really growing to love Lucy Knisley. Her ability to the elevate ordinary experiences into the meaningful, without seeming pretentious or terribly...moreI'm really growing to love Lucy Knisley. Her ability to the elevate ordinary experiences into the meaningful, without seeming pretentious or terribly overarching, should not be undercut. I really liked her most recent work Relish, but I must say I prefer this work, written five years earlier, about her brief residency in Paris with her mother on the eve of her college graduation. Knisley depicts her explorations succinctly and brightly but not trivially. It is her ability to paint pictures of simple experiences, such as buying the perfect jacket or trying new food for the first time, that make her stand out among other writers, let alone other graphic novelists.
This is a travelogue culled from Knisley's actual illustrated journal that she kept while living in Paris. The entire book is done in black and white outlines, which I first found disappointing. But, the intimate and brisk nature of this method actually gave the story a nice of sense of friendly intimacy. I also loved how Knisley included photographs from her trip throughout. I especially love the author's ability to paint a traveler's wonder amidst a foreign landscape without treating the locale as caricatured or terribly exotic. Everyone is essentially ordinary everywhere, and Knisley is able to effortlessly capture that in the best sense. I look forward to what else she might come up with in the future.(less)
This was an entertaining though rather predictable adventure story about a man charged with finding a corpse bride for his dead brother. An ancient cu...moreThis was an entertaining though rather predictable adventure story about a man charged with finding a corpse bride for his dead brother. An ancient custom in China that is still practiced by some people, when a single man dies, the man's family ensures he has a wife buried with him so they can be together in the afterlife. Sometimes this practice merely entails grave robbing or morgue robbing, but sometimes murder is involved.
Deshi must do this for his brother after the brother is killed in an accident while the two of them were arguing. Deshi initially hopes to simply rob a grave, but when the corpse provided for him by a shady character is shown to be well into the decomposition stage, Deshi decides this isn't going to be as easy as he thought.
Meanwhile, Lily Chen is facing marriage to a nasty landlord, who plans to evict her family from their home if she doesn't agree to marry him. Lily wants to escape to the city and start a new life. Deshi crosses paths with her, and they become reluctant companions. Several times throughout the story, Deshi considers killing her, but various circumstances prevent him from completing the task.
This book was delightfully morbid without getting too gross or unsavory and had a lot of black humor to go with it. However, the plot was fairly transparent, and the story lacked depth. I suppose that's a pretty common thing with pulp fiction and gothic novels, which rely heavily on the grim and outlandish and less on character development and realism. I'm not sure I'll read any more by this author, but it was entertaining enough.(less)
This was great. The classic summer vacation rife with expectation that somehow manages to simultaneously fall short and yet exceed one's hopes for the...moreThis was great. The classic summer vacation rife with expectation that somehow manages to simultaneously fall short and yet exceed one's hopes for the experience. I don't think this book could have been improved. It's a great coming-of-age story for middle-graders, but it's also timeless in its feel, and adults would enjoy it, too.
I loved how the story ended on a hopeful note, but things hadn't wrapped up. Life is like that. I also really enjoyed the subtle illustrations and the amazing blue color palette. Everything felt washed out and carried a sense of nostalgia about it without seeming trite. Touched on a lot of great topics for kids between the ages of elementary school and high school. It's an uncertain time, and it's hard to know what you think about things. This author and illustrator really got this story.(less)
Despite being intensely outlandish and anachronistic, this story zipped along nicely. Reviewers have said this is reminiscent of The Mixed-Up Files of...moreDespite being intensely outlandish and anachronistic, this story zipped along nicely. Reviewers have said this is reminiscent of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and in some cases that's true. There is an art mystery, and kids solve it. However, the similarities generally end there. The characters were tenacious and dedicated to solving the mystery of a found painting, and readers will enjoy all of the research the characters do, which somehow is not boring. I think this book is good for what it is, but it could have been vastly improved easily. Most of the issues involve utterly insane coincidences, lack of detail about certain supporting characters and illogical plot lines that don't make sense in the real world. All in all though this was a good story. It's a fun read, but that's about all.(less)
Fascinating. Zadie Smith is the like the Lou Reed of modern fiction. She finds a way to communicate something incredibly profound using colloquial mea...moreFascinating. Zadie Smith is the like the Lou Reed of modern fiction. She finds a way to communicate something incredibly profound using colloquial means. I love how her writing is simultaneously sophisticated and subtle and yet totally banal in its use of slang and pop culture references. More people should write like that. This book is very similar to her most recent novel NW, though in some ways it's totally different. Both novels are about the search for identity, the nature of randomness and how it can also seem like fate, and also the search for the meaning of existence. This story came together with a sort of inevitability that was fairly concrete and easy on the psyche in terms of its ultimate outcomes, despite the insidious nature of the story as a whole. I was way more shocked by the events of NW, which is far less coherent, but much darker. Zadie Smith really bears re-reading, as her work has so many levels it's hard to fully glean all of the nuances.(less)
First Second always seems to publish great work, and this book is no exception. I wasn't surprised to see the company's logo when I opened Friends wit...moreFirst Second always seems to publish great work, and this book is no exception. I wasn't surprised to see the company's logo when I opened Friends with Boys, because whoever runs that outfit seems to know good comics. This is a great middle grade book about a girl who is nervous about starting high school after being home schooled for her entire life. She has no other friends but her older brothers, who are all too busy to hang out with her. Maggie and the rest of her family are also struggling with the recent departure of their mother.
While she initially founders under the harsh new environment that is regular high school, Maggie soon finds her niche with an outsider brother and sister who lack friends themselves. Social dynamics come into play without getting too cartoonish, though at times the plot erred slightly on the side of a sitcom in terms of its tropes. However, this didn't derail the story, and I blew through it in about an hour. There's a quirky subplot involving a ghost that adds a nice little Halloween aspect to this story, so definitely book talk it in October. Curious about what else this author has done.(less)
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Georgie Burkhardt is convinced that her missing sister Agatha is not dead, even if the local she...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Georgie Burkhardt is convinced that her missing sister Agatha is not dead, even if the local sheriff has found a body wearing her dress. Despite what others try to tell her, Georgie believes Agatha is still alive. So, as any determined kid with some extra money would do, she procures a mule, a traveling companion and her grandfather's gun so she can set off to find her sister. Along the way, Georgie has encounters ranging from hilarious to dire, and she discovers less about what happened to her sister than she does about herself.
This book is pretty tight in construction, though it got a little choppy toward the end. A few scenes felt a little contrived, and at times it was hard to distinguish whether or not Georgie was telling the story from a distanced, adult perspective. However, the story was satisfying and filled with action and the appropriate amount of self-introspection. Georgie was a great character, and readers will appreciate her tenacity, even if it is at times foolish.
I liked the descriptions, and I also enjoyed the style, which was pretty much evoked the tone and setup of a western, though not the ridiculous, cliched kind of movies and TV. I think adults and children alike will enjoy this.(less)
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Guessed what this might be all about (in one sense) early on and hoped I was wron...moreCheck out a full review of this book and others on my blog: Get Real.
Guessed what this might be all about (in one sense) early on and hoped I was wrong. It's unfortunate when you're right about something you don't want to be right about. This story was transparent, caricatured and underdeveloped. The narrative devices were distractingly stylized and attempted to mask the thin characterization. Bits and pieces of good writing sometimes emerged but were later obscured by melodrama. This story relied heavily on a trick, and it wasn't much of a trick anyway. Veers slightly into a kind of magic realism later and then abruptly ends. Disappointing, as E. Lockhart is a better writer than this by far. I felt a little bit like I had picked up the book equivalent of a Lifetime movie. Gets two stars instead of one because it was thoroughly engrossing in spite of itself. Just goes to show that even when you're off your game, you're still kind of on it anyway.(less)
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One of the more interesting examinations of gender I've read in young adult literature. Highly r...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
One of the more interesting examinations of gender I've read in young adult literature. Highly referential and often quite funny, this book forces readers to think about perception by making use of pop culture and fairytales in an unusual way. Bennett Madison creates a heightened reality in this story about 17-year-old Sam's summer vacation with his father and brother; their trip is more like a summer escape, as it transpires suddenly at the whim of their father, who has abruptly quit his job following the departure of Sam's mother for the "Land of Women."
At first what seems misogynistic gives way to a smart and layered examination of how men and other women often perceive what Simone De Beauvoir referred to quite adroitly as the second sex. Those familiar with that philosophy will love this book, which dissects the male gaze and other patriarchal constructs in a way that readers may not even realize at first.
The story is told from the point of view of Sam and also a collective narrative from the Girls, who inhabit the vacation town where Sam is staying. Sam is bewildered, bitchy and depressed following his mother's departure. And, his father and brother aren't dealing well with it either. When they arrive on an island off the cost of North Carolina, Sam immediately picks up on the fact that these Girls, who all seem to look eerily alike, are also all eerily interested in him.
Perception is the point form which this story pivots. That in itself is the force behind the male gaze, so readers should not be surprised that Sam (and his brother and father) still grapples with what he doesn't understand until the last pages, even if his feelings and views originate from a place of benevolence. I like that the author did this. It's worthwhile to leave things open ended in most cases.
Last thing: I loved the setting in this book. By "love" I mean I loved how it was described but didn't actually want to visit this fake beach town. Bennett Madison likely hung around the same shore towns I did growing up, because the way he constructed this place reminded me far too much of the way I felt while visiting the beach as a kid: listless, bored, repelled, disgusted, depressed, filthy, but also sort of at peace in quiet moments. The sense of dread and impermanence and also deflation was all there on these pages. A really interesting read that should justifiably generate a lot of discussion.(less)
This was excellent and strangely flew by despite totaling 550 pages. My favorite aspect of the book, narrated by Death, was that the characters someho...moreThis was excellent and strangely flew by despite totaling 550 pages. My favorite aspect of the book, narrated by Death, was that the characters somehow remained hopeful and resilient even though they were repeatedly subjected to the horrors of not only the Holocaust, but the destruction of war itself. Perhaps one of the hardest times in human history to come to grips with, the author still managed to give readers a sense that there was a possibility for human beings to do as much good as bad in the world.
The only problem I had was with the narrative device of allowing Death to tell the story. On the one hand, this impersonal, timeless bystander could comment on human behavior without bias or involvement, but Death was in fact involved. Death seemed more like a depressed, but distant and non-interfering God than merely the means by which mortals exit this plane of existence. Death's commentary was distracting sometimes, with a voice that seemed more authorial than not.
Still, this was a great book with a mostly memorable cast. Liesel of course was inspiring and sad, and her family and friends were vital to her survival after losing her as much as she did through the years. This is a good book for any age.(less)
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Here's a really great book about the difficulty of just trying to be a teenager when the adult w...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Here's a really great book about the difficulty of just trying to be a teenager when the adult world gets in your way. An '80s riff on star-crossed love, this book adeptly showcases the self-doubt, emotion and drama associated with growing up. Eleanor and Park tell the story of their ill-fated relationship in alternating sections. While they sometimes bleed together, their narrative voices never feel inauthentic.
Despite the fact that the title of this book bears two names, I would say this is more Eleanor's story than Park's. Eleanor has more hangups; a bigger chip on her shoulder and a lot more baggage at home that inevitably drives a wedge between herself and Park. Both characters inhabited the domain of the outcast teenager effectively and admirably. I could easily identify with the stuff they went through at school without feeling like their personalities were merely caricatures from the Breakfast Club.
At times the story was a bit gushy for my taste, and there was an undercurrent of TV-show plotting involved throughout. However, the humor cut through these things at just the right times. Eleanor and Park, despite their problems, were pretty funny. What was far from funny was Eleanor's stepdad Richie, who was a real threat to Eleanor for the entire length of this book. The insidious way the depth of that threat is revealed was really brilliant on the part of the author in spite of some of the other minor flaws this book had.
While I think teenagers would thoroughly enjoy this story, the nature of the world the author created seems designed to resonate with adults. This isn't a flaw, and I would liken this book to Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca in that regard: a story that seems to appeal to adults and teens alike, due to the element of nostalgia involved that only adults who grew up during that time could identify with. The fact that Park is a college rock fan before that music was really considered cool or widespread seems to reflect an insider status that has only now been granted to those people who at the time wallowed in social obscurity. Anyway, these are merely reflections on my part regarding aspects of the story I did enjoy; they're just something to think about.
This was good, resonant writing, and the book ends with an eye toward a more positive future, which is really all one could ask for when looking for realistic fiction.(less)
If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be: boring. This book was boring. It was so boring I couldn't stand it. The premise was uniqu...moreIf I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be: boring. This book was boring. It was so boring I couldn't stand it. The premise was unique and had a lot of promise. A 12-year-old girl who has recently recovered from a bout with malaria spends her summer with her brother and grandparents wheat harvesting in the Midwest. Several things provide the basic construct for the story. Summer is so afraid of catching malaria again that she obsessively scrubs her skin with DEET (a worrisome choice that is never fully resolved or addressed but is consistently mentioned); her brother Jaz exists somewhere on the autism spectrum, and Summer occasionally reflects on his difficulty with making friends; and, finally, Summer meets a large cast of characters while wheat harvesting that teach her a lot about the different ways people can behave under different circumstances.
All of the above could have made for an interesting story, but it wasn't so much the plot itself that was problematic. Summer must take over for her grandparents in their duties because they are often under the weather. Through this, she gains confidence in herself and learns a lot about how people sometimes make their own luck and when they don't, they have to adjust as best they can. Kadohata's main hangup was in the writing style, which was tedious and extremely flat. She spent too much describing the process of wheat harvest, providing literal instructions on how this is done. There were also pointless illustrations scattered throughout the story that added nothing to the text. Finally, the story in general felt underdeveloped. Concepts were introduced and then wrapped up quickly and clumsily.
Summer's parents are away in Japan taking care of sick relatives, and they never actually enter the action at any point in the story. This didn't hurt the narrative, though. The grandparents prove to be valid and interesting authority figures, helping Summer to understand the nature of hard work, relationships and life. They were about the only interesting thing about this story, but even their personalities left something to be desired in terms of development.
There were also periodic references to the World War II-era novel A Separate Peace, about the troubled relationship between two friends. The author's desire to tie that book to this story was clunky at best. I don't see much relation between the two, and nor will readers, most of whom probably have not and will not read A Separate Peace. I've seen this before in children's books. I'm unclear why authors of books for young people feel the need to draw comparison between other stories. The only book I really felt effectively did this was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. But more often than not, I see no reason for the inclusion of such a device.
This won the National Book Award. I could see why judges might choose this book, which rapidly became very philosophical in the last 30 pages, but I would make a large case for skipping over this story. I felt like I was reading a news article rather than a novel. (less)
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This might be the first five-star children's read I've logged on here this year. I'm not going t...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This might be the first five-star children's read I've logged on here this year. I'm not going to lie — it's been a bit of a lackluster year for children's literature. I've been fine with plenty of stuff, and I've even really liked some of it along the way. But I can't say I've been really passionate about any of it. Of course, Kevin Henkes is a great writer, so I shouldn't be surprised that he's turned out another gem. I've heard this described as similar to Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, and I'd say that's a pretty accurate comparison. If Ramona was a boy, I think she would be Billy Miller. Though I must say Ramona is a little sassier than Billy. However, that doesn't deter from the enjoyment of this book.
Billy Miller is an eager second-grader, hopeful of pleasing his teacher Ms. Silver and his parents. He doesn't quite get his little sister, but he really loves volcanoes and the idea of staying up. all. night. Using the Chinese zodiac as a springboard for finding one's place in the universe, Billy hopes this will be his year when he learns at the start of second grade that this is the Year of the Rabbit (and the Year of the Dragon).
By the end of this book, Billy learns something about the nature of creativity, intuition, navigating relationships and everything else under the sun that's a concern for a kid Billy's age. You don't see many books like this out there in children's literature these days. The Year of Billy Miller rides the line between early reader (designed primarily as a tool to help a child learn to read) and chapter book. Few chapter book readers are young enough to appreciate this story, but those who are past the early reader stage but just shy of stuff for 4th- and 5th-graders will love this book.
Some of my favorite sections included Billy's plan to give "gifts" to his teacher to make up for a perceived offense on his part; his goal to stay up all night while his parents are away because it will change everything; and finally seeing the genesis of his poem about his mom — it begins as an acrostic of the word 'mom' that comes out as 'My Only Mother.' Priceless.
This book is almost identical in scope to the Ramona books, but it's nice that there's a book like this out there for boys. It doesn't read new ground, but Henkes understands young children much in the same way Cleary does. This book isn't patronizing, and it's entirely relatable. Henkes also sees the profound in the life of a child, when problems with poetry and trying as hard as you can to stay up all night mean a great deal. Rather than put them in a teachable perspective, he gives value to these concerns and deals with them in an appropriate and skilled manner.(less)
A reader by Neil Gaiman that's very reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Very dry humor and lots of jokes that probably only adults would...moreA reader by Neil Gaiman that's very reminiscent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Very dry humor and lots of jokes that probably only adults would get. It's a little long and meandering, but it was clever. I don't know that the intended audience (grades 2-4) would really get all of it, but it was cute and funny. (less)
A super cool start to a series with a dark but still hopeful edge. A brother and sister learn they are in the inheritors to a magical legacy that allo...moreA super cool start to a series with a dark but still hopeful edge. A brother and sister learn they are in the inheritors to a magical legacy that allows them to travel to another world. They must rescue their mother, who has been kidnapped by a pretty scary monster. With the help of a few new friends, they make their way through a scary little world. Lots of interesting panels and illustrations. Hope to find time to read the next.(less)
I should create a tag called "vacation brain freeze," because this book could easily go under such a subject heading. Don't get me wrong - it was a go...moreI should create a tag called "vacation brain freeze," because this book could easily go under such a subject heading. Don't get me wrong - it was a good, quick read. I pretty much read it in half a day due to the myriad paragraph breaks that occurred about every other sentence, thus rendering a 300-page book to about the length of a 150-page book. I've heard a lot about this story over the last few years, and finally decided to give it a shot during a week off.
Alex and Brittany attend a school divided by class and secondarily by race. The poor kids get into trouble, sneer due to the bitterness about their lots in life and act tough to survive the very real threats they face outside of school. Meanwhile, the rich kids study hard to get into college, act entitled and sheltered and ride around in the new cars their parents buy them to get them out of their way.
Alex and Brittany exemplify the above polarities but yearn to break free of them. Alex has a loving family that unfortunately still failed to keep him out of a gang. Brittany cares for her sister, a sufferer of cerebral palsy, but her parents can't deal with it and pressure Brittany to make up for what they perceive as their other daughter's failings. This story is a pretty transparent take-off of West Side Story. However, it doesn't fall flat in spite of its predictable arc. Partnered against their will in a chemistry class, they of course learn they're not so different after all and come to understand each other.
I know very little about gang life, but I felt the author portrayed this aspect of society in a realistic manner. No one was completely unsympathetic or for that matter romanticized. Brittany's family on the other hand was a little too brittle for my taste, only to be conveniently rescued at the last minute from total condemnation as terrible parents.
For the most part though I thought Alex and Brittany were fairly well done as characters. Alex in particular came off as an authentic voice. Brittany occasionally wandered into poor little rich girl territory, but never became hard to take. I like both of these characters. The author definitely allowed the dangers of gang life to hit home several times, though there never seemed to be enough of a downside on Brittany's part to taking up with Alex. Being shunned at school and getting grounded didn't seem to equate to the risk of bringing a white girl to a wedding populated by gang members.
I found this story particularly interesting as someone who went to a socially divided high school. As far as I know, nobody was in a gang, but there were clear class and racial divisions. This is a good book for kids who might be able to relate in some capacity to this kind of high school. I was a little glib above about this being a brain freeze book; it's definitely got more to give than that, but it's nothing to scratch your head over either. Nobody's going to come away from this story upset or frustrated, and that's fine. It's good for what it is.(less)
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Don't let my review fool you: I thought this was a really good book. It's just that at times it...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Don't let my review fool you: I thought this was a really good book. It's just that at times it was too hard to ignore the flaws. The story had a really strong first half, with Hayley coming across as a very strong character with a lot of personality. Her role as an unreliable narrator also added depth to the story, which was all about how memories catch up with you one way or another in the end. As the child of a parent suffering from war-induced PTSD, Hayley generally operates in a fight-or-flight mode at all times. She's afraid of her father succumbing to his demons, and she's afraid of herself.
Entering high school after years of being home-schooled on the road leads to a lot of trouble for Hayley. She predictably has conflicts with her teachers, structure and other kids. She also predictably thaws but with not a lot of prompting from her friends and eventual boyfriend Finn, who was cool and realistic just the same. However, at times I wondered why they were a couple. Their relationship had realistic ups and downs, but it wasn't as developed as it could have been. I also found the narrative dried up a little after about the half-way mark, eventually transitioning into melodrama and sentimentality as the ending neared. The story was also at times a little overwritten. Some metaphors were great, and others felt like creative writing prompts. The story also sometimes unpredictably allowed Hayley to address the reader, which I always find distracting in a story when it's not consistent. There were also moments when the reader could get a window into Hayley's father's internal struggle. But, the moments were brief and not really necessary. And, after a while they dropped off. So did Hayley's friends Gracie and Topher, who took up too much of the narrative to just vanish after a certain point.
This a book about Issues with a capital letter. That's Laurie Halse Anderson's bag, and most of the time she's able to tackle tough topics artfully in spite of her occasional didacticism. The characters were all likable, even Hayley's dad, who put her through a lot of stress and agony. I also thought there was some fairly sophisticated layering going on. I'd recommend this to teens who enjoy realistic fiction. It was solid in spite of itself.(less)
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This was a really nice story about a family living in Fascist Italy during World War II. For a b...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a really nice story about a family living in Fascist Italy during World War II. For a book geared toward grades four to six, the author made the surprising decision to tell this story in alternating third-person limited point of view. The transitions between character perspectives were seamless and provided greater insight into what 13-year-old Paolo and his mother and sister went through as they dealt with harassment from Nazis and partisans alike.
Paolo's father has not been seen for some time, as he left home to help the partisans in their fight against Hitler. Often confined to their homes because of the Nazi occupation and forced to live off rations and under other limited circumstances, Paolo longs to fight with the Partisans. However, he soon realizes the reality of war and how complicated it can be. There are no black and white good guys and bad guys.
This story was fast-paced, and the characters were all interesting. Part of me thinks this would have worked better as a YA book, because at times the characters felt like they could have been developed more. They didn't come off as shallow, but each of their circumstances was fascinating. I particularly liked the portrayal and perspective of Paolo's mother Rosemary, who I would consider in many respects to be the biggest hero of the book. Lots of room for discussion and an interesting look at a different side of World War II.(less)
This was a light read, as far as horror stories go. Mackie Doyle is a replacement. He was placed in the crib of a human baby that was taken long ago a...moreThis was a light read, as far as horror stories go. Mackie Doyle is a replacement. He was placed in the crib of a human baby that was taken long ago as a blood sacrifice for an evil underworld goddess. His family has kept his secret all these years, and he is particularly close with his older sister, Emma, who loves him unconditionally. Preferring to lead a quiet if not completely happy life, Mackie is the reluctant hero of this story, which begins when another child is stolen from her crib and the girl's older sister knows something isn't right about this. Mackie learns what it means to be human as he descends into a world filled with demons, cruelty and in some cases kindness.
This story had a good beginning, but the rest of the narrative didn't really live up to this promising start. At times appropriately chilling, the story frequently was so circus-like in its descriptions of the underworld that I couldn't help but find it a little campy at times, though that's not an uncommon characteristic of the horror genre. I felt the characters were a little flat, and sometimes the author merely told rather than showed when developing the story. All the same, it was a really quick read, and it wasn't particularly scary. I was hoping for a little more depth, because this book had a great premise. In that regard, I would give this book to upper-middle-graders because it lacks nuance. I also found the narrative had holes at times. A nice little treat if you're into horror, though.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
What a fun little book about growing up, told in an intelligent and subtly humorous style. This...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
What a fun little book about growing up, told in an intelligent and subtly humorous style. This book marked my first experience with Australian YA author Jaclyn Moriarty, and I'll be seeking out the rest of her work soon. A Corner of White perfectly reflected the gulf between the lives we want and the lives we have, in a highly original manner.
Madeleine lives with her mother in Cambridge, England, the World. She previously led a privileged life of travel, parties and adventure with her father and mother, until the day she ran away and her mother decided to follow. Meanwhile, Elliot lives in Bonfire, the Farms, the Kingdom of Cello with his mother. This parallel universe, reached only through a tiny crack in the World, is similar in virtually every way to our known world. Except that colors are sentient beings that can attack and kill people or cause intense levels of emotion, depending on the shade of the color. Elliot and Madeleine have both been without their father for many months and are both coping with the loss in similar ways - determined denial that takes shapes in the form of recklessness with Elliot and a propensity to imagine the past with Madeleine.
The writing is funny, whimsical and pleasant. It's breezy and invites comparisons to E. Lockhart and Monty Python. It's hard to see where this story is going for much of the novel, as far as the plot is concerned. It's easy, however, to see where the story is headed regarding the problems these teens face. Elliot and Madeleine must come to grips with the pitfalls of relationships in many forms. They learn important lessons, and the author manages to keep the story free of an after-school-special tone.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, this is the first book in a trilogy. It's a promising first start, and I'm intrigued to see where the adventures of Madeleine and Elliot lead them. But, one gets tired of the waiting game all the same.(less)
This story, while pleasant, lacked any kind of major thematic arc and provided little in the way of character nuance or development. Bo at Ballard Cre...moreThis story, while pleasant, lacked any kind of major thematic arc and provided little in the way of character nuance or development. Bo at Ballard Creek had the complexity of an early reader but possessed the length of a more advanced chapter book. This dichotomy made for an awkward if not easy read.
While unique in scope, I found myself drifting off too often. Set in the 1920s during the Alaska Gold Rush, Bo is adopted by two good-hearted miners after her mother unceremoniously abandons her. Forthright in detail about the rough and tumble style of living in a mining community, the author paints an eccentric but well-meaning childhood for Bo. It's nice to see a story about an unusual childhood that is fairly free of trauma or crisis, though at least one or two minor hiccups in this girl's life did give the story a bit of weight toward the end.
I really enjoyed the stripped-down realism and the carefree tone of the work, but the story felt too much like a set of accounts rather than a full-bodied work of fiction. This book would work best as a classroom extension to go with a unit on Alaska, mining, etc. It could also serve as a good bedtime story to be read over the course of several nights. Just a little more cohesion and some nuance to the characters would have made this book really stand out.(less)
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Kate DiCamillo's latest book deserves an A+ just for originality alone. Flora and Ulyssses: The...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Kate DiCamillo's latest book deserves an A+ just for originality alone. Flora and Ulyssses: The Illuminated Adventures mixes allegory with a superhero storytelling sensibility to excellent effect. Flora is a self-described cynic, who frequently reminds herself never to hope, but only to observe. She loves escaping her lonely and flat existence with her mother, a self-absorbed writer of romance novels, by reading comic books about a mild-mannered individual who becomes a superhero.
Despite her cynical nature, Flora is convinced that she has come across a very unusual squirrel, who survives certain death at the hands of a vacuum cleaner. She names him Ulysses, after his failed executioner the vacuum cleaner, and takes him in, much to the chagrin of Flora's mother. Along the way, the reader meets Flora's neighbor and her visiting great-nephew William Spiver, Flora's father and several other characters are who surprised but mostly pleased to learn of Ulysses' unbelievable talents.
DiCamillo has a real knack for communicating the profound in a subtle way. Without being preachy or overly didactic, the author showcases the loneliness inherent in Flora, the value of friendship and faith in others and oneself and the importance of effective communication. The fact that she does this by telling the story in a style similar to a comic book's narrative adds a fresh level of nuance to a book with an otherwise-well-trod concept. Finding one's self-worth is not a new idea in children's literature, but the way DiCamillo brings this theme to light is almost surreal. Ulysses is not so much a character, as a reflection of Flora's own hopes and dreams that she doesn't allow herself to feel out of the threat of being disappointed.
I don't normally like books with animals, whether they talk, think or merely exist as the focal point of a story without any special abilities. But, this isn't really a book about a squirrel. It's about the things I mentioned above, and the illustrations add a whole other dimension to this great book. (less)
This started off as a fairly decent sequel to The Big Splash, the first book in this series about middle school detective Matt Stevens. However, the p...moreThis started off as a fairly decent sequel to The Big Splash, the first book in this series about middle school detective Matt Stevens. However, the plot spun pretty wildly out of control toward the second and all out caved in on itself by the end. This spoof on hard-boiled detective novels works on one level - it's episodic and very much resembles the dialogue of a TV show. There are stock characters and fairly easy to digest situational setups. Just the same, this book took a pretty bizarre turn toward the end that really didn't work at all and will probably leave most kids a little creeped out. I wouldn't recommend this book unless a kid was desperate for a mystery.(less)